HC Deb 04 May 2000 vol 349 cc276-7
2. Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon)

On what basis the education standard spending assessment for primary school pupils in South Gloucestershire was calculated. [119616]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris)

Education funding for primary and secondary school pupils is distributed to local education authorities through standard spending assessments, which are calculated using objective information about the demographic, economic and social characteristics of an area—such as pupil numbers, census data and income support data.

Mr. Webb

As the Minister is well aware, the primary children of South Gloucestershire are at the bottom of the league for funding in England, as they have been ever since the council was created. Do the Government believe that it costs less to educate a child in South Gloucestershire than anywhere else in the country? If that is not their belief, when can my constituents expect the situation to change?

Ms Morris

The answer to the second question is, probably not. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman for taking every opportunity to put that question. Time and again we have made the answer clear and, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I repeat that, when we make changes, we must get them right. The consequence of getting it wrong is what he and we are living with-18 years of inaction on SSAs and LEA funding by the previous Conservative Government. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would prefer us to tackle the matter properly by looking at the evidence and building a fair and transparent system that gives every school and LEA a chance to raise standards.

A Green Paper will be published in the summer. Meanwhile, I know that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges that we are doing our best—within the freeze on SSAs—to put more funding into schools. As his question was on primary schools, he will welcome the fact that, whereas about 3,500 five, six and seven-year-olds in his area were in classes of more than 30 at the time of the general election, the number is now as low as 670. We are making progress where we can; we shall review the funding in the summer.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud)

Will my right hon. Friend look again at the work of the E40 Group, of which South Gloucestershire—like my authority, Gloucestershire—is a member? Will she consider not only additional educational needs, but the proposals to try to bring below-average spending authorities up to the average, so that the whole system is genuinely fair?

Ms Morris

I have indeed considered the work of the E40 Group on—in its view—the worst-funded LEAs. That is part of the evidence that we shall examine; it will inform our judgments. We all know that it is not easy to decide on a formula that everyone considers to be fair. No Member of the House has ever told me or my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that the funding formula treats them too well; we must bear that in mind. However, of course, we acknowledge that some children and some schools need extra resources to raise standards, so we are not arguing for a flat rate. My right hon. Friend is interested in a pupil entitlement on which we can build with fair, transparent extra money for those schools that need it most. That is without commitment to the work of the E40 Group, but, of course, its research will form part of our thinking over the next few months.