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Teachers' Trade Unions

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he intends to meet officials of the National Union of Teachers.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to meet representatives of the teachers' trade unions.

Mr. Mark Carlisle : I am hoping to meet representatives of the Association of Principals of Colleges later today, and I hope to attend the Easter conferences of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers.

I hope that the Minister does not get a roasting at that conference. Does the NUT accept his proposition that the quality of education has not been affected, and will not be affected, by the cuts that have already been made in public expenditure and the cuts that will come in the future? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, if the quality of education is to be maintained, local rates will inevitably have to be put up very substantially? Will he agree with the NUT if it puts pressure on the local authorities to increase the rates so as to maintain standards?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes to me when I attend the NUT conference. I realise that the NUT does not accept the arguments that I have put forward. However, let me give the hon. Gentleman one fact, which is that at present we have the lowest pupil-teacher ratio that we have ever had, and we envisage a continuation of that.

When the Secretary of State does meet the teachers' unions, and I am sure that he will receive a courteous reception, will he explain how he can afford to introduce an expensive assisted places scheme when education authorities such as Cheshire county council, as a result of a shortage of cash, have to axe sixth-form provision in a brand-new comprehensive school at Padgate in my constituency?

I can only repeat that the cost of the assisted places scheme does not start until the year 1981–82, and it is assumed that it will cost about £3 million out of a total education budget of £8 billion a year. That £3 million will go towards assisting individual parents whose children we believe will benefit from the opportunity of the education that they will be able to obtain.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the NUT, will lie diplomatically point out that his proposals for a common examination system have met with universal acceptance elsewhere?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sorry that the NUT was the only body which appeared to be out of step with the general reaction to the proposals that we have made.

Is the Secretary of State aware that many NUT members fear increasing friction between the voluntary and county schools within the maintained sector, partly through falling rolls, partly through the Education (No. 2) Bill and partly because of the action of certain churches, particularly the Church of England in respect of Twyford school in Ealing? Will he bear that in mind when he considers the section 13 application that is now before him?

I repeat that section 13 proposals will be looked at on their merits. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I am also concerned with the interests of parents. I believe that parents have the right to choose between both Church schools and maintained schools within as wide an area as possible.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets officials of the NUT will he discuss with them ways whereby unauthorised absenteeism can be monitored on a county by county basis in order to eliminate school truancy as much as possible?

When I meet the NUT I am sure that many things of different natures affecting education will be discussed.

When the Secretary of State next meets the NUT does he expect to have any good news for it with regard to the transport clauses in the Education (No. 2) Bill, bearing in mind that the NUT was vigorously opposed to those clauses? Has his Department reconsidered its position with regard to those clauses, or does the right hon. and learned Gentleman intend that the Department should ride roughshod over the other place in the same way as he has ignored opinion in this House and outside on this issue?

The hon. Lady says that I have ignored opinion. There was a full debate on the transport clauses and they were carried by a majority vote of this House. If I had to tell the NUT conference that the transport clauses had been removed it would inevitably mean that savings would have to be found from elsewhere in the budget, which would have a far greater effect on the employment of teachers.