HL Deb 21 July 1989 vol 510 cc1096-114

3.18 p.m.

Baroness Cox rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether the best use is being made of two history teachers, formerly of Lewes Priory Comprehensive School, in the light of proposals for their redeployment contained in East Sussex County Council's education reorganisation plans.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to ask this Question, which raises a number of serious issues of apparent injustice, of freedom, both of professional practice and of parental choice, and of education. It concerns whether the provision of the best possible education for pupils in East Sussex is helped when the teachers in question have been removed from their classrooms, particularly at a time of growing teacher shortages.

I must begin by expressing great appreciation to all noble Lords who have agreed to take part in the debate this afternoon, especially on a Friday afternoon so near to the end of the Session. I shall be as brief as possible, but it might be helpful if I open the debate with an overview of the development of the present unhappy situation.

The teachers concerned, Mr. McGovern and Dr. Freeman, both have impressive professional track records, individually and in the achievements of the history department in which they worked and of which Mr. McGovern was head. Between them they have four academic degrees, including a First-Class Honours degree and a Ph.D., and over 30 years' experience of teaching. Their department was outstandingly successful. Its courses for GCE, CSE and GCSE became the most popular options at Lewes Priory School, with excellent results across the ability range, from Oxbridge entrants to average and below average ability pupils.

They were greatly appreciated by their students. I have here a letter sent by their pupils expressing support for them and also expressing concern at the way in which their education has been jeopardised. But Mr. McGovern's career as a secondary school teacher ended today, while Dr. Freeman has been excluded from teaching for the past two months, during which time his sixth-form history students have been supervised, but not taught history, by a supply teacher whose subject is English.

The troubles began when, after careful thought, these teachers and their colleagues thought that it would be in the best interests of their pupils to offer them the opportunity to study for the Scottish O-grade exam, an equivalent to GCE, which was still available, alongside the GCSE because they had grave reservations about the educational merits of the GCSE course.

Their criticisms of the GCSE history course have been largely vindicated. For example, Southern Examining Group has reprinted this year's paper and has agreed to make major changes in the future, including removing questions based on "empathy" from the written examinations. Moreover, the teachers were invited to write a new national history syllabus, which for the first time allows students to study the development of the United Kingdom. That syllabus has been endorsed by 10 of the country's leading historians, including three members of your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, my noble friend Lord Thomas of Swynnerton and my noble friend Lord Beloff, who I am very happy to see is to speak today.

It is important to emphasise, however, that, despite their reservations about the GCSE syllabus, these teachers taught it successfully to a very wide ability range. They also wished to offer alongside it—teaching it in their own time—the Scottish course, which they believed was educationally superior and thus better for their pupils. More than 40 pupils chose to take advantage of that offer over the past two years, with good results. However, that commitment to providing the best possible education for their students was the beginning of the end of those two teachers' careers as history teachers.

Denied the freedom to discuss the option with parents on school premises, they met parents outside school and taught the Scottish course in their own free time, away from school. They were then subjected to an astonishing series of attacks, being accused of insubordination and mutiny, and threatened with dismissal.

Then, with the reorganisation of sixth-form teaching in Lewes, they applied for posts appropriate to their qualifications and achievements. The LEA's policy is to redeploy staff in comparable posts. But when Dr. Freeman, the sole person in post eligible for the head of history post in the new 11-to-16 school, applied for that job, the board of governors unanimously rejected him. The LEA subsequently formally overrode the board of governors' decision, but on the condition that Dr. Freeman should immediately resign the post ostensibly offered to him and leave teaching—though if he failed in any new venture assigned to him, such as establishing a schools' visits business, he could apply to be attached to the county's supply pool.

Dr. Freeman, with a wife and three young children to support from his single salary and with no alternative offer, felt utterly intimidated and was reluctantly obliged to accept the arrangement. He consequently had to stop teaching his exam classes, denying them the continuity of teaching that the LEA had promised under the reorganisation scheme and his timetable was taken over temporarily by a supply teacher who, I am informed, announced as soon as he met the sixth forms that he was incapable of teaching them the syllabus.

Meanwhile, Mr. McGovern was denied an opportunity to continue teaching at secondary school level. He only finally, last month, accepted retraining as a primary school teacher as a means of retaining his livelihood while allowing him to continue to teach.

Those are tragic outcomes in which two superb history teachers have been obliged, under duress, to accept posts which deny them the opportunity to make a professional contribution commensurate with their capabilities. That is personally humiliating and professionally insulting. It also deprives the pupils of their expertise and commitment and is a gross misuse of valuable resources; for there can be no more valuable resource than dedicated, experienced teachers with proven records of success appreciated by parents and pupils.

The LEA and the governing body have tried to justify their position by claiming that those two teachers should have buckled down and made a success of the new exam. But they have taught that exam with successful results. It has also been implied that they have been troublemakers, especially by speaking to the media and by undermining the authority of the head. But they had to use the media in order to publicise their offer to teach GCE alongside GCSE as they were not allowed to use the normal means of communication through the school. I would argue that they were fully justified in speaking to representatives of the media in an attempt to make their predicament known, as they believe that their position has been misrepresented by the authorities concerned. It is perhaps worth pointing out that the authorities did not discipline the teachers; presumably they had no good reason to do so. Instead, they chose to use the reorganisation to force them from their jobs.

It might also be argued that it was in the interests of the school that those two teachers should no longer work there on the grounds that there was an irretrievable breakdown of relationships between them and the head. But that is entirely unsubstantiated, and Mr. McGovern and Dr. Freeman have been consistently denied any opportunity to challenge the board of governors in order to vindicate themselves.

It might also be said that the authorities felt that they should support the head in a situation that had become confrontational. But it is appropriate to ask whether it was the head or the teachers who were acting unreasonably in attempting to promote the pupils' best interests, especially in view of the strong support given to the teachers by pupils and parents and by the subsequent vindication of their criticisms of the GCSE history syllabus.

Those teachers are now effectively precluded from speaking for themselves. Indeed, it was a condition of employment for one of them that he should not speak about the matters in public or ask in public for any inquiry. Such is the atmosphere of secrecy that parents, pupils and the public have not been informed about the fate of those teachers.

An Early Day Motion in another place, signed by more than 50 honourable Members, deplores what it describes as, a vindictive forcing from their jobs", of those two teachers. The events which I have outlined and which, given more time, I could amplify and substantiate in great detail, appear to me to merit that descriptive epithet of "vindictive".

Given that those two teachers are now effectively precluded from pursuing their case further, perhaps I may ask my noble friend the Secretary of State to consider setting up an inquiry to look into that deplorable situation. I understand that it would be possible for him to do so under Section 68 of the 1944 Act or otherwise, and I sincerely hope that he will do so, for there is so much at stake.

There is the freedom of teachers to offer their pupils the best possible education according to their professional judgment. It is worth noting that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has now included the Scottish O-grade in the list of approved exams for England. There is also the fundamental question of whether justice has been done, and has been seen to be done, for Mr. McGovern and Dr. Freeman.

Until or unless this sad state of affairs has been fully investigated and the results made public, there will continue to be grave disquiet not only among many teachers, parents and pupils in East Sussex but also among many people throughout the country who are concerned about fundamental freedoms and educational standards. Until there is adequate justification in public of the treatment meted out to these teachers, I am afraid that there will be some credibility given to the suggestion that the situation there is more akin to East Germany than to East Sussex, not least in its inhibiting effect on other teachers' freedom to express their professional judgments in public.

I believe that this can be in nobody's interests. I sincerely hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to offer some reassurance that steps will be taken to investigate this deeply disturbing situation.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the whole House must be grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox for raising this matter even at this very late hour. I want to speak on this issue because, looking at the evidence, I too am most concerned at the outcome of what cannot be regarded as other than a most unhappy affair at the very least. One of the three teachers involved, as I understand it, has found a suitable post in a tertiary college. But of the other two to whom my noble friend referred, Mr. McGovern and Dr. Freeman, one is not doing any teaching at all and the other is teaching in a primary school.

The situation is particularly ironic when we consider that the last time this House debated education it was on a Motion concerning the shortage of teachers. In fact, that very matter has just been debated in another place. Yet here we have two very well qualified teachers who clearly are not playing the role they should in the education service.

My concern is all the greater because of the reason for this sad state of affairs. For professional reasons the teachers disagreed with the GCSE syllabus although they taught it and wished to teach the Scottish O-grade as well. This is not the time to debate the GCSE examination. I am sure that it is here to stay. It has been greatly welcomed by many teachers and is still in its early days. I do not wish it to be thought for one moment that I am speaking out against that examination.

I understand that the stance taken by the three teachers was that they were unhappy about the content of the GCSE examination and wished instead to teach the Scottish O-grade. Of course we could debate at length the content of the GCSE examination. I have considerable sympathy with the professional views of the teachers involved. Indeed I was interested to hear, I think, on the "Today" programme, one speaker say in connection with the bicentennial celebrations which have just taken place; "Of course everybody knows the date 1789". He added, "It is almost as familiar as 1066".

When I heard that I wondered just how true that is today among all school children. To my generation learning dates was part of the teaching of history. I regret to say that I do not remember that many of them now, but a number of them stick. One of the facts today—certainly I observe this from seeing what my grandchildren learn—is that learning dates is not part of the history syllabus. I suspect that children leave school today without any general knowlege of history and that if one were to talk about Anglo-Saxons they would not know where they came into history at all.

We could debate the issue at great length. Of course the modern view of themes and empathy is something quite new. It is something which has worried many people, and both those who are interested, particularly in history, and those who are very concerned that our children should grow up with some knowledge of their own history. In this case and not for the first time I believe that we have something to learn from the Scots. The Scottish O-grade certainly seems to cover the kind of syllabus which teaches children about what I should perhaps call the history of the United Kingdom.

It is not unreasonable that a teacher's professional judgment should carry great weight in any school when deciding the syllabus. My understanding of the position in schools is that it is usually the head of the department who determines what syllabus should be used. After all, he or she is the expert. There are, to my certain knowlege, a great many different syllabuses at both A-level and O-level, and, as I understand it, GCSE. What I find puzzling above all is why, given a willingness to teach the GCSE and the Scottish O-grade, such teaching was not allowed within the school. It seems to me a most extraordinary situation. As I understand from what I have read, it was felt that it was impossible to run two parallel syllabuses. I find this the oddest of all reasons. For years in comprehensive schools two parallel syllabuses—indeed more—have been run for a good many subjects for both O-level and CSE. The school may have been criticised but it could manage it; and there would be other children who were presumably doing neither O-level nor CSE but some other study. It is a matter of arranging the timetable.

Two worrying features emerge from this unusual experience. There is an uncomfortable feeling that the educational establishment—however it is being defined—has decided that only one syllabus in that authority should be taught regardless of the professional views of the teachers involved and that anything else is ruled out. It is very distrubing as a matter of educational practice to consider that it should be taking place. Two teachers feel a great sense of injustice. I believe that my noble friend Lady Cox is quite right to draw our attention to it.

The three teachers seem to me to have done a public service. They have opened up a debate which, in a free society, they are perfectly entitled to do. It is one which concerns professional historians. It is one which concerns everyone who is interested in achieving the best education possible for our children to equip them for the world of the 21st century. Above all, it is the teaching profession and the professional teachers whose voices should be listened to in the matter of the new syllabuses now being drawn up. If they are not listened to, then something is seriously wrong with the arrangements being made. I am therefore very glad that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has now included the Scottish O-grade as one of the examinations that can be taken.

The situation is a worry to parents because the teachers were teaching a syllabus that the parents wanted, as I understand it. They were unhappy with the GCSE course. Although I am very well aware that teachers often feel that parents do not know best about their children, it is parental concern about some of the syllabuses in school which has given rise to the need to have the new national curriculum. I believe that their concerns need to be listened to.

Finally the treatment of the teachers may well inhibit others speaking out, although it would be in the public interest to hear what teachers who are responsible for certain subjects have to say about the syllabus. I therefore support my noble friend. The matter is worthy of an inquiry. It ought to be looked into to make sure that these unhappy circumstances do not happen again. We really cannot afford that.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, when it was first drawn to my attention that this short debate would be taking place, what initially attracted me to it was the implied criticism of the new GCSE exams and the fact that some preference seemed to be given to the old O-level and A-level type of exam. I was interested in the debate because I have very recently finished the great series of exam-catching and pieces-of-paper-acquiring train that starts with O-levels and finishes with a degree. My final degree was in history. I can safely say that O-level history was undoubtedly one of the most boring parts of that procedure, for the simple reason that we did not do much history but we learnt a hell of a lot of dates. I can remember some extremely good card schools and noughts and crosses circuits going on at the back of the classroom because the teacher—who was a very good teacher at A-level—found himself merely dictating to us to try to reinforce the fact that we had to get enough dates down. This point is one that should be remembered.

The old O-level exam had one fundamental flaw in it. One had to learn a great many facts, facts and more facts, in the right order and that was it. Very little analysis took place. I have seen the Scottish O-grade exam and many of its questions seem to have the same weaknesses.

The new GCSE exam, which I looked at for the first time only a few days ago, suggests a far greater amount of emphasis on analysis. I agree that certain matters such as empathy are very difficult historical problems to deal with. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, will undoubtedly have much more to say on this subject. He is somebody whose books have used to pass my own exams. This question cannot realistically be addressed by 15 and 16 year-olds. There is the much quoted example of a 16 year-old being asked to describe why, as a Palestinian terrorist, he would blow up certain people. That is the kind of question that should be left to a far later age when the person has a very much better grasp of his subject. I am not against the use of dates, but they should not be used as the be-all and end-all. They should be subservient to the argument.

Having got that off my chest, the treatment of the teachers is another question and should be thought about very deeply. It would appear to me that the teachers were acting professionally and correctly when they suggested that they thought they could do better by their pupils. It must be remembered that it is unfortunate that a great deal of education is seen to be almost subservient to exam grades. The teachers felt that it would be best for their students if those students took a Scottish O-grade exam, probably because the teachers felt that they could get them through it. This is possibly a reflection on the way our education system works. If they were doing that in the best interests of their pupils, I believe they deserve support.

My knowledge of this subject is restricted to a hurried reading of all the many press articles on it. The general consensus of opinion is that everybody overreacted all along the line. The teachers dug their heels in a little too hard. Certainly the headmaster and the authority seemed to be coming down with a very heavy hand. I would suggest that a deal of compromise would have got everybody further along the road in this matter.

As to the matter of sitting exams which are not usually taken in a school, I am, for the simple reason that I am a bad dyslexic—a fact with which I have bored your Lordships on a number of other occasions—totally in support of pupils being able to choose exams. My educational career would have stopped dead if it was not for the fact that my school allowed me to sit O-level exams set by boards that allowed a wider range of concessions than did the board whose exams the people at that school normally sat. The Scottish O-grades were considered because they provided a wide range of concessions. I ended up taking the Cambridge University local board instead. If exams are of a similar status and this can be done without crippling the institution with bureaucratic details, I would suggest that pupils should be allowed to take these different exams.

The problem of running two syllabuses is a great one, however. Although the old CSE exams were taught alongside O-levels they were often provided because the CSE generally put far more emphasis on work written during the terms and on compiling projects. I should like again to point out that anybody with writing difficulties would find that incredibly difficult, for the simple reason that one can find it difficult to fill a single sheet of paper. In the case of dyslexia it is more tiring and stressful to maintain a standard and it is very difficult to fill a number of sheets of paper. The same may apply to people with bad eyesight or an arm impairment. For such people it would be extremely difficult to pass continuous assessment papers. Therefore, I suggest that a different approach would cause problems. The GCSE, with its greater emphasis on course work, may well restrict people in future. Of course, that is another question but I hope that attention will be drawn to it at a later date.

Finally, if the teachers were thought to be doing the right thing by their pupils, they should have been allowed far more flexibility in so doing. I suggest that, even if the school did not feel that it could safely offer the exam, there should not have been an outcry against the pupils being taught privately outside school. I am sure, because I often sat my examinations in a room dictating to a typist, that an invigilator from an examination board could have been found.

Bearing that in mind and bearing in mind that I dislike the heavily date-orientated attitude that I have described, I suggest that the case of the teachers should be examined. I believe that we cannot afford to waste any teachers at all at this time, especially those who have proved themselves to be extremely committed to the interests of their pupils.

3.47 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, sympathy has been expressed, and rightly expressed, for two admirable teachers who through no fault of their own have been deprived of an opportunity to exercise their professional skills. In addition, I have a little sympathy for one other person—the noble Lord on the Front Bench who will be replying for Her Majesty's Government because the record of the Department of Education and Science with regard to this long drawn out problem hardly bears examining. As my noble friend Lady Cox said, there are ample opportunities in our legislation for the department to inquire when something appears to be going wrong and it is difficult to think of anything which has gone more wrong, and more obviously wrong, in recent years.

I make a very strong appeal to the noble Lord on the Front Bench—and I realise that he is not in a position to give any assurances—to ask his right honourable friend to institute such an inquiry. I think that the implications of this case go to the very heart of the problems which his right honourable friend faces in the reform of our education system.

These reforms depend fundamentally on the co-operation of the teaching profession, the local authorities and, under our new legislation, quite considerably on the boards of governors of individual schools. In this case those responsibilities have been interpreted in a very curious or negative way. I hasten to add that this is not a party matter. The political control of the East Sussex County Council has changed during the course of these events. When they began, the county council was run by a combination of the Labour Party and the then Alliance. At the last election it reverted to Conservative control. But as far as I can see no difference whatever was made. The councillors of my party were as supine in the hands of their bureaucratic officials as their predecessors—at any rate, most of them. Therefore, it is not a party matter.

This relates to some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. It is a perfectly genuine and acceptable difference of view about what should go into an history syllabus, the way in which it is most properly examined, the relationship it should have to other parts of a school syllabus, and so on. These are matters which certainly deserve public ventilation. No one would believe that we have reached finality, if indeed finality on such a matter is ever within our reach. However, what seems to have happened in this case is that the school governors took so decided a line in favour of what we might call the progressive, the modern or the empathic form of history teaching that they refused to consider the arguments put forward by the teachers in question.

Therefore, regrettably, one has to look at that board of governors. Boards of governors are, broadly speaking and as noble Lords know, composite bodies. The local authority nominates some governors. Parents—this is given particular focus by the new Education Reform Act—elect governors and others are co-opted. Of the four governors nominated by the council, none is a Conservative. I believe that it is not unusual for majorities to nominate governors of their own persuasion and, given the fact that political nominees do not have a majority, perhaps it is not important, though it is something that might be looked at.

More important is the fact—the Department of Education and Science was informed about this—that there was some doubt about the handling of the election of parent governors. In a relatively small community like the town of Lewes, I have no doubt that there are a number of occupations and professions among the parents of the local school. However, when one looks at the list of parent governors and of those whom the parent governors and the local council governors co-opted, you do not find a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. With hardly an exception—I believe one is a trade union official, not in the educational world—almost all the others are directly connected with either the University of Sussex or the Brighton Polytechnic. They are all persons professionally engaged either directly in education or are officials of bodies concerned with advancing certain educational theories and practices. That is not at all what was in the mind of the Secretary of State when that role was given to parents. They cannot in any way be considered representative of parents. It would be very peculiar if the majority of parents in any area covered by a school were drawn from so narrow an element.

One's view on this is fortified by the fact that, as we know, a great many parents of the children concerned in the choice of history syllabuses were so eager to follow a different course that they went to the length of meeting the teachers outside school premises and arranging for alternative accommodation. They may not have been professional educators, but the parents who took that amount of trouble to ensure that their children had the best teaching available locally were certainly caring parents. It seems that it is only if one appreciates that these teachers were up against a body of governors who were, if you like, as committed to the alternative view of history teaching as these two teachers were committed to a more traditional view—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am merely seeking information. I realise my ignorance regarding the whole matter. I live fairly close to Lewes and perhaps closer than many noble Lords who are speaking this afternoon. I have lived in that area for many years. I am president of the Battle and Bexhill Labour Party, which is not the strongest in Europe. I am astounded that this governing body can be presented as some kind of Left-wing racket.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am sorry, but to live 15 or so miles from a town does not normally lead one to have in the forefront of one's mind the names and occupations of school governors in that town. I did not know them myself until I did a little work for the Secretary of State preceding his own investigation. I was perplexed that any body of men and women could take the line that they did in persecuting these teachers. I have no doubt that the noble Earl figures prominently in the Labour Party for his area. But I began by pointing out that this is not a party issue. Apart from the original choice of the four governors to which the political parties are entitled, as far as I know the parties have played no part in this dispute at all. It is matter within the education profession.

If we are to come to an agreement concerning the changes in the syllabus (and there are other contentious subjects besides history), it is very important that we get the benefit of whatever reasoned expressions of opinion that may come from the teachers primarily concerned. We are much indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the chance to ventilate this story. As she pointed out, not only have these teachers produced an alternative proposal for a syllabus which has received cross-party support among noble Lords and professional historians not yet ennobled, but it has been forwarded by the Secretary of State to the group that is now working on the national curriculum in history.

Anyone who has studied the views of the Secretary of State on the subject of history, which are not unlike my own—that is not surprising since we were taught by the same schoolmaster—will realise that they are to some extent likely to be similar.

It seems that two teachers whose work has been considered sufficiently important to merit the attention of the National Curriculum Committee have at the same time been excluded by a combination of over-active governors, bureaucratic officials and, alas, indifferent elected representatives from pursuing a career in which they had achieved distinction and in which, if they were given a further opportunity, they would no doubt: achieve still further distinction.

I remind your Lordships that it is riot merely that they cannot be employed in Lewes; because the local authority has refused to back them, they cannot be employed by other local education authorities. A teacher moving from one authority to another is bound to be looked at askance if he does not bring with him the support of the authority for which he originally taught.

It is a scandal which demands clearing up lest there be a renewal of such actions. I should like to say to the noble Lord on the Front Bench that it is something for which the Government willl get no credit if they try to bury it.

4 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, in speaking from the Opposition Front Bench on this, perhaps I too may emphasise that this is not a party matter and that I do not intend to make any party points. To use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, we are discussing here a genuine and acceptable difference of view. I am on the other side of the debate. I do not think that these teachers are correct in their view of history; but I disagree with many people on many different matters, including my own subject. I certainly do not think that it then follows that they should lose their jobs because of that.

I am with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in being unhappy about the traditional view of history. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the French Revolution. It is an interesting idea that there are still young people who seem to think that on 14th July 1789 people went around saying, "Today is the opening day of the French Revolution". When I was at school that is how history seemed to have been taught. If the traditional view is that extreme, it will not do. I always head naturally for the middle of the road, and so I do not take the other extreme. I look askance at people who do not seem to know important dates or have no idea of what happened. Clearly, we need some balance in history.

I feel that the GCSE will take us in the right direction because, within the GCSE, we shall have a range of syllabuses. If teachers are allowed to play their proper part, their professionalism will dominate what happens and there will still be room for differences of view on history courses. In saying that these teachers have been abominably badly treated, I do not want to get involved beyond that in any view of the nature of history or history teaching. Perhaps we shall have a chance to debate that subject in your Lordships' House. We shall enjoy such a debate enormously.

I should like to mention two technical matters which concern me. As I understand it, under Section 5 of the Education Reform Act, which I think will come into operation in the coming academic year, no school will be able to pursue a course of study for an external qualification unless the Secretary of State approves. I did not know that the Secretary of State has approved Scottish O-grade. If he has, it is news to me. I should like confirmation of that point.

In looking not just at this case but to the future, what concerns us is the nature of the school and the role of teachers in the school. We all see the school as a community, and we all want it to be a cohesive and pleasant place. Nonetheless, within that, it must be possible for teachers to take differing views. If teachers find themselves professionally at odds with colleagues, I cannot believe that any of us would want them to be prevented from expressing their views. I know that all kinds of people can be a pain in the neck. During my career I have specialised in being like that myself. I can see that a headmaster or a headmistress would be upset. However, it would be entirely wrong to argue that teachers should be prevented from speaking their minds even to the point of disturbing the parents.

I emphasise that point today because we are moving towards the local management of schools. Within the local management of schools we shall see much more dominance by the governing body and the head teacher. Most of us favour that, albeit in different ways. If that were to lead to the excessive subordination, or even subjugation, of teachers, it would worry all noble Lords who felt that they should support the Government on the matter when the Education Reform Act was passed. That is why I am concerned about the matter.

We are indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for introducing the debate and giving us some of the relevant details. She used the words "insubordination", "mutiny", "troublemakers" and "confrontational situation". So what? Have we reached the stage where teachers will be attacked for speaking up, even to the point of boredom? It is a nuisance. I imagine that it is possible that those two teachers were a nuisance; but I cannot believe that they, or anyone else, would deserve the consequences.

What worries me further—I look to see whether the noble Lord who is to reply can say any more on this point—is that in a curious way the local authority did not seem to have the courage to face up to the issue and say, "We are going to discipline you. We shall take you through the whole set of procedures". Without suggesting that it looks like a conspiracy, one must smell a rat. I think that is what the noble Baroness was guiding us towards. Can one believe that those two teachers were not qualified to continue as history teachers in East Sussex? Are we being asked to believe that East Sussex is so full of superlative history teachers that those two are somehow unemployable?

I have lost the precise detail, but I gather that one of the teachers has been asked to retrain as a primary school teacher. I hold primary schools in high regard. One always wonders why one's children, who were so lovely in primary school, turn out to be so awful in secondary school. That is another matter; but, nevertheless, one does not regard the two stages of education as academically the same. I hesitate to make the point, but it is as if the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, or I were asked suddenly to downgrade the level of our teaching. The shock that would occur to this country's education system if that were even suggested would be such that we of course know that it would never be done. Joking aside, it will not do.

What therefore is to happen? We have these people. Prima facie they have been subject to injustice. There is also the waste of assets. The Secretary of State cannot merely wash his hands of the matter—I do not make the point, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, did, for the sake of the Conservative Party; I make the point for the sake of this country's education system.

It is possible for the Secretary of State to mount an inquiry. The least he should do is to use his good offices to open up this matter—we have had the benefit of the debate—and come back via whoever speaks for him in the House and say to your Lordships, "I have looked into this matter in detail. I have used my good offices. The following will happen".

I need not say more on the subject, because we are all agreed and worried. I am worried. I have scanned the press, as has the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for the overwhelming case on the other side, which is what I am waiting to hear. It may be that the noble Lord will give us the overwhelming case for the other side. If he cannot, then for the sake of justice, not for the sake of what history we should teach, the Secretary of State must do something.

4.10 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I begin by saying what I shall not be talking about this afternoon. I do not intend to go down the GCSE/GCE controversy. As my noble friend Lady Young said, this is not the time or the place to discuss that matter in detail; I shall mention it only briefly. Nor shall I discuss the general controversy about the teaching of history. Nor do I intend to follow some of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Beloff about the governing body of the school which he appeared to believe was a nest of Leftists. As he knows, under the 1986 Act a number are elected by the parents and it is up to the parents to decide who to elect. My noble friend Lady Cox—

Lord Beloff

My Lords, will the Minister give way? Did the department inquire into the circumstances of the last election of parent governors? It was then strongly stated that some nominations were ruled out because they came in late while others were not? I know that that information was conveyed to the Department of Education and Science and it casts a different light on the freedom of election by parents.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not aware that the department has looked into the matter but later in my speech I shall deal with departmental investigations. I shall inform my noble friend whether that is the case.

My noble friend Lady Cox asks whether the best use is being made of two history teachers employed by East Sussex County Council and whether they have been treated badly by their employers. We need to be clear about the relative responsibilities of the Government and the local education authority in this matter. The staffing of maintained schools is a matter for local education authorities and schools. It is for them to decide the number of teachers to employ and their deployment taking into account local needs and priorities and the resources available to them. The Government are not involved in these decisions. It would not be appropriate for the Government to comment on them.

My noble friend Lady Cox asked whether an inquiry should be instituted under Section 68 of the 1944 Act. My understanding is that the Secretary of State has already investigated one complaint from Mr. McGovern under Section 68. Mr. McGovern's complaint related to the actions of the LEA and the governors with respect to the teaching of GCSE history at the school. The Secretary of State found no evidence to show that the governors or the LEA had acted unreasonably.

The Secretary of State has not been asked to investigate any matter in relation to the teachers' employment but it is open to anyone to ask him to do so. He may intervene only if he is satisfied that the local education authority or the governing body has acted unreasonably. My right honourable friend would need evidence from both sides in any dispute before reaching a decision. Any noble Lord or the teachers concerned are welcome to write to my right honourable friend and ask that an inquiry be instituted.

It may be useful if I set out how matters stand in general. First, I should like to sketch out the background on the present division of responsibilities between teachers, heads, governing bodies and LEAs about how subjects should be taught in our schools. Under the teachers' pay and conditions document an individual teacher is required to work, under the reasonable direction of the head teacher of that school and to carry out his teaching duties, having regard to the curriculum of the school". The head in turn is required to carry out his professional duties in accordance with the provisions of the Education Acts and, to the extent to which they are not inconsistent with these provisions, with the articles of government of the school and with any, rules, regulations and policies laid down by his employers". Turning to this particular case, I am informed that, after careful consideration of the overall curriculum policy for the school in consultation with teachers, the governors of Lewes Priory School decided that the GCSE provided the appropriate framework for the delivery of that policy. The governors issued a set of guidelines on this subject and the head ruled that there would be no preparation for GCE examinations within the school's curriculum. The history teachers concerned were unwilling to work under the direction of the head teacher in this matter and canvassed parents and the press for support.

The Government's view on this matter of general policy is that the GCSE should be the main form of assessment for pupils at age 16. Pupils all over the country have recently completed papers and course work in what is the second round of this new examination. There are certainly still improvements to be made. But the report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate on the 1988 examinations judges the GCSE to be an overall success. The inspectorate reported that it had produced: significant improvements in the quality of teaching and learning in years 4 and 5 in secondary schools". On the matter of choice for schools, the Government believe that there should be on offer a sufficient, but not excessive, choice of quality syllabuses. The choice and variety of GCSE syllabuses, including history syllabuses, is fully sufficient—there are over 40 history syllabuses on offer at present. This facilitates healthy competition and a range of alternative approaches to teaching and learning.

The Government would certainly not assert that no improvements can be made to existing GCSE history syllabuses. But it is entirely open to those in history teaching in our schools to carry forward this debate and, in conjunction with the GCSE examining groups, to develop better syllabuses. Indeed, a group of our most distinguished historians recently published a draft GCSE history syllabus. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has followed their work with interest.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, as the Minister is reading his brief, I do not know whether he is aware that it was the two Lewes teachers who drafted the syllabus. The academic historians the Minister referred to merely gave it their approval.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that correction. I was not aware of that, but I shall certainly make sure the department is aware of it. I shall continue.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I should point out to my noble friend that I made that point in my speech. Perhaps he might have listened and taken the point on board and made note of it when he was thinking about his reply.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I apologise to my noble friend. If I may continue, mention has been made of the Scottish examinations. The Government are fully persuaded of the high quality of Scottish examination syllabuses in general, and of their suitability as preparation for entry into higher education. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science therefore intends that qualifications certified by the Scottish Examination Board should be approved for use in maintained schools in England until at least 1991. It is, however, within the framework of the overall curriculum policy, for governors and head teachers in individual schools to decide whether it would be appropriate to offer Scottish qualifications.

Like all other syllabuses, those offered by the Scottish Examination Board will, in the case of national curriculum foundation subjects, need in due course to comply with national curriculum requirements in order to secure continued approval for use in maintained schools in England. Syllabuses will need to take account of the statutory attainment targets and programmes of study for the subject concerned. In the case of history, these have yet to be announced.

The circumstances of the case raised today arise from reorganisation in East Sussex. Let me sketch out in general the position of individual teachers who may be affected by schemes of reorganisation. If, as is usually the case, a teacher has an authority-wide contract—that is, his place of work is deemed to be the LEA rather than a particular school or college—the authority will have a responsibility to look for alternative comparable employment elsewhere in the authority. Only if the LEA cannot offer such employment, or an offer of employment is unreasonably refused, could an individual properly be made redundant. But this rarely, if ever, happens; in practice teachers who lose their posts following a reorganisation generally move to other posts in the authority, secure employment elsewhere, or take premature retirement.

The teachers' pay and conditions document provides further safeguards as regards salary. If as a result of the closure or reorganisation of an educational establishment any teacher loses his post and is re-employed by the same authority in a new post, he is entitled to be paid a salary no lower than the one he had previously been receiving. And, if a teacher loses his post other than as a consequence of an approved scheme of reorganisation, the authority still has the discretion to safeguard the teacher's salary in this way. That is the position in general.

My noble friend asks about the redeployment of staff contained in the East Sussex LEA's education reorganisation plans. I understand that on 1st August 1986 the LEA published proposals under Section 12 of the 1980 Education Act to make a significant change in the character of the Priory School in Lewes. The effect of that change was to remove the school's sixth form from 31st August 1989. The proposal was related to the LEA's intention to establish a tertiary college on the site of the technical college to cater for all 16 to 19 year-olds in the Lewes area.

The authority's proposals were carefully considered by my right honourable friend, who decided to approve them on 12th March 1987. The LEA is now under a statutory duty to implement the proposals.

When East Sussex Local Education Authority consulted local people about the reorganisation, it had the following to say about staffing matters: Paramount in any reorganisation is the need to minimise the disruption to pupils' education. The essential element…is careful planning…changes in staff. [The proposed reorganization] would involve staff in having to choose the age-range which they wanted to teach … the staffing of the new structures would be handled with great care, in consultation with staff and their professional associations. New staffing structures will be devised with the aim of achieving the best match between staff expertise and organisational structure … Appropriate in-service arrangements will be made to support staff into and beyond the transitional stage". I repeat that the Government are not involved in decisions about the use of individual members of staff. I understand that all teaching staff at the Priory School, including the two history teachers concerned, have been given the same consideration in the redeployment exercise and that the LEA has consulted the teacher unions.

One of the members of staff concerned, Dr. Freeman, was offered a post comparable to his existing post at the reorganised Priory School, but I understand that he turned this down and has resigned from the school with effect from August 1989.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I am sorry to keep interrupting the Minister, but he seems to have been so badly briefed that it is only fair to do so. Is he aware that an arrangement was made by the local education authority with Dr. Freeman that he would be offered the post provided he immediately resigned it and did not take it up? It was not a question of taking a post and then deciding to resign.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I was not aware of that. However, as I have stated, if the noble Lord or anyone else feels that there are matters which ought to be inquired into, they can raise them with the Secretary of State. It was my understanding that Dr. Freeman has agreed with the LEA that he should undertake a one-year programme of retraining in tourism and leisure in 1989–90.

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I am just extremely ratty on a hot Friday afternoon, but this will not do. Noble Lords have raised this as a specific issue. To be fobbed off by being told that we can write to the Secretary of State is quite unacceptable. I have done my job: I have said what I want to happen. I want the noble Lord either to tell me what he will do or to tell me that he will go to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State and tell him what I and other noble Lords have said he should do. We cannot go on with this briefing, which, with no disrespect to the noble Lord himself, I find most unattractive and quite unacceptable.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord has said. He will understand that I cannot grant him an inquiry now. My right honourable friend will obviously read the debate and take note of what noble Lords have said. If any noble Lord or anyone else wishes to take the matter further, they can write to my right honourable friend. If he considers it fit and proper he will then institute an inquiry. I cannot give that assurance myself.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I wonder whether under the circumstances my noble friend will consider this suggestion. Every noble Lord who has spoken this afternoon feels very strongly on the subject. I appreciate that my noble friend is not a Minister in the department concerned. However, we should like to have an undertaking from him that he will himself raise with the Secretary of State the concerns expressed this afternoon and indicate that it is the wish of everyone who took part in the debate that there should be an inquiry into this matter.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, before my noble friend continues, perhaps he will allow me to add a further point. There appear to be considerable inconsistencies between the brief which he has presented to the House and the facts—which are there to be challenged—presented by noble Lords who have spoken. I think that there are sufficient inconsistencies for my noble friend at least to go back to the Secretary of State and say that, taken together, they are grounds for further investigation.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I was coming to the end of my speech, but I take the point made by my noble friend Lady Young. I certainly give the assurance that I shall personally bring the matter to the attention of my right honourable friend. I do not think that I can say anything more, but I give the assurance that I shall bring it to his attention. I reiterate that it is open to anyone to apply to my right honourable friend to institute an inquiry under Section 68 of the 1944 Act. I do not think that I can go further than that.

House adjourned at twenty-six minutes past four o'clock.