HC Deb 19 December 1989 vol 164 cc189-90
10. Mr. Archer

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on staffing levels in junior and infant schools.

Mr. Alan Howarth

The ratio of pupils to teachers in primary schools has improved from 23.1:1 in 1979 to 22:1 in 1988. There are now more primary teachers relative to pupils than ever before. This improvement has given local education authorities and schools greater flexibility in the deployment of teacher time. The average class size in primary schools is now 25.9 pupils—down from 26.3 in 1979.

Mr. Archer

That is good stuff, but is the Minister aware that I have received correspondence from the head teachers of many primary and junior schools in my constituency which expresses deep anxiety about the staffing problems and consequent crisis in morale? As his Department introduced the national curriculum, can he assure those head teachers that every school will contain a suitably qualified teacher for each subject in that curriculum?

Mr. Howarth

The Government are very conscious that much is being asked of teachers in our current education reforms and that much is being achieved. The teaching profession deserves recognition, respect and gratitude for its professionalism. The criteria for the accreditation of teacher training courses have been modified, and as a result we shall look forward to every teacher trainee for primary teaching having 100 hours of training in science, in addition to the training already provided in the other core subjects of mathematics and English. Beyond that we are providing grants for in-service training to enable primary teachers to upgrade and update their professional qualifications.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Does my hon. Friend agree that the large increase in resources per primary school pupil over the past 10 years has led to a record pupil-teacher ratio in Britain? Will he confirm the results of a recent national survey on parents' attitudes which show that the majority of them are not worried about resources or staffing in schools and overwhelmingly support the Government's policies for a national curriculum and rigorous assessment of pupils and teachers which have been embodied in the Education Reform Act 1988?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The national curriculum has been very widely welcomed by parents and by the teaching profession. It represents a redefinition of every child's entitlement to an education that will prepare them for the 1990s and it deserves the fullest support of all parties in the House.

Mr. Straw

As the Minister is so confident in the Government's record, will he offer parents a clear and categorical guarantee that no child will be without a properly qualified permanent teacher in his or her classroom in January?

Mr. Howarth: Overall, the supply of primary teachers in Britain is more than enough to meet the requirements. Of course we are well aware that there are problems of shortages and difficulties in retention and recruitment in certain geographical areas—notably London and the south-east. As the hon. Gentleman knows, education authorities are responsible for the employment and deployment of teachers. We are working actively and vigorously to support them. A £50 million programme is in operation to assist authorities to devise the recruitment packages that they need. We shall continue to develop and refine that programme, working in their support.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that when considering resources, particularly in junior and infants' schools, we shall move away from the slavish regard for class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios and consider resources in a much wider way? Sometimes large classes are the right approach and resources should be spread more widely to provide other teaching aids.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is right to say that class sizes are an indicator of limited value. The quality of teaching counts above all. However, our improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio has given authorities and heads more flexibility in the management of their teacher forces and has provided more scope for teachers to undertake in-service training. My hon. Friend is also right that it is important that we continue to make good progress in making available to schools new material and teaching aids. For example, we are working on a programme to make available interactive videos in our schools.

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