HL Deb 02 April 1987 vol 486 cc687-8
Lord Boyd-Carpenter

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there has been any and, if so, how much disruption in schools in recent weeks; and whether any of the trade unions are still threatening the education of children in this way.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the first phase of strike action called by the NUT and NAS/UWT took place between 11th and 19th March. The information that we have is that about a third of teachers went on a half-day strike. The same unions called a second phase of action which began last week. The proportion of the country's schools affected by selective strike last week was 1 per cent. to 2 per cent. of the total.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very interesting reply. Is she aware that a great many people, including parents, are fed up to the teeth with the way in which certain teachers are adversely affecting the education of quite considerable numbers of children and would very much resent having to pay taxes or rates to provide the large increase in teachers' salaries which is all part of the arrangement which it was hoped the teachers would follow?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I can well understand my noble friend's concern and indeed the concern of parents and the public generally. The action being encouraged by the two unions which I mentioned is quite unjustifiable but the scale of the disruption is so far very limited. Perhaps I may remind my noble friend that AMMA voted against action and PAT is not in the business of any strikes.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, will the Minister not agree that one of the more serious aspects of this disruption has been the curtailment of outdoor recreation and sports in and from school premises, and in particular outdoor adventurous journeys which have a special importance but which have to take place some distance away and therefore take considerably more time?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, indeed, my Lords, and it is hoped that the arrangements being introduced now as a result of the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act will give a fresh start and will show teachers, parents and pupils exactly where they stand, particularly in regard to conditions of service. We hope that the fresh start will improve conditions in schools generally.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that we on these Benches share the concern which has been expressed about the damaging effects of distruption on our schoolchildren's education, and that we wish to see every effort made to bring the action to an end? Will the noble Baroness also acknowledge that local education authorities are doing their best to minimise any disruption caused by this action? For example, the Inner London Education Authority has told all teachers that the authority has a duty to keep schools open for pupils and has asked heads to take any reasonable step to fulfil this duty.

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. I understand the problems of the Inner London Education Authority. I also acknowledge that it is having to face particular disruption. Even today strike action was called because it had at last decided to adopt sensible arrangements for redeploying supernumerary teachers. We recognise the problems of certain local education authorities.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in some of London's secondary schools teachers have been encouraging pupils to go on demonstrations during school hours to protest against the redeployment of those staff, and that failure to redeploy those staff would cost ILEA £19 million in the coming year?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I am aware of this. We consider it most reprehensible action on the part of the teachers concerned.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, would the noble Baroness care to remind her noble friend that there are always two sides to every argument and every dispute? Will she advise her right honourable friend the Secretary of State that a very positive contribution towards resolving these difficulties, which no one likes, would be for him to sit down with the unions concerned and the employers as speedily as possible to devise new negotiating machinery which could come into effect very quickly? Does the Minister agree that that would be a much more positive approach to resolving this issue than merely castigating one side or the other?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Act requires the Secretary of State to set up the interim advisory committee on schoolteachers' pay and conditions, and I think that the interim period that this gives the Secretary of State to consider and consult on future arrangements is generally welcomed. I can perhaps do best by quoting what my right honourable friend recently wrote to three of the teachers' unions. He said: I do not think there is any realistic prospect of new permanent arrangements being agreed by all those involved and established through new legislation by April 1988. Moreover, it remains my view that a breathing space and experience of the operation of the interim advisory committee procedure are needed before decisions can be reached about the right permanent arrangements. I have, however, made clear the Government's wish to move towards new permanent arrangements. Continuing disruption in schools can only delay this process.

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