HC Deb 06 July 1977 vol 934 cc1222-4
2. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will re-examine teacher-pupil ratios now in force.

11. Mr. Alexander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any proposals to improve pupil-teacher ratios in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Frank McElhone)

My right hon. Friend does not consider that any further general improvement in pupil-teacher ratios, which are better than ever before, would be justified in present circumstances.

Mr. Wilson

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, due to the rigid enforcement of Circular 819 standards, 26 of the 50 urban primary schools in Dundee will have at least one composite class in the next session? Is he really telling us that this is an advance in educational provision? Would it not be far better to make available further finance to local authorities to enable them to take on some of the unemployed teachers who would be well employed in teaching our children?

Mr. McElhone

We have taken on more teachers this year than last year. I do not deny that there is a serious problem of teacher unemployment. My right hon. Friend and I are extremely concerned about that, as we are about all unemployment, but we have more teachers in Scotland than ever before and the best pupil-teacher ratio ever. In present economic circumstances, it is extremely difficult to do anything more about pupil-teacher ratios.

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Gentleman's reply reveals a scandalous degree of complacency. Is he aware that deprived children from deprived schools in Glasgow, a city that he represents, find it more difficult to get jobs than do children from other parts of the city? Is he aware that unemployment among school leavers in deprived areas is as high as 40 per cent.? Will he therefore take advantage of the surplus of teachers to do something about deprived children in deprived areas?

Mr. McElhone

The hon. Gentleman asked several questions. Unemployment among school leavers has nothing to do with pupil-teacher ratios. The hon. Gentleman should look at the policy contained in the White Paper of the last Conservative Government. If they were still in power they would have stopped at 53,000 teachers. We have 55,000 teachers in secondary and primary schools. The hon. Gentleman cannot bring forward such arguments given the basis of the Conservatives' policy. My right hon. Friend has said more than once that he is looking anxiously at other possibilities. There is the possibility that local authorities will wish to use urban aid to employ extra teachers in deprived areas. No doubt some authorities will examine this possibility.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Could my hon. Friend publish the figures of pupil-teacher ratios in those parts of the West coast of Scotland that were desperately short of teachers two or three years ago? Could he also make an assessment of the extent to which the continuing shortage is the result of the EIS abandoning the designation scheme that gave a financial incentive to teachers to go to areas where they were desperately needed?

Mr. McElhone

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The figures are published at regular intervals. I fully support everything that he said.

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