§ Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)
I beg to move amendment No. 87, in page 4, line 24, at end add—'(4) Any funding by the Council of provision of education and training under this Act (whether direct or indirect) shall be in accordance with the arrangements and formula contained in any order made under subsection (1) of section (Free Schools).'.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: No. 76, in clause 7, page 5, line 21, at end insert—'(aa) on condition that the quantum of grant per pupil in each school shall not be less than that applicable in the final school year for which the local education authority had responsibility for funding pupils above compulsory school age; and'.New clause 13—Free schools—'.—(1) The Secretary of State shall by order establish a mechanism for determining the funding of all maintained schools (the funding formula).
- (2) The funding formula shall be on the same basis for every school but must have regard to:
- (a) the numbers on roll at 1st October in each school year
- (b) the age of pupils at any school including any below or above the age of compulsory schooling
- (c) such other special factors affecting the needs of pupils or the cost of provision as the Secretary of State may determine:
- (3) The governors and teachers at each school, as the case may be, shall use their allocation under the formula and such other revenues as are at their disposal to conduct education at that school; and in discharging their duties may draw on local education authorities or other bodies for free or paid-for advice and support and other educational services.
- (4) On the coming into force of the funding formula introduced under subsection (1) sections 45 to 53 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 shall be repealed.
- (5) Any order made by the Secretary of State under subsection (1) may contain such consequential, incidental, supplementary or transitional provisions or savings (including provisions amending, repealing or revoking enactments) as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.'.
§ Mrs. May
Amendment No. 87 is a paving amendment for new clause 13. I shall therefore consider them 822 together. First, I should like to consider amendment No. 76, which relates to the all-important issue of funding for sixth forms in schools. It would introduce protection for sixth form funding, and would ensure that schools that currently have sixth forms knew that there was some certainty about their future funding, which they will receive under the new arrangements from the Learning and Skills Council via the local education authorities.
There is considerable anxiety in schools with sixth forms, especially those with small sixth forms, often because of their geographical circumstances. That applies especially to rural secondary schools, whose numbers will not be sufficient for a large sixth form. However, without that sixth form, the opportunities for young people who want to continue their education post-16 would be remarkably limited. It is important that sixth forms in schools can remain. However, there is real fear that sixth forms will be under threat in future. One of those fears is caused by the swingeing powers in the Bill to declare school sixth forms inadequate, or to declare weaknesses and therefore set their closure in train.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) will raise the subject of inadequate sixth forms later tonight.
§ Mrs. May
Indeed. Some important amendments remain to be debated.
I want to deal with the second issue that worries schools with sixth forms: funding. The Minister may say that the Government have given schools some comfort in their guarantee on sixth form funding. However, as most heads will say when asked about the matter, they believe that the guarantee is not worth the paper it is written on. The guarantee states that the funding for school sixth forms will be maintained provided that the numbers are maintained. There has been much debate about what the Secretary of State meant by that phrase. It has been suggested to many schools that if their numbers fall, even by one or two students, the guarantee no longer holds, and that their sixth form funding will come under threat, with all the attendant consequences for the future of that sixth form.
To illustrate the anxiety in schools, we surveyed London heads of schools with sixth forms and asked for their views about the Bill's proposed changes to sixth form funding and the structure of post-16 education. The answers were illuminating. First, the House may care to know that 62 per cent. of those heads felt that the Government were pursuing a levelling agenda in education for 16 to 19-year-olds. It is interesting to note that 70 per cent. of the schools surveyed believed that funding for their school had fallen in the past three years under the Labour Government. In relation to the future of their sixth forms, 97 per cent. of heads believed that pupils should have a choice in provision—between a sixth form in a school and other providers. Sad to say, the Bill could reduce that choice, as school sixth forms might be closed on the back of the Government's proposals.
Sixty per cent. of the heads felt that the future of their sixth form was under threat as a result of the Government's actions. For heads, schools, parents and pupils, that threat has introduced uncertainty about the future of the provision in those schools and where pupils 823 can choose to go to undertake their post-16 education. We want to provide a measure of certainty for those schools and take away the uncertainty and the threat. That is why we tabled amendment No. 76, which would give schools a more genuine guarantee than the phoney guarantee provided by the Secretary of State and would ensure that they would not suffer a loss in funding for their sixth form as a result of the changed structure and the changed funding mechanism.
It is interesting to note that House of Commons Library figures show that schools with sixth forms get significantly better GCSE results. There is a knock-on effect down the school. It is not just about allowing pupils to have the opportunity to choose to go to a sixth form in a school environment rather than a sixth-form college or a further education college. The provision of a sixth form in a school has an effect on teaching and pupils' achievement in the rest of the school.
§ Mr. Willis
Will the hon. Lady clarify her final comments? Does she not agree with the latest research which shows that the smaller the sixth form, the less likely students are to do well? Sixth forms with fewer than 50 students perform extraordinarily badly compared with, for instance, sixth forms with more than 200 students or, indeed, sixth-form colleges and even FE colleges.
§ Mrs. May
It is important to examine the circumstances of any particular school. If, for example, the hon. Gentleman is saying that he would prefer to remove the sixth form of a small rural secondary school purely because of its size and take choice away from pupils, I do not accept that that is the way forward. Pupils should have the choice that is available. It is interesting that, in many other aspects of education, the hon. Gentleman would join the Government in talking about the importance of teaching in small groups. The problem that is often mentioned in relation to small sixth forms, and, indeed, the issue that has underlain part of the debate about the definition of weaknesses in schedule 7, is whether a small sixth form class should be declared as weak purely because of its numbers. One cannot say that, simply because a group is small, it will not achieve or that teaching quality will be lower.
§ Mr. Willis
First, I intervened to question the hon. Lady's assumption that all sixth forms appear to have better results than schools, sixth-form colleges or FE colleges. That is not the case. On the latter point, of course I would never argue that small groups are necessarily bad for teaching. However, I would argue that, even in a rural area, a school's ability to give students choice and diversity in a sixth form with numbers as low as 50 would be seriously hampered.
§ Mrs. May
I am happy to clarify what I said for the hon. Gentleman. The figures from the House of Commons Library show that schools with sixth forms get better GCSE results, so having a sixth-form has a knock-on effect down the school, as it provides role models and raises the quality of teaching throughout the school.