§ 3. Mr. Simon Coombs
To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many Wiltshire schools have opted for grant-maintained status in the (a) primary and (b) secondary sectors.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Eric Forth)
One primary school and three secondary schools in Wiltshire are already operating as self-governing grant-maintained state schools or have been approved for GM status. A further three primary and two secondary schools have voted in favour of applying for GM status and have applications in the pipeline.
§ Mr. Coombs
Is my hon. Friend aware that four schools to which my constituents send their children in the Swindon area have had ballots and negatived the proposal to go for grant-maintained status? Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment at that outcome, which has been largely a result of general election-style canvassing by Labour supporters? Does he agree that the only people to lose out as a result are the children in those schools? If he does agree, what does he see as the way forward?
§ Mr. Forth
I am grateful, but, frankly, not surprised, that my hon. Friend has cited an example from his constituency. Up and down the country there have been shady goings-on with regard to grant-maintained ballots, emanating from some politically motivated people in virtually every local education authority. However, in spite of that, so far the rate of approval of yes votes in grant-maintained ballots has been 80 per cent. and in February it was 82 per cent. We can take great encouragement from that. There are measures already in the Education Bill, which we shall be discussing on Report later today, designed to improve the balance provided to parents, by providing for modest sums to be made available to governing bodies for expenses incurred in promoting grant-maintained status and limiting local education authority expenditure on publications associated with ballots. That will redress the balance between authorities and governing bodies. We believe that those and other measures in the Bill will correct the imbalance that has existed until now and ensure that parents come forward with informed and constructive views.