HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc1368-70
16. Mrs. Bain

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultation he has had with the staff of teacher-training colleges following his announced cutback in recruitment of student teachers.

Mr. McElhone

I sent copies of my proposals to the two associations representing the academic staff of the colleges and invited their comments. Representatives of the Association of Lecturers in Colleges of Education in Scotland met officials of my Department on 29th March and I had a further meeting with them on 8th April.

Mrs. Bain

When the Minister is reconsidering the decision about recruitment to training colleges, will he bear in mind the widespread antagonism in Scotland towards the secondary school staffing circular of 1973, commonly known as the "red book", which is regarded by teachers as totally inadequate for assessing the needs in schools? As reduced class size is educationally desirable, will he say what consideration was given to class size in his decision on the new contract offered to Scottish teachers?

Mr. McElhone

The teachers' contract is one for which many English teachers would give their right arm. Account was taken of the hon. Lady's point when the consultations on the contract took place in June 1975 between the Scottish Education Department and the local authorities. We now have the best pupil-teacher ratio that we have ever had in Scotland. In spite of difficulties, we are allocating rate support grant for 800 extra teachers in Strathclyde. We also have taken into account the substantial drop in the birth rate. Between 1975–76 and 1980–81 there will be 100,000 fewer pupils in our Scottish primary schools. Regard must be paid to this fact. I am not at this moment influencing this trend—I do not know whether anyone else is—but it is a factor which has to be taken into account.

Mr. Canavan

Instead of using the projected population decrease, or cut in the birth rate, as an excuse to cut teacher recruitment, would it not be better to maintain recruitment levels and thereby reduce class size, especially for children receiving remedial education, and also in subjects where there is still a shortage of teachers?

Mr. McElhone

I know my hon. Friend's concern, as a former teacher, about this matter. As I have already pointed out to the House, we now have the best pupil-teacher ratio we have ever had in Scotland. At 15:1 it is much better than England and Wales, with 17:1 on average. I am fully aware that, given a perfect world with no financial constraints, we should wish to improve our teaching standards and pupil-teacher ratios even more. We are aiming at this, but let us be fair. Even with the difficulties under which we are working, we hope to see the end of part-time education, and I repeat that we have the best pupil-teacher ratio that we have ever had in Scotland.