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Column 162memorandum about the reduction in the number of teachers and the need for a further £90 million, or has she adopted another view? I suspect that she will say that it does not matter now and that the memorandum was merely a mistake, because at the north of England education conference she offered the extraordinary view that class numbers were not relevant to performance and results. The Minister of State nods. I hope that he will try to convince the independent schools, the city technology colleges and the grant-maintained schools of that point, as those that I know best use as their great pitch to get extra pupils and persuade parents to spend money the fact that they can offer smaller class sizes than the state system. Is the Minister of State really telling us that a group of 15 pupils preparing for university entrance will do no better than a group of 30 or 35? At the other end of the spectrum, is he saying to schools in my constituency--where many children are learning English as a second language, and where there are many statemented children who need special attention, whether with general learning, numeracy or literacy--that pupils will make the same progress in a class of 35 as they would in a class of 20? If the Minister believes that, he is not fit to hold the office that he currently holds. Every educationist in the country knows that class sizes are crucial to performance. The Secretary of State chooses to say the opposite simply because she is imposing increased class sizes this year. The Secretary of State is also doing something else. She said in her memorandum that to pick out teachers for special treatment, when everyone from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry upward--or downward, depending on how one looks at it--says that people's wages should be determined by their efforts, at a time when teachers are beginning to co -operate in many of the reforms and proposals that she and her predecessors have introduced, is a wilful misunderstanding of the situation. She is now "provoking" teachers--her own word in the memorandum--when, above all else, schools need a little quiet, a little sensible progress and a little understanding. According to her own words, by picking out teachers she is anticipating and causing undoubted chaos.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not even consider taking my word for it; she must take the word of those running our schools--the governors. I was a Member of Parliament when, two or three Secretaries of State for Education ago--they come and go so quickly and with so little distinction that it is impossible to be sure how many ago it was--a new system of local management was introduced. I am strongly in favour of local management and I like the idea of governors being appointed not because of their political persuasion but because they have an objective interest in the welfare of our schools. They are committed to the schools' progress.
Governors were appointed to bring their objective views to bear on the schools' future. What do they say? They say that the Government are risking chaos and risking the reduction in class sizes. It is not the biased and prejudiced Liberal and Labour education authorities saying that, but the school governors who were appointed to be objective according to the Government's own proposals.
Column 163What did the Department for Education say this morning when it was asked what it would do if the governors rebelled? It said that the government of schools would have to go back to the politically biased education authorities of which we have heard so much criticism in the past five years.
The Secretary of State is going to preside over chaos in our schools. She is going to increase class sizes and do away with the good will that has been created with some difficulty with the teachers' unions. She will also do one other thing that I regard as especially unforgivable: she will squeeze education budgets in such a way that the schools that need most get least and the schools that need least get most.
The Secretary of State spoke of surpluses, but her memorandum to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster contained no such talk; nor was there any talk of bureaucratic waste or how to solve the problem without extra money. She speaks today about surpluses, but she knows--or needs to be reminded--that grant-maintained schools, partly because of the corrupt way in which they have been financed, have surpluses in their accounts which are on average 60 per cent. higher than those of state-maintained schools. Once more, grant-maintained schools will come out of this financially better than the generality of schools. That is the corruption of a divided education system. One of the reasons why we confirm--and I certainly confirm--that we shall continue our fight against that divided education system is that when the squeeze comes, it is always the schools that need most which get the least. That is what the right hon. Lady is prophesying and what she is making certain today.
Dame Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden): I share my colleagues' pleasure in participating in this debate, but I must say at the outset how disagreeable it is that we should be witnessing such blatant politicking by the Opposition, which serves no purpose other than to worry and upset teachers and parents to the detriment of the education provided for our children. Politicking at the expense of our children is the worst form of politicking.
It was interesting to hear the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) mention the £90 million which may or may not have to be produced to subvent an extra payment for teachers. In debates such as this, when we are talking about a specific subject, it is always easy to forget that every bit of expenditure has to be viewed in the context of the Government's entire expenditure. We can say that every sum of money for any particular service is most important, but the debate must take place in the context of the total amount of money available for public expenditure. I shall say a little more about that later.
Like most people--certainly like most hon. Members--I believe that education is a very high priority. I was proud to be part of the very reforms which I believe have been the basis on which the Conservative party has been able noticeably to improve the education of our children, from the earliest age through to the increasing numbers going into higher and further education, which has been a great achievement. I remind Opposition Members that the national curriculum, testing, and local management of schools did not exist before 1979. They came into being as a result of the hard work and endeavour of the Conservative party in Government. They were forced
Column 164through--I was part of the process that introduced every one of those reforms--despite much resistance from Opposition Members. Despite that, it has been interesting to see and hear Opposition Members change and claim that those reforms were their idea in the first place.
I am an unashamedly strong supporter of the Government's current economic policies. It is essential that we support and sustain the current efforts to ensure that the economy is on a sound footing. Part of that policy must be restraint, reduction and
maintenance--within a straitjacket--of public expenditure, which has to be set against the whole business of encouraging growth and wealth production. If we are to survive in a competitive world, which will become increasingly competitive, we should be concerned about the battle against inflation and the battle against punitive public expenditure for many years to come. Any party in responsible Government will have to consider that.
No one knows better than I the cost of teachers to local authorities. Having lived through 10 years of local government, I know perfectly well precisely how much the cost of a 1 per cent. increase in teachers' pay means to a local authority budget. I do not speak in ignorance: I realise that teachers' pay is a very high expenditure item. Few people would disagree that teachers are a very high priority and should be a high priority in local government expenditure. I have always thought it more important to protect teacher numbers than to protect some of the other items on which my local authority, from time to time, has placed priority. Indeed, I argued that case against all other expenditure to try to protect what I thought was most important. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been in precisely the same position and has done precisely as I have.
Local authorities have a special duty to address expenditure at every level and to protect sharp end services such as education and community care. It is all too easy for them to say that they will attack the sharp end services so that they can protect all the other services that they think are more important. I will cite the example of the borough in which my constituency lies--the London borough of Merton--and explain why I think that this debate is being orchestrated nationally simply to upset and to scare parents and governors in the hope that they will make unwise decisions from which the Opposition parties may make political capital.
Merton council has been Labour controlled for the past five years. When Labour came to power, it was in receipt of quite considerable reserves. Like every new administration, however, it had its particular priorities and desires to make changes and to introduce new ideas. Also, of course, central administration was increased quite dramatically. As the central administration expanded, so did the amount of money that the local authority needed to finance it on a revenue basis. Then, of course, came changes, new priorities and battles in different services; some people were made redundant, which is an expensive exercise, as anyone in local government who has ever tried to make people redundant will understand.
In the London borough of Merton over the past five years we have experienced an inability to look carefully at capital and revenue expenditure and to plan for more than one year at a time which has resulted in stop-go policies and financing that would happen nationally were such a disaster as a Labour Government ever to occur. The recently Labour- controlled council of the London
Column 165borough of Merton, which has turned an authority with substantial balances into one with a current £12 million deficit, is a clear example of precisely what can happen through bad management, lack of planning and a total misunderstanding of the way in which revenue capital must be managed.
Faced with proposals for a tough standard spending assessment settlement this year, the borough has produced the usual knee-jerk reaction: it says that it will cut each school's budget by 7.5 per cent. and that youth services and music provision will have to be cut by 50 per cent. Youth provision has been carefully managed in my local authority. Being an inner and an outer borough, we experience some of the same problems as inner London boroughs. Youth services are therefore one of the more important provisions. To reduce provision by 50 per cent. and then to rant and rave at the Conservative party about law and order seems to be facing both ways at the same time with remarkable efficiency. I am not surprised that there was a near riot of young people and youth workers outside the town hall last night over the outrageous and disgraceful way in which they believed that the budget had been managed.
All that is despite the 2.4 per cent. increase in the provisional standard spending assessment for education in the coming year, which represents-- proportionately--a larger share of the national funding for education. Even with rising teachers' pay, it must be possible in the context of overall expenditure to reduce the number of so-called indicator projects, security commissions, equality officers and so forth, to name but a few pet projects that my Labour-controlled council has implemented, and thus to address the serious problem of how to retain essential services such as education and, most importantly, to avoid making any of its teachers redundant or cutting youth services.
I doubt whether the London borough of Merton is all that different from many Liberal Democrat and Labour-controlled councils across the country. It saddens me to say this, but the distressing truth is that councils are conducting a cynical exercise in exploitation of the Government's financial policies at the expense of their own ability to manage cost-effectively and in the interests of their absurd, absolutely ridiculous, love affair with gesture politics.
Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I declare an interest and remind the House that I am an adviser to two teacher unions. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) advised members of the Cabinet to talk to each other. He was wasting his breath, because on the few occasions when Cabinet members talk to each other, they do not seem to take any notice of what is said. Indeed, no notice was taken by her Cabinet colleagues of the pleading by the Secretary of State for more cash for education. One would have thought that she would have been bitterly disappointed by that rejection, but if she was, she certainly did not show it today. She painted an amazingly rosy picture of the education service, yet she must know of the deep concerns of all of those who work for, and are involved in, the education service; people who--frankly--deserve far more praise
Column 166for their work than they receive. Many of them are wondering why they have had to go through so much to achieve so little. I shall take just one example--class size, which has been referred to several times. As a result of the Government's figures, we now know that the number of primary pupils in classes of more than 30 has risen by 19 per cent. in the past two years--more than a million primary school pupils are now in classes of more than 30 and, in England alone, almost 100,000 children are in classes of more than 36 pupils. A similar picture of increased class sizes is emerging for secondary schools.
The Government used to believe that class size mattered. It is interesting to reflect that the 1983 Conservative manifesto boasted:
"The average number of children per teacher is the lowest ever". Even later, the Conservatives still thought that class size mattered. The 1987 Conservative manifesto boasted:
"There are more teachers in proportion to pupils than ever before".
Only now, when the situation is worsening, have they changed their tune.
The Minister of State told the House:
"there is no proven causal connection between class size and educational output."--[ Official Report , 13 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 767.]
The Minister is nodding to confirm that that is what he said. The hon. Gentleman should know that Sir John Cassels, a distinguished member of the National Commission on Education, certainly did not agree with him when he spoke on the radio only last night. I am sure that by now he must be aware of the hundreds of thousands of parents, teachers, governors and pupils who fundamentally disagree with him, and who believe that class size matters.
I wish that the Minister would listen to the views of just one parent, whose opinion was quoted in a survey carried out by Exeter university last year. She said succinctly:
"Any half-wit should realise that increasing class size is detrimental to a child's education".
Yet, sadly, class sizes are on the rise, and the quality of education provision is set to fall because of the Government's funding policies.
Last week, I published an analysis of the Government's figures for the money that they expect local education authorities to spend on each pupil-- figures that, unlike the Government's attempts to mask the cuts, take into account both inflation and the rising number of pupils. Those figures are startling. After the difficult years that education has already faced, the Government's local government financial settlement this year means that, on average, LEAs in England are being expected to cope with £50 less in real terms for each primary pupil and a staggering £194 less in real terms for each secondary pupil. Realistically, that means a cut of £10,000 in the budget of a 200-pupil primary school and a staggering cut of £126,000 in the budget of a 650-pupil secondary school.
During Prime Minister's questions earlier today the Prime Minister accused my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) of having his facts wrong. I should like the Minister of State to tell me now whether
Column 167those facts, as I believe them to be, are correct or incorrect. The Minister is not rising to speak, so clearly he is confirming that the Government are imposing real cuts.
The hon. Gentleman will also know that in some parts of the country the position is far worse. In Northumberland, for example, some of which is covered by the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick- upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), the cut is £72 per primary pupil and £223 per secondary pupil.
The right hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Dame A. Rumbold) mentioned her concern about what is happening in Merton. I hope that she is as worried as I am about what the Government cut will mean for Merton--a cut of £48 per primary pupil. The right hon. Lady is shaking her head, but that figure is based on the Government's own statistics, updated allowing for inflation. It represents the standard spending assessment per pupil, as supplied by the Government. For Merton it means a cut of £48 per primary pupil and £216 per secondary pupil.
Dame Angela Rumbold: Those are fine figures, but may I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is about £2.5 million of reserves in the balances for education spending alone? I hope that he will take on board the fact that when the council comes to make a budget, as I trust that it will, there will still be money there both for it to budget properly to maintain its teachers and for the necessary spending on children.
Mr. Foster: I am certain that everybody who lives in Merton will have noticed what the right hon. Lady has said. She described cuts of £48 per primary pupil and £216 per secondary pupil as "fine figures". I hope that that will be published far and wide in her constituency. Far worse cuts are being made in other parts of the country. Because of the inadequacies of the area cost adjustments, in all the south- western counties we shall start from a base of £130 less per pupil even before the cuts that I have mentioned are imposed. Ministers and other Conservative Members have, of course, already started accusing Opposition Members of crying wolf. It is true that in the past it has been possible for some local education authorities to take money from other service areas and deprive those areas so as to prevent major cuts in the education service, but many of those possibilities have dried up, now that we have had year after year of cuts in the other sectors. Even within many LEAs, the opportunities to take away central support money have now disappeared.
We now see the ludicrous process of Ofsted inspectors travelling round schools identifying problems, and then finding that there is no one left at LEA advisory level to provide the schools with any help in trying to put right what is wrong. Rising pupil numbers are not the only problem. There will be--indeed, there have already been--cuts in the money available for books and equipment in many schools, and there is a shortage of money for repairs and maintenance. There is now a staggering backlog of £4.3 billion worth of repairs and maintenance of school buildings.
What is the point of the Minister promoting much-improved policies for special educational needs work when the money will not be available to carry that work out? Certainly there will be no money available for any of the much-needed expansion in nursery education.
Column 168Despite all that, the Minister of State still claims, as he did on 19 December, that
"The plea from LEAs that they do not have much money will not wash".--[ Official Report , 19 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 1514.] He is talking complete hogwash.
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): What on earth is the Minister saying to authorities such as Northumberland, which last year was allowed an extra £12 million in its standard spending assessment but was told that it could not spend more than £2 million because of the capping limits?
Mr. Foster: My right hon. Friend makes a telling point, revealing not only the absurdity of the local government financial settlement but the lack of understanding of local education authorities that Conservative Members display.
If the Minister and his colleagues take no notice of what I say, or of what the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) says, I hope that they will at least start to listen to the views expressed by Conservative supporters throughout the country, especially those working as school governors. They know that education has been cut to the bone, and that the Government are now forcing cuts into the bone. Governors are being asked to do more and more, yet are given less and less with which to do it.
Things will get worse unless the Government fully fund the teachers' pay award. Nothing short of full funding immediately will do. The Liberal Democrats are committed to restoring the cuts and to funding the teachers' pay increase in its entirety. We are also committed to further boosting the funding for education, and we have an honest answer to the question of how we shall pay for it. We have made it clear that if there is no other way, we would increase income tax by 1p in the pound. I hope that the hon. Member for Brightside, or whoever winds up for the Labour party, will give an equally clear explanation of where Labour would find the money.
Mr. Jacques Arnold: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way in which money could be released for the sharp end of education would be to cut back the central bureaucracy of an education authority, especially if more than half the secondary schools in the area were grant maintained? The Liberal Democrats in Kent have signally failed to do that.
Mr. Foster: I explained the problems which many local education authorities were having because their central services have been pared to the bone. They are not able to deliver the level of support which many schools are now demanding.
It is crucial that we all understand that, in this increasingly global market, we boost investment in the education service. Despite the weasel words of the Prime Minister and the Government, the Conservative party still prefers to cut education provision in the classroom primarily--as we all know--to save money which is to be stored for possible tax bribes before the next election. The Conservatives are putting their party before the needs of the country.
Column 169except to say that I had thought that we might hear the odd word about the Liberal Democrats' education policy in relation to grant-maintained schools and the other initiatives which the Government have brought forward. I heard nothing, however, and I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman still believes what he said at the end of 1993, when he pointed out that there was virtually no difference between the Liberal Democrat party's attitude towards education and that of the Labour party.
Everyone who has spoken in the debate today realises that this year's education settlement is a tight one. It is not fully appreciated that many LEAs--Lancashire being but one--have made a tight settlement for themselves even tighter for their schools. Lancashire, for instance, has had a 1.1 per cent. SSA increase. That has been translated into a 5.5 per cent. decrease in the delegated budget which the Labour-controlled authority has given to the schools under its control.
The only possible conclusion to be drawn from that is that Lancashire and other authorities--mainly controlled by the Liberal Democrats or the Labour party--have given less priority to education this year than has been given in previous years. They may well have had a case if they had increased the delegated budget by the same amount in cash terms as the Government had given them, but they have not done that. Instead, they have cut the budget in real terms. Instead of demonstrating against Government cuts, the governors and head teachers in Oxfordshire be demonstrating against the cuts imposed by their own county council, and if they wish to set an illegal budget, they consider carefully the consequences of doing so. Where do they think the money for that illegal budget will come from? Are they proposing to increase the public sector borrowing requirement nationally to cope with illegal budgets? Are they proposing a tax increase, or are they proposing that cuts should hit some other part of the community, such as health or community care? Those in Oxfordshire and other parts of the country should pay more attention to the cuts which are being imposed because of overheads at county hall.
In that context, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett- Bowman) made a good point in saying that, for every 17 teachers in the county of Lancashire--I suspect the figures are not too different in other counties--there is one bureaucrat. That is where cuts should be imposed.
Across the country, a huge number of surplus places need to be taken out. Many county councils have been bad at being proactive. They have failed to anticipate the numbers coming forward for primary education, and failed to anticipate that there would be a decline in the numbers going into secondary education.
Column 170places, where there is a deficit. There is a shortage of primary places, yet the council is always trying to close primary places.
It is important to ensure that a council takes up the surplus places as soon as possible, otherwise it will not have the money to fund extra primary places. Later in the cycle, the council might have to take out a few primary school places, if the numbers are going down, to fund the extra secondary places that may come along. A lot of LEAs--particularly Lancashire--are bad at that.
If schools feel that, as a result of being under local authority control, they are not getting the full amount of money from the budget that the local authority has been given by the Government, they should seriously consider whether they wish to remain under local authority control. That is the only logical conclusion. If the delegated budgets are cut by more than the amount of money given by the Government, it makes sense for many schools to consider carefully whether they would be better off applying for grant-maintained status.
When grant-maintained schools are created, some of the first people who take up that option for the education of their children are Opposition Members and Labour chairmen of local authorities and of education committees. They all seem to know where the best schools are and they send their children to them, despite the fact that they happen to be grant- maintained schools. That is what is happening in the Labour party. While there are certainly a few Labour Members who do not agree with that view, the fact is that the party's members are voting with their feet and sending their children to the schools that they think will be best for their children. That choice has been provided by this Conservative Government.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will explain--not necessarily this evening, but perhaps in the form of a letter--how the figures on the area cost adjustment are arrived at. I am certain that there were good reasons why this was necessary in the past, but I submit that there is now much less of an imbalance in terms of wage costs and other matters between the north and the south. I strongly recommend that my hon. Friend looks closely at the way in which the area cost adjustment applies, particularly in places such as Lancashire, and also further south in places such as
I believe sincerely that our education system needs to change, and that it is changing from being essentially a resource and input-led system to a results-led system. It is changing from--in the terms of the Labour party-- a grand experiment in social engineering, which is what it was during the 1960s and 1970s, to a system which prepares children properly for life in the world that exists today and that will exist tomorrow. That is why I am sure that the Government's education policy is succeeding, while the policy suggested by the Opposition--although we have yet to hear anything about it --would undoubtedly fail.
Column 1715.18 pm
Ms Jean Corston (Bristol, East): As local education authorities throughout England prepare their budgets, the true size of the cuts in money likely to be available for primary and secondary pupils has been revealed by the Government, via parliamentary questions. West country LEAs have been particularly badly hit, starting as they do from a lower point than other LEAs due to the unfairness of the area cost adjustment. But if one compares the changes in real terms in the budgets for next year with this year through the SSA per pupil, there will be a real cash cut in Avon of £56 for each primary school pupil, and a staggering £184 for each secondary school pupil. Somerset will lose £46 and £176 respectively, and the corresponding figures for Gloucestershire are £41 and £183. On average, in just one year local education authorities are expected to cope with a real-terms cut of 2.5 per cent. or £50 per primary pupil and a draconian 6.9 per cent. or £194 per secondary pupil. Those cuts are in addition to cuts in previous years.
It is even worse in the west country, where the SSA per pupil is £130 below the English average at primary level and £134 at secondary level. Contrast that with the statement made by the Minister of State on 19 December 1994, when he said:
"the plea from LEAs that they do not have enough money will not wash".-- [ Official Report , 19 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 1514.] How out of touch can one get?
Last month, the Secretary of State told the North of England conference:
"You will still need to find ways of making the money go further".
What does that mean for class sizes, special educational needs, school repairs, and governors' and teachers' morale?
Since January 1992, the number of primary school pupils in classes of more than 30 has increased by 19 per cent. In January 1994, the figure rose to more than 1 million for the first time in many years. In Avon, there has been a staggering increase in the number of primary school children in large classes: between 1992 and 1994, there was a 32 per cent. increase, representing 6,486 more children in classes of more than 30 pupils. The increase in Somerset was 8 per cent.; in Gloucestershire it was 25 per cent.; and in Wiltshire it was an almost unbelievable 45 per cent. I am not surprised that no Conservative Members representing constituencies in Gloucestershire and Wiltshire are in the Chamber today. [Interruption.] May I say to the Minister of State that I am here to speak for the west country on behalf of the Opposition.
What is the Government's response? In 1983, the Conservative party manifesto said:
"The average number of children per teacher is the lowest ever", and in 1987, its manifesto boasted:
"There are more teachers in proportion to pupils than ever before".
It presumably made those statements in the belief that the lower the pupil- teacher ratio, the better. People had a right to expect further improvement. Between 1970-71 and 1980-81, pupil-teacher ratios in primary schools improved from 27:1 to 22:3 and in secondary schools from 17:8 to
Column 17216:4. But following the unprecedented rises to which I referred, the Minister of State said in the House on 13 December 1994: "There is no proven causal connection between class size and educational output".--[ Official Report , 13 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 767.]
He must know that he is wrong.
In 1994, Professor Neville Bennett of Exeter university undertook a survey of the views of head teachers, chairs of governors, teachers and parents. He found not only a clear consensus that increasing class size adversely affects teaching and learning, but that 90 per cent. of parents with children in classes of more than 30 showed deep satisfaction.
A teacher-governor in my constituency summed up the position admirably when he wrote to me this week saying:
"I am unable to give as much attention to each individual's needs as I should, because there are so many others requiring it as well". What does "making the money go further" mean for school buildings and repairs? The chair of governors of Hanham high school in Avon wrote to me saying that the Department for Education had turned down its application for replacement of what he described as "decrepit, depressing and antiquated" buildings. In my constituency, Bannerman Road school--a two-storey primary school built in 1877--is in desperate need of replacement.
On special educational needs, in two primary schools in my constituency the proportions of children with special educational needs are 50 per cent. and 54 per cent. Teachers try to motivate little children who are identified as having "low self-esteem". The chair of governors of Little Hayes nursery school in Bristol recently wrote to me saying:
"I would like to state, on behalf of the Governors of the above-named school, how increasingly worried governing bodies are becoming because of the gradual reduction in worth of monies that Governing bodies are receiving.
As Chair of a school without a delegated budget I am acutely aware of the reduction in services due to the lack of money that Councils are receiving. Services that should have been held centrally for the school to use are no longer there having either been cut completely or having been privatised and are no longer accessible to schools without a delegated budget.
As a country Britain has claimed that Education was for all for over a century, but it now appears that every parent needs to subsidise their local authority, to some extent, to keep their children's schools working."
The Secretary of State says that the money must go further. What planet is she on? If she has £184 less to spend on her household shopping next year, how will she make the money go further? She will have to cut something out. In Avon, the main policy criterion has been to protect the schools' budget, to the detriment of services as diverse as discretionary awards, peripatetic music tuition and new nursery class provision, leading to further protest.
The head teacher of Redcliffe nursery school in my constituency wrote to me saying:
"It concerns me greatly that once again Nursery Schools, their children and staff are being discriminated against both at a local and national level. The DFE has made no GEST allocation for nursery schools. This also raises the question of equal opportunities for staff working in Nursery Schools."
She called for an investigation into the DFE's continuing discrimination against nursery schools and asked how that fits with the Government's proposed policy of nursery education for all four-year-olds.
Column 173LEAs are powerless to resist that inexorable onslaught. I regret that counties throughout England are facing a dilemma that has been all too familiar in Avon, where restrictions have been placed on spending by capping criteria every year since 1990-91. It is not good enough for Conservative Members to point the finger at LEAs. They should look to their Front Bench, for that is where the blame lies. If they really want more money for our schools, they should join us in the Lobby tonight to condemn the detrimental impact of the 1995-96 settlement on standards and opportunities for our children and young people.