HC Deb 17 July 2000 vol 354 cc21-9 3.30 pm
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to make a statement on the High Court judgment of 14 July on the proposed teachers' performance related pay scheme.

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

May I first offer the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? As you know, Madam Speaker, he has written to you, and he will also write to the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). My right hon. Friend is outside London, and is currently travelling back. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I have received a proper apology from the Secretary of State. I have accepted it, and I think that the House might do likewise. I know exactly where he is.

Ms Morris

I am grateful, Madam Speaker.

As the House knows, the Government's plan to reform the teaching profession and to make sure that good teachers are paid more was first published in a Green Paper in December 1998. Teachers' pay and conditions are set out on a statutory basis, by order, after report by an independent review body, the School Teachers Review Body, and consultation. In January, the STRB recommended a new pay structure, including a performance threshold giving a £2,000 pay rise to those who were successful on 1 September 2000, and access to a higher pay scale. That will be put in place.

The standards that teachers should meet for the threshold pay increase were first published in draft in February 1999 as part of consultation on the Green Paper "Teachers—meeting the challenge of change". Wide-ranging, informal consultation over the following year led to formal consultation with the STRB's statutory consultees in February this year. The STRB was provided with early drafts of the standards as background for its review.

As a result of action by the National Union of Teachers, the High Court ruled on Friday 14 July that the standards were invalid because they should have been formally referred to the review body and set out in an order. The court also ruled that duties on school managers to carry out threshold assessment were unlawful because the consultation on the draft duties had been too short.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believed that it was not necessary to refer the standards to the review body because they are about standards of teaching, not pay structures and scales. The written judgment of the court is not available. As soon as it is, my right hon. Friend will decide whether to appeal. However, the judgment did not comment on the standards themselves and did not give rise to any fundamental need to review Government policy on rewarding good teachers.

My right hon. Friend has today written to head teachers, advising them that the deadlines for threshold applications will be changed. We have already spoken to the STRB chair and will write to him formally today. The Government's pay reforms are the best opportunity that teachers have had for a generation for a radical pay improvement. All the Government have asked in return is that teachers do a good job. We intend to press on with paying good teachers more money within the correct legal framework with as little delay as possible.

Mrs. May

Does not the Minister accept that the Secretary of State's incompetence and his obsession with pushing through changes to the teachers' pay scheme, with no proper consultation and no regard for anxieties that teachers have raised, have led to the humiliating defeat that the Government suffered in the High Court last Friday, and the fact that nearly 200,000 teachers are now in limbo? Teachers know that they will not be given an expected £2,000 pay rise in September, and they are uncertain about when it might be paid.

Will the Minister tell the House what the new timetable for the threshold applications will be; when the Government the expect the assessment of those applications to take place; and when they expect to pay the teachers the £2,000 pay raise that will result from successful applications? If that money is unlikely to be paid until early next year, rather than in September—a whole term late—what will happen to the interest accrued on the money set aside until it is paid? Will the interest be paid to teachers in recognition of the inconvenience that the Government have caused, or will it at least be made available to schools?

Last Thursday the Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation considered two statutory instruments relating to the teachers' pay scheme—the Local Government Finance Special Grant Report (No. 66) on Threshold and Leadership Group Payments, and the Local Government Finance Special Grant Report (No. 67) on Heads', Deputies' and Advanced Skills Teachers' Performance Pay Progression and Deputies' Assimilation. During that debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked whether that discussion was sub judice and was told that it was not. In the light of subsequent events, will the Minister tell the House what will happen to the progress of those statutory instruments, given that they are clearly affected by the High Court decision last Friday?

In March, the National Union of Teachers persuaded the High Court that the Secretary of State must answer its case that he had acted unlawfully, but is not it the case that no member of the Government's legal team was present at that hearing? If so, why not? If the advice then being received was that the Government's case was doubtful, why did the Secretary of State not act until after the teachers had spent much of their half-term holiday filling in the over-bureaucratic forms that were required by the Government?

As the Secretary of State has attacked his officials and the advice that he received from them, will he publish that advice? Will the Minister publicly apologise to those officials on his behalf in the House today? Does she accept the judge's ruling that the threshold standards and the duty were unlawful and that the Secretary of State has bypassed the School Teachers Review Body, Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Hear, hear.

Mrs. May

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have a great deal to say about the Welsh Assembly's role in the matter, but the judge made it absolutely clear that the Assembly has been bypassed, as has the House. He went on to say that Parliament requires an independent body to scrutinise any significant contractual powers. The Secretary of State has evaded that scrutiny. Are not the judge's remarks a damning indictment that shows how out of touch the Government are and how arrogantly they treat not only teachers, but Parliament?

Ms Morris

It is a long time since I have heard such hypocrisy in the Chamber. Throughout the past 18 months of consultation on the Green Paper, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has made it clear that she does not agree with paying good teachers more money. She has tried to block that proposal and is against the threshold standard. Let us be clear that if she or other Conservative Members had anything to do with the policy, there would be no chance of a £2, 000 increase being paid—albeit, late.

Let us be absolutely clear that, during last Thursday's debate in Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Cotswold said that he wanted the NUT action to be successful, and the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) did not deny that. The action has been successful and has resulted in delaying a much needed, much deserved pay increase for good teachers who filled in the application forms.

I shall now deal with some of the points of detail that the hon. Lady has made. I cannot give her or the House a timetable because that will have to be agreed by the STRB. Today, we have written to the STRB to ask it to start the formal consultation process. It will then come back and let us know what the timetable will be. My fervent hope is that the delay in paying the £2, 000 to those teachers who have completed the application form and are doing a good job will be as brief as possible, which is in keeping with the proper consultation that the court has asked us to undertake. That is important.

The hon. Lady also asked why the Government did not take action when the judge first allowed the judicial review at Easter and why we did not change the substance of what we are doing at that point. She ought to know that the detailed point that is causing difficulty—not consulting properly on the threshold standards—was not put before the court by the National Union of Teachers until 22 June. It did not form part of its submission for judicial review until only some weeks ago. The judge said at Easter that the judicial review was to be allowed, but not on the important point of exactly what the threshold standards should be.

It is entirely reasonable that departmental managers should assist heads in carrying out threshold assessments. I happen to think that that is part of their duty and responsibility, and I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not share that view. After the consultation on the STRB's recommendation, at the request of teacher representatives we consulted on line managers' responsibilities through the fast track and with the STRB's approval. The STRB said that that was fine. The judge said that the consultation had been too brief and that we should consult in the framework agreed by the STRB.

We shall backdate the payment of the £2, 000 from 1 September. It remains our fervent wish, and it will be the case, that for the first time in the history of the profession teachers will be able to stay in the classroom and have their professionalism recognised and rewarded. They will receive substantial pay increases for doing what they went into the profession to do—to teach, and to teach well.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many electors will be bemused and many teachers frustrated by the delay in introducing performance-related pay, which, I was told in my constituency on Friday evening, many teachers have provisionally spent? There is great disappointment about the delay, but I take it from her remarks that that will be sorted as quickly as possible for all those who believe, as I do, that performance-related pay will ensure that better teachers—that means the bulk of teachers—are rewarded. However, will she warn my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not to compete with a former Conservative Secretary of State? The House lost count of the number of High Court judgments that found that he had acted illegally. Off the top of my head, I think that the total was 20, but I am happy to be corrected on the exact number.

Ms Morris

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will read my hon. Friend's comments and take them to heart. The NUT is the first trade union in the history of the movement to go to court to block a £2, 000 pay increase for some of its members. I share his view that many teachers in the staff room today will wonder why their union has acted in that manner, particularly as the matter was not raised until 22 June.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

The Minister has grossly caricatured the NUT's position. It went to court to defend the principle that it should be consulted when significant changes are made to teachers' contracts. Does she accept that the Government had plenty of warning of the problem? The application was made in March and, although it did not concern the specifics, it still posed general questions about the scheme. The Government will also be aware that early-day motion 628, which was tabled in April and signed by 70 Members of all parties, highlighted exactly the problems that led to Friday's judgment.

Does the Minister accept that the Government have left teachers in an appalling situation as they head off for their summer holidays? Will she offer them certain guarantees? Will she guarantee that no teacher will have to reapply for the scheme, and that those who would have been successful under the current system will be able to go through without making further applications? Will she guarantee that payments will be made in September, as teachers had a right to expect before the Government made a cock-up of the system?

Will the Minister say under which Act the consultation will now take place, and what the mechanism will be for consulting the Welsh Assembly? Can she guarantee that there will be a debate on the subject and will she indicate when she expects that to take place? Finally, will she offer an apology to civil servants and teachers for what has occurred, which is the Government's fault and which cannot be laid at the feet of a trade union that is simply doing its job?

Ms Morris

I barely recognise some of the hon. Gentleman's comments, given the process that has taken place. He says that there has been no consultation. There has been so much consultation on these standards that many people have been exhausted by it. The standards were first published in February 1999. There was informal consultation for almost a year. There was further informal consultation on amended draft standards in January and formal consultation for four weeks following the STRB's report in January. On two sets of draft standards and on one set of full standards, consultation took place over about 13 to 14 months.

The hon. Gentleman may want to consult for longer than that. Teachers would wait an awfully long time for money to get into their pay packets if the consultation were extended.

The hon. Gentleman is not right about the NUT seeking only to defend its members' interests in the process of judicial review. It went for judicial review for two reasons when it first made a submission. The first issue that it took to judicial review was a challenge to our wish to make line managers responsible for assisting heads in the proper assessment of teachers.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

The High Court said that the Secretary of State acted unlawfully.

Ms Morris

Not all teachers; just departmental heads. The NUT might argue the contrary, but that is not the case. That was made clear to it and it was accepted by every other teacher union.

I am happy to defend the proposition that it is right that departmental managers should assist heads in proper assessment. As a former teacher, I would want the manager most closely knowledgeable about my performance to be involved in assessment, as well as the head teacher.

The second issue on which the NUT went for judicial review involved matters concerning the Welsh Assembly, which it did not pursue. The matter which is now causing difficulty is not one on which it has spent months defending its members. It was added to the brief by its lawyers on 22 June. If the issue was so important that it struggled to talk to us about it during the 18 months of consultation, one might imagine that it would have drawn it to our attention before 22 June.

I am unable to give the assurances that the hon. Gentleman seeks. Timing is now in the hands of the STRB. We shall endeavour to ensure that there is as much expedition as possible within a proper consultation framework. We cannot say that payments will be made in September. Let it be clear that this is the effect of NUT action. The money will not be paid in September. There will be a delay, but within the framework of proper consultation we will do what we can to make it as easy as possible for the teachers who are eligible to get the pay rise that they deserve. I can promise that it will be backdated to 1 September.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

Will the Minister confirm that there is no effective appraisal system anywhere that does not involve the recommendations and views of line managers? In that respect, the NUT was fundamentally wrong. Will my hon. Friend confirm also that the judge did not rule in favour of the NUT when dealing with the principle raised by that issue?

I met two teachers in my constituency yesterday who have applied to go through the threshold and are extremely concerned at the delay that the NUT's action will cause. Will my hon. Friend use all available means to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, even if that involves introducing legislation? That would have the merit of getting pay increases implemented as quickly as possible and of putting the Conservative party on the spot, by making it clear that it fundamentally opposes additional pay for teachers who deserve it.

Ms Morris

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. He is right about performance management. Indeed, many schools have no performance management system. That shows how successful the previous Government's system of appraisal was: it has withered on the vine through lack of financial support. We wanted to implement a system of performance management that could properly value teachers' skills, lead to professional development opportunities for teachers and provide a proper assessment of their performance.

It is right and it makes sense that departmental heads and line managers should be involved in appraisal and performance management. I assure my hon. Friend that on Friday the judgment did not criticise either the responsibility of line managers or the standards: it concerned a technicality on the consultation process. I well understand the actions and words of the two constituents whom my hon. Friend met, and the confusion as a result of this action that there must be in many staff rooms as the end of term approaches.

As I said, letters are going out tonight to head teachers making the position clear. I have today spoken to teachers' representatives, who will do their best to make the position clear. We shall continue to update teachers, head teachers and others. We shall write again next week, and post up-to-date information on the DFEE website from the end of this week. We shall do all we can to put this process back in order and back on the road.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

I think the Minister and many people agree that the National Union of Teachers has scored a luddite own goal. Will she confirm a point that was raised earlier, but which she did not deal with? Many teachers have spent a lot of time filling in the forms to apply for the extra money to which they are doubtless entitled. Will she confirm that they will not have to go through that exercise again? If they have filled in the paperwork, they may have to be a little more patient, but they should not have to go through that exercise all over again.

Ms Morris

Yes. The list of luddites includes the hon. Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for Cotswold, and the NUT. They are strange bedfellows, but we have seen that combination of personnel on the Opposition Benches already this year. I too hope that teachers will not have to fill in another form. If after proper consultation the standards remain the same, it is entirely likely that no more forms will have to be filled in, because the assessment will be made against the same standards. If it is decided to change the standards, quite honestly it is a different ball game.

It is right that the consultation should take place and the STRB should act properly—I am not for a minute suggesting that that will not happen. All I can say is that, from my soundings today with representatives of other unions, I think that it is their wish that teachers do not have to fill in a new form. That leads me to believe that some of the representations in response to the consultation may be such that changes will not be made.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I am very glad that the Minister does not intend to be put off providing increased pay for excellent teachers by this delay. I am concerned that teachers who had felt confident that they would achieve the threshold and were counting on the money will now become anxious.

I appreciate the fact that the Department is writing to head teachers, but I wonder whether it would be possible to give the information that the Minister has given the House directly to people who have applied for the threshold. I fear that the messages will be garbled, and people will become anxious about their prospects. The information about whether people will have to fill in new forms and about the commitment to backdate the payment should get to those teachers who deserve this money as soon as possible.

Ms Morris

I accept the points that my hon. Friend made. The Secretary of State will write to Members of the House today or tomorrow to make the position entirely clear to them. When writing to heads, we have asked them to pass on the information in the letter directly to members of their staff who have applied for the threshold. At the moment, because the application forms and the assessments were not due to be with the organisation that will collect them, we do not have a list of the people who have applied. We shall do everything we can to allay fears. As ever, teachers get their messages from people other than the Department for Education and Employment. I know that teachers' representatives and others will work with us to make the substance of the issue as clear as possible.

I do not want to get this wrong. I do not want to prejudge the consultation that, rightly, will now take place with the STRB. We will do all we can. It is our hope that the standards do not change, so that we can carry on from where we were on Friday lunchtime and so that the delay does not lead to disappointment as money is not paid over.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

May I remind the Minister of her words in the 6th Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation last week? When asked about the judicial review, the right hon. Lady said that if the NUT won its case, it would mean that all the effort and good work that the teachers have put in to filling in and assessing the threshold applications and all the work that the assessors have begun to do to verify them would have to be scrapped and burnt.—[Official Report, Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 13 July 2000; c. 21.] Does the right hon. lady stick by those words? Was she informing the Committee correctly? Are we going right back to square one? If so, how long will the process take? How much will it cost? What will the additional cost to the Department, the budget and the taxpayer be?

Finally, what will consultation really mean? If the real consultation process—when it is finally carried out and completed—concludes that none of this was worth while and that teachers are all against it, will the whole thing be dropped?

Ms Morris

The NUT action could have caused what I said to happen if the Government then took no action to make sure that it did not. That is what we have been doing since Friday. The judge has said that the standards themselves and the threshold were not properly consulted upon; so, to all intents and purposes, they do not exist. If the NUT's action through the court were left at that, all the forms that teachers filled in would come to nought. However, the Government are taking action to make sure that that does not happen. By our action in going back to the STRB—or possibly appealing—those forms that have been filled in will stand, as I have just explained. If the standards themselves do not change, an assessment against those standards can carry on. That is our intention.

We do not have an estimate of the extra costs, but our intention is to make sure that the plans to pay good teachers more money are put back on board within the proper legal framework. If the NUT had not taken the action and the Conservatives had not supported it, none of this delay would have happened.

Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon)

May I tell my right hon. Friend that many teachers whom I met at school fetes in my constituency at the weekend are looking forward to the introduction of performance-related pay, have been working hard in preparation for it and will be disappointed by the High Court decision? However, they understand that Friday's decision was taken on a procedural issue and they will welcome the Minister's statement that the Government wish to move quickly to put the procedural issue right. They also understand that if these measures were ever challenged by the return to office of the Conservative party, not only would we lose the opportunity to have more money for school teachers, but we would lose the opportunity of more money for schoolchildren, school buildings, school books and everything else in schools besides.

Ms Morris

My hon. Friend is right. I suspect that we will see a U-turn on the threshold from the Conservatives, just as we have seen U-turns on everything else by them in the past few weeks. I am happy to confirm that we are talking about a technicality. On Friday, the judge made no comment on the threshold, the threshold standards or the obligation of managers to help with the assessment. The main point of the judge's statement was that the consultation had not been proper and long enough. It is that which we are seeking to correct. I hope that my hon. Friend's constituents and the many thousands of teachers who have filled in the form will see their good work and excellent teaching properly rewarded as soon as possible.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The Minister will be aware that the NUT in Wales took this action partly because of the agreement between all four parties in the National Assembly that we did not want teachers' salaries in Wales related to pupil performance. Given the strength of feeling and the opportunity that she now has to review the position in the light of legislation, will the Minister look to clarify the issue and give the National Assembly for Wales the right to determine this matter in line with the wishes of all four parties?

Ms Morris

I am afraid that I cannot give that assurance. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this is not a devolved matter. It falls to the Secretary of State, who is absolutely right to carry out those obligations as he has. It is also right that thresholds and standards should be the same across England and Wales, because of the movement of teachers between the countries. I happen to think that teachers make a difference. One of the ways in which they do that is by helping pupils to progress. It is right that pupil progress, as long as it is measured against the pupils' starting point and takes into account the circumstances of their learning, should be one—but only one—of the standards that form the threshold assessment.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

Will the Minister remind the House that the Government embarked on this progress because they were determined that good classroom teaching should be rewarded, and that no scheme exists to reward teachers on the basis of the quality of their work? Will she confirm what she said on Thursday in the Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation—that the money exists to give the increase to the vast majority of teachers who have applied and that a great number of people will now be disappointed because they will not get the money that they should be getting in September?

Ms Morris

My hon. Friend is right. This is of course an opportunity to get more pay on top of the pay increase this year. It is not that the increase is payable only on the basis of performance. There is an above-inflation, non-staged pay increase at the proper time this year, and above and beyond that the Government set aside £1 billion for teachers' pay.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that at the moment the only way of getting paid more than £24, 000 a year as a teacher is to take on management or administrative responsibilities. It must be right for good teachers who want to stay in the classroom to be able to access more than £24, 000 a year without having to take on those responsibilities. The previous Government made no opportunity for them to do that. We have put good teaching at the centre of our education agenda, because it is crucial to children's life chances. What is more, we have backed that up with a proper opportunity to be recognised and paid for good teaching.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Will the Minister answer the question that she has repeatedly avoided answering this afternoon? Does she agree with the Secretary of State that it was civil servants' fault, or does she accept that Ministers must take the blame for this pathetic and costly courtroom fiasco?

Ms Morris

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it absolutely clear that it is Ministers and he who carry responsibility for Government decisions.