HL Deb 09 July 2003 vol 651 cc265-8

2.50 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many teachers are likely to lose their jobs as a result of the financial problems encountered by schools in England in the next school year; and how many teaching and other staff posts will remain unfilled for the same reason.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, decisions about the complement of teachers are for schools to take. Each year schools may increase or reduce the number of teachers and support staff they employ to take account of a wide variety of factors, including pupil numbers and the overall funding available to them. We do not have definitive information about changes in teaching and other posts in the new school year. The position changes week by week as schools finalise their budgets in discussion with their local education authorities.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her not very informative reply. One or two weeks ago in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister estimated that 500 teachers would be made redundant in schools this year and that roughly half of those redundancies would result from the school budget changes. While the number of redundancies—which result from mistakes made by the DfES in its own budget sums, as it now admits—may be fairly small, the knock-on effects will be considerable.

Is the Minister aware that many schools are, for example, forgoing teacher in-service development, cutting their budgets for school trips and laying off part-time support staff, and that information technology, library and stationery budgets are all suffering? Does she accept that the crisis has thrown into jeopardy the Government's plans for smaller classes and more classroom assistants? Will she also tell us what the Government are planning in order to avoid similar crises arising next year?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I was not sure whether the noble Baroness was complimenting me on being less than informative, but there we are. The crisis to which she refers is very important in the context of considering what we do next year, and my right honourable friend will bring forward precise information on that. We have worked very closely with individual education authorities on the issues that have arisen from the changes that we have made this year. The specific points made by the noble Baroness will also be addressed.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister quoted 500 redundancies as an estimate based on the very early figures received. Based on the information that we have now, that number will already have fallen considerably. However, as I said in my first reply, the situation changes week by week and I would not wish to misinform the House.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, given that the Secretary of State and the Minister with responsibility for schools said that they would stay closely in touch with schools on this matter, there is no answer to the specific question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp? Does she also agree with a teacher who wrote to me only a week ago saying that she was taking voluntary retirement in order to help her school by not filling a post? That post is not registered as not being filled due to lack of money, yet that is precisely why that teacher is taking voluntary retirement.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the department is talking to education authorities and individual schools. Much information is available, both anecdotal and in terms of the returns put forward by education authorities. We talked to education authorities about the number of redundancies being approximately 300. But that figure comes from notices that are issued; it is not necessarily the figure that will appear in the final part of the equation because, of course, things change. Noble Lords will be aware of the steps that we have taken to ensure that schools are supported, and we continue to work with them.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, under the present funding arrangements, there are both winners and losers. The winners are characteristically—ar shall I say "understandably"—keeping silent. If the Government want to move towards direct funding for schools, how much extra money will he needed and how much extra money will be available?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I say to the right reverend Prelate that, because of the new funding formula, many schools have done very well. If they are being quiet, it is because they are getting on with the business of teaching and learning. Of course, that is no consolation for those who feel that this has been a difficult year. My right honourable friend is considering the available options in terms of how best to ensure stability in the funding system and appropriate funding for next year. He will report to another place shortly.

Lord Hardy of Wath

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that, where roll numbers continue to fall, there is bound to be a significant effect on the teacher establishment, even if local authorities seek to assist in transitional periods? Would my noble friend care to say how many jobs will be or have been lost as a result of falling rolls rather than because of government cuts or supposed lack of generosity?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, my noble friend has exactly hit upon the issue. Indeed, at present rolls are falling and redundancies are being created, as they are created every year as differences in school populations occur. At this stage, it is impossible to say precisely why we have redundancies in certain schools and certain education authorities—hence, my not wishing to misinform the House.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, many schools are running deficits at present in order to overcome their difficulties. What advice will the department be giving to those schools early in the new year when they are in a true financial crisis?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, we hope to give advice to schools long before early in the new year. As the noble Lord will appreciate, it is important that schools which run a deficit know as early as possible precisely what the funding situation will be. The department is working on that as we speak.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the current crisis does not overshadow the important steps that her department has taken to improve inclusion for the most marginalised children—for example, by reducing the number of children excluded from school by 20 per cent since 1996–97?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, as the noble Earl acknowledged in his question, it is important that we deliver the education system for all children. The most marginalised and excluded children deserve our greatest support and we must ensure that they have the best teaching and learning experience. It is our objective to continue to do so as effectively as we can.