Does the Secretary of State appreciate that he is dealing with a responsible trade union which is protesting about the fact that during four of the past five years the annual salary increase has fallen behind the inflation rate? Why is the right hon. Gentleman not seeking a solution to this problem, bearing in mind that we are witnessing the second year of destruction in the classroom? Has the right hon. Gentleman received advice from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this dispute, like the mining dispute, is another worthwhile investment for the nation?
The meeting was to discuss the performance appraisal for teachers. Although we discovered that the National Union of Teachers and I had a considerable amount of common ground, I must tell the House that I remain in favour of a close link between performance and pay. That would require regular appraisal of professional performance. I would certainly welcome a new pay system in which good teachers receive differential rewards. Appraisal can serve a variety of other purposes, such as fostering professional development of teachers and underpinning the more effective management of the teacher force. If progress on appraisal in the context of pay negotiations is too slow—all the evidence points that way—it is my duty to explore the possibilities for progress in other ways.
As there is a need to build into the teacher salary system a proper method of assessment, and as there is still confusion and argument about the actual duties of teachers, should not the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 be drastically amended to take account of the new conditions?
I am not absolutely convinced that we know of a better system to put in its place, but I am ready to listen to suggestions. I know that representatives of the local education authorities will meet me soon to discuss my hon. Friend's proposition.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that much of the grievance is caused by ossification in the structure of education, and that many of those who are most ready to go out on strike are the able teachers who are unable to get promotion? Does he accept that there is a vast amount of goodwill on all sides towards restructuring education? What does he intend to do about coming clean with the teachers about the money that is available?
I accept that the fall in the number of pupils has sharply reduced the promotion prospects for teachers, and that is an added reason why an appraisal system might replace some of the prospects for some of the teachers in the light of changing circumstances due to a fall in the number of chidren at school. As for the potentially increased money that is available, I am aware of the suggestions that an extra 7 per cent. might be available in addition to the increase that might result from annual negotiation. I see no prospect whatsoever of such an increase. I hope that the teaches' leaders will not mislead their members.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that there can be no justification for teachers taking action in pusuit of pay demands that harms their pupils? Is he aware that many teachers would prefer it if their professional voice was represented by a general teaching council and not by a union that has imported values that are properly alien to the teaching profession?
I agree that, for the vast majority of teachers, it must be almost unthinkable to damage the education prospects of children in their charge. As for a general teaching council, the Government are willing to listen to arguments in its favour, but I am not convinced that it is automatically a force for good. I remain to be convinced.
Do not the Conservative Government think that there is never any justification for any group of people taking action? Does not a vote of 12,000 out of 14,000 in the 23 areas, because they have fallen behind since Houghton by over 30 per cent., show that teachers have been driven to desperation, and that that is why they are taking action? Why does the Minister want to wed the wage demand to the restructuring when these people need the money now and he could do the restructuring at another time?
The employers have made it clear that 4 per cent. is as much as they can afford. Capacity to pay must be the paramount consideration in pay settlements. I know that this is unpalatable to the teachers, but it remains an inescapable reality.
Bearing in mind that the third largest teachers union — the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association—has decided this week not to take strike action, does my right hon. Friend agree that ways must be found to give fairer representation to those unions that are acting in the best interests of professional teaching?
From time to time the constitution of the Burnham committee comes up for consideration by the holder of my office, particularly when applications for the membership to be reconsidered are made in the light of changed factors. I am open to suggestions that that time may come before long, but I am not convinced that that has happened yet.
Has the Secretary of State noticed that this is the second successive year when he will have presided over disrupted classrooms and a demoralised and undervalued profession? Does he not understand that it is his job to bring the parties — the teachers and the employers—together? Why does he not arrange to see both parties immediately?
Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that what the negotiating machinery should be is laid down in statute. It is not for me to intervene in that statutory process. As for the second year of disruption, I should have thought that that added to the arguments for the teachers to consider seriously the proposals, in some form, that have been laid before them by the employers, although I must again repeat that the amount of money that might be available which I have seen quoted is wholly misleading.