BBC HOMEPAGE | NEWS | WORLD SERVICE | SPORT | MY BBC help
news vote 2001search vote 2001
 You are in: Vote2001: Forum
VOTE2001 
Main Issues 
Features 
Crucial Seats 
Key People 
Parties 
Results &  Constituencies 
Candidates 
Opinion Polls 
Online 1000 
Virtual Vote 
Talking Point 
Forum 
Leaders 
Election Trail 
AudioVideo 
Programmes 
Voting System 
Local Elections 
Nations 

N Ireland 
Scotland 
Wales 

BBC News

BBC Sport

BBC Weather
Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Estelle Morris quizzed

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

  56k  


Education minister Estelle Morris, answered your questions on education issues in England and Wales.

She talked about what is taught in the classroom, how much teachers are paid and other issues including school discipline, funding and management.

Estelle Morris, the Education minister answered your questions on 29 May.


Below is a transcript of the interview.

News Online Host:

Hello and welcome to BBC News Online's election forum. I'm Claire Bishop, with me now to answer your questions is Estelle Morris, the education minister responsible for schools. Estelle, lots of questions coming in about education, Glyn Simpson from Southampton, talking about teachers. Says, we hear of the amounts that teachers get paid, can get paid, up to 31,000 is a figure often quoted by ministers. Can I ask what proportion of teachers actually get this maximum amount?

Estelle Morris:

Well, some teachers, of course get more than that if they've got responsibilities perhaps as heads of department, or as heads or deputies of schools. They often get more than that. But I think the point that's being made is under the last government, or certainly last year, the most a teacher could get if they were a good classroom teacher without taking on management responsibilities was 24,000 a year. Now what we've said is when you get to about seven years' experience you can apply for the threshold which will give you a pay increase of 2,000 and then access a further ... of 1,000 each. So what we're envisaging over time that we've opened up another route for promotion for teachers and many who would have been stuck on 24,000, who did not become heads of department, didn't want extra paperwork, but were damn good at teaching, they will now indeed be able to access a pay scale up to, as was said, 31,000 a year.

News Online Host:

Susan Lewis from Swansea says that her husband is a head of English in a large comprehensive school and his workload seems to be increasing every year, preparation, larger classes, and the administration. She wants to know what you are planning to do to help conscientious and good classroom teachers like her husband to get a life outside the classroom. She says she's beginning to despair.

Estelle Morris:

Well I'm appreciate of the work that Susan's husband does, there's no more important job than teaching. And the reason he'll have gone into teaching is to make sure that standards improve and there is a dilemma, I don't know any teacher who thought that things were good enough. They all thought children could do better ... if we had more investment in schools. And over the past four years we have put pressures on teachers to do more and they've responded magnificently, particularly those teachers in primary schools who've mastered the literacy and numeracy. And in return for that extra work we have seen children do better, but they're right, they need support as well. And what we've tried to do over the last four years is first of all we've invested more in schools so that people like Susan's husband have bigger budgets to spend but we've also seen a huge increase in the number of classroom assistants, 44,000 extra, and in the number of administrative support assistants. And that's where we think we'd like to go. We do need that pressure on standards but what we also need as well, and I entirely accept, is more money for support for teachers. We've made a start but there's certainly more that needs to be done there and I know that we need to send less paper out. We've made an improvement there but we still can get better at that.

News Online Host:

A question from a teacher, Mike Morris in Oxford. He recalls you saying a while ago that teachers would be given affordable houses and he wants to know are there any plans to ease the lot of those of us who work in related educational areas and can't afford house prices in the south east?

Estelle Morris:

Well, Mike, it wasn't a case of giving affordable houses, but obviously we do appreciate the dilemma when you've got a national pay scale in some areas of high housing costs, which makes it really prohibitive for some teachers to go there. Let me say what we have done. We've put out some money through John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, to areas of high housing costs so that we can invite local authorities to tell us how that money can help them reduce housing costs and I think that we are, I must admit I'm not absolutely sure we are with that bidding process but I think the time after the election will be the time when we allocate that money, and we hope that helps a bit. As you know we increased by quite a bit in this year's pay round, the amount of money that goes to people who get the extra housing allowance. But I think that Mike's right, I think it's a big issue for many employers, not just those who employ teachers in areas of high housing costs and again we've made a start on that but it does indeed to stay in our agenda if we should be lucky enough to get a second term.

News Online Host:

Moving onto another emotive subject, tuition fees, and Nigel Bedrock from London, says that he's appalled that a Labour government has introduced student loans. He says that young people will now start their working life with a huge debt. Nigel wants to know why didn't Labour choose another way of paying for tertiary education such as higher national insurance contributions or income tax rates for the first few years of work after graduating?

Estelle Morris:

This is a real tough one. And I think what we need to say first of all is there never was a glorious time when everybody who wanted could go to university and they've got a full grant and they didn't pay tuition fees. I think you'll know where we're coming from, is that certainly when I went to university, I went to college in my case, only ten per cent of youngsters did that. Many people who went there were paying their own way through, as part time students, and I think the choice is this. If you want to expand the number of people going to university, which we do, you have to have another way of financing the higher education sector. And what we've decided to do is to build on, and it wasn't us who introduced the student loans, it was actually the Tories and the Liberals supported student loans as well, is to say to people, look, the state is investing in your education, it's done that since you very first started school. In higher education we want it to be a joint enterprise. We want you to invest in your own future, to taking out the loan, which you'll only pay back when you're earning, and if you stop earning you won't have to pay back. And in terms of tuition fees the figures are something like this. That 50 per cent of people aren't paying tuition fees at all, certainly you don't pay it for post-graduate certificates of education, to go into teaching. And 50 per cent do, but it is for those whose parents have got a higher income and in some ways that contribution from the parents, actually, I suppose goes in some ways to replace the contribution that they made when there were student grants. But it's really, really tough and as ever it's hard decisions to be made about where you invest in education.

News Online Host:

Several questions coming in on the subject of religious schools. Dave in Manchester says that there are many religious schools in the country catering for the needs of those who are unwilling to enter their children into the state system as this would compromise their beliefs. What is Labour intending to do, he wants to know, to assist non-state aided religious schools in terms of funding for teachers and infrastructure?

Estelle Morris:

I'm not quite sure what is the group that he is talking about but maybe if I could just comment on church schools. We've always had a system, well, don't forget the churches in this country, Roman Catholics and Church of England, were the ones who started education, especially for children from deprived backgrounds. And the 1944 Act enshrined that in law. What we had until '97 was a church sector, which was predominantly Church of England and Catholic, is still predominantly Church of England and Catholic, and it always will be that. But what we've done is opened it up, so we're the first government to have actually state-funded Muslim schools, to have granted some more money for Jewish schools and some more money, there's the first Sikh school in one of the London boroughs. And there are many parents who want a church school, a religious education for their children. And I think that what we've tried to do is to support them, but the balance is as always that most schools aren't church schools. And I think it's about diversity. I think it's about the state trying to maximise choice for parents.

News Online Host:

You talk there about diversity, well Gertie Lawrence in Essex wants to know would large atheist or New Age communities be welcomed to apply for funding for their own schools?

Estelle Morris:

I'm not sure, the way she describes it it's difficult. That's a global subject and a global title really, I'm not exactly sure what it covers. But the rules are the same, it's teaching the national curriculum. It's actually offering equal opportunities, it's a willingness to abide by the admissions policy that all schools abide by. And that's the core of what state-funded schools are about and within that core we have invited diversity. But I think we need to be clear that there are rules if you like, there are ground rules which you must keep if you are to access state funding for schools.

News Online Host:

One more question on the subject of religious schools. Simon Gregory from Bournemouth in Dorset said do you support the present law which requires mainly Christian religious education and Christian assemblies in state schools?

Estelle Morris:

Yes, I think the religious education is very important for state schools. I think that children should grow up knowing what the predominant value system is. But I agree absolutely entirely with tolerance and a greater understanding. We live in a multi-racial society and one that celebrates its many religions. And what I would hope that our school system does is to bring people through that system with an understanding of the value system that's been historically in this country, but an understanding of where we are now and that is a tolerance for different value systems. I'm not sure as it's the state's job to make children, certainly not the state's job, to make children choose one religion or not but I think it is a very important part of education. So it's a security in the value system as well as a tolerance for other people's value systems as well.

News Online Host:

Elaine Guy has written in from Reading in Berkshire talking about grammar schools. She says we are to have a nationwide referendum on the Euro, why can't we have one on whether or not to keep grammar schools?

Estelle Morris:

Well, we do have, we've offered referendums and that's the way the law stands now. What we've said, there's about 163, 164 grammar schools in the country, concentrated in certain local education authority areas. And if sufficient parents sign a petition for a ballot, a ballot could take place. So I'm not sure if you're right to have a national referendum where most local education authorities, most areas, most parents, most children, are not affected by grammar schools. I think it's right to keep that ballot at local level which is exactly the legislation we've introduced.

News Online Host:

A question here from Sarah McCullough who's in Solihull and she's a student, she's currently in year 12 and about to sit her AS levels. She writes that last year she achieved excellent results in her GCSEs and she's now under pressure to achieve results of the same standard this year. She writes that however the extra pressure we are all under, pupils and teachers, means that it's unlikely that this will happen. She wants to know why make AS levels compulsory for everybody and do you have any intention of carrying out a survey of pupils and teachers to find out what everybody thinks of it?

Estelle Morris:

Well, congratulations Sarah, on your good results in year 11 and you go to school fairly near where I live so I, you've got very good sixth form colleges there and I hope you do well. I think what the problem was is that in this country our children, our young people specialise too early. So Sarah probably would have done three A levels either from the arts, the humanities, or the sciences. She might have mixed them but it wasn't likely to do and most sixth formers don't mix that. And what we've got, we've got some very, very able sixth form students. But they were narrowing their learning too quickly. And what we wanted to do so that our students can compete with the rest of Europe and those elsewhere, because those are the people you are going to be competing with for jobs, is we've tried to keep the curriculum broader at sixth form level. No doubt Sarah will specialise when she gets to university. So it's a wish for a broader curriculum. I think it has meant that sixth formers work harder, but I think the result will be a broader curriculum that will prepare them well and give them better qualifications when they enter they workplace or indeed when they go to university. And yes, Sarah, we will monitor it. It's not good spending money and introducing these innovations unless we assess the impact of them, and I'm sure without knowing the details of the monitoring exercise that feedback from pupils and students will be a very important part of that. Indeed your question to me today may form part of that feedback.

News Online Host:

Janet Cain from Rotherham wants to know what educational provision will be provided, if any, she says, for children on the autistic spectrum?

Estelle Morris:

I think there's a growing pressure on, as there are more and more children going into the school system with autism and we're not sure why. I thank that there'll always be the need for specialist autistic provision. We want parents to have the choice of whether they access mainstream or specialist schools, but from talking to parents I think that there is clearly a need for special school provision and that will continue. One of the things we have intoduced that we are particularly pleased about is the pupil parent partnership, which gives supports to parents in what can be a most difficult time in managing and negotiating and coping with the education for children with special needs. So what I think the policy will be is to build on that support for parents to be clear about working with the health profession about early diagnosis and to somehow get the school system working more quickly so that if a child is autistic, the ... process starts quickly and then decisions can be taken as to what happens to the young boy or the young girl. We've made a start but I think you've identified somewhere where we need lots more to be done and we need to build on what works and best practice.

News Online Host:

Leading on to the subject of IT in schools, Nancy from Northampton says that if the government thinks it's important for teachers to use IT in their planning and teaching, why is the Computers for Teachers scheme so complex and unreliable?

Estelle Morris:

I'm sorry it's complex, I'm sorry I hope you don't think it's been unreliable. But let's see what we have done. We've actually introduced computers in each school. Nearly all our schools now have actually got access to the internet. So in terms of hardware we've put in a lot and if you just remember back, in 1996-97 schools didn't even have computers. The second thing we've done is we've provided money through the new opportunities fund, that's lottery funding, for ICT training for every single teacher, primary, secondary and special in the school. So all that's been done in four years. And we've started bringing out computers, laptops for teachers. Now we've got two main strands to this. Every single new head gets a laptop. And what we did last year was we invited teachers to apply for laptops and the number of people who wanted them far exceeded the amount that we'd set aside for that and the amount that we expected. And I apologise for last year. I think it was complex and we've got better this year. What we've tried to do this year is to stop people wasting the time applying when we'd not got sufficient resources at this stage to cover that. What we said was those stage three teachers who are teaching maths would have priority so what we tried to do was to focus. That's because we're introducing more key stage three strategy, pilot form this year, 17 local authorities, and nationwide next September so that you didn't waste your time applying if you weren't in that priority group. But all I can say, it is a stream of funding that we will continue and what we want to do is to build up the resources that we can use for teachers to access. But if you've not been one that can access a free computer this year, just remember what we've done in four years. Computers in every school, and some training for teachers and as with anything, it's a case of we're the ones who started it, we're the ones who've made the investment, and we're the ones, like you, who know that there's still a long way to go. It's a case of who you trust to make the further investment. Judge us on our record.

News Online Host:

Just time for one more question now and that comes from Martyn Williams in London. He says that by continuing with the Tory policy of allowing parents the choice of schools over a wide area aren't you just continuing to leave those children with parents who are less interested in their children to a disadvantaged education in the sink schools no one else wants to send them to?

Estelle Morris:

Well, Martyn, I don't think we can go back on saying to parents, you've now no longer any choice, the state wants to say exactly where your child goes. No matter what your views, no matter what you want for your kid, we're going to make the choice. We can't go back to that and I wouldn't want to. I think your point is right that the challenge really is to make sure that those schools, that are the ones at the moment that parents don't choose, and you're right, sometimes children go there whose parents haven't felt confident to exercise a choice. The challenge really is to make sure those improve and we've put a lot of resources into there, 700 came out of special measures since 1997, 20-odd under the previous government. I think you've identified the real challenge for a really successful school system. We've made a start, we're beginning to find, through working with teachers, beginning to find the answer. I suppose that's part of the ongoing job which we want to do and that's the reason that we're saying now as the general election approaches, judge us on our record and we hope we've gained your confidence to actually build on that in the four years to come.

News Online Host:

That's all we've got time for today, Estelle Morris, thank you very much indeed.

 A/V CONSOLE
BBC RADIO NEWS
BBC ONE TV NEWS
PARTY POLICIES
Education


Analysis: Education

AUDIO VIDEO

TALKING POINT
PARTY WEB LINKS



The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

©BBC