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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I am very glad that the Minister does not intend to be put off providing increased pay for excellent teachers by this delay. I am concerned that teachers who had felt confident that they would achieve the threshold and were counting on the money will now become anxious.
I appreciate the fact that the Department is writing to head teachers, but I wonder whether it would be possible to give the information that the Minister has given the House directly to people who have applied for the threshold. I fear that the messages will be garbled, and people will become anxious about their prospects. The information about whether people will have to fill in new forms and about the commitment to backdate the payment should get to those teachers who deserve this money as soon as possible.
Ms Morris: I accept the points that my hon. Friend made. The Secretary of State will write to Members of the House today or tomorrow to make the position entirely clear to them. When writing to heads, we have asked them to pass on the information in the letter directly to members of their staff who have applied for the threshold. At the moment, because the application forms and the assessments were not due to be with the organisation that will collect them, we do not have a list of the people who have applied. We shall do everything we can to allay fears. As ever, teachers get their messages from people other than the Department for Education and Employment. I know that teachers' representatives and others will work with us to make the substance of the issue as clear as possible.
I do not want to get this wrong. I do not want to prejudge the consultation that, rightly, will now take place with the STRB. We will do all we can. It is our hope that the standards do not change, so that we can carry on from where we were on Friday lunchtime and so that the delay does not lead to disappointment as money is not paid over.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): May I remind the Minister of her words in the 6th Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation last week? When asked about the judicial review, the right hon. Lady said that if the NUT won its case, it would mean that
Finally, what will consultation really mean? If the real consultation process--when it is finally carried out and completed--concludes that none of this was worth while and that teachers are all against it, will the whole thing be dropped?
Ms Morris: The NUT action could have caused what I said to happen if the Government then took no action to make sure that it did not. That is what we have been doing since Friday. The judge has said that the standards themselves and the threshold were not properly consulted upon; so, to all intents and purposes, they do not exist. If the NUT's action through the court were left at that, all the forms that teachers filled in would come to nought. However, the Government are taking action to make sure that that does not happen. By our action in going back to the STRB--or possibly appealing--those forms that have been filled in will stand, as I have just explained. If the standards themselves do not change, an assessment against those standards can carry on. That is our intention.
We do not have an estimate of the extra costs, but our intention is to make sure that the plans to pay good teachers more money are put back on board within the proper legal framework. If the NUT had not taken the action and the Conservatives had not supported it, none of this delay would have happened.
Mr. Roger Casale (Wimbledon): May I tell my right hon. Friend that many teachers whom I met at school fetes in my constituency at the weekend are looking forward to the introduction of performance-related pay, have been working hard in preparation for it and will be disappointed by the High Court decision? However, they understand that Friday's decision was taken on a procedural issue and they will welcome the Minister's statement that the Government wish to move quickly to put the procedural issue right. They also understand that if these measures were ever challenged by the return to office of the Conservative party, not only would we lose the opportunity to have more money for school teachers, but we would lose the opportunity of more money for schoolchildren, school buildings, school books and everything else in schools besides.
Ms Morris: My hon. Friend is right. I suspect that we will see a U-turn on the threshold from the Conservatives, just as we have seen U-turns on everything else by them in the past few weeks. I am happy to confirm that we are talking about a technicality. On Friday, the judge made no comment on the threshold, the threshold standards or the obligation of managers to help with the assessment. The main point of the judge's statement was that the consultation had not been proper and long enough. It is that which we are seeking to correct. I hope that my hon. Friend's constituents and the many thousands of teachers who have filled in the form will see their good work and excellent teaching properly rewarded as soon as possible.
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): The Minister will be aware that the NUT in Wales took this action partly because of the agreement between all four parties in the National Assembly that we did not want teachers' salaries in Wales related to pupil performance. Given the strength of feeling and the opportunity that she now has to review the position in the light of legislation, will the Minister
Ms Morris: I am afraid that I cannot give that assurance. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this is not a devolved matter. It falls to the Secretary of State, who is absolutely right to carry out those obligations as he has. It is also right that thresholds and standards should be the same across England and Wales, because of the movement of teachers between the countries. I happen to think that teachers make a difference. One of the ways in which they do that is by helping pupils to progress. It is right that pupil progress, as long as it is measured against the pupils' starting point and takes into account the circumstances of their learning, should be one--but only one--of the standards that form the threshold assessment.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Will the Minister remind the House that the Government embarked on this progress because they were determined that good classroom teaching should be rewarded, and that no scheme exists to reward teachers on the basis of the quality of their work? Will she confirm what she said on Thursday in the Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation--that the money exists to give the increase to the vast majority of teachers who have applied and that a great number of people will now be disappointed because they will not get the money that they should be getting in September?
Ms Morris: My hon. Friend is right. This is of course an opportunity to get more pay on top of the pay increase this year. It is not that the increase is payable only on the basis of performance. There is an above-inflation, non-staged pay increase at the proper time this year, and above and beyond that the Government set aside £1 billion for teachers' pay.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that at the moment the only way of getting paid more than £24,000 a year as a teacher is to take on management or administrative responsibilities. It must be right for good teachers who want to stay in the classroom to be able to access more than £24,000 a year without having to take on those responsibilities. The previous Government made no opportunity for them to do that. We have put good teaching at the centre of our education agenda, because it is crucial to children's life chances. What is more, we have backed that up with a proper opportunity to be recognised and paid for good teaching.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Will the Minister answer the question that she has repeatedly avoided answering this afternoon? Does she agree with the Secretary of State that it was civil servants' fault, or does she accept that Ministers must take the blame for this pathetic and costly courtroom fiasco?
Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday, extremely damaging reports were circulated that the Challenger 2 tank, made in Newcastle, could not fire German ammunition. It is a fact that, within days, there is to be a decision by the Greek armed forces on whether to buy Challenger 2 or a German tank. I know that my noble Friend the Minister for Defence Procurement is extremely concerned that thousands of jobs on Tyneside and elsewhere in northern England have been put at risk. Have you had any notification that Ministers of the Crown intend to come to the Commons to blow this damaging nonsense to pieces?