Has my right hon. Friend seen the excellent article by the chief master of King Edward's school, Birmingham, in The Times this morning, which pointed out that independent schools for many years have benefited from the sort of governing body that my right hon. Friend is now proposing for state schools? Does he agree that state schools have nothing to fear from a system that has benefited independent schools, while at the same time enabled them to retain the benefit of good local authority management?
Yes, Sir. Good schools have nothing to fear from delegation. In fact, delegation will give schools the power to get things done. The article in The Times this morning points the way forward. Where this is already happening in local authorities, head teachers and deputy heads are finding an enormous improvement in the quality of management of the school. I see no reason why, in the course of the next five years, every secondary school and all the large primary schools should not have control of their own budgets — and by that I mean the total amount of money.
Should the Secretary of State be in a position to influence these matters after the coming election, will he assure the House that before he tinkers with budgetary control he will give a guarantee from the Dispatch Box that every school will have sufficient resources to carry out its responsibilities to our children?
I certainly give that assurance. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that I have increased education expenditure this year by 19 per cent., which is the largest increase from one year to another. My hon. Friends might well have an early opportunity to put our education policy to a wider test.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that at the same time as he provides greater financial decentralisation for schools, there will still be an important role for local education authorities to provide educational back-up to schools, particularly weak ones, in most parts of the country?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend. Local education authorities have the duty of managing the system of education at the local level. They have responsibilities and will continue to have them — for example, for the provision of the school premises, for the salaries of school staff, which delegation schemes have recognised, for special training, for in-service training and generally to help those schools that are not so well managed. I agree with that.
What is the average level of discounts offered by educational suppliers to local education authorities for the bulk purchase of books and materials? What discussions has the right hon. Gentleman had with educational suppliers as to whether those discounts would be available to individual schools if they were responsible themselves for purchase and payment? Could he also tell us what discussions he has had about the extra pay that might be necessary for head teachers to carry out these extra responsibilities and what extra staff schools will need if they are to have this purchasing and budgetary responsibility?
I deplore the Opposition's negative approach to this proposal. There are 21 education authorities already experimenting along these lines, and where they have been implemented delegation schemes have invariably saved money at a local level. It would be up to the local headmaster, the deputy head and the governing body to make their own decisions about where they purchase, from whom they purchase and all the other matters concerning the running of the school.