HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc715-6
1. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will state the current pupil-teacher ratio, and that of May 1979; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Michael Fallon)

In January 1979 there were 18.9 pupils per teacher in maintained nursery, primary and secondary schools in England. By January this year the ratio had fallen to 17.2 pupils per teacher.

Mr. Greenway

Will my hon. Friend accept the congratulations and thanks of parents, children, teachers and all concerned with education on the great improvement on the 1979 figures? Will he also confirm that overall teacher vacancies have improved by 30 per cent. in the past year? Will he consider conducting an inquiry into what the optimum pupil-teacher ratio should be for each age of children, because that ratio will differ? Some people could not teach five children very well, while others can teach 75 perfectly well.

Mr. Fallon

The situation today is a big improvement on the 1970s. What is most important is how classes are taught and how a school manages its teaching staff, rather than the actual number employed or the number of pupils per class.

Mr. Fatchett

Will the Minister confirm that since the previous election in 1987 the number of youngsters in primary schools who are taught in classes of more than 30 has increased by 100,000? We now face the disgraceful situation of nearly 1 million children in primary schools being taught in classes of more than 30. Are those figures unacceptable even to the Government? Is it not true that Ministers would not accept such class sizes for their children in the private sector?

Mr. Fallon

Primary class sizes were much bigger in the 1970s under the last Labour Government. I cannot confirm the figures that the hon. Gentleman has given. I repeat that what is important is how a school deploys its teaching staff, not the number of people it happens to have on its books.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

I welcome the significant improvement in teacher-pupil ratios since the last Labour Government were in power. My hon. Friend should be aware how much we welcome his statement and that of the Secretary of State, which concentrate on how children are taught in schools rather than on the number of teachers employed. In that regard, does my hon. Friend agree that the commission that the Secretary of State has set up under Professor Alexander to look at the way in which primary school children are taught is particularly welcome? In that way we shall be able to improve standards of education in primary schools.

Mr. Fallon

The statement that my right hon. and learned Friend made about primary education has been warmly welcomed by parents right across the country who are increasingly concerned about the methods and organisation of delivering primary education in our schools.