HC Deb 21 May 1991 vol 191 cc763-4
1. Mr. Battle

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the average class size in the years 1989–90 and 1990–91.

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

In 1989–90 there were on average 26.4 pupils per class in maintained primary schools and 20.7 pupils per class in maintained secondary schools in England. Information on class sizes in 1990–91 is not yet available.

Mr. Battle

Is not it clear that despite a drop in pupil numbers, class sizes rose last year for the first time for 20 years? Does not that show that there has been a cut in resources and that primary and nursery schools in particular are under pressure as a result of the Government's policies?

Mr. Fallon

The pupil-teacher ratio to which the hon. Gentleman refers is not linked directly to class size, which depends as much on how staff members are deployed as on how many there are. The ratio has fallen from 19:1 in the late 1970s to about 17:1 today.

Mr. Pawsey

Can my hon. Friend strike a comparison between teacher numbers in 1979—the last year of the Labour Government—and teacher numbers in 1989? Will he confirm that education spending this year is 16 per cent. higher than that for the preceding year? Does he agree that much of the additional funding is being spent on teachers?

Mr. Fallon

As always, my hon. Friend is well informed on these matters. I am sure that he would like to know that the teacher vacancy rate, at 1.6 per cent., is the lowest of almost any profession. Vacancies have fallen significantly in the past year and last year we had the most applications for teacher training since 1977.

Mr. Fatchett

Is not the Minister confused yet again? According to The Times Educational Supplement of 3 May, a spokesman for the Department said that the figures that had been published by the Department for 1990–91 seemed to show an increase in the pupil-teacher ratio, but the Minister has denied those figures. In fact, he said that they were not available. When will he tell the truth to the House and when will he accept that there has been a deterioration in the pupil-teacher ratio because of the Government's inadequate funding policy?

Mr. Fallon

I explained in my main answer that information on class sizes is not available. I was trying to explain to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) that class size is not the same as the pupil-teacher ratio. Class size depends just as much on how staff members are deployed as on how many staff there are. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, of all people, would understand the difference.

Mr. Batiste

Is not it clear that if schools opt for grant-maintained status they will be able to liberate from local authorities a great deal of money that could be made available, at least in part, for recruiting teachers and reducing class sizes? In Leeds, for example, comprehensive schools could liberate between £250,000 and £500,000 a year. That would buy many extra teachers.

Mr. Fallon

There is much that local education authorities can do to reduce central bureaucracy and the numbers of administrators and advisers to get more resources down to the classroom level. A central feature of local management of schools is that we are driving resources through the council hall direct to the classrooms, where they are needed.