§ 13. Mr. Butler
To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he proposes to take any action to accelerate the trend towards grant-maintained schools.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
The number of schools seeking and acquiring grant-maintained status is already increasing very rapidly. In the past sixth months alone, the number of schools voting in favour of seeking grant-maintained status has more than doubled. We shall continue to urge schools to consider the opportunities afforded by grant-maintained status.
§ Mr. Butler
Is it not the case that the new GM schools have proved popular with parents, teachers and pupils? Can my right hon. Friend say whether standards have risen in such schools?
§ Mr. Clarke
So far in the 88 GM schools that we have, my hon. Friend's assertion can be supported. As far as I can tell, all those running grant-maintained schools have found that the experience is popular with staff, parents and pupils. Obviously, in time we will be able to tell—from reports by Her Majesty's inspectorate and elsewhere—what effect they have on standards. However, it must be beneficial to raise staff morale in that way and to give complete control over policy in the school to headteachers and governors who are bound to be responsive to parents in the way that they carry out their duties.
§ Mr. Straw
Since only 14 per cent. of schools in the pipeline for opting out are in Labour-controlled education authority areas, while 66 per cent. are in Conservative-controlled areas, does not the evidence clearly show that parents in Labour-controlled LEAs have great confidence in the ability of their LEAs to run their education service? How can the Secretary of State come out with such nonsense about the number of grant-maintained schools growing rapidly, as he has just done, when the total number opting out or in the pipeline—236—is less than 1 per cent. of the country's 24,000 maintained schools?
§ Mr. Clarke
It is foolish for the hon. Gentleman to reduce every aspect of managing schools to a party-political argument about Labour and Conservative-controlled authorities. However, it is relevant that in the areas served by Labour-controlled authorities the most intense pressures are put on headteachers, governors and staff not to opt for grant-maintained status. That is because the Labour party is especially wedded to the defence of town hall bureaucracy in that as in many other areas. As regards the figures, the hon. Gentleman keeps making extraordinary claims that somehow the process is slowing up, when it is accelerating at a remarkable rate, as 855 he knows; 12 months ago there were only seven ballots pending and now there are more than 50. All the time that I have been in office, the rate at which grant-maintained applications are being received has steadily accelerated. When we return to office and people no longer fear pressure from Labour authorities, those applications will become a flood.