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Column 668Before regionalisation, before reorganisation, when I represented a much larger part of rural Perthshire, the difference, in terms of excellence, between schools from Aberfeldy to Aberfoyle was very clear. The degree of excellence depended on the extent to which a school was essentially a self-governing institution rather than simply an object of officials of the regional authority. The difference was huge and was easy to notice as one went from one end of the constituency to the other.
I welcome the principles of the Bill. I welcome the principle of self- governing colleges of excellence. We made a terrible mistake in turning Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt into universities. Anyone who talks about snobbism should realise that that was the crown of snobbism. Here we had colleges of excellence, world renowned in particular disciplines, and we diluted them for the sake of the absurd concept that everybody should be allowed to go to a university. The colleges of excellence that this Bill introduces in order to provide special training are most important to Scottish education. A graduate of Heriot-Watt, when asked, "Where were you trained as an engineer?", used to be able to say, "I went to the Heriot- Watt". Now he says, "I got an engineering degree at Heriot-Watt university", and that does not have the same magic, the same validity.
Let us get back to the great qualities that the peculiar characteristics, the self-governing, self-generating, excellence of Scottish education produced.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : The hon. Lady says that I rejected a self- governing Scotland. A " self-governing et cetera. Scotland" might be a better description. The claim of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) is that it would give Scotland more say over its own affairs. Assuming that to be true--and I do not accept that it is--why does not the hon. Lady agree that the people of Scotland should have more say in the running of the schools in which their children are educated? I am very suspicious of those--
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Does my hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that this Bill gives the people of Scotland the choice? Those people have the choice also whether to be self-governing. Thus far they have not expressed that desire.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : This Bill does indeed give the people more choice, and I believe that that choice will be exercised in favour of more excellence. That choice, together with the individual educational institutions that were self-governing and those that still are, is the foundation of the reputation of our education. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill.
Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : Let us make no mistake : the proposals in this Bill are inspired more by a particular philosophy than by any real desire to improve the quality of education in Scotland. There has been no genuine attempt at consensus regarding a progressive improvement in education. As The Scotsman says, this is
"not a challenging leap into the unknown, but a huge step back into the known, and unhappy past."
Column 669In 1989 we find ourselves in the situation in which the Conservatives are the ideological party. When formulating their policy, they are unwilling to consult interested bodies or to take account of the views of others.
Before this debate I received several items of correspondence from the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, from Strathclyde School Parents Federation, from the Scottish Consumer Council, and from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, every one of which is critical of the undue haste with which the Bill is being introduced. We have other recent examples of the Government's approach. When the Government were looking at the National Health Service, one body that they did not consult was the British Medical Association. When they put forward their proposals on Scottish enterprise the SDA had already commissioned a study from Conran Roche, but they ignored that.
This is all the more shameful since the Secretary of State, in his address today, was lucid and erudite. But, sad to say, the Prime Minister has eliminated any alternative social policy emanating from her Cabinet. We have no alternative to Thatcherite tunnel vision, and Scottish education is in danger of feeling the full ideological impact of that detrimental approach. There is nobody here to stand up for Scotland's needs. During the course of this debate we have found out that 40 per cent. of Scottish Tory Back Benchers are already against this proposal. It just needs one waverer- -perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn)--to create a Tory Back-Bench majority against this proposal.
In determining to characterise the state system as a failure, as undisciplined, as a system with which parents have manifested dissatisfaction, the Government have ignored all the available evidence. Every opinion poll over the past nine years has shown a high level of parent support for comprehensive education, and satisfaction with the performance of comprehensive schools. The parents have seen that, with comprehensive education, standards have risen, and children from all social classes have improved--not least, working-class children. Yet, with their proposals for school boards and for opting out, the Government are pretending that they are responding to parental demand. The proposals purport to be an exercise in the extension of democracy and in the decentralisation of power.
What the Government are hoping to do is to utilise the genuine desire of parents to become more involved in the education of their children in order to undermine the role of the local authorities. The Secretary of State is on record as having said in this House that only if there were evidence of real and substantial demand would he introduce this Bill. I challenge the Government to tell us exactly where the evidence of real and substantial demand is. Our proposition, right from the time the school boards legislation was going through its Committee stage, was that the Government would invent demand--and invent demand is what they have done--to destabilise the education system.
Some schools--perhaps those with modern buildings and better resources-- will anticipate the financial rewards of following the Government's path and will possibly opt out. The evidence from England is that opting out appeals to schools that are threatened with closure because of falling roll numbers. But it has to be said that, even if the uptake is small, this Bill's effect on the state system will be considerable because once opting out is a possibility for a
Column 670school it opens the way for an increasing number of activities which require subsidy from parents. There is little doubt that in the longer term selection will be available.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : To answer directly the hon. Gentleman's point about evidence of demand, did he see the MORI poll, reported in The Scotsman last summer, which showed that about one third of parents believe that it is right that they should be given the opportunity to opt out of the local authority system?
Mr. McFall : Yes, I saw that report. However, when the Minister put forward the school boards proposal he received 7,600 replies against his proposals. That was tangible evidence of parental feeling. When I look at grass roots responses, I find that there has been a total rejection of the Government's view.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman has not answered my point about the opinion poll. The purpose of the consultation exercise was not to measure demand. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the school boards, I wonder whether he saw the System 3 poll that the Scottish Office commissioned. It showed a 2:1 majority in favour of school boards and a very high level of awareness--at 64 per cent.--of their functions. Why is the hon. Gentleman so selective about the evidence that he puts forward?
Mr. McFall : The Minister has been selective in the opinion poll polls that he used. What about the opinion regarding devolution for Scotland? The Minister does not really want to consult Scottish parents. To cite opinion polls is insufficient when we are considering the real needs of Scottish education.
Selection will undoubtedly be introduced if schools are allowed to opt out. Last Friday evening I was debating the education proposals in Lenzie--not a hotbed or bedrock of Socialism--with the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland, Mr. Hirst, who was a Member of Parliament. When we were questioned about selectivity, the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland said that he hoped that selectivity would not be introduced. He believes that selectivity is invidious. Clause 16, in conjunction with clause 28, makes selectivity much more of an option. It does not remove that possibility. Selectivity will therefore return. The re-emergence of the old, discredited selectivity is envisaged by the Government. Baroness Hooper, a former Under-Secretary of State for Education in the other place, has stated that if, as a consequence of the Government's proposals, we end up with a segregated system, "so be it."
The Government intend to establish a national curriculum and to introduce testing for primary 4 and primary 7. The only consequence of that will be a narrowing of the state education role. The Government believe that that will equip the workers of the future with marketable skills. Their proposals will result in a narrowing of the curriculum. They are antagonistic
Column 671towards any other system. They are certainly antagonistic towards the concept of the 1968 Plowden report that put the individual child at the centre of educational provision.
The Government say that insufficient time is given to the core skills, but that runs contrary to the evidence of Her Majesty's inspectorate, which is asking for a broader view of the curriculum. The Government say that in primary 6 and primary 7, pupils should be tested with much more rigour. The Government want to fire pupils with the competitive spirit, but in doing so they are flying in the face of all the evidence that has been laid before them.
As for the national tests, the Government refer to age-related criteria. The Cockcroft report was commissioned by the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The report suggested that there may be as much as a seven-year spread within the mathematical attainments of 11-year-olds. The national tests that the Government intend to introduce are bound to be arbitrary and unrelated to the needs of the individual child. To have any diagnostic value, assessment must determine how much learning has taken place. That must therefore be at the end of a teaching unit, not at the end of a stage in a pupil's school career. The Government's timetable rules out the possibility of devising any of the sophisticated forms of assessment that would be required to test the full range of a pupil's abilities. The Secretary of State for Education and Science commissioned a report from the Centre for Educational Studies, King's College, London. The report said that it would take nine years before assessment procedures could be put in place. The Government's readiness to disregard the report's conclusions illustrates the degree of their ideological commitment and the political nature of their assessment proposals.
The Government's plans for assessments are motivated by a crude management philosophy and by a desire to control teachers whom they hold responsible for the increasing ills of society. The Government say that teachers have failed to inculcate attitudes in pupils that they believe are desirable--a proper appreciation of market disciplines. The establishment of national standards would result in the establishment of league tables of school performance which would be based on assessment results. The net effect would be to put pressure on teachers to teach to the test, which would result in a further narrowing of the educational focus.
How well thought out are the proposals? I received this morning a document from the Scottish Council for Research in Education. It considered the Government's assessment proposals, the curriculum, tests, the use of test results, report cards and evaluation. The Government say that attainment targets and objective criteria in primary education are to be identified. The Scottish Council for Research in Education asked :
"Will those areas of English and Mathematics for which there are no objective criteria' be taught and tested?"
It goes on to say :
"Curriculum objectives for the primary school may be readily selected. The identification of targets' or objective criteria', however, has proved elusive for many important areas of learning. In addition, wide variation of attainment within each age group suggests that if stage-related targets were identified they would carry the risks of lack of challenge for some pupils and sense of failure for others."
Column 672That is where the Government's assessment proposals are leading us.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. My memory may be defective, because I have read a number of reports commissioned by various impartial sources from the Scottish Council for Research in Education, but my recollection is that the report begins by pointing out that because the council does not have the details of the Government's proposals it is not in a position to make an assessment of their efficacy. Is that not right?
Mr. McFall : The Scottish Council for Research in Education looked into the history of assessment and saw nothing in the Government's proposals that would assist in the assessment of individual children.
How will nationally standardised tests be constructed to reveal how a child's progress measures up nationally and at the same time to identify what specific help or challenge he or she needs? The answer to that question is that a test that serves both purposes is an attractive prospect but that efforts to achieve such a test in the past have been unsuccessful. The Government's assessment proposals have not been tested. There is no precedent for them. That is what worries politicians, teachers and educationists.
When he put forward his school boards proposals, the Minister obviously did not listen to his alma mater. When I visited the Scottish Office and looked at the responses to the questions that had been asked about school boards, I found that they were against his proposals. Perhaps the Minister will listen to what is said by the Central region in which his constituency lies. It undertook a case study at McLaren high school in Callander regarding opting out. Using McLaren high school as a model, it found that there would be waste involved in the establishment of grant-maintained schools, since these establishments will not be in a position to get the same value for money as schools which are part of the local authority provision. A per capita share of central spending cannot compensate for the reduction in spending power which would result from a loss of access to the economies of scale.
To compensate for the loss of purchasing power which will result from the decision to opt out, schools will have to look to areas of their school provision that they feel can be cut back. McLaren high currently makes provision to meet a minority demand for Gaelic. That is expensive in terms of overall staffing provision. The opted-out school would have to decide whether it wished to continue that specialist provision, and the decision is likely to be based on economic considerations rather than educational or cultural needs, the interests of the pupils, or even parental choice. Music is a feature of the curriculum at McLaren high and that is made possible because the authority provides 10 visiting music teachers. That facility would be withdrawn if the school opted out and the school would be withdrawn if it opted out and the school would beunable to replace those staff, consequently disadvantaging pupils. The school would also have to decide whether to replace the school librarians and technicians if the school opted out.
An important consideration is the provision for special needs, which was raised with me at the meeting at Lenzie on Friday evening. That is another decision to be made
Column 673when schools opt out. McLaren high received a very high commendation by HMI in respect of support to a pupil with physical disabilities.
McLaren high has been allocated a special lift which connects the floors of the main building, a lift within the new library, ramps at various points in the school and an adaptation of a toilet. A further toilet incorporating a shower is currently being planned. The quality of inter-professional co- operation between the special duty attendant, the school nurse, subject staff, medical services and so on is very high. Close liaison is also maintained with the pupil's family. All concerned must draw satisfaction from the fact that the pupil participates in the entire curriculum, enjoys a good relationship with her peers and involves herself in sponsored swims to raise money for others similarly disabled.
Will such provisions still be high on the agenda, as it was for Central region, when schools opt out? The critics of the Bill say no, and nobody other than Ministers say yes.
The greatest dangers that would be faced by opted-out schools would be isolation. They would be cut off from the support offered by the directorate, advisers, development officers and the many committees and working parties within a local education authority which help to develop and advance policy, deepen the knowledge and hone the expertise of practitioners. Opted-out schools could not possibly hope to have the same access to the regional in-service training, computer centres and teacher resource centres that the local authority schools enjoy. All that would seriously impair a school's ability to respond to curricula change and could lead to a narrowing of the curriculum on offer to the pupils.
When the Minister puts out his videos and his high tech promotion, he should consider the grass roots aspect and give parents the opportunity to discuss the full meaning of opting out, taking into consideration categories such as special needs.
I conclude by referring to the meeting in Lenzie and to the remarks of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland. I gave him notice that I would raise the issue. I was asked to outline the advantages of school boards and he was asked to outline their disadvantages. Obviously that was a hard question for me to answer and my reply was not very bold, but Mr. Hirst gave the disadvantages. In reply to a question about unrepresentative parents on a board, he replied that he accepted that in the meantime those unrepresentative parents will do damage, but the situation will correct itself at the ballot box. However, within the Government's timetable, within three of four years the decisions taken by parents, individuals and other co-opted members of the school board could destroy a school and could destroy the relationship between the school and the local authority. The vice-chairman of the Conservative party said that the problem would be solved by reverting to the ballot box, but that will be far too late because under his proposals the prevailing school system could be changed out of all recognition within two or three years. I ask the Minister to ponder deeply on those words which were the response of the vice-chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland to a genuine concern on the part of parents in Scotland. It sums up our worries and concerns about what will be nothing other than the destruction of Scottish education if the Bill is passed.
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Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) began by suggesting that 40 per cent. of Conservative Back Benchers were not in favour of the Bill. That certainly appears to be the case from the speeches that we have heard. I find it interesting that at least 40 per cent. of Labour Members representing Scottish constituencies have not even bothered to turn up. He asked when the Government or their supporters had consulted parents. I have news for him--I consult parents in my constituency all the time. I must say that there have been objections to schools boards and to self-governing schools. Almost all those objections have come from teachers and not from parents. Of course we understand the fears and concerns of teachers, and I will address that matter later in my speech.
The hon. Member for Dumbarton spoke about unrepresentative parents. One can only assume that we have unrepresentative councillors because they are elected on a similar basis ; people put themselves forward for election and get elected. That suggests that the electoral system is flawed. That may well be the case, and it may well be that the wrong people are elected. There are those who hold views on who are elected and who are not, but it all depends on their position at any given time.
I found the speech of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) interesting, and I am so pleased that he is in his place. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) called it a moderate speech. It may have been a moderate speech, but, if I recollect it correctly, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East spoke about principles and detail. Is it not interesting that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East is on record as saying that he is in favour of opting out when it suits him in his constituency?
Mr. Harry Ewing : We shall have a debate on the matter tomorrow morning and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is as diligent in his attendance tomorrow morning as he is today. I shall take his point on board and deal with it to his disadvantage and certainly to the disadvantage of the Minister, who offered me his dead body in exchange for the closure of the Falkirk infirmary.
Mr. Walker : The hon. Gentleman should have let me finish my point. The Bill gives people the choice. I read in the newspapers that he would make use of the choice that will become available to him to allow a hospital in his constituency to opt out because he would rather it opted out and that he would bury his principles if it were to the advantage of the people in his constituency for his hospital to opt out. I am not arguing against that ; I am merely trying to put it on record. But that is exactly what the Bill does for parents and others in respect of schools in the parts of the country where they live. It gives them the very choice that he wished to exercise. I shall conclude my comments on the hon. Gentleman's speech by agreeing with him. I agree with him that the Bill is not an anti-teacher Bill. It is anything but that. I would go further and say that good teachers have nothing to fear from the Bill. The hon. Member spoke about the turmoil and upset in Scotland. He would not expect me to agree with him on that. My view is that that turmoil and upset are a direct result of the Labour party's attitude since 1983 when it tried to pretend to the Scottish people that it had a mandate to govern Scotland and was going to do so.
Column 675Labour Members went even further in 1987 when some of them did it in their own different ways by breaking the rules- -even the rules of the House. The turmoil and upset are the result of what they have done. There is nothing worse than making promises that cannot be delivered. That also causes turmoil and upset.
The hon. Member also mentioned the Scottish Affairs Select Committee. He knows that I have a deep interest in the business of that Committee, past, present and some time in the future, I hope. It was never the Government's fault that the Committee was not set up. If ever arms were twisted, mine were. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I and other Conservative Back Benchers made sure that the Committee was not set up. It could not be set up without us. We had our reasons for doing that. I have put mine on the record, and I do not deviate from them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan- Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said in their interesting speeches that they think that the pace of change is too fast. Others may share that view. I think that this is the right time to make the change. There are two areas where I disagree with my right hon. Friend. During the 1987 general election campaign I made clear what I expected a returned Conservative Government to do with regard to school boards and what is commonly known as opting out. There was no doubt about the matter in Tayside, North. Secondly, I disagree with my right hon. Friend when he says that Scottish education is sound because we have a state sector, and that those who wish to exercise choice can do so by sending their children to fee-paying schools. He was supported in that view by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries. It is a funny kind of choice that is determined by the size of a cheque book. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is not in his place. I make no criticism of that.
Mr. Walker : I am not being critical. I would not want to say anything about the hon. Member in his absence at which he might take offence. We all have to go out to eat, for example. I have never criticised hon. Members for leaving the Chamber.
I tried to intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Garscadden but he would not accept an intervention, which I thought rather bad considering the number of interventions that my right hon. and learned Friend took when he introduced the Bill. He hoped that there would be no Conservative Members on the Standing Committee, or that there would be only Conservative Members with no experience or knowledge of Scottish schools.
I hope that there will be no Labour Members on the Committee who were educated in private schools, or who send their children to private schools. I say that because a lot of barbs come from Opposition Members on this issue. I do not criticise people for sending their children to private schools--I defend their right to do so--but I find it offensive when Opposition Members accuse us of not understanding.
Mr. Ewing : My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) will defend himself, but that is not what he said. He said in simple language that it would be a scandal if the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) were deliberately kept off the Committee simply because they disagree with the Government.
I welcome the provisions that establish self-governing schools. They represent an opportunity for choice for many people. The Government are right to increase the number of appointed and co-opted members to the board, and to include the head teacher as a full member of it if schools decide to exercise their choice to opt out. The Government are also wise to allow non-elected members to serve longer periods, thus assisting continuity of management policies and to maintain the long-term interests of the school. I hope that few, if any, schools will exercise the choice, but I welcome that choice. There are many good schools in my part of the world, but many of them are starved of essential resources because the local authority is a long way away. It has failed to deal with the 40 per cent. overcapacity in schools in Dundee. The result is that resources essential for Highland rural schools are sometimes slow getting there.
I welcome the checks and balances in the form of a ballot of parents, consultations with local education authorities and the requirement to seek the approval of the Secretary of State. Each stage must be gone through before a self-governing school can introduce any form of selection of pupils. It is important to note that because there is a feeling among teachers and others that the Bill is a veiled attempt to introduce selection by the back door. I believe that the checks and balances will ensure that that does not happen.
I understand that education authorities already have the power to introduce selection. They need only consult parents before making a change. They do not need to refer their proposals to the Secretary of State. The Bill proposes a big improvement.
I welcome the assurance that a simple majority of parents will not necessarily be decisive, and that such a decision only allows the proposal to go to the Secretary of State, who will take account of the size of the majority and the percentage turnout. I want that assurance on the record, because it is important. We do not want the Bill to be regarded as a vehicle for things that will not be beneficial. If the majority of parents want change, and that is shown clearly in a ballot, there should be change.
Such powers and choices will put pressure on education authorities to be much more sympathetic to the needs of, for example, rural and denominational schools.
Mr. Walker : I am happy with what we are doing in Scotland. I always thought that we Scots argued to do things differently because we like to do things differently--our education system is different. It would be nonsense for us to explain why we are not doing things identically.
Column 677There has been a lot of misinformation about the Bill. There has been misinformation about specialist services, such as child guidance, school hostels, school transport and recording of special educational needs. I am glad that such services will remain and that education authorities will continue to be responsible for their maintenance if a school decides to become self-governing. There has been misinformation about self-governing schools. I would like my hon. Friend the Minister to confirm that the board will have the same powers as other employers.
There has been misinformation about funding. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the funding of self-governing schools will be comparable with what a school would have received if it had remained under local authority control? I represent a massive rural constituency, where local schools are an essential part of the community, so I am delighted that my schools and parents will have a choice, which will be exercised only if parents feel that the local authority is no longer in tune with the wishes and perceived needs of the community schools.
I want to place on record my pleasure at the number of parents who have intimated to me their wish to stand for election to the local school boards in my constituency. I have been holding public meetings throughout the constituency and I have been delighted at the response. Many hon. Members have been fortunate enough to enjoy the opportunity of choice both in their own education and the education of their children. The Bill gives the opportunity of choice to all parents in Scotland. They need not exercise that choice, but at least all of them will have the opportunity to exercise that choice. At present, it is the exclusive preserve of a few. I find it interesting that some hon. Members who are opposed to the Bill have already made a choice in their own and their children's education, and I find it fascinating that they are prepared to oppose the Bill.
I shall now deal with the proposals for colleges for further education. Few would argue that such colleges should not be close to industry in the local community and understand its needs. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East mentioned the problems of Falkirk. Sadly, it is often true that the mandarins of industry live a long way away from where they work. I accept that as a truism. In a lovely country such as ours, with its beautiful wide open spaces, people have the right to choose to live in a rural area and to commute to work. It is wise to have at least half of the college council members drawn from employers in the local area because they understand the areas of work for which the youngsters are being trained.
I believe that it is sensible that only one fifth of members should be drawn from the local authority and the remainder from other interested groups. I assume that that means that some of them will represent professional bodies, and I hope that there will also be representatives from organised labour, in whatever form. I am pleased to note that college councils will select staff, although the selection of the principal will continue to be the responsibility of the local authority and the principal will be an ex officio member of the college council. All those provisions are good, and I hope that they will receive support from all parties.
There may be some doubts about giving future Secretaries of State the power to make regulations about
Column 678the testing of primary schoolchildren. On balance, I am in favour, but it is an area in which mischievous information may give many parents cause for deep concern.
I am pleased that the Bill contains enabling proposals about the appraisal of teachers. A high calibre, high quality teaching staff is vital to the well-being of present and future generations of schoolchildren. Most teachers to whom I have spoken seemed to take a fairly positive approach. The proposals will be extremely helpful and will provide the opportunity for teachers to add to and update their skills. There is no profession in which people do not have to do that regularly.
I welcome the introduction of technology academies. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross mentioned various academic institutions in the past. I remember that when I was a young boy I was told by many people that the only escape route in Scotland was through education. In Dundee there were some very good education institutions. There were schools of excellence there and the Dundee technical college was recognised as a place of academic excellence in technology. I was a student there and I have no regrets about the fact that I attended that college because it was beneficial to me. I hope that those who attend the technology academies will experience the same pleasure as I had in what the college gave me.
I hope that Tayside region--and this is an important point which I have raised already with the convener of education there--will take a positive stand on the technology academies and will accept the offer that may come to it to have a technology college on Tayside. I would expect it to be placed in Dundee where we have surplus school accommodation that could be used for such an academy.
We have had some interesting comments about university rectors. I am not qualified to comment on whether university rectors should automatically be the chairmen of the university courts, but it seems that the position has come about as a result of an approach by the universities themselves. One or two people have made observations about that time, but I have made it clear that I have no direct knowledge of the running of universities and I cannot tell whether that change will be beneficial. However, I am prepared to listen to the comments in the debate and to those hon. Members who have direct knowledge of universities. In principle, I probably support the change, but I would need to be given certain assurances about what lies behind the Government's thinking and why the provision has been included before I could say that I supported the proposal. We have heard much about what the Bill is supposed to contain. I believe that it contains no draconian measures unless parents choose to exercise their rights. Choice is a principle that all Members should approve. The Bill will give parents a choice and I welcome the opportunities for the schools in my constituency. Some of those schools have long and distinguished records and are good community schools. I welcome the thought that in the future, if necessary, they can exercise choice. By the very fact that choice exists local authoritities will, I hope, be more responsive to the needs of local schools and communities.
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Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) and his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) made great play of the word "choice". I must remind them that at the general election the Scottish people made their choice through the democratic processes open to them.
Mr. Bill Walker : People in Scotland exercised the choice of electing hon. Members to this unitary Parliament and the results were clear. That was their choice and the Bill seeks to provide choice about how schools will be run in the future.
Mrs. Ewing : The hon. Gentleman always resorts to hiding behind the cloak of the unitary Parliament. Clearly, the people of Scotland elected 62 Members of Parliament who believed in some form of self-government for Scotland. Their opinions may be of various shades, but the people of Scotland voted for Members who wanted to see a change in the system of government within Scotland. It is clear that the people of Scotland did not choose a Conservative Government or the policies that are being implemented. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross spoke jocularly about a self-governing Scotland. Scottish Conservative Members should realise that in a self-governing Scotland people would have real choice about the way in which their education system was run--and about any other aspect of life that affected them directly.
The Secretary of State started with three basic premises and he seemed to bring an element of unity into the House. He then departed from that and began reading from a brief prepared, no doubt, by the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Scotland. He read it unconvincingly and seemed to reflect the reasonable doubts that many of his hon. Friends have shown in the debate. What worries the Secretary of State, as it worries many other hon. Members, is that it has not yet been demonstrated to us that there is a clear demand for the policies in the Bill. When challenged by the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary responded by quoting the single shred of evidence he has been able to produce--one MORI opinion poll showing that about one third of people think that the policies might be a good idea. It was not specifically about this legislation but on the general philosophy. That is one of the poorest excuses I have ever heard propounded for introducing legislation.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) in his place. He tried to suggest to me earlier that he thought I was having a bad day. He has misunderstood some of the questions that have been asked by my hon. Friends and the importance of the answers that were forthcoming. I asked the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) how many letters he has received expressing demand for this legislation. He replied glibly that he had received 1,500. Those of us who understand Scottish politics--I appreciate that it is difficult to understand it when the Scottish Whip represents an English seat--know that the letters referred to one area and one issue. It is interesting that the only letter that I have received asking for such legislation also came from Paisley. It was from the parents of a child in Neilston school ; the school which was the loser in the debate about Paisley grammar. That is a straw in the wind.
Column 680It is clear that the proposals will be used not for philosophical or ideological reasons but by people who see, under a rationalisation process, their local school being threatened.
I should be interested to know how many letters the Secretary of State and his Ministers have tucked away in their files in the Scottish Office suggesting that the people of Scotland are screaming for legislation such as this. The Secretary of State tells us happily that he never receives letters about constitutional change and that therefore there is no demand. I suspect that we could quote more effective opinion polls and point to many more letters about constitutional change than the Secretary of State could produce on this issue.
I receive many letters about education. They are generally about the fabric of buildings, the need for adequate resources and about facilities for the children. It is not adequate for the hon. Member for Tayside, North to suggest that somehow the starvation of resources is the fault of the local authorities. We all know that the money comes from the rate support grant, which has been cut back further and further by the Government, squeezing resources for education and making life difficult. He suggested that a school that wants additional resources should consider opting out because, through a special grant or a capital grant, it may be possible for the Secretary of State to help it out. The Bill does not address the main issues involved in education in Scotland or the difficulties we face.
Mr. Harry Ewing : Is it not important to point out to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and the House that any resources received by an opted-out school are taken from the resources that would have been allocated to the regional authorities to administer the state sector schools? It is as simple as that.
I resent the implication that because we oppose the Bill we cannot accept criticism about our education system in Scotland. Opposition Members are not saying that everything is perfect and nor are the teachers' unions or anybody involved in education. We are willing to look at the criticisms, but we feel that they are not being addressed effectively by the Government. I would be more convinced of the Government's aims if some of the important issues were addressed in the Bill.
Conservative Members seem to have great difficulty making up their minds about what they mean by education. I have always understood that education should be child-centred. The Bill is proposing that education should become management-centred. Essentially, the same debate will occur in the Scottish Grand Committee tomorrow when we talk about how we manage our National Health Service. Nobody doubts that management has a role within education. I have worked on the administrative side of education as well as in teaching. I recognise the importance of management, but it should not be the driving force for our education system. If management becomes the driving force, it will be for only political reasons. That worries me deeply. There are strong political reasons why the Government wish to see changes in management to remove more powers from the local authorities and so on. It is political manipulation.
Column 681I wish to re-emphasise the point already made about the timing of the legislation. Education, particularly in our schools in Scotland, needs stability and consolidation. The schools do not need more upheaval or uncertainty. The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross spoke about the need to have schools in which the staff were enthused, the communities involved, and so on. The continuing changes and upheavals that have been enacted by the Government have lowered the morale of teachers. Despite that, as the Secretary of State admitted, they are still managing to do a great job and standards are rising.
Managerial upheaval such as this will bring more uncertainty and will do nothing to help teachers' morale. The Government should put the Bill away and forget about it. It is clear that the majority of Scottish Members do not want it. We have not heard a chorus of enthusiasm from Scotland. The Bill is not wanted, so let us put it on the shelf for a few years and see what happens. Let us leave our schools to consolidate and cope with the changes that have already been enacted.
I can reassure the Minister that I have read the Bill a couple of times. It is purgatory to have to plough through the Bill twice. No doubt, in Committee I will be able to raise many of the points that I have underlined and put exclamation marks beside. I wish to raise several issues and I hope that the Minister will comment when he winds up.
Essentially, the further education sector is being handed over to sectoral interests. I saw training courses in some of our further education colleges before returning to the House in 1987. It was clear then that the colleges were being encouraged to take on more youngsters from youth training programmes than youngsters looking for courses leading to professional qualifications. I am thinking about nursery nurses and people involved in social work training. The college fees extracted for such courses are not particularly high and, therefore, do not attract a great deal of money into the FE sector, so it was more attractive for principals to bring in youngsters on courses involving much higher fees and on which they would receive a good turnover of capital. I am not saying that those youngsters should have been denied those opportunities, but I have always had reservations about such schemes because they were not really offering training.
There is an attempt now to remove the idea of education from our FE colleges and to talk only about interests relating to the workplace. I thought that we had moved away from the Robbins concept that education is merely about training for employment. We
believe--certainly my party does--that education is about much more than that. It is about encouraging people to recognise their talents and abilities, ensuring that they are stretched as far as possible and that they are equipped for life in its many facets. I am deeply concerned that the handing over of our further education college councils in the way suggested in the Bill will move us further away from the idea that education should be a rounded process. Clause 22 seems to suggest the possibility of the ending of the requirement to register with the General Teaching Council before being employed in Scottish schools ; there are references made to exceptions which may be prescribed. That is worrying for those of us who have been glad to see a fully qualified and registered profession operating in Scottish schools. I would not want us to return to having non-qualified teachers in our schools or a system of licensed teachers as is often the case south of the border. I should like some clarification on that point.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that a Conservative Member is so interested in the subject that he is dealing with his correspondence? He is practising for the Committee stage, which will no doubt be packed with Conservative English Members with no interest in, and even less understanding of, Scottish education.