HC Deb 01 March 1994 vol 238 cc768-70
5. Sir John Hannam

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what surveys have been undertaken of the progress being made by grant-maintained schools since acquiring self-governing status.

The Secretary of State for Education (Mr. John Patten)

Her Majesty's chief inspector of schools has found that self-governing schools use their freedom to good effect. Inspectors have observed in most grant-maintained schools a greater proportion of satisfactory or better than satisfactory lessons than in maintained schools generally, commendable pupil behaviour and attendance and improved teacher morale. That picture is confirmed by a survey published by the Grant-Maintained Schools Centre in the past month, in which the majority of schools responding reported increasing pupil numbers, improved pupil-teacher ratios and, An the secondary sector, the introduction of new subjects.

Sir John Hannam

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the disappointment felt by the majority of teachers and governors at St. Thomas high school in my constituency where, in the past week, parents voted down a proposal to become self-governing? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to examine the material circulated by the local education authority and other parties, which, of course, must be governed by a code of conduct?

Mr. Patten

The holder of my office now has powers to declare void ballots where there has been any doubt about any of the material circulated. If my hon. Friend does not mind, I shall not comment on the school in his constituency, for fear that I may have to examine the case. However, I shall ask my hon. Friend to forward all the documents to me.

Without commenting on that case, I understand that Devon is controlled by the Liberal party and, of course, throughout southern and western England, the Liberal party is notorious for its use of underhand political campaigning. Indeed, there have been attempts, led by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), to cause local authority chief education officers to dance to Liberal party tunes.

Mr. Gareth Wardell

Will the Secretary of State join me in ensuring that, where all the proper procedures have been followed, he will not go any further in introducing legislation to force schools to become grant-maintained against the wishes of local people?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman knows that, as a fellow geographer, I always listen carefully to him, but I am little surprised that he seems to have lost his daffodil, along with one or two others Opposition Members. I keep my legislative options under continual review.

Mr. Pawsey

My right hon. Friend referred to the lower level of truancy in grant-maintained schools and to higher teacher morale. Is he aware that there is one area in which GM schools do not do so well—competitive sport? The reason is that some local education authorities, for spiteful reasons, will not allow their schools to play competitive sports against GM schools.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right. Children who are educated in grant-maintained schools are educated by the state—they are state school children, just as children in maintained schools are educated by the state and are equally state school children. It is true that in certain authorities—Middlesbrough, Nottingham and Derbyshire, to name but three—it is difficult or impossible for local county-maintained schools to play competitive sports against grant-maintained schools. It must be wrong that we can send sporting teams to South Africa but it is impossible to send sporting teams to grant-maintained schools. It is a disgraceful form of educational apartheid.

Mr. Don Foster

Does the Secretary of State accept that, given the lower number of schools that have opted out this month, he has wasted £200,000 of taxpayers' money on advertisements for GM status? Can he tell the House whether the contents of those advertisements were statements of fact or merely statements of opinion?

Mr. Patten

The Liberal party has even fewer education policies than the Labour party, which is saying quite a lot. The hon. Gentleman, together with some of his hon. Friends in another place, has mentioned the nature and content of the advertisement. He made a great fuss, public to-do and tumult about referring it to the Advertising Standards Authority, which has now given the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends an answer: go away and grow up.