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Pupil Funding

Volume 456: debated on Thursday 8 February 2007

2. What the average funding per school pupil will be in (a) Leicestershire and (b) England in 2007-08; and if he will make a statement. (119646)

The school funding settlement for 2006 to 2008, announced in December 2005, gives Leicestershire a guaranteed unit of funding per pupil through the dedicated schools grant of £3,429 for 2007-08, which is a real-terms increase of a third since 1997. The England average is £3,888, which is a real-terms increase under the Government of just below 40 per cent.

Yet again, Leicestershire comes bottom for funding in shire education authorities. The education of a child in Leicester city, just a few yards across the Braunstone lane from my constituency, is apparently worth £542 more than that of a child in my constituency in Braunstone town—if my maths is right, and I believe that it is. I took a delegation to see the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) when he was Education Secretary to complain about that. He said that that must never happen again, but it has. When will the Government produce a much more level playing field? What do they have against Leicestershire pupils?

Naturally, we have nothing against Leicestershire, Somerset or even Dorset people. We ensure that funding is allocated on the basis of need, but we give deprivation priority. I note that the hon. Gentleman is interested in taking money away from Leicester to give it to others in Leicestershire. That is the logic of his comments. I presume that he would want similar redistribution in Birmingham and other areas around the country. We are examining the matter carefully. I note his interest and his points, but we need to reflect deprivation in funding settlements to give every child the best possible start.

I declare an interest as a governor of Ibstock community college and of Ashby school. Of course, those schools and others would like a better deal from school funding. However, did not Gareth Williams, the director of children and young people’s services at the Conservative-controlled county council, explode the myth about Leicestershire’s position when he said that it was funded somewhere near the average and that educational achievement and funding at the margin are not especially linked?

Will my hon. Friend the Minister accept an invitation to Ashby school, where I used to chair the governing body, to examine the quality of education that is available in our county from the money that we receive?

My hon. Friend makes some important points and I agree with him. I shall examine my diary sympathetically and discuss ways in which I can respond positively to his warm invitation.

Staffordshire does not do as badly as the county that my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) represents, but it is still 132nd in funding out of 149 local education authorities. Does the Minister understand the frustration of people in Staffordshire and other counties when there is no clarity about the way in which the scale is calculated? It is especially frustrating because Labour candidates in Staffordshire in 1997 promised equal funding throughout England, apart from Greater London, for all pupils. That promise has clearly been broken.

The hon. Gentleman should know that we promised to increase radically and improve the amount of funding available to our schools. We have fulfilled that promise for the people of Staffordshire. The increase in real terms under the Government for schools in Staffordshire is 39.1 per cent. It is 88th out of 148 in respect of the increase in education funding. I am sure that he welcomes that.

Will my hon. Friend confirm the major real-terms increase in funding for the Liverpool education authority? Is he satisfied that the funding is being used to tackle under-achievement, including among Somali and Yemeni children?

I certainly can confirm that increase. The statistic involved is a 43.6 per cent. real-terms increase for the young people of Liverpool. We are looking closely at the local education authority’s performance in delivering for all the young people, including those from the ethnic groups that my hon. Friend mentioned. Indeed, I had a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families, and others, last week, at which we had a detailed discussion on some of the improvements that Liverpool is making. We want to work closely, through the Government office, to support it in dealing with all children in Liverpool.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) has raised an important point. There is a huge differential between the allocation of resources to schools in towns and cities and schools in shire counties. Does the Minister agree that, if deprivation is to be recognised, it should be recognised through a different form of funding rather than through education funding? Surely it is only right that every child in this country, whether at primary or secondary level, should receive the same sum. Deprivation can be reflected through other funding. The Cheshire schools funding forum has recently met, and it is deeply concerned about what appears to be the discrimination against the children in the county of Cheshire, which does have areas of high deprivation.

I am well aware of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) has spoken to me at some length on behalf of his constituents about the levels of deprivation in his area. Cheshire has had a 38.7 per cent. real-terms increase in school funding over the past 10 years. As I look at the next funding round, I want to ensure that the money that we rightly allocate in respect of deprivation and disadvantage—which are important determinants of education outcomes—finds its way to the schools that need it within the authorities. In that way, those schools in the more deprived areas of Cheshire that really need the funding will receive it.