Orders of the Day — School Teachers' Pay and Conditions (No. 2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 29th April 1991.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education 4:19 pm, 29th April 1991

I beg to move, That this House declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which gives unacceptable powers to the Secretary of State to issue directions to the Pay Review Body, undermining its independence of judgement; which contains no proposals to raise teachers' professionalism by the establishment of a General Teachers' Council; which makes clear that Her Majesty's Government has broken faith with the profession by failing to meet its own deadline to restore pay settlement machinery by 1990 and has broken faith with honourable and Right honourable Members by giving explanations as to the reasons for the delay in securing a Report stage of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill which were disingenous; and because the policies of Her Majesty's Government have led to a serious decline in the morale, motivation, recruitment and retention of teachers, and in their relative pay. I begin with a quotation: There is a crisis of confidence amongst teachers of such growing magnitude that it now threatens the entire spectrum of the Government's educational reforms.So marked is the decline of status, and self-esteem of the teaching profession, that unless the Conservative Government address the root causes of this problem:The educational system as a whole will face a prolonged period of steady deterioration. The Government will, ultimately, and sooner rather than later, be forced to compromise on the implementation of its recent reforms … From all sides the Conservative Government is being assailed and challenged on its education reforms and for failing the Nation's children, parents and teachers. That quotation comes from the Carlton Club paper, which is marked "strictly private and confidential"—I am not surprised about that—and which is headed "Education in the 1990s—A Current Assessment—Requirements for the Manifesto". It is based upon what is described as an "investigative seminar" which was called by the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield. (Sir N. Fowler) and attended by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) and by the Secretary of State's special adviser. The paper contains admission after admission by leading Conservative education policy makers about the parlous state of our education service. It provides a much more accurate backdrop for today's debate than the claims that were made earlier in the debate by the Secretary of State.

There is certainly a deep crisis of confidence among teachers. The first question to ask is why there is such a crisis. It is widely agreed that in no other period—certainly not in this century—has the morale and self-esteem of the teaching profession, and its standing in the eyes of the public, been lower. Part of the explanation for that crisis of confidence is simple and relates to pay. As last April's report of the Select Committee on Education and Science showed, there has been no real-terms increase in teachers' pay since 1987. More importantly, teachers' pay relative to that of other non-manual workers has been declining consistently since 1974, with the hiccups to which the Secretary of State referred, and is still falling further and further behind. As the Secretary of State acknowledged, those differences are particularly marked for those whose career ambition is to teach rather than to administer. I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State now regards as his overwhelming priority the proper rewarding of those who make a career out of teaching, not out of administration.

The Secretary of State commented on my remarks about the Interim Advisory Committee on School Teachers' Pay and Conditions following his statement on 17 April, and said that I had commended its work. I have commended the work of the IAC which, among other things, has made some pertinent remarks about teachers' morale. However, one of the truths about the IAC is that, because of the constraints on its terms of reference, and despite its best judgments, it has not been able to secure a single percentage increase in teachers' real pay.

Although the decline in teachers' relative pay is important in explaining the decline in morale, it has served to reinforce—and has been reinforced by—two other things. The first is the long-standing anti-intellectual, anti-education culture that has been so marked in England, but not in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, for a century or more. I have always found Bernard Shaw's jibe, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" depressing not only because he said it, but because it has had such resonance across society and down the generations.

No blame directly attaches to the Government for that anti-intellectual and anti-education culture in our society, but blame does attach to them for the fact that, over the past 12 years, they have made the climate in which teachers have to work so much more difficult. They have constantly demeaned and diminished the value of teachers and the value placed on them by society. There are plenty of illustrations of that, such as the national curriculum.

There was no consultation in 1987 with the people who would have to put the national curriculum into practice. A so-called "consultative document" was issued three months after the general election. Comments were invited over a short period, but no notice was taken of what was said by the teachers' organisations or anybody else—not about whether the national curriculum was desirable, but simply about whether it would work. The consequence has been that it does not work and that, almost from the day when it was formally established, it has had to be unpicked. That lack of consultation led to what Prince Charles referred to last week as "innovation fatigue" as a result of half-baked measures being introduced and then retreated from.

There has been a similar saga on testing. Again, there has not been any proper consultation—not about whether there should be testing, but about how it should be operated effectively. The ludicrously complicated standard assessment tasks were piloted last year. Because proper note was not taken of the feelings of the profession on whether that weight of SATs would serve any purpose, the Secretary of State and the Minister of State now describe what was supposed to be the introduction of national testing as "national pilots". Have the Secretary of State and his colleagues ever stopped to think about how those constant changes—that "innovation fatigue"—have affected teachers' morale and their view of how they are regarded by Ministers?

Ministers have repeatedly insinuated that teachers cannot be trusted. I shall discuss the changes that have been made in the history and geography national curriculum orders later, but the Secretary of State must bear in mind that by suddenly and impetuously forcing on the profession changes for which no ground had been laid, he has challenged the professionalism and integrity of the history and geography teachers in our secondary schools. That is not only my view; it is the view of those teachers who feel bitter about the way in which they have been treated.