HC Deb 15 March 1977 vol 928 cc200-2
9. Mr. Peter Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is satisfied that the views of parents are being adequately reflected in the great debate on education.

Miss Margaret Jackson

Representatives of parents have been invited to all the regional conferences on education which are now taking place. At the conferences held so far parents have made a significant contribution to the discussion. In addition, my right hon. Friend has received a substantial number of written comments from parents and from organisations representing their interests.

Mr. Bottomley

Will the Minister say whether the views put forward by parents at conferences are similar to the views expressed by parents when writing to the Department of Education expressing dissatisfaction with the schools allocated in secondary school transfers? If those views are not being put forward, what action does the Department take to ensure that dissident views are heard?

Miss Jackson

I find the hon. Gentleman's question hard to answer. On the whole, parents who write to us about regional conferences discuss general questions of education rather than the placement of a particular child. We are aware that many problems arise in the choice of school, but there is no single factor that can be applied to each case. There is a tremendous range of problems, which differ from one family to another and from one child to another.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Since this Question deals with the great debate, will my hon. Friend comment on the article in the Daily Express last Saturday headed "Return to the 11-plus" in which that newspaper, reporting on a conference in Peterborough at which the Minister spoke the day before, inferred from certain statements she made that some form of examination, even if not in 11-plus form, was to be reintroduced?

Miss Jackson

It was a classic example of an accurate quotation of one's words but the wrong conclusions being drawn from them. The Daily Express appeared to suggest that we were in favour of the reintroduction of the 11-plus examination as it existed. That is totally inaccurate. We are not opposed, nor can anybody be opposed, to a proper system of diagnostic assessment at any age, in the sense that it allows for any problems found to be remedied. That is a very different matter from the 11-plus. That was a system of classifying children for the rest of their school education.

Mr. Forman

How many of the people invited to regional conferences came specifically in their capacity as parents? Is the Minister satisfied that enough parents attended these conferences?

Miss Jackson

Parents' representatives have numbered 68 out of a total of 863 who have attended the conferences. 17 parents have spoken at the conferences, out of a total of 160 speakers. That is not a bad balance. We have tried to maintain a reasonable balance between the various interests and have specifically called people in the various groups. We particularly asked parents to contribute to the discussions.

Mr. Litterick

In some respects cannot the attitude adopted by parents be positively harmful—to wit, that young people seeking entrance to further and higher education are wholly dependent on the whims of their parents since those parents must sign income declaration forms? I have in my constituency one young talented student who is now being excluded from Birmingham School of Music simply because of the attitude of his parents, which is a totally negative one, since by not signing the declaration they are denying him higher education.

Miss Jackson

I am concerned by what my hon. Friend says. It is most unusual. I shall be grateful it he will write to me giving the details of that case.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the Minister recognise that although we are glad that she is holding this series of conferences—as a prelude to our own, which will take place after Easter—we would welcome even more a clear statement of Government policy on the proposals in our parent' charter for parental governors of schools in the maintained sector, for the publication of prospectuses, and for other measures that we have put forward to increase parental influence in our schools?

Miss Jackson

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned that matter, because it gives me the opportunity to make the position clear. The implication from what has been said is that the Conservative Party was not being invited to the conferences. We very much regret the fact that although Conservative representatives were invited none has put in an appearance.

The hon. Gentleman asked why we had not commented on the Conservative's parents' charter. It is already possible for parents to serve as managers and governors, and in many areas parents undertake such service. We are awaiting the report of the Taylor Committee before deciding whether this should be made a universal practice.

On the subject of prospectuses, the hon. Gentleman will know that in the proceedings on the Education Bill my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said that she was still considering advice, and that process is still taking place.