HC Deb 02 May 1990 vol 171 cc1016-7
4. Mr. Ernie Ross

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met teaching unions in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

Since last July, I have had useful meetings with representatives of all the teacher unions in Scotland.

Mr. Ross

Is not it about time the Minister met the unions to advise them that he intends to withdraw the inane scheme to allow schools to opt out? As no school has put itself forward as a candidate to opt out, is it not about time that he consigned the scheme, along with all the other nonsense relating to schools, to the bin?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman's presumption is incorrect. The Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Act 1989 enables schools to opt out if they wish to do so. That is a right to which parents are entitled, and I have no doubt that it is a right which school boards and parents will be considering in increasing numbers. It is a welcome option.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is sweetly ironic that the Labour-controlled Strathclyde regional council is campaigning for re-election on the Government's school boards policy when the Scottish Labour party opposes them? Does my hon. Friend agree that opportunists are at work?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right. The Opposition said that school boards were not wanted and not needed, but 80 per cent. of all schools in Scotland have boards, including 90 per cent. of all secondary schools. It is plain that the boards are widely welcomed by parents and that they have an important role to play in improving the quality of Scottish education.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Does the Minister have any intention of meeting the Educational Institute of Scotland to discuss, especially, class sizes in primary schools?

Mr. Lang

I have no plans at present to do so. I am happy to reassure the hon. Lady that class sizes have been falling steadily in recent years. Pupil-teacher ratios have also been improving steadily in recent years, and I hope that that will continue.

Mr. Worthington

Pupil-teacher ratios and class sizes have been improving because Labour local authorities have defied the Government's wishes. In 1989–90, regional councils spent £120 million more than they were told to spend by the Government. Will the Government tell local authorities what they should have cut? Should it have been nursery schools, one in nine teachers, further education, or making building standards even worse? Will the Minister be explicit about what Labour local authorities were overspending on?

Mr. Lang

The reason why class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios have improved in recent years is the substantially increased funding per pupil as a result of the Government's management of the economy and funding of local authorities. As for local authorities defying the Government, the hon. Gentleman and his party should ask themselves how much longer Strathclyde regional council intends to defy the Labour party.