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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I stand chastised by the noble Baroness as not being very sensible. The noble Baroness is very sensible, so I simply concede to the very sensible noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I am not pre-empting consultation and neither is my amendment. We have no wish to do so. It is an interesting paper and there will be much to be said about it. In my amendment I simply ask to sustain the level of autonomy when such schools move from one category to another whatever happens. The noble Baroness said that the Government are concerned about levelling up, not levelling down. That is precisely what my amendment seeks: that the Government should level up to the autonomy of grant-maintained schools and not level down.
The first point I am making is that we are asking for a commitment from the Government that the GM schools will not lose out. The Government have consistently refused to give that assurance, so do not let us be surprised if the grant-maintained schools are concerned and suspicious about the Government's intentions.
As regards my amendment not being in the right place, given the midnight oil that I have burnt in considering these amendments in the last few weeks, it is not surprising that I make mistakes from time to time. I can see that this may well be one. When I was in the same position on the Benches opposite, if an amendment was carried by the House and it was incorrect or in the wrong place, it was for the Government to put it in the right place and to make sure that it was correct en passant. That was done frequently by my departments when I was working for the then government.
The noble Baroness was wholly inconsistent in saying that I was asking for more special protection. I am not asking for that, but simply that the schools should not lose something that they already have. As I understand it, the Government's notion of treating all schools the same is to treat all of them like GM schools. That is certainly what the Prime Minister has said. The "glitzy-ritzy" schools Minister is always talking about bringing all schools up to the autonomy level of the grant-maintained schools. I have to say to the noble Baroness that that is not special. We would like to see all schools enjoying the freedom, flexibility, financial and operational autonomy that has been enjoyed hitherto by grant-maintained schools. So it is not special; I am simply saying that those schools should not lose out with regard to their current position.
The Government have said that they are concerned about all schools; that is right. Again, my amendment does not prevent the Government from being concerned about all schools or treating them all in the manner of grant-maintained schools. The noble Baroness spoke about all schools being treated impartially. She said that she was addressing the particular point about whether grant-maintained schools lose out. If the noble Baroness is right that there shall be no partiality at all, even during the transition period, the only way that that can be read is that the grant-maintained schools must go down to the level of all the community schools and then be phased up with them. If there is no partiality, at least as an interregnum, we should allow GM schools to retain their autonomy and the autonomy of all other schools should be phased up to that level. I have to accept, given what the noble Baroness has said, that there will be no differentiation during and after the interregnum until the phasing of financial autonomy is complete.
In our earlier debates, the grant-maintained schools took the Government on trust. It is only in the final days of this Bill that they have found that its provisions do not match what they believed the Government to promise them when they become foundation schools. It was a streak of honesty, but it was very inconsistent with some of the other things that the noble Baroness said in the course of responding earlier to a similar amendment.
The noble Baroness also said that the Government wanted all schools to reflect the grant-maintained school set-up. That is certainly what the schools Minister and Mr. Blair have been saying during the past year. They would like that to be done as closely as possible. One cannot have it both ways. If there is to be no partiality whatsoever in the early stages where grant-maintained
The noble Baroness said that she cannot give a guarantee that nothing will change. I am asking that nothing should change as regards grant-maintained schools. If there is to be change following transition, it should be change for the better, not for the worse. That is a matter for the Government. It is a question of resources and of how the new proposals bed down. I am asking that grant-maintained schools (as they translate to foundation schools) and all voluntary aided schools should not lose out. I believe that it is possible that they will see a reduction in their level of autonomy, but not in the detail, as concerns the central services and functions for which they are now funded and which they are carrying out very well indeed.
Those schools opted for self-government and, as I said earlier, they went through a great deal of difficulty to reach that position. The noble Baroness said the Government cannot possibly put that safeguard on the face of primary legislation. I see no reason why that cannot be done. There is no technical reason. It is only a philosophical reason on the part of the Government because they do not want to put in place a guarantee that standards will not be reduced and become worse for grant-maintained schools as they transfer.
The critical point is that financial and operational autonomy are very important to such schools. If one is to believe the rhetoric, there is to be a levelling up to that level of autonomy. The noble Baroness said nothing about the 80 per cent. That was completely disregarded in her answer. She said nothing about the Government's view on the favourable allocation of resources to grant-maintained schools and what that means. She said nothing about the interpretation of that or about the practical application of removing from grant-maintained schools their favourable allocation. The noble Baroness did not refer to those matters. I am wholly dissatisfied with the answer, for the third time of hearing it. I now seek to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.