HL Deb 18 November 1992 vol 540 cc618-20

2.55 p.m.

Lord Desai asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their estimate of the number of grant-maintained schools in 1994.

The Minister of State, Department of Education (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, current forecasts suggest that over 1,500 grant-maintained schools will have been approved by April 1994. Projections are based on term-on-term growth in numbers since the first schools were incorporated in September 1989.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Inasmuch as revenue depends upon the projection, if the forecast proves to be too optimistic, can she say whether there is a contingency plan to allocate funds differently from that predicted in the Autumn Statement?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, we have no reason at all to move away from believing that those projections will be met. There are already 342 schools either up and running or approved. We know that there are 158 ballots already that are "yes" ballots waiting for determination. We know that there have been 200 ballots in the past two months. We have every reason to believe that that target will be met.

Baroness David

My Lords, according to my figures, £61 million will be spent this year, £157 million next year, £294 million the following year and £446 million in 1995–96. If there are not a sufficient number of grant-maintained schools to justify those figures, as my noble friend asked, will some of the money go back to the LEA and to the schools, which will need the money desperately?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is no question of changing the system of payment. I do not know whether the noble Baroness refers to capital or recurrent spending. We expect on capital to spend £500 million over the next three years. Taking capital and grants together, it will be £900 million over the next three years. If those schools do not come on stream and grow in the numbers we expect, that money will not be spent; and it is a matter for the department to decide what to do with it. The system itself will not be changed.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the forecasts on the future numbers of grant-maintained schools are based on a continuation of the Government's policy of bribing local education authority schools to opt out by offering them higher capital grants than those received by schools which remain local authority schools? Does she consider it fair to either parents or pupils in schools which remain within the LEA?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I do not accept that that is a bribe. There are some schools now in the grant-maintained sector that have had years and years of neglect by the local education authorities. Therefore the burden is disproportionate.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister accept that satisfactory progress is being made with regard to grant-maintained schools, especially in the light of the very hostile attitude taken by many local authorities to parents wishing to have their schools opt out of the local education authority system? In particular, are there any steps she can take to prevent authorities such as Nottinghamshire from having its officials put out quite false and misleading information to parents?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my noble friend makes a very important point. Perhaps the local authorities should spend energy supporting grant-maintained schools instead of opposing them. Some of the opposition has been quite scurrilous. If he does not know it, perhaps for the record I should say that I called for a report from the chief education officer of Nottingham to explain just why it has been so hostile to two schools in particular.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I revert to the answer that the Minister gave to my question. Is she not aware of the fact that capital spending has always been determined not by the local education authorities but by the Department of Education and Science in the past and now by the Department for Education? If there is any neglect, is it not entirely a function of the Department of Education's core performance in this way?

Baroness Blatch

No, my Lords. Again, I do not accept the noble Baroness's point. In replying to her I was making a criticism of the priorities for spending in many local authorities.

Lord Ritchie of Dundee

My Lords, can the Minister give any figures for the number of opted out schools that were formerly grammar schools and schools which are threatened with closure? What proportion of those which have opted out or are proposing to do so are numbered among them?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, 84 per cent. of the schools that are grant maintained are non-selective; therefore 16 per cent. of them are selective. As for the schools that applied that were subject to both closure proposals as well as grant-maintained applications, there were 64 schools and 33 of them were accepted. The case for closure was accepted because it was a better case made for closure than for grant maintained. The rest were all accepted for grant-maintained status.