HC Deb 07 February 2002 vol 379 cc1019-20
6. Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge)

If her Department will consult on regulations to give successful schools greater autonomy. [31405]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Timms)

Yes, we shall. I anticipate that the consultation will take place later this year. We set out our thinking in a policy statement that was provided to members of the Education Bill Standing Committee and placed in the Library of the House.

Richard Younger-Ross

I thank the Minister for his response. If greater autonomy is seen to be good, will it not benefit all schools? Are not struggling schools often those that require greater flexibility? Will he assure the House that there will be greater flexibility and less Government interference?

Mr. Timms

There certainly will be greater autonomy as a result of the measures agreed by the House when the Education Bill was considered on Report yesterday. We are developing our policy of intervening in inverse proportion to success. When a school is successful in terms of its achievement at assessment and in its leadership, we want to increase the autonomy available to it, because we can be confident that it will use that extra freedom to raise standards.

What we want, and what the Bill will make possible, is for our best schools to lead the next wave of education reform. Of course, under the separate power to innovate, which is also in the Bill, it will be possible for other schools to make proposals to help them raise standards. However, they will not have the same automatic entitlement that is available to our best schools, for the reasons that I have explained.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

I served in Committee on the Education Bill and was pleased to support it. As my hon. Friend knows, specialist schools are also part of innovation in our children's education. Will he consider the regulations on funding, because unfortunately Rossington high school, which is seeking specialist school status, has been turned down, not because of its bid but because, in a coal-mining area, we do not have the companies on our doorstep to fund it? The parish council has agreed to put some money in, but the regulations prevent it. Will he look into that?

Mr. Timms

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the valuable contribution of specialist schools in raising standards. I understand the concerns about sponsorship. That is why we support the Technology Colleges Trust in working with schools to help them raise the sponsorship that they need.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Is the Minister aware that there is great rejoicing in King's Lynn over news that Park high school is to receive specialist technology status? If he comes to that school, he will be very welcome indeed, and they may even unveil a picture of him in the assembly hall. However, is he aware that St. Clement's high school has had its bid turned down for the third time, even though in 2000 people from the school were invited to No. 10 because it was one of the most improving schools in the country? If he goes to that school, they will probably burn an effigy of him. Will he come up to west Norfolk and visit the two schools in the near future?

Mr. Timms

I was aware of the rejoicing in King's Lynn, because the hon. Gentleman told me about it. There will be rejoicing in all the nearly 150 schools that gained specialist status in this round. Schools have to go through a very rigorous process to attain specialist status, and many have to apply two, three or more times before succeeding, but the process is a very valuable one in helping them to raise their standards and develop strong plans for future improvement. I think that, on reflection, the hon Gentleman would support that.

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