|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Byford: I hesitate to interrupt the Minister when he is in full flow. He condemned the previous government's history--if you like--as regards temporary accommodation. I assume therefore that any
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I have just said that our letter to local education authorities wishing to apply for the class size capital funds makes it clear that their plans will have to be for permanent classrooms, not mobile classrooms. As I have already quoted, the guidance we sent out states that,
Baroness Byford: The Minister must forgive me, but it is obvious that over the years some schools have found it useful to erect temporary accommodation. However, now the Government are saying that it will not be possible to do that in the future. That is the point I am trying to make.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I must be precise about this. We are saying that applications for funding for the purpose of reducing infant class sizes which rely on the use of mobile classrooms will not be accepted. As regards all the amendments we are discussing, it is more effective to control the funding than to introduce such amendments on the face of the Bill. I hope noble Lords will appreciate that point and will wish to withdraw their amendments.
Baroness Young: I wish to press the noble Lord further on the point about not having temporary buildings. I have no doubt that, when he says that so confidently, that is precisely what he means. However, I wonder about the reality of that in practice. If a class size is to rise by three, is the noble Lord seriously suggesting that a local authority will build permanent accommodation for three extra children in a class? I do not have the relevant figures in front of me but anyone who knows anything about school buildings knows that to build a permanent classroom is an expensive proposition. It would be exceptionally expensive if the three children were to leave the school the following year because they were temporary pupils.
I do not wish to cast doubt on what the noble Lord says, but I wonder whether it constitutes a sensible use of government and local authority expenditure. Like the noble Lord I am not a particular supporter of temporary accommodation as I have seen too much of it in my life. If I may say so, his remarks about what the Conservative government provided were in many cases quite unjust. I remember quite clearly in 1979, when I was a Minister in the Department of Education and Science, we inherited a situation which everyone has, of course, now forgotten. The IMF had intervened and told the government they had to cut down on expenditure. Public buildings, in particular schools and hospitals, suffered from those cuts. We inherited a situation in which little had been done for years. In fact, we poured money into
All that I am saying now is that I have been chairman of an education committee. I agree that it was some time ago and things may be quite different now, but to say that you will always have a permanent building when there are perhaps two or three extra children in the class is something I find very surprising. It is something which needs to be considered very carefully.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I suppose it is my fault. I referred back to the record of the previous government, and I can quite understand why noble Lords opposite are very sensitive about it. However, if we were to go into the matter the record would show that the shortfall, the deficit, in the necessary provision for school buildings which the previous government left in 1997 vastly outweighs any shortfall which the previous government found in 1979.
For the third time, therefore, perhaps I may repeat what I said about the particular issue which we are debating at the moment. It is the issue of how to reduce infant class sizes to 30. What I said was,
Of course, it is not the case that we can remove mobile classrooms from all of our schools immediately. Nobody said that. I did not say that, and nobody in government has said that. We recognise that it may be the economical and sensible thing to do when there are changes up and down in school populations in individual schools or, indeed, in local education authorities. Anyone who has been concerned with education locally knows that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is right about that.
Baroness Blatch: Before my noble friend responds to the amendment, will the noble Lord not agree that in 1979 there were actually classes of over 40 and many, many classes of over 35? Would the noble Lord also not agree--and the information bears it out--that more money was spent per pupil when we left office than when we arrived in office?
Indeed, if one looks across the country as a whole and compares, for example, the Inner London Education Authority, with which the noble Lord is very familiar, with my own shire county, which is Cambridgeshire, with which I am very familiar, we have a very good rolling programme of capital spending. It was managed very well and our school stock is in pretty good order. That goes for many well-managed local education authorities. There are other poorly-managed local education authorities where the stock is pretty awful. Therefore, it is not just about money; it is actually about the management of the authority and the degree to which priorities are considered year on year.
What the noble Lord said about the previous government does not raise any sensitivities with us. We are rather proud of what we achieved in many of our local education authorities with money provided for by government and by the local taxpayer.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: The noble Lord interprets kindness as ironies. It is rather sad. I was impressed that with a policy which has many ramifications a Minister on the Front Bench was prepared to guarantee more than I had expected. My noble friend said that the noble Lord was making a ministerial statement with the authority of the Government behind it. He stated that the problems which could occur from class sizes could be resolved. There was no irony in my remarks. I hoped that the Minister was right. I hope that he can resolve the problems. I thought that his ministerial colleague, the Minister of State, was a little more cautious. I shall read Hansard tomorrow.
I think that there will be problems about class sizes. That is why I put down the amendments. I think that there will be problems about Roman Catholic schools. There is strong passion for attending denominational schools. There will be problems about travelling, as I know from my home county of Somerset. I have experienced that in an anecdotal way. There will be problems about buildings. I believe also that there will be problems about the slight overlap. The Government have made promises which they may find hard to fulfil.
I shall withdraw the amendment. But there was no irony in my approach. The smile belied the tiger, I think. However, we shall return to the issue. The Government have promised more than they can give. On this side of the Chamber, we shall hold them to every dot and tittle of the promises they have made. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Blatch: I oppose the Question that Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill. At the outset let me make it clear that we have sought to do some mental arithmetic on how much the policy will cost. We now have an additional aspect to what I call the McIntosh formula: that even the buildings that will be built will be permanent.
I wish to echo a point made by my noble friend. I believe that the Government may rue the day. I remember when there was a policy to move large numbers of people out of the cities, in particular out of London, into greenfield sites in Middle England. The temptation was to build large numbers of primary and secondary schools in order to accommodate a large
Something similar will happen in this situation. But this is a more fluid policy. It is a policy in perpetuity. Every year local authorities will have to present minutiae of detail to the Government. It is all very well for the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to say, "We don't want to be involved with little Johnnie X who has to travel an unreasonable distance to an alternative school". The truth is that if the Government are to carry out that policy, that is precisely what they will have to do. If that work is taken away from the local authorities which should be undertaking it, the Government will have to get involved in the minutiae. In order for the local authorities to trigger the money which will come from heaven (if I may so describe the Treasury in this case) they will have to make out the case that X-number of children are travelling unreasonable distances; X-number of children are making denominational preferences which cannot be met; and X-number of parents are losing their preferences. According to the guidance and the regulations, there is a responsibility to the local authorities to enhance parental choice, not simply to sustain it. There is also a movement of SEN children.
This is a very fluid policy indeed. If all of that is to be rigidly met by 2001, it will be necessary to erect buildings for very small numbers of children. If, for the 31st, 32nd, 33rd or 34th child, the alternative to a particular school is an unreasonable distance, or there is no denominational alternative, then that child will go to that school. If there is not another classroom for such children, then one will need to be provided. I suggest that some of the mobile classrooms in today's world are excellent; they have changed out of all recognition. A sensible local authority would have a quota of high-quality, very mobile classrooms which it could move into place to resolve the issues of the day, and to prevent a challenge in the courts, in order to meet its obligations under this policy.
My first point is this. If money is to be made available to provide an extra teacher for one child, to provide brick buildings for a small overflow of children, to provide for keeping class sizes down wherever and whenever it is necessary, to meet all the capital and revenue costs, and to cover the bureaucracy--as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, this information will need to be planned, recorded and submitted to the Government for them to crawl all over and approve or disapprove, as is their wont--that will be a considerable sum of money. My plea is for that money to be made available directly to local authorities and to the schools themselves. They would make good use of it. I still trust them, in that their priority, particularly in primary schools, would be to make sure that that money was applied to the education of the youngest children. I would trust them to use it in that way. Instead, we
For that reason, the proposal is fraught with practical problems. It pre-empts the budgets for schools and local education authorities. As I said, though measures are desirable, so far as I and my colleagues are concerned, teacher quality is the key to good teaching. A less than adequate teacher teaching 20 children will do more damage than a highly competent teacher teaching 31. That is the issue that we should be examining. I can promise that, over a very short space of time, when the one-off payment of windfall money has run out, this money will be top-sliced from education budgets, and there will be less money for other priorities.
The Government have given no definition of "reasonable distance". I therefore ask the Minister to do so in replying. No definition has been supplied for "poor schools". I asked a question earlier which has not been answered; namely, do we mean "poor schools"--and, if so, what is the definition? Or do we mean where a parent makes a choice and, for one reason or another, that choice is denied and the child is sent to a school down the road, if the school down the road is poorer than that school, rather than being a "poor school"--in other words, its achievements are not as high and it is not as popular--is that parent given the right under the law to challenge the local education authority or to challenge the Secretary of State? It seems to me important to have the Government's response on the record.
The Government have committed themselves to a blank cheque policy. There is no question of that. Whatever this policy costs, the revenue and/or capital costs will be met by specific grant. It is to be by specific grant into the foreseeable future, because the amendment asking that this money be fed into the revenue support grant was rejected earlier on the grounds that the Government wish to retain the specific grant.
I noted in either the guidance note or the regulations a reference to the money being paid through the LMS formula. Again, I am not absolutely certain what that means. My understanding is that if a specific school triggers a specific need for a teacher under this policy, that school will receive that money. It will not receive it through some LMS formula, but it will receive the cost of a teacher in that school for the children who break the 30 barrier. There is an inconsistency and confusion in relation to the application of that policy, either through the LMS system or by specific grant to the local authority to meet the specific needs of each local education authority school.
If the local authorities are to enhance parental choice; if they are not to send children an unreasonable distance to school; if they are not to fill up surplus places at poor or poorer schools--depending on what the answer is from the Government; if they have responsibility, as they do under the guidance, to expand popular schools that are achieving high standards, according to Ofsted; if they are to protect denominational preference--and that is to be protected; and if the 31st child under those
In his response to a previous set of amendments, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to irony. There is no irony. In the course of their first year, so far the Government have got away with very warm words about a lot of policies. As my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking said earlier, they are a government of adjectives. Because this policy was so clear, because the clarity was as crystal, because we have unequivocal responses that costs, revenue and/or capital, whatever they are, whatever it takes, will be met, we believe that the safeguards that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, have been offering all day should be on the face of the Bill. If that is what they mean, there should be no problem about putting them on the face of the Bill. It is not what we would do. I oppose this clause because I believe it is bureaucratic and fraught with difficulty and because I believe fervently that, if this money is in the system, these decisions could be taken at a local level more economically and efficiently and in a more educationally effective way. For that reason, I do not believe that this clause should stand part of the Bill.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page