HC Deb 10 July 1990 vol 176 cc170-1
12. Mr Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress is being made with the establishment of grant-maintained schools.

Mr. MacGregor

I am pleased to say that considerable progress is being made. As I said earlier, the first 18 grant-maintained schools started last September, and 44 grant-maintained schools will be operating this September. There will then be more grant-maintained schools in total than there are secondary schools in two thirds of English local education authorities.

Mr. Coombs

I welcome the excellent progress being made in this area, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the more schools there are that have experience of local management, the more there are that want to go the step further to grant-maintained status? Does my right hon. Friend further agree that nothing more clearly illustrates the Labour party's obsession with levelling down and its antipathy towards high standards than its vindictive opposition to this excellent idea?

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend on both points. It is likely that, as more and more schools see the advantages of local management, they will also see the additional advantages which grant-maintained status gives them, taking them further in the direction of complete control over their budgets, with additional budgets at their disposal as a result of the expenditure from central funds and the further advantages that grant-maintained status brings. I entirely agree with the charges that my hon. Friend makes against the Opposition's policy. On assisted places, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges, the Opposition deny choice and greater variety in the system. Their policy on assisted places denies opportunities to those parents who are prepared to make a contribution to their children's education which many Opposition Members have themselves had.

Mr. Flannery

The Minister must be easily pleased, as that number of 40-odd so-called grant-maintained schools, which we would describe as having opted out, is well below what the Government planned. Is he aware that in cities such as my own—Sheffield—there has not been one application for grant-maintained status, and I believe the same is true of Leeds, Wakefield and other great cities because people are completely opposed to the centralisation of education and believe that education should be the responsibility of local education authorities?

Mr. MacGregor

Given that grant-maintained status has only recently been introduced, there has been excellent progress so far. The hon. Gentleman should talk to head teachers and teachers in the grant-maintained schools, not to mention parents and governors. He will then see how popular they are and what a difference grant-maintained status makes to schools. I have described the policy as the jewel in the crown for parent power and I believe that its success will grow and grow.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Like many of my colleagues in Nottinghamshire, I have received correspondence from boards of governors in our schools complaining bitterly at their treatment by the county with regard to local management. Is my right hon. Friend saying that the Government's advice to those boards of governors is to apply immediately for grant-maintained status?

Mr. MacGregor

Certainly I think that that is an option which more and more schools will wish to consider, and I hope that it will be drawn to their attention.