HC Deb 18 April 1978 vol 948 cc243-5
12. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science which education authorities have not yet complied with the Education Act 1976; if any such authorities are using delaying tactics in failing to submit acceptable plans for comprehensive education: and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Of the 38 authorities required to submit proposals for all or part of their areas, only six have not yet complied. Of those, I expect proposals shortly from Barnet, where only one school is involved, Walsall, two schools, and Shropshire, in respect of Newport. Proposals from Birmingham are delayed pending the outcome of my legal proceedings against the authority. The other two are Kirklees and Redbridge. I am aware of the possibility of delaying tactics and shall continue to use my powers under the Education Acts to ensure that the intentions of Parliament are carried out.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative Party has repeated continually at the Dispatch Box that it is in favour of comprehensive education but that very few people agree that it is saying what it really believes? Does she also agree that a certain degree of firmness needs to be taken at this stage with those authorities which are clearly using delaying tactics and which were confident a short time ago that they would see a Conservative Government? Finally, does she agree that their hearts must have dropped recently because that chance is now receding somewhat?

Mrs. Williams

I find myself a little puzzled. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said that the Conservative Party is the best friend of the comprehensive schools. His hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) said that it will defend the remaining grammar schools and bring them back. The hon. Member for Brent, North, in the Black Paper, also said that comprehensive schools and grammar schools were not compatible one with the other. Perhaps one of these days we shall know where the Conservative Party stands.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will the Secretary of State direct her attention to Cheshire? is she aware that her interference in that county's plans to go comprehensive by the issue of a directive in recent weeks has created complete chaos because a number of young people who had been assessed for selective education can no longer be allocated places in selective schools and there are inadequate places in the secondary sector if the county is to provide places in secondary schools which are within reasonable distance of the young pupils' homes?

Mrs. Williams

Cheshire was warned in a circular a long time ago that we should not approve the continuation of taking up places in selective schools. The hon. Member expressed concern about whether, when a child has entered a system of education in a selective school, we shall continue to support that child until his education has finished. Yes, we have always taken the view that we shall continue to support that child until his education is finished. The hon. Member will be receiving a reply from me to that effect shortly

Mr. Terry Walker

Will my right hon. Friend direct her attention to Avon and the position in the Kingswood constituency? I am of the opinion that the 1976 Act is not being complied with in this connection. Will my right hon. Friend examine the situation and perhaps take some action?

Mrs. Williams

We have recently written to Avon about some of the aspects of its comprehensive organisation. We are now awaiting a reply from that authority.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the Secretary of State agree that although local education authorities are bound to obey the law they are under no duty to fill in the gaps in the law which have been so trenchantly exposed by Mrs. Caroline Wedgwood Benn? Would not the Secretary of State be better employed in seeking to raise standards in all our schools instead of using all her efforts to destroy selective schools of proven academic worth?

Mrs. Williams

I am determined to improve standards. But the worst thing that could possibly happen to the schools is the continuation of the constant battle in which the Opposition engage. The best way to improve standards is to settle once and for all the question of comprehensive reorganisation which has advanced so far under Governments of both parties in this country.