HC Deb 25 April 1995 vol 258 cc646-7
3. Mr. Ainger

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what estimate she has made of the number of teachers' posts that will be cut in the current financial year. [19170]

Mr. Robin Squire

My right hon. Friend has not made any such estimates.

Mr. Ainger

I am extremely surprised by that answer because in a letter to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster the Secretary of State for Education predicted that a teachers' pay award of between 2 and 3 per cent. would be the resource equivalent of the loss of between 7,000 and 10,000 jobs. She went on to say that that would mean a tightening of pupil-teacher ratios and, to use her words, class sizes would "shoot up". Was she right then, or is the recent research published by the University of Manchester in The Times Educational Supplement, which predicted teacher job losses of 14,000 this year, more accurate?

Mr. Squire

As the hon. Gentleman knows, Ministers have never commented and will never comment on allegedly leaked documents.

On the substance of the hon. Gentleman's question, on reflection he will understand why, with decisions lying with some 109 local education authorities—some of which, certainly the Conservative-controlled ones, have sought to protect and enhance education while others have not done so—there is a wide variation in any such prediction. When one includes in that equation the 24,000 separate governing bodies, it is obvious that making predictions will be difficult.

The hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the fact that the Manchester university survey was conducted in January and February, before any school knew what its budget would be for the forthcoming year. If one invites people to assume the worst from a position of temporary ignorance, they will no doubt do so.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Is the Minister aware that 776 schools in Lancashire employ 12,300 teachers to educate 217,000 children? That gives a ratio of 17.64:1, yet when a constituent of mine rang county hall and asked how many teachers were teaching classes of over 30 he was told that three quarters were doing so. He then commented acidly to county hall that that means that between 3,000 and 5,000 teachers are doing absolutely nothing at all.

Mr. Squire

Not for the first time, my hon. Friend has put her finger on a very important point. The whole House, and certainly I as a Minister, awaits with interest the next instalment, when we shall hear Lancashire education authority's explanation for that astounding disparity.

Mr. Don Foster

Does the Minister personally believe that over the next 12 months teaching posts will be axed and class sizes will rise, and does he believe that rather than attacking local government bureaucracy it would be more appropriate to look at central Government bureaucracy in education? Does he acknowledge that there has been a significant increase in the administrative costs of quangos from £3 million to £98 million and a significant increase in the cost of departmental publications? Does he accept that, with all that going on, central DFE administrative expenditure has also risen?

Mr. Squire

There was a lot of fluff in that question. I am not sure what it adds up to, but I agree that it is correct for Government to look to control their administration, which we certainly do and will continue to do. The hon. Gentleman glosses over not a few Liberal Democrat councils that have deliberately chosen to maintain staffing at county hall or town hall and put teachers' jobs at risk. As for predictions about teachers, I can only say to the hon. Member that over a year ago we heard similar stories about chaos and calamity, yet the net result has been that 1,000 extra teachers have been employed.