Orders of the Day — Teachers (Salaries)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1967.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McBride.]

11.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Birmingham, Perry Barr

I wish to raise the question of the teachers who, until very recently—indeed until a day or two ago—were on the verge of the most serious dispute since the Second World War, if not this century, between the teaching profession and those who employ them. Happily, much of the topicality which might have surrounded this debate has been dissipated by the agreement which was reached yesterday between the teachers and the local education authorities, and it now looks as though we shall not have the mass dismissals of teachers which appeared almost inevitable only last week when I applied to initiate this debate.

However, I think that on this occasion it is useful to air some of the origins of this dispute, and to have a debate about them, because in my view it is most important that the Department of Education and Science should give a real lead in the future to make sure that the situation which has existed for the past two months, the uncertainty which has existed, and the real bitterness which has grown up, does not occur again. If the Department gave that lead, it could go a long way to achieving this.

What has been gained by this dispute? I agree with what I imagine my right hon. Friend will say, "Not a great deal", but I can list two things. One is the commitment on the local authorities' side, and, indeed, I suppose also on the Government's side, that the idea that teachers are compelled to supervise school meals is now finished. I wholly welcome this, and I shall say something more about it later.

Secondly, there is almost a commitment—I might almost call it a total commitment—that the primary-secondary differential, that is the de facto situation whereby the average salary of secondary school teachers is a great deal higher than that of primary school teachers, will be radically modified when the next Burnham negotiations take place in 1969. These are two great gains on which the National Union of Teachers, although it has made mistakes, and has come under a certain amount of odium over the past few weeks, can look back.

I think that the present situation holds lessons for the Government, for the local education authorities, and for the teachers. I think that the events of the last six weeks must be looked at in the context of growing militancy among teachers, not only in this country, but all over the world. In New York we have seen the end of a bitter teachers' strike which lasted for many weeks, and was only solved by, as it were, going above the local education authority, and the Mayor of New York stepping in to solve it. I think that it is this sort of solution that we have to look for nowadays in Britain.

In the short time available to me, I want to talk about four things. The first is the excuse for the dispute, not the real cause of it, the supervision of school meals by teachers. I am in the happy position of having been in both situations. Before I came to this House, I was a teacher for 10 years, and for about half that time I was subjected to the compulsory supervision of school meals. I did it because I was so badly paid that I welcomed it because I did not have to pay for my lunch every day. I then moved to a rather more enlightened local authority in the West Riding of Yorkshire where a fully-staffed ancillary service was in existence and I ceased to supervise school meals in any way at all. The one lesson that I drew from that was that when I had my dinner hours free to prepare for lessons, free to think about teaching instead of thinking about supervising the school meals, I was a marginally better teacher than I had been before. I think this is the great lesson.

The whole effort of the teaching profession in the next few years must be in one way or another to relieve teachers of the burden of work in order that they can use spare time to improve themselves as teachers. There is this enormous difference between the infants teacher who has no free periods, who works right through the day from when she arrives at school, supervising the school meals, until the school day finishes, and for example the university lecturer who gives three or four lectures a week with one or two classes in addition. The great aim, particularly for primary school teachers, must be to give them more time off. Relieving them of school meal supervision will give them more time off in order to become better teachers. Inasmuch as they will have more time off in the future, I feel that a real victory has been obtained.

I wish to ask three questions. In many of the 17 areas where the National Union of Teachers invoked sanctions, a fully-staffed ancillary service has been set up within weeks, and the local authorities have now pledged themselves to continue that service. The obvious question now is, when are we to have a fully-staffed ancillary service to supervise school meals all over the country? When does the Department envisage that we shall have this fully-staffed ancillary service?

Secondly, what advice are the Government giving local authorities now that we are in this new situation and the local authorities in all areas have promised to move towards a fully-staffed ancillary service to supervise school meals?

Thirdly—and here comes the crunch—how are local authorities to pay for this ancillary service? Where is the money coming from? Is there machinery by which this extra money can be found through the general grant? It is very difficult to pay extra little bits of money through the general grant. Yet local authorities have complained, quite rightly, that they cannot be expected to set up a new service unless they are given the money to pay for it.

This is vital to the future industrial peace of the teaching movement. Although this dispute has been settled for the time being, if there are difficulties in some of the more explosive areas of the country, it could flare up again. It is vital that answers should be given to these questions.

On the question of ancillaries generally, it is worth stating that the National Union of Teachers has constantly been blamed for not accepting ancillaries. The truth is that the local authorities will not appoint ancillaries, and the truth behind that is the fact that the local authorities are so squeezed for current expenditure that they have not got the money to appoint ancillaries. What is the Department's views about encouraging local authorities to appoint ancillaries, particularly to supervise school meals?

Second, the question of unqualified teachers is the least important topic in this debate. We should distinguish two sorts—first, those who are perhaps mature students and who want to do some teaching before going on to training college. They should be given every encouragement to do one or two years as temporary teachers, as laid down by the Burnham Committee. The Ministry has a right to be adamant about this, but the union has a real complaint because, in many areas, temporary teachers, who, according to the Burnham Committee, should teach for only one or two years before going on to training college are in fact teaching for ten, 15 or 20 years simply because no replacements can be accepted. Because they do not want dilution by the back door, they have started the campaign against unqualified teachers. If the Department said clearly that temporary teachers should only teach for two years, much of this bitterness would disappear.

Third, the primary-secondary differential is at the heart of this dispute. Local authorities and the Department commonly say that all teachers receive the same basic salary, and this is true, but the average salary of the secondary school teacher is far higher—I do not know the exact figure, but perhaps my right hon. Friend could provide it—than to a primary school teacher, because the payments above the Burnham scale are so much greater.

The Ministry is very proud of the Plowden Report, as it said at a Press conference the other day, adding how much it was doing to implement it. This Report said that the primary-secondary differential was a fundamental obstacle to giving primary schools a square deal. I am glad that one thing which has come out of the dispute is the recognition by local authorities that this is a problem. Hitherto, throughout the dispute, they have refused to do this. Now, a working party has been set up, for which I am grateful.

The dispute about the differential is not about salaries alone. It is partly that the teachers want it lessened and the two blocks of salaries brought together, but it simply reflects the basic dissatisfaction of many primary school teachers about the schools in which they teach. It is a genuine feeling which has taken the Department and local authorities by surprise, and I hope that it will never be ignored again. This was a strong feeling during the Burnham negotiations and because those negotiations did not consider it, all this bitterness arose. I would like to know what action the Government see the new working party taking. There is no reason why it should not reach agreement about the differential long before the 1969 date for the new Burnham agreement, and I hope that the Department will do what it can to see that the agreement comes quickly, since it will remove much of the bitterness.

The Department's rôle in the education service is at the bottom of much of the unhappiness and bitterness. The Department is just one of the partners in the management panel. However, the bitterness of the teachers about the salary structure and the intransigence of the management panel at the last Burnham negotiations about the primary differential—for which, I believe, the local education authorities were primarily responsible—has rubbed off on the Secretary of State for Education and Science; the Ministry is blamed for whatever goes wrong.

All the evidence throughout the dispute has been to the effect that if only the management had been willing to recognise the existence of the problem, the dispute would have been quite quickly settled. I remind my right hon. Friend that the 1944 Act, which has been amended, states that the Secretary of State must … secure the effective execution by local authorities under his control and direction, of the national policy of providing a comprehensive educational service in every area. I do not believe that nearly enough of a firm hand has been placed on the local education authorities in the past and I ask for the words of the Act to be properly adhered to in future so that the Minister can take real responsibility for assuaging all the bitterness that has arisen in the past and make sure that it never arises again. There are dangers unless the Ministry makes it clear to the teachers that it really wants to see these difficulties of the difference between primary and secondary teachers solved once and for all. Otherwise these difficulties will arise again.

11.46 p.m.

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) and I have at least one thing in common. We have both supervised school meals. I can, therefore, claim to know from experience what I am talking about, just as my hon. Friend claimed precisely that.

As my hon. Friend said, when he first gave notice to raise this subject the position looked very serious. The House will be pleased to hear that there was a settlement yesterday. It is very important that nothing is said tonight that might in any way exacerbate the position. My hon. Friend will agree, on reflection, that if I were to answer all his questions I would be prejudging the work of the working parties which are due to be set up and which will start work very soon.

I am glad that this debate has taken place because it gives me an opportunity to try to make clear the issues which are in dispute. Certainly there is a need for clarification, because rarely can the issues have been so mixed up or ends so confused with means. When the sanctions campaign of the National Union of Teachers was introduced, the impression was abroad that it was about the supervision of school meals and the employment of unqualified teachers.

There is undoubtedly still an impression in the country that if teachers could be relieved of the supervision of school meals, all would be well. Certainly the teachers have strong feelings on these matters. Equally certainly, these alone would not have led the N.U.T. to the extreme measures it has taken. Opposition to the supervision of school meals and the employment of unqualified teachers was an expression of secondary grievances.

The real argument, as my hon. Friend said, has been about salaries. The campaign started as an attempt to overturn the recent Burnham pay settlement, which was determined by independent arbitrators after discussions in the Burnham Committee had broken down. The real grievances—and I know that they are strongly and sincerely felt—are still about salaries.

Between 22nd September and 7th November, after the N.U.T. had failed to respond to offers by the local authority associations to discuss the issues of school meals and unqualified teachers, my right hon. Friend had four meetings with representatives of the union. They were not easy meetings, because those who came were, understandably, not in a position to commit the union, and almost invariably what seemed promising ideas for settlement in a meeting were amended afterwards, and discussion had to begin again. Nevertheless, they were useful because they defined more closely than before the causes of dispute, and they went a long way towards finding the formula for a settlement. The agreement which was reached yesterday between the local authority associations and the N.U.T. had its origin in those meetings.

One thing which was very early apparent in the meetings was that the issue of the employment of unqualified teachers was not an issue which in itself would have led to a crisis. That there is a problem is recognised by all concerned, and that it could be dealt with adequately in a working party was equally apparent. There has been only a little discussion about it, and it has never been a reason for major conflict.

The school meals issue is more complicated. The union has always said that it was in favour of school meals, but it objected to the local education authorities' powers to compel teachers to undertake supervision. The powers of compulsion were rarely used, although they were always in the background. My right hon. Friend pointed out that although some local education authorities would be reluctant to see compulsion go, for fear that the school meals service would break down in their areas, he had an open mind and was prepared to initiate talks on the problem with the teachers and the local authorities, provided the union lifted its sanctions. He suggested that a working party might be appointed with the intention of reaching conclusions within a month.

That suggestion, too, is reflected in the settlement which has now been reached. It may seem to some hon. Members that an easier solution might have been possible, but this is not a simple matter. It is not, as some people think, an argument about serving meals. It relates to the whole question of supervision and discipline in the school at lunch time. The head teacher in any school is responsible when children are in the school.

But the main issue has been over salaries, and in particular the system under which the salaries of heads and deputy heads, and the number of graded posts in a school, are determined in accordance with the number of pupils, weighted by age—the "unit total system", as it is known. My right hon. Friend made it plain to the union that under no circumstances was he prepared to entertain an alteration to the arbitrators' award within the period of its currency. He realised, however, how strongly the teachers felt about the effect of this system on primary school teachers, and he therefore said that he would be very happy to consider with the authorities how the teachers' salary grievances might be explored, in order that there might be an easier approach to the more controversial matters in the next salary settlement, which is expected to operate from 1st April, 1969.

I do not think that we do any good service to either the teachers or their employers if we suggest that a revision of the unit total system presents an easy problem. The arbitrators listened to argument on the subject and obviously did not find it easy. What is needed is a cool look at what should be recognised to be a difficult problem. In order that this might be done my right hon. Friend suggested that either he or the Burnham Committee might invite three or four persons experienced in educational matters to give advice on the problem. Alternatively, he suggested to the union that it might be of advantage to refer the structure of teachers' salaries to the National Board for Prices and Incomes. The union indicated that it preferred to keep consideration of the matter within the Burnham machine, but, again, the seed of the final agreement on this matter had been sown.

There have since been patient and detailed talks between the union and the local authority associations, and I do not think it would be helpful at this stage to summarise them in detail or to elaborate the difficulties which arose. Suffice it to say that agreement was reached yesterday. It is a fairly long and complicated agreement in which the words have been weighed carefully by both parties. Essentially it provides for working parties to be appointed to consider promptly the issues relating to school meals and unqualified teachers, the former to do its utmost to report within a month of its first meeting and the second within six months.

On the salary issues the Burnham Committee is recommended to set up a working party to examine the principles underlying the structure of the basic salary scale and to review the arrangements relating to the unit total system with a view to making recommendations in time for negotiations for the next salary settlement. I know that here my hon. Friend has asked me various questions, but I think it would be utterly wrong for me tonight to go into details as to how these working parties should go about their business or to make comments on what might come out of them. We all hope that the working parties will produce very good reports which will form a basis for a permanent settlement of these issues.

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

No. I am sorry. I cannot give way. I have only three minutes left. If I do I shall not finish what I have to say. My hon. Friend did not allow me a lot of time.

It is part of the agreement that the local authority associations will draw the attention of their members to the fact that they are free to make appropriate provision of supervisory assistance and will advise those affected by sanctions which have not appointed additional supervisory staff to review the scale of provision and consider the need for the immediate appointment of additional supervisors in primary and secondary schools.

The National Union of Teachers, for its part, will authorise the members in the 18 areas affected by sanctions prior to 1st November to co-operate in the meantime on a strictly voluntary basis in maintaining or restoring the normal provision of midday meals. This will be without prejudice to the work of the working party and in the light of the response to the advice given by the associations to their members.

In the six additional sanctions areas the N.U.T. agreed to withdraw its instructions to its members not to participate in school meals supervision, and the associations agreed to request the authorities to withdraw, or refrain from taking, counter-measures.

Pleased as I am that it has been possible to reach this agreement, I am saddened that it has been achieved so late and after so much bitterness has been caused. I think it was within the grasp of the teachers when they talked with the Secretary of State on 7th November and again when they considered the matter further with the local authority associations on 10th November. I understand that both parties have now conveyed the agreement to their members. The extension of sanctions which the union announced on 8th November and the counter-measures which the authorities felt compelled to take undoubtedly worsened the atmosphere.

When hard feelings have been aroused on both sides there is clearly a risk that misunderstandings will arise. We now have an opportunity to put an end to the unfortunate events of the last few months. Not all the damage that has been done will be immediately repaired. But I believe that given good will and a recognition by each side of the other's difficulties we can yet achieve an agreement which might be the basis of a better understanding for the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Twelve o'clock.