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Column 866of Ministers. That, no doubt, is why the number of ballots for grant-maintained status has declined significantly, contrary to what the Minister said at Question Time today, and why the percentage of no votes has increased significantly to 38 per cent.
Mr. Boswell : Does the hon. Lady agree that the yes vote in January was 89 per cent?
Mrs. Taylor : The figures that I have are for the whole of the last term and a half, which is a very good time to look at. I do not have the January figures with me, but there were probably about six ballots in January. In the autumn and spring terms of 1992-93--if the Minister really wants the figures--there were 259 ballots. In the comparable period this year, there were just 53 ballots. The number of yes votes in 1992-93 in that period was 199. In 1993-94, the number of yes votes had declined from 199 to 33. The percentage of no votes in 1992-93 was 23 per cent., whereas in 1993-94 the figure was 38 per cent. If, therefore, we are looking at trends in grant-maintained ballots, the number of ballots is going down and the proportion of no votes is increasing.
The Government's three flagship policies--CTCs, assisted places and grant- maintained status--are all proving extremely costly to the taxpayer. We see that across the board. The hallmarks of the Government are waste, inefficiency and bureaucracy. The costs of centralisation and of running the Department, as well as staffing costs, have gone up. We have had the ridiculous expense of running Sanctuary buildings. The Department for Education told the Select Committee that the increased costs were due primarily to the Government's school reforms. Considering that we are back to the drawing board with the national curriculum, after spending £500 million, and that the Government have overburdened teachers with more administration and more bureaucracy than ever before, that is a very sad picture after so many years of Conservative Administration. Before I sit down, I should like to mention something that my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) touched on. I have not much time, because others want to speak, but I just mention it as an example of the stupidity of the Government and of what happens time and again when Ministers refuse to listen. When the Education Act 1988 was going through, Labour called for a joint body on curriculum and assessment. The Government refused. The National Curriculum Council was established in York, the School Examinations and Assessment Council was established in London, and the two went their separate ways.
In introducing the Education Act 1933, the Government accepted that we were right all along and have merged the two bodies into SCAA. The cost of the merger is £4 million, but it leaves the Government with an empty building in York. They have therefore created a new quango--the Funding Agency for Schools--and sent it to York. That is an incredible example of what the Government think it is right for a quango to do and have.
Taxpayer's money is involved in all that. When the National Curriculum Council was established in York it had a budget for fittings and fixtures of £560,000. It actually spent £2.3 million. But when it moved out so that the new quango could come in, there was a refurbishment budget of £763,000--more than three quarters of a million
Column 867pounds to refurbish a building that is less than four years old. That shows Government priorities and waste on a massive scale. Ridiculously, the National Curriculum Council had to have a special carpet with the letters "NCC" interwoven throughout. Less than four years later, it must be thrown away and a new carpet must be laid for the Funding Agency for Schools.
Mr. Don Foster : Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs. Taylor : No, I have nearly finished my speech.
All that adds insult to injury for schools, which face a massive backlog of repairs and a massive shortage of resources. It is an insult to the pupils who are trying to learn in leaking classrooms and crumbling schools and to the teachers who are trying to teach without enough books to go round the class. The Government have shown by their actions that they are not interested in the education of every child. Just before Christmas, the Prime Minister said that 15 per cent. of children in this country got an education equal to anywhere in the world, but that, unfortunately, the rest did not. That is a damning indictment of 15 years of Conservative Government. 8.42 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton) : In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) was quick to flag up the additional 1p in the pound to which the Liberal Democrats committed themselves before the last election, and to outline what that would provide in educational improvements. We are familiar with such traditional ruses from the Liberal Democrats. They blithely go around the country telling people on doorsteps that putting just a penny, which sounds fairly innocuous, on income tax will provide any education item chosen from a menu according to the person interviewed. That has a certain appeal, but it is totally dishonest.
According to the Liberal Democrats' own document, "Excellence for All", 1p in the pound on income tax would provide £1.75 billion extra over five years for the repair of school buildings and for nursery education. Tonight, the hon. Member for Bath agreed with my hon. Friend the Minister that that is likely to cost nearly £1 billion, although it is costed in his party's document at £525 million. He said that the shortfall would be covered by a saving on jobs created. That spurious argument does not stand up to close investigation. The document also says that the penny would pay for the fact that no class would contain more than 30 pupils. That is set against rising school rolls in primary education, contrary to the trend in recent years. It would also pay for a significant increase in funding for local management of schools, which would mean more money for the budget of any school represented by the person to whom the Liberal Democrats were talking on the doorstep.
Mr. Streeter : Is not my hon. Friend being a little harsh on the Liberal Democrats? After all, would they not save money by dramatically cutting the defence budget, thus throwing many of her constituents and mine on to the unemployed list?
Mrs. Browning : My hon. Friend makes a good point. But the Liberal Democrats do not intend to use savings
Column 868made through defence expenditure cuts on education. They say categorically that 1p on income tax will pay for all that. Perhaps they should get back to basic sums.
The 1p is also supposed to pay for
"reimbursing governors for earnings lost in the course of their duties" ;
to increase funding for in-service training for teachers ; and to "establish an adult education and training unit with its own budget in the Department for Education."
As if that were not enough, that penny is stretched to the smallest decimal point in further education, where the Liberal Democrats would abandon the student loans system. The document says that all students would be eligible for a "fixed grant" to cover "specific additional costs" incurred as a result of their studies. A means-tested benefit would also be given to students, based not on their parents' income but on their own. The cost of that would be enormous.
All those measures already exceed £2 billion expenditure. Are those further education pledges to be funded also by 1p on the social security budget? They take us into the realms of a lot of money.
Mr. Heald : Has my hon. Friend also considered the cost that would be involved in reorganising every educational institution in the country? Those would include education departments where once there were local education authorities, a student council organisation in every school, a single Ministry reorganised for education and training, a new pay review body, a new national qualifications council and a new general training council. What would all that cost?
Mrs. Browning : It would cost considerably more money--certainly well in excess of 1p on income tax.
Mr. Boswell : My hon. Friend may not be entirely fair to the proposers of the motion. Has she noticed that the original pledge of 1p on income tax has been transformed in the motion to a reference to
"increase investment in education by at least the equivalent of one penny of income tax"?
In proposing all those measures, might they not put much more on income tax than they have yet admitted?
Mrs. Browning : My hon. Friend makes a good point. The wording, "at least the equivalent of one penny"
means that, on the doorstep, Liberal Democrats can pick any one of the items mentioned by hon. Members tonight and say, "If this is what you want, we'll deliver it and it will cost you only 1p on income tax". It is nothing but a device for the doorstep and has nothing to do with increasing standards in education. It is a dishonest proposal.
Ms Estelle Morris : The hon. Lady is right to say that what the Liberal Democrats promise on the doorstep is not what they deliver when they are in control in local authorities. But will she accept responsibility for what Conservative local authorities do? Will she explain why Devon county council, when it was Tory controlled before last April, managed to put only 11 per cent. of its children through nursery education comparied with Labour-controlled Newham, which managed to put 64 per cent. through nursery education?
Mrs. Browning : I have great pleasure in providing that explanation. When the Conservatives were in control of
Column 869Devon county council before the county council elections, it cut its cloth accordingly. Labour and Liberal Democrat local education authorities throughout the country choose their priorities. If they choose to prioritise nursery education, it is inevitably at the loss of other areas of education that are just as, if not more, important.
The motion talks of "growing chaos and division" in education. We have certainly had growing chaos and division in education in the county of Devon since the county council control went to the Liberal Democrats, particularly surrounding those schools seeking grant-maintained status.
Before Liberal Democrat control, I was asked on several occasions by schools that were considering grant-maintained status whether I would speak in support of it. I told them categorically that if they wanted specific information I would do all that I could to assist them, but I did not feel that it was a matter for politicians and refused on each occasion. In recent weeks, however, the way in which the Liberal Democrat council and the LEA in Devon have behaved has been quite disgraceful.
Earlier today during Education Question Time my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) drew attention to the way in which the grant- maintained status ballots for St. Thomas high school in Exeter were conducted, and reference has been made to those ballots tonight. I informed my hon. Friend that I would be mentioning the subject because at the same time as St. Thomas was balloting, so was Ottery St. Mary primary school in my constituency. I have referred to my hon. Friend the official complaint by the governing body about how the LEA conducted the negotiations and the public meetings with parents.
The figures for insurance costs that were given to parents were not quoted on the basis of a primary school in Devon. The LEA quoted insurance costs for a secondary school in the midlands, thus worrying parents about the additional costs if the school became grant maintained. In addition, a member of the governing body who did not support grant-maintained status was able to conduct detailed negotiations with the LEA about the financial running of the school. That information was given to the newspaper so that the chairman and governing body had to read the details concerning their school in the public press. In other words they--the official body--had been sidelined so that the LEA could continue to conduct the way in which information was given to parents--through the newspapers instead of through the governing body.
Mr. Don Foster : I shall attempt to be brief. The hon. Lady raises many interesting points. First, I am not sure whether she was congratulating the Liberal Democrats on keeping their promises about grant- maintained schools. In view of what she has said, does she believe that it would be wrong for Members of Parliament to write to parents involved in grant-maintained school ballots? Does she believe that insurance for grant- maintained schools is easy to come by, or would she confirm my understanding that many are having considerable difficulties in getting insurance?
Mrs. Browning : Whether hon. Members wish to be involved is a matter for them, as is whether they wish to put a party political slant on the subject or choose to do as I did
Column 870and seek specific pieces of information. I have had no difficulty in obtaining insurance quotations, so I see no reason why a governing body should not obtain them.
Mr. Jamieson : Surely the hon. Lady must be aware that the only information put out by Devon county council was approved both by Local Schools Information and by the Grant-Maintained Schools Trust.
Mrs. Browning : The hon. Gentleman is speaking about a matter in my constituency and I resent the fact that he has not done his homework. If he has an interest in what went on at the Ottery St. Mary primary school in my constituency, I hope that he will do his homework and find out the information.
The LEA responded to one governor and not the governing body. The chairman and the rest of the governing body read that information in the press. When they tried to correspond with the LEA and negotiate directly with them, they were denied that opportunity. That is an improper way for any LEA to communicate with a governing body. If the hon. Gentleman has such an interest in my constituency, perhaps he will write to me privately and explain just what he knows about the way in which the discussions and ballot took place. It is no coincendence that there is a great deal of overlap of interest. When the local newspaper, the Exeter Express and Echo , printed a photograph of one of the meetings at St. Thomas high school, the audience included people from the Ottery St. Mary primary school which, to my certain knowledge, had absolutely no interest in St. Thomas high school.
Under the Liberal Democrats in Devon, the LEA will disclose information to anybody and leave the governing body last, until they have to ask for the information. We also seem to be in the area of flying pickets who go from meeting to meeting, regardless of whether they have an interest in the particular school. That is not how the grant-maintained status option should be considered. It should be considered rationally and impartially-- [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. There is now so much noise that I can scarcely hear the hon. Lady. Will hon. Members keep rather quieter?
Mrs. Browning : Such discussions, particularly with parents, should be considered impartially and with full information on both sides. There are obviously two sides to the argument ; none the less, the democratic process set up by the Government has been subjugated by the Liberal Democrat council in Devon and the National Union of Teachers and others who have a vested interest in making sure that it does not happen and who are making sure that parents are not given access to full and impartial information.
I close with a quotation from Devon county council's chief education officer, following the St. Thomas high school vote. He said :
"The vote is particularly significant as it keeps the authority well below the 10 per cent. threshold for secondary school pupils attending opted out schools. Beyond that level, Devon has to share responsibility for planning the provision of secondary schools with the Funding Agency for Schools A yes vote would have taken the percentage of secondary pupils in Devon to 9.95 per cent." It is not in the interests of fairness and impartiality or a matter for the judgment of parents and governors ; it is a matter of sustaining an LEA department that is at the fore
Column 871of the activities perpetrated by the Liberal Democrats in Devon-- [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman put that away. I do not want to see rude pictures across the Chamber.
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : Tempting though it is to comment on some of the points raised earlier, in fairness to hon. Members and the requests from the Chair for short speeches, I intend to concentrate solely on one issue. As a Member representing inner London, I raise an issue that is causing enormous concern to schools throughout London--the future of section 11 funding.
In London at the present time, some 650 teaching posts are funded under section 11. In my constituency, 48 full-time teaching posts are funded under section 11, and 21 schools benefit from it. The grant paid to the London borough of Wandsworth--I am a Member for that borough--is well over £1 million a year. Those figures result from a series of questions that I have asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department over the past two weeks in the House.
Under section 11 funding, the present percentage--75 per cent.--will, in April, be reduced to 57 per cent. It is already clear what the effects of that cut will be, not only in my constituency but in many boroughs throughout inner and outer London. As a result of that reduction, London will lose some £16 million. It will affect many schools in boroughs such as Brent, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Hackney, Ealing and Islington. No hon. Member, on either side of the Chamber, who represents a constituency in those boroughs can be unaware of the effects that it will have on schools in their constituencies unless there is a drastic reappraisal of the cuts.
Mr. Heald : Is it official Labour party policy to reinstate any cuts that are made in section 11 funding, as we have not heard about that from the hon. Member's hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench?
Mr. Cox : I would expect that every Labour authority will do all that it can to reimpose section 11 funding. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman goes through the Lobbies as Lobby fodder on the many occasions on which we see cuts being made in local authority funding, in whatever sector that funding may be spent. In the light of the hon. Gentleman's question, he may be interested to know that the borough of Wandsworth, which makes great play of having the lowest council tax in the country, has clearly said that it will only keep section 11 funding until the summer, and will give no guarantees that, for the rest of the year, or future years, it will pick up any of that funding. This issue goes to the heart of the argument that I am seeking to present, not only for my constituency but for constituencies that are represented by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Mr. Win Griffiths : I confirm that when the Government announced the cuts in section 11 funding, although it is a Home Office matter, my hon. Friends the shadow Secretary of State for Education and the shadow Home Secretary, jointly made it clear that it would have a
Column 872serious adverse impact on the education of children who benefited from the funding and for whom English was not their first language. We would restore those cuts.
Mr. Cox : In the schools in my constituency, I have found that section 11 funding benefits the whole school, not just part of it. If no teachers in the school are employed under section 11 funding, because schools often manage their own budgets they do not have the resources to pick up the staffing levels that section 11 funding allows them to have, the whole school will suffer. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) may be interested to know that the funding next year will be reduced still further to 50 per cent. At the moment, it is 75 per cent.
In the past three weeks, I have visited five schools throughout my constituency, not just in certain areas. Not one head teacher or member of staff, when we have talked about this issue, has said to me that they are in a position to pick up the funding out of their existing budgets to make up for the loss of money that they will soon experience. That is what is so crucial to us in London, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said, the whole role of the school will start to suffer. No school in inner London--or, I suspect, anywhere in the country--can say, "We are lucky. We have surplus teachers. If we lose a teacher because of funding withdrawals, we have the additional staff to make up the loss." From the visits that I have made in my constituency and the detailed discussions that I have had with head teachers and staff, I can say that not one of them said that they could pick up that funding and therefore keep staff now employed under section 11. What they do say is that they are enormously fearful about the effect on their schools. The cuts will not only affect teachers' morale, although that is crucial ; they will affect parents' trust in schools and the standards in schools.
As we all know, whatever the difficulties--and there are some difficult schools in London, as there may be in many other parts of the country--it is to teachers' credit that they do everything possible to raise standards, and often succeed. I am convinced, however, that that can be done only when staffing levels are adequate : without adequate staffing levels, classes become larger and problems arise. Those of us who visit schools, and talk to heads and other teachers, know that when enough staff are available they can move the youngsters with problems, and continue to pursue the standards that schools are working to achieve.
This is a crucial issue, for London and for Members of Parliament. I know that it is primarily a Home Office issue, but I beg the Minister to consult his Home Office colleagues and try to readjust the cuts that are threatened for April. Otherwise, we shall undoubtedly experience enormous problems as a result of the breakdown of morale and loss of hope--and, above all, the loss of the expectations felt by many youngsters, and especially by their parents.
The Minister may say that this is indeed a Home Office matter, but the issues are intimately linked. As I have said, the funding for schools is due to fall from 75 to 50 per cent. next year ; councils will be stretched to the limit. It will be a disaster for London schools in areas such as mine, whose authorities refuse to compensate for the loss of funds.
I do not believe much of what we hear from Ministers ; I take far more notice of what I am told by heads and other teachers. But if the Minister who opened the debate really believes what he said about the progress that had been
Column 873made, he really should consider section 11 funding. If the cuts proceed, how will progress be made? Sadly, we shall see the reverse of progress--loss of morale and hope, and a loss to the communities in which the schools exist. Surely, no hon. Member on either side of the House can condone such behaviour.
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth) : Let me declare an interest immediately : like the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), I am a consultant with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
I hope that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) will forgive me if I do not follow his lead on section 11 funding. I was interested by what the hon. Member for Dewsbury said--or, rather, what she did not say ; I thought it significant that, in a speech lasting some 28 minutes, she did not set out the Labour party's programme. She seemed more than content to attack grant-maintained schools--yet, if they are failing, why should she spend so much time attacking them? As Shakespeare said, methinks the lady doth protest too much.
Mr. Win Griffiths : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Pawsey : I will in a moment. Let me get into my speech first. The motion strikes me as somewhat contrived. Of course education requires investment : that is why the Government spend more per child, in real terms, than was spent in 1979. We spend more on pre-school education, we spend more on children in school and we spend more on our young people in advanced education.
We have invested in the nation's teachers with pay increases that better reflect the importance of the work that they do. I have argued in the House over a long period that the overwhelming majority of the nation's teachers are dedicated to their profession and to the children in their charge. It is, therefore, right that they now receive a salary which is more commensurate with their
responsibilities and duties.
In education, as in life, however, money is not everything. Ideas and policies are even more important. There is little doubt that new ideas and policies have come from the Conservative party and from the Government.
Mr. Win Griffiths : On the subject of new policies and what the hon. Member was saying earlier about my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), may I point out that my hon. Friend was attacking not grant- maintained schools, but the policies of the Government that created such a cockeyed and wasteful system?
Mr. Pawsey : I found that to be genuinely an extraordinary intervention. As the hon. Gentleman is not now attacking grant-maintained schools, and if the Labour party is not now attacking grant-maintained schools, let me hear him say, in simple words of one syllable, that under any regime of which he is a member, grant-maintained schools will remain. Of course they will not. Of course his hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury and other Opposition Members continue their spiteful action against the grant-maintained schools, a matter to which I will refer later.
I say that the new ideas and policies come from the Government and from the Conservative party. We have
Column 874sought genuinely to improve the quality and standard of state education by introducing the national curriculum and testing, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and national targets for education and training, and by substantially increasing the number of students in advanced education. In 1979, only one in eight of the target group was in advanced education. Today, the figure is one in three-- an unprecedented increase.
That increase emphasises two things--first, that the nation's schools are producing substantial numbers of young people well able to take advantage of advanced education and, secondly, that resources have been increased in the universities, enabling them to take more students.
I will now turn to the subject of local education authorities. We have endeavoured to reduce the monopoly ; indeed, the LEA monopoly has been increasingly challenged by the emergence of grant-maintained schools. Grant -maintained schools build on the success of local management of schools-- yet another of the Government's initiatives. LMS ensures that more funding- -or, as the motion puts it, more investment--reaches the individual school and reaches down to the individual classroom, to the individual pupil. That must be to the benefit of the nation's children.
I understand why local education authorities dislike
grant-maintained schools. They are, after all, a challenge not only to the established bureaucracy and empire of the LEA but to the policies and the ethos of the LEA. In spite of the opposition, however, 814 grant-maintained schools have so far emerged, with another 67 in the immediate pipeline, which makes a total of 881. In addition, a further 118 have voted yes.
Grant-maintained status introduces diversity into the nation's education system. Where there was one single basic school, the neighbourhood comprehensives, there is now real choice for children and for parents, and that choice will grow because of GMS and because the Government are allowing those schools to change their character. Parents like choice, a point emphasised by the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools pointed out, more than half a million pupils are now being taught in grant-maintained schools--schools which have cut the apron strings that once secured them to the local education authority.
Yet another initiative introduced by the present Government was the introduction of the Office for Standards in Education, which ensures that every school will be inspected at least once every four years--a substantial improvement on what went before. I recall that when the measure was introduced, it was thought that it would be the end of inspection as we knew it. The reverse is true. Ofsted is a success story. It is accepted and working well and its inspectors go into the nation's schools and make a positive contribution to improving the quality and standard of state education.
The initiatives that I have so far described are only some of the ideas that the Government and the Conservative party have introduced, but it is instructive to compare our policies with those of the Opposition. Inasmuch as the Labour party has a policy, it is simple and single : one policy, one choice, one school. In Labour's view, bureaucracy is best and the man in shire hall has all the answers.
Column 875Opposition Members oppose tests, league tables and anything that smacks of independence. Opposition Members have become not so much the party of Opposition, more the party of obstruction ; or, perhaps more accurately, the party of abolition. Opposition Members would abolish grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) is applauding and I have a longer catalogue to give him, so he will be able also to applaud the abolition of the assisted places scheme and, according to the hon. Member for Dewsbury, independent schools. Opposition Members march under a slogan of "Back to the 1960s", and they want to return to the trendy fashions that did so much to destroy British education. Theirs remains a true policy of envy--a policy displayed and re-emphasised last week by the hon. Member for Dewsbury. In an interview given in the magazine of the Independent Schools Information Service, she reaffirmed her party's opposition to independent schools and her desire to abolish the assisted places scheme, which provides places to about 30,000 children from low- income families.
I noted, almost with incredulity, the intention of the hon. Member for Dewsbury to reopen the issue of charitable status for independent schools, thereby reversing the policy of her predecessor, the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I wonder what the Leader of the Opposition, in his quest for respectability, makes of the albatross that she has hung around his neck and that of the Labour party? I shall turn to the policy of the mover of the motion--the Liberal Democrat party, or whatever it is called this week. I do not accuse the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) of being two-faced, for if he had two faces he would not be wearing the one that he is wearing today. I accuse him, however, of facing two ways. After all, on testing the Liberal Democrats said :
"very little information of use to parents has ever been produced."
They went on to say that they would have a system of tests based entirely on continuous assessment.
The hon. Member for Bath appears to disagree with his party--he shows the independence of mind for which he is rightly becoming famous. In a report in The Times he states :
"the issue is not about the fundamental principle of testing and assessment".
It is, however, true that, from time to time and when it suits his party, it attacks the
"fundamental principle of setting each child the same objective test at a given time."
Naturally, the Liberal Democrats would abolish most formal examinations, including the GCSE, the national vocational qualification and A-levels. They would be replaced by qualifications modelled on--this will amuse the House--the piano exams principle. That is the best that they can come up with.
The debate has provided Conservative Members with an
opportunity--albeit very brief--to highlight some of the Government's initiatives and expose the paucity of thought among the Opposition parties. We now require a period in which schools can digest the reforms that have been introduced. I have no doubt that the past six years will be
Column 876seen as a time of great change and challenge and that from that challenge will emerge an education system well suited to the needs of the next century.
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport) : It is always a pleasure to follow a peroration from the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) whose speech was, as always, lively although it owed more to rhetoric than to fact--it improves every time I hear it. I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and I shall make my contribution brief as I know that other hon. Members wish to participate.
There are many stresses on schools today, mainly due to the myriad innovations of the past few years, such as LMS--the local management of schools--a concept that I broadly welcome. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth mentioned it but I must point out that it was pioneered by Labour authorities and copied--sensibly--by the Government. The national curriculum and the constant chopping and changing have also placed stresses on our schools. There have been many U-turns and only last week the common funding formula was announced.
Last week the Select Committee on Education took evidence. The Government spokesman on education in another place said that one essential fact about the common funding formula was that it had to be transparent and easily understandable. The Committee heard from the head teacher of a grant- maintained school who was asked whether he understood how the figure for his school's budget was arrived at. It was most revealing that he replied :
"I have to confess that I do not understand how the figure was arrived at".
I liked his next comment which was : "I also understand why I do not understand."
Clearly, more chaos and confusion will enter the education system if we have a common funding formula that head teachers, directors of education and treasurers do not understand. The real test will come tomorrow when a Minister from the Department for Education comes before the Committee and we find out whether he understands the common funding formula.
We have heard tonight that many schools have been disrupted by the ballots for grant-maintained status. The Education Act 1993 guarantees that every year governors have to consider the disruption of their school because they have to vote on whether to have a ballot. It is simply a one-way track to Government control--schools have to keep on balloting until they have made the "right" decision. Reference has been made to a ballot that took place at St. Thomas' high school last week, the result of which was announced on Thursday. It is yet another example of disruption. The school is an excellent comprehensive school with 1,200 pupils. It has a good reputation and high standards but found itself holding a ballot on grant-maintained status.
What happened in the balloting process? The head teacher held only one meeting, at which he did not allow any contrary view to be expressed. The only way in which the contrary view could be expressed to the head teacher and the governors who wanted to opt out was for a group of parents to hire a hall some distance from the school and