Orders of the Day — Scotland (Education)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th November 1974.

Alert me about debates like this

11.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Richard Buchanan Mr Richard Buchanan , Glasgow Springburn

I wish to declare an interest, first as a parent and secondly as an unpaid political adviser to the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association.

I had hoped to deal with Scottish education with much of the heat taken out of the present salary dispute by an adjustment or settlement of the present salary structure, but sadly, no debate is possible at this stage without mentioning salaries in Scotland. When we hear of teachers driving a lorry with Alsatian dogs across the gates of a college to keep fellow teachers and pupils out of the college, when we hear of pupils striking because their teachers are not going on strike and when we recall our experiences last Wednesday when the action groups lobbied us, we realise that any future Secretary of State for Employment who seeks a social contract will have trouble on his hands. These incidents simply show how deep the wounds have gone and how teachers, albeit by a small minority, are being driven to extreme measures.

The secret ballot of the SSTA points in a much more positive way to the feeling of the majority of teachers that straight action at least was necessary. The present salaries crisis will leave a legacy of acrimony and bitterness that will adversely affect future generations of pupils. Teachers' bitterness about salaries is the fault not of the present Government alone but of successive Governments who have allowed many teachers to become a depressed section of the community.

Lord Houghton will, I hope, provide justice for teachers in the matter of salaries. I hope his recommendations will reflect the importance to society of the teaching profession and that their rewards will compare favourably with salaries paid in other occupations requiring similar qualifications, enabling a stable base to be formed for keeping teachers' salaries on a reasonable plane in the future. Meanwhile, I would urge all concerned—Lord Houghton, the STSC, and the Government—to ensure that a substantial sum, at least £300, which is only 17 per cent., be paid to the teachers by Christmas. Anything less would simply be throwing money away. The teachers would accept the cash but carry on the strike. There is no point in adding fuel to the flames. Do not let us have any nonsensical excuses about computers and finance departments of local authorities being overloaded. It should be a relatively simple matter to pay the teachers on account. Any adjustments can be made later. In parenthesis, this is as good a time as any to suggest that the responsiblity for paying the whole of the teachers' salaries bill should be that of the Government, taking the local authorities out of it and giving much needed relief to the ratepayers.

What has emerged from the present controversy is that the salaries negotiating machinery is cumbersome and defective. The Remuneration of Teachers (Scotland) Act 1967 appears to give teachers the opportunity to negotiate salaries freely with their employers and to convince the majority of their employers' representatives on the STSC of the justice of their case. This is not possible so long as the Secretary of State has final control of the global sum of money available. It is evident that the negotiating machinery is not all that it appears to be. No matter how convincing the teachers' representatives are in these negotiations, the Secretary of State has a virtual veto.

So we have a dilemma. It can reasonably be argued on the one hand that the Government of the day must have overall control of expenditure, especially on teachers' salaries. On the other hand, teachers must have access to the same free and effective negotiating machinery as other bodies of workers.

The present machinery is neither effective nor just to teachers. The solution as I see it—and I have been saying it for years—is to establish a permanent independent review body with a full-time secretariat whose findings would be binding on both sides. At the least, the machinery should be streamlined and without a veto.

I should like now to turn to other elements of the present crisis. The one to which I attribute most of the discontent and disruption in Scottish schools—in this case, secondary schools—is the problem of coping or trying to cope with the raising of the school leaving age. I spoke against the proposal in 1971. It was apparent even at that time that we had learned nothing from the raising of the school leaving age from 14 to 15. We were still short of accommodation and terribly short of teachers.

The raising of the school leaving age has resulted in secondary teachers having to deal not only with more pupils but with much more mature pupils, more truculent pupils and, above all, more reluctant pupils. The increased burden has not been matched by increased disciplinary powers. Many teachers feel that their disciplinary powers are being undermined because education authorities appear to be either unable or unwilling to back them in their fight against the completely anti-social and aggressive pupils who create havoc with the effective education of the majority of pupils.

Teachers see the disruptive pupils temporarily suspended from school, referred to the children's panels and then returned to school apparently unscathed. I am no panel beater, and I appreciate the difficulties and limitations of the children's panels, but from the teachers' point of view the only result is a weakening of their disciplinary powers. In my judgment headteachers must be given more powers to control the recalcitrants, and powers of permanent exclusion subject to safeguards—for example, the right of appeal to the education committee.

A real and permanent lessening of the crisis would be provided by a return to a leaving age of 15 years. I realise this is well-nigh impossible. Before the age was raised to 16 more and more genuine and willing pupils were staying on beyond the statutory age of 15 years. Why force reluctant louts to stay on at school, thus absorbing a disproportionate amount of teaching time and energy to the detriment of the education of the willing majority?

Why do we keep leading horses to the water who do not want to drink, especially when that keeps very thirsty horses from getting near the water? At the very least the House should pass the simple legislation of permitting pupils to leave school on reaching their 16th birthday. That would help considerably. It would certainly avoid the unfortunate publicity attached to an education authority being forced by law to attempt to compel a married woman to attend school.

Another major contributory factor to the present crisis is that teachers are becoming more and more alarmed and despondent at the extent to which they are at the mercy of the educational theorist, safe from the classroom in his ivory tower. There is no profession in which the front line practitioners are so sedulously ignored in favour of the scarlet Majors at the Base,And speed glum heroes up the line to death. Change for the sake of change seems to be the watchword. Of course, we must keep established practices under review to avoid fossilisation and complacency, but many teachers feel that the general philosophy of the theorist is to find out what the teachers are doing and to make them do something else. To innovate is now the supreme virtue. Gadgetry is king; novelty and newness is all. "Exciting" is the new jargon word.

Only last week we read of something called "environmental education". Before that it was "activities". There were "pre-driver training", "educational technology"and "social education". They are but a few examples of the brainchildren of educationalists who are not practising teachers. But all the burdens imposed by the change-for-change's-sake brigade fall on the already overburdened practising teachers. Is it any wonder that teachers are now trying to assert themselves? They are suspicious of the new empires being carved out.

Similarly, in the realm of conditions of service Scottish teachers feel at the mercy of their employers. The popular view of teachers' conditions is that they are excellent, with short hours and long holidays. In fact, that is something of a myth. Teachers have no contractual guaranteed hours, holidays or work loads. Their employers may make unlimited calls on their services. They are doing so to a greater and greater extent with in-service courses when schools are on holiday, parents' nights and school social functions after a trying school day, and by the introduction of new methods which involve much of the teachers' spare time in the preparation of examination papers, work sheets, assignment cards and other matters. Is it any wonder that Scottish teachers are now devising, and unilaterally imposing, their own work loads? It would be much better for all concerned if agreement could be negotiated on teachers' contracts defining their work load with extra contractual work to be paid for.

From my experience of teachers, I believe that they would be prepared to undertake any reasonable amount of extra contractual work. I understand that something like this has been under consideration, but that one teachers' organisation went cold on the idea. To me, it looks like a very good scheme and should be tried. This also applies to the third scheme of designated schools. I was never in any doubt that the Roberts recommendations on extra payment were for the teachers in schools which were short of teachers, and were so designated. These teachers, because of the shortage, had to bear extra burdens—and hence the extra payment. The new scheme brings in many more schools and increases the payment made. It should be introduced without delay.

To sum up, we must get our priorities right. The No. 1 priority is a fully trained, adequate teaching force; salaries and conditions of service that will attract teachers and keep them in the profession; contract and payment for extra contractual duties; effective salaries in terms of the negotiating machinery or a review body; and a lowering of the leaving age or provision to allow pupils to leave at 16.

To conclude, I should like to quote paragraph 272 of the Newsom Report: Whatever happens in the schools depends on the men and women who staff them. Imaginative accommodation, modern equipment, skilful organisation, a determined attack on social and economic handicaps—all these things are necessary to progress. But the key figure remains the teacher. We have ignored this basic fact for far too long. We shall continue to ignore it at our peril.

11.58 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan) for raising the subject of Scottish education. There is no doubt that a full debate on Scottish education would be worth while. My hon. Friend brings a great deal of knowledge to this topic.

I must at the outset comment that at least two of the Opposition parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, which profess a great concern for Scottish education, did not deem it proper to be present for this debate.

Photo of Mr Robert Hughes Mr Robert Hughes , Aberdeen North

It would have been preferable if we had been able to discuss the whole question of where we were going in Scottish education free from any difficulties over salaries. Like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn, I regret that we find ourselves in that situation in the present debate.

Whatever comes out of the Houghton Report, there will be a residue of bitterness. My hon. Friend said that this was not the fault of the Government alone but that it was the responsibility of previous Governments. I think it can be said that the present Government carry less blame than any Government in terms of the profession. The Government have gone a long way towards looking at teachers' pay and conditions. We faced a situation where, in the aftermath of a statutory incomes policy, we recognised that Scottish teachers' pay had fallen behind in the last three or four years. The Conservative Government having sown the wind, we have had to reap the whirlwind.

We discussed the future of pay with the Scottish teachers' organisations. They stressed to us, and we accepted this, that perhaps the only way to get a real review of the situation was to have an independent review body to look at the whole range of salary conditions. That is why we set up the Houghton Committee—not because we were forced to by industrial action or because we were afraid of industrial muscle. It was because we believed in recognising that Scottish teachers' pay needed thorough examination. That is why teachers welcomed the setting up of Houghton.

We appreciate and recognise that this job, if it is to be done thoroughly and have some lasting effect rather than be of a temporary nature, must take some time. That is why we have thought it preferable not to put a deadline on the committee. If a committee of this nature is set up to look at complex issues— not just immediate pay rises but structural problems, too—there has to be an openended commitment.

Nevertheless, knowing that it was likely to take some time for the committee to report, it seemed right and just that we should say to Scottish teachers "You will not suffer because the independent review body we have set up will take some time to report." That is where the commitment to back-date the subsequent award to 24th May is important. I get upset about, and resent, some of the things being said in Scotland to the effect that Houghton is being used as a stalling device, as a method of holding down teachers' pay. That is a travesty of the truth.

We have said that not only will the report of the Houghton Committee go to the respective negotiating bodies but that we will back-date the award to 24th May. In effect, this means that Scottish teachers will get a pay increase seven weeks after 1st April. Only two groups of workers in the whole of the United Kingdom have been given such special treatment—the nurses and the teachers. We should be getting a great deal more credit for what we have been doing.

That is the long-term situation. We hope that the effect of the Houghton Committee's report will be long-lasting. I said—when we set up Houghton—in my discussions with teachers that I hoped that, through Houghton, we could see some way into the future and prevent the situation whereby teachers fell behind in their pay compared with other workers. This is where the suggestion of my hon. Friend, that there should be a permanent review body, comes in. There are some problems attached to this. On the one hand, my hon. Friend says that Scottish teachers should have free negotiations in exactly the same way as other workers. There is a paradox here, because if we set up a review body to examine the situation every year and it makes more and more detailed recommendations, the freedom of negotiation and room for manoeuvre among teachers' organisations becomes more inhibited.

In a sense a permanent review body is taking away from teachers' organisations their powers of negotiation and free collective bargaining. I accept that the Secretary of State has some control over these negotiations because the Government hold the power to determine what the total amount of money should be. Even this is open to negotiation from time to time. There is the dilemma between the possibility of a permanent review body procedure and free negotiation.

What will happen as a result of Houghton is that once the committee's recommendations have been received— and none of us knows what those recommendations will be—it will be open to the Scottish Teachers' Salaries Committee to discuss the offer in detail. If the suggestion is that too much of the award is going to lower-paid teachers, this can be discussed. Some teachers' organisations, I think the one my hon. Friend advises, may argue that the money is being split in a way which does not suit them. That is why we want them to take their time, to read and study the report and its implications, and arrive at a rational and negotiated conclusion.

That is why it has always been the Government's intention that there should be an interim payment on account as soon as the Houghton Committee's report is received. The opportunity was missed. When the Government said to the STSC that they were in a position to determine an interim payment on account once the Houghton Committee's report was received, that assurance was not thought to be sufficiently strong. The teachers decided to continue their industrial action, and some organisations said that they would have a ballot.

I repeat what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said on 15th November: Moreover, the committee"— that is the Houghton Committee— think it will have determined the broad basis of its recommendations by about the beginning of December and expects at that stage to be able to suggest a flat rate sum, which would not conflict with its conclusions, which could be paid to teachers by the end of December or early thereafter, depending on local arrangements"—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th November 1974; Vol. 881, c. 755] That is a strong guarantee that teachers will get their interim payment on account in December.

My hon. Friend says that he hopes there will be no excuses or delay to prevent this happening. The negotiating sub-committee of the STSC met on 21st November and the management side decided to write to all employing authorities telling them about the assurance of the December payment, indicating that, subject to agreement on the STSC, authorities would be informed in the first week in December of the amount of a lump sum payment to be made in the salary cheque for that month, and asking them to review their procedures for making payments so that so far as practicable arrangements could be made in advance to ensure that the additional December payment would be included with the December salary.

I believe that we have gone a long way towards meeting the teachers' requests. I ask them, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland asked them, bearing in mind that within a week or 10 days the amount of the interim award will be made available, whether it is worth their while to continue industrial action or to start up fresh industrial action.

Once we get the Houghton Committee's report and once it is studied in detail, much of the heat will come out of the situation. We shall see a settlement of teachers' salaries which will mean a big improvement and lead us on to discuss other matters.

I come to the raising of the school leaving age and reluctant pupils. I had forgotten when the case for raising the school leaving age to 16 was first made. It is a sobering thought that the upper limit of the school age, which is determined in relation to fixed leaving dates, was raised to 16 with effect from 1st September 1972 in fulfilment of the intention first expressed in the Education (Scotland) Act 1945. Almost 30 years afterwards the school leaving age has been raised to 16, and there is still opposition to it, although it has been in operation only since 1972.

There never is a time when it is right to make changes of this kind. Almost all Governments have said since 1945 in reply to demands by educationalists that the commitment should be implemented but the time was not right. They did not have the buildings, the teachers, the money. That has been the constant refrain. I accept that the decision was taken at a time when everything was not absolutely right for it. Nevertheless, many of the objections to the raising of the age apply because it has not really penetrated into the consciousness of the school population that the age has been raised. It is partly a condemnation of our education system that so many children in terms of their school career, should be thinking not of what happens in school but only about the time they are ready to leave. Because of that attitude, there has been some resistance to the raising of the school leaving age.

The Government's position is that we continue with the commitment to the age of 16. There is no question of a lowering of the age to 15 being considered. But we will look at the prospects of altering the 1967 Act in relation to leaving dates to see whether it is possible to change the law and allow children to leave when they reach the age of 16.

Many reasons for a change have been advanced with lucidity by my hon. Friend—for example, that truancy and other forms of indiscipline, some more serious, could be considerably reduced. He pointed out that a teacher would have a class of willing learners rather than a class containing children anxious to get away from school. But I am concerned that perhaps the disruption of a change might be worse. There is no guarantee that those who remained would be willing learners.

Some of those who cannot leave until the end of the school session, perhaps in the summer, can be, and in many cases are, unwilling learners for the whole year. The problem would still remain as a residual one, and we cannot easily discount it. But there are strong arguments in favour of fixed dates.

First, fixed dates give the schools greater scope to round off a child's education satisfactorily. Secondly, formal education is planned in terms of the number of years spent in school and not with regard to actual age. Many children reaching the age of 16 would not have completed the full year's education which many educationists regard as desirable.

We are considering how the review should take place. We are committed to the possibility of at least examining the position and taking current views into account. I shall not be able to answer all the questions raised by my hon. Friend, but no doubt we can pursue those I do not answer tonight in correspondence.

My hon. Friend referred to change for change's sake, environmental education and so on. We have to keep the curriculum under constant review so that we can provide education for the children, and that education will be moulded round the children's needs. We often forget, in the welter of statistics about school leaving dates, teacher supply and the rest, that education is about children. That is why we must keep the system under review.

A very important topic is the third scheme designation, and I welcome my hon. Friend's views—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at a quarter past Twelve o'clock.