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Teaching Profession

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he proposes next to meet leaders of the teaching profession.

I expect to meet representatives of teachers in universities and in colleges of further and higher education on 13 May, and of the National Association of Head Teachers on 26 May.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the teachers' leaders does he agree that they will draw to his attention the crushing Tory election defeats of last week? Will he give an assurance that he will not frustrate any plans for comprehensive schools in any local education authority areas?

The hon. Gentleman's charming smile as he asked his supplementary question made me think that he did not really believe that there had been the crushing defeat that he pretended, compared with the occasion when the seats were last fought. I believe that education largely needs a period of stability. In the local education authorities, where the political leadership changes regularly, I hope that those concerned will come to agree a system of education that will not be changed, or made the subject of an attempt to change, every time the political leadership of the council changes.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the teachers' representatives will he discuss with them the £140 million which has been issued to them by some boneheaded and rather scatterbrained professor from somewhere in the Midlands, and say what he intends to do, together with the local authority associations, to get that money back on behalf of the ratepayers, who are likely to be hammered through the pocket by teachers' pay to far too great an effect?

The Department employs no teachers. The employment of teachers is a matter for the teachers' unions and the local education authorities. My hon. Friend commented on the £140 million. It appears that there was a factual error in Professor Clegg's report. It is by no means clear what effect, if any, that had on the recommendations that were eventually made.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the teachers' leaders, will he give further consideration to the issue of falling rolls and extend a good deal of sympathy to the problem that arises in inner cities, where there are special demographic and other features that will have to be met with help?

Over the next few years numbers in schools will fall dramatically. I have said repeatedly that the saving that we are looking for in education, both in the number of teachers and in expenditure generally, is less than the equivalent proportionate fall in the number of pupils. We realise that there are some diseconomies of scale.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the leaders of the teachers' unions on a future occasion, will he indicate to them that he believes in democracy and that, perhaps reluctantly, he has agreed the reorganisation proposals for Tameside, which indicates clearly that the Government honour local democracy when there is a change of Government? When he next meets the head teachers and teachers will he tell them that parents are also experts on their children and that we expect as much attention to be paid to parents' wishes for their children's future as we do to the wishes of teachers.

My hon. Friend asked me rather a lot of questions in one supplementary question. I agree with him about the importance of the wishes and the views of parents. That is inherent in the recent Education Act. As for my hon. Friend's remark about Tame-side, yes, I believe in democracy. I believe that, on issues of policy, the local education authority must at least have the opportunity of putting forward the plans that it believes are right for its area. I, among others, have to decide on education grounds whether the plans are acceptable to the Department.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the leaders of the teaching profession, will he make it clear that he approved the Tameside proposals not reluctantly, as his hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) suggested, but because they were right for the area and because several elections had proved that that was what the electorate wanted? In the areas that have not yet gone comprehensive, and where there have been clear mandates from the electorate at last week's elections, will he confirm that he will not stand in the way of authorities that wish to go comprehensive in future? Will he also explain—

I repeat that I approved the Tameside proposals to go comprehensive because they represented an issue of policy for the borough and were submitted by the duly elected local education authority. The proposals have been argued through two local election campaigns. I was advised that if the area was to go comprehensive the system was sound educationally. As I said to the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), in reply to an earlier question, I still believe that it is in the interests of children generally that we retain, rather than continually change, our form of secondary education.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his decision—announced today—about Tameside? Is it not significant that a council that was Conservative-controlled two years ago now has 46 Labour councillors and 10 Conservative councillors? Is he aware that there is some concern about the long delay that occurred before the decision was announced? Although some of us accept that such decisions should not be announced during local elections, was not the announcement on the Birmingham local education authority during that time very strange? Does the Department use any criteria when making such announcements?

With great respect, the two cases are totally different. Only one school was involved in Sutton Coldfield. The local education authority put in a request to restore the school to grammar status, and that request was shown to have the support of parents living in Sutton Coldfield. That came up in the normal way, and I thought it right that the decision should be announced.

I am glad that I managed to make the announcement about Tameside after the elections. I know that education is a highly emotive issue in that area, but I hope that the decision will now be accepted with good grace by both sides.