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The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat in the form of a Statement a Private Notice Question on teachers' pay, which has been taken today in another place.
"As the House will know, the Government's plan to reform the teaching profession to make sure that good teachers are paid more was first published in a Green Paper in December 1998. The standards which 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 itself was provided with early drafts of the standards as background to its review.
"As a result of action by the NUT, the High Court ruled on Friday 14th July that these 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.
"The written judgment of the court is not available, but as soon as it is I will decide whether or not to appeal. But 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.
"The Secretary of State for Education and Employment 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 teachers have had for a generation for a radical pay improvement. All the Government have asked is that teachers do a good job in return. We intend to press on with paying good teachers more money within the correct legal framework with as little delay as possible".
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Statement which the noble Baroness has repeated, and which has been made in another place in response to a Private Notice Question, is deeply regrettable. First, the Secretary of State blames the National Union of Teachers for daring to challenge his handling of the PRP scheme. In a press release, the Secretary of State stated:
Secondly, I turn to the role of civil servants and their advice to Ministers. To blame the civil servants, as Mr Blunkett has done, is disgraceful behaviour; civil servants are unable to defend themselves and must therefore be deemed guilty by the Secretary of State.
Speaking on a radio programme, the Secretary of State said that he cannot rely on his civil servants to advise him and therefore he was going to read the judgment himself and decide himself the next steps. Does he intend to take no advice at all? If he does intend to take advice, from where will he obtain it?
While PRP in principle is to be welcomed, the particular scheme, rushed through and now thwarted by the courts because of the Secretary of State, has not been thought through. It is excessively bureaucratic; it requires an army of external assessors; and it is supported by brain-numbing training which is an insult to professional teachers and governors. For example, many of those compelled to undertake training knew more than the trainers. They came away from the training very dissatisfied indeed.
Much of the work has been carried out in our schools, but will it now be aborted? Do the Government intend to appeal the judgment? The Minister said that they are waiting to read the judgment, but it would be helpful to know what is in the mind of the Secretary of State. Will schools be reimbursed for the time already spent on the bureaucratic process? Only today, I was in the presence of a head teacher who told me that when 68 teachers applied to go through the threshold at least two hours were spent on each application by that head teacher. Having undertaken all that work, what price is time now?
What is the delay likely to be for those teachers whose expectations have been raised by the Secretary of State only to be dashed by his arrogant disregard for the proper processes? Schools and teachers should not be made to pay the price for this fiasco.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I believe that the Secretary of State must be nai ve if he thought that the proposals were about standards of teaching and not about pay structures and scales. After all that has been said in this House about performance-related pay, it was clear that they were about pay as well as about standards of teaching.
In many senses, this is a victory for parliamentary democracy as well as for the courts. As Mr Justice Jackson made clear, the Secretary of State, in imposing threshold standards for performance-related pay, bypassed the School Teachers' Review Body, Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. As the judge said, Parliament required that any significant contractual powers are subject to the scrutiny of an independent body; namely, the School Teachers' Review Body. The Secretary of State evaded that scrutiny. Furthermore, at the start the Welsh Assembly wanted to remove pupils' performance as a criterion for the teachers' assessment. It will now have its way unless the Secretary of State amends the existing legislation and introduces new statutes.
The real question is: why did not the DfEE and the Secretary of State scrutinise the court's decision in March, when it was decided that there were sufficient grounds for a judicial review with a view to withdrawing the flawed order relating to school teachers' pay, and undertake proper consultation rather than allow the review to drag on until July?
My second question returns to an issue raised many times by the Liberal Democrats. As the Minister knows well, we opposed the proposals for performance related pay because we did not believe that a school environment was appropriate for such a system. Essentially, teachers work as a team. The proposals would have introduced considerable extra administrative burdens on head teachers, who are already overloaded with bureaucracy, and would have required teacher to inform upon teacher with the risk of setting one member of staff against another within the team. We also opposed them because we felt, and said at the time, that four days of formal consultation was too short for so important a measure.
Therefore, my second question is: why did the Secretary of State not heed the voices not only of the Liberal Democrats but of over 70 Members of Parliament of all the main parties who signed an Early Day Motion in the other place calling on the Secretary of State to carry out proper consultation with teachers and to allow Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to debate such significant changes?
Lastly, I bring to your Lordships' attention the chaos that has now been caused. With less than a week to go before the end of term, teachers do not know where they are. I have many teacher friends who spent a whole weekend filling out the threshold forms. They do not know where they will stand when they return to school in September. Similarly, heads and governors have also had to spend a great deal of time deciding how to respond to them. I gather from the Statement that the matter is now on hold and that the Secretary of State is writing to the School Teachers' Review Body. However, how long will it be before teachers know whether they will receive their threshold payments?
Finally, I echo the questions posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Why has the Secretary of State blamed officials when, in his summing up, the judge made it clear that, given the pace and pressure of changes imposed by the Secretary of State at the moment, mistakes were bound to occur?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I begin by clearing up the last point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp--a point raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I make it absolutely clear that the Secretary of State takes full responsibility for what happens. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked from whom the Secretary of State takes advice. He takes advice from many different quarters: from officials, legal advisers, special advisers and representatives of the teaching profession.
I am dismayed that the Liberal Democrats, and, I believe, the Conservative Party, too, do not accept the desirability of moving towards a pay system in which good teachers are rewarded fully for what they do by passing over a threshold and receiving an increase of £2,000. The noble Baroness wants to intervene, but perhaps I may say that the Opposition have attempted to block many of the proposals, have opposed them and have got into bed with the NUT over them.
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