HC Deb 13 December 1977 vol 941 cc282-94
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the future of the teacher training system in Scotland.

Because of the reduction in the school population, there is already a substantial surplus of accommodation. This will remain even when allowance is made for any increase in teachers required to meet improvements in school staffing standards that may become possible in the 1980s. The problem is essentially how to make the best use of this very valuable surplus accommodation. My discussion document of 17th January initiated consultations on the basis of a reduced number of colleges, with the premises released available for other purposes. Subsequently I sought suggestions for ways in which the colleges might diversify their own activities.

I have examined with care the proposals put to me by the colleges for diversification of this kind, and I hope to have further discussions about some of them. I have concluded, however, that diversification could not of itself result in proper utilisation of all the spare facilities. Some of the ideas put to me would merely duplicate provision already made in other types of institution, while others would have only a marginal effect on student numbers, or are unrealistic at present in terms of financial priorities.

In these circumstances I have studied the possible use by other agencies on a long-term or permanent basis of surplus accommodation. I am glad to say that I have identified alternative uses for part of the accommodation in each of the three colleges whose future was left in doubt in my statement of 19th May. I am now satisfied that on that basis I can retain them as colleges of education.

In relation to Callendar Park, I propose, after consultation with the Forth Valley Health Board, that up to half of the existing accommodation should be used by the board for nurse training. The college of education will continue in being with a reduced maximum capacity of some 400 places. This arrangement will ensure the continuation of teacher training in the area, while enabling nurse-training facilities, which will, of course, be under the control of the health board, to be provided more quickly than had been expected and at substantially less public cost.

I have decided to retain Craiaie, although on a reduced scale, with a maximum of about 400 teacher training places. The college is already temporarily accommodating 200 further education students from Ayr Technical College. I envisage that this will become a permanent arrangement. In addition, there may be scope for making some facilities available to the Ayrshire and Arran Health Board, or for some other purpose.

Similarly, I have decided that Dunfermline College will continue to function in its existing premises at Cramond. In view, however, of its specialised nature and of the fact that its student population will inevitably fall substantially in coming years, I now envisage that Dunfermline should be linked with Queen Margaret College, a nearby central institution which has extended its provision to include courses in nursing and health visiting, drama, speech therapy and physiotherapy. This link would involve making part at least of the expected surplus accommodation in Dunfermline College available to Queen Margaret College, If there is further surplus accommodation, the feasibility of its use by the Lothian Health Board will be explored.

My decision not to merge Dunfermline with Dundee College will inevitably mean serious under-occupation of Dundee. I shall be initiating a reappraisal of the overall provision for non-university tertiary education in the Dundee area to ensure that the best use is made of the facilities available. This reappraisal will involve Tayside Region and the governing bodies of the central institutions in Dundee in addition to that of the college of education itself.

I announced in May that Craiglockhart College would be retained but that this would put in question the need for the use of the Dowanhill premises of Notre Dame College. I have now decided to phase out Dowanhill. Discussions will proceed about possible new uses for this accommodation.

In each of the other colleges there will be surplus accommodation which I wish to see made available for other purposes on a temporary or preferably permanent basis. At Aberdeen, discussions have already begun about possible use of surplus accommodation by Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology, and I intend to have discussions also with Grampian Region. Similarly, at Hamilton discussions have already begun about the use of accommodation for a teachers' resources centre and by the Training Services Agency. I intend that discussions about surplus accommodation at Moray House and Craiglockhart will take place with Lothian Region as soon as possible. At Jordanhill I shall expect the college to centralise its existing accommodation, and I hope that it will be practicable to make some room available for other purposes also.

In May I explained that reductions in staff would be necessary as the student population declined. All members of staff affected will be eligible for compensation under the Crombie Code. I hope that, when account is taken of the increased staffing allowance that I have made for in-service training, subsequent contraction of the system can be achieved largely by voluntarly redundancy and by natural wastage.

Substantial financial savings may be expected from the decisions that I have just announced. The use which I intend of surplus college facilities for other purposes will avoid the need for capital expenditure elsewhere. There will also be substantial revenue savings to the colleges.

These decisions represent the culmination of an extended period of discussion and consultation. I believe that they will bring about the necessary reduction in the size of the teacher training system and permit a sensible use of existing facilities.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is the Secretary of State aware that his proposals will be very much welcomed by the Opposition in that they ensure the continuance of teacher training at 10 Scottish colleges and mark the abandonment of the notorious proposals of the January 1977 discussion document, which envisaged the end of teacher training at four colleges?

Will the Secretary of State at least have the grace to admit that this reconsideration is the result, partly, of the two defeats which the Government suffered in the Scottish Grand Committee and on the Floor of the House, and the near-unanimous objection of Scottish educational opinion to his original proposals?

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a major task to rebuild confidence and morale in the colleges, which have been seriously undermined by the 10 months of uncertainty and delay? It is important that every possible step should be taken to remove the doubts that still remain in Scottish colleges.

Does the Secretary of State still hold to the intake numbers set out in his January 1977 statement, as adjusted by the May statement? Secondly, when will he have a clearer picture of the situation at Dundee, where there appears to be a new threat? We should like some indication of the number of places for teacher training. Thirdly, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the staff problem can be met by wastage and voluntary redundancy? Fourthly, has he given further consideration to the proposals for a primary B.Ed. course at some of the colleges? Finally, in view of all that has happened and all the damage done during the past 10 months to Scottish education and to the colleges, will the Secretary of State give us a clear undertaking that he will never again present to Parliament such half-baked proposals based on inadequate homework?

Mr. Millan

I certainly do not accept that the proposals that I introduced in January or the subsequent proposals introduced in May were in any sense half baked. They dealt with a difficult problem with which my statement today deals in a different way. As I explained earlier in debates on these matters, if it is decided to retain all 10 colleges, there will have to be reductions in accommodation elsewhere. I hope that my statement makes clear that that will affect, for example, the college at Aberdeen and also the college in Dundee only one-third of whose capacity is being used at present. It is a great pity that hon. Gentlemen opposite when in Government put the Dundee college out to tender, with the resulting large number of places that we now have to deal with.

The figures that I announced about the intake of students should be related to what actually happened in 1977. Some colleges had difficulty in obtaining even the intake figures that I had laid down, although those figures were considerably reduced compared with last year. I want to make clear that the intake figures for a number of years to come are bound to be a good deal lower than could possibly fill the capacity of the colleges, even on the reduced basis that I have announced this afternoon.

I hope that we shall be able to meet the staff problem basically by means of voluntary redundancy, but I can give no guarantee about that. The number of staff involved in the reduction is probably about 200. We shall just have to see how we get on with voluntary redundancy.

I do not think that the primary B.Ed. course is a priority. I have already told the teachers' organisations and COSLA that this is a matter that we can consider in the future, but it does not provide any solution to the present problem.

Mr. William Ross

I hope that the Secretary of State will appreciate that the House has been impressed by the thoroughness of his reconsideration of a very difficult problem. It is churlish now to criticise him for doing what the House asked him to do, and doing it so well. We have had a typical example of Cathcart churlishness! It is always predictable.

The Secretary of State's decision to retain Craigie College as a college of education will be widely welcomed throughout the West of Scotland. It is a tribute to the constructive approach made by all those connected with the college, and a tribute, too, to the reputation that the college has built up during the past 10 years. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that colleges with these reduced numbers will remain viable for any length of time?

The House has received these proposals today in a welcoming mood. When there are complaints in respect of Dowanhill, Dundee and the other colleges where reductions have been made, may I appeal to the House for a certain measure of acceptance of those complaints as the natural consequence of the Secretary of State's action?

Mr. Millan

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for what he said. Of course I took account of the views of the House, as hon. Members expected me to do, and that played a major part in the decision that I announced today.

As regards Craigie, there is, and always has been, a very strong regional case. I have not denied that right from the start of this controversy. There is a problem about viability. The number of students at Craigie is down to about 300 now compared with a college capacity of about 800. That is as low as we would want to see it go.

But if we retain the whole 10-college system and we wish to make the smaller college viable at those lower levels, we shall have to ensure that we get a sufficient number of students into those colleges to make them viable. That means that there will have to be a reduction in the numbers of students elsewhere. I hope that that is understood by the House. It is part of the pattern which the House clearly wanted and to which I have responded today.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I should explain to the House that I am in some difficulty today because I do not know which hon. Members represent the various colleges referred to. Therefore, I hope that those who do not have a college in their constituencies will bear this in mind and allow other Members to speak first. We shall see how we get on afterwards.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement represents a triumph of the open representations of the Scottish Back Benchers over the sheltered scheming of the bureaucracy? Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman deserves congratulations as the Secretary of State who listened.

The Secretary of State mentioned that there would be substantial financial saving. Could he in any way quantify the difference in the cost to the Exchequer between the original scheme which he produced in May and the one he has now set before us?

Mr. Millan

Even these tributes will not encourage me to open a new college in Inverness. I have tried to listen not only to the House but to many other people on this difficult problem.

As regards finance, I do not think that I can give an exact figure. If one takes an example on the capital side, the nurse-training facilities at Callendar Park were in the health board's budget at about £750,000. A large part of that sum will be saved, and there will be a lot of savings elsewhere. The ultimate saving will depend on the extent to which over the next few years we are able to take up this surplus accommodation.

At present the total running costs are about £20 million. We have kept that in reasonable check within the last couple of years, but I should expect to see considerable savings there, too.

Mr. Canavan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision to keep all 10 colleges open will be widely welcomed, especially at Callendar Park where the proposed diversification makes good educational sense as well as good economic sense? But does not the original bad advice which my right hon. Friend received about closing down the colleges indicate that there is something seriously wrong in the Scottish Education Department? Will he therefore set up an inquiry with a view to introducing a fully comprehensive system of tertiary education in Scotland?

Mr. Millan

On the latter point, I have proposals for a council for tertiary education in Scotland, and I shall be issuing a consultation document about that matter even in advance of the Assembly coming into operation. I shall be announcing that very soon.

As regards the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I should make it clear that the decisions and proposals in the January statement were mine. They were my decisions, not the decisions of bureaucrats, and I stand by them.

Mr. Reid

Will the Secretary of State visit Callendar Park College over the Christmas Recess and explain to the staff and students how his face-saving formula will work? Does he agree that, on his own figures, the continuing growth of population in the Central Region means that by 1982–83 there will again be an increased demand for places? At that point do the nurses move out and does Callendar Park start to expand again?

Mr. Millan

No. I must make it clear that this is permanent use of Callendar Park. I earnestly ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to understand that there will be a serious surplus of accommodation for a good many years yet. Callendar Park—I do not say this in any critical way—was one of the colleges that had some difficulty in filling the places allocated to them this year. I am perfectly willing to accept that that may be attributed to the uncertainty about the future of the college. However, the House will simply have to understand that there will not be enough students at these colleges to fill even the reduced level of accommodation. I want to make some permanent reduction in the college accommodation. I can do that while still keeping the 10 colleges open. That is one of the objectives that I have had in mind.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I welcome the Secretary of State's decision not to send Dunfermline College to Dundee. However, will he explain to the House the reasons for his desire to link it to Queen Margaret College? Will he consult the boards of governors on this matter? Furthermore, in view of the very great and long-standing need in Queen Margaret College for drama provision, which has been held up for 12 months at least pending the outcome of this controversy, will the Secretary of State keep this matter very much in mind?

Mr. Millan

The reasons for the link are, first, that the two colleges are fairly near one another, but, more importantly, that some of the courses that Queen Margaret College is now offering are really very suitable for linkage with Dunfermline College. At present there is no surplus of accommodation there, but I must say that in the years to come there will be a surplus of accommodation at Dunfermline and we shall have to see how the link goes. We shall have to see whether it is a fairly informal one or whether it later becomes something more formal. At the moment it is impor- tant to establish some link so that we can see what the possibilities are.

Mr. Lambie

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the statement he made today, which I believe to be a victory for common sense and Back Bench pressure, to which, I am glad to say, the Secretary of State responded. May I have an assurance from him that in next year's intake there will be no direction of students to various colleges of education throughout Scotland and that students who want to come to Craigie in Ayrshire will be allowed to enrol there and not be directed to other colleges in order to make up numbers?

Mr. Millan

It is quite unrealistic in the situation, particularly with 10 colleges open, to expect that there can simply be completely uncontrolled entry. That cannot be. There will have to be total limitations on entry for the sake of the students themselves. There will also have to be a distribution of these students among the colleges. Incidentally, without that action by the Secretary of State and the directions which followed from that, any lecturer who was made redundant, whether voluntarily or compulsorily, would not be entitled to the Crombie compensation. Therefore, there are good reasons from the staff point of view, too, why I should lay down student numbers.

Mr. Younger

Is the Secretary of State aware that the whole of Ayrshire and South-West Scotland will be absolutely delighted at his decision to retain Craigie College? Will he take note of the fact that, in spite of his remarks about numbers, Craigie College has consistently produced more students than he has been prepared to allow it to have? Therefore, I hope that he will reaffirm now that the college has a secure future and that all concerned can work in it to produce good primary school teachers for South-West Scotland.

Mr. Millan

Craigie College has an assured future from what I have said today. However, the experience of teacher unemployment this year and of students leaving all the colleges is really very dismal. The problem is not to turn out qualified teachers but to find them jobs when they have been turned out of colleges. I must try to get the supply of teachers and the demand reasonably balanced.

Mrs. Bain

On a constituency point, since Notre Dame College is to lose Dowanhill, will the Secretary of State at least look at the situation which pertains to the B.Ed course at Notre Dame and end the uncertainty which exists among the staff there? On a more general basis, does not the Secretary of State agree that there is little educational comfort in his document, since there is no overall strategy? Would it not have been useful for the educational world in Scotland to have seen what is to take place at Dundee in terms of tertiary education being reflected throughout the whole of Scotland? Will not the right hon. Gentleman admit that it is a strange set of priorities that one day allows the House of Commons to nod through £427 million without debate and the next day tells it that it has to wait until 1980 for staffing improvements in our schools in Scotland?

Mr. Millan

It is a simple point. Teachers are being trained to do jobs. If the jobs are not available, it is silly to keep on producing teachers. That is a simple fact. The people who suffer most are the students who qualify and then are not able to find jobs. There is a depressingly large number of them at the present time. One of the problems of Dundee is that there is no obvious use for the surplus accommodation in the Dundee college because there is already a high level of tertiary provision in Dundee. We have to look at the situation in Dundee now and see what can be done about the accommodation that will be available in the college.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend clarify what he said about Aberdeen? Is the effect of his announcement today that the intake into Aberdeen is to be further reduced from what it was last year and that there is now to be some spare capacity about which he is to have some discussions with the Grampian Regional Council? Is he aware that when I wrote to discuss the question of Aberdeen the Under-Secretary promised a meeting with either himself or my right hon. Friend before decisions were announced? If Aberdeen is to suffer because of noise made by others, is that not a very poor reward for loyalty?

Mr. Millan

The House will just have to accept that, if there are 10 colleges, there will be fewer students in each of them than there would be if there were six colleges. It is a simple question of arithmetic. I am not saying what the intake for Aberdeen will be next year. I simply make the point that at the moment there are 1,700 teaching places and only 770 students. The moral is obvious—we have too many places.

Mr. Monro

I am glad that the period of uncertainty has been ended. Is the Secretary of State aware that the people of Dumfries, Galloway and Ayrshire will be delighted at his decision on Craigie? Those who are interested in sport and centres of excellence will welcome his decision on Dunfermline. In this regard, could he confirm that there will be no reduction in standards on account of the amalgamation?

Mr. Millan

I do not envisage any reduction in standards at any of the colleges concerned. I am anxious when we have 10 colleges to retain each of them at a viable level, and I shall attempt to do that.

Mr. Buchan

May I end on the Labour side, where we began and give my right hon. Friend a welcome for his proposals? We asked him to listen to our representations and he has done so. We asked him to retain all the colleges and he has done so. We are especially pleased at his imaginative response to these matters. May I ask him one question? Can he bring in the 1980 proposals a little earlier? Despite the figures on staffing ratios, we can do a great deal better now, with more freedom in the colleges and with more teachers in the schools, in our attempts to move Scottish education forward again.

Mr. Millan

Although I have maintained the basic staffing standards, I have already provided for 500 extra teachers in the current year in deprived areas. I have provided for a considerable number of additional teachers in deprived areas under the urban aid programme. I have provided for extra training for teachers in special schools and I have provided, in the rate support grant for 1978–79, an additional sum of expenditure which would allow authorities, if they are so minded, to employ additional numbers of teachers. So, although I have maintained the basic standards, I have also added additional teachers at the points where I think most hon. Members would consider them to be most useful, namely in dealing with disadvantaged children either in special schools or in deprived areas.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call the three hon. Members who have been seeking to catch my eye.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

As the right hon Gentleman has fairly acknowledged, his announcement today, though welcome in many quarters, has serious implications for Dundee and Aberdeen. Can he say more precisely what the implications will be for the staffing of these two colleges? If he cannot be precise today, may I ask how soon the staff of these two colleges will know what this decision will mean for them?

Is he aware that many of the staff gave up teaching jobs to enter colleges of education to lecture and now they cannot return to teaching in the classroom again? While I know that this is a difficult matter, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that this is a very serious matter for these people.

Mr. Millan

I have already given figures for student numbers for Aberdeen. For Dundee there is a capacity of 1,800 places and there are only 579 students. If there are fewer students at the end of the day, even making additional provision for in-service teaching—which I have done—there are bound to be fewer staff. The House has to face up to that.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Will the Secretary of State accept that his statement today and some of the answers he has given must have cast a shadow over Dundee College of Education? Will he alleviate that worry by giving a cast-iron guarantee that in no circumstances will the Dundee College be shut? Secondly, will he say whether industrial training has been placed among those options being considered for Dundee College?

Mr. Millan

I do not think that industrial training as such would be suitable for a college of education, but we shall see what comes out of the discussions. There has never been any question of Dundee College being closed. I made that clear from the beginning in my January statement. But I cannot manufacture students to fill all the college places that are available at present. We are bound to have a much reduced student population—we already have, compared with the capacity of the colleges, and this must affect Dundee, too.

Mr. Watt

When will the Secretary of State wake up to the realisation that Scotland is losing out in the provision of education in virtually all aspects of fishing? When he has discussions with the Grampian Regional Council, will he persuade it to use the spare facilities that will be available for the provision of such courses?

Mr. Millan

Sometimes, when I listen to the SNP, I despair of Scottish education, but, on the whole, it is in a healthy state. In pupil-teacher ratios and in the number of students at university or other forms of higher education we compare favourably with the rest of the United Kingdom, and I intend to see that that position continues.