Orders of the Day — Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Bill
Mr Bill Walker (North Tayside)
When the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will find that the hon. Member for Garscadden did say that, but he went on to say what I said he said.
I welcome the provisions that establish self-governing schools. They represent an opportunity for choice for many people. The Government are right to increase the number of appointed and co-opted members to the board, and to include the head teacher as a full member of it if schools decide to exercise their choice to opt out.
The Government are also wise to allow non-elected members to serve longer periods, thus assisting continuity of management policies and to maintain the long-term interests of the school. I hope that few, if any, schools will exercise the choice, but I welcome that choice. There are many good schools in my part of the world, but many of them are starved of essential resources because the local authority is a long way away. It has failed to deal with the 40 per cent. overcapacity in schools in Dundee. The result is that resources essential for Highland rural schools are sometimes slow getting there.
I welcome the checks and balances in the form of a ballot of parents, consultations with local education authorities and the requirement to seek the approval of the Secretary of State. Each stage must be gone through before a self-governing school can introduce any form of selection of pupils. It is important to note that because there is a feeling among teachers and others that the Bill is a veiled attempt to introduce selection by the back door. I believe that the checks and balances will ensure that that does not happen.
I understand that education authorities already have the power to introduce selection. They need only consult parents before making a change. They do not need to refer their proposals to the Secretary of State. The Bill proposes a big improvement.
I welcome the assurance that a simple majority of parents will not necessarily be decisive, and that such a decision only allows the proposal to go to the Secretary of State, who will take account of the size of the majority and the percentage turnout. I want that assurance on the record, because it is important. We do not want the Bill to be regarded as a vehicle for things that will not be beneficial. If the majority of parents want change, and that is shown clearly in a ballot, there should be change.
Such powers and choices will put pressure on education authorities to be much more sympathetic to the needs of, for example, rural and denominational schools.