HC Deb 02 April 1980 vol 982 cc400-2
7. Mr. Ancram

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he plans to meet the Educational Institute of Scotland.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

I had a useful meeting with representatives of the institute on 26 February. There are at present no plans for a further meeting.

Mr. Ancram

When my hon. Friend meets the Educational Institute of Scotland again will he discuss the mediumterm requirements for teachers in Scotland? I accept that school rolls are falling, but does my hon. Friend accept that the birth rate in Scotland is rising? Will he assure the House that he will make provision for that?

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, we shall certainly make provision for the rise in the birth rate in our calculations about pupil numbers. Teacher staffing is constantly referred to by the EIS which realises that the present level of staffing, whether or not it accepts it, is in excess of the Red Book standards.

Mr. James Hamilton

When the Minister next meets the institute will he discuss the possibility of increasing the block grant for education to the Strathclyde regional council? Will he bear in mind that many of the schools in that area are being axed because of Government policy? Is he aware of two such schools in my area which are urgently required?

Mr. Fletcher

Schools are closing because of the decline in pupil numbers. It is not true to suggest that schools are being closed because of the Government's financial decisions.

Mr. Peter Fraser

I congratulate the Minister on the bold initiative that he took this week on Munn and Dunning. Can he tell the EIS when he anticipates that the proposals that he has made will be fully implemented?

Mr. Fletcher

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We announced a three-year development programme this week. It is expected that the first assessments will be made in 1984 and the syllabuses will be prepared on the basis of Munn and Dunning. Thereafter, the full programme should be available to all schools in Scotland.

Mr. Canavan

In view of the EIS's opposition to the Government's proposals to spend public money on private fee-paying schools, what response has the Minister had to his discusssion document on the assisted places scheme? Is it not fair to tell parents now that even if that half-baked scheme gets off the ground, there is no chance at all of it continuing after the next general election because the incoming Labour Government will abolish it right away?

Mr. Fletcher

The half-baked scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers has been operated in various forms in Scotland for many years under both parties. I expect it to continue for many years to come, in spite of the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. David Steel

Will the Minister undertake not to apply the staffing standards in schools too rigidly at a time of falling school levels? Is he aware that in a secondary school in my constituency the slight expected drop in intake in August could lead to a reduction in staff of three? Is he aware that that makes the organisation of a school extremely difficult? Will he be generous in his approach to the financing of local authorities?

Mr. Fletcher

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. The diseconomies of scale apply when pupil numbers are declining. My right hon. Friend made allowance for that in the recent rate support grant figures.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Is the Minister aware that his lack of knowledge of the brief for which he is responsible is causing serious concern among educationists in Scotland? Is he aware that the meeting with the EIS to which he referred was regarded by the EIS as unsatisfactory? When does the Minister propose to meet the EIS to explain how he proposes to reduce the number of teachers in Scotland by the 7,600 referred to by the Secretary of State?

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Gentleman always spoils his case by gross exaggeration. He should know, as I do, that if the EIS is dissatisfied with any meeting that it has with me it will tell me and not ask the hon. Gentleman to do it.