HC Deb 08 June 1976 vol 912 cc1185-6
10. Mr. John Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what correspondence he has had with the Bromley branch of the National Union of Teachers on the subject of the places taken up by the London borough of Bromley at independent and direct grant schools.

Miss Margaret Jackson

Last autumn my right hon. Friend received a complaint from the Bromley Teachers' Association about the Bromley Education Authority's policy.

Mr. Hunt

Is the hon. Lady aware that by telling the Bromley teachers that the taking up of these places was a matter for the district auditor the Secretary of State was directly inciting them to challenge the policy of the Bromley council? Is she aware that many suspect that he was acting in collusion with the Bromley branch of the National Union of Teachers to force the abandonment of a policy which may have offended against the Socialist concept of educational egalitarianism but which at least provided an opportunity for many children in the borough to receive an education which otherwise their parents would have been unable to afford?

Miss Jackson

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in two ways. He is wrong, first, in suggesting that my right hon. Friend was seeking to incite the NUT to disagree with its local education authority. He was merely making a factual point about the existence of, and possible interest of, the district auditor. I am even more fascinated by the hon. Gentleman's assumption that fear of the Bromley branch of the NUT rather than fear of the district auditor forced the education authority to change its policy, but I suspect that it is not correct.

Mr. Bryan Davies

What does my hon. Friend think of Conservative-controlled councils such as my own, in Enfield, which, despite their responsibility for the education of all children within the borough, consider that their schools are not good enough for a certain range of gifted children and that those children should be sent to independent schools, at the ratepayers' expense?

Miss Jackson

It seems to me, as it seems to my hon. Friend, that such authorities should be devoting resources to the improvement of their own schools rather than saying that they can stay as they are for most children but that a few can have a different kind of education.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the hon. Lady confirm that it is one of the basic principles of the whole series of Education Acts that local education authorities should have the right, in order to widen parental choice and for other reasons, to take up places at independent schools? Will she now say why her right hon. Friend failed to confirm that fact to the members of the Bromley Borough Council when they approached the Department for guidance?

Miss Jackson

I do not think that my right hon. Friend did any such thing. The hon. Gentleman and I have had this argument before. My right hon. Friend pointed out to the council what is a simple statement of fact, that it had a right to carry out expenditure of this kind, and it would not be for him to intervene, but that the policy might be a matter for the district auditor if the district auditor thought that the council was acting incorrectly. It is true that under the existing Education Acts local councils have the power to take such steps, but they also have a duty, which should be overriding, to provide a good standard of education for all the children in their area, in their schools.