HL Deb 12 November 1987 vol 489 cc1548-56

8.46 p.m.

Baroness Hooper rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16th July be approved. [2nd Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move that the draft regulations be approved, my Lords.

The year 1988–89 will be the fourth year of the education support grants initiative. ESGs help local authorities to get started on responding to particular new ideas and needs. These draft regulations, which further amend the Education Support Grant Regulations 1984, allow my right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Wales to pay grant at a rate of 50 per cent. instead of 70 per cent. for a single named activity and to require authorities to submit certain information as a condition of grant for some other activities. They also extend the purposes in support of which my right honourable friends will pay grant in 1988–89.

In 1987–88 bids from local education authorities for ESGs added up to much more than the total of expenditure which could be supported, as they did in both previous years. The total of £92 million of expenditure planned for 1987–88 has already been approved for grant. All 97 LEAs in England are receiving some grant support in this financial year. In April this year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science published a leaflet, Encouraging Quality, which illustrates the scope and purpose of ESG programmes.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced on 7th May the Government's intention to support expenditure through ESGs amounting to £115 million cash in 1988–89. He has consulted the appropriate local education authority associations about the content of the programme for that year. Of the total expenditure to be supported, £65 million is accounted for by continuing expenditure on activities started in earlier years and £50 million by support for new activities and the extension of existing ones. Grant will be paid on this expenditure at a rate of 70 per cent. except in the case of one activity of which I shall speak in a moment. Thus the Government plan to pay some £81 million of education support grant in the 1988–89 financial year in respect of expenditure by local authorities of £115 million.

In the course of consultations with the local authority associations the Government have specified the new purposes for which we propose to pay education support grants in 1988–89 and have given a provisional assessment of the amount of expenditure to be supported for each purpose, the number of LEAs to be supported and how long the support is likely to last.

I should like now to comment on the amendment regulations themselves. Until now education support grant has been paid at a rate of 70 per cent. on all activities. We think it is right that some activities which have received several years' funding at this rate should begin to move to a lower rate of 50 per cent. Education support grants were never intended to become part of permanent provision but are designed to encourage LEAs to undertake important and innovative work in areas to which the Government attach high priority. A reduction in grant level for these activities will prepare the way for a transition to mainstream funding and in time free resources for new ESGs in other areas.

In 1988–89 only one area is being proposed for the new rate. Pilot projects to provide records of achievement for school-leavers have been funded for a period of three years. We left open the possibility of an extension of funding for a further two years in suitable cases. The proposed extension is to support further development work on a narrow range of specific issues on which we need further evidence through the work of the pilot schemes. This continued funding, albeit at a lower rate, reflects the importance we attach to the successful introduction of records of achievement. If noble Lords approve this amendment regulation we propose to discuss with the local authority associations what other activities might become liable for payment at the revised rate next year.

The second amendment we are proposing is to allow my right honourable friends to require LEAs to submit certain information as a condition of receiving grant. My right honourable friends have asked LEAs to include in their bids for support for purposes 20 and 21 of the schedule, computer aided engineering and information technology in schools, evidence of their intention to raise additional funds for these activities from non-government sources. We recognise that LEAs' capacity to raise donations will vary and allowance will be made for this. We believe that there is considerable potential for closer links with and for contributions from business in these areas, and this draft regulation enables my right honourable friends to monitor the success of local authorities in realising this potential. We believe that this draft regulation is an important step in increasing the return on the investment which ESGs represent.

Your Lordships will note that the draft regulations include a new schedule of purposes for which grant may be paid. Many of the items represent a continuation or extension of existing activities but there are five new activities which will attract support.

Information technology in schools is the largest new activity which my right honourable friends wish to support. The introduction of computers into all schools has been a great success and has given our country an acknowledged lead in this area of education. We wish to build on this. It is envisaged that all LEAs would receive grant under this category to foster the use of IT by school pupils of all ages and in a wide range of subjects. Support will be given for the purchase of micro-computers and for the employment of advisory teachers across the curriculum. IT has already shown its potential to improve the education of school pupils of all ages and in many subjects, and this ESG will give a national impetus to developments in schools.

The project to broaden the range of languages learnt by pupils in secondary schools as their first foreign language arises from the Government's belief that foreign language provision should be more closely allied to the needs of British industry and commerce as well as giving individuals and society a greater understanding of other cultures. The aim of this ESG is to encourage more schools to offer German, Spanish, Italian or Russian in place of, or as an alternative to, French. The first stage of the programme would enable some 10 LEAs to prepare plans for diversification which could be implemented in their own areas and would serve as a model for other authorities. In stage two, all LEAs will be offered financial assistance for the purchase of necessary books and teaching materials and in-service training.

Under the Government's proposals for a national curriculum, a modern foreign language will be one of the foundation subjects. A second foreign language could be studied in time outside that taken up by the foundation subjects, especially as an option in years four and five. This, coupled with encouragement towards diversification of the first foreign language offered in our schools, will help to ensure that significant numbers of pupils in our schools study at least the major European languages.

The purpose described in the schedule as, the organisation of leisure time activities of vocational benefit to young persons mostly between the ages of 14 and 21 is also known as "learning by achievement". This initiative is part of the Government's drive to regenerate the inner cities. The grant would enable LEAs to introduce new youth service activities for 14 to 21 year-olds. The young people would be encouraged to develop leadership qualities and to acquire specific skills.

We are also including open learning as an activity eligible for ESG. Open learning widens access to educational and training opportunities and enables colleges to respond better to the needs of individuals and employers. The ESG will assist LEAs who are developing this form of provision, or who wish to do so, and will enable authorities to participate more fully in the Open College. Employers also increasingly require technicians skilled in computer aided engineering. This final new grant would provide equipment for use in the teaching of CAE on the crucial higher technician level engineering courses at colleges with little or no degree level provision where the need is most acute.

In addition to supporting these five new activities in 1988–89 my right honourable friends have also decided that a further tranche of new expenditure should be supported in respect of 10 of the activities in the 1987–88 programme which were oversubscribed or where considerable scope for further development exists. A further seven existing activities including supervision of pupils at midday will continue to be supported. A considerable number of activities to be supported by ESGs in 1988–89 will provide a sound basis from which to implement our proposals for a national curriculum in schools.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for the operation of the education support grant system in Wales. On 20th August he announced his intention to pay some £5.1 million of grant in support of expenditure of some £7.4 million in 1988–89. Next year's programme will be similar to that in England, but there are some differences reflecting my right honourable friend's judgment of the particular circumstances in Wales.

Of the existing activities being undertaken in England, those related to the management and appraisal of school teachers and pilot projects to improve the use of the spoken word were not included in previous Welsh programmes and will not feature in next year's in Wales. Of the proposed new activities, my right honourable friend has decided against including in the Wales programme any pilot scheme to broaden the range of foreign languages. This is due to the small scale of the experiment in England and the fact that the findings would be available for dissemination in Wales as well. New projects will, however, be invited for developing knowledge and appreciation of the heritage and culture of Wales. The amending regulations allow projects specifically containing an element of the Welsh language to be included.

We believe that this is a positive and balanced programme which will assist and encourage LEAs to make improvements in their policy and provision in areas of acknowledged importance. I commend these amendment regulations and the list of purposes to be supported in 1988–89 to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 16th July be approved. [2nd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Baroness Hooper).

8.58 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her speedy explanation of the amended regulations. We shall not oppose them, but I should like to make a few comments and ask a few questions.

I am very interested to be dealing with these matters again. I was involved when, in 1984, the Bill on education grants and awards was going through the House and when the first draft regulations were considered in 1984. It is quite interesting to come back and note the differences between 1984 and 1987. Reservations were expressed about education support grants when the Bill was discussed. Although any extra money for education purposes was not to be refused at a time when there were severe cuts to the service, the Bill foreshadowed what we have been seeing in education Bills and local government Bills over the last three years; that is, more power and decision making going to the centre and less power and decision making at local authority level.

I have looked back at the first list of purposes for which, or in connection with which, grants were payable in 1984. There were then 10 to 13 if one looked at the possible pilot projects under Regulation 5. In 1985, six more purposes were added and in 1986, three more. Now, in 1987, there are five more. The Secretary of State is therefore exercising his power and telling local education authorities what he wants them to concentrate upon. If they want the money, they have to oblige.

I wish to look at some of the purposes for which grants are payable. I specify paragraphs 4(b) and 4(c): to improve the quality of education provided in primary schools in urban areas and, to improve the quality or the range of the curriculum provided in primary schools in rural areas". Surely, these are not new needs, as the Minister suggested. The quality of education is important in primary schools throughout the country. Paragraph 13 says, The provision of computerised learning aids and associated software at further education establishments for use by students with special educational needs". That again should be available throughout the country particularly where physically handicapped young people are being educated.

I wish to mention purpose 17: The provision to schools and further education establishments of books and equipment for use on courses leading to an examination for the General Certificate of Secondary Education". Every secondary shcool—indeed, a great number of further education establishments—will be taking the GCSE examination. They all need books and equipment for this. I think it should not be a special purpose; it would be quite wrong for it to be a purpose for which they have to apply. The money should be there for everyone to have the books needed for the new examination.

The Minister mentioned the new purpose 4(g) which concerns broadening the range of languages learnt by pupils in secondary schools as their first foreign language. As there has been so much talk lately about learning Latin in schools, I wondered whether Latin would be one of the languages allowed under that provision.

The Minister spoke about the change in the amount of grant and said that while it was in the proportion of 70 per cent. DES and 30 per cent. LEA, it is now to be divided 50:50 for purpose 4(a). I understand that that is a forerunner for the future when less grant will be available, and I should like to know how quickly it is supposed to happen. It seems to me rather important that when LEAs are applying for grants they should know what the future funding is likely to be. If funding is to be reduced for some purposes and not others I see a difficulty in that LEAs may want to switch from one purpose to another so that they can obtain more money. Each project may not therefore run for a length of time sufficient to find out whether it is worthwhile. I hope that we can hear a little more about future funding.

I should like to point out that if expenditure is to be reduced and the LEAs want to continue with their projects it will push up the money spent by the local authority and generally make their expenditure rise. As I understand it, that was not quite the intention of the Government.

Finally, the Minister touched on the point that the Secretary of State wanted more information when the local authority applies for the grants. I have heard it said, though it does not appear in the regulations, that the Secretary of State has encouraged local authorities to try to raise contributions from private sources—for instance, to help with information technology and computer-aided engineering equipment, and so on—and that he will bear in mind the efforts that they have made to obtain money from private sources when he decides whether or not they are to receive grant.

I should like to know whether that is true and whether it is fair, because some authorities surely cover areas in which there are the sort of firms that can provide such help; other local authorities are not so well placed. I should like to hear the comments of the Minister on that matter as well as on the other points that I have raised.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the Minister for her speedy overview of the quite substantial changes to the regulations. At the beginning of her speech, she gave the House some figures. It would certainly be interesting to learn a little more about the main categories of bids which have proved popular with local authorities and how they have been met. I do not expect her to supply this information this evening but possibly she can point the House in the right direction; otherwise, one can put down a Question for Written Answer.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, made the point that since 1984 the number of eligible categories has risen from 10 to 21. I should like to ask the Minister, who spoke about discussions with local authority associations, how much input they have had into the increase in those categories, whether this is simply a top-down direction from the centre, the DES, or whether any suggestions from the local authorities themselves have been included in the expanded list.

Turning to slightly more specific points, I was glad to hear the Minister refer to purpose 4(g) which relates to extending the range of languages. It pleased me to hear her mention Spanish, which is obviously a very useful modern language and should be much more widely taught in our secondary schools. I did not hear her say anything about new money for any of those expanded plans. Obviously, there is money available for the pilot project but she did not say anything about funding for the teachers on the ground of capability of teaching a new language.

Item 11, which concerns the development, provision and appraisal of courses of initial training for school governors, seems to me to be extremely important in view of the great onus which the Government intend to put on to parents as members of governing bodies. One may find that onus is even greater when the education Bill comes before the House. Can the noble Baroness say anything about the volume of bids for grants in that field, how far have they been met and whether there will be any new money available?

Finally, I must say that I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady David, about purpose 17. It seems totally inappropriate that the provision of something as basic as fundamental textbooks for use with the GCSE, whether in schools or in further education colleges, should need to be the subject of a special grant. I thought I heard the Minister use the term "mainstream funding". Does she agree that if there is any category in this list that ought to receive 100 per cent. mainstream funding it is that one? Will the Government take that point on board? It is very important and I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us on it.

9.7 p.m.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we have had a useful short debate. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, and to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, for their comments and contributions. The noble Baroness speaks from early experience of the initial introduction of the programme.

Before turning to some of the specific points raised, perhaps I may say that one of the strengths of the programme is that it covers a wide variety of activities which stretch right across the education sectors. For example, pre-school education schemes operate in almost 60 authorities to support the parents of children with special education needs—which was a point raised by the noble Baroness—and to encourage them to play a positive role in their children's development at that crucial stage.

At the other end of the range in further education, we have supported expenditure in more than three-quarters of local authorities on both PICKUP (updating the skills of those in employment) and REPLAN (education for the unemployed). In the schools, particular attention has been paid to the teaching of science and maths, to the education needs of our multi-ethnic society, and to what education can do to help combat one of the greatest social evils of our time: the misuse of drugs. There have also been a number of pilot projects which have pioneered work in different areas of the curriculum and of pupil need.

We believe that the present proposals before your Lordships build on and extend the valuable work that has already been carried out. I am aware that some local authorities are hostile to the idea that they should be expected to obtain contributions from external sources to complement funding for two of the activities. The noble Baroness referred to that. Money raised in that way will not be a replacement for ESG but an addition to it, and besides gaining extra resources we believe that authorities and institutions would benefit from the co-operation that this will mean with local firms and businesses. The noble Baroness asked whether the proposal was unfair to poor authorities and whether they would suffer compared with the rich ones. We believe that the answer is no. The ability of authorities to raise money will be taken into account and we are examining what index might best be used for this purpose.

Baroness David

My Lords, may I interrupt the Minister? I was not referring so much to the poorer as against the richer authorities but to those which happen to be in an area where there are firms that can help as against those which are not.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I think the same answer applies. As I have already said, we are taking such matters into account in discussing and deciding what index might best be used for the purpose. The noble Baroness also suggested that the effect of ESGs might be increased centralisation. The noble Lord also made the point that there are an increasing number of areas covered by ESGs. I would, however, suggest that since ESGs represent about 0.8 per cent. of total local authority current spending on education, this is hardly an enforcement of centralisation.

Both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness referred in particular to books and materials for the GCSE examination. I should like to refer to that in detail. Of course a considerable amount of money has already been spent in this direction. The year 1988–89 will be the third year running in which the Government have supported expenditure on books and equipment for the GCSE. We provided for nearly £20 million support in 1986–87, £14 million through ESG and £5 million from Manpower Services Commission funds. We provided £10 million support in 1987–88 and are now proposing to provide another £10 million support in 1988–89. That is a total of almost £40 million over three years. In addition we have made provision within the rate support grant for further expenditure of £90 million on GCSE non-teaching costs, including books and equipment, in 1987–88 and we propose to make provision for a similar sum of £87 million within the rate support grant for GCSE non-teaching costs in 1988–89.

I am happy that the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, welcomed the approach on modern languages and I should like to emphasise that we feel that the effect of the projects, with the benefit of the ESG funding, will be to enable us to assess the needs which will arise in terms of general funding and indeed all the general problems related to adequate teacher training. The noble Baroness also asked in addition whether Latin was going to figure as a modern language in this context. I can only say that the short answer is no.

I am not sure whether I have replied to each of the questions, because they came fairly rapidly. But I would say that any further changes in the rate which I have indicated that affect certain purposes in the coming year will be undertaken only as a result of consultation with the local authority associations, as had indeed been the case this year.

Therefore, in conclusion, I reiterate the conviction of the Government that the ESG proposals for 1988–89 represent a significant furtherance of the aims embodied in the programmes of the previous year and break fresh ground in a number of important new areas. I commend the amendment regulations to your Lordships' House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at thirteen minutes past nine o'clock.