HC Deb 15 May 1973 vol 856 cc1222-4
7. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will ensure that those local education authorities, already having a high proportion of rising fives in full-time education, will not be penalised when allocating resources for nursery school provision under her Department's circular 2/73.

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Mitchell

Is the Secretary of State aware that some local authorities, such as Southampton, which has a very good record for having rising fives in full-time education, are worried that the formula outlined in circular 2/73 will mean that they will be penalised when it comes to the allocation of funds for nursery school education because some of those rising fives will be taken into consideration in the calculation?

Mrs. Thatcher

The rising fives are those who go to school in the term in which they become five. The decisive factor for the nursery school programme is not the number in school but the number out of school whose need is still for nursery places. Otherwise, we should be in great difficulty with the urban programme if we had more in schools than elsewhere. Therefore, the determining factor is the numbers out of school who need nursery education.

8. Miss Lestor

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the provision of staff and equipment for four-year-olds and rising fives in nursery schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have asked local education authorities to ensure that the hours of attendance, staffing, programmes, accommodation and equipment available to pupils under five are equivalent to those appropriate to nursery classes.

Miss Lestor

Is not the right hon. Lady aware that with the policy of taking rising fives and four-year-olds into primary schools there is growing evidence of concern in the teaching profession that large numbers of these children are taken into classes of 30, that there is no extra help, and that in a primary school it is ridiculous to try to imagine that rising fives and four-year-olds will obtain nursery education unless exactly the same conditions apply to the primary school as apply to those of the same age in nursery schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

When I announced the nursery programme, which the hon. Lady was not able to do, it was a great advance to have rising fives and some under-fives in school because it was a great help to them. Now we have a nursery programme, which the hon. Lady was never able to announce, and we have asked for the full staffing standards for nursery classes for the under-fives.

Mr. Fell

Does not my right hon. Friend consider that children of this tender age are far better off in the hands of their mothers than in these play schools and so on?

Mrs. Thatcher

For the majority of children, part-time nursery education is very welcome on educational grounds. I do not believe that taking them away from their mothers for about three hours a day in term time deprives them.

Mrs. Renée Short

Last week I had the opportunity of visiting a college of education in London and meeting some of the heads of schools who would shortly be taking a nursery intake under the expansion programme. Is the right hon. Lady aware that I was told on that occasion of four-year-olds in classes not of 30, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) said, but of 40 children? This is not a pupil/teacher ratio that one would want to see in any sector of education and certainly not in a sector which purports to give nursery education. Ought not the right hon. Lady to investigate this matter?

Mrs. Thatcher

Local education authorities have a discretion whether to take in these children. I am surprised that there are local education authorities which are taking four-year-olds—whom they do not have to take in—into classes which appear to be over-sized.