HC Deb 27 March 1990 vol 170 cc193-5
3. Mr. Mullin

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he is taking to ensure that schools are in good repair, prior to the enactment of local management of schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth)

It is the responsibility of local education authorities to carry out necessary repairs to county and voluntary controlled schools. Governors of voluntary-aided schools receive grant aid from the Department for necessary external repairs.

Mr. Mullin

Is the Under-Secretary aware that next financial year the capital allocation from his Department for Gateshead city technology college is three times that for all 145 schools in Sunderland put together? How can that be justified when many of the schools in my constituency and elsewhere are falling to pieces?

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that officials from my Department recently had a meeting with officers of Sunderland local education authority. We are anxious to look as helpfully as we can at the capital needs of Gateshead. The capital guidelines issued to authorities are based on objective criteria and standards that are well understood by the authorities. If the bid from Sunderland failed to match our national priorities it is the responsibility of the authority. We are anxious, however, to look with the authority at its needs.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to welcome the establishment of a city technology college in his area which will provide a magnificent educational opportunity for children in Sunderland. It is sad that such a negative, grudging attitude should be shown to the generosity of the sponsors and the willingness of the Government to establish the highest standards of educational provision for all children in his area.

Mr. Sayeed

Is my hon. Friend aware that I recently visited St. George's school in my constituency, which is operating the full local management of schools system and which is extremely happy with it? Is my hon. Friend aware that that school now gets its repairs done speedily by outside contractors which cuts down the costs to the school and that, next year, it will be able to carry over £70,000 of its budget? Will the Minister tell my right hon. Friend how pleased that school and other schools are with the 100 per cent. carry-over rules now permitted by the Department?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The flexibility that LMS will allow head teachers and the chairmen of governors to enable them to get work done is enormously welcome. Those people have welcomed LMS because it offers them an enhanced opportunity for responsibility and to get things done at a practical level. Many head teachers have told me how difficult it has been to have every decision that they needed to take about repairs and maintenance of their schools second-guessed by their authorities. They are pleased to have the opportunity for flexible, rapid response.

Mr. Fatchett

Is not it clear that LMS will cause problems in relation not just to school buildings and repairs, but teacher jobs? What action will the Department take to protect the job of Mrs. Barbara Symes—a constituent of the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker)—a mathematics teacher who is threatened with redundancy from Redlands first school? What educational justification can there be for making redundant an experienced and senior maths teacher? Is not that educational vandalism and a demonstration that all that we have said about LMS and the security of teachers' jobs is correct?

Mr. Howarth

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to recognise the fair principle that every child of a given age should attract an equal unit of resource. As teaching costs are far the largest component of educational spending, it follows that the formula for a school's budget must reflect the average cost of employing a teacher. We have, of course, said that we are prepared to look sympathetically at the problems of schools facing difficulties in the transition from actual to average salaries. Three quarters of schools will gain from the flexibility that we have allowed for small schools. Larger schools that have the prospect of a reduction in their budgets of more than 1 per cent. during the four-year transitional period will be considered sympathetically and may have the opportunity of a longer transitional period.

It is for the governors of the school mentioned to think carefully about what they are doing. I am certain that the authority will want to help it to analyse the problem to see whether it is necessary to make Mrs. Symes redundant.

Sir Cyril Smith

Is the Minister aware that a major problem in education is not the method of funding, but the amount of money available after the method has been determined? Is he aware that many schools are in a state of disrepair and that it is estimated that £3 billion is needed to bring schools up to standard? Will he assure the House that, by September 1991, regulations on the standard of school buildings which were suggested in 1981 will be capable of being enforced?

Mr. Howarth

Between 1976 and 1979, when the hon. Gentleman and his party supported the Labour Government, there was a 50 per cent. cut in capital spending on school buildings. Since then, under this Government, there has been a 10 per cent. increase in the amount spent per pupil on school buildings. Nationally, there has been a 42 per cent. increase in the amount spent per pupil in our schools. The amount of resources that we can make available for education depends on the progress of the economy. With the successful development of the economy under this Government, increased resources are going into education.

Mr. Soames

Is my hon. Friend aware of the circumstances in West Sussex, where terrible damage was inflicted on temporary hutted classrooms during the recent storms? Will my hon. Friend pay close attention to those difficulties to see whether financial assistance can be given to those schools?

Mr. Howarth

We were concerned to do what we could as quickly as possible to help schools that suffered serious damage in the storms earlier this year. The House was shocked and distressed at the deaths and injuries to children. Fortunately, the standing instructions that local education authorities have in force enabled schools, with the good sense and resourcefulness of head teachers and other teachers, to minimise the risk to people. We immediately made it clear that money to help would be available under the emergency Bellwin rules. Since then, my Department has written to all authorities asking them to review their procedures that they undertook to ensure that minimum damage occurs as a consequence of the storms.