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Opting Out

Volume 174: debated on Tuesday 12 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the number of opting-out ballots held under the Education Reform Act 1988.


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many secondary schools have held opting-out ballots to date.

Parental ballots have been held at 92 schools and parents at 71 of those schools have voted in favour of an application for grant-maintained status. All but two of the schools were secondary schools.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Hendon school, the first grant-maintained school in London, is now oversubscribed? Does she agree that that shows that such schools are popular with parents and teachers alike and illustrates the folly of the Opposition policy of abolishing grant-maintained schools, CTCs, grammar schools and the independent sector?

Yes, my hon. Friend is right. The politics of envy will never do anything for the pupils in our schools. It is absolutely clear from the number of parents applying for their children to go to grant-maintained schools and city technology colleges that the number of applications has increased. The morale of teachers in the grant-maintained school sector is very high indeed. I believe that that has much to do with the fact that they are looking after their own affairs without intervention and are confident that they are giving the best possible education, without unnecessary intervention, to the children in their care.

While thanking my hon. Friend for the good news received yesterday that Bournemouth school for boys has been granted permission to receive the full benefits of self-govering status, may I ask whether she agrees that the demand for opting out comes much more from the governors of schools, who appreciate the benefits, rather than from parents, who remain largely uninformed of them? Will she consider initiating a new campaign to inform parents of the benefits of grant-maintained status?

I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is glad to learn that Bournemouth school has been accepted as a grant-maintained school, subject to a couple of technical agreements between us and it, but he must understand that the parents are the people who are balloted. They express through the ballot box, perfectly fairly and legitimately, their support for the grant-maintained policy. It is interesting that they are supporting it increasingly through the ballot box, and with success.

What about the parents of pupils at Sylvan high school in Mr. Speaker's constituency who were balloted and voted against its becoming a city technology college, which was then imposed on them? The school has been wrecked, teacher morale has gone down the plughole and children are expected to study on a building site. How can the Minister say that the parents' views are paramount?

The city technology college programme is exceedingly successful. We hear the politics of envy time and again from Opposition Members. Any kind of improvement, any sort of choice, any type of assistance from industry is always scorned. Conservative Members are interested in the pupils, in the best for the children and for the teachers. CTCs are one of the many policies that we have followed to achieve just that.

Does not the Minister's bluster disguise the fact that many leading Conservatives now oppose opting out and have lost confidence in it? Is she aware that Mr. Roy Schutz, Conservative chairman of the education committee in the Conservative borough of Barnet—the Prime Minister's own—has described an opted-out school in his constituency as an "unfettered dictatorship", and that the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), who used to have the Minister's job, has described opting out as "a side alley"? Is not the truth that, despite all the propoganda and bribes and the cynical use of school closure plans, the fact that fewer that 1 per cent. of all secondary schools and no primary schools at all have opted out shows how much the policy is an expensive and divisive flop?

I often wish that the hon. Gentleman cared more about the children in the maintained sector and less about his own policies. The policy of offering grant-maintained school options is most important because it gives choice to the very people who care about their children.

I believe that the hon. Gentleman must have been misquoting Mr. Schutz, who is no longer the chairman of Barnet education authority. It would be as well if the hon. Gentleman got his facts right before coming to the Dispatch Box and reading rubbish from the newspapers, thereby misleading the general public and his colleagues about the policies that the Government are pursuing with great excellence.

Is my hon. Friend aware that teachers, parents and pupils—[Interruption.]

Ten years of bad manners on the Labour Benches.

Does my hon. Friend accept—[Interruption.]—that parents, teachers and pupils of Lancaster boys grammar school are delighted to have freed themselves from the stultifying control of Lancashire county council—[Interruption.]—which dislikes grammar schools and over the years has deliberately starved the school of funds?

Is my hon. Friend aware that Lancaster girls grammar school voted 10 days ago to opt out—[Interruption.]—and looks forward to substantial improvements if the application is approved?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not think that many hon. Members heard what our hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) said. It seems that the microphones were not working during her excellent supplementary question.

I think that the Minister heard, as she is giving the hon. Lady an answer.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. For the benefit of the House, I should say that my hon. Friend was rightly saying how pleased and delighted she was that there are schools in her constituency which are becoming grant maintained and she believes that the parents, teachers and pupils will benefit from the excellence of those schools continuing to run as self-governing schools.