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Teachers (Dispute)

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 25 June 1985

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current teachers' pay dispute.

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on the current teachers' pay dispute.

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current position over the teachers' strike.

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the current teachers' pay dispute.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current situation with regard to the teachers' dispute.

On 23 May the management panel of the Burnham committee increased its 1985 pay offer to 5 per cent. The teachers' panel rejected this, refused to go to arbitration and declined to address my 21 May initiative. That had carried forward my offer of July last year to consider carefully any restructuring package on which the employers and the teachers might agree. On 21 May I made plain the Government's readiness to make additional resources available for teachers' pay next year if agreement in principle could be reached by October on a reform of the current pay system designed to meet the Government's educational objectives and to provide improved promotion opportunities for good teachers. The Government are also seeking a clarification of teachers' duties and are prepared to consider alternative arrangements and funding for the midday supervision of pupils. This initiative requires a quick and constructive response if the prospect of a realistic and lasting settlement is not to be lost for yet another year.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts to raise standards in the teaching profession, parts of which seem determined to be dragged screaming and reluctantly into the next century. Does he believe that there are any prospects of the new talks in Burnham scheduled for 3 July taking place with any value al all? Does he feel that there is a risk of the NUT once again withdrawing from the discussions?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I acknowledge that most teachers are effective and hard working in dealing with an intensely difficult task. I cannot predict what will happen when Burnham meets again, but I hope that the interests of the children and teachers will prevail so that attention can be given to the bargain that I have invited the teachers and their employers to negotiate with a view, if the outcome is affordable and good for the children's education, to extra funding next year through the Government.

Following my right hon. Friend's helpful comment about the work of the vast majority of teachers—and observing that that, in my case, with all-party colleagues, is refreshed by recent evidence in primary schools throughout the country — does he agree that for the cause that they represent to be successfully prosecuted, it must have public support? Does he further agree that the recent industrial action has, sadly, much eroded that support among the people whom they must convince and who, in the end, will have to foot the bill?

I agree that the action chosen by the teachers to damage the education of children must be damaging to their own claim to professionalism in the eyes of the majority of the public.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that a long-term settlement is the only sensible basis for a solution to the teachers' problem, and that the war of attrition being carried out by the teachers against the children in our schools is deplorable and no more than blackboard blackmail?

I think that I am entitled to recognise that most, if not all, of the initiatives taken by the Government outside pay have been such as to be welcomed by most teachers in the interests of good and better schooling in this country. Therefore, I agree that a long-term approach—coupled with appraisal, better promotion prospects and better career development, all of which are undertakings by the Government—is in the interests of the teachers and of the whole country.

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to a letter in The Times last Friday from a Peterborough headmaster illustrating the appalling damage that the right hon. Gentleman's policy is causing to education and to the teaching profession generally? Did the right hon. Gentleman note particularly the last paragraph of that letter, in which the headmaster made it clear:

"Our leaders are rich enough to be detached about money and too foolish to see where their daily slander leads"?

Without impugning the sincerity of the writer of that letter, I think we can all agree that the bargain, which sooner or later will be struck, must be concerned with the interests of the children and of schooling in this country. I am sure that virtually every teacher would accept that.

Did my right hon. Friend read the report in the News of the World magazine at the weekend describing the practice adopted by our hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, when he was a distinguished headmaster, of providing space in school reports for parents to comment on teachers? Does my right hon. Friend think that that practice should be spread throughout education? Will he also say something about the mechanism to be adopted for appraisal so that good teachers can be paid more?

I normally take very seriously the views of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, but I have in mind that the method of appraisal should be broadly worked out by the teachers themselves and their employers. Informal appraisal is already carried out on a wide scale. I merely seek to make it formal, and I have put aside some taxpayers' money for pilot schemes to try out different methods in the next few years as soon as the teachers' unions allow them to take place.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance to the House and to teachers throughout the country that he will not use his veto if members of the Burnham committee wish to recommend an improved offer, as I have no doubt they would like to do, and that they should and will do so if standards of education in this country are to be improved?

No Minister should inhibit himself from using the power of veto if it seems to him and to the Government to be in the interests of the public. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it stems from the time of a Labour Government.

How is it possible for a police constable in Workington to be earning £9,234 a year, which is more than a head of department in many comprehensive schools in Cumbria? How is it possible for a 26-year-old constable on the beat in London to be earning more money than a deputy head in many comprehensive schools in Cumbria? How is it possible for the lowest grade of policeman to be earning more money annually than highly educated and professional people in the teaching profession? Is there not something wrong with the Government's system of priorities?

The Government are offering the teaching profession the prospect of a changed salary structure in return for improvements in effectiveness, the use of an expanded in-service training network and increased promotion prospects — [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because at the time when the police pay structure was sharply altered, and as a result of the behaviour of the Labour Government, there was a great shortage of policemen. Pay arrangements must respond to recruiting, retention, motivation and quality factors, as policemen's pay then did. Secondly, the conditions and performance of policemen—for example, their lack of the right to strike—must be taken into account. I doubt whether most teachers would welcome the conditions of work of policemen.

Will the right hon. Gentleman define what he means by "affordable," and will his definition take into consideration the cost to the nation of not creating a decently-paid and highly motivated teacher force?

I also take into account the cost to the children and to the nation of present standards, which, as I have explained time and again, are not entirely the responsibility of teachers. The salary scale for teachers must take account of their willingness to improve their average effectiveness, their acceptance of improved promotion prospects and their use of an expanded network of in-service training—all of which is either on offer or has already been announced by the Government.

Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that children's education has been disrupted because of the Government's intransigence in paying such miserable wages to the teachers? Does he accept that the Burnham committee, due to the recent elections, has changed in character and that at its next meeting the authorities panel will be supporting the teachers? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that he must put some new money on the table, because tying it to all the other things in the package is holding things up? Is he further aware that at packed meetings throughout the country—I attended one last night — the teachers are planning to carry this dispute right up to the end of the year?

But it was the teachers, led by the NUT, who decided to disrupt the children's education.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the present strikes are so rotting the behaviour and atmosphere in schools that they will make the lives of teachers much more difficult when normality is resumed?

Why has the Secretary of State neither replied to nor aknowledged my letter to him of 19 June, in which I asked him for a meeting to discuss the teachers' dispute? Why has he not more enthusiastically welcomed the recall of the Burnham negotiating committee? I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he is still Secretary of State for Education and Science and not yet the Minister without Portfolio, which he is tipped to become. Why will he not for once take some positive, constructive action to end this highly damaging dispute?

I am sorry if I have not answered the hon. Gentleman's letter. I shall do so immediately. I am glad to welcome the recall of the Burnham committee. The hon. Gentleman would have been more his honest self if he had phrased the latter part of his question by asking me why I was not producing more taxpayers' money. That is what he has in mind. The Government are willing to produce more taxpayers' money in return for an affordable bargain from the teachers.