We have not yet heard all the debate on education funding in Leicestershire, notwithstanding what was said earlier by Mr. Reed, who I know intends to take part in the debate. I want to welcome in particular the presence of my hon. Friend Mr. Duncan, who is concerned about the issues that I wish to raise.
I welcome the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Derek Twigg, will respond to the debate. It is probably an old joke, but I suppose that he is part of a branch of Education Ministers, given that I was expecting his namesake, the Minister for School Standards, Mr. Twigg, to take the debate.
"Education, education, education" was the mantra that we used to hear before the general election in 1997. The people of Leicestershire now regard that as all talk. I have had a lot of letters from teachers, among others, saying that they voted Labour in 1997 because they believed what they were told about "Education, education, education", which produces a hollow laugh.
Almost exactly two years ago, on
This afternoon, the current Education Secretary promised clearer budgets and unparalleled stability for schools. We have heard it all before. As a bit of window dressing, the previous debate is unsurpassed, because if people examine the programme motion, they will see that it says:
"Proceedings in the Standing Committee shall . . . be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 14th April 2005."
Perhaps there will be a Committee discussing the Education Bill on
The Government have made many promises on education, including the undertaking to make education funding,
"as fair, clear and simple as possible".
The sentiment might be admirable, but it is nothing like the reality. I am speaking on behalf of the teachers, governors, parents and children of Leicestershire. They deserve a fairer deal.
Leicestershire has the lowest education formula spending share per pupil of any LEA in the country. On average, the FSS per pupil in Leicestershire is 13.63 per cent. below the national average. Leicestershire county council tops up education spending by £10 million to make up for the inadequacy of Government funding. That is fine, but if Leicestershire were funded at the average for shire countries, a typical 200-place school would receive an extra £48,000. If it were funded at the same level as Leicester city, just across Braunstone lane, which divides the city from my constituency, such a school would receive a massive £126,000 more. That is a staggering imbalance. Were Leicestershire to receive the same funding level as the English average, it would receive £90,000 extra. Were the county to be funded to the same extent as the city, by central Government funding through the FSS, the county education authority would receive more than £50 million extra. One does not have to be well versed in accountancy or education funding to know the difference that £50 million can make.
The consequences of this funding imbalance are clear. Performance is affected. This year, Leicestershire county council has had to negotiate with the regional Department for Education and Skills representative to lower its education targets because they have been set unrealistically high given the dire funding shortfall. That means, for example, delays in maintaining and replacing equipment, and less investment in new technology, inevitably, as there is less money to spend. Recruitment and retention become difficult. Schools in my constituency—I shall refer to one later—already face redundancies and staff shortfalls.
Understandably, in such circumstances, low morale is a problem. I have been particularly occupied recently by letters from teachers, as the Under-Secretary will know, protesting about changes to their pensions. We understand that there is a demographic problem in relation to people living longer. Nevertheless, once somebody has signed up to employment conditions, changing those employment conditions unilaterally, as is happening with local government pensions and teachers' pensions, is, to put it mildly, undesirable. Furthermore, in small schools especially, classes are becoming larger, with less individual attention for children who need it.
I suggest that the Government are failing in their assessment of basic entitlement by focusing too much on deprivation—entitlement is being assessed from the top down, rather than from the bottom up. The recommendation of the F40 group of the poorest-funded authorities, with which I am sure the Under-Secretary has had dealings, is that the entitlement should be determined on the basis of what it costs to educate a pupil. That seems to me to be pretty fair.
We also think that the basic entitlement has been set too low. The Government have tried previously to blame inadequate funding on local authorities. As I have said, however, Leicestershire is spending an extra £10 million on education, and the Government claim that it does not pass on adequate funding to schools through passporting. That is grossly unfair, certainly to the LEA in Leicestershire. Recent Government policy has had the effect of reducing the authority of LEAs to direct the funding of schools in their area. The recent report of the Education and Skills Committee, "Public Expenditure on Education and Skills", criticised the Government for that, saying that the proposed changes would not help to solve the school funding problems. It went on to say that that would lead inevitably to greater central Government interference.
In addition, there is too great a disparity between LEAs. I have mentioned the differences, but let us consider the neighbouring counties with similar problems as well as good sides. In the coming year, Leicestershire is to receive on average £160 more per pupil while Lincolnshire, which is next door to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, will receive £247 more per pupil.
I refer to my hon. Friend thus because he is my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend—as I have called him—compares Lincolnshire with Leicestershire, but although it bears some similarities to the sparsely populated area in north-east Leicestershire, Lincolnshire has much more sparsely populated areas overall. It therefore contains more smaller primary schools with higher unit costs. Must that not be recognised in the central grant formula? Must not Lincolnshire receive more because of that?
I have already said that I think deprivation has a part to play. I shall mention other issues shortly, but I have a list here, from which I see that North-East Lincolnshire—the first authority that I have stumbled across—receives 10.7 per cent. more funding per pupil than Leicestershire. The hon. Gentleman may think that that is reasonable, but I do not. I shall explain why in a moment.
The transitional funding offered by the Government does not get Leicestershire out of its difficulties, either. In the current financial year, which is about to end, Leicestershire receives £3.5 million. In the coming financial year it will receive only £1.8 million, despite being the lowest-funded education authority in the country.
Let me say something about city pupils. My constituency marches with the city. I think Loughborough does as well, but perhaps it does not, in which case my constituency is the only one that does. Across the borders of the city every day come nearly 4,600 pupils, because—I am afraid—Leicestershire provides better education, notwithstanding the vast amounts that have been poured into the city for whatever reasons. The point is that the money allocated per pupil to the city does not travel with the child. Nor, indeed, does the city receive the funding. Money allocated to education through the formula spending share disappears back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That does not seem right. Either the children deserve the money spent on them which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and various other Departments put aside at one stage, or they do not.
Let me say something about the so-called school work force agenda. Because of the Government's policies, other burdens are about to fall on schools at the same time as lower funding. What is described as PPA—planning preparation and assessment—is a jolly good policy, and I am all for it, but it has to be funded. As of September, schools will have to cater for it. Many schools have written to the Government to say that they will be unable to bear the costs. Perhaps the Minister will tell me how many Leicestershire schools have written to the Secretary of State. I understand that 10,000 parents have signed a petition which they will send to No. 10 Downing street, although I have not yet seen it. A high school and a primary school—I will not name them, because I have not spoken to their head teachers—have applied to the county council asking to go into deficit until 2008.
Classroom assistants are also not funded in Leicestershire. I visit schools where I am told that the classroom assistants are having to be laid off. The cost of a teacher is determined by a national pay scale, so the cost is the same in Leicestershire as it is in Leicester city. Staff costs comprise between 80 and 85 per cent. of the costs of most schools. We accept that there are regional differentials—London is probably more expensive, and I would guess that people there are paid a supplement—but the cost of computers, heating, books, grass-cutting and whatever else requires expenditure is basically the same. Although local differentials exist, the current system exaggerates them.
David Taylor mentioned sparsity. There is a good deal of sparsity in the village schools that are scattered around his constituency and mine. We understand that Leicestershire is prosperous, but why must it be penalised to such an extent? We also understand that someone will be a loser: someone will be at the bottom of the pile. What I want to know is how such a differential can be justified.
Worse still, the county council tells me that the new system that is out for consultation—I think it is in the Education Bill, which we have just been discussing—will make matters worse.
This is about more than money, is it not, important though that is? The results for Leicestershire, not including the city, are in the top quartile for all LEAs, and in the past 18 months or so its LEA has been highly rated by Ofsted. This is about not just cash but leadership, drive and commitment.
I agree entirely—it is a question of much more than cash. I pay tribute, as the hon. Gentleman doubtless wants to do, to the Conservative-controlled LEA that is so well run that it has received praise. Moreover, David Parsons and Ivan Ould do an excellent job in managing the county council. If one can get a well-motivated teacher, the quality of teaching can be absolutely splendid even in a mud hut, with no fuss as to whether the air conditioning is set at the right temperature, for example. Indeed, I have witnessed as much in Africa, although in fact, the buildings there tend to be shacks with corrugated iron roofs. That said, in general we would rather have well-funded teaching as well.
What this Government have done, for which I give them credit, is to increase teachers' pay. Teachers' pay is better than it was seven years ago—as one would hope, given that there has been some inflation since then. Indeed, MPs' pay is also better than it was then, but the hon. Members for North-West Leicestershire and for Loughborough would not know that because they were not here in the days of the previous Conservative Government.
The time stretches before us until half past 10. While the hon. Gentleman is giving credit for the changes achieved since
The hon. Gentleman will doubtless tell the good people of North-West Leicestershire—I am sure that they write to him on this issue, just as they write to me in Blaby—that everything in the garden is rosy and absolutely fantastic. I was going to mention this later, but I will tell him now about a primary school that I visited last summer—[Interruption.] I happen to know that one of its governors, to whom I spoke, most certainly does not vote Conservative and nor, I think, does the head teacher. I was told, "We are having this fantastic new classroom built, involving huge capital expenditure—you can see it over there. Perhaps you would like to come to the official opening; in fact, perhaps you might like to open it." As it happened, I could not attend. "Unfortunately," they said, "although we will have this nice new classroom, we don't have the funding to pay for a teacher to go in it." That is telling, and I am sure that the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire has similar stories from his own constituency.
I do not want to name individual schools unless they have gone public on this issue—to do so would be invidious without their permission—but I shall refer to a primary school that I visited earlier this year. It has minimum guaranteed funding of more than £350,000, which is a large budget. The shortfall that the head teacher is looking to address is more than £48,000, which is enormous—nearly one seventh of the budget. She had to make 1.2 teachers redundant, according to the way in which such things work, and one of the administration staff had to go as well. She said, "But I've already cut the classroom assistants." The head wanted to know how she was going to cover the planning, preparation and assessment periods, which were to be two hours and 28 minutes each.
When that head teacher asked what she should do, I had no answer. The hon. Members for North-West Leicestershire, for Loughborough and for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) will be pleased to know that I did not say "Vote Conservative", because I was not trying to make party political points. She then told me that she spent all her time dealing with the deluge of paperwork from the Department for Education and Skills, which we heard about earlier, and asked me what I could do to help. I did say that a Conservative Government could help in that regard, but as I said, I do not try to make such visits party political.
I will mention Gilmorton school, which I also visited last summer. It has gone very public on this issue. Parents at the school, which is very close to where I live, are up in arms and very voluble. At the time of my visit, the fear was that teachers would be made redundant because the school had to try to balance its books. I think that that happened, although I cannot swear to that as I have yet to revisit it.
Let me describe the reality on the ground—hard-working schools, struggling to keep hard-working teachers and hard-working classroom assistants because they are strapped for cash. Much money has gone into education, but it is not there at the coal face. There was a report yesterday—the Minister may want to say that it is complete nonsense—that the National Audit Office found that 123,000 of the extra people employed in education are actually administrators, civil servants, dinner ladies or whatever. The Minister will have to comment on that report, which I have not myself seen.
Two years ago when I spoke on this issue, I avoided being party political, and the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire came with me to see the then Education Secretary. We deliberately refused to argue in party political terms. I have to say that now, with a general election looming, when I am campaigning in Leicestershire I shall be banging on about education funding. What will the Minister be able to say to my Labour opponent? What will he be able to say to satisfy the teachers, governors and parents in Leicestershire and in my constituency? What will he say to the head teacher of the small school facing a £48,000 shortfall—one seventh of the budget? Should we, God willing, win the general election, we will ensure that schools get a better deal.
Finally, I want—
If the hon. Gentleman saw me moving, he would never describe me as giving a swan song, and I have never been described as a swan.
On the specific point that he made, I am disappointed that he wants to make this into an issue in the general election in the stark terms in which he raised it. Unfortunately for him, if he did, it would only expose Tory education policies. First, the Tories want to cut £1 billion from local education authorities across the country, and we have no idea where that would come from. Furthermore, the pupil passport would probably take out another £1 billion from the state education system. If he looked at his own party's policy document, he would see that it refers to almost exactly the same funding formula. I was hoping that we could work on a cross-party basis on that, but will he explain to the voters of Blaby that his party's policies would be even worse for Leicestershire?
I am sorry that I gave way, though I will miss the hon. Gentleman after the general election, because he is entirely wrong. I just explained how many of the extra people in the sector were in education administration. If he does not understand that, he should go and talk to his own child's primary school head teacher and ask how much paper is pumped out—day in, day out—from the office down the road and lands on the head teacher's desk. That does not come free; it comes very expensive.
I look forward to hearing what my colleagues from Leicestershire—my friends from the other side—have to say. I hope that they will explain what the Government have against the children and parents of my county.
I am delighted to follow Mr. Robathan, who knows that I held a similar debate in Westminster Hall on
It is a shame that the end of the speech given by the hon. Member for Blaby degenerated into a party political rant, but I suppose that that is unavoidable, given the likely election timetable. I, too, have started to get very interested, and for the same reason, in what policies the Tories are proposing on education. I urge him to reflect more on the consequences of some of those policies, particularly the pupil passport, which would be a disaster for the Leicestershire education system.
In that particular case, I am sure that you would not call the hon. Gentleman to order, Madam Deputy Speaker—not if we are talking about the funding of education in Leicestershire. I am sure that the people of Leicestershire would be delighted to know the detail, and again I observe that the hon. Gentleman has not dealt with my specific point about the pupil passport or the voucher system that his party proposes. Perhaps he is not 100 per cent. aware of the consequences: the pupil passport would take more than £1 billion out of the education system across the country, affecting an estimated 33,000 students. He should reflect on the circumstances in Leicestershire schools. Under the Conservative proposals, if 10 pupils left each school, £5,000 would be taken out with each one of them, so he should just think of the impact that that would have. I urge the hon. Gentleman to exercise some caution in making this debate a party political one in the run-up to the general election, because I am afraid that his party will be exposed quite badly on that point.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that £1 billion, translated to Leicestershire, which has approximately 1 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom, amounts to taking about £10 million from what Mr. Robathan has described as a cash-strapped county? That is not much of a way ahead.
I entirely agree. My hon. Friend's maths are always much better than my own. As he is an accountant who worked for Leicestershire county council, I always rely on his figures.
If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier, he would have heard how. However, we are discussing the here and now rather than the hereafter—life after the Government, thank goodness for it! Would Mr. Reed concentrate on that and explain why parents, teachers and governors are writing to us all to complain about what is happening in Leicestershire now, not at some stage in the future?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to switch the emphasis away from what he has proposed. It is a shame that he ended his speech as he did, because we have worked closely together over the years in a cross-party group of MPs. My hon. Friend David Taylor and I were in the original E8 group before it became F40. There were only eight of us to start with, and right from 1997, when we entered Parliament, we saw the disastrous effects that the funding formula had on Leicestershire. It was clear from the start that we would have to work on it, and I was grateful to work with my hon. Friend.
I pay tribute to Mr. Robathan. He was not blowing his own trumpet when he said that he was part of a very non-partisan delegation to the present Home Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Education. We all contributed, and the hon. Gentleman was not partisan then, even if he is being partisan now. But what is going to happen in seven weeks' time must, I suppose, affect his attitude to these things.
My hon. Friend is right. After whenever it is—
Let me come to the starting point of what I wanted to say. There are three strands to the argument before us: where we have come from, where we are now, and what we do about the future.
Those of us who worked at county hall in the early 1990s know where we have come from. The previous Government were in power, and we remember the cuts that we saw year on year. From 1992 to 1997, the average cut in real terms per pupil was £60. Each year inflation ran at 3 to 5 per cent., but the average increase in education funding for Leicestershire was under 1 per cent.: it was 0.9 per cent. in 1994–95, and in 1995–96 it was 0.8 per cent. Strangely enough, it jumped to 5.5 per cent. in election year, in 1996–97, although I do not know whether that jump was related to anything. Overall, we saw decreases in the amount of money going to Leicestershire education authority. Those of us who were governors during those times know exactly what that meant. It meant real and deep cuts in front-line education services for teachers and pupils.
Let us not pretend, then, that all was rosy on
We have also seen great benefit from the Sure Start programme. Unfortunately, the business of the House on Friday prevented me from going to the opening of the new Sure Start in Shelthorpe. On nursery provision for three and four-year-olds, I declare an interest because my three-year-old daughter has just started nursery and is benefiting from it, and my son went through it. It is a fantastic provision.
As I said earlier, I made my maiden speech in this House in 1997 during the debate on reducing class sizes. It is great that in Leicestershire, where more than 7,000 five, six and seven-year-olds were in classes of more than 31, class sizes have reduced drastically.
The hon. Gentleman is right; we always got on well. Those achievements are fantastic, but could he explain why there is a differential between Leicestershire and Leicester city?
As I said, there are three parts to the question: where have we come from, we are we now, and where are we going? The positive part of the picture is the amount of funding. However, the hon. Gentleman, or perhaps Mr. Duncan, intervened when I was about to come to the "however" or "but". There is a problem with the funding formula and the hon. Member for Blaby highlighted part of that problem. It is sometimes difficult for Members of Parliament to explain the differential to constituents and others. I often have to try to do so to other parents when I walk to school regularly with my son. It would be interesting to know exactly how the Conservative party's proposed formula would make a difference, because it is almost exactly the same. I shall explain exactly how it is made up because I have done some research.
As the hon. Member for Blaby knows, I have asked hundreds of parliamentary questions on the subject and I have a breakdown of how Leicestershire's funding is made up. For those of us who are awful at algebra, it is horrendous to look at the table. It has 11 columns of different funding levels, and funding per pupil in 2003 was £2,111. That is the same for a child anywhere in the country. That is the basic entitlement for that age group—primary school pupils. Additional funding for each additional educational needs pupil is £1,370. However, Leicestershire is a wealthy county because the city was taken out during the local government organisation. Although I have patches of deprivation in my constituency, there is not a lot in the county as a whole. We receive only 1 per cent. in additional money for the level of deprivation in the county, which adds £9 per pupil.
This morning I went to a school in Coalville, which is a less well-off area, to speak to David Lloyd, head of Warren Hills community school. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea if the Conservative administration at county hall, Glenfield weighted the internal distribution formula to reflect those pockets of deprivation in an otherwise well-off county?
I was about to come to that. The hon. Member for Blaby referred to Leicestershire county council and the part that it plays. It is a reasonable authority—although I have to say that, because I worked with the people there for many years and would not want to have a go at them. Two matters are worth mentioning now. The council plays a role in the distribution. There may be difficulties in the funding formula from the Government to the council—I hope that we can address the technical details—but the funding formula in the county also needs to be addressed. It would be worth while for the county's Members from both sides of the House to take the message to county hall that that needs to be addressed.
It is also important to recognise that although the county has topped up the amount it gives to schools through the council tax—lots of other authorities have done that, and I believe that Leicestershire is in the bottom third of authorities that have done so—there are additional problems at local level, not just at national level. It is important to put on the record how the formula is arrived at and why we suffer particularly in Leicestershire.
On top of that, there is the sparsity issue. Leicestershire has pockets of sparsity, including my area. We get 0.3805 for sparsity, which gives us additional funding per unit of sparsity of 175, which gives us—in pounds per pupil—£67. On sparsity, Leicestershire does reasonably well, compared with other authorities. The hon. Gentleman mentioned Lincolnshire, but it is probably not the best direct comparison; that is probably Nottinghamshire. If he has the figures to hand, he may be able to put me right on that.
The killer blow lies in the additional cost allowance—the payment that tries to recognise the additional costs of London weighting and south-east weighting. It tries to address the very real problem that costs are higher in London, outer London and some parts of the south-east. Part of the problem is that since the last funding review Leicestershire has been right on the margin. Cambridgeshire used to be right at the bottom of the funding formula, alongside Leicestershire, and my hon. Friend Mrs. Campbell and I worked closely on some detailed proposals for changing the system. It worked well for Cambridgeshire, which was brought within the area cost adjustment area because of the increased costs associated with the M11 corridor and the Cambridge phenomenon.
So Leicestershire gets its basic funding entitlement, with which we all agree—
The hon. Gentleman was not listening earlier. I do not agree with the basic funding entitlement, because it should be higher—especially as pay scales for teachers are determined nationally, so all teachers are paid the same, and staffing costs account for some 80 to 85 per cent. of schools' costs.
Exactly. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not let me finish, because if he had he would have learned that some time ago. He gave the percentage differences, and Leicestershire's funding is 13.6 per cent. lower than the average for shire counties. However, to take one example in London, schools in Camden get an extra £991 for running costs through the ACA, because they are in inner London. That is where Leicestershire is hit by the funding formula. I can accept that we will never score highly on the deprivation measure, although we do okay out of the sparsity factor. However, I would like more information about how the ACA is calculated to address the problem that the hon. Gentleman and I both have with the funding. This is a technical matter, not necessarily a party political one.
In such circumstances, it is much better if we can work together. We need to address the level of the ACA and the basic entitlement. If we can change those, we can narrow the gap. Not even the hon. Gentleman would mind being the lowest funded LEA—someone has to be at the bottom of the table—if the size of the variation were reduced. Even members of Leicestershire county council have said that they are pleased with the overall increase in their funding. Ivan Ould was quoted as saying that he did not mind Leicestershire being the lowest funded authority, as long as it was well funded. We probably all share that sentiment.
I broadly accept the proposals in the recent consultation, but we need to review the funding formula. It is slightly disingenuous to suggest that if we moved up to the average, we would be £X better off, because the overall budget would not change. If we increased the funding for Leicestershire, the money would have to come from somewhere else. Rightly, therefore, the London MPs and others are battling hard to retain the formula. That is why we welcome the floors and ceilings proposal made by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister as the best way to achieve our aims over the short to medium term. However, it is important, in the present consultation period, to press for an acceptance that it is worth reconsidering the operation of the funding formula and its impact on places such as Leicestershire.
I have visited all the 36 schools in my constituency, some of them several times. Funding is always one of the first issues to be raised, and it is an easy headline— the lowest funded education authority in the country. Unfortunately, by the time one has explained the education funding formula most people have usually switched off, especially on the doorstep. People ask why there is education funding. We can tell them that it is sensible, that it works in a particular way and that there is a reason for it, but trying to explain the size of the variation is extremely difficult.
I make a plea not just on behalf of all 36 schools but also for my son's school, in which I declared an interest, where we face a deficit budget this year. The problem is genuine. In the past, people might have dismissed it by saying that educationists, teachers and heads would always say that everyone wants more money. We all want spending in our constituencies, and we could easily double the public sector budget in our constituencies from the bids that we receive daily. However, there is a genuine and serious problem, despite the additional welcome funding that we have received from the Government. The problem is technical, and we need to reduce the disparity.
My hon. Friend the Minister is relatively new to his post. I urge him to bring fresh thinking and a fresh pair of eyes to the debate. I trust that over the next few weeks he will listen carefully to our representations and that he will realise, despite the way in which the speech by the hon. Member for Blaby ended, that there is general cross-party consensus on how we can move forward. The matter is technical, but it can be resolved and it will make an enormous difference. On behalf of all teachers, and especially the hard-working governors who are trying to put together their budgets this year, I urge my hon. Friend to find a way to ensure that if we are to have three-year budgets, they are good three-year budgets for Leicestershire, not poor ones. His school report reads pretty well, but he could do slightly better.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. My hon. Friend Mr. Reed has covered the ground fairly well. The key point that Mr. Robathan did not make in his summary of the position in Leicestershire was not to pay sufficient attention to the inheritance that our Government acquired on
Such things need staff and revenue funding to support them in the medium and long term. No one denies that; but wherever one turns in north-west Leicestershire one can see projects that have benefited from the more far-sighted and generous approach adopted over the last eight years. One can see the laboratories at Castle Donington community college, the IT area at Ibstock community college and the major classroom complex at Broom Leys primary school, which had the highest number of mobile classrooms of any school in the whole of north-west Leicestershire until the problem was tackled relatively early on in the Labour Government.
My experience before May 1997 was not quite as the hon. Gentleman states. There were problems in education then, and I raised them with the Conservative Government at the time. Were there any computers at Ibstock community college, where there is such wonderful IT provision, before 1997?
The number of computers installed has been significantly increased. Of course, technological development has meant that they are much more powerful and more important in the curriculum and other aspects of the school. No one is suggesting that the Labour Government are responsible for technical development in the world of ICT—although there may be a line in the manifesto that we have not yet seen to cover that.
I have already referred to Warren Hills community primary school and its head, David Lloyd. There, I also met Noel Melvin, the principal of King Edward VII community college—an upper school in Coalville—and the head teacher of Castle Rock high school in Coalville. The fabric of that school, like that of a good number of other Leicestershire schools, was built in the mid to late 1960s and has started to deteriorate in a major way. During the period of office of the hon. Gentleman's party—between 1979 and 1997—the school was never able to obtain funding.
I am pleased to say that, a few weeks ago, I attended the launch of the major building work that is taking place at Castle Rock high school. That is the sort of thing that parents in the Coalville area, which is that school's catchment area, will take into account on general election day, whenever that may be—it may be June 2006; we do not know—but we must not let people take for granted the capital improvements in the infrastructure of schools in north-west Leicestershire and, indeed, the county of Leicestershire. No one suggests that there are not continuing problems. There will always be problems in an education system that attempts to reflect a rapidly changing society and an ever more complex economy. There will always be competing demands and shortfalls relative to the desired expenditure and the projects that need to be financed.
The hon. Member for Blaby mentioned planning, preparation and assessment, and he is right to suggest that schools are concerned that that must be funded from
One of the first Adjournment debates that I initiated during the 1997 to 2001 Government related to bureaucracy and paperwork in primary schools. It is true that the smaller the school, the greater the number of hats that individual teachers need to wear.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and others about the consultation on the school funding arrangements. If, like me, my hon. Friend has visited a school and the head teacher has shown him the accounting books for the previous standards grants, he will know that they are extremely complex and run to many pages on many different aspects of those grants. Does he agree that the new single standard grants will make an enormous difference by simplifying the accounting that takes place?
That is undoubtedly true. I ought to declare an interest: my wife works in the office of Ibstock junior school and a good deal of the paperwork that she tussles with daily could be disposed of if the funding systems were rather more streamlined. It is certainly good to know that there has been some incorporation of one-off standards funds into the main grant distribution formula, but a lot more could be done in that regard.
The Minister has a great deal to answer in the debate and much of what he says will be positive, but I wish to make a final point. I am not known as a knee-jerk loyalist, and the Whips and the hon. Member for Blaby would assent to that assertion.
No doubt, the Whips would like such things to happen more often.
I have raised one thing frequently with Education Ministers. In fact, I shall bring a delegation from a number of schools in the Ashby area to see the Minister's colleagues on
Although some LEAs have not been successful, particularly in cities, our own LEA in the county of Leicestershire has been a leading-edge authority. It has been successful in community education and in funding music and the arts over a long period. It has been regarded as one of the leading authorities in handling special needs. Indeed, it was—and bravely for an authority that had been Conservative controlled for a long time—in the vanguard of comprehensivisation long before it became a national requirement.
I would regret the enfeeblement and disbandment of the local education authority of Leicestershire. As far as I am aware, Labour has never controlled it—certainly not in the post-war years. We were in the lead on the authority for long periods between 1974 and 1997, but we never had a majority. My remarks are therefore not driven by any political motive, but I would regret the ending of the LEA even though direct funding would at long last tackle the problems that underpin what we are debating. The problems of pockets of deprivation in what is an otherwise prosperous area would, at least and at last, be tackled effectively by the schools in Loughborough, Coalville, Hinckley and in parts of the constituency of the hon. Member for Blaby. They would receive the funding that is appropriate for their particular needs.
I shall listen closely to the Minister's response. Although it may be invisible to us, I am sure that he has hidden about his person a cheque, which is dated tomorrow, in which the words "Leicestershire county council" appear in the column for the payee. I look forward to hearing that good news.
I might disappoint my hon. Friend on that, but I hope that my speech will reassure him about what is happening to education in Leicestershire.
I congratulate Mr. Robathan on securing the debate. I know of his concerns on this issue and the work that he has done previously. My hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) are also true champions of schools in Leicestershire and have put education at the forefront of their work in the House.
I would like to start by talking about the performance of schools in Leicestershire. When we speak about education, it is important to recognise the outstanding work that is carried out in our schools. I am pleased to say that the figures published in April 2004 show that there are now 2,500 more teachers in schools across the east midlands than in 1997. The number of support staff has increased from 11,000 in 1997 to 20,000 in 2004. In Leicestershire, regular teaching numbers have increased from 4,800 in January 1998 to 5,220 in January 2004—a 9 per cent. increase. Over the same period, the number of school support staff working in the county rose by 73 per cent.—from 1,660 to 2,880. The teacher vacancy rate in January 2004 was 0.2 per cent.—just 10 vacancies.
I would like to put on record my gratitude for the work of those teachers and pupils in Leicestershire who have been responsible for significant improvements in the quality of education in the county. For example, the percentage of pupils leaving primary schools in Leicestershire and doing well in English by achieving level 4 and above has risen from 66 per cent. in 1998 to 80 per cent. in 2004, which is two points above the national average. In maths, the increase has been from 62 per cent. to 76 per cent.—again, two points above the national average. I am sure that the House will agree that that represents outstanding work in primary schools.
For the transition to secondary school education there is equally impressive evidence of what is happening in Leicestershire at key stage 3. In English, provisional results show that 80 per cent. of pupils achieved level 5 and above in 2004, which compares well with the national average of 71 per cent. It represents a rise of six percentage points in Leicestershire pupils' achievement since 1998. In mathematics, 81 per cent. of pupils achieve level 5 or more, which is eight points above the 2004 national average of 73 per cent. and a significant increase on the 68 per cent. in 1998. I am pleased to see that the number of Leicestershire pupils achieving five A to C grades at GCSE has continued to increase and is now above the national average.
I come hot foot from a meeting of the curriculum committee of Ashby school—formerly Ashby grammar school—of which I was chair of governors until May 1997. Our GCSE results have improved in the most remarkable fashion because the percentage of children getting five or more GCSEs has improved from the middle 40s to the middle 60s, with the proportion now heading for 70 per cent. and beyond. That has been achieved without lavish funding. The school has received some extra funding because it has specialist school status, but nevertheless its funding is the same as that available to all upper schools in Leicestershire.
Funding is obviously important, but good school leadership and head teachers, good management in schools, great classroom teaching and community and parental involvement in schools can make all the difference.
Some 45.8 per cent. of Leicestershire pupils achieved 5 A* to C grade GCSEs in 1998, compared with a national average of 46.3 per cent. However, the proportion increased to 54.7 per cent. in 2004, compared with a national average of 53.7 per cent. The hon. Member for Blaby made a point about pupils from Leicestershire choosing Leicestershire schools. People are deciding that schools in Leicestershire are of a good quality, and I put on record my praise for the work going on in those schools.
The key issue behind the debate is obviously funding in Leicestershire. It is worth reflecting on the funding increases that Leicestershire has received since the Government came to power. Between 1997–98 and 2004–05, we estimate that Leicestershire's funding per pupil has increased in real terms from £2,670 to £3,380, which is an increase of £710 per pupil. Capital investment has also greatly increased. In 1997–98, capital funding in Leicestershire was only £4.3 million, but in 2004–05, its allocation was £33.8 million. The authority's allocation so far for 2005–06 is £22.8 million, which represents a massive improvement.
I want to consider the national picture before considering specific issues relating to Leicestershire's funding. The education formula spending share is set to rise nationally to £31.6 billion by 2007–08. That will represent an increase of £5.2 billion from the £26.4 billion figure for 2004–05, which is a 3.5 per cent. increase in real terms.
The settlement for 2005–06 will promote continued stability and certainty for school funding. In brief, in 2005–06, all secondary and special schools will receive an increase in their delegated budgets of at least 4 per cent. per pupil where pupil numbers stay the same. The guarantee for primary and nursery schools is higher at 5 per cent. per pupil, which is because we recognise that those schools need extra support to implement the final phase of the work force reform from September 2005.
We have also ensured that every local education authority has the resources, headroom and flexibility to deliver the guarantee and provide support to help schools facing additional pressures. Next year, all LEAs will receive an increase in their schools formula spending share of at least 5.5 per cent. per pupil. Leicestershire's increase is higher, at 6.3 per cent. per pupil, and above the average increase of 5 per cent. per pupil received by Leicestershire in 2004–05. In 2005–06, standards fund support, the school standards grant and Learning and Skills Council funding for sixth forms will increase by 4 per cent.
Will the Minister respond directly to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough and me? If we are to reduce overheads and bureaucracy, it would be helpful if more of the funding for which bids must be made were incorporated into mainstream formula grants. The standards fund would be a classic example of that.
I shall refer to that a little later. The proposed three-year funding settlement for schools is currently out to consultation until May, so I am sure that Leicestershire, and perhaps my hon. Friends, will want to make representations about any specific points.
Although Leicestershire has, like other authorities, benefited from the significant increases in funding that the Government have committed to education, I know that Leicestershire Members have tabled parliamentary questions and secured Adjournment debates on the per pupil funding received by the authority. I shall explain why Leicestershire's funding per pupil is lower than that of other authorities.
The Government aim to give all pupils an equal opportunity in life. Pupils from more deprived backgrounds have additional learning needs and thus need extra help to get that equal opportunity. That explains why the funding formula takes account of the deprivation in each authority and gives additional funding accordingly. Schools that serve deprived communities face significant challenges in handling and educating pupils, so they need additional support. As has been said, Leicestershire is less deprived than many other authorities. Its proportion of pupils from families receiving income support, which is the most heavily weighted deprivation factor, is well below average. In 2005–06, just over 8.8 per cent. of families in Leicestershire received income support, well below the national average for English authorities of 19.4 per cent. of families. Leicestershire is also below the average in terms of the number of families receiving working families tax credit: the LEA national average is 19.1 per cent. of families, whereas in Leicestershire the figure is 17.3 per cent. Leicestershire also has significantly fewer primary pupils with English as a second language.
Although I recognise that, does my hon. Friend understand how those figures relate to the arguments advanced about little pockets of deprivation? The changes made, especially to the sums available for ethnic minorities, have specifically hit places such as Loughborough, where there is a relatively large ethnic minority population with English as a second language. Will he look again at the impact of the change from section 11 to the new formula, which has made an enormous difference? We are experiencing cuts of up to 40 per cent. in funding for schools, particularly those in the town centre. Will he meet me to discuss that specific issue?
I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend, but I repeat that the new funding formula and the three-year deal for schools are out for consultation until May. I am sure that my hon. Friends, schools and councils will make representations in that respect.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be logical and consistent if the money distributed to Leicestershire in recognition of the pockets of deprivation in the county, such as the ones in Loughborough and Coalville, were earmarked for and passported to the schools for which it is intended? Should not the LEA be doing something to ensure that its internal distribution formula reflects that?
As my hon. Friend knows, we have been strict about passporting the full amount of money. "A New Relationship with Schools" and the three-year funding proposal are part of that policy. The LEA is responsible for ensuring that funding gets through to schools.
Only 2 per cent. of Leicestershire's pupils are from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared with the English national average of 8.7 per cent. The funding formula gives additional resources to sparsely populated areas such as Leicestershire to help to pay transport costs and the higher costs of maintaining a large number of small schools. Sparse authorities face higher costs to deliver the same service, and the formula provides additional resources to high-cost areas to reflect the higher costs of recruiting and retaining staff. In 2005–06, for the first time, Leicestershire received extra funding for the area cost adjustment to reflect those costs, although not as much as areas in and around London, as has been mentioned. It is for the LEA through its local funding formula to ensure that additional funding for additional needs reaches those schools that need it.
Our "Five Year Strategy for Children and Learners", which was published last July, is highly relevant to the debate. It set out the funding changes that we propose to introduce from April 2006. The strategy sets out a promise of greater freedom and independence for schools to run their own affairs, with clear and simple lines of accountability, the security of three-year budgets and greater discretion in how schools spend their standards-related grants. The strategy proposed a package of changes that formed "A New Relationship with Schools", which was designed to provide streamlined and proportionate systems of funding and accountability to allow schools to focus on raising standards and improving outcomes for every pupil.
Since the strategy was published, the Department has worked closely with our national partners through the school funding implementation group to draw up detailed proposals. We are now consulting for 12 weeks, until the middle of May, on those detailed school funding proposals. We propose a dedicated schools grant and three-year budgets for schools aligned to the school year, which will give schools continued stability and predictability and the opportunity to engage in more effective long-term planning, so that they can concentrate on the key role of school improvements, teaching and learning. We also propose to streamline the Department's current standards-related grants to schools through the introduction of a new single standards grant. Local authorities will retain their key role in the local distribution of resources to schools, but, crucially, our proposals will enable authorities to concentrate on their strategic and quality assurance roles in education. Local authorities can add to the dedicated schools grant from their own resources if they wish, but they will not be required to do so.
Hon. Members asked why we do not propose to review the distribution formula as part of those changes. The three-year budget for schools, the new dedicated schools grant and the single standards grant constitute significant changes in themselves, and undertaking a major review of the distribution formula at the same time would be too much change at once. Moreover, the current formula is still relatively new, having been introduced in 2003–04, and no substantial evidence has been brought to our attention to suggest that a major review is appropriate. The consultation document, however, proposes minor technical changes to the distribution of the new dedicated schools grant to reflect the fact that more up-to-date data measuring deprivation and sparsity are available than was the case for the distribution of the schools formula spending shares.
Before my hon. Friend concludes, will he say a word about the concern that I expressed about the direct funding of schools? That is attractive for schools that serve deprived areas, but it would enfeeble good local education authorities such as Leicestershire, which has a long track record of success in this field.
As I said earlier, it is important that LEAs play a strategic role in working with schools on assessment and school improvements, and that is very much at the forefront of their remit.
We will make final decisions on the new funding arrangements over the summer in the light of responses to the consultation, and we want to ensure that they are implemented successfully. There are no plans for further change, although naturally the distribution formula will be kept under review.
The work force agreement and PPA—planning, preparation and assessment—have been mentioned by a number of hon. Members. That reform aims to free teachers to spend more time on their core responsibilities, which include not only classroom teaching but the key professional activities that support teaching, such as planning, preparation and assessment. We have always made it clear that work force reform would largely be funded by the better use of existing resources. Schools can implement the national agreement only by moving towards new ways of working. The more radical schools' grasp of the remodelling agenda, the better the outcomes for teachers and pupils and the lower the costs involved. Schools that abandon unnecessary tasks and redeploy support staff to ensure that the use of their time and expertise is maximised will get the best from the existing information and communications technology infrastructure, reduce reliance on expensive supply teachers, and find the reforms achievable.
The national remodelling team is working closely with LEAs and other partners to help schools implement changes in support of the agreement. It is working with a network of LEA remodelling advisers who are available to school leaders and can give them help and advice on remodelling the school work force and managing change. The response to training offered by Leicestershire local education authority has been positive. Our understanding is that all schools in Leicestershire have attended the financial management in schools training. As the House knows, we have set the minimum funding guarantee for primary and nursery schools in 2005–06 at 5 per cent. per pupil—1 per cent. higher than for secondary and special schools—in recognition of the need to meet additional cost pressures in implementing reform from September.
The Government are confident that the local government settlement is sufficient to enable all schools to implement the national agreement on work force reform in full. Signatories to the agreement have endorsed that view. The funding that local authorities receive on a per pupil basis reflects their relative need compared with other local authorities, and any changes that we make in the future will continue to reflect that.
As the Minister is about to conclude, I would greatly appreciate his observations on the funding of PPA. Schools that are hard-pressed for various social and financial reasons may be unable to find the necessary funding to undertake PPA in the ways anticipated by the designers of the scheme, so teachers will lose that contact time, and the replacement may well be learning support assistants or others. Parents will not be happy if that occurs in a great number of schools.
Different schools will face different challenges, but we have increased the funding for primary schools above that for secondary and special schools, and we are providing a great deal of advice through remodelling advisers, the LEAs and so on. I am confident that by working together, with the additional resource that has been allocated to primary schools and better use of existing resource, our goals can be achieved.
In setting the guarantee increases in 2004–05 and 2005–06 we are allowing for additional costs on which authorities and schools are already spending. That is because we are aiming for stability, rather than changing the pattern of spend. Our priority remains stability and certainty in school funding.
The Conservatives' spending plans entail cuts in education, an apparent determination to take money away from state schools to fund elite and independent schools, and £1 billion of cuts in funding for local education authorities, although they have not yet been able to demonstrate where that will come from. That is in stark contrast to our record, with a part-time nursery place guaranteed for every three and four-year-old, the best ever primary school results, continually improving results in our secondary schools, significant improvements in results at key stage 3 last year and good A-level results again.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I do believe it. It is not claptrap—it is fact. That is the difference between the Conservative policy of cutting funding from schools, and our policy of giving more funding to schools, bringing about improvements in schools and ensuring better results than ever.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes to Ten o'clock.