HC Deb 15 January 1991 vol 183 cc713-6
2. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much at today's prices was being spent per pupil in secondary schools in 1979; and how much is planned to be spent this and the next financial year.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

Average school-based spending per secondary pupil in 1978–79 was £1,165 at 1988–89 prices. In 1988–89, the latest year for which actual spending information is available, it was £1,690. That represents a real-terms increase of some 45 per cent.

Detailed information for 1990–91 and 1991–92 is not available on a comparable basis. In 1990–91, the secondary block of the standard spending assessment allows for total expenditure of some £2,175 cash per 11 to 16-year-old secondary pupil. The figure proposed for 1991–92 allows some £2,550 cash per 11 to 16-year-old secondary pupil. That represents a further real-terms increase of 10 per cent. in one year.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that comprehensive reply which, I am sure he will agree, nails the lie that the Government and the Conservative party are not willing to devote more and more resources to education. Has he had a chance to receive feedback about what has happened under the LMS changes to the effectiveness with which the money is spent? Does he agree that it would be better to give 100 per cent. of the money to schools to allow them to decide what they buy from the central education department at county hall?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comprehensive question, which required me to give the figures. I agree that they show that improving standards in our education do not depend wholly on increasing real-terms expenditure, because that is what we have been doing consistently in our period of office. Local management of schools allows money to be spent most effectively at local level in the school. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has issued a circular suggesting that as much money as possible should be made available in that way. A school that feels confident that it can handle its resources best itself should contemplate opting for grant-maintained status.

Mr. Ashton

Arising out of that carefully planted question, are not there now fewer children of that age at school than there were in 1979 and does not it cost as much to maintain and run a school with fewer pupils? Is not it also a fact that much more expenditure now comes from the county council and through the poll tax, not from the Government?

Mr. Clarke

If the question was planted, I know not by whom—certainly not by me. It is a question frequently asked about actual expenditure on education and it brings out the most relevant figures of all, which are those of real-terms spending per pupil. It has risen spectacularly during the period of this Government. Next year's local authority allocations, to which I have just referred, show a 16 per cent. increase in the standard spending assessment—10 per cent. ahead of the rate of inflation. The resources are there and we must ensure that they are used to the best effect to obtain the higher standards that we want.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that local management of schools is a step in the right direction? Those of my schools which have opted out find that they can spend the money a great deal better than Lancashire county council ever did. They are appointing more staff and they can devote more to books and equipment. Roll on the rest opting out.

Mr. Clarke

I am delighted to hear of that experience. As news spreads of how successful grant-maintained schools have been, we shall see many more applications. They are now beginning to come in. I agree with my hon. Friend that the money that we are putting into education is best spent by governors who feel confident that they are able to do so in a grant-maintained school under their control.

Mr. Andrew Smith

May I invite the Secretary of State to confess that the statistics of which he boasts do not bear out his claims for the education service, first, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) pointed out, because the numbers of school-age children have fallen from more than 10 million to 8.6 million and, secondly, because the Government have cut expenditure on the nation's schools in real terms by more than a quarter? In addition, have not the Government also cut the share of gross domestic product and the share of public expenditure devoted to education, and does not that show that it is time for a Labour Government with a real commitment to investment in the nation's education in place of the neglect and statistical gimmickry that are characteristic of this Administration?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman's assertion of a 25 per cent. real-terms cut is startling. There seems to be some ingenious arithmetic or use of statistics behind that which he had better explain to me on paper if he wants to carry on using that figure. The proportion of GDP is an irrelevant measure of public spending for any service. As it happens, Britain spends a higher percentage of GDP on education than most of our competitors, but that tends to be a measure of the level of GDP. I have shown that there has been an enormous increase in real-terms spending on pupils and I do not believe that the Labour party would have exceeded it. Everyone knows that improving standards of education, standards of reading and spelling have to do with many more things than just the level of public expenditure per pupil.

3. Mr. Knox

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much was spent per pupil at secondary schools in Staffordshire in the most recent year for which figures are available; and what was the comparable figure in 1978–79, at constant prices.

Mr. Fallon

Staffordshire spent £530 per secondary pupil in 1978–79 and £1,610 per secondary pupil in 1988–89. At 1988–89 prices those figures are £1,165 and £1,610 respectively—a real-terms increase of about 38 per cent.

Mr. Knox

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures show an impressive increase in expenditure per pupil in secondary schools in Staffordshire, which nails the lie that there have been cuts since the Government took office?

Mr. Fallon

Yes. Increased spending on education under the Government is not a big idea but a big fact.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

How much of the extra expenditure in Staffordshire is due to the imposition of the national curriculum, for which many schools have to buy different books? In particular, how much extra will his announcement yesterday on the changes in the geography curriculum cost? Would not it have been better to follow the proposals made by The Geographical Association and have geography taught in a way which is much more relevant to modern living?

Mr. Fallon

A substantial proportion of the extra resources are being spent on the national curriculum—and every penny spent on the new national curriculum is a penny well spent. As to additional resources, the national curriculum is being introduced in stages and money will be provided as appropriate.