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Nursery Education

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children attend (a) nursery schools and (b) nursery classes in primary and infant schools; and what percentage of the 4 to 5 years age group does not receive any nursery education.

In January 1982, in England, pupils under 5 years of age were distributed as follows:

Maintained nursery schools49,000
Nursery classes in primary schools185,000
Infant classes in primary schools203,000
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the percentage of 4-year-olds attending some form of schooling was as high as 76 per cent.

Given the desirability of extending nursery education to all under-fives, will the Minister encourage local education authorities to take advantage of falling rolls in inner city areas to extend nursery education to all under-fives?

Falling rolls have been mentioned before at Question Time. On 1 January this year about 12,500 more pupils were receiving nursery education than in 1981. There has been an increase of about 47,000 in the past five years.

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the disappointment of many responsible local groups that want to start and run nursery or primary schools in redundant primary school buildings, particularly when the primary schools have recently been closed? Will he consider giving such groups the statutory right to purchase and run the schools, provided they meet all other requirements under the Education Act?

My hon. Friend has posed an interesting question. We have been in contact on that matter. In rural areas, where small village schools have been closed, consideration should be given by the local authorities to whether the buildings can be used for other educational purposes along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend.

The figure of 76 per cent. is higher than most of us have experienced. Are play groups included, or only nursery schools?

I can give the breakdown of the figure to the hon. Gentleman. Play groups are not included. Maintained nursery schools, nursery classes in primary schools and infant classes in primary schools are included. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) referred to using redundant classrooms. In times of falling rolls in primary schools consideration is often given to bringing children under five within the school framework.