HC Deb 23 July 1974 vol 877 cc1267-9
1. Mr. Skeet

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement of Government policy on the reductions at present being made in the number of colleges of education.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

As I said in the House on 2nd April—[Vol. 871, c. 1068–69]—the Government are proceeding to develop more general purpose higher education institutions, by mergers of colleges and polytechnics and other means, as advocated in the White Paper "Education: A Framework for Expansion" (Cmnd. 5174) and in Circular 7/73. So far, few final decisions have been taken about the futures of individual institutions. However, the future of some 80 to 90 of the 163 colleges has been agreed or is well on the way to agreement, and there are prospects of a fairly early solution in the case of another 20 to 30 colleges. The future role of the remainder is still unclear at the present time.

Mr. Skeet

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Bedford the Bedford College of Education, Bedford College of Physical Education and Mander College of Further Education will be regrouped? Will not this lead to an extinction of their identity? Can the hon. Gentleman see any advantage, economic or social, in driving these three schools together?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. In accordance with the policy advocated by the previous Government, I see every advantage in bringing together colleges of education to form larger, diversified and more viable institutions. In adding further education institutions to many of them to spread that diversification, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) suggested in January of this year, there is every educational advantage.

Mr. McNamara

While I do not disagree with my hon. Friend's enunciation of the policy of the present Government and the previous Government, may I ask him to bear in mind the peculiar and sensitive situation of the voluntary education colleges, which in many local communities have a specially revered place? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind in particular that they have great financial and other problems, not least for the lay staff teaching in them, who have all the problems of any person becoming redundant—mortgage problems, the seeking of suitable similar jobs and so on?

Mr. Fowler

We are very conscious of the place of the voluntary colleges in our system, and we are taking due and, I hope, sensitive account of this as the exercise proceeds. I hope that few staff will become redundant nationally. But I should remind the House that with the approval of the Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education we have agreed on very favourable arrangements for redundancy where it is imperative and unavoidabdle that some staff should become redundant.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister recognise how deeply it is resented in the education world that he will not disclose to the House details of his proposals at a time when his Department is sending out closure proposals to individual colleges? In particular, does he not recognise how deeply it is resented in Alnwick College of Education that its contribution, particularly in connection with mature students and adventurous programmes, is about to be stopped by his Department.

Mr. Fowler

I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the procedure. My Department is not issuing closure proposals. It has no standing or right to do so. The proposals come from the local education authorities. My Department considers them and advises the local education authorities, as it has done in the case of Bedfordshire and Alnwick. That advice is not necessarily accepted by the LEA's, but in my view it is normally sound advice.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that while we on the Opposition benches accept the need to reduce the number of places devoted to teacher training in colleges of education what we object to is the insensitive and authoritarian way in which he is carrying out this policy? Will he give instructions to the officials in his Department to take full account of the legitimate objections and grievances of individual colleges and see that they are not being ridden over roughshod?

Mr. Fowler

I can give the House an assurance that no individual college has been ridden over roughshod. I am in full control of what is happening on this front. We are taking a most sensitive attitude to what is proceeding. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what he said on 4th January: There is general recognition that many colleges of education must combine forces with other institutions if they are to prosper in the new situation. The hon. Gentleman cannot say one thing in government and another in opposition.