Keith Joseph – 1985 Speech on the Teachers’ Dispute

Below is the text of the speech made by Keith Joseph, the then Secretary of State for Education and Science, in the House of Commons on 22 October 1985.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the teachers’ dispute in England and Wales.

Intense efforts have been made in recent months by the Government to bring this damaging dispute to a satisfactory conclusion. I regret to say that they have, so far, been unsuccessful. Some of the teacher unions have chosen to continue to disrupt the education of the pupils in their charge rather than accept—or even to discuss—the offer made to them. I deplore this, the damage it causes, and the example it sets.

In August, the Government offered the prospect of an additional £1,250 million for teachers’ pay over four years from next April, a sum equivalent to an extra 4 per cent. on the present pay bill rising to an extra 9 per cent. by the fourth year. On 12 September, the employers made an offer constructed upon the conditional Government willingness to see this substantial extra investment on teachers’ pay. Under that offer, all teachers stood to receive increases in April and November. Those on their scale maxima would have got additional increases in either September or next March. The average end-of-year increase would have been over 8 per cent. in addition, one in five classroom teachers would have benefited significantly from the additional 70,000 promotions planned from September 1986. All of this would have been on top of any normal annual increase negotiated from April 1986.

All classroom teachers at present on scale 1 or scale 2, even without promotion, could have looked forward to £10,500 a year plus whatever is negotiated each year on pay. In return for these proposals, which would have brought real benefits to the education service, as well as substantial improvements in pay for large numbers of teachers and in promotion prospects, the teachers were asked for a clear commitment to the professional fulfilment of their duties and an acceptance of a pay system which would have offered relatively greater rewards to promoted teachers and to those holding senior leadership posts.

The teacher unions took just 20 minutes to reject this offer. Since then some unions have been engaging in forms of industrial action explicitly intended to cause the maximum disruption to the education service at the minimum cost to the teachers involved in the disruption. This is deplorable and underlines why we so urgently need an agreement to define more clearly the teachers’ professional responsibilities.

Since then I regret to say that the employers, by a small majority, have been willing to make offers relating to pay alone. Even before the teacher unions confirmed that their demands far outstripped the employers’ capacity to pay, I repeated the Government’s position. We refuse to provide any additional resources for a “no strings” pay deal which would be a reversion to the discredited approach where negotiations on pay are separated from negotiations on pay structure and conditions of service. Separation has for years meant, “You pay us now and we will talk about reform later.”

Simultaneous negotiation of all elements provides the only credible way forward. Notwithstanding the passage of the original deadline, therefore, the ​ Government remain ready to consider whether additional resources could still be approved within the £1,250 million envelope for 1986–87 and subsequent years provided the conditions for reform are met. The Government are also willing to set aside resources from within the total of £1,250 million to help employers cover the cost of supervising pupils at midday. I have discussed that proposition with the employers, and it is agreed between us that officials should now clarify the way ahead.

The Government will continue to make every effort to see a bargain struck, which would provide improved pay and prospects for teachers in return for a better career and promotion structure, the clarification of teachers’ duties, and an end to the disruption.

Our objective is to improve the standard of teaching in schools and the quality of our education system. That is why we have agreed to the commitment of such substantial additional resources towards improving teachers’ salaries. But we are not prepared to release the resources without simultaneous action on teachers’ duties and the pay structure to ensure that the nation receives a fair return for the extremely large investment.