§ Mr. Forth
I am glad that my hon. Friend has asked me that. He will be aware that in the Education Bill, which is currently in Committee, we have introduced a number of provisions to streamline the application process, to abolish the requirement for a second governors' resolution before ballots, to provide support for governing bodies for expenses incurred in the promotion of grant-maintained status and to limit LEA expenditure on measures such as my hon. Friend has described. We have taken steps to ensure that a proper, balanced debate takes place before parents make an informed judgment and cast their votes.
I think that my hon. Friend will be encouraged by the information that there has been a sevenfold increase in the number of ballots this October compared with the number last October, and that about 200 schools are balloting in October and November this year alone. That shows that we are on the up and up, and rolling.
§ Mr. Soley
The Minister's answer was not accurate. A total of 24,500 schools have not balloted, perhaps realising that—as with the ballots under the Housing Act 1988—all those not voting would be counted as having voted yes.
While the Minister is dealing with disinformation, may I ask him why he chose to single out Hammersmith and Fulham for providing what he described as disgraceful material? He has never given any examples of such material. Will he tell me—either now or in writing—what 134 that disgraceful material was? If he cannot do so—and I suspect that he cannot—will he apologise to parents, governors and the local authority?
§ Mr. William Powell
Is my hon. Friend aware that a great and growing number of schools in my constituency have already achieved grant-maintained status, and that not a single school that has done so has had the slightest cause for regret? Will my hon. Friend suggest to schools that are considering adopting such status that they approach schools in Corby and east Northamptonshire, and learn about the actual experiences of those schools?
§ Mr. Forth
My hon. Friend has made an important point, which is worth emphasising. Anyone who is considering adopting grant-maintained status can do no better than go to a school that has been grant maintained for some time and speak to the head teacher, the governors and the parents of pupils. That person will find—as Her Majesty's inspectorate has found—that grant-maintained schools benefit in almost every conceivable way from their new independent status and authority. That is reflected in more popularity, better standards and better treatment of pupils.
My hon. Friend made his point very well. I urge all those who are interested in grant-maintained status for their schools to talk to people who have already adopted it: they will receive a very positive response.