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Expenditure Cuts (Educational Standards)

Volume 980: debated on Tuesday 4 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what effect the recent cuts in education expenditure will have on standards in educational institutions.

The Government's planned reductions in expenditure on education in 1980–81 have been concentrated in areas not directly concerned with teaching in the classroom so as to ensure that standards in educational institutions can be maintained or improved.

If the Secretary of State is seriously intent on improving standards, will he provide more money to employ more teachers so as to reduce class sizes in the State schools, which cater for the vast majority of children, instead of proposing to put £60 million of public money into the pockets of the minority of parents who want to buy extra privileges—real or imaginary—by sending their children to private, fee-paying, selective schools?

I cannot offer more money for teachers at present. My proposals for 1980–81 assume an overall reduction in expenditure of 3½ per cent. at a time when the number of pupils will drop by 4.7 per cent. On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, he knows full well that the assisted places scheme has no relationship whatsoever to the year 1980–81. It does not start until 1981–82, and then at a cost of £3 million.

May I urge my right hon. and learned Friend not always to listen to those who want to reduce class sizes? Will he consider using any extra money that may be available to pay teachers more so that more qualified people enter and stay in the profession?

We are certainly anxious to have a highly qualified teaching force, and that is why we are moving slowly to an all-graduate teaching profession.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the effect which the Government's policy is having on the service which local authorities throughout the country provide? For example, is he aware that in the city of Leeds, which has a Tory-controlled council, school meals will be increased by 5p, any school swimming parties that require transportation will be cancelled during the summer, free school milk will be cancelled for children, except those who have medical qualifications to obtain it and overseas students' tuition fees will be increased by 100 per cent? Is he further aware of the problems that that will create for many of our constituents? Will he also take into account the fact that the cutback in the youth service programme will amount to £75,000 in Leeds, and that young people in industry need youth clubs and facilities?

I am fully aware of the need to reduce public expenditiure overall, because if we do not do so, and if we cannot put more money back into the private sector, in the end we shall not have the wealth to provide the public services in this country.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the problems is that people are convinced that only by spending more money does one achieve a higher standard? Does he further agree that what we should do is, for example, to improve teacher training so that we are using the money that we are able to provide more effectively in the schools of Britain?

I totally agree. As I have just said, one of the purposes of our proposals on the core curriculum is to try to improve the standard of what is taught in schools.

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view, which has been expressed in the House and elsewhere—that cuts can be made outside the classroom—an absolute misconception of what is taking place? Has he noticed the views of the British Educational Equipment Association, the National Book League and the Educational Publishers' Council, which show that this year there will be a £4·5 million cut in capitation on books, a £1·5 million cut in spending and the equivalent in real terms of a 26 per cent. cut in expenditure on books in our schools? Can he really still say that the cuts will take place only outside the classroom and that they are not eating into education standards?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, all that I can do is to provide through the rate support grant for relevant expenditure. As to non-teaching costs, which includes books, we have assumed a 2 per cent. increase in expenditure in that area. But I repeat, against a reduction in the number of pupils of 4·7 per cent., we are looking for a 3·5 per cent. reduction in expenditure. A few Question Times ago, the hon. Gentleman said that if we achieved that it would be good husbandry.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? In view of the fact—

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to indicate that he will raise the matter on the Adjournment?

Very well. The hon. Gentleman will seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.