HC Deb 15 July 1975 vol 895 cc1242-4
1. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science which local education authorities have not now declared their intention of changing over to comprehensive education

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

Seven local education authorities have declined to commit themselves to the completion of comprehensive reorganisation in their areas. These are Bexley, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Kingston, Redbridge, Trafford and Sutton.

Mrs. Short

I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for that very comprehensive reply. Is he aware that he has corrected the ill-informed and ill-advised claim of the Opposition that one-third of local education authorities have refused to reorganise their secondary education on comprehensive lines? Will he ensure that his Department puts the utmost pressure on these authorities to see that they bring the benefits of comprehensive education to all pupils in the secondary age group without any more delay?

Mr. Mulley

My predecessor and I between us saw representatives of all seven authorities and asked them to put to their councils the points we made to them. They readily agreed to do this and we are awaiting their replies. While it is true that only seven have declined to commit themselves to the principle of comprehensive reorganisation, there are a number of others which will find it difficult to complete the reorganisation for a number of years.

Mr. Townsend

Why does the Minister, like his predecessor, so dislike excellence in education? Many of the local authorities he has referred to were recently elected on a platform of maintaining these schools. Is he aware that in my part of the world, in South-East London, we have very wide support among all sections of the community?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman seeks to prejudge his question. I do not accept that excellence in education is an exclusive characteristic of a particular kind of school. One test of academic excellence is the attainment of high grades in A levels, and these are frequently achieved in comprehensive schools.

Mr. George Cunningham

Does my right hon. Friend realise that for many pupils the real difference is whether they go to a comprehensive school which was formerly a grammar school or to a comprehensive school which was formerly a secondary modern school? Will he exhort local education authorities to do everything in their power to make sure that the nominal equality of schools is made real?

Mr. Mulley

Certainly. This message has been conveyed to local authorities. Detailed arrangements within a particular area are a matter for the discretion of the local authorities, but unless selection at the age of 11 is ended there will not be any kind of equality of opportunity in education.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Why is the Minister so coy in refraining from correcting the error of his hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short)? Is he afraid of her? Why does he not repeat to her the figure he gave me in his letter of 7th July that no fewer that 30 education authorities have made clear that they have no intention of going comprehensive before the end of the decade? Does not this mean that at least one-third of local education authorities are resisting this policy? Will the Minister confirm that they have a perfect legal right to do so?

Mr. Mulley

Far from being afraid of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) I have the most harmonious relationship with her not only here but also on a number of committees. As to the letter I sent the hon. Gentleman, I thought he might raise this subject and I have brought a copy of the letter with me. Precise as my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East always is, she asked how many authorities had not declared their intention to change over to comprehensive education. The 30 authorities have accepted that they should change over but for a number of reasons, including difficulties about buildings, particularly in rural areas, have not yet been able to put a date on when this will be completed. There is a whole lot of difference between refusing to accept a principle and accepting a principle.