HC Deb 21 February 1995 vol 255 cc139-40
1. Mr. Dowd

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what estimate she has made of the effect on average class sizes in London of the 1995–96 financial settlement for schools.

The Secretary of State for Education (Mrs. Gillian Shephard)

London local education authorities will receive an extra £73 million for the 1995–96 settlement. Class sizes will depend on the way in which authorities and schools choose to spend their resources.

Mr. Dowd

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Will she confirm that the severity of the 1995–96 settlement, coupled with the systematic underfunding of the teachers' pay award, is nothing more than a shameful camouflage, by which the Government are attempting to revive interest in their flagging policy of encouraging opt-outs? Will she also confirm that it is a shameful attempt to try to put a few pennies in the bank for tax cuts, which will not work, at the next general election?

Mrs. Shephard

No, I will not confirm any such thing. Next year's settlement must be seen in the context of two years in which there have been generous settlements for local government. The settlement also allows an increase across the board and for education for all authorities. We expect local education authorities, by identifying priorities, by drawing on balances and by making sensible savings in central services, to accommodate the pay settlement.

Dame Angela Rumbold

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the content of a letter that has come into my possession, which is written by the education chairman of my local authority, the London borough of Merton, which is Labour controlled? She asks all her colleagues to unite in an effort to, as she puts it, "stir up aggro" among the governors and parents in the London borough of Merton against the council's "difficulties", so-called, in being able to fund education this year.

Mrs. Shephard

It is a great pity that the chairman of the Merton education committee should so waste her time. She would be very much better employed identifying sensible priorities within her education authority so that the children of Merton do not suffer.

Mr. Don Foster

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, in London, there are almost 100,000 primary school pupils in classes of more than 30 and that the figure is set to rise unless more money is made available from the Treasury for the education service? Will she tell the House what endeavours she has made in the past few weeks to obtain more money from the Treasury and with what success?

Mrs. Shephard

I have already explained that London local authorities will receive an extra £73 million for the 1995–96 settlement. We must also remember that over the past five years, the standard spending assessments of London authorities have increased by 25 per cent. above the rate of inflation. London authorities also receive considerably more cash per pupil in their education SSAs than do other authorities. For all those reasons, I see no reason why class sizes should rise in London.