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Nursery Education

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 14 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will give the latest figure which indicates what proportion of local education authorities has requested increased financial support currently available from central Government for the provision of nursery education facilities.

The final total of English local education authorities making bids on the 1978–79 nursery education building programme was 53 out of 97. Bids on the 1979–80 programme are still being received, but numbers bidding have already exceeded the previous year's total. My right hon. Friend is considering whether additional resources can be made available.

What further action does the Minister intend to take to make more local Tory councils take advantage of the Government money that is available? Will she respond to the point which has been made by the Avon authority and others that this is a matter not of capital provision, but of lack of revenue resources to appoint the necessary teachers in nursery education.

The only action that it is open to us to take is to remind local education authorities that this year, as last year, we have made available to them through rate support grant an increase in money which we hope will provide for an increased number of children in nursery schools. There is nothing we can do to make local authorities take up this provision. It covers revenue costs. It should be made plain that this money is available.

As an interim measure, have the Government considered making finance available for the rising 5s? If so, can the Minister say how much such a scheme will cost in a full year?

Money is already available through the same process through the rate support grant for the admission of rising 5s. To a large extent it is in the discretion of individual authorities how much money is spent and how it is used.

Although my hon. Friend says that there is nothing she can do about Tory authorities which refuse to use the money that is available, except to remind them of that fact, does she not agree that if the money is available and authorities are not using it, the Government could change the law to compel local authorities throughout the country at least to make minimum provision? If that were the case, the maldistribution of nursery school facilities would not have occurred.

I take my hon. Friend's point. The difficulty, as she will know, is that if we make this provision statutory, even at a minimum level, it will be necessary to provide resources to cope with it and in many authorities, as many of my hon. Friends know—they have raised the matter often in the House—provision is so low at present that this would be very costly.