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School Sixth Forms

Volume 492: debated on Wednesday 6 May 2009

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mark. Tami.)

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) has told the Chair that he is not willing to take interventions because he will make a very brief speech.

On a point of order, Mr. Hancock. Can you give us guidance on how we are supposed to conduct the debate when, as far as I can see, no Minister from the relevant Department is present to respond to my hon. Friend?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Hancock, I am not sure that there is even an official present who might be able to tell the Minister what to say, or even what we have said.

I do not quite understand that latter point, but I am sure that the Minister’s hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), will sit here in eager anticipation of his arrival.

I deplore the fact that the Minister is not present, which is a discourtesy to the House and the Chamber. I hope that the usual channels will report that back. I have sought advice from the Clerk and the debate may proceed. I am sure that the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside will do his best to take copious notes of what is said. I do not want to delay proceedings any longer because so many hon. Members want to make a point. I hope that the Minister will have a very good excuse when he arrives. He owes an apology to every hon. Member who has taken the time and trouble to turn up. It is the first time in nearly 10 years that I have chaired proceedings and the Minister has not been present. It is a craven insult to the House.

As I said, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead does not want to take interventions, so that as many hon. Members as possible can comment, and I shall do my best to help to achieve that.

I reiterate your comments, Mr. Hancock, about the insult to the House and those hon. Members who have turned up for this important debate. It is also an insult to my constituents and the children of this country, who have been so badly affected by the funding fiasco. It is a shame that the Minister was not here earlier to hear your comments.

The funding of sixth forms and further education colleges is very important for my constituents, as it is for people throughout the country. The fiasco of the past two and a half months—at least—has caused great anxiety in colleges, and among headmasters, pupils and parents. It has been described by headmasters as “incompetent and dishonest” and I am desperately concerned about the fact that, with the Learning and Skills Council in its dying throes, its chief executive still does not seem to understand the seriousness of the situation. The chief executive said in a recent interview for The Daily Telegraph that the Learning and Skills Council is a fascinating place to work. It may be interesting, but I wish, for the sake of the pupils, parents and headmasters in my constituency, that he was doing a bit more work, so that the current situation had not occurred. Frankly, he should be a little more contrite about how what has happened has affected pupils.

I want to give a brief resumé of what has happened in Hertfordshire. On 2 March schools in my constituency were told their final allocation of funding for 2009-10. That was the funding that they were to set their budgets by for the end of March, which they could take up to ensure that they had suitable building work done, suitable facilities, and suitable staff in employment, and so that they knew exactly where they were. I have seen the letters that went out from the LSC about that funding. By the last week in March there was a clear indication of a problem throughout the country, and particularly in Hertfordshire. By 27 March schools in Hertfordshire had their funding slashed. Thirteen schools had had their funding cut by up to £25,000; 33 schools had it cut by between £25,000 and £50,000; 24 schools had it cut by between £50,000 and £100,000; and five schools had it cut by more than £100,000. Those are huge figures, whether they are £25,000 or £100,000, when someone is trying to set funding for the following year, and achieve a legal budget—one that is not in deficit, because it is illegal for the governors of schools to set a deficit budget.

Many schools in my constituency, in good faith, gave instructions for building works. The refurbishment of a small classroom was one instance. One school took on two members of staff. The news was therefore something of a shock. We then saw the plethora of articles around the country claiming that everything would be okay, and telling us “We will try to sort this out.” Interestingly, different messages were coming from the LSC, which said it just did not have the funding. The Government eventually announced that they would fill the budget hole—the cut affecting 16 to 18-year-olds throughout the country, although I am making particular reference to the constituency of Hemel Hempstead. They said they would bring forward a further allocation of funds—some £210 million.

My question to the Minister is about the description of that as additional funding. Where did the funding from 2 March go? It was clearly there. If the LSC issued letters announcing that that was the funding for the year, how could the Government later say that it was additional and was filling a hole that was already there? Not one head teacher in my constituency has said that any money was made available additional to what they were promised on 2 March. The Government’s description of it as additional funding is disingenuous, suggesting that it is extra money, when it is not. It goes only part way towards the cut in sixth-form funding that had already been made. Interestingly enough, the shortfall is partly caused, it would seem, by the £65 million that was taken out of the further education budget and sent to the university student grant scheme. That might partly explain where some of the money comes from, but what has gone on has involved sheer incompetence.

We have heard in the past couple of days—I have raised the matter on the Floor of the House—that the money will be sorted out and will be coming. We are a month into this year’s budget. It is illegal not to have set the budget by 30 March. It is a legal requirement for the LSC that the funding should have been addressed by the end of March. Naturally enough, I phoned the schools in my constituency yesterday, knowing that the debate was to take place, and realising that it had been on the Order Paper for some days, to find out whether they had had the promise of the funding that they required. They were all promised that by the end of April—admittedly a month late—they would have their funding. To be fair, some of them have been given it, although it is not, I stress, extra funding. One has received the £25,000 that had been removed from its allocation, and another has been promised that it will have the money, although there is nothing in writing. Another school is concerned about funding of up to £90,000 and is still formally without any contact from the LSC or the Government about where the funding will come from. The headmaster yesterday said to me, “What am I going to do? It is not legal for me to be operating in this framework. I have a legal responsibility to my children, but I also have a legal responsibility under the Act, to make sure that I have the funds available for the pupils in my school.” Another headmaster said to me, “I will stop a capital project in another part of the school to fund this part of my school, because I will not allow a deficit budget. It would look terrible for my school.”

Through no fault of their own, wonderful schools in my constituency, which are doing excellent work for their pupils and the community, many of which have expanded and done well, with dramatically improving results, received letters saying formally that they contained the final allocation. What other word can one use for “final”, other than perhaps “terminal”, which might apply to the LSC and the Government?

I am serious about this: the schools have had the letters and they have moved forward. They set their budgets in good faith only to be told three weeks later that there had been a mistake, a miscalculation. Frankly, the Learning and Skills Council and the Government cannot seem to get the funding ready in time for 2009-10. Telling schools three weeks before the cut-off time how much they were getting and then, two days before legally required, informing them that the funding had been cut, shows a degree of incompetence that borders on the insane.

People want some destiny for their children. They want to know what is going on. They want to be able to pick the right school. For example, my daughter is doing the second year of her A-levels. She needed to know that she would have the facilities that were promised, that the school had set the curriculum and that the teachers would be available. We hear promise after promise from the Government—jam tomorrow—but the money is coming later. The schools still do not have a promise in writing that they will receive the funding that they deserve, and it is now a month after the legal requirement for the funding has passed.

I ask the Minister not to stand up like the Secretary of State did in the main Chamber and say, “You should have listened to the Budget.” I ask him please to listen to the heads and governors. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Please listen to what is going on in the country. It is shameful that the Minister was not here to listen to the start of the debate. It is an indication to parents and headmasters of how the Government are likely to treat them in future. What guarantee is there that that will not happen next year or the year after? If things do not change, parents have the right to ask, “Are the Government fit for purpose? Are they capable of producing the education that children need and desire?”

It is an indication of how much the question matters for the whole country—certainly those who care—that so many of my colleagues are sitting next to me and behind me. I did not lobby anyone to attend this debate. I simply asked Mr. Speaker, after he made his comments in the Chamber, whether he would be minded to grant an Adjournment debate. I thought long and hard as to whether it should be a half-hour debate. I now believe that an hour and a half is too short. The Minister should allow a debate in Government time on the fiasco of funding further education.

Thank you, Mr. Penning, for keeping to your word and being brief. I shall try to ensure that everyone who wishes to speak can do so.

I shall be brief, because so many of my colleagues wish to speak. As a fellow Hertfordshire MP, I echo everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), whom I congratulate on securing this debate. I am deeply disappointed that we have not had a statement on the subject.

I shall touch on three things to do with the Learning and Skills Council and what has been described as a funding fiasco—and accurately so. The first is post-16 funding. The schools in my area have been adversely affected, as badly as every other school in Hertfordshire. At one point, anguished teachers from a top-ranking school in St. Albans wrote to me, saying that the head and the entire senior staff would resign over the matter because they could not make a budget or balance the school’s books. As my hon. Friend suggested, they could be in a perilous position. They are angry. They are voters, as are the parents, and they will remember the Government’s treatment of them.

To say that the Government have no role in this is totally wrong. The Minister may remember his response to my inquiry as to why on earth we were in this state. His answer was that the shortfall was caused by more people taking up the post-16 education than had been budgeted for. When was that budget deficit recognised? The budget was set on 2 March; why did no one notice then that there were far more pupils than funding had been provided for? Has the Minister done anything to investigate why we are in this position? He recognises one of the reasons behind it.

I am another fellow Hertfordshire MP, and my constituency has had the same experience. One school in my area, St. Clement Danes, has suffered a reduction in the forecast of the number of pupils from more than 280 to 273, yet the school always has more than 280 sixth-formers. It does not wash to explain the sudden shortfall as an increase in the number of pupils, because the school is full, as always; there is no change in the number of sixth-formers.

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. Indeed, it increases the merit of the argument for wanting a full-scale debate. There are so many imponderables to which we have no answer that the Minister owes the entire country the justice of coming to the House and explaining why that is so.

I shall deal with two other matters, as so many of my hon. Friends wish to raise their own concerns. Oaklands is a further education college in my constituency. Hertfordshire has a policy of dealing in-house with special educational needs, and Oaklands is the only FE college that can offer extra education for such pupils who are severely disabled. In recognition of that, it decided on a massive expansion programme.

The project budget was £120 million. The school received help from St. Albans district council planning department, and it put together a comprehensive package. It did deals with developers to sell off part of its land in order to meet some of the costs, but a huge and vital part of the funding was the £40 million that was to be provided by the Learning and Skills Council. It seems that that is likely not to be received. What on earth is supposed to happen to those severely disabled pupils, and every other pupil that takes advantage of the excellence of Oaklands college, if the project does not go ahead? The college has been hung out to dry by the Government, who seem not to be interested in what the LSC is doing.

On a point of order, Mr. Hancock. Is it not the case that the debate should be confined to Learning and Skills Council funding for sixth forms? We seem to be wandering into the capital funding of further education, which is not the thrust of the debate. We are seeing a great deal of theatrical overstatement and bogus outrage.

I am grateful, as always, for the advice of another Chairman on such matters, but on this occasion there is no point of order. The debate is about the funding of sixth-form colleges. As yet, I have not heard too much variance from the title given in the Order Paper.

It is not theatrical overstatement; perhaps the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) should visit my constituency. Many of the youngsters wanting further education there look to Oaklands college. It is not inappropriate to speak of the college, as is handles 16-plus education.

The final matter that I wish to raise today is that the LSC, finding itself in this difficulty, this funding fiasco, has wasted £12.5 million on a lease in St. Albans that it can no longer afford. I rest my case. I ask the Minister to give us a statement, and a debate on the matter. My sixth-formers do not know whether their courses will be running in September. That is a disgrace.

In order to help hon. Members, I intend to call first those who gave notice to Mr. Speaker of their wish to speak. I shall then call the others.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on securing this important debate.

The first question that head teachers in my part of Buckinghamshire are asking is: how on earth have we got into this appalling and shocking mess? Was nobody at the Learning and Skills Council telling the Department what was going on? Was no one at the Department listening? Did nobody at the Department or the LSC bother to tell Ministers about the impending disaster? Perhaps Ministers were too busy worrying about other priorities and the Secretary of State’s future ambitions in order to take note of what was about to happen.

Frankly, it is appalling that the decay in the Government has reached such an extent that the prospects of a generation of rising sixth-formers, and the power of school governors and heads to set the budgets on which they and their pupils and staff can rely, are held as being of so little account by those who are supposed to be in charge of the national purse strings.

School governors and heads are also asking what the budget statement meant. Like those in the constituency of my hon. Friend, heads in my schools have heard the generalised statement but have seen no detail. They have had nothing in writing to indicate that the money that they were told on 30 March would be cut is to be restored to their school budgets. As my hon. Friend said, the e-mails from the LSC reached schools on 30 March, 28 days after they received what the LSC had described as the final funding allocation for each school. They arrived not just at the last minute before the turn of the financial year, but just prior to a major school holiday and after schools had submitted budgets to their governing bodies for approval. The proposed reduction in funding was timed to coincide with the mid-point of the 2009-10 academic year and the introduction of new A-levels and other new post-16 courses.

Offers of positions to staff and of places to students for September 2009 or earlier are legally binding, and whatever was in the e-mails on 30 March cannot override those legal obligations. A head teacher of one school in Aylesbury told me by letter that finding the £60,000 reduction that he was told to identify could be done only by reducing staffing. He continued:

“No changes in staffing can be made until September. To save £60,000 in half a year means that we have to lose enough staff to save well over £100,000 in a full year.”

That is the measure of the gravity of the crisis facing head teachers in every part of the country.

I chaired the governing body at Ashby school—an excellent sixth form—and remain a member. Would the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the key factor underpinning the LSC’s undoubtedly lamentable lapses is that the budget amendments relate to the seven months from 1 September, because of how the academic years lap around the budgetary years, and that in essence the budget from 1 April to 31 August is left in place untouched?

The hon. Gentleman is making a valiant fist at an indefensible case. However, he ignores the reality that if a school takes on a member of staff and has promised a place now from September next year, it must pay for it then. It cannot start to make budget adjustments from the beginning of the 2009-10 financial year to take account of the last-minute change announced by the LSC on 30 March.

This is happening at a time when the Government are urging schools and colleges not to cut, but to increase provision for a greater number of post-16 students and when the recession has reduced severely the opportunities for young people to go, at the age of 16, directly from school into employment. I do not think that the argument will wash that there was an unexpected surge in the number of people seeking sixth-form places. My schools are telling me that the LSC has always funded them on the basis of the number of sixth-formers in the previous September and that the cut is being imposed on the basis of that formula, not on account of some new upsurge identified only during the course of March this year.

I cannot exaggerate the sense of anger among head teachers in my schools. I do not know the politics of these men and women. The head of Aylesbury grammar school said:

“We are losing the equivalent of three members of staff, or our entire maintenance budget, for all departments across the school”.

The head of Misbourne upper school said:

“The reversal of funding levels has now destroyed coherent planning”,

which

“makes providing a stable and productive learning community almost impossible”.

The head of Sir Henry Floyd grammar school said:

“We will have to cut 11 A-level teaching groups…and reduce the number of teaching groups in the most popular subjects”.

The head of Aylesbury high school said:

“We are working on rumours at the moment as to whether or not we will receive the original sum that we were allocated—it is in no one’s interest to work in this way…The problem seems to be at the core of the LSC—the regional office does not know what is going on”.

The head of Princes Risborough upper school described the episode as a “complete farce”. He continued:

“To be given an interim budget with a reasonable assurance that the figures were robust and then to be told at the end of March just as we have to submit our new budgets that the amount will be cut drastically is ludicrous—how could any institution have a financially prudent plan?”

The head of Mandeville upper school, which is pushing hard for the take-up of BTECs and other non-A-level qualifications, said:

“The reduction in funding could mean a lost opportunity for those students who excel at BTEC qualifications rather than traditional A-levels”.

Finally, the head of John Colet school said that

“to reduce our salaries budget further, we are going to have some staff teaching outside their specialism”.

That is bad enough in a secondary school, but for it possibly to affect a sixth form is intolerable.

I hope that the Minister will pledge not just to ensure that the money will be made good, but that the schools will be told quickly and in detail how their individual budgets will be restored to the status quo ante. I also hope to hear him pledge that the Department will learn the lessons and that this sort of catastrophic failure of good administration and planning will never happen again. A strong case could be made for the Public Accounts Committee to investigate this business, because the Department has let down our schools very badly, whose interests it is supposed to defend.

It is a pleasure to participate in this important debate. I am grateful that the Minister is in his place. I understand that he might have missed the school bus this morning and perhaps even skipped registration, but let us hope that he has done his homework and that he can avoid detention by answering some of the questions put to him on this crucial issue.

I congratulate my hon. Friend—and good friend—the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on securing the debate. I underline his question: why was the subject not chosen for this week’s topical debate, instead of the Opposition being left to secure this debate? For the benefit of Hansard readers, I would like to note how many Labour Members are filling the vast Benches opposite. I count the Minister himself and one other: the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), who has not yet indicated that he wants to participate in the debate, although he did come out with a bizarre point of order that was wisely ruled out of order by you, Mr. Hancock.

Today’s debate is all about a funding gap in the money promised to schools by this Government via the LSC. They are now left with a shortfall of just less than £2.7 billion, which is the clear fault of the LSC. A succession of gaffes has finally led to the resignation of its chief executive. Those of us who participated in yesterday’s Report stage of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill will be fully aware that although the LSC is to be abolished, it will be replaced by not one but three other quangos, and the very characters now working for the LSC will be transferred to these new quangos. I envisage little improvement to the system responsible for so many problems. First came the fiasco over the college building programme. That was followed by the flagship Train to Gain programme, which is also in trouble, and then by the education maintenance allowances, which also went pear-shaped. However, what really takes the biscuit is the subject of today’s debate: the underestimation of the demand for sixth-form places.

Did the Government not anticipate the rise in places? First, there was the obligation for students to remain in education until the age of 18, although the Minister might say, “Actually, it is not just education; it is other things as well.” If he is honest, however, he will accept that level 3 apprenticeships are on the decline. Germany, France and other countries do not even have levels 1 and 2, because that is called normal education. Real apprenticeships kick in at level 3, but we do not have enough people going through them. It is no surprise, given the recession, that students are choosing to remain in the safety net of the educational environment, rather than wandering out into the unknown wilderness of the business world. The Government should have anticipated the increase in numbers, but they did not, which has led to today’s fiasco. What were the LSC’s tactics to deal with this crisis? It simply sent out letters, not to apologise, but to alter the values of funding to be given to schools—to the tune of about £200,000 per school.

My hon. Friends have cited schools in their areas and I shall do the same. The Minister will be familiar with some of the names because he is a fellow MP for the Dorset area. I refer to St. Peter’s school, the boys’ school and the grammar school, which he has visited. Those schools were told that they could offer places to students. St. Peter’s, for example, was told that it could offer places to 430 students in September. The boys’ school expects 350 students in September and the girls’ school 369. However, they do not have anywhere near enough money to cover the cost of those places. When I spoke to all the head teachers this morning, they said that their funding would not cover those numbers. They say that it will cover considerably fewer students, with the number matching the 2007-08 figure. It is a scandal that the Government have not recognised the increase and assisted pupils who have followed their advice and stayed in education until they are 18. St. Peter’s has a shortfall of £90,000, the boys’ school £52,000 and the girls’ school £79,000. Moreover, there is a shortfall in funded places of between 50 and 100.

Does my hon. Friend not agree that there is a double whammy here? Worthing college and Northbrook college in my constituency face a £1.5 million shortfall in the money that they were promised to cover the expansion of their college buildings, and they will not get that money for the foreseeable future. They are having to borrow the money, which is putting their finances in jeopardy. They are now faced with the additional shortfall in funding for the students to whom they have offered places. Therefore, this is not just a single problem, but a double whammy affecting the survival of many colleges.

My hon. Friend makes a very astute point. That is exactly the problem with the Government’s whole education strategy.

The problem with the funding is that it is retrospective. We look back at last year’s figures and say, “Okay, that’s how many student they have; we will offer a set amount.” However, the figures are based not on the number of pupils, but on a bid. Today, head teachers have to write a business plan to meet the numbers for next year. St. Peter’s, for example, has money for 350 students, but it has 430. There is a lag of a year until it can pay for the 80 or so additional students going through its doors.

The Government have taken a while to act. We have not heard a statement or any real comment; there have been hints and innuendo, and indications that the money might come through. In the Budget, £250 million was earmarked right now, with another £404 million promised for next year and another £1.2 billion supposedly for the next five years. None the less, those are only indications because nothing has been confirmed. Perhaps we will hear something today. Let us not forget that we were also promised a loan guarantee system to help small and medium-sized businesses, but that has not come through. We were even promised aircraft carriers, but they have not turned up either. Schools will not hold their breath for the funding—they will not do anything until they get the cheque through the post.

The sad thing is that the Government identified the shortfall more than five months ago. They recognised that the money would not be there for 5,000 students. It was the threat of legal action that made them realise that they had to address the problem. The Learning and Skills Council must be killed off and replaced with something more appropriate that recognises the importance of education.

We have had a decade of Labour promising, “Education, education, education”, but what has happened instead? It is true that the budget has been doubled, but has that been reflected in a twofold improvement in education? I do not think so. One in four primary school children fail to meet basic standards. As I mentioned earlier, level 3 apprenticeships are on the decline. Grade inflation came up in yesterday’s debate—that made the Minister rise to his feet. We have had the introduction of A* grades, employers refusing to recognise the worthiness of A-levels and GCSEs and setting their own exams—that is happening in universities as well—and now we have the fiasco of the LSC. I plead with the Minister for clarity, honesty and leadership to help us through the crisis. I ask for that not only for our benefit but for the benefit of our students.

It is a pleasure to serve under your benign chairmanship, Mr. Hancock. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on raising this important issue.

Let us talk about what this debate is not about. It is not about my hon. Friends asking for more money, or asking for more money in order to cut budgets elsewhere—the rather puerile student union dividing-line approach taken by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families last week, which was rather demeaning and symptomatic of the Government’s decline, as we watch them crumble in front of our eyes. If that were happening to a budgie, we would take it to a vet and have it put down.

The issue is about basic honesty, communication, administrative competence and transparency. Hon. Members rightly want to know why there was such a disconnect between what the LSC and the Department knew in January—if not before—and the schools’ expectations, and why there was such a time lag in getting the right information to schools. Moreover, they want to know why there was no honesty when the difference first came to light. Why was it necessary to include the figures in a footnote on page 13 of the Learning and Skills Council’s funding letter that arrived on 2 March 2009? It was almost as if those figures were hidden away in the hope that schools would not notice that they were several thousand pounds short in their budget for sixth-form education. Perhaps the Minister will consider that.

Last autumn, the Government told us that they were uniquely placed, well equipped and fully prepared to deal with the economic recession. Why then was there no robust, predictive model to ascertain the likely and accurate take-up of school sixth-form places? If it was the case, as Mr. Geoff Russell told The Guardian recently, that it was impossible to predict student numbers accurately, why was there not better communication and liaison between the Department, the LSC and individual schools?

As my hon. Friend rightly said, the situation has caused significant distress, unhappiness and worry for head teachers, senior staff, governors, pupils and parents. In my local education authority, 10 secondary schools have been affected, suffering a loss on paper of £397,000. We are already underperforming in terms of the skills agenda, particularly with respect to NVQ level 3, compared with other education authorities in the east of England and elsewhere. Moreover, jobs in our area have been significantly hit by the economic recession. We cannot afford to lose sixth-form places for young people. We have lost funding for 70 learners in 2009-10. That does not sound much, but we are a relatively small unitary authority. Such a loss will have an impact on participation rates and on the delivery of the September guarantee. Inevitably, it will lead to larger class sizes, and there will be less flexibility to offer more specialist provision for some of our sixth-form learners, which will lead to an increase in the number of young people not in education, employment or training. Such a problem is already a significant issue in Peterborough.

The Voyager school in Walton will lose £71,000—the equivalent of two full-time teaching posts—the King’s school in Peterborough will lose £66,000, the Jack Hunt school, a specialist language college, £52,000 and Ken Stimpson community school £36,900. Two of those schools already have problems with respect to school improvements, and losing staff and being unable to fund and plan properly will mean that the school establishment only adds to its difficulties. Indeed, it will have an impact on staff morale, which will feed through to results. There will also be an impact on Peterborough regional college, which has similar problems. Don Lawson, the principal, to whom I spoke three weeks ago, told me that the college has been impacted severely by the further education capital programme debacle, which has not been fully resolved to the college’s satisfaction. Frankly, that will jeopardise the very ambitious city regeneration plans for a university centre to complement the extra FE provision.

Finally, as John Richards, the director of children’s services in Peterborough, has said, schools do not operate their post-16 funding discretely from their statutory provision, which could have significant implications for their ability to deliver better outcomes overall.

The Minister has some pertinent questions to answer. How did we get into this mess, who was responsible, who will be accountable for it and, more importantly, how can we have equitable funding for our schools? We do not want promises or extra money, but cash, so that young people in Peterborough and throughout the country can achieve their ambitions.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) for introducing this debate and I echo his thanks to Mr. Speaker for making it possible. Clearly, this subject should have been debated for a full day on the Floor of the House, with a Minister saying at the beginning, presuming he had arrived, what is happening and what is going to happen, followed by proper winding-up speeches.

The catastrophe of schools and colleges that provide post-16 education having to cut staff must have been known about by Ministers and their advisers well in advance of the institutions and Parliament being notified. It comes on top of the current problems associated with the Government’s supervision of the LSC and the capital funding for colleges. In Worthing, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has already pointed out, virtually every young person goes to Worthing and/or Northbrook college at age 16. One of the colleges uses huts that were rescued from Southampton docks at the end of the great war from 1918 to 1920, which should have been retired; the other was built for 600 pupils but now has more than 1,500, half of whose lessons take place in huts.

We can leave aside capital spending, which is not the main theme of the debate. The colleges are being squeezed for £1.5 million cash. The Government require the LSC to pay the money as a legal commitment, but it has not been received, and the LSCs had to go to the banks for money. The unpaid governors of colleges have major legal responsibilities, but they also have to deal with the question of how many staff they may have for post-16s. Will the Minister make it plain that the LSC has paid or will pay within days the money for those fees and ensure that the other costs on the capital schemes are capitalised so that they are not pushed into deficit? Capital sums can come in a week or so. I hope the Minister answers those two precise questions today.

Will the Minister ask his advisers to send to each hon. Member present and all hon. Members for affected parts of the United Kingdom a copy of the document, marking the footnote on page 13, which is the relevant piece of information? Is the information in the footnote the least important piece of information—perhaps it is simply a detail—or was someone, in a clever-clever way, trying to keep the catastrophe away from publicity?

Let us ask questions in terms not of “education, education, education”, but of “statistics, statistics, statistics.” I will even answer some of them for the Minister. How long has he and the DCSF known how many 16-year-olds there would be in September? The answer is 16 years—births are registered, so the number of 16-year-olds cannot be a big surprise. Did he or his predecessors, and will his successors, know participation trends? Yes, they did and they will. Do they watch the cash? No. Who is going to lose? Late applicants will lose—the people who thought they were going into work or who thought they were not going to be in employment, education or training, who decided that they wanted to apply for a post-16 course. Who will the colleges and schools turn down? They will reject those who apply late, so the person who needs the place most is the most likely to be turned away.

I do not want to repeat what my hon. Friends have said—the Minister will be able to read a report of what was said in the first two minutes of the debate in the Official Report, and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman), will be able to read a report of what was said in the first 20 minutes of the debate—but there is not a single Labour Back Bencher in the Chamber, yet half the colleges affected have Labour Members of Parliament. Either there has been a Whip’s operation, or Labour Members—I am not saying that they do not care—do not dare speak up. Perhaps the Whips had a meeting and told them, “This is what you ought to say if you go to the debate.”

When the Minister speaks, I hope he focuses on answering these questions: where is the cash and who will be excluded? I hope that he understands that our colleges are finding that they have to have eight fewer members of staff and perhaps to double-up, and that he explains the situation and does not pass the responsibility on to somebody else.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on securing this important debate, some six weeks after it first became obvious that the funding promised to our sixth forms in our schools was to be severely cut. I should like briefly to point out, if I may, that it is something of a disgrace that those six weeks passed without the Government volunteering any statement whatever, even if there have been answers to parliamentary questions and an apologetic passage in the Budget saying that they are trying to remedy a situation that should never have arisen in the first place.

I was first alerted to the situation when I received a copy of a letter that was sent to the Minister by Langley Park school for boys, which is in my constituency. The school is expecting a huge increase in the size of its sixth form—Bromley schools offer a very good education, so it was no surprise to any of them that their sixth forms should increase when children are faced with a lack of opportunity that has largely been brought about by the Government’s economic incompetence.

The schools are facing 7 per cent. cuts in their budgets and they are having to say to children who need sixth-form education, “You are not welcome.” My LEA has worked well and has been prepared to dig deep into its reserves even if it should not have had to do so. It told me that it was going to try to accommodate the children, and that was followed by the Budget, which sounded as though the £650 million was extra, new money, rather than money that was being cut. We saw through that fairly quickly.

Although my head of education is somewhat reassured that the money will be available for the first year, so we will be able to educate our children up to the level that they want, need and deserve, there are serious concerns about education the year after. The biggest outrage of the lot, as many of my colleagues have mentioned, is that although the Labour party’s mantra is “education, education, education”, no Labour Members are interested enough in education to be here.

My local schools are determined to educate the children of Bromley and get them into university, but the 7 per cent. overall cut is extremely hard for them to deal with in what is a tight economic settlement anyway. Langley Park school for boys, the school that wrote to the Minister and first alerted me to the situation, pointed out that it had expected to be able to provide education for every person who applied.

In one sense, I rejoice in the fact that the Learning and Skills Council is disappearing; on the other hand, I am heavy-hearted that it is being replaced by yet more bureaucracy rather than a return to the status quo ante, which was that the Department took responsibility for sixth-form funding. That was one of the biggest mistakes that this Government have made, but as usual, they wish to deny responsibility for their decisions, pass it on to quangos and hold their hands up.

Schools cannot impress on the LSC the need for the money. The departing LSC members are probably suffering from something that we all suffer from: end-of-termitis. They know that they are going and they have no responsibility, so they do not care. This Government have set up a system that has let down children of all abilities, in order to keep theoretically within a budget that is clearly so expandable that within days during the Budget proceedings, they found the £650 million that would have been cut from senior school funding. It is yet another example of how the Government are falling apart as we watch. Every single person in this country is affected by sheer incompetence right across Government and the loss of the will to govern. We as a society will have to deal with the consequences of the incompetence emerging daily not just from the Department but from the whole of Government.

Before I call the next speaker, we have about eight minutes and only two speakers left. I hope that they will recognise the importance of giving the Minister sufficient time to answer the many points made, as I am sure he is eager to do. We should make sure that he gets enough time.

I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I am so incensed by the complacency and indifference shown by the Government that I have been moved to speak. It is extraordinary. I have never been in a Westminster Hall debate where the Minister has arrived five minutes late, the officials 10 minutes late and the Parliamentary Private Secretary 21 minutes late. It shows complete and utter contempt for a subject that is important to Members of all parties, and no Government Member has bothered to turn out.

I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley). We share the serious problems faced by Worthing and Northbrook colleges, our two major colleges with a sixth form. It is a double whammy. About a month ago, we took a delegation from those two colleges to see the Minister with responsibility for further education, the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon). The situation that they are facing is desperate. They put up £1.5 million that they can ill afford, and that money has now been put in limbo, as has the future of their necessary rebuilding programme, for the reasons that my hon. Friend mentioned.

The colleges do not just want to upgrade for the sake of upgrading. We are trying to deliver education for students in the 21st century in huts, in an area of high need. The colleges have tried to do everything that the Government have asked of them to improve the training and skills of the local work force, and they have been kicked in the guts by the way in which the Government have handled the situation. The finances of those colleges are already stretched because the Government, through the incompetence of the Learning and Skills Council, have reneged on the capital spend anticipated by the colleges.

I have a letter from the head of the Coastal West Sussex partnership that says:

“Investment in skills is a key plank of economic policy in our region, and supported through the South East Plan, by SEEDA through its education-led regeneration policies, and by all the local authorities along the coastal strip. There is a strong consensus that investment in skills is a critical action for addressing the economic issues of the coast”.

It is important in our part of the world. It is not an affluent area. We have had serious unemployment problems recently due to job cuts by big employers. Norwich Union announced the loss of more than 600 jobs, and GlaxoSmithKline and BOC Edwards have also announced job losses. One serious problem that local employers face is an insufficiency of local skills. If they can take on more skilled people, they can take on less skilled people on the back of that.

Peter Corrigan, the principal of Worthing college, e-mailed my hon. Friend and me. In the wake of all the problems with capital funding shortfalls, he said:

“At Worthing College our allocation should have been based on 1,451 full-time 16-18 year olds as a minimum. The allocation is 1,425, giving us a £130,000 funding reduction on our baseline income. However, because we have successfully retained more students this year and applications are running at record levels, our most conservative estimate of numbers suggests we will recruit 1,500 16-18 year olds. This would mean educating 75 students without funding. The funding for 75 students is in the order of £340,000.

The implications of this are that Colleges may turn away students and not be able to offer places to later applicants, who are often more needy and vulnerable. The recession means there are more young people looking to stay in education without the requisite funding for them. This would be a real negative for Worthing and Adur, increasing the number of young people who are NEET and not gaining qualifications and increasing their life chances.”

That is crucial. It is a double whammy that should not have happened at all. It has been compounded by the Government’s incompetence and now by their indifference, and they have the brass neck to challenge the Opposition to match their funding commitment. That commitment was given late in the day, and we still lack the details, which are sorely needed at the sharp end by schools and colleges.

This debate is timely. It should have been a topical debate in Government time. There is little more topical at the moment, or of interest to so many Members. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on bringing it to the attention of a lacklustre Government Front Bench.

We have before us one of the most caring and assiduous Ministers in the Government. He is an excellent chap and a superb Minister, but I do not envy him his position today. He has a difficult wicket on which to play. The King John school in my constituency was one of the first sixth-form colleges in the country—perhaps the first—and it certainly remains one of the best. However, like others, particularly SEEVIC college, it has suffered cuts in its capital funding. Such colleges trusted the Learning and Skills Council, and they now feel betrayed. However, we have been over all that, so I will not trawl through it again.

The cuts have come at a time when we should be expanding the provision of further education and sixth-form opportunities for youngsters who will need them, particularly in my constituency, where traditional opportunities and outlets for them in the City of London have dried up somewhat, as we all know. I put it to the Minister, though, that creating yet more quangos is not the way to solve the problem.

We should not be churlish, of course; we must be fair-minded. We should welcome the extra money that the Government have put into education. Over the past decade, they have done extremely well, but this problem is serious. I am sure that the Minister will do all that he can to address it. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. I want him to tell my sixth-form colleges how they can continue to provide a superb service for local people in my constituency.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Hancock. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on securing the debate and drawing such a crowd from his own party. I am pleased that the Minister turned up eventually. As those of us who have just completed consideration of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill will know, including the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), a habit is developing of Ministers not turning up on time for proceedings. However, I will follow your exhortations to other hon. Members, Mr. Hancock, and try to keep my remarks brief so that the Minister has plenty of time to answer questions.

This debate is on the latest in a litany of failures in the two new education Departments. Last year, they failed to send out confirmations of education maintenance allowances for young people. Moving to the next age group up, that was followed by a complete miscalculation of the number of people who would qualify for student grants. That led to the budget for higher education places being trimmed, which will cause a crisis this summer. On the Learning and Skills Council, we have had several debates in Westminster Hall and in the main Chamber on capital expenditure for further education colleges. There has been a long-term gap between the funding received by colleges and schools for 16 to 19-year-olds.

This year, there is a real cash shortage in the provision that schools and colleges are receiving from the Government. That has led to yet another emergency announcement and emergency measure. Why has that taken place? As the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) said in his powerful speech, it appears that it is partly because the Government were taken completely by surprise by the over-subscription caused by students deciding, rightly, to stay in education beyond the age of 16. That is amazing because, as he rightly said, the number of people in that cohort was known with considerable certainty before that time. We know from previous recessions that more 16 and 18-year-olds decide to stay in education and training at such times.

With last year’s student grants fiasco and the upcoming crisis in university places this summer, the two education Departments are building a record of being caught out and surprised by what goes on in the real world. Whichever party is in government in two years’ time, I hope that the Departments will not be caught out again because we will have more people staying on at school sixth forms and going to further education colleges post-16. I hope they will ensure that there are enough places for 18-year-olds to continue in training or education, whether through adult apprenticeships or higher education.

The Chancellor announced more emergency funding for this sector in the Budget, just as he had to do for the college capital expenditure programme. This year there will be an additional £250 million and next year an additional £400 million. That is not recession-related funding. It is not a bail-out for the banks or a loan for car companies; it is a bail-out for another Department that is guilty of mismanaging its budget. It is ridiculous that one reason why the Government were forced into the bail-out was the spectre of being sued by schools and colleges. That remains to be seen.

A squeeze on future education budgets was also announced in the Budget. There will be a renewed efficiency drive in the sector with hundreds of millions of pounds having to be saved. Extra money was announced on the one hand, and on the other the sector was told that it will have to make significant savings. That could take us back to square one. What a way to treat a sector that is central in delivering the objective of the Government and other parties to have skilled people who can weather the recession and enter the workplace. This sector is crucial in delivering the diplomas for 14 to 19-year olds that are being rolled out across the country. It will also be crucial if the participation age is raised to 17 and then 18 over the next few years.

After the fiasco in college capital expenditure, the Government were obliged to set up an inquiry into their own mismanagement or into that of an agency under their control. With this fiasco, I hope that the Minister will not announce an inquiry, nor hide behind officials at the Learning and Skills Council, but will take some responsibility for the two education Departments and answer the pertinent questions that have been put to him by hon. Members.

The subject of this debate characterises the fallacy, falsehood and failure that lie at the heart of the Government. Falsehood follows fallacy, and failure follows both. The most eloquent expression of those failures is in the field of education, in which the Government go from one farce or crisis to another. As my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) said, Ministers refuse to come to the House to explain serious matters that have damning consequences for schools, colleges and universities, and therefore for learners and potential learners up and down the country.

This debate on sixth-form funding is yet another expression of the tortuous calamity that characterises the Learning and Skills Council and its relationship with the Department. There is blather and there are blunders: blather when promises are made and blunders when those promises are broken. The blunders illustrate institutionalised maladministration. We can examine this issue because my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) has brought it to our attention, on which I congratulate him. As has been said, this debate would not have happened had it been left to Ministers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, we have known about this matter for six weeks, yet there has been no statement and no debate in Government time.

If I sound cross, it is not for myself or for the Opposition. I am cross for the learners, teachers, managers and governors in the schools and colleges that are so seriously affected by this incompetence. There will be a shortfall in funding for the next academic year brought about by what my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has described as a catastrophic miscalculation of the number of students staying in education. He said:

“Many schools planned their courses on the reasonable assumption that they would not be penalised for increasing participation post-16.”

Indeed, that course of action was positively encouraged by the Department.

Although I acknowledge that £250 million was found hastily to cover the shortfall, this debate is vital. We must know why this happened and we must be assured that it will not happen again. Fallacy, failure and falsehood are symptomatic of a Government in their death throes. Edmund Burke wrote:

“Nothing turns out to be so oppressive and unjust as a feeble government”—

this Government are certainly feeble.

The LSC wrote several times to schools and sixth-form colleges about provisional funding allocations for 2009-10. It seems certain that it knew that those provisional calculations were wrong. We want to hear whether Ministers knew that too, and if not why not. On 2 March, the LSC wrote again to confirm the funding and indicated that the number of learners was

“in excess of the anticipated number”

and that it was seeking permission to fund the learners in full. Finally, on 30 March, the LSC wrote a third time with reduced allocations for school and sixth-form funding. Did realisation dawn on Ministers in the space of just one month? Surely that suggests falsehood—it is certainly indicative of failure. In respect of fallacy, what about the Prime Minister’s claim that Labour has “transformed” education?

The Association of School and College Leaders said that a sixth form of 250 pupils would be £50,000 to £55,000 worse off than expected under the new arrangements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead said, many schools are worse off than that. A sixth-form college of 3,000 students stands to lose more than £300,000. The minimum funding guarantee of an annual increase of at least 2.1 per cent. per learner for school sixth forms that have a funding rate per “standard learner number” of less than £3,200 has been scrapped. It is therefore unsurprising that Dr. John Dunford, the general secretary of the ASCL, wrote to the Chancellor telling him that there was

“widespread disappointment and considerable anger”

among schools that will suffer from the shortfalls.

There seems to be an emerging pattern in which quangos and Ministers do not speak. Rather like estranged partners in a marriage, they seems to have no communication, even though they are living cheek by jowl. It is extraordinary that the lines of accountability have been broken—or perhaps Ministers knew and did not say. I cannot believe that of this Minister or any others, but if that is not the case, there are fundamental problems with how the Government communicate with some of their key quangos and the way in which they act upon information from those quangos. As we have heard, however, they are about to set up several new quangos, which is likely to lead to further problems, as my hon. Friends have indicated.

The tendency that I have described is perhaps most damningly seen in the administrative upheaval surrounding the Building Colleges for the Future programme, which has been mentioned. Those who have argued that their sixth forms are having difficulties could equally have said the same of colleges in their locality. I know, for example, that Peterborough Regional college is struggling, and that colleges across the country are suffering a similar fate, because we heard that in yesterday’s debate. This is the second time that I have spoken on this issue in just a few hours, so I am certainly earning my crust. I guess, in that regard, that the Minister is too.

The colleges programme was mismanaged by the very same officials in the LSC who are responsible for the problems that we are debating today. There seems to be endemic failure: information about capital projects has been mishandled, mismanaged and miscommunicated to Ministers. How could that possibly have happened? Perhaps we do know because, in that case, the Government commissioned a report from Sir Andrew Foster, who concluded that there was

“insufficient clarity and understanding around the relationship between the LSC and”

the Department. The price for that insufficient clarity and understanding is being paid by learners and teachers across the country. That is why the outrage that we have heard this morning has found form in this debate and why this matter deserves to be debated on the Floor of the House. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity, as a result of this debate, to do just that.

Colleges and schools have progressed to an advanced stage of planning only to have their plans halted and their hopes shattered. Some 144 colleges have had their budgets frozen. Both situations are tied together by the inefficiency and sluggishness of the response—limousined Ministers arrive late and react slowly. When both crises broke, an explanation from the LSC was notably absent, and the ministerial response was little better, consisting of reactive statements and soundbites that went little way towards allaying the legitimate concerns of the sector.

Some £250 million has been committed to sixth forms and £300 million has been committed to colleges, but those pledges have been accompanied by a vast, confusing silence. No one seems to know where the money is going to or whom it will benefit. The £300 million for the Building Colleges for the Future programme is little more than a drop in the water. Colleges and schools are still confused and uneasy about the direction in which their institutions are heading, and, as the weeks pass, key decisions cannot be made. The severity of the situation seems to grow daily, but there is now an opportunity to remedy that. As the LSC has not managed to explain to schools how it plans to compensate for the mistake, perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to guarantee that all schools and colleges will receive full funding allocations. I have asked one of his colleagues to confirm that all schools and colleges will be fully funded, regardless of which stage in the process they are at. Will the Minister give that guarantee today, which was suggested in the letter of 2 March? Will he also comment, in those terms, on exactly how that money will be allocated and on what basis it will be delivered to schools and colleges?

Will the Minister show that he understands the gravity of the situation and the outrage that people feel? To be helpful, I shall pose a number of questions that might assist him to give the assurances sought by the House and those affected. First, will he comment on the strategy that he intends to put in place to make such failures impossible in the future, in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) demanded? Secondly, will he explain the structures and mechanisms that will make that possible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) suggested? Will he outline when he first knew of the crisis, and how and when he made that information available to the House? Will he say what lines of communication broke down between the LSC and the Department? We know that the Department’s officials attend key LSC meetings, so it is inconceivable that there was not a channel of communication. How, then, was that channel broken?

Will the Minister comment on the possibility of carrying out an independent analysis of this matter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury suggested? Perhaps that should be done by the Public Accounts Committee, or maybe Sir Andrew Foster should be revived to say a further word on this subject, as he has already reported on the debacle in colleges. Finally, will the Minister apologise unreservedly, up front and without passing the buck to officials? Will he say that Ministers owe the House and those who have participated in this debate—and, much more significantly, teachers and head teachers, governors and parents, and, most of all, students—an absolute apology, along with an assurance that this will never happen again?

On a point of order, Mr. Hancock. I seek your guidance. Would it be in order for the Palace of Westminster, which put such an effort into setting out the chairs for Labour Members—all 30 of them—to get a rebate considering that only two of them have been used in the debate?

That was a good try, Mr. Ellwood, but even your enterprise does not give me the right to say that is a legitimate point of order—it should be ignored by all.

Let me start by giving you, Mr. Hancock, as I have in writing, and the House, an apology for being two minutes late. I should have either walked or allowed more than seven minutes to get here from the Department, but I am seeing the Mayor of London today, on the anniversary of his election, and I will pass on my comments about the traffic situation around Westminster.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) on securing the debate, which has given an important opportunity for the Members present to express their concerns and anger, which we have heard this morning, and for me to explain what has happened in respect of the problems with post-16 funding, particularly for sixth forms.

Obviously, the background to this issue is the importance of post-16 education. That is why the Government have raised the participation age and have introduced the September guarantee, which I shall talk more about later. As hon. Members have commented, the Learning and Skills Council has apologised, on 3 April, for the problems. I should like to say, at the outset, that I am very sorry for the disruption that has been caused to school and college leaders over the conflicting content of the letters that they received in March. Thanks to the Chancellor’s Budget statement, we can now confirm that there will be expanded funding—not just up to the levels that were promised, without the funding to back them, on 2 March, in the LSC letter, but beyond those levels—for post-16 education from September, when the money will be received by colleges.

Let me work through the sequence of events—

I want to work through the sequence of events before I give way to interventions, so that I manage to explain properly what went on.

As Members who follow these things will be aware, the funding process starts in November every year, as it did last year, with the annual statement of priorities. The funding agreement between the Government and the LSC sets out the allocation of funding for post-16 learning. During the December to January period, that is then followed by a dialogue between schools, colleges and the LSC over what capacity they have in the system to deliver post-16 learning. In January, as the problems in the economy caused by the global banking crisis became clear, we agreed with the Treasury that there should be an additional 17,000 apprenticeship places to cope with some of the increase in demand that was starting to emerge. That figure not only took account of the data on previous years’ out-turns, which is a normal part of the process, but looked at some of the projections of increased learner numbers for September.

The moderation of bids then proceeds during February and the notification is usually sent to schools and colleges in March. This year, that happened with the letter of 2 March, which was sent to school sixth forms. Unfortunately, that letter was not seen by Ministers and it did not have clearance. In the first paragraph, the letter included the phrase that it

“establishes your final allocation for 2009/10”.

As I have said, the money was not there and it had not been agreed to make final allocations on that basis. The letter went on to state

“We are awaiting the Secretary of State’s approval for this increase”.

However, the apology that the LSC published on 3 April states:

“it is clear that our letter of 2 March to schools has caused them confusion and concern for which we apologise. The letter set out that there were ongoing discussions with the Department and that further checks needed to be done; however, it was misleading to say that these were final rather than provisional allocations.”

I first saw the letter of 2 March on the same day that that apology was issued—on 3 April. That was the first time any Ministers saw that letter.

The LSC wrote again to school sixth forms in a letter that I had approved to say, among other things—[Interruption.]

Order. I am trying to give the Minister the opportunity to be heard by everyone, not just those who want to harangue him.

Thank you, Mr. Hancock. I know that the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead wants to intervene. As I said to the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), I would like to conclude outlining the sequence of events so that they are clear and on the record.

The letter of 27 March that was sent to schools gave them their allocations. It has since caused anger and concern among leaders, which has been reflected by their representatives in the House. There are statutory reasons why a letter had to be sent out then: it was so that schools and colleges could rightly set their budgets. That letter said

“We continue to consider options for further funding, including meeting emerging pressures from the impact of the recession and further recruitment during the year, especially to deliver the September Guarantee and tackle the needs of those not in education, employment or training. We continue to work with DCSF on the funding pressure and best estimates of demand.”

That letter was signalling that, beyond the estimates of learner demand that were emerging during February and March, recessionary impacts meant that demand was continuing to emerge—particularly because of the numbers of people aged 16 to 19, who were in employment but not training, losing their jobs. Such people wanted to come into learning in college and we needed to respond to that. The matter was the subject of discussions across Government, which concluded in the announcement made in the Budget. I was able to negotiate an additional £655 million from the Treasury to fund post-16 learning over two years—£251 million for this financial year and £404 million for the following financial year. That will allow us to deliver our September guarantee and not only to fund the allocations that were made wrongly on 2 March, but to go beyond those allocations.

A letter was then sent to schools and colleges by the LSC on 27 April informing them about the news in the Budget and saying among other things:

“This means that I can provide immediate reassurance that you will be funded for your level of recruitment for the coming year discussed with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in early March. However, since you last discussed your forecast levels of recruitment with the LSC earlier this year, you may have had further evidence of the likely demand by young people, or you may be in a position to stimulate additional demand to make sure more young people continue in learning rather than becoming unemployed. We therefore need your further advice and information on extra likely demand to meet the September Guarantee.”

So, the LSC was signalling for the first time that schools and colleges could, indeed, come forward for additional funding if they identified additional demand to that identified in February/March.

I have almost finished. At the end of last week, in relation to the detailed allocations, I agreed that the 2 March figure could go out to learners, with the exception of four institutions. The reason I have been unable to be absolutely clear on that until now is that there are four institutions that will not get up to the 2 March allocation. I will be talking to the MPs who represent those institutions today—the hon. Members for Braintree (Mr. Newmark) and for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) and my hon. Friends the Members for Basildon (Angela E. Smith) and for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson). Technical reasons relating to how the formula was worked out mean that those institutions will get less than they thought. In all but one case, significant numbers are not involved and, in every case, I think that the school and college know the situation in respect of those allocations.

Finally, before I take a couple of interventions if I have time, it is worth reemphasising that the allocation from the Budget means that we can fund more post-16 learners than ever before. The allocation is up from £1.5 million to £1.55 million. That is on top of the 17,500 additional apprenticeship places to which I referred earlier, and it includes funding 55,000 extra educational maintenance allowance places. A detailed process will now go on until 22 May to agree the very final allocations, including that extra amount for those colleges and schools that are able to stimulate additional demand in order to meet the needs of young people.

It is also important for me to say that—I know that the Opposition will not like this—we are committed to a September guarantee and, going forward, we are committed to funding places for every 16 to 19-year-old in school and college who wants one and wants to carry on learning. In terms of skills, it is important that we come out of this recession stronger than when we went into it. That is not a guarantee that I have heard repeated by the Opposition, who are so well represented in this Chamber.

I will be very brief. The Minister said that he was not aware of the letter that was sent out on 2 March. Were his officials aware of it? In other words, did the Department know because, presumably, he has at least conducted some kind of internal investigation into these matters? Perhaps when answering that point, he will also tell us—he referred to this glibly earlier—whether all those colleges that were promised extra capital funding by the LSC will get the money that they were promised.

Certainly all those schools and colleges that were promised money on 2 March will get that allocation, with the exception of the four institutions that I mentioned. The issue of capital is different and continues to be debated in the House with my colleagues from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

In conclusion, we set ourselves the bold ambition of having a world-class education system that brings out the best in every single learner. That means a system that can adapt to the changing world in which we now live—[Interruption.] Sorry, on the other question, one official was aware of the letter that went out on 2 March.

On a point of order, Mr. Hancock, is it acceptable for a Minister of the Crown to make a commitment during a debate that he will give way to an hon. Member and then refuse to do so, knowing full well that the time scale means it is impossible for that hon. Member to get in before the debate is terminated?

A Minister should not only arrive on time, but, if he gives such a commitment in a debate, he should, according to the conventions of the House, find time to let that hon. Member come in.

It is absolutely fascinating that the Minister now gives way because the Chair has lambasted him on the basis that he will not answer the question. Will he answer a simple question and if he cannot do so, will he write to me? Why are some of my schools today telling me that they have not had written confirmation about the shortfall—in one school of £60,000 and in another of £90,000? They have had nothing at all. Some schools have received something and some have not. Why?

Thank you, Mr. Hancock. There are 1,730 schools and colleges in receipt of the letter. If some have not received it, I shall pursue the matter when I leave this Chamber.

Our education system must change. We are responding to a global recession—

Order. I would like to thank all Members and the Minister for the courtesy that they have shown to the Chair, and Members for the courtesy that they have shown to each other to enable them to speak in the debate. I request those Members who are leaving to do so quietly, and we will move on to the next debate.