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Mr. Wallace: The problem with the Minister reading his prepared speech is that he fails to take account of the fact that I quoted from a recent report of the inspectorate that praised the quality of Scottish schools and acknowledged it. We must build on that quality and not destroy it through spending cuts.

Mr. Robertson: The hon. Gentleman spent 30 seconds praising that quality and about 14 minutes running it down, as anyone who listened to his speech will know.

Spending per pupil in Scotland is over 50 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1979. That is hardly a system being bled dry. Class sizes are smaller and teachers' salaries are higher in real terms than in 1979. The hon. Gentleman will be well aware of how favourable spending figures are in Scotland when compared with those in England. Again, it is hardly a system being bled dry. There is more and better equipment in schools, despite what the hon. Member for Cathcart said.

The growth in information technology equipment has been especially impressive. The number of computers in primary schools has tripled over the past seven years and has quadrupled in Scotland's secondary schools. In real terms, more has been spent on books and capital maintenance. Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools commented positively on resources available in schools for learning in his report entitled "Standards and Quality", which was published last year.

I am not making a casual observation but producing hard evidence that has been gathered during many school inspections throughout Scotland. Local authorities have more resources available to them next year, and our investment is huge and growing.

Last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I, together with my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, launched a White Paper on education entitled "Education--Raising the Standard". The title of the document was chosen carefully. The paper sets out clearly where our priorities have been and where

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they must remain. It sets out also the true measures of our achievement since 1979, and the achievements of the education system in Scotland.

Opposition Members have said that they are concerned with standards and quality. They will find in the White Paper evidence of just how far we have come and where we intend to go. "Education--Raising the Standard" reflects rising achievement. Examination results have improved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said, 35 per cent. of school leavers gained five or more ordinary grades in 1980, and in 1995 more than 50 per cent. of pupils were awarded five or more standard grades. The percentage of pupils who left school with three or more highers increased from 18 per cent. in 1980 to 29 per cent. in 1995. In 1995, 8 per cent. of school leavers left with no Scottish certificate of education qualification; in 1980, the figure was 31 per cent.

Mr. Maxton: I understand that the Minister is talking about the Scottish system, but the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment made similar points about the English system, and the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) spent the whole of his time talking about declining standards in schools. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland perhaps explain that dichotomy?

Mr. Robertson: I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that we are talking about different time scales. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) was talking about a time scale of 30 years. I have been going over the past 18 years, which coincidentally coincides exactly with the Government's period in office.

Between 1979-80 and 1995-96, the number of pupils in nursery schools increased by 55 per cent. Many more young people stay on in full-time education post-16--82 per cent. in 1994 compared with 60 per cent. in 1980. In higher education, between 1980 and 1993, the total number of students increased by 64 per cent. and we have one of the highest participation rates in higher education anywhere in Europe.

Choice has increased. Eleven thousand children have benefited from assisted places, and nearly 27,000 placing requests were granted last year. We are modernising all stages of the school curriculum through the five-to-14 programme standard grade and the higher still development programme.

We have focused on quality and the need for schools to take responsibility for improving their performance. That has been recognised internationally. We ask schools to look carefully at themselves, to ask, "How good is our school?" and to set out the way in which they will improve.

Devolved school management has put decisions on the use of resources where it should be--at school level and not at town hall by bureaucrats. People who run the school on a day-to-day basis know what its needs are and they should be allowed to decide its spending priorities. As a result, resources are being used more effectively. They can be targeted to where they will deliver most for an individual school's performance.

Self-governing schools have even more ability to make the best of their resources. Our White Paper gives the example of Dornoch academy, Scotland's first self-governing school, which managed to save £10,000 on

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its heating bill, which it could then spend on classroom equipment. We shall make further progress on those initiatives to put control into the hands of the people who know best how to use the resources.

We have opened up the education system to give parents much more information about schools and their performance. We have introduced a better and more open school inspection system. We have given parents the opportunity to participate through school boards or by seeking self-governing status.

I shall deal with some of the more far-reaching of our proposals, but let me first address some of the particular points that have arisen. Quality is central and I have illustrated our approach in Scotland through our quality initiative and the drive to self-evaluation and improvement, but we can go further. Her Majesty's inspectorate are closely engaged with schools to assist them, to identify good practice and to ensure that it is shared.

We propose to increase the focus on quality through a new excellent schools award. Schools that perform well should be recognised as such and all aspects of performance will be relevant. What will be of most importance is the drive to improve and the planning and monitoring for improvement. We are not frightened to look for excellence or to reward it. Our programme of change has been guided by a radical vision of an education system in which schools, colleges, universities and teachers focus on quality and standards; a system where schools and colleges are responsive to the needs and wishes of the society and the individuals they serve.

The demands of international competitiveness mean that we must continue to raise achievement levels to ensure that our young people are able to take their rightful place in the world. The principles in the vision that I have outlined will remain valid and increasingly so. "Raising the Standard" shows how we can take that vision forward to continue the remarkable progress that has been made and to meet the major challenges that lie ahead.

In winding up, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made much of the level of resources that he thinks are required, but he has not said how he would spend the money or what his party's priorities would be. He conveniently forgets that the White Paper sets out proposals that carry additional money and that will contribute directly to the continued improvement in performance that we seek and require. They include extension of the nursery voucher scheme, bringing £30 million of new money year on year; a new £9 million programme on early intervention; a new £3 million programme on alternatives to exclusion; the doubling of the assisted places scheme; and making £25 million available for the improvement of school security to ensure that our pupils learn in as safe and secure an environment as possible.

That is hardly a system that is being bled dry or run down. As I have said, our highly successful pre-school voucher scheme will be extended to the whole of Scotland from August 1997. Parents will be looking forward to 27 February, the date when application forms will begin to be issued.

The pilots that are under way in four authorities show the success and popularity of the scheme. Ninety-seven per cent. of eligible parents applied for

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vouchers; 93 per cent. of parents with vouchers have been using them. Parents actually like having the ability to make the choice of what facility their child will attend.

Many new centres are coming into being. The number of local authority centres has multiplied, from 21 to 63. Eighty-seven private nurseries and playgroups have had their educational quality endorsed by HMI for the first time ever.

The pilots also prove that vouchers are a convenient way of arranging for pre-school education. I have had not one representation from parents or from providers in the pilots complaining about the mechanics of the voucher system. As I have said, 97 per cent. of parents have applied for vouchers, and 93 per cent. have used them.

Moreover, the issue and redemption of vouchers cost less than 1 per cent. of the cost of the entire scheme, so where is the elaborate bureaucracy that we keep hearing about? It is in imagination of Opposition Members. Vouchers are efficient and simple to use. The reality of the growth of provision that vouchers can offer is clear enough from the pilot areas. It is a growth right across the board, and the pilot authorities deserve credit for the part that they have played in encouraging it both in their own provision and elsewhere.

The best opportunities have been offered to parents. In an area of traditionally low provision, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood, East Renfrewshire was able to claim even before the beginning of the first term that a place was available for every eligible child for the first time ever. The vouchers have had a startling effect in the other pilot areas, and from August they go nationwide.

I have dwelt on pre-school vouchers because they are such a major development in our education service, but many of the other proposals in the White Paper are equally innovative. The importance of teachers in securing higher levels of achievement is fully recognised. We have a high-quality teaching profession which we are committed to continuing and improving. We therefore made a number of proposals designed to improve their status.

We shall remove the statutory basis of the Scottish joint negotiating committee and design legislative proposals to establish a teachers' pay review body. Teachers are respected members of the community and undertake a highly professional job. They deserve to have their pay professionally determined in the same way as doctors, dentists and other professionals. A pay review body is the answer.

I have set out clearly the progress that our focus on standards has brought us in Scotland. I have shown how we have funded it over many years and how we propose to increase funding to develop certain initiatives. However, what has been missing from Opposition contributions to this debate has been any recognition of the generous extent to which Scottish local government is financed. Therefore, in closing, I must make the position clear.

We are used at this time of the year to all sorts of scaremongering from authorities and teachers' unions, and parents rightly get very concerned--but they are being misled. Let me set the record straight. Contrary to all the talk of cuts, the local government settlement in Scotland provides for an increase in expenditure next year. That

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increase is £132 million, before any account is taken of the scope for efficiency savings across the full range of council services.

The level of Government support for this expenditure has also been increased by over £60 million. For the second successive year we have, in determining the local government finance settlement, improved on the plans that we announced in the preceding year. Yet we continue to hear that councils are facing a budgetary crisis and are having to make massive cuts in education. I find that scaremongering irresponsible. Let me make it clear that no council in Scotland has a lower spending limit for next year than it has for the current year.

Parents must therefore ask authorities what their priorities are. We have made ours clear; progress is being made. We have set out our proposals for maintaining that progress. The Government's commitment to investment in early, primary and secondary education is clear and unequivocal. We are investing in quality, we are investing in people, and we are investing in equipment and buildings. We are raising opportunities, we are widening choice and we are improving levels of achievement. In every way, as the title of our White Paper puts it, we are "Raising the Standard". I therefore ask the House to reject the motion.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:--

The House divided: Ayes 31, Noes 300.

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