Increase of Limit on Expenditure Approved for Education Support Grant Purposes

Clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 9:12 pm on 16 December 1985.

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10·2 pm

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 11, leave out '1 per cent.' and add '.75 per cent.'.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this we shall discuss amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 11, at end add 'in 1986–87 and 0·5 per cent. thereafter'.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

At this time of night the Committee will not want to spend long on the measure. The Bill is difficult to amend. Our main complaint is that it is irrelevant to the needs of the education service.

The Government must come up with a solution to the problem of teachers' pay and morale. The Opposition's most bitter complaint is that the Government are being provocative by introducing the measure at this time.

Our amendment is intended to probe the Government about their proposals. Amendment No. 2, which has not been selected, would seek to leave out the words "1 per cent." and insert "1·5 per cent." We do not favour the insertion of ".75 per cent." rather than "1 per cent." or any other figure, but we want to probe the Government about their intentions.

I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to make it clear that they are looking for a solution to the teachers' dispute and are not further provoking them, thus making them angry and disillusioned. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government do not intend to be even more provocative by introducing merit money without the teachers' agreement. If he does that, he will further anger and disillusion the teachers. Before he goes much further with the idea of merit money, he should look carefully at the response that will come from parents who will want to know what compensation the Government will give to their sons or daughters, or to them as parents, if a child finds that in his passage through primary or secondary school he is not taught by any teacher who is receiving merit money.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying wide of the amendment.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Yes, I accept that I am a little wide of the amendment, but I hope that the Government will tell us that they will not come forward with such unilateral measures. I had hoped that the Government would pursue an independent inquiry.

The first time that I was involved in industrial action was in the early 1960s when teachers questioned whether lunchtime supervision was compulsory.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Let me develop my case a little further.

As a result of that action, it was clearly established that lunchtime supervision was voluntary. Ever since then, the first stage in the withdrawal of good will has been to question lunchtime supervision. I also accept that many teachers have sought to get rid of the necessity to volunteer to carry out any lunchtime supervision.

What happens at lunchtime should be examined much more thoroughly than is possible under the Bill. Given the amount of money to which the amendment refers, it is not clear whether the Government have thought that out. If teachers do supervision at lunchtime, almost the only payment is the possibility of a free school meal. Who qualifies for a free meal and what school activities should be carried out vary from one authority to another.

I also accept that since the 1960s more and more local authorities have employed people to do lunchtime supervision which usually covers supervision of the meal, the playground and around the school buildings. The only person who has a legal duty, other than the employed supervisors, for discipline and behaviour within the school is the head teacher and, to a certain extent, the deputy. Considerable resentment has been caused by the fact that since May nearly all lunchtime supervision has fallen on head teachers, their deputies and the paid supervisors, if the local authority employs such people.

The Government are now introducing a new proposal which would be welcomed by teachers' unions if it were being introduced during a period in which there was goodwill in schools when teachers were happy with their pay and conditions. In introducing it against a background of lack of co-operation from the teachers the Government will cause far more problems.

I think that everyone would agree that it is important that teachers have a proper break at lunchtime. Many people would say that during the past nine months teaching has improved because most teachers have had a proper break at lunchtime. It is important that teachers get half an hour or so at lunchtime, but in the good schools many school activities should be flourishing during the lunchtime. Schools with a long lunch break allow the teacher to have a break and also be involved in supervision. The Bill fails to address itself to the real problems of what is supervision and what is teaching during the lunchtime period.

The Government chose to put 1 per cent. in the clause and the amount of money that that represented, but they do not seem to have thought carefully about the difference between lunchtime teaching and supervision.

Is it the Government's intention that teachers, or anyone else, should be paid for carrying out educational duties at lunchtime? Examples of that are choir practice, preparation for school pantomime, various club activities, examination revision, sports practice and so on. If those educational activities are managed well, a large number of pupils will participate and therefore receive supervision during the lunch break.

If teachers are not paid for those educational duties, it is possible that they will not resume them when the dispute has ended. I hope that those activities will be resumed, but the authorities must state clearly the possible uses of the money provided for in the Bill, and the relationship between those looking after pupils and those carrying out educational duties.

Is it the Government's intention that teachers should be able to claim for carrying out those educational duties? If so, what is the position if those same duties are carried out not at lunchtime but, for example, after school? It would be a major anomaly if a teacher could claim payment for supervising a choir practice at lunchtime but not for supervising after school. The Government must make that clear; they must specify what they regard as being or not being lunchtime supervision.

Will there be a standard minimum rate of pay under the Bill, especially for lunchtime supervision carried out by people other than teachers? The position of the head teacher and deputy head teacher must also be made clear. Will the head teacher still be responsible at all times if supervisors are employed? To what degree can that responsibility be passed on to a deputy head teacher? If the head teacher and deputy head teacher are not on the school premises—and this applies especially in primary schools—can a teacher act for them, and if so, will he be paid?

I hope that the Government have seriously considered whether the money provided for in the Bill will be genuine new educational money. Are the Government hoping that, in practice, that money will be offset by, for example, savings in supplementary benefit through the employment of part-time or casual staff? I am not suggesting that it is not desirable that people receiving supplementary benefit should, instead, have a job that provides them with a wage. I merely suggest that if that is the case, the money provided for in the Bill will not be genuine new money.

Do the Government envisage older pupils being employed for supervisory duties, and especially the use of sixth-formers in primary schools? I am sure that the Government are aware that older pupils are encouraged to work in shops. If the Government's Sunday trading proposals become law, there will be even greater pressure for pupils to work at weekends. It might be more desirable that pupils be employed in their schools or in junior schools rather than in shops that might press them to work longer hours, to the detriment of their studies.

What will happen in the small number of schools that have adopted a continental or short stay? Can any of the money be used to pay those carrying out supervisory duties after school? Many parents, especially those with young children, will face problems if schools decide to close at 3 pm or earlier.

Finally, before the measure is implemented the Minister must get agreement between the teacher unions and the local authorities so that there is some uniformity of provision across the country. I hope that he will answer some of my questions when he justifies the need for 1 per cent.

Photo of Mr Clement Freud Mr Clement Freud , North East Cambridgeshire 10:15, 16 December 1985

I share the sentiments of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) that this is an irrelevant and bad Bill. My amendment is a probing amendment. To be specific in my opposition to the Bill, I shall give three good reasons for the two amendments tabled and selected.

The first relates to the general dissatisfaction at the further inroads into the autonomy of local education authorities. On Second Reading and throughout the passage of the original legislation it was made clear that the Opposition did not dislike the idea of the Secretary of State having powers to fund his pet projects. We disliked the fact that that money should come from LEA funding, which is already earmarked for specific purposes, and which further erodes the ability of an LEA to impose a modicum of regional excellence on its programme. For that reason alone, it seems desirable to restrict such encroachment. If the Secretary of State wants to have separate contracts for lunchtime supervisors, he should pay for it from Government money, not money already earmarked.

My second reason for tabling the amendment is the confusion that persists after Second Reading about the money that will be used for supervision. The Government have still not satisfactorily explained why they can both pay for lunchtime supervision from the increased education support grant, and knock £40 million of the £1·25 billion offered to the teachers. On Second Reading the Minister said that the money came from sums additional to our existing plans for educational spending. I accept that the Government will pay for some of the supervision under the formula for ESG, but I do not accept that that means that £40 million should be clawed back from the £1·25 billion, because, as I understand it, that is the total to be spent and includes the LEA element. Will the Minister clarify that point?

Thirdly, there is a good case for applying the increase in ESG to the first full year only. The Secretary of State admits that there is spare money from the ESG this year, which is why he can pay for lunchtimes until April from the existing 0·5 per cent. He made that clear on Second Reading when he said: In 1985–86 there is sufficient headroom within the existing limit to pay grant on this new activity."—[Official Report, 5 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 460–479.] One wonders whether the same will be true in future or, at least, whether there will be some spare to render excessive the full 1 per cent.

When that fact is added to the claim that future years' payments will come from the 1·25 billion, we have justified cause for anxiety. Added to that financial question is the fact that to pass the Bill in its present form seems to anticipate failure on the part of local authorities.

We know that lunchtime supervision has been a bone of contention for a long time, but it seems dubious to pass a Bill when the negotiations are in abeyance and there is a possibility, albeit remote, of new machinery to deal with lunchtimes without this expedient.

The amendments matter because it is wrong to give a Secretary of State yet more control over local authorities for more and for longer than is absolutely necessary. It gives power in a way which gives more power than a good man should need or a bad man should have. For those reasons, I support the amendment.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I am puzzled as to why the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) should describe this measure as a provocation. We are merely giving teachers what they have been asking for for many years and I cannot see how that could be provoking. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will elaborate on that point at some time.

One of the great paradoxes of the educational scene is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has introduced some measures to improve and—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. We are in Committee and are discussing a narrow amendment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to it.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I shall do my utmost to stay within the rules of order.

My right hon. Friend has introduced many measures to improve the educational performance of schools and thereby improve the quality of education for our children. This measure is cast in the same mould that—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. If I allow the hon. Member to follow that line, I must allow other hon. Members to put arguments either in support or rebuttal of the Bill, and that we cannot have. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will confine himself to the amendment.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I shall take careful note of that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It would appear that there is less support for me on Conservative Benches than there usually is.

I was genuinely surprised that there was no warm welcome for the measure. It will generally assist education. I hope that I am not straying out of order, but it would seem that the Opposition are opposing the measure purely for opposition's sake and are not looking at the benefits—

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch my eye on Third Reading. His remarks would be more appropriate then than now.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

I acknowledge the fact that the amount of funding available for the measure is admittedly small. Nevertheless, it would seem that it is adequate to cover its requirements and needs. As this point will no doubt be touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) when he makes the Government's winding up speech, I shall rest my case on that note.

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

It is difficult to follow that contribution, but I shall do my best.

I hope that it will not disappoint the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) too severely when I tell him that we do not find it possible to accept the amendments to this small but helpful Bill. I was constantly reminded, both on Second Reading and this evening, of how difficult it is to do good in this world, but we are, as hon. Gentlemen will know, putting right something that has been frightfully successful for a number of years, and we should be given some credit for doing so.

I do not want to traverse once again all the arguments with which we dealt on Second Reading. On that occasion, I dealt with the argument put by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish about provocation and the other words that are generally regarded as synonymous with provocation, most of which he trotted out then and has trotted out since. Were I to do so, I should be repeating myself—[Interruption.] On the question of the dispute, perhaps I should once again make it clear, in case it is necessary, that the Government want an early, fair and lasting settlement to the dispute, which will ensure that we do not again get into appalling difficulties, and the resulting damage which we have seen all to frequently in the past decade or so.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

What will the hon. Gentleman do?

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

I should have thought that £1·25 billion is not chicken feed. That is on the table and would be regarded by most public sector unions as being the flexibility with which they could well do.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

If this is such a generous offer, why is it that the hon. Gentleman's charms have not persuaded the teachers to renegotiate?

Photo of Mr Chris Patten Mr Chris Patten , Bath

It is not for me to comment on my charms. Perhaps none of us is perfect.

There has been some criticism both this evening and on Second Reading that we have not made available enough additional resources to provide for, adequate and reliable supervision.

Amendment No. 1 would in due course reduce the additional expenditure which could be approved in England and Wales to about £28 million. In our view, that would not be adequate for the purpose. The increase that it would allow would not be sufficient to provide for the £40 million which we have said we are prepared to approve for education support grant purposes in the coming financial year. The effect of amendment No. 4 would be that we could approve expenditure on midday supervision for ESG support only until the end of the financial year 1986–87. I do not believe that to be desirable. I understand the attachment of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish to the block grant as a hallmark of local democracy and local accountability. That raises much broader issues, with which I hope we shall have the opportunity to deal on future occasions.

Our intention, in offering the ESG for midday supervision, is to encourage authorities to develop new arrangements. In that sense, as we have said before, it is a pump priming activity. We expect that once the new arrangements are fully established they can be funded through the rate support grant in the same way as is most education expenditure by local authorities. I imagine that this will go some way towards satisfying the hon. Gentleman. However, at this stage we cannot be sure how long it will take. In primary legislation it would be wrong to impose a time limit of this kind.

The increase that we propose will provide for the approval of an additional expenditure of £55 million in England and Wales in 1986–87. There is therefore likely to be a small amount of headroom as a result of this increase. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has given an undertaking—he did so during our Second Reading debate—that pending the outcome of the review of local government finance, an outcome to which we all look forward, approvals for activities other than midday supervision will not exceed the existing 0·5 per cent. limit in the 1984 Act. I am perfectly happy to repeat that undertaking to the Committee.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we envisaged paying for extra curricula work whenever it takes place during the day. The answer to this question is, as he knows, in the negative. The overall work that is done by teachers must obviously be taken into account when determining their pay and considering their conditions of service. The sooner we deal with those things together the better.

When dealing with amendment No. 4 the hon. Gentleman referred to the relationship between the money that we are making available for lunchtime duties and the £1·25 billion. We have been accused of robbing teachers because the money for midday supervision will come from within the £1·25 billion that the Government have said that they are prepared to make available, if a suitable agreement upon teachers' duties and a salary structure can be reached. However, as has been said on almost more occasions than I care to recall, teachers have long argued for an end to the uncertainty over midday supervision. A resolution of this problem is bound to cost money. We made clear last August when we announced the £1·25 billion that it included a provision for new arrangements at midday. The remainder of the £1·25 billion continues to be available if the conditions for its release are met, but we are not prepared to give something for nothing. I ask the Committee to reject the amendments.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

I am disappointed by the Minister of State's reply. He has thrown no new light upon the difference between supervision and teaching during the lunchtime period. The Minister must address that central problem. He is saying that the payment can be made if either a teacher or somebody else who is specially employed for the purpose merely stops pupils from getting up to mischief. In other words, he wants to ensure that pupils eat in a civilised manner at lunchtime and that after they have had their lunch they are looked after in the school building or in the school playground. If, however, somebody finds something that is educationally useful for pupils to do at lunchtime, the Minister doubts whether the money can be used for that purpose. That is the central dilemma of this approach. While most educationalists want teachers to get a break so that they can be refreshed for their teaching in the afternoon, they would also accept, particularly in schools with a fairly lengthy lunch hour, that it is possible to have a break and to carry out a role at lunchtime that is both supervisory and educational.

It is logical that teachers who are carrying out both an educational and supervisory role ought to be paid some of this money for doing so. Until the Government can answer that central problem, the proposals in the Bill will run into difficulty. I do not believe that the amendment would usefully alter the Bill in any way, and I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.