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Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's comments about grant-maintained schools. Does he agree that the vast majority of parents have chosen not to go for such status? Out of 25,000 schools, only about 1,100--I think that that was the figure mentioned earlier--have gone grant maintained.

Mr. Brady: Progress has to take place by degrees. The grant-maintained schools in my constituency are great examples to all schools. The improvements that have taken place in good schools since they became grant maintained have been remarkable and a model for others.

It may not surprise hon. Members who have heard me talk on education if I turn my attention to what the Liberal Democrat spokesman referred to as the "black hole" in the White Paper--admissions policy. That is a major concern. The White Paper refers to the importance of allowing as many parents as possible to achieve their preferred choice of school. That is somewhat at variance with the Government's early attack on the assisted places scheme which limited parental choice.

There is also cause for concern in the proposed reduction in class sizes. How will it be done? I am not merely concerned about the 31st child applying to a small rural school. What will happen in popular schools that have no room to expand? Is there not a danger that the number of parents and children who have to make do with second or third choices will increase? People will be forced to send their children to the less good and less popular schools because those are the only ones with places available.

Again, I think that there may be a marked difference between what the White Paper sets out to achieve and the results of Government policy. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton referred to the importance of specialist schools, which is flagged up in the White Paper. How can they select, if not by interview or exam? I am concerned to read in the White Paper the phrase:


Where does that leave those of us who still have it, where it works effectively?

The White Paper also states that the local education authorities will not institute any changes. If grammar schools are to go, it will be from the choice of local parents. That begs a large and important question for my constituents. Which parents will be consulted? On grant-maintained schools, it has been vital that the parents of children at the schools have been the ones to vote on their future. I very much hope for an assurance from the Minister that if a ballot is to be held on the future of grammar schools, it will be a ballot of the parents of children at those schools, not of a wider section of parents who may have no interest in those schools. That is a marked concern of schools in my constituency.

Although we know that the LEA may not take a decision about the future of grammar schools in my constituency, I should welcome an assurance--as would my constituents as local taxpayers--that LEAs will be

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prohibited from using public funds to campaign for the end of grant-maintained schools. That is an important point. I should say that my Labour local authority is pledged to rid my constituency of grammar schools in a way that the new Government say they are not, so that is another disparity between what we hear from Labour in local government and in Parliament.

I read that the Secretary of State will set out national guidelines for admissions policy. As the Secretary of State has said that he does not personally approve of grammar schools, will the national guidelines allow for the continuation of grammar schools and, if they do, under what circumstances and in what way? Will the guidelines exclude reference to grammar schools? Will guidelines be set for grant-maintained schools or--if they are created--for foundation schools? Those very important questions remain to be answered. They are certainly not answered in the White Paper.

Schools would be expected to discuss their admissions policies and their plans with the LEA. The White Paper tells us that it is hoped that agreement will be reached in the vast majority of cases. If agreement is not reached, there will be recourse to an independent adjudicator. That implies that, as in most adjudication processes, some type of agreement would be expected to be reached at the end of that. Would an agreement be forced on schools and local education authorities if they failed to reach agreement of their own volition? I should welcome a response on that point.

The White Paper rules out partial selection and says that the adjudicator will have the power to end partial selection where it already exists. Will that power extend to those schools and systems where full selection already exists? I hope that the Minister will reassure me about that.

How will the adjudicator exercise that seemingly arbitrary power? The White Paper contains the bald statement that the adjudicator will have the power to end partial selection where it already exists. Will that power by exercised by diktat? By whose authority will it be exercised, and following what consultation? Will it apply in all circumstances? If partial selection is to be ended in all schools, why leave it to the adjudicator to end it? Why not come clean and say that the Government intend to abolish the right of schools to select part of their pupil numbers?

I hold no brief for independent schools--I am an old boy of Altrincham grammar school, a school of which I am extremely proud--but I find the references in the White Paper to independent schools most interesting. I read:


Again, I refer to examples from my constituency experience. In the borough of Trafford, the Labour local authority has just voted in principle, and as a point of principle, to end the borough's practice, over many years, of funding places for Roman Catholic children at a co-educational Catholic grammar school, St. Bede's college, outside the borough, at a cost not much greater than that of places in the maintained sector. That will limit parental choice. It will restrict choice for Catholic parents in my constituency, end the availability of co-educational grammar school places for their children and lead, in many cases, to significant personal problems. I am receiving many letters from constituents on those matters.

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For example, a lady who wrote to me from Timperley is a single mother with daughters. She decided that instead of her daughters being educated in a single-sex environment, they should go to a co-educational school. They are being educated at St. Bede's. She is worried about the possibility that that facility would be withdrawn, which would be a negative move. If parents make such a choice, it is important that co-educational schooling should be available for their children. I am concerned that, under Labour control, the borough of Trafford is taking a different view.

Another family in Timperley has two children already at St. Bede's college, and a younger son and daughter. If the council's proposals go ahead, the parents would be forced to send the younger son and daughter to two different single-sex schools, leading to the difficult situation of four children in the same family being obliged to go to three separate schools--a logistical problem which the borough of Trafford must address.

At present, some 60 pupils a year go to St. Bede's college from the borough of Trafford. Those pupils cannot readily be absorbed by the other Catholic grammar schools in the borough which have recently joined the grant-maintained sector. The fact that St. Ambrose college and Loretto convent school both chose to opt into the grant-maintained sector, having previously been independent grammar schools, is a clear example of the success of grant-maintained schooling and its attractiveness for many parents.

The cost of education at St. Bede's is virtually the same as in the maintained sector. There is no financial reason for the borough council's action, which will limit choice and return to the educational apartheid referred to in the White Paper. It is claimed that greater partnership with independent schools is welcomed, but, in practice, where the real choices are being made, that option is being removed from parents, whether through the abolition of the assisted places scheme or through the removal of access to denominational schools.

Parents in my constituency view the White Paper with trepidation. It leaves more questions to be answered than it answers. It sets out many threats to the schools that we hold dear. I should welcome assurances from the Minister on the issues that I have raised, especially an assurance that the grant-maintained schools and the grammar schools in my constituency will remain.

12.32 pm

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): It is a privilege to take part in the debate, even though the Chamber is extremely cold. For that reason, I shall keep my contribution brief.

When we had the opportunity to question the Secretary of State in the Chamber after publication of the White Paper, I said that I believed that it heralded a new era for education in Britain. The White Paper, the legislation that will follow it in the autumn, and the culture and practice that it must engender in our schools are vital ingredients of the Government's crusade to raise educational standards and opportunity, not for a few children, but for every child in every school in every part of Britain.

The White Paper is a defining moment for British education. It brings to an end the sterile and divisive debate on educational structures which, I am afraid, was reflected again in the old Conservatism in part of the

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contribution of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady). The White Paper opens a much more vital and fertile debate on educational standards.

The contribution from the shadow education Minister, the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), revealed the huge difference between the Conservatives and Labour. For 18 years, we had a culture of blame. The Government blamed the LEAs, the schools, the teachers and even the children for failures.

Through many ministerial statements, this Government have boldly created a culture of responsibility to replace a culture of blame. We accept responsibility for standards in education and we have set out the roles of LEAs, schools, teachers, parents and children in raising standards.


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