HC Deb 11 March 1998 vol 308 cc620-56 '.—(1) Where a school is a grant maintained school within the meaning of the Education Act 1996 at the beginning of the 1998–99 school year—

  1. (a) the provisions of this clause shall have effect for prescribing the procedure for altering the school's status so that it is no longer a grant maintained school; and
  2. (b) the status of the school as a grant maintained school shall not be so altered except in accordance with the provisions of this clause.

(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for ballots of parents to be held, at their request, for determining whether the grant maintained school to which such a ballot relates should retain its status as a grant maintained school. (3) Ballot regulations may make provision—

  1. (a) for determining the parents who are eligible to request and vote in a ballot under this section, provided that such determination shall include only parents of children for the time being in the school or who have accepted an offer of a place in the school;
  2. (b) requiring a request for such a ballot to be made by means of a petition signed by such number eligible parents as may be specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations;
  3. (c) prescribing the form of any petition and other requirements (whether as to the procedure to be followed or otherwise) which are to be complied with in relation to any such petition;
  4. (d) prescribing the body ("the designated body") to which any such petition is to be sent and which, under arrangements made by Secretary of State, is to—
    1. (i) make the arrangements for the holding of ballots under this section, and
    2. (ii) discharge such other functions with respect to such petitions and the holding of such ballots as may be prescribed (which may include the determination of any question arising as to the validity of any request for a ballot);
  5. (e) requiring prescribed bodies or persons, or bodies or persons falling within any prescribed category—
    1. (i) to provide the designated body or any other person with any prescribed information requested by that body or person, or
    2. (ii) to publish prescribed information in such manner as may be prescribed;
  6. (f) prescribing the terms of the question on which a ballot under this section is to be held and the manner in which such a ballot is to be conducted;
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  8. (g) specify how the result of such a ballot is to be ascertained;
  9. (h) enabling the Secretary of State, in any prescribed circumstances, to declare a previous ballot under this section void and require the holding of a fresh ballot;
  10. (i) requiring anything falling to be done under the regulations to be done within such period as may be specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations;

(4) Ballot regulations may provide for a request for a ballot under this section to be made, in any prescribed circumstances, by means of two or more petitions. (5) The information required to be provided in pursuance of subsection (3)(e) may include the names and addresses of parents of any prescribed description. (6) Where—

  1. (a) a ballot has been held under this section, and
  2. (b) the result of the ballot was to the effect that the schools or school in question should retain grant-maintained status,

no further ballot relating to the schools or school shall be held under this section within five years. (7) An authority or body to whom this subsection applies shall not—

  1. (a) publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears designed to influence the result of a ballot under this section, or
  2. (b) give any financial or other assistance to a person for the publication of material, which the authority or body are prohibited by this subsection from publishing themselves, or
  3. (c) otherwise incur any expenditure, or give any assistance, for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a ballot under this section.

(8) Subsection (7) applies to—

  1. (a) any local education authority, and
  2. (b) the governing body of any maintained school within the meaning of section 95 and in the case of the governing body of such a school which has a delegated budget within the meaning of Part II of this Act (or, in relation to any time before the appointed day, Part II of the Education Act 1996) the reference to expenditure in subsection (7)(c) is to expenditure out of the school's budget share.

(9) In this section, "ballot regulations" means regulations made under this section.'.—[Mr. Darrell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Dorrell

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 113, in schedule 2, page 99, line 39, at end insert, 'except that no such school shall be allocated to a new category unless the change has been agreed to following a ballot under section (Grant Maintained Schools).'.

Mr. Dorrell

The House will recognise that new clause 4 deals with the principal occasion of the Bill. The Government would say that the purpose of the Bill is to raise school standards, and we all share that purpose—but the occasion of the Bill is the Government's determination to abolish grant-maintained schools. New clause 4 would offer some protection to those schools whose parents, through a parental ballot, have voted to accord to them GM status. It would entrench their right to remain GM schools and prevent the Government from removing that status without first securing the consent of the parents.

In terms of the delivery of children's education, the new clause is the most important that we are likely to consider on Report. It goes to the heart of the central purpose that led the Government to introduce the Bill—the determination to abolish GM status.

When the Secretary of State introduced his White Paper in the summer, he included as one of the guiding principles of his education policy the proposition that standards matter more than structure. No one in the House should disagree with that principle. However, in the months since that White Paper, the right hon. Gentleman's policy has given the lie to any suggestion that it motivates the way in which, day to day, he carries out his functions.

The Bill is called the School Standards and Framework Bill and it devotes 50 clauses to establishing a new framework for the management of schools. The right hon. Gentleman's principle, when it is converted into legislation, amounts to the substitution of the word "framework" for the word "structure", and then a commitment to redesign the framework of the management of schools.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said, it is even more ironic than that. Through the Bill—the central purpose of which is the redesign of the framework for the management of schools—the Government are withdrawing the principles of local responsibility and accountability as they have been accorded to GM schools, which have used the opportunity to deliver successful education to their children. Yet in an earlier debate, the Minister for School Standards—with our support—wanted to introduce new flexibility and new opportunities to escape from over-prescriptive local education authority control for any school that opted into an education action zone.

It is extraordinary that, within the same Bill, the Secretary of State is asking the House to endorse two flatly contradictory principles—first, the principle of withdrawal of local responsibility and the reimposition of LEA control; and, secondly, the principle of enhanced flexibility and the removal of LEA control, where that can be shown to be in the interests of children.

We agree with the Secretary of State on his second principle; we disagree profoundly with him on his first. We believe that we can adduce arguments of practice and of principle to show that when the right hon. Gentleman seeks to reimpose and reintroduce over-prescriptive LEA control, he is wrong.

First, The right hon. Gentleman is wrong on the basis of the results published by his Department on the delivery of service by GM schools. In November last year, the Department for Education and Employment listed the 240 most improved schools in Britain. The Secretary of State was embarrassed by having to admit in interviews that, of the 240 schools that he listed, a third were grant maintained. It was pointed out to him that it was a bit of an own goal to issue a press release effectively praising schools whose status he was about to abolish. Eight of the top 20 schools on the list were grant maintained.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those figures are all the more striking in view of the fact that grant-maintained schools account for only 6 per cent. of all state schools in England and Wales?

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Mr. Dorrell

That is exactly right. The Secretary of State says that grant-maintained schools account for about 20 per cent. of secondary schools, but, even taking that figure, the grant-maintained sector is over-represented by a factor of roughly two in the list of most improved schools.

In the table published in The Sunday Times following last year's A-level results, 50 of the 100 best-performing schools, including the top three, were grant maintained. That is the track record of the structure that the Secretary of State wants to abolish, while saying that standards are more important than structure. How can the two halves of his personality be reconciled?

Mr. Blizzard

Does the right hon. Gentleman attribute the success of those schools to good management and efficient use of their delegated budgets, or to the favoured funding that they received as against other schools in the same area, many of which lost funding as a result? If the answer is the former, that will be unaffected by the legislation; if it is the latter, most people would believe that our schools should be fairly funded.

Mr. Dorrell

The answer is the former, but the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong to say that it is unaffected by the Bill. If it were true that the Bill left the grant-maintained school with the same authority over its own affairs, and the same freedom to decide which resources are spent by the school and which are retained by the local education authority, I would have no problem with it; but that is not what the Bill delivers.

The Bill consciously and deliberately reasserts the principle that the grant-maintained school should receive the resources allocated by the local education authority after the authority has decided which resources to use within its own bureaucracy. That is the principle that the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) will be asked to support. He may shake his head, but that is the principle in his party's manifesto.

Dr. George Turner

The right hon. Gentleman wants to defend what he regards as essential management powers. Which of those powers will not be available under the Government's proposals?

Mr. Dorrell

I am about to deal with exactly that subject. The House should concentrate not only on the results achieved by grant-maintained schools but on the principle that lay behind their establishment. The Government are asking their Back Benchers to throw over that principle and substitute the principle that the powers should be vested in the local education authority.

The Minister for School Standards says that it is his view that the key responsibility for the delivery of standards rests with the school. He is right to say that, but the problem is that he then advocates taking powers away from the school and vesting them in the LEA. The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) asked which powers. One was mentioned earlier: the power of the school to determine its own priorities.

The structure of the education development planning process that we discussed in Committee requires the school's targets to be agreed by the LEA, and the LEA's education development plan to be agreed by the Secretary of State. The Bill transfers power from the school to the LEA, but that power rests with the LEA only as long as the Secretary of State is satisfied, week by week and month by month, with the way in which the service is managed.

The Secretary of State is seeking powers over the maintained sector that are indistinguishable in principle from the powers that the Secretary of State for Health has over the national health service. The key difference is that the national health service was always intended to be a national service, accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State, whereas we sought, first, to have a school system that is accountable through the local education authority—an elected assembly to a local body—and then, more recently, to have direct accountability from individual schools, through the governing body, to parents and the local community.

Dr. George Turner

I fail to understand how the Secretary of State's insisting on the setting of standards and targets interferes with a governing body's ability to achieve higher standards.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman is now asking me a totally different question. He asked how power was taken out of the school, and I answered his question. The school should be responsible for deciding its priorities for the community that it serves, but the Bill takes that power out of the school and vests it either in the LEA or in the Secretary of State.

It is not true, as the hon. Member for Waveney loves to argue, that there was a distortion of resources in favour of grant-maintained schools. Resources were allocated to the school rather than to the local education authority, and it was for the school to decide whether they should be used within the school or to buy services from elsewhere in the bureaucracy.

Mr. Blizzard


Mr. Dorrell

Before the hon. Gentleman embarrasses himself again, he should remember the words of the Minister for School Standards, who is on the record as saying that he wants to raise the level of delegation in the rest of the maintained sector to that achieved in grant-maintained schools.

If that is the right principle, why abolish grant-maintained schools? Why not leave them there and raise the other schools to their standard? Why begin the process by levelling down, rather than—as the Minister for School Standards might have said, but did not—using the grant-maintained schools as a gold standard by which to raise the attainment of other schools?

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it may well have appeared that grant-maintained schools got extra money, but that they could spend what they needed to spend only because they were given directly money that many local education authorities had not passed on as they should have done?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is a question whether decisions about resources should be made by LEAs, or should be vested in schools and governing bodies. Sometimes, schools and governing bodies use resources to buy services from LEAs—and that is fine by us, if it is in the best interests of the school concerned and the children in it. We argue—and it is the implication, which is never faced up to, of the remarks of the Minister for School Standards—that resources should go into the school. It should then be for the head teacher principally—but also for the teaching staff and the governing body—to make decisions about how those resources can best be used.

Mr. Blizzard

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dorrell

I will give way once more.

Mr. Blizzard

I thank the right hon. Gentleman. In the light of what he has said, how does he explain comments frequently made to me by head teachers of schools that became grant maintained? Effectively, they said, "I did it for the money." Head teachers often persuaded their governing bodies to become grant maintained in pursuit of extra money—not just a greater share of the annual revenue resource taken from the LEAs, but priority in attaining capital funding from the Government. Most of those schools took the carrot that was dangled before them—extra capital resources—in what appeared to be, in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, a deliberate attempt to break down LEAs altogether.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman says that they did it for the money. In fact, they did it to control the budget that was available for the children anyway. I say that the budget was available anyway, but, if the schools were not grant maintained, the money did not get into the schools.

Labour Members love to claim that extra resources went towards the education of children in grant-maintained schools, but that is not true. As Labour Members know very well, resources were divided on the basis of local spending decisions. That is why, in the early stages of grant-maintained status, spending levels in individual GM schools with similar needs varied: they reflected the circumstances of the LEA. The hon. Gentleman's interlocutors said, "We did it for the money" because they wanted to control the money that they knew was supposed to deliver education to their children, but which, in their opinion, was not being used properly.

It is true that many GM schools have used the extra authority that they have had over resources to improve their capital stock, but they have been able to do that because the money that was previously stuck in the bureaucracy got to the schools, and the schools were able to make decisions about the best use of that money.

The Government are committed to the abolition of GM schools. I remind Labour Members who defend the abolition of GM schools that the Bill introduces the same principles in regard to education action zones. At least we are consistent: we voted for the principles regarding education action zones against which Labour Members have just voted, and we shall vote for the principles regarding grant-maintained schools as well. We shall do so because the principles are right, whether we refer to education action zones or to grant-maintained schools.

Labour Members are wrong in their vendetta against grant-maintained schools. They are wrong because they have not looked at the evidence that such schools are successful, and they are wrong in principle. They are not adhering to a principle that the Minister for School Standards loves to proclaim, but then violates in the way in which he discharges his function: maximum delegation. When the Minister proclaims maximum delegation, he is right; when he pursues a policy that inhibits and, indeed, reverses his principle for grant-maintained schools, he is wrong.

We do not claim that the grant-maintained system was perfect or incapable of improvement; nor have we ever said that grant-maintained status is right for all schools. What we say is that grant-maintained status moved power into schools, and that the result was a dramatic improvement in the education that those schools gave children.

We make another key case. Grant-maintained schools do not exist as a result of a fiat issued by the Secretary of State or his predecessors; they do not exist as a result of a private agreement between heads and governors, or local education authorities. They exist within the law as it currently stands, for a simple reason: parents supported the principle of grant-maintained status in a ballot.

8.15 pm

That is what the new clause proposes. Given the Government's determination to remove the concept of grant-maintained schools from the statute book, the least we should do is accord schools that voted for grant-maintained status within the last 10 years the same protection that the Government are prepared to accord to grammar schools. The Government's attitude to grammar schools and grant-maintained schools is remarkably consistent. Both are successful institutions, and there is clear evidence that they have widespread parental support, but the Government are plainly opposed to both. The grant-maintained sector is uniquely exposed, however. At least the Government have said, in principle, that they will not abolish grammar schools without securing consent in a ballot.

The new clause applies principles which, as I said in Committee, I do not find hugely attractive in themselves, but which provide some protection for grammar schools. I simply ask this question: why do the Government not give grant-maintained schools, when parents have voted for GM status, the protection that they are prepared to accord to grammar schools? That is the challenge which the new clause presents to the Secretary of State. I hope that, in his reply, he will recognise this: a school that can claim in its support, first, that the system works because it delivers high standards, secondly, that it is right in principle because it reflects the principle that the right hon. Gentleman himself is introducing in education action zones, thirdly, that it is backed by parents, governors and teachers, and, fourthly, that it has already been supported in a ballot of parents is entitled to expect the protection of one of Her Majesty's Ministers. The Secretary of State should not have the power to abolish grant-maintained schools unless he can show that parents have changed their minds, and have voted in a ballot to reverse the decision that they made in a ballot only a few years ago.

Mrs. May

My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) has outlined the ultimate irony that lies behind the Bill very well. It is clear that the Bill is fundamentally about changing the framework of schools. Whatever the Government say about its being a Bill to raise standards, most of it is about school structures. It is about changing the framework of schools; it is about development plans for organisation committees. It is not about standards in themselves, but about the structure within which schools operate, and the sort of schools that we have under local education authorities and education action zones.

The irony is that, in two ways, the Bill discriminates against grant-maintained schools—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood pointed out. On the one hand, the Government say, "Fine. We may not want to create new grammar schools"—we disagree with that, but it is the Government's position—"but if parents have said that they want grammar schools to stay, we will allow it. As for grant-maintained schools, no thank you—goodbye."

As for education action zones, the Government envisage certain powers in an innovative new world. The Minister for School Standards confirmed that in a debate on another new clause. The Government look ahead to the provision of education in the new millennium. They want radical thinking from schools and, to bring it about, they will set up a structure enabling schools to free themselves from LEAs, to apply different terms and positions to the employment of teachers and to have extra, favoured funding. Those are the principles that lie behind education action zones. However, the principles that schools should be free from local education authorities and have the freedom to say "No, we do not want to retain standard terms and conditions for teachers", are precisely the same principles that were applied to grant- maintained schools.

The Government are saying, "Fine, we accept that schools might not want to be under the local education authority and might want to have new thinking. We think that that's a good idea, but they can do it only if they do it under the structure that we set up and not under the previous structure. If it is a Labour idea we like it, but we don't like the idea if it was introduced by the previous Government, despite the fact that they are exactly the same."

There is also a great sadness behind the Bill.

Mr. Bercow

It is small-minded.

Mrs. May

Yes, that is an excellent description of the Bill. In Standing Committee, we were told that the Bill is about looking forward to the new millennium, about free thinking and about saying that the structure of schools under a local education authority is not right. Let us make no bones about it: the Bill will lead to the demise of local education authorities. By establishing education action zones, Ministers are saying that they want to abolish LEAs, but that they do not want to come out and say so. They will create a new structure and abolish LEAs by subterfuge.

In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris), made it absolutely clear that the Government think that, very soon, there may be 400 education action zones. The Government have created the new structure not to deal with failing schools but, ultimately, to take over the education structure of the United Kingdom. That is how the Government perceive the way forward to the new millennium.

Dr. George Turner

Does the hon. Lady acknowledge that the GM experiment was divisive and that it—unlike action zones—fostered competition rather than co-operation? Despite what she says, by no means will action zones be anti-LEA. They are a way forward. Now we shall be able to get on with raising standards, rather than continuing the sterile debate of the past 10 years on the GM experiment.

Mrs. May

That intervention was up to the hon. Gentleman's usual standard. He said that it was divisive to give a school GM status, but he thinks that it will not be divisive if schools band together as education action zones and receive extra Government funding. He has defeated his own argument.

I should like to disabuse the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner), and suggest that he think through very carefully the implications of the provisions that he has voted for in the Bill. He should spend some time thinking about the likely ultimate result of the education action zone experiment. In Committee, Ministers said that, in the new millennium, the modern school structure and modern education in modern Britain would be education action zone led and not local education authority led. Ministers made that quite clear in our Standing Committee debates, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should go away and have another look at those proceedings. Ministers' statements on that point were very interesting.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk and other Labour Members have voted for the concept of schools being freed from local education authorities, but they are saying that schools can do that only if they are in an education action zone and are not grant maintained. Grant-maintained schools were very successful precisely because they gave power to schools to make decisions on their own future and on how to provide education in those schools, without being under an LEA's authoritative hand.

Mr. Bercow

Is not the extraordinary illogicality of the Government's position that failing schools can be freed from the authority of local education authorities, but that successful schools cannot be so freed bizarre, even by new Labour standards?

Mrs. May

The Government have moved forward and accepted our argument, as they will allow successful schools to become part of an education action zone and thereby free from the local education authority. However, my hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that Ministers believe that, whereas groups of failing schools should be given those freedoms, successful grant-maintained schools must have those freedoms removed.

Mr. Hayes

Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that, by any other name, the provision is an insult to local education authorities? Our local education authorities—be they successful or unsuccessful—are being told that they are incapable of running schools. Are local education authorities being told that the democratic accountability that they offer is no longer relevant? Moreover, are we being told by Ministers that differential funding, which various Labour Members have argued against in this debate, is now acceptable?

Mrs. May

My hon. Friend makes a very interesting point. I think that every Labour Member needs to think through the Bill's consequences for local education authorities and the Government's views on them.

I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) that there is an even greater illogicality in the Government's position. The Government have said—the Minister for School Standards has confirmed it in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn)—that if a group of grant-maintained schools wishes to join in an education action zone, it will be able to do so. The Government are, therefore, saying that a group of grant-maintained schools can form an education action zone—with freedom from the local education authority and, should they wish, from the national curriculum, and with powers on how to employ their staff—but that they cannot have those powers or freedom if they maintain grant-maintained status.

The Government are interested only in abolishing something called "a grant-maintained school". They are interested not in the principles underlying grant-maintained schools or in how grant-maintained schools can and have raised standards, but only in the name "grant-maintained school". It is sheer envy of that name. Ministers believe that it is perfectly acceptable for the Government to allow education action zones to have extra funding to free themselves from local education authorities because they will not be called grant-maintained schools. That is what that provision in the Bill is all about.

I suggest that the Minister and the Secretary of State should themselves think through the illogicality of saying no to grant-maintained schools, but saying yes to the very powers that grant-maintained schools provided.

Mr. Laurence Robertson

I endorse everything said in this debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). I should also declare an interest, as my daughter attends a grant-maintained school. She is very proud to attend such a school, and I am very proud that she attends one.

We have a number of grant-maintained schools in Tewkesbury, and I have spent much time at them.

Mr. Bercow

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to accept from me—having met his excellent daughter at Conservative party conferences—that she is an admirable advertisement for the continuation of grant-maintained schools?

Mr. Robertson

As they say on the television, "You may think that, but I couldn't possibly comment." Nevertheless, I thank my hon. Friend for that very kind intervention. I suspect that more unfriendly interventions will be forthcoming as I make my speech.

I have spent much time at those grant-maintained schools, and base my remarks not only on those visits, but on my experience, some years ago, as a chairman of governors of a primary school that had about 200 pupils. At that time, primary schools of that size could not opt out; they could not apply for grant-maintained status. I tended to find that, as chairman of governors, I spent at least half my time fighting the nonsense of the socialist LEA in Bolton, and very little time doing what I was supposed to do. The headmaster found himself in a similar position.

The LEA adopted a sinister and arrogant attitude to that primary school, because it knew that, at that time, we could do nothing about it. It—and other LEAs—adopted a very different attitude to secondary schools that could opt out, because of the constant threat that those schools might leave the LEA. I do not like to use the word threat, but, when dealing with socialist LEAs, especially in the north, it was necessary to use every available weapon to run a school decently.

8.30 pm

That experience persuaded me to put pressure on the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), to allow smaller primary schools to apply for grant-maintained status. I was proud to take part in that campaign, and the Secretary of State authorised the change. I felt that smaller primary schools needed financial and managerial autonomy. The schools that have opted out have enjoyed success as a result.

The then Government wanted schools to become grant maintained because they wanted to give parents a choice about which schools their children attended. There were grant-maintained schools, Church schools and grammar schools—a range of schools—so the opinion of parents, the people who really take these decisions, mattered.

However, I have one criticism of the then Government: they made it far too difficult for schools to opt out. An enormous turnout of parents in the ballot was required. That requirement, and the terrible campaigns that LEAs carried out against schools that appeared likely to opt out, made it difficult for schools to opt out. Before any hon. Member says that there are not that many grant-maintained schools, I should say that that is hardly surprising, because there were no depths to which the LEAs would not sink to prevent schools from opting out. That is why there are not as many as there should have been.

Mr. Brady

Would my hon. Friend care to reflect on the position of many grant-maintained schools that faced sinister and unpleasant campaigns by their LEAs, which tried to oppose GM status? Many of those schools are in great fear of the prejudice that they may experience from predominantly Labour LEAs when they are forced back into the LEA sector.

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is right. Those schools do not know what will happen and they are afraid of being returned to that situation. Some disgraceful campaigns were mounted against schools that proposed to opt out.

I attended St. James's school in Farnworth, Bolton which I believe, became the second school in the country to opt out. It was interesting to watch how the LEA acted to try to prevent the school from doing so. It let it be known that the school might close. That made parents slightly dubious about sending their children to the school, so the rolls started falling, and the LEA then considered closing the school. The Bolton LEA thereby put the school in a position where it had no option but to opt out. The campaign that the LEA waged against the school was disgraceful. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) is absolutely right.

The previous Government should have made it easier for schools to opt out, especially given the success that grant-maintained schools have had. I ask a single question. Those schools—

Mr. Don Foster

The hon. Gentleman has just suggested that the grant-maintained school experiment has been some sort of success. I appreciate that this is the last gasp of an attempt to save them, but will he enlighten the House with his knowledge of evidence that demonstrates that the grant-maintained school sector has led to overall benefits? Specifically, will he draw our attention to any research that he knows of that has shown that the grant-maintained school experiment has led to a raising of academic standards?

Mr. Robertson

I can only quote the figures that I have been given. [Laughter.] Well, I shall not quote the figures that the Minister gave me because, when I did so this morning, having had them in writing from the Minister, he denied that he had given them to me—so I shall not quote the Government's figures, because I may be corrected. They may change later this evening.

However, I understand that 92 per cent. of grant-maintained schools have appointed additional staff, 91 per cent. have increased their spending on books and equipment and 54 per cent. have increased their spending on new buildings. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) suggests that I am talking only about cash. I am actually talking about what that cash bought, which seems to me to be quite important.

Mr. Hayes

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to those extra measurements of input, but measurements of output are also relevant. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) said, measured by examination results, by university entrance or by any of the standard criteria for academic success, grant-maintained schools are way above and beyond a success; they are a towering success. I know that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) was a friend of city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools before he entered the House.

Mr. Robertson

As usual, my hon. Friend makes the point better than I could.

If, now that opted-out schools are about to lose their status, I were to ask them, "Would you, by choice, revert to your previous status under the LEA?" I am not aware that any school would choose to do so. We should listen to what those schools are saying. It is all very well for us to talk about the subject in the Chamber. Should we not listen to what the schools are saying? They opted out voluntarily, and they would not revert to their previous status. They have had success because they have been able to control their finances. They have more teachers, books and buildings.

Grant-maintained schools have also been a success in less tangible terms. When one walks through a grant-maintained school, one can feel its liveliness, balanced by discipline. I believe that that is unique in such schools.

Mrs. Browning

I wonder whether my hon. Friend is wondering just how wrong a Prime Minister can be. Labour Members are all gesturing from sedentary positions to suggest that everything that my hon. Friend is saying about academic standards and discipline in schools is wrong, and yet the personal preference of the Prime Minister of this land—

Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)


Mrs. Browning

It is not cheap; it is fact. It cannot be denied. If the Prime Minister of this land, who has the choice of any school that he wishes—including those in the private sector—decides to send his son to a GM school, is his judgment out of accord with that of the members of the Labour party, or is it that they are right and he is wrong? I wonder what my hon. Friend thinks of that.

Mr. Robertson

I am grateful for that intervention. The Prime Minister is absolutely right to exercise his choice about which school he sends his children to—I wish them the best of success—but he is wrong to deny that choice to other children. Of course, he is only following what many other Labour Ministers have done. They have attended schools that, at a later date, they have wanted to close. It is a matter of "Do as they say and not as they have done." They have benefited from a far greater education than many Conservative Members have done, but have then wanted to close those very schools. It is hypocrisy. I am sorry that that is the case.

I spoke of the success that resulted from financial and managerial autonomy. I spoke of the intangible success of a disciplined and lively atmosphere in grant-maintained schools. That has led to the academic success that Conservative Members have mentioned.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside)

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that local authority schools do not have discipline and standards? Is he aware that only a handful of schools chose to opt out in areas such as Labour Lancashire? Is he also aware that the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council transformed its inheritance from a Conservative administration to raise standards of numeracy and literacy, as well as well-being and discipline?

Mr. Robertson

Having spent 33 years in Lancashire, I do not recognise the success that the hon. Lady describes. I am not suggesting that there is no discipline in schools that are not grant maintained. I am saying that the grant-maintained schools that I have experience of have successfully balanced a great fun atmosphere with good discipline. If the hon. Lady is suggesting that there has not been a discipline problem in our schools, she has lived in a different country from me. There have been serious discipline problems at many schools in Lancashire.

The financial autonomy, managerial autonomy and intangible atmosphere of grant-maintained schools have led to great academic success. That success is clear for all to see. It is a tragedy that the Government want to scrap those schools.

What will happen to grant-maintained schools when they return to LEA control? Like other schools, they will have to queue up for money from LEAs. That is difficult for many schools. Many councils have a lot of bureaucracy and top-slice the money, diverting it from schools. I pointed out to the Secretary of State at Education and Employment questions a few weeks ago that the Labour group in Gloucestershire did not want to passport the Government's extra money to schools. That money is being passported only thanks to the Conservative group, with the support of the Liberal Democrat group. The Labour group voted against it.

Mr. Brady


Mr. Robertson

Absolutely disgraceful.

If something is not broken, we ought not to be fixing it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead asked, why are the Government making the changes? It is another vain attempt to look dynamic. If there had been no grant-maintained status, the Government would probably have introduced it, just to look as though they were doing something. Their behaviour is spiteful. Many Labour Members still consider good education to be an elitist concept. I did not have the education that I might have wanted, but I respect those who did and I respect organisations that provide good education. It is a pity that the Government do not. Their socialist principles are in good health and are here for all to see.

Mr. Brady

I am delighted to follow many of my colleagues who have spoken eloquently in support of grant-maintained schools. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is chuntering from a sedentary position, as he was when my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) was speaking. My hearing is very good. I could tell that he was suggesting that my hon. Friend had had the good fortune to attend a grammar school, as I did. I saw the palpable disappointment on his face when he discovered that that was not the case.

Mr. Laurence Robertson

I am happy to correct the Secretary of State. I am not proud of the fact, but I had the distinction of failing the 11 plus. I went to a good secondary modern school and did not go to a grammar school until I was 16.

Mr. Brady

We may come to selective education on the second day on Report. I point to my hon. Friend as a perfect example of how a selective education system can work for the benefit of all. My hon. Friend was not traumatised and made a failure for life by failing his 11 plus. I accept that the Deputy Prime Minister may have suffered from that more significantly. We shall doubtless come to the issue on another occasion.

I am proud to defend grant-maintained schools, but I am sad that we have to do so. The Government's actions regularly contrast with their policies. They say that intervention should be in inverse proportion to excellence. That sounds fine and we all support the principle. However, their actions oppose it. To abolish grant-maintained status when grant-maintained schools achieve so much is a disgrace, as is the Government's intention to damage grammar schools, which are another mark of excellence in our state education system. The Government should be proud of them, as we are.

The Government have moved some way towards understanding the logic of giving greater freedom and independence to schools. That is evident in the education action zones proposals, principally for failing schools in inner-city areas, which will be given greater freedom and flexibility. At the same time, as several of my hon. Friends have said, the Government's policy on grant-maintained schools runs in entirely the opposite direction.

By creating foundation schools, the Government have moved a little way. The measure is a sop to grant-maintained schools and the idea that independence and autonomy in schools are a good thing; it is very half-hearted. By going so little of the way towards a system that we have seen work so effectively, the Government risk throwing out all the benefits of grant-maintained status. Parents in many parts of the country will have cause to criticise the Government for that in years to come.

8.45 pm

The imposition of LEA representatives on boards of governors, the removal of articles of government of schools, the imposition of a standard new form and the control over admissions policies all point to a major erosion of independence.

Changes in funding arrangements, which have been discussed to some extent, are entirely inadequate and have not been made sufficiently explicit. We need far greater transparency and a far fairer settlement in transitional arrangements—not only over one year—particularly for schools that only recently became grant maintained, such as Altrincham girls' grammar. It is vital that such schools should be able to continue and complete their restructuring, expecting that special purpose grants will be available and without having to do so in a concertina time scale.

To change the teaching force and the profile of staff over one year would be very unsettling. It would be appropriate for the Government to consider extending the transition period to allow such schools to take a longer view and to smooth out changes as they otherwise would have done.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) referred to the academic success of GM schools, which I was going to do only in passing. I am pleased that, in contrast to their performance in Committee, Labour Members did not take the trouble to try to suggest that the performance of GM schools was not as good as we claim. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) challenged one of my hon. Friends, however, so I shall give him some of the figures that ought to be on record in this debate.

The figures are very clear; they show the percentage of schools in which pupils achieved, for instance, five-plus A to C grades at GCSE. In the grant-maintained sector, the figure is 53.3 per cent., the national average is 42.6 per cent. and the LEA performance is 39.8 per cent. That difference is maintained even in areas where there are no selective schools. GM schools in those areas achieve a performance of 45.6 per cent. against an LEA performance of 38.4 per cent.

Before Labour Members talk about social differences across the country, I should point out that the same difference in performance is borne out even in areas where many free school meals are provided. In areas where more than 30 per cent. of school meals are provided free of charge, GM schools deliver a performance of 29.4 per cent. of pupils achieving five-plus A to C grades, against an LEA performance of 21.7 per cent. I know that the hon. Member for Bath is itching to get to his feet, so I shall allow him to intervene.

Mr. Don Foster

The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right; I was itching to get to my feet. If grant-maintained schools were the success that he described, presumably the prediction of the former Secretary of State, Mr. John Patten—that by about four years ago, the majority of secondary schools would be grant maintained—would have come true. He said that if they were not, he would eat his hat, garnished; we are still waiting for him to do so.

On statistics, does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is important that we are concerned about results across the country? He must, therefore, demonstrate that the growth of GM schools—what growth there has been—has led overall to an increase in success at GCSE level, for example. Does he acknowledge that, in LEAs where there has been a growth in the number of 15-year-old pupils who have gone to GM schools, there has not been a commensurate increase in the average GCSE point score? That is statistically correct.

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Foster

Some GM schools have done better because they have received additional funding and they should have done better. But, overall, there has not been an increase.

Mr. Brady

I am beginning to become confused about who is intervening on whom. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) sought to intervene on the hon. Member for Bath. I feel as though, by rising to my feet, I am merely giving my hon. Friend an opportunity to speak.

Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend displays characteristic courtesy in giving way on this point. Does he agree that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) imposes far too great a burden of responsibility on grant-maintained schools? It is surely not necessary for grant-maintained schools, which constitute a tiny minority of maintained schools, to show that they have improved standards in all other schools. In order to retain GM schools, we must simply demonstrate that they do not damage other schools.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Interventions should not be speeches: they should be very brief.

Mr. Brady

I thank my hon. Friend. I agree that it would be unfair to place such a responsibility on any one grant-maintained school. The argument advanced by the hon. Member for Bath—like those put by Labour Members—reveals a manifest failure genuinely to grasp the importance and benefit of competition. That fact emerged earlier by way of intervention. Grant-maintained schools have played, and continue to play, a critical role by setting a gold standard to which other schools can aspire. Amidst all the rhetoric, the Minister for School Standards occasionally recognises that fact by saying that he wishes to bring all schools to the standard of grant-maintained schools.

However, the reality will be entirely the opposite. There will be a process of levelling down—removing the successful grant-maintained schools and returning to a mixture of local authority control, in one form or another, which will erode standards. My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood revealed that 30 of the top 100 improving schools are grant maintained. That is further compelling evidence of the key role that grant-maintained schools can play in raising education standards in this country. It is a tragedy that the Government will prevent that progression.

New clause 4 will not only greatly improve the Bill from a technical point of view, but be a vital step towards a fairer approach on the part of the Government. It is impossible to justify the new Government's decision. Parents have voted—in some instances by overwhelming majorities—for grant-maintained status, but the Government have decided to wave them aside and push legislation through the House of Commons.

Dr. George Turner

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Brady

Yes, with some reluctance.

Dr. Turner

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there was a vote on the policy which was thrashed out before the general election? The electorate gave the Government the mandate to introduce the compromise that was trailed in the White Paper and which is brought forward in this Bill.

Mr. Brady

The hon. Gentleman reveals his Stalinist tendencies. Although he may have enjoyed the brief period of success thrust upon him by the election result last year, some parts of the country did not vote for the kind of policies that he supports.

In my constituency—where the electors clearly did not vote for the Labour manifesto—the figures speak for themselves. Parents wish to retain grant-maintained schools in my constituency. At my old school, Altrincham grammar school, 78 per cent. of the parents voted and 75 per cent. voted in favour of grant-maintained status. At the Ashton upon Mersey school, 73 per cent. of parents voted and 76 per cent. of them voted for grant-maintained status. At the Blessed Thomas Holford school, 64 per cent. of parents voted, but 84 per cent. of them voted in favour of grant-maintained status.

There is a very real demand for grant-maintained schools in my constituency. Such schools were, and are, popular and they are doing a good job. They were always good schools, but they have improved dramatically since they became grant maintained. The quality of grant-maintained schools shines through not only in selective educational areas. That is an important point as Labour Members often try to attack grant-maintained schools on the false premise that they are all selective.

I will refer once again, as I did in Committee, to a school of which I am particularly proud—Ashton upon Mersey school, where 23 per cent. of the pupils have free school meals. It is by no means in an area of great social standing or privilege, but it achieves a remarkable outcome for any school. Possibly—the Minister may be able to correct me—it is the only school in the country that has twice achieved an outstanding award from the Office for Standards in Education and a charter mark, and has recently been made a sports college. It is not a selective or grammar school, but a classic and fine example of a grant-maintained school—in this instance a secondary modern, which is using the freedom to control its own resources, decide its own policy and create its own ethos to generate a proud and effective school which serves the local community well.

Ministers would be wise to reflect on the lessons that can be learnt from schools such as Ashton upon Mersey and countless other grant-maintained schools, and they would be wise to remember the popular mandate that many GM schools received from parents who voted for them in overwhelming numbers.

Mr. St. Aubyn

We have heard some excellent speeches from Opposition Members in praise of grant-maintained schools. As my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) said, it is depressing that we have heard little in response from the Labour side—not even a gracious acknowledgement of how successful those schools have been. Anyone who is interested in raising academic standards has surely to begin with that acknowledgement.

I ask the Government to acknowledge another home truth; that academic excellence is for the few, not the many. Not all of us can have a first class degree. In fact, not all students should go to university and not all school leavers should try for A-levels. Different approaches and levels of education are appropriate to different individuals and if we accept the logic of that, we accept that inevitably, in a fair education system, society will invest more money in some children than in others and yet it will still be a fair system. If we accept that, we are not outraged by the idea that the resources devoted to some schools are slightly higher pro rata than those devoted to others.

The real test of the record of grant-maintained schools is not whether they have achieved a marginal increase in the resources that go into them, but how they have achieved far more than a marginal increase and improvement in the academic success of pupils.

In the area I represent, we have a number of grant-maintained schools. They are not selective, as we have a non-selective system throughout our county, yet they have consistently achieved outstanding academic results. Today, they are asking what they have done wrong. Why are they being forced into the yoke built by this Government in the Bill, which will force them to conform to the branding exercise that new Labour is carrying out?

As my hon. Friends have said, we know that the Government accept the principles of GM schools. Indeed, on 5 February I recall the Minister for School Standards telling us how he intended to build on the experience of those schools. Welcome though that was at the time, as with much that we hear from the Minister it was an ambiguous statement. So much has been reserved in the Bill to be controlled by regulation and decree after it is enacted that it is deeply ambiguous throughout. Conservative Members may be in for a pleasant surprise, whereas some Labour Members may be in for a shock, when education action zones are extended to include clusters of GM schools that know how to take advantage of them.

Our difficulty with the Bill is that, because it will give so many discretionary powers to Ministers, it gives little away to hon. Members who are being asked to agree to it. The new clause would tie down the democratic accountability that is needed for any legislation that introduces as many new powers as this Bill does.

9 pm

As I said, there is a non-selective system in Guildford, yet the achievement of the schools there is significant. Recently, I met the heads of GM schools in the area, who asked me why they should choose foundation status and what it would achieve, as it would mark them out as former GM schools and would not provide them with their previous independence, either financially or from LEA governors.

Fortunately, there is a Conservative LEA in my area. The response of people throughout the country who are in favour of GM schools will undoubtedly be reflected in local election results—more and more local authorities will return to Conservative control as people realise that that is the only way in which they can be sure of the approach to local education that is represented by the excellence achieved by GM schools.

Because Guildford has a Conservative LEA, I can reassure the heads of GM schools in my area, but I understand their concerns for schools where there is not a Conservative LEA. They are worried that, in an area that has a Labour LEA, foundation status will be used as a mechanism to discriminate against GM schools and that a political project will be launched to try to force those schools to give up foundation status and return to the mainstream. If that project succeeded, it could be heralded as a political victory for the Government when in fact it would be a cynical exercise in undermining the morale and success of some of the best schools in the country.

Earlier, we were asked to provide evidence of the success of GM schools. Last November, The Independent published research showing that barely 5 per cent. of schools exhibited an improvement in standards for each of the previous four years. Of that 5 per cent., one in three were GM schools. Moreover, as we heard, eight of the top 20 schools in the country are grant maintained. There can be no doubt about GM schools' ability to raise standards.

Because of the Government's retrograde step, GM schools are being denied the opportunity to build partnerships. Labour Members often talk about the need for local partnerships; GM schools are ideally placed to build them. They could show other schools in the area how to build forms of co-operation that go way beyond what the LEA can offer through its bureaucratic and stratified systems and means of delivery. Why should not local schools go out to tender in a group bid for financial and auditing services? Why should not groups of schools pool their transport or sports facilities? Very few schools adopt such an approach, but if any group of schools is capable of doing so and developing these ideas, it is GM schools. They should do it because, in doing so, they would produce a better quality service that releases resources to put into education.

It is a great regret that, as a result of the passing of the Bill, there will be no opportunity to develop the independence of GM schools in setting their capital budgets. It was a matter of resentment to the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) that GM schools had some freedom on their capital budgets, but let us not forget the context in which that freedom was given. The capital spending of GM schools was outside the public sector borrowing requirement. We learnt only by chance in Committee that the Government had allowed that favourable status to be lost. It appears that they are incapable of doing anything to resurrect it. They appear to be happy to see £l1 million of capital spending by GM schools come back within the PSBR and to deny such schools the opportunity, under whatever status they might be granted, to regain that freedom on their capital budgets.

The Minister told us in Committee that his Department had examined the problem and was unable to come up with any answers, but surely the fact was that it was unable to come up with any answer that would meet the Government's objective of getting rid of GM schools.

Mr. Byers

I am reluctant to intervene because the House wants to make progress, but the hon. Gentleman has been misleading in his description of what I said in the Standing Committee. For the record, he should accurately reflect the fact that the decision was taken by the Office for National Statistics. I made it clear that the Government were making representations for it to change its decision. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that that is an accurate reflection of what was said in Committee, unlike what he has just said.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I believe that there is a misunderstanding. I was trying to explain to the Minister that he would have immense difficulty changing the ruling of the National Audit Office precisely because he had constrained his freedom of manoeuvre by the way in which he has designed the Bill.

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman needs to be aware that the National Audit Office has nothing to do with the matter, which involves the Office for National Statistics. He needs to be aware that the ruling affects grant-maintained schools as it applies to their present status, regardless of the new framework in the Bill.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I stand corrected, but I must point out to the Minister that he has an opportunity in the Bill to create a structure for GM schools that would still be recognised as providing them with a capital budget outside the PSBR. He has failed to take that opportunity.

Mr. Blunkett

I need to put it on record that the House does not have the facility to overturn the Office for National Statistics. It is important for the hon. Gentleman's sake and the sake of his Front-Bench colleagues, who know that what I have said is correct, to state that we are not in a position to do that.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to correct the impression created by the Secretary of State. We are talking not about overruling the Office for National Statistics but about creating a new structure into which GM schools could be fitted that would satisfy the requirements of that office and enable the favourable capital budget treatment to continue—but that would involve maintaining the independence and integrity of GM schools, which is anathema to the Government. As a result, the capital spending of schools in general and former GM schools in particular will be constrained in a way that is due purely to dogma and the Labour party's blatant approach to GM schools.

The Bill is all about conformity. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said, there is a contradiction between the Government's desire to attack individual grant-maintained schools and the possibility that, through the education action zone, they may be prepared to sanction a cluster of GM schools. The reason for the contradiction is that the Government seek conformity. Through conformity, they may achieve some improvement in the performance of the laggards—the schools that are performing least well—but they may at the same time undermine the spirit, energy and enterprise of the best schools and thus the service that our education system should provide for the best of our children.

Mr. Hayes

New clause 4 addresses the contradiction that lies at the heart of the Bill. The Government are sending out a confused message about their appreciation of the role of the local education authority, individual schools and the Secretary of State.

I do not argue with those who say that LEAs should take a strong, perhaps even a dominant, role. That is a logical and acceptable position. I do not argue with those who take the view that all schools should be encouraged to opt out, that LEAs should wither away and that schools should work independently. I do not even argue with those who say that the entire system should be governed centrally—that there should be an all-powerful Department for Education and Employment, that LEAs should cease to exist in all but name and that powers should be removed from the schools. All those positions are at least coherent.

The problem with the Government's approach is that it is a mix of all those positions. The Bill gives the Secretary of State more powers than any Secretary of State has enjoyed before. Labour Members who complained about the centralising tendencies of Conservative Governments over the past 20 years would do well to consider the new powers that the Bill gives the Secretary of State in a range of areas that would have scarce been thought of by Conservative Secretaries of State. Had such powers been proposed before the general election, they would have been roundly condemned by Labour Members.

The Secretary of State is a winner out of all this. LEAs take back some extra responsibilities, but their role is confused. We have already heard of the confusion about education action zones and their relationship with LEAs, and there are other contradictions in respect of the role of LEAs. The schools are, by and large, losers—and none more so than grant-maintained schools.

I shall deal with grant-maintained schools in the context of that general confusion about the future management of education. There has already been some talk in the debate about academic success, which I shall not repeat. I shall not take hon. Members on a travelogue around Windsor, Guildford, Altrincham and other fine places. I mean no disrespect, but I shall not focus on interesting schools in bizarre parts of the country, or bizarre schools in interesting parts of the country.

Given that we all accept that grant-maintained schools have achieved excellence in academic performance, I want to try to analyse the reasons for that success. Even the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) has acknowledged that in GCSE results, university entrance and A-level results, grant-maintained schools have performed disproportionately well. The question is why.

The answer can be summed up simply. It is about liberty, which breeds confidence; confidence, which breeds higher expectations; and higher expectations, which breed success. If there is one thing that my experience in education has taught me, it is that higher expectations are the key to improving educational performance. That are precisely what liberation from the LEA delivered.

I have no prejudice about that; I say it on the basis of my conversations with heads and teachers from grant-maintained schools all over the country. All of them—including those who would not vote Conservative—conclude that liberty has bred a spirit of energy and enterprise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) said. That intangible matter of ethos has changed the expectations of schools, staff, parents and pupils, and raised standards. The new spirit, energy and liberty is at risk from the Government's policy, and that is a cause of great regret and sadness.

9.15 pm

I said that I would not give the House a travelogue, but I want to say something about a particular school in my constituency—I would be condemned roundly if I did not. The grant-maintained Sir John Gleed girls' school is in Spalding in Lincolnshire which, I am pleased to say, retains a selective system of education. I am a grammar school boy; I make no bones about the fact that I believe strongly in selection.

Sir John Gleed girls' school is a secondary modern in a town with a good grammar school for girls that is taking a significant and growing proportion of the brighter girls in Spalding, yet it is achieving results equal to or better than many of the comprehensive schools in other parts of Lincolnshire. I was lucky enough to distribute the prizes at the Gleed last year and I can tell you that its success is largely about expectation, ethos, energy and enterprise. It is largely about what is expected of the girls who go to the school—a school which, bear in mind, has many children with learning difficulties. It is a secondary modern that takes a mixed catchment. I can tell you—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I think the hon. Gentleman means that he can tell the House.

Mr. Hayes

I can tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and through you, the House—that the school is a testament to the fact that grant-maintained schools that are non-selective, that deal with difficult catchments and that have no great advantages, can achieve outstanding results. The school has improved consistently over five years, with none of the apparent advantages mentioned by the hon. Members for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) and for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard).

The school is joined to another secondary modern—not just on the same site, but in the same building—which is not grant maintained; Sir John Gleed boys' school. It is an excellent school, but it is not as yet achieving the results that the girls' school is achieving. This is not about new buildings, greater capital investment or some disproportionate funding mechanism that gives undue and unreasonable advantage to the school; it is about spirit, enterprise, energy and liberty—it is about being grant maintained.

There will be those—imperialists always say this—who say that the schools would have been better off under LEA control. There will be those who make light of the intangible concepts I have described. Having visited grant-maintained schools not just in my constituency, but all over Britain, I have scarcely found one that would willingly give up that status. I have scarcely found a head teacher who would honestly say he regretted going grant maintained—even those who initially had reservations, who were not natural supporters and who were not Conservatives but socialists or Liberals. That is why they are so concerned and bitter about the proposals.

With a degree of empiricism, I can genuinely say that grant-maintained status has been a success. Given that empiricism, it is hard to imagine why a fair-minded and objective Government would want to snuff out that success—but that is precisely the prospect we have before us tonight. It is not, I am happy to say, a proposal with which I wish to be associated.

Given the initial failure of this confused and mixed-up Bill, I look forward to the Government clarifying their position on the future of education as they perceive it; clarifying how they see the role of LEAs and how they will develop; clarifying how they see the freedom of individual schools developing and, of course, clarifying what direction needs to emanate from the Government.

The Bill does none of those things. It is a poor start. Ultimately, because we all want a good education for our children, in a spirit of generosity I hope that the Government will do considerably better in the future.

Mr. Bercow

A number of my hon. Friends spoke eloquently of the success of grant-maintained schools. In each case, they cited schools in their constituencies that have performed, and continue to perform, exceptionally well. To date, none of the evidence that my hon. Friends adduced in support of the proposition has been disputed by any hon. Member.

It should be placed on the record that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster), whose long-standing hostility to grant-maintained schools is well understood, seeks to obscure the realities by posing a challenge to grant-maintained schools that it is wholly unreasonable for the House to expect them to fulfil. The point bears examination. He asked in all sincerity whether successful grant-maintained schools had contributed to the greater success of all schools. The implication was that, unless they could demonstrate that they had, their raison d'etre would disappear.

I disagree. It is clear that these schools have succeeded by themselves. I have four in my constituency that are dramatic beacons of excellence. They are thriving at all levels, including key stage 2, GCSE and A-level, in providing facilities, in satisfying their requirements in sport, in achieving excellence in pastoral care, and so on. Each and every one of them is a success.

If the hon. Member for Bath challenges me to prove that those schools have also raised the standards of all other maintained schools in Buckinghamshire, I will readily concede that I cannot—of course I cannot—but equally, and more important, he cannot prove that successful grant-maintained schools in Buckinghamshire have in any way damaged the educational attainments of other schools. That is the point. The onus of proof is not on a grant-maintained school to demonstrate that, as well as educating successfully its own pupils, it has managed somehow to achieve the extraordinary feat of educating successfully pupils of other schools. At most, all that is necessary is for it to be able to demonstrate that it has not undermined the quality of education provided in other institutions, and on that I very much doubt whether the hon. Gentleman will be able to provide evidence.

It is uncharitable of the hon. Gentleman in a sense to smear grant-maintained schools by requiring of them achievements that he would not require of ordinary maintained schools. The record of grant-maintained schools compares favourably with that of other schools. I would be no more likely to assert that all state schools should be grant maintained than any other Opposition Member. I have never argued that case. Many such schools do not wish to be. However, many have chosen to be grant maintained and, having escaped—I use that word advisedly—local education authority control, scarcely any of those of which I am aware now wish to go back into that control.

I am a fair-minded fellow, charitable even—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—as my hon. Friends' ready enthusiasm in greeting my observations testifies. I am not making a party political observation. I could point to all the examples of Labour local education authorities that have been so incompetent, malign and manifestly unsuitable that schools have rushed to escape their clutches—but I will not.

I point instead to the schools in my constituency and elsewhere in the county of Buckinghamshire that have opted to become self-governing outwith the control of Buckinghamshire county council. I am happy to describe and to criticise again and again the outrageous antics and consecutive failures year after year of left-wing education authorities, and I point to their passion for political correctness.

I make no such charges against Buckinghamshire county council. It is an estimable local education authority, so schools in my patch are not trying to escape the council's control because it is extremist or politically correct, is opposed to standards or has a track record of failure. None of those charges would be true. Indeed, the opposite is true in every case.

The county as a whole is dramatically successful, and many of its thriving schools are within LEA control. Those that have opted to become free of that control—to go their own way, make their own decisions, allocate their own funds, organise their own priorities and determine their own successes—have, without exception, upon my visiting them or via correspondence, told me that they welcome that state of affairs and wish it to continue.

That leads me to my second and final point.

Mr. Brady

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me, especially before he moves on to his second point—for which I can scarcely contain my anticipation. He has made an eloquent case for the excellence of grant-maintained status, in that, even in such a good local authority area as Buckinghamshire, schools still see its value. Grant-maintained status is not a negative thing, adopted merely to escape from bad local education authorities.

I have an even better example of the quality and merit of grant-maintained status. Two independent schools in my constituency have opted for grant-maintained status, because they believe that they will continue to enjoy the freedom that they had as independent schools, while being able to give the same quality of education to people regardless of ability to pay. Is it not a disgrace that the Government seek to destroy that state of affairs?

Mr. Bercow

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Perversely, the Government could end up by expanding the fee-paying sector as a result of their dogmatic hostility to the self-governing sector of the British education system. They would not want to do that, and they did not anticipate or plan for it, but that could be the outcome.

It comes down to a question of democracy, and whether people have a right to have their schools run by people whom they do elect and can remove, or whether they should suffer the fate, of which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) regularly reminds us, of affairs being run by people whom they do not elect and cannot remove.

Let there be ballots; let people have a say; let the cross be placed on the paper to determine the outcome. If that can happen for grammar schools, I ask the Secretary of State why it cannot happen for grant-maintained schools.

I have said before, and I say again, that Conservatives can be forgiven for thinking that, just conceivably, the reason why the Government do not want ballots—

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

Get on with it.

Mr. Bercow

No, I am afraid that I shall have to extend the hon. Lady's pain, because the embarrassment that the point causes the Government needs to be emphasised.

The reason why the Government do not want ballots is that they know that, in almost every instance, they—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) has clearly had her day and it is obvious that she is suffering from an illness from which I hope she will in due course recover. The Government will lose and we will win. Let democracy speak. Allow the parents to vote.

9.30 pm
Mr. Don Foster

It is a charitable person who seeks to find some good in even the most misguided of people. I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes), but I disagreed with it fundamentally. However, I agreed with one point, and that was his reference to the need for us to have high expectations of the children in our schools and of the schools themselves. He was right to draw our attention to that. I suspect that, in the past, some LEAs have not had high enough expectations of their schools, and that some teachers have not had high enough expectations of their pupils.

I even find some good—very little, but some—in the contribution of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). The hon. Gentleman at least made the point that there are some good grant-maintained schools, and I agree. There are many good grant-maintained schools. My constituency has two excellent grant-maintained schools—Beechen Cliff school and Oldfield school. They are both excellent schools with excellent staff doing a good job for the pupils whom they serve.

To say that there are good grant-maintained schools does not mean that grant-maintained status itself is a good thing. The one other thing which I share with the hon. Members for South Holland and The Deepings and for Buckingham is a disagreement with the Government's plans, but my disagreement comes from a completely different direction. Both hon. Gentlemen and the official Opposition oppose what the Government are doing because they want grant-maintained schools to continue. My party and I are clear in that we have no desire whatever to see that continuation. Our disappointment with the Government is that, instead of doing as we would wish them to do, which is to bring grant maintained schools back into the light strategic planning framework of LEAs, they are continuing to give those schools a sop by allowing them to stand outside the LEA framework. We believe that that is wrong.

At least the Government have recognised the need to get rid of grant-maintained status, and we are delighted that they have done that. As I said earlier in an intervention, grant-maintained status has not been popular. It was born out of Mrs. Thatcher's handbag back in 1988. We were told that it would be extremely popular and that, before long, the vast majority of schools would be grant maintained. That did not prove to be the case, despite the numerous bribes that were given to schools to become grant maintained. Year after year, the Tory Government came up with another new attempt to persuade schools to become grant-maintained, even requiring every governing body to consider annually whether to become grant maintained.

The one bribe that grant-maintained schools were given was the additional sums of money. When official Opposition Members tell us about some of the successes of some grant-maintained schools, the House should never forget that that is hardly surprising, as schools were given significantly increased sums to enable them to carry out the various things that led to some of those successes.

Mr. Brady

Given the hon. Gentleman's conviction that grant-maintained schools are so desperately unpopular, presumably he would have no qualms in agreeing with our new clause, which would allow parents to get rid of grant-maintained schools by voting to get rid of them.

Mr. Foster

The interesting thing about the hon. Gentleman's intervention is that it was the Conservative Government who, year after year, refused to allow the two-way option for grant-maintained schools. They were allowed to opt into grant-maintained status, but the Government refused to give them the power to vote to opt back out. It was the Conservative Government who wanted a simple one-way street and, once in, a school was stuck in it. Grant-maintained schools have had significant amounts of additional money; there is no doubt about that.

I have been challenged about the education results of GM schools. Anyone who has responsibility for education provision must look at the impact of any change in the system on the overall educational setting across the whole country. I would argue strenuously that the introduction of GM schools did huge damage to the education system. It set school against school, parent against parent and governor against governor. That led to great tension and problems in the system.

Giving additional money to GM schools has been to the detriment of all other schools. That additional money was taken from other schools.

Mr. Hayes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster

No, I will not as time is short and other hon. Members—

Mr. Dorrell


Mr. Foster

Of course, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dorrell

In Committee, the hon. Gentleman voted for a clause that would require the Government to secure the consent of parents before abolishing grammar school status. The hon. Gentleman approves of that principle. Will he explain why he does not support the same principle for grant-maintained schools?

Mr. Foster

If the right hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will see that I made it clear that I did not believe that such decisions should be taken on a parental ballot. They should be taken by the local education authority. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that the one major difference between GM schools and grammar schools is that GM schools are outside LEA provision.

Mr. Dorrell

I have Hansard in front of me. The hon. Gentleman voted for clause 95 to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Foster

I explained that afterwards.

Mr. Dorrell

It is not a question of what the hon. Gentleman said afterwards. Even the Liberal Democrats must occasionally defend the votes they cast and explain why one case is different from the other.

Mr. Foster

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to continue to read Hansard

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

The hon. Gentleman is squirming.

Mr. Foster

No, I am not squirming. Immediately after the vote, I realised that I had made an error in my voting.

Mr. Dorrell


Mr. Foster

The right hon. Gentleman and I can continue this debate outside the Chamber. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] No—others wish to speak.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman remembers a time when he mistakenly cast his vote the wrong way, but it was not in the vote on clause 95 stand part, dealing with the principle of the grammar school ballot. If the hon. Gentleman did vote the wrong way on that, he did not tell the Committee so at the time.

Mr. Foster

If the right hon. Gentleman looks through the record, which he needs to do, as he was not with us during the discussion on that particular issue—

Mr. Dorrell

I spoke on the clause and voted on it.

Mr. Foster

I want to make progress and the House wants to hear from the Secretary of State on this issue.

The key issue that has been raised tonight is whether grant-maintained schools have led to an increase in educational standards across the country. Research evidence shows conclusively that the introduction of GM schools has not led to an overall increase in examination results. Therefore, as an experiment it has failed. However—and I acknowledge this—because of the additional resources given, some GM schools have been able to raise standards, but that has been to the detriment of other schools in the LEA area. The net result has been no increase in standards; it has been a failed experiment.

I hope that the House will recognise that GM schools represent a failed policy of the Conservative Government. The sooner that we get rid of them, the better. I very much hope that the House will reject the Conservative new clause.

Mr. Blunkett

I thank my hon. Friends for their forbearance this evening. It is a great pity that so much hot air has been expended on so much self-preening. It is a wonder that all the feathers have not fallen out. I say that because Monty Python has reconvened for a final fling, and I was reminded of the famous sketch about the dead parrot. This debate is a dead parrot. It is nailed to the perch. The Norwegian blue is gone for ever, and we have had one or two Norwegian blues tonight. I have never heard such nonsense in all my life.

Mrs. Browning

Oh, come on. You must have.

Mr. Blunkett

I will let the hon. Lady into a secret: she is probably right. I have probably heard worse once or twice in my life, but we have come fairly close this evening.

Opposition Members know perfectly well that what they are saying is not true, but I welcome the fact that they have acknowledged and specifically embraced the process of balloting for the removal of selection in grammar schools, and recommended its extension into other areas. That gets us off to a sensible start in operating democracy.

Mr. Brady

Some of us might be prepared to accept ballots on the future of grammar schools if those ballots were fair and gave choice to local parents. The Government's proposals fail on that count. If the balloting procedure was fair, the Secretary of State might have an argument.

Mr. Blunkett

Of course we will have fair ballots. That is a necessary prerequisite, to legitimise the parents' decision.

As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) pointed out, it is a cheek for Conservative Members, who resisted time and again giving parents the opportunity to decide whether they wanted a school to come back into the family of schools, to suggest that they are in favour of parents being able to vote on grant-maintained status. That really is the cheek of the devil.

The problem for Conservative Members is simple. They want to suggest that a school's status determines its standards, and that it is the change in status that has changed or enhanced standards in certain schools, when they know perfectly well that it is not. It may be something to do with resources. We have heard a lot about that tonight.

The extra resources have been praised as a very good thing. I am in favour of extra resources for all our schools. That is why we are giving an extra £1 billion for capital spending in schools. That is not only for certain schools. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) argued that the girls grammar school in his area needed extra funding for restructuring. He said that it would be wrong to take away the extra funding.

Mr. Brady

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Don Foster

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Bath and then to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West.

Mr. Foster

The Secretary of State rightly points out that the official Opposition are wrong in many ways. Does he agree that they are wrong in the totally scurrilous attack on me by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell)? The record of our deliberations in Committee shows that I voted in favour of clause 95, which designated grammar schools, and against the balloting proposals.

Mr. Blunkett

I am totally in favour of fair balloting and of fair reporting of those ballots.

Mr. Brady

I want to correct a false impression that the Secretary of State appears to have. I was referring not to the capital costs of Altrincham girls grammar school—we are still fighting a battle to get capital funding for necessary repairs, and I would welcome his help with that—but to the process of restructuring the school staff, which was embarked on in good faith when the school became grant maintained last year. It was in the anticipation that that could be done over three years. Now the Government are prepared to guarantee funds for only one year, which could cause real problems.

Mr. Blunkett

I am fully in favour of extra revenue for schools. That is why we are allocating £835 million on top of what the Conservatives would have allocated—£110 per pupil, which happens to be the amount that the previous Government cut in 1996–97 per secondary school. They cut £40 per primary school.

9.45 pm

What the previous Government did was to cut the generality of funding for all schools and reallocate it to some schools, and then claim credit for the ability of those schools to use the money—wisely, I accept—to enhance children's education. That is fine, but let us do the same for every school.

The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), in an interesting intervention, said that he wanted to celebrate the fact that grant-maintained schools had more books. I tell you what I want to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker: I want to celebrate the fact that, following our allocation of £23 million, every school in England now has more books. We are talking about £1,000 per school. Let us do for all our schools what Conservative Members want to do for only some schools.

Mr. Laurence Robertson

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I will not give way for the moment. I want to make some progress. I have sat here long enough listening to the waffle of Conservative Members; it is time to deal with some of that waffle head on.

I celebrate the work that many grant-maintained schools have done. I celebrate the improvement that they have brought about for children. I have no intention of damaging their ability to deliver high standards; I want to spread the practice further. It is ridiculous to suggest that, because four of the 18 failing schools that were named in the summer were GM schools, GM schools are a failure. It is as ridiculous to suggest that as it is to suggest that the fact that 80 schools did extraordinarily well proves that the status of a school, rather than its staff, management and direction, brings about such improvements.

Conservative Members know that that is true. They know that that is what is happening in schools. They need only take the word of the chief inspector. Such improvements are self-generated: they are a result of the direction taken by a school, of the quality of teachers, of the leadership given by the head and of high expectations. Of course dynamism is an element, but it is the dynamism within a school, not the status of that school, that makes the difference.

That is why we are driving forward the standards agenda. It is why we established the standards unit. It is why there will be a literacy and then a numeracy programme for all primary schools. It is the reason for the extra resources—the substantial investment in greater specialism. It is why education action zones will transform people's chances.

Mr. Hayes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall in a moment.

Do hon. Members want to hear what those in charge of grant-maintained schools really think? I respect the representatives of those schools, who have consistently and constructively helped to ensure that the transfer is smooth, rational and sensible. A letter sent yesterday by the grant-maintained joint monitoring group states: On the eve of the Report Stage of the School Standards and Framework Bill, we would like to take this opportunity to put on record our support for the constructive approach that the Government has adopted towards the Bill during its Committee Stage. The group was particularly impressed by the Government's determination to resist any attempt to undermine the status of foundation category. It said: We also support Ministerial statements that 'schools control schools' and that financial delegation should reflect the current GM model. The group said that because we have repeatedly made it clear that schools control schools. We have made it clear that the fact that schools will no longer be unfairly funded, that they will be part of a collaborative, co-operative admissions policy and that there will be wider accountability does not detract from their ability to deliver high standards.

Right across the board in the United Kingdom, people are acknowledging what happened and what can happen. Let us consider Steven Norris, who was a Minister in the previous regime. On the radio this morning, he said: I personally believe that our failure in 20 years to significantly improve the level of public education is one of the areas that I believe that we as Conservatives have got to be most concerned about and, frankly, to some degree ashamed of. The whole country is ashamed of what the previous Government did, and the whole country is behind us in ensuring that we unite the education service on standards, not structure, and on children, not segregation; and in ensuring that all of us can be proud of our education system, wherever we live and wherever those children go.

Mrs. Browning

As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) said earlier in the debate, new clause 4 was perhaps a last attempt—certainly in the House—to preserve the status quo for grant-maintained schools. We have heard today the anomalies in the Government's thinking on giving parents choice and on listening to what governing bodies and teachers want. Although Ministers support a ballot on the retention of existing grammar schools, they want to deprive existing GM schools of the same principle. Perhaps that is at the core of their thinking. There is little principle in their thinking, but much dogma.

In its manifesto, the Labour party said: GM schools will prosper under new Labour. The Secretary of State has also just read a letter of endorsement. However, it is plain to every hon. Member who visits grant-maintained schools—I visited one this week, and I shall visit another tomorrow—that GM schools are so frightened that, at the stroke of a pen, they will lose their GM status, that they cling to the idea of being offered foundation status. Although we all understand why they cling to that idea, the offer is a form of intimidation that will come back to haunt the Labour party after standards decline because of the demise of GM schools, and after connivance at a ballot automatically results in the end of grammar schools, once legislation is in place.

No principle was attached to the Government's statements in this debate. The Labour party and the Secretary of State simply have a long-held belief that, although excellence in schools is appropriate to include in their glossy brochures, the excellent results produced by GM schools should be discounted. For the Government, excellence is not measured in results but is based on their prejudices. They believe that GM schools—and the ethos of those schools and the excellent results that they achieve—should be abolished.

As Opposition Members have said in the debate, it is extraordinary that the very qualities possessed by GM schools—the freedom and flexibility that have produced their excellent results—which the Government will take away from them, are the qualities that Ministers believe will ensure the success of education action zones.

In its manifesto, the Labour party clearly stated that education action zones will attack low standards by recruiting the best teachers and head teachers to under-achieving schools, by supporting voluntary mentoring schemes to provide one to one support for disadvantaged pupils; and by creating new opportunities for children, after the age of 14. We know that if schools are part of an education action zone, they can openly search on the market for teachers and head teachers; they can disallow the existing conditions of pay and employment for existing staff; they can adopt their own curriculum; and they can attract money from the private sector. They can do all the things that GM schools can currently do, yet, for some pernicious reason, the Government want to deprive GM schools—

Ms Squire

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Browning

The hon. Lady shakes her head, but that is what education action zones will do. She knows that; she was present in Committee. Extraordinarily, although those methods, systems, freedoms and flexibilities have a proven track record, and although the Government believe that they have been seen to work, they have taken them away from one group of schools—and now, suddenly, they are to introduce them into another group of schools. There is no logic or principle underlying that decision.

The Secretary of State listed all the extra money that the Government were pouring into education—money for this, money for that. In the county of Devon, where I must this weekend respond to more than 30 pieces of correspondence received this week from schools and parish councils, people are not facing all the wonders of new Labour, of modern Britain, of super-school Britain or whatever other slogan the Secretary of State cares to choose; they are facing cuts. This year, council tax bills in Devon are to increase by 19.4 per cent., yet throughout the county there are to be cuts in the classroom.

The Secretary of State must learn that all the sloganising and glossy brochures in the world mean nothing. I advise him and his colleagues, instead of spending their time in Millbank tower, to get out into the country—as we are doing—to visit schools, and to talk to the head teachers who, this financial year, are confronted with real-terms cuts in the classroom. Those cuts will be felt especially in GM schools when the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The Secretary of State is in good company because, like him, the Liberal Democrats have a long track record of wanting to abolish grant-maintained schools. Indeed, the Liberal Democrat chairman of education in Devon had a letter published in The Times Educational Supplement, saying that GM schools would lose teachers. However, teachers will become redundant as a result of the Bill.

I remind Labour Members and Liberal Democrat Members who said that few schools took up the option of GM status after a certain date, why that was. What happened when Labour or the Liberal Democrats, or a coalition of both, took control of an LEA? Whenever any governing body or any group of parents wanted to engage in a democratic ballot on GM status, they faced the might and opposition of a propaganda campaign by Labour and the Liberal Democrats. "Focus" newsletters were popped through every parent's door, saying why their child's school should not become grant maintained.

When the Labour party was in opposition—[Interruption.] I shall not mention the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson); he need have no fear of that. The Labour party, in opposition, was supported in its campaign by the trade unions—especially the National Union of Teachers—which ensured that they obtained the name and address of every parent in a school when a ballot was in prospect. They published propaganda and made jolly sure that people were intimidated, and that a democratic ballot did not take place. We know, therefore, what the Labour Government really think about parents' free choice.

Extraordinarily, since the general election, the Secretary of State has granted GM status to some schools. What a cynical exercise, when he well knew that he was about to oversee their demise by means of the Bill. I hope that, in government, the Labour party will learn before too long that democracy through the ballot box, which Labour Members constantly talk about, extends further than the ballot box on 1 May 1997. Parents will speak. Parents will want to vote. If Labour Members deny them the opportunity to exercise their preference for grant-maintained schools, the fact will come back to haunt them in another ballot.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 129, Noes 327.

Division No. 201] [9.59 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Collins, Tim
Amess, David Curry, Rt Hon David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Arbuthnot, James Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Day, Stephen
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baldry, Tony Duncan, Alan
Beggs, Roy Duncan Smith, Iain
Bercow, John Evans, Nigel
Beresford, Sir Paul Faber, David
Boswell, Tim Fallon, Michael
Brady, Graham Flight, Howard
Brazier, Julian Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Fox, Dr Liam
Browning, Mrs Angela Garnier, Edward
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gibb, Nick
Burns, Simon Gill, Christopher
Butterfill, John Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Cash, William Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gray, James
Chope, Christopher Greenway, John
Clappison, James Grieve, Dominic
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Hammond, Philip
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heald, Oliver
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Ruffley, David
Horam, John St Aubyn, Nick
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Sayeed, Jonathan
Hunter, Andrew Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Shepherd, Richard
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Jenkin, Bernard Soames, Nicholas
Key, Robert Spicer, Sir Michael
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Spring, Richard
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Steen, Anthony
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Streeter, Gary
Lansley, Andrew Swayne, Desmond
Leigh, Edward Syms, Robert
Letwin, Oliver Tapsell, Sir Peter
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Lidington, David Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Townend, John
Luff, Peter Trend, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Tyrie, Andrew
MacKay, Andrew Viggers, Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon David Walter, Robert
McLoughlin, Patrick Wardle, Charles
Malins, Humfrey Waterson, Nigel
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Wells, Bowen
May, Mrs Theresa Whitney, Sir Raymond
Moss, Malcolm Whittingdale, John
Nicholls, Patrick Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Norman, Archie Wilkinson, John
Ottaway, Richard Willetts, David
Page, Richard Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Paice, James Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Pickles, Eric Woodward, Shaun
Prior, David Yeo, Tim
Randall, John Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Tellers for the Ayes:
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Sir David Madel and
Mr. James Cran.
Ainger, Nick Brinton, Mrs Helen
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Allan, Richard Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Browne, Desmond
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Burden, Richard
Ashton, Joe Burgon, Colin
Atherton, Ms Candy Burnett, John
Atkins, Charlotte Burstow, Paul
Austin, John Butler, Mrs Christine
Baker, Norman Byers, Stephen
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Barnes, Harry Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Battle, John Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Beard, Nigel Canavan, Dennis
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Caplin, Ivor
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Casale, Roger
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Caton, Martin
Bennett, Andrew F Cawsey, Ian
Benton, Joe Chaytor, David
Bermingham, Gerald Church, Ms Judith
Berry, Roger Clapham, Michael
Best, Harold Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Blackman, Liz Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Boateng, Paul Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Borrow, David Clelland, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Clwyd, Ann
Bradshaw, Ben Coaker, Vernon
Brake, Tom Coffey, Ms Ann
Brand, Dr Peter Cohen, Harry
Breed, Colin Colman, Tony
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Corbett, Robin Howells, Dr Kim
Corston, Ms Jean Hoyle, Lindsay
Cotter, Brian Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Cox, Tom Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cranston, Ross Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Crausby, David Humble, Mrs Joan
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hutton, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Ingram, Adam
Cummings, John Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dafis, Cynog Jamieson, David
Dalyell, Tam Jenkins, Brian
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Darvill, Keith Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Davidson, Ian Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Jowell, Ms Tessa
Dismore, Andrew Keeble, Ms Sally
Dobbin, Jim Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Donohoe, Brian H Keetch, Paul
Dowd, Jim Kelly, Ms Ruth
Drown, Ms Julia Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Khabra, Piara S
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kilfoyle, Peter
Edwards, Huw King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Efford, Clive King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Kingham, Ms Tess
Ennis, Jeff Kirkwood, Archy
Etherington, Bill Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Fisher, Mark Laxton, Bob
Fitzsimons, Lorna Leslie, Christopher
Flint, Caroline Levitt, Tom
Flynn, Paul Lewis. Ivan (Bury S)
Foster, Don (Bath) Liddell, Mrs Helen
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Linton, Martin
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Livsey, Richard
Foulkes, George Lock, David
Fyfe, Maria Love, Andrew
Gapes, Mike McAvoy, Thomas
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McCabe, Steve
Gerrard, Neil McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McDonagh, Siobhain
Godsiff, Roger McDonnell, John
Goggins, Paul McFall, John
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McGuire, Mrs Anne
Gorrie, Donald McIsaac, Shona
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McLeish, Henry
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McNulty, Tony
Grocott, Bruce MacShane, Denis
Gunnell, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Hain, Peter McWalter, Tony
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mallaber, Judy
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Marek, Dr John
Hancock, Mike Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hanson, David Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Harris, Dr Evan Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hepburn, Stephen Meale, Alan
Heppell, John Merron, Gillian
Hesford, Stephen Michael, Alun
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Hill, Keith Milburn, Alan
Hinchliffe, David Miller, Andrew
Hoey, Kate Mitchell, Austin
Home Robertson, John Moffatt, Laura
Hoon, Geoffrey Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hope, Phil Moore, Michael
Hopkins, Kelvin Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Savidge, Malcolm
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Sawford, Phil
Morley, Elliot Sedgemore, Brian
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Shaw, Jonathan
Mountford, Kali Sheerman, Barry
Mudie, George Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mullin, Chris Short, Rt Hon Clare
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Singh, Marsha
Naysmith, Dr Doug Skinner, Dennis
Norris, Dan Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Oaten, Mark Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
O'Hara, Eddie Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Olner, Bill Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab d'ns)
O'Neill, Martin Soley, Clive
Öpik, Lembit Southworth, Ms Helen
Palmer, Dr Nick Spellar, John
Pearson, Ian Squire, Ms Rachel
Perham, Ms Linda Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Pickthall, Colin Steinberg, Gerry
Pike, Peter L Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Plaskitt, James Stinchcombe, Paul
Pond, Chris Stoate, Dr Howard
Pope, Greg Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pound, Stephen Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stringer, Graham
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Prosser, Gwyn Sutcliffe, Gerry
Purchase, Ken Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Quinn, Lawrie
Radice, Giles Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Rammell, Bill Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Rapson, Syd Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Raynsford, Nick Timms, Stephen
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Todd, Mark
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Touhig, Don
Rendel, David Truswell, Paul
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rooker, Jeff Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rooney, Terry Tyler, Paul
Rowlands, Ted Vaz, Keith
Ruane, Chris Vis, Dr Rudi
Ruddock, Ms Joan Wallace, James
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Walley, Ms Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Wareing, Robert N
Ryan, Ms Joan Webb, Steve
Sanders, Adrian White, Brian
Wicks, Malcolm Wise, Audrey
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W) Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen) Worthington, Tony
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy) Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Willis, Phil
Wills, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
Winnick, David Mr. Graham Allen and
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C) Mr. Clive Betts.

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business), That, at this day's sitting, the School Standards and Framework Bill and the Wireless Telegraphy Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Pope.]

Question agreed to.

As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.

Further consideration of the Bill adjourned.—[Mr. Pope.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have had a letter from the Leader of the House asking me to withdraw a remark that I made in a point of order to Madam Speaker earlier today, and I am pleased to do as she requests. I said that the right hon. Lady had admitted to losing a letter that I had sent her, about getting letters answered in a sensible time by Ministers. She has written to remind me that in fact she said that her office had not received my letter of 21 January. She is an honourable Lady and I must accept that that is what happened, so I am happy to withdraw my earlier remark, but clearly we must have an inquiry as to why letters to Ministers are going astray.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Madam Speaker will have noted the hon. Gentleman's withdrawal of his earlier remarks.