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House of Commons

Thursday 4 July 2002

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Development Agency Bill (By Order)

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

School Funding

1. Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): If she will make a statement on trends in school funding since 1997. [64395]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): Since 1997–98, recurrent funding per pupil has risen by an average of £670 in real terms. By 2003–04, it will have increased by over £760 in real terms.

Mr. Stunell: I thank the Secretary of State for her reply, but I think she may agree that it tells only part of the story. She will know of the long-running campaign by Stockport and by the 40 worst-funded local education authorities to secure funding at least equal to the present national average per child. Will she undertake to press the Chancellor of the Exchequer to provide, in his comprehensive spending review, money that will allow proper funding for the children of Stockport?

Estelle Morris: I appreciate the thought and determination behind the campaign of the F40 authorities, and I understand exactly where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. In Stockport, however, funding has increased by £570 per pupil since the Government took power. I suspect that if the hon. Gentleman had looked at the figures for the previous five years, he would have observed that the amount going to pupils in his area fell in real terms. I accept that this is about a share of a larger cake, but let there be no mistake: more money is going to every one of our schools, for all our pupils, than was the case under the last Administration.

The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government will report very soon following their consultation document on the way forward. These are not easy issues, but I have

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always accepted, and I accept now, that the current distribution of resources by local authorities is historic and does not reflect current needs.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): Parents and teachers in Nottinghamshire welcome the extra funds, but will my right hon. Friend look carefully at a petition that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and I intend to present in Downing street this afternoon, calling for fair funding for Nottinghamshire schools—the same funding as pupils at schools in, say, Hertfordshire?

Estelle Morris: I will certainly look carefully at the petition. Let me add, however—and I do not suggest for a moment that my hon. Friend denied this—that no Member would want every pupil in every part of the country to be funded at exactly the same level, because costs differ in different parts of the country. I think we all want to recognise the existence of disadvantage and the extra cost of educating children from certain backgrounds, and also the existence of different living costs.

We will certainly consider my hon. Friend's points, but I did not want to give the impression that I entirely agreed with his comparison. The matter must be dealt with through consultation, and we will do that in due course.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): As recruiting and retaining really good teachers is crucial to the raising of standards, will the Secretary of State have another look at the problem of housing costs in areas such as mine, the Thames valley? Many teachers are finding it very difficult to buy their first homes or maintain a reasonable standard of living with the current funding levels.

Estelle Morris: I entirely accept that. There are a number of issues relating to recruitment and retention in London and the home counties. The spiralling costs of housing have caused difficulties for many people—the problem does not affect only teachers—but we have many teachers, and the cost of helping them is that much greater. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is pleased that our expenditure has helped some 1,500 teachers to buy homes.

The Government are addressing this matter as a Government, and it would not be appropriate for my Department to deal with it separately. I entirely accept, however, that it is one factor, if not the only factor, affecting the ability of schools in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency to recruit and retain.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): There has undoubtedly been a significant increase in funds for all schools in the last five years; but as further money becomes available, as I hope it will following the forthcoming three-year spending review, will the Secretary of State ensure that additional funds are used to increase the number of pupil referral units? I think they can be very helpful in tackling poor pupil behaviour.

Estelle Morris: Indeed—and my hon. Friend will welcome what has already happened. I am delighted to say that in September, for the first time, we shall have full-time education in our pupil referral units for every child excluded from school. It is something of a tragedy

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that in 2002 a Secretary of State should be saying that it is the first time that that has happened, but it is a major achievement nevertheless.

There has already been an expansion of PRUs, and if memory serves me right a further 50 will open in September throughout local authority areas. We are determined that schools should have the right to exclude students who misbehave at school and spoil learning for others, but equally determined that they should be given full-time and appropriate education.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): As this is the first Education Questions since the reshuffle, I congratulate the new Ministers. The whizz-kids have landed. To spread good will, as I always seek to do, I express commiserations to all Government Back Benchers over the age of 40: sad victims of prime ministerial ageism.

On spending, the Secretary of State talks a good game. Can she explain the headline in 12 June's edition of the East Anglian Daily Times, "Schools feeling the pinch—Tight budgets mean heads have to cut back on support staff"? The article quotes one head as saying:

Does not the Secretary of State recognise—[Interruption.] Government Members seek to ignore the evidence of head teachers of 25 years' standing. Does not she recognise that the ludicrously and increasingly complex way in which schools are funded means that, whatever she thinks she is spending, the benefits are too often invisible where it matters, in the schools?

Estelle Morris: I do not accept that at all. The hon. Gentleman spends his time scouring local papers to find one headline about one head teacher who thinks that he got less money. I have visited many schools, and I have found that head teachers say two things. The first is that they want more money. The day they stop saying that will be a very surprising day. The second is, "Yes, we've had more money under you than under the other lot."

I take the point about funding streams, which is exactly why, over the past 12 months, we have ensured that the standards fund gives head teachers great flexibility. Indeed, when legislation that is currently in the other House is enacted, people will be able to spend standards fund money as part of their revenue funding. No other Government have done more to put money into schools and ensure flexibility. On top of that, we have ensured that money goes straight to schools and is not siphoned off. There is far more delegated money for schools now than there was under the Conservative Government.

Mr. Green: The Secretary of State always objects to the real world intruding on her vision of reality. I suspect that somewhere she recognises how things are going wrong. Let me treat her to another newspaper cutting. It says that, in the sixth year of this Government,

She cannot dismiss those words, because she wrote them, in The Observer. Will she now admit that the reason why all this extra spending has led to the failures that she correctly identifies is that the over-centralised, bureaucratic, micro-managing way in which she tries to

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control schools is leading to a demoralised teaching profession, and we will never have the world-class education that we need as long as she carries on down this route?

Estelle Morris: Children who leave school now without basic literacy or numeracy were educated when they were five under a Tory Government, with no literacy or numeracy strategy, no classroom assistants and no capital investment. That is why they got to secondary school without being able to read and write. I have always said that when people get to year seven in secondary school without having mastered the basic skills, their chances of doing so by 16 get less and less with each year that passes. That is exactly why we have invested in literacy and numeracy.

I am not going to be less than honest with the nation about where we stand. Of course there is a lot more to do, and I am not complacent about that, but the hon. Gentleman might also have quoted the rest of the Observer article, which pays tribute to teachers, schools and governors and recognises the part that my Government have played in ensuring that we now have more children who can read and write and the highest standards that we have ever had.

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