Can my hon. Friend confirm that there is not a single grant-maintained school in east Sussex? Does he agree that that is a great shame; and will he undertake, with his ministerial colleagues, to do everything in his power to communicate to parents, governors and teachers the tangible benefits of GM status?
I willingly give an assurance to my hon. Friend in answer to his question. He will recognise that the growth of grant-maintained schools is determined by parental ballots and I am afraid that only three out of about 250 governing bodies have so far consulted parents by such a ballot. None is yet benefiting from the improvements that grant-maintained status brings. I have some good news for my hon. Friend. Earlier this year I approved the first grant-maintained school in west Sussex and I strongly suspect that its good influence will waft across the border in the very near future.
The Minister will recall that there is only one grant-maintained school in the London borough of Newham—Stratford school, which has been judged to be failing. The Secretary of State has now sacked the chairman of governors and the governors and put her own people in. When will the Minister be prepared to sit down with the local education authority to discuss the educational welfare of the children at Stratford school, or is he going to continue, for party political purposes, to throw money at Stratford school, despite the fact that it is failing and will continue to fail?
First, I must clarify something that the hon. Gentleman said. The former chairman of governors resigned; he was not sacked. On the more substantial point, I trust that the hon. Gentleman shares our wish to see education improve in that school. It is recognised that it is not at the level that it should be and the Government, through the newly appointed governors, are taking steps to ensure that standards will improve at that school, which will benefit all pupils there now and, indeed, in the future.
My hon. Friend knows that as a result of the Government's policy, Kent county has a very wide range of choice of schools, including excellent grant-maintained schools. He also knows that those schools are staffed by excellent and dedicated teaching staff. Is it not right that those teachers should be paid properly and is it not a disgrace that the Labour and Liberal administration that runs Kent county council is refusing to pay them to score party political points while knowing that it has the money to do so?
My hon. Friend makes a serious point. I note that other of our hon. Friends from Kent have made similar comments recently in the House. If it is true, that through mismanagement, Kent has discovered that it has significant sums with which it could have fully funded the teachers' pay rise, it is very important that all the people of Kent know exactly where the finger of guilt should be pointed, and that is certainly at Kent LEA.