HC Deb 20 November 1979 vol 974 cc199-200
11. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is his estimate of the number of schools that will have to be closed or merged as a necessary part of the Government's economies in education.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

The Government's expenditure plans set out in the White Paper, Cmnd. 7746, assume that about 750,000 school places will be taken out of use by 1982–83. Of these about 550,000 are expected to be in primary schools and 200,000 in secondary schools, and two-thirds of the total is expected to be in temporary accommodation. While it is not possible with accuracy to translate places taken out of use into school closures, we have been assuming therefore that over 1,000 schools will close.

Mr. Beith

Does not that include an awful lot of village schools? Ought not the Government to be trying to retain village schools for their educational and social value? What is the Secretary of State going to say to the parents of children in those schools about transport costs?

Mr. Carlisle

Many village schools in rural areas have been closed over the past two decades. I think that it is more likely that a greater proportion of future closures will be in urban areas.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the general election result in May this year had no effect on the birth rate 10 years ago, which is what determines the number of places?

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend is correct. As I have said on various occasions, whatever happens to the birth rate from now on, the number of children in our secondary schools over the next 16 years is known. The figures show clearly that there will be a substantial drop.

Mr. Kinnock

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recall telling a press conference on 1 November that reports of threats to Oxfordshire's nursery schools were "exaggerated and sensational"? Has he taken on board the fact that last week Oxfordshire county council announced that all its nursery school provision was to be shut down? Does he accept that the council may be in contravention of section 8 of the Education Act 1944? If it is, will he use his powers under section 99 to issue a default notice?

Mr. Carlisle

If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to answer that question, he should put it on the Order Paper. I said at that press conference that, for 1980–81, the Government have assumed in making their calculations of relevant expenditure for rate support grant purposes that expenditure on nursery education will remain approximately constant.

Mr. Kinnock

The right hon. and learned Gentleman specified Oxfordshire because that is the local education authority previously chaired by his noble Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman use his powers under section 99?

Mr. Carlisle

No one has approached me or asked me to use my powers under section 99. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to consider the matter and tables a question, I shall consider it.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that village schools are often the centre of village activity and that when they are closed a valuable facility for rural communities is removed? Is my right hon. and learned Friend prepared to have a look at the somewhat superficial cost studies that have been produced by many local education authorities to justify the closure of village schools? Will he also take into account the problems created for many families who may in future have to pay for the transport of their children to school as a result of village school closures?

Mr. Carlisle

I recognise the force of what my hon. Friend has said. That is why, in answer to question No. 2, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made clear that I take into account social and educational factors, as well as economic factors, in considering every closure that comes to me.

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