HC Deb 03 July 1979 vol 969 cc1098-9
14. Mr. John Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether the effects of the Budget will mean a rise or fall in education standards and staffing ratios in primary and secondary schools.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

The effects will depend mainly on decisions to be taken by individual local authorities.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister accept that his answer is appalling? He has surely heard statements by a number of directors of education to the effect that retiring teachers will not be replaced, that nursery schools will have to close, that specialist posts will not be filled and that, in some cases, new textbooks will not be purchased. Does he agree that the effect of the Budget will be a reduction in education standards?

Mr. Carlisle

My original answer was accurate. It is for the local education authorities to decide what is the effect of the reduction of £300 million in the rate support grant. The need for the £300 million cut in the rate support grant was due to our inheritance from the present Opposition. Since over 50 per cent. of local expenditure goes on education, I accept that education is bound to share some part of that cut. I accept that this is bound to have some effect on education. What the exact effect will be I cannot, at this stage, say. It is for the local education authorities to decide their own priorities.

Mr. John Townend

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in many areas there is considerable scope for economies in non-teaching staff—particularly among cleaners and school meals staff—which would not affect education standards?

Mr. Carlisle

I am fully aware that the types of economies made by different local education authorities will vary from place to place.

Mr. Newens

Does the Secretary of State recognise that reductions in the number of staff which will inevitably follow Government policy will greatly reduce the choice of subjects open to pupils, particularly in comprehensive schools? If schools are obliged, for example, to cut out two languages in the sixth form, will not this amount to a reduction in standards in comprehensive schools, against which Conservative Members have been clamouring?

Mr. Carlisle

I recognise that there will be some reduction in the number of staff. The effect of that will depend upon the deployment of existing staff. In view of the tenor of many of the questions from Opposition Members, I remind them that they are being somewhat hypocritical, because in one year the Labour Government cut £900 million off the proposed education budget.