HC Deb 26 July 1977 vol 936 cc279-80
1. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is satisfied that local authorities are giving sufficient weight to the desires of parents in their allocation of school places.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

No, Sir.

Mr. Wall

Does the Minister agree that this is a fundamental question? Does she also agree that any local authority, such as the Humberside County Council, which is elected on such a mandate by an overwhelming majority is in honour bound to carry it out?

Miss Jackson

I find the situation in Hull a very interesting one since, as the hon. Gentleman says, the Hull County Council successfully campaigned on the basis of parental choice. But it is my understanding that in the county of Humberside no such system exists. It is only in the city of Hull where the existing system of allocation has been altered, to a banding system to give an increase of about 2 per cent. in parental choice. Although this may be something of value, it has somewhat distorted the effects of the system of allocation which previously existed.

Mr. Arnold Shaw

Is it not time that the myth of parental choice was dispelled—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—and is it still not a fact that choice is governed almost entirely by the length of the parental purse?

Miss Jackson

It is not often that I say this, but I cannot agree with my hon. Friend. I do not accept that parental choice is a myth or that it is undesirable. Nor do I accept that the only fact which governs parental choice is the length of the purse. I do, however, accept that in the past this has too often appeared to have been a factor which was relevant.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for those remarks about parental choice, with which I entirely agree. Has she seen the poll in today's Daily Telegraph which shows that the overwhelming majority of parents want a greater say in the education of their children? How can she reconcile those conclusions with the decision of her right hon. Friend that schools should not be free to publish their examination results? If parents are to be free to make an informed choice about the education of their children, surely they should have a full prospectus of a school's work, including examination successes and failures.

Miss Jackson

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have already raised this question and have said, even in the Education Bill last year, that we are indeed in favour of parents having the maximum possible information available from schools. What we have done in the Green Paper is to point out the problems that exist in simply publishing a league table of public examination results which are not necessarily a guide to a school's success without some further knowledge of the background factors against which the school is working. We are in favour of greater parental information. What we are not in favour of is misleading information.

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