HC Deb 13 April 1972 vol 834 cc1421-2
19. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what policies she has to reduce regional inequalities in education.

Mrs. Thatcher

The raising of the school leaving age is expected to make a major contribution by offsetting the wide regional variations in staying-on rates for pupils over the compulsory school leaving age.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Secretary of State aware that the average son of a professional person in Surrey has roughly a 200 times greater chance of entering a university than has the average daughter of an unskilled worker in West Ham? Is not the right hon. Lady's deliberate failure to extend positive discrimination in expenditure beyond mere tokenism responsible for maintaining this disgraceful stain on our educational system?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman would be aware that we run a scheme of positive discrimination. We positively discriminate in favour of those areas in the urban programme by allocating expenditure to nursery schools in these areas. There is also discrimination in favour of some of the educational priority area schools. The third matter which will greatly assist these children is the raising of the school leaving age—a decision which has been ducked by every other Government.

Mr. Goodhart

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that one subject on which there is the greatest disparity between the good and bad regions is the provision of school books and equipment? What further action does she propose to take to encourage bad regions and bad authorities to increase their provision in this respect?

Mrs. Thatcher

Within the rate support grant, each time it is negotiated, there is an improvement factor, part of which is designed to enable authorities to raise the standard of books and equipment. The local authorities do an excellent service by publishing the figures showing which authorities give high priority to books and equipment in their schools.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in a recent reply to me she stated that the Government intended to review the rate support grant system for unfavourable regions? Can she undertake that she will either publish her view son this subject or give us a White Paper before the Local Government Bill becomes law, so that people can make representations to her while that Measure is passing through this House or the other place?

Mrs. Thatcher

There is a discussion paper already published on local government finance, and the hon. Gentleman naturally will put his views when that paper is debated.

Mr. Edward Short

Does not the right hon. Lady feel that the correction of regional imbalances would be a better priority than the provision of primary schools as such, wherever they are?

Mrs. Thatcher

Many of the bad primary schools are in the regions and therefore they get a larger share of the primary school improvement programme. It is fair to the children to try to allocate the money in proportion to those who are in Victorian buildings. About half of it has gone to bad areas in the industrial regions.