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Nursery Education Cuts

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 22 November 1977

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2.43 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government why they have cut the sums available to local education authorities to extend the provision of nursery education.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE
(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, in view of the economic situation, reductions in the levels of all educational building programmes were made, although with the utmost reluctance. However, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has secured an increased programme for 1978–1979 of £3.4 million initially, and she hopes to be able to make a further small supplement to the programme. Nursery provision may benefit additionally under the next phase of the urban programme and the inner city partnership programme for which funds specifically for provision for under-fives in deprived urban areas will be available.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, but may I ask him when this programme is likely to start and when the schools which are already built will be able to get sufficient teachers so that they can be opened?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that it is for local authorities, not my right honourable friend, to take the action required. However, the rate support grant arrangements which have just been announced allow for some easing in the financing of teaching in nursery schools. The provision of £3.4 million is to start in March of next year when the new financial year begins.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, in the recent defence cuts, £50 million was cut off the Armed Forces works programme and that, in his recent budget, the Chancellor added £400 million in order to stimulate the building industry, which is in a very poor condition? May I therefore ask the noble Lord whether a portion of that £400 million will go towards the building of nursery schools?

My Lords, there is provision for something like £0.6 million to be added to the figure which I have quoted. That is as far as I can go.

My Lords, will the noble Lord ensure that no reduction is made in the grant given to the pre-school play groups, which are fulfilling an excellent role during this very difficult period until we have the nursery schools?

My Lords, I am entirely in agreement with the sentiment expressed by my noble friend, but the decision is one for the Department of Health and Social Security and not for my Secretary of State. I am quite sure, however, that this point will be noted.

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us how many children under five, including the rising fives, there are in school and what percentage that is of the total nursery education population?

My Lords, at January 1976, 56·2 per cent. of the four year-old age group were in schools, and 13·7 per cent. of the three year-old age group. I do not have the figures for children over that age, but that is a good start to answering the noble Lord's question.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply, but I wonder whether he would agree that there is still a long way to go and that that is why my noble friend has asked her Question? Is the noble Lord aware that on 18th November the Secretary of State forecast an increase in educational expenditure on a variety of sectors as a result of the rate support grant, including non-teaching crafts, increased teachers, a reduction in the school meal subsidy, as well as the whole of the teaching profession? Are the Government really confident that, within the 10 per cent. forecast rate increase limit for local authorities, nursery education will have its part in this increased programme for the forthcoming year?

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's question is, Yes, on the part of the Government, but the Government are only partners. It is not my Secretary of State's business to enforce extra expenditure on the part of local authorities. However, my Secretary of State has made her own view—that this ought to be taken up—very clear indeed.