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Lord Tope: Perhaps I may intervene in the dialogue that has been going on. I am sure that it will come as no surprise that we on the Liberal Democrat Benches strongly oppose this amendment. That will be self-evident both from what I have said on many occasions and from the amendments which are to follow on the issue of foundation schools.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has made much of democracy. When schools opt out of LEA control and take GM status, that has an effect also on neighbouring schools, on pupils and on parents who have been unable to send their children to GM schools. They have had no part in this "democracy". They have had no say in whether a GM school would opt out or on the impact of that on their area, their children and their opportunities. That democracy applied only to parents who happened to have children in that school at that time. Because of the nature of such schools, many of the parents of pupils would not have lived within the LEA area. That was certainly the case in my borough. "Democracy" is a much over-used and misunderstood word, and in this case the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is using it in a particular and extremely limited way. It is not the sort of democracy that I recognise.
Similarly, I find it impossible to understand why the Conservative Party when in government (and now in opposition) proclaim GM schools as a great success. I have acknowledged that individual schools are successful, but it is wrong to suggest that the policy was a success. When it was launched, it was expected that vast numbers of schools would leap at the chance of GM status and that before long virtually all schools would have opted out and become GM schools. That is what was proclaimed. I wish that I could remember the figures that were quoted when the policy was launched. It was said that there would be thousands. However, in spite of all the increasingly desperate inducements over the years, only a tiny number of schools opted out. Most did so solely for financial reasons and because of the inducements offered. A number opted out because the LEA was attempting to reduce the number of vacant school places, or because of other particular problems. Nevertheless, only a tiny number (relative to the total) opted out. In recent years, almost no schools have opted out.
I really do not understand how the Conservative Party can claim that GM schools were a great success. To my mind, it was one of the biggest failures of a much proclaimed Conservative government education policy. It did not work. It did not happen. Most schools decided that they were very happy working within an LEA partnership and chose to continue to do so. Quite a number of schools which tested the opinion of parents found that they too shared that view and so the school stayed within the LEA.
Baroness Maddock: I rise to support my noble friend Lord Tope. I quoted earlier from a letter from the Cantell School in Southampton. The headmaster has written to me at some length about the Bill. He is extremely concerned and makes some important points about the role of LEAs and the effects on other schools of a school being able to opt out of LEA control. Perhaps I may quote from the headmaster's letter. He is writing on behalf of his staff, governors and the community that they serve because this issue has been discussed in the community. He states:
That is a very important point and one that we have been making for some time in the debate about GM schools. That headmaster gives good examples of how LEAs help schools and how schools work together in Southampton, stating:
That explains the fears that many Members of the Committee have expressed about what happens if certain schools receive special treatment and funding. It means that somebody else misses out unless one puts into education a lot of extra money.
Baroness Maddock: I made it clear where we stood on foundation and grant-maintained schools. I merely point out that the evidence I gave the Committee this evening came from someone other than a politician; namely, someone who ran a school and who had been on the receiving end of changes he did not like.
Baroness Blatch: The point is still made for me. My understanding is that the Liberal Democrat amendments are intended to take foundation schools out of the framework. Therefore, a letter such as the one just quoted which refers not only to grant-maintained schools as they presently work but the perception of how foundation schools will work under the new framework is not surprising. I repeat that I was not surprised by that contribution.
I must press the noble Baroness. If the noble Baroness offers the one example which clearly in her perception is one of the differentials between grant-maintained schools and the funding of other schools--the initial capital funding--will the noble Baroness confirm whether there are any other distinctions that are unfair in terms of funding? I do not mean "unfair" because more of the central moneys go to grant-maintained schools simply because they take on those central responsibilities. Is the noble Baroness saying that there is any other feature of the funding of grant-maintained schools which creates disproportionate unfairness for other schools? If so, the corollary is that under the new framework grant-maintained schools will lose some funding. It would be helpful to have that quantified in some way by the noble Baroness.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, condemned the idea that grant-maintained schools were a success. I will have to leave him with that view. I believe that they were a success. As to their number, I do not want to get into the arithmetic and discuss whether there were 1,000, 2,000 or 3,000. Those who made the transition to grant-maintained status did so entirely of their own volition. The school in Southampton made it clear that it would not wish to go down that road. That must be a matter for the school. I believe in choice. That school made its choice and I support that.
But the noble Lord, Lord Tope, did not have the experience that I had in the department when these ballots were taking place. On one occasion I invited to my office a group of head teachers who had undertaken the balloting process and lost. They came to talk about that experience. I can honestly say that I have never been more moved than when listening to the horror stories of how it was that they lost the ballot. Colleagues in the LEA and even colleagues in other schools made threatening phone calls in the middle of the night and were carrying out the most awful,
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