§ 4. Mr. Garnier
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what is the latest figure he has for the number of pupils being educated in grant-maintained schools.
§ 5. Mr. Clapham
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what proportion of secondary schools have been granted or have now applied for grant-maintained status.
§ Mr. Patten
The total number of pupils currently being educated in grant-maintained schools is estimated to be 160,000.
The proportion of all secondary schools to have been granted grant-maintained status is 5.6 per cent., and 6.7 per cent. of all secondary schools have now applied for grant-maintained status. A total of 417 secondary schools have held or are committed to hold a ballot. This represents already just over 10 per cent. of all secondary schools. I can report to the House also that there have been about 2,000 inquiries to the Grant-Maintained Schools Trust since the general election seeking further informa-tion on grant-maintained status. There are now about 150 inquiries a day.
§ Mr. Garnier
Will my right hon. Friend help to increase the number of pupils at grant-maintained schools by dealing speedily and favourably with an application from Bushloe high school in my constituency? Is he aware that the application is made not on the basis of right-wing remarks or attitudes but because the pupils' parents, be they Liberal, Labour or Conservative, realise that the best chance of a good education within the school is provided by grant-maintained status?
§ Mr. Patten
I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. I note that his constituency has only one grant-maintained school within it so far, and that is Gartree school. It is an excellent school and I congratulate it on its progress. I hope that the number of grant-maintained schools in the constituency may soon be doubled. I look forward to receiving the application to which my hon. Friend has referred.
My hon. Friend should warn parents who support whichever of the political parties that he named that, despite recent reports in the national press of a change of heart by those on the Opposition Front Bench over 125 grant-mintained schools, and notwithstanding the warning that is contained in a document that those on the Opposition Front Bench have produced for some of the most extremist Labour authorities not to get in the way by pursuing guerrilla warfare tactics against schools that wish to go grant maintained, they reiterate in the document their total opposition to the principle of grant-maintained schools. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is positively antediluvian in wishing to go back further than the 19th century.
§ Mr. Clapham
Is the Secretary of State aware that opting out is threatening the proper management of secondary schools, to the detriment of pupils? Will he explain how the centralisation of secondary education will benefit choice and standards and provide opportunities?
§ Mr. Patten
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my reply to the question of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan) he would have heard a pretty accurate description of the wide range and diversity of choice that is available already and on which, I think, schools in the grant-maintained sector will build. I hear, for example, that some schools wish to teach technology bilingually in English and German. That is a marvellous idea. Let us see many more ideas of that sort coming forward from the grant-maintained sector.
§ Mr. Pawsey
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the increasing number of young people in grant-maintained schools is a clear sign of the success of those schools? Does he agree that grant-maintained schools represent an admirable opportunity for specialisation? For example, we have inner-city schools specialising in music, science, technology and mathematics. Does my right hon. Friend agree also that these schools represent an excellent opportunity to improve the quality and standard of state education, the sector in which the majority of children are educated?
§ Mr. Patten
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) is not in his place, I think that I can risk saying that if schools want to specialise in ballet—[Interruption.] Oh, he is here. It is too late; I cannot bite on my tongue. If schools want to specialise in ballet, music, performing arts, science or languages, so be it.
I repeat to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) what I said earlier: on many occasions there is no need for schools to apply to the Secretary of State for a change of character. Generally speaking, specialisation can be developed without an application for a change of character, as can the development of a few places for pupils with a particular aptitude for certain subjects in which a school wishes to specialise.
§ Mr. Straw
Will the Secretary of State confirm that, for all the spin that he tried to put on his figures, since the general election just 56 schools out of a potential 24,000 have decided to ballot to opt out? That takes us right through to October. Does not that figure show that, far from there being an avalanche of opting out since the election, a great many parents have seen through the rhetoric of opt-out and realise that opting out will lead to no improvement in standards, a loss of parental choice and tight central controls from Whitehall?
§ Mr. Patten
With inquiries coming in at the rate of 150 a day, that is a pretty surprising remark from the hon. Gentleman. I am afraid to say that in some parts of the country Labour authorities, over which the hon. Gentleman has no control, have been trying to do all that they possibly can to stop local schools going for grant-maintained status. I promise the House that in the next education Bill to be introduced in the autumn we will introduce measures to put a stop to that.
§ Mr. Patten
That is why we must try to spend as much money as possible on pupils and as little money as possible on administration. That is not to say that good administration is not needed under a local education authority or a grant-maintained system—of course it is. We need better management and better leadership from those who run our schools. That is something which we need to promote during the next five years.