HC Deb 14 January 1999 vol 323 cc424-7
2. Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

What estimate he has made of the effects on (a) local education authorities and (b) teaching staff of the staging of the last three pay awards for teachers; and if he will make a statement. [64037]

3. Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

If he will make a statement on his Department's plans for expenditure on teachers for the current year and for each of the next three years. [64038]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

The impact of staging the teachers' awards over the past three years has enabled education authorities to meet the pay bill without even further reductions in the provision of services or investment in standards. The impact on teachers has generally been to irritate them. The Government recognise that and have done so in their evidence to the schoolteachers' pay review body for the coming year.

The investment programme for the next three years in the comprehensive spending review settlement has ensured that, over the next three years, there will be a 16 per cent. increase in real terms for education. There will be £19 billion of new investment for the next three years which, this year, means a cash increase of 5.7 per cent. to local authorities. In the years 2000 and 2001, as well as the external funding increases to local authorities, we have also allocated up to £1 billion to fund the proposals that are now out to consultation for the Green Paper on the reform of the teaching profession, to ensure recruitment, retention and motivation in the teaching profession in the years to come.

Mr. Willis

I thank the Secretary of State for that comprehensive answer and, in particular, for his admission that it was his intention to annoy the teachers. He has succeeded. The Liberal Democrats welcome the evidence that the Government gave the pay review body, which intended that this year's pay settlement would not be staged. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is the Government's intention? Does he not feel that it is hypocritical of the Government to then cite the £140.7 million overhang from last year's pay award as an excuse to drive down teachers' pay this year?

Will the teachers have to pay for the Government's mistakes, or will that fall on the other services provided by local authorities?

Mr. Blunkett

The Government have not made a mistake. We have ensured that there are new resources to meet the challenge of the next three years. The school teachers' review body will of course have to take account—it is its job to do so—of the extra expenditure and other factors, such as the target inflation level. It is also the body's job to ensure that it takes account of recruitment and motivation in the teaching profession. We expect it to do that also. In our evidence, we recognised that our intention is not to phase the award. However, we shall have to wait until the award is announced, and consequently make a decision based on the volume of cash and percentage increase recommended by the body.

Mr. Rendel

Does the Secretary of State accept that staging over the past three years has effectively resulted in a 2.5 per cent. cut in teachers' salaries? Will not the first 2.5 per cent. of any increase recommended this year therefore do no more than catch up with a cut that has already been made?

Mr. Blunkett

No, I do not accept that. In the recommendations—I am responsible only for the most recent one—the STRB had to take into account the inflation rate, overall pay settlements in comparative sectors and affordability for local authorities. It would be quite useful if hon. Members considered events in the private sector and settlements across the country when making comparisons with public service pay.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

Is it not true that the teachers' pay structure does not reward experienced teachers for excellence in the classroom? Will not the Green Paper proposals deal with that problem?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Current proposals, and the questions that have been asked today, deal with the annual round. However, we are talking about a restructuring, so that we are genuinely able to attract people into the profession, and so that they know that they will not only be reasonably rewarded when entering the profession but well rewarded as they move through the profession and gain experience—and as their abilities shine through in enhanced performance and lifted standards. The intention of substantial investment, with something for something, is to transform prospects for teachers and children in the years to come.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the factors demotivating teachers in the past 18 years has been the lack of recognition of their professional expertise? Does he agree that the proposals in the Green Paper will not only give higher rewards to good classroom teachers but enable teachers to extend their leadership roles in school and to develop their own careers? Is that not one of the best ways of motivating teachers and ensuring that they remain in the profession?

Mr. Blunkett

I entirely agree with that. Our proposals—which include substantial investment in establishing a leadership college, investment in head teacher training and the Green Paper's professional development proposals that can be taken advantage of by all teachers—will provide not only that motivation but the excellent skills that are needed. Those proposals in themselves will lift the teaching profession's self-esteem and confidence and help to encourage people of all ages to want to enter one of the most rewarding jobs that anyone can take up.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the teachers' pay issue is one central factor, although it is not the only one, creating the severe teacher shortage—which amounts to almost 40 per cent. in subjects such as technology and mathematics, and 30 per cent. in modern languages? Will he assure the House that the deal on which he settles will be aimed at overcoming those shortages?

Mr. Blunkett

I hope that the proposals—not merely in the review body's report but in the Green Paper—will make a substantial difference in recruitment in the years to come. However, we have to get the matter into some sort of perspective. I do not want there to be talk of crisis in the education service when, across the United Kingdom, there are only 2,600 teaching vacancies—which is 0.8 per cent.—240 of which are for head teachers. It is important to remember that, although I accept that the position has worsened in recent years. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has announced a package of measures with the Teacher Training Agency, including £5,000 bonuses for maths and science graduates to come into the profession. We are also proposing radical changes for the teaching profession in our Green Paper—an issue that the Conservatives neglected for the two decades they were in office.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

The Secretary of State for Health has managed to recognise the crisis in the health service caused by the lack of recruitment of nurses. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is unwilling to recognise the growing crisis in our classrooms caused by a lack of teachers and problems of recruitment.

Whatever Government figures the Secretary of State gives, a recent survey by the National Union of Teachers shows that the real figure for teacher vacancies is—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am fascinated to note that Labour Members greet mention of the NUT with such derision. Its survey shows that there are 10,000 vacancies—four times the number that the Government accept. Despite there being so many vacant posts, over Christmas the Secretary of State cut targets for teacher recruitment by 13 per cent. Does he believe that he can solve the problem of the lack of teachers in our classrooms by recruiting fewer of them, or is he just desperate to fiddle the figures to avoid failing to achieve yet another target?

Mr. Blunkett

The shadow Minister is matching the shadow Secretary of State in her enthusiasm to back the National Union of Teachers and, to mirror his words, to set up workers co-operatives running our schools. "Leave it to the teachers" is the new Conservative party slogan.

We are interested in a partnership with teachers. We want to support them and work with them to help them do their job. Nobody pretends for a moment that it would help recruitment, morale or standards for me to go round suggesting that there is a crisis when there is not. I was shadow Health Secretary for two years and I well understand what those in the acute services can present on television. We are ensuring that there is a plan for the future. We shall overcome recruitment problems, we shall raise standards and, above all, we shall make the teaching profession one that all people want to join.

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