HC Deb 12 March 1991 vol 187 cc799-800
11. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the change in the demand for nursery places in the United Kingdom in recent years.

Mr. Eggar

It is for local authorities to assess changes in the requirements of the under-fives and how these might best be met within available resources. The numbers of these children attending school full or part time has grown markedly over the period of the present Government and our expenditure plans allow for this welcome trend to continue.

Mr. Bennett

Can the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has now denounced the promise made by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in 1972 that as a nation we should try to provide universal nursery education for all children whose parents want it? Given that most of our European Community partners allow their children to get off to a good start with nursery education, and given the Prime Minister's commitment to putting education first, is not it high time that we provided places for all children aged between three and five whose parents want them to attend nursery schools?

Mr. Eggar

What I can confirm is that 150,000 more children now have nursery education than 10 years ago; there has been a 50 per cent. real increase in expenditure on nursery classes and nursery children; and next year the Government are allowing an extra £140 million to be spent on nursery education. That is the record. If the hon. Gentleman wants to find a local authority which is offering places for all three and four-year olds, I suggest that he visits Wandsworth.

Mr. Thornton

While welcoming my hon. Friend's statement concerning increased expenditure on nursery education, does he agree that it is absolutely essential that, in that expansion, due regard is paid to the necessity of having a curriculum appropriate to the needs of the under-fives, and not merely some extension of the primary curriculum? All the evidence suggests that that is the best way to get the maximum benefit out of nursery provision and the head start that children need before going into full-time primary education.

Mr. Eggar

I know that my hon. Friend and the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts has studied the issue carefully. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold) produced her report on quality in nursery education, which has been widely welcomed.

Ms. Armstrong

I am sure that those parents who are worried about authorities cutting nursery education will be most concerned at the Minister's response. When will the Government ensure that local authorities have the resources to increase nursery education? Will he further recognise that no Labour-controlled authority is in the bottom half of those authorities delivering nursery education, and that if children live in a Labour-controlled borough they have twice the opportunity for nursery education than in any Tory borough?

Mr. Eggar

What the hon. Lady failed to point out was that the Government have made £140 million extra available for nursery education next year, whereas her hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) promised the princely sum of £100 million—£40 million less than we are to make available. With regard to the performance of Labour-controlled authorities, it is interesting that school leavers in 20 of the 25 education authorities that spent most on nursery education achieved lower than average results in GCSEs. There is a message there.