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Education And Science

Volume 81: debated on Tuesday 25 June 1985

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Teachers (Dispute)

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.

Mowden Hall

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will transfer more of his Department's work to Mowden Hall.

The Department is committed to transferring areas of its work to Darlington where this is justified in terms of operational efficiency and cost, taking account also of the interests of London staff.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the Darlington staff, whose work may not be glamorous but is important to the fulfilment of his Department's functions? Can he reassure me that he will continue to transfer work to Mowden Hall as and when necessary?

Yes, gladly, and with genuine warmth, I pay tribute to the staff at Darlington, which I and my two colleagues have visited with pleasure.

Teacher Training

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the current number of students entering training for teaching.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Bob Dunn)

The number of entrants to initial teacher training in the academic year 1984–85 was 16,707. Target intakes for the academic year 1985–86 are 17,652.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one consequence of this damaging and prolonged dispute is the reduction in the number and quality of mathematics and science teachers coming into and remaining in the profession, since many have taken early retirement to take up jobs in industry?

We are actively considering whether other intitiatives might be pursued by the Department, in concert with others, to improve the recruitment of teachers in shortage areas. We have recently received advice on this subject from the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers, and the Secretary of State's comments will be made known in due course.

Does the Minister accept that there is considerable unease and anxiety among those involved in initial teacher training about the roles of the institutions and the funding available? Is it not time that he made a clear policy statement on this matter?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the national and Wales advisory bodies have been invited to advise on the allocation of teacher training intakes to institutions in the public sector. The University Grants Committee is considering the distribution of intakes among universities. Its comments, and the response to them, will be made known in due course.

Teachers (Pay And Performance)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with teachers' unions other than the National Union of Teachers on a package of proposals for restructuring pay and performance.

Since last October I have had discussions touching upon these matters with the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, the Professional Association of Teachers and the Secondary Heads Association.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reply will be greatly welcomed by the hundreds of dedicated teachers in my constituency who are not members of the NUT and who abhor that union's wrecking tactics? Does he agree—he would have the support of the House if he did—that we should push forward with negotiations with unions other than the NUT on appraisals and restructuring, and not allow the unrepresentative majority of the NUT on the Burnham committee to block all sensible negotiations?

The statutory framework limits negotiations to Burnham. I am under pressure from many to seek legislative authority to change Burnham, and I remain ready to be convinced that that would be a useful step. However, that is the subject of a later question.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any Minister who has to rely upon his veto or the veto of his officials to overcome the Burnham committee's recommendations will fight a losing battle? It is like trying to stop the tide. The role of King Canute does not become the right hon. Gentleman. He should accept the majority wish of the Burnham committee, if and when that recommendation is made.

It was King Canute's courtiers, not the wise King Canute, with whom I think the hon. Gentleman is comparing me. How can the taxpayer be protected when the Burnham committee makes decisions about the spending of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, unless someone has some power to set a limit, if necessary by veto, on what is agreed by those who do not pay for the consequences?

Is my right hon. Friend absolutely determined to stick to the October deadline for agreement if there are to be additional resources next year? Many people think that, even with the best will in the world, that is not an attainable target. Furthermore, they believe that it plays into the hands of the NUT, which, by its unrepresentative and militant stand, is undermining the good work done by other teaching unions, such as the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association.

The Government's choice of October is not an arbitrary one. It is the date before which decisions must be made if extra money is to be injected into rate support grant.

Why does the Secretary of State not do something a little ingenious for a change? Why does he not go to the Treasury, when the Chancellor has gone missing, call at the Bank of England, when the Governor is on the golf course or on a foreign trip, get £100 million of the money that is needed to resolve the teachers' dispute, and say, "I am just doing a Johnson Matthey"?

The hon. Gentleman is showing the degree of his ignorance if he thinks that there is £100 million lying about in either of those places.

What does my right hon. Friend think is the objective of calling out on strike teachers in constituencies which dare to return Conservative Members? Is the idea that we should go to my right hon. Friend to make a special pleading? If so, how do we avoid giving the lesson to children that bad behaviour, threatening and bullying win through?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the example that is being set is deplorable. To that must be added the ignoble and thoroughly deplorable practice of taking it out on children and their future, merely because, by chance, a particular person has been elected to represent the constituency.

How much money is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to put behind the package? I hope that it is more than the 2 per cent. which is rumoured in the press.

I am glad to say to the House and to those outside who are concerned about this matter that it would be wise not to take too much account of what they read in the press.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, if he had been able to pursue a more consistent package in the earlier stage of the negotiations, the response that he received from the organisations to which he referred when replying to this question might have provided him with an opportunity to resolve this damaging industrial dispute? Will he pursue a package, along the lines of that discussed with those associations, which will not only include a no strike deal but will put more money on the table and provide a long-term programme?

The essence of the proposal, which was confirmed in my letter of 21 May, has been on offer since July last year—11 months.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the majority of teachers in my constituency and throughout Britain generally do not support the disgraceful industrial action that is doing so much damage and marring the education of our children? Will he therefore urgently examine ways of getting the talks on performance and pay under way, even if that means upsetting the politically motivated leaders of the NUT?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is correct in saying that many teachers and some leaders of teachers' unions welcome the main features of the bargain proposed by the Government.

University Lecturers

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about salary scales for university lecturers.

The Department has received about 1,800 letters in the past two months on the pay of university academic and related staff.

How does the Secretary of State justify the 20 per cent. cut in real terms in the pay of university lecturers since the Government came into office in 1979? Is that a sign of the Government's feelings about the true worth of those who are responsible for helping our young people to be properly trained? Is he aware of the burden that that places upon university lecturers at a time when the Government are cutting university finance by 2 per cent. per year? When will the Government see sense?

The figures and judgment produced by the hon. Gentleman are the result of a selective choice of dates. I understand that university teachers' pay has kept pace with the cost of living.

Has my right hon. Friend seen last week's Audit Commission report, which calculated that at least 75,000 extra students could be taught, in view of the present small classes? As well as agreeing new salary scales for college lecturers, should he not also find better ways to employ them more fully?

My hon. Friend focuses upon something slightly different—the non-advanced level of further education upon which the Audit Commission has produced a significant report. With regard to universities, polytechnics and colleges, I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend and the House that the student-staff ratio in polytechnics has improved a great deal. It is nearer to what the Government judge to be the proper level for a student-staff ratio.

What representations has the Secretary of State received about the glaring injustice in the remuneration of university lecturers in medical schools when compared with similar employees in the NHS? Is it not about time that some comparability was achieved?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I am aware of the problem and am, of course, waiting to see what the relevant authorities will recommend. Universities must live within their budget, which comes mainly from the public sector, and decide on their own priorities.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Audit Commission gave praise as well as blame? Would it not be nice if occasionally some praise were given to those who work in higher education?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I do that most gladly. I seem to be constantly praising — the latest occasion was in front of the Select Committee this morning — the outstanding reputation that our higher education system has across the world.

Is the Secretary of State convinced that the present salary levels, other than those in the clinical sector, are sufficient to attract people of the highest ability into university teaching in those subjects about which he is most worried?

I hope that I am worried about all subjects. The Green Paper on higher education recognises that the essentially national system of pay is not necessarily the ideal way to attract the highest talents, and has invited comments upon possible alternatives.

Does my right hon. Friend accept the gist of what I have put in early-day motion 805, relating to academics in higher education in the medical sector? Does he accept that the statement by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) is correct, and that a proper comparison should be made between those in the Health Service who administer health care and those who teach in the universities, and that their salaries should be comparable? It is no good awaiting reports. My right hon. Friend should act now to ensure that that is the case.

I understand the essence of what my hon. Friend says, but there is a body called the clinical academic staff salaries committee which is considering how to reflect the salary arrangements made for doctors and dentists in the NHS in those made for clinical academic staff. I must await its advice and the reaction of the universities.

Instead of giving praise, will the Secretary of State find a little extra money for those who work in universities? Does he accept that there is not just a problem with the clinical staff and those who work in the NHS, but that there is also an increasing problem in science and technology, where there appears to be a growing brain drain from this country to the United States and Canada?

On the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I accept that if evidence accumulates of a net brain drain, as opposed to an exchange of brains, the position is worrying. That is why I spoke only a week ago of the importance that I attach to the ABRC's recommendations for science. However, I warn the hon. Gentleman that, because he is always getting up and undertaking to spend more public money, the cumulative total will completely discredit his party.

Universities (Freedom Of Speech)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals about his proposals concerning freedom of speech in universities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Peter Brooke)

My right hon. Friend has discussed this issue with the committee and will be doing so again next month. Recent events continue to give concern.

Will my hon. Friend press ahead with those discussions as soon as possible? Does he agree that recent events in some of our universities, involving militant action against free speech by tiny groups of student—stiny both in number and in mental stature—give rise to doubts, particularly in the case of the recent incident at Bristol university, about the fitness of such people to be in universities in the first place?

I readily concur that the correspondence columns of the Bristol university periodical are a rich quarry on the subject of freedom of speech in an academic environment — indeed, with a vigorous freedom of speech of their own that is worthy of Burke.

Does the Under-Secretary of State recognise that tenured appointment for university staff has been an important element in safeguarding freedom of speech and thought in universities? Does he not realise that the Government's intention to threaten that tenure is causing great concern about the future of freedom of speech in universities?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has made it absolutely clear in what he has said about tenure that freedom of speech and of thought—academic freedom in total—will not be threatened.

Local Authority Expenditure

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report on "Local Authority Expenditure Policies on Education Provision in England—1984".

I authorised the report's publication and commend its measured analysis as essential reading to all concerned with the provision of education. I look forward to discussing its findings with the local authority associations.

This report is highly critical of the Government. It points out that the Government's demands for new technology to be introduced into the curriculum leads to many problems for local authorities. Their school buildings need to be refurbished. Many of them were built in the 1950s and 1960s and considerable sums of money need to be spent upon them. If I may give a constituency example, the city of Manchester needs £10 million to carry out this work. That does not take into account the normal maintenance that has to be carried out by local authorities.

I accept that there are shortcomings over the maintenance of school buildings that reach back over several Governments and very many years. However, the same report to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention criticises the management of resources by many local education authorities. They are spending money where it needs not to be spent, with the result that money is stinted where it ought to be spent.

This report is a gross indictment of the Government's disgraceful, disgusting and unacceptable treatment of the education system. Highly qualified and trained teachers are being denied the buildings and the resources that are needed to provide our children with the basic education that they require.

The hon. Gentleman is guilty of selective quotation. The maintenance of buildings is criticised in the report, but it criticises as more significant still the combined effects of bad management by many local education authorities of public resources and ineffective teaching by a considerable minority of teachers.

As a result of Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report on expenditure on schools, does the Secretary of State agree that crisis point has been reached in terms of school repairs? One shire county alone has a backlog of repairs amounting to £35 million. Is the Secretary of State aware that in my constituency, during the last year four schools have had to close because of lack of repairs and that one of them, Elm street, requires repairs amounting to £600,000? Will the Secretary of State help local authorities like mine to foot the bill for these repairs?

Without condoning the position on repairs, I ask the House to realise that the same report said that there was scope for redeployment of public money in many local education authorities. The report, which Opposition Members are using as a quarry to criticise the Government, was not published by them in their time.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in paragraph 14 of the report Her Majesty's Inspectorate—his own advisers — makes it clear that there is a link between resources and quality? Is he further aware that paragraph 89 points out that if we are to increase the level of achievement in our schools there must be more resources? So why is he cutting back central Government money to local education authorities by 9 per cent. in real terms over the next three years?

The hon. Gentleman continually quotes that figure, without adding that that figure was specifically described as provisional. As the report says, adequate resourcing is not a sufficient condition for sound education, but, that said, I accept that there is an association between satisfactory levels of resourcing and the quality of the educational process. There is no conflict between that finding and other evidence that there is only a slight correlation between levels of attainment, as measured by public examinations, and levels of spending on education.

Children (Lunchtime Supervision)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the lunchtime supervision of children at schools.

I deeply regret the fact that members of the three largest teacher unions have, in pursuit of their pay claim, chosen to withhold their support from the head teacher in exercising his overall responsibility for the conduct of the school during the midday break. This has placed a great strain on the head teachers and I should like to express my respect for them and for their sense of duty towards the pupils—and to those who have helped them—in maintaining supervision over the past months. [HON. MEMBERS: "Humbug."] I am surprised that Opposition Members do not share that sense of respect. I have made public the Government's readiness to consider alternative arrangements and some additional funding for midday supervision in 1986–87 in return for a clearer definition of teachers' duties.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I once supervised 1,500 school dinners every day? Therefore, I can well understand the agony recently expressed by head teachers over their problems with supervising school dinners, supervising schools, meeting parents during the lunch hour, supervising the neighbourhood of the school and so on. Is it not a terrible irony that after years of fighting for payment for lunchtime duty there has so far been no discussion by teaching unions of my right hon. Friend's offer of 21 May for payment for lunchtime duties?

I very much hope that discussions on that matter will start fairly soon.

How many children will there be to supervise if the proposal in the Fowler review to scrap free school meals is implemented?

The Fowler review is in Green Paper form. There will still be a need for midday meal supervision, whatever happens on that account.

Pupil Profile Pilot Schemes

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the pupil profile pilot schemes.

Eight pilot schemes have been established in England and one in Wales. The schemes began in April this year and are expected to run for three years.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer and I am sure that on the Conservative side of the House we applaud the introduction of those schemes. Does he agree that such schemes will prove invaluable to employers, in that when an individual comes before an employer for a job he will have something concrete, not just an academic paper qualification, which will tell the employer something about the individual? This is a great step forward in getting more jobs for our young people.

There are many children who do not achieve academically but have other qualities that are of interest to a prospective employer and to the community at large. We believe that in time records of achievement will be of great use to all children, irrespective of their academic commitment and purpose.

Degrees And Qualifications (Sale)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action his Department is to seek to take to stop the sale of degrees and academic qualifications.

The Government believe that no solution is possible without legislation, but further proposals are being put to us, to which we are committed to giving serious consideration.

That reply is most warmly welcomed. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the widespread abuse in this country over the selling of bogus degrees and of the great harm that it does to the well-established colleges of education? Can he give an assurance that that legislation will come through in the next Session of Parliament?

I join the hon. Member in deploring the practice of selling degrees or other academic qualifications. At their request, I recently met representatives of the Association of Business Executives, who have undertaken to set out a proposal which they think might avoid some of the difficulties described. This will be examined and considered on its merits.