Teachers (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:53 pm on 11th February 1985.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire 11:53 pm, 11th February 1985

I have, Mr. Deputy Speaker, already given way twice.

The Scottish joint negotiating committee has both teachers and employers among its members. It therefore has the necessary experience and expertise to undertake a review. There is no case for passing the responsibility for making recommendations to a body with no responsibility for implementing them.

The SJNC was established recently by Parliament, and its remit covered both pay and conditions of service, but so far it has not conducted the kind of review which is now suggested.

My right hon. Friend and I met both sides of the Committee on 28 January at their request. At that meeting we stressed that we would be prepared to consider a pay and conditions of service package on its merits. If it were sufficiently attractive, we agreed to undertake the very difficult task of re-ordering our existing spending priorities to provide additional finance. We would, of course, expect education authorities to make their contribution, too, and I do not pretend for a moment that any such re-ordering of priorities would be other than extremely difficult.

At that meeting the management side accepted the good faith of the Government's intentions and agreed that a review of the kind that we suggested represented a reasonable way forward. It appreciated, I think, that a guarantee in advance that the outcome would be funded in full was not feasible. Obviously, my right hon. Friend could not give such an undertaking before he knew what any package contained.

Subsequently, I was heartened—as I hope all hon. Members were—by the news that the teachers' side was willing to consider the proposals for a review of pay and conditions of service outlined by the management side at the last SJNC meeting on Thursday. I hope that that expression is widely shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that at the further meeting this Friday the teachers' side will come back with a constructive response from its membershipa to what the management side proposed. I am sure that it offers an acceptable way forward.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East mentioned the teachers' perception of the heavy demands made by the job, and no one has ever sought to deny these perceptions, although the report to which he referred had an absence of quantification of burdens. Nobody denies the pressures that effective and worthwhile curriculum development can bring, at least in the critical stages. Equally, I hope that nobody denies the facts of a 32½ hour working week and 12 weeks' holiday a year, which represents some acknowledgement of the strains of the job.

This brings me to the real stumbling block between the parties—conditions of service. Recently, and here I am answering specifically the point put to me by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East, certain duties which were always regarded as part and parcel of a teacher's job have come to be regarded more as optional extras than indispensable elements. The Government want to achieve much greater clarity of definition about the work of the modern teacher. For example, parents have a right to know whether attendance at parents' evenings is purely voluntary or a firm commitment.

We are not insisting on any absolute conditions. We have simply pointed out the main uncertainties, which we think should be clarified, and the points which need to be covered. I am convinced that we need to move as quickly as possible to a state of affairs where all parties know exactly what is expected of them. That must be in everybody's interest—parents, pupils and, not least, the teachers themselves. It is surely a reasonable expectation of an established negotiating body that these areas should be clarified in conjunction with any consideration of pay.

I hope that I have demonstrated to the House that the Government have responded in a genuinely constructive way. Against that background, it saddens me to see how the trade unions are exacting a savage penalty from pupils who have committed no conceivable offence.