HC Deb 16 November 1992 vol 214 cc1-3
2. Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what further steps he will take to inform school governors of their rights and obligations under local management of schools.

The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts)

Before I reply to the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones), I hope that you, Madam Speaker, will allow me to welcome the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) to the Opposition Front Bench as this is his first Question Time as Opposition spokesman on Welsh affairs.

We will shortly be distributing to all governors updated versions of "School Governors—A Guide to the Law". This contains a great deal of useful information for governors including advice on managing a school's budget and staffing.

Mr. Jones

The Minister of State was slightly remisss in not congratulating Llanelli on their win over the Wallabies when he congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), our new shadow spokesman on Welsh affairs.

Does the Minister acknowledge that there has been a problem with the governors of locally managed schools and grant-maintained status schools which was only recently acknowledged by the Secretary of State for Education with the new Education Bill? Does the Minister agree that being a school governor at the moment is quite a hazardous occupation in respect of liability for health and safety and the Food Safety Act 1990?

Sir Wyn Roberts

Certainly, governors do valuable work. There are 20,000 school governors in Wales and between 12,000 and 13,000 of them were due to be reappointed or to be appointed anew this term. They have a great deal of responsible work, but, according to the reaction that I have received, they are taking their work very seriously and are doing extremely well.

Mr. Richards

Does my right hon. Friend agree that local management of schools has been an outstanding success and that grant-maintained schools will be an even greater success? What measures does my right hon. Friend intend to take to stop local education authorities under the control of Opposition parties from mounting scurrilous campaigns against those schools, and their governors and parents, that are considering applying for grant-maintained status?

Sir Wyn Roberts

Certainly, I agree with my hon. Friend that LMS has been a great success in Wales. Six hundred and fifty primary schools and 200 secondary schools are now locally managed and all schools will be locally managed by April 1995. It is indeed a short step from local management to grant-maintained status. I agree with my hon. Friend that parents who wish to consider grant-maintained status should be given fair play and should certainly not be bombarded by local education authorities. We are taking steps in the Education Bill to ensure that the amount of money spent by LEAs is equivalent to the amount of money that could be spent by a school seeking grant-maintained status.

Mr. Wigley

The Minister must surely be aware of the groundswell of opinion against the provisions that were put forward in the consultation paper in the summer and the implications that they have for all schools in Wales. May I press him on guidance to governors with regard to special needs education? Is he aware that many governors will not have a background in respect of the special resources that are needed, and that, if they have to make value judgments on the use of available resources, they may not have the necessary backgrounds to reach such decisions? What steps is the Minister taking to safeguard the needs of those who require special education?

Sir Wyn Roberts

There is a later question, as the hon. Gentleman probably knows, about special educational needs. However, over the past four years we have spent£12 million on support and training for school governors in Wales, so they should know about children with special educational needs.

Mr. Ron Davies

May I thank the Minister for the kind words with which he started this Question Time? I hope that he will enjoy my stay at the Dispatch Box as much as I shall.

When the Minister informs LMS schools of their rights, and, incidentally, tries to bribe them into opting out, will he be slightly more honest than he has been recently in his analysis of LEA expenditure? Not all Welsh local education authorities are underspending on education. Why does he not admit that there is no pot of unspent gold, as he suggests? If schools are bribed into opting out, that will be at the expense of the majority of schools in Wales which will not opt out. Why does he not accept that?

Sir Wyn Roberts

There is no bribing whatsoever. Through grant-maintained status we are ensuring that schools get their proper share of the money. The hon. Gentleman must know that local education authorities retain a substantial amount of money to maintain their services and their local bureaucracy. With regard to capital allocations, I have made the point clear again and again that there has been an underspend of 15 per cent. overall in Wales in the amount of capital spent on schools and colleges. There was a similar underspend, although not as large, last year and, indeed, the year before.

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