HC Deb 17 October 1995 vol 264 cc127-8
1. Mrs. Helen Jackson

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what estimate she has made of the number of primary school children being taught in classes of over 30 in the current academic year. [35990]

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

Figures for the current academic year are not available.

Mrs. Jackson

Figures for the current academic year are available in my constituency, because I have contacted every primary school head teacher. They show that children in 96 out of 187 primary school classes—more than 50 per cent. of them—will start the school year in classes of 30 or more. Will the Secretary of State say whether she believes that there is a link between the quality of education offered and the size of a primary school class? If she agrees that there is a link, what will she do about it—

Madam Speaker

Order. We are not in debate; this is Question Time.

Mrs. Shephard

I have said often enough in this House that I accept that a very large class may be difficult for a teacher to manage. The chief inspector of schools, however, consistently reports no link between class size and attainment. He also consistently reports that what matters is the quality of teaching. That is why I greatly welcome the recent conversion of Opposition Members to supporting improved standards in schools, despite their voting record of having opposed every measure to improve standards of the past 16 years.

Mr. Alison

Does my right hon. Friend agree that overcrowded school premises can inhibit a school's excellence as much as overcrowded classes? Will she look with special sympathy at proposals, soon to reach her, to rebuild or expand Monk Fryston Church of England primary school in my constituency? Built for 44 children, it is now crammed with 126 of them, in more temporary classrooms than original classrooms. Will she do her best to help that marvellous school move into a more expansive phase?

Mrs. Shephard

My right hon. Friend has been consistently assiduous in pressing the case for a capital allocation to Monk Fryston school, and I am grateful to him. I understand that the North Yorkshire local education authority has included an element for the school in this year's capital bid. Clearly I can give my right hon. Friend no more reassurance than to say that I will judge any such bid against our criteria to ensure that resources are fairly distributed.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

If it is acceptable for primary schools to have classes of more than 30, why is it not acceptable for preparatory schools—the junior equivalents of public schools—to which the rich can send their children? Why should those schools be able to have 15 in a class while numbers in the state sector are double that? Does it not show that the Government are interested only in privilege in education?

Mrs. Shephard

On the contrary, we believe in choice, and in choice for everyone. The Opposition believe in choice for their Front Benchers and a firm march back to the 1960s for everyone else.