HC Deb 21 January 1965 vol 705 cc390-3
16. Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science to what extent he intends to direct local authorities to adopt a comprehensive system of secondary education.

17. Mr. Hogg

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he proposes to take action to implement his policy of re-organisation on comprehensive lines where local education authorities submit no such scheme to him.

Mr. M. Stewart

I intend to issue a circular to local education authorities calling on them to submit plans to me for the reorganisation of their secondary schools on comprehensive lines. I shall consider what further action might be required on my part to further the Government's policy after I have seen the response made by local education authorities to my circular.

Mr. Lloyd

Before he finally decides on the terms of his circular, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that he would avoid a great deal of unnecessary controversy if in his desire to pursue the comprehensive principle he firmly ruled out compulsion from the centre?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think it would be right to take an absolutely negative decision of that kind at this stage. My belief is that we shall have a highly cooperative response from local authorities and I am proceeding at present in that hope.

Mr. Hogg

Will the right hon. Gentleman reassure us on this point? Will he say that, whatever may be the merits of this dispute, which appears to be engendering a great deal of perhaps legitimate heat, the future of the education service as a local service is something which is almost common to all shades of educational opinion? Will he therefore rule out compulsion at least in regard to those local authorities which pursue a policy behind which there is a respected body of educational opinion in their areas?

Mr. Stewart

No, I could not absolutely rule it out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, I could not, any more than the late Government over a period of years were prepared to take the view that they would allow local authorities to do what they liked in this matter.

18. Mr. Chataway

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards proposals by local education authorities for reorganising secondary education into two-tier comprehensive systems; and whether he will make a statement.

Mr. M. Stewart

In general, I believe that two-tier systems can offer one satisfactory method of organising secondary education on comprehensive lines. Specific proposals must, of course, be judged on their merits in the light of local circumstances.

Mr. Chataway

Would not the Secretary of State agree that, although there is a certain amount of evidence about the orthodox 11–18 comprehensive, there is very little evidence indeed of the two-tier systems? Even the conflicting professional views about the Leicestershire scheme are not much help, since it is being changed out of all recognition in a few years' time. Therefore, would he treat the two-tier comprehensive schemes as experimental and not encourage a wholesale rush into them?

Mr. Stewart

It is not a question of encouraging a wholesale rush. I shall ask for plans, and the plans must be judged on their merits. I believe that we can regard the two-tier system as one way of doing that.

21. Sir J. Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will accept schemes for comprehensive reorganisation which involve the creation of comprehensive schools in widely separated buildings.

Mr. M. Stewart

It is inevitable that many comprehensive schools will have to make use of existing school buildings which were not designed for the purpose. I shall judge individual schemes on their merits.

Sir J. Rodgers

Is the Secretary of State aware that if he allows widely separated schools to form a comprehensive block this makes a nonsense of his policy of imposing a comprehensive system on the educational world? Is he aware that in my own area, for instance, we have very good secondary modern schools with first-class records, very good grammar schools and very good independent schools? It would be a retrograde step to try to impose a comprehensive system in one area.

Mr. Stewart

I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that this again depends on the circumstances of the area, how widely separated the schools are, problems of staffing, and so on. For example, a partial comprehensive school was brought into existence in my own constituency in separated old buildings with the consent of the late Government, and it seems to be doing very well.