HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1495-7
5. Mrs. Knight

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will issue guidance to local authorities regarding the holding of 11-plus selection examinations in spring, 1973 where proposals for secondary education are being contested by a large section of the local ratepayers.

Mrs. Thatcher

Until proposals for changes of character of existing schools have been approved local education authorities have a responsibility to operate them without such changes. The details of any selection procedures required are the responsibility of the local education authorities but those procedures must be effective.

Mrs. Knight

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Birmingham has not made any arrangements for an 11-plus examination to be held for junior school leavers next year, even though her decision with regard to the Birmingham Education Committee's comprehensive plans cannot possibly be known by then? Will she not step in to avoid the educational chaos which seems highly likely to develop in Birmingham?

Mrs. Thatcher

Again, I think that it might be a little too soon to do that. I have made it clear that Birmingham must run the schools as they are until permission is given to change their character. The period for objections to Birmingham's proposals does not expire until about 13th January, and it seems most unlikely that a decision would follow soon after that because it is a very big plan and big plans of that kind take several months to examine. The objections themselves will take several months to examine.

Mr. Denis Howell

Is the right hon. Lady aware that, notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) has said, the present city council of Birmingham was elected on a massive mandate to abolish the obscene 11-plus examination, that it is fully supported in this proposal by the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters, and that, while there may well be argument about the details of reorganisation which the right hon. Lady will wish to take into account, nevertheless, to an overwhelming extent, the parents of Birmingham do not want to tolerate this offensive examination a moment longer?

Mrs. Thatcher

Birmingham, like any other local education authority, is just as much subject to the law as I am, and the law under Section 13, with provision for objections, must be followed.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Will my right hon. Friend look at the very serious point which has been raised and is widely believed in Birmingham—that the local education authority, in instructing the chief education officer to make no arrangements for junior schools leaving examinations next year, is in contravention of Section 13(5) of the Education Act, 1944, as amended?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not believe that it is yet in contravention of the Act. That is my advice. I hope I have made it clear that the schools must continue as they are until permission has been given to change them. The Birmingham education authority issued the notices wrongly in the first instance and did not display them properly. It has re-issued them, and that factor itself has given rise to considerable delay.

Mr. Marks

What is the right hon. Lady's view about the 11-plus selection examination? Is she for or against it?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no personal view.