HL Deb 21 December 1989 vol 514 cc386-95

1.54 p.m.

Viscount Davidson rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 15th November be approved [1st Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, these draft regulations, which further amend the Education Support Grant Regulations 1984, have three purposes. First, they allow for the new activities which we want to introduce in the 1990–91 programme. All activities supported by ESG have to be specified in the schedule to the 1984 regulations. These amending regulations add our new activities to that schedule. Secondly, they provide for a change in the rate of grant, so that the bulk of activities next year will be supported at a rate of 60 per cent. Thirdly, they provide for a technical change in the way payments are made to local authorities in England.

The year 1990–91 will be the sixth year in which education support grant will be available to help local authorities to respond to important initiatives and to meet particular needs. Since it began, the programme has supported some impressive achievements. Perhaps I may take a few examples.

Under the primary science and maths activities, 320 advisory teachers in primary science and technology have been appointed, in England, and 360 for maths. Each advisory teacher helps an estimated 50 schools each year. The Local Management of Schools activity only began in 1989–90, but already all LEAs have established central teams to help implement and monitor their LMS schemes, and every authority has made good progress in installing or uprating computer based management information systems. The fact that all LEAs managed to submit their draft LMS schemes by the deadline is a testimony to the effectiveness of the activity, and to the hard work done by LEAs and schools.

The information technology in schools activity has helped to increase the number of micros in schools to an average of 30 per secondary school, as well as supporting some 600 IT advisory teachers, and encouraging LEAs to raise some £8 million last year in contributions from private sources towards IT in schools. I could give many more such examples. Suffice it to say that there is a lot of good work going on supported by ESGs.

We intend to continue that in 1990–91. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced in May the Government's intention to support through ESGs expenditure amounting to £140 million in 1990–91 in England which compares with £125 million last year. Of this, some £50 million will support new activities and the extension of existing ones. The remainder—some £90 million—will support the continuation of projects begun in 1989–90 and earlier years.

As in previous years, my right honourable friend has consulted the local authority associations about the content of the 1990–91 programme, The consultations included a meeting at an earlier stage than usual, in February. The activities to be covered by the programme were set out in the usual draft ESG circular issued in June. That explained the new activities proposed for 1990–91, and the rate of grant payable in each case. It is worth noting that the three largest activities—LMS, the basic curriculum and IT in schools—are intended to provide support for all LEAs which want it, and the allocations are all formula based. That means that we work out in advance the allocation we expect to give each LEA according to an objective formula—for example, the number of schools and pupils in the LEA—subject only to the submission of a satisfactory bid from the LEA. That should make life a lot easier for LEAs.

Since the draft circular was issued in June, we have also announced proposals for an additional activity to support courses provided by the Workers Educational Association, the WEA. The purpose of the activity, which will support some £1 million of expenditure, is to ease the transfer of funding for the WEA's districts from the department of LEAs. This will help to ensure that WEA provision is properly dovetailed with LEA adult education provision.

In 1989–90, ESG grant is being paid at a rate of 70 per cent. on most activities, with a few paid at 50 per cent. For 1990–91, we are proposing that there should be a uniform rate of 60 per cent. with the exception of two activities which will be in their final year—maths in schools and science and technology in primary schools. For these two activities, grant will continue to be paid at 50 per cent.

In deciding the rates of grant, the Government had to reach a view on the most appropriate balance between the total grant to be paid out and the number of activities to be supported. While LEAs would doubtless have preferred to keep the higher rate, it is notable that the change has not reduced their willingness to bid. In all cases the value of the bids received exceeded the expenditure available for the activity.

There is one exception to the general 60 per cent. limit. Grant on the WEA activity will be paid at 70 per cent. This is because the activity will not be developing new provision but rather supporting existing courses, and we felt it right to give the WEA the extra reassurance of a higher rate of grant.

The amending regulations also make a small change in the way grant is paid. Grant is paid to authorities quarterly in arrears. The existing practice is that claims for the first three-quarters of each financial year are made before the end of the quarter, on the basis of an estimate. The amending regulations extend that practice to the fourth quarter. Fifty per cent. of the fourth quarter's claim will be paid before the end of the year, with the balance held over until the actual claim is submitted so that any necessary adjustments can be made then.

This change will allow so much grant as possible to be paid within the financial year in which the expenditure was incurred. Thereby it will help authorities' own cash flow.

In drawing up the 1990–91 programme, we once again gave priority to supporting the implementation of the Education Reform Act. In 1989–90 we are supporting £25 million of spending on local management of schools. Next year that will rise to over £36 million. It will go towards purchase of management information systems for schools, training for non-teaching staff, and the appointment of a central team in each authority to co-ordinate the introduction of LMS.

This year the ESG programme includes £9.5 million to help LEAs with the introduction of the national curriculum. Our proposals for 1990–91 include more than double that sum for an activity which will also help LEAs implement the new pupil assessment regime. The £19 million available for this category also includes funding to allow authorities to appoint an extra inspector or adviser in addition to the one appointed with ESG support in 1989–90.

But the proposed 1990–91 programme is not restricted only to getting the Education Reform Act in place. We also want to support activities in a number of other areas. Two of these will follow up the report of the committee of inquiry into school discipline of my noble friend Lord Elton.

We propose to make £2.5 million available to help around one-fifth of LEAs to improve the effectiveness of their behavioural support services for difficult pupils. This will, for example, allow them to appoint additional staff—specialist teachers, educational psychologists and so on—to work with such pupils. A further £2.5 million will be available for smaller projects in around 40 LEAs to help improve attendance at schools, for example by spending more time on following individual absences.

We also plan to provide £2 million to assist the installation of protective systems in selected schools in around one-third of authorities to try to reduce losses through vandalism and arson.

The activity to help LEAs combat the misuse of drugs has been one of the most valued ESGs since its introduction in 1986–87. I am sure that your Lordships will welcome our decision to extend the activity in 1990–91 to include education about the dangers of alcohol and solvent abuse, and education about AIDS. The amount of expenditure supported is being increased correspondingly to £4 million.

My right honourable friend also proposes to make grant available to help LEAs devise schemes to recruit more mature entrants and qualified teacher returners to the teaching profession. The emphasis will be on tackling shortages either of primary school teachers or of specialist teachers in secondary shortage subject areas. The amending regulations allow for all these new activities.

As some of your Lordships may know, a team has been appointed to carry out an efficiency unit scrutiny of the two main DES specific grant programmes—ESGs and the LEA training grants scheme. The ESG programme is now in its fifth year of operation, and we thought it worthwhile to review its achievements and to look at the way it should operate in the future to ensure that it is as effective and streamlined as possible. The review is expected to be completed by the end of January.

Thus far I have focused on the programme in England. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for the operation of ESGs in Wales. I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Parry, is not in his place because I am sure that he would have welcomed what I am about to say. On 14th September my right honourable friend announced that grant of up to £5.2 million would be available to support expenditure of £8.8 million.

The Welsh programme closely follows that in England. It too reflects the priorities of the Education Reform Act. But in addition, the Welsh programme will continue to support the development of the Welsh language, which is to be taught in all primary and secondary schools as both a foundation and a core subject within the national curriculum. This activity will support expenditure of about £480,000 in 1990–91. The Welsh schemes for developing the knowledge and appreciation of Welsh heritage and culture, and the programme within the Welsh valleys paralleling the youth leaders in inner cities activity in England, will continue to be supported. In addition, a pilot project will be undertaken on the teaching of Spanish as a first modern foreign language.

In conclusion, we believe that the ESG programme continues to prove its worth. It is an important mechanism for channelling a proportion of funds into initiatives of national importance, helping the education service to respond to new priorities. It is providing financial underpinning for the ERA reforms while also supporting innovative projects in areas of concern such as school discipline. These amending regulations will allow us to carry on the good work. I commend them to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 15th November be approved. [1st Report from the Joint Committee]. —(Viscount Davidson.)

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for his extremely clear and interesting introduction to the regulations. Many topics have been raised which are of interest to educationalists. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if, at this late hour on this last day, I do not pursue every one but confine myself to only a few. That does not mean that the others are unimportant; quite the contrary.

Before doing so, I wish to make one slightly controversial remark. This is almost the last occasion on which the ILEA will be one of the relevant local education authorities to which the regulation support grants apply. The noble Viscount referred to various innovatory activities and it is worth bearing in mind that in many of those areas the ILEA was the leading authority. One can hope only that the individual London boroughs which are now responsible for such matters will show a similar interest in innovation and will take a forward look at many educational matters.

I was extremely interested to hear the noble Viscount say that the specific grants and others will be subject to scrutiny in terms of their efficiency. That is most important. I understood him to say that the work will be finished by January. Can he say whether information will be published and when?

On behalf of my noble friends, I welcome the statement about Wales. It will be most appreciated by many noble Lords who sit on this side and in all parts of the House. I am insufficiently expert on Wales to know whether the noble Viscount has done enough for Wales. I have a suspicion that one can never do enough for Wales, but that is by the way. However, the Minister's statement sounded most impressive.

I turn to specific matters; first, the Workers' Educational Association. It has played a major role in adult education. The noble Viscount will be aware that some of us are worried about whether the local authorities to whom the activity is devolved will fully face up to the responsibility in supporting the WEA. I know that his honourable friend in another place said that the Government were fairly confident that the LEAs would take seriously the need to support the Workers' Educational Association. I understand the need for it to be dovetailed with other adult education but I hope that at the least the Department of Education and Science will keep an eye on what is happening. I also hope that in due course the Minister will come back to the House and tell us that the WEA is receiving appropriate financial support and is flourishing.

There are two or three other areas which I should like to mention. I understand that under the local management of schools heading, money will be made available for teacher appraisal. We strongly support the idea of that but there is the complication at the moment, although I fully understand why, that the approach is very much individual LEA-based. Again, I understand that the Minister's honourable friend in the other place stated that it is the Government's view that ultimately teacher appraisal should occur on a national basis. I should just like a word of reassurance from the noble Viscount on that matter.

I have a personal interest and was involved in the very beginnings of the government-sponsored adult literacy schemes. I believe that we have made good progress in terms of adult literacy and would like to make still more. Assuming that I have understood the document, I notice that we are continuing to finance work in that area. I should like to put in a plea for giving that rather more priority than either LEAs or the Government have done recently.

I believe that adult illiteracy for the individual is one of the most difficult areas with which to cope, because the individual who suffers from that problem is very frequently frightened of revealing it publicly. Therefore, the person remains deficient in that regard simply because of an inability to cope. I should have liked to see rather more money going into that but I do not put that forward in a mean spirit but merely as something which the Government may like to bear in mind.

My final point relates essentially to the scrutiny of these kinds of specific grants. I take it that that is being done with a view to seeing what we can learn from it. I hope that this is not a preliminary to the Government saying that they would like to abandon that sort of work altogether. I know that it is not for me at this time to ask the noble Viscount to make a statement about the future of that. However, I should like to place on record our interest in knowing in due course what will happen in the future. Subject to that, I again thank the noble Viscount for his explanation.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, I also express my appreciation of the noble Viscount's exposition of the order, which was clear and comprehensive. The number of initiatives under the education support grants has grown from 10 in 1984 to 34 in the current year. Of course, one wonders whether all of them are proving sufficiently worth while to continue. Obviously one does not wish to spread one's jam too thinly.

It is quite evident, as the Minister said, that the more important part of them is closely related to the implementation of the Education Reform Act. This is no doubt as it should be and obviously inevitable at present. My reaction was to consider the object of education, something about which I think a great deal, and to think that education is at least as much a social and cultural matter as vocational. In looking at these initiatives, I wondered whether enough stress was being laid on the social and cultural side as compared with the academic and vocational side. In fact, they are all inextricably interconnected. If many people argue, as I would argue, that the object of education is to achieve a better society, I am not sure that the balance is right. If we think, as I and some of my noble friends think, that there is too much greed and need in the present society, will those initiatives be effective in correcting that?

Therefore, I say that all praise should be given to those objects which aim to do that; namely, to achieve greater racial harmony, social responsibility, relief for the unemployed in the way of education provision, health, help for those with special education needs, adult literacy and numeracy, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has just mentioned, and also provision for children with behavioural problems and an attempt to discover more about the reasons for absenteeism and vandalism. Stress is very much on attention to the implementation of the Education Reform Act 1988 rather than these objects. The relative expenditure is £111 million on the Education Reform Act and only £30 million on the rest.

That is my main comment. I am sure that good work has been done in the matter of drug abuse. The wording in the order regarding health— The provision of health education, especially education to combat the abuse of drugs"— is a little negatively put. I feel strongly about this and we argued about it when debating the Act. I should like to see the positive and active promotion of health, without stressing the combating of drugs, alcohol, smoking, AIDS and so on. The promotion of health gives a more positive outlook. Children should be taught about diet, exercise and care of the body in a positive way and not just warned about dangers and the dreadful things which will happen to them if they smoke and drink and so on. I have a number of questions for the Minister. Paragraph 4(a) relates to records of achievement for pupils. I should like to know how this is progressing because it appeared to be an excellent idea that there should be records of achievement, but the waters were muddied by the requirement of the Education Reform Act that there should be testing and assessment at the age of 16. How will the two relate to each other? Are the plans for records of achievement to continue? Are they flourishing? How will they tie up with the requirements of the Education Reform Act?

What is the progress on paragraph 4(e) concerning the improvement of the use of the spoken word? This is of utmost importance. The way one speaks is the next most important thing to the way one looks. Lack of confidence can give rise to many failures in speech. I am not referring to dialects or accents but to clarity and articulation—the qualities of speech that can give one confidence. Is that initiative proving successful? Can the Minister say anything about the promotion of social responsibility in children? I do not think anything could be much more important than that. What about the litter that surrounds not only our schools but everywhere? It is a grave failure in social responsibility that our litter problem is one of the worst in Europe.

Finally, is it possible for the Minister to say anything about the progress of adult literacy and numeracy? As the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, that is a matter of the utmost importance. With those questions, I draw my remarks to a close and again thank the Minister.

2.15 p.m.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Peston and Lord Ritchie of Dundee, for their welcome and what I consider to be very valuable assistance to our education in this country. Your Lordships have always taken a keen interest in the education support grant programme, and this year has been no exception. In broad terms, it seems to me that there has been a large measure of welcome for the activities proposed for support next year. Doubtless we would all attach different priorities to different things; but I think it is undeniable that the 1990–91 ESG programme seeks to address some vital issues. It demonstrates once again the value of ESGs as a mechanism for targeting resources—limited resources, I agree, but none the less important—towards particular priorities.

If your Lordships will forgive me, I will spend a minute or two elaborating on the WEA proposals to which the noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred. One ESG activity which has attracted a lot of attention is the one to support adult education courses run by districts of the Workers Educational Association—the WEA. The WEA has a long history of valuable work, and is held in very high esteem. I should like to place on record that the Government too value enormously the work that it does. Some have suggested that ESG funding might put the WEA's work at risk. I do not accept that, and should like to explain in a little more detail what the ESG is about.

The essential point is that WEA courses ought, first and foremost, to be responsive to local needs and circumstances; and yet, under present arrangements, they are funded by central Government. The Education Reform Act strengthens the responsibility of each LEA to maintain an overview of the adult education needed in its area. It is self-evidently desirable that LEA provision of adult education should be properly co-ordinated with WEA provision, in order to avoid gaps or wasteful duplication. The Government's contention is that such co-ordination will be much easier to achieve if WEA provision is funded through LEAs.

This principle has attracted a lot of support. The local authority associations accept the Government's overall objective of promoting closer partnership between statutory and voluntary providers of adult education. So that is not where the argument lies. The issue is whether a suitable mechanism for promoting that partnership through a transfer of funding responsibility can be found.

We believe that ESGs provide a good mechanism. They enable us to earmark funding intended for the WEA so as to give it some guarantee of stability, while still allowing individual LEAs and WEA districts some discretion over the way the money is spent. More thought needs to be given as to how precisely the ESG will work. That is why a working party has been set up representing the WEA, the Local Authority Associations and the department. I am sure that that will address a number of the concerns raised by your Lordships today with a view to ensuring a successful transition from central to local funding, which will enable the WEA to continue and even improve the excellent work which we all so much value.

Noble Lords asked certain specified questions. As regards the specific grant scrutiny, I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, that the scrutineer's terms of reference are: To examine the ways in which the DES administers and evaluates education support grants and local education authority training grants; to consider whether these grants are effective instruments for supporting the policy objectives that they are intended to support and to make recommendations for improvement". I believe that that answers one of the noble Lord's questions.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked whether the Efficiency Unit scrutiny will be published. I understand that the reports of the Efficiency Unit scrutinies are normally published. The noble Lord also asked about adult literacy. The purpose of this activity is to establish open learning centres where adults with inadequate literacy and numeracy skills can improve these skills using micro-computers and other new technology. Seventy-seven LEAs submitted bids, of which 54 were successful. ALBSU is providing support to the LEAs and is assisting the department in monitoring and evaluating this activity.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked about school teacher appraisal. I certainly take the point which he made on that subject. Schools are already engaged on a heavy programme of reforms following the Education Reform Act. It would not be fair to make appraisal compulsory in all schools when some would not have the capacity to take on more change. We also want to hear a range of views before official guidance or national regulations are issued. We believe that teachers will wish to participate in appraisal. That has been the experience so far. The question of legal obligation will be kept under review.

We share the National Steering Group's view that the ultimate aim of appraisal should be better education for pupils. Appraisal must be designed to help individual teachers with their professional development. It must also be part of the management of teachers in forming management decisions.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, asked about preventative health education. Health education is more often taught in schools on a cross-curricular basis than is the case with the foundation subjects. Therefore, a more sensible strategy is to incorporate elements of health education into different subjects. Precisely how schools actually teach health education will be a matter for each school to determine. I take on board the point made by the noble Lord that health education must cover the whole range of health rather than concentrate on any special part of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, also asked about records of achievement. The Government take the view that schools should be required to report annually to parents about each child's achievements within the national curriculum and in approved public examinations. Regulations giving effect to this requirement will be introduced in 1990. The Education Support Grant will be available within the basic curriculum category for LEA work in support of this requirement. They will be introduced on a phased basis from the school year 1990x2013;91. As a first step we hope very soon to issue draft regulations and a draft circular for public consultation.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, also asked about the use of the spoken word, which I remember is a subject that he raised last year. In this category the grant aims to build on work already started within LEAs. The projects involve both primary and secondary schools and, very importantly, span the whole curriculum. The spoken word should not be seen solely as the province of English or drama; every subject can be taught, learnt and assessed through talk.

I believe that the ESG programme that my right honourable friend is proposing for 1990–91 will provide much valuable assistance to LEAs. It builds on the present year's programme in providing support for the key elements of the Education Reform Act and continues a number of useful activities done in earlier years. It also includes some exciting new initiatives in other areas such as those relating to difficult pupils and improving attendance in schools. These will help LEAs to respond constructively to the report on school discipline produced by my noble friend Lord Elton.

I would suggest to the House that ESGs have more than proved their worth over the past few years. The amending regulations which we have discussed today will allow us to build on that success next year. I commend them to your Lordships.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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