HC Deb 06 July 2000 vol 353 cc416-7
12. Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

If he will make a statement on the average size of secondary school classes. [127931]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

The average size of classes in secondary schools is 22.0—[HON. MEMBERS: "That is 22."]—about five lower than in primary schools. If head teachers spent the extra funding that they received in the Budget on teachers, the pupil-teacher ratio could be reduced by 0.4. In addition, since January 1998 we have already reduced by 300,000 the number of children in infant classes of more than 30 pupils.

Mr. Gray

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the excellent Wootton Bassett comprehensive school in my constituency, which came top of the A-level league tables last year, and is just about to start a new PFI scheme for a new school, brought in by the Conservative-controlled Wiltshire county council? Will she also admit to an error in her answer? The average class size today is 22.02, not 22.0, as she said. The figure of 22.0 applied last year. Will she agree that that compares disgracefully with the 21.66 average class size when the Government came to power? They committed themselves to reducing the average class size, but it has gone up, which is making it more difficult for ordinary comprehensive schools across England to compete with Wootton Bassett.

Jacqui Smith

I am always willing to congratulate schools on achieving high standards, and I am willing to do so today—but the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Average class sizes have fallen and primary class sizes have fallen, but there has been a 0.1 per cent. increase in secondary class sizes in the past year. That is a trend that has been going on since 1988. As I have already pointed out, we are delivering on our pledge, which was to reduce class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds—a pledge that means 12,000 additional places in popular schools and £5.8 million for Wiltshire to support that initiative. We said that we would do that, and we are delivering.

Of course, the situation in secondary schools is slightly different. Head teachers should be allowed to use the extra money that we are putting into secondary schools and decide how they organise their classes. I am sure that if he visits secondary and primary schools, the hon. Gentleman understands that. We pledged to reduce primary class sizes and we are doing that—and we are reducing class sizes overall as well.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

Would not the class size pledge have been seen in a different light in 1997 if it had been known that while some class sizes would go down, others would go up? Is not the plain fact—irrespective of the Minister's selective use of statistics—that class sizes today are higher for seven to 11-year-olds, and for secondary schoolchildren, than they were in 1997? If we include all schools, as we were invited to do by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), the pupil-teacher ratio is the same as it was in 1997. In three years the Government have delivered nothing. We have had three years of all spin and no substance. If we look at the whole picture, we see that the Government have failed to deliver.

Jacqui Smith

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. In the past year, average class sizes have fallen for key stages 1 and 2, in primary schools, and overall. We have to judge the matter in the light of the Leader of the Opposition's pledge to do away with other "gimmicky" money—the money that we are putting in to reduce class sizes for children aged five, six and seven. We said at the election that we would do that, and we are delivering on that pledge. The Tories would take that money away if they ever got into power.

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