HC Deb 20 March 1996 vol 274 cc365-6
10. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will make it her policy to consult parents about the level of school funding. [20132]

Mr. Robin Squire

The Government take parents' views into account when deciding the annual revenue support grant. It is then for local education authorities to determine the level of funding for their own schools in the light of local needs and priorities.

Mr. Mackinlay

Does the Minister realise that parents will consider that the Government are not listening? Whether their children go to local education authority schools or to grant-maintained schools, the common experience of parents is that schools are underfunded. They believe that it is time the Government shifted major resources in favour of education and in terms of training, so that we can build up the enterprise of our country and the satisfaction of our pupils. Is it not a fact that the Government have undersold our education provision and that parents demand an improvement? Will the Minister point to a Conservative Member who can put his hand on his heart and say that the parents he represents are satisfied with the funding of their schools?

Mr. Squire

Fortunately, it is not one of my responsibilities to point to my hon. Friends. It is, however, my responsibility to trumpet abroad our success in getting such a good education funding settlement for the coming year—an average settlement of about 4.5 per cent., and rather higher in Essex, the county that the hon. Gentleman represents. Because a very large proportion of parents in that county have had the foresight to vote for GM schools, all the GM secondary schools there have had a settlement of 5 per cent., and that is very good when compared with the inflation rate or average salary increases.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

When parents consider school funding, would it not be interesting for them to note the amount of school funding that gets through to schools, as far too many local education authorities hold back considerable sums to be disbursed by bureaucrats at county hall? Is not Kent county council, controlled by the Labour and Liberal parties, about the worst at holding money back from schools?

Mr. Squire

My hon. Friend makes a telling point. Even with the minimum requirement to delegate 85 per cent. of the relevant budgets, it is clear, looking at the spread of the percentage budget delegated, what a wide difference there is and how often it is Labour-Liberal Democrat councils that insist on spending more money at the centre and less at the chalkface.

Mr. Don Foster

Although I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), may I, through the Minister, congratulate the Secretary of State in at least one respect? Following the appalling murder of the head teacher Philip Lawrence, she immediately brought together representatives of teacher unions to discuss ways of improving safety in school. That work has gone ahead even more urgently following the tragedy in Dunblane. Does the Minister nevertheless think that it would be appropriate to widen that inquiry to involve parents' views, and will the Minister assure those parents that, if effective ways of improving school safety are agreed, resources to fund them will be found without recourse to the current resources used in the classroom?

Mr. Squire

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's first point, which I believe will receive broad agreement across the Chamber.

We do take school security very seriously. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the working group, which has already contributed to legislation in the form of increased police powers to search for offensive weapons on school premises. I await the group's final report. I believe that all hon. Members are currently receiving correspondence in this regard, following the tragedy to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I have no doubt that that, as always, will feed into our deliberations. Security is very high on our list.

Mr. Dover

Is it not true that the gap in the area cost adjustment—the difference in spending allowed between those in the south-east and those in the north-west, such as Lancashire—has been halved this year? Will the Minister try to ensure that the level of school funding is reflected in that, rather than the counties holding back the money and stopping that benefit accruing to Lancashire schoolchildren?

Mr. Squire

I can certainly confirm that, comparing the forthcoming year with the past year, some £90 million has been moved out of areas receiving the area cost adjustment and into the rest of the country. My hon. Friend will know, because he has studied these matters, that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment have set up an independent inquiry into the operation of the area cost adjustment. I hesitate to forecast the result of that inquiry in advance of the outcome of its deliberations.