HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc771-2
5. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If he will make a statement about progress in implementing his funding policy in respect of former grant—maintained schools. [85397]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

The Government's aim is to establish a unified funding system for all state schools involving higher delegation by local education authorities and funding for all schools on an equal basis. We have put transitional arrangements in place to ensure that the changes required of grant-maintained schools are manageable.

Mr. Swayne

One of my more distasteful duties is to answer letters sent to me by parents who were unable to secure a place for their children at the Arnewood secondary school in New Milton, despite the fact that they live in the catchment area. Similar problems attend the Burgate school in Fordingbridge and Ringwood school. Although those are three of the most successful comprehensive schools in the country, they now face cutting courses and staff and even charging for some lessons. In total, grant-maintained schools have lost£100 million. The former Minister for School Standards, now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said that it was not the Government's intention to cut the amount being spent on pupils in GM schools but to increase the funding … in other schools. We are … levelling up."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 12 February 1998; c. 461] Is that loss the meaning of levelling up?

Ms Morris

If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence that any school in his constituency is charging pupils for attending lessons, I trust that he will bring it to our attention immediately. It is illegal, and I should be totally surprised if it were going on. I hope that he will help us in upholding the law in that regard.

The hon. Gentleman has written to me about what has happened to Arnewood school's budget this year. I, too, have duties—distasteful or otherwise—in replying to letters from Members of Parliament, so he will be aware that the school's budget has been protected in cash terms. Much of the change for Arnewood school has been the result of changes in pupil numbers. The hon. Gentleman will know that last year, against the advice of the local authority, the projected numbers for Arnewood school were based on a wrong calculation. That must be put right this year.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with some passion about the needs of children in his constituency. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that all the pupils in his constituency area will benefit from the extra £25 million that the Government have allocated to the local authority—a 5.9 per cent. increase in funding compared to last year.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Will the Minister confirm that approximately two thirds of grant-maintained schools face such severe funding cuts that they have to receive transitional protection? Will she also confirm that her Department forecast that approximately only one third of grant-maintained schools would be in that severe position? This year, many grant-maintained schools are struggling on last year's cash budget; there is no extra money to meet inflation and for teachers' pay. Does the Minister not realise that the Government's attack on grant-maintained schools has created nothing short of a crisis in the funding of the GM sector? What is she going do to about it?

Ms Morris

The hon. Gentleman must realise that those GM schools that are receiving transitional protection are receiving more money than local authority schools in similar circumstances. I would not pretend for one minute that it is easy, in a relatively short time, to move from the funding system that we inherited from the Conservative Government—in which school funding was based not on need, but on category. We will have no truck with that system. We shall move to a system in which every child is valued, whether they go to a community school or a foundation school. We shall ensure that that transition is carried out as easily as possible for GM schools.

The hon. Gentleman has a bit of a cheek to huff and puff at the Dispatch Box, talking about the difficulty for schools as they move from one funding system to another. Under the previous Conservative Government, how many times did he tell the House about the difficulties suffered by 23,000 schools as pupil funding was cut by £40 per pupil during the last three years of that Government? What is true is that every school is benefiting from the increase in money, whether capital or revenue funding, that the Government have given. We are able to celebrate the fact that, throughout the education service, there is an extra £200 per pupil of Government funding this year and over the next two years.