HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc718-20
4. Mr. Butterfill

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the relationship between spending by local education authorities and examination results.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

There appears to be no direct relationship between the level of education spending and examination results. Some authorities obtain good results at much lower cost than others.

Mr. Butterfill

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm reports in The Guardian earlier this year that the 12 local authorities with the worst record in English, mathematics and modern language results were all controlled by the Liberal Democrats or the Labour party?

Mr. Clarke

I am not sure whether I can confirm that off the cuff, but The Guardian sometimes gets it right. The figures that I have before me certainly show that the highest spending authorities comprise almost entirely Labour and the occasional Liberal authority and that those have some of the worst results. There is an enormous gap between inner London boroughs, which spent £2,745 per pupil in 1989–90, under the old Inner London education authority, and Kent, which spent £1,570 per pupil in a comparable year and achieved much better results.

Mr. O'Hara

Will the Secretary of State confirm that local authorities that perform badly in the league tables, which cover a very narrow spectrum of examination results, often spend more on pupils with special educational needs? A local authority that spends less on special educational needs does so either because it has less incidence of such needs or because it is in dereliction of its duties to pupils with those needs. If it has less incidence of such needs, does it not follow that it should score highly in the narrow spectrum of examination results for the most able pupils?

Mr. Clarke

I am aware of no evidence that pupils with special educational needs are distributed unevenly across the country. Special educational needs include pupils with physical disabilities or particular difficulties in learning. It is simply not true that those needs correlate with high spending local authorities. There are great discrepancies in the amount spent by one authority compared with another, and in the amount that local authorities spend on central administration, but there is little correlation with the results. When we produce the seven-year-olds' test results local authority by local authority, good results will be shown for some authorities serving comparatively deprived urban areas, while shockingly poor results will be shown for others serving similar areas. The quality of education rather than the amount spent is what counts.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks

Is it fair for young pupils in an area controlled by a Labour council to have their prospects of good examination results considerably reduced? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, year after year, the examination results of Wolverhampton education authority—a high-spending council—are in the bottom half of the national league? Is it any wonder that I now plead with my right hon. and learned Friend to intervene on behalf of pupils and parents who wish to move their children over the border to Staffordshire because they are fed up with their own high-spending council and they want that council to take responsibility?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend's point. The figures for 1989–90 show that Wolverhampton was about 20th in the list of spenders but 83rd in the list of GCSE results.

Mr. Straw

Is the Secretary of State aware of the serious threat to standards in schools caused by his spending decision in the Prime Minister's county of Cambridgeshire, where the Cambridge branch of the Secondary Heads Association has said that impending cuts will cause larger classes … fewer books, less equipment, reduced sixth form provision and serious difficulty in providing the national curriculum"? When will the Secretary of State accept responsibility for the crisis in education provision in Cambridgeshire, or does he believe that it is just another scare got up by pupils, parents, teachers and Conservative county councillors in that county?

Mr. Clarke

In fact, Cambridgeshire will enjoy an increase in real terms in resources next year. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I publicly criticised the so-called cuts announced by Cambridgeshire a short time ago. Cambridgeshire is planning substantially to increase spending on education, but has chosen, for some reason best known to itself, to make more money available by imposing sharp reductions in its secondary school budgets. I am prepared to criticise that action when taken by a Conservative council. The hon. Gentleman supports high spending and progressive teaching methods but seems indifferent to the results, which he does not want to give the public in any comprehensible form. He should not intervene in little local difficulties in Cambridgeshire which, sooner or later, will be sorted out when the authority spends its additional resources sensibly by devoting them to raising the quality of education.