HC Deb 25 November 1980 vol 994 cc313-4
9. Mr. Allan Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will issue a circular advising local authorities to exploit the situation of falling rolls to reduce class sizes.

Dr. Boyson

My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans to do so.

Mr. Roberts

Is not the Minister aware that falling rolls are being used as an excuse in many areas by Conservative-controlled authorities for cuts and closures which are really a result of the Government's policies of cutting finance to local authorities, and that once schools are closed, as they are being closed—or are the subject of proposals for closure, as in Sefton, in my constituecy—there is no way back, even though rolls might increase in the future? Will be say quite categorically that the 3 per cent. cut in local authority expenditure that was announced yesterday by the Chancellor will not result in unnecessary school closures as a result of cuts in provision for the education service?

Dr. Boyson

I am sure that any school closures that have to come under section 12 of the new Education Act will be considered by my right hon. and learned Friend, and there will be no unnecessary closures. I also add that in Sefton there has been a continuing decrease in the pupil-teacher ratio. In 1974 it was 21.7 pupils per teacher. This year it is 19.7—presumably the lowest ever in that area. Nationally, at 18.6, the figure for the pupil-teacher ratio throughout England on 1 January this year was the lowest in our history.

Mr. Greenway

May I welcome the Secretary of State's approval for the new Church of England high school in Ealing? Does he agree with men that even in an area of falling school rolls there can be a shortage of Church school places and that it makes sense to transfer a school which is about to become redundant to voluntary school use?

Dr. Boyson

As my hon. Friend knows, we as a party are committed to parental choice of school, whether single-sex or mixed, or Church or county, according to their desire. That is what has happened in Ealing as a response to parental demand.

Mr. Kinnock

Is it not true that the Twyford school in Ealing was not redundant, even in spite of falling rolls? Where have the Government found £1.4 million to permit the Church of England to buy a school which was a thriving, successful going concern?

On the matter of falling rolls, the hon. Gentleman is as concerned as I am about the position with which we are left. Why is it, therefore, that if we get a fall in school rolls of 13 per cent., he is willing to let teacher numbers fall by 12 per cent., with a concomitant danger that we shall have a rise in pupil-teacher ratios? If it is true that we have spare resources, why is he not conscious of the fact that 12 per cent. of secondary schoolchildren and 29 per cent. of primary schoolchildren are still in classes of more than 30 pupils?

Dr. Boyson

On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) on which the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) commented, if my information is right—I am doing this from memory—the school concerned was only about 40 per cent. subscribed from parents. A school that is only 40 per cent. subscribed is not meeting the demands of the public. There was a demand for a full Church of England school within that area.

On the question of the pupil-teacher ratio, it is not just a question of the ratio; it is also the calibre of teachers in schools that matters. With falling school rolls, we are now improving the calibre of the intake to the teaching profession.

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