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Mr. Blizzard: Does the right hon. Gentleman attribute the success of those schools to good management and efficient use of their delegated budgets, or to the favoured funding that they received as against other schools in the same area, many of which lost funding as a result? If the answer is the former, that will be unaffected by the legislation; if it is the latter, most people would believe that our schools should be fairly funded.

Mr. Dorrell: The answer is the former, but the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong to say that it is unaffected by the Bill. If it were true that the Bill left the grant-maintained school with the same authority over its own affairs, and the same freedom to decide which resources are spent by the school and which are retained by the local education authority, I would have no problem with it; but that is not what the Bill delivers.

The Bill consciously and deliberately reasserts the principle that the grant-maintained school should receive the resources allocated by the local education authority after the authority has decided which resources to use within its own bureaucracy. That is the principle that the hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) will be asked to support. He may shake his head, but that is the principle in his party's manifesto.

Dr. George Turner: The right hon. Gentleman wants to defend what he regards as essential management powers. Which of those powers will not be available under the Government's proposals?

Mr. Dorrell: I am about to deal with exactly that subject. The House should concentrate not only on the results achieved by grant-maintained schools but on the principle that lay behind their establishment. The Government are asking their Back Benchers to throw over that principle and substitute the principle that the powers should be vested in the local education authority.

The Minister for School Standards says that it is his view that the key responsibility for the delivery of standards rests with the school. He is right to say that, but the problem is that he then advocates taking powers away from the school and vesting them in the LEA. The hon.

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Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) asked which powers. One was mentioned earlier: the power of the school to determine its own priorities.

The structure of the education development planning process that we discussed in Committee requires the school's targets to be agreed by the LEA, and the LEA's education development plan to be agreed by the Secretary of State. The Bill transfers power from the school to the LEA, but that power rests with the LEA only as long as the Secretary of State is satisfied, week by week and month by month, with the way in which the service is managed.

The Secretary of State is seeking powers over the maintained sector that are indistinguishable in principle from the powers that the Secretary of State for Health has over the national health service. The key difference is that the national health service was always intended to be a national service, accountable to Parliament through the Secretary of State, whereas we sought, first, to have a school system that is accountable through the local education authority--an elected assembly to a local body--and then, more recently, to have direct accountability from individual schools, through the governing body, to parents and the local community.

Dr. George Turner: I fail to understand how the Secretary of State's insisting on the setting of standards and targets interferes with a governing body's ability to achieve higher standards.

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman is now asking me a totally different question. He asked how power was taken out of the school, and I answered his question. The school should be responsible for deciding its priorities for the community that it serves, but the Bill takes that power out of the school and vests it either in the LEA or in the Secretary of State.

It is not true, as the hon. Member for Waveney loves to argue, that there was a distortion of resources in favour of grant-maintained schools. Resources were allocated to the school rather than to the local education authority, and it was for the school to decide whether they should be used within the school or to buy services from elsewhere in the bureaucracy.

Mr. Blizzard rose--

Mr. Dorrell: Before the hon. Gentleman embarrasses himself again, he should remember the words of the Minister for School Standards, who is on the record as saying that he wants to raise the level of delegation in the rest of the maintained sector to that achieved in grant-maintained schools.

If that is the right principle, why abolish grant-maintained schools? Why not leave them there and raise the other schools to their standard? Why begin the process by levelling down, rather than--as the Minister for School Standards might have said, but did not--using the grant-maintained schools as a gold standard by which to raise the attainment of other schools?

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): Does my right hon. Friend agree that it may well have appeared that grant-maintained schools got extra money, but that

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they could spend what they needed to spend only because they were given directly money that many local education authorities had not passed on as they should have done?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is a question whether decisions about resources should be made by LEAs, or should be vested in schools and governing bodies. Sometimes, schools and governing bodies use resources to buy services from LEAs--and that is fine by us, if it is in the best interests of the school concerned and the children in it. We argue--and it is the implication, which is never faced up to, of the remarks of the Minister for School Standards--that resources should go into the school. It should then be for the head teacher principally--but also for the teaching staff and the governing body--to make decisions about how those resources can best be used.

Mr. Blizzard: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dorrell: I will give way once more.

Mr. Blizzard: I thank the right hon. Gentleman. In the light of what he has said, how does he explain comments frequently made to me by head teachers of schools that became grant maintained? Effectively, they said, "I did it for the money." Head teachers often persuaded their governing bodies to become grant maintained in pursuit of extra money--not just a greater share of the annual revenue resource taken from the LEAs, but priority in attaining capital funding from the Government. Most of those schools took the carrot that was dangled before them--extra capital resources--in what appeared to be, in the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, a deliberate attempt to break down LEAs altogether.

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman says that they did it for the money. In fact, they did it to control the budget that was available for the children anyway. I say that the budget was available anyway, but, if the schools were not grant maintained, the money did not get into the schools.

Labour Members love to claim that extra resources went towards the education of children in grant- maintained schools, but that is not true. As Labour Members know very well, resources were divided on the basis of local spending decisions. That is why, in the early stages of grant-maintained status, spending levels in individual GM schools with similar needs varied: they reflected the circumstances of the LEA. The hon. Gentleman's interlocutors said, "We did it for the money" because they wanted to control the money that they knew was supposed to deliver education to their children, but which, in their opinion, was not being used properly.

It is true that many GM schools have used the extra authority that they have had over resources to improve their capital stock, but they have been able to do that because the money that was previously stuck in the bureaucracy got to the schools, and the schools were able to make decisions about the best use of that money.

The Government are committed to the abolition of GM schools. I remind Labour Members who defend the abolition of GM schools that the Bill introduces the same principles in regard to education action zones. At least we are consistent: we voted for the principles regarding education action zones against which Labour Members

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have just voted, and we shall vote for the principles regarding grant-maintained schools as well. We shall do so because the principles are right, whether we refer to education action zones or to grant-maintained schools.

Labour Members are wrong in their vendetta against grant-maintained schools. They are wrong because they have not looked at the evidence that such schools are successful, and they are wrong in principle. They are not adhering to a principle that the Minister for School Standards loves to proclaim, but then violates in the way in which he discharges his function: maximum delegation. When the Minister proclaims maximum delegation, he is right; when he pursues a policy that inhibits and, indeed, reverses his principle for grant-maintained schools, he is wrong.

We do not claim that the grant-maintained system was perfect or incapable of improvement; nor have we ever said that grant-maintained status is right for all schools. What we say is that grant-maintained status moved power into schools, and that the result was a dramatic improvement in the education that those schools gave children.

We make another key case. Grant-maintained schools do not exist as a result of a fiat issued by the Secretary of State or his predecessors; they do not exist as a result of a private agreement between heads and governors, or local education authorities. They exist within the law as it currently stands, for a simple reason: parents supported the principle of grant-maintained status in a ballot.


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