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School Funding (Hendon)

Volume 403: debated on Monday 10 March 2003

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If he will make a statement about the funding of schools in Hendon in 2003–04. [108240]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Stephen Twigg)

According to our latest information, the London borough of Barnet has increased its schools budget by 11 per cent. or £17 million. However, it has increased its individual schools budget—that is, the funding that the education authority passes to schools for them to spend as they consider fit—by only 7.8 per cent. or £10.5 million.

I remind my hon. Friend that he required Barnet to passport £14.5 million—double what we received in grant. After a 24 per cent. tax increase and £11 million of cuts, the council is still £1 million light. However, the standards fund changes are the real culprit.

Our schools are £5.6 million short of what they need simply to stand still. Copthall school, a high-performing comprehensive that my hon. Friend recently visited, is losing four teachers and cannot afford the new books for the changed GCSE syllabus. More than half the infant and primary schools are receiving an increase of less than 3.2 per cent. net. Parkfield school is receiving a zero increase; Mathilda Marks Kennedy school is actually losing 1 per cent. in cash terms. There is no prospect—

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively. I pay tribute to his efforts to draw attention to the situation of Barnet schools. We recognize the difficulties that some face. In my original answer, I highlighted the fact that there is a considerable gap between the healthy 11 per cent. increase in the overall schools budget and the amount that is getting through to schools, and we believe that Barnet should deal with that. My hon. Friend has drawn to our attention the enormous variations in the figures for different schools. We encourage the local authority to examine its formula and find ways to support some of the schools that are doing the least well.

The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) rightly blames the Government in connection with the changes to the standards fund, but he did not mention the increased burden of employers' national insurance costs and teachers' pension contributions. This morning, a Barnet head told me:

"It's breaking my heart. We've got a good school here, but we are struggling to find a penny. We are looking at at least three redundancies."
What does the Minister have to say to frustrated heads, teachers and parents who are paying massive tax increases but see their schools being cut to the bone?

It is absurd of the hon. Gentleman to speak of schools being cut to the bone. Changes have been made to the local government funding formula and the standards fund. We have been able to assist several authorities that fell below the 3.2 per cent. threshold, but, unfortunately, Barnet did not fall into that category. However, at an earlier stage, when we agreed to implement the outcome of the School Teachers Review Body process, we acknowledged that the healthy increase in teachers' pay in London, especially in inner London, but in outer London as well, was one that we wanted to support. That is why Barnet received £579,000 from the London budget support grant to enable it to pay the extra money to teachers in those schools. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that that has assisted the schools, but we need to do more, which is why I shall continue to work with the borough and with colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), to ensure the best deal for Barnet schools in future.