HC Deb 10 March 1981 vol 1000 cc748-9
13. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what evidence he has of schools issuing requests for parental subscriptions for essential school materials as a response to education cuts.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

Many schools now invite parents and others to make voluntary contributions to school funds. It has, however, long been the practice in many schools to ask pupils to provide, or pay for, materials for such activities as craft and cookery, where the pupil may take home the finished product.

Mr. Beith

Does not the Secretary of State recognise the legal obligation on education authorities to provide the basic essentials of education? Does he not in any case recognise that, if schools increasingly look to parents for a direct financial contribution, poorer parents will be frightened to send their children to the best schools?

Mr. Carlisle

As I have said before, the fact that parents may or may not contribute money towards schools in no way absolves a local education authority from its statutory duty under section 8 of the 1944 Act. However, that is no reason for attempting to discourage parents from making additional contributions. Some schools receive greater parental contributions than others, but there is no reason why we should discourage that.

Mr. Michael Spicer

With the pressure on resources, has my right hon. and learned Friend yet had time to consider whether he can do anything to counteract the effects of the High Court judgment against the county of Hereford and Worcester last week in respect of a parental contribution towards special music teaching?

Mr. Carlisle

I cannot add to what I said last Thursday. I have not yet had an opportunity to consider the full transcript of the judgment of Mr. Justice Forbes, which is clearly important.

Mr. Whitehead

When a headmaster writes to parents inviting them to pay for essential textbooks and states that the contributions are voluntary but that to be effective they must be made by all parents, is it not a levy and, as such, against the Act?

Mr. Carlisle

The law is clear. An authority cannot charge a fee for education. However, there is nothing under this Act or the local government legislation that prevents parents from providing money if they choose.

Mr. John Townend

In view of the continuous improvement in the teacher-pupil ratio, does my right hon. and learned Friend consider that in the areas where there is a shortage of resources for books and materials the local authority should consider employing fewer teachers with an equivalent increase in expenditure on books and materials?

Mr. Carlisle

That is a matter for the individual local education authority. There has been less expenditure on books than on certain other aspects of education. In our planning we have assumed an increase in expenditure in that area.