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9 Dec 2002 : Column 29—continued

Mr. Clarke: It may seem uncharacteristic, but I welcome the welcome given by the hon. Gentleman. I do not think he was churlish; I think he asked fair questions, and in that general spirit I will do my best to answer them.

I cannot give details of the PFI proportion, but the overwhelming majority of schools' capital will continue to come directly from the usual sources. I will write to the hon. Gentleman giving him the exact proportion for each year. The 250,000 child-care places are Xreal places", in the hon. Gentleman's words; they are not manufactured in any way. There will be a genuine increase in the number of places in pre-school education. The #1.2 billion is extra money allocated through the learning and skills councils, which, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, will fund both sixth forms and further education colleges over the period. I hope that co-ordination will be possible. So the extra money will be provided for post-16 education, as indicated. As I have said, 14-to-16 education will be funded through the schools budget for key stage 4.

The hon. Gentleman is right: neither I nor anyone else can predict the outcomes of the review body's decisions. I can only say that, like other Ministers, we are trying to secure long-term agreements over two or three years, which we hope will help schools to plan effectively.

I cannot confirm the existence of the alleged #400 million deficit. As for council tax—I make a political point here—elected local authorities must decide what tax rates to set, and must make balanced judgments on services and on the taxes that they levy. Everyone will want to know what the various authorities decide, but I hope that they will make a proper commitment to funding services. It is not true that, as the hon. Gentleman implied, all the increases will be financed by extra council tax. They will be financed by mainline spending.

We are currently allocating #540 million to pensions directly. We are not asking others to provide the money.

The hon. Gentleman made a serious point about special educational needs. We decided, as a matter of principle and in the spirit of giving more money to local authorities, to allocate the 2004–05 SEN resources by means of the local authority grant settlement. That is because we believe that our mainstream approach is right. As the hon. Gentleman said, however, some people will have worries. Some authorities will take their responsibilities more seriously than others. We will monitor local authority decisions very closely, and report to the House in due course.

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It is certainly our belief that dealing with special educational needs should be part of the mainstream function of any local education authority, and that it should take it up properly and carry it through. That is why we have made the funding change but issues could arise, as the hon. Gentleman suggests.

The funding for specialist schools is within the #1.5 billion for the standards fund that I have just announced but we have not put a figure on it because it is a demand-led programme, for the reasons that I indicated earlier. On the #50,000 entry fee, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, as I said in the House the other day, we are setting up a special fund to allow the #50,000 to be reduced in cases where a school demonstrates that it tried to build the relevant partnerships but simply did not have the cash. We will publish guidelines on that shortly.

The activity-led formula is an old chestnut and I am sure that we will keep going over it in the next few years in an entertaining fashion.

Jim Knight (South Dorset): I very much welcome the great increases—the further increases—in education funding announced by the Secretary of State, but I am concerned about their distribution, particularly given the announcement last week. Sure start is welcomed in my constituency, where there is a detailed measure of rural deprivation—Dorset is 34th out of 34 shire counties—but that rigour is not applied in the new formula that was announced. I ask the Secretary of State to agree to meet a delegation from Dorset to discuss the effects of the settlement on our schools, which appear to be destined to continue to battle against an unfair funding formula.

Mr. Clarke: I am delighted that my hon. Friend, who I think I am right in saying—he will correct me if am wrong—is the first ever Labour Member of Parliament for Dorset, is arguing much more powerfully for his county than some of his Conservative colleagues in other parts of the county. The spirit of the Tolpuddle martyrs lives on and I commend him for that. I will be delighted to meet a delegation to discuss those questions. In all seriousness, we put in a floor on funding per student precisely for the reasons that he raises, and indeed for the reasons that I would raise as a Member of Parliament for another shire county, Norfolk. Whatever the issues of equity, it is important that there should be basic guaranteed minimum funding, and that was guaranteed last Thursday. I am happy to meet a delegation to discuss those issues in more detail.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton): The Secretary of State's spending plans are of course welcome, but can he give an assurance that additional spending will be accompanied by major changes in the teaching methods and ethos of many of our state schools, which in aggregate are resulting in the United Kingdom education system coming 20th out of 40 in international league tables; a quarter of 11-year-olds not being able to read properly; a quarter of 15-year-olds saying that their lessons are blighted by noise and disorder; and half of 15-year-olds saying that they are bored by their lessons?

Mr. Clarke: I would not entirely accept what the hon. Gentleman says because, if we look at some of the

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international studies, British education does well, but I agree that change is necessary in a number of the areas that he has identified; that is precisely what I have been saying today. We need to move forward in order to generalise some of the changes that we have been developing—for example, advanced skills teachers. Therefore, we need change, but not in response to the pessimistic position that the hon. Gentleman is inaccurately describing.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): Have not ring-fenced grants been used well by the Department for Education and Skills to iron out some of the injustices that inevitably arise from the Local Government Finance Act 1987? Perhaps we should hold on to them until we get the new legislation to see how fair it is, and so that that avenue can be used to improve matters in counties such as Derbyshire, where grants are still deficient.

Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend that those ring-fenced grants have been used well in a number of cases, for example, the primary literacy and numeracy strategy, and I could cite others. The impulse that the standards fund gave helped schools not only in his constituency but more widely to make profound changes. However, I also believe—it is policy right across Government—that we should try to devolve more decisions to local government.

My hon. Friend will know from his own county council and from others that local authorities have not been able to engage with our programme as fully as they would like. That is why we have tried to make changes gradually over the period of the spending review. We have retained some central grants funds, for the reason that my hon. Friend rightly cited, and we have tried to ensure that others are mainstreamed by being passed to the local government settlements, so that the policies and achievements to which he rightly refers can be made part of general practice. I would be happy to discuss with him further any of the specific matters about which he is concerned, but I do not think that there is a contradiction in saying that we have done well in many respects, but that now we should try to generalise that good practice across the whole system.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): Can the Secretary of State confirm that the excellence in the cities scheme will be extended to the London borough of Hillingdon to help us sort out our crisis in teacher recruitment and retention?

Mr. Clarke: I cannot confirm that, but I can confirm that Hillingdon, like other London boroughs, has the admirable and tremendous services of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), and of Mr. Tim Brighouse, in trying to transform the entire approach of education throughout London through the London challenge approach. I acknowledge the implication of the hon. Gentleman's remarks—that improvements in education in Hillingdon are needed—but the performance in Hillingdon is not as poor as in some other areas of London, in which we have prioritised the issues taken

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forward. However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be happy to discuss with him precisely what measures he thinks would help to improve the situation in Hillingdon.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in three primary schools in my constituency, 95 per cent. of the intake of children at reception level do not speak a word of English—in fact, some of them have never even heard English? I therefore welcome the expansion of the sure start programme, to which he refers. That will doubtless help a great deal; it is very popular—in fact, I think that it is wonderful. Combined with universal nursery provision for three-year-olds, that will certainly help to decrease the number of children entering school without any English. I should also mention that parents bear some responsibility in terms of using English in the home, so that we can avoid the trauma of little children going to school without a word of English.

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