HC Deb 04 April 1989 vol 150 cc1-4
1. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many schools have voted to opt out to date; and if he will make a statement

3. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on his proposed funding of opted-out schools

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

At least 63 schools have begun the legal procedures for seeking grant-maintained status. So far parents have voted at 51 schools. In 38 they have authorised a formal application, and I have already approved four such applications. My proposals for funding grant-maintained schools were set out in a consultation paper on 10 March.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the confidence shown by the parents of pupils at St. James's Church of England school which has allowed the school to take up a full entry quota for next year? Will he assure the governors of the school that they will receive all the support that they need in view of the mean-mindedness of Bolton council which has threatened to withdraw all but the legal minimum of support services, even though the people of Bolton greeted my right hon. Friend's decision to provide grant-aided status with jubilation?

Mr. Baker

I deplore the absurd and rather threatening statement made some time ago by Bolton's chief education officer that teachers in grant-maintained schools do not have the right experience to serve in LEA schools. Thai is transparent nonsense. With regard to funding, local authorities will retail some legal responsibilities for certain services to pupils in grant-maintained schools, but when governors become responsible for running schools, they will have the money to provide the basic education service and to buy specialist support either from the local education authority or, if the authority is not willing, from other suppliers.

Mr. Greenway

Bearing in mind the excellent opt principle and its fairness, will my right hon. Friend assure the House that he will under no circumstances allow grant-maintained schools to be in any way disadvantaged in comparison with local authority schools? Will he take note of what the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said—which contrasts with what his party has said—that Church schools and others should opt out of the local education system?

Mr. Baker

I assure my hon. Friend that the rules about parity of funding are clearly set out in the memorandum that I have already issued. Like my hon. Friend, I was very interested to see the report produced by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). In it the hon. Gentleman praised the status of grant-maintained schools and advocated that that option should be taken up by Church schools. That is clearly a very significant contribution to the debate from a distinguished member of the Labour party. I only hope that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) will listen to him.

Mr. Frank Field

Clearly the Secretary of State for Education and Science did not attend a grant-maintained school because if he had, he might have read the pamphlet more ably. In that pamphlet I advocated that opting out schools should opt in to a federated Church status. If that happens, does the Secretary of State agree that the Education Reform Act 1988 would be radically changed in a way which might be more on keeping with his views, but less in keeping with those of the Prime Minister?

Mr. Baker

No. I think that in his pamphlet the hon. Gentleman urged that Church schools of all denominations should take advantage collectively or individually of grant-maintained status. I am glad that he had the courage to say that. I was a little surprised by the reaction of the Member for Leeds, Central when the pamphlet was published. He said: Frank is out of line with party and Church thinking on this."—— but he added, and this must be very reassuring for the hon. Member for Birkenhead—— We are not going to kick him for having other views.

Mr. George Howarth

Does the Secretary of State agree that 97.4 per cent. of parents at Ruffwood school in my constituency, who voted against opting out, pretty well tumbled what a fatuous and stupid way that would have been to run their school?

Mr. Baker

The whole purpose of a ballot is that parents have a choice; some say no and some say yes, and more are saying yes than no. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will find it reassuring that more schools in Labour authorities—[Interruption.] I have the figures. Indeed, of the 63 schools which have so far embarked on the statutory procedures, 24 are in Labour-controlled local education authority areas, 22 in Conservative, 16 in hung areas and one in an SLD-controlled area. That disposes of the rumour that it is only in the Tory areas that schools wish to opt out.

Mr. Pawsey

Does my right hon. Friend agree that grant-maintained schools will have an impact out of all proportion to their numbers, because they will do a great deal to improve the quality and standard of state education and will be used as benchmarks against which other schools will be judged?

Mr. Baker

I am quite sure my hon. Friend is right. This is one of the reasons why we introduced this new type of school, and I am sure that they will provide a standard of excellence and will be beacons. This is, after all, the very thinking behind the pamphlet issued by the hon. Member for Birkenhead.

Mr. Straw

I, too, have a list, Mr. Speaker—on this occasion supplied by the GMS trust—which shows that of the 49 schools balloted, as of 4 April, only 20 are in Labour-controlled areas and many more in Conservative-controlled areas. [Interruption.] Sorry, 22—two more.

What is the Secretary of State's view of his senior chief inspector's report "Education Standards 1988–89" which shows that plans to reorganise secondary schools appear to have been slowed by uncertainty over the effect of recent legislation, especially that relating to grant-maintained schools? Does the Secretary of State agree with the chief inspector that opting out is paralysing the sensible planning of school provision, wasting money and is undermining education opportunities for a great many young people?

Mr. Baker

It will come as no surprise to the House that my figures are more up-to-date and correct than the hon. Gentleman's. I do not believe that reorganisation plans are being paralysed. It is interesting that some of the schools which decided to vote no are themselves subject to major reorganisation, amounting virtually to closure, and that they have voted in favour of that rather than go for grant-maintained status, which indicates that the essence of this and what the Labour party does not like about it is that grant-maintained status is all about parental choice, and that is what we are seeing.