HC Deb 07 December 1976 vol 922 cc221-2
16. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will issue any guidelines to local authorities which have yet to submit plans for comprehensive education regarding the suggested number of pupils for comprehensive schools.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

No, Sir. It is a question for local education authorities to consider in the light of local circumstances, local preferences and the disposition of existing buildings.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that reply, but is she not aware that much evidence has come to light to show that the large comprehensive school produces more problems than it solves? Will she give the House an assurance that she will not insist upon local education authorities producing a comprehensive scheme unless she can assure those authorities that the necessary money will be forthcoming to enable them to do it properly, and that there will be sufficient skilled and qualified teachers in each school to provide the wide range of courses that are necessary?

Mrs. Williams

I have indicated publicly that I think there are certain problems for very large comprehensive schools, including that of adequately training head teachers for the management task involved. It would be unwise for the hon. Gentleman to make a generalisation in a situation in which the largest independent HMC school has 2,400 pupils, followed by schools with 1,800 or more pupils, and when well-known schools like Manchester Grammar and Eton have more than 1,200 pupils apiece.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

When does my right hon. Friend expect to use her powers under the Education Act 1976 to compel local authorities such as Bolton to go comprehensive? My right hon. Friend has already said that local authorities that have said they will not go comprehensive under any circumstances must do so within six months. Surely she must be aware that many authorities that are saying they will go comprehensive at some time are using delaying tactics to prevent that happening. Will she use her powers as soon as possible to set a six-months' deadline for authorities such as Bolton, as she has done in the other eight cases?

Mrs. Williams

The six-months' period applies overall. I shall be writing to the other authorities very shortly.

Dr. Boyson

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about the danger of large comprehensive schools, but is the Secretary of State aware of the risk of too small comprehensive schools being created in certain authorities such as London, where there are now suggestions for two- and three-stream schools, which means no choice of subjects, no foreign language, and no mathematics and physics within them?

Mrs. Williams

There are few proposals for very small comprehensive schools, which encounter substantial difficulties. I have already made it clear that one of the areas in which we can make sensible economies in education is in achieving much closer links between schools and FE colleges.