HC Deb 08 May 1990 vol 172 cc8-10
10. Mr. Brandon-Bravo

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a further statement on local management of schools.

Mrs. Rumbold

Local management of schools schemes came into force on 1 April 1990 in 87 local education authorities. My officials are working with the remaining 10 LEAs whose schemes could not be approved to produce acceptable schemes for introduction in April 1991. We shall be monitoring and reviewing all aspects of LMS in the light of experience.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Does my hon. Friend share my great concern at the ease with which some education authorities can retain far too many of their resources at the centre, thereby denying proper and adequate funding to the real business of education—the schools and their staff? Is there any mechanism by which my hon. Friend can impose discipline on education authorities?

Mrs. Rumbold

Yes. I can reassure my hon. Friend on that question. It is true that there has been considerable variation among local education authorities about the amount that has been delegated, especially from the discretionary area. However, one of the points that I hope will please my hon. Friend is that many of those authorities have discretion to hold back for one year only. We expect, therefore, that next year, and in ensuing years, more of the discretionary element for the central administration will be delegated back to the schools, where it should be.

Mr. Crowther

Is the Minister aware that poll tax capping will cause immense problems for the implementation of the Government's own scheme for the local management of schools? If the Secretary of State understands the principle of collective responsibility in the Cabinet, how can he justify an arrangement under which the children of his constituents will receive more resources for education than the children of my constituents? Is that not a gross abuse of the power of a Cabinet Minister?

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Gentleman is slightly confused. Local education authorities set their budgets on their own terms and according to their means and desires. If local education authorities have done their job properly and the schools are receiving the money under LMS, there is absolutely no reason why the schemes should not continue as planned.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does my hon. Friend accept that many excellent schools in my constituency are hampered by the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council, which intensely dislikes church and village schools? Will she ensure that such councils cannot victimise church and village schools and that they can continue to do the excellent job that they are now doing at both primary and secondary level?

Mrs. Rumbold

I fully share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for small schools and Church of England and church schools generally. Under its LMS scheme, the local authority has the ability to ensure that small schools are protected. We shall be watching carefully to ensure that small schools receive the protection that is due to them, so that they may continue to do the excellent work that they have always done in the past.

Ms. Armstrong

Does not the Minister realise that there is widespread consternation about the operation of local management of schools? The scheme and the principle that we supported are being completely undermined by the centralised diktat that the formula based on average teaching costs represents. That formula is applied to no other aspect of education. When will the Government wake up to the fact that we have to pay the actual cost of teachers' salaries and not the average cost?

Mrs. Rumbold

It is a great pity that the hon. Lady does not understand the principles that underlie the local management of schools. In the first place, central Government have done nothing other than to set the loosest possible guidelines. The central point about LMS is that it is the pupils who lead the funding. Each local education authority determines how its local management scheme works according to the number of pupils and the age weighting of those pupils.

If we paid historic costs, which is what the hon. Lady would like us to do, we should simply build into the system the failures of the past rather than moving forward to the future, so that parents—voting with their feet and their children—get the best schools, which they deserve.

Mr. Haselhurst

Has my hon. Friend's monitoring of the local management of schools so far revealed many schools for which the variation between last year's and this year's budget is wider than it should be? Is she satisfied that sufficient flexibility is built into the system to ensure that some of the worst gaps can be closed?

Mrs. Rumbold

I am satisfied that some of the worst gaps can be closed by our monitoring of LMS schemes introduced in some authorities. Some authorities made some mistakes in their initial calculations, which have had to be changed, but there is a transitional period during which adjustments can be made. Moreover, minor or major variations can be made with the consent of the Secretary of State. There are adequate safeguards for the future.