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Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to make a statement on the High Court judgment of 14 July on the proposed teachers' performance related pay scheme.
The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): May I first offer the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? As you know, Madam Speaker, he has written to you, and he will also write to the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May). My right hon. Friend is outside London, and is currently travelling back. [Interruption.]
As the House knows, the Government's plan to reform the teaching profession and to make sure that good teachers are paid more was first published in a Green Paper in December 1998. Teachers' pay and conditions are set out on a statutory basis, by order, after report by an independent review body, the School Teachers Review Body, and consultation. In January, the STRB recommended a new pay structure, including a performance threshold giving a £2,000 pay rise to those who were successful on 1 September 2000, and access to a higher pay scale. That will be put in place.
The standards that teachers should meet for the threshold pay increase were first published in draft in February 1999 as part of consultation on the Green Paper "Teachers--meeting the challenge of change". Wide-ranging, informal consultation over the following year led to formal consultation with the STRB's statutory consultees in February this year. The STRB was provided with early drafts of the standards as background for its review.
As a result of action by the National Union of Teachers, the High Court ruled on Friday 14 July that the standards were invalid because they should have been formally referred to the review body and set out in an order. The court also ruled that duties on school managers to carry out threshold assessment were unlawful because the consultation on the draft duties had been too short.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State believed that it was not necessary to refer the standards to the review body because they are about standards of teaching, not pay structures and scales. The written judgment of the court is not available. As soon as it is, my right hon. Friend will decide whether to appeal. However, the judgment did not comment on the standards themselves and did not give rise to any fundamental need to review Government policy on rewarding good teachers.
My right hon. Friend has today written to head teachers, advising them that the deadlines for threshold applications will be changed. We have already spoken to the STRB chair and will write to him formally today. The Government's pay reforms are the best opportunity that teachers have had for a generation for a radical pay
Mrs. May: Does not the Minister accept that the Secretary of State's incompetence and his obsession with pushing through changes to the teachers' pay scheme, with no proper consultation and no regard for anxieties that teachers have raised, have led to the humiliating defeat that the Government suffered in the High Court last Friday, and the fact that nearly 200,000 teachers are now in limbo? Teachers know that they will not be given an expected £2,000 pay rise in September, and they are uncertain about when it might be paid.
Will the Minister tell the House what the new timetable for the threshold applications will be; when the Government the expect the assessment of those applications to take place; and when they expect to pay the teachers the £2,000 pay raise that will result from successful applications? If that money is unlikely to be paid until early next year, rather than in September--a whole term late--what will happen to the interest accrued on the money set aside until it is paid? Will the interest be paid to teachers in recognition of the inconvenience that the Government have caused, or will it at least be made available to schools?
Last Thursday the Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation considered two statutory instruments relating to the teachers' pay scheme--the Local Government Finance Special Grant Report (No. 66) on Threshold and Leadership Group Payments, and the Local Government Finance Special Grant Report (No. 67) on Heads', Deputies' and Advanced Skills Teachers' Performance Pay Progression and Deputies' Assimilation. During that debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) asked whether that discussion was sub judice and was told that it was not. In the light of subsequent events, will the Minister tell the House what will happen to the progress of those statutory instruments, given that they are clearly affected by the High Court decision last Friday?
In March, the National Union of Teachers persuaded the High Court that the Secretary of State must answer its case that he had acted unlawfully, but is not it the case that no member of the Government's legal team was present at that hearing? If so, why not? If the advice then being received was that the Government's case was doubtful, why did the Secretary of State not act until after the teachers had spent much of their half-term holiday filling in the over-bureaucratic forms that were required by the Government?
As the Secretary of State has attacked his officials and the advice that he received from them, will he publish that advice? Will the Minister publicly apologise to those officials on his behalf in the House today? Does she accept the judge's ruling that the threshold standards and the duty were unlawful and that the Secretary of State has bypassed the School Teachers Review Body, Parliament and the Welsh Assembly?
Ms Morris: It is a long time since I have heard such hypocrisy in the Chamber. Throughout the past 18 months of consultation on the Green Paper, the hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) has made it clear that she does not agree with paying good teachers more money. She has tried to block that proposal and is against the threshold standard. Let us be clear that if she or other Conservative Members had anything to do with the policy, there would be no chance of a £2,000 increase being paid--albeit, late.
Let us be absolutely clear that, during last Thursday's debate in Standing Committee, the hon. Member for Cotswold said that he wanted the NUT action to be successful, and the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) did not deny that. The action has been successful and has resulted in delaying a much needed, much deserved pay increase for good teachers who filled in the application forms.
I shall now deal with some of the points of detail that the hon. Lady has made. I cannot give her or the House a timetable because that will have to be agreed by the STRB. Today, we have written to the STRB to ask it to start the formal consultation process. It will then come back and let us know what the timetable will be. My fervent hope is that the delay in paying the £2,000 to those teachers who have completed the application form and are doing a good job will be as brief as possible, which is in keeping with the proper consultation that the court has asked us to undertake. That is important.
The hon. Lady also asked why the Government did not take action when the judge first allowed the judicial review at Easter and why we did not change the substance of what we are doing at that point. She ought to know that the detailed point that is causing difficulty--not consulting properly on the threshold standards--was not put before the court by the National Union of Teachers until 22 June. It did not form part of its submission for judicial review until only some weeks ago. The judge said at Easter that the judicial review was to be allowed, but not on the important point of exactly what the threshold standards should be.
It is entirely reasonable that departmental managers should assist heads in carrying out threshold assessments. I happen to think that that is part of their duty and responsibility, and I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not share that view. After the consultation on the STRB's recommendation, at the request of teacher representatives we consulted on line managers' responsibilities through the fast track and with the STRB's approval. The STRB said that that was fine. The judge said that the consultation had been too brief and that we should consult in the framework agreed by the STRB.