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Lord Peston: It seems to me, as someone who has never taught in an infants' school, that a class size of 30 is enormously large. I have lectured to hundreds of people but have never had to keep discipline or do anything of that kind. I assume that, in setting this as a target, the Government regard this as only the beginning of what we would aim at when we can afford it.
Again, if we are to make progress, we must come up with a number which says that the maximum must be such and such. Whatever number the Government come up with, someone will ask why, and what is to happen to the marginal child. I do not see how that can be a criticism of the Government. If they are going to move at all, they must start with a number and 30 is better than nothing.
Let me say, en passant, that it gives me enormous pleasure to see the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, back on the Front Bench. I was a bit taken aback when she said that she was not staying and thought she meant that she was never coming back. However, I gather her demonstration was simply for one amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, had greatness thrust upon him for only that one amendment, though some of us hold him in high esteem anyway.
It seems to me to be reasonable that the Government should come up with a number. It also seems to me-- I hope I am in order in mildly criticising the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee--that if the Government come up with an objective of 30 but many believe that in due course the number should be progressively lowered, and if we consider the question of flexibility to be important, regulation is the correct way of achieving that. Putting a precise number on the face of
For once our respected committee may be slightly mistaken. But I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that it is not mistaken in suggesting that we use the affirmative resolution procedure. It is part of the game that the Opposition always say that they would like to use the affirmative resolution procedure. But in this case I hope that the Minister can be supportive or will at least think about the position. It is quite separate from the question of a maximum, where I would not like to see a number on the face of the Bill. That would somehow imply that we regard 30 as being particularly attractive rather than that it is the best we can do for the moment but that we have ambitions to do more without changing primary legislation.
To summarise, therefore, flexibility means that we should do this by regulation. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee is right that, in a matter as important as this, my noble friend ought at least to think about the idea of using the affirmative procedure.
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: Perhaps I can contribute briefly to this Committee debate. I am the father of a seven year-old and have nothing but admiration for anyone who can control any seven year-old, bearing in mind the way my seven year-old behaves.
I wanted to draw the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to the document published in April of this year entitled Reducing infant class sizes: guidance. In paragraphs 15 and 17 it addresses the points raised by the noble Baroness. Paragraph 15 specifically talks about rural schools and what happens if there should be more than 30 pupils. It goes on in paragraph 17 to talk of contingency funding and how the LEA may be able to apply for small amounts to address that point. I agree also with the point made by my noble friend Lord Peston.
Baroness Blatch: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Does he agree with me that it will be expensive to provide a qualified teacher? We are not talking about a teaching assistant; many infant teachers would welcome a teaching assistant for the 31st or 32nd child, which would be an extremely economic way of meeting a difficult challenge. However, we are bound by the legislation to provide a qualified teacher.
Does the noble Lord agree therefore that the cost of providing a qualified teacher, which may be anything from £20,000 to £35,000, to a school for one or two children is disproportionately uneconomic when the knock-on effect of that in a rural county will be substantial? It is pre-emptive moneys and nothing on the face of the Bill guarantees that pound for pound will be given to local authorities. They are simply invited to bid for small contingency sums, and therefore the money
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: Perhaps that is the reason it is not on the face of the Bill but is in regulation, so that that kind of consideration can be taken into account. From my point of view, I would be happier if there was a fully qualified teacher to take up the provision of education for a few extra pupils. The noble Baroness is gesticulating that it would be for only one child; I should like a fully qualified teacher to be involved in teaching my child.
My point concerned what my noble friend Lord Peston said. I agree with him that regulation is the proper place to put these considerations. The figure of 30 should be a maximum and I hope that the Government will seek to work towards reducing class numbers for five, six and seven year-olds to way below that figure.
Baroness Young: The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Blatch is extremely important. It follows from a recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. The committee makes a firm and clear recommendation in paragraph 6 of its report, which says,
The answer to the important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, as to whether we want to see this as a maximum or a minimum, is that all of us, as a general principle, would think it desirable that class sizes should reduce in number. I do not believe that there will be a great deal of argument on that point.
It is a huge change in policy to legislate on this matter. It raised many questions, as my noble friend Lady Blatch indicated, which we now understand. I hope that we shall have even greater clarification on the matter of, where there are one or two extra children in a classroom, whether another teacher should be forthcoming. I hope I understood the position correctly. It seems to me that it will create immense expense, apart from anything else, far greater than anything that was anticipated.
When we turn to the sums, I believe that it was all going to be paid for by the winding-up of the assisted places scheme. I wonder whether that money will cover the provision of the right number of teachers. I can think of a school which I know well where at the moment a class is oversubscribed by four pupils. That creates immense difficulties for the school and for the poor teacher who usually has to confront the irate parents who cannot get their children in. There are therefore many subsidiary problems and it is important to have them cleared up.
Baroness Blackstone: It may be helpful for me to speak now. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said, these amendments reflect the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which reported on this Bill only last week. We had sight of the report on Thursday afternoon. That is not a criticism of the committee. I know that the Easter Recess intervened and it is a large and complex Bill.
The Government noted the committee's report and we are now in discussion with our legal advisers in regard to the necessary amendments. We are only too well aware of the importance of the committee's recommendations on a wide range of issues, not just class size, and it is our intention to respond as positively as we can.
On the question of infant class sizes, I am pleased to confirm that the Government will give effect to the committee's central recommendation that the limit of 30 should be on the face of the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said that she was aware of the various knock-on effects and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, also raised the issue of money, as did my noble friend Lord Peston. There are, however, a whole range of later amendments down, including amendments on costs and on issues such as extra teachers versus assistants and so on, so I wonder if the Committee would agree that it would make more sense if I responded to those issues when we come to those amendments.
Meanwhile, I should like to say to my noble friend Lord Peston that, of course, 30 is not a magic number, but there has to be a firm limit. I am sure he would agree with that. We think that 30 is the right limit and the right limit to place on the face of the Bill.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her proposed amendment. My preliminary view is that wording such as that proposed for subsection (1) may be close to what is needed. However, we shall want to look carefully at the wording to ensure that there are no unlooked for effects. I hope that the noble Baroness will understand that we need to discuss these further with our legal advisers to make sure that the precise wording of the clauses reflects the intentions. Therefore, we shall introduce government amendments on this matter at the Report stage of the Bill. Given that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw these two amendments.
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