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Mr. Byers: I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman. The class size reduction for this September is not being carried out with a statutory underpinning--that will come through the local education authority plans, which will be submitted in the autumn. Provided that the plans from the 65 authorities that will get money from this September are satisfactory, the money will roll through into subsequent years.

Mr. Foster: The local education authorities involved in the pilot will definitely welcome that assurance, although they were not given it until that moment.

The hon. Member for Havant mentioned another concern that illustrates that the homework has not been done--funding. The Minister will not deny that he clearly said tonight that he accepts that assisted places money alone would not have been sufficient to deliver the pledge. Of course, we welcome the additional money from the Chancellor, but, without those additional sums, there is no evidence that the Government would have been able to deliver their pledge.

When I looked at the calculations, I was worried whether there would be sufficient money even with the additional funding. For example, the Minister told us in the Standing Committee on the School Standards and Framework Bill that, to deliver the pledge by 2001, 5,000

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extra teachers would probably be required. To date, none of us has seen an explanation of how that calculation was made. The Minister told us--it is clearly on the record--that 500,000 key stage 1 pupils are in classes of more than 30. If all of them were put into new classes of 30--this is a simple calculation--16,500 additional teachers would be required. We accept that some of those pupils will go into classes of fewer than 30, but even if one assumes that half of the 500,000 will do so--how that can happen when the Minister has told us that parents will be able to choose the most popular schools I do not know--and only 250,000 have to be put in new classes, it will still require not 5,000 but more than 8,000 additional teachers. I confess that I do not understand how the sums add up.

Another example of how the figures do not add up is obvious from the departmental press release of 22 May, which many hon. Members will have studied and which categorically told us that the £22 million was being allocated


I checked the figures carefully with the Library, as I do not claim to be a better mathematician than the Minister. To the starting salary for a new teacher I added the appropriate superannuation and national insurance costs and discovered that the starting figure from 1 December, when the new teachers will be in post, is £17,595 per annum. I divided that sum into £22 million, expecting the answer to be 1,500, but it came to only 1,250. Therefore, there is no money to provide for 250 of the additional teachers the hon. Gentleman is promising us.

The Minister also needs to consider some of the other concerns mentioned to him during the consultation period. As he was able to give such a clear statement about what he will do about the various criteria announced earlier in the light of the consultation, perhaps he will tell us what he can do about the concerns of local education authorities over information technology. The additional IT skills and the work necessary to produce all the data for the Department will require additional staff, unless staff are taken away from their existing activities--that is, improving standards. Will additional money be made available to help LEAs with that task?

Leaving aside the money, another question is whether, in certain parts of the country, we shall be able to find the teachers to carry out the tasks that will be required. For example, LEAs in the inner London weighting pay area collectively have a smaller percentage of pupils in classes of more than 30 than those in other parts of the country, but nevertheless face the problem of existing vacancies, which have increased to 3.6 per cent. in the past two years. They will need to find additional teachers to reduce their class sizes, but there are already a large number of vacancies in their primary schools. The Government are convinced that all that will be delivered, but how do they expect that problem to be resolved? The problem is made worse by the fact that authorities in suburban London have the largest percentage of pupils in classes of more than 30--in Bromley, it is 56 per cent. and in Kingston, 62 per cent.--and will need a large number of extra teachers. The worry is that they will suck teachers out of the inner-London authorities where it is less popular to teach, which will make life there difficult indeed.

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We have heard mention of the problem of what to do about popular schools. The Minister has stated that, following consultation, the extra places that are needed should be created in popular, oversubscribed schools with high standards shown by key stage 1 and 2 assessment tests, which is straight out of the consultation document. If that is to be the approach, I find it difficult to reconcile with some of the other Government requirements of local authorities, not least for the provision of best value. It seems to mean that the number of vacant school places throughout the country will increase. It is difficult to know whether that is the case, because consultation has not finished on the Government's admission policies.

The hon. Member for Havant mentioned mixed-age classes; I look to the Minister for a clear answer tonight. What will happen in the case of a mixed-age class that has pupils from key stages 1 and 2--that is, both seven and eight-year-olds? May we have a clear assurance that none of the pupils will be in a class of more than 30? I assume that the Minister will say categorically that the answer is yes. After all, the pledge clearly states:


The answer would have to be yes, but the very first paragraph of the consultation document that was issued to LEAs on 27 April says:


    "A class is covered by limits on class sizes if the majority of pupils in that class are in the relevant age group."

That means that if only a few pupils are seven and most are eight, the class can have more than 30 pupils, so the seven-year-olds will lose out. That is not compatible with the pledge and will cause confusion for the local authorities bidding for funds to reduce class sizes.

Has the Minister read her own document, "The National Literacy Strategy, Module 1, The Literacy Hour", which says that schools are required to organise classes so that there are no more than five groups of children, with no more than six in each group? Like the Minister, I am not brilliant at maths, but I can multiply five by six and get 30. How can that maximum number of pupils in a class for the literacy hour be achieved when even the Government do not expect class sizes for key stage 1 to get down to 30 for this September? Key stage 2 is not even covered, so we need to know how that all adds up.

The Government have failed to do anything about school space standards. The Minister was extremely critical when the previous Government decided to abolish the minimum space standards. It is a great pity that those standards have not been reinstated, especially as many new classes will be created in the drive to reduce class sizes. We need to have an assurance that those classes will not be created in inadequate spaces.

I am well aware that the ministerial answer will be that if there are no requirements, at least there are recommendations, which appear in building bulletin No. 82, "Area Guidelines for Schools". I seek an assurance that, in the creation of new classes, there will be an absolute requirement that those recommendations be adhered to by local education authorities and schools.

Class size reduction is vital if we are to raise standards. Frankly, it is hypocritical of the Conservative party, which presided over huge and rising class sizes, to berate the

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new Government, so we cannot support the motion. Equally, although we welcome the Government's determination at least to get some class sizes down, we cannot whole-heartedly congratulate


    "the Government on the excellent progress it has already made",

as the amendment says, because that would be to ignore the numerous unanswered questions and the failure to start early enough and to go far enough.

8.22 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington, North): I confess to being somewhat puzzled by the Opposition's choice of subject. For Conservative Members to initiate a debate on class sizes is like King Herod wanting to debate child welfare. If there were educational prizes for effrontery and sheer brass neck, they would certainly be at the front of the queue.

To hear the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) speak, one would think that Conservative Members were born guiltless on 1 May 1997. They would have us believe that they are without a past, but they are not, and it is right for the House to be reminded of that past, not because we want to evade responsibility for our actions--we shall be happy to be judged on them--but because it is important that the size of the task facing the Government, and their success in taking it on, should be put into context.

Mr. Brady: I, of course, am completely guiltless and blameless. I wonder whether the hon. Lady regards herself and the Labour party as free from blame for the incompetence of many Labour local education authorities, which have been responsible for such bad performance in education throughout much of the country.


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