The Funding Agency for Schools now has shared or sole planning responsibility for the supply of school places in 50 local education authorities. It also has regular contact with LEAs about the funding of grant-maintained schools. In my experience, those relationships are generally constructive.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Liberal Democrat-controlled Wiltshire county council told his Department that it had a clear mandate and the agreement of heads to take money out of school budgets when neither of those claims was true? Does the FAS have powers to investigate such deception?
I know that my hon. Friend has corresponded with the FAS about this matter. I understand that the GM schools were initially consulted about the proposal to which he refers but that they did not respond as a result of a misunderstanding about the document that they were sent. From the evidence that I have so far received, it does not appear that the LEA intended any deception. In the event, as my hon. Friend knows, the proposal to which the GM schools eventually took great exception was at variance with the policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It was accordingly modified by her before it was approved, and a ceiling of 0.5 per cent. was imposed on the percentage of the general schools budget.
As the grant-maintained schools movement in Wales has run entirely into the sand, despite the constraints on local education funding and the enticements to schools to become grant-maintained, does the Minister agree that there is now no reason to establish a schools funding agency for Wales?
The hon. Gentleman knows better than to tempt me down the highways and byways of the Principality. However, if the energy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is as great as I know it is from having worked with him I am sure that he will draw inspiration from, for instance, the fact that, last month alone, eight out of 10 ballots in England resulted in a yes vote to become grant-maintained.
I know that it is extremely difficult to obtain a straight answer to a straight question from the Government on education, but the relationship between LEAs and the FAS depends on the number of grant-maintained schools in a given part of the country.
Given all the Government splits—on nursery education or on funding—will the Minister give a straight answer to the rumours that are circulating in Conservative newspapers that the Government intend to make grant-maintained status compulsory for all schools after the next general election: yes or no?
The whole House enjoyed that one. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is, as he has been told many times from the Dispatch Box, that we have no plans to make such a change.
I could not let slip the small side comment that the House heard—something to the effect that the Government were split on education. I say only that, if all Opposition Members who had enjoyed a privileged education, who had sent their children to a privileged education or who simply enjoyed the benefits of grant-maintained status had instructed their councillors and activists throughout the country not to campaign so hard against GM status, the figures would be even better than those that I gave to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) a moment ago.
Does my hon. Friend agree that teachers who behave like yobboes and hooligans in public, whether they are employed by GM schools or local authority schools, are likely to be unsatisfactory in professional terms? From experience, I know that often they are the people who do least in the classroom and elsewhere in the school.
Will my hon. Friend give the House and the country a guarantee that people who behave unsatisfactorily in professional terms in schools will be properly disciplined, however they behave in public?
As my hon. Friend knows from his wide experience, those are matters for governing bodies. I doubt whether many governors across the country would have been other than appalled at some of the scenes at the National Union of Teachers' conference, which did no service to the union. There is no place in the classroom for politics; what teachers do in their spare time must be a matter for them. The incident did not assist in the projection of teaching as the honourable and proper profession that we know it to be.