HC Deb 11 December 1997 vol 302 cc1181-2
15. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

If he will make a statement on the Government's policy on voluntary-aided and denominational schools.[18761]

Mr. Byers

The Government welcome the part that voluntary schools, including voluntary-aided and denominational schools, play in the education service. Our new school framework will safeguard their ethos and will enable them, and all other schools, to raise standards and improve the quality of the education that they offer.

Mr. Winterton

Does the Minister accept that voluntary schools and denominational schools have for many decades served as the leaven in the dough to raise educational standards and the standards of pastoral care provided by our education service, and that the resources provided by the Churches in this country to supplement the public purse have been beneficial to every child in every school in the country? Will he assure me that denominational schools are safe in the Labour Government's hands?

Mr. Byers

I endorse the hon. Gentleman's comments about the valuable role that Church schools play. In the consultation exercise following the publication of the White Paper, "Excellence in schools", we were able to reflect on proposals made by the Church education authorities. As a result of their representations, we now have before the House a Bill which has their support. We believe that, as a result of the amendments that we made in the light of their representations, we now have a far better Bill.

Mr. Jim Marshall

How many Muslim schools have indicated a desire to enter the voluntary-aided sector? What criteria would they have to meet before such admission?

Mr. Byers

A number of applications are before Ministers at the moment, including some from promoters from the Muslim sector. As I am the Minister who has to consider those applications, it would be wrong for me to make a statement this afternoon. I can say, however, that they will be judged on the criteria that we apply to all other applications.

Mr. Dafis

May I press the Minister a little further? As Church of England and Roman Catholic schools are integrated in the public sector, should not similar provision be made for Muslim schools and for other schools with alternative curricula, such as the Rudolf Steiner schools? Would the Minister be willing to meet representatives of the Third Sector Schools Alliance to explore this possibility, and to explain what the obstacles to their entry to the public sector are? Is it not wrong that schools should be obliged to stay in the private or voluntary sector when they would like to be integrated with the public sector?

Mr. Byers

I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman. There is no dogmatic opposition to schools entering the maintained sector; all schools will be subject to the same criteria. In particular, they will have to meet the demands and requirements of the national curriculum. One of the difficulties experienced by the types of school mentioned by the hon. Gentleman has been their failure to meet the terms and requirements of the national curriculum.