HC Deb 13 December 1995 vol 268 cc975-6
5. Mr. Robert Ainsworth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what representations she has received concerning her proposals to fast-track grant-maintained status for voluntary aided schools. [3872]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Cheryl Gillan)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received almost 2,000 responses to the Department's consultation paper on self-government for voluntary aided schools.

Mr. Ainsworth

Is it not a fact that self-governing schools have not only the ability but the obligation to consider opting out each year, and that what is now being disguised as a fast track by the Government is a deliberate attempt to deny parents the opportunity to choose? That is right-wing dogma dressed up as a fast track.

Mrs. Gillan

The hon. Gentleman could not possibly be more wrong. Grant-maintained status remains voluntary, and we are not at present proposing to change that, but we are committed to extending the benefits of self-government to more schools. We are looking at ways of bringing that about.

Mr. Pawsey

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to confirm that the Government have no intention of dragooning Church schools into a fast-track approach to grant-maintained status, and further confirm that there has simply been issued a consultation document that poses a number of alternatives? Finally, does she agree that it would be a good idea for the Churches to consult widely among parents so that their representations truly reflect what is best for the children at those schools?

Mrs. Gillan

My hon. Friend is right. We have received more than 1,900 responses to the consultation process and we are considering all the replies carefully. We shall make an announcement on that after the analysis has been completed.

Mr. Kilfoyle

In a written reply on 4 December to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the Under-Secretary of State for Schools listed 23 separate issues that had gone out to consultation, only three of which had met the Department for Education and Employment's efficiency guidelines of a minimum of 10-week consultation. On that matter, the Government allowed four weeks, extended under pressure to five. In so doing, they have managed to unite the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the National Governors Council. Is that lack of consultation down to the Secretary of State's arrogance, or to obsequiousness to the Prime Minister's educational pipe dreams?

Mrs. Gillan

The hon. Gentleman is barking up the wrong tree. This is a consultation process and we have received many responses. Responses to the paper were requested by 24 November. To show that my right hon. Friend is a listening Secretary of State, she listened to the request to extend the consultation period, and did so by one week to 1 December. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should listen to the reply—he asked the question. A substantially longer consultation period, would have effectively removed the option of legislation in the 1995–96 parliamentary Session, which would have been wrong. Our consultation processes are truly just that.