HC Deb 15 June 1993 vol 226 cc721-2
4. Mr. Byers

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what was the percentage change in the number of primary schoolchildren being taught in classes of more than 40 between 1991 and 1992.

Mr. Forth


Mr. Byers

Is the Minister concerned that there has been a 24 per cent. increase in just one year in the number of primary school children being taught in classes of more than 40 and that thousands of primary school children are in that position? Will the Minister accept that, at a time of rising primary school population, we will need to employ more teachers to stop things getting even worse? Can he tell the House whether the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is likely to agree to such extra spending? Will he accept that when a teacher stands before a class of 40 10-year-olds, one is talking not about a valuable learning process but crowd control?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman is making heavy weather of this. Yes, the figure has gone from rather a few to very few, but we are talking about 225 classes out of 137,000, or 11 pupils out of more than 3.5 million. That gives the House some idea of the proportions. The reality is that most of those classes are not representative even of the schools that reported them. The interesting point is that, at the same time, those schools also have one or more small classes. It must be a matter, rightly, for schools and authorities to decide the distribution of their teaching resources within schools. That is where the decision should be made. I am satisfied that the resources are there for class sizes. The average primary class size now is 26.4 pupils compared with 25.9 as long ago as 1979. It is not a cause for the sort of concern that the hon. Gentleman has expressed.

Mr. Pawsey

The concern expressed by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) about children and class sizes would carry more weight if he would join Conservative Members in condemning the irresponsible acts of trade unions in boycotting tests.

Mr. Forth

That must be the case. We are concerned consistently with achieving and maintaining the highest possible standards in education. I sometimes wonder whether Opposition Members share that concern, given the fact that even now we believe, but we are not sure, that many Opposition Members supported the teachers' boycott. I should be glad to hear that confirmed by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman today.

Mr. Jamieson

Is the Minister aware that the implication of an answer that he gave recently to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) is that there are 500,000 children in state schools in this country in classes of 41 or more? Has the Minister had time to read an article by David Woodhead, who is a national director of the Independent Schools Information Service? He says—

Madam Speaker

Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to quote directly during Question Time.

Mr. Jamieson

Has the Minister had time to read the article in this magazine—[HON. MEMBERS: "Which one?"] The magazine from the Independent Schools Information Service. Will the Minister note that the article says quite clearly that the size of classes is important for children's education? Is the Minister saying that Mr. Woodhead is wrong or right?

Mr. Forth

The original premise of the hon. Gentleman's question was wrong; and not yet.