Education (Student Support) Regulations 2001
Education Standards Fund (England) Regulations 2001
Financing of Maintained Schools (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2001

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Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East, I have only a couple of questions. Paragraphs 4(a) and (b) of schedule 1 to the education standards fund regulations relate to

    ``Particular groupings or descriptions of schools or further education colleges''.

Paragraph 4(a) refers to

    ``Support for particular descriptions or groupings of schools''.

What limits are involved? Is it a wide area? Are those groupings defined? What descriptions might be involved?

Paragraph 4(b) refers to

    ``Support for summer schools for gifted and talented pupils.''

I have looked through the regulations to find out whether they contain a definition of summer school. We know what we mean by summer school, but I wonder whether it is enshrined somewhere in the regulations and I have missed it. Is provision made only for summer schools for gifted and talented pupils? Would other summer schools be eligible for support? Are summer schools the only place where gifted and talented pupils are given support?

The list in paragraph 5(b) relates to various support that is ineligible. Presumably support for those aspects comes elsewhere. Paragraph 5(b)(vi) refers to the early retirement of head teachers. Is a scheme in place to encourage head teachers to retire early?

I have a couple of questions about student support. On eligibility, under regulation 4(2)(f), a student is ineligible if

    ``he has, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, shown himself by his conduct to be unfitted to receive support.''

What sort of conduct might be involved?

To carry on from the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East reached on spouse's contribution, I am genuinely confused. The matter revolves around the definition of

    ``living with a person as their husband or wife''.

The subsequent paragraph refers to when the

    ``marriage terminates or if the student ceases living with a person as their husband or wife''.

Does a time limit apply? How are things arranged? As we all know, at such a time, relationships may not be long-lasting. Is anything enshrined in the regulations to make the rules clearer for students who apply?

5.29 pm

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): I am pleased to serve again under your chairmanship, Mr. Amess. It is the second time that I have done so on a Committee dealing with education. I am happy to add my best wishes to Southend for its tourism. Ministers have spent the past few months discussing tourism in rural areas, but people should visit coastal areas, too.

I thank the hon. Member for Daventry for his courtesy in allowing us to debate these regulations today. I acknowledge that we were at fault on this occasion and am most grateful for his co-operation and for showing his usual courtesy.

We will split the responses according to the regulations that we are discussing, if that is acceptable to the Committee. I shall deal with the first two papers and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary with the third. I shall address the general question of the standards fund and the special grant before answering some specific questions. We must remember that, although the amount that we are discussing is large, it is a small fraction of the sum that is given to schools. In most cases, it is additional to an increased amount of money that has gone through SSAs into schools this year.

Mr. Boswell: I undertake not to intervene consistently. Can the Minister give us the figure as a proportion of the total spend through schools?

Ms Morris: No, but I suspect that I might be able to do so before long.

I suppose that a fundamental difference of opinion exists between the two parties—and there are only two parties represented here today, one might note. I saw Liberal Democrat Members on television say that they would make education the key issue of their general election campaign. That did not last very long, but what is new?

The key issue is the role of central Government in terms of the school improvement agenda. If we pursued Tory proposals for free schools, much of the money included in the standards grant expenditure today would not be available to central Government. It is crucial that most money in the schools funding system is spent by schools on the priorities that they think appropriate. That is key, and there is general agreement on that. One problem with the school system that we inherited was the difference in performance between schools. Most schools are good and improving, and I recognise that fact in all the constituencies represented here today. However, if we were honest, most hon. Members would admit that some schools within their constituencies or local education authorities could be better but are not improving at the proper rate.

If we have aspirations for our nation to be one that has good and improving schools, we must do something about the schools that are not doing well enough. If one considers the evidence for educational performance, one sees that schools that are bad or not improving, left to themselves, may simply sit at the bottom of the performance tables. Levers must be put into the system to put pressure on, or to support, those schools. The schedules that attend the standards fund are the levers for school improvement: the funding of excellence in cities, education action zones, the literacy and numeracy strategy and of the key stage 3 strategy are all national priorities for the Government. They have been created to help all schools to improve—because they can all do better than they are doing at the moment—but especially to help the schools that are not improving at the proper rate and those that serve particular areas of challenge and need that extra support.

Our vision is of a school system built on school self-improvement, and that is what our funding aims for. A large amount of the fund goes through the school improvement grant in schedule 1, which is devolved directly to schools so that they can spend it as they wish, but is supplemented by a national programme of school improvement. That allows a Government to have some national priorities. Whether hon. Members agree with our policy or not, the Government were elected to reduce class sizes in key stage 1. We made an early pledge that, by 2002, we would have respecified literacy and numeracy targets. Without the money through the standards fund, we could not fund those school improvement agendas. We will be judged in four weeks time partly on whether we have met those pledges—and we have so, or are on the road to doing so.

It is wholly unacceptable for a Government to aspire for the nation's schools without funding the initiatives, as happened under the Tories. We have made a song and a dance about literacy and numeracy and will keep on doing so, but we have also matched it with money. The standards fund is the Government's priority for their school system, but it is matched by money. I feel entirely comfortable about saying to schools, ``Yes, we have demanded a lot of you. That is our job. But all the initiatives that we put out to you have been matched by money.''

The Tories would describe the matters set out under the schedule as burdens on schools, but we would describe them as levers for school improvement. Funding will help schools to achieve improvement. We are beginning to see the improvements under each of the schedule 1 grants in the standards fund. The fund means extra money on top of the increased budget that schools have had already for targeted outcomes, and we regard it as our responsibility to raise standards in education.

Mr. Boswell: Does the Minister not have to concede that, even if it is her claim that extra money has been created through the standards fund, the total amount of public funding per pupil has decreased under the present Government, compared with funding under their Conservative predecessor? Perhaps we did not dress the funding up, but we supplied it.

Ms Morris: Of course, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is the biggest untruth that I have heard in many years. Under this Government, funding has increased by £540 per pupil. In the last three years of the previous Government, it fell by £60 per pupil. If he does not believe me, I should like him to visit schools and ask them about this year's budget compared with those of previous years. Schools may complain about the pressure, but throughout the country they are saying that the extra money is coming through. It is not one-off funding that will be followed by cuts. Sustained expenditure on schools is the Government's priority, and is built on a strong, stable economy. No doubt we shall hear many arguments about that over the next four weeks, but it is certainly a matter on which the Government's record is highly defensible. More money has been given to schools and it has been used to raise standards.

I know from my ministerial postbag that the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East takes a keen interest in education. On behalf of his constituents, he sends me some of the most thoughtful letters that I ever receive. I do not wish to sound patronising; I am making a genuine comment. I have often talked to other people about the hon. Gentleman's letters. He referred to the figure of 0 per cent. for Southend, but that was in connection with the music fund grant alone.

I shall explain a little about that. We have simplified the standards fund this year, so that everything is funded at either 100 per cent. or 53 per cent. There were a myriad percentage grants. We have used the initiative of 100 per cent. or a composite of 53 per cent.—except for the music fund grant, which has a history. In 1997, there was a mismatch between authorities that had and authorities that had not already spent money on music services. We wanted to revitalise our schools music services, but we had difficulty because some authorities said, ``Hang on, this is not fair. We funded music services during the dark days of the Tories when it was cut. Why should we not receive the extra money to fund our music services?''

During the first two years, we built up a complicated system of not rewarding failure—the local authorities that had not sustained a music service through the Tory years. We wanted to make sure that those who had not sustained such a service started one. The differential funding in schedule 2 is funding for music services alone. It reflects historic funding and makes sure that no local authority has to contribute above a given amount. If 0 per cent. funding is in place, it is because there has been no request for music services to be introduced.

As for the other grants, I assure the hon. Gentleman that Southend receives a £7.8 million standards fund grant and Essex receives a £59.9 million standards fund grant. Southend receives £2 million of special grant and Essex receives £15 million. He is right: Southend receives nothing on the music front, but that is because of the historic origins. Southend certainly has a lot of money on other fronts, however.

The debate has been interesting, and it is important to talk about rewarding successful schools and not penalising success. We are right to think that we cannot turn our back on schools that have failed and say, ``It's your fault. Blow the kids who go there because we're not going to help you.'' We are talking about the next generation. We have addressed the matter through a host of initiatives such as excellence in cities and education action zones. However, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East is absolutely right that there must be an incentive to improve even further.

I will mention some of the initiatives that are funded through the standards fund, out of which I suspect schools in the hon. Gentleman's constituency are funded, especially beacon and training schools. Indeed, there is an education action zone in his area. There are three sources of funding from the standards fund, all of which go to our most successful schools. Those schools are funded to improve them further, as part of a reward for their success but, most importantly, to spread good practice among other schools.

Southend has beacon schools, and if the hon. Gentleman goes into one—I have no doubt that he has done so—he will see that they have received funding for specified objectives. The decision of Governments must always be about where to spread the extra money. I do not greatly disagree with the hon. Gentleman's point. It would be wrong to build into the system disincentives to improve. Our job is to ensure that the money provided by the standards fund, which is 10 per cent. of total school expenditure, is matched to specified targets. That is what we have tried to achieve.

I would like to clarify a few points about the funds. Paragraph 4 of schedule 1 refers to money for groups of schools. That could be similar to the money that goes to the excellence in cities initiative, which pays for partnerships. The money could go to specialist and beacon schools, and to further education institutions because they are partners of the excellence challenge, which is part of excellence in cities. We did not want children aged between 16 and 18 to be excluded from excellence in cities because they attended a further education institution and not a school.

On class size, it is clear that for some local authorities, implementing the key stage 1 class size initiative has expenditure implications for key stage 2. We have already paid out some money and it seems to have been welcomed by local authorities. There has been a measure of agreement over that initiative.

In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge about resources for the standards fund, all match funding comes from local authorities and none from schools. I am not aware of any school that has had to pay money back because it has not achieved its objectives.

Paragraph 3(b)(x) of schedule 1 refers to literacy and numeracy summer schools. It states:

    ``Additional literacy and numeracy classes for pupils in maintained schools who will complete key stage 2 in the summer of 2001.''

We now have schools for literacy and numeracy, and for the gifted and talented. Work for gifted and talented children goes on elsewhere; it is about a lever up. Too many schools were not accepting their obligation to provide specific help for our most able children. One way of changing that was to build on and mirror the success of the numeracy and literacy summer schools, and introduce summer schools for gifted and talented children.

The standards fund is hugely simplified this year. Most of it is devolved according to numbers. There are only five grants, most of which are split up. Schools have until the end of the academic year to spend the money. The paperwork for returning the information is much simplified. As Ministers travel around, one of the many things that makes them popular is the simplification of the standards fund this year.

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