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Teachers (Pay)

Volume 79: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress of talks on the restructuring of teachers' salaries.

There has been no further progress since the National Union of Teachers led the teachers' panel out of discussions in the Burnham joint structure working party on 5 December.

Has any progress been made on the means of implementing an appraisal system? If so, how will this be done?

Alas, the teachers' unions have blocked the taxpayers' money that I have set aside for pilot appraisal schemes. I am eager to embark on those schemes as soon as possible. In the meantime, I am convening a conference in the autumn on the subject of appraisal, to which local education authorities and teachers' represen- tatives will certainly be invited.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the teachers are incensed about the issue of pay and restructuring, partly because education spending since the Tory party came to power has been surpassed by the amount spent on defence? The teachers believe that the £4 billion more that is now spent on defence shows that this Government think that education has a low priority. The teachers know also that in 1980, after the Tory party was elected, the Secretary of State doubled his money. Every Tory Minister has made up for all the lost ground and now earns more than £40,000 a year. If Ministers can make up lost ground in pay, the teachers are right to ask, "Why can we not make up for all the ground that has been lost during these Thatcher years?" The other day I read that the bosses made 30 per cent. more money in 1985. Is it any wonder that teachers fight for a better standard of living?

During the past seven to eight years there have been about 15 per cent. fewer children in our schools to be taught. That accounts for the fall in the amount of money available for education. In the case of defence, it sometimes seems that the opponents of this country are ever more numerous.

With 1 million children affected by strike action this week, will my right hon. Friend endeavour to incorporate a no-strike clause in any future formula which may be agreed for teachers' pay?

I am grateful for that constructive suggestion. My representatives play only a limited, although important, part in the negotiations. I am sure that the employers will note that suggestion.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the attitude of the teachers' unions in wholely ignoring the restructuring talks, which offer the best hope of better conditions and salaries for union members, the teachers have made it clear that the purpose of the current action has less to do with pay and more to do with inter-union and internal union rivalries?

I am glad that my hon. Friend has mentioned that. It is clear that the teachers' unions are not exactly unanimous among themselves.

Why does the Secretary of State not admit, rather than conceal the fact, that the teachers are not against restructuring or reassessment? Will he admit that what the teachers oppose is his insistence on tying the two things together in terms of the current wage demand? Is he aware that the teachers want new money on the table because they have lost out in all the years of Conservative Government, but that after they have obtained that increase they will willingly discuss what is to happen about restructuring and reassessment? It is not true that the teachers are against that. Tell the truth.

They give the impression of being against any restructuring whatever, but I know that the NUT pamphlet declares its sympathy for appraisal in some context and I am encouraged by that.

As the discussions on restructuring coupled with the current pay dispute have done little if anything to improve the image of the teaching profession among the general public, and as my right hon. Friend shares the ambition of many Members, myself included, of wishing to attract the best possible people into the teaching profession, will he assist by explaining how we are to encourage young people to enter the teaching profession at the present time?

I believe that a restructured profession, with all that that implies, must come sooner or later. I believe that that will make it even more worth while for the kind of people whom my hon. Friend and I wish to see enter the profession.

Given the fact, which no one seems to have challenged, that teachers' pay has slipped by about 30 per cent., will the Secretary of State draw on his experience at the Department of Industry and realise that he must sort that out first before going on to deal with restructuring, because until he faces that issue relationships will continue to be atrocious?

The hon. Member reminds me of my experience with industry, in which there are virtually no secure jobs. The teachers have almost total security of employment and are thus much envied by many people. I believe that hankering back to comparability would bring back the rocketing inflation and unemployment which it brought to this country in the past.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many teachers taking industrial action are doing so out of sheer frustration and that it is hurting them as much as it hurts the children whom they teach? Bearing that in mind, will my right hon. Friend do all that he possibly can to try to solve the teachers' pay dispute in the long term as well as the short term? Will he also consider the scrapping of Burnham and the merging of two committees, one dealing with terms and conditions and the other dealing with pay?

I agree that many teachers must be striking or disrupting with heavy hearts and I respect the large number of teachers and some unions who are unwilling to disrupt at all, but I must correct the impression given by my hon. Friend. The teachers are using methods of disruption which are virtually costless to themselves but very costly to the children.

Having given conflicting replies to me and to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), and having confused his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), will the Secretary of State now tell us what sort of appraisal he has in mind, if he has anything in mind at all?

I have in mind a system or systems to be worked out with the employers and the teachers themselves. There is no question of imposing one particular, precise drill At is important that the employers and the teachers, with the Department, should formulate methods of appraisal that will be fair and satisfactory. The House should realise that appraisal already takes place informally all the time—for instance, when promotions are offered. I am merely asking that there should be a formal procedure.

Although, by and large, the majority of teachers do a good and dedicated job for their pupils, is it not true that many parents are aware that there are some thoroughly bad teachers? If we have to reduce the number of teachers to match the falling birth rate, should we not make sure that we lose the very bad teachers? That can be achieved only through an appraisal system in which the teachers themselves take part. Let us lose the bad teachers and keep the good ones.

The purpose of appraisal is far more constructive even than that. It is to offer in-service training and career development opportunities for all teachers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is most important that appraisal should be carried out by independent people, so that both teachers and employers feel that it is entirely independent?

I think that I can agree with my hon. Friend in principle, to the extent that the appraisal should be conducted by a method respected by all concerned. I am not prepared at this stage to say that it should be carried out by independent people.