HC Deb 17 October 1968 vol 770 cc560-1
15. Mr. Christopher Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to compel those authorities which have not already done so to produce plans for reorganising their secondary schools on comprehensive lines.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)

The next major Education Bill will provide that secondary education is to be non-selective. I cannot yet say when the Bill will be introduced. The general trend in the country is towards comprehensive education.

Mr. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us were greatly cheered by the announcement of his Minister of State at Blackpool that this legislation was on its way? But could he give an assurance that the legislation will take place in this Parliament?

Mr. Short

I certainly hope so, but, as my hon. Friend pointed out, it is necessary to wait for the Maud Report.

Sir E. Boyle

Is it not perverse to be talking about legislative compulsion at a time when the most urgent problem facing the education service is whether there will be enough money in the next two years to avoid a serious setback in standards? Will the right hon. Gentleman at least give a firm promise that he will not coerce local authorities into attempting to carry out reorganisation projects which they have not the resources to implement properly?

Mr. Short

Resources are a very important factor in this. I have always said so. But far more resources are available for education now than when the right hon. Gentleman was in office—very much more.

With regard to the other part of his question, we simply cannot allow a handful of reactionary authorities to turn their backs on modern educational research and perpetuate this gross injustice to the majority of their children.

Mr. Archer

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in my constituency the Rowley County Borough Council is considering a proposal to reintroduce the principle of selectivity where there is an existing comprehensive school, which is contrary to the wishes of a great majority of the parents? Will he give consideration to the matter?

Mr. Short

I should not like to comment off the cuff on a specific local authority. However, I will say that where selection is retained it is flying in the face of all educational research since the war. I think that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) agrees with this. Also, in areas where selection continues, three-quarters of the children are suffering a very great injustice. This is the real brain-drain that has been going on in this country for years.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that in areas where there is acute overcrowding problems due to immigration top priority will be given to relieving this instead of forcing through doctrinal Socialist philosophies?

Mr. Short

I do not know about doctrinal socialist philosophies. Some of the best comprehensive schemes have been submitted by Conservative authorities. Certainly we will give priority to areas where we need roofs over heads and where there are acute problems due to immigration and other causes.