HC Deb 11 February 1999 vol 325 cc450-1
5. Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

What plans he has to introduce a needs-weighted element into the current pupil formula for schools funding. [68876]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

Under the "fair funding" arrangements, which take effect in April, the allocation of funding to individual schools is a matter for each local education authority to decide, within the framework of regulations that were recently approved by Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is satisfied that those regulations allow ample scope for taking account of the different needs of schools and pupils.

Mr. Simpson

Will my hon. Friend consider some of the advantages of a national Government lead on that? She knows as well as I do some of the problems of recently created unitary authorities such as mine, which face a legacy of under-achievement and long-term under-investment in city schools. Will she consider the successful introduction in Canada of a needs-weighted, rather than age-weighted, pupil unit into the formula? Not least of the consequences of that has been the successful reversal of the outward migratory trends of parents and families, who moved away from schools needing a recovery strategy. One of the remarkable achievements of that change in Canada was the rediscovery by parents of the virtues of the local school, and the realisation that there was no point in sending their kids in one direction when the resources for schools were going in the other direction.

Ms Estelle Morris

I am always happy to look at what is happening overseas to see what we can learn. The decision on age-weighted pupil units is a local one. Nationally, we insist that 80 per cent. of funding should be pupil led. We feel that the remaining 20 per cent. gives local authorities enough flexibility to reflect their local circumstances. I entirely accept my hon. Friend's comment about his area's chronic underfunding under the previous Government. I know that he will welcome the more than £1 million of new deal for schools capital that has gone into the city and the fact that more than £500,000 has already been provided to begin the reduction of infant class sizes.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Is the Minister aware that there is a growing crisis in schools funding because local education authorities do not have the information to set schools' indicative budgets? Even at this late stages, the Department cannot tell them how much money they will have to set aside for all the Ministers' pet projects. One LEA phoned the Department and was told by the operator, "I am sorry, I haven't got anything under 'LEA support'. All I have is 'LEA intervention' and `Ofsted.'" Is not that the Government's real agenda—intervention, intervention, intervention, rather than setting schools free?

Ms Morris

No, the Government's agenda is standards, standards, standards. Unless we intervene where standards are not sufficiently high, we shall have failure, failure, failure. That is the choice that we face. Local authorities know exactly where they stand for next year. They have had their best settlement for years. Most of the standard spending assessment money has already been announced. Local authorities throughout the country are making decisions about revenue arrangements for next year and passing the information to schools.