HC Deb 02 March 1993 vol 220 cc128-30
7. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many schools have applied for grant-maintained status.

15. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many secondary schools have so far applied for grant-maintained status; what that is as a percentage of the total number of secondary schools in England; and in which local education authorities no grant-maintained schools have so far emerged.

Mr. Patten

I shall answer these questions as quickly as possible.

To date, 644 schools have published proposals for grant-maintained status as self-governing state schools. Four hundred and thirty one of those applications have been approved and 156 are currently under consideration. A further 68 schools have voted yes in parental ballots, but have not yet published proposals. About 13 per cent. of maintained secondary schools in England have applied for grant-maintained status.

Mr. Field

With a record like that, we are going to give my right hon. Friend an E for effort this term. Does he appreciate that the opportunity provided by grant-maintained status has shifted the balance of power so that school governors who are not politically correct are no longer sacked, as happened on the Isle of Wight under the Liberal Democrat-controlled education authority, has put an end to the councillor busybody and has given power back to the principals and parents of schools throughout the United Kingdom and the Isle of Wight?

Mr. Patten

We all know about the shameful and undemocratic practices of the Liberal Democrats on the Isle of Wight and I wholly condemn them. I believe that power is being redistributed in schools from the centre or hub of the wheel to the rim. Across the country, more parents and governors are taking control of their schools not only through grant-maintained status but through local management of schools which, four or five years ago, the Labour party so opposed.

Mr. Pawsey

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the figures that he has just given underline the growing importance and success of the grant-maintained schools sector? Will he therefore disregard the ill-informed and ill-considered advice from certain members of the Opposition who would abolish grant-maintained schools? Will he also reflect on the number of children now being educated in the grant-maintained school sector?

Mr. Patten

The number of children in England being educated in self-governing state schools, which is what grant-maintained schools are, is 236,000. There are an awful lot of committed parents, teachers and governors and their numbers will be growing in the next year or so. Unfortunately, they know, because the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) has made it clear, that there is a Labour commitment to abolish grant-maintained schools. I wonder what the modernisers in the Labour party think about that.

Mrs. Helen Jackson

Does the Secretary of State agree with the widespread concern that has been expressed about grant maintained status being granted in the primary sector, where the Government are giving no guarantees to protect funding for nursery education and, incidentally, no protection where they insist on the rationalisation of schools to remove surplus places?

Mr. Patten

The position of primary schools is clear. If they have a nursery class or stream when they become grant maintained, that is their status when the Secretary of State gives his permission for the school to become grant maintained. If not, they have to come to the Secretary of State and publish an application for a change of character.

It is good to know of the considerable interest among primary schools not only in individually becoming grant-maintained but in making use of the opportunities given in the Education Bill, which we shall be discussing later today on the Floor of the House, for them to help each other in a grant-maintained cluster.

Mr. Don Foster

Does the Secretary of State believe that schools applying for grant-maintained status are exercising what he falsely believes to be parental choice and democracy? If so, is he willing to extend those principles further and allow future generations of parents to exercise parental choice in voting back out of grant-maintained status into LEA control, or is his belief in democracy really a sham and does he believe in it only when it supports Tory party dogma?

Mr. Patten

For a Liberal, the hon. Gentleman is showing appalling contempt for the rule of the ballot box because in eight out of 10 ballots for grant-maintained schools, the vote is an overwhelming yes and, generally speaking, between 60 and 70 per cent. of parents entitled to vote turn out to vote—far more than in a local government election. The hon. Gentleman is pouring contempt and scorn on the parents who voted in favour of the two grant-maintained schools in Bath which he has done nothing but attack since he has been a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a recent poll organised by the BBC on Baverstock school in Birmingham found that although, at the time it opted out, 75 per cent. of parents voted in favour, two years later, 99 per cent. of those people eligible to vote were in favour of the opting out? Does not that show how popular grant-maintained status becomes over a period of time and how idiotic it is for the Opposition to threaten to abolish grant-maintained schools?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The BBC broadcast the results of such a poll to which I listened carefully, as I always do. It shows increasing support for Baverstock school as a grant-maintained school. It is one of the biggest schools in the country with, I think, more than 2,000 pupils. After two years' experience, almost every parent of a child at that school has said that they wish it to remain grant maintained and welcome the fact that it has become a successful beacon in Birmingham's educational landscape.