School Building and Teacher Shortage

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th March 1963.

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Photo of Mr Edward Short Mr Edward Short , Newcastle upon Tyne Central 12:00 am, 26th March 1963

Quite a number of hon. Members still wish to speak and I have already given way enough.

The revaluation of teachers in society involves many things. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) mentioned one close to my heart. We must end completely the out-of-date view of the teachers' own professional subject, education, held by so many university professors—in other subjects, of course—and officials of the Ministry. Education today is a subject which can stand on its own four legs, and universities should be giving first degrees in education. But not a single university in this country has yet got round to that, although many abroad are doing so. We should begin to do so at once.

When the right hon. Gentleman the Minister was Parliamentary Secretary, some years ago, I raised this matter on a number of occasions and he always rejected it. I am delighted, therefore, that the Labour Party, in its recent policy statement on education, has been doing some thinking in this direction. I look forward to the day when teacher training colleges will become colleges of education equal in status to the colleges of medicine at our universities and giving first degrees in education.

Re-evaluating the place of teachers in society also involves remuneration. Hon. Members opposite sometimes talk of the sense of vocation in teaching. That argument is usually used by people who do not want to pay teachers any more. When we talk about remuneration being attractive we mean the overall salary structure. We do not talk about the remuneration in the medical profession being attractive because one or two top-level surgeons get very high salaries. When we talk about it being attractive we mean the general overall picture of salaries in the medical profession.

Yet the Minister of Education has intervened and, in my view, destroyed the Burnham machinery, in order to make this very point, that differentials are all-important in making the teaching profession attractive, or he says he has. But the argument and the facts are so flimsy as to make this extremely difficult for me to believe.

Does the Minister really assert that his scales—we know now what they are because the N.A.S. has told us—will make teaching more attractive than those of the Burnham Agreement? Does the right hon. Gentleman really dare to assert that the Burnham Committee, since 1945, has not paid sufficient attention to differentials? Let me tell the Parliamentary Secretary that the two-year trained teacher minimum has gone up by 110 per cent. and the maximum by 135 per cent. The head teacher allowance has gone up by 150 per cent. at the minimum and 220 per cent. at the maximum.

The present Minister or Education has said this about Burnham: Salary settlements since 1945 have progressively improved the prospects and rewards for advancements within the profession by increasing the payments for longer training, higher qualifications and greater responsibility in relation to the basic scale. The Minister has said that about Burnham. Yet he is now destroying Burnham because he asserts that Burnham is not paying sufficient attention to the differentials.

The Burnham Committee has existed for forty years. It has worked happily and satisfactorily. But suddenly, in the last few years of this Government, for some reason or other, Burnham has become unsatisfactory and must be altered.

I think that at this moment and in this context it would be appropriate if I said how sorry are hon. Members on both sides of the House at the death of Mr. William Cove, the former Member of Parliament for Aberavon. He was in at the formation of Burnham, and it is rather tragic that he should have died in the year in which Burnham is being destroyed by the Minister. Mr. Cove gave a lifetime of service to education and we all regret his passing.

The Minister's function at Burnham was stated very well by the present First Secretary of State at the time of the passing of the 1944 Act and we should get it on the record. The right hon. Gentleman said: The functions of the Minister under Section 89 of the Education Act, 1944, are limited to approving or disapproving the scales of remuneration submitted to him by the Burnham Committee and, if he approves them, to making the order requiring local authorities to remunerate teachers in accordance with those scales. It was made quite clear when the Clause, which is now Section 89, was introduced in another place that it was so drafted as to leave no responsibility with the Minister for framing the scales or amending the scales submitted to him. Burnham worked on that basis, as I say, quite happily until the right hon. Member for Sutton Goldfield tried to cut the basic scale increases; until Lord Eccles, in 1961, dictated his new scales involving a £5½ million cut; and until this Minister has persisted in redistributing the £21 million award in favour of teachers at the higher end of the scale.

The right hon. Gentleman is doing this in spite of the fact that the present award is really part of a package deal for the peace that was patched up with Lord Eccles in 1961. The Parliamentary Secretary will recollect that the teachers agreed with the local authorities to accept the Eccles scales only if negotiations could take place for new scales to be paid on 1st April, 1963. Therefore, I think that teachers were entitled to expect that Burnham would be allowed to function on its normal lines. Yet the Minister of Education has intervened and refused to accept the unanimous decision of the Burnham Committee on the new scales. He has drawn up his own scales and says that he intends lo enforce them.

I see from the Press that the Minister of Education was interviewed recently by the teachers in his own constituency. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that he was the first Minister to intervene in Burnham on purely educational grounds. What arrant nonsense this is proved to be, when one sees the scales. It is a pity that they are not available now during this debate so that hon. Members might look at them. In the scales the Minister is delaying the assimilation of two-year trained teachers. Is that on educational grounds? The Minister is to reduce the amount proposed by the Burnham Committee for all two-year trained teachers up to about the age of 32 or 33. Is that on educational grounds?

In my view, to assert that this is on educational grounds is so ridiculous as to he quite unacceptable. Even three-year trained graduates get a reduction from what the Burnham Committee proposed for the first three years. They get no increase for the first three years and an increase of only £20 per annum for the next five years. It means that, in total, over all this period of eleven years they will receive £300 more. Is that on educational grounds? Does the Minister really feel that this will make any difference to anybody? I believe that it amounts to nothing more than sheer bad faith to the category of teachers who are concerned. They actually lose money. I think that hon. Members will agree, having studied the matter, that this amounts to nothing more than sheer bad faith.

The only logical assumption at which I can arrive is that the Minister of Education wishes to provoke a crisis in Burnham. This is in line with Government policy in dealing with other employees in the public sector. The Minister, when talking to the teachers in his own constituency, said: …it is not my intention to dictate the future of the negotiating machinery, but I think I should have a share in the new machinery and further discussions with the teachers' associations. Obviously, the Minister intends to do what Lord Eccles thought better of doing.

I wish to put a specific question to the Minister and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make a note of it. This is of tremendous importance to the teachers. Does the Minister want to be in the negotiations and to be the final arbiter as well? He was asked this during the discussion with the teachers in his constituency. He was accused of being both judge and juror who assumed a place in the negotiating machinery. He was asked whether he proposed to make provision for arbitration, and he replied that he "took the point", but that it was really a matter for negotiation.

Will the Minister please stop being "cagey" about this? The teachers want to know about it. I do not think that teachers would object to the Minister being in on the negotiations. But obviously, if he is in on negotiations, there must be some arbitration machinery at the end of the process. I wish to make clear that I have no right to speak for the teachers' organisations. But I think that no teachers' organisation would agree to the Minister's inclusion in the Burnham process, in the negotiations, unless the machinery also included adequate and trustworthy arbitration machinery.

I see from the Press that representatives of the National Association of Schoolmasters say that Parliament must be the final arbitrator. That means the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman is welcome to the support of the National Association of Schoolmasters.

The Minister says that he wants to come in. What we want to know, on behalf of the bigger teachers' organisations, is whether he is prepared to agree to some independent arbitration machinery at the end of the process. At the moment, it appears that he wants to be in on the salary negotiations and also to be the judge and jury.

In spite of what the Parliamentary Secretary said in an intervention, I believe that the whole purpose of this operation is directed to the belief that the Burnham Committee has been too generous during the last few years. My view, and the view of most teachers, is that the purpose of ensuring that the Minister is in on the negotiations is to see that future Burnham awards will be less generous than they have been in the past.

I want to deal with the claim made by the Minister that he has public opinion behind him. He repeated this claim in the interview which I have quoted on a number of occasions. He said that what he meant was that he had the support of a large measure of the Press, including the Left-wing daily Press. There have been a number of leading articles on this matter, and some letters in support of the Minister from the few teachers who hope to gain at the expense of their younger colleagues.