HC Deb 20 November 1979 vol 974 cc186-7
2. Dr. Edmund Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he considers proposals to cease to maintain local education authority schools on social and educational, as well as economic, grounds.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

Yes, Sir. My right hon. and learned Friend also takes into account all other relevant factors.

Dr. Marshall

Local education authorities are under great pressure from central Government to reduce expenditure. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that many of the current proposals for school closures are based purely on economic grounds, so that the Secretary of State's consideration of the proposals on social and education grounds will lead almost necessarily to a high rate of reprieves?

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman must realise that there has been a great fall in the birth rate and in the number of children in our schools. By 1986 there will be a fall if 24 per cent. in the number of children attending primary schools. By 1991 there will be a fall of 30 per cent. in the number attending secondary schools. In many instances small schools mean fewer opportunities for pupils. Nevertheless, when a section 13 notice is published to close a school, the Secretary of State will examine the proposal along with the objections, bearing in mind choice of school, parental wishes, denomination, and the availability of single or mixed schools.

Mr. Forman

May we take it from what my hon. Friend has said that there are often good education reasons for closing schools and ensuring that the available facilities in the education service are concentrated where they can be most effective?

Dr. Boyson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking that supplementary question. There is no doubt that at fifth form and sixth form levels it is essential that there are viable pupil levels on not only economic grounds but to encourage children to talk to one another and to develop their courses. Since the change of Government, it has been agreed to close only 22 primary schools and 10 secondary schools. At the same time, section 13 notices on one primary school and one secondary school have been rejected.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does the hon. Gentleman remember that in the Tame-side case the courts felt themselves competent to consider, and to go through, the reasons in the Minister's mind when he made decisions of that sort? Is he aware that if it is suspected that those reasons are—as they clearly are in many instances—purely economic reasons and not education reasons, he might run into great trouble when he is taken to court by local authorities?

Dr. Boyson

As it is the local authorities that make application, obviously they will consider both economic and education reasons. Those reasons will be taken into account by the Secretary of State. Any decision that is taken subsequently will be up to those who take it.