Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He has just said that as the numbers work through the schools the classes in junior schools will become smaller. If extra teachers are provided for five, six and seven year-olds, but not for eight, nine and 10 year-olds, how is it that that smaller progression goes all the way through the school? The year groups are the same: they do not simply drop off the end. If there are fewer teachers per child in year groups eight, nine and 10, then the smaller classes cannot be replicated lower down the school without the teachers.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: Perhaps I may add a further complication. There are primary schools which have two published admission numbers. There is one for five year-olds and another for eight year-olds. There will be a complication because additional pupils are coming in after key stage 1.

Lord Whitty: As regards that last point, clearly there will be some situations where there is no automaticity of class structures moving from the infant stage through to the junior stage. But in most situations there will be some congruence between the structure of infant classes and junior classes. As regards resources and the number of teachers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred, we have already provided substantial additional resources which will benefit junior schools as well as infant classes. Given the priority of education I am sure that those priorities will continue without pre-empting

5 May 1998 : Column 543

anything that my right honourable friend the Chancellor may say in future. Nevertheless, we have already provided substantial resources which will allow for improved teacher numbers and not just in those places where we are prescribing the class size.

Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that the priority must be on prescribing limits on infant class sizes rather than on reflecting it all through the junior school system. It is clearly our intention that all pupils will eventually benefit from that process. I also hope that the noble Lord will accept that the drafting as it stands meets his point rather better than the amendments he has tabled here. Therefore, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw them.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: The noble Lord has dealt with the scenario of a governing body meeting these commitments--that is to say, by possibly shifting resources from the junior to the infants. He has explained why he does not believe that that will happen. Another way in which governing bodies might attempt to meet this commitment is this. In a one-form entry school one would expect three classes in the infants consisting roughly of one class of five year-olds, one of six year-olds and one of seven year-olds. It would be perfectly possible to have a different structure which would consist of three equal forms each having within them, five year-olds, six year-olds and seven year-olds. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, referred to that possibility earlier and also to the possibility that that might impose greater demands on a teacher.

If one followed that system then it would give more flexibility to a governing body. If one simply has classes with one age group, a six year-old arriving would have to be accommodated in that one class. If one had a vertical structure then one would have an option of three classes into which such a child might be placed which would give governing bodies a little more flexibility. Is that not one possible way in which some governing bodies might choose to give themselves just that little bit of leeway that they might need?

7 p.m.

Lord Whitty: In general, the advice about the structuring of classes has been based on age cohorts, but obviously there are some schools, particularly those with a small intake in rural areas, where a different structure has been chosen and agreed by the school and the local education authority. It is conceivable that that situation may lead to a more flexible follow on into junior schools. However, I do not suggest that that is a general trend or something that we recommend beyond those areas where special circumstances apply.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The noble Lord has raised an interesting point. In Scotland for many years the contractual agreement with the teaching profession is that there should be no more than 33 in any class in any school for pupils of any age. Where there is a mixed age group the limit is 25. The teaching profession regards it as being very much more difficult to teach a mixed age group class. I wonder whether the Minister really believes the brief that the noble Lord has just read

5 May 1998 : Column 544

out. I am astonished, given my experience of what happens when there is an absolute limit on class sizes. I know that in one city not very far from where I live schools flatly refuse to admit anybody when that would bring the class size over 25 or 33, regardless of brothers or sisters, choice and all the rest of it. That is the only way in which they can make the system work. I do not believe that that is a good idea. What the Government intend to do is much better, but I do not believe that they have the slightest idea of the costs and complications of this.

Lord Whitty: I note the point just made by the noble Baroness. I suggest that because class limitations have applied in Scotland for some time Scottish local authorities and schools have managed to meet those criteria. We are trying to avoid the kind of situation just described by the noble Baroness in which an absolute limit takes no account of differing pressures and choices. That is intrinsic to our whole approach to this matter.

Lord Tope: When I moved this amendment I made clear that it was essentially a probing amendment. I had no intention of pressing the matter at this stage. As to Amendment No. 5, the Minister has received legal advice that it is better as drafted. I must take seriously that advice. I am not sure that I wholly understand it, but I certainly accept it tonight and will look at it further.

As to Amendments Nos. 6 and 22, I accept that it is not the Government's intention that this measure should have a deleterious effect on junior classes. My concern was to press the Government on how they intended to fulfil their intention. The Minister referred to the draft regulations issued last week. I confess that, given the London borough council elections on Thursday, I have not given a high priority to studying those draft regulations in the past week. Perhaps I shall have time to do so next week. I shall certainly look at them carefully. However, I remain concerned about how the Government will fulfil their intention, which I wholly accept is right, that this measure should not have an adverse effect on junior classes.

My noble friend may wish to comment further on Amendment No. 22. In moving this particular amendment we are attempting to help Ministers. We are on the side of the Government in this respect. It is well known that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have an enormous war chest by the turn of the century. We are trying to help Ministers ensure that they can secure a little more of that war chest to follow through this very good intention. We all accept that the priority to reduce infant class sizes is right, but those infants will grow older; they will turn into juniors given the period that we are considering here. I do not suggest that they will necessarily go straight from classes of 30 or fewer to classes of 40, but they will be going into larger classes. The Minister may well be right in saying that in some cases the lower class size will follow through, but the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is undoubtedly right that there will be occasions when that does not happen.

5 May 1998 : Column 545

We seek to support Ministers in their endeavours rightly to persuade the Treasury that a larger proportion of the war chest should be used for the continued support of children up to and beyond the age of seven. I am sure that the Minister recognises that we are on his side in moving the amendment. If we return to this matter at a later stage, I am sure that he will equally welcome our intentions. However, at this stage, subject to what my noble friend may say, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Maddock: I very much welcome the view of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, that something should be done about the older children in junior schools. I regret that he does not have the same commitment today to ensuring that that happens, although I understand very well that the Chancellor's footsteps follow the Minister's.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 7:


Page 2, line 4, at end insert--
("( ) Notwithstanding the provisions of any regulations made under subsections (1) and (3) above, the governing bodies of aided and foundation schools with a religious character shall be entitled to exercise discretion in admitting a child to an infant class where so to admit him would exceed any class size limits imposed under this section, provided that there is no school of the same religious character within reasonable distance of the child's home with the capacity so to admit him.").

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 7. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, much regrets that he is unable to attend the Committee today. At the opening of my remarks I make it quite clear that this is a probing amendment. In the course of the Committee stage we have already learned a great deal about the intentions of the Government in relation to maintained schools. I welcome this. I shall look very closely at Hansard. My amendment is concerned particularly with foundation and aided schools. In those cases another consideration comes into play. Parents who choose either a foundation or aided school for their child do so because they particularly want that type of education for their child. I believe that parental wishes in this regard are of the utmost importance.

At Second Reading we discussed what happened with the 31st child in the class. We have heard the Government's response to this matter in relation to maintained schools. But there are many Anglican and Catholic parents who would far rather have their children in somewhat larger classes in denominational schools than in smaller classes in maintained schools. I believe this to be a very important point.

It would be helpful to have from the Minister an answer to a number of points. I deal first with a point made clearly by my noble friend Lady Carnegy about the position in Scotland. There class sizes have been determined by statute. My noble friend has said that in that case authorities simply say that no one else is to be admitted because the class is full. What is the position in aided and foundation schools where the governors are

5 May 1998 : Column 546

responsible for determining this matter? What is the freedom of choice for parents in those circumstances? What will happen if the governors wish to admit more? Will they be taken to court in these circumstances? Will the local education authority have the right over and above the school to determine how many pupils there should be? Referring to the £40 million that has been set aside for extra classrooms, what will be the contribution that Churches make to the capital cost of building in certain circumstances? Will they be expected to pay once again if it is necessary to provide an extra class, even supposing that the Government pay the full revenue costs of an extra teacher?

I do not pose these questions as debating points. They are very serious matters. I move the amendment because I have had drawn to my attention the considerable anxiety of a number of schools about how the whole policy will work.

It is infinitely easier to determine how the policy will work in maintained schools. However, in the case of aided and foundation schools it is infinitely more difficult and in many cases infinitely more important. It is important to consider the wishes of the parents and cases in which all the children of a family go to the same school. I would be grateful if the Minister would clarify those points so that we might understand more fully how the policy will work in relation to such schools.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page