HC Deb 26 May 1971 vol 818 cc355-8
8. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many official representations he has received from education authorities about their capital allocation for the raising of the school leaving age; and what replies he has sent.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Edward Taylor)

Since my right hon. Friend increased the allocations of a number of education authorities for school building generally last December, representations involving accommodation for the raising of the school leaving age have been received in three cases. Discussions with the authorities concerned were arranged.

Mr. Sillars

Is the Minister aware of the voices in Scotland now urging him to leave out certain areas from the initial introduction of the raising of the school leaving age? Will he take this opportunity to state definitely that the school leaving age will be raised, on the Government's target, all over Scotland on the same day?

Mr. Taylor

That is a different Question from that which the hon. Gentleman asked about building. There is on the Order Paper a separate Question on the school leaving age, which I shall be very glad to answer later today.

Mr. MacArthur

Important as school buildings are, would my hon. Friend agree that the provision of an adequate number of teachers is even more important? Has he had any recent consultations with local authorities, in West Scotland particularly, where an especially severe shortage of secondary teachers is expected in 1973? Is he prepared to take further steps, if necessary, to overcome that shortage?

Mr. Taylor

As my hon. Friend rightly said, staffing is the main consideration. He will be aware, from the various announcements which have been made, that the position is showing some very encouraging improvement.

17. Mr. William Hannan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now give a firm assurance that the school-leaving age will be raised to 16 years as from 1972–73.

24. Mr. Rankin

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he now proposes to raise the school-leaving age to 16 years.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Yes, Sir. I do not anticipate any significant difficulties in carrying this policy into effect except in certain areas in the West of Scotland. I believe that the special measures announced to assist the areas of difficulty, including the increase in the number of designated posts, should help to remove inequalities of distribution.

Mr. Hannan

That statement will be welcomed by all of us on this side of the House, and I think by some hon. Members opposite. Would it not be intolerable if the school-leaving age went up to 16 in England and Wales and not in Scotland? Though I understand the problems of the teachers, surely with the provision of the necessary extra accommodation and an increase in the number of graduates, the likelihood of success on this occasion is much greater than in 1947?

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman is correct in emphasising the importance of adequate teacher supply. All the recent indications have been very encouraging. It would be misleading not to say that we have a problem in the West of Scotland, one which we hope the measures announced so far will help to overcome before the date of raising the school-leaving age.

Mr. Rankin

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that the problems which faced the Labour Government 25 years ago were mountainous compared with the problems that face him today, yet that Government went ahead despite the difficulties and successfully raised the age to 15? Are he and his Government to hesitate now, on the eve of our entry into the Common Market? Will he ensure that there is not even a little part of Scotland where he is afraid to use all the influence and power of the Government, so that the age is successfully raised all over Scotland at the date of the change, which I assume he will announce to us?

Mr. Taylor

I have not yet been authorised by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to answer Questions on the Common Market, so I will not deal with that point. The hon. Gentleman's important point was to relate what is to happen now to the situation when the school-leaving age was raised to 15. He will be aware that there were many serious practical problems then. It is certainly our intention to take all possible steps to make sure that raising the school-leaving age does not have the effect of reducing general education standards in any part of Scotland in any way.

Mr. Brewis

Did not the last Labour Government postpone raising the school-leaving age? Can my hon. Friend say how applications from graduates to enter the colleges of education are coming along?

Mr. Taylor

It is true that the raising of the school-leaving age was postponed by the previous Government for economic and other reasons. The number of teachers in the schools last January was over 1,000 up on the 1970 figure. The figures of graduates entering the colleges of education are also extremely encouraging. I hope to have some figures to give the House within a month or so.