HC Deb 26 February 1997 vol 291 cc327-9
7. Mr. Chris Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will estimate the number of (a) eight-year-olds, (b) nine-year-olds and (c) 10-year-olds being taught in classes of more than 30 pupils. [16059]

8. Ms Lynne

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will make a statement on class sizes in primary schools. [16060]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

Figures are not collected by age group, but evidence shows that the quality of teaching, rather than the size of the class, is the key factor in determining pupils' achievements.

Mr. Davies

Is the Secretary of State aware that on Monday councillors in Oldham had to slash the schools budget for the coming year by some £600,000? Is she aware that the parents whom I represent are tired of hearing the Government claim that they are giving more money to education, when schools budgets are being cut and class sizes are rising? Will she give a commitment to press for additional funding to ensure that local education authorities can reduce class sizes below 30 for all primary school children? If not, why not?

Mrs. Shephard

All local education authorities have had an increase this year which should allow them to prioritise and to reduce class sizes if they see fit.

Ms Lynne

Does the Secretary of State accept that the Government have grossly underfunded primary education, which has led to an increase in class sizes? Is she aware that the Labour-run local education authority in Rochdale is allocating less in its first year of administration than the Liberal Democrats allocated in their first year? Does she agree that only the Liberal Democrats are committed to funding primary education properly in order to pay for a reduction in class sizes?

Mrs. Shephard

It is indeed the case that the average class size in Rochdale is higher than that in many other parts of the country and I am sure that the hon. Lady will take the matter up vigorously with the Rochdale local education authority which, as she says, is Labour controlled.

Mr. Riddick

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the surest way to reduce class sizes is to encourage local education authorities to spend less money on central administration and central services and to pass more funding to individual schools? For example, is she aware that Kirklees council in my area passes only £103 million to individual schools out of a total schools budget of £140 million? Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging Kirklees to do much better, because local head teachers know how best to spend school budgets?

Mrs. Shephard

It is certainly important for local education authorities to make what goes on in the classrooms a priority, which should be reflected accordingly in their funding arrangements.

Sir Alan Haselhurst

Is not the main thrust of the question oddly directed? If there are to be greater resources in primary education, should they not be concentrated on classes for five, six and seven-year-olds? If we look after those age groups properly, children of eight, nine and 10, given good teaching and proper classroom assistance, will reap the benefits.

Mrs. Shephard

Some interesting facts surround these matters. Her Majesty's chief inspector says that smaller class sizes are of benefit in the early years. He also says that the selection and application of teaching methods and forms of class organisation have a greater impact on learning than class size. An interesting example is provided by the Kingston LEA, which has the largest primary classes and the best GCSE results.

Mr. Blunkett

Will the Secretary of State confirm that there can be no greater example of diverting resources from lowering class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, targeting literacy or ensuring that teachers are able to instil the basics than diverting further resources into the assisted places scheme and away from the classrooms into which our children go to learn the basics? Instead, the Government are prepared to divert that money to the interests of a few and away from the interests of the many.

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Gentleman's prejudices are showing. He talks about the diverting of resources, but the Sheffield LEA, with which he once had a great deal to do, is doing a marvellous job of diverting resources from schools in Sheffield to administration and bureaucracy in the town hall. Will he come clean and admit that his so-called plans to use money diverted from the assisted places scheme to reduce the sizes of early primary years classes have been condemned as unworkable by his advisers, the National Foundation for Educational Research, and the Institute of Public Finance, which has shown that the so-called savings would not amount to the sum that he claims and would yield one extra teacher for every nine schools? How would he divide up that teacher?