§ Mr. Robin Squire
Some 182 primary schools are now grant maintained or self-governing. A further 93 schools have been approved for self-governing status and we look forward to welcoming them to the sector in January and April next year. There has been a fivefold increase in the number of self-governing primary schools operating since last year's general election and the number continues to grow.
§ Mr. Gill
Does my hon. Friend agree that if parents genuinely want education to cease being used as a political football they would do well to opt for grant-maintained status? Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that those schools that have taken grant-maintained status enjoy better motivation of both teachers and pupils? By voting for grant-maintained status, parents would reap a very handsome dividend.
§ Mr. Squire
My hon. Friend is right on every point. A report of the independent inspectorate, Ofsted, earlier this year highlighted improved teacher morale and pupil attendance in grant-maintained schools, and recent exam results show that, comparing comprehensives with comprehensives, grant-maintained schools have significantly better results than local education authority schools.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Why do not Ministers come clean about the trend away from, not towards, grant-maintained schools? Why does not the Minister confirm that only the other day in his constituency a school voted against grant-maintained status; that, as was said earlier, the number of ballots taking place is going down and not up; that the number of no votes is going up and not down; and that parents have now rumbled the fact that, as Stratford shows, grant-maintained status provides neither a better education nor a better way for Ministers to deal with any problems that exist? Ministers should come clean and say that parents have seen what Ministers are still blind to—grant-maintained status does not guarantee education opportunity.
§ Mr. Squire
Any suggestion that Ministers should come clean from the party that runs Tower Hamlets is a bit rich. As to the hon. Gentleman's comments on individual grant-maintained schools, or non-grant-maintained schools in the case of one vote in my constituency, the words "straws" and "clutching" come to mind. The underlying position remains that, month in, month out, a significant majority of voters vote yes. One's heart goes out at times to parents and governors who are struggling against the organised opposition of Opposition Members and their parties. When they finally have the chance to vote, they vote for freedom, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) said.
§ Dame Angela Rumbold
Will my hon. Friend reassure parents and some teachers in primary schools in my constituency that the malevolent operation of Labour-controlled Merton council to prevent some primary schools from opting out will be controlled in some way or another?
§ Mr. Squire
I immediately assure my right hon. Friend that, from 1 January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have enhanced powers, in particular to tackle abuses that might occur in the balloting procedure and to cover information going to parents when they vote, which he will not hesitate to use in the appropriate circumstances.
§ Mr. Enright
If grant-maintained status is so attractive, why will not the Government allow schools to vote to opt out of grant-maintained status?
§ Mr. Squire
That is an entirely theoretical question. In all my journeys around the country visiting grant-maintained schools and talking to their heads I have not found one head who would even consider the option of returning to local education authority control.