HC Deb 07 April 1981 vol 2 c805
12. Mr. Nicholas Baker

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will issue a circular to local education authorities advising them on methods of encouraging the preservation of village schools in rural communities.

Mr. Macfarlane

My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans to issue such a circular. He recognises the contribution to village life which small rural schools can make, but there are educational and economic arguments for closing schools in some areas as pupil numbers fall. Whether to maintain a school or take it out of use must in the first instance be decided by local education authorities in the light of local circumstances.

Mr. Baker

Does my hon. Friend accept that many people in my constituency and in rural areas elsewhere will be very disappointed by that reply? Does he recognise the important educational and community advantages of village schools? Will he reconsider his decision and see what help he can give to parent-teacher associations to encourage the retention of village schools?

Mr. Macfarlane

As my hon. Friend knows, a tremendous change is taking place. I certainly understand what the closure of village schools has meant in many communities, but the educational and economic arguments are important. My right hon. and learned Friend intends shortly to issue a circular on falling rolls and surplus places and the educational and financial factors which must be considered in the appraisal.

Dr. Edmund Marshall

For how many village schools in rural communities has the Secretary of State since he took office approved proposals for cessation of maintenance without replacement by local education authorities?

Mr. Macfarlane

If the hon. Gentleman tables a question I shall see that it is answered.

Mr. Watson

Will my hon. Friend dispel once and for all the notion that children at small rural primary schools are suffering in some way from educational disadvantage?

Mr. Macfarlane

I think that this may well apply in many schools in some areas. We are looking at those issues and problems in my Department's appraisal in conjunction with HMI and local authorities, and it will remain part of the appraisal of falling rolls.