§ 2. Mr. Madden
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what representations he has received concerning the procedures associated with ballots for deciding whether schools become grant maintained.
§ Mr. Patten
My Department receives a number of letters, telephone calls and other representations concerning the procedures associated with ballots for deciding whether schools become grant maintained. Since the Education Reform Act 1988 came into force, we have received many useful suggestions about ways in which the grant-maintained ballot process could be improved. The Education Bill now before the House contains measures to smooth the process and to assist governors in putting their case to parents.
§ Mr. Madden
Is the Secretary of State aware that despite the political vendetta that he has waged against Bradford local education authority—[Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that opting out by schools in Bradford has been a complete and utter flop? Does he also accept that, however much he attempts further to rig balloting and other procedures, most sensible parents, when the full facts are placed before them, will reject the prospect of placing the fate and funding of local education authority schools in the hands of the Secretary of State or any of his successors?
§ Mr. Patten
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is extremely important that parents, governors and the local community should have the full facts put before them in the most unemotional and non-political form possible. When information is presented in that way and parents have the chance to vote, we see the result in schools in Bradford such as Oakbank, which I can announce today has just become grant maintained. In Blackburn yesterday, a school voted to become grant maintained with a 70 per cent. turnout of parents and a massive majority in favour of grant-maintained status. Well-informed parents with the information before them should be left to make up their own minds and not be subjected to political bullying and harassment.
§ Dr. Spink
In view of the ever-increasing number of parents who are voting for their children's schools to become grant maintained and, therefore, to take control of those schools with true local accountability, what does my right hon. Friend think of the remark by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), the Labour Front-Bench education spokesman, that it is Labour's intention—
§ Madam Speaker
Order. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman's remarks are completely out of order —and he paid no attention to me when I told him so. I call upon the Secretary of State to give a limited reply, provided that it does not relate to that part of the hon. Gentleman's question that was out of order.
§ Mr. Patten
That will be quite difficult, Madam Speaker. However, I hold my hon. Friend—the pride of Essex—in great esteem for the way in which he attempted to put on the record the fact that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has come out on grant-maintained schools—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order".] This is on grant-maintained schools solo—honest John Patten —honestly, Madam Speaker. Following the question of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), the hon. Lady said that it is now Labour party policy to return all grant-maintained schools to local authority control.