Education Bill

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The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify in which direction he is arguing? Is he arguing that the freedoms will be widely used, which will cause a lot of damage, or that they will hardly ever be used, so there will be no problem?

Mr. Willis: I do not think that that there is a contradiction. The Government seem determined to travel down the road of encouraging individual pay and conditions bargaining on a school-by-school, if not teacher-by-teacher, basis. First, there is little evidence from either the current or previous Governments to show that schools want that. Secondly, if the Minister is determined to go ahead with the plan, there could be incredibly divisive consequences for schools. I have tried to point that out, and I am sorry if the Minister cannot grasp those two concepts. They are important: there is no evidence in favour of doing what the Government want to do, and the Minister will be creating an open book for teachers' pay and conditions. The Government want to impose a Thatcherite proposal on our school system while we are desperately trying to recruit and retain teachers in some of the most challenging situations. I ask the Minister to please think again.

Amendment No. 52 is simple and asks the Minister for guidance on what can be disapplied and what cannot. If he envisages a free-for-all, let him tell us this morning so that we know where he stands. We believe that any disapplication under earned autonomy should guarantee that, first, the main pay scale continues as agreed under the STPRB; secondly, the threshold remains, so that the situation does not change for those who have gained their £2,000

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payment or are aspiring to get it; and thirdly, the differentials between the main scale and the leadership group, and between the leadership group and head teacher, remain. If we do not have those differentials, we will not have a career structure, which, to be fair, is one of the positive changes that the Government have introduced over the past four years. To lose it would be very sad.

This is an important group of amendments, which go to the heart of the Government's intentions for pay and conditions. I hope that the Minister will be circumspect and frank in his response.

Mr. Brady: I shall be brief, but the issues dealt with in the amendments are important. They strike at the heart of how far we believe in or have reservations about autonomy for schools. They will start to open up some interesting divisions in thinking between different Committee members. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough will be relieved to know that the period of consensus that we enjoyed on Tuesday will perhaps begin to fragment.

Mr. Willis: Hallelujah.

Mr. Brady: As the hon. Gentleman said, where the freedom was available to schools under grant maintained status, particularly on pay and conditions, it was rarely used. In itself, that might be one element that the Minister will advance to support an argument that this is a safe and reasonable flexibility and freedom to allow. It would be available to schools where it is required, but may not be expected to become a universal practice. The Government have already demonstrated that they are prepared to differentiate teachers' pay and conditions and offer golden hellos, student loan write-offs and special payments for certain categories. Those responses are necessary to overcome difficulties in teacher recruitment and retention, and Her Majesty's Opposition support that more flexible approach.

The section on so-called earned autonomy provides for a form of autonomy that, although far from sufficient, is an appropriate form of autonomy for schools. The wording of amendment No. 33 contains a non sequitur. The hon. Gentleman advances the argument that

    ''The Secretary of State shall exercise his powers under this section with regard to the desirability of maintaining an effective national framework of pay and conditions''—

this is the part that I do not think follows—

    ''so that all maintained schools are able to recruit, retain and motivate sufficient teachers of the required quality.''

At present, we have a national framework of pay and conditions. However, schools in the maintained sector are not able to recruit, retain and motivate sufficient teachers of the required quality. That is precisely the difficulty that the Government face, and we all support their best endeavours to resolve it. I have grave reservations about the hon. Gentleman's wish to circumscribe the autonomy of schools.

In amendment No. 34, the hon. Gentleman places a duty on the Secretary of State to exercise his powers

    ''so as to promote the professional development of teachers''.

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How can that be reconciled with a belief in autonomy for schools or a belief that schools should be free to innovate? Schools should be free to pursue their own professional development policies and practices. They should be encouraged and given resources, and they may be given guidance, but it would be entirely wrong to take that freedom away and put it in the hands of the Secretary of State.

    jf1›Amendment No. 79 seeks to require that pay negotiations should be conducted

    ''between relevant bodies and representatives''

when pay and condition provisions have been suspended. The hon. Gentleman commented on the previous Conservative Government's attitude to collective bargaining. It is telling that his amendment does not require negotiation with the individuals concerned, which would have been a slightly more balanced approach.

What would be the effect of the amendment in practice? We do not oppose proper and sensible pay negotiations, whether in the public or private sector, which involve employee representatives, if that is the wish of the employees concerned. However, the position of the individual must be taken into account; it is appropriate for individual employees to engage in such discussions.

Furthermore, I am concerned that the amendment may have the unintended consequence of requiring collective negotiation in all cases. That would have a limiting effect on negotiations with members of staff who are in the leadership group or who need particular incentives, perhaps for recruitment in difficult areas.

I do not wish to speak at length about the amendment, but it is important to flag up our genuine concerns about the hon. Gentleman's recommendations. I suspect that with this group of amendments, we are leaning a little more towards the Minister than the hon. Gentleman.

10.30 am

Mr. Timms: I bid you a warm welcome to the Chair, Mr. Griffiths.

I can confirm that we remain committed to the national framework. The STPRB has done a good job and will report again in a few weeks. I agree that schoolteachers' pay and conditions play an important part in recruitment, retention and motivation, as amendment No. 33 suggests. That is why we have implemented innovations, such as the threshold that the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough mentioned, and why we have given schools additional flexibility to pay allowances to teachers with particular responsibilities and to set pay ranges for members of the leadership group. Schools have significant flexibility over pay that they did not have before, and we have provided them with more resources to support that flexibility. That is in existing schoolteachers' pay and conditions documents.

What do we want to allow in schools that is not permitted at present? More schools should have a greater opportunity to consider more closely what could be done to meet their needs or circumstances. Eligible schools may want to make minor or larger

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changes, and they will do that within their normal budgets. It is worth saying that there will be no additional funding for schools with earned autonomy. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that, at least implicitly. The changes or variations that schools introduce will be within their existing budgets.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that that power would be taken up exclusively or mainly by schools with specialist status, using their additional resources. However, it is not just specialist schools that have access to additional resources. Our programme for schools in challenging circumstances gives extra resources to some 500 schools that face the biggest challenges. For the reasons to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, they may be precisely the schools that need to be able to take advantage of the extra flexibility that the provisions will give.

I imagine that the school that the hon. Gentleman visited last week was in an excellence in cities area. Other schools will be in excellence clusters throughout the country. They will have access to additional resources.

Mr. Willis: I am grateful for the Minister's comments. Two weeks ago, I visited a school in Bradford that has STPRB money, excellence in cities money and some deprivation grants, because it is in an incredibly deprived area. I asked the head what she did with all the money, and she replied, ''We spend it purely on supply cover, because we can't get teachers.'' The school was spending almost £250,000 on such cover.

Mr. Timms: I do not know the circumstances of that school, but I put it to the hon. Gentleman that it may be the kind of school that could secure permanent staff by varying their terms, conditions and pay. That is a good example of variation that could be extremely helpful.

I want to deal with a point made by the hon. Gentleman this morning and towards the end of Tuesday's sitting. His thinking on the issue is slightly different from ours. I envisage that, at least initially, the proportion of schools likely to qualify for earned autonomy will be nearer 10 per cent. than the 50 or 75 per cent. that he suggested. As the White Paper says just after the section quoted by the hon. Gentleman, we expect the proportion of eligible schools to grow as more schools raise their standards and can meet the criteria that will be defined.

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