HC Deb 01 December 1981 vol 14 cc125-7
5. Mr. Charles R. Morris

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on his rejection of the Manchester local education authority plan for reorganising secondary education in the city.

Sir Keith Joseph

My reasons for rejecting the city of Manchester's proposals are set out in the Department's letter to the authority of 12 November, a copy of which was sent to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Morris

Is the Secretary of State aware that the delay involved in the rejection of the Manchester scheme will add to the anxiety and uncertainty facing both teaching staff and parents in the city of Manchester? Is he further aware that the city of Manchester's ratepayers will be involved in £1 million of additional expenditure as a result of the rejection of the reorganisation scheme? Will he explain how one determines the proven worth of the three schools concerned?

Sir Keith Joseph

I studied this subject profoundly before reaching such an important decision. I very much regret the delay involved for Manchester, its ratepayers, teachers, parents and pupils. That is why I hope that the city of Manchester will come back as soon as possible, when it has had time to reconsider the proposals. Many characteristics have to be taken into account when deciding proven worth. Academic results are not the only characteristics, but they are an important component.

Mr. Silvester

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many people in Manchester feel that it is better to suffer the delay that results from the decision than to be stuck with a scheme that will damage our schools for many generations?

Sir Keith Joseph

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Marks

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Manchester education committee will recommend to tomorrow's city council meeting that it accept all his conditions and that Whalley Range, Parrswood and Burnage high school be excepted from the scheme and that provision be made for single-sex education for those over the age of 16? If the council accepts that proposition tomorrow, will the right hon. Gentleman give the scheme immediate approval so that it can take effect next September?

Sir Keith Joseph

I welcome the council's quick reaction. However, I still have a quasi-judicial function, and objectors to the new scheme must be given an opportunity to make objections in accordance with the statute. When that period for objection is over, I guarantee to give urgent consideration to the issues involved.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many people in the North-West welcome his statement that he is unwilling to weaken schools of proven quality which continue to demonstrate their success in sixth-form provision, and this could apply to other schools in the North-West, such as the Lancaster Royal grammar school and the Lancaster girls' grammar school.

Sir Keith Joseph

Each case has to be decided on its merits. I am trying to carry out part of the Conservative manifesto.

Mr. Beith

If the Secretary of State is not prepared to allow Manchester to develop on the basis of a sixth-form college system or to allow Liverpool to make proper use of the under-used Paddington school premises, what discretion has any local authority to achieve the reduction in school places that the right hon. Gentleman demands?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is seeking to generalise about decisions that have to be made on individual merits, as I see them.

Mr. Whitehead

What definition of proven need puts the case for three schools over the case for 23 schools, which costs an additional £1 million in delay and which is adopted—I understand—against the advice of the Department and Her Majesty's Inspectorate?

Sir Keith Joseph

I think that the hon. Gentleman meant "proven worth", not "proven need". The answer to the question that he meant to put is "Educational quality for the children".