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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I must point out to your Lordships that if Amendment No. 2 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 3 to 5 inclusive.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am sure that the House is grateful to the Minister for tabling these amendments. It is good to see the Government's broad intentions on the face of the Bill. However, I should like to ask one question about what I think may be an omission from Amendment No. 2. In Committee, the Minister told us that despite the expenditure that would be involved the Government were determined to keep class sizes to the number prescribed and that if necessary extra teachers would be recruited and new building work carried out. The Minister said that quite clearly. We hear that a good deal of money is to be moved into schools from other areas of expenditure on our national life, presumably partly to meet this extra expenditure.

I have read in the education press that one of the ways in which the Government's aim is to be met is by creating classes containing children at different stages, with two or even three-stage classes. Can the Minister

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confirm that that is a possibility? If it is, can the noble Baroness tell me whether the Government think that 30 children is the right maximum for a mixed stage class? In Scotland, the contractual limit on the maximum size of a class containing children who are all at one stage is 33, but when the class contains children at two different stages, the maximum size allowed is 25. Those limits apply at every level of schooling, right through a child's school life.

It seems to me that it must be very difficult for a teacher to teach children at two or three different stages. It is probably not impossible with a smaller number of children, but if a class contained 30 children at three different stages, the teacher would have to be pretty good to be able to cope. I wonder whether the Minister has allowed for that. My reading of the text of Amendment No. 2 does not reveal that that is allowed for in future regulations. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to this important point.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I too welcome Amendment No. 2 and the fact that the Government have been able to go into rather more detail about their proposals. However, at the next stage will the Minister consider going just a mile further because class sizes seem an awfully blunt instrument in terms of very young children. Normally in classes containing four and five year-olds there will be at least one assistant and perhaps two. The quality of that assistant is important, as is the experience of the teacher who should have special training for dealing with very young children. Some people take the view that there should be at least one trained nursery nurse as an assistant in a class containing four year-olds. A class of 30 which is taught by a 35 year-old--by one young, inexperienced teacher alone--is very different from a class of 30 which is taught by an experienced nursery teacher or infant teacher helped by one or two assistants, perhaps one of whom is a nursery nurse.

I wonder whether there could be rather more precision in these provisions. I should like to take this opportunity to support what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, because there is, indeed, a very great difference if one is teaching children of different ages and at different stages of their development.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can give us some figures. I know that the department has now carried out a great deal of work into ascertaining how many children are in this age group, where they are, and the size of their classes. I know that there has been a recent publication on this although I have not had all the details. At the last date for which information was available, how many classes at Key Stage 1 contain children of mixed age groups? My noble friend Lady Carnegy made an important point. The school in my village contains only three classes. The first contains five, six and seven year-olds; the second class contains seven, eight and nine year-olds; and the third class contains nine, 10 and 11 year-olds. That situation is very common in the rural areas of this country.

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As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, there is a world of difference between a teacher having to teach a class of 30 children of three different age groups and a teacher who teaches a class containing only five year-olds, or only six year-olds or only seven year-olds. The burden on the former teacher is so much greater. If the policy were applied inflexibly, the teacher with the mixed age group would be subject to the same limit on class size as the teacher with a class of only one age group. There is a great width of ability in the four, five and six year-old age group; in the five, six and seven year-old age group and in the seven, eight and nine year-old age group. The range of ability in such mixed classes is vast. However, it does not appear that any provision has been made to recognise that difference when applying the policy.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, we are aware that in these amendments the Government have dealt with many of the issues that were raised in Committee. Effectively, they have rewritten the provisions dealing with class sizes in infant schools. I know that in Committee the Government were sympathetic to many of our amendments. At a recent conference of local education authorities concern was expressed about implementing the Government's policy. Many practical problems have emerged for both LEAs and individual schools around the country as they have tried to cope with what they thought was the Government's policy.

We recognise that the amendments give the Government much more flexibility in applying their infant class size policy. The amendments will give schools time to introduce the policy and may create less competition in terms of other policies, such as admissions policies, and with regard to the effect on classes for older children in schools that comprise both infants and juniors.

However, we feel that the Government have got themselves into a bit of an unnecessary mess by pushing their policy a little too soon and even before it has passed through the legislative process. We accept--we have accepted for some time--that the costs will be higher. Indeed, over a period of time we have been giving detailed costings of how we suggest that our proposals should be enacted. Our proposals would go even further than the Government's and would ensure that all primary school classes are limited in size to 30 children.

However, the difficulty remains that resources will be needed. We are not absolutely convinced that the Government have squared the circle. The nature of the Government's amendments makes life slightly difficult as regards our later amendments in relation to class sizes. The original provisions were intended to ensure that the size of classes in all primary schools was 30, in part because of the knock-on effects flowing from the Government's proposals. If we are to achieve that we believe that it should be done properly. The Government have a partial policy; and the amendments that they have tabled today demonstrate that that policy has a knock-on effect. The Government have responded to that today.

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It is likely that the policy on infant class sizes will not work its way through the schools in precisely the way intended by the Government. There have been discussions in another place and announcements have been made by the Government about how many new teachers will be needed, how much money the Government will give for that, and how much money will be made available in the immediate future. Originally a statement was made by a Minister in another place that 5,000 extra teachers would be required by the year 2001. My honourable friend in another place, Mr. Don Foster, has done some arithmetic. Being generous to the Government, it is difficult to understand how another 8,000 additional teachers will not be required. The noble Baroness the Minister has informed the House today that recruitment of infant school teachers is buoyant. We are pleased to hear that. However, we still believe that it will be difficult to find the extra teachers who will be needed.

In a press release on 22nd May, the Government said that the sum of £22 million was being allocated from the standards fund to recruit 1,500 new teachers to ensure that just over 100,000 infant pupils are kept out of large classes from September. However, if one works out the cost per teacher the figure is about £18,000. That means a shortfall of approximately 250 teachers, unless the figures are wrong. When one looks more closely at the figures in the Government's statement one is concerned that there will be problems despite the fact that they have given themselves flexibility on the issue.

We support small class sizes. As a teacher I have supported that concept on the Floor of the House many times. The question is always raised whether there is scientific evidence that small classes are beneficial to children. As a teacher I know that with small classes I was able to get more out of those children than with larger classes. I refer in particular to the average child who is able to achieve a great deal more. If I had been an even better teacher perhaps I could have gained the very best out of every child. I suggest that few people can do that. There is no doubt that for the average teacher to be able to carry out his or her job, and to feel satisfied about the achievement of the child at the end of that teaching, it is better for all concerned if there are smaller classes. I do not believe that scientific evidence is required to demonstrate that.

It is possible that we shall not be able to move the next sets of amendments. I hope that I have indicated why we wish to move those amendments. In part we are concerned about the levels of funding and the recruitment of teachers. The Government recognise some of the points that we make. They believe that they are answering some of the questions that we raise. However, in the end more resources are required. During the general election we were clear as to where those greater resources would come from. I shall not bore noble Lords this afternoon with the figures. We worked out a five-year plan based on a penny on income tax and how much we would put towards it. In year five there would be a figure of £475 million which would ensure classes of 30 in all primary classes. Some of our later amendments seek to define primary school classes. That is also important.

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We welcome the Government's recognition of the issues that have been raised by ourselves and others outside this House. However, we do not believe that what they have done goes far enough. We regret that we shall not be able to talk about that at greater length.

4 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I begin by dealing with the question of mixed age teaching raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, which was also touched upon by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. That matter was also commented upon by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. Twenty seven per cent. of pupils in primary classes in January 1998 were taught by one teacher in mixed age classes. At Key Stage 1 21 per cent. of pupils were in mixed year group classes; and at Key Stage 2 28 per cent. were in mixed year group classes. There are already substantial numbers of pupils in these classes. I understand that the average size of mixed age primary classes taught by one teacher in primary schools is 27.4. Therefore, that is lower than the equivalent figure for all single year group classes except reception class. But I accept as a matter of common sense that if a teacher is asked to teach across age groups it may be more demanding. I also accept the point about the value of teaching assistants in classes of this kind.

We want to ensure that local education authorities come to sensible decisions. It is a matter for local decision-making. It is obvious from the figures that LEAs already take this into account, and I see no reason why they should not continue to do so. We do not expect an enormous increase in the number of Key Stage 1 infant school classes that are taught in mixed age groups as a result of the change that we make to the class size limit. I turn to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. The reason for that is that we shall provide the resources. We have not had to put a penny on income tax to find the resources for this initiative. Those resources are being found without increasing income tax.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for her comments about the importance of small classes for young children. If there are smaller infant classes they will work their way through primary schools. As a result we expect to see rather smaller classes at Key Stage 2 as those smaller infant school classes work their way through. I believe that I have answered the questions that have been put. On that basis I hope that the House will accept this amendment.

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