HC Deb 13 December 1978 vol 960 cc640-3
8. Mr. Gourlay

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the current shortage of secondary school teachers in Fife and other local authorities in Scotland, and of Kirkcaldy high school in particular; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. McElhone

My right hon. Friend hopes to publish soon a statistical bulletin about pupil and teacher numbers at September 1978 and I shall write to my hon. Friend at that time.

Mr. Gourlay

I appreciate the Minister's reply, but is he aware of the disquiet among parents because of the staffing crisis in secondary schools in Scotland, which arises mainly from implementation of the red book standards? Will he comment on that?

Mr. McElhone

I think that perhaps that is a slight exaggeration from my hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in these matters. We now have 1,500 secondary teachers above the agreed standards, which is more than we had in previous years, and the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools, as in primary schools, is the best that we have ever had in Scottish education. It is now 14.5, and that is much better than the figure in the rest of the country.

Mrs. Bain

I hate to interrupt the Under-Secretary of State while he is patting himself on the back with statistics yet again, but will he look very carefully at the system of appointments to promoted posts, which prevents people from outwith the Strathclyde region applying for promoted posts in that area, including shortage subjects, such as technical subjects?

Mr. McElhone

I understand the hon. Lady's point, because she has written to me about it. The point about promoted posts is that Strathclyde can find enough people from within its area for promoted posts. The shortage is of ordinary classroom teachers, and I do not deny that we have a problem in shortage subjects such as physics, technical education and principally mathematics. We are looking at the question. I have had meetings with the Educational Institute for Scotland, the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association and Strathclyde region.

My right hon. Friend met the convention last Friday and we are having urgent meetings with our officials to see whether we can overcome what is a serious problem in Strathclyde region.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

Is not there a danger that the Minister's reply may be taken as being a little too complacent? There are still serious shortages in parts of the country. Is it not a fact that Ministers over-reacted in cutting down the number of students entering training colleges? Has not that been confirmed by the joint survey carried out by the EIS at Jordanhill college? Is not there a great danger that the error is being repeated? What action will the Minister take to make sure that it does not happen again?

Mr. McElhone

I am sorry that the hon. Member has got it wrong again, but he should know, because it has been said often enough at this Dispatch Box by my right hon. Friend and myself, that there is no restriction at all on young people coming forward for these shortage subjects. We have a dilemma with certain subjects, where we have a surplus because of the falling birth rate, and I think that everyone accepts that. My right hon. Friend announced last Friday that we shall be starting a publicity campaign particularly for these shortage subjects, which is where our problem lies. As I said earlier, I shall be having urgent meetings with the various bodies concerned to try to overcome the problem.

Mr. Buchanan

Will my hon. Friend take it from me that we wish him well in his efforts to get extra staff for the schools of Scotland? But will he, in conjunction with the leaders of the trade union concerned, whose moralistic attitude towards the deprived areas has not been borne out by the strikes in schools in these deprived areas, convey to them that they are not doing the deprived areas any good but are making the deprived children even more deprived by their pharisaical attitude?

Mr. McElhone

I could not agree more, and I think that I have the support of the House in condemning these unofficial strikes, particularly in the deprived areas. There is no point in my right hon. Friend and myself pushing in extra teachers—500 extra teachers mostly into Strathclyde for deprived areas plus over 160 teachers through the urban aid programmes—when we find that action is taken by the union concerned and that it tends to be in the most deprived areas. I would not deny anyone the right to withdraw his labour, but he should have regard to the area from which he withdraws it.