HC Deb 22 June 1982 vol 26 cc137-9
1. Mr. Allan Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science,, if the will ensure that the schools closures he is urging on the city of Liverpool do not deprive communities of essential community facilities.

7. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on education standards in Liverpool following his meeting with Liverpool city council leaders.

8. Mr. John Browne

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science following Her Majesty's inspec-torate's recent report, what measures he proposes to take to improve the educational provision in Liverpool.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

When they met me on 26 May, the leaders of Liverpool city council agreed to produce plans by this September for the city-wide reorganisation of its schools. Subsequently I wrote to the leader of the council on 7 June setting out the compelling educational case for such reorganisation if standards and quality are to be maintained and improved, and noting a school's role in its community as one of the factors to be weighed when making judgments about the future. I intend to visit Liverpool next month to review progress.

Mr. Roberts

Does the Minister agree that when a school closes the community loses a community facility and a focus, as well as a school? Will he therefore consider adapting every building that is released by a school closure on Merseyside or in Liverpool for youth and community facilities and, perhaps, for resources centres for the young unemployed? Will he consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Minister with responsibility for Merseyside, to make funds available for that purpose so that Merseyside can benefit from the closures, although it will suffer in community terms initially?

Sir Keith Joseph

The short answer is "Yes". I am encouraged to find that both the local education authority and the local authority are well aware of the case for using released buildings for the maximum local benefit.

Mr. Alton

Does the Secretary of State agree that procrastination during the past 20 years, during which time five schemes have been offered to the Department of Education and Science, all of which have either been turned down or only partially implemented, is one of the reasons why schools in Liverpool are in a constant state of turmoil or in the melting pot? Does he agree that the £3 million reduction in Liverpool's education budget is a direct result of the Department's failure to reimburse Liverpool for its further and advanced education facilities and that it is endangering the quality of service offered by the Liverpool education authority?

Sir Keith Joseph

Although I accept that Liverpool advanced to my predecessors several proposals for reorganisation, it is not beneficial to try to allocate responsibility for the need of successive Governments, having judged the merits, to turn down some of the schemes. Moreover, HMI report on the Liverpool problem did not identify lack of resources as the main problem.

Mr. Parry

When the Secretary of State visits Liverpool, will he spend some time on the problem of three small primary schools in my constituency? Is he aware that they were to be closed and that a new primary school was to be built in the cathedral precinct? Is he aware also that the Liberal-controlled council has done a U-turn on the issue and that there is grave concern among parents and teachers about that? Will he visit the site and meet some of the parents and teachers when he comes to Liverpool?

Sir Keith Joseph

I cannot undertake to visit, in the limited time available, all the areas where there are problems. Under statute, I am allowed to respond only to proposals that have been made by the local education authority. The hon. Gentleman should make his case to the local education authority.

Mr. Browne


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) did not hear the Secretary of State's main answer, but if he is not satisfied with it I shall call him to put a supplementary question.

Mr. Browne

I apologise for not having been present for the main answer, Mr. Speaker. Does my right hon. Friend agree that children have not been taken into account politically in education? Does he agree also that that happens throughout the country, but that Liverpool offers an easily isolated example? Will he take nation-wide action to alleviate the problem and take tougher action against local authorities in order to benefit children?

Sir Keith Joseph

Understandably, in Liverpool, as no doubt in other areas, the view is that the interests of the children are best served by the fierce protection of local schools as they are. That is not always in the best interests of the children, as I tried to explain in my letter to Sir Trevor Jones a couple of weeks ago.

Mr. Dobson

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that at least some of Liverpool's education problems spring from the incapacity of the alliance, in apparently breaking the mould of politics in Liverpool, to do anything about the city's education problems? Secondly, will he ensure that no proposals go through for the closure of schools in Croxteth—as opposed to Toxteth—until he has considered proposals covering the whole Liverpool area?

Sir Keith Joseph

On the hon. Gentleman's second point, I have today written to one of the Liverpool councillors about Croxteth. The letter is being released to local Members of Parliament and to the press.

As for the alliance, I do not wish to enter into local political issues, but I found the attitude of the local authority representatives who came to see me a few weeks ago very constructive, and I welcome that.

Mr. Thornton

While my right hon. Friend is considering the overall problems of education in Liverpool, will he bear in mind the urgent problems of secondary allocation this year? Is he aware that, because of delays in the appeals procedure, many parents will not know before the end of this term to which schools their children have been allocated?

Sir Keith Joseph

I have no power in this matter. It is one for the local education authority. I very much hope that it will make rapid progress with the appeals.