HC Deb 23 July 1991 vol 195 cc1018-9
5. Mr. Hain

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the steps he is taking to make good deficits facing schools moving towards responsibility for their own budgets.

Mr. Fallon

Schools taking on formal delegation under the Education Reform Act should not inherit a deficit on their school accounts. Local education authorities have ample scope to cushion schools' budgets as formula funding is introduced over four years, with longer available for schools facing particular difficulties because of high inherited staffing costs.

Mr. Hain

Does the Minister accept that many primary schools in particular have had to cut teaching posts and merge classes in order to keep within budgets based on a formula for average rather than actual teaching staff? Will he announce emergency funding to make good that shortfall in time for the next school year?

Mr. Fallon

As I understand it, primary schools in Neath do not yet have their delegated budgets. Local education authorities in England and Wales were able to design their local management of schools schemes to protect not only schools with high inherited staff costs but, specifically, small schools and to allow generous transition arrangements from historic to pupil-led funding.

Mrs. Currie

Is my hon. Friend aware that five of the seven secondary schools in my constituency reported worse GCSE results in 1990 than in the year before, when national average figures were improving, and when the county budget showed that the bulk of the staff employed under the education budget were not teachers? My constituents are no thicker than the Secretary of State's constituents in Nottinghamshire; the problem is that the county council retains a far higher proportion of the budget. Will the Minister explain how matters in Derbyshire can be put to rights?

Mr. Fallon

I would not be surprised any more at anything that happened in Derbyshire. I am becoming increasingly concerned about the way in which Derbyshire allocates its schools budget. For example, it subsidised its school meals service—to the tune of £14 million last year—for every pupil in the county, and it has not increased school meal prices since 1981.

Mr. Beggs

Will the Minister assure the House that the real motivation behind financial delegation to schools is not to obscure underfunding of the education service throughout the United Kingdom, and not to allow any failure or deficiency that may arise later to be attributed to incompetence on the part of principals and local school governors?

Mr. Fallon

The key point to grasp is that local management of schools funds not teachers but pupils. It does not change the total amount of resources available in the schools system, but some adjustments may be necessary and desirable where successful and popular schools were deliberately underfunded by local education authorities in the past.