HC Deb 15 February 1978 vol 944 cc413-5
5. Mr. Alexander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will review the staffing standards in Scottish schools.

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

The recent White Paper on public expenditure includes provision for the employment of teachers in excess of the standards for which we have allowed over the last few years. It is for each education authority to determine how these additional teachers should be deployed, and my right hon. Friend will keep the situation under review.

Mr. Fletcher

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that present staffing standards were assessed when teachers were in short supply? Now that there are a great many unemployed teachers in Scotland, does he not accept that it is not good enough just to refer to the White Paper, because he is in a position to take immediate action to abolish composite classes and appoint additional teaching staff in socially deprived areas?

Mr. McElhone

The hon. Gentleman has made the mistake of not reading his own policy document. Perhaps I should send him a copy, because in what is described as a radical document for the next 10 years the proposed pupil-teacher ratios are not as good as those that exist at present.

Mr. Buchanan

Will my hon. Friend please review the staffing standards? I realise that they have improved, but the Scottish Education Department still looks on the Red Book as Holy Writ. One thing excised from the Red Book was the probationer allowance, which would enable the employment of 1,000 teachers almost immediately. Will my hon. Friend reconsider his reply and have the review that is so necessary?

Mr. McElhone

I have not found much Holy Writ in the SED so far, but I take my hon. Friend's point seriously. He should remember that in the last few months my right hon. Friend has allowed for 500 extra teachers in areas of deprivation, another 100 to ensure that specialist teachers in specialist schools get higher standards and, through the urban programme, another 84 teachers in Strathclyde. Under next year's rate support grant, there is additional finance to provide standards above those laid down in the Red Book and Circular 819, as the White Paper on public expenditure points out.

Mrs. Bain

With reference to the extra employment of teachers, can the hon. Gentleman elaborate on his recent statement that 2,900 extra teachers will be employed by 1981–82? Can he assure us that this is not merely consolidation but that it will improve staff-pupil ratios and reduce class sizes?

Mr. McElhone

Class sizes are already falling by virtue of the decrease in the birth rate. In my constituency there are some primary schools with a roll only half the size of the number of available places. I suggest that the hon. Lady should read the White Paper which deals with staffing standards. We have been much criticised in relation to Circular 819 and the Red Book, but we have said that we shall improve standards as resources allow. That is made clear in the rate support grant for next year and the provisions of the White Paper.

Mr. Sillars

Does the hon. Gentleman's reply means that, where composite classes were introduced because of public expenditure cuts, we can expect, from the next financial year, to go back to normal school arrangements for our children?

Mr. McElhone

I must correct the hon. Gentleman. Composite classes were not introduced for that reason. It should be recognised that composite classes can have good effects. I have heard the intelligent hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) say that he was educated in a composite class.

Miss Harvie Anderson

Will the hon. Gentleman consider using some of the available teachers to extend the provision for the mentally handicapped and thus bridge the gap for the age group who have ceased school and cannot get into adult training centres because there are insufficient places, and will he urge local authorities accordingly?

Mr. McElhone

We have already done that. If the right hon. Lady looks at the recent statistical bulletin from the SED, she will see that the size of classes has been reduced substantially and that there has been a substantial increase in the number of instructors. She is shaking her head. I shall send her a copy of the bulletin so that she can see the information for herself.