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Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): My Leicestershire neighbour is being incredibly loyal by coming to speak in this debate when he is to speak later about education funding in Leicestershire, but does the hon. Gentleman not think that he is being over-loyal with regard to the new funding formula? According to Leicestershire county council and the teachers with whom I have spoken, the proposed new funding formula will make matters worse in Leicestershire, which, as he is well aware, is the worst-funded education authority in the country.

Mr. Reed: Having worked at county hall and on the funding formula in the past, I would like to see the evidence for that assertion. I am sure that the Minister will tell us later how the new formula will work. Generally, however, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that we in Leicestershire have seen a funding increase of more than £800 per pupil per year. I worked at Leicestershire county council and was a governor from 1992 to 1997, and I remember a real-terms decrease in spending in Leicestershire—we saw cuts, cuts and cuts. I acknowledge that although we have made some advances, the formula does not mean that we have done as well as we would like to. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I can do some cross-party work to ensure that the technical problem is resolved. He will know that the funding formula that the Conservatives propose to keep is not dissimilar to those in the Bill and the consultation document—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Although I am sure that the whole House is looking forward with keen anticipation to the debate on the Adjournment, we really must not hold it now.

Mr. Reed: That is a real shame, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to
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expose the Tories' intentions regarding the education funding formula and their cuts. The idea that pupil passports would generate improvements to schools in Leicestershire, such as the one that my son attends, is a fallacy that needs exposing. Although the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) and I have achieved cross-party agreement on the need to improve the funding formula, I assure him that we do not agree about the Tories' record on funding in Leicestershire or on their proposals to cut funding from schools such as my son's.

I raise this issue because the Bill provides a golden opportunity that must not be missed. As it makes progress, the funding formula will be discussed. Although it is welcome that one of the clauses makes an improvement, with three-year funding, I hope that we can also examine the way in which the formula works—the weighting given to core funding per pupil relative to the area cost adjustment and the deprivation and sparsity elements. We need improvements to the formula if we are to build on the massive improvements that have been made in education in Leicestershire since 1997. I urge Ministers to pay heed to the representations made by the F40 group and other heads with whom I am working to put together a Loughborough schools response to the proposals.

I urge my the Minister for School Standards to go a little further in respect of school inspections—to make them lighter and easier, but more informative to parents—and to examine more closely what we can do about the funding formula. However, I also draw his attention to a piece of research conducted by the London School of Economics that concluded last year. It showed that what goes on in education funding, and whether a child is from a middle-class or a working-class family, matter less than the extent to which a child's parents are actively involved with that child's education. That is the single most important factor in a child's educational attainment. We can do everything we can to improve what happens in schools, but unless parents are genuinely involved in their children's education, we will not be able to achieve much.

I am therefore disappointed by a specific measure in the Bill to get rid of the annual meeting of parents and governors. I can understand the reason for the measure—parents do not turn up. My school has run such meetings and the ratio of governors to parents has been about 5:1—

Dr. Pugh: Good ratio.

Mr. Reed: It did not feel like it on the evening, given all the work that had gone into the meetings. That sort of thing is a sad reflection of the problems facing schools. I urge the Minister to consider how we can rebuild the relationship between parents and schools. It does not have to entail lots of paperwork. We just generally need to involve parents in their children's education.

7.28 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold) (Con): I am pleased to catch your eye during the latter stages of the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I assure the House that I shall be brief—

Mr. Robathan: Hear, hear.
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Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am pleased that my hon. Friend is so happy to hear that.

The Bill is a big Christmas-tree measure comprising 128 clauses and 19 schedules. Having read the explanatory notes, I am pleased to know that it is not likely to reach the statute book. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have spoken in some detail about the problems of bureaucracy, targets and paperwork in today's education system. Anyone who has visited local schools and talked to head teachers can be in no doubt about the amount of paperwork with which they have to deal and the time they have to spend on it—time that they do not spend in the classroom where they ought to be.

There are one or two good parts of the Bill—there need to be, because many elements of today's education system are unacceptable. There are many good schools in the Cotswolds—I am sure that there are many throughout the country—but the system as a whole is failing this nation. One million children still play truant every year, and 35,000 children leave school with 1 GCSE or less. We still have a shocking situation in which three out of 11 children leave school without adequate arithmetic or reading skills, which has led to 10 per cent. of our work force or 2.6 million people lacking the skills that they need to do their job, as was recently revealed by a survey of 76,000 employers.

That is a poor situation for one of the most advanced modern economies in the world. One would expect the Bill to rectify those problems, particularly the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, but I am afraid that it does exactly the reverse. I shall quote verbatim paragraph 231 of the explanatory notes on clause 114, because if it represents the sort of gobbledygook that we are going to get from the Department for Education and Skills, heaven help our education system. It is headed "Supply of information about school workforce", and I shall test the Minister afterwards to see if he understands it:

Can the Minister, without notes from his officials, explain exactly what that means in his winding-up speech?

Clive Efford rose—

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Ah, we are going to get an explanation.

Clive Efford: Would the hon. Gentleman list the items of information that he would not publish?

Mr. Clifton-Brown: The Minister will doubtless supply that information—it is not for me to do so. I did not write the Bill or the notes on clauses, but the Minister will surely give a more than adequate explanation of what it all means.
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I welcome one or two things in the Bill, particularly the protection for small rural schools. There are a number of such schools in my constituency and they are vulnerable. Although they may have only one or two teachers and have difficulty in teaching the full curriculum, the dedication of the staff is welcomed by the pupils. As has been said by Members on both sides of the House, they offer a good service to the village, and help to keep it together.

I also welcome the measures on special schools. It is a pity that it has taken the Government eight years to realise that such schools should only be closed in exceptional circumstances. I used to represent Tewkesbury, which is now the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and includes the excellent Alderman Knight school. Even though that school offers excellent education and steps have been taken to keep it open, it is going to close.

The real mischief that the Bill will cause only becomes apparent in paragraph 261 on page 45 of the explanatory notes. I am concerned that the Bill will weaken the school inspection regime—the mechanism that provides independent measurement of one school's performance against another. Paragraph 261 states:

No one would worry too much about that, but the paragraph goes on:

Either Ofsted has been grossly inefficient—that is not my perception—or a cut of that magnitude will decimate the school inspection regime. I should therefore be grateful for an explanation from the Minister. I should also like an explanation about the provisions on excluded pupils. I have referred to the 1 million children who are excluded every year. Paragraph 241 of the explanatory notes says that

That is self-evident. However, if the Minister would do me the courtesy of listening, the paragraph goes on to say:

It would be helpful to know why that is the case. The Minister is scowling, so doubtless he will provide an explanation.

My main concern, however, is about funding for maintained schools and for further and higher education, on which there are a number of provisions in the Bill. Like the area represented by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), Gloucestershire is well within the bottom sector of the F40 group, because it has always been a low-spending authority. It is grossly unfair that one child should receive different funding from another child receiving the same education in broadly similar circumstances in a different part of the country. Whatever the nature of the Government in power, it is about time that we devised a fairer system for funding our children's education. I have long suggested that a basic amount should be allocated to every single
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primary and secondary child in the country. Thereafter, extra would be given for the normal criteria such as deprivation and so on. The formula would be transparent. That is not the case at the moment, and it is almost impossible for a parent or child to work out why their school has been given a particular amount of funding. It is surely possible to make the funding of schools more transparent.

As for further and higher education, it is wrong that they should be funded differently from secondary education, as such institutions offer exactly the same A-levels or AS-levels. It is wrong, for example that Cirencester college, an excellent further education college in my constituency, should receive less funding per pupil than a school in the maintained sector. I trust that we will hear something about that in the Chancellor's Budget on Wednesday, but I certainly hope that the Bill will do something to address that difference in funding.

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