HC Deb 25 November 1980 vol 994 cc309-10
5. Mr. Silvester

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has received proposals for the reorganisation of sixth form provision in the city of Manchester.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

No, Sir, but my right hon. and learned Friend is aware that two alternative schemes for the reorganisation of secondary education, including provision for 16- to 19-year-olds, have been prepared by the Manchester education committee. The city council has agreed that consultation on these schemes should take place locally.

Mr. Silvester

Will my hon. Friend reassure me that when such a scheme reaches the Secretary of State—as it undoubtedly will—he will discuss it strictly in terms of its effect on the good schools in Manchester, and not in the context of a national debate on the desirability of sixth form and tertiary colleges?

Mr. Macfarlane

I shall not anticipate the outcome of those consultations. The programme between now and the early part of 1981 is that the education committee in Manchester will report to the city council. Thereafter any proposals or consultations will be brought forward. It would be improper for me to comment on schemes that are now the subject of widespread discussion. I accept that there might be objections to the proposals. However, it is not unnatural for any local authority to assess and appraise the precise provision for 16- to 19-year-olds.

Mr. Allan Roberts

Will the Minister take into account the principle of sixth form colleges as well as the Manchester scheme? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the concept of sixth form colleges is a good one, because children can then go to an institution that is not a school, and that enables them to develop their skills? The children are in a college atmosphere rather than a school atmosphere, and that is appropriate for children at that age.

Mr. Macfarlane

England and Wales has the better part of 100 sixth form colleges and about 15 tertiary colleges. Each case presented to my right hon. and learned Friend is assessed on its merits. That criterion will be used as and when objections are received.

Mr. Eastham

Is the Minister aware that Manchester city council is aware of the problem of falling rolls and that, as a result, every means of consultation is being pursued? Is he further aware that 65,000 leaflets were issued in Manchester, and that only last week eight public meetings were called? Unfortunately, only 1,300 people attended those meetings. A group of objectors to the changes met the Minister last September and were invited to present alternative schemes for 11- to 18-year-olds. The objectors have now withdrawn their proposals and as a result Manchester city council seems to be proceeding in a proper manner and to be facing the problems

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been making a statement rather than asking a question. I ask right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House to put briefer questions, because we are proceeding very slowly.

Mr. Macfarlane

Manchester city council is carrying out no more than its obligation as regards local consultation and local government.

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