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House of Commons

Tuesday 19 December 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Mr. Speaker : I regret to have to inform the House of the death of Bentley John Heddle Esquire, the Member for Mid-Staffordshire, and I desire on behalf of the House to express our sense of the loss we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the hon. Member.


Barlow Clowes

Return ordered,

of the Government's observations on the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration on Barlow Clowes.-- [Mr. Forth.]

Oral Answers to Questions


Schools (Safety)

1. Mr. Livsey : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on his policy to ensure that safety in schools is maintained.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : My right hon. Friend's policy is to assist local education authorities and governing bodies in meeting their legal responsibilities for reasonably ensuring safety in schools by providing advice and guidance and maintaining oversight of matters of particular interest and importance.

Mr. Livsey : On my birthday, 2 May, the Under-Secretary of State promised my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) that further action would be taken about the risks in schools for the safety of children, especially the general state of disrepair into which many schools have fallen and the fire risk. Last year, there were 25 school fires costing £250,000 each. What has the Minister done to provide further resources and what plans does she have to provide for the greater safety of our school children?

Mrs. Rumbold : First, all local authorities and governing bodies have a responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 and the fire safety regulations to ensure that school buildings are safe. The hon. Gentleman will know from the Autumn Statement that annual capital guidelines of £485 million of expenditure have been announced, together with a percentage of capital receipts which will be available to local authorities for expenditure

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on repairs, maintenance and desirable improvements of schools. That is additional money and rather better than the figure of £352 million for capital expenditure in this current year.

Dr. Glyn : Is my hon. Friend aware of the excellent work done by St. John Ambulance which teaches first aid in schools? Will she ensure that a first aid course is compulsory in all schools?

Mrs. Rumbold : I thank my hon. Friend for that remark. I am well aware of the importance of the work of the St. John Ambulance brigade. We are looking at the guidance on first aid issued to schools and hope that it will be sufficient. If necessary, we shall strengthen it.

Ms. Armstrong : How can the Minister be content with the safety of staff and children in schools when she and her hon. Friends are presiding over a backlog of £3 billion worth of repairs?

Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Lady should be careful how she uses figures. The £3 billion to which she referred was for desirable repairs, £1 billion of which were postulated in a buildings report three years ago. Inevitably, some of those repairs must have been made as local authorities have had £1.6 billion available to spend over the past three years.

City Technology Colleges

2. Mr. Dykes : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will establish a city technology college in the north-west London area.

Mrs. Rumbold : A number of sponsors have expressed an interest in sponsoring a CTC in the London area. We are willing to consider any proposal that meets the programme's criteria and has the support of industry.

Mr. Dykes : I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In view of the suggestion that such an institution might be established in the Brent Cross area and the excellent potential of such new institutions, what does my hon. Friend think the effects would be on neighbouring boroughs, including my constituency?

Mrs. Rumbold : The criteria for drawing up the catchment areas for CTCs are decided as and when CTCs are established. My hon. Friend is right to say that they are an extremely valuable addition to our complement of educational buildings and schools.

Mr. Flannery : May I express the hope that no CTC will be established in north-west London? If it is established, can that be done with money from private industry, as we were promised, instead of siphoning off Government money, as happened in Nottingham, where upwards of £8 million was taken for one school and 500 others will be deprived?

Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Gentleman should talk to parents in Nottingham who are clearly voting with their feet in support of the city technology college. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's hope that there will be no CTC in north London.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend accept the suggestion that there should be a city technology college on the Whitefield school site in north-west London, as it

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has been warmly welcomed by the governing body of the school, and it will be warmly welcomed by parents in the surrounding area?

Mrs. Rumbold : If we had sufficient support from industry--that is, 20 per cent. or more--and if the section 12 notices relating to such a proposal came forward, the Government would be happy to consider the proposal favourably.

Mr. George : Perhaps I can help the Minister. If she wants to establish a CTC, she can give away the one that is about to be established in my constituency. Why, when the local authority is trying to close two or three secondary schools in the area, is there a requirement--by that well- known education authority, the Black Country development corporation--to establish a further school?

Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Gentleman is confusing the difficulties that some local authorities have in persuading parents to accept the schools that they support in the maintained sector, and the new thoughts that come to parents when they consider CTCs and what they provide. The excellence of those schools is demonstrated by the number of parents supporting them and the number of teachers who wish to teach in them. It is clearly the will of the people to have new choices, and to support different types of school within the maintained sector.

School Days

3. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what information he has as to the length of the school day and year in 1989 and 1959.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth) : Under the Education (Schools and FurtheEducation) Regulations 1981, as amended, schools--nursery schools and classes excepted --must meet for 380 half-day sessions in a school year and provide at least three hours of secular instruction for pupils under eight years and at least four hours for pupils of or above that age. The equivalent provisions in 1959 contained no significant differences.

Mr. Bennett : Is my hon. Friend aware that 25 to 30 years ago the average school teaching day finished at about 4 o'clock? In most secondary schools now the day ends at about 3 o'clock--an hour earlier than 30 years ago. As many schools claim that they do not have time to teach the national curriculum and optional subjects, is there not a case for the secondary schools' teaching day to be extended?

Mr. Howarth : We all sometimes feel the temptation to be nostalgic. I doubt whether my hon. Friend means to contend that in general teachers work less hard than they did in what was, no doubt, the golden age when he was a teacher. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in paying tribute to the hard work and professionalism of teachers today. However, he has made an important point. The performance of schools as they organise themselves to teach the national curriculum will depend on management policy. The disparity in the number of hours of teaching offered to children from one school to another is striking. In that context, last May we put out a draft circular for

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consultation, inviting governors and head teachers to review the balance of time spent on teaching and other activities.

Mr. Madel : Does my hon. Friend think that the present school day should be extended so that those young people who find it difficult and unsettling to do their homework at home would have the option of doing this work at school?

Mr. Howarth : The organisation of the school day and the duties undertaken by teachers in directed time are matters for the head teacher to decide. Most schools organise themselves to deliver the national curriculum successfully, but some find it more difficult. Some schools offer up to three hours more teaching per week, with the same length of school day. Head teachers are anxious to be flexible, imaginative and sensitive to the needs of their pupils, but it is at their discretion.

Research Students

4. Mr. James Lamond : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the annual postgraduate award for research students living away from home outside London paid by the research councils ; and by how much it has changed in real terms since 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : The basic postgraduate grant paid by the research councils in 1989-90 is £3,725 a year. That is 1.5 per cent. more in real terms than the equivalent grant paid by the research councils in the 1979-80 academic year.

Mr. Lamond : Would it not be sensible for research councils to be given more funds, despite the welcome increase that the Minister has just described, so that they can at least get somewhere near to competing against the money available in the City and commerce, to which young people are drawn, as we might want some of them to go into research? This is quite different from a student grant, as I am sure the Minister appreciates. In view of the costs incurred by research students, £3,725 will not encourage them to take up research.

Mr. Jackson : I should tell my hon. Friend--I think of the hon. Gentleman as my hon. Friend since we travelled round the Soviet Union together in a large black limousine--that the number of studentships awarded by research councils has increased by 11 per cent. during the past 10 years. The level of research grant is for the research councils to settle, but they are recruiting increased numbers at the present grant.

Mr. Key : Although the Medical Research Council, of which I have the honour to be a member, is grateful that the payment has been increased by £600 in the current financial year, there is a real problem of recruitment, competing against the private sector at a time of demographic contraction. Will my hon. Friend consider carefully the implications of that for the quality and the number of students who go into research?

Mr. Jackson : It is difficult to measure what one means by quality in this context. About one third of those who go on to postgraduate study have first-class degrees. That proportion has been more or less the same throughout the research councils for many years.

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Dr. Bray : Will the Minister acknowledge that £3,725 is simply not a living rate and is a major disincentive which is having a drastic effect on quality? The proportion of first-class degrees is not a sufficient measure. I invite him to visit some leading research teams, such as that at the laboratory of molecular biology at Cambridge, to hear what they have to say. Is he aware that the Imperial Cancer Research Fund offers studentship grants of £7,269 and that the Wellcome Trust offers the same? It is utterly intolerable that the Medical Research Council and others should be unable to follow suit.

Mr. Jackson : The amount that we are paying is 1.5 per cent. more than was paid by the Government in which the hon. Member served 10 years ago. I visit many institutions and I am not aware that there is a problem with recruitment or quality. I think that the proportion of first-class degrees is a reasonable guide.

Mr. Conway : Is my hon. Friend aware of awards such as those made by organisations such as the National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases? Should we not recognise the work that is done at the taxpayer's expense and welcome the tremendous contribution of many national charities which fund a great deal of medical research out of charitable donations?

Mr. Jackson : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The charities make an enormous contribution, especially to medical research. That shows what can be done. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) referred to research assistantships, many of which are paid for by charities. Most of them are post-doctoral. Their number has increased four times during the past 10 years. Many are funded by the private sector and charities, and many more are funded by the Government.

Research and Development

5. Mr. Boyes : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates he has for higher education research and development expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product in the United Kingdom and in France, Germany, Japan and the United States of America, respectively.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John MacGregor) : Definitions of the higher education sector as reported to the OECD vary substantially, so any figures must be treated with caution. Published OECD figures for 1986 are 0.33 per cent. for the United Kingdom, 0.34 per cent. for France, 0.37 per cent. for Germany, 0.56 per cent. for Japan and 0.40 per cent. for the United States. But these are inputs, and this Government are concerned with outputs. As measured by our share of scientific papers published, the United Kingdom's research output remains second only to that of the United States.

Mr. Boyes : Is it true that we spend only half as much as Japan on our education research and development as a percentage of gross domestic product? How can the Secretary of State expect the United Kingdom to compete in a highly technological world when we spend less on research than do other major OECD countries? Is that not particularly important to constituencies in the north-east, where we try to create and attract new technological

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industries to replace our previous traditional base of steel, coal and merchant shipbuilding, which have all been destroyed by this Government?

Mr. MacGregor : The hon. Gentleman's latter point has nothing to do with the question. He asked me about specific countries, but I should tell him that we spend more on research and development than many other countries. Even more important, the comparable figures for OECD countries are for 1986 and are out of date. Since 1986 we have increased our science budget in real terms by 17 per cent., which is bound to be reflected in the comparisons. In the last two public expenditure surveys, we have increased the cash amount by £490 million--a significant increase.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : Has my right hon. Friend comparable figures for the provision of funds for higher education research and development by private industry and commerce? Is there not a case for trying to attract more funds from those sources so that we can have better research and development in the future?

Mr. MacGregor : I do not have the figures to hand, but they would show that, over the years, we have contributed less through those sources than some other countries. I am glad that, in the 1980s, universities and colleges have successfully attracted more funding from industry, as my hon. Friend recommended. I entirely agree with his objective, and our position is improving.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Does the Secretary of State agree that in addition to our relatively poor performance during the five years from 1986 -87 to 1991-92, as evidenced by the answers that he has just given, there will be a fall in expenditure on research and development in real terms by 10 per cent.? According to Government figures, expenditure will fall from £4.8 million to £4.3 million. Is not the reality that, according to the Government's figures, they have not only cut their commitment to research and development, but grossly underfunded our science base?

Mr. MacGregor : I have just told the House that our expenditure on the science budget since 1986-87 is substantially up in real terms. One can only guess as to the exact amount spent on research and development as a whole in universities. The Universities Funding Council said that this year we would spend about £780 million more on research and development. There has been a considerable increase in the amount spent.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : Will my right hon. Friend cast his eyes beyond solely expenditure on research, and say how we fare on the success and results of research, particularly in comparison with western Europe and the United States?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is right. In citations and published output we continue to perform extremely well. As I said, we are second only to the United States in terms of scientific papers in main journals. It is interesting that in the 1980s we have maintained our porportion of world output, whereas Germany and France, despite an increased scientific budget, have reduced their output.

Primary Schools (Computers)

7. Dr. Reid : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to ensure that the supply of computers in primary schools will meet the demand of the national curriculum.

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Mr. Alan Howarth : Local education authorities are responsible for ensuring that schools have enough microcomputers to meet the requirements of the national curriculum. Under our education support grants programme, £25 million is being set aside over a three-year period beginning last year to assist LEAs to purchase microcomputers for educational use in schools. For 1990-91, the Department has asked the authorities to give particular attention to the needs of primary schools.

Dr. Reid : The Minister must be aware that the National Curriculum Council states that our schoolchildren should be able to use computers as early as possible. However, Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools has discovered that more than one third of schools' computer hardware and software is inadequate. Why are Britain's children being sold short? How long will we have to wait until our children receive exactly the same technical back-up of hardware and computer software as our foreign competitors to allow them to develop their skills and contribute towards the nation's future technological health?

Mr. Howarth : Under the national curriculum, we require that every child in key stage one, which is the first three years of primary education, should have hands-on experience of computers. I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is quite in error and that Britain leads the world in information technology in schools. We have more microcomputers, more teachers trained in their appropriate use, and a more extensive presence of information technology across the curriculum than any other country. That places us in a very strong position for the future.

Mr. Baldry : Will my hon. Friend confirm that whether it be teachers, textbooks or computers, since 1979 spending per pupil in primary schools has increased by 35 per cent. and in secondary schools by 40 per cent? Is it not a fact that the Conservative party continues to strengthen our state schools?

Mr. Howarth : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sound economic policies must be the basis on which to generate the resources that we all want for education. Only this Conservative Government can deliver those sound policies. My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that the programme to equip primary schools with computers has been proceeding very well. There are now, on average, three microcomputers in each primary school.

Mr. Cryer : Does the Minister realise that primary school teachers in Bradford have difficulty using computers because there are so many leaking roofs that they fear for the electricity supply in the damp conditions? Will the Minister ensure that, as a requisite for teaching computing or any other subject, Bradford receives a sufficient allocation to ensure that its schools have decent premises and permanent extensions rather than having to manage, as they have for many years, with temporary classrooms, some of which need replacing with further temporary classrooms because they are worn out? I am thinking especially about Buttershaw first school in my constituency.

Mr. Howarth : The capital allocation needs of Bradford have been objectively and fairly considered on the same basis as every other authority, and that will continue. We

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support the introduction and development of information technology in schools through specific grants, which are a separate source of funding.

About £25 million is being set aside under education support grant for the purchase of microcomputers, with an additional £30 million for the employment of advisory teachers to help classroom teachers get to grips with information technology. Under the local education authority training grant scheme, £16 million is being set aside for training teachers in the use of information technology in schools. Bradford's bid for a share of those funds will again be fairly considered, as will bids from any other authority.


8. Mr. Forman : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he has taken to devise a coherent curriculum for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Mr. MacGregor : The most recent step is that I wrote to the School Examinations and Assessment Council on 28 November, asking it to develop proposals to enable young people to switch more easily between academic and vocational courses. I have also asked SEAC and the National Curriculum Council to work with other appropriate bodies on the incorporation within advanced-level courses of knowledge, skills and understanding relevant to working life.

Mr. Forman : I welcome that constructive step in Government education policy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an overriding need to raise the lamentably low staying-on rate for 16 to 18- year-olds? Does he further agree that we could well examine the international baccalaureate and the modular approach to courses? Would that not make it more attractive to pupils of all ranges of ability to stay on at school?

Mr. MacGregor : I agree that more young people should stay on at school. However, the rate has been improving in recent years and about 42 per cent. of young people aged 16 and 17 are now staying on in full-time education. A further considerable number are staying on part time. But we are still not doing as well as our major overseas competitors, and I am anxious for an improvement. I am glad to say that the GCSE is already being shown to motivate more 16-year-olds to stay on at school. My hon. Friend raises in his second point a number of bodies which are developing vocational courses, and I have asked SEAC to consider whether we have the right mix.

Dr. Thomas : The Secretary of State will recollect that he shares responsibility for the work of SEAC with the Secretary of State for Wales. Is he satisfied with the co-ordination with the Welsh Office on this issue, and is the Welsh dimension of SEAC's work being sufficiently addressed by the council?

Mr. MacGregor : Yes, I am satisfied about that. I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I know that SEAC pays particular attention to Welsh interests.

Mr. Latham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the A-level is an increasingly lonely examination--an all-or-nothing one-day pass or fail exercise--and will he

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compare it with the approach that is now being given to the GCSE to see whether more continuous assessment could be introduced?

Mr. MacGregor : No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend's first point. It is important to maintain the strengths and excellence of A- levels, and that is what we aim to do. But, given the numbers of extra young people now staying on after the age of 16 as a result of the GCSE, there will be some for whom the academic rigours of the A-level will not be appropriate as they stay on. That is why I have asked SEAC to look at the possibility of developing what technically are called credit transfers--to enable people, once they are in the A-level stream, to switch to vocational courses, if to do so suits them better.

Mr. Fatchett : The Secretary of State's answer to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) suggests that there is need to reform the A-level. When industry, through the CBI, and higher education, through the university vice-chancellors and polytechnic directors are asking for the reform of the A-level, and when the Government's own committee chaired by the vice-chancellor of Southampton, Professor Higginson, has asked for the reform of the A-level, is it not about time that the Government got the message and recognised that a broader examination at the age of 18 is the key to a broad curriculum between the ages of 16 and 18?

Mr. MacGregor : My answer to my hon. Friend did not imply what the hon. Gentleman suggests. It is important in this context to broaden the range of subjects that young people take when they move into the A-level stream. We are developing the AS-level to give that broader range. It has started comparatively well. It always takes time for an innovation to settle down. There are some problems that I have asked the advisory bodies to consider, but it has started well, and in my view that is the right course to pursue.

City Technology Colleges

9. Mr. Dunn : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the programme of development for city technology colleges.

Mr. MacGregor : The CTC programme continues to make excellent progress. Three CTCs are now open and at least a further eight colleges will open in 1990 and 1991.

Mr. Dunn : While welcoming the Government's determination to press on with the CTC programme, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now time positively to encourage local education authorities to run some of their schools along CTC lines?

Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the CTC in Dartford is making good progress, and that that is a CTC run exactly along the lines that we planned from the outset. As for his suggested broadening of the type of CTC that might be considered by local education authorities, I believe that that area could be further developed. Our top priority at present is to get completed the 20 to which we are committed as a target. The development of the CTC curriculum is another important area on which we have committed some expenditure. It is important for all local education

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authorities to gain from the innovations and changes that CTCs make to ensure that they are spread within the education system as a whole.

Mrs. Mahon : Is not the spending of huge amounts of public money on CTCs getting close to curruption? Is it not time that the Government looked to their responsibility to pay for education for the whole nation, and stopped funding a small, elite group?

Mr. MacGregor : That is the oddest description imaginable of money spent on an innovation that will bring considerable benefits to inner-city areas, assist in the development of technological innovation in education and help industry and education to work together more closely in schools. It is also important for the hon. Lady to see our spending in context. Next year we shall be spending about £28 million on CTCs, and just under £15,000 million on the maintained sector as a whole.

Mr. Pawsey : As one of the only two hon. Members of the House who went to a technical school--the other being my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce)--I well understand, as does my hon. Friend, the benefits of a good technical education. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ignore the carping, moaning and grumbling of Opposition Members, to accelerate the current programme and to develop more CTCs?

Mr. MacGregor : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. It is interesting to note that parents who are in potential CTC catchment areas take an entirely different view from that of Opposition Members. The colleges now being developed are clearly oversubscribed.

My hon. Friend asked me to expand the programme. We have a big job ahead in achieving our target of 20 CTCs--there are always difficulties to be overcome in such circumstances, for instance sorting out planning, building sites and staffing, but we are making good progress, and I think that it is right to concentrate on that.

Mr. Straw : Does the Secretary of State recall that his predecessor said that 20 CTCs would be in operation by the end of this year? As only three are in operation so far, why does the Secretary of State not recognise that the programme is an immoral and wasteful failure? Her Majesty's inspectorate has said that half the children in secondary schools are being educated in sub-standard accommodation. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not immediately cancel this wasteful CTC programme and use the money to repair some of Britain's crumbling schools?

Mr. MacGregor : I have already told the House that the target set by my predecessor turned out in practice to be overambitious, owing to the difficulty of getting the practical realities off the ground. To describe the programme as immoral is, however, ludicrous. The plain fact is that practical problems are always involved in the business of gaining planning permission, finding sites and linking sponsors to those sites. That is what has caused our failure to meet the original timetable, but we are sticking to our target, and it is clear from the response that this has been an excellent innovation.

Mr. Squire : Is my right hon. Friend not appalled by the continuing opposition from so many members of the Labour party to yet another extension of choice? Will he confirm that, far from being elitist, CTCs draw their pupils from the widest range of ability possible?

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Mr. MacGregor : My hon. Friend is right. If the Opposition abandoned their blind prejudice and looked at what is happening in the CTCs, they would obtain a very different view. They would see just how well the colleges are performing in inner-urban areas containing a considerable ethnic mix. I suspect that, just as they have changed their attitude to the closed shop, taxation and so many other matters, Labour Members will gradually come to recognise that we are right, and will cease their opposition to this innovation. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. May I ask hon. Members to listen to these important questions?

Staffing Levels

10. Mr. Archer : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on staffing levels in junior and infant schools.

Mr. Alan Howarth : The ratio of pupils to teachers in primary schools has improved from 23.1 : 1 in 1979 to 22 : 1 in 1988. There are now more primary teachers relative to pupils than ever before. This improvement has given local education authorities and schools greater flexibility in the deployment of teacher time. The average class size in primary schools is now 25.9 pupils--down from 26.3 in 1979.

Mr. Archer : That is good stuff, but is the Minister aware that I have received correspondence from the head teachers of many primary and junior schools in my constituency which expresses deep anxiety about the staffing problems and consequent crisis in morale? As his Department introduced the national curriculum, can he assure those head teachers that every school will contain a suitably qualified teacher for each subject in that curriculum?

Mr. Howarth : The Government are very conscious that much is being asked of teachers in our current education reforms and that much is being achieved. The teaching profession deserves recognition, respect and gratitude for its professionalism. The criteria for the accreditation of teacher training courses have been modified, and as a result we shall look forward to every teacher trainee for primary teaching having 100 hours of training in science, in addition to the training already provided in the other core subjects of mathematics and English. Beyond that we are providing grants for in-service training to enable primary teachers to upgrade and update their professional qualifications.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : Does my hon. Friend agree that the large increase in resources per primary school pupil over the past 10 years has led to a record pupil-teacher ratio in Britain? Will he confirm the results of a recent national survey on parents' attitudes which show that the majority of them are not worried about resources or staffing in schools and overwhelmingly support the Government's policies for a national curriculum and rigorous assessment of pupils and teachers which have been embodied in the Education Reform Act 1988?

Mr. Howarth : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The national curriculum has been very widely welcomed by parents and by the teaching profession. It represents a

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redefinition of every child's entitlement to an education that will prepare them for the 1990s and it deserves the fullest support of all parties in the House.

Mr. Straw : As the Minister is so confident in the Government's record, will he offer parents a clear and categorical guarantee that no child will be without a properly qualified permanent teacher in his or her classroom in January?

Mr. Howarth : Overall, the supply of primary teachers in Britain is more than enough to meet the requirements. Of course we are well aware that there are problems of shortages and difficulties in retention and recruitment in certain geographical areas--notably London and the south- east. As the hon. Gentleman knows, education authorities are responsible for the employment and deployment of teachers. We are working actively and vigorously to support them. A £50 million programme is in operation to assist authorities to devise the recruitment packages that they need. We shall continue to develop and refine that programme, working in their support.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that when considering resources, particularly in junior and infants' schools, we shall move away from the slavish regard for class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios and consider resources in a much wider way? Sometimes large classes are the right approach and resources should be spread more widely to provide other teaching aids.

Mr. Howarth : My hon. Friend is right to say that class sizes are an indicator of limited value. The quality of teaching counts above all. However, our improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio has given authorities and heads more flexibility in the management of their teacher forces and has provided more scope for teachers to undertake in-service training. My hon. Friend is also right that it is important that we continue to make good progress in making available to schools new material and teaching aids. For example, we are working on a programme to make available interactive videos in our schools.

Student Loans

11. Mr. Janner : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received concerning the Government's proposal to set up a system of top-up loans for students.

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