§ 10. Dr. Liam Fox
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what recent surveys have been conducted into the operation of grant-maintained schools; and what are the main findings.
§ Mr. Patten
The Grant Maintained Schools Centre published the results of its latest annual survey of self-governing grant maintained schools in November last year. They demonstrate how self-governing schools are benefiting from the freedom to manage their own affairs and control their own budget.
The report by the Office for Standards in Education on 81 grant-maintained schools, published on 30 March, concluded that grant-maintained schools were adapting well to their new framework and were taking advantage of the new opportunities that grant-maintained status offered. The report also noted that grant-maintained schools were attracting increasing numbers of pupils.
There are about 775 grant-maintained schools today, either operating, approved or awaiting approval.
§ Dr. Fox
Will my right hon. Friend communicate that information to Avon education authority which has sent to parents in schools that wish to become self-governing a politically bigoted letter that amounts to emotional blackmail? Does he agree that that sort of malevolent 643 nonsense is likely to become an ever-greater feature of those councils that came under Labour or Liberal control last week?
§ Mr. Patten
I understand from papers that my hon. Friend has sent me that schools in the Woodspring constituency, like St. John the Evangelist, are feeling inhibited about going for grant-maintained status because of what they regard as coercion by Labour-controlled Avon council. That is why the Education Bill, presently in another place, will make it possible for at least a substantial amount of the effort that has been put into using council tax payers' funds by councils to intimidate schools to be brought to a halt, and quite right too.
§ Mrs. Mahon
Has not the Minister been embarking on crude bribery to get schools to opt out? If he denies that, will he explain why, in Calderdale, three grant-maintained schools recently received a capital improvement grant of £450,000 while the other 109 schools had to make do with £223,000? Is that not a straightforward bribe to get schools to opt out?
§ Mr. Patten
I am sorry that the hon. Lady is displeased that three schools in her area have had such large capital grants. In the past, successful schools, often voluntary-aided schools, have been consistently starved of capital funds that were much needed for modernisation of buildings and expansion. One of the reasons why grant-maintained status is so important is that it allows popular, oversubscribed schools the possibility of expanding, and quite right too.
§ Dame Angela Rumbold
Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the schools that have achieved grant-maintained status would like the benefits of that status to be expressed in clear terms? Those schools not only attract more pupils, provide better education by dint of better standards and have rather better teachers, but attract a larger number of people willing to come forward as governors. All those factors should be made clear to the cantankerous Liberal and Labour-controlled authorities.
§ Mr. Patten
I have two points for my right hon. Friend. First, there are queues of children waiting to go to grant-maintained schools, which are extremely popular. Secondly, although, in comparison with maintained schools, I have visited only a small number of grant-maintained schools, in every one that I have visited, teachers and governors have told me that they relish their new freedom to run their affairs and their schools to their own agenda. That is a central part of the Conservative philosophy on which we were elected at the last general election.