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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg): The formula for allocating funding for schools to local authorities will distribute £435 million in 200405, according to the numbers of pupils who have English as an additional language and minority ethnic pupils in state schools. Additional ring-fenced support is available via the ethnic minority achievement grant, which will increase from £155 million in the present year to £162 million in 200405.
Dr. Iddon : I am grateful for that answer. Mainly as a result of the National Asylum Support Service dispersal scheme, there are 226 children from 54 nations placed in Bolton's schools today. Many of them are concentrated in just a few schools in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend think that the money that he has just announced will allow teachers in those schools to meet the considerable challenges that they face day in, day out? Is it fair that non-English speaking children should be included in the rigours of SATs, with the inevitable result that those schools appear unfairly low in the league tables?
Mr. Twigg: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important set of issues. We made some changes to the SATs a couple of years ago to take account of children who had arrived in the country recently, which made the accountability framework much fairer. I recognise that for some of the most challenged schools funds will be limited, which is why the Department is also looking at the issue of mobility for the future. Mobility is a complex issue that does not apply only in cases of asylum seeking and ethnic minority children. There are particular problems for schools facing those challenges, and we are addressing the issue for the future.
The Minister for Children (Margaret Hodge): Our proposals to restore stability and certainty to school funding include an increase in all authorities' school formula spending share of at least 5 per cent. per pupil next year: that is what Norfolk will receive. Norfolk will also receive £5.3 million of transitional grant, which will be used to help schools in particular financial difficulties balance their budgets by 200607.
Norman Lamb: I thank the Minister for that answer, but I draw her attention to the results of a survey of local head teachers that I have just conducted, which shows that as a result of the budget settlements 38 per cent. believe that they will have to cut the number of teachers or teaching hours and 45 per cent. are looking to cut the number of learning support assistants. Given the extra money that is going in, why are those rural schools experiencing such damaging cuts? What message will she send to schools in that very difficult position?
Margaret Hodge: I saw a report of the survey in the hon. Gentleman's local newspaper. I hope that he is as content as I am that the local education authority is working very closely with schools to ensure that budgets for next year and the year after are stabilised and that there is no damage to pupils' educational achievement. The statement made yesterday by the Chancellor gives the best hope possible for Norfolk children, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will applaud it in the same way as I do.
Mr. Anthony D. Wright (Great Yarmouth) (Lab): May I also enter a word of caution for the Government about Norfolk's funding this year? Some of my schools have said that they may face shortfalls in their budgets. I congratulate the Government on the millions of pounds that they have invested in my local schools in Great Yarmouth, but will the Minister meet the head teachers, who have genuine concerns and want to do their best for pupils in my constituency?
Margaret Hodge: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the interest that he shows in the schools in his constituency and for his recognition of the real-terms increase in funding for pupils in Norfolk since this party has been in government. That increase has been £780 per pupil, and capital funding this year is more than £100 million, compared with less than £10 million in 199899. That is a record of which we are proud. I or one of my colleagues will, of course, be happy to meet head teachers in his constituency if that will be of benefit to him.
The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Alan Johnson): As set out in the grant letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England issued on 8 January 2004, institutional funding will increase by £500 million in England in 200405 compared with 200304. HEFCE announced on 2 March what this increase will mean for each institution in the 200405 academic year. Overall, HEFCE's grants
Ross Cranston: I thank my right hon. Friend for that very pleasing answer. He knows that it goes without saying that all Labour Members support efforts to make sure that more people from non-traditional backgrounds get into universities. Will he comment on that aspect of the funding that provides a premium or incentive to universities so that those from non-traditional backgrounds can be encouraged to get into university? What sort of incentive is provided by universities under the funding for next year?
Alan Johnson: I can give my hon. and learned Friend the assurance that he seeks. The widening participation premium will increase by 2.5 per cent. next year, which means that £273 million will be available to universities. Everybody recognises that not only the recruitment but the retention of non-traditional students is important. Although we have one of the lowest university drop-out rates in the world, an examination of social class shows that non-traditional students find it more difficult and are more likely to drop out. The funding premium is available in recognition of the fact that it costs more to teach non-traditional students. We will certainly increase the amount of funding available and move towards our objective of ending the obscene social class gap in higher education.
Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): The Minister will be aware that his own departmental figures show that, by the end of this Parliament, Government funding per student will still be substantially lower than it was under the last Conservative Government. Yesterday, the Chancellor made comments about student grant funding, but they apply only up to 2008, before top-up fees fully come into effect. Will the Minister therefore give a clear and unequivocal commitment that he will maintain Government grant per student after 2008 as well as before?
Alan Johnson: I will answer the question in a second. It is a fact that funding per student fell by 37 per cent. in the 10 years up to 1997, and, as the Dearing inquiry showed, that planned funding over the next two years of the previous Governmentthankfully that was the first two years of this Government in 1997 and 1998was due to reduce by a further 6.5 per cent. a year over both years. It is important to understand that the Conservative party is the party of underfunding higher education and that the Labour party is the party of ensuring that our higher education sector is properly funded and able to maintain its world-class status.
Alan Johnson: We on these Benches accept everything with good grace. It is extremely unlikely that anyone will accept an argument saying that rather than allowing universities to charge up to £3,000we say that universities may charge £3,000, but that they are free to charge lesswe should absolutely insist that every student on every course at every university must pay £3,000, and that universities must have no flexibility to charge less. I would find it amazing if the House or any other group decided that that was the way forward. I know that my hon. Friend has serious concerns about the matter, which is why we said that, three years after the introduction of variable fees, an independent commission will report directly to the House to show their effects. We believe that my hon. Friend's genuine fears will not materialise, but a report by an independent commission is the best way to examine the issue.
Mr. Williams: The Minister will be pleased to know that Liberal Democrats will support the aspects of the Higher Education Bill that will devolve responsibility for student funding to the National Assembly for Wales. Does he agree that that will give the Assembly an opportunity to devise a scheme for people over 55 who wish to access higher education and attain the skills necessary for the longer working life that the Government keep advocating?
Alan Johnson: I am very happy that the Liberal Democrats support the aspect of the Higher Education Bill that will devolve student support to Wales. I just find it incredible that Plaid Cymru, the party that is all about devolution, opposes that aspectit is a confusing world we live in.
Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the one institution that encourages access to higher education perhaps more than any other is the Open university? However, in recent discussions on the Higher Education Bill, the Open university has expressed genuine concerns that such part-time students might be disadvantaged. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give the House that the Open university will be secure and able to continue its excellent work?
Alan Johnson: I am happy to repeat the assurance that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave on 8 January: we are aware of the problems that part-time students face. The Open university, with 200,000 students, is the biggest university in this country and probably one of the biggest in the world. We have committed ourselves under the package to introduce for the first time grants and fee remission for part-time