'.—(1) This section applies to any local education authority where the average infant class sizes in their area is a number at least three below the limit currently specified for the size of infant classes at maintained schools in their area imposed by regulations set out in accordance with section 1, and where there are no infant classes at maintained schools whose size is more than five above the limit referred to above.
I welcome one of the Government amendments that is grouped with new clause 8. It is nice to begin on a positive note, although I am not sure that we shall return to it too often.
Government amendment No. 80 substitutes the word "shall" for "may" at the beginning of clause 3. It is a simple amendment, and the idea behind it is not complex. The issue arose in Committee, when we sought to argue with the Government that they should be under an obligation to provide local education authorities with the money necessary to redeem the infant class size pledge. In arguing that case, we reminded the Government that they had given a firm commitment on that point as the background to the infant class size pledge. I was pleased when the Minister for School Standards responded to the debate by saying that he had some sympathy with the amendment that we had tabled, but that he needed to improve the drafting of it. I welcome the fact that the Minister has brought back the idea that the Committee approved, and the drafting has, no doubt, been much improved, although quite how eludes me. The amendment that I tabled in Committee was withdrawn at the Minister's request, but precisely the same wording has been brought back to be approved by the House. I congratulate the Minister on the improved drafting that that represents; after the debate, he might explain behind the Chair how that improvement was achieved.
I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman was up late last night, in Durham, but he seems to have had a memory lapse. I clearly recall that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) who made the suggestion to which the Minister for School Standards responded.
I shall consult the record, but I have no doubt that the same thought occurred to us both and was supported on both sides of the Committee. I merely wished to congratulate the Minister on the improved drafting of a single word.
More seriously, I wish that I could be more positive about the way in which the Government have reacted to the arguments that we made in Committee about the need for the delivery of their class size pledge to be made more flexible in the Bill. I want to be clear about what I think should be the attitude to class size in infant schools. Of course, I accept that, if all else is equal, it is better to be taught in a smaller class than in a bigger class. That is simple common sense and has never been the subject of any argument. Furthermore, I accept that research by the Office for Standards in Education has shown linkage between late educational attainment of individual children and class sizes in infant schools, which is why the Government have focused class size policy on five, six and seven-year-olds and have not, as Liberal Democrat Members argued in Committee that they should, extended that principle higher up the age range.
I accept the Government's focus on infant classes, but the key principle is to recognise that class size is not and never can be the only factor to be taken into account when making decisions about the use of resources in individual schools and about which school represents the best educational opportunity for a particular child. The academic proposition that, if all else is equal, it is better to be taught in a smaller class than in a bigger class should always be judged in conjunction with other, conflicting considerations.
Let us consider what parents and teachers must take into account when deciding whether a child's best interests would be served by putting him in a particular class. First, local priorities vary. In certain circumstances, a head teacher may decide to use extra resources to take on extra teachers, to reduce class sizes all the way up the school, but, in others, it may be in the interests of the children to buy extra equipment, to improve buildings or to deal with other priorities that face the school.
It is better to leave decisions on how best to use financial resources to improve educational opportunity for children to the head teacher and governors of a school, rather than to impose a statutory obligation, which would apply in all circumstances, that a class size of 29 is always better than one of 31. Local priorities vary, and it would be over-simplistic to impose a single statutory framework.
Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there should be a limit on class sizes? The new clause suggests 35 pupils, but would he accept 40, 45 or 50? Surely a line must be drawn. We are not arguing about whether standards would be improved in a class of 22 pupils rather than one of 20, but does he accept that there is a case for an upper limit?
As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, the new clause recognises the case for an upper limit, and would provide a framework to introduce flexibility to local decision making, which is the key to delivering the objective that we all share: ensuring that five, six and seven-year-olds receive the best possible education. The hon. Gentleman was a member of the Standing Committee, and knows that we considered a wide range of amendments. The new clause ventilates the principle that the system should be more flexible than the Government's simplistic legal obligation will allow.
The new clause would allow a local education authority that achieved an average class size of three below the Government target—27, for this target group—the flexibility to have class sizes of up to 35. The new clause would deliver the principle for which the Government have an electoral mandate—focusing on reducing class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds—in a way that is consistent with efficient use of resources and efficient delivery of the objective that the hon. Gentleman and I share: securing the best possible education, in local circumstances, for individual children. This is merely another suggestion, originating from the same stable as several others made in Committee, of a means by which the principle of flexibility could be introduced.
My first proposition is that local circumstances vary. My second—which must undermine the simple principle that it is always better to be in a class of 29 than to be in a class of 31—is that different teachers perform at different levels. It is patently true that, in a profession the vast majority of whose members are dedicated people doing their best—often in difficult circumstances—to deliver a high-quality service, some will perform better than others. Surely to goodness, when deciding about class size against the background of the different skills and experience of individual teachers, a head ought to take that into account. It is nonsense to say that it is always better to be in a class of 29, even if the teacher is young and recently qualified and has had some difficulty in qualifying, than to be in a class of 31 taught by a very experienced, highly qualified and successful infant school teacher.
The third principle on which I base my case for flexibility is that parents' priorities vary when they are choosing a school. As a recent recruit to the Roman Catholic Church, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) has made a strong case in the newspapers for Catholic parents to be able to choose Catholic education. Some parents will have a strong desire for their children to be educated in Catholic schools; others will have a strong desire for their children to be educated in Church of England schools; others will have an equally strong desire for their children to be educated in secular schools. Although we have an established Church, not everyone wants their children to be educated in schools with a religious ethos. Some people will want their children to be educated in Jewish or Muslim schools, or in specialist schools of other kinds.
The Secretary of State is conferring with the Minister. I suspect that he is recording the fact that this week he used the grant-maintained school legislation to introduce a further principle of diversity in the religious basis of education. I congratulate him on that, and I am pleased that our legislation gave him the opportunity. No doubt he has asked himself how he could have done it without that legislation.
The important point is that parents want, and ought to be able to have, the maximum opportunity to ensure that their choice for their children reflects such considerations. I am not talking about an absolute consideration—the factors that I am citing must be balanced against each other—but those factors ought to be taken into account alongside the Government's doubtless justifiable desire for infant school classes of no more than 30.
Family circumstances are another consideration. Never mind expressions of preference; family circumstances vary. Parents will often be influenced by where siblings go to school. We discussed that in Committee. Parents may want children to go to the same school as their siblings; they may also want them to go to a particular school because the sibling is at another school. That may be more convenient from the family's point of view, because the school concerned is grouped with the school of their choice rather than with their second or third choice. The location of relatives or child care is another consideration. In the real world, parents must bear all those factors in mind when choosing schools.
Finally, there are factors specific to rural areas. It was vaguely amusing to see the Minister for School Standards promoting in Committee a Bill whose effect will be to give the adjudicator power to make decisions—which are currently made by the Secretary of State—on the closure of rural schools, and to see him then, on the day before the countryside march, rush off to a television studio, dressing himself in the clothes of a friend of the countryside, to say that the power that he is transferring to the adjudicator should be transferred back to the Secretary of State.
Later in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) will move a new clause to give effect to the Minister's policy, and I look forward to hearing his support for that policy, which he announced from Millbank tower on the day before the Millbank march—the countryside march—[Interruption.] The Millbank march is something that the Minister does quite often.
The Minister has not yet had an opportunity to table a new clause, so we have done it for him. Undoubtedly our new clause is technically flawed, but he will be able to move his own in another place, to give effect to his policy—which I merely wish to endorse. I merely wish to help ensure that he does not miss the opportunity to include it in the Bill.
In the real world, all those considerations have to be balanced against that of class size—a subject on which Ministers, when they are in a corner, betray considerable sensitivity. When the Standing Committee was debating those matters, the Minister issued a press release, which I do not think was circulated to all members of the Committee. None the less, I have—for greater accuracy, as they say—obtained a copy. It stated that
in rural schools, extra money will be provided for a new teacher so that a child can attend their local school in a class of 30 or fewer and not be forced to travel an unreasonable distance to go to a school which has empty places.
Although I am delighted for rural schools, I just wonder why that applies only in rural schools and not in urban schools. I should not have expected to have to remind
the Government that a majority of people in the United Kingdom live in urban communities. Presumably the Government's pledge applies equally to urban communities and rural communities.
The right hon. Gentleman will know why I referred specifically to rural schools, as the issue was raised on several occasions by himself and by other members of the Committee. The press notice to which he is referring quotes my comments in Committee. The pledge applies not only to rural schools but to all schools, but the quotations in the press notice were in response to issues raised in Committee by himself and other members of the Committee.
That is perfectly true. However, the Minister made considerable play in Committee of the pledge of extra money, which was to be focused on recruiting extra teachers, to ensure that the choice of parents was respected. In his comments both to the Committee and in the press release, the Minister focused that pledge directly on rural schools.
I look forward to hearing in the Minister's reply to the debate whether he is saying that there will be special protection and assistance to deal with issues in rural schools—which was the implication of his comments to the Committee and of his press release—or whether he is saying that the same principles will apply to schools, regardless of whether they are in a rural or urban community. That is an important issue, and I hope that he will address it directly in his reply.
The press release makes another point, on which I shall conclude:
This is a popular policy which the Government intends will be delivered in a way which enhances parental preference.
The statement that it is a popular policy designed to enhance parental preference is a form of newspeak of which George Orwell would have been proud. It is simply nonsense to say that the principle is being introduced and that it will have the effect of enhancing parental preference. The reality is that it is a constraint on parental preference and it was always intended to be a constraint on parental preference.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but I shall willingly give way to him if he can explain how a limit on class size and a refusal to accept a 31st child into a class, although that may reflect the parents' preference, enhances parental preference. How does it enhance parental preference to deny parents the opportunity to put their child into the 31st place, if that is their choice and if the head teacher believes that it is consistent with the educational interests both of the 31st child and of the other 30? How does the removal of that opportunity enhance parental choice? If the hon. Gentleman wishes to argue that case, I shall give way.
During our long debates in Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister made it clear that the Government were going to make sure that the initiative was properly funded and that where parental choice was being thwarted—particularly in rural areas, by the distances that children who were the 31st child might have to travel—the Government were determined that funding would be made available properly to deliver our pledge. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain where his principled objection to a fixed figure sits, when his Government supported and enforced a fixed limit on every nursery class in the land? If his party can support a fixed limit of 26 in that respect, what is wrong with saying that a fixed limit should be observed in respect of other young children?
What I seek to do with the new clause is to respect the Government's electoral mandate for an infant class size of 30 and to suggest a formula whereby that can be made consistent with the other considerations which, in the real world, have to be taken into account when deciding which school an individual child is to attend. The reality, which the hon. Gentleman did not address, is that if one limits class size in all circumstances, one inhibits rather than enhances parental choice.
The Government's policy, given effect by the Bill, is that it is better for a child to be in a class of 29, in a neighbouring village rather than his or her own village, with an indifferent teacher, in a crumbling building and in a school of the wrong denomination, which was his or her parents' second-choice school, than to be in a class of 31, with an inspirational teacher, in a new building, in a school in his or her home village that is his or her parents' first-choice school and which is in the denomination of the church that the family attends. That is the Government's policy. It is no good Labour Back Benchers shaking their heads: that is the principle on which the Bill is based and the principle that will be translated into law if the Bill goes through unamended.
That is why I seek to introduce an element of flexibility into the provisions of the Bill, to give effect to what I believe should be the key principle in determining which school an individual child attends. That key principle is that, within the overall constraints of policy—I acknowledge the Government's right to do that—if the parent chooses a particular school and the head teacher accepts that that school represents the best opportunity for an individual child, if the parent is happy and the teacher is happy, it is not the Government's role to intervene and say that, even though they are happy, they should not be.
I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak in support of new clause 8. In Committee, we had a lengthy discussion about infant class sizes. It is important to echo the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) in setting out the framework within which the new clause has been tabled. The Labour Government came to power last May having made a pledge that they would reduce infant class sizes. The figure given at the time was 30 and, although no figure appears on the face of the Bill, we understand that that is the figure which Government will put in the relevant regulations. We accept that the Government came in with that pledge and want to put it into effect in the Bill.
In Committee, we discussed the practical issues involved in trying to implement that pledge at a local level. I hope that the Government will think again about the issues, because it is not just the Conservatives who are raising them—head teachers and others have raised them with me when I have visited infant, junior and primary schools in my constituency. They talk about the problem of putting into effect a pledge to have only 30 in every infant class when the resources may not be available to fund extra teachers and put up extra classrooms. As we know, not every local authority is being given resources initially to meet the pledge.
In some schools, including some infant schools in my constituency, it is virtually impossible to find space on the site for the extra classroom that would be needed if the pledge were put into effect with an absolute limit of 30. In new clause 8, we suggest that it would be preferable to introduce flexibility, accepting a limit on class sizes, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood made clear to the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard), but providing a band within which a local authority may operate to allow for situations in which it is physically difficult to accommodate an extra classroom.
Our proposal would also enable extra flexibility on parental preference. I visited a school in my constituency on Monday morning. After a number of appeals went against the head teacher, she now has an infant class with 36 children. She is concerned about how the system will operate. Local education authorities will have to predict that they may have infant classes of more than 30 and put in a bid for funding to accommodate the extra teachers and classrooms that will be necessary. The Government will then decide whether the bid is appropriate, and the funds should be made available.
It is not always possible to predict when extra children will come to a school. If a number of parents move into a school catchment area during the year, the school may suddenly have more than the designated number of children, without the resources to cope with them. The local education authority will not have put in a prior bid and the extra resources to cater for extra classrooms and teachers will not be available. What will happen if the neighbouring schools also do not have room for the children? How will the local education authority cope?
The Minister was asked about that towards the end of the debate in Committee, when he brought back his proposals on funding. He did not answer the questions then. I hope that he will be able to do so now.
We are not suggesting that the Government throw away their pledge to limit infant class sizes. However, practical concerns remain—raised not just by Conservative Members, but by head teachers—about how that pledge can be put into effect, notwithstanding the Government's proposals on extra funding. There is concern about authorities that will not, in the first instance, receive extra funding. There is concern about whether the money available from the abolition of the assisted places scheme will be sufficient to accommodate the pledge in all the areas in which extra resources will be necessary—an argument of which the Minister will be very well aware. There is concern that tensions will increase between parental choice of school and the Government's decision to limit infant class sizes. New clause 8 does not do away with the concept of a limit; it suggests a degree of flexibility in LEAs.
If any limit is set, there can be the problem of the extra child. Flexibility in numbers provides greater ability to accommodate children and enables greater parental choice in an LEA. There would be flexibility because some schools may be under the limit, while others are over it. I fully accept that the hon. Gentleman's point brings into sharp focus the tension between parental preference and class size. We have always thought that parental preference should be given a high priority—although it cannot be met in every circumstance. By providing extra flexibility, parental preference will more likely be met.
The Minister has not fully addressed the issue that I and others raised in Committee concerning the soon-to-be LEA—following the demise of Berkshire county council on 1 April—in my constituency. It feels that some parents would prefer their child to be in a class of, say, 31 or 32, but where there was a classroom assistant as well as a teacher, so that contact time with the child was increased, rather than their child being in a class of 30 or 29 in which there was only a teacher. That is exactly the sharp choice described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood.
The Government are placing everything on the class size limit and not taking into account all the other factors, such as resources available to an LEA, space available on a school site, the teaching resource and the availability of classroom assistants, who can be extremely important in an infant class.
Such factors, together with parental preference, should be given a higher priority in the Bill, which provides simply a single limit on class size. I hope that the Government will be able not only to respond to the points raised but to look again at the possibility of introducing a degree of flexibility, which accepts the concept of a limit but provides leeway for LEAs to help meet practically parental preference and other issues.
I sincerely believe that the Government's response to the new clause will be a good pointer to whether their interest in education derives from a genuine concern about improving the quality of education or from their electoral concern and a fascination with election slogans emanating from Millbank tower.
There can be no doubt that the pledge on classroom size was a very effective slogan; it worked very well for the Labour party. Now that Labour Members are the Government, they have to look at the reality. The reality is that not only Opposition Members but teachers, governors and parents are asking many questions about what the policy, strictly interpreted, will mean.
We support the goal of smaller class sizes. However, if the annual expenditure of £100 million alone—the Department has costed its policy at that amount—will unlock the key to a better education system, I am sure that the previous Government would have found the money to pursue such a policy. We increased education spending by billions of pounds—not just by £100 million—and, in doing so, we improved the standards and the quality of education.
On the other hand, as reported in The Times Educational Supplement, the present Government's policy has led governors to predict a disaster if popular schools are required to expand out of control. I believe that the Minister has boxed himself in by pledging that no child will be forced to attend a failing school. That commitment has been latched onto as a way of forcing the most popular schools to grow even further. As The Times Educational Supplement points out, there are many reasons why a school is popular. One reason is that it has reached an optimum size. If the Minister forces such schools to grow even further, he will reduce standards in those and in other schools.
As I said, we are in favour of smaller class sizes, and the new clause seeks to ensure that such an objective is interpreted broadly. In Surrey, we have small class sizes—the average is under 27 per class. We have always devoted additional expenditure, over and above the standard spending assessment, to early years primary schools. Therefore, we are entirely sympathetic with the Government's objective.
The new clause seeks to introduce some flexibility so that in an authority area where the average class size is 27, individual schools may have an additional eight pupils in a class. It is not a question of coping with an additional single child, but of introducing the flexibility to deal with an additional eight children. That is surely a significant difference.
The school in the village where I live has two classes of just under 30 pupils. The school is growing—indeed, it needs to take on more children in order to survive and pay its way. If that school is to survive, classes may have to include a 31st or 32nd child. Parents prefer to send their children to the local village school rather than braving the peak-hour commuter traffic to take their children to schools in the neighbouring village or in the main town of Guildford. Parents do not make that choice, because it would not be good for their children: it is better for children to be educated with their friends in the village where they are growing up. As a result of the Government's proposals, parents will no longer have that choice.
The bias towards smaller class sizes is based on research, but that research also shows clearly that only a significant drop in class size has an impact on educational achievement. No researcher in this area has proved that small variations in class size have any significant impact on the quality of education provided. The environment in which the child learns and the quality of teaching are far more important.
Curiously, during the passage of education Bills introduced by the previous Government, the present Ministers were the first to warn of "the dead hand" of bureaucracy, to use the words of the Minister for School Standards. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment said:
We must stop the infliction on schools and children of a bureaucracy that will do no good to anybody."—[Official Report, 9 November 1992; Vol. 213, c. 687.]
Yet the imposition of the rigid limit of 30 per class will impose a bureaucracy that will do "no good to anybody".
On the other hand, the wider objective in the new clause would mean that the benefit of lower class sizes could feed through, but without the damage that the Government's policy would inflict.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We seem to be working in synchronicity and I hope that I will continue to be in tune with your wishes as I speak briefly in support of the new clause.
I am pleased to follow my hon. Friends in commending new clause 8. Many of the hon. Members present have just finished considering the Bill in the Standing Committee and I think that most would agree that it was an exemplary Committee in that it was constructive and Opposition Members did their best to help Ministers to arrive at better legislation.
The new clause is a classic example of how the Opposition are seeking again to assist Ministers and ensure that they avoid a damaging pitfall. The rigidity and inflexibility that the Bill would enshrine in law would cause the Government major problems, as they would be held responsible for the chaos that would ensue. There would also be problems for local authorities and schools throughout the country.
More important, the Bill would impose enormous problems on parents, who would lose an element of choice. Their choices and decisions would be limited and restricted by the legislation, and their choice of school would be narrower. In many areas, there would be difficulties in meeting parents' educational requirements.
Our suggested new clause would provide the discipline that the Government reasonably seek to introduce in requiring an average class size of a certain level and it would certainly enshrine in law the principle of aiming for lower class sizes. It would also allow some flexibility, which would be a major improvement and would help the Government to avoid some of the embarrassing difficulties that they face in the years ahead if they do not accept it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) referred to some of the difficulties that would arise with the Government's inflexible proposals, such as difficulties with siblings and for people with a preference for denominational education in Church schools, which could not be met because of rigid class size limits. The Government must bear in mind the fact that for many parents the most important factor in deciding where their child should go to school is its religious character. No Government should have a right to ride roughshod over that choice and deny parents the freedom to choose a denominational education. The Bill risks doing so.
For many parents, it is important that their children should be able to attend their local school. Often, it is a matter of practicality for the family, especially when both parents work. In that case, it can be vital to send children to a school close to home.
While the Minister may have given some serious reassurance to rural schools—we wait to hear whether that is the case—as a Member representing a suburban constituency, I must press him further on the criteria that he would apply in allowing extra funding to popular schools in urban and suburban areas that reach the class size limit. It is not good enough merely to say that a school that feels that it may reach or breach the limit would be able to apply for a grant to increase the size of its premises and the number of teaching staff to accommodate the extra need. We need to know what criteria will be used, and whether a popular school in a suburban or urban area will always be given the funds promptly to allow for expansion to meet parental choice.
As Labour Members who served in Committee will know, I represent an area which is fortunate in the quality of its schools. I am most concerned about the impact of the Government's proposals on popular schools—I am in the fortunate position of having to defend the popularity of the schools in my area, which attract many applications from outside their catchment areas and even the borough boundary. Any reduction in the choice that is available to parents who live just over the boundary in the Manchester metropolitan borough council area—they are not my constituents—is a serious threat, which would be to their detriment.
The Bill is flawed; it betrays an arrogant belief that the Government know better than parents how to choose schools for children, and better than schools and local authorities what is right for children. It puts ahead of parental choice and responsibility the notion that Ministers should set public priorities that will apply throughout the country, regardless of particular circumstances. The new clause would improve the Bill and it would help the Government to avoid embarrassing difficulties in the future. I very much hope that the Minister will accept it.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has said is entirely consistent with reality. The recent league tables show that Cheshire and Staffordshire are two of the counties that achieved tremendous school results. There is a remarkable symmetry between what has been going on in those counties, which are, to a great extent, rural counties.
From time to time, I have had to fight very hard within the Staffordshire county council educational framework to ensure that the rural schools in my constituency have been sustained. Indeed, I pay tribute to the county council, which has pursued a policy of ensuring that rural schools survive, even though they may have class sizes well below the numbers that are being promulgated at the moment. Such schools perform an immensely important function in sustaining the rural community. It is not realistic to set arbitrary limits that will prevent rural schools, particularly infant schools, from surviving.
I thoroughly support new clause 8, which would guarantee arrangements to ensure the preservation of schools that should be preserved. The Government are in power largely as a result of the support—which I think was misconceived, as the Bill betrays—that they received from people in rural areas in the general election last year. If the Government want to maintain that support, they should listen to the arguments that are being advanced by Conservative Members.
Rural schools are vital to a community's sense of identity, as was demonstrated by the Countryside Alliance only 10 days ago. Although the alliance's main objectives concerned other questions relating to rural areas, schools are fundamental to rural communities.
It is essential that we ensure the survival of rural schools, even if they are undersized. I hope that the Minister will show due regard to the significance of those schools, and ensure that the Bill's measures will do nothing that would lead to their being closed. If the Government make a mistake on this, they will pay the price in the ballot box.
It was a Freudian slip. The hon. Gentleman's day will come. I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. Why, during the lifetime of the last Conservative Government, were more than 450 small rural primary schools closed? That was unprecedented. More were closed under the previous Government than under any Government since the war. Is there a response to that?
The short answer is that I said that I was not always right. I do not believe that I ever am. Part of the argument was that there was a problem, and many rural schools were closed under the previous Administration.
The argument that I address to the new Government, because they are the Government, is that they should have regard to the importance of sustaining the rural communities. It is essential that rural schools are maintained. It does not matter what happened in the past. The key question now is what the present Government intend to do about it. Rural schools must be sustained, even if they appear to be undersized. If the rural communities are at stake, I look to the Government to respond.
I shall be asking the House to accept Government amendments Nos. 79 and 80. As the hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) said, we discussed similar amendments in Committee. My recollection is the same as that of the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis). The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) moved an amendment to change "may" to "shall". Parliamentary counsel has had an opportunity to examine the important drafting issues raised by those two amendments and has agreed that is appropriate to change "shall" to "may". That is all that amendments Nos. 79 and 80 do.
Amendment No. 79 imposes a limit on class sizes and places a duty on the Secretary of State to limit them. Amendment No. 80 says that the Secretary of State "shall" pay grant for the purposes of reducing class size.
I hope that all hon. Members will be able to accept the two Government amendments, which reflect a discussion in Committee in which there was broad agreement. I am pleased that we can start off the Report stage on something that the whole House can accept and that we can reflect the positive spirit of the proceedings in Committee. That is probably as far as it goes; I shall be asking the House to reject new clause 8.
Before I come on to the detail of the new clause, may I say that I listened carefully to the points made to the hon. Member for Stone, who has been a doughty campaigner for schools in Staffordshire for many years. Some exciting work is going on in Staffordshire to harness new technology to benefit rural schools. We can build on that nationally. It will enable children attending rural primary schools to have a breadth of education experience which, in days gone by, might have been denied to them. New technology will provide the opportunity of a good standard of education to children in schools in Staffordshire and throughout the country.
I hope that, later tonight, we shall discuss new clause 13, which deals specifically with protecting rural schools threatened with closure. Hon. Members were right to raise concerns about the effect of class size policy on rural infant schools in particular. If it is handled badly, it may also affect schools in built-up and urban areas. I shall go through the steps that the Government intend to take and the safeguards that we shall put in place to make sure that the difficulties to which right hon. and hon. Members have referred simply will not occur.
Before I deal with the Government's approach, I shall say a few words about new clause 8. The right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) said that a degree of flexibility with regard to class size was vital. The flexibility provided by the new clause would allow larger classes—up to 35—with all the problems that have been mentioned. The intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made the point well; any cut-off may create difficulties. Whether the limit is 35 or 30, we must put in place safeguards and mechanisms that ensure that we do not create difficulties such as the denial of parental preference, which has been referred to during this short debate.
We recognise that class size is not the only factor affecting good quality education. The class can be small, but if the teacher is bad and poorly prepared, the quality of education will not be satisfactory. We need to take steps to ensure that we have good teachers in every class in every school.
A good teacher will be helped by a smaller class size. That is why we need a combination of policies. It is not merely a matter of saying that we want to raise standards and we will do that by reducing class size. That will not be enough. The reduction of class size policy must be seen alongside steps to improve teacher training, to provide greater access to literacy and numeracy materials in schools, and to improve the environment through our capital programme and the new deal for schools. All those measures will ensure that, in a variety of ways, we can drive up standards in our schools.
In that context, reducing class sizes in the infant years will play an important role. The number of five, six and seven-year-olds in classes of more than 30 has risen dramatically over recent years.
The hon. Gentleman was not listening. I did not say that a good teacher and larger or smaller classes were mutually exclusive. The Government are committed to a many-faceted approach to raising standards, partly by reducing class size, and also through good quality teaching. The two must go together. I agreed with the right hon. Member for Charnwood that a range of issues need to be addressed. Class size is one factor which, we believe, makes an important impact on the quality of education provided in infant schools.
We want a national scheme, and we make no apology for that. We do not want local variations in class size. We were elected on a clear pledge of classes of no more than 30 for five, six and seven-year-olds by the end of this Parliament, and we are on course to deliver that pledge. It will not be subject to local variations, but will be a national scheme delivered through local partners—through schools, Churches and local education authorities. Working through those partners, we will be able to deliver the pledge.
The Minister is right to say that the Government pledged to introduce a national scheme to ensure that class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds would be reduced to a maximum of 30. Will he confirm to the House what the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), told us in Committee—that, at a national level, there would be no possibility of schools meeting the class size pledge for key stage 1 by increasing class sizes for key stage 2, or in any other way damaging the education of key stage 2 pupils?
The attraction of the method that the Government are using to deliver the pledge is that the money is ring-fenced and cannot be used for any other purpose. By ring-fencing the resources by way of specific grant, we can guarantee that every penny that we redirect from the phasing out of the assisted places scheme will be used for the revenue spending to employ more teachers to meet the class size pledge. We will be able to deliver for five, six and seven-year-olds and, because we are providing additional resources, that should not have a consequence for seven, eight and nine-year-olds, as we are dealing with key stage 1.
The Minister has perhaps not been quite as robust in his response as the House would have liked. Will he give an absolute assurance that no school will be allowed to introduce the class size maximum of 30 for key stage 1 in a way that is to the detriment of pupils in key stage 2, either by increasing their class sizes or by any other method?
I am disappointed that I have not been robust enough in my response—I will have another go and I hope it will be better this time. Delivering the pledge will affect infant classes of five, six and seven-year-olds and we will provide the resources for that. There is no need, therefore, for children at key stage 2 to be affected adversely.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said—and I am happy to confirm—that we will monitor closely the way in which schools use the new regime and we will see how it affects key stage 2 pupils to make sure there are no adverse consequences. We will look carefully at the local management schemes—which the Secretary of State approves—to make sure that no attempt is made to use money for key stage 1 by diverting resources away from key stage 2 pupils.
Is not the reason why the Minister cannot give the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) the assurance he seeks that, although he says it is the Government's intention specifically to grant the extra money to provide for five, six and seven-year-olds, the Government have no machinery for ring-fencing the budget that is not specifically granted—that is, the whole of the budget currently spent on those pupils? The Government can specifically grant, and therefore ring-fence, the extra money, but it is still open to a school or LEA to withdraw money currently used for five, six and seven-year-olds to use elsewhere. The implication of targeting in the Minister's remarks is something which the Government cannot deliver.
The right hon. Gentleman chose to ignore my final point, which was that there is a safeguard. All local schemes for management, and the delegation of budgets to schools, have to be approved by the Secretary of State. If, within that regime, a local authority seeks to divert resources from key stage 1 pupils—and uses the additional specific grant as an opportunity to do it—it will be thrown up as part of the local management scheme.
I can assure the right hon. Member for Charnwood that the Secretary of State will not approve a local management scheme that tries to achieve those objectives. In approving a local management scheme, the Secretary of State will be exercising a power inherited from the previous Administration, who gave Secretaries of State precisely that power.
Some play was made of the importance of religious education and the concerns that Catholic or Church of England schools might not be able to meet parental preference. I did not hear from the right hon. Member for Charnwood or any of his hon. Friends the views of the Church education authorities. The reason we did not hear their views is that the Church education authorities support the Government's policy on class size reductions.
There have been attempts to try to get the Church authorities to express concerns or reservations about the policy, but that has not happened because they fully support the Government's pledge to reduce infant class sizes. The Church authorities support the policy, which they know will be implemented in a way which takes account of their concerns and views. That is why it is important to deliver the pledge through the LEAs, the Church authorities and the schools themselves.
We will not wait until the end of this Parliament, which was the pledge—we will start delivering from this September. We will start in constituencies in Devon—such as that of the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning)—where we will spend £1 million from this September on reducing class sizes for 6,100 five, six and seven-year-olds. I hope that she will welcome the Government's action.
If the governing body of a Church school had any concern about numbers—for example, the 31st child, siblings and so on—is it correct that the Church authority would have a veto on the matter?
It will be for the admissions authority to trigger the additional resource that would follow on from the 31st child. We made the point in Committee that, whether it is a rural school or a popular school, we will take steps to ensure that if there is a 31st child, additional resources will follow to ensure that parental preference is not denied. The additional teacher will be made available. Therefore, the school will be able to ensure that the class will have 30 or fewer children. That will apply across the board, not just in rural areas. We made it clear in Committee that we will ensure that the pledge is delivered in a way that is sensitive to parental preference. That is exactly how we intend to do it.
I am sorry to press the Minister, but it is important. Is it the case that, in such a circumstance, Church authorities have not been promised a veto? I shall be grateful for a specific answer to that question.
No one has been promised a veto on anything. That would be inappropriate. I hope that that answer satisfies the hon. Lady.
We have sought to work with the education service, and we intend to do that. As a result of our class size pledge and the way in which we intend to target resources, we can reduce class sizes and meet parental preference, which was not the case under the regime that we inherited from the previous Government. We are taking steps to ensure that we can do that not just for rural schools but for urban schools that might be popular and offer high standards. They will have the opportunity to reduce their class sizes.
The new clause seeks to deny hundreds of thousands of children in our country the benefit of the pledge that the Government made to the electorate in the run-up to the election on 1 May. We intend to ensure that we will deliver on our pledge.
The flexibility that the right hon. Member for Charnwood seeks to introduce is for higher class sizes. We reject that. We recognise the value of class size and the crucial part that it will play in driving up standards in our schools. We intend to deliver on our pledge, not from the end of this Parliament but from September of this year. Some 120,000 five, six and seven-year-olds will benefit from this September. By the end of this Parliament, 500,000 five, six and seven-year-olds will benefit because of the Government's commitment.
The new clause is destructive. It will deny those opportunities, which is why I urge the House to vote against it.
The Minister has responded to none of the concerns that I expressed. It remains the Government's position that it is more important to be in a class of 29, in a second-choice school, with a newly qualified teacher. In the Government's view, that is a better set of circumstances than to be in a class of 31, with an inspirational teacher, in one's school of first choice, in gleaming new buildings. That is not the experience of the overwhelming majority of Britain's parents. That is why we shall press the new clause to a vote.
|Division No. 198]||[4.58 pm|
|Amess, David||Heald, Oliver|
|Ancram, Rt Hon Michael||Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David|
|Arbuthnot, James||Horam, John|
|Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)||Howard, Rt Hon Michael|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)|
|Bercow, John||Hunter, Andrew|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Jack, Rt Hon Michael|
|Boswell, Tim||Jackson, Robert (Wantage)|
|Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)||Jenkin, Bernard|
|Brady, Graham||Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Key, Robert|
|Browning, Mrs Angela||Kirkbride, Miss Julie|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Laing, Mrs Eleanor|
|Burns, Simon||Lait, Mrs Jacqui|
|Butterfill, John||Lansley, Andrew|
|Cash, William||Leigh, Edward|
|Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)||Letwin, Oliver|
|Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)|
|Clappison, James||Lidington, David|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)||Lilley, Rt Hon Peter|
|Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)|
|Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Collins, Tim||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Cormack, Sir Patrick||MacKay, Andrew|
|Curry, Rt Hon David||Maclean, Rt Hon David|
|Davies, Quentin (Grantham)||McLoughlin, Patrick|
|Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)||Maples, John|
|Day, Stephen||Maude, Rt Hon Francis|
|Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen||Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian|
|Duncan, Alan||May, Mrs Theresa|
|Duncan Smith, Iain||Moss, Malcolm|
|Evans, Nigel||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Faber, David||Norman, Archie|
|Fallon, Michael||Ottaway, Richard|
|Forth, Rt Hon Eric||Page, Richard|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Paice, James|
|Fox, Dr Liam||Pickles, Eric|
|Garnier, Edward||Prior, David|
|Gibb, Nick||Randall, John|
|Gill, Christopher||Redwood, Rt Hon John|
|Gillan, Mrs Cheryl||Robathan, Andrew|
|Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair||Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Gray, James||Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)|
|Greenway, John||Ruffley, David|
|Grieve, Dominic||St Aubyn, Nick|
|Hague, Rt Hon William||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie||Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian|
|Hammond, Philip||Shepherd, Richard|
|Hawkins, Nick||Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)|
|Hayes, John||Soames, Nicholas|
|Spicer, Sir Michael||Waterson, Nigel|
|Spring, Richard||Wells, Bowen|
|Streeter, Gary||Whitney, Sir Raymond|
|Swayne, Desmond||Whittingdale, John|
|Syms, Robert||Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann|
|Tapsell, Sir Peter||Wilkinson, John|
|Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)||Willetts, David|
|Taylor, John M (Solihull)||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Taylor, Sir Teddy||Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)|
|Townend, John||Woodward, Shaun|
|Trend, Michael||Yeo, Tim|
|Tyrie, Andrew||Young, Rt Hon Sir George|
|Walter, Robert||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Wardle, Charles||Sir David Madel and|
|Mr. James Cran.|
|Ainger, Nick||Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)|
|Allan, Richard||Clark, Paul (Gillingham)|
|Allen, Graham||Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)|
|Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)||Clelland, David|
|Armstrong, Ms Hilary||Coaker, Vernon|
|Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy||Coffey, Ms Ann|
|Ashton, Joe||Colman, Tony|
|Austin, John||Connarty, Michael|
|Baker, Norman||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Ballard, Mrs Jackie||Corbett, Robin|
|Barnes, Harry||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Battle, John||Cotter, Brian|
|Beard, Nigel||Cox, Tom|
|Beggs, Roy||Cranston, Ross|
|Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)||Crausby, David|
|Bennett, Andrew F||Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)|
|Benton, Joe||Cryer, John (Hornchurch)|
|Berry, Roger||Cummings, John|
|Best, Harold||Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)|
|Betts, Clive||Dafis, Cynog|
|Blackman, Liz||Dalyell, Tam|
|Blears, Ms Hazel||Darling, Rt Hon Alistair|
|Blizzard, Bob||Darvill, Keith|
|Boateng, Paul||Davey, Edward (Kingston)|
|Borrow, David||Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)|
|Bradley, Keith (Withington)||Davidson, Ian|
|Bradshaw, Ben||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Brake, Tom||Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)|
|Brand, Dr Peter||Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Breed, Colin||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H)|
|Brinton, Mrs Helen||Dawson, Hilton|
|Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)||Denham, John|
|Brown, Russell (Dumfries)||Dewar, Rt Hon Donald|
|Browne, Desmond||Dismore, Andrew|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Dobbin, Jim|
|Burden, Richard||Donaldson, Jeffrey|
|Burgon, Colin||Donohoe, Brian H|
|Burnett, John||Dowd, Jim|
|Burstow, Paul||Drew, David|
|Byers, Stephen||Drown, Ms Julia|
|Cable, Dr Vincent||Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth|
|Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)||Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)|
|Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)||Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)|
|Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)||Edwards, Huw|
|Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)||Efford, Clive|
|Canavan, Dennis||Ellman, Mrs Louise|
|Caplin, Ivor||Ennis, Jeff|
|Casale, Roger||Field, Rt Hon Frank|
|Caton, Martin||Fitzsimons, Lorna|
|Cawsey, Ian||Flint, Caroline|
|Chaytor, David||Flynn, Paul|
|Chidgey, David||Forsythe, Clifford|
|Church, Ms Judith||Foster, Don (Bath)|
|Clapham, Michael||Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)|
|Foster, Michael J (Worcester)|
|Gapes, Mike||McCabe, Steve|
|George, Andrew (St Ives)||McCafferty, Ms Chris|
|Gerrard, Neil||McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)|
|Gilroy, Mrs Linda||McDonagh, Siobhain|
|Godsiff, Roger||McDonnell, John|
|Goggins, Paul||McIsaac, Shona|
|Gordon, Mrs Eileen||McLeish, Henry|
|Gorrie, Donald||Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert|
|Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)||McNamara, Kevin|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||McNulty, Tony|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||MacShane, Denis|
|Gunnell, John||Mactaggart, Fiona|
|Hain, Peter||McWalter, Tony|
|Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)||Maginnis, Ken|
|Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)||Mallaber, Judy|
|Hancock, Mike||Mandelson, Peter|
|Hanson, David||Marek, Dr John|
|Harris, Dr Evan||Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)|
|Harvey, Nick||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Hepburn, Stephen||Marshall-Andrews, Robert|
|Heppell, John||Meale, Alan|
|Hesford, Stephen||Merron, Gillian|
|Hewitt, Ms Patricia||Michael, Alun|
|Hill, Keith||Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)|
|Hinchliffe, David||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)|
|Hoey, Kate||Milburn, Alan|
|Home Robertson, John||Miller, Andrew|
|Hoon, Geoffrey||Mitchell, Austin|
|Hope, Phil||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Hopkins, Kelvin||Moran, Ms Margaret|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)|
|Hoyle, Lindsay||Morley, Elliot|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)||Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Humble, Mrs Joan||Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)|
|Hurst, Alan||Mountford, Kali|
|Hutton, John||Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie|
|Ingram, Adam||Mudie, George|
|Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)||Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)|
|Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)||Naysmith, Dr Doug|
|Jamieson, David||Norris, Dan|
|Jenkins, Brian||O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)|
|Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)||O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)|
|Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)||O'Hara, Eddie|
|Jones, Helen (Warrington N)||Öpik, Lembit|
|Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)||Palmer, Dr Nick|
|Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)||Pearson, Ian|
|Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)||Perham, Ms Linda|
|Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)||Pickthall, Colin|
|Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)||Pike, Peter L|
|Jowell, Ms Tessa||Plaskitt, James|
|Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)||Pond, Chris|
|Keetch, Paul||Pope, Greg|
|Kelly, Ms Ruth||Pound, Stephen|
|Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)||Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)|
|Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)||Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)|
|Khabra, Piara S||Prescott, Rt Hon John|
|Kilfoyle, Peter||Primarolo, Dawn|
|King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)||Prosser, Gwyn|
|King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)||Purchase, Ken|
|Kingham, Ms Tess||Quinn, Lawrie|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Radice, Giles|
|Kumar, Dr Ashok||Rammell, Bill|
|Lawrence, Ms Jackie||Rapson, Syd|
|Laxton, Bob||Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)|
|Leslie, Christopher||Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)|
|Levitt, Tom||Rendel, David|
|Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)||Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)|
|Liddell, Mrs Helen|
|Linton, Martin||Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)|
|Livsey, Richard||Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)|
|Llwyd, Elfyn||Roche, Mrs Barbara|
|Lock, David||Rooker, Jeff|
|Love, Andrew||Rooney, Terry|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Ross, William (E Lond'y)|
|Rowlands, Ted||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Ruane, Chris||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Ruddock, Ms Joan||Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)|
|Russell, Bob (Colchester)||Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)|
|Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)||Thompson, William|
|Ryan, Ms Joan||Timms, Stephen|
|Sanders, Adrian||Todd, Mark|
|Savidge, Malcolm||Touhig, Don|
|Sawford, Phil||Trimble, Rt Hon David|
|Sedgemore, Brian||Truswell, Paul|
|Shaw, Jonathan||Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)|
|Sheerman, Barry||Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)|
|Shipley, Ms Debra||Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)|
|Singh, Marsha||Tyler, Paul|
|Skinner, Dennis||Vis, Dr Rudi|
|Smith, Angela (Basildon)||Wallace, James|
|Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)||Walley, Ms Joan|
|Wareing, Robert N|
|Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)||Webb, Steve|
|Smith, John (Glamorgan)||White, Brian|
|Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)||Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd|
|Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)|
|Southworth, Ms Helen|
|Spellar, John||Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)|
|Squire, Ms Rachel||Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)|
|Starkey, Dr Phyllis||Willis, Phil|
|Steinberg, Gerry||Wills, Michael|
|Stevenson, George||Wilson, Brian|
|Stewart, Ian (Eccles)||Winnick, David|
|Stinchcombe, Paul||Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)|
|Stoate, Dr Howard||Wise, Audrey|
|Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin||Wood, Mike|
|Straw, Rt Hon Jack||Woolas, Phil|
|Stringer, Graham||Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)|
|Stuart, Ms Gisela|
|Sutcliffe, Gerry||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)||Mr. John McFall and|
|Mr. Kevin Hughes.|