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Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that local authority schools do not have discipline and standards? Is he aware that only a handful of schools chose to opt out in areas such as Labour Lancashire? Is he also aware that the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council transformed its inheritance from a Conservative administration to raise standards of numeracy and literacy, as well as well-being and discipline?

Mr. Robertson: Having spent 33 years in Lancashire, I do not recognise the success that the hon. Lady describes. I am not suggesting that there is no discipline in schools that are not grant maintained. I am saying that the grant-maintained schools that I have experience of have successfully balanced a great fun atmosphere with good discipline. If the hon. Lady is suggesting that there has not been a discipline problem in our schools, she has

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lived in a different country from me. There have been serious discipline problems at many schools in Lancashire.

The financial autonomy, managerial autonomy and intangible atmosphere of grant-maintained schools have led to great academic success. That success is clear for all to see. It is a tragedy that the Government want to scrap those schools.

What will happen to grant-maintained schools when they return to LEA control? Like other schools, they will have to queue up for money from LEAs. That is difficult for many schools. Many councils have a lot of bureaucracy and top-slice the money, diverting it from schools. I pointed out to the Secretary of State at Education and Employment questions a few weeks ago that the Labour group in Gloucestershire did not want to passport the Government's extra money to schools. That money is being passported only thanks to the Conservative group, with the support of the Liberal Democrat group. The Labour group voted against it.

Mr. Brady: Disgraceful.

Mr. Robertson: Absolutely disgraceful.

If something is not broken, we ought not to be fixing it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead asked, why are the Government making the changes? It is another vain attempt to look dynamic. If there had been no grant-maintained status, the Government would probably have introduced it, just to look as though they were doing something. Their behaviour is spiteful. Many Labour Members still consider good education to be an elitist concept. I did not have the education that I might have wanted, but I respect those who did and I respect organisations that provide good education. It is a pity that the Government do not. Their socialist principles are in good health and are here for all to see.

Mr. Brady: I am delighted to follow many of my colleagues who have spoken eloquently in support of grant-maintained schools. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State is chuntering from a sedentary position, as he was when my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) was speaking. My hearing is very good. I could tell that he was suggesting that my hon. Friend had had the good fortune to attend a grammar school, as I did. I saw the palpable disappointment on his face when he discovered that that was not the case.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: I am happy to correct the Secretary of State. I am not proud of the fact, but I had the distinction of failing the 11 plus. I went to a good secondary modern school and did not go to a grammar school until I was 16.

Mr. Brady: We may come to selective education on the second day on Report. I point to my hon. Friend as a perfect example of how a selective education system can work for the benefit of all. My hon. Friend was not traumatised and made a failure for life by failing his 11 plus. I accept that the Deputy Prime Minister may have suffered from that more significantly. We shall doubtless come to the issue on another occasion.

I am proud to defend grant-maintained schools, but I am sad that we have to do so. The Government's actions regularly contrast with their policies. They say that

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intervention should be in inverse proportion to excellence. That sounds fine and we all support the principle. However, their actions oppose it. To abolish grant- maintained status when grant-maintained schools achieve so much is a disgrace, as is the Government's intention to damage grammar schools, which are another mark of excellence in our state education system. The Government should be proud of them, as we are.

The Government have moved some way towards understanding the logic of giving greater freedom and independence to schools. That is evident in the education action zones proposals, principally for failing schools in inner-city areas, which will be given greater freedom and flexibility. At the same time, as several of my hon. Friends have said, the Government's policy on grant-maintained schools runs in entirely the opposite direction.

By creating foundation schools, the Government have moved a little way. The measure is a sop to grant-maintained schools and the idea that independence and autonomy in schools are a good thing; it is very half-hearted. By going so little of the way towards a system that we have seen work so effectively, the Government risk throwing out all the benefits of grant-maintained status. Parents in many parts of the country will have cause to criticise the Government for that in years to come.

8.45 pm

The imposition of LEA representatives on boards of governors, the removal of articles of government of schools, the imposition of a standard new form and the control over admissions policies all point to a major erosion of independence.

Changes in funding arrangements, which have been discussed to some extent, are entirely inadequate and have not been made sufficiently explicit. We need far greater transparency and a far fairer settlement in transitional arrangements--not only over one year--particularly for schools that only recently became grant maintained, such as Altrincham girls' grammar. It is vital that such schools should be able to continue and complete their restructuring, expecting that special purpose grants will be available and without having to do so in a concertina time scale.

To change the teaching force and the profile of staff over one year would be very unsettling. It would be appropriate for the Government to consider extending the transition period to allow such schools to take a longer view and to smooth out changes as they otherwise would have done.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) referred to the academic success of GM schools, which I was going to do only in passing. I am pleased that, in contrast to their performance in Committee, Labour Members did not take the trouble to try to suggest that the performance of GM schools was not as good as we claim. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) challenged one of my hon. Friends, however, so I shall give him some of the figures that ought to be on record in this debate.

The figures are very clear; they show the percentage of schools in which pupils achieved, for instance, five-plus A to C grades at GCSE. In the grant-maintained sector,

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the figure is 53.3 per cent., the national average is 42.6 per cent. and the LEA performance is 39.8 per cent. That difference is maintained even in areas where there are no selective schools. GM schools in those areas achieve a performance of 45.6 per cent. against an LEA performance of 38.4 per cent.

Before Labour Members talk about social differences across the country, I should point out that the same difference in performance is borne out even in areas where many free school meals are provided. In areas where more than 30 per cent. of school meals are provided free of charge, GM schools deliver a performance of 29.4 per cent. of pupils achieving five-plus A to C grades, against an LEA performance of 21.7 per cent. I know that the hon. Member for Bath is itching to get to his feet, so I shall allow him to intervene.

Mr. Don Foster: The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right; I was itching to get to my feet. If grant-maintained schools were the success that he described, presumably the prediction of the former Secretary of State, Mr. John Patten--that by about four years ago, the majority of secondary schools would be grant maintained--would have come true. He said that if they were not, he would eat his hat, garnished; we are still waiting for him to do so.

On statistics, does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is important that we are concerned about results across the country? He must, therefore, demonstrate that the growth of GM schools--what growth there has been--has led overall to an increase in success at GCSE level, for example. Does he acknowledge that, in LEAs where there has been a growth in the number of 15-year-old pupils who have gone to GM schools, there has not been a commensurate increase in the average GCSE point score? That is statistically correct.

Mr. Bercow rose--

Mr. Foster: Some GM schools have done better because they have received additional funding and they should have done better. But, overall, there has not been an increase.

Mr. Brady: I am beginning to become confused about who is intervening on whom. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) sought to intervene on the hon. Member for Bath. I feel as though, by rising to my feet, I am merely giving my hon. Friend an opportunity to speak.


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