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Mr. Pawsey: May we tease the hon. Gentleman to say a little more about the way in which grant-maintained schools will be reintegrated?

Mr. Kilfoyle: It is a very simple matter, which we have well rehearsed on the Floor of the House and in Committee. The hon. Gentleman well knows that we propose a tripartite system of schools--community schools, aided schools and foundation schools--and that grant-maintained schools will be part of that. We are great advocates of that; we are not great advocates of a status that advantages a small number of schools to the disadvantage of many.

In Committee, while expressing support for the underlying objectives of such safeguards, Ministers argued that advice to the Funding Agency for Schools on considering applications--through a remit letter, whatever that might mean--would set out those safeguards and that it would be best to leave decisions to administrative discretion in the light of specific local circumstances rather than set out the safeguards in legislation. Indeed, we have been told several times that that will include a requirement for grant-maintained schools to prove their case first to the Funding Agency for Schools.

Opposition Members should be forgiven if we take such assurances with a large pinch of salt. I, for one, recall the assurances that the Opposition were given that grant-maintained status in itself would not be extended to schools that were due to be closed under the surplus places proposals, but that somersault took place in the face of a decline in the number of applications for grant-maintained status at that time. While that programme continues to grind to a halt, a desperate Government are liable to do anything to encourage schools to become grant-maintained.

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The amendment provides an opportunity to probe further into the nature of the remit letter and what factors the Funding Agency for Schools for England should bear in mind when considering whether assets are core assets. It will also provide an opportunity to explore the links between core assets and the new Education (School Premises) Regulations, which were approved yesterday against strong opposition from Labour Members. We argue that links between the two proposals are indissoluble.

On the question of the relevance of inserting these safeguards into legislation, it might be sensible to stress that little should be left to chance when defining the terms under which such borrowing can take place because we are dealing with the future of education for the nation's children. Placing conditions in the Bill will help to ensure that there is no abuse of borrowing arrangements, and that the effect on children's education will be limited. At the very least, this debate will provide useful material in Hansard for hon. Members to digest and it should provide some further insight on the status of a remit letter.

I do not mean to suggest that there will be any impropriety by schools, but some school governors might feel that they can embark on a set of proposals for which they are particularly ill-suited because they do not have the depth of experience or knowledge. We examined that possibility in great detail in the debate. I expect that the Minister will come back on that and say that that is the role of the FAS, but many Opposition Members would argue that that agency is very partial when it comes to reflecting the whims of Government policy.

The Under-Secretary of State's contributions on core assets in the Standing Committee were less than clear. He argued that there was a proposed working definition of core assets, covering those that are

He then explained the problem of providing such a definition because circumstances in schools varied--of course they vary. The FAS should decide instead on a case-by-case basis, though he suggested two rules of thumb:

Later still, he suggested:

Which is it to be? Who will decide--the FAS or the school itself? How will a remote body, such as the FAS, be able to assess whether a school's assertion that an asset is not essential is accurate? Should not the views and advice of parents, governors and the local education authority--which would still have an overarching responsibility in the vast majority of local education areas--be sought? Would it not be more sensible to set out in regulations a framework against which applications should be judged? Could not that include some scope for local discretion?

We believe that it would be far better for the legislation to go further and spell out detail along the lines set out in the earlier consultation. When the Minister responds and

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defines core assets, perhaps she will tell us which of the following, many of which I adumbrated in Committee, are open for use as collateral: classrooms; subject rooms such as art, drama, photography and history rooms; common areas such as assembly halls and gymnasiums; common open areas, including those that are planted with grass or landscaped, and car parks; playing fields; playgrounds; office accommodation for senior staff, which is particularly appropriate because we expect that there will be more administration, whether in grant-maintained or locally managed schools; and staff rooms and rooms made available to sixth formers or to pupils for club activities--we know that such provision was singularly lacking in the regulations passed yesterday, but there are still references to that type of provision in the guidelines.

8.45 pm

Could any of the following be used as collateral: accommodation for caretakers and other staff, science laboratories, technology rooms and workshops, audio-visual and theatre facilities, swimming pools or libraries? The list is endless. We would like the Minister to tell us which of those core assets will covered by the legislation.

I should like to tell the Minister about three of my recent experiences in schools while travelling around the country. I do not expect her to comment on individual schools, and I know that she has already declined to comment on one, for very good reason, but I think that my experiences can serve as good illustrations of the problems that schools face.

The first school was the Monk Fryston Church of England primary school, in the Selby area of Yorkshire. That school was originally built for 40 children, but it now takes in 120 children. We can argue all we like about the way in which one classroom serves as the school hall, gymnasium, dining room and storage room, or about the overcrowding of the various facilities there. Outside that school, however, encroaching on the playgrounds--which were conveniently taken out of the Education (School Premises) Regulations last night--are demountables. Are they core assets?

As I mentioned demountables, the second example came to mind. Last Friday, I was with my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) at Sowerby Bridge high school. I have also noted what the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Sir D. Thompson) said in the debate about the time when he was education chairman for Calderdale, when that school was pleading for new demountables, some of which had been there for 40 years as temporary accommodation. The hon. Gentleman was subsequently elected as a Member of Parliament, and he has presumably failed to advance the case of that high school and its problems with its 13 demountables. Are they core assets? I doubt very much whether Sowerby Bridge high school could deliver the national curriculum without those demountables. Are they permanent features?

The third example is probably one of the strangest I have encountered, and I have travelled to many schools. I was recently at a primary school in Gravesham, which is adjacent, on a very large site, to a grant-maintained secondary school. The peculiarity is that the primary school is on one part of an open site. After a forced route

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march, one gets to the other half of the school, which is part of a quadrangle, three parts of which belong to the secondary school. That is a grant-maintained school. One has to cross the playground to get to the primary school. I wonder which is the core asset. We know that, under the minimum space regulations, schools have been allowed much latitude in terms of playgrounds, but is the playground a core asset? Is it a core asset of the secondary grant-maintained school, or is it a core asset of that primary school given that it provides access from one half of the school to the other?

I know that the Minister wants to reply, so I shall conclude soon. We have more than 24,000 schools. We know that only a small minority of them--about 1,100--are in the grant-maintained sector, but policies affecting grant-maintained schools have a habit of being introduced for other schools. I am sure that many of the grant-maintained schools are also in difficult circumstances.

I can foresee that, without a definition of core assets, many problems will arise when loans are taken out on the basis of core assets. I foresee at least two results. First, it will damage the provision of what we term core education and, in particular, provision of the national curriculum. Secondly, unless we are extremely careful, someone else will pick up the tab for it. In Committee, we were told that governors would not be jointly and severally liable, which I accept, but we were also told that no guarantee will be provided by the Secretary of State or the FAS. That being so, and if one cannot convince potential lenders that they have an asset that is a realisable security, why, for goodness sake, does clause 6 provide for such borrowing? We asked the same question repeatedly in Committee. A paradox seems to exist and I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to explain it to the House.

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