HC Deb 17 February 1987 vol 110 cc760-1
7. Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will bring forward proposals for the greater independence of maintained schools from central and local government.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Schools are getting increased autonomy under the new Education Act. As it is being implemented, I shall be considering proposals for further measures to strengthen the effectiveness of schools.

Mr. Nicholas Baker

Does my right hon. Friend accept that part of the greater independence of schools is a greater ability to get rid of bad teachers and much greater responsibility, authority and independence for the good teachers, in particular head teachers, in those schools? Will he introduce proposals in this direction?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

At the very heart of my proposals is the head teacher. I want to improve the power and ability of the head teacher, who is absolutly critical to the success of a school. Under the provisions of the Education (No. 2) Act that was passed last year, local authorities are no longer able to foist, without more ado, their choice of head teacher on a school without the agreement of the governing body. That is a major step forward. I wish to re-emphasise the importance that we attach to increasing the authority of a school's head teacher.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Secretary of State aware that when the reorganisation of the maintained sector takes place there will be considerable antipathy towards the maintenance of controlled and aided schools in the denominational sector? Will he consider the position in Leeds, where reorganisation will take place because of falling schools rolls, to ensure that the denominational schools within the maintained sector are treated fairly?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Church schools and voluntary-aided schools have a much greater degree of independence. They own their own property and employ their own staff. I wish to make it clear that I want to see much greater control given to the governing bodies and head teachers over their own budgets. That will be the thrust of our policy after we are returned to office at the next election.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large number of head teachers in the country welcome the opportunity to have more control, together with their governors, over the way in which cash is spent within schools, and to cut down on the form-filling bureaucracy, of which many complain at the moment? Does he agree that it might be a good idea, in the long term, to establish some form of staff college to help with the training of head teachers in management and associated skills?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

I am attracted by such a proposal and I shall have something to say about that later in the year. On the question of the power of schools, already the budget of a secondary school, which is about £1.5 million to £2 million, has been handed over to the school and governing body. Several schools in Cambridgeshire and Solihull have adopted that practice, and I want it to be extended right across the country.

Mr. Radice

Does the Secretary of State think that local government has any role to play in education?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

Local authorities will continue to be the main providers and will continue to have the responsibilities that flow from that. Just as the hon. Gentleman has become a convert to the national curriculum, so I am sure that he will become a convert to financial delegation to the schools.

Mr. Alan Howarth

In securing the very desirable objective of greater independence for maintained schools, will my right hon. Friend consider whether there may not be an awkward contradiction between policies of extending financial devolution and parental choice and the policy of imposing a national curriculum?

Mr. Kenneth Baker

As schools obtain greater independence in the control of their finances, they will also conform to a national curriculum that will be inspected by an enlarged inspectorate. I do not envisage any conflict between the two roles, as both are aimed at improving the quality of education in our schools.