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Mr. Skinner: Would it be fair to say that, after 17 Tory years, the Government are now introducing education Bills that partly repeal the Bills they introduced in the 1979 to 1984 period? The Tories have turned full circle. When they first started, they were in favour of abolishing grammar schools, but now they want to create them; they were in favour of getting rid of the cane, but now Miss Whiplash wants to bring it back. All the time, teachers are falling down the pay ladder and more than 1 million primary kids are in classes of more than 30. We need about £4 billion to be spent on schools to bring them up to a decent standard of repair, but the Tories took away £50-odd billion from local authorities--mainly Labour ones--in the form of grant, most of which should have been spent on education.
Mrs. Shephard: The hon. Gentleman's rant does very little credit to his grammar school education. Perhaps I can point out to him that our reforms have resulted in higher standards, more choice, more transparency and more accountability in the education system. I should have thought that it was a matter of shame that the Labour party has voted against measures that resulted in those improvements.
Mr. Harry Greenway: Would my right hon. Friend like to remind the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that education is a dynamic science that constantly changes? It is therefore essential to keep on introducing new Bills to keep abreast of new developments. Bearing in mind what my right hon. Friend said about no teacher organisations making representations for the return of moderate and reasonable corporal punishment in schools, would she accept such representations from present or former individual members of the profession?
Mrs. Shephard: I agree with my hon. Friend that if the Opposition were so concerned about education they could start by looking at the records of their political colleagues in local education authorities throughout the land. It is a matter of great regret that they have voted against parental choice, more information about schools and admission arrangements, and even against the inspection of schools. Their attitude really defies description.
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Mr. Robin Squire: In January 1996, 32 per cent. of primary pupils were in single-teacher classes of more than 30. About a third of those pupils were in classes supported by at least one member of non-teaching staff.
Mr. Corbyn: Does the Minister agree that those figures are outrageous and disgraceful, and that standards in our primary schools have got worse and worse in the past 17 years with more and more pupils in large classes in which it is obviously difficult to give them the proper support and tuition that they need? Will he tell us about his plans for the future, because all the estimates I have seen suggest that more and more children will be in classes of more than 30 pupils, and will therefore get a worse and worse education? Will he tell us what plans he has to ensure a proper supply of properly qualified and trained teachers? What are his plans for proper expenditure to ensure that school buildings are of a sufficient standard to accommodate more, smaller classes, which will ensure that all our children get the standard of education that they deserve and need?
Mr. Squire: How interesting. First of all, a small fact: the percentage of pupils who are in classes of more than 30 is now smaller than it was when we came to power in 1979. I invite the hon. Gentleman to find, at some other stage, the adjective to describe our predecessors, the Labour Government. It is rather more important than that, because the hon. Gentleman comes from the borough of Islington and, indeed, represents it. In Islington, class sizes are below the national average, yet after 11 years of compulsory education, Islington's pupils have the worst record of attainment at GCSE level of any authority in the country. The Labour party has run that authority for the past 25 years. It is down to local education authorities to decide how the money is spent and what standards are maintained. Islington may be the borough of the chattering classes; unfortunately, it is also the borough of failing classes.
Sir Alan Haselhurst: Although I acknowledge that smaller class sizes must be better than larger class sizes, is not what really matters the amount of attention that each child gets from the teacher and support staff in the classroom, and the quality of the teaching?
Mr. Squire: My hon. Friend--who is very experienced in these matters--is absolutely right. If there were any doubt about that fact even among Opposition Members, the events of the past year should have disabused them of their belief, to which they adhere fanatically, that class size is all. The pupil-teacher ratio at Hackney Downs was eight to one, and the ratio at the Ridings school was 15 to one. Reports from the three inner-London education authorities earlier this year showed that four out of 10 of their 11-year-olds were two or more years behind the reading age for an 11-year-old. That is disgraceful, but it is not due to class sizes.
13 Nov 1996 : Column 351smaller classes provide a better education than bigger classes, will the Government match the Labour party's commitment to cut class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds to a maximum of 30?
Mr. Squire: For a start, the Labour party has not even begun to find the money--which may be as much as £250 million--to meet that pledge. No one is saying that class size is not important. [Hon. Members: "You are."] No. The Labour party, however, says that it is the single most important issue, which is manifestly untrue. This year and next year, there will undoubtedly be parents in the hon. Gentleman's constituency who will have a choice about which school to send their children to. They will sometimes choose the school that has larger classes and is more popular, and reject the school--which may even be closer--with smaller classes. All the evidence suggests that the belief that the issue is all about class size is simply wrong.
14. Mrs. Peacock: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many (a) grant-maintained and (b) local education authority schools are represented in the top 50 state schools measured by A-level results. 
Mrs. Peacock: Does my hon. Friend agree that A-level results show that GM schools enhance our children's education? Will she also confirm that the Labour party's policy would do great damage to our children's education?
Mrs. Gillan: Yes; I have great pleasure in confirming what my hon. Friend says. Overall, pupils in grant-maintained schools taking two or more A-levels achieve a higher average point score, at 17.1, than LEA pupils, at 15.5. The Labour party presents the real threat to grant-maintained schools, and its continued hostility to them is paraded openly. The hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) should speak up, and, when next they visit the schools that their children attend, tell the head teachers of their plans to disrupt the schools and to put them under LEA control.
Mr. Spearing: Does the Minister agree that the concept of a top and a bottom in tables of attainment is meaningless compared with the absolute standards achieved by all the schools? Will she note the damage done by publication of tables, and back both the head and the parents of students at Cheltenham college, who have taken a sensible view of education--against the views of their rather narrow-minded, business-minded and statistically minded governors?
13 Nov 1996 : Column 352Higher standards and better results, which is what we are now getting from our schools, are what we expect and what we have delivered in the education system.
Mr. Stephen: My hon. Friend will be aware that many of the top 50 schools--judging by A-level results--are in the private sector, where head teachers have the power to use the cane if in their professional judgment it is the right way in which to deal with a particular pupil. She may recall that, two years ago, I tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill to give back that power to head teachers in the state sector, from which she may deduce that it is my personal view that head teachers in the state sector should have that power. What response has there been from parents and the general public to the current debate on the issue?
Mrs. Gillan: I am always interested, as I am sure is the whole House, to hear my hon. Friend's personal views on a wide range of subjects, which he often brings to the Floor of the House. As he knows, there have been no demands to increase the disciplinary measures that we are introducing, over and above those in the Education Bill.