asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the average pupil-teacher ratio in junior and secondary schools, respectively, at the most recent date for which figures are available; and what were the comparable totals in 1978.
The average pupil-teacher ratio within maintained primary schools in England has fallen from 23·6:1 to 22·1:1 between 1978 and 1986. For secondary schools there has been an improvement from 16·9 to 15·9. Taken together, these are the lowest figures in our history.
Are not these dramatic improvements a clear sign of the Government's full commitment to the improvement of education? Within this improving general picture, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the special problems in areas such as Southend where very high accommodation costs make it difficult to recruit the additional teachers whom the Government wish the county to employ?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. The improvement shows that we are commiting substantial extra funds to the education service. There has been a record increase in the amount that I have made available for next year. I appreciate that in certain areas there are problems with the accommodation costs for teachers. I recall that my hon. Friend's county of Essex is one of those counties that are making special arrangements and offers to help with teachers' accommodation costs.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, according to the Essex schools handbook, the basic staffing ratio in Essex is 31 children per teacher? That is creating many difficulties in the primary schools in Thurrock. They are facing great difficulties in obtaining staff and youngsters have suffered considerably, not from a strike, but simply because they have not been able to obtain one teacher to teach the class throughout the school year. Children have been subjected to a constant change of supply teachers and part-time teachers. There has been no teaching continuity and stability. This just shows the disastrous effect of the Government's policies on education in my constituency.
I assure the hon. Lady that I visited various schools in Essex about a fortnight ago and I was impressed by the standard of performance that I saw. I very much regret that, during the past 18 months, disruption has occurred in many schools because of strike action, which has acted against the interests of education. I deplore the possible resumption of such action.
What will be the impact on pupil-teacher ratios of the recently announced increases in pay and the changes in salary structure? Will the right hon. Gentleman take advantage of this opportunity to appeal to teachers not to continue with any further disruptive action?
My pay proposals will improve the pay and career prospects of all teachers. I deplore the fact that leaders of some teachers' unions are threatening further disruption and stoppages in our classrooms. It is a sad fact that the only time when the leaders of the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers seem to agree is when they unite for disruption and unite against the education of our children.