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Primary Schools (Expenditure)

Volume 81: debated on Monday 17 June 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales how much was spent per pupil in primary schools in Wales in the most recent year for which figures are available; and how this compares with the figure for 1978–79, at constant prices.

At 1983–84 prices, spending per primary school pupil in Wales was £655 in 1978–79 and £758 in 1983–84, an increase of 15 per cent.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the people of Wales are aware of the Government's excellent record in increasing the amount of money spent per pupil, in real terms, in Welsh primary schools? If not, what steps is he taking to ensure that they are made aware of it?

I have issued invitations to every local education authority in Wales to come and discuss with me, in a constructive spirit, the problems of resource management. I take every opportunity to get across the facts. There have not been any massive or savage cuts. Neither I nor the Welsh Office underestimate the problems of resource management and we accept that they must be grappled with. However, we must get away from some of the Opposition's rhetorical nonsense.

Does the Minister realise that the complacency of his answer is not justified by the evidence of what is happening in our schools? The capitation allowance given to head teachers of primary schools, particularly in the county of Powys, shows that they do not have enough money to buy the paper, crayons, materials and other equipment that are required if primary school children are to be taught properly.

The hon. and learned Gentleman obviously did not listen to my answer. I have already said that I am not complacent, but, rather, concerned about the failures of resource management. Head teachers have made precisely that point to me, but provision is made by the local education authorities and not by central Government. Consequently, to say that we do not give them enough is to fly in the face of the facts and of the figures produced by the local education authorities themselves.

How many children are being affected by the teachers' dispute? Can my hon. Friend say what the effect would be on school buildings, textbooks and education budgets if a settlement were made that was above the Government's guidelines?

I can reply to that point quite simply and succinctly. Although we have been through an era of falling school rolls, the drop in the number of teachers has been significantly less. The fall will vary in different local education authorities. However, I must put the matter bluntly, as both the House and the profession should know that one teacher's salary would buy a lot of chalk, books and other modern technological aids to education.

Is the Minister aware that the figures that he gave could be viewed in a different light if such things as school meals, the standard of school cleaning and the capitation allowances were all taken into consideration? Will he admit that the facts are quite different? The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the council in Clwyd has frozen all teaching posts and that, as a result, the September term will be a disaster for teaching? Is the Minister happy that one of the councils over which he has responsibility with regard to grant holdback—I refer to Clwyd—should have been forced to adopt such a position?

The council has been forced to do so as a result of its own policies. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman has said, there has been a sharp rise, in constant terms, in educational expenditure in Clwyd. In view of the facts supplied by that local education authority, I must say that the hon. Gentleman's points have no validity.

Does the Minister appreciate that recent HMI reports do not bear out the optimistic picture that he is trying to portray? Will he bear in mind that conditions in the teachers' dispute are deteriorating and that morale among teachers is at an all-time low? Discipline is also crumbling in our schools. When will the Government launch an initiative to settle this very nasty dispute?

I must make it clear that I have no direct responsibility with regard to the teachers' pay dispute. However, I utterly reject any Opposition suggestion that I am complacent. I propose to meet all the local education authorities to discuss the problems against a background of facts, not rhetoric.