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Curriculum (Consultative Committee)

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when last he met the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum.

My right hon. Friend has not yet met the committee, but I hope to do so in the near future.

Does the Minister agree that in 1975 we still had part-time education in the West of Scotland, and that by 1979 the Government had inherited the best pupil-teacher ratio ever known? Is he further aware that the main reason for an increase in teachers at a time of a falling birth rate is to help less able pupils in deprived areas, and to give help to youngsters going into industry? Is it not highly irresponsible that the Minister has called for a cutback of over 2,000 teachers in Scotland before consulting his own advisory body?

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the Government's intentions. He has referred to the excess over agreed standards, including flexibility factors, of teachers in Scotland. That excess particularly affects primary school teachers. The hon. Gentleman, the former Minister responsible for education in Scotland, will be pleased to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have planned an even better pupil-teacher ratio in Scotland next year. As the hon. Gentleman might have wished to say, we are carrying on the good work in pupil-teacher ratios that he was so proud of.

When my hon. Friend meets the consultative committee, will he discuss the problems of distortion in core curricula of secondary schools, which is caused by the shortage of mathematics and science teachers? Is it not time that local authorities considered making extra payments to teachers of those subjects?

I agree that this is a very serious problem in Scotland. We could relieve that problem if we paid specialist teachers, such as those for maths and physics, more. However, it is unlikely that the teachers' associations in Scotland, among others, would agree to distinguish between shortage subjects and other subjects.

As regards the curricula relating to third and fourth years of secondary schools, can the Minister tell us what has happened to the Munn and Dunning reports? Will he also tell us the results of subsequent experiments? How will local authorities be able to implement any improvements in the curricula for third and fourth years if the number of teachers is substantially reduced as a result of the Government's restraint on public expenditure?

My right hon. Friend made it clear in his first speech to the House as Secretary of State that we would actively follow up the Munn and Dunning pilot studies with a view to introducing a core syllabus at foundation level. Over 60 schools are involved in the experiment. We consider the experiment to be critical for Scottish education and we shall continue to pursue it.

Is my hon. Friend not concerned that the shortage of teachers in key subjects, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) referred, is further evidence that the educational system is antipathetic to preparing people to work in practical jobs and careers after leaving school?

Young people often leave school unsure of the value of their experience. I therefore accept my hon. Friend's point. It is important for the syllabus to include recognition of life in industry and commerce generally. It should prepare young people for working life.

As regards the number of teachers employed in Scottish schools, does the Minister accept that there is provision in the rate support grant, negotiated this year, to reduce the number of teachers in Scottish schools by 2,600? Will he answer either "Yes" or "No" to that question? Teachers, parents and pupils are concerned about the damage that he is doing to education in Scotland.

Obviously, one can budget for fewer teachers when the school population is declining. That is what we did in the rate support grant. However, the pupil-teacher ratio will improve in the coming year as a direct result of the rate support grant settlement.