HC Deb 22 November 1985 vol 87 cc342-3W
Mr. Gerald Bowden

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on parents' financial contributions to maintained schools.

Mr. Dunn

Local education authorities may by law accept gifts from parents and others towards the discharge of their statutory functions, and their is a long and honourable tradition under which such gifts are made and applied for good educational purposes. The Government welcome the generosity which very many parents have shown and continue to show in helping their children's schools. It is however important to see the scale of the resources involved in perspective. The National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, in its recent report on the state of schools in England and Wales, estimated that total parental funding throughout England and Wales in 1983–84 probably approached £40 million. This sum, although large, is only about half of one per cent. of the total cost of school education. The burden of financing the schools falls almost entirely on the taxpayer and the ratepayer, and will continue to do so.

Local education authorities are under a statutory duty to ensure that their schools are sufficiently equipped to provide suitable education for all their pupils; each LEA therefore needs to satisfy itself about the level of equipment and materials available to its schools. Moreover, section 61 of the Education Act 1944 prohibits the charging of fees for the education provided in maintained schools. Any parental contributions to the costs of that education must therefore be voluntary. This should be made clear to parents; and if voluntary contributions are invited it should also be made clear that no child will suffer any detriment because his or her parents are unable or unwilling to make those contributions.

The Government have made clear their view that, in the light of the statutory provisions, local education authorities are not entitled to anticipate any particular level of parental contributions when setting the level of capitation allowances for individual schools, since those contributions are voluntary and cannot, therefore, be relied upon. LEAs are however entitled to consider the provision already made in individual schools, and to give additional support to those schools which are less fortunately placed than others, whether that situation arises because of different levels of parental support in the past or for some other reason.

Within the limit of the resources available to them, LEAs' objective should be to ensure that the fullest possible range of educational opportunities is available to children in every school. Authorities therefore need to be alert to any discrepancy in opportunities which is arising and to seek to help schools where necessary. This does not mean that capitation should be reduced below the general level for the well-provided schools; it may mean that some schools might look to the LEA for additional support.