HC Deb 01 March 1994 vol 238 cc776-7
12. Mr. Beith

To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he has any plans to visit schools in Northumberland to discuss school budgets.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend has no immediate plans to visit Northumberland schools. My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), will visit two schools in Northumberland on 14 March.

Mr. Beith

I hope that the Minister visits two schools in my constituency so that he can become aware of the problem posed by the combined effect of the county needing to fund the 2.9 per cent. teachers' pay increase and facing a capping limit of 1.5 per cent., the result of which is that all schools in the county face reductions in their budgets. Is he aware of the problem? What does he plan to do about it?

Mr. Forth

Northumberland does no worse and no better—it is very close to the average if one looks at the pattern of schools' expenditure. I see no reason why an efficient and responsible local education authority should be unable to maintain the standards that we expect of it in the current financial circumstances. There is no proven causal connection between the level of expenditure and quality of education output. I would expect that in the right hon. Gentleman's area, as in all others, school governors, teachers, heads and the local education authority would take it on themselves to continue to deliver a proper standard of education.

Mr. Bellingham

When the Minister is on his way back from Northumberland, will he make a detour to Norfolk and visit some schools there—

Madam Speaker

Order. No. I am afraid that he cannot.

Mr. Jack Thompson

Like the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I am very disappointed by the response from the Minister about the visit to Northumberland. Is the Minister aware that about four fifths of the population of Northumberland live in the urban south-east corner, with the rest in the rural part? We are quite happy to support the high cost of rural education in Northumberland, but would it not be better for the Minister to go up there and see what is happening rather than regard the area as if it were part of a colony in darkest Africa?

Mr. Forth

Northumberland is treated in exactly the same way as all the other 108 local education authorities. They are all subject to the same impartial, even-handed treatment, both by the funding formula and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We would, therefore, expect Northumberland, like all other local education authorities, to ensure that it delivers a proper, acceptable and increasingly high standard of education to all its pupils.

Mr. Harry Greenway

When considering the budgets of Northumbrian schools, will my hon. Friend reflect on the great success of the policy of devolving budgets to schools in Northumberland and elsewhere, the more responsible spending that has resulted from it and the much more valuable spending from the point of view of the pupils, which is what schools are all about?

Mr. Forth

Yes, indeed. The local management of schools programme has been one of the most successful programmes in the past few years. It has proved some important things, not least that if responsibility is given to governors and heads they will seize it and make full use of it in coming to difficult decisions about priorities in their schools, and that these decisions are far better made where they matter, in the school and in the classroom, rather than in some local education authority which is probably remote.