HC Deb 22 May 1979 vol 967 cc857-9
8. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what advice he intends to give local education authorities, faced with falling numbers of school pupils due to the drop in the birth rate, as to the criteria to be used when recommending which schools should remain open and which should be closed.

Dr. Boyson

My right hon. and learned Friend endorses generally the criteria set out in circular 5/77. I am sorry, I have got the wrong answer—[Laughter.]—

Mr. Speaker


Dr. Boyson

I am glad, Mr. Speaker, that I have at least brought an air of cheerfulness, for once, to the Labour Benches.

My right hon. and learned Friend would expect that the criteria used by the local education authorities should not only take account of education and economic factors but should take full account of the wishes of parents and the need to provide a variety of schools, both State and denominational, single sex and co-educational.

Mr. Jessel

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency there is deep concern about the future of several local schools each of which has its own loyal following? So that there is no doubt about the Government's likely attitude, if called upon to make a decision following any proposals the local education authority might make, will he reiterate that the wishes of parents, as expressed by the choice of schools they make for their children, will be paramount, together with educational standards as measured by published examination results?

Dr. Boyson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. My right hon. and learned Friend will pay great attention to all the circumstances of a particular case, including parental preferences, examination results and any other factor. He has already made clear that we shall be very concerned with the quality of education offered within all our schools. We shall also consider most carefully the balance of provision between single-sex and mixed schools, but every case must be decided on its merits. It is, therefore, impossible to give a categoric assurance that geographical considerations will be accorded the lowest priority.

Mr. Beith

Will the distinct educational advantages of village schools be an important consideration? Will the importance of village schools to local communities be one of the criteria the hon. Gentleman bears in mind?

Dr. Boyson

There is no doubt that I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question in the affirmative. We are well aware of the benefits of village schools both educationally and socially in those communities. Wherever it is economically and educationally possible, village schools will remain.

Sir Anthony Royle

Is my hon. Friend aware that his amended criteria will be greatly welcomed? Will he confirm that those parents who wish to send their children to separate schools, either for boys or for girls, will be given the opportunity to do so rather than being forced to send their children to mixed schools?

Dr. Boyson

One of the considerations that we shall always take into account in deciding any schemes put to us is the need to provide a choice between single-sex and mixed schools where there are indications by parents of their desire for one or the other.

Mr. Thomas Cox

Is the Minister aware that in the ILEA area, as school rolls fall, the issue is the need to retain the teachers who are already teaching in those schools? Is he further aware that throughout London there are some active PTA campaigns on this issue? What force will his Department give to them?

Dr. Boyson

We are well aware that at a time of falling schools rolls it is important to keep up the morale of the teaching profession. Where there are falling rolls, it is important that special consideration be given to staffing so that specialist subjects, such as remedial teaching, language and mathematics, can be kept up.

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