HC Deb 12 July 1994 vol 246 cc813-5
3. Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what is the latest figure he has for the number of schools that have now voted in favour of grant-maintained status.

Mr. Patten

I am pleased to report that, to date, parents at 1,134 schools in England have voted for self-governing GM status, compared with about 350 at the time of the previous general election. Unfortunately, parents at nine out of 10 schools have not yet had the opportunity to vote in a ballot.

Mr. Brown

Is not it true that there have been few successful ballots in south Humberside because of intimidation by the NUT and by Humberside county council? Until my right hon. Friend persuades the Secretary of State for the Environment to abolish the county of Humberside, we shall have much more work to do on this score in south Humberside.

Mr. Patten

I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says about the unfortunate situation in his area. I will convey his views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I agree that we have a lot more work to do—although I welcome the support for our policies that is emerging from the Opposition. For instance, I understand that the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is sending her son to a grant-maintained school in London in two months' time. That must make for interesting discussions in the shadow Cabinet, in which the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who is firmly in favour of abolishing grant-maintained schools, serves.

Mr. Jack Thompson

Is the Secretary of State aware that in Northumberland, the metropolitan boroughs of Tyne and Wear and Durham, only one school has opted out, and that was by a dubious two votes? Does not that reflect the good sense of the people of the north-east of England?

Mr. Patten

As the late Sir Winston Churchill said, one vote is enough in all circumstances, including parliamentary elections. I regret the fact that there are not more grant-maintained schools in the north-east among the 1,134 that have voted to become grant maintained, but it is entirely right and proper that parents should have the chance to express their views. If, however, those parents and those schools are subject to the type of intimidatory action, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) referred, which took place in Humberside, in County Durham and in Newcastle, supported by the National Union of Teachers on every occasion, it is not surprising that that intimidation has sometimes worked.

Sir Anthony Durant

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the large number of schools that have become grant maintained. Will he, as a matter of urgency, consider Prospect school in my constituency, which had an outstanding ballot by the parents, and whose application the Labour party has done all that it can to block?

Mr. Patten

I shall consider the prospects for Prospect school as soon as I leave the Chamber.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Will the Secretary of State accept the thanks of the Opposition for his attempts to trail the Labour party's education document—a document agreed by all three leadership contenders—which says that we must end GM status and abolish the Funding Agency for Schools? Will the Minister also confirm that, of the 24,706 primary and secondary schools in England and Wales, there are only 944 grant-maintained schools, which is about 4 per cent? Is not it a fitting symbol of the failure of the Secretary of State and his GM policy that, last month, not a single secondary school in the country decided to become grant maintained?

Mr. Patten

The mystery deepens, Madam Speaker. I am becoming more and more perplexed as to how it is possible for the hon. Member for Peckham, who is sending her boy to a grant-maintained school this September, to sit in the same shadow Cabinet as the hon. Member for Dewsbury, who wishes not only to abolish grant-maintained schools, but to abolish A-levels, city technology colleges, performance tables, grammar schools, selection and almost everything else that has led to advances in children's education.