HC Deb 21 November 1979 vol 974 cc373-5
12. Mr. John Mackay

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to meet the principals of the colleges of education.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

I have at present no plans for such a meeting, but my Department is in regular contact with all the principals.

Mr. Mackay

Will my hon. Friend consider having such a meeting and drawing to the attention of the principals of the training college the remoteness of many of the training staff from the actual work on the chalk face? Perhaps it is time to suggest to the principals that their staff should take in-service courses back at school in the day-to-day work of the classroom.

Mr. Fletcher

From time to time college lecturers are given the opportunity to rediscover the practical problems of the classroom. I understand that this practice is increasing along the lines recommended in the Sneddon report.

Mr. James Hamilton

Does the hon. Gentleman remember that when we were in government he and his colleagues, aided and abetted by their English counterparts, packed the Scottish Grand Committee to outvote us on this issue? Will he now give us a categoric assurance that the tenacity which they are reputed to have shown on that occasion means that there will be no closures of training colleges and that there will not be a weakening of the intake into these colleges?

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Gentleman is turning a blind eye to the decline in the number of pupils in Scotland. No Government could give a categoric assurance that there will be absolutely no closures, particularly when the number of school pupils is declining.

Mr. Henderson

Will my hon. Friend go a little further and discuss with the principals of the education colleges the possibilities of a scheme for introducing secondment of practical teachers to the education colleges, which would be greatly assisted if their career prospects could be safeguarded?

Mr. Fletcher

My hon. Friend's suggestion is worth while, but there are some difficulties at present in the colleges of education. There are staff problems and the numbers of teachers in training are declining. However, I shall consider his suggestion further.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Is the Minister aware that the principals of the colleges of education are baffled by his reluctance to meet them? Is he also aware that they remember with fond affection the days when he used to meet them, when he was only a shadow of his present self? He did so at the drop of a telephone call. He arranged these debates in the Scottish Grand Committee as well. Is he aware that we all wonder why he has suddenly gone so shy?

Mr. Fletcher

I have never on any occasion, as a shadow or otherwise, met the principals of the colleges. I have had no request from the principals to meet them during the past six months. I should be very happy to meet them if they wished to arrange such a meeting.

Mr. Harry Ewing

But, Mr. Speaker, I have a letter from the principal of the Callender Park college of education which was dated the beginning of last week and which says that the principals have been seeking a meeting with the Minister, but so far he has refused to see them. I shall give that letter to the Minister. He had better check his facts.

Mr. Fletcher

I checked my facts before I came to the House today, as I always do. I can assure the hon. Member that no request has been made to me. Obviously the officials of the Scottish Education Department are in regular contact with the principals. I repeat my offer that if the principals wish to have a meeting with me they have only to ask.