HC Deb 19 January 1982 vol 16 cc143-5
10. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if it is his policy to reduce class sizes over the course of the next three years; and if he will make a statement.

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government's expenditure plans allow for the overall ratio of pupils to teachers to be maintained broadly at the current level, which is the best ever. Class sizes depend on decisions by local authorities and head teachers about the deployment of teachers as well as on pupil-teacher ratios.

Mr. Newens

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is an appalling waste of skill, and a false economy, to cut the numbers of teachers employed, particularly as those who become unemployed must then be supported out of public funds? Does he further agree that it would be desirable at this stage to reduce the size of classes, particularly in sixth forms, where falling rolls have a devastating effect in reducing the choice of subject?

Sir Keith Joseph

I cannot agree that it is right for the Government to ignore the number of pupils in schools when assessing the number of teachers who should teach the falling number of pupils. We should seek a balance between the interests of taxpayers and the need to make further progress in reducing class sizes.

Sir William van Straubenzee

In these matters is not a measurement purely in terms of class size thoroughly unrealistic? Is not the ratio of those who teach to those who are taught the key factor? Is there not therefore much encouragement in what my right hon. Friend said in his original answer?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes. I thoroughly agree with what my hon. Friend, with all his experience, has said. The deployment by the head teacher of the teachers available, in some cases to cope with small remedial classes as well as with larger classes for those not requiring remedial lessons, must also be taken into account.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is the Secretary of State aware that some very useful information about the reduction of class sizes was given in last year's HMI report, which his predecessor published so that he could be examined by the Select Committee about the facts in it? Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that his statement today that he has it in mind not to publish this year's report, presumably because it may contain embarrassing facts that he does not wish the public to know, runs clean against the pledge given by the Leader of the House that all Ministers would be as helpful as possible to Select Committees in providing all the information at their disposal? Finally, is he aware that when he comes before the Select Committee on 10 February, if the report is not public certain conclusions may be drawn?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am glad to pay tribute to my predecessor, who took the pioneering step of publishing—voluntarily, and under no pressure from the House—the report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate. No Minister in the Labour Government apparently thought of or acted upon any such willingness to lay the facts and the opinions of HMI before the House. I look forward to my next session with the hon. Gentleman's Select Committee, whether or not the report is available or published by that time.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems in schools arises from the fact that when the best teachers are promoted to be heads of departments they cease to teach and become administrators? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that something should be done to rectify that?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope to take an early opportunity to emphasise the point that he has just made.