HC Deb 17 January 1978 vol 942 cc242-3
15. Mr. Forman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement about the Government's most recent conference on comprehensive education.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I hope to publish in the spring a full report of the conference in York on 16th and 17th December. All of us there—local authority officers, Her Majesty's inspectors, officials from my Department, and Ministers—learned much from experienced teachers in comprehensive schools from a variety of areas about methods and approaches that have been particularly successful. Observers from abroad were also present, as was the Press, which attended the plenary sessions.

Mr. Forman

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is fair to say that the two major problems arising at that conference were the prospect of falling school rolls and the difficulties of mixed ability teaching? There may be some remedies that would alleviate those problems, such as more in-service training, but does she none the less accept that there is still a need for a wide-ranging inquiry into the whole future of comprehensive education to achieve agreed and lasting solutions?

Mrs. Williams

Undoubtedly falling school rolls emerged as a serious problem. That cannot be denied. There were differing views about the question of mixed ability versus other forms of teaching and there was a united view against selection out of comprehensive schools at later stages of secondary education.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Secretary of State clarify her views on the size of school, since she first supported large comprehensive schools, then she was against them, and at the conference she went back in favour of them again?

Mrs. Williams

No, that is not quite right. I never favoured very large comprehensive schools. What I said at the conference was that in the light of experience it was not the case that large comprehensive schools show a higher rate of failure than do any other types of school. We must take that into account.