HC Deb 17 January 1978 vol 942 cc225-6
2. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her policy concerning the closure of village schools; and if she will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

My general policy on school closures, which was set out in my Department's Circular 5 /77—"Falling Numbers and School Closures"—is to approve proposals to cease to maintain under-used schools where there are educational and financial benefits in doing so.

When the school population is falling rapidly, it is inevitable that some schools must close.

Mr. Knox

Is the Minister aware that there is widespread concern about and opposition to the proposals to close village schools in the Moorlands area of my constituency, particularly in Bradnop and Wetton? What does she intend to do about this?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will know that these proposals were made by his local authority and were put to the Department in 1976, when, after a full inquiry and full considerations of objections, they were approved. It was expected then that most of the closures would take place in 1979, but the hon. Gentleman's authority decided that for these two schools the date could be brought forward to September 1978 on educational grounds.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the Secretary of State agree that as 500 village schools have closed over the past 10 years there is a danger that the village school will become as extinct as the dodo? Will the Secretary of State use her powers under Section 13 of the 1944 Act, therefore, to preserve as many good village schools as possible, as they have social and educational advantages and the economic advantages of closure are often exaggerated?

Mrs. Williams

We always consider Section 13 proposals very carefully. We consider all objections, and in a number of cases in the past year we have disagreed with a local authority and kept village schools open. But, in the face of a decline of 1.2 million children by 1985 in the primary sector alone, it is clear that some schools will become educationally unviable, and it would be irresponsible to keep a school open when it could not offer children reasonable education opportunities.

Mr. Pardoe

Does the Secretary of State accept that if there were any truth in the idea that small village schools in rural areas are inefficient the cost of educating a primary school child in Cornwall, which has a higher proportion of old, small, village schools than any other English county, would be higher than elsewhere? Does she recognise that it is exactly the other way round, and that the cost of educating a primary school child in Cornwall is substantially lower than in any other county in England?

Mrs. Williams

I am impressed to know that about Cornwall, where there may be a number of factors at work apart from the one mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I think he will agree that that is not the universal situation, and that there are some areas where the village schools are extremely expensive. Nevertheless, we always suggest that educational as well as financial considerations should be taken into account. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that if children between the ages of, say, 7 and 11 are in classes of only two or three children there may be educational grounds for giving them wider opportunities.

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