§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)
Before I answer the question, may I offer the House the apologies of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is unavoidably engaged visiting schools and training establishments in Germany? He sends the House his apologies. The engagement was fixed some time ago.
The aim of the policy is to improve parental choice and the use of resources to benefit the pupils. That is being achieved in the first grant-maintained schools. They are showing the way in maximising the commitment and enthusiasm of governors, parents and teachers. The policy is already proving an overwhelming success.
§ Dr. Twinn
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Does she agree that many more schools would benefit from grant-maintained status? Will she make the success story of grant-maintained schools more widely known, so that parents, governors and staff can give more consideration to applying for grant-maintained status?
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The success of the policy is demonstrated by the growing number of schools that are beginning to apply for grant-maintained status. As my hon. Friend will know, there are already 29 grant-maintained schools and there will be 12 more in September. A number of further proposals are about to be made. Therefore, the best way of informing the general public and particularly schools about the success of the grant-maintained policy is by the growing number of schools that are obtaining that status.
§ Mr. Flannery
Is not the Minister literally whistling in the dark because the policy is an utter failure—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no good Conservative Members shouting me down. The policy is being resisted all over the 120 country. Like the city technology colleges and various other programmes, it is a partial step towards privatisation. Will the hon. Lady tell us the truth, because the eduation system is moving steadily into semi-chaos?
§ Mrs. Rumbold
I am not sure whether to take the hon. Gentleman seriously, but for the moment I shall do so and point out that the best way in which he can establish whether grant-maintained schools are a success is to visit one. He will then see the immense improvement in the morale of teachers and parents and in the way in which those schools are organised. The benefit of self-governing schools is indubitably for the best.
§ Mr. Pawsey
I hope that my hon. Friend will disregard the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). Does she agree that one of the ways in which we could create further interest in grant-maintained schools and increase the number of schools applying is by abolishing the wholly artificial threshold of 300 pupils? If that were abolished, many more schools would apply for grant-maintained status.
§ Mrs. Rumbold
My hon. Friend puts forward an interesting thought and I can assure him that we shall consider it, but at present we are extremely busy, as he will no doubt appreciate, with the number of applications and parental ballots that have already been successful.