HC Deb 27 October 1981 vol 10 cc712-3
10. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the figures of the total number of pupils in State primary and secondary schools, respectively, in this academic year; and how they compare with last year.

Dr. Boyson

The total number of full-time and part-time pupils in maintained nursery and primary schools in England is projected to fall by 200,000, from 4,225,000, in January 1981 to 4,025,000 in January 1982. In maintained secondary schools the projected fall is 60,000 pupils, from 3,840,000 in January 1981 to 3,780,000 in January 1982.

Mr. Chapman

Since those figures indicate a greater reduction than the modest cutbacks in the increase in expenditure on education in the last year, will my hon. Friend confirm that the cost per pupil in primary and secondary schools has risen in real terms in the past year? If so, does he accept that many people believe that that is an extremely welcome trend, given the economic realities and the fact that total Government expenditure this year will be 10 per cent. in excess of income?

Dr. Boyson

Expenditure on individual pupils has been rising in real terms in Britain for the last 30 years. Since the decrease in expenditure is only half that of the percentage decrease in the number of pupils in our schools in two or three years' time, as well as next year under present plans, more will be spent on the individual child than is being spent now.

Mr. Marks

Why has the Department of Education and Science frustrated for so long the genuine attempt by the Manchester education authority to tackle the problem of falling rolls by the reorganisation of its schools? Is the Minister aware that it is nine months since the Department unnecessarily called in Manchester's scheme for examination? Is he aware that if the scheme is brought in next year it will produce many economies, but that the decision must be made by the end of this month? When will the decision be announced?

Dr. Boyson

I understand the concern felt by Manchester Members. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The matter had to be called in by the Secretary of State because complaints had been made. The 1980 Act is specific. It states that if complaints are made the Secretary of State must call it in. I realise that the matter has been with us for nine months. There has been a change of Ministers in the Department in the last four or five weeks. We have been looking at the matter closely since then. I assure the hon. Gentleman that a decision will be made very soon.

Mr. Hannam

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the pupil-teacher ratio has continued to improve during that period?

Dr. Boyson

I confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) says. At 1 January this year the pupil-teacher ratio was the lowest in British history—18.6 pupils per member of staff.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Does the Minister agree that the pupil-teacher ratio should not be used as a rigid guide for the staffing of any particular school? Is he aware, for example, that the loss of one teacher in a small primary school can have very serious effects on education in that school? Is he also aware that the loss of specialist teachers in a secondary school can have an equally serious effect?

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman has distinguished teaching experience. I am well aware of what he says. That is why the reduction in staff numbers and money is less than the reduction in the number of pupils. We want schools to be able to operate their full curriculum despite falling rolls.