HC Deb 13 June 1996 vol 279 c416
10. Mr. John D. Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the state of primary school budgets. [30932]

Mr. Ancram

The total funding available for delegation to primary schools, including resources for the primary 1 initiative in 1996–97, is estimated at £275 million. That represents an increase of 4.55 per cent. from 1995–96.

Mr. Taylor

I have visited some 20 primary schools in Strangford in the past three months. Is the Minister aware that there is a decline in morale in primary schools, that many schools are operating on deficit budgets, that primary school teachers are being made redundant this year, that pupil-teacher ratios are worsening, that management committee members are considering resigning and that teachers face an increasing administration burden? Will the Minister, therefore, urgently reappraise the financing of primary school education in Northern Ireland? Will he redirect some of the existing funding within his Department and the education area boards to our primary schools?

Mr. Ancram

While I do not for a moment deny that schools in Northern Ireland suffer the same difficulties as schools elsewhere, I think that the right hon. Gentleman paints a very black picture. I remind him that, in the past four years, the capital per capita allocations to primary schools in Northern Ireland have risen by 14 per cent. That is demonstrated by an improving parent-teacher ratio in the primary sector from 23.2:1 in the late 1980s to 21.6:1 in 1993–94. The provisional figures for 1994–95 show a further improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio to 20.8:1. That proves that conditions in Northern Ireland primary schools are improving.