HC Deb 09 July 1998 vol 315 cc1226-8
6. Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)

What proposals he has to redress inequities in resources allocated to local education authorities. [48093]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers)

We are currently reviewing the education standard spending assessment formula and the additional education needs index with the objective of achieving a fairer system. Decisions will be taken in the autumn.

Mr. Todd

I thank the Minister for the time that he spent meeting representatives of two deprived schools in my community, Newhall infants and Church Gresley St. George's. May I draw his attention to comments made by David Hart, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who described the current system for allocating money to schools as grossly unfair? May I also draw his attention to the discrepancy between Derbyshire, where a primary school child receives support to the tune of £1,275 a year, and Kensington and Chelsea, where a child has £2,384 spent on his or her education? Can he explain or justify such a difference?

Mr. Byers

I do not intend to justify a system that we intend to change. We inherited from the previous Government a system under which the additional education needs index, which is supposed to measure poverty, lists Torbay as being more impoverished than Sheffield, and Barnsley as being in less poverty than Bournemouth. The system is clearly fundamentally flawed, and we will change it to ensure a fairer system for counties such as Derbyshire so that money can be invested in schools in areas that deserve funding.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

Do I take it from that reply that the Minister does not deny a report in the Evening Standard a week ago that the Government plan to transfer funding from London to other parts of the country? [HON. MEMBERS: "Good idea."] My constituents will be interested to hear that. As the Minister is undertaking a review, will he consider seriously the need to increase funding in London because of huge cost increases exemplified by an alarming increase in vacancies for teachers in the metropolis?

Mr. Byers

We will move to a fair and transparent system for allocating resources. The standard spending assessment regime is only one part of the picture, and it must be considered alongside the comprehensive spending review, which will be made known to the House next week. Together, the review and the new assessment regime will put in place financial support so that every school can deliver high standards and the quality of education that our children deserve, both in London and elsewhere.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I thank the Minister for turning his attention recently to the needs of education in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. His review of the SSA will be crucial in dealing with the year-on-year cumulative underfunding our schools have suffered. May I refer him to the recent Coalfield Communities campaign report, which will tell him that educational achievement in Stoke-on-Trent averages 30 per cent. whereas the national average is 45 per cent. Will his fair and transparent review take into account the needs of Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire?

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend has been a strong campaigner for schools in her constituency and in Staffordshire. I am sure that the steps that the Government have already been able to take to assist schools in her constituency are making a difference at long last. However, that is only a start. Step by step, we must continue to invest properly and effectively in schools in her constituency and other parts of the country. I am confident that the outcome of the comprehensive spending review next week will bring money to modernise our schools system, money for reform and money to deliver the quality of education that our children deserve and our nation needs.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Does the Minister agree with the Secretary of State, who admitted to the Select Committee on Education and Employment the other day that the proportion of national income devoted to education fell during the Government's first year of office compared with our last year in office? Does he agree that that is the opposite of what Labour pledged to the electorate? Will he say how much it would cost to meet the pledge to increase educational expenditure as a proportion of national income?

Mr. Byers

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was referring to the budget for 1997–98, which was set by the Conservative Government when the hon. Gentleman was in office. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I condemn the fact that a reducing proportion of national wealth was going into education, but that is the legacy of his Government. Next week, it will begin to change because we shall have the outcome of the comprehensive spending review when Labour's priorities will be identified. They will include not waste, but education, health and other areas in which people want investment.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

What progress has been made on the stripping out of common costs? It is bizarre that while the cost of employing a teacher in most parts of the country is similar, that factor is not taken into account in the standard spending assessment.

Mr. Byers

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the area cost adjustment factor in the education standard spending assessment. The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions is the lead Department on those matters, but I confirm that it has begun a review of how that factor works within the SSA. The outcome will be announced some time in the autumn.