Orders of the Day — Education and Technology

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th April 1966.

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Photo of Mr Ian MacArthur Mr Ian MacArthur , Perth and East Perthshire 12:00 am, 25th April 1966

I agree, and all credit should be paid to that advance. At the same time, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that even that advance is not sufficient to meet the needs of 1970-71 even if we project it. New methods of recruitment have to be explored. We have put forward such proposals as the bachelor of education method, a bachelor of technological education degree, and so on, and we await some comment on them from the Government.

The educational scene in Scotland will not improve unless the teaching profession has confidence in the future. This it certainly does not have today. After all the fine words of last July, we waited eagerly for action which would consolidate the mood of harmony reached with the profession by my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) in 1963. The action which, in fact, followed was clumsy and botched, and illustrated yet again this Government's talent for precipitating unnecessary crisis.

The House will recall that some months ago the Scottish Joint Council on Teachers' Salaries put forward an agreed recommendation which amounted to an average increase in salaries of something just under 15 per cent. The Secretary of State for Scotland rejected that recommendation, and in its place put forward scales which represented an average increase of about 13 per cent. He was, of course, acting within his rights in rejecting the Council's recommendation, but how clumsily those rights were exercised. With, apparently, no consultation or discussion with the profession, the Council's recommendation, agreed after months of negotiation, was thrown brusquely aside.

This provoked deep resentment among teachers in Scotland, of which I am sure every Scottish hon. Member will be aware. This resentment sprang not just from the cut from about 15 per cent. to about 13 per cent. but primarily from the high-handed treatment given to the teachers and their negotiating body by the Government. In passing, I would say how surprised and disappointed I am that no Scottish Minister has been with us during this debate on education and technology.

The offence caused by the right hon. Gentleman was shown by the reaction of the Educational Institute of Scotland, the largest representative teachers' body there—which, I might say, had observed both the letter and the spirit of the terms of the three-year agreement reached in 1963. The Institute called for token strike action and the withdrawal of its members from certain services. Fortunately for the standing of the profession these decisions were reconsidered, but the fact that they were considered at all shows the extent of the resentment which the Government's action provoked.

At the same time, the Government's proposed salary increase was referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. The Board was asked to see … whether any further adjustment would be justified to put Scottish teachers generally into a fair relationship with teachers in England and Wales. But this, surely, is a question which the Secretary of State himself is best able to judge, particularly in view of the differences there are in the structure of the profession in the North and the South.

It is extraordinary that, having decided to consult the Board, the Government did not ask for detailed consideration to be given to the salary requirements of the two very different structures. How can a fair comparison be made unless the basic differences between the two systems are taken into account? Yet, in his public letter of 11th February, the Secretary of State declared: It is no part of my purpose to see any attempt made to undertake a detailed comparison of particular scales related to particular qualifications and so forth. Perhaps we can now be told what progress the Board is making within the narrow terms of reference, and when its report is expected.

Is the Board exploring the problem in any depth? Is it taking into account, for example, the need in Scotland—if we are to have the industrial development we look for—for young people with new skills and new training? All these matters are tied up very closely with the current teacher shortage and the need for new recruitment. I hope that the Board can consider the matter more widely than the Secretary of State has indicated.

The Gracious Speech also indicates that new machinery will be set up in Scotland for settling the remuneration of teachers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us what consultation about the matter there will be with the teachers' representatives, and when the proposals will be made known. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the very real concern about the composition and standing of the Scottish Joint Council following the unhappy events of the last months. Can he say what rôle, if any, the Scottish Education Department will have on this new Board as members or assessors, and whether it is the intention of his right hon. Friend to introduce arbitration machinery, as was done in the case of the change in the committee in England?

The Gracious Speech also refers to the proposal to … promote further progress in the development of comprehensive secondary education to which my right hon. Friend referred earlier. The House will know that comprehensive education is not new in Scotland. It has for a long time been part of the educational pattern in many parts, but what are the Government's proposals for the furtherance of comprehensive education in Scotland? I ask, because there appears to be a disturbing conflict between two recent publications. One is the famous—one might almost call it notorious—Circular 600, dated 27th October, 1965, from the Scottish Education Department to local authorities, under the title, "Reorganisation of Secondary Education on Comprehensive Lines". This asked the authorities to inform the Secretary of State by 31st March this year what their general intentions were.

From the tone of the circular it appeared that the final responsibility for deciding when and how and, in some cases whether at all, to develop on comprehensive lines would rest on the local authorities themselves. This is a very different approach from that taken in a broadsheet distributed by the Labour Party in Scotland during the General Election. It was called "Election Special", and had a special section on education. I looked with great interest to see what was proposed. I thought that it might be a sort of advance indication of what the Gracious Speech might show.

The plan as it is set out in the broadsheet is quite different in tone from the Department's circular. The broadsheet says: Comprehensive education … will be with the whole of Scotland soon. It also says: the separation between the senior secondary and the junior secondary schools, will end. This means that the statement about consultation in the circular is nothing more than a sham and that the Government's plan for comprehensive education will be forced through compulsorily whether the local authorities want it or not.

The broadsheet states: every new secondary school will be comprehensive. Is that, in fact, Government policy? This broadsheet has aroused a lot of concern among local authorities. If all new secondary schools are to be comprehensive, why did the Government go through the farce of pretending to consult local authorities by Circular 600? The party broadsheet suggests that the final decision has been taken by the Government and that local authorities will not be allowed to build any new secondary school which does not fit in with the Government's obstinate and inflexible doctrine.

The circular itself appears to be a little more flexible. For example, there is a very real problem in the country districts in Scotland, particularly among the remote parts such as in the Highlands. The circular recognises the particular difficulties of those parts of Scotland. In paragraph 11 it makes this quite clear by stating: In some areas, where the population is most scattered and where communications are most difficult, it may be impracticable to provide in one school a range of courses suitable for all pupils in the area, even during the first two years of their secondary courses, without a measure of centralisation which would be quite unacceptable to parents and which would have serious social disadvantages. That is quite right, but the broadsheet makes no such qualification and states that the scheme will be for the whole of Scotland soon. Which are we to believe, the circular or the broadsheet? Which do the Government denounce? If they denounce the broadsheet, as they must, they will also, of course, withdraw the deceptive statement in it that last year: Scotland was exempted from the economic axe. That was a bare-faced inexactitude which should shame the Labour Party.

Now the Government have the opportunity to meet the real needs of Scottish education and to restore the confidence of the teaching profession, which they threw away a few months ago. I hope that we shall soon hear of positive and constructive action to put right the damage they have caused.