HL Deb 02 April 1981 vol 419 cc299-301
Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what method can be used by local education authorities to get rid of unsuitable schoolteachers so that headmasters and headmistresses can be helped to raise the standards in their schools.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, local education authorities may dismiss any teacher if they are satisfied that their reasons for that action would satisfy an industrial tribunal in the event of a claim of unfair dismissal by the teacher in question, but they are not otherwise limited as to their reasons for terminating employment. In certain circumstances premature retirement compensation may be paid to those aged 50 or more who are retired early. Decisions on dismissals and early retirements are for local education authorities to take, and the noble Lord will appreciate that I must be careful not to declare how they should conduct their affairs as employers of teachers.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are headmasters and headmistresses who have teachers in their schools who, through illness, perhaps especially mental illness, are totally incapable of teaching a class effectively? Does a headmaster have to go and collect evidence from psychologists and doctors and appear in front of a tribunal, or is there a simpler way of effecting dismissal, so that the standard of teaching in our schools can be steadily improved and not lowered?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Schools Regulations 1959, as amended, include provision for a local education authority to terminate a teacher's employment on medical grounds. But in other cases it will, of course, be necessary for the local authority, if they wish compulsorily to retire a teacher, to do so subject to the rights of appeal against unfair dismissal.

Baroness David

My Lords, would the Minister not agree that probably the best way to improve the quality of teaching, if it is not entirely satisfactory, is to send teachers for in-service training? Is it not important to have enough money in the grant to enable in-service training to take place?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, the Government are concerned to maintain and improve the quality of the teacher force, and there is no doubt that in-service training is one way to improve that quality.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, will the Minister make it absolutely clear that everything she has just said applies only to England? If she wants some real guidance on how to deal with this problem, will she look at what happens in Scotland, where entry into the profession and the qualifications for that are in the hands of the General Teaching Council in Scotland. The disciplinary committee of that General Teaching Council can deal much more satisfactorily with the kind of matter the noble Lord mentioned in his Question, and it has the full support of the teachers.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the question of a General Teaching Council is, of course, quite wide of the Question on the Order Paper. Naturally, my answers referred to England, and of course there is a procedure for cases of misconduct of teachers.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, while I agree with my noble friend that there are in schools a number of teachers who are really not suitable, is not the real remedy to select the candidates for training more carefully and then give them better training?

Baroness Young

My Lords, it has been possible to improve the entry requirements for entry into teacher training, and this is one way in which undoubtedly we shall in the future reap the benefits of having better teachers. But I think it is important to recognise that local education authorities, at a time of falling school rolls and a contracting teacher force, will as a rule use the methods of reducing recruitment of teachers or redeployment or early retirement in order to manage the total teaching force to the best effect.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness, why are we setting ourselves up as judges of this issue? By what right do we do so? We have heard today nothing to show that we know how to choose teachers and how to choose their intellectual qualities.

Baroness Young

My Lords, neither I nor my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing are setting ourselves up in judgment on this. My noble friend asked a Question, and I hope I gave the Answer.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, may I ask seriously whether the noble Baroness is aware that many a brilliant teacher has gone into teaching and been destroyed psychologically because of the huge size of classes in the old schools? If we want good teaching we must get the size of classes down to that of the public schools.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord that at the present time we have in this country the lowest ever pupil-teacher ratio.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, is this Question not something which is of national concern? The pupils coming out of our schools at the moment are causing some concern. Is it not a fact in this connection that there have been established in London, for example, schools which are to take care of those pupils to whom it is impossible to teach any knowledge at all?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the survey conducted by the inspectorate into secondary schools did show that for the most part most schools are orderly and hard working places. There are, of course, weaknesses in the school system, and I share with other noble Lords the wish to maintain and improve the standards of the teachers. There are, of course, some teachers who lack commitment or who are personally unsuited to teaching, but the kind of problems the local education authorities are facing at the moment are those which are concerned with falling rolls and the need to preserve curricula opportunities for all the pupils in the schools.

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