HL Deb 27 November 1986 vol 482 cc653-61

3.49 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a Statement about teachers' pay and conditions of service in England and Wales. For more than two years now there have been protracted and unsatisfactory negotiations and, sadly, extensive disruption of children's education. To end that situation I announced in the House on 30th October that the Government would make an additional £600 million available over this year and next for a new pay structure. The structure should contain differentials to reflect the varying responsibilities of teachers and the need to recruit, retain and motivate teachers throughout the school system and at all stages of their careers. I made it clear that this generous government support for such a pay structure would also depend on a clear definition of teachers' duties carrying through into contracts of employment.

"There have been many long hours of negotiations since 30th October. So far what has been achieved is a document which last Friday the local authorities by a majority vote and four of the six teacher unions agreed to put to their constituent bodies for consideration and ratification. Clearly opinion in the profession is divided. Many teachers concerned for the future of our school system have substantial reservations about the proposals in that document.

"However there has been some useful progress. There is now a clear definition of the teacher's job. Parents, local authorities, heads and teachers themselves all need this so that there can be no doubt about what can be required of teachers within their contracts. The teachers' working year is to be fixed at 195 days, allowing five days beyond the pupil year. It is also agreed that teachers shall be available for work at the direction of the head teacher for 1,265 hours a year. That is a little less than the figure which the local authorities themselves took to the Coventry negotiations last July, but it is a figure which the Government judge sufficient and which the Government would be willing to accept. There is progress too on teacher appraisal and yesterday I approved extra funding for development work on six local authorities. Lastly it is now accepted by all that Burnham must go.

"Last Friday's document also addresses complex issues about the ways in which the available teacher time should be deployed in schools. The best broad measure of staffing is the pupil-teacher ratio. That has fallen from 18.9 to one in 1979 to 17.6 to one this year. Our expenditure provision for 1987–88 and our plans for later years allow for a further fall. There are competing claims between teaching classes, examination and assessment work, curriculum development, and the professional development and in-service training of teachers. My department and the local authority associations have been examining these questions in some detail over recent years. I intend to undertake further consultation with local authorities and unions about these matters. But I should make it clear that future changes will have to be accommodated within our expenditure plans for education which the Government have already announced.

"Progress has therefore been made in a number of areas, but I have also to tell the House plainly that Friday's document contains some features which the Government cannot accept. First, we cannot accept the excess costs of the proposals on pay. The phasing and distribution mean that the proposals cost an extra £15 million for the three months of January to March next year and another £70 million for the next financial year. The Government's offer, worth £600 million, is for 16–4 per cent. to be implemented in full by next October. That offer stands. It is very generous by any standard.

"Secondly, I must leave the House in no doubt about the unacceptability of the proposed pay structure. We have not been given a sensible structure for the profession. Instead we have a reiteration of earlier ideas with higher figures and only minimal movement towards the Government's criteria. The Government want a pay structure for the teaching profession which will provide more incentive posts and there is considerable professional support for our view. These posts will reward good classroom teaching and extra responsibility. They will also pay for skills in short supply and attract good teachers to demanding posts which might otherwise be difficult to fill—in inner-city schools, for example. My proposals are based on 140,000 incentive posts in a profession of 400,000 teachers. Today there are 105,000 such posts. Friday's proposals would provide only 80,000. That would mean that 25,000 teachers who are now on the higher scales would not hold promoted posts come September. My aim is that half of the profession should hold promoted posts or be heads or deputies. Theirs is that only about one-third should hold such posts. This is a huge gap and a fundamental point of principle. We must enhance the career prospects of good teachers and give management the flexibility it needs to improve the quality of education in our schools.

"Lastly, there is the question of future negotiating machinery. All are agreed that Burnham must go. Friday's document would in effect perpetuate arrangements similar to those which have so signally failed recent times. The Government hold to the view that for an interim period we need an advisory committee and I shall tomorrow introduce the Bill announced in the Queen's Speech to establish such a committee.

"I have been and remain willing to see the local authorities and the unions about these matters. But I am not willing to allow this highly unsatisfactory situation to continue. Our children are entitled to better schooling and that has often been denied them over the past two years. The House, the public and all parents will understand that the Government must put our children first."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made by her right honourable friend in another place. Will she bear in mind that imposing a settlement—even abandoning Burnham—would be a recipe for further conflict? Therefore, will she not work with her right honourable friend for an accommodation that will make peace possible in our schools so that children can have the education to which they are entitled?

Does the noble Baroness not think that yesterday's ballot result from Scotland, where more than 90 per cent. of secondary school teachers rejected the Government's proposals, indicates a united and strong feeling among teachers? More importantly, does she agree that the Nottingham settlement is conspicuous for the moderation of its terms? It has clearly been drawn up with the urgent desire to end this dispute as swiftly as possible, although not at the expense of standards in schools.

Does the noble Baroness agree that an agreement providing incentives for all teachers, as in the Nottingham plan, is more likely to secure higher educational standards than one which appeals only to the top rungs of the profession? Does she not think that, as the Nottingham agreement does not slam the door in the face of half the teaching profession, it would be wise to find the 0.3 per cent. additional to the 16.4 per cent. already promised?

We sincerely hope that the Minister will not ignore the major steps forward that have been taken at Nottingham and thereby prolong this destructive strike.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I too should like to thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made in another place. It is devoutly to be hoped that we are getting nearer to an agreement in this appalling conflict. The TUC and the parents have endorsed the agreement recently made between employers and employees. Teachers are at this moment involved in their own democratic processes. I believe that the NUT will start to ballot its members on Monday and the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association is doing so at the moment. I should like to reiterate the words of the noble Lord, Lord Irving. I too hope that the Secretary of State will not feel it necessary to intervene at any point directly in the settlement of the pay dispute.

Nearly all the outstanding issues have been covered in the agreement as regards conditions. Children, for example, are no longer to be sent home in the event of industrial action; there is to be an appraisal system. Most matters have been satisfactorily covered. Two issues only remain outstanding. One is the actual salary structure. I should have thought that compromise would be possible here as between the views of the Government that more incentive posts should be offered and of the unions that adequate motivation should be given to ordinary classroom teachers. I think it is their hope that there should be adequate incentives for ordinary classroom teachers in order to keep the best teachers in the classrooms.

The other point at issue is that there is a desire on the part of the teachers to limit class sizes and to have adequate non-contact time during the school year. Both those matters are, in fact, very much related to good teaching. They are especially applicable with the new exam, the GCSE, where the structure of the exam is very much directed towards more individual attention to pupils proceeding at their own rate and in their own way. Surely these difficulties can be surmounted, despite the possibility of additional funding being necessary, so that we can finally resolve this terrible dispute for the sake of the children and their parents.

4 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Irving of Dartford and Lord Ritchie of Dundee, for their comments on this extremely important subject. Both noble Lords have suggested that the attitude of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in making this Statement was perhaps a recipe for conflict. However, I have to say that we have all heard on previous occasions the promise of imminent peace and calm if only there is no interference. There have been no fewer than three agreements this year.

In January the ACAS panel was set up to create "immediate steps" towards, the cessation of all industrial action with a return to full normal duties". That was in January of this year, but what has happened since then? In May an interim 5.5 per cent. pay deal was agreed. The unions gave an assurance of, a return to peace and calm in our schools immediately"— but what has happened? In July the so-called historic Coventry agreement declared that there was no dispute between the parties, but we are still seeing dispute not only between the parties but between the unions themselves.

Therefore disruption has rumbled on throughout the year, sometimes under the guise of local disputes, sometimes on specific issues such as covering, and sometimes an attempt to demonstrate continued union muscle and militancy. But in whatever way disruption takes place and is presented it hurts pupils and their parents who are now owed an urgent return to uninterrupted school education. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has made his position unequivocal.

As regards incentives, mentioned by both noble Lords, we feel that there must be incentives for teachers so that they perform well in the classrooms, are prepared to take on extra responsibilities, and encourage scarce skills and qualifications to schools in the face of heavy competition from outside. In addition, they must be encouraged to move and to work in difficult schools; for example, in the inner cities.

The Government now believe that the incentives they are proposing will help. What are the present incentives? As was said in the Statement, there are some 105,000 scale 3, scale 4 and senior teacher posts. My right honourable friend proposes to increase the number of incentive posts to cover 43 per cent. of all teachers, excluding heads and deputies. That means some 145,000 incentive payments, ranging from £900 to £4,800.

The ACAS document offers two allowances of £779 and £2,077 available to 23 per cent. of teachers, excluding heads and deputies. That amounts to only 80,000 promotion posts available for extra responsibilities. We do not feel that that is adequate, or sufficient to meet the needs that I have already outlined.

Taking these real incentives with the salary structure to which the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, referred, perhaps I may add to what I have already said by saying that we believe the incentive provided by the extra allowances proposed by the Government is very valuable. The scale allowances which the Secretary of State is proposing, ranging from £900 to £4,800—from 7 per cent. to 38 per cent. of the basic scale maximum of £12,700—will be a real incentive.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, also referred to the size of classes. The Government feel that their record in that respect is good. Since 1979 the proportion of classes in secondary schools with more than 33 pupils has fallen from 2.1 per cent. to 0.9 per cent. The average secondary school class size is now under 21 pupils. Over the same period the proportion of classes in primary schools with more than 33 pupils has fallen from 10.5 per cent. to 6.4 per cent. The average primary school class is now under 26 pupils. That is hardly the record of a government who favour big classes.

I agree with both noble Lords in that what the Government are seeking in resolving these problems is to have good teachers who will benefit the pupils and therefore the future of the country.

Lord Parry

My Lords, while the noble Baroness has given the House a great deal of detail relating to incentive awards, I should like to ask her whether she will caution her right honourable friend the Secretary of State not to be too optimistic that incentive awards will create the sort of peace within the classrooms on which he is determined, and which we applaud he should seek. Incentive awards are divisive. The basic qualifications of people entering teaching in the past have varied greatly, as the noble Baroness will appreciate. It is not always possible to equate high standards of academic attainment, desirable though they may be, with good teaching.

In the apportioning of incentive awards it is absolutely essential that these awards should represent the highest quality of teaching and that opportunity should continue to be given for enhanced training while in service. I appreciate that we have had detail, which we will assimilate later, on the in-service education programme. However, will the noble Baroness insist when speaking to her right honourable friend the Secretary of State that these two matters are completely understood?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I shall happily pass on the noble Lord's comments to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. All that the noble Lord said about incentives is fully appreciated and is being taken into account. Of course what the Government are aiming at is a package to solve the present problems; and that package embraces not only the incentives planned but also enhanced training in service and advanced training.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that the difference between the present situation and situations which have existed earlier in the course of this dispute is that there is now in existence an agreement which has been accepted by the represenatives of the overwhelming majority of teachers? That includes the union—the Professional Association of Teachers—which has received the seal of approval from her right honourable friend the chairman of the Conservative Party. It has been agreed by the representatives of the employers and it has been welcomed by representatives of parents—the national confederation.

Will the noble Baroness explain to the House why her right honourable friend, having by her own account achieved in this agreement so much of what he wanted and having gone so far to persuade the unions and the employers to come together and reach an agreement, is now prepared to hazard his own great degree of success in securing changes in conditions and in negotiating machinery which he himself said he wanted?

Finally, will the noble Baroness give the House an indication of how the Government propose to impose on teachers and employers the Secretary of State's own views? How does the Secretary of State propose to secure the willing and enthusiastic co-operation of teachers, on which the noble Baroness herself laid so much emphasis when replying to a Question earlier this afternoon?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Murray, for his intervention, but it is not right to say that the agreement signed on Friday by four out of the six unions involved has provided an open door for progress. The Deputy General Secretary of NAS/UWT has been ready to portray our schools as battlefields. Indeed, I read in Education how matters are perceived by the local secretary of that union in Birmingham, and I shall quote what he says: We are well known for our ability to find ways of making life difficult for local education authorities and that is what we will do if either deal goes through". So it is either deal—the ACAS document or the Government's proposals; it matters not.

Against this background I think that we can utterly reject any logic which puts the blame for disruption on the Secretary of State, or indeed on the Government. I should like to reiterate what was said in the Statement; namely, that the Secretary of State always has been, and continues to be, available and ready to pursue further discussions with representatives of all the parties involved. In terms of imposing his views, we have evidence which leads us to believe that we have the support of the many good and dedicated teachers in this country who are keen on getting on with their job and making sure that their pupils are getting the best possible education that is available.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, this is a very serious day for British education. It is immensely important that the local authorities should remain in the full sense the employers of the teachers. Still more important is the education of our children, and for that we must have a structure of pay and conditions which will attract and retain men and women of the quality needed as education becomes more complicated and encompasses new subjects. When I look at the difference between the proposal of the local authorities and that of my right honourable friend, I have no doubt that the proposal of my right honourable friend takes the longer view and is firmly more in the interests of the children. Therefore I should like to ask the Minister whether talks will take place to try to persuade the local authorities that it is not worth sacrificing their position in relation to the teachers when such a good offer is on the table.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remarks. Perhaps I can best answer him by emphasising that it is the improvement of the quality of teaching in schools at which the Secretary of State's package is aimed. From the Statement let me again quote what he said: I have been and remain willing to see the local authorities and the unions about these matters. But I am not willing to allow this highly unsatisfactory situation to continue. Our children are entitled to better schooling and that has often been denied them over the past two years". The Secretary of State is indeed ready and willing to continue discussions, and we hope that his powers of persuasion will convince the reluctant to accept the package.

Lord Howie of Troon

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept the sympathy of all sides of the House on her being obliged to bring such miserable news to us on this matter. Do the Government realise that school teachers are miserably paid, and that our high technological society depends upon education and teachers and the ability to attract people into the profession? Does the noble Baroness realise that many Members of this Chamber employ secretaries and that these secretaries are paid more than we pay to the average teacher? Secretaries are important, but they are less important than teachers. Is there no way in which the Government can be induced to recognise that education is important, that it costs money, that the key to education is teachers and that teachers ought to be paid more?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am prepared to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, that the key to education is good teachers. From that point on I have to differ with him, because of course we believe that the differentials which the Government offer, and which I have already outlined, will provide the necessary key and a career structure for those who are in the teaching profession.

4.15 p. m.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

My Lords, in my opinion this is the most important issue that has come before Parliament for a very long time. I think it was Disraeli who said that on the future of the education service depended the future of the nation. That was true then and it is true now. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and I have had experience of negotiating with teachers over many years. I negotiated with them over a period of 30 years, reaching agreement on all occasions and without encountering a strike. Your Lordships will remember that the Plowden Report recommended the setting up of an independent committee to review teachers' salaries, in the same way as obtains for other professions, such as the Civil Service, the police, and the Services, but the then Government of the day rejected that recommendation.

A body with which I am concerned has recently published a book, a copy of which some of your Lordships may have received. It is entitled Education Committees and it reiterates a statement that I have believed all my life; namely, that partnership in education is vital and distribution of power in education is vital if freedom is to be enjoyed in a democratic society. Therefore I very much hope that the Secretary of State will make every possible effort to find a compromise which is acceptable to the local education authorities and the teachers, and that he will not seek to take a major step toward central control and direction by imposing a settlement on the profession.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, for his remarks and I can assure him that they will be drawn to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. However, as I have already said, the Secretary of State is, and continues to be, very willing to consult all parties and to have discussions with them. He is seeking a speedy conclusion to the problems and is doing everything in his power to achieve that end.

Lord Ross of Marnock

My Lords, does the noble Baroness realise the importance of the Statement that she has made? Like the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord who has just spoken, I believe that one will never achieve the right atmosphere in schools—be they in England, Wales, Scotland or anywhere else—unless they contain a profession that is prepared to negotiate and co-operate. If one lays down the law to teachers or to anyone else they may obey that law, but they will not offer that extra word or give that extra inch that makes all the difference to the quality of education and to the school itself.

As I understand the Statement, it seems that the Secretary of State will get rid of Burnham and that there will be an advisory (but not an independent) committee. An advisory committee means that the last word will rest with the Secretary of State, so we are writing into legislation a guarantee of confrontation.

I should like to remind the noble Baroness that the Secretary of State for Scotland, in connection with a dispute that has gone on even longer than the English one, eventually decided to set up an independent committee, the Main Committee. The Main Committee reported. The first person to depart from that report was the Secretary of State. His proposals, parting from the independent commission, created the vote we had in Scotland yesterday where 89 per cent. of the teachers voted and 84 per cent. of them said "no" to the Secretary of State. Nothing in England and Scotland will replace proper negotiations and an understanding of the importance of education.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we all want to see teachers regarded as a responsible professional body. We recognise that many are behaving professionally. We must begin to put in place new machinery which will allow this dispute and would have allowed previous disputes to be brought to a close. There is no point in perpetuating a negotiating process which has produced never-ending talks, but which even after so long still falls short of delivering a final agreement. The Secretary of State intends to hold to his plans as outlined in the Queen's Speech. To do otherwise would leave us with no means of breaking the deadlock. It would be imprudent for any government, mindful of the course of the dispute, to sit on their hands. Progress will be made toward disbanding Burnham.

Lord Somers

My Lords, is not half the trouble the fact that we are negotiating not with teachers who belong, on the whole, to a responsible profession, but with organised unions whose whole business is to try to stand in the way of any solution? If only we could find some way of communicating with teachers, a solution might be found.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, there are always difficulties in negotiating with representatives of any group of people because there are always people who suggest that they are not truly representative. From our direct contact with teachers, we believe that the Government's proposals have the support of the vast majority of teachers.