HC Deb 13 December 1995 vol 268 cc979-81
8. Mr. Bayley

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what are her Department's priorities for the use of the additional resources for education announced on 28 November. [3875]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

We have provided an extra £878 million for schools next year. I would expect that substantial sum to result in an improved quality of education in our schools.

Mr. Bayley

Last year, one of my children, who is at a local authority primary school, was in a class of 37. Is the Secretary of State aware that the National Association of Governors and Managers and the public sector accountancy association, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy—CIPFA—have revealed that more than one in three children in primary school are now taught in a class of more than 30?

Has the Secretary of State seen the estimate from the National Foundation for Educational Research that reducing class sizes to 30 or below for all five, six and seven-year-olds, as the Labour party proposes, would cost only £60 million a year? Does she believe that it would be better for more parents of more children in more schools to spend that £60 million on reducing class sizes for primary school children, rather spending a further £101 million on expanding the assisted places scheme?

Madam Speaker

We must have brisk questions. Answers have been very brisk today, and I must move down the Order Paper.

Mrs. Shephard

It is for local education authorities to identify their priorities and how they wish to spend the substantial increase—4.5 per cent. in all—that they will have next year, compared with this year. That is a substantial increase, and it will certainly enable authorities to place a priority on primary classes, if that is their decision.

I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that his party's opposition to the assisted places scheme is the best possible example of its class-envious attitudes. We believe in choice and diversity for everyone: the Labour party believes in choice, but only for Front Benchers. Our calculation shows that the extra number of teachers that would result from the Labour party's putative use of the £60 million would be one teacher per 18 schools.

Mr. Atkins

Will my right hon. Friend join me, and all the Conservative Members who represent constituencies within Lancashire county council, in pressing its education committee to pass on the full 5.5 per cent. increase that she has been able to achieve in the Budget negotiations? Does she agree with my suggestion that Lancashire county council's education committee has absolutely no excuse for failing to provide the necessary resources for our children in the county's schools, given the Government's increase in the education budget of more than twice the rate of inflation?

Mrs. Shephard

Lancashire county council will benefit from an above-average increase in its education SSA next year. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend and other Conservative Members who represent Lancashire constituencies will not allow the Lancashire LEA to get away with doing other than passing the increase on to children in its schools.

Mrs. Mahon

Will the Secretary of State visit Withinfield junior and infant school in my constituency, where she will see for herself the appalling conditions in which 55 children share two urinals and six of the nine classes are taught in outside classrooms? When she sees that, will she help the local authority, which cannot possibly afford the money for a new school? That is the school's top priority, and it has the land for the new school. Will she give it some real resources so that those children are treated to a decent school before the old one falls down?

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Lady asks about capital allocations, which will be announced shortly. The increase for next year is substantial, and her authority will be able to use it to good effect to deal with the problems that she has described.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that all parents would agree with the priorities that she has laid out today, and on previous occasions, to the effect that the money allocated, and particularly the extra money now available, must go to schools and should not be retained by the local education authority? Will she therefore condemn the plans contained in papers from Liberal-controlled Harrow council? Instead of giving the money to schools, it wants to increase the staffing of its central bureaucracy. Is that not a disgrace? Should it not be condemned? Not only that, but, with the cheek of the devil, the council wants to blame the Government for its decision.

Mrs. Shephard

I fear that that is typical of many councils under such control. I trust that my hon. Friend and his colleagues will make absolutely certain, as they have today, that such a ludicrous practice will be roundly condemned by parents in his constituency.

Mr. Blunkett

First, may I associate everyone on the Opposition Benches with the Secretary of State's comments on the tragic death of Philip Lawrence, and, if I may say so, the concerned and measured way in which she has responded to that tragedy?

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the standard spending assessment is the assessment of the Government's understanding of what they believe local authorities should spend? It is not grant provided to an authority in order to provide services. Far from a 4.5 per cent. increase—or, in the county of the right hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), a 5.5 per cent. increase—there has been a cut of £298 million in the revenue support grant. Next year, the amount of money available will be cut by at least £41 per pupil. It is only because Labour authorities spend way above the SSA estimate that an even bigger cut has not been announced in the amount of money and resources available to schools throughout the country.

Mrs. Shephard

That was a brave attempt by the hon. Gentleman. He and his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did not star mathematically last week when they confused 30 per cent. of schools with 30 per cent. of lessons. What the hon. Gentleman is trying to do, and this is why it was a brave attempt, is to compare settlement with spending. He should compare Government settlement with Government settlement. What local authorities spend above their SSAs is up to them, but whatever they choose to spend, the Government resources available to them overall will increase by 4.5 per cent. There is no getting away from that, however much Opposition Members do not like it.