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House of Lords

Monday, 18th March 2002.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Teachers: Performance Pay

Baroness Walmsley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they expect school budgets and teacher morale to be affected by the under-funding by the Department for Education and Skills of the teachers' performance-related pay scheme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, rewarding effectiveness should improve teaching morale, and there is no question of under-funding. In the coming year we are increasing education standard spending by £1.3 billion to nearly £24 billion. In addition, we expect to provide about £600 million in direct support for performance-related pay, of which £100 million will be new special grant for the upper pay scale and related reforms.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. However, she is aware that only about 50 per cent of the teachers who are above the threshold will be able to receive that money. Is she aware that at the beginning of the school year—in the absence of any indication from the Government as to how much money would be available, and in the absence of any criteria—in order to be fair to their staff, some head teachers set their own criteria and gave a commitment to those staff who met such criteria that they would be rewarded? Is not the Government's under-funding of this performance-related pay a good way to demoralise the teaching profession by setting teacher against teacher and head teachers against their staff?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I must make clear that the payments are not increments but incentives to teachers. My right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett, announced last March that there would be a special grant. We have set minimum criteria but we believe that it is within the gift of head teachers working with their governing bodies to ensure that they look for and reward improvements in standards and that they set their own criteria. They are used to doing that. They have been giving responsibility points for some years.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, can the Minister respond to a head teacher's comment to me last week that government grants have not allowed for incremental drift? His school has a number of teachers at the higher end of the salary scale and he has found

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himself considerably reduced in resources. Can the Minister assure the House that no school where the staff have remained stable and are at the higher end of the salary scale will suffer as a result of incremental drift?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am happy to give the noble Lord the understanding that we have here the ability for teachers to apply to go across the threshold. Where such teachers are able to go through the threshold, that is a demand-led funding, which is fully funded. Beyond that point, on the four remaining points it is for schools to make decisions about the rewards they want to give to their teachers and the criteria for so doing.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that an incentive which is given permanently for the remainder of a teacher's career hardly guarantees that it will remain in 10 or 20 years' time?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it is important to understand that the incentives we are trying to bring into the system are on top of the basic increases we have given to teachers. Noble Lords will be aware that teaching salaries have increased by quite a lot; by up to 30 per cent since 1997. The incentives we are additionally bringing in are designed to allow head teachers who are managers to make the right kind of decisions to incentivise their staff and their schools to continue to improve.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, is the Minister aware—I am sure she is—that the National Association of Head Teachers is very angry indeed about this matter? That association seldom complains in public, although I am sure it talks often to the department about its problems. It is being asked to do something which makes running schools difficult. We all understand that crossing the threshold is fully funded; the Government agree that. However, this is another matter altogether, setting teacher against teacher. That is not the right way to proceed. The Government never said that only 50 per cent of the proposal would be funded. It seems very unwise. Cannot they do something about that?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we have funded £100 million for the rest of this financial year, and £150 million for the year 2003-04. As I have said before, my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State made clear last March that there would be a special grant. We should be careful of the assumption that all teachers who pass the threshold automatically increase on this scale. It is not an incremental scale. It is designed specifically to incentivise schools and teachers to improve, to set criteria and to reward. That practice is used in all areas of management and is one we should encourage.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether "new" government money is being

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made available for the performance-related pay scheme or is it money that was allocated in another year? Do the Government intend to make that new money available or do they expect local authorities to do so?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Government are providing £600 million in direct support for performance-related pay in 2002-03. As I said, £500 million of that will be a special grant to cover the extra salary cost—noble Lords will be aware that that is around £2,000 per teacher—to go through to point one on the upper pay scale as a result of passing the performance threshold. As I said, that grant is demand-led. The additional money which is available is for movement under the other points of that scale. This is money available. Decisions about future funding are subject to the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Crop Improvement: Transgenic Technology

2.42 p.m.

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy for funding research into the transgenic approach for improving crops.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Government recognise that the use of transgenic technology for crop improvements could have the potential to produce benefits if applied safely and responsibly. The Government have supported and support research and development programmes which utilise genetic modification approaches for crop improvements and are aimed at providing the underpinning science and developing responsible GM approaches.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, do the Government recognise the glaring contrast between the importance of agricultural biotechnology—a technology in which we have special expertise in this country and which has enormous potential in the fight against hunger and disease and for a better environment—on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the gradual decline over the years in government support for that field? Is it not particularly important that there should be public support for this field of research rather than letting it all be done by multinational companies or other countries? Could they perhaps not divert some of the millions which are spent on organic farming, the claims for which have no scientific basis, and invest that money in proper science instead?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think that the House has heard the noble Lord's opinions on both sides of the argument. The Government believe that there is benefit in developing technologies in biotechnology, including GM approaches. We also believe that there

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is benefit in helping the development of what many farmers and many consumers regard as the benefits of organic farming. We support both. But we also recognise that there is public concern in this area. Therefore, we support technology on GM approaches, which help speed up, for example, hybridisation, and for the use of GM technology which is to the benefit of mankind in food, medicine and other fields. However, the development of products in this area is primarily a matter for commercial concerns and not for government.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that if the research is left to individual companies there will not necessarily be public confidence in that research? Sadly, we have seen an example of that over the past year or so. Will the Government therefore consider increasing their research funding to make sure that it is linked to good-quality, accessible and relevant science which is based throughout the world on a similar basis? That should include risk assessment as a major part of that funding. Can the Minister clarify where the money is going at the present time?

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