HL Deb 23 May 1990 vol 519 cc893-6

2.57 p.m.

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether two history teachers in East Sussex are being prevented from teaching history in the area of their own local education authority; and, if so, whether there is any action which they can take to remedy this situation.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the two teachers are free to apply for whatever teaching posts in history they wish. It is then entirely a matter for their prospective employers. I understand that those concerned locally, including the local education authority, have always acknowledged the undoubted skills of these teachers and their great commitment to education.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is a great shame that despite the ostensible freedom to apply for the posts, those teachers do not feel free to do so at present because of unfortunate remarks which have been made about them in public? It is a great shame that two excellent history teachers should not be allowed to teach history. One has been relegated to retraining as a primary teacher and the other to a course on tourism. Does my noble friend agree that that is a very bad situation at a time when the country needs every excellent teacher it can get?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the situation is unfortunate. Through my noble friend I invite the two teachers to invoke the grievance procedure within their own local education authority, which I understand they have not done, and if they still feel aggrieved, to present their case formally in writing to the Secretary of State.

Lord Peston

My Lords, perhaps I may say how pleased I am at the Minister's last remark. Is she able to throw any light on what this is all about? Two extremely good history teachers seem, on the face of it, to have been very badly treated. Your Lordships have debated the matter before: no one seems to be able to put a finger on precisely what is going on. It seems to be beyond any reasonable sort of behaviour to suggest that the two teachers have done anything wrong. Does the Minister's department have any knowledge of the matter? In particular, can we be told what is the alleged offence of the two teachers?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I believe that there is no offence at all. I understand that there has been a reorganisation of the schools in East Sussex and that the two teachers were not re-employed. Nevertheless, there appears to be a question mark and a difference between the allegations of the teachers and those of the education authority. It is important to repeat what I said in my first Answer; namely, that the teachers should set out their case in writing to the Secretary of State or invoke the grievance procedure within their authority.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am sorry to come back to this point, but the noble Baroness seems to be throwing salt into the wound. There appears to be some implication that these two people have done something wrong. They have a view of history quite different to mine, but that is not an offence against anything that I can think of. Will the noble Baroness at least assure the House that if her right honourable friend the Secretary of State hears fom the two teachers, he will act rapidly and make it abundantly clear—as I believe will turn out to be the case—that these are two reputable people who are simply trying to do their jobs as teachers?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I repeat that there is no evidence to my knowledge that the teachers have done anything wrong. What is true is that they were not reappointed following reorganistion in that authority. I understand that the teachers are aggrieved about that process. As yet there is no prima facie evidence with the Secretary of State or the local authority. The account by the authority is that the procedures followed were correct; that the governors did not act incorrectly. I repeat that if the teachers continue to feel aggrieved they must present their case to the authority and in writing to the Secretary of State.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, will my noble friend indicate whether these teachers were the victims of some internal reorganisation? Were other teachers also affected by it or was it a reorganisation intended to deal with those two?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my understanding is that there were other teachers who were not re-employed following reorganisation. My understanding is that they were not as aggrieved as these two teachers appear to be, and therefore that grievance must be registered and considered.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this matter came before her department before she became a spokesman for it in this House and that far from the Secretary of State needing to be informed, the case has been before him for a long time, supported by the union to which the two teachers belong? Is she also aware that, far from the proper procedures having been followed, the director of education for East Sussex wrote to the press to say that he could understand why other schools would not wish to employ them?

Finally, is the noble Baroness aware that unless this matter is cleared up, faith on all sides of the House in the wish and willingness of the department to maintain high standards in teaching will be shattered?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I repeat that I am aware that a number of informal approaches have been made to the Secretary of State, from my noble friend Lady Cox and through the union and Members of another place. Today I am inviting the teachers to present their case formally to the local authority and in writing to the Secretary of State. That, to date, has not been done. I find that surprising.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, can I explain my interest in this matter?

Noble Lords


Lord Monkswell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am a school governor? As I understand it, it is the responsibility of the governing body of a school to determine the curriculum to be taught in that school. If there are teachers who are not prepared to teach the curriculum determined by the governing body, will the Minister say whose responsibility it is to determine the employment prospects of those teachers thereafter?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, all the evidence to hand indicates that the two teachers taught the curriculum as determined by the governors of the school. I do not believe that matter to be at issue. The governors have the responsibility for seeing how the curriculum is delivered and the authority lies with them. However, the implication in the noble Lord's remarks is that the teachers were not conforming with the wishes of the governors. I am pleased to say that the teachers taught GCSE in the school according to the requirements of the governing body.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, while agreeing with my noble friend that all legitimate procedures should be enlisted, can she advise me whether, if all else fails, the local ombudsman is available? Can she advise me whether, if that did not work, judicial review would be available?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I understand that this case has been before the local ombudsman. He has determined that there is no case to answer.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is my noble friend in a position to respond to a request made by the NAS/UWT and by the TUC that there should be an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mr. McGovern's loss of employment as a history teacher?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am not aware of that specific request. The decision on whether or not there should be an inquiry rests entirely on a formal presentation by the teachers of their case in writing to the Secretary of State.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, if this matter has been before the department for so long, why are we not told what is the issue?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I could spend a considerable amount of time at the Dispatch Box discussing what I believe to be the issue. However, this has not been before the Secretary of State in any formal capacity. It is important to invite the two teachers to set out their case in writing and present it to the Secretary of State. At that time I shall be able to come to the Dispatch Box and register the consideration of my department.

Lord Annan

My Lords, why were the teachers not advised to do that long ago?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am at a loss to answer that question.