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Mr. Brady: Given the hon. Gentleman's conviction that grant-maintained schools are so desperately unpopular, presumably he would have no qualms in agreeing with our new clause, which would allow parents to get rid of grant-maintained schools by voting to get rid of them.

Mr. Foster: The interesting thing about the hon. Gentleman's intervention is that it was the Conservative

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Government who, year after year, refused to allow the two-way option for grant-maintained schools. They were allowed to opt into grant-maintained status, but the Government refused to give them the power to vote to opt back out. It was the Conservative Government who wanted a simple one-way street and, once in, a school was stuck in it. Grant-maintained schools have had significant amounts of additional money; there is no doubt about that.

I have been challenged about the education results of GM schools. Anyone who has responsibility for education provision must look at the impact of any change in the system on the overall educational setting across the whole country. I would argue strenuously that the introduction of GM schools did huge damage to the education system. It set school against school, parent against parent and governor against governor. That led to great tension and problems in the system.

Giving additional money to GM schools has been to the detriment of all other schools. That additional money was taken from other schools.

Mr. Hayes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: No, I will not as time is short and other hon. Members--

Mr. Dorrell rose--

Mr. Foster: Of course, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dorrell: In Committee, the hon. Gentleman voted for a clause that would require the Government to secure the consent of parents before abolishing grammar school status. The hon. Gentleman approves of that principle. Will he explain why he does not support the same principle for grant-maintained schools?

Mr. Foster: If the right hon. Gentleman checks the record, he will see that I made it clear that I did not believe that such decisions should be taken on a parental ballot. They should be taken by the local education authority. The right hon. Gentleman is well aware that the one major difference between GM schools and grammar schools is that GM schools are outside LEA provision.

Mr. Dorrell: I have Hansard in front of me. The hon. Gentleman voted for clause 95 to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Foster: I explained that afterwards.

Mr. Dorrell: It is not a question of what the hon. Gentleman said afterwards. Even the Liberal Democrats must occasionally defend the votes they cast and explain why one case is different from the other.

Mr. Foster: I ask the right hon. Gentleman to continue to read Hansard--

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): The hon. Gentleman is squirming.

Mr. Foster: No, I am not squirming. Immediately after the vote, I realised that I had made an error in my voting.

Mr. Dorrell rose--

Mr. Foster: The right hon. Gentleman and I can continue this debate outside the Chamber. [Hon. Members: "Give way."] No--others wish to speak.

Mr. Dorrell: The hon. Gentleman remembers a time when he mistakenly cast his vote the wrong way, but it

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was not in the vote on clause 95 stand part, dealing with the principle of the grammar school ballot. If the hon. Gentleman did vote the wrong way on that, he did not tell the Committee so at the time.

Mr. Foster: If the right hon. Gentleman looks through the record, which he needs to do, as he was not with us during the discussion on that particular issue--

Mr. Dorrell: I spoke on the clause and voted on it.

Mr. Foster: I want to make progress and the House wants to hear from the Secretary of State on this issue.

The key issue that has been raised tonight is whether grant-maintained schools have led to an increase in educational standards across the country. Research evidence shows conclusively that the introduction of GM schools has not led to an overall increase in examination results. Therefore, as an experiment it has failed. However--and I acknowledge this--because of the additional resources given, some GM schools have been able to raise standards, but that has been to the detriment of other schools in the LEA area. The net result has been no increase in standards; it has been a failed experiment.

I hope that the House will recognise that GM schools represent a failed policy of the Conservative Government. The sooner that we get rid of them, the better. I very much hope that the House will reject the Conservative new clause.

Mr. Blunkett: I thank my hon. Friends for their forbearance this evening. It is a great pity that so much hot air has been expended on so much self-preening. It is a wonder that all the feathers have not fallen out. I say that because Monty Python has reconvened for a final fling, and I was reminded of the famous sketch about the dead parrot. This debate is a dead parrot. It is nailed to the perch. The Norwegian blue is gone for ever, and we have had one or two Norwegian blues tonight. I have never heard such nonsense in all my life.

Mrs. Browning: Oh, come on. You must have.

Mr. Blunkett: I will let the hon. Lady into a secret: she is probably right. I have probably heard worse once or twice in my life, but we have come fairly close this evening.

Opposition Members know perfectly well that what they are saying is not true, but I welcome the fact that they have acknowledged and specifically embraced the process of balloting for the removal of selection in grammar schools, and recommended its extension into other areas. That gets us off to a sensible start in operating democracy.

Mr. Brady: Some of us might be prepared to accept ballots on the future of grammar schools if those ballots were fair and gave choice to local parents. The Government's proposals fail on that count. If the balloting procedure was fair, the Secretary of State might have an argument.

Mr. Blunkett: Of course we will have fair ballots. That is a necessary prerequisite, to legitimise the parents' decision.

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As the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) pointed out, it is a cheek for Conservative Members, who resisted time and again giving parents the opportunity to decide whether they wanted a school to come back into the family of schools, to suggest that they are in favour of parents being able to vote on grant-maintained status. That really is the cheek of the devil.

The problem for Conservative Members is simple. They want to suggest that a school's status determines its standards, and that it is the change in status that has changed or enhanced standards in certain schools, when they know perfectly well that it is not. It may be something to do with resources. We have heard a lot about that tonight.

The extra resources have been praised as a very good thing. I am in favour of extra resources for all our schools. That is why we are giving an extra £1 billion for capital spending in schools. That is not only for certain schools. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) argued that the girls grammar school in his area needed extra funding for restructuring. He said that it would be wrong to take away the extra funding.

Mr. Brady: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Don Foster: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way first to the hon. Member for Bath and then to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West.

Mr. Foster: The Secretary of State rightly points out that the official Opposition are wrong in many ways. Does he agree that they are wrong in the totally scurrilous attack on me by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell)? The record of our deliberations in Committee shows that I voted in favour of clause 95, which designated grammar schools, and against the balloting proposals.

Mr. Blunkett: I am totally in favour of fair balloting and of fair reporting of those ballots.

Mr. Brady: I want to correct a false impression that the Secretary of State appears to have. I was referring not to the capital costs of Altrincham girls grammar school--we are still fighting a battle to get capital funding for necessary repairs, and I would welcome his help with that--but to the process of restructuring the school staff, which was embarked on in good faith when the school became grant maintained last year. It was in the anticipation that that could be done over three years. Now the Government are prepared to guarantee funds for only one year, which could cause real problems.

Mr. Blunkett: I am fully in favour of extra revenue for schools. That is why we are allocating £835 million on top of what the Conservatives would have allocated--£110 per pupil, which happens to be the amount that the previous Government cut in 1996-97 per secondary school. They cut £40 per primary school.


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