Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 12, 14 and 15 deal with the question of the Secretary of State's approval of LEA statements. As the noble Baroness implied, many of these points were made in Committee. Given the strength of the commitments that we made at that time, I am slightly surprised that they have been tabled again.

Amendment No. 12 deals with the effect on the size of classes at a later stage. Perhaps I may reiterate a point that we have already made strongly. There is no intention to fund reductions in infant class sizes by allowing class sizes to rise in later key stages. The noble Baroness also asked about resources. This year, we have already made available a total of £62 million of additional funding specifically designed to reduce the size of infant classes. More money will be made available in the future. In addition, the £835 million extra that we are providing for schools in England will keep down class sizes in all key stages.

Therefore, there is no reason to disbelieve the Government's commitment here or to believe that the size of classes in junior and secondary schools will increase as a result of this policy. We will ensure that it will not, through the regulations, guidance and the system of approval of LEA plans. As the noble Baroness said, we have made our position abundantly clear. Our consultation states that,

It is clear from our commitments, and from the way in which our consultative document indicates that regulations will be drawn, that we will not allow that to happen. Therefore, the proposed provision is redundant.

The noble Baroness turned the argument slightly on its head by stressing the point about class sizes which have been reduced working through the system. It may work through in certain cases, but our priority is on infant classes. Indeed, our priority is for the early years. We believe that we have good educational grounds for ensuring that that is the priority. Therefore, although it may work through to upper years, there is no requirement for it to do so. None of that means that

30 Jun 1998 : Column 555

junior school classes or higher level classes will increase as a result of these provisions, because of the commitments that we have made.

I move on to Amendment No. 14 which deals with travel. We have made it very clear that no child will have to travel an unreasonable distance to school as a result of our pledge to reduce infant class sizes. Furthermore, it would be impractical as well as unnecessary to require that LEA statements should set out the travel arrangements for what would effectively mean every single infant school pupil. We have said that funds will be provided for an extra teacher--and, where necessary, an extra classroom--if there is a child who has only one school within reasonable travelling distance and he could not otherwise be admitted without pushing an infant class beyond the limit of 30 pupils. Our consultation paper makes it clear that LEAs will have to provide information on what they will do in those circumstances.

LEAs have confirmed that what we are talking about here will be very much the exception rather than the norm. Where pupil numbers are growing, we would expect LEAs to apply for extra capital to provide the necessary number of classes. But, exceptionally, where a child requires a place and there is no other school within reasonable distance, we are talking about a second teacher in a class of 31, 32 or 35, as may be the case. The travelling arrangements of individual children is a matter of detailed implementation of the policy which is best left to the LEA to resolve in the context of the local situation, particularly in rural areas. We will provide the broad guidelines.

Amendment No. 15 deals with the question of temporary accommodation. I had thought that my noble friend Lord McIntosh had made clear the Government's intention here, and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, recognised that. Not only have we made that clear in this place, but we have made it clear in terms of our commitment of capital--the extra money through the New Deal for Schools invested in schools' capital. A significant part of the first tranche will be used to replace old mobile classrooms with permanent structures. We have made it clear that applications for capital resources which relate simply to the provision of mobile classrooms will not be accepted.

In addition an extra £90 million of capital is being made available, of which £40 million is to provide extra classrooms to accommodate smaller infant classes. We shall shortly announce the details of the allocation of that £40 million for this year. I can also confirm that Church schools are to receive 100 per cent. funding for school building work in order to meet the class size commitment. The most effective means to control the use of mobile classrooms is through controlling funding rather than by an amendment such as this.

Amendment No. 13 deals with funding. I am not clear why the noble Baroness believes it is necessary to require implementation costs to be reimbursed in this way. She did not go into any detail on that. We have made it clear that we shall provide the funding that LEAs and schools need to enable them to reduce infant class sizes. We have pledged to use the resources

30 Jun 1998 : Column 556

available from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme which will amount to some £100 million in the financial year commencing April 2001. Some £22 million of this has already been made available to LEAs. There is, of course, also the £40 million to which I referred earlier. This will enable LEAs to make good progress towards meeting the class size pledge.

This amendment would not require the Secretary of State to do anything more than he already has the power to do. We regard Amendment No. 13 as unnecessary. I hope that the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw her amendments.

5 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I welcome the comments about adequate buildings. I wonder whether he shares my concern that when we listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, we are all expected to have amnesia about what happened before 1997 with regard to school space standards and extra resources that were not available for school buildings. I have mentioned my next question before. It concerns minimum space standards. Do the Government intend in the future to reverse the reductions in space standards that were permitted under the previous government?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for reminding us of what happened over the past 18 years. I have tried to steer clear of partisan points in these debates. However, I am glad that she has made them for me. As regards space requirements, the priority at the moment is to reduce class sizes. We shall examine space requirements but at this point we do not intend to alter the space requirements that we have inherited.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, may I just comment briefly on the statement by the Minister?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the right reverend Prelate will forgive me, we are at Report stage and interventions are not possible after the Minister has spoken.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the reply was disappointing. It is interesting that local education authorities and schools will be bound in law to provide this policy. The Government are prepared to put on the face of the Bill that they are obliging everyone in the system to deliver this policy. There is only one body that is not bound by law to fund this policy, unless it wins the money from the Treasury, and that is the DfEE. The noble Lord must accept that local education authorities and schools are genuinely nervous about this provision. They are alarmed at the calls on them to deliver this pledge, for if they are not funded properly they will have to use moneys to meet this pledge rather than meet other priorities.

The Government have given their word on junior school class sizes but are not prepared to put that on the face of the Bill. That makes me deeply suspicious. They have given their word that junior school class sizes will

30 Jun 1998 : Column 557

not increase. It is naive to suggest that the same number of pupils will pass from an infant school to a junior school. If a two form entry school at present becomes a three form entry school, as night follows day those three form entries will pass into the following year and the year after that unless the children start in year one and then leave the school. As regards a large proportion of our schools, children stay in the same schools. There are areas of high mobility where children move in and out of schools--that causes another problem for teachers--but in most schools children who start in an infant school finish at the top end of that infant school. Those who start at the bottom end of a primary school finish at the top end of that primary school. As the three classes--that were two--progress through the school, those three classes will require three teachers and three classrooms. One cannot simply say that the numbers may work out, but that is not really an issue.

The Minister in another place has said that the Government have no plans to deal with Key Stage 2. If these pupil numbers work through into Key Stage 2, will schools be guaranteed funding for them? If they are not, the other part of the promise cannot be kept; namely, that class sizes in Key Stage 2 will not be increased. Class sizes will either increase or there will be smaller classes but more of them. The noble Lord looks puzzled, but this is a simple equation. If you have 63 children as an intake into an infant school and they are divided into three classes because they cannot be divided into two classes any more, and it is too far to send the children to another school, and there is no other denominational choice--all the factors that have been built into the guidance--and that school has to have another classroom and another teacher, there will be three classes of 21 children. Those three classes become second year classes, and then third year classes. If you put them into two classes in the junior school--in other words, have bigger classes in the junior school--the teachers' worst fears will be realised in that they will have bigger classes in the junior school.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page