HC Deb 18 January 1977 vol 924 cc67-71
14. Mr. Ovenden

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what communications she has sent to local education authorities since the beginning of December in connection with her powers under the Education Act 1976.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Yesterday I wrote under Section 2 of the Act to a further 26 authorities where further progress is required towards bringing about a fully comprehensive system for secondary education. Six local education authorities are being required to submit within six months proposals for reorganising all their remaining selective schools, 12 are being required to submit also within six months proposals for reorganising some parts of their area where selective schools remain, and eight are being required to submit proposals again within six months in respect of particular voluntary schools where admission arrangements remain on a selective basis. I am arranging for a full list of these authorities and the schools concerned to be placed in the Official Report.

Mr. Ovenden

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I assure her that those of us who are interested in seeing comprehensive education become a reality throughout the country will welcome her action in imposing a strict time limit. Will she make clear to the local authorities concerned that if they default upon that time limit she will not hesitate to use her powers under the Education Act to enforce their acceptance of comprehensive education? Will she also make clear to the local authorities concerned that she intends to give priority in the allocation of financial resources to comprehensive reorganisation?

Mrs. Williams

In reply to the first part of the supplementary question, as the first circular on comprehensive schools was issued as long ago as 1965 there has been a great deal of time for authorities to consider the matter. I very much resent criticism that we are giving them very little time in which to complete it. I have every reason to believe that local authorities will obey the law. That is what I have been informed, and I am sure they will do so. It has been made clear to authorities that building allocations will be made available for secondary schools and others for basic needs—which is a special case—only where there are arrangements for comprehensive reorganisation to which local authorities make clear they have committed themselves.

Mr. Goodlad

In view of the remarks made by the Under-Secretary of State in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 20th December about the possibility of bringing forward legislation to alter the powers of the Secretary of State with particular reference to Section 68 of the 1944 Act, has the Secretary of State any plans to bring forward legislation to alter her powers either under the 1944 Act or the 1976 Act?

Mrs. Williams

That does not arise directly on this Question, and I am not entirely sure that I have followed the hon. Gentleman's point. If I understand him correctly, I must tell him that the effect of the Education Act 1976 is to ask local authorities to have regard to the comprehensive principle. The original 1944 Act indicates the scope of parental wishes, and that also remains the law.

Mrs. Millie Miller

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that education authorities, such as the London borough of Red-bridge in my constituency, which appear to have difficulty in achieving plans to make the whole of their system comprehensive will be able to receive guidance and advice from her if they cannot produce a plan on their own?

Mrs. Williams

We are always willing to assist authorities with advice on their plans. If an authority submits an unsatisfactory plan but has the intention of reorganising, we are also very willing to sit down and discuss with it the way in


which its plans might be achieved. The great bulk of the 41 authorities which I have not on this occasion written to are in exactly that position. That is to say, they intend to reorganise as soon as resources are available for them to do so, and I am persuaded of their good will in saying that.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

What is the logic of the Secretary of State's position in seeking to dragoon nearly one-third of the local education authorities into going comprehensive and not giving them the resources with which to do so adequately? Will not the only certain result of that policy be that botched-up schemes will be put forward which will not be in the interests of the children concerned and will bring the idea of the comprehensive school into disrepute?

Mrs. Williams

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have been listening sufficiently carefully to what I said. The 26 authorities to which we have written are authorities which have not submitted any plans for reorganisation, have not submitted plans for part of their area or have not submitted plans in relation to voluntary schools. The 41 authorities to which we have not written are authorities which have submitted schemes which, because resources have not yet been available or because of arguments on a legal matter concerning voluntary school trusts, will be delayed, but we have every reason to believe that the authorities intend to reorganise.

Following is the list:

2. Shrewsbury
3. Oswestry
2. Stratford
WIRRAL Bebington and Deeside
BARNET Henrietta Barnet
BIRMINGHAM King Edward VI schools:
Aston Boys Grammar
Camphill Boys Grammar
Fiveways Boys Grammar
Camphill Girls Grammar
Handsworth Girls Grammar
Bishop Vesey's Grammar, Sutton Coldfield
Handsworth Boys Grammar
CROYDON 1. Archbishop Tennison
2. St. Andrews (CE)
HAMPSHIRE 1. Churchers College, Petersfield
2. King Edward VI, Southampton
LANCASHIRE 1. District 7—Hutton Boys (VA) Grammar
2. District 1—Lancaster Royal (VA) Grammar
MANCHESTER 1. Fallowfield High School (CE VA) Grammar
2. Bishop Greer High School (CE VC) Secondary Modern
WOLVERHAMPTON Wolverhampton Grammar School