HC Deb 01 March 1994 vol 238 cc775-6
11. Mr. Pickthall

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to change the standard spending assessment calculation for the education of under-fives.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire)

As part of his review of policy on under-fives, my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the implications for the under-fives element of standard spending assessments.

Mr. Pickthall

Since the Prime Minister, and subsequently the Secretary of State, have recently discovered the virtues of nursery education, would it not be sensible, just and financially prudent to change the basis of the SSA calculation for under-fives away from a simple population count in a local authority towards the provision of places in a local authority? That would get rid of what is, in effect, a subsidy for bad providers to spend elsewhere in their budget. It would allow good providers relief from having to cut other sectors in their budget in order to provide good nursery education.

Mr. Squire

We shall bear the hon. Member's observation in mind—other hon. Members have also advanced that argument. A number of local education authorities provide good provision for under-fives while maintaining spending at the SSA level. If the hon. Gentleman's desire, which is certainly that of the Government, is to see an expansion of the service, it would seem perverse to change dramatically the way in which the SSA is distributed in favour of those who are already serving a large number of under-fives.

Mr. Ian Taylor

Will my hon. Friend consider, not only the SSA calculations for county councils, but the relationship with first schools and the grant-maintained sector? Send first school in my constituency, which is grant maintained, is anxious to provide nursery provision. I know that the Department is currently considering that case.

Mr. Squire

My hon. Friend will understand if I avoid giving an answer on the specific school that he mentioned. We shall look carefully at all applications from schools, including grant-maintained schools, that seek nursery provision. Where applicants fall within laid down criteria, we shall seek to satisfy my hon. Friend's justifiable concerns.

Mr. Win Griffiths

Why did not the Minister have the good grace to mention the fact that, of the 40 top providers of nursery education, 40 are Labour education authorities? Why does he not stop including all forms of child care in the same bracket as high quality nursery education, and give advice and guidance to all local education authorities to start providing more and more nursery places?

Mr. Squire

The reason that I did not give the answer that the hon. Gentleman wanted was that I was not asked the question. As the hon. Gentleman has now asked the question, I shall underline the fact that, of the 34 Labour authorities that the Labour party is anxious to boast about in terms of nursery education, 70 per cent. fall in the bottom 40 for exam results and 82 per cent. fall within the bottom 50 for truancy levels. We should hear a bit about that.