HC Deb 27 March 1986 vol 94 cc1059-60
8. Mr. Favell

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the proposed budget for the Northern Ireland Department of Education for 1986–87; and how this compares with the budget for 1985–86.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

The proposed budget is £662 million—an increase of £42 million.

Mr. Favell

Given the pressure on education and library board budgets for next year, is my hon. Friend satisfied that sufficient progress is being made in the rationalisation of school places?

Dr. Mawhinney

My hon. Friend is on to a good point. There is over-provision of school places, especially in Belfast, and we need to continue an orderly rationalisation process. One of the reasons why we are not getting full benefit from our best-ever teacher-pupil ratios is that teachers are spread too thinly over too many schools.

Mr. Archer

Does the Minister appreciate that while he boasts of the increased resources available to education, talk in the local communities is about how many school cleaners will lose their jobs, how many dinner ladies can expect redundancy notices, how many nursery places will be left after the cuts, whether the Belfast school of music can continue the activities expected in a major city, and whether school buildings will receive any attention other than the most basic repairs? Has he ever felt sufficiently curious to consider why there is such a discrepancy in the picture given by his accountants and what is actually happening in the schools?

Dr. Mawhinney

First, I am not boasting, I am simply relating the facts of the case. Secondly, I am aware of the matters that the right hon. and learned Member has mentioned, some of which were raised when I met representatives of some of the boards during the process that they have to undertake to determine their budget allocation proposals, which they then submit to me. So far, although I believe that some of the budget proposals have reached the Department, I have not seen any of them.

Mr. Lilley

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that in the school system in Northern Ireland, which has retained a large measure of selection, performance as measured by examination results and otherwise is now far superior to that of schools on the mainland? Will he draw from that fact conclusions from which schools on the mainland might benefit and reflect on the advantages to employers who may wish to employ people in Northern Ireland?

Dr. Mawhinney

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the better A-level results that are emerging from the Province compared with schools in England, but he will bear in mind that across the breadth of the educational spectrum results in Northern Ireland vary.