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I have been involved in many such proposals at various stages. It was always my intention that NHS trusts should eventually become the norm in the health service, as they have. It was always my intention that grant-maintained schools should be the norm. However, we never imposed them and no one is suggesting that they should be imposed now. The whole point of introducing changes to the structure was that local peoplegovernors and head teachers, in the case
of schoolsshould put forward the proposals and volunteer for the change. The likelihood of success is increased enormously if that happens. The people who opted for NHS trust status, the GPs who wanted fundholding practices, and the governors and head teachers who opted for grant-maintained status were thereby committing themselves to making a success of the changes that they were introducing. They chose to do that not at the behest of the Conservative party or Whitehall, but because they believed that they could demonstrate to their communities that they could produce a better service if they did.
That is the basis on which we proceeded. NHS trusts spread like mad, and they were the norm when the Labour party came to power, which is why the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) could not abolish NHS trust status when he was Secretary of State. If we had been in power for longer, GP fundholding would have become the norm. It would not have been reversed, so the Government would not have been obliged to return to it, as they are currently doing.
There were hundreds of grant-maintained schools, but they did not become the norm. All those ballots were bitter political and ideological battles. There were about 10 such schools when I assumed responsibility for education. By the time I had finished there were more than 100, and I could probably list all their names. We fought a battle from trench to trench across the country as those ballots took place. We should not be under any illusion. I heard the charm in the voices of left-wing members of the Labour party who asked what was wrong with a ballotbut head teachers and governing bodies required great courage to subject themselves to the ordeal, and it left some of them badly knocked about. Local authorities, including Conservative ones, defended their institutional interests by devoting large amounts of money and a great deal of officer time and effort to campaign against the proposals. They were supported by the teaching trade unions, which contributed a great deal of money. Local Labour organisations were wheeled into action to distribute leaflets, and everything became a political battle, in which we could not even agree on the facts.
In my countybut not in my constituencythe local authority mounted an elaborate and successful case. Contrary to the general argument that grant-maintained schools were unfairly financed, it persuaded parents that such schools would lose money, so there would be less money per pupil. There was a predictable effect on parents, who were not initially hostile, and had been attracted to the proposal when it was first made by the head teacher and governors, whom they knew.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) said, the public are instinctively conservative; that is one reason why we make such slow progress on these subjects. The secret of referendums and local ballots is that people always vote against change. Parents are naturally cautious about change, but they are prepared to listen to head teachers and governors explaining that they will do better under the proposals. However, they may discover that they have wished on their community a ferocious political battle,
and there may be welter of warnings and even threats. Staff who make a commitment to support grant-maintained status worry about what will happen if they lose the ballot and find themselves back in the employ of the local authority, which expended a great deal of effort resisting change.
In some cases that battle was bitter and extreme, and we lost most of the ballots [ Interruption. ] I am delighted to be told that we won most of them; we obviously began to improve as time went on, and subsequent Ministers assumed those responsibilities. Personally, however, I lost quite a lot. Whether those battles were won or lost, the process politicised and poisoned the atmosphere in schools, and it took a long time to recover. If anyone tries to seduce us with arguments about gentle local democracy giving more legitimacy to change, they are defying our experience in the early 1990s.
Mr. Turner: I apologise for the vehemence with which I tried to set the record straight a moment ago. I do not feel particularly strongly about ballots, but is it not a regrettable fact that areas where people were confident were more likely to benefit from grant-maintained status? Areas that were likely to bamboozled by the forces of conservatism, whether those were represented by the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) or others, lost out.
Mr. Clarke: Yes, with the inevitable result that we tended to do better in middle-class, articulate areas that were familiar with arguments about management. However, as we all agree in the House, the need for educational reform is often strongest in deprived areas where people are not used to being involved.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): The right hon. and learned Gentleman has taken us on a historic tour of the battles over grant-maintained schools. Perhaps he can now bring that experience to bear on the new clause.
Mr. Clarke: I am not the only Member who, as well as discussing where we are now, enjoys reminiscing. You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that I have done enough of thatbut it explains my belief that we should not go any further than the Government have gone with their highly elaborate and bureaucratic consultation. We should not allow arguments about ballots to make further progress, and the House of Lords should not be seduced by such arguments.
I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner) that there is a danger that we will elevate all those things and give them symbolic significance, which they probably do not deserve. Nevertheless, this is an important step. We have experimented with city technology colleges, grant-maintained schools and city academies, and some of them have made substantial advances that they would not otherwise have achieved.
They also have a much wider effect on the education system as a whole, as they provide an example of what can be achieved and they help to spread best practice. I trust that that will happen in this case.
I hope that the spirit of consensus will be restored once the Bill completes its legislative passage. In a few years time, people will wonder what the fuss was about, compared with 1988to which I am forbidden to return. In 10 years time, people will marvel that the House continued to resist the idea that parents could be trusted with much more control and influence. The provision of education services by a much wider diversity of providers will come to be regarded as the norm. I hope that this particular debate will be seen as the last thrashing about by a part of the House that has done absolutely nothing to contribute to educational reform or change. It is a small minority, whose members do not realise the urgency of reform or understand its importance for our society.
Helen Jones: After years of being referred to on my home turf as the hammer of the Trots, it is a pleasure to be referred to as a left winger by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke). If my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) were in the Chamber, she would be similarly amused.
I wish to speak in support of new clause 16, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), and to touch on a couple of new clauses that stand in my name. Some of the arguments against allowing parents to conduct a ballot on a major change in their childs school are extremely flawed. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) asked why parents should hold a ballot. The answer is set out in the White Paper, in which the Government say that they want a to move to a position where
the system as a whole is increasingly driven by parents and by choice.
If we want to give people a choice, we must accept the risk that they will make choices that we do not like. That is what democracy is about. Some of the suggestions that we have heard apply to any election. It was suggested, for example, that it is unfair to hold ballots, because a great deal of information is sent to people. Contentious views are expressed, and the process became politicised. So be itwe must trust parents to sift the information and make a decision. We trust them to do so in a general election, so why not trust them in a ballot on their school?
It was suggested, too, that parents of children who would soon leave the school would not have long-term interests in its future. That was answered very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), who said that that is true of all electorates. I invite my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who subscribe to that view to apply it to the electorate voting in a general election. You may not survive for the whole of this Parliament. You might pop your clogs very soon. You wont have a vested interest, so well not allow you to vote. One can say that about every electorate in every election.
New clause 16 does not preclude further ballots taking place. It does not preclude involving parents at
feeder schools. It does not preclude other consultations. It states that if we are serious about parents being at the heart of the system and if we are serious about choice, we must allow them to make that choice. Some in the Chamber have come close to saying this afternoonthe right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe almost said it in these termsthat they did not like ballots because they did not produce the results that they wanted. That is not a tenable position in a democracy, and it is a very dangerous road for politicians of any stripe to go down.
If the Government are convinced that trusts will be popular with parents and that that is the right way to go, let us have the argument and let parents have a say. There is nothing to fear from a real debate. If we do not accept the new clauses and amendments, let us consider the choice that we are offering to the parent of a child at a school whose nature and ethos is to change radically. I think of how I as a parent would react.
There are a number of reasons why a parent may disagree with the schools decision to become a trust. The parent may believe strongly in community schools, or may object to the people who will be coming in to run the trust, perhaps because the parent objects to their business values or does not like their religious ethos. There could be any number of reasons. That leaves the parent with the choice of leaving their child in a school with whose ethos they fundamentally disagree, or disrupting the childs education by moving them. We give them that choice without letting them have any real say in a ballot on the schools future. That is not a tenable position.
We must tell parents that we trust them to read the information, consider the contending arguments and have their say in a ballot. If we do not, we are implicitly saying that we do not think parents are bright enough to determine the outcome or to decide among all the contending groups. That is nonsensical.
Ann Winterton: In spite of her opposition to the grant-maintained school example, does the hon. Lady agree that ballots in the schools that became grant-maintained strengthened those schools because they had a head teacher who gave a lead [Interruption.] More money, possibly, but that was not the only reason. Does she agree that those schools had a head teacher who was go-ahead, and a supportive and excellent governing body, who knew that they were supported by the body of parents?
Helen Jones: In any school the support of parents is needed. The school will not work properly if it cannot carry the parents with it. I take strong exception to what was said earlier. The implication was that because parents in working class communities voted against grant-maintained schools, they were not au fait with the arguments. In my experience, they were. They simply had a particular view of how they wanted the schools in their community to be organised.
Tom Levitt: I hope that those listening to the debate are not unintentionally misled by something that my hon. Friend just said. She spoke about parents perhaps being concerned about the religious ethos or the business values of a trust, but the trust cannot be a
religious organisation and must be a charity, so that would not arise. Similarly, she spoke about the ballot making a decision. That is not what new clause 16 says, and I do not think it is what my hon. Friend intended.
Helen Jones: I think that my hon. Friend misunderstands the position on trusts. He is right that the trust will be a charity, but it quite possible for it to be a charity and to have behind it a business organisation or a religious organisation. One of my great concerns about the setting up of trusts has been all alongI said it on Second Readingthat there are fundamentalist organisations waiting in the wings to set up charitable arms in order to run trust schools. As a parent I have a right to say whether I think that is appropriate for my child, and every other parent has a right to have their say on that as well.
Ms Diana R. Johnson: My hon. Friend mentioned general elections and local authority elections, where the electorate is clearly defined by the electoral register. My concern about ballots is that they involve the parents of children who currently attend the school. The school belongs to the community, not just the present parents. I worry about how it would be possible to ballot opinion in the community effectively.
Helen Jones: The point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North. Clearly, there is a register of parents whose children attend a particular school. That does not preclude consultation with other members of the community. If my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson) is concerned about making sure that the community is involved in trust schools, I hope she will support the amendments to increase the percentage that a local authority can nominate to trust schools. One cannot argue both ways, though one can try.
I shall deal briefly with amendment No. 7 in my name. I have attempted to clarify what we mean by diversity. Clause 2 presents a problem. Local authorities have a duty to promote diversity. Those on the Front Bench say that it is not their intention to force trusts on anybody. I accept their assurance on that, but if we define diversity only in terms of structures, we have a problem when it comes to making decisions on new schools. My amendment, which I think accords with what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, enables a local authority to discharge its duty to promote diversity in secondary schools by encouraging a range of specialist provision in those schools. I think that is the right way to go.
We have heard repeatedly in the debate that what makes a good school is the head and the teachers in that school, rather than the structure, and that what makes for diversity and gives real choices to our young people are the different kinds of specialism on offer and the different kinds of ethos of a school, not simply the structure under which it is set up. If it is true, as my right hon. Friend said earlier from the Front Benchif I understood him correctlythat the Government want diversity to be seen in those terms, why will they not write that into the Bill? My amendment seems uncontentious and in accord with what the Secretary of
State said. He touched on the regulations that would be introduced, but that requires a leap of faith, because we have not seen them.
I hope that when the Minister sums up, we will hear from him about how the Government intend to draft the regulations on diversity. It is vital that when we talk about a range of schools, we are talking about a range of options on offer to our young peoplespecialisms in languages, arts and so on. We must allow them a real choice. There can be many different structures but still no real choice. Choice and diversity are not the same thing, though they are often confused.
Paul Farrelly: On choice, I hope that my hon. Friend will also speak to amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 11, which are in her name. It seems odd that a school that has all that choice can choose to have a majority of trustees from a foundation, but it cannot choose to have more than 20 per cent. LEA-appointed governors. My hon. Friends amendment does not state that that figure must be 50 per cent. It states that the number should not exceed 50 per cent., so it gives more choice than a restriction to 20 per cent.
I may wish to test the opinion of the House on the amendment on diversityI understand that a vote would happen tomorrowdepending on the response from Ministers, whom I hope will reassure me that the Government will take diversity into account.
Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 relate to the maximum percentage of members on a foundation nominated by a local authority. We heard earlier that the Government will resist those amendments because they believe that trusts should be treated in the same way as companies that include a local authority. I contend that that is exactly the wrong model to apply to a school, because if a school is to succeed, it needs to be involved in a partnership. If we want a partnership, we should give people the opportunity to form real partnerships, where those from trusts, the local authority and others have the chance to be equally represented, which may well be a model that many schools want to adopt.
If that is not possible, it will raise a number of problems. The Government have said that they want trusts to be part of the local family of schools, but much of what is now done in schools and much of what we want to do in the future depends on co-operation between different bodies. The 14-to-19 agenda, Every Child Matters, the youth service White Paper and the extended schools programme depend not only on schools themselves, but on interaction between schools and other services run by local authorities.
It may well be that some schools think it appropriate to have a more equal partnership on their governing bodies. I think that we should allow them to make that choice, if they so wish. That is particularly true in the case of local authorities, which may want to federate all their schools into one foundation. Are we saying that if that were to happen, local authority nominees can hold only 20 per cent. of the positions? In my view, that would be a disincentive to taking such an approach, rather than an incentive.
The Select Committee also pointed out that when local authorities have to hand over their schools to another body to run, it is difficult for them to take long-term decisions on investment, because they have received no assurance that they will have a stake in those schools in the future. I think that it would be much better for local authorities to have that stake, which would encourage them to undertake long-term financial planning.
I support the amendments on ballots and hope that I will hear more from Ministers about my other amendments. Some of the comments that we have heard today are worrying in a democracy, particularly when we are discussing ballots. If one is a democratic politician, one needs to trust the electorate and to accept that people will sometimes make decisions that one does not like and with which one disagrees. That is democracy, and when the amendment on ballots is moved tonight, I hope that my hon. Friends will bear those points in mind.
Mr. Rob Wilson: It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones), or perhaps she should be styled, Hammer of the Trots. I could have done with her help earlier in the week, because I have had a nasty stomach bug myself, which was probably brought on by 55 hours in Standing Committee. Seriously, it is always a pleasure to follow such a passionate debater, and she always makes a great contribution to education debates.
I want to discuss new clauses 61 and 62 and amendment No. 111, which stand in my name. On new clause 61, like Conservative Front Benchers, I am keen to hold the Government to their original White Paper promises. I hope that Labour Members remember the White PaperI see that quite a few of them would like to forget itwhich states that the schools commissioner will
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