Skip to main content

Education Support Grants (Amendment) Regulations 1986

Volume 476: debated on Thursday 12 June 1986

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

7.52 p.m.

rose to move That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th May be approved. [24th Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, 1987–88 will be the third year in which education support grants are available. These draft regulations, which further amend the Education Support Grant Regulations 1984, extend the purposes in support of which the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales will pay grant in that year.

In 1986–87, the number and volume of bids from local education authorities considerably exceeded the total of expenditure that could be supported, as it did in 1985–86. Of a total of £40 million of expenditure planned for in 1986–87, expenditure of £39 million has already been approved for grant; we remain ready to support expenditure of up to £1 million on teacher management. All 96 local education authorities in England are receiving grant support in this financial year.

My right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Education and Science had full consultations with the appropriate local authority associations about the programme for 1987–88 and on 12th May announced in another place the Government's intention to support expenditure amounting to some £53 million cash in that year. Of that total, he indicated that £32 million would be devoted to the continuing expenditure arising from projects first approved in earlier years and roughly £21 million would be available to support expenditure on new activities and the extension of existing ones. Grant will be paid on this expenditure at a rate of 70 per cent. Thus, the Government plan to pay some £37 million of education support grant in the 1987–88 financial year in England in respect of expenditure by local authorities of £53 million.

The Government also specified the new purposes for which we propose to pay education support grants in 1987–88, a provisional assessment of the amount of expenditure to be supported for each purpose, a provisional assessment of the number of local education authorities to be supported, and the likely length of support. A circular describing in greater detail the activities to be supported will be sent to LEAs if Parliament approves these regulations.

I should now like to comment on the amendment regulations themselves and in particular to say a few words about each of the new activities that they add to the schedule of purposes on which it is proposed grant should be paid. Your Lordships will be aware of the Government's commitment to the successful launch of the GCSE. We have held discussions with the local authority associations and teachers' associations, and we accept that there is considerable concern about the resourcing of the GCSE. We are, of course, aware that the GCSE will, over time, require additional textbooks and equipment; in particular, it will require additional scientific and technical equipment. The Government's rate support grant settlement for 1986–87 allows local authorities to make appropriate provision in those respects for the beginning of the new GCSE courses this September.

Moreover, your Lordships may know that on Tuesday my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced during the Second Reading debate on the Education Bill in another place that he had decided to make £20 million available for books and equipment on the GCSE in the current year. Of this, £15 million would be through education support grants, in addition to our intention to support £10 million on this activity in each of the financial years 1987–88 and 1988–89. Those amounts are direct resources to encourage local education authorities to supplement their capitation allowances by an average of more than £9,000 per secondary school over the first three years of GCSE.

The project relating to the development of the spoken word is intended to promote a new emphasis in language work on the skills of speaking and listening alongside the traditional concerns with reading and writing. Accordingly, that proposal is for a small-scale experiment in a few authorities; its findings would of course be disseminated to all authorities.

The third proposal for a new activity is the pilot projects to promote social responsibility. We are keen to use the education support grant programme to help local education authorities to improve standards of conduct among young people. The activity that we included in the 1986–87 programme aimed at countering drug abuse has been well taken up by authorities. We should like to encourage them to initiate projects using a variety of means to promote law-abiding behaviour. We have in mind that the projects would cover a wide range of imaginative experimentation, which might include more and better extra curricular activities, schemes aimed at reducing vandalism in schools, links with parents, and liaison with the police and other services. We do not intend to use rigid criteria, but we propose to give some preference to bids that relate to the 13 to 16 year-old age range, bearing in mind that the peak ages for offending are 14 for girls and 15 for boys, and to areas of high juvenile delinquency.

In addition to supporting those three new activities in 1987–88, the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for Wales have also decided that a further tranche of new expenditure should be supported in respect of seven of the activities in the 1986–87 programme that were oversubscribed, or where considerable scope for further development exists.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales is responsible for the operation of education support grants in Wales. On 12th May he announced his intention to pay some £2.3 million of grant in support of expenditure of some £3.3 million in 1987–88. Next year's programme of activities in Wales will be similar to that in England, but there are some differences reflecting my right honourable friend's judgment of the particular circumstances in Wales. Of the existing activities, management and appraisal of schoolteachers and provision for children under five years of age with special educational needs were not included in this year's Welsh programme and will not be included in next year's programme. Of the proposed new activities, my right honourable friend has decided against including development of the use of the spoken word, bearing in mind the small scale of the proposed experiment in England and the intention that the findings there would be available for dissemination to authorities in Wales as well as in England.

We believe that, taken as a whole, this is a constructive and well-balanced programme, carefully prepared and reflecting our consultations with the local authority associations. It will facilitate further modest redeployment of expenditure into areas acknowledged as of particular importance and assist LEAs to reflect on, and to make, improvements to provision which changing circumstances demand. The education support grant programme enables the education partners to collaborate on a programme of experiment and innovation whose fruits will ultimately be shared with and benefit the education service as a whole. I commend these amendment regulations and the list of purposes to be supported in 1987–88 to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 12th May be approved. [ 24th Report from the Joint Committee.]—( Baroness Hooper.)

8 p.m.

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing these regulations and for the explanations she has given. The larger issues concerned with the use of education support grants and specific support for education by central government in addition to the block grant were, of course, considered by your Lordships at some length during the passage of the Education Bill. The point of view was put by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and my noble friends Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Stewart, that perhaps it would be as well to recognise the reality and have a great deal more control by central government of the curriculum and of expenditure.

However, that has not been the way in this country. We have taken the view that the decisions about the use of educational finance shall be taken by local authorities rather than by central government. I am the first to say that the regulations now proposed do not depart significantly from that principle. They do not extend that proportion of education expenditure which is in the direct control of the Secretary of State. Therefore, it is not necessary to raise the more fundamental issues in considering these regulations.

However, in looking at the regulations themselves it is plain that the use of this marginal power of the Secretary of State becomes simply an opportunity for the Secretary of State, and perhaps for the department, to air their own prejudices and their own ephemeral interests. I have no enormous objection to the individual items, although I am bound to say that the phrase "social responsibility in children" reminds me of the unfortunate amendment that was approved—I am sorry to say it was an amendment put by the noble Baroness—which provided that sex education should have regard to moral considerations and the value of family life.

I learnt a lesson on that amendment. I learnt that it is not safe to employ irony in this House. In commenting on the amendment I said that there was one thing I should like to achieve and if that could be secured by statute we should be achieving something. What I meant to say was that there was no possibility of achieving these high-minded and pious aspirations by statute and that statute ought not to be involved in phrases of this kind. I am sorry to see that this kind of pious nonsense is creeping into the education support grant regulations as well as on to the statute book in the Education Bill. It is simply an opportunity for the Secretary of State to air his prejudices and to pay lip service to something which may well be admirable—indeed, is admirable in itself—but which is not a suitable subject for statute.

On a more serious issue, the noble Baroness explained the financial aspects of the provision for additional expenditure on books and equipment for use on courses leading to an examination for the General Certificate of Secondary Education. I am not confident that I followed her argument fully, and I should like her to clarify it. I apologise for what might be simply a confusion in my mind.

The noble Baroness said that a figure of £20 million was mentioned by the Secretary of State in his speech on Tuesday in another place as additional expenditure on books and equipment for the GCSE. Of that, £15 million is to be in education support grant. Does that mean that the impression given by the Secretary of State that there is to be an additional £20 million for the GCSE is not, in fact, the case? Does it mean that £15 million of that is constrained by the limitations on the education support grants and that only £5 million is genuinely new money? If that is the case, I think that those in another place who welcomed the additional expenditure may not be so enthusiastic as they were originally.

The noble Baroness also mentioned that it was in addition to the £10 million already provided, and that is common ground between us. However, it would be deeply disappointing to discover that only £5 million of the £20 million offered by the Secretary of State is genuinely new money. I shall be grateful for any clarification which the noble Baroness is able to give us.

In pursuance of convention, we shall not oppose these regulations but we look forward to hearing any further explanations that the noble Baroness is able to give.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for her clear exposition of the new regulations for 1986. This is not the moment to carp at the whole working of the scheme of education support grants. It seems to me a little like father saying to his child, "Here is £1 but in fact you can only have 75p of it. I am keeping back 25p which you can have only if you agree to spend it on a new exercise book for school or a new ruler. However, they cost 35p, so you will have to find 10p from somewhere else, probably your mother". The child is left somewhat aggrieved because he is not getting his £1. For "father" one might read "Secretary of State"; for "child" read "the local education authority"; and for "mother" read "the ratepayers". There is, therefore, a tendency to feel a little aggrieved.

Be that as it may, I feel that there is a case for rejoicing in accordance with the Secretary of State's announcement in another place that the provision of books and equipment for the GCSE is to be funded with what I understand is to be £20 million of new money. No doubt the Minister will explain this more clearly. The question is whether that is going to be enough. According to the Statement in another place on Tuesday, if that is added to the amounts already dedicated to the new exam by the local education authorities it should amount to £60 million or £70 million. One hopes that is enough, except that word has been current that the minimum required is £100 million. However, one must hope, as this is not the time or place to query it.

I express hearty approval of the first two pilot projects named for this new year. I could deliver a lecture on the subject, but I assure your Lordships that I will spare the House at this time of hunger and thirst. I should like to say just two things about the teaching of the spoken word. I am certain that this has nothing whatever to do with the activities of Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. We should not, in schools, be trying to turn flower girls into duchesses. The object is to achieve clear, articulate and confident speech in whatever variation of standard English comes naturally to the child. Long may dialects survive, as long as they are intelligible.

The second point I should like to make about speech is that the way a child speaks is the tip of a psychological iceberg. By that I mean that a confident child will always speak clearly and articulately. When a child begins to lose confidence its speech begins to deteriorate, and we often see this phenomenon in adolescence. What interests me about this is that if you attend to a child's speech and give it help with its speech, it is amazing how the child's confidence begins to return. It may be done in the context of drama, for example. I have seen a child's whole personality transformed because someone has begun to help him achieve clear speech.

Speech is a skill which is as worthy of cultivation as physical fitness. Clear speech is terribly important, and a very worthy objective. The noble Baroness told us that in Wales they did not intend to pursue this matter. I take it that the reason for this is partly because the Welsh already speak so well that they do not need to pursue it. It is a noticeable fact.

The promotion of social responsibility in children is a big subject. I would have said that there is certainly room for it. I cannot entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about it, Plato said that a man's education should make him passionately desire to be a perfect citizen. This rings very strangely in our modern ears, but perhaps if we thought a little more about it, we might attach more importance to it than it seems we do. It is possible that this measure is the beginning of a move in that direction.,

To sum up, on these Benches we regret that the funding of such worthy objects as these two pilot projects cannot come as new money, but we applaud the objects themselves. We welcome the additional funding for the other object, and while we hope that it will be enough, we ask leave to reserve judgment.

My Lords, we have had a useful debate, in spite of the hour. I am most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Ritchie of Dundee, for the general if perhaps somewhat reserved welcome that they have given to these new regulations. Perhaps I may first refer to the objective of education support grants which is to facilitate the redeployment of a modest amount of expenditure into areas which by common consent are of national importance. I think perhaps that this takes in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

The amount of expenditure that can be supported by grant is limited by statute to 1 per cent. of local authority expenditure on education. A more pertinent question is whether this investment is being made in the right areas. On that I detect far greater unanimity both in the Government's recent consultations with the local authority associations and here today to some extent. There is a general consensus that the activities to be covered by the education support grant programme in 1987–88 merit being accorded priority. Education support grants provide a mechanism whereby the Government and their partners in the education service can jointly explore, in an experimental way, how progress can be made more generally in meeting the needs which underlie each activity, and furthermore, as I said, can disseminate the findings to the benefit of other authorities. I think and hope that we are doing rather more than voicing the pious hopes to which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred.

Specifically in answer to the point raised by both noble Lords about the question of new money in relation to the GCSE expenditure, I can assure them that this is new money for the education service over and above the present plans. The £15 million will be in addition to relevant expenditure for local authorities in England and Wales and will be supported by education support grants at the rate of 70 per cent. Grant related expenditure will be raised to take account of the 30 per cent. contribution made by local education authorities. However, my noble friend the Secretary of State for Employment is supplying the missing £5 million which will become available through the Manpower Services Commission for the provision of scientific and technological equipment. I hope that that clarifies the position. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, asked whether this was enough. Perhaps if he will refer to my opening remarks and explanations, he will see that we believe it to be adequate at this stage.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, for his welcome and his enthusiasm for developing the use of the spoken word. Work on the development and assessment of children's oral skills is indeed still at an early stage and in our view the best use of the education support grant moneys in this area is in support of pilot projects in a small number of authorities, the results of which can be drawn upon by authorities generally. I think I can confirm the Government's agreement with the remarks the noble Lord made in relation to the needs of Wales in this respect.

In conclusion, I should like to reiterate the Government's conviction that the education support grant programme for 1987–88 embraces activities whose importance is widely recognised, and I am confident that local education authorities will respond constructively. I commend these amendment regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.