Scotland (General Teaching Council)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th July 1964.

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8.11 a.m.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

Except to those officers and other servants of the House who have had to wait up all night, I make no apology for speaking at this time of the morning, because I feel that I am speaking on behalf of the right of every Scottish child to have a full and worthwhile education. I want to deal only with one aspect of the matter—the Wheatley Committee's Report on "The Teaching Profession in Scotland" and its recommendations.

In November 1961, the Secretary of State for Scotland appointed that Committee with Lord Wheatley as its chairman and, in June 1963, the Committee made its Report. The Secretary of State therefore has had the full Report for 13 months. I was not challenged when I said in the recent general debate on education that the Secretary of State had asked interested bodies to give him their views on the Report by January of this year at the latest. The right hon. Gentleman therefore has had these views before him for six months.

On 2nd July, in the general debate on Scottish education, I asked the right hon. Gentleman if any decisions had been reached on the Committee's recommendation that a General Teaching Council should be set up. Neither the Secretary of State who followed me in that debate nor the noble Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who wound up, and who will be replying this morning, felt that this matter was of such importance that it should have received attention from one or other of the Ministers, because not a word was said in either speech about this matter which is considered of the greatest importance in Scotland.

I have received a letter from the noble Lady dealing with some matters with which she had no time to deal when she wound up the debate on that occasion. I have no complaint that she could not find the time in a half hour's speech to deal with every point raised in a whole day's debate, and I am grateful to her for the letter dealing with the oustanding points. But the gist of my complaint against the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lady is that the question of a decision on the Wheatley recommendation was not considered of sufficient importance to merit a reply in the general debate.

I am sorry to say that the contents of the noble Lady's letter dealing with the Wheatley Report and its recommendations confirm the doubts and suspicions which I voiced on 2nd July. These suspicions are entertained by almost all the teachers in Scotland and everyone else who is in the least interested in Scottish education. The Wheatley Committee, after having gone carefully into all the pros and cons, finally came to the conclusion that a General Teaching Council should be set up. I want to quote from Recommendation (5) of this Report: Twenty-one of the 44 members should be certificated teachers serving in schools, further education centres and colleges of education and elected by teachers. I think that in the light of the reply that I received from the noble Lady, it is important to call attention to this recommendation. The Wheatley Committee made it perfectly clear that 21 out of 44 members should be practising teachers; in other words, that practising teachers should not have a majority of the membership.

I want now to quote from the letter from the noble Lady. She said: Any Minister who is responsible for education to which the supply of teachers is vital has to weigh this kind of issue carefully before reaching decisions, particularly when we are looking ahead to the challenge of the raising of the school leaving age in 1970. Conflict could arise between the national interest—the need for an adequate supply of teachers—and the professional interest to maintain or raise standards. I take grave objection to those words. Bearing in mind the statement in Recommendation (5) that not a majority of practising teachers would be on the Council, I just cannot understand how the noble Lady or the Secretary of State could suggest that the teachers would have the power to act irresponsibly, something they would never do.

I want now to turn to paragraph 97 on page 30 of the Report: The question of supply of teachers is affected by various considerations, and such matters as salaries and conditions of service involve the Government, the local authorities and the teaching profession jointly. It does not fall within our remit to find a solution to this problem of supply. We are satisfied, however, that an opportunity for the profession to enlarge and enhance its prestige in the public eye will play its part in helping to solve the problem. This Committee is not composed wholly of teachers. Indeed, if we look at the names of the members of the Committee we see Lord Wheatley, Lady Baird, J. O. Blair-Cunynghame and a number of other outstanding people in Scotland who have nothing to do with the teaching profession. They said that if this General Teaching Council were set up, it would do much to enhance the status of the whole profession and would play its part in helping to solve this problem of the supply of teachers.

When I read the noble Lady's letter I begin to wonder if the Secretary of State or the noble Lady have really read this Report and if they realise that the Report, which was made by most eminent Scottish people, was unanimous. I want to quote from Recommendation (15) on page 59 of the Report. It states: The Teaching Council should not have complete control of standards for admission to training. Did the noble Lady know that when she wrote this letter? Considerations of public and Parliamentary interest require that the Secretary of State for Scotland, rather than the Privy Council or other body, must retain a say in these matters, especially as he is the logical channel for the exercise of Parliamentary control". What more does the Secretary of State want than that? I draw attention to all the Committee's recommendations since they are of the greatest importance in turning aside the statement which the noble Lady made in her letter to me.

It has been a tragedy for Scottish education that we have not a Scottish Minister who has any personal knowledge of Scottish education or its tradition. Time and again, this lack of real personal knowledge has done great harm to our system. Throughout the 13 years of Tory rule since 1951, there has been only one Scottish member of the Government who has taken any real part of his education within Scotland, and that was the late Sir James Henderson-Stewart.

Not long ago, the Prime Minister said in Glasgow, For the first time, the pattern of Scottish education is now set for generations ahead". Does the right hon. Gentleman know anything about Scottish education today? If the pattern today is the one which is set for generations ahead, it is nothing for the Prime Minister to be proud of. Is he proud of the fact that we have at present a shortage of about 3,500 teachers, that we have over 2,500 uncertificated teachers, and about 500 of them are very badly substandard? Is he proud of the fact that hundreds of fully qualified Scottish students are unable to enter university? That is the pattern of Scottish education now, and it is the one which the Prime Minister says is set for generations to come.

I beg the noble Lady to tell us this morning that the Government have decided to set up this General Teaching Council, for the very reasons which are so admirably set forth in the parts of the Report to which I have referred. We must do everything possible to attract teachers.

I refer again to the threat which is contained in the noble Lady's letter to me— Conflict could arise between … the need for an adequate supply of teachers and the professional interest to maintain or raise standards". I and the whole body of teachers in Scotland realise that, for many educational purposes in these modern times, we shall have to have many of our teachers with qualifications different from those at present accepted, but this is by no means the same as having teachers with substandard qualifications.

I am sure that the body of Scottish teachers would co-operate to the full with the Secretary of State in trying to attract the different types of people that we need in our schools, and I am also sure that they would have no hesitation in saying that for many of these different types of teachers different qualifications are necessary. My fear is that the Government have every intention of lowering the qualifications for our primary schools and for the academic subjects in our secondary schools, and that, because that is their intention, they are opposed to the setting up of this General Teaching Council.

Surely the Secretary of State and the noble Lady must realise by now the cynicism which they have engendered amongst Scottish teachers. If we want to increase the supply of teachers, if we want to ensure that every child has a full and worthwhile education, we must take the Scottish teachers with us. We must make full use of their great experience, and we must trust them, which is what this Government have not done.

We shall adjourn for the Summer Recess on Friday. If no announcement is made today, I promise the Scottish teachers that after the General Election a Labour Government will set up a General Teaching Council for Scotland.

Photo of Sir William Anstruther-Gray Sir William Anstruther-Gray , Berwickshire and East Lothian

I am afraid the hon. Member has exhausted his right to speak.

8.27 a.m.

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) has seen fit to raise this subject of the Wheatley Report on the setting up of a General Teaching Council for Scotland, because, as the hon. Lady rightly said, this is a matter of great importance.

During the debate on Scottish Education on 2nd July, the hon. Lady urged that the Secretary of State should take, or should have taken, much swifter action to carry out the Wheatley recommendations to improve education prospects."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1964, Vol. 697 c. 1578.] She suggested then that my right hon. Friend had decided to reject the Wheatley Committee recommendations. I should like to say quite emphatically that that is not the case. The Secretary of State is giving a great deal of thought to this problem, and is weighing all the various factors.

I should like to go in some detail—although I hope not at too great length at this time of the morning, for the benefit of other hon. Members—into the reasons why I wrote that paragraph in my letter to the hon. Lady which she has quoted to the House.

I should like also to refer to the fact that the hon. Lady asked why it was that when I had the responsibility of winding up the debate on 2nd July I did not deal with her remarks about the Wheatley Report. She will recall that, primarily, I was speaking in answer to the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) who preceded me and spent a great deal of time on the subject of the universities and the new relationship to teaching generally in Scotland.

I singled out some of the points which the hon. Lady made, particularly on teacher supply and on uncertificated teachers, and it was because I was conscious that I could not deal with every- thing in the time available that I wrote to the hon. Lady singling out, among others, this particular point. What I tried to make clear once again was that the main reason why the Secretary of State was taking time to weigh up all the factors was that he had a primary responsibility to the country and to Parliament for education in Scotland. An important part of education is the standard which we require for the admission of students to training for the teaching profession.

As the hon. Lady has said, the Wheatley Committee proposed that control over those standards should pass, with certain safeguards, to a General Teaching Council, which the Committee called a real and substantial change in the balance of power". Such a council, however responsible and public spirited it might be, would have a strictly limited field of responsibility, yet within that limited field, if the spirit of Wheatley were carried out, it would exercise very real powers. Outside that field, however, as the hon. Lady has said, the Secretary of State would retain all the powers and responsibilities which he has at present. It would not be the job of the council, for example, to have regard to the whole field of education.

The hon. Lady questioned one part of my paragraph, but I would say to her that it is not inconceivable that a difference of opinion might arise between the Secretary of State, with his general responsibilities, and the council, with its particular responsibilities; and the Wheatley Report particularly recognised this.

I should like to read to the hon. Lady the important paragraph 102 of the Wheatley Report: From what we have said it will appear that in regard to teachers' qualifications we have found it necessary to consider the public interest and the professional interest as separate entities. This is not to say that the two will necessarily often—or, indeed, ever—be in opposition to one another. But the possibility must be faced that they may not always coincide. We think it essential that the place of Parliament, as representative of the public interest, should be maintained in this field. The problem, then, is to devise a method by which the legitimate aspirations of the profession towards a greater measure of authority over standards of entrance to training can be reconciled with the need to retain Parliamentary responsibility. Therefore, in that paragraph of my letter, I was quoting a fact which the Wheatley Committee asked us to face.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

It is because I know the Report so thoroughly that I wondered whether the Secretary of State or the noble Lady had read it. The Wheatley Committee, which went carefully into the matter, pointed out what it had to point out in paragraph 102 and still came to the conclusion that a General Teaching Council should be set up with some of the safeguards which I have quoted. The noble Lady is helping our case this morning.

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

It is clear from the fact that I quote at length from the Report, as is only right, that I and, certainly, also my right hon. Friend have, naturally, given, and are giving, all these factors great weight, because the final responsibility must rest upon my right hon. Friend. He has to take everything into account. The Wheatley Committee itself said, in paragraph 7: Our subject has proved to be one of great difficulty and complexity, one on which hasty judgments are liable to be ill-advised.

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

What is the reason for that? What are the factors which the Secretary of State has to look at at this time? There is the raising of the school leaving age. As I told the House on 2nd July, on the Robbins Committee's estimate we shall, in 1970, have a shortage of 4,300 teachers, a shortage which, at the present rate of recruitment, should disappear by 1976 or by 1977 at the latest, but about which we must all obviously be concerned.

Then there is the rapidly expanding further education programme and there are new types of secondary courses, especially vocational. The Brunton Report "From School to Further Education" foresaw a rapidly accelerating rate of expansion and a need for many more teachers with specialist technical qualifications … many more who are capable of dealing with a wide range of general subjects and a need for the colleges of education … to provide appropriate courses for all categories of teachers". So it is in this difficult situation that my right hon. Friend feels that he cannot give up, without very deep thought, a large part of his responsibility for teacher supply.

The hon. Lady quoted the first half of paragraph 97. I should like to quote the second half because I think they hang together. The Wheatley Committee said: Nevertheless, we think that it would be impossible and, indeed, wholly unreasonable to require the Secretary of State to exercise his ultimate responsibility and answer in Parliament for the supply of teachers if at the same time the standards of entry to the profession were completely outwith his jurisdiction and in the hands of a professional body for which he had no responsibility and over which he had no authority. That is why it thinks he must have a say in teacher training.

It cannot be argued that the unavoidable delay in reaching a decision on this recommendation has had any effect on teacher recruitment and supply in Scotland, because the Committee said in paragraph 54: We do not think that the case for such a transfer of functions can be argued on the ground that the existing arrangements, including essentially the certification of teachers by the Secretary of State, are defective or inefficient. We have an all-time record, happily, of certificated teachers employed in our schools—nearly 40,000, a 20 per cent. rise since 1951. There is also no shortage of recruits for our training colleges, and the facilities are being rapidly expanded. As the hon. Lady knows, two new colleges are to be opened this October.

The hon. Lady laid great stress, as she did also in the debate on 2nd July, on uncertificated teachers. I said then that of these only about 400 out of 2,425, a tiny minority compared to the nearly 40,000 certificated teachers, have substandard paper qualifications, and, therefore, the establishment of a Wheatley Council of itself would not make any difference to the employment of these teachers.

The hon. Lady also suggested this morning that my right hon. Friend has it in mind to introduce what I imagine she meant was dilution of the teaching profession in Scotland—presumably the employment of non-graduate male teachers of general subjects. Obviously, this is one of the factors which my right hon. Friend must consider in the whole question of teacher supply, but he has, of course, by no means made his mind up one way or the other.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

In her list of factors, would the noble Lady not give perhaps the real reason? Is it not a fact that the real problem is that it would alter the position in England? Is this not a cause of delay? Is she aware that both the National Association of Schoolmasters and the National Union of Teachers are now making approaches to her right hon. Friend to get a Wheatley Council for England? Would it not be better to give this explanation?

Photo of Lady  Grant of Monymusk Lady Grant of Monymusk , Aberdeen South

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is surely aware that Scotland has its different education system and is quite capable of having its own different education arrangements.

But certainly Brunton has underlined the need for a fresh approach to some aspects of staffing, and this is a need which is increasingly recognised, I think, by the teaching profession, and I believe that the hon. Lady also recognises it. Therefore, I would say that it is at this time quite true that we are entering a very interesting, indeed a most exciting, era in education in Scotland, and it is a time when we can expect great changes and when a new flexibility will be needed from all concerned—teachers, education authorities, Government Departments and parents. The Wheatley Council or a general teaching council for Scotland is but one aspect of this vast changing field in education, and my right hon. Friend is determined that a decision here must be wisely made at the right time.