HC Deb 01 March 1994 vol 238 cc770-1
6. Mr. Mackinlay

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what mechanisms exist for his Department to gauge parental opinion, as consumers, to the extent that it relates to the Government's policy for schools.

Mr. Forth

Like other hon. Members, Ministers receive correspondence from their constituents and are therefore well placed to gauge parental opinion. In addition, parents' views are regularly sought or made known through, for instance, consultations, meetings with representative bodies and special surveys.

Mr. Mackinlay

Does the Minister understand that increasingly the consultation on opt-out schools is turning against the Government's policies and opt-out schools are diminishing parental choice, in that schools select pupils, rather than parents selecting schools for their children?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. The facts are that the number of schools balloting remains high, the turnout in those ballots remains high and the number of yes votes remains as high as historically it has been since the beginning of grant-maintained schools. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman make a better effort to consult his parents, as he is obviously completely out of touch.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best ways of assessing parental opinion is by looking at what parents do with their children? Will he join me in congratulating St. Mary's college in my constituency, which recently opened, from its own resources, a £750,000 sports centre? That facility will be enjoyed by many children who can take advantage of the assisted places scheme, which allows them to attend that school as a matter of choice by their parents—an opportunity which would be denied to them by a Labour Government.

Mr. Forth

What a refreshing contrast between my hon. Friend's positive attitude and the carping and negative attitude of Opposition Members. I believe that, at the appropriate time, parents up and down the country will draw their own conclusions from the sort of attitudes exemplified in the Chamber.

Mr. Beggs

As the Department assesses the opinion of parents, can the Minister tell the House whether there is any evidence of support for those schools that choose to be more selective with their intakes?

Mr. Forth

I believe that the answer is yes. We have encouraged schools up and down the country to consider their own policies—what they would like to do and how they would like to do it—to consult parents locally and then to come forward with proposals for changes in their administration policies if they think that that is appropriate. A number of schools do that and a number of them keep the matter under review. That is something that we encourage because it adds to the elements of choice and diversity in education which my right hon. Friend has been determined to encourage since he took office just under two years ago.