HL Deb 26 April 1995 vol 563 cc918-20

3.2 p.m.

Baroness Perry of South wark asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are confident that those responsible for the delivery of education are making the best possible use of the resources available to them to give good value in educational provision to pupils and their parents.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, our reforms have provided a framework in which power and responsibility have been devolved to those closest to service delivery, enabling them to secure maximum value from the resources available. We see great opportunities for the better use of resources in all aspects of the education system.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply, but does he not accept that it is extremely frustrating for the average taxpayer, who has seen the expenditure at national level on education increasing year by year in most generous terms over the past 15 years, still to have to listen daily to complaints at local school level that resources are being squeezed? I believe that the average taxpayer and the average parent would like some explanation of where things are going wrong.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, it obviously is important that schools are properly funded, but what is clear is that at the current level of funding there is a great deal that schools and indeed others involved in the education system could do to get better value for the money that is already being spent.

Baroness David

My Lords, would the Minister say that the cost of the national curriculum, which was nearly £500 million—that has been spent on an exercise that has had to be radically altered—showed the best use of resources and has given good value in educational provision?

Lord Lucas

Yes, my Lords.

Baroness Cox

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that local education authorities hold back on average about one-third of their general schools budget and therefore only delegate about two-thirds to schools? In view of that, will my noble friend agree that some relatively small economies in LEA spending, and/or a shift of allocation of funding, could result in a quite significant increase of resources for local schools and the pupils in them?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, the situation differs very much from one LEA to another. I would quarrel slightly with the figures that my noble friend has produced. There is a lot of LEA education spending which is not available to be delegated because the Government have decided that it should continue to be disbursed centrally. Many authorities are now delegating better than 90 per cent. of the money that they have available to delegate; others are moving beyond that. We very much applaud what they have done and we believe that it results in the much more efficient use of the moneys involved. When one looks at the breakdown of what remains with local authorities, there are differences—for example, some authorities are spending 5 per cent. on administration while others are spending 1 per cent. on administration—which would lead us to think that there was some further scope for some authorities to do better than they are.

Lord Desai

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that, as a proportion of total budget, education's share has not risen over the past few years? Will he also confirm that in terms of spending in secondary schools per student, the figure has fallen?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am not quite clear what timescale the noble Lord is thinking of. I am sure he is as aware as I am—

Lord Desai

Fifteen years!

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am sure he is as aware as I am that over the past 15 years the real term spending per student in secondary schools has risen very substantially by around 50 per cent. I do not have the figures with me on the share of the total budget, but I will write to the noble Lord on that.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the OECD report last week which found that we spend more per pupil than do either Japan or Germany and yet our standards of education for 16 year-olds are very much lower than theirs, particularly for children of average ability? Would my noble friend confirm that that means there must still be considerable waste in our system, no doubt particularly in our more pernicious local education authorities?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I am not sure that I would characterise it as waste so much as an opportunity to do a great deal more with the money that we already spend.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, since the Question relates to the best possible use of resources, is the noble Lord aware that his right honourable friend the Prime Minister's claim that there are two education authority administrators for every three teachers has been widely challenged, especially by the Local Government Management Board, which asserts that the ratio is 1:15? As we attempt to reconcile these figures, can the Minister help us by explaining what categories of employee have to be included in the term "administrator" in order to justify his right honourable friend's claim, given that the Local Government Management Board includes curriculum development officers, education inspectors, education welfare officers, educational psychologists, nursery and classroom assistants, school library staff, youth and community workers, careers guidance officers, special needs support officers as well as clerical staff?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I do not have the answer with me. I shall write to the noble Lord. My belief is that the figures refer to the total of local authority bureaucratic overhead rather than those particularly concerned in schools, but I may well be wrong on that and I shall write to the noble Lord.