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Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Get on with it.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. I think that I can be trusted to look after these matters, rather than a junior Minister speaking from a sedentary position.

Mr. Connarty: I shall deal with the matter quickly. The Secretary of State made an unfounded and disparaging remark that should be discounted, as the Conservative members of Falkirk council now accept that I was not at the university at the time of the Queen's visit. I am proud of my contribution since then. I was the leader of Stirling council, and we built the management centre that the Secretary of State is always describing as an example of private enterprise and universities working together. The council has continued to work with the university since then.

Part I of the Bill deals with the Scottish Qualifications Authority. It would be unfortunate if there was to be a split in the all-party support for that authority, as we had--believe it or not--before the creation of Scottish Enterprise all-party support for the idea of the Scottish Development Agency and the Manpower Services Commission joining together. Sadly, the Government underfunded Scottish Enterprise and, as a result, the quality of training has been poorer than would have been the case had the two organisations remained apart.

My worry is that the Scottish Qualifications Authority will be underfunded by the Government. As a result, we will not have parity of esteem--something to which we all aspire--so that vocational and academic qualifications will be as one. We will instead have a spectrum of qualifications, with academic qualifications at the top and vocational qualifications at the bottom. The members of

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the body should not be appointed by the Secretary of State, who may be driven by an ideology that may not be in the interests of all the people of Scotland who want vocational or academic qualifications. The danger is that there will be pressure to focus on either of the areas, and the body will not give parity of esteem.

I believe that the Scottish Qualifications Authority will rely for its success on the resourcing of "Higher Still". Everybody to whom I have talked about "Higher Still" has said that although the pilot projects have been fine, there is no indication in the Government's budgets that the scheme is to be continuously resourced. I am in daily contact with people in the academic world--particularly in high schools--and they are not buoyant about the scheme. Many are saying that although they have been involved in the pilots, they will not continue with "Higher Still" unless they receive the resources. If the resources are not provided, there will be no proper training and the scheme will stumble. Problems will be created by the Government cutting corners, as that will result in a cut in quality.

I am glad that the Minister responded as he did to his hon. Friend the Member for Ayr on the accreditation organisation, as I was going to point out that City and Guilds has re-established itself in Scotland. In addition, the Royal Society of Arts--which does tremendous work in commercial and office training--plays a fundamental part in the transition from school to a working environment, and often to further and higher education, for many young people. I am glad that the Minister recognises that.

We do not want one organisation and a single approach but many approaches, all of which people can take at different times in their lives. I remember meeting young people who had not gone to high school, but who were studying in university--and in the library where I and my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, East(Mrs. Liddell) studied for our highers--for their PhDs. They were studying in the library because their family circumstances did not allow them to work at home. There are many routes to further and higher education, and I hope that the Scottish Qualifications Authority will not cut them.

I have some reservations about the authority--for example, it will not have enough local authority members. The hon. Member for Ayr suggested that the Government take the view that COSLA is an antagonist--although perhaps not an enemy--and would not be included among the Government's automatic choices for consultees. That worries me, because I believe that COSLA is a responsible organisation. Education authorities have made many changes--as a result not of Government pressure, but of pressure from academics, researchers and parents, whom they take seriously and try to represent. COSLA should be involved in that organisation. It has bid for a certain percentage of places and while I would not go so far as to say that we should accede to its request, I believe that COSLA should be represented in large numbers.

It has been suggested that training providers should be predominant in the accreditation committee, and that should be looked at seriously by the Government. We have talked in the Scottish Grand Committee about the Fast-trac scheme in Fife, and there is a strong view there that we should talk to those who provide rather than intermediaries or academics. The Government should make sure that an adequate number of places are provided

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for providers. The hon. Member for Ayr referred to providers in universities, but I believe that those who turn the aspirations of 16, 17 and 18-year-olds into NVQs should also be included.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: The Bill requires that the Secretary of State must consult widely before making any appointment. Therefore, the matter to which the hon. Gentleman is referring is catered for in the Bill.

Mr. Connarty: I am grateful for that assurance, but it has been said that consultation under this Government--particularly in Scotland--is someone being asked for his opinion and then being told that he will get what the Government planned anyway. We can think back to the Scottish local government legislation, when there was clear opposition from the Scottish people to the proposal. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton(Mr. Robertson) has pointed out also that the people of Scotland do not want nursery vouchers, but the Government have introduced them anyway. I am glad that the Secretary of State will consult, but I hope that he will do more and will take on board the aspirations of those whom he consults.

As someone who worked in the field for 15 years, I am concerned that there is no commitment in the Bill to special educational needs qualifications. I found it difficult to shoe-horn the abilities and the massive and complex difficulties of my students aged between 11 and 19 into five-to-14. That was a wonderful innovation, but it did not fit the needs of those children. Often, individual children had programmes designed specifically for them. Yet at the end of the programme, we were asked to grade them A, B or C. It was not sensible. I hope that some prescriptive protection can be provided in Committee, or perhaps graded qualifications in special educational needs could be developed to help people pass through the system and fit into five-to-14 and "Higher Still".

Children with special educational needs are often below the basic level of the standard grade qualification that they are trying to achieve. But they want to achieve something, because a child with special educational needs makes just as much effort to get to a pre-general stage--never mind the general stage of a standard grade. The Minister, who was a teacher, knows that. I hope that the organisation will look at that matter.

I will not deal with the Bill in order, because I want to get to the meat at the end. I wish to refer to the alterations to school boards. The school board system is not massively succesful, as the hon. Member for Ayr said. It has many flaws, and it staggers and stumbles in different areas. People are co-opted on to boards because they cannot get anyone to volunteer. Some areas are not represented, with people from one community on school boards while those from other communities are not. That is no substitute for a statutory right for every parent to have access to and influence on what happens in a school. For instance, clause 28(8) allows certain people to stay on in post until the next election even though they have ceased to have any parental or other connection. Those who have volunteered to be co-opted may have wives or husbands on the board; they can stay on until they eventually have to leave. The Government are responding to the problem of gaps appearing in the school board

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system. The hon. Member for Ayr talked about budgets and expenditure as providing a role for the boards, but that could end up with people arguing about the price of the postage stamps instead of concentrating on things that affect the school.

I want the whole ethos of schools to be discussed. All the research shows that school boards should not feel detached from school affairs but should help teachers in their tasks. That would give them a real role in a school's aspirations.

Perhaps school boards do not represent the right way forward in any event. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, East has been looking seriously--while drawing up a consultation document--at other approaches. We need to revitalise the relationship between parents and schools, not just to patch up the holes in the system.

Mr. Gallie: The hon. Gentleman is being a little insulting to school boards when he talks of discussions of postage stamps and so on. Boards are interested in the books and equipment that schools use and in other major issues. My experience is that they like to feel that they are making a contribution in that way.

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