HL Deb 14 December 1992 vol 541 cc425-34

5.10 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education (Baroness Blatch) rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 24th November be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these draft regulations consolidate, with amendments, the Education Support Grant Regulations 1990 as amended by the Education Support Grant (Amendment) Regulations 1991. Their main purpose is to allow for the new grant purposes that we want to introduce in the 1993–94 programme of grants for education support and training. All grants supported by ESG have to be specified in the schedule to the regulations, which lists the purposes for which ESG grant may be paid. These regulations add our new grants to that schedule.

The draft regulations also provide for two technical changes in respect of the timing of grant payments to local education authorities. First, in England grant may be claimed by LEAs and paid to them each term. But in Wales, also covered by the regulations, grant is currently claimed and paid quarterly. The effect of the draft regulations is that in future grant in Wales will also be claimed and paid on a termly basis. This will bring arrangements in Wales into line with those operating in England.

Secondly, the current regulations permit LEAs to make a claim for their estimated expenditure up to the financial year end so that most grant can be paid within the financial year to which it relates. Estimated claims are currently required to be submitted by 15th March. The draft regulations will advance that deadline slightly to 5th March to give greater certainty that grant claims can be processed and paid within the financial year.

Finally, the draft regulations remove from the schedule to regulations certain purposes for which grant is no longer payable and amend items in the schedule to reflect either the changed nature of grants or that they will be payable only in England or in Wales.

Let me now outline how we will use the regulations in 1993–94 in England. We intend to introduce into the programme for England two new areas of support to which we attach particular priority. The first new grant will support imaginative pilot schemes designed to tackle truancy. Promoting regular school attendance must be a top priority for all concerned with education. Truancy undermines the educational process and can be the first step towards a life of crime.

This new grant is designed to identify and disseminate good practice in promoting regular patterns of attendance and to concentrate effort in those LEAs where the problems of absenteeism or post-registration truancy are most severe. It will support £10 million of spending in 1993–94. LEAs may, for example, wish to experiment with registration procedures including more frequent registration in schools where post-registration truancy is a problem, possibly using new technology. We are also looking for action to counter bullying since that can often lead otherwise studious children to commit truancy.

The second new grant in England will support a youth action scheme aimed at 13 to 17 year-olds on housing estates. The scheme will channel young peoples' energies away from destructive and anti-community activities. They will be able to participate in challenging activities designed to develop their self-esteem and sense of responsibility to themselves and the wider community. Grant will be available to support some £3.2 million of expenditure on the scheme.

Those are the new grants we intend to introduce in 1993–94. Let me now detail how they fit into the programme as a whole. ESGs and the LEA training grants scheme have been brought together in a combined programme of grants for education support and training, or GEST. While the administration of the two grants is co-ordinated as much as possible, they continue to be paid under their respective statutes.

We announced our proposals for the size and shape of the 1993–94 GEST programme in May. We plan grant support on total spending by LEAs of £320 million in England. The bulk of spending will be supported at a grant rate of 60 per cent. of spending. Grant of £195 million is available to support the total spending of £320 million.

In August we issued a circular to LEAs inviting them to submit bids for the GEST programme in 1993–94. LEAs returned their bids at the end of October. We are currently considering them with a view to deciding the final allocation of the programme. We hope to announce allocations to LEAs very shortly, subject to your Lordships' approval of these draft regulations.

As in previous years, we have decided that our main priority for the 1993–94 GEST programme is to help schools and LEAs to implement the education reforms. So, of the £320 million total programme, over £250 million, or almost 80 per cent. of it, is directly related to those reforms.

The circular for 1993–94 encouraged LEAs to involve schools closely in implementing projects and asked that LEAs should, wherever possible, devolve earmarked sums to schools for them to spend within the terms of the grants and their LMS schemes. For two grants—one supporting school management and the other supporting the basic curriculum and assessment —devolution of GEST funds to schools is an explicit criterion for receiving grant. These grants will support £114 million of spending in schools, which will be in addition to schools' LMS delegated budgets.

Schools will be able to decide the precise deployment of funds according to their particular priorities. They will choose the most appropriate balance between management training for teaching and administrative staff, training of school governors, and supporting administrative costs. They will also decide whether to use GEST funds for the curriculum and assessment to purchase books and equipment or to provide in-service training of teachers.

The 1993–94 programme includes almost £70 million for purposes which, although not directly related to the education reforms, are also high government priorities. I have already described the new grants for reducing truancy and for the youth action scheme. There will also be increased support for measures to raise standards in selected inner city schools facing particularly severe problems: £10 million will be available to continue support for projects now under way and to extend support to other schools. The programme will also support initial teacher training, including for articled and licensed teacher routes; training to teach children with special educational needs; and the introduction of vocational qualifications in schools.

I said that we have also taken the opportunity in preparing the regulations to remove from the schedule certain items for which grant is no longer payable. GEST grants are payable only to LEAs. So a number of items relating to further education are being removed because from 1993–94 funding for them will become the responsibility of the new further education funding councils.

Most GEST grants are intended to be for a limited period only, to support new developments or meet new, particular demands. There are several projects which have now run their course and for which specific grant support will cease at the end of 1992–93. LEAs and schools will, as is only proper, then be free to decide the levels at which they wish to continue support.

So far I have concentrated on the GEST programme in England. In Wales, too, ESGs are being supported in 1993–94 and governed by these regulations. The programme in Wales will support expenditure of some £25 million in 1993–94. The purposes to be supported broadly match those in England, although they are organised differently in Wales. In terms of content, one main difference is that, as in previous years, support in Wales will be available for Welsh in the national curriculum. Some £3 million will be supported in 1993–94 for that purpose.

I indicated at the beginning of my speech that the regulations also introduce two new grant purposes in Wales. The first is to support new projects in support of the Secretary of State for Wales' initiative on primary school teaching methods. Support for £80,000 will be available in 1993–94 to help schools respond to guidance to be issued by the curriculum council for Wales following the review of primary school teaching methods and classroom organisation.

The second new grant in Wales will be to encourage the integration of children with special educational needs into mainstream settings. The Welsh Office will be looking for evidence of an innovative approach and for projects involving the active participation of parents. Grants will support £200,000 in 1993–94.

In conclusion, perhaps I may outline just three examples of the many developments which have been assisted by grant support. With support from the ESG grants for local management of schools, almost 90 per cent. of primary schools, all secondary schools and some 45 per cent. of special schools will have been equipped with management information systems by April 1993. Some 30,000 school administrative staff will have been trained in their use. As part of GEST support for the introduction of the national curriculum, some 15,000 teachers have attended GEST-funded training courses to enhance their subject knowledge in mathematics and science. Grant will in 1993–94 be extended to cover also courses in geography, history and technology. In 1992–93 alone, grant is supporting the specialist training of over 500 new teachers of pupils with special educational needs and the training of more than 2,100 teachers to provide special educational needs back-up to teachers in ordinary schools.

The regulations now before the House will allow us to continue funding important and beneficial developments such as these and to extend our programme of education reforms to raise standards in new areas. I commend them to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 24th November be approved [13th Report from the Joint Committee].—[Baroness Blotch.]

5.21 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for her statement. I have several questions arising out of the schedule of the draft regulations. First, it is worth noting that this is possibly the last time that there will be a guaranteed debate on the educational support grant. Clause 236 of the Education Bill currently before Parliament will simplify the arrangements for specific grants, but will also remove the requirement for an affirmative order to make changes to the regulations.

On the matter of health education, it is proposed to withdraw the special support for local education authorities outside Wales. This grant was introduced about seven years ago to improve health education in schools. While the increase in AIDS has not been of the scale first feared, AIDS, drug abuse and other health matters continue to be scourges in our country and we should not give up any opportunity to combat them. The Government should not shrink from providing special support to the LEAs to make this provision.

Perhaps I may now turn to in-service training. The Government say that this responsibility has been devolved to the schools, but would the Minister agree that some courses are better provided by the LEAs themselves? I am thinking particularly of essential courses to be provided across the board, such as those relating to aspects of the Children Act, about which the Government are so proud.

Turning now to grant-maintained schools, we know that there has been a reduction in the size of the GEST (grants for education support and training) programme. Although a shortfall would have occurred due to the removal of further education from local government in April 1993, it would appear that the reduction due to the creation of grant-maintained schools is some £37 million. This is over 10 per cent. of the GEST programme, although the number of grant-maintained schools is only 2 per cent. of the GEST programme. Can the Minister confirm my interpretation of these figures, and can she comment on their fairness? Can the Minister also say whether there is any provision for transferring money into the general expenditure under GEST for LEA schools if the take-up of grant-maintained status is not as high as the Government anticipated?

Moving to the subject of special educational provision, is there not an argument that ring-fencing is the only sure way to safeguard this valuable work? The vital work of educational psychologists, to which I should like to pay tribute, is under threat due to a lack of money for statementing children. Further, will the Minister say whether there will be any additional provision so that the work of the educational psychologists in integrating children with special educational needs into schools can be continued across the whole country? Finally on the subject of educational provision, what steps have been taken to safeguard the training of teachers for special needs teaching now that this item is no longer to be ring-fenced?

I should like to touch briefly on the enforcement of the 1984 Act. I understand that there is a provision in the Act that LEAs which do not use the money allocated to them in a fit manner can be asked to return that money. Can the Minister tell me whether those powers have ever been used?

Finally, I close by heartily welcoming the crime and truancy prevention programmes which have been introduced. I hope that these programmes will have every success in preventing children from going off the rails. We approve the regulations.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, from these Benches I should like to thank the Minister for her explanation of the new regulations, and to offer my congratulations to the new Front-Bench speaker on the Labour Benches.

I have received from the Minister a list of the sums of money which have been set aside for grants for 1993–94. My first question is in connection with that. I may be being unduly stupid over this, but I have had some difficulty in matching some of the grants offered with the schedule of purposes in the regulations. Perhaps I can give just one example. Mentioned among the sums that will be available for grants are "national curriculum assessments". That is fine, but I cannot see "national curriculum assessments" mentioned in the schedule. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to explain this to me when she replies.

More generally speaking, these excellent ideas come and go. I have seen many during the years that I have been speaking from these Benches. Can we know a little more about how they progress and, in particular, about why some of them disappear? I refer especially to health education, which was also mentioned from the Labour Front Bench. It seems to me that health education is about as important a subject as there could be, so why are only the Welsh to be educated in health matters from now on and why has England disappeared from the provision? I notice also that only young Welsh pupils will be taught social responsibility from now on. Of course, that is over-simplifying the matter—grants will be available for initiatives relating to the teaching of social responsibility only in Wales.

In 1990—two years ago—one of the projects mentioned was the training of teachers to improve pupils' use and understanding of the English language. Why did that disappear? I feel that as this is public money which is being devoted to—indeed, invested in—educational purposes, we should know more about the return on it. How successful have these projects been? What has the take-up been? Has there been any discernible improvement in these areas?

Of course, we enormously applaud the initiative to improve the provision for pupils with behavioural problems, but that leads me to another question in relation to the grants being offered. I cannot see on the list of grants any specific items providing money for this very important purpose. The department has issued a discussion paper recently on the subject of exclusions. I must confess to your Lordships that, although I have read what the schools Minister has said about it, I have not yet read the paper itself. However, this seems to me to be a matter of the utmost importance. I know from bitter experience what it is like to have in a school an adolescent whose behaviour is intolerable. I know that one adolescent can disrupt an entire school to an incredible extent. It is extremely unlikely that, as the schools Minister said in this connection, many schools can be excluding pupils for trifling reasons. There is also the question of what happens to children who are excluded. I know that that is a concern of the Government, and it seems to me also to be a matter of the highest importance.

I also greatly applaud the attempt and intention to improve attendance, to raise standards in urban areas and to take action such as the Minister described to protect young people against criminal involvement. This is a vicious spiral, as I am sure all noble Lords will agree. A child's destiny is largely determined by his home circumstances. A bad, broken or deserted home is likely to produce behavioural problems at school, truancy and low standards and poor achievement at school. Bad behaviour at school, low standards and truancy interact with each other and are likely to drive children towards criminal involvement. Anything that can be done to improve that situation is of the utmost importance. It is better to spend millions of pounds on tackling the problem than to spend millions of pounds on building more prisons. I once again thank the noble Baroness. I would be grateful for anything she can tell me in reply to my questions.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, perhaps I may, first, say how pleased we are to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, to the Dispatch Box for the first time. He performed much more competently than I did on my first appearance. It is a very nerve racking experience. I know that he is a formidable opponent in these matters and I am sure that I speak for the whole House when I say that we hope to see him on many future occasions.

This has been a useful debate. I believe that there is a wide measure of support for some of the measures, which are designed, first, to get children into school and, secondly, when they are in school, to do something about modifying their behaviour. Individual opinions of priorities will of course vary and the programme cannot cover every conceivable purpose. But I think we all agree that the GEST programme continues to provide key support to ensure that the education service can respond to changing needs and can raise standards.

Perhaps I may now refer to some of the points that were made during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, mentioned his concern about the removal of the affirmative resolution in the future. Since their introduction in 1985, ESGs have become a normal—and I believe accepted—feature of education funding. They cover only a very small proportion of the £17 billion spending on education. It therefore seems reasonable for regulations to be subject to normal resolution procedures, as is already the case with the training grants side of GEST.

The noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Ritchie, asked about health education. Much has changed since 1990–91, and even more since the original drugs education initiative started in 1986–87. In particular, the national curriculum incorporates aspects of health education into the statutory curriculum. I hope that I will gain the support of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, when I say that that is where the real education input needs to take place —in the national curriculum—so that the dangers and the information about lifestyle can be dealt with. The National Curriculum Council has issued detailed guidance, which I know has been helpful to schools, to help them plan comprehensive programmes of health education for all pupils aged five to 16. The decision to end the grant for preventive health education was not taken lightly. We recognise the concerns expressed, but it is important to balance those concerns against a range of other considerations. It must also be said that local authorities knew that that grant support was time limited.

Perhaps I may move on to the size of the GEST programme. It was rightly recognised by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that the change in size of the GEST programme between the two years reflects LEAs' reduced role in further education and in schools' inspection. It also reflects the expected growth in the number of grant maintained schools. Even in the few short weeks since we announced the global sum for GEST programmes, the number of grant maintained schools has risen quite dramatically. The number is now up to 356 from 217 in April. Another 119 have successfully balloted to become grant maintained and I know that there were around 100 ballots last month and 100 in the month before. Therefore the prediction that we may reach 1,500 by April 1994 still stands. I cannot say in advance of reaching that figure whether money would be referred back, but there is always a consideration about any money that becomes available in any budget heading as to where it should be reallocated. The noble Lord's views are certainly noted on that point.

Grant maintained schools are not eligible for GEST, which is legally payable only to LEAs, but instead receive funding for similar purposes through a special purpose grant. That point was noted by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I was asked about training for special educational special needs and why we are no longer ring-fencing the grant. The department has recently completed a thorough review of special educational needs training. One of the main conclusions of the review was to combine previously separate grants into a single grant; and to increase this to cover all special educational needs categories. The GEST programme in England will support £10 million of expenditure on training for special needs in 1993–94, compared with just over £7 million in 1992–93. The increase in GEST funding should ensure that there is sufficient funding available to support the majority of training requirements. Local education authorities will now be in a position to determine exactly which areas of special educational needs training are required in their areas and to obtain grant support to facilitate that training.

On the devolution of grants to schools, the grants which must be devolved to schools represent £114 million of the total 1993–94 GEST programme of £320 million. We recognise, just as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, recognised, that it would not be appropriate to devolve all of those moneys to schools. It is a question of balance in allowing schools to be masters of what they believe to be their own needs and to balance that with what is properly and appropriately dealt with at LEA level.

I was asked about the implications for education of the local authority finance settlement. The 1993–94 local authority grant settlement includes a share for education of £16.854 billion of the total standard spending allowed for local authorities in England. Allowing for changes of function, next year's figure represents an increase of £427 million, which is 2.6 per cent., compared with this year. The GEST fund is a very small proportion of the whole.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, asked about the whereabouts of the national curriculum assessment in the schedule of grants. It is under item 9 in the schedule relating to the basic curriculum. Much of the work to do with supporting the national curriculum is subsumed in that global amount. If the noble Lord is worried about any specific part in that, perhaps he will write to me with his specific questions. I shall then be more than pleased to discuss them with the noble Lord or to write to him.

I was asked why grants come and go. Again, it is a question of changing priorities. It is for the Government to determine where they believe the next priority to lie, as indeed with truancy, which is looming large as a problem, the difficulty of some behavioural problems and the problems of inner cities. Therefore priorities from one year to another do change. The grants have never been intended to provide permanent support for any purpose, however worthy. Grants do not generally stay in the programme for more than five years and some are much shorter than that. It is right that authorities should eventually have to take their own decisions about how they wish to proceed with projects and what level of funding they wish to devote to them from their own resources.

Perhaps I may draw on my own personal experience when I was with a local authority. I used to make absolutely certain that any claim on support funding from national government which was time limited was thought through in terms of how the money was to be used. I made certain, right from the outset of accepting a grant, that thought was given as to what to do when the grants stopped. In other words, that was built into the planned use of those moneys.

The regulations now before us will allow the continued funding of important and beneficial developments such as these, and extend our programme of education reforms to raise standards in new areas. I commend them to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.