Select Committee on Education and Skills Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 114-119)

MR DAVID HART, DR JOHN DUNFORD AND MRS KATE GRIFFIN

WEDNESDAY 6 MARCH 2002

Chairman

  114. Good morning. Can I ask both of you to make a short opening statement?

  (Mr Hart) Yes. I will be short. Obviously it would be futile to pretend that we are not in a very difficult situation on performance management: no doubt you will be asking questions about that and, of course, workload is also an issue of fundamental importance, and no doubt that will be covered as well. That all ties in with the importance of a comprehensive spending review. If we are going to look at the next four years' priorities, I do not want people to get away with the idea that it is all about pay and rations. Those are absolutely critical but there are other critical issues as well. There is a new funding system due to come into effect in April 2003 and the importance of that, the way in which we reduce the disparities in terms of funding between one local authority and another, between schools, is going to be critical in terms of the delivery of this Government's standards agenda in the future, and that also has implications for a comprehensive spending review. In your previous session you touched on fundamental issues around the balance between central control and freedom, and I think the Education Bill which starts its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday muddies the waters in terms of the balance between freedom on the one hand and central control on the other. Last but not least I would like to flag up the whole of the 14-19 system as being of absolutely crucial importance: we made a great contribution, I would like to think, to discussions at the Department which led to the Green Paper on 14-19, but one issue which certainly emerges from that has to be the whole issue which I know is boiling up—that is the whole issue of how we arrive at a sensible funding system for students, and the NAHT, working with the Sutton Trust, is passionately interested in how we can ensure that bright students from the poorest families in this country get a fair crack of the whip when it comes to entry to the best universities. That is an issue which I do not think we ought to lose track of in the next few weeks and months.
  (Dr Dunford) I want to start on a positive note and then just try to tease out for you why I think head teachers are feeling unhappy in many cases. First of all, the Secretary of State in December made a speech to the Social Market Foundation outlining a vision of schools in the future, and I have to say that there was an enormous amount in that speech that we would strongly support. We are playing, I think, a very constructive contribution to that debate about what schools are going to look like in the future just as we are making a constructive contribution to the debate about the way schools are staffed, the role of support staff, and in other areas of policy—14-19 which David has just mentioned. Associated with that specifically are proposals to try to sort out our over-burdened examination system which are very important to us, work on managing behaviour and so on. There is a whole range and I think we try to make a very constructive contribution and work well with the Department in doing that. If you were to ask me, out of the 15 points in the paper which I have prepared for the Committee, which two or three I would want to tease out, the first would be the point about initiative overload. 2001 was a classic in that respect in all the curriculum changes that schools had to face. These are coming at us from different areas, so different parts of the Department were dealing with the key stage 3 strategy, with the reform to GCSEs and with the changes to Advanced level qualification, but at school level it is the same person. The heads of Maths and English are dealing with all of these things all at the same time, and that I think is why we are feeling so much initiative overload. I think there is a tendency in the Department always to want to be starting new initiatives rather than consolidating older ones, and in school it takes time. I know as a head teacher—as I was, as you know, and Kate still is—it takes time to institutionalise those changes and implement them, and we are frankly still implementing the last change but one, while the Government is thinking entirely about the next one. Secondly, there is no question that the job of school leaders has been made much more difficult by the teacher shortage. It is not just simply the enormous amount of time taken to fill vacancies and to patch up with getting supply teachers and so on, and it is not just the head but all the senior staff the burden falls on. But then there is the difficulty of dealing with the situation in school where people are less familiar with the school situation, or less well qualified at coming in, and need a lot more support. The third issue is the whole area of performance pay where last year, if you had, say, 40 teachers going for the threshold allowance, basically that was an extra 80 hours' work during the summer for head teachers in dealing with all of those applications. Following that enormous amount of work there was terrific commitment to the success of that threshold arrangement, and I am sure Paul got his £2,000—

Paul Holmes

  115. Yes.
  (Dr Dunford) Good! We now have this desperate situation, and I have never known a strength of feeling like that among school leaders and head teachers that here is something that is ill judged; it is a policy that is not going to improve our schools and we really must try to do something about it. We have tried, as part of that constructive contribution to debate, very hard over the last 12 months to persuade the Government how they might do this better and how difficult the situation is going to be for head teachers, and that is why we are in the position we are in at the moment. Just making one other comment, underlining all of those points, there is an ambivalence in Government approach—and not just this Government but all governments' approach—to education where, on the one hand, there is a message about schools not doing well and therefore we need to transform them and, on the other hand, there is a message about us having some of the best schools in the world and the best teachers in the world and so on, and I think there is a kind of schizophrenia about education policy which leaves people in the schools feeling under the cosh.

Chairman

  116. Can I open the questioning by asking this of all three of you? We all know each other well as part of this education sector in our different roles, and we have all been working, I think, to raise the level of respect for the profession, the professional identity of the profession and all that, but surely this morning's newspaper stories about yourselves and the NUT involved in industrial action send a message to pupils, to parents and to the general public that here is a group of people, even the head teachers, which plunges into industrial action very fast. Is this a proper profession or a train drivers' union—
  (Dr Dunford) I am just trying to stay calm while David explodes! I want to draw your attention to the editorial in The Independent today which I think distinguished between the action of the NUT and the action taken by the two head teacher associations, and I think it is unfortunate that the Secretary of State chose yesterday to bracket those two together. That has brought them together, as it were, into the public domain when they are quite separate. The action we are taking will have no harm whatsoever on children's education but we hope that, at the end of it, there will be a much better pay structure. Part of it may well be a performance pay structure but it has to be an awful lot better than the structure we have at the moment.
  (Mr Hart) We have been making representations to the Government for 12 months now, and the Government has not moved one jot in 12 months. My organisation has spent hours and hours and hours talking to the Department ever since 1997 about how we should introduce a performance management system. I personally made a speech which virtually outlined the pay structure we have now got as being the pay structure that should be the pay structure for the future, but we have always made it abundantly clear to Government that you are playing with fire if you do not adequately fund performance-related pay in the first few vital years. That is the lesson to be learned from every performance-related pay system that has ever been invented. If you do not fund it properly in the first vital few years, it will fall into disrepute. The Government's fundamental error is to assume that you can jump from a 100 per cent demand-led threshold system—and by that I mean, if a person is assessed positively to go through threshold, you get the money—into a system whereby, at best, we are going to get about 50 per cent of the money we need to cover the teachers and the school leaders concerned, and it is placing extreme pressure on head teachers and senior colleagues. It is all very well for Peter Smith to talk about freedom to manage and walking away from difficult decisions, and to talk about what happens in the fire service, what happens in the police, what happens in health. How much performance-related pay is there in the police force? How much performance-related pay is there in the fire service? How much performance-related pay is there in the public sector outside education? The answer is precious little. We are in the vanguard of the delivery of performance management and performance-related pay. All we have ever asked of this Government is to make sure that the performance-related pay scheme is properly funded during its first few vital years.

  117. But, David, the fact is that, if you were the Secretary of State or sitting here as a member of this Select Committee, if someone came along and said they had another half billion or billion pounds to spend on education, the Secretary of State and many members of this Committee would not say that it should be given to you for these purposes: they would say, "Give it to higher education, give it to pre school, give it to FE where the demands are enormous", and we know there is not a bottomless pit of money in the Treasury. In a sense, therefore, are you not being a little unreal? You are a union and of course we expect you to fight for your members; but there are some other priorities in the education sector.
  (Mr Hart) But this is a top priority for this Government. This is the Government's pay structure; this is the Government's performance-related pay scheme. If they want this scheme to work and they want to make the £30,000 a year classroom teacher without management responsibilities a reality, this is not the way to go about it.

  118. But even Peter Smith was pretty trenchant—polite but trenchant—in his criticisms of the way you are handling this, and said that all managers have to make tough decisions about giving someone the increase, even though they qualify, and others have to wait. That is what managers do.
  (Mr Hart) The tough decisions have to be made, but they are then funded properly. We are not afraid of making tough decisions but what we are not prepared to do is make the tough decisions and then find we have not got the money to make them work or we have to take the money from somewhere else. I think the danger from the Secretary of State, if I may say so, is that she has boxed herself into a position where the parents of this country are going to be asking very serious questions about how it is that decisions have to be made which take money away from books and equipment and staffing to prop up the Government's performance-related pay scheme when the Government could, over a reasonably short period of time, have funded it properly, got it up and running and then all these pockets of money would have been brought in to a new funding system on a transitional basis and I do not think we would have the problem of dispute we have got now.

Mr Simmonds

  119. Could I ask you about classroom assistants? Doug McAvoy when he came to this Committee in January was very much of the view that, while classroom assistants play an important role, they add to the workload because of additional management responsibilities that teachers have to take on whilst managing them as well as the children. Do you share that view, or do you think they are a big asset in cutting back on teachers' pay?
  (Dr Dunford) I think the question of having more support staff in school is much broader than simply classroom assistants. Particularly in secondary schools, what we are looking for is particularly more administrative support for staff, as it were, to free the staff to teach and take away a lot of those non-teaching tasks from the staff, and that could be administrative support in faculties, in smaller schools more administrative support for the school, and so on. In terms of classroom assistants themselves it may well be that, in the short term, you have a certain amount of work in inducting them into the job if they have not been trained for it, but in the longer term they are enormously helpful. What I think your question does show is that a proper system of training—and, indeed, paying—classroom assistants and support staff as a whole will need to be devised if we are going to make much more use of them in schools.


 
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