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Secondary Schoolchildren

Volume 84: debated on Monday 21 October 1985

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will give the numbers of 15-year-olds attending state secondary schools in Wales in 1981 to 1985. and the estimate for 1989, respectively.

With permission, I shall publish the figures for each year from 1981 to 1985 in the Official Report.

In January 1981 there were 44,659 pupils aged 15 in maintained secondary schools in Wales, and at January 1985, 42,836. The estimate for 1989 is about 36,000.

Does my hon. Friend agree that as those figures are no secret and have been known for a long time, quite a number of local authorities—including my local authority of South Glamorgan—have seriously failed to consider the merging of schools to enable the provision of a more varied range of subjects and more funding to be spent on teaching and less on mortar and bricks?

My hon. Friend is quite right. It is, of course, the responsibility of each local education authority to secure the best educational provision for children in the most cost-effective way. In 1981 we advised local education authorities to take account in their planning of the declining trend in pupil numbers, when we recommended that two out of every five surplus school places should be taken out of use by 1986.

Is the Minister aware of the very poor level of funding available for the education of 15-year-olds in Wales, especially in a sparse county like Powys, where in many of the high schools the heads of spending departments such as physics, chemistry and French have no more than £1 per pupil per year to spend on materials? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is disgraceful?

I cannot agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. In Wales in general, spending per head has increased from £767 in 1978–79 to;£877 in 1983–84—and that is at 1983–84 prices. There has been a similar increase in Powys from £879 to £953 per pupil. The hon. and learned Gentleman is incorrect in what he claims.

Has the Minister studied the report, published a few days ago, of the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, which concludes that the overall picture is of an alarming deterioration in our schools and that no amount of statistical juggling can disguise that? Certainly our teachers and local education authorities concur with that. When will the hon. Gentleman's Department ensure that our educational services in Wales are properly funded?

Indeed, I have a copy of the very slim document to which the hon. Gentleman referred. My description of it, quite frankly, is that it flies in the face of facts. Furthermore, it acknowledges that in its conclusions. I have no further comment on a document that states that.

I agree with my hon. Friend and disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), but do not local education authorities have a problem of resource management? Talk of cuts is political nonsense. The figures speak for themselves. They are figures put out, not by the Welsh Office, but by the LEAs. Will my hon. Friend give the assurance for which I very much hope, that he will continue to discuss with the LEAs the very' difficult problem of resource management against the background of falling rolls, which is at the heart of the problem faced by LEAs in Wales?

My hon. Friend, whom I am glad to hear, particularly as he is so conversant with this subject, had started on these very discussions with local authorities and had met the Gwent and Clwyd local authorities. I fully intend to carry on the good work that he began and to meet the remaining local education authorities.

Following are the figures

The number of pupils at maintained secondary schools in Wales in January of each year who were aged 15 at 31 August in the previous year was as follows:

Number

198144,659
198243,649
198342,977
198442,500
198542,836
From mid-year home population projections it is estimated that the corresponding figure for 1989 will be about 36,000.