Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. It is my pleasure this morning to welcome Doug McAvoy and John Bangs for the first of the sessions that I introduced, if you remember, a year and a half ago because it seemed to me we were missing something by not, on a regular basis, meeting the education trade unions, after all they are the people who represent the people who deliver our education service. Looking at the minutes of our last meeting I thought we got pretty good value out of that exchange. I thought, with an almost totally new Committee, apart from myself and Valerie Davey, we would build on that experience and we would see this as a regular, at least annual, event although as you know, Mr McAvoy and Mr Bangs, we might want your help and assistance on specific inquiries. As you know, we are just at the moment relooking at FE and dusting off the part of the HE funding which we looked at last year because of particular events which occurred recently but we will be returning to what we might call some of our more mainstream educational topics shortly. So, welcome indeed and thank you for giving us your time. Can I kick off and say that we are trying to get maximum value, we have piled three trade unions into this morning's session, so time is quite short. I will ask my colleagues to ask quite short questions and if we can get reasonably succinct answers, I know it is difficult when we ask you some of the major questions. I want to start by really saying that what we were reflecting on at the beginning of this session was that here was a new Labour Government which had been in power for about four years and there did seem to be a gap between how the Government seemed to think it was performing in the educational sector, Ministers told us extra resources, great commitment, manifesto, the triple E commitment, and we had the feeling that ministers thought the teaching union should be dancing in the streets in terms of the Government's commitment and delivery of new resources. Yet, when we listened to the trade unions' comments, especially at their Easter conferences, there just did seem to be a gap and also a gap when we talked to teachers in school visits in some of the inquiries we did, there was a gap between the perception that the Government had of what it was doing and how it was viewed outside. Mr McAvoy, Mr Bangs, is the gap closing?

  (Mr McAvoy) First of all, can I just say, thank you for the opportunity to be here. We welcome this chance to express views and answer your questions and hope that will continue. We are pleased you, as Chairman of the Committee, thought it important enough to do that so we welcome that. That there was a gap is undoubtedly true. I think that is to be expected. I think if you have a new Government committing itself to changing things, indeed including committing itself to greater finance, there is a time gap between that commitment and the money appearing in schools. That gap was inevitable unless the Government had been able to release the significant increase in funding immediately and it had found its way straight into schools, teachers would have been somewhat dubious about whether or not it would come or it would not come. That gap was understandable, I think, and unavoidable. I think what was unfortunate was that the additional resources took a long time to find their way into schools or to find their way into schools in such a way that teachers appreciated that they had arrived. Perhaps the most impact came from the additional finance for school buildings where you could see repairs taking place and you could see outside toilets being removed but some of the other additional funding did not manifest itself so obviously. Even now some teachers will question whether the claims of Government about the extent of the additional funding has actually affected them partly because of the way it gets from A to B and also because some of it, of course, is subject to selective bidding by schools or by LEAs. What is announced as additional resources does not find its way evenly into all schools so there is still going to be a little bit of hesitation, although I am sure most teachers would say we are better resourced now than we have been for years. I think the other unfortunate cause of the gap was the continued hostility towards teachers. In the early days of the Labour Government there was what I still consider to be a fatal mistake, the apparent need to name and shame some 18 schools. There could have been no thought given to what the consequences of that would be, not just for the teachers and the pupils and the parents of those named schools but also other teachers. I think that was something that it took a long time for the new Government to overcome. It reinforced the belief of teachers that "Here we are, same as before, we are going to be attacked, we are going to be condemned, we are going to be denigrated and it is not necessarily our fault. We are not necessarily in a position to rectify those aims". Those two factors, I think, have created a gap. Is it narrowing? Yes, I am sure it is. I think if you looked at a balance sheet then more and more the decisions and the actions of the Government since first being elected—it is now in its second term—demonstrate to teachers that there is a greater understanding of what their needs are and the hope that ministers have that understanding will lead to their needs being met. One could look at some of the more recent developments. The speech of the Secretary of State on professionalism and trust. I think certain elements of that represent quite a marked change in attitude and approach, talking about teachers having "earned the trust of Government" and the Government now giving teachers back trust. That kind of language will have an impact on teachers, as will the decision to set up the working group to look at teacher workload and to consider changes to the contract which will make the job more attractive. Various things have happened over the period of years which will have narrowed that gap and I am sure that gap is still there but much less than it was.

Mr Shaw

  2. The Government have got a recruitment campaign now that we see on television to recruit an extra 10,000 teachers. Obviously more teachers means more members for potentially the National Union of Teachers which is something you would be interested in. What words of encouragement would you give to a young person who you were talking to to become a teacher, a university student? What would you say to them as to why they should become a teacher in the year 2002?
  (Mr McAvoy) You are quite right that we hope to get our share of the extra teachers but our competitor is sitting immediately behind me so I am not going to make any outrageous bid as to how many of the 10,000 we will get. You will see from The Times Educational Supplement

  3. We will come on to specific unions later.
  (Mr McAvoy)—we envisage professional unity breaking out in the course of the next few years so we will all benefit from the additional teachers.


  4. What will you see?
  (Mr McAvoy) Professional unity, a single organisation that will represent all teachers. That will have governments of any party shaking.

Mr Shaw

  5. As well as the NEC.
  (Mr McAvoy) Sometimes the National Union of Teachers is criticised for talking down teaching, and it has been said that we have been partly to blame for the recruitment and retention problem, I do not accept that. We have highlighted the things which are wrong in schools and we have highlighted the pressure that is on teachers and also, having highlighted the problems, we have offered the solutions, so I think we have been doing the right thing for the professional out of this service. My message to a person considering teaching would be—as it would have been for the last 20 or 30 years—as a profession, as a job, it must continue to be one of the most satisfying. To see youngsters develop as a result of your work I think is unmatched in terms of the satisfaction it can give. The sad thing is that against that benefit, against that attraction, there are so many hurdles and so many demands that make the job less attractive. What we have found, through our own independent research, is that when teachers look at the balance too many of them are saying "Yes, I do get satisfaction from the achievement a youngster makes because of my work and the work of others but I have to offset that against the demands and pressure on me and on my family" and those demands currently, in many cases, tip the balance and teachers leave, not because they do not see the satisfaction they get but the weight against that in terms of excessive demand and the intrusion into their own family life is such that they think it is not a price they can afford to pay. My encouragement would be to come in because there is tremendous satisfaction from the job.

  6. There are more negatives than positives is your response? Hand on heart, that is what you are saying?
  (Mr McAvoy) In some schools, yes, there would be more negatives, not in every school. It depends how resources are being used, it depends on how supportive the school is to the teacher, the community, the parents, the Government. The negative things will be balanced more there.

  7. That is about the schools, is it not, rather than necessarily the Government and initiatives and strategies placing burdens on teachers?
  (Mr McAvoy) Schools, in a hands on way, presently are trying to ameliorate the situation. The only body that can change the situation significantly is Government by working with the profession to make teaching more attractive and by ensuring that the working conditions are more acceptable and more supportive of teaching than they are now.

Valerie Davey

  8. Can I declare, first of all, that I am a member of the NUT and declare that for the record. You mention there is greater understanding now of teachers' needs. Could you define those needs as you see them now in priority order?
  (Mr McAvoy) In priority order. I think teachers need more time to teach. They need to feel that they are being supported to do the job that they are there to do which is to teach the youngsters and to get rid of some of the things which have grown up in terms of demand and in size which distract them from that job and get in the way of the job. I think that is one of the issues. I think perhaps there is a recognition, somewhat belatedly, that their professionalism ought to be trusted so they need to feel that they have some ownership over what it is that they are being asked to do or what they do. Our view, which seems to now be given some recognition within Government, is that if you dictate too much from the centre what should be taught, how it should be taught, how it should be measured, particularly if there are many changes one after the other which teachers believe or do not believe are necessarily good for the pupils, then they will resent that. So another need is to have their professionalism respected and have it restored so that they are trusted again. That is why I extracted that one sentence from Estelle's speech which seems to be a recognition of that. I think also they need support, they need resources but they need other support. They need within the school support to help them do the job that they are there to do.

  9. Could you expand on that area of support? I think we have recognised, and the Secretary of State recognised in her speech, that time and support for innovation and raising standards—that was the quote I took out of that—as you say, comes in various forms. The support that I would like you to elaborate for us or share with us is in terms of non teaching staff. How does the union recognise the value of that and what are both the arguments for and against additional non teaching support in schools?
  (Mr McAvoy) I can think of no argument against. We need more teaching support staff. They come in different forms and they come to do different jobs. There has always been a lack of support staff to do administrative and clerical work. You have head teachers in small and medium sized schools having to spend time doing that work when they ought to be spending their time leading a professional team of teachers. You have teachers doing work which they ought not to be doing. The McCrone Report in Scotland, that would be a benefit to teachers in Scotland, identifies tasks that should not routinely be done by teachers. We would want a list of similar tasks which ought not routinely to be done by teachers in schools in England and Wales. You have the clerical and administrative side and the technical side. What we have seen more recently is the development of teaching support staff. There needs to be just a period of calm to assess what tasks they can best do. There is bound to be a sensitivity amongst teachers as to whether or not other people are being brought in to teach at less cost than a teacher. Is that solving the teacher shortage problem by a cheap and less effective route? So there needs to be a careful analysis of how that additional support is to be integrated into schools. There are some very good examples of how it is being done through the literacy and numeracy strategies where staff are being brought in to give that support and teachers are welcoming that, once they have appreciated how beneficial it can be but they do not necessarily lessen the workload because the teacher will be managing and supporting that assistant so they can add to workload not take it away whereas the clerical and administrative staff would certainly lessen the workload. Now we have been supportive of this development over the years. We commissioned from Coopers & Lybrand in 1998 a study of teaching support staff. It gave a figure as to how many there should. It put a cost on that for both primary and secondary schools and that document was endorsed by the National Executive of the NUT. We have been supportive of the development pre-1998, positively promoting it since 1998.
  (Mr Bangs) Can I just come in, in terms of the support. We have conducted three studies recently. One by Smithers and Robinson on teacher retention; another a dipstick survey of why teachers were leaving the profession and we conducted that just before Easter and, of course, our study through Demos entitled Classroom Assistants. The message comes through very strongly there are four issues which concern teachers. Excessive workload is way above, it is the number one reason why teachers leave the profession. After that is pupil behaviour. Pupil behaviour can often act as the trigger for leaving the profession if you are stressed about excessive workload. The other two reasons were Government initiatives over which you have no control, or feel you have no control, and of course the issue of pay itself and that usually comes, within that package, at about number four in the top priorities. I think pupil behaviour continues to be a big issue. We conducted another study with Warwick University and over 80 per cent of teachers believe that pupil behaviour, that group of pupils who would be considered to be badly behaved, their behaviour has declined significantly over the last ten years. I addressed a meeting in St Helens recently—and it was one of the biggest meetings I have ever spoken to of teachers who have never been to a union meeting before—they wanted practical support in the classroom. Often all they need is someone to appear at the door and take that badly behaving child out of the room to reduce the pressure for maybe ten minutes to half an hour. It connects in with Doug's point about classroom assistants, they would like to see general behaviour support assistants in the classroom, people who are not necessarily teachers but who are there to give practical support in the classroom when they need it.

Jeff Ennis

  10. You mentioned in the list of things the Government had to do in terms of retaining more teachers, which I think is the biggest problem area we have still got, that pay was the fourth down the list. Now one of the measures the Government is bringing in to try and counter this attitude to pay is to pay a threshold system which I know the unions opposed quite vehemently when it was first proposed to some extent, some more than others. Given the fact that 80 per cent of the teachers who qualify have actually applied to go through the threshold does that not prove that the Government was right in bringing in a system like this?
  (Mr McAvoy) We did oppose what we saw as payment by results, the system that we had many decades ago, because although the Government preferred to describe it as promotion related pay, an element of the test that the teacher has to satisfy is related to pupil progress and therefore the fairness of the system is still questionable. I think the fact that 80 per cent of the teachers eligible to apply did apply, or maybe more applied but 80 per cent applied and went through, does not vindicate the scheme. Those who decided not to apply to cross the threshold would have their own reasons but the majority of teachers, if it resulted in them getting £2,000 more would not be fussed about the principle, they would be more fussed about the pounds. It would be an odd government which thought: "If we dangle this carrot of £2,000, teachers will not bite", of course they will bite and they did and they got the £2,000. What we are now able to demonstrate, without question, is how the system is still flawed. Here you have got some 200,000 teachers who moved from one point on the salary scale to another, they crossed the threshold, quite significant description of what they have done. For what purpose? To move on to an upper pay range. How do they move up the upper pay range? They have to satisfy someone that they are providing a consistent quality of teaching and work. If they do satisfy that person will they get the money? Well, how would they get the money unless the Government made it available. The Government is making available sufficient money for less than half of the teachers who move to the upper pay range and leaving it for schools to decide whether they can fund more than that. If a school does not have sufficient spare cash it will have to make a decision between three or four applicants to move up the upper pay range which one does and that does not make for staff harmony. It is a flawed system now on the upper pay range and will be dependent on schools having the cash themselves in order to encourage those teachers who do not go through the threshold to move further up the payroll. So you need a totally different approach and that is what we are seeking to get jointly with our colleagues in other organisations and it ought to be similar to the Scottish system where you have chartered and advanced chartered teachers. You can link that then to professional development.

  11. I guess you will be more involved with the Government and advising the Government about how to deal with the situation they find themselves in now: why we have more applicants than money that is available?
  (Mr McAvoy) We will. The advice is very simple: provide sufficient money so that anyone who satisfies the test will be guaranteed the money. If you look at all systems of performance related pay that are acceptable both to employer and employee there are five key tests. Firstly that the tasks they have to satisfy are clear and unambiguous and fair. Secondly that if they pass the test they will get the money. Thirdly—there are three which will impact on teachers—that the money has to be available across the board, not in certain plans and not in others. Now it fails on that last test. Unless the Government puts that right then teachers will say they have been led into a very flawed system. The short term answer is give the money so that anyone who satisfies the test can be paid. The medium term and long term answer is to find a different system similar to that in Scotland.

Mr Chaytor

  12. Could I come back to the question of workload and pupil behaviour. Would you agree that there is a perception that the NUT has complained for many years about excessive workload, then the Government comes along with the proposal for expanding the number of classroom assistants and then you oppose the establishment of classroom assistants, you say this will take away teachers' jobs. Does it not strike you that to the public at large this seems an incredibly negative position to adopt?
  (Mr Bangs) We have not opposed the expansion of classroom assistants. As Doug said, the Coopers & Lybrand study in 1998 identified, as it was then, huge gaps in the existing structure of schools where classroom assistants should be used, ranging from bursarial support for school finance, I think one of Coopers & Lybrand's innovation was to have a help desk staffed by classroom assistants, a range of assistants for teachers in the classroom and indeed the Demos report, which we commissioned, called for a classroom assistant for every teacher and our own independent study by John Atkins ex of Coopers & Lybrand has called for three hours' minimum classroom assistance for every teacher. The teaching assistants' initiative in terms of literacy and numeracy has been generally welcomed by teachers. I think, as Doug says, there is an anxiety amongst some teachers because there remains a residual suspicion about Government motives in terms of classroom assistants. I think, to repeat what Doug says, we need a period of calm. We need as unions to talk to the support staff unions, such as UNISON, and we need to have clarity about the role of teaching assistants, the role of classroom assistants and the role of teachers. Indeed, the Government has heralded that in the Education Bill by inserting the clause which says just that and there will be secondary legislation which defines that. What would be the worse thing to do would be for Government to impose those roles. It must be a genuine partnership between ourselves, the teaching support staff unions, the employers and Government to sort those roles out in a period of calm.

  13. Do you think it is possible to systematically distinguish the tasks that the teacher only can do as against the classroom assistant? I am not familiar with the recommendations in the McCrone Report. Is it so clear cut that there is one set of tasks that only a teacher can do, one set of tasks that only a classroom assistant can do? Mr Bangs, earlier you mentioned the idea of someone being needed to take out a disruptive pupil temporarily, some time ago that would have been seen as a teaching function, a disciplinary function. There must be a point at which the teaching function merges indistinguishably into the classroom assistant function?
  (Mr McAvoy) I think you might try to have a fairly definitive set of tasks but over time, particularly with a teacher who becomes comfortable with and used to and works for a long time in a partnership with a teacher assistant, then those barriers, those boundaries become blurred, undoubtedly. I think what is necessary is to have that very sympathetic and understanding discussion to begin with so you get the competencies right. So these are the competencies of the teacher, this is what the teachers professional training ensures they can do, this is what the training of the teacher assistant ensures they can do and there are different sets of competencies. Some of those will come very close together and with experience and people working together they are bound to get blurred. You would find that in any kind of employment, you would have someone who is engaged with a particular job description and personal specification who, because they have shown themselves to be able to do other things, is allowed to those other things. I do not say us as a union or a teacher saying to an assistant "Now stop doing that because that is not in your task", the teacher will be so pleased to get the support that they will be likely to encourage that to be done but the boundaries at least ought to be there at the beginning even though they ought not to be used as some old fashioned demarcation line.

  14. The issue is the anxieties of individual teachers not necessarily the position and opposition.
  (Mr McAvoy) I think there is an anxiety generally about the motive. If you have a government or governments, two parties in government in succession each saying there is not a problem about teacher shortages, there are plenty of teachers, then suddenly trying to find solutions to the problem of teachers, then the teacher will say "Hang on, they said there was not a problem. Now the solution is more classroom assistants, more ICT", so the teacher becomes suspicious and so do we. We have not, until very recently, had an opportunity of working in partnership with Government, that partnership should take away our fears.
  (Mr Bangs) UNISON themselves say they are not in the business of replacing teachers, they agree with that. Perhaps as importantly, Coopers & Lybrand, in its report in 1998, made it absolutely clear that there were gaps in schools and they certainly did not envisage a reduction in teaching staff. I do think the Government needs to revisit that report.


  15. Could I just push you a little on that. All of us who are interested in the education sector believe that what really matters is the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom, that is essentially what it is all about. If we have support staff that can add to that, it could make most of the reports you refer to stress the fact that teachers should be allowed to get on with teaching and also should be allowed to prepare in some area of relative calm. Preparation time is important too. Members of this Committee see actually an expanding teaching profession, not a declining one, so we are not in a situation where there are less teachers this year than last year, it is an expanding profession. Is there not a harmony here that unions can work towards?
  (Mr McAvoy) I am sure there is. I do not see a difficulty. I forget when but many, many years ago the NUT presented, I think to what previously was a Select Committee, a document about widening the routes into teaching. Again this was at a time when we were facing a potential shortage of teachers. At that time we saw the potential for classroom assistants, people working in schools in a non teaching role, being first of all trained and then being encouraged to develop their own educational standards and to in site and in situ within the school have the opportunity to build up credits which would then entitle them to enter a teacher education course. We see the classroom assistant, the teacher assistant as potentially a teacher provided that they meet the various checks and balances on the way, not with the need to have to go away to some higher education institution away from their home, so they can do this without disrupting themselves from the home, they can do it by a variety of different means. We are not hostile to the concept at all. I suppose the warning to the Government is unless we move forward in partnership there will be some suspicion as to what the motives are. Now, you said we would not need to have that suspicion of you as a Committee, that is fine, then we will have no problem working in harmony but if we get the same message from the Government, which I think we are getting, we would have no problem with working with Government. Therefore the three groups, the Government, the employers and the unions including non teaching unions—UNISON, GMB and TGWU—ought to be able to work together and produce some model which would be beneficial to schools.

Mr Chaytor

  16. Just one final question on the workload. How can you justify your campaign for a 35 hour work when teachers still have 13 weeks holiday a year?
  (Mr McAvoy) I think you have to look at the demands which are placed on teachers during the school term, during the school week when they need to be most effective because that is when they have their pupils. There is no point saying "Well, of course they have got time to do all this when the pupils are not there", they need to be able to do, as the Chairman has just said, not only to teach but to mark and prepare for that teaching. The Scottish solution we still think is appropriate. The Government has said no to it. We think it is necessary for teachers to have within the school week, the hours of the school, the time set aside for marking and preparation. I do not believe that teachers in Scotland or indeed in England and Wales, if there was a 35 hour week, would stop on the stroke of the 35 hours, their professional commitment is such that they will not, but it is a very good rigorous guide for those who manage teachers to make sure that they do not overburden them. That is what we will be hoping to get from this joint exercise with the Government.

  17. Are you suggesting there could be a trade off about the length of the school year?
  (Mr McAvoy) No, not at all. I do not think there should be a trade off. I think the present contract for teachers of 195 days and 190 of those with pupils ought to stay. I think we ought to be looking to see how best we can use the gap of five days, they are not necessarily being used as profitably as they should be in schools. There is a need to increase the professional development courses available to teachers, that is part of restoring their professionalism. If some of that can be done in those five days then it should be. There will still be work the teachers will do outside of the 195 days. I think if you see it as a trade off to lengthen the teachers' working year then the benefits that would come from that exercise would be lost because teachers would feel "Well, I am not really going to get anything out of this. This is not helping us with our workload, it is giving us the same amount for the same money but we have got an extra two or three weeks in which to do it."

  18. The key issue is not necessarily the 35 hours but the balance of teaching and preparation time within the working week.
  (Mr McAvoy) It is. I think in Scotland they have benefited because they had a notional 35 hours before and, therefore, the McCrone Committee looked at that and said "We should now put that in place in a more formal way". We feel there ought to be a maximum number of hours that the teacher is required to teach within a school week and that for every two hours the teacher is teaching there should be an hour for marking and preparation. You take that formula and you produce from it a better and more supportive contract.

  Chairman: I think we had better move on. Paul has not had an opportunity to ask a question.

Paul Holmes

  19. Firstly, can I declare an interest. I was a secondary school teacher until the election last year and I am a Member of the NASUWT. In all the various Government inquiries and inquiries that the unions are paid for into things like workload there seems to be an attitude sometimes that it is one size fits all. The Secretary of State last week suggested in a key note speech, or appeared to suggest, that if you gave a little bit more preparation time to teachers in school that they could develop individual learning plans for every pupil in detail. It does seem to me from my experience as a secondary school teacher that is not always practical. If you look at a junior school teacher, one teacher by and large in one week in one year teaches the same group of 30 kids all the way through. They do get to know them in great detail. In secondary schools it varies enormously. If you are a maths, English, science teacher you will teach 140 or 180 kids a week. If you are a geography or history teacher—I was a history teacher—you will teach 200-300 kids. I taught 293 kids every week up to June 7th last year. Colleagues of mine who were geography, drama, RE teachers were teaching between 400 and 600 different kids every week, one teacher taught 600 different pupils a week. How can they be expected to produce the same detailed individual learning plans, the same detailed assessments, recording the same quality of lesson preparation and all the rest of it, if they are teaching anything from 300 to 600 pupils a week compared with a teacher who is teaching 30 a week?
  (Mr Bangs) I think The Guardian interview with the Secretary of State indicated, indeed she was quoted as saying that she wanted to concentrate on individual learning plans as a metaphor for individual learning. I understand, you would have to talk to the Secretary of State, that she feels she was slightly misquoted on that. She believes in differentiated learning, learning for individual pupils. I think there is a notion that what you need for differentiated learning for individual pupils are individual learning plans, I think that is ridiculous. I think the planning obsession has gone completely over the top. All our research shows that what teachers feel they must have—and Maurice Gaulton produced some research for us in 1997—is time to concentrate on individual needs, flexibly, and that is the thing which underscores teachers' beliefs about actually taking away all the pressures of planning requirements. To be fair on the literacy and numeracy strategies I know that we have talked to some of our consultant members, they are in despair about LEA monitoring and pressures on head teachers to produce intricate plans for individual pupils and they do not believe that excessive planning is needed either. So somewhere in the system at a point between local education authorities and head teachers, there is a belief—and it may be something to do with Ofsted, although they deny it—that you have to plan excessively. If you have a look at the PricewaterhouseCoopers' data for the workload study you can see planning as one of the number one pressures on excessive workload, and it is unnecessary.

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