Non-Executive Business: Education

– in the Scottish Parliament at 9:31 am on 30th September 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 9:31 am, 30th September 1999

The first item of business this morning is a non-Executive debate on motion S1M-172, in the name of Mr Alex Salmond, on education, and amendments to that motion.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 9:32 am, 30th September 1999

To begin, I would like to say a word or two on why the Scottish National party has chosen as the subject of our Opposition debate this morning the pay and conditions of teachers. I will talk about the reasons for the overwhelming rejection by the teaching profession of the offer made by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and the position that we find ourselves in as a result.

There are three reasons for holding this debate. First, and most important, this is without doubt the most serious issue in education at present. From the wording of its amendment, the Executive's tactic will be to deflect attention on to other issues in education. I urge them not to do that. This issue has the potential to derail every other educational initiative that the Executive has in the pipeline. Teachers today are closer to industrial action than they have been at any time in the past 10 years. I do not want to depress the Minister for Children and Education too much so early, but—as someone who was still at school during the previous teachers' strike—I know how devastating and disruptive industrial action will be for every child in every school in Scotland.

The second reason is that the SNP's decision to initiate this debate was the only way in which the Parliament would get the chance to vote on this issue and, in particular, on the course of action adopted by the minister.

Last week, when the minister announced the establishment of the committee of inquiry into teachers' pay and conditions, and detailed its terms of reference and its membership, he did so by way of ministerial statement, thus ensuring that there would be no debate and no vote. When I expressed regret about that, the minister replied:

"I am also surprised that she objects to the fact that I have brought a statement to this Parliament. I would have thought that that was part of the normal democratic process."—[Official Report, 22 September 1999; Vol 2, c 627.]

I would have thought that the "normal democratic process" demanded a full and open debate and the chance to vote on whether we thought that the minister was on the right track. That is what happened when a committee was established to look into student finance, under the chairmanship of Andrew Cubie. On 17 June there was a debate followed by a vote on the establishment of the committee, and on 2 July there was another debate on the terms of reference and membership of the committee. Why has that not happened in the case of the committee looking into teachers' pay and conditions? Did the minister feel less than secure in his position and his arguments?

Today, we will have the debate. The people of Scotland want the Parliament to debate this issue. In the course of the morning, I think that we will see why the minister was so reluctant to have the debate in the first place.

The third reason for having the debate is the need to put the record straight on why we are in this situation and where the responsibility for it rightly rests. For the past few weeks, the education minister—in the best traditions of his predecessors, Tory and Labour—has been doing his utmost to convince the Scottish people that what we have on our hands is a straightforward pay dispute. He has implied that teachers rejected the COSLA offer because they are greedy and intransigent. He has refused point-blank, time and again, to recognise the glaring defects in COSLA's proposals, defects that would have damaged the quality of education in our classrooms. That is a disingenuous approach, and one that, frankly, stands no chance of resolving the dispute.

It is time for a bit of honesty from the minister and from the Executive. I hope that we will get that this morning. The hard fact of the matter is that the final offer from COSLA, presented to teachers on 20 August, was defective in a number of key areas. The minister should have accepted that, sent COSLA back to the negotiating table, and given it the wherewithal to compromise. If he was not prepared to do so before 98 per cent of the teaching profession rejected the offer, he should certainly have been prepared to do so immediately afterwards.

I would like to refer to a comment that the minister made in his statement last week.

"I must emphasise that this offer did not come from the Executive. We did not formulate the offer; we did not put it on the table. It was the product of discussions between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the teaching unions. I am here neither to support it nor to reject it."—[Official Report, 22 September 1999; Vol 2, c 624.]

The only thing that he could have added was: "A big boy did it and ran away." If that statement was not a desperate attempt to pass the buck, I do not know what is. It does not wash: the minister cannot get off the hook that easily.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I will give way in a minute, Hugh.

The Executive is the third party in the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee for Teaching Staff in School Education, albeit with observer status. It has never departed from COSLA's line, it encouraged teachers to accept the offer, and it criticised teachers when they rejected the offer. In truth, COSLA's final offer was as much the Executive's creation as it was COSLA's. Arguably it was even more the Executive's creation, for reasons that I will come to.

Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour

Will Ms Sturgeon tell us whether the SNP recommends paying in full the demand from the teachers' unions for an 8 per cent pay rise this year? Is the SNP prepared to support collective bargaining between employers and employees, or does Ms Sturgeon believe that the Scottish Parliament should interfere in that process?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

No, Mr Henry, I believe in the continuation of the SJNC and that this year's pay dispute is a matter for teachers and COSLA to deal with through the SJNC. The real question this morning is for the minister: if, next Friday, when the SJNC meets, COSLA and the unions agree on an offer that is in excess of the money that is provided by the Executive for teachers' pay, will Sam Galbraith make up the difference? That is the real question, and I hope that we will get an answer to it.

Let me turn to the offer that has been rejected by 98 per cent of the teaching profession—an offer that by any standards of democracy and partnership should, in its current form, be dead and buried, but an offer that is still hanging around by virtue of the committee of inquiry's terms of reference, which state:

"The committee's recommendations may cover any or all of the issues set out in the SJNC management side's offer to the teachers' side."

Let us look at pay. It has been argued that the teachers' pay offer of an average of 14 per cent over three years is generous, because it is above inflation. The minister said last week that it was not unreasonable. The argument is not bad, until it is put into context—the context of the dramatic erosion of teachers' pay over the past 30 years. The index of average earnings shows that teachers' salaries have fallen behind by 8 per cent. When they are compared to the average salaries of other graduates, the position is even worse—teachers' salaries are now a staggering 16 per cent behind. COSLA's proposed increase averages 4.7 per cent a year for the next three years. However, the increase in average earnings is more than 5 per cent. By encouraging teachers to accept the offer, the Minister for Education was asking them to sign up to a deal that would see their pay further eroded over the next three years. Would he have voted for that? I think not.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

Will Ms Sturgeon inform the chamber whether the SNP councils represented on COSLA supported COSLA's proposed offer?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I will do better than that; I will read from a motion that was passed by SNP-controlled Clackmannanshire Council. The motion says:

"This council notes with concern recent developments in the negotiation of pay and conditions for teachers. In particular, the council does not wish to be associated with attacks on teachers representatives."

The motion then details the council's concerns. Therefore, no, the SNP councils did not support COSLA's offer.

The other aspect of the pay offer that the minister failed to point out is that it has lots of strings attached. The offer of more money—which would last for three years—comes with dramatic changes in working conditions that would last indefinitely.

It is important to point out that the teaching profession is not hostile to changes in conditions, and nor should it be. Like any other profession, teachers must move with the times and recognise that the old ways of doing things are not always the best. However, teachers have embraced change. They were enthusiastic participants in the millennium review and they endorsed that review's recommendations. In the course of negotiations on pay and conditions, teachers suggested counter-proposals which, had they been accepted, would have improved the final offer. Teachers did not reject the principle of change two weeks ago; they rejected the particular changes proposed in the COSLA offer. Such changes would have damaged the quality of education in our classrooms and the educational experience of children across Scotland.

That brings us neatly to children. No doubt the minister would say that children are the first priority, and he would be absolutely right. However, in the past, he has gone on to imply that the interests of children somehow conflict with the interests of teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we put to one side the fact that most teachers are parents and the fact that the working conditions of teachers are the learning conditions of children, the central overriding truth is that teachers and the education system are indivisible. One cannot be attacked without harming the other, which is why teachers were right to reject proposals that were educationally deficient and why the minister was wrong to try to bludgeon teachers into acceptance.

Apart from pay, the COSLA offer covered changes in three main areas: to the management structure in schools; to teachers' working hours; and to class sizes. My colleagues will return to those issues later. However, I want to outline briefly some of the reasons why COSLA's proposals were defective.

There were proposals to abolish principal teachers, assistant principal teachers and senior teachers—the middle management of schools—and to create a new post of professional leader. I do not know anyone who does not agree with a simplification of the school management structure. However, the COSLA offer would have removed the middle management without a clear idea of what to put in its place. The professional leadership post was vague and ill defined. At a time of considerable curricular change in the form of programmes such as higher still, the offer was a recipe for instability in schools, which is hardly in the pupils' interest.

That part of the offer would not have helped the commendable objective of trying to attract more graduates into the teaching profession, which is one of COSLA's stated aims. For reasons that can only be financial, the number of professional leadership posts was to be restricted to 8,000 across nursery, primary and secondary education sectors. However, there are already 7,000 principal teachers and around 4,000 senior and assistant principal teachers. All the professional leadership jobs would have gone to principal teachers, which would have left senior and assistant principal teachers, and any other qualified teacher, on a waiting list. It does not do much for new graduates to be told that, when they come into the profession and climb to the top of the basic scale after five or six years, they will sit in a holding post for goodness knows how many years behind thousands of others waiting for any meaningful promotion. The truth is that those proposals were ill thought out and finessed for financial reasons to the point of being unworkable.

Last week, the minister described the issue of class sizes as an old chestnut. It must have slipped the minister's mind that that old chestnut was one of Labour's key pledges at the previous two elections. As has been said in the Parliament, the offer to teachers would have raised the limit on composite class sizes from 25 to 30, which was a move to raise £20 million and had the potential to affect 100,000 children in Scotland. That move runs counter, if not to the letter, then to the spirit of Labour's election pledges.

The minister has said that no research shows that kids in composite classes should be in smaller classes. The minister should have a little common sense. Composite classes are an exaggeration of the age range that exists in any class. It is more difficult for teachers to teach classes in which dramatic differences in ability arise from different ages. It stands to reason that smaller classes would alleviate some of that difficulty. That is not just my view; it is the view of parents. Earlier this month, the Scottish Parent Teacher Council said:

"The teachers' determination to stick at a maximum of 25 in composite classes is very much in line with parents' views. At the end of last session, we were inundated with phone calls from parents who were anxious because their child was going into a composite class . . . The only comfort such parents had was that the class numbers were limited to 25."

The offer would have removed such comfort from parents.

The offer was clearly defective in a number of ways. However, I want to move on to the crux of the matter. Why, after so many months of negotiation, were we faced with an offer that was so unacceptable to the teaching profession? In Parliament last week, the minister said:

"It has been suggested that some more money would automatically lead to a solution. I do not believe that money is the real issue".

Let us examine that statement for a moment. The COSLA offer would have added £187 million to local authorities' pay bill for teachers by 2001-02. The comprehensive spending review provision for teachers' pay over the same period is £120 million. By my arithmetic, that leaves a funding gap of £67 million. In fairness, COSLA has explained how that gap could be reduced to £16 million by 2001-02 by making efficiency savings through other aspects of the offer such as changes in management structure, the increase in composite class sizes and the diversion of money from the flagship excellence fund. In his statement last week, Sam Galbraith said:

"We had guaranteed an additional £8 million to COSLA prior to the last stages of their negotiations to help achieve a settlement".—[Official Report, 22 September 1999; Vol 2, c 624.]

That still leaves a funding gap of £8 million, which raises two points. The first is a question to the minister. If the offer had been accepted by teachers, where would the additional £8 million have come from? The second point is that, if COSLA could not fund the offer as it stood, it is clear that it had no room at all for manoeuvre. Compromise might have brought about a settlement and avoided the prospect of industrial action by teachers, but that would have cost money that COSLA did not have.

The statement that money is not the issue would deserve to be laughed out of Parliament if it was not so serious. In a paper about the funding of the offer, COSLA said:

"There is a need for Scottish Executive assistance in bridging the funding gap."

Even COSLA is clear about that. The only thing that might have broken the recent deadlock was extra resources from the Executive, which were not forthcoming. Perhaps instead of picking a fight with Scottish teachers, the minister should have picked a more productive fight with Gordon Brown, who is building up a war chest while Scottish teachers are forced ever closer to industrial action.

However, the minister is trying to pick a fight with Scottish teachers. The course of action that was announced last week was provocative and doomed to failure. We have a committee of inquiry that does not have the confidence of the teaching profession. This week, the Scottish Trades Union Congress said:

"The composition of this committee of inquiry is staggering in its lack of balance."

The minister talks about working in partnership with teachers. Those are laudable sentiments; however, the only partner in education not represented on the committee is the classroom teacher in the form of the teaching unions. Why? The committee of inquiry is also subject to the same financial constraints as COSLA, so, in his remarks, the minister might like to explain to the Parliament how he thinks that the committee will come up with a better deal than COSLA managed.

The committee is by no stretch of the imagination independent. At least one of its conclusions has been predetermined by the minister. He has already decided to take away the statutory basis of the SJNC. Why? Why not let the committee decide? If a committee of inquiry is being set up, why not let it decide on those issues? The minister seems so sure that the SJNC is indefensible. Why not leave it to the committee to come to the same conclusion? Is it because Mr Galbraith is not confident that the committee will reach the same conclusion, or is it because he decided to remove the SJNC a long time ago, and has been looking for an excuse to do so ever since?

I will now read from an extract from The Guardian, taken from an interview with Lord Baker, the former English education secretary under Margaret Thatcher, on 16 September. It begins:

"When Margaret Thatcher moved him"—

Lord Baker—

"to education, he decided to deal with them (the teachers). His first move was quite open. He cut off their muscle."

I quote Ken Baker:

"I took away all negotiating rights from the union. It was quite brutal."

The interviewer reflects that Ken Baker chuckled as he recalled how he

"removed their right to negotiate . . . by statute . . . and set up an advisory committee which would set the rates of teacher pay."

I again quote Ken Baker:

"It was absolutely extreme stuff."

Does that sound familiar to anybody? The Minister for Children and Education is provoking confrontation with Scottish teachers, and the only people who will suffer at the end of the day are Scotland's children. I ask everybody in this Parliament to reflect on that at decision time this afternoon.

I ask the minister to withdraw his threat to the SJNC and to abandon his proposal to set up a hand-picked committee of inquiry. He should let this Parliament's Education, Culture and Sport Committee—a democratic body that all sides of this dispute can have faith in—examine the issue and work towards a settlement that can be accepted by all sides.

If teachers take industrial action—I certainly hope that they do not—it will not be possible for the education minister and the Executive to escape responsibility for it. Everything else on its education agenda will be undermined as a result. I hope that the Executive draws back from such a situation, and I hope to hear something more constructive from the minister this morning than has been the case up to now.

I move,

That the Parliament notes the overwhelming rejection of CoSLA's pay and conditions offer (dated 20 August 1999) by Scotland's teachers, recognises the validity of the concerns expressed by the teaching profession and parents' representatives about the details of CoSLA's offer and agrees that the implementation of the offer in its current form would have resulted in a deterioration of standards in our classrooms and a further decline in teachers' morale; considers that the defects in CoSLA's offer are the result of a lack of resources and that the current impasse between CoSLA and the teaching profession is a direct result of the failure of the Scottish Executive to make sufficient resources available to local government to fund an acceptable settlement and further considers that the approach adopted by the Scottish Executive on this issue has been deliberately provocative to Scotland's teachers; and calls upon the Scottish Executive to adopt a genuine partnership approach to reaching a settlement with teachers, to abandon its proposals to remove the statutory basis of the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee and establish a Committee of Inquiry, and to refer the findings of the Millennium Review (a joint inquiry established by COSLA and teachers' unions in 1997 to look at various issues in education) for investigation by the Parliament's Education, Culture & Sport Committee.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Before I call on the Minister for Children and Education to reply and move his amendment, I wish to remind members that yesterday's opening speeches overran by a total of a quarter of an hour, cutting out three back benchers who wanted to speak. We are on time this morning; I hope that the two other front-bench speakers will also remain on time. I shall give signals from the chair if they do not.

I have said that by way of allowing time for the lectern to be moved.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour 9:53 am, 30th September 1999

I will try to keep to time.

I was pleased that the SNP spokesman, Nicola Sturgeon, mentioned children—at least in her speech. One of the striking features of the motion is that it does not mention children once. [Laughter.] At that they laugh—I wish it to be noted on the record that SNP members laughed at the fact that their motion on education does not mention children.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

No, I have just started. Please sit down.

I welcome this opportunity to set out again the clear and positive thinking behind the Executive's decisions on the future of professional conditions of service for teachers in Scotland. A great deal has been spoken and written on the subject in recent weeks, much of it reiterated in the opening speech and most of it misleading. It must have caused unnecessary concern to many teachers and parents.

Let me remind the Parliament of the background to our radical and imaginative strategic agenda for school education. Scotland's children are Scotland's future. Education is the highest priority in "Making it work together", our programme for government, which we published in early September. The programme reinforced our commitment to working together with parents, teachers and pupils to achieve a world-class reputation for Scottish education and to create the high standards in our schools that will be the foundation for success in the future.

To make this vision a reality, we have initiated a radical improvement programme in all aspects of our schools. That includes work on developing the curriculum, on modernising assessment, on new ways of learning, on new forms of school organisation and on improving communications between schools and the communities and parents that they serve.

Our programme is supported by a substantial injection of new resources. Overall, local authorities are budgeting to spend £2.715 billion on education this year. That is an increase of 8.1 per cent on the previous year. We have ensured that those resources are well used. More than half the money that we found in the comprehensive spending review—£377 million—was targeted through the excellence fund, which directly contributes to raising standards by providing support and assistance to children and teachers in the classroom.

We recognise the need to work together with those who are charged with delivering education to our children. We have consulted on our plans and we continue to do so.

Our approach is constructive and is designed to deliver improvement. We are not seeking to manufacture conflict; in all we do, we strive to avoid it. We want schools and local authorities to work together effectively.

We do that for our children, because it is they and only they who are at the heart of our policies, and to do that—I agree with Ms Sturgeon on this—we must secure the best from our teachers. Successful schools depend on the professionalism, commitment and skill of the head teachers and teachers who manage and staff them. We are lucky in having many teachers of outstanding quality who are dedicated to their task. I take this opportunity to reaffirm my admiration for their work.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Which individuals and bodies did the minister consult before taking the decision to set up the independent committee of inquiry? Will he justify his decision not to have on that committee any representatives of classroom teachers or of teaching unions? Can he explain how he can square that with his desire to work in partnership with the teachers? I am sure that the teachers will be delighted to hear his words of praise, but they will ring hollow—he says that there are many talented teachers in Scotland, yet he could not find one to serve on the committee of inquiry.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

Ms Sturgeon has already made her speech and she should be content with that, be a bit patient and let me deal with the matters before me.

As part of our constructive approach, we are committed in the partnership agreement to establishing an education forum to review and raise standards in schools. I have carefully considered how we should implement that commitment. Our approach to raising standards depends centrally on teachers' practical experience and understanding of the process of teaching and learning. I want the forum to provide an opportunity for that, not as another standing advisory body or task force, but as part of a continuing participative process.

I therefore propose that the education forum will build on the recent innovative and highly successful summit meetings with head teachers. I propose two forum meetings each year and that attendance at each forum should be widely drawn from head teachers and teachers from throughout Scotland.

A priority will be to ensure that the practical experience of teachers can be balanced against the work of researchers on teaching and learning. I shall ask the existing National Education Research Forum to assist in that process. Our objective will be to improve our collective understanding of the implications of research for teaching and learning and the experience of children in our schools, and to ensure that research priorities properly reflect current experience in schools.

Each forum will review items of current interest in the light of relevant practical and research experience and reach a view about the implications for further policy developments. I will also ensure that the discussion and its implications are widely disseminated to all interested parties.

I will seek views as soon as possible on the detailed arrangements for the establishment of the forum and on issues that it might address in its first meetings. As before, the Education, Culture and Sport Committee will be consulted on this matter.

For teachers to be able to provide an excellent and improving education for our children, their professional status must be enhanced. That is why a responsive and flexible system of professional conditions for teachers is essential. That system must reward excellence and encourage innovation and commitment. It must allow us to recruit and develop the teachers whom our children deserve and it must be able to adapt to new challenges and methods. We need a system in which professional conditions can regularly be reviewed and updated as circumstances change, without our schools suffering dislocation and disruption This debate is not about the management offer that foundered in the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee for Teaching Staff in School Education earlier this month. Plainly, that offer was unacceptable to teachers around the country. We should not now argue about the rights and wrongs of the offer. We have a much wider and more important duty to perform.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

We need to consider why the process of discussion and deliberation, which took so long, led to such an outcome. We need to consider how we can deliver the kind of system that our children and our schools so clearly need. We need to consider the future, not the past.

The current system for negotiating teachers' conditions of service, the SJNC, has failed to deliver the new approach that we need. That should not surprise us. The SJNC has failed before, when negotiations aimed at securing changes in conditions failed in the early 1990s. In May 1997, the millennium review was set up under the SJNC. It reported in September 1998. The review promised another approach to modernising the structure of teachers' conditions of service. Once again, however, negotiations within the SJNC have failed to deliver change and have led only to stalemate.

I do not believe that there is a lack of recognition of the need for change, nor a lack of will for change on the part of the education authorities or the teachers. The problem lies in the SJNC machinery.

We should ask not what is wrong with the SJNC, but who would wish to defend it. I ask teachers whether the SJNC has enhanced their salaries and professional status and whether it has rewarded their commitment and excellence. Teachers know that the answer to all those questions is no.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

No thanks.

My job is to raise teachers' salaries to the highest possible level. Like the Prime Minister, I see no reason why some teachers cannot be paid as well as doctors are. However, that will require reform and change. Such salaries can only be a reward for commitment and excellence. The current arrangements cannot deliver that for teachers.

Above all else, the SJNC has encouraged mistrust and dissent. We need only look at recent press reports to see that. The SJNC has put local authorities and teachers in adversarial positions, when we wish to encourage co-operation and consensus.

For all those reasons, it is clear that the SJNC cannot and should not remain as the statutory authority that determines the professional conditions of service for Scottish teachers. I have therefore given notice that the Executive will take steps to remove the statutory basis of the SJNC. That does not mean that the SJNC will immediately cease to exist. It will remain in place as a forum for negotiating a pay settlement for this year, on which I trust the management and union sides will make swift and early progress. No one in this Parliament or outside wishes to see disruption to our children's education.

So that the SJNC can be succeeded in an orderly and considered way, I have announced that I am setting up an independent committee of inquiry, which will have a wide-ranging remit to make recommendations on professional conditions of service for teachers and on the future machinery for determining those conditions. On 22 September, I made a detailed statement on the setting up of the committee, which I will not repeat now. The need for modern, professional conditions of service for teachers is clear and, I believe, widely accepted.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I do not know whether the fact that the minister has given way is an indication of favouritism. He was asked a question on the committee of inquiry, which I repeat now. Can he justify to members the fact that no representative of the teaching unions or of classroom teachers is involved in the committee?

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

The member forgot to point out that representatives of the teaching profession are involved in the committee. Two head teachers, one from a primary school and one from a secondary school, are on the committee. That is important and more than fulfils the need for such representation.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

I will give way, but for the last time, as I am trying to keep to the time limit.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I hear the minister's point. Will he, however, respond publicly to the official letter that he received from the Scottish Trades Union Congress? The letter says:

"Our General Council is extremely surprised and disappointed at the complete lack of balance in the Committee's composition."

It goes on to say:

"It is, therefore, quite staggering that of the seven members of the Committee announced so far, not one comes from a Trade Union background or from a constituency that suggests that they may be able to take an employee's perspective on pay and conditions issues."

That is the view of the STUC, which is, ostensibly, one of your friends.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

It is a principle of mine always to respond privately to letters that are sent to me. I suggest that the member does the same, rather than, as he always does, conducting his business through soundbites in the press. Perhaps he will change his ways, but I suspect that a leopard does not change its spots.

The need for modern and professional conditions for teachers is clear and widely accepted and is an essential part of our wider strategy of developing Scottish school education so that we can deliver the best for our children. The existing negotiating machinery cannot deliver what is required. The Executive did not choose nor want the circumstances in which it finds itself. Indeed, the Executive tried very hard to avoid them.

Photo of Sam Galbraith Sam Galbraith Labour

I am winding up.

Nevertheless, we have acted decisively and positively to show the way forward. Our approach allows the existing machinery of the SJNC to deliver a pay settlement in the short term, while a strong and independent committee develops considered proposals for change for the future.

I invite the Parliament to recognise the need for change and to endorse our considered approach to securing the professional conditions of service that our teachers deserve and that our schools need.

I move, as an amendment to S1M-172, in the name of Mr Alex Salmond, to leave out from "notes" to end and insert:

"supports the Executive's intention to earn a world class reputation for the Scottish education system; calls upon the Executive to ensure that all children get the best start in life by maximising pupil attainment; welcomes the provision of substantial new resources for education including an additional £51m for school education identified in the Partnership Agreement; agrees that the quality of education in our schools depends on the professionalism and commitment of teachers; recognises the high standards and dedication of Scottish teachers; endorses the Executive's commitment to a programme of continuous professional development to assist teachers in maintaining and improving professional standards; agrees that the Scottish Joint Negotiation Committee machinery has failed Scottish teachers, pupils and parents, and calls upon the Executive to continue work towards its objective of ensuring a modern, adaptive and flexible mechanism for determining the professional conditions of service for teachers in Scotland's schools through the appointment of an independent Committee of Inquiry."

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Both front-bench speakers have kept within the time limit, which is a new record for the Parliament. I call on Mr Monteith to do likewise and to move amendment S1M-172.2. To get everybody in, back-bench speakers will be limited to four minutes.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 10:08 am, 30th September 1999

I am pleased to take part in today's debate, because it is important that someone tries to bring the two sides together. In these days of cosy consensus politics, that is what we are meant to be all about. It appears that entrenched positions have been taken on the millennium review and the associated pay dispute, which is reflected in the Scottish National party's motion and the minister's amendment.

It is important to encourage teachers and to build, not dash, their morale, while trying to modernise some of their working practices. There is a need for more extra-curricular input, but we must recognise the work that teachers already do in that field. Teachers taking pupils' work home, which they spend hours correcting, is extra-curricular activity.

This Government's approach to the teachers' dispute is a model exercise in how not to run employee relations. Simply because COSLA is the employer, Sam Galbraith cannot behave like Pontius Pilate, washing his hands of the dispute. The Government is a member of the SJNC and has a role to play. Sadly, Sam Galbraith has not been willing to play that role. It is not enough to say that an extra £8 million was provided to COSLA. Once it was clear, as it was to many of us, that negotiations were going to break down, he had a duty not just to the teachers and the employers but to the children of Scotland, to whom he often refers. The last thing that anyone wants is for the situation to erupt into an industrial dispute.

The Government's dealings with the teachers are already a plague on its cosy, consensual style. No sooner did Brian Wilson become an education minister than he suspended the introduction of higher still for a year. By the time that Mary-doll had taken over from Brian Wilson, higher still was so confused that strike action was averted only by phasing it in. What had Brian Wilson been doing for the year—sitting on his hands?

Now the third education minister in two years refuses to use his good offices to calm down the situation. Instead, he incites teachers, before their ballots, with talk of the suspension of the SJNC and the establishment of a committee of inquiry. As the Conservatives have pointed out, that seems to many people like a threat. I am not sure how many teachers believe that it is a threat, because, like many other people, we have been saying for a number of years that the SJNC is failing to deliver the pay and conditions that teachers should enjoy. There was evidence to show that teachers in Scotland were some 6 per cent behind their brothers and sisters in England. We proposed the abolition of the SJNC in 1997; at the time, the Labour party opposed that proposal, but it now sees it as necessary.

The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 makes it perfectly clear that arbitration can be part of the established statutory process. All that Sam has to do—and there is still time—is to pick up the phone and get the parties together. We suggest that, following initial discussion with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, the employers and the teachers unions should make fresh submissions and pendulum arbitration should be used to determine the best settlement.

For those members who do not follow football transfer deals, I had better explain pendulum arbitration. The system helps to bring parties to the table in a way that makes them closer. ACAS would have to recommend to the First Minister the better of the two proposals, which would force the two parties to work to find a solution. That would ensure that even those who did not make the successful submission are closer to the submission that is finally adopted.

There is also the proposed committee of inquiry. When a problem is kicked into the long grass, I do not feel that it is important or necessary to worry about who will sit on a committee when the minister is choosing members—it is the minister's committee. My colleague asked last week what would happen if the committee of inquiry delivered a result that was either what the teachers wanted now or that was even more than that. Will Sam Galbraith meet the committee's recommendation? He could not give a guarantee last week and I suspect that cannot give us a guarantee this week.

Some aspects of the SNP motion might seem attractive. Certainly, more resources need to be made available, possibly in the form of an ex gratia payment to buy teachers out of their contracts. That method would not increase future salary costs, which is an important consideration. However, it is wrong to pretend that resources are fundamental to the process, because there is no doubt that many aspects of the process require structural change.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am sure that Mr Monteith would agree that teachers have embraced the concept of change. There has never been resistance to change from the teaching unions—that is not the issue. If additional resources had been available and if the education minister had put more money on the table in order to bridge the £8 million funding gap, does he agree that a compromise could have been entered into by COSLA and that agreement could have been found? If that had happened, we would not have been having this debate this morning.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I would like to think that that might have been the solution, but I do not believe that it would have been, nor do I think that it would have given us the chance to resolve the dispute. I will explain why I take that view and a number of my colleagues will elaborate on those matters.

The suggestion that the Education, Culture and Sport Committee should be the vehicle to resolve the dispute shows that, although the SNP is the largest Opposition party in this chamber, it is not yet mature enough for Government. As my colleagues will say, we have grave concerns about raising the limit of composite class size from 25 to 30. In a circular, the Government proposed the reduction of composite class sizes, but it now seems willing to give up on that proposal. We have grave misgivings about the removal of promoted teacher posts and senior teacher positions, which were introduced by the Conservative Government to reward teachers who stayed in the classroom. These issues are not specifically about resources—they are management issues and, even if there had been more money, I believe that teachers would still have rejected the settlement.

The Education, Culture and Sport Committee already meets weekly. To be honest, it could easily meet twice weekly, such is the size of its brief. It covers not just education, but culture and sport, and it has to deal with the education bill. At the end of last week, another report—on special educational needs—was published, which the committee has not yet discussed. That is not to mention other subjects such as Hampden, which comes up perennially, the cultural strategy review, with all that that entails, and the new architectural strategy, which was launched yesterday.

If the committee is to work properly, those issues have to be given time. I do not believe that the committee has the time, given the education bill in particular, to take on the teachers' dispute. So busy is the committee with briefings and deliberations that only two members have attended every meeting. Some of the worst attendees are members of the SNP. Before they pop up and complain, that is not through any fault of their own; it is because of the heavy work load that those members face—Mike Russell is the SNP's business manager—and because of the conflicts of committee scheduling.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I am not quite sure that being excused by Brian Monteith is a privilege. I am sure that he will confirm the points that I made to the convener of the committee and others that such conflict of scheduling is a difficulty that is found throughout the Parliament. I would like to see a little more understanding about that for all members.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I thank Michael Russell for buttressing my point. Such is the difficulty of scheduling that I do not believe that trying to resolve such an important dispute—which would be an additional work load—is a job for the Education, Culture and Sport Committee.

Why does the SNP motion opt for that? Even in these days of cosy, consensus policies, the SNP cannot bear to accept that the Tory arbitration proposal is superior to its proposal. It had to cobble something together to develop a position that was different from those of the Government and the Tories and that gave it something to say. Nicola Sturgeon may have perfect teeth, but she does not give me the ring of confidence when it comes to education policy.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Is that the sort of statement that Brian Monteith would make about a male member of this chamber?

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Yes—if the SNP passes the brief to a male member, I would be happy to make that statement in the future. I say that as someone who does not have perfect teeth.

Although this is an SNP debate, the problem was created by the Government. The Government wanted to make education its priority—such a priority that there have been three education ministers in two years. The Government talks about standards, but the only ones that it has are double standards. The Government talks about the importance of children, but it is willing to incite industrial action in order to get its way. The Government proposes removing grant-aided status from specialist national schools, but the minister sends his children to a grant-maintained school. The Government wants to abolish the SJNC but in opposition defended it.

This is a Government of double standards that has kicked the issue into the long grass; it will pay a heavy price for dealing with teachers so dismissively. Let us hope that it is not a price that the children have to pay.

I move, as an amendment to motion S1M-172, in the name of Mr Alex Salmond, leave out from "the overwhelming" to end and insert:

"the entrenched positions being taken by the teaching unions and CoSLA in regard to reaching a settlement for teachers' pay and conditions and calls upon the Scottish Executive to bring both parties together for a settlement through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service."

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We are on time, and I remind members that, as from now, speeches are limited to four minutes.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 10:21 am, 30th September 1999

I hesitated to intervene in what was becoming something of a dental debate. This might come as a surprise to some of my colleagues, but I enjoyed the speeches by Nicola Sturgeon and Brian Monteith. I welcome Brian's new peacemaker—Mother Teresa-type—role. His former boss, Maggie, was not keen on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, if my memory serves correctly.

We are all in a bit of a bind over the teachers' pay dispute, so my colleague, Donald Gorrie, and I will be meeting the Educational Institute of Scotland and other unions later this morning to try to understand the issue and to see whether we can help to find a way forward.

Nicola was long on the rhetoric of past wrongs.

What we are talking about now, however, is what we will do in future. The points that Nicola made are fair in terms of the mistakes that may or may not have been made in the past. When the minister said that he wanted to get rid of the SJNC, I did something that was probably quite wise—I conducted a straw poll among teaching friends. The reaction was always the same—they shrugged their shoulders and said that the SJNC had not done much for them. There had been years of feast and of famine. The question that bothers the teaching profession is what will emerge to replace the SJNC. That should emerge from the committee of inquiry. What will replace the SJNC, and how will it affect teachers' lives for the better?

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party

Given Mr Stone's description of the importance of the teachers' voices, does he agree that it would have been better to have a classroom teacher on the committee of inquiry?

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

The minister has dealt with that in terms of the head teacher. I am now talking about getting rid of the SJNC. Nicola made great play of the inadvisability of doing that. The point is that the system is perceived not to have worked, so we are wiping the decks clean and finding out how to improve things.

The committee of inquiry is free to come up with whatever recommendations it sees fit, which the Liberal Democrats will follow very closely. That aspect of its work is crucial, and we must not lose sight of it.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Does Mr Stone agree that the committee of inquiry's terms of reference invite it to bring back proposals on the COSLA offer, which is why it is important to discuss them and to ask Sam Galbraith to admit the defects in that offer? I am interested that Mr Stone is meeting the unions, but as a Liberal Democrat would it not be more constructive to ask the Liberal Democrat members of the Executive to put pressure on Sam Galbraith to resolve the dispute?

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

Nicola Sturgeon is a superb political player. Of course, I shall not do as she suggests because Donald and I are taking a genuine back-bench initiative to find out what can best be done. The committee of inquiry has been established. We are talking about the future. We are in a bind. We must have the courage to go out there and find out what can be done. The Executive is addressing the issue and ultimately all the facts will be on the table. For too long, the mechanism of the SJNC has been something of a dark art to the layman. The sooner that information comes into the open, to this chamber, the better.

I support the amendment in the name of Sam Galbraith.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party 10:25 am, 30th September 1999

The minister cannot get away with posing as the children's champion when his Government has brought the teaching profession to the brink of strike action.

Brian Monteith spoke of the work load of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee. That committee must set priorities, and I would have hoped that Brian would agree that our children's education should be the highest priority.

The SNP condemns the Labour Government's hypocrisy of constantly repeating the mantra of lowering class sizes, first stated in its election manifesto, while forcing COSLA to abolish the maximum class size for composite classes. Currently nearly 3,000 composite classes in Scottish primary schools—26 per cent of Scottish classes—have between 21 and 25 pupils in them. If that number is raised to 30, as proposed, on a conservative estimate, nearly 7,000 pupils in Scotland will be forced into bigger classes at a time when, we are told, it is the Government's mission to reduce class sizes. How will that help all children to get the best start in life?

When I questioned the minister on that at the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, he asserted that there was

"no educational reason why composite class sizes should be any different from non-composite class sizes".—[Official Report, Education, Culture and Sport Committee, 8 September 1999; c 44.]

He failed to answer me then, so I will ask him again now where his evidence for that statement is. If he has the evidence, why has COSLA stated that

"the abolition of composite classes is a key target"?

Why does the Scottish Parent Teacher Council say that

"the teachers' determination to stick to a maximum of 25 in composite classes is very much in line with parents' views"?

Why does a literature review of the subject reveal that policy makers should not

"adopt the multigrade form of classroom organisation . . . because of economic or cost saving reasons"?

I can give Sam the references.

Teachers' concerns about composite classes include the lack of time to cover course work, an increased work load and less individual attention for pupils. How does that accord with the Government's stated aim of earning a world-class reputation for the Scottish education system? International comparisons show that in Norway the average number of pupils in a composite class is 9.1 and in Slovenia it is 12.23—and in Scotland we are proposing to raise the number to 30.

The situation in our small, often rural, schools is special. Peter Peacock told the Education, Culture and Sport Committee:

"Most of the kids"—

Peter's words, not mine—

"in rural areas will remain in exactly the same situation."—[Official Report, Education, Culture and Sport Committee, 8 September 1999; c 44.]

In Dumfries and Galloway there are 287 composite classes. If the class size is increased to 30, 30 fewer teachers will be needed. What will that do for teachers' morale? Castle Kennedy School near Stranraer has two teachers. That means that the head teacher must teach a composite class and still perform all the duties of a head teacher. If the number in her composite class continues to rise, how is she expected to cope? How do the school and the pupils cope, Peter? The proposal will disadvantage pupils and further stress teachers—and all for an efficiency saving of £20 million. How many billions does Chancellor Brown have stuffed in his war chest, Peter?

I conclude by reminding the minister and the Parliament that it is the pupils who are in the middle of this mess, and no one is asking them what they think. I have been listening, and I can tell members loud and clear that pupils do not like big classes and they do not like stressed-out teachers.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 10:29 am, 30th September 1999

I stand before members as a real teacher, and a member of the EIS until May. All my previous working life has been spent as a teacher of English. I am not sorry to see the collapse of the SJNC negotiations. The proposals would have done nothing to address the deep disillusionment that has built up among teachers over the past 15 years. Settlement after settlement has failed teachers on pay and conditions of service. As Sam Galbraith said when he announced the committee of inquiry, two of the key issues are the conditions in which teachers work and the support facilities that are available to them.

As a teacher I have had, over the past 15 years, to cope with a never-ending series of new initiatives that has included standard grades, Scottish Vocational Education Council modules, revised higher grades, five to 14 and higher still. Each has brought an additional work load that has had to be absorbed by teachers.

The amount of course development, reporting, preparation and correcting time has varied from subject to subject in education. I want to describe the impact on a teacher of English—a subject that carries probably the heaviest work load of all.

I taught for 271/2 hours per week. If a teacher has five year groups of 30 pupils each, the teacher is responsible for 150 pupils. If the teacher spends 10 minutes a week correcting work, that adds another 15 hours' work. The teacher must then spend a minimum of one or two minutes putting marks and comments on pupil profiles, and that adds another two or three hours a week.

We should add two or three hours for lesson preparation time, photocopying, collating worksheets, chasing up sets of books and preparatory reading. On top of all that is added the time spent talking to and writing to parents, speaking to pupils in free time, filling in guidance forms, filling in University and College Admissions Service forms and all the administrative work that a teacher finds piled on them with no administrative help. Administrative help in schools is scarcer than hens' teeth.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

Maureen Macmillan gives us details of all the hours that a teacher must work. How will the teachers' situation be helped by adding 50 hours of social inclusion work to that?

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I was hoping to make that point. It is crucial that the proposed committee examines teachers' working conditions.

This is a chance in a generation to address the problem of teachers' work loads in detail. It should be done not in a general way, but subject by subject. In that way, we will be able to see how the load can be lightened before we contemplate any further changes to school structures and management.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I appreciate that Maureen Macmillan is a teacher and a member of the EIS, and that some of the points that she made are constructive. If there is to be a committee of inquiry, does she agree that the best way to arrive at a solution that is acceptable to teachers, which meets their demands and which addresses their concerns, is to have teachers represented on the committee of inquiry?

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

The composition of the committee does not concern me too much. There are two head teachers on that committee who were classroom teachers in the past. I know that they are good head teachers who are well aware of the concerns of ordinary classroom teachers. We should not make false distinctions.

I welcome the committee of inquiry—as I said, it is a chance in a generation to do something about teachers' work loads. Work load is important to teachers.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour

I am winding up.

We must sort out work loads before we go further.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 10:34 am, 30th September 1999

I would like to begin by declaring a registrable interest—until 11 May I was the principal teacher of history in a state school in Ayr, and I remain an associate member of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association.

Old habits die hard; I found as I listened to Sam Galbraith's speech that I was instinctively marking it. It failed in both content and relevance. That was not entirely surprising, because he was not listening while Ms Sturgeon set out the basis for the debate.

Sam Galbraith failed to answer the question about the absence of a teachers' representative from the committee of inquiry, which was put to him serially by Ms Sturgeon, Mr Sheridan and Mr Russell. As a former teacher, it gives me great pleasure to say to a politician that teachers would like to see some commitment and excellence from ministers in their handling of education.

However, I want to be constructive and to say something that I hope will help. There are a number of teachers in the chamber who could speak usefully and constructively to ministers. Maureen Macmillan has just made a telling speech, and I hope that Mr Galbraith reads what she said in the cold light of day because it spoke volumes for the position of English teachers in particular. I will say no more about that, although I had intended to make similar points.

I read and I hear what the strengths of a school are perceived to be, but in my humble opinion and in my experience—which might not accord with everybody's experience—the strength of a good school is, among other things, the strength of its principal teachers. They deliver the curriculum. They organise courses and adapt all the documents that flood in. They take on board the revision of assessment and marking when the syllabus changes, when examinations change and when courses are scrubbed. They are there when the traditional gives way to the alternative, when alternative gives way to revised, when revised gives way to higher still and when intermediate 1 and intermediate 2 come in on the heels of that. Principal teachers deal with that day in, day out. They do the nitty-gritty and they are in the firing line.

I am not sure what I think of Sam Galbraith's attitude to COSLA's proposals. At one point he seemed to be the cheerleader for COSLA and—I think—called the teachers dinosaurs. On another occasion he was behind the teachers and took a flexible line.

I do not know where Sam Galbraith stands or whether his view is that the COSLA proposals are still in the frame. As a former principal teacher, I would like to put it to him that teachers' status is not recognised, nor are they motivated and inspired by the creation of 10 professional leader posts in a typical school with some 20 principal teachers. If those posts are given to existing principal teachers, where does that leave the other 10? What is their status? What are their responsibilities and their remit? How they have been degraded and dispirited.

What of the new professional leaders? I read the COSLA offer; one of the serious suggestions is to put a professional leader in charge of the five to 14 groupings. That means that somebody on the management side thinks that it is realistic for an individual to lead curricular change and cross-curricular teams of collegiate teachers in the preparation of courses in history, geography, modern studies, economics, technical subjects and the three sciences of physics, chemistry and biology. That is what is in environmental studies, a five to 14 grouping subject.

That is a nonsensical point of view—one individual is massively overloaded. It is simply not possible. No one who knows anything about teaching thinks that that is achievable.

What happens to all the senior teachers and assistant principals who are in the promotion queue when the 10 professional leaders are created? Do we say, "Sorry chaps, your day is done and there will not be vacancies for some years to come, so sorry and cheerio"? That is a devastating blow to the professionalism, the practice and the strengths of our education system.

I suspect that I am exhausting your patience, Presiding Officer, so I will conclude. I had not intended to say much about resources, but as a teacher I was as interested in money as anybody else was. Money is part of the picture, although many other things count.

A huge demographic time bomb is ticking away in our schools in relation to the vast majority of teachers of around my age. That is not good news. Most of them will go in the next 10 or 12 years and they must be replaced. If committed and capable people are to be recruited to replace them, more than is currently being paid to teachers must be offered. That is not necessarily only about rewarding today's teachers, although that is a worthwhile exercise. If we think about how we will recruit in future, that will take us some way towards putting a decent offer on the table and providing a management structure that accords with reality.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent 10:39 am, 30th September 1999

Murray Tosh is absolutely right—the offer made by COSLA is not enough. It is not enough to prove to teachers that the Government values them. COSLA made the offer, but it is the Scottish Executive that will carry the can for the disappointment and bitterness that will result from this situation, which comes in the wake of a new Labour Prime Minister who promised so much for education and devolved so little power to the Scottish Executive.

I do not believe that Sam Galbraith wants to defend the indefensible offer that has been made, but he has been left with no choice. Murray Tosh eloquently described the bottleneck in career development, promotion and management that would arise in schools under the arrangement proposed by COSLA. Sam Galbraith knows that that can only damage children and education.

I believe that the minister also knows that the percentage increase in salary that he is offering, compared with that offered to other professions, is no motivation for young people to enter teaching. We need younger people in teaching for no other reason than to take up the slack that has been left by the experienced older teachers who are being forced out of the profession early because they cannot take any more.

We talked yesterday about the need for a highly educated, flexible work force. Where will that come from, without teachers? Without teachers, there is only ignorance. It is an insult to teachers to try to compare them with other professionals, as previous Conservative Governments did. With their partisan pecking order, those Governments are to blame for much of the disappointment that has been visited on the SJNC. The Conservative Government wanted to ensure that it paid policemen—it did no harm to policemen. It wanted to pay people in the armed services—it did no harm to them, either. However, teachers paid the price for that.

As a young teacher, more than 30 years ago, with my first pay packet I was able to buy my mother a three-piece suite. I know that it is anecdotal, but it happened. No young teacher leaving a training college or university now can walk into the Co-operative store, as I did, and put their money down to buy a suite. I am sorry if that sounds homespun, but a lot of teaching is homespun: that is how we have asked teachers to be over the past 30 years. As we have been cutting their status and their purchasing power relative to other professions, we have asked them to buttress the breakdown of the family unit. We have asked them to buttress the effects of horrible poverty in schools, amid the plenty that children see on television. We have asked teachers to make good all the gaps that have been left by the social changes of the past 30 years—and how have we rewarded them?

I regret, as I think that the minister is a decent man, that he is having to pursue a policy of further reducing the status of teachers. I will not repeat the arguments in favour of the diminution of career development paths, which is what that policy will do. I have a letter from someone who teaches in a school in Lothian, asking me whether I know of any comparable professional team that suffers the same percentage of nervous breakdowns during its work. Among teachers in that school, the figure has been 17 per cent over the past five years. That is what teaching is about.

If we value teachers, we will not take away the only protection that they have, which is the statutory role of the SJNC. That body has disappointed people—much of what Jamie Stone said was correct—but teachers know that they would lose a great deal if they lost the means to enforce the results of an objective review of their salaries and conditions. The representation of their interests would have only the status of a pay review board, and we know what Governments have done with the salary recommendations of pay review boards.

We are asking teachers to give up far too much, and I am asking the Government to think again. I am asking it to think about arbitration, and about whether the Education, Culture and Sport Committee of this Parliament can contribute more. Sam is shaking his head, but he is writing down this Parliament and its responsibility for education, and I am sure that he does not want to do that.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 10:43 am, 30th September 1999

I welcome any opportunity to discuss education in this chamber, but the timing of this debate is all wrong if the SNP is, as it suggests, trying to be helpful. Members will know that the Education, Culture and Sport Committee has invited members of the SJNC, the teachers union and their employers to attend its meeting next week to discuss the current state of affairs.

Without giving both parties a chance to have their say, or allowing members to ask questions of it and, later the same day, the minister, the SNP seems content to say how the dispute should be resolved and that we should continue with the SJNC in its present form despite the fact that after almost two years it has not been able to deliver a proposal for wages and conditions that is acceptable to teachers and employers.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Does not Mary accept that it is the minister rather than the SNP who is predetermining the future of the SJNC? I hear what she says about the timing of the debate. The choice of timing was not ours: I would rather have had the debate last week, when Sam Galbraith made his announcement about the committee of inquiry. Does she not agree that it would be wiser, following Sam's logic, to refer the issue of the SJNC to the committee of inquiry to decide, rather than to predetermine the outcome, as he is trying to do?

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

If we are to get out of the present impasse—and the SJNC has not been able to do so—setting up an inquiry into how that organisation operates is a way forward. Although I hope that the Education, Culture and Sport Committee will be able to ask questions and extract information on the present impasse, it will in no way operate as an arbitrator. That is not its role, and there are people who are much better skilled to offer that service if it is deemed necessary.

It is important to reiterate that this Parliament is not the employer. As someone who has come from a local authority, I can assure members who have any doubts that the local authorities have made it clear that they want to handle their own employment negotiations. At the beginning of the draft improvement in Scottish education bill, it is stated clearly that the responsibility for managing education will continue to lie with the local authorities. I do not remember any members suggesting otherwise.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Mrs Mulligan implied that there are people who are better suited to the role of arbiter. She then talked about the role of local government. In other areas of employment, outside education, local government has a procedure that involves the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Does she accept that those people are professionals and that they would become the arbiters in the dispute?

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

I accept that those people are professional in that way. However, it is up to the teachers and their employers to decide who they want to arbitrate.

I strongly recognise the importance of teachers working with management and this Parliament to deliver the highest quality of education for all our children. I feel strongly that their professionalism should be recognised. There are several ways in which that is already being done—just three are the introduction of classroom assistants; improvements in information and communications technology facilities; and plans to improve continuous professional development opportunities for teachers. Much is going on in education that everyone would agree is good, but the present unresolved situation is holding back further improvements.

At best, the SNP is being opportunistic in lodging the motion. If the SNP had lodged a motion on an issue such as the way in which a wider view of education could be encouraged, or how we could encourage our children to take part in sport, appreciate culture and play a full part as citizens, I might have felt that we were beginning to move forward in the debate on education. We should consider how we can give our children and young people a fuller appreciation of the education process. One of the most worrying aspects of the education system is the number of children who opt out of that system. Let us debate how we can make school more relevant to those children.

Many issues have been raised in the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, as Brian Monteith said. I hope that we will be able to discuss them over the coming months.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

No. Will Mrs Mulligan wind up, please?

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour

Yes.

Both in the Parliament and in the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, many education matters need to be discussed. I believe that the present problem can be resolved if we allow the teachers and their employers to negotiate. At this stage, the Parliament does not need to get involved in the way that has been suggested. We owe it to our children, our teachers and our parents to take a more constructive and positive approach to education.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent 10:49 am, 30th September 1999

In the recent ballot, 98 per cent of Scottish teachers rejected the employers' offer, which they considered to be a demand to work longer hours for less pay on a pro rata basis. Accepting that offer would also have led to larger class sizes and the abolition of the post of subject principal teacher. In my opinion, and that of the majority of teachers, such measures would threaten rather than improve educational standards.

The Executive's response to that democratic ballot, however, is to propose the abolition of the Scottish joint negotiating committee and to set up yet another inquiry. The minister appeared to be saying that no one is defending the SJNC. If he seriously believes that, why does not he have a ballot of all the teachers to see whether they want to retain or abolish the SJNC before he goes ahead with his legislation?

The business of having another inquiry seems to indicate an element of indecision and prevarication on the part of the Executive, particularly in its education policy—or lack of it. There is already an inquiry into student finance; now we are to have another into teachers' pay and conditions.

The composition of the committee has also come in for criticism, particularly by teachers' unions and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. A minister—especially a Labour minister—excluding from membership of the committee anyone from a trade union background and any practising classroom teacher is a deplorable example of industrial relations.

There seems to be an element of pre-emption on the part of the Executive. The committee's terms of reference include an inquiry into the future arrangements for determining teachers' pay and conditions following the removal of the statutory basis of the SJNC now proposed by the Scottish Executive.

Ministers seem to be pre-empting the will of Parliament, because the abolition of the SJNC would require parliamentary approval and legislation. I would be grateful if the minister would tell us what advice he has had as to whether such legislation would be dealt with by the Scottish Parliament or by the Westminster Parliament. Education, as we all know, is a devolved matter, but employment legislation is a reserved matter. The minister would be heading for trouble if he depended on votes down at Westminster to bring about a reduction in Scottish teachers' pay and conditions of service.

The minister keeps saying that all this is part of the Government's modernisation programme. Last week, he told me that I was hanging on to the past, but it is the minister and his comrades in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities who are trying to turn back the clock.

I recall the first teaching job I ever had. I was still a student at the time. I got a job during the university holidays as a temporary unqualified teacher at a school in a deprived mining community in Fife. Such was the level of deprivation among the children that at one stage I had to give a pair of my wee sister's shoes to one of the pupils so that she could come to school. There were more than 30 pupils in the class, ranging in age from eight to 12, and every child in the class had learning difficulties. Looking back, I now realise that I probably learned more from them than they learned from me.

Later on in my teaching career, I was a principal teacher in one of the largest comprehensive secondary schools in Scotland. At that time—during the late '60s and early '70s—there were classes of about 50. That would not be tolerated now. Why? Because teachers and the teachers' unions have fought hard over the years to improve working conditions. Teachers have won contracts stipulating maximum class sizes and other matters affecting their work and, when the SJNC was set up, such agreements had a statutory basis. Those were hard-won gains by the teaching profession, and the minister is now to abandon all that by abolishing the SJNC.

The proposal seems to be part of the teacher-bashing agenda that started down south with David Blunkett, which was copied by Helen Liddell and which is now being continued by Sam Galbraith. The minister's attitude will do nothing to improve the status or morale of the teaching profession. More important, it will do nothing to improve educational standards. The children in our schools deserve much better and I therefore urge the minister to think again. Let us have a fair deal for Scottish teachers to ensure a better future for the children in our schools.

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party 10:55 am, 30th September 1999

I want to address two issues: the working hours of teachers and the structure of the profession. Before I do that, however, I must declare two interests—as the husband of a teacher and as a parent. There are many parents in this chamber who are concerned about the future of their children and of children such as those in the public gallery this morning. That is what this debate is about.

Many teachers will take severe offence at what the minister has said today. At the beginning of the debate, he attacked the SNP by saying that our motion has nothing to do with children. Every teacher puts children first, second, third and right the way through. By protecting, supporting and encouraging teachers, we intend to get the best out of children. It is extraordinary that society exhorts our children to listen to their teachers, but that the Government remains deaf to the teachers of Scotland.

The structure of the profession is a vital matter for teachers, but it is a vital matter for children too. As Murray Tosh correctly and very movingly pointed out, it is the teachers in schools who can get the best out of children. I have not heard of or read about one teacher who supports the restructuring of the profession as the offer suggests. Yes, teachers support the restructuring of the profession and do not want the best teachers to be distanced from the classroom, but Kevin Nolan, a principal teacher in a Dundee secondary school, writing in the current issue of the Scottish Educational Journal, says of the proposals:

"The plans to remove all Principal Teacher posts lack coherence, present an ill-defined method of progression from one stage to another and have little to do with improving educational provision for young people."

He goes on to describe the plans as

"unworkable, divisive and woefully ill-thought out."

I encourage the minister to listen to the teachers and not simply to his advisers.

Nicola Sturgeon has described what the proposals will do in terms of career blocking. Rather than encouraging people into teaching and encouraging them to move through the profession and aim ahead, the proposals will stop progress in the profession and result in an even worse recruitment crisis.

At a recent meeting of the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, Sam Galbraith moaned on about teachers not reading professional journals. Sam Galbraith is a professional and I hope that all of us in this chamber are professionals. What underpins professionalism is constructive self-management of time. One might argue that that is what differentiates professionals from others. However, in the proposed hours for teachers, there is not a moment for such constructive self-management. All time is to be allocated; all the time, teachers are to be told what to do. That rigid control will result in two things: in the best teachers working even longer hours for their pupils and the worst teachers giving up all hope that they can do better. If that is at the heart of the proposals, they are deeply flawed.

I encourage the Executive and all the members sitting behind them, who are trying to defend the indefensible—including the Liberal Democrats, who have a choice on this matter in the partnership—to listen to the teachers. In the Educational Institute of Scotland ballot, 33,678 people voted no and 656 voted yes. There were 10 spoiled papers. Only 656 people voted in support of the proposals. That is a damning refusal. The figure is only slightly more than the number of votes polled by the Liberal Democrats in the Hamilton South by-election—which shows just how low it is.

I say to Sam Galbraith, as many members do, "Play it again, Sam." I appeal to him to rewind from where he is and pick the right fight—a fight on behalf of teachers in Scotland—to get some money out of Gordon Brown's war chest. Sam Galbraith is involved in a fight with Scottish teachers that will damage our children.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 10:59 am, 30th September 1999

I declare a particular interest in the debate as an EIS member—as others in the chamber are—as a former teacher and as a teacher trainer.

The 98 per cent rejection of the salary and conditions offer shows clearly that a new approach is needed. It is obvious that something is drastically wrong, either with the substance of the offer or with the mechanism by which the package was agreed—or possibly both. I have difficulty with the SNP motion as it presents the root of the problem as financial.

Although it is true that money is at issue, those of us who are closely involved with the profession know that there are a number of other deep-seated problems, such as those Maureen Macmillan alluded to. One is work load. There is no doubt that the curricular changes that have taken place over the past 10 years, standard grade, the five to 14 programme and more recently the higher still development programme, have meant teachers being asked to make significant changes to their way of working.

Those are not simply changes to the syllabus but changes in how classes are grouped and taught. There have also been significant changes in assessment requirements: more paperwork and more internal assessment. While most of the changes represent good practice, they are all time consuming and need to be assimilated into the everyday routine.

To give some idea of the continuing problems with the implementation of the higher still programme, I will quote from a Stirling secondary school. Departments were asked to comment on their progress with higher still. One said that there was a

"limited supply of exemplar material; more paperwork for all staff-course logs, internal assessments, assessment proformas; limitations and pressure on time for assessing and re-assessing; limitations on IT resources for use of CD rom and inventing; at Higher, too many 'new' types of questions—no link with previous learning from S Grade."

It is hardly surprising that in the present pay and conditions round, teachers rejected the deal. The proposal suggests, as Brian Monteith and Murray Tosh said, that the principal teacher posts in secondary schools should be abolished. They are the very people who are needed to spearhead the higher still programme. A new management structure was proposed in their place, but the teaching unions think it is less than clear.

Even if those arguments are not accepted—although I think we do accept them—there is the further aspect, on which I think there is universal agreement, which is that the negotiating machinery of the SJNC has not worked. As a result, teachers in Scotland are falling further and further behind their colleagues in England and Wales in financial terms.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

No, Nicola, I want to finish.

It is time, therefore, to look for solutions other than the SJNC. Last week, Sam Galbraith gave details of the independent committee of inquiry that will make recommendations on a future mechanism for determining pay and conditions for teachers in Scotland. As an EIS member, I initially felt uneasy about the possibility of a pay review body that could reduce the bargaining powers of the unions, but it is imperative that we find a mechanism that leads to teachers being given a just financial reward and being listened to, so that more long-standing concerns are adequately addressed. The independent committee is only one way of doing that.

The Government has education as its No 1 priority.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

The programme for government and the consultation document "Improving our Schools" lay great stress on supporting teachers, enhancing professionalism and thus improving teaching and learning. All are critical to improving standards. I believe that we can deliver our promises and deliver real improvements in the performance of our schools and in the education we provide for our children, but we can do so only by continuing to work in partnership—I emphasise partnership—with teachers. I commend the Government's amendment.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 11:04 am, 30th September 1999

One of the major concerns of head and senior teachers in my constituency about the offer is the lack of clarity in the proposals to change school management. They feel that the proposals have not been thought through. Those I spoke to could not see how their schools would implement the proposals or how the work currently done by staff would be redistributed.

Class sizes may be an "old chestnut" but they are an on-going concern. There are good reasons why the issue comes up again and again. Sam Galbraith said this morning that he wants to see

"schools and local authorities work together effectively".

Schools and local authorities may work together effectively—setting a budget, agreeing priorities and preparing a plan for the year—then a new initiative is announced and bids have to be prepared at the expense of a great deal of staff time and effort and often at short notice. However well intentioned or desirable the objectives of the initiative, the effect is to cut across and disrupt local priorities, to divert staff time and effort, and to take resources from a finite budget. Whatever the outcome of the current discussions, the plea will remain that schools should not be made to jump through so many hoops or be forced to bid for targeted resources that supersede local priorities.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party 11:06 am, 30th September 1999

When the Labour party came to power, it said its priority was education, education, education. It seems to think that education can be divorced from teachers.

It is extraordinarily arrogant of the Labour party to believe that it and it alone has the future of education and of children at heart. It fails to take into account the fact that the vast majority of teachers are themselves parents. It is absurd to suggest that teachers are not interested in education and standards, only in money. Consultation, openness and partnership are buzz words of new Tory-Labour, but it does not listen to the results of consultation—the SSTA and EIS ballot results. It is wilful stubbornness of the education minister to sit on the beach like King Canute.

Our teachers care about education, about children and about protecting their own families and their future. Why will the Executive not listen to teachers? Why does the STUC have to write to Sam Galbraith and every other MSP to point out that the committee of inquiry is not acceptable to it? Why has the head of the EIS had to write to us to say that the scope of the inquiry is unacceptable and, because there is no trade union representation on it, the EIS will not accept its findings? What are we doing? Why is the Executive pretending that it is right and ignoring the people involved in the dispute?

Like Mrs Mulligan, Mr Galbraith talks about education but divorces it from teachers. That is ludicrous. It is nonsensical to take the pretended moral high ground and tell us that only the new Labour party has the best interests of education and our children's future at heart. Where is the consultation? Where is the listening to the teachers? I do not hear it from any of the Labour benches here. I hear anecdote.

I would like to ask the MSPs who are EIS members how they voted. Did they vote with their colleagues or with the 650 recalcitrant EIS members who seem to be blinded? Were new Labour members the 650 who did not vote against the deal? That is quite likely.

We have to make progress. That requires money but, more important, if the minister does not sit down with the trade unions and speak to them directly, they are likely to take industrial action.

The few members of new Labour who were here yesterday for Donald Gorrie's debate on football will remember that the enormous effect of the previous teachers' dispute on sport in this country was mentioned. What effect will a dispute have this time? Why does the minister want to push through concepts of industrial managerial structures in an area that cannot be assessed in that manner? I urge the minister to listen to the STUC and the EIS and to stop being blinded by a mindless and foolish ideological position.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green 11:11 am, 30th September 1999

As a former president of my local EIS association, former member of the national council and someone who has remained in contact with my local union branch over the past few months, I must declare my interest in this matter. What I have to say therefore carries more weight than Jamie Stone's straw poll.

I have in my hand the latest EIS response to the consultation on the improvement in Scottish education bill. I draw members' attention to the first paragraph, which states:

"There is much in the introductory remarks to this document with which the EIS would want to be associated. Improvement should take as its starting point the needs of schools and their children and it is the task of the many agencies concerned to support that process."

This document is peppered with phrases such as, "we welcome" and "strikes a good balance". It is absolute proof that the EIS is prepared to take part in constructive dialogue with the Government and COSLA on the future of education in Scotland. I recommend that people read it: in particular, Mr Galbraith should pay close attention to the caveats in it.

I would like to convey to members the feelings of an EIS member, expressed in a letter I have received:

"Robin . . . In the statements which have come from the Executive and the Local Authorities in the current debate there has been a constant thread of circumscribing and tying down the job of a teacher. No thought seems to have been given to the work which teachers do over and above that carried out while teaching classes. Nor has anything like adequate account been taken of the amount of preparation, correction and study which goes into making a well taught course of lessons."

There has been much reference to that on both sides of the debate.

"This is work which is done at a place and time of the teacher's choosing, which is why you see so many carrying piles of jotters out of the door as they leave school . . .The amount of time to be spent on organising up to date teaching materials, trying out new approaches and discussing the problems of individual pupils will not decrease. Many continuing developments, such as the introduction of new courses and the integration into mainstream education of pupils previously in special schools are already increasing the demands on a teacher's time and skills.

But what is the response of the Minister? He seems to be taking the line that if teachers are spending all this time on school work, and no one doubts that they are, then they will not mind if some of that time is taken up by further duties.

There, plain to see, is the flaw in the argument.

Either even more teachers will crack under the strain,"— and there has been reference to that—

"or they will have to give up something. What would the Minister like them to give up—organising educational visits to Orkney or France? Marking homework? Taking the football on a Saturday morning?

What is not being recognised here is that volunteers give more than time servers. Teachers who turn out on a rainy weekend morning to take a sports event or drive the debating team to a competition of an evening willingly give the time to this because they see the advantage it confers on their own pupils, not because it looks good on their timesheet.

There are teacher shortages in most areas of schooling now. Organising in-service training for Higher Still is a real headache because there are simply not enough supply teachers available. A flu epidemic this winter could cost more school days than the threatened strikes, as absent teachers cannot be replaced. The Executive's current attack on the professional freedom of teachers, in spite of what the Minister purports to be doing and says he is in favour of, cannot help but add to the problem by making teaching an even less attractive career than it already is.

The SJNC, the negotiating body, contains representatives of the teachers, the local authorities and the Executive. The Minister and his predecessors (of the same political party) have not been playing a full role in the discussions. To hear Sam Galbraith talk you would think he was on the outside of these negotiations, and perhaps he has been. But that is his choice. He could have been helping to find a consensus from the inside, rather than making veiled, and now not so veiled, threats, from the sidelines.

Now the negotiations have not produced the result he wanted, the Minister is threatening to take away the negotiating body. I hope the Minister will not mind my saying that as a teacher I have heard that argument before, but the words were slightly different: 'If you won't let me win, I'm taking my ball away!' This is not the sort of sensible and considered response we had hoped to hear from a Scottish Executive close to the people.

The Minister has set up an enquiry to consider the pay of teachers, almost all of whom spend the bulk of their working week teaching pupils and doing the associated preparation and correction. Yet there is not a single classroom teacher on this committee.

The Minister has further compromised any independence the committee might be seen to have by telling it what to decide about the SJNC—it is to be abolished.

The Executive cannot hide behind these fictions and evade responsibility. The Minister should be taking a full part in discussions and not be attacking those who are working hard to find a just and effective way to organise the pay and conditions of teachers at the start of the next millennium."

Those are the thoughts of an ordinary classroom teacher.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 11:16 am, 30th September 1999

This debate has been enhanced enormously by the practical experience of teachers such as Maureen Macmillan, Margo MacDonald and Robin Harper. Maureen, I realise that one does not need to be a teacher to speak in this debate. We all feel passionate about this issue. I have never taught in schools but I spent the past 20 years in further education. I have seen people who slipped through the net at school. They left school with no experience and went into dead-end jobs. But I have seen how education can transform people by giving them dignity, self-esteem, belief in themselves and the opportunities that they seek in life, so I am delighted and privileged to take part in this debate today.

As I listened to Sam Galbraith's ministerial statement, on the basis of my experience I could not help thinking how wonderful and impressive it was. I could not help thinking how different it was from the practical experience that people such as I have faced in the past two and a half years. As a parent—and a single parent—I wanted no more than an excellent educational experience for my children. All of us feel passionately about the fact that the one thing that we can do for our children is to give them the best experience possible in life.

I do not see this issue as being all about the EIS, education ministers and teachers; it is about the lives of children and the lives of adults. I hope that members will forgive me if I turn back the clock a wee bit. Having stood in the 1992 and 1997 general elections, I remember how hard people such as Michael Forsyth and other education ministers had to fight to introduce primary school testing, languages in primary schools, school boards, a parents' charter and, indeed, to implement standard grade and higher still. All those initiatives were fought for in the face of bitter, hostile, negative and destructive opposition. If I stand here beside someone who was likened to Mother Teresa and who put forward a positive contribution to this debate, I am proud to be on this side. I am proud that Nicola Sturgeon and others have tried to overcome the historical confrontational approach that did no one any good. I am proud that we have entered into a constructive debate.

Many promises were made by the Government. As a lecturer in 1997 I thought that things would be quite wonderful, with more resources and so on. I can talk honestly from my experience. At Inverness College, where I taught higher national certificate courses, higher national diploma courses and degrees, the size of my classes doubled and trebled after 1997. It did not make much difference when I was teaching. I could lecture to three, 30 or 300, but when the course work comes in at 300,000 words a time and the evenings and weekends are not long enough to keep up with the marking, it does matter. That is no different from the feedback that I am getting from teachers in schools: there is more work for less money, less value and less recognition. There is a limit to how far you can push teachers.

I will pick up on a point that Margo MacDonald made about teachers' pay. No one enters the teaching profession for financial advancement. My son graduated last year from Edinburgh and I was shocked when the starting salaries of his friends, as new graduates, were higher than the salary that I earned as a teacher at the top of the scale when I was teaching degree courses. That is shameful.

In 1997, Inverness College had a deficit of about £700,000; it is now £4 million. I believe that out of the 53 further education colleges in Scotland—and the minister can confirm or deny this—48 of them are facing financial deficits to the bank. That is hardly a Government that prioritises education.

I will mention Peter Peacock.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

As convener of Highland Council, no sooner was the ink dry on Peter Peacock's Labour party application than he secured his place at the top of the list and subsequent ministerial position. Peter is not the flavour of the month in the Highlands, because the promises that he made last year are not being followed through this year. If Jamie Stone will forgive me, I will use the example of Tain Academy.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

It is estimated that Highland Council needs £28 million for essential maintenance work, £30 million for existing capital and a further £20 million, yet this Government asks us to congratulate it for £51 million.

Dennis Canavan mentioned this point. I feel strongly about testing in primary schools. I went to a seminar last week in Glasgow on autism. Far too many people with learning difficulties and disabilities are slipping through the system. It is not right that in this age we are picking up autism, Asperger's syndrome and dyslexia when people are 30 or 35. That should be done in primary schools.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 11:23 am, 30th September 1999

As a member of the EIS, I declare an interest and express some difficulties with the COSLA offer. I am pleased that the Executive has distanced itself from it. I am concerned about the raising of the limit on the number in composite classes. I am also worried about the reduction from 16,000 promoted posts to 4,000 professional leaders. That leaves me wondering how secondary schools are going to work, and how many women are going to be in promoted posts.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Malcolm's speech has opened in a positive fashion. He says that he is glad that the Executive has distanced itself from the offer. Might it not have been more helpful if Sam Galbraith and the Executive had distanced themselves from the offer some weeks ago, told COSLA that parts of the offer were unacceptable and provided COSLA with the wherewithal to compromise on the most unacceptable parts of it?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

I am glad that Nicola Sturgeon found my beginning positive. I will now turn to the SNP. The SNP motion reduces this matter to lack of resources. The SNP position would have some credibility if it had flagged up education as the one area in this Parliament that was to get extra resources, with the consequence that other areas would suffer. However, the motion today lacks credibility as the SNP calls for extra resources in every debate.

It occurs to me that SNP members in this Parliament take a Trotskyist position over and over again. What we hear from them is transitional demands, asking for money across every range of policy that they know cannot be delivered. They must address that if their proposals are to be taken more seriously.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

We are discussing lack of resources. Will Malcolm comment on opening up Gordon Brown's war chest of £12 billion?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

That takes me on to the Executive amendment. The Executive amendment refers to substantial extra resources for education. Without pre-empting decisions that Gordon Brown will make, I am confident that considerable extra resources will be allocated to this Parliament over the next few years, for health and education in particular, although it is up to this Parliament to decide what it spends its resources on.

It is important—and it is acknowledged by the Executive amendment—that we take teachers with us in all those positive initiatives, which are partly to do with money but partly to do with extra places for nursery education and extra help in the primary school. However, I do not believe that the SJNC is the main issue for teachers, so I accept the proposal for an independent committee.

I will make one final plea in relation to that committee. I agree with the STUC in its criticism of its composition. The independent committee would be more widely acceptable to this Parliament and to the teaching profession if it had at least one trade unionist and, especially, one ordinary classroom teacher on it. The minister must recognise that the experience of ordinary classroom teachers is very different from that of head teachers. With that proviso, I am prepared to accept the Executive amendment.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 11:27 am, 30th September 1999

The minister explained last week why he was asking an independent committee to consider teachers' pay and conditions. Maybe we need more Scottish history taught, not just in schools, as some members propose, but to the minister and his colleagues. Perhaps Murray Tosh could help to set that up for us.

The minister's script could have been lifted from the Tory archives. This is a rerun of what happened in March 1986 when Malcolm Rifkind, then Secretary of State for Scotland, was desperately looking for a way to end the teachers' dispute. He announced an independent inquiry and the Main committee was set up. It took seven years for the Tories to get into that mess, yet here we are in the same position in the first term of the Scottish Parliament.

Unlike my colleague Nicola Sturgeon, I was not at school during the last series of teachers' strikes, but I do remember them and the damage that they did to our young people, then and since. There was two years and six months of disruption—work to rule, missed lessons and no extra-curricular activities. Lloyd Quinan has mentioned the damage to sport. The problem was, then as now, that teachers' pay had been seriously eroded, with those in power unwilling to make a straightforward settlement, and there was a decent pay rise only for the lucky ones. No promoted posts this time, though, but their removal so that savings can be used to fund the present offer. Now, as then, there is a strong case for a pay rise for teachers and there is also a genuine need for reform. Those two issues need not be too closely linked, unless the minister intends to use pay as a means to blackmail the teaching profession over conditions.

On reform, why is there constant harping on about teachers having to be willing to change? As others have said today, teachers have for many years been receptive to change. The minister tells teachers that they must put children first. How patronising. He overlooks the fact that the vast majority of teachers put children first every time that they teach a lesson.

When the millennium review was reported, the EIS general secretary said:

"I believe strongly that the outcome is a very positive one for schools and teachers and offers now the opportunity for substantial improvement in the delivery of education and for improved salaries for teachers."

No, teachers are not opposed to change; teachers are opposed to erosion of their pay and conditions and the imposition of ill-considered change.

For reasons known only to himself the minister is being hostile to the teachers, as he never was to his own professional counterparts when he was health minister. Already his approach is bearing fruit. He has achieved more than Mrs Liddell did during her short time as teacher and nat-basher general. Even she did not manage to turn a confirmed 98 per cent of the teaching profession against her.

I echo Nicola Sturgeon's call for honesty in this debate. Labour is spending proportionately less on education than the Tories. That is confirmed by a letter from the House of Commons library, dated 21 September. It states that

"although spending on education is planned to increase as a proportion of GDP during the Comprehensive Spending Review period, it will not return to the levels recorded in the early 1990s".

The minister should stop pretending that the teachers have caused this problem. The dispute could have been settled by negotiation, with the minister playing a constructive role. Instead, he chose to sit on the sidelines issuing threats—having, I suspect, already decided to abolish the SJNC and to bring the teachers to heel. Again, we are reminded that in education, as in many other areas, new Labour is taking forward the old Conservative agenda. The minister is treading a well-worn path—a path that has seen this country slide even further down the international education league tables.

Teachers are not shirkers who demand more pay for less work. Most are committed professionals, who strive to educate their charges in the face of immense social and economic challenges. The teaching profession and the education system are indivisible. We cannot attack one without hurting the other. The minister, like his predecessors, is severely damaging our education system by his incessant and unjustified attacks on those who deliver the service. That is to the potential detriment of those about whom we should care most—our children and young people. I urge members to support this motion.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 11:31 am, 30th September 1999

When I saw a newspaper headline that read "Crisis in Education", I was reminded of the heady days of 1997, when, to the accompaniment of the mantra "education, education, education", Labour was swept to power. Now, two and half years down the line, we have a crisis in education, with the Government totally alienated from the teaching profession. Who would have thought that that could happen? The teachers' party has lost the confidence of the teaching profession.

What has been the Government's response to that loss of confidence? Frankly, it has abdicated its responsibilities. Instead of sitting down with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, as it should, to achieve a compromise so that we can reach a settlement to this potentially damaging dispute, the Government has walked away from it. Surely there has never been a more classic case of passing the buck.

Labour's threat to impose a solution to this dispute will have long-term and damaging effects. The party has succeeded in alienating a profession that is instinctively supportive of its ideals. The damage that it has done will stay with us for many years. Why will the Government not sit down and negotiate? Why has it threatened to abandon the SJNC? The Government has chosen a committee of inquiry to replace the SJNC because it regards that as a safe option. If the committee proposes a settlement that teachers do not fully support, the Executive will be able to say that it has taken a hands-off approach and bears no responsibility for what has been decided. It cannot abdicate responsibility in such an irresponsible manner.

The fact of the matter is that the teachers' trade unions have voted overwhelmingly to reject the package that is on the table. They are right to do so. First, there is the money factor. All teachers are dedicated to the profession, and money is often not their prime consideration. On the other hand, they have mortgages to pay and families to support. The package that is now on the table and that may eventually be imposed is short of money.

Secondly, the Executive's proposals to reorganise schools are a recipe for chaos. It has been proved time and again in industry that the flat line of management does not work, so it is not likely to work in education. If we remove a tier of management—principal teachers and heads of department—and replace them with a diktat from on high, the system will fail. That will damage both teachers, who are seeking to make a profession out of a career, and youngsters.

The Government should, as a priority, seek arbitration in the pay dispute. In the longer term, an independent pay review body might be advantageous. At the same time, the Government cannot maintain a hands-off approach. It must be involved, or confidence will continue to be lost until the degree of alienation is such that the education system disintegrates completely. As I said, who would have thought that two and a half years after the general election we would be in this position? That is an appalling indictment of the way in which education in this country is being run.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour 11:36 am, 30th September 1999

As Malcolm Chisholm said, the SNP identifies the problem here as one of a lack of resources, the solution being to throw money at it. As usual, the SNP cannot explain where that money should come from.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

As we have said several times already, the money is there. It is being saved to buy votes in a year or two. Why not use it to secure children's future now?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I disagree totally. It is our job in this Parliament to manage the resources at our disposal. We have £15 billion to tackle the problems that face Scotland, but the SNP's solution is to look for magic pots of gold elsewhere—money that is not under our control. The SNP should focus on the real situation in which we find ourselves.

I also disagree fundamentally with the SNP's analysis. The problem is one not of resources, but of a profession that feels undervalued and demoralised. It is difficult for those of us who are not teachers to appreciate the pressure that they are under daily in the classroom.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Would Mr Macintosh mind explaining how Mr McCrone, the chair of the new committee of inquiry, can gain an insight into the feelings and experiences of classroom teachers when there is no classroom teacher or representative of the teaching unions on the committee? Can he answer that question, given that so far this morning none of his colleagues has been able to do so?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I hesitate to speak on behalf of ministers, but I think that Sam has already answered the question. There are teachers on the committee.

The McCrone committee has been set up to solve a particular difficulty, but the fundamental problem is not one of resources. There is a lack of appreciation of that—certainly in the SNP's motion, which concentrates on resources. Teachers have the task not only of educating children and building their self-confidence, but of coping with behaviour that is often unruly and disruptive, and maintaining discipline. That can be very draining, but it is not a problem that can be framed in terms of resources.

In her speech, Nicola Sturgeon suggested that one solution to the current difficulty might be to have the Education, Culture and Sport Committee take charge of teachers' pay negotiations. That is to misunderstand fundamentally the process of collective bargaining. As a member of the committee, I want to distance myself—and the committee—from Nicola's suggestion. Teachers would not appreciate their commitment, their future and their pay becoming a political football. That is what would happen if teachers' pay became a matter for the committee.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I must put the record straight, because Mr Macintosh is deliberately misleading this Parliament. I have said on a number of occasions, including this morning, that I support the continuation of the SJNC as the mechanism for negotiating teachers' pay. However, does Mr Macintosh not agree there are a number of issues outstanding from the millennium review—issues raised by both sides in the dispute? Those need to be examined before we can decide where we go from here. That examination is best conducted by the Education, Culture and Sport Committee, which is part of the democratic structure of this Parliament.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am trying to make a point and you have already made a speech, Nicola.

Nicola said in her speech this morning that she wanted the matter to be referred to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee. That committee is going to take evidence from both sides, but it is not our purpose to replace negotiating machinery. It is terrible to suggest that it should.

I particularly object to the suggestion because of the behaviour of you and your colleagues in the committee. On two occasions, you have left the committee within an hour of its starting to release a press statement. That shows that the SNP members have their minds made up when they come to the committee. You are not coming to listen, you are coming with a narrow prejudice. I find your behaviour in that committee insulting to other members and to those who are giving evidence.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Could you wind up now, please.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Mr MacIntosh has made an allegation—

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am sorry, Nicola, but I have let you intervene three times already and each time I have let you, you have made a speech. Are you going to make another speech?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I am giving you an opportunity to withdraw the comment that you have just made because it is not founded in fact.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

What is not founded in fact? That you have not released press statements twice during committees?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I remind members that it is up to individual members to decide whether to accept an intervention. All remarks should be addressed through the chair. This is not a debate from one side of the chamber to the other.

Mr MacIntosh, would you wind up your speech, please.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I would like to know whether any indication was given to Nicola that Mr MacIntosh was going to raise that point outside the committee. That would be courteous behaviour and it is important that Nicola has the right to respond in the chamber.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Mr MacIntosh, please continue.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I do not think that the committee is the place to negotiate pay. The behaviour of Nicola and her colleagues shows that the committee is a political battlefield, not a place for negotiations.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

On a point of order. Is it in order for one member to abuse another in the way that Mr MacIntosh has done without the abused member being given the right to reply?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Both members who have been involved in the conversation that has been going on across the chamber have had ample opportunity to put their points across.

I remind members that they should indicate if they wish to speak. Members should not speak until they have been asked to.

Mr MacIntosh, would you quickly wind up, please.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am not personally abusing Nicola; I am making a point.

I object to the motion because it is not designed to resolve the issue. It will do nothing to help the lot of teachers. It accuses the Executive of being deliberately provocative, but I think that it is the SNP that is being provocative. The motion fails to understand that the Executive's primary aim is to improve the lot of teachers: the Government is rebuilding schools, investing in computers and investing in classroom assistants. All that shows how much we value education, our children and our teachers.

I urge members to reject the motion, support the amendment and allow the Government to support teachers and reward them for their efforts.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party 11:43 am, 30th September 1999

I would like to examine not pay, but the importance of national conditions of service for teachers. For years, the Scottish joint negotiating committee has been responsible for ensuring that, in all areas of Scotland, children are taught by teachers working under the same pay and conditions. It has driven up standards of education and was responsible for delivering a national maximum for class sizes. Abandoning national conditions of employment will be detrimental in the classroom and will create divisions between schools in rich local authorities and those in the poorer ones.

If the committee is such a bad thing, how was it able to deliver in Scotland something that could not be delivered in England—the maximum class size? How did it manage to deliver a reduction in class sizes against a background of Thatcher's savage cuts? If the committee is abolished, when will the minister legislate to ensure that the current maximum composite class size of 25, the current maximum of 33 in the upper primaries and in secondary school classes and the limit of 20 in practical classes will be maintained? Will that be left to local bargaining? Will Labour preside over rising class sizes?

The committee protected children from educational disruption. A national agreement ensured that supply teachers are drafted in after three days if a class teacher is absent. Without a national agreement on that, there will be variations between local authorities. The quality of education that a child receives will be dependent on the wealth of the child's local authority area. Without a national agreement, it will not be possible to drive standards higher across the country and poor authorities will lag behind.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

I am squeezing a five-minute speech into four minutes, so I will not. I apologise.

The committee ensured that all Scottish teachers were employed under the same basic conditions. That means that there are no discrepancies between richer and poorer authorities. If conditions of employment are to be negotiated locally, the good employers will be undercut by the bad and the bad undercut by the very worst. As a consequence, local authorities that have less money to spend will be less attractive to teachers. Certain authorities will attract the best teachers and others will have difficulty attracting teachers. That discrepancy will be a barrier to ensuring that all children have access to education of the best quality, regardless of where they live.

The minister should recognise that the Government is continuing the old Tory handbagging of teachers—he seems to be chatting too much to notice, however. Mr Galbraith seemed to suggest that legislation would replace negotiation. He said that the committee was inflexible because its agreements have the force of law and cannot be changed without further agreement.

Does the Government want to replace negotiation with legislation to get its own way? Proposals have been agreed by teachers and local authorities that would reform the committee and make it less flexible to local needs. Why is the Executive not taking those proposals on board? The Government's proposal to abandon the SJNC is a petulant response to not getting its own way with the teaching profession.

The committee was responsible for safeguarding and improving Scottish education through Thatcher's years. I find it strange that a Labour Government wants to take the regressive step of abandoning national conditions. That move will not drive standards up; it will do the opposite: conditions in the classroom will deteriorate rather than improve.

Proposals for reform of the SJNC have already been agreed and consideration of their implementation should be undertaken.

I dedicate this debate to the unsung heroes in Scottish education who dedicate their lives to educating people in deprived areas.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat 11:48 am, 30th September 1999

I should declare that I am a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. As a former principal teacher, I was warmed by Murray Tosh's remarks but, when Maureen talked about all the marking, I shivered and thought that perhaps I was better off out of teaching—I do not always think that.

A lot of what I wanted to say has been said. I would like to associate myself with what Nicola Sturgeon said about the disastrous package that was offered to the teachers, which cut out the heart of the management structure. I have said that before and I do not want to repeat myself. However, if the minister has not heard that message clearly, something is wrong. I do not assume that he has not heard the message; in fact, I am sure that he has.

The dispute is not primarily about pay; it is about all the proposed changes of conditions that accompany the pay negotiation. I believe that the whole perspective must be changed. The SJNC, which Nicola and others think is such a wonderful body, had better get it right for this year and, if the minister can, he had better do something to help it to do so. We must have a year in which the teachers get something like 4 per cent. They would love 5 per cent and they will not take 3 per cent, so let us give them 4 per cent straight away. Sam will give them money. The McCrone committee will then have time to get on with its inquiry.

I would have been pleased if a practising teacher had been on the committee, although that would have been a token gesture. One practising teacher could not tell the committee all it needed to know. It is important that the committee exists, whoever is on it. It will be independent and rigorous; it will think and take time. It will not have just two meetings—one before Christmas and one after—and make sweeping decisions.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There is a difference between the perspectives and interests of head teachers and those of classroom teachers. The danger is that the head teacher's voice will be taken as the voice of teachers in general. Does Mr Jenkins accept that, without a practising teacher, the committee will be limited in its information and perspectives?

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat

I agree with Mr Tosh. I would have preferred a practising teacher to have been on the committee. I hope that Mr Galbraith will think about that again. However, one teacher would not necessarily have stood for everybody. I would hate to have to talk for the whole teaching profession, or even for just secondary teachers.

Photo of Lloyd Quinan Lloyd Quinan Scottish National Party

As Mr Jenkins does not want only one teacher on the committee of inquiry, does he accept that a representative of one of the teaching unions should be able to speak for teachers? Will he urge the minister to contact the EIS and the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association immediately and request that they are represented on the committee?

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat

I do not think that one member of the EIS could speak for all teachers, either. Once the committee is framed—and I would have preferred it to have been framed differently—the whole point must be that it takes evidence. Those listening to this debate will know what teachers think about the previous package—they must know that it will be rejected. The committee must do its job. I say to the minister that I hope—

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

No, Mr Jenkins is trying to wind up.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat

I hope that everything that Mr Galbraith said about working together as teachers is correct. I believe that it will be. I promise him my whole-hearted support as long as he keeps delivering. When he stops delivering, my support goes out the window. A settlement must be reached for this year. The McCrone committee must have time to do its job properly. If it does not deliver, I will be out of here.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative 11:53 am, 30th September 1999

At the very least, today's debate is to be welcomed, as the current crisis in our schools cannot be glossed over. It is worthy of more consideration than was afforded by last week's statement and questions.

I thank the SNP for using its time to debate this important issue. I understand its political rationale in lodging a motion that backs teachers 100 per cent in their dispute with the Government. It is exactly the sort of motion that the Labour party would have put down under the Conservative Government.

Perhaps that is why the applause from the Labour benches was so limited, even after contributions from Labour members. As Labour has found, unreserved support for good causes is the luxury of opposition. It understands that now, although it took the late, lamented Helen Liddell to spell it out. With children present in the gallery, I could not find an appropriate quote from Helen to use. One benefit of Mrs Liddell is that she can make her successor Mr Galbraith look caring and conciliatory, at least for a few days.

The Executive has not realised that government is about taking difficult decisions—decisions that are not always popular with focus group members in those new Labour strongholds of Kelvinside and Morningside. Labour has talked tough when there has been the right audience, but has failed to follow through on its rhetoric when the political heat has become too much. It is time for that to stop and for the Executive to show some leadership on this issue.

Most classroom, principal and head teachers have to take difficult decisions every day. I note that, when the new professional leadership grade is determined, evidence is required of successful classroom practice. I wonder whether, on the basis of the examples set by the Executive, that will involve a teacher referring a difficult decision on resources in the classroom to an expensive independent inquiry. Under all the suggested definitions and criteria—professional knowledge, satisfactory staff review and contribution to rising standards—the Executive will never attain the professional leadership grade.

If that were not the case, Mr Galbraith, as the EIS has suggested, would not have sat so long on the sidelines of the negotiating process. Rather than seeking to destroy that process, he would have used his statutory power—as the third party involved in the SJNC—to become directly involved in negotiations, allowing teachers, councils and the Government to work towards an early agreement to which they could all subscribe. I should add that I am using Ronnie Smith's words, not mine.

Despite the entrenched position adopted by the Executive, there is no reason why the existing mechanisms in the SJNC could not be used to end the dispute. As my colleague Brian Monteith has suggested, the matter should be referred to pendulum arbitration through ACAS, which would involve professional arbiters who would be ready and willing to take on this matter at no additional cost to the public, unlike the proposed costly independent inquiry.

I cannot understand why the Executive is so reluctant to take that route. The only explanation is that it does not want to be bound by the outcome of the arbitration. Indeed, that is the great benefit of the inquiry, as Mr Galbraith made clear in his response to my question last week. As with Mr Cubie's inquiry into tuition fees, the Executive gives no undertaking to implement whatever Professor McCrone and his colleagues come up with. Surely the Executive must see from the tuition fees farce that those issues will not go away, just as Mr Galbraith must understand that difficulties with teachers' pay, conditions and negotiating mechanisms will not go away. Hard decisions will have to be taken and they might as well be taken now.

On the specifics of the offer, I am staggered by the Government's blatant hypocrisy on class sizes. While seeking to give the public the impression that class sizes are to be reduced, we find in the small print that the numbers in the more teacher-demanding composite classes are to be increased from 25 to 30. There can be no clearer evidence of how shallow the Executive's commitment to education is. The individual child is irrelevant; the external gloss is everything.

I ask the deputy minister to clarify the position on composite classes. That issue is of great concern to me and to a number of constituents who have approached me on the matter. The COSLA document, "Teaching into the Millennium", claims that the abolition of composite classes is a key target, with an agreed review date of 2003.

As the deputy minister will appreciate, most rural schools cannot function without composite classes. I do not mean only schools with very small rolls, as that can be true in schools with more than 100 pupils. There is no suggestion in any inspector's report that composite classes fail rural children educationally.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

Does David Mundell agree that, although composite classes do not put children at an educational disadvantage, there is evidence that large classes, especially large composite classes, could?

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative

I agree—I have made that point already.

I will pass over the Liberal Democrats, having heard that Jamie Stone and Donald Gorrie are to establish a mini-task force to resolve this issue. It is interesting to note in the Liberals' educational policy document that they are opposed to the constant denigration of teachers by ministers. I hope that, in summing up, the deputy minister will say what other input the Liberal Democrats have had into the handling of this dispute.

Resolving this dispute is not rocket science. Virtually every organisation in Scotland has to face buying out existing terms and conditions and moving forward with new, flexible practices. It is the minister's approach that is the problem. I urge members to support Mr Monteith's amendment.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 12:02 pm, 30th September 1999

Despite the Executive's best efforts, we have had an extremely constructive debate, which vindicates the SNP's decision to use its Opposition time to bring this matter before the Parliament.

Mary Mulligan said that she regretted the timing of this debate. I repeat what I said in my opening speech: initiating this debate was the only way in which the SNP could give Parliament the opportunity to debate this issue. Last week, the minister presented proposals behind the protection of a ministerial statement and refused to open them up for debate, even though, as Dennis Canavan said, they should have been for this Parliament to decide on. The SNP was right to bring this matter before Parliament. Teachers and parents will be grateful for that decision.

As I predicted, Sam Galbraith completely ignored the issue that is at the heart of the debate. He chose instead to concentrate on other developments in education, as though they somehow take place in a vacuum. He again refused point-blank to get to the heart of the matter. It was interesting to note that he tried, as he did last week, to distance himself from the COSLA offer to teachers, although for the past few months he has praised the offer and urged teachers to support it. He refused again to accept that the offer was deeply flawed and that teachers were right to reject it for sound educational reasons. He has also refused to confirm that the offer is now off the table and will not be brought back in its current form by the committee of inquiry.

I was delighted to hear Sam Galbraith's proposals for the establishment of an education forum. I have pressed him for details on that since May. I look forward to flesh being put on the bones of that proposal—sooner rather than later.

Parents and teachers will note Sam Galbraith's failure to answer any of the key questions that were posed. He failed to answer the key question about resources. He did not say from where the missing £8 million would have come if the offer had been accepted. He did not say how COSLA could have entered into further negotiations with a view to compromise when, quite simply, it did not have the resources to do so. He talked about extra money in education, but refused, as did his deputy in question time last week, to explain why this Government is spending less on education as a proportion of gross domestic product than the Tories did at the start of the 1990s.

The minister also refused to answer a question that was put to him by several members from across this Parliament, including his colleague Malcolm Chisholm, on the lack of representatives on the committee of inquiry of any teaching union or of classroom teachers.

Maureen Macmillan thought that the committee of inquiry was a chance in a lifetime—I remember that the same thing was said about the millennium review. If it were the chance of a lifetime, I would have thought that the Executive would have been determined to ensure that, from the outset, the inquiry had public confidence and the confidence of all partners in education.

Why has the Executive ensured that there is no representation from the people who, Sam Galbraith claims, really matter in education—the teachers—especially as there is local authority representation and the directors of education and Her Majesty's inspectorate will act as advisers to the committee?

The deputy minister will be aware that one place on the committee will be filled only after discussions between Sam Galbraith and Gavin McCrone. Will the deputy minister give a commitment that, in the light of the views that have been expressed across the Parliament, the remaining place will be filled by a representative of the teaching unions? I hope that, in summing up, the deputy minister will break the pattern of the morning by answering that question. If he does, he might be able to salvage something from the mess that he has made.

Sam Galbraith avoided saying why he would not let the committee of inquiry decide on the future of the SJNC. Mr Paterson outlined some of the good things that the SJNC has done. Nobody would argue that there is no room for reform, but for Mr Galbraith to criticise the SJNC is like a bad workman blaming his tools. The problem was not the negotiating machinery; it was the offer. If the minister is so convinced that the negotiating machinery is defective, he should be prepared to trust that view and let the committee of inquiry consider the matter.

I make a plea to the Executive to recognise that the morale of teachers is at rock bottom. A profession that is regularly criticised for being resistant to change has implemented more change over the past 10 years than any other profession in this country. Moreover, that has happened while teachers' pay has been steadily eroded relative to that of other professions.

When the teachers take a stand and reject by a margin of 98 per cent an offer that was defective—as has been demonstrated by members across this Parliament—the Executive's answer is petulantly to remove their negotiating rights. Does Sam Galbraith now model himself on Ken Baker, the former English Tory education secretary, who described removing teachers' negotiating rights as "absolutely extreme stuff"?

This Executive must go back to the drawing board. It must stop working with threats. It must withdraw the threat to the SJNC and allow the matter to be negotiated for this year within the SJNC, with the resources to fund a proper pay settlement. Through its democratic structures, this Parliament should then be allowed to decide how the outstanding issues in the millennium review are to be taken forward. Everybody in education could have confidence in that process; we might make progress.

It saddens me that teachers will have taken no heart from the minister's speech. I hope that, in summing up, the deputy minister will put that right.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On a point of order. Throughout my colleague's speech, Labour members were involved in a number of most discourteous sub-committee meetings in this chamber. Can the chair protect speakers against the discourtesy of Labour members?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I remind the chamber that the guidelines say that members must respect the needs of other members to participate in the Parliament and that loud, prolonged discussions that may distract others should be avoided. I ask all members to adhere to those guidelines.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour 12:10 pm, 30th September 1999

When Sam Galbraith spoke earlier, he set out the vision for education of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, our partners in the Administration. It is a vision that will see Scotland once again being regarded as a world leader in education. We will have an innovative, flexible and adaptable system, constantly capable of responding to change in our society and to the expectations of parents, pupils and communities throughout Scotland.

Education is our top priority, which is why we have released a substantial increase in resources for it. We are employing more teachers and providing a pre-school place for every three and four-year-old. We have created the national grid for learning, using broad-band technology. We are increasing the number of classroom assistants, promoting early intervention programmes and creating new community schools.

We are producing education action plans, reducing class sizes and developing study support programmes. We have introduced a qualification for head teachers. Spending is up by 8 per cent this year. The improvement in education bill will be introduced shortly. We are abolishing opting-out schools.

That is just a flavour of the most comprehensive programme for education in decades. There has been no mention of any of those points by SNP members, who are incapable of recognising that development is taking place. Across the whole of Scotland, parents and teachers alike welcome our programme.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

That was an interesting rundown of the Labour manifesto. Mr Peacock has gone through a range of Labour policy initiatives, some of which I agree with, which may come as a surprise. Does he not agree that all that will be put in serious jeopardy if the teachers have to go on strike? Does he not think that that, more than anything else, will threaten the reputation of Scottish education and the standards of education for our children?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I am glad that, at last, there is some recognition that many positive things are happening in Scottish education. The initiatives that I outlined form only part of the picture. We desperately want a teaching profession in Scotland that is well rewarded and well respected. We want to attract new entrants into teaching and to hold them in their careers for longer than we do at present. That is our objective and that is why the Executive has set up a committee of inquiry.

Earlier in the debate, considerable concern was expressed about the decline of the status of teachers in our communities. We share that concern. Margo MacDonald, Robin Harper and Dennis Canavan referred to that. I associate myself with Margo MacDonald's analysis—in what she described as her own homespun anecdotes—of the decline of the standing of teachers in terms of pay and respect. That is precisely the question that we want the committee of inquiry to address.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I am concerned that, although the minister and I would agree on the general approach that is needed continuously to modernise education and teaching methods, not one of the manifesto points that he mentioned will make life easier for teachers. It appears to teachers that the offer that they have been made simply adds salt to the wounds that have been inflicted by the innovations that the minister mentioned.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

Margo MacDonald seems to misunderstand the central point of what we are trying to achieve. We are trying to ensure that, for the first time in decades, teachers are given proper recognition for the role that they perform. That is precisely what Sam Galbraith and I want to happen in Scotland. We want to raise the status of teachers so that they feel rewarded for their work and so that all the tasks that they undertake are properly recognised by the wider community.

I think that it was Malcolm Chisholm who—perhaps more appropriately than anyone else—picked up a point that Lloyd Quinan had missed. Malcolm Chisholm made it clear that COSLA had made the offer and that the impact of Sam Galbraith's proposal to establish the committee of inquiry was to put that offer to one side. All the questions about composite classes and the professional leader grade are all on one side. The committee of inquiry, as Maureen Macmillan indicated, has, quite properly, the opportunity of a generation to examine the way in which we can improve the status of teachers. That is the purpose of the inquiry.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

No, I need to get on.

Nicola raised many points in today's debate. She has displayed the confusion at the centre of the SNP's policy on the SJNC. The motion is logically inconsistent; it calls for a retention of the SJNC, but also wants to refer the matter to the Education, Culture and Sport Committee. As Ken Macintosh said, it would be inappropriate for a committee of the Parliament to become involved in an industrial dispute.

The SNP says that it wants to keep the SJNC and that it wants the minister to intervene. It cannot have it all ways. We are trying to find a way through the arguments to provide a sensible solution for the future. We have been asked why we have announced that we want to remove the statutory basis of the SJNC. As Sam Galbraith said, anyone who has examined the outcomes of the SJNC negotiations over many years will know that the SJNC has failed to deliver for teachers. The situation described by Margo MacDonald and others is the one that we have now.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

I will just finish this point. The SNP frequently argues that the Parliament does not have enough power. At the same time, it is asking the Parliament to give up power to a negotiating body for the local authorities and the trade unions.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

That is precisely what the SNP is asking. The question of composite classes—to which the SNP has drawn so much attention—is for the Parliament to determine.

I make another point to clear up the confusion about the basis of the SJNC. Half the members of the SJNC believe that it has no future. The employers have lost confidence in the SJNC's ability to continue. It has no future and that is why we are removing it.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

No, I will not give way on that point.

I welcome the generous offer that Brian Monteith made for the Conservatives to mediate in the dispute. I am not sure how convinced the parties to the dispute will be about the Conservatives' credentials, given their record in the 1980s and 1990s. I suspect that I know which way the teachers would have liked Brian to swing during that period. He said that arbitration between the different sides in the dispute should be invited, but it would require both sides in the SJNC to ask for arbitration, and it is clear that the employers do not want it under current circumstances. The negotiations have come to a conclusion; they have not been satisfactory and we want to move on from that.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

The statute says:

"The Secretary of State shall make arrangements whereby, in . . . matters in respect of which agreement has not been reached in a committee after they have been considered by the committee" he shall consult the bodies which are represented on the committee and may include those bodies and call for arbitration. It is clear that the minister can encourage some movement towards that and show that he wants them to come together. Whether he can convince the parties to come together remains to be seen, but we do not see any evidence of an attempt to bring them together in that way.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

As I said, it is clear that the employers' side has moved beyond that point. We share the view that we have to move on. The SJNC has had its day and we must find a better way forward.

Some members, particularly Jamie Stone, Sylvia Jackson, Maureen Macmillan and Ian Jenkins, spoke about the need to look to the future rather than to dwell on the past. We have to find a better way forward. I welcome their support for breaking the deadlock through the committee of inquiry.

Fiona McLeod, Nicola Sturgeon, David Mundell and Brian Monteith talked about composite classes. We have to be very careful about their arguments. We must remember that a significant number of pupils in Scotland, particularly those in rural areas, will always be educated in composite classes. There is no alternative, because the number of pupils relative to the size of school determines that. It is important that we do not undermine confidence in Scottish education and in the ability of composite classes to provide as strong an education as any other structure can—the evidence is that composite classes will deliver as good an education as standard classes do, if not better.

Both the SNP and David Mundell for the Conservative party implied that, if the offer had been accepted, there would have been a compulsion to raise to 30 the number of pupils in every composite class in Scotland. That is simply not the case. To do so would physically not be possible in most of the country. All that is proposed is a potential maximum number, in circumstances where that would be justified. It would still be for local authorities to manage the situation, and their clear intentions are not only to phase out composite classes, but to reduce class sizes throughout Scotland.

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

No, Brian, I have already given way to you.

Dennis Canavan asked about the competence of the Parliament to deal with the question of the SJNC. If there were ever a question over that, we would look to people such as Dennis Canavan to ensure that the Parliament had the powers to deal with matters within its competence.

I remind Dennis that the two teachers on the committee of inquiry are trade union members—one is a member of the Educational Institute of Scotland. They will bring their knowledge of trade unions to the inquiry.

Lloyd Quinan said that we had not been listening to teachers or taking account of the outcome of the ballot. However, Sam Galbraith acted within moments of hearing the outcome of the ballot to try to end the deadlock, to move the debate forward and to find the solutions that I have been hinting at.

Mary Scanlon rightly referred to the conflicts that have dominated teaching and education over many years and to the difficulties involved in changes in teaching. I cannot give an answer to her question on college deficits, other than to say that her redundancy package may have contributed to costs at Inverness College. I am delighted to say that Highland Council's capital programme for education this year is almost twice what it has been in recent years—no doubt that is owing to the wisdom of the previous administration there.

Many members rightly drew attention to the improvements that are taking place in education under this Administration. They were also right to highlight the need to find a solution to the problem of teachers' pay—a long-term solution at the right level, with the right terms and conditions of service and the right mechanisms for keeping those terms and conditions under review. We need a package that will attract and retain well-motivated teachers. That is why the work of the independent inquiry is so important.

I am conscious of the time, Presiding Officer. What time do you want me to wind up? Now?

Photo of Peter Peacock Peter Peacock Labour

The lesson from the current dispute is that we must find a way of moving forward. We must change the basis of recent negotiations, which have patently failed teachers. That is why we are committed to the independent inquiry. We want an answer to the very real problems that face Scottish education. The SJNC has failed to deliver a better way forward. What Sam Galbraith has set out today and in his statement last week provides a real way forward, and gives ground for some optimism that we can find the right answer for Scottish teachers. I commend his amendment to Parliament.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

Decisions on the motion and the amendments will, of course, be taken at decision time at 5 o'clock.