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New clause 4

Grant Maintained Schools

'.--(1) Where a school is a grant maintained school within the meaning of the Education Act 1996 at the beginning of the1998-99 school year--
(a) the provisions of this clause shall have effect for prescribing the procedure for altering the school's status so that it is no longer a grant maintained school; and
(b) the status of the school as a grant maintained school shall not be so altered except in accordance with the provisions of this clause.
(2) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for ballots of parents to be held, at their request, for determining whether the grant maintained school to which such a ballot relates should retain its status as a grant maintained school.
(3) Ballot regulations may make provision--
(a) for determining the parents who are eligible to request and vote in a ballot under this section, provided that such determination shall include only parents of children for the time being in the school or who have accepted an offer of a place in the school;
(b) requiring a request for such a ballot to be made by means of a petition signed by such number eligible parents as may be specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations;
(c) prescribing the form of any petition and other requirements (whether as to the procedure to be followed or otherwise) which are to be complied with in relation to any such petition;
(d) prescribing the body ("the designated body") to which any such petition is to be sent and which, under arrangements made by Secretary of State, is to--
(i) make the arrangements for the holding of ballots under this section, and
(ii) discharge such other functions with respect to such petitions and the holding of such ballots as may be prescribed (which may include the determination of any question arising as to the validity of any request for a ballot);
(e) requiring prescribed bodies or persons, or bodies or persons falling within any prescribed category--
(i) to provide the designated body or any other person with any prescribed information requested by that body or person, or
(ii) to publish prescribed information in such manner as may be prescribed;
(f) prescribing the terms of the question on which a ballot under this section is to be held and the manner in which such a ballot is to be conducted;

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(g) specify how the result of such a ballot is to be ascertained;
(h) enabling the Secretary of State, in any prescribed circumstances, to declare a previous ballot under this section void and require the holding of a fresh ballot;
(i) requiring anything falling to be done under the regulations to be done within such period as may be specified in or determined in accordance with the regulations;
(4) Ballot regulations may provide for a request for a ballot under this section to be made, in any prescribed circumstances, by means of two or more petitions.
(5) The information required to be provided in pursuance of subsection (3)(e) may include the names and addresses of parents of any prescribed description.
(6) Where--
(a) a ballot has been held under this section, and
(b) the result of the ballot was to the effect that the schools or school in question should retain grant-maintained status,
no further ballot relating to the schools or school shall be held under this section within five years.
(7) An authority or body to whom this subsection applies shall not--
(a) publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears designed to influence the result of a ballot under this section, or
(b) give any financial or other assistance to a person for the publication of material, which the authority or body are prohibited by this subsection from publishing themselves, or
(c) otherwise incur any expenditure, or give any assistance, for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a ballot under this section.
(8) Subsection (7) applies to--
(a) any local education authority, and
(b) the governing body of any maintained school within the meaning of section 95 and in the case of the governing body of such a school which has a delegated budget within the meaning of Part II of this Act (or, in relation to any time before the appointed day, Part II of the Education Act 1996) the reference to expenditure in subsection (7)(c) is to expenditure out of the school's budget share.
(9) In this section, "ballot regulations" means regulations made under this section.'.--[Mr. Dorrell.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Dorrell: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 113, in schedule 2, page 99, line 39, at end insert,

'except that no such school shall be allocated to a new category unless the change has been agreed to following a ballot under section (Grant Maintained Schools).'.

Mr. Dorrell: The House will recognise that new clause 4 deals with the principal occasion of the Bill. The Government would say that the purpose of the Bill is to raise school standards, and we all share that purpose--but the occasion of the Bill is the Government's determination to abolish grant-maintained schools. New clause 4 would offer some protection to those schools whose parents, through a parental ballot, have voted to accord to them

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GM status. It would entrench their right to remain GM schools and prevent the Government from removing that status without first securing the consent of the parents.

In terms of the delivery of children's education, the new clause is the most important that we are likely to consider on Report. It goes to the heart of the central purpose that led the Government to introduce the Bill--the determination to abolish GM status.

When the Secretary of State introduced his White Paper in the summer, he included as one of the guiding principles of his education policy the proposition that standards matter more than structure. No one in the House should disagree with that principle. However, in the months since that White Paper, the right hon. Gentleman's policy has given the lie to any suggestion that it motivates the way in which, day to day, he carries out his functions.

The Bill is called the School Standards and Framework Bill and it devotes 50 clauses to establishing a new framework for the management of schools. The right hon. Gentleman's principle, when it is converted into legislation, amounts to the substitution of the word "framework" for the word "structure", and then a commitment to redesign the framework of the management of schools.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) said, it is even more ironic than that. Through the Bill--the central purpose of which is the redesign of the framework for the management of schools--the Government are withdrawing the principles of local responsibility and accountability as they have been accorded to GM schools, which have used the opportunity to deliver successful education to their children. Yet in an earlier debate, the Minister for School Standards--with our support--wanted to introduce new flexibility and new opportunities to escape from over-prescriptive local education authority control for any school that opted into an education action zone.

It is extraordinary that, within the same Bill, the Secretary of State is asking the House to endorse two flatly contradictory principles--first, the principle of withdrawal of local responsibility and the reimposition of LEA control; and, secondly, the principle of enhanced flexibility and the removal of LEA control, where that can be shown to be in the interests of children.

We agree with the Secretary of State on his second principle; we disagree profoundly with him on his first. We believe that we can adduce arguments of practice and of principle to show that when the right hon. Gentleman seeks to reimpose and reintroduce over-prescriptive LEA control, he is wrong.

First, The right hon. Gentleman is wrong on the basis of the results published by his Department on the delivery of service by GM schools. In November last year, the Department for Education and Employment listed the 240 most improved schools in Britain. The Secretary of State was embarrassed by having to admit in interviews that, of the 240 schools that he listed, a third were grant maintained. It was pointed out to him that it was a bit of an own goal to issue a press release effectively praising schools whose status he was about to abolish. Eight of the top 20 schools on the list were grant maintained.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that those figures are all the more striking

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in view of the fact that grant-maintained schools account for only 6 per cent. of all state schools in England and Wales?

8 pm

Mr. Dorrell: That is exactly right. The Secretary of State says that grant-maintained schools account for about 20 per cent. of secondary schools, but, even taking that figure, the grant-maintained sector is over-represented by a factor of roughly two in the list of most improved schools.

In the table published in The Sunday Times following last year's A-level results, 50 of the 100 best-performing schools, including the top three, were grant maintained. That is the track record of the structure that the Secretary of State wants to abolish, while saying that standards are more important than structure. How can the two halves of his personality be reconciled?

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