HC Deb 17 April 1969 vol 781 cc1304-7
7. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has for reducing the overall size of classes in primary and secondary schools, respectively.

13. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the Government's present policy regarding the reduction of class-sizes in primary and secondary schools.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

The Government's policy is, within the resources available, to increase the supply of teachers as quickly as possible, to see that each local education authority gets its fair share, and then encourage each authority to deploy their teaching force to the best advantage as between primary and secondary schools. To assist this process my right hon. Friend is about to propose the abolition of the class-size regulation which discriminates against primary schools.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. Will she make it clear whether this new proposal that she has in mind will mean the abandonment of the 1964 target to reduce the effective class size to 30 in both types of school?

Miss Bacon

No, that is not the case. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the effective thing in schools, at any rate these days, is not the class size, but the pupil-teacher ratio, because a lot of teaching goes on in groups. The pupil-teacher ratio decreased from 23.9 in 1967 to 23.8 in 1968 and to 23.5 in 1969.

Mr. Lane

But in order to concentrate on the important problem of increasing, the supply of teachers, will the right hon. Lady suggest to her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that rather than making more ill-judged speeches on the educational backlash, he might concentrate on something more constructive such as re-forming the National Advisory Council?

Miss Bacon

Both these questions seem very little related to the original Question, but perhaps I can give an answer which is more related to it.

The main factors determining the size of classes are buildings and teachers. The value of the building programme in 1971–72 is twice that of 1963–64. An estimated 32,000 students successfully completed their training last year compared with 19,842 in 1964.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that there will be no unemployment amongst teachers leaving the colleges of education this summer?

Miss Bacon

There should not be any unemployment if the local authorities employ the additional number of teachers that they asked for when the rate support grant was fixed, which was 13,000.

11. Mr. Alison

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he estimates that all class sizes in primary and secondary schools will be reduced to 30.

Miss Bacon

I have made no such estimates and doubt whether any useful estimates can now be made, since classes as we know them may not be the prevailing pattern of school organisation, and since deployment of teachers depends upon the decisions of local education authorities and individual head-teachers.

Mr. Alison

Was it not, therefore, rash of the right hon. Lady's party to make a pledge in 1964 which has now vanished in the mirage of an uncertain estimate? Does the Minister realise that the substi- tution of pupil-teacher ratios, being an average figure and therefore concealing wide discrepancies on either side of the mean, is no substitute for firm commitments on class sizes?

Miss Bacon

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman about that. If he goes inside our schools, particularly primary schools, he will see that the pupil-teacher ratio is important. When a head teacher is given another teacher, often he prefers to use him to take a group of children rather than to reduce the size of classes overall. I might add that we expect that the target in the Ninth Report of the National Advisory Council, which envisaged that over-40 primary classes would be virtually eliminated by 1978, will probably be reached well before that date.

Mr. Christopher Price

If my right hon. Friend intends to get rid of the criterion of class size in considering this matter, will she show some urgency in reaching agreement with the teachers' organisations about the way in which the pupil-teacher ratio is used in solving this problem? Is she aware that there is great concern among teachers' organisations about this switch?

Miss Bacon

As I told the House before my hon. Friend came into the Chamber—I regret that he was not in his place when I answered an earlier Question along with one in his name—the essential factor is the supply of buildings and teachers. Both have increased considerably in the last few years.

Sir E. Boyle

While recognising the case for this switch in criterion, may I ask the right hon. Lady if it is not the case, as has been suggested, that this represents a great departure from both the Labour Party manifesto of 1964 and the Prime Minister's speech to the Council of Education in 1963? In this context, would not the right hon. Lady agree that it is vitally important that local authorities have the finance to recruit part-time teachers?

Miss Bacon

It should not be assumed that because we have switched to this pupil-teacher ratio criterion—the right hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, appreciate that this is the right thing to have done; he said that he understood the position—we have in any way abandoned our intention to get rid of over-sized classes as soon as possible. This can be done only by an adequate supply of teachers and buildings.