HC Deb 09 November 1982 vol 31 cc411-3
4. Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will now institute a survey of the educational standards in city schools, particularly with regard to size in relation to the nature of the catchment areas served.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

No, Sir. The Department's circular 2/81 contains advice on school sizes which applies to all areas. That advice drew upon the judgments of Her Majesty's Inspectorate based on all forms of inspection, including its national surveys of primary and secondary education.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister accept that the reduction in the number of children of school age is becoming the signal for the destruction of far too many excellent schools in city areas which have specific advantages because of their experience in dealing with particular children in special areas? Does he put Westcotes school in my constituency into that category? Is it not regrettable that that school, among others, is to be destroyed so soon?

Dr. Boyson

The fall in the school population is real. Between 1979 and 1983 the number of pupils in our schools will fall by 1 million. If school rolls fall to such a level, one cannot have economic teaching groups or a spread of subjects. The children inside those schools are educationally disadvantaged, whatever the social advantage of small schools may be.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Instead of instituting a new survey, will my hon. Friend draw the attention of those in education to Professor Michael Rutter's book "Fifteen Thousand Hours"? The book showed that, between matched schools, the poorest 25 per cent. of children in academic ability were doing better than the top 25 per cent. in a neighbouring school.

Dr. Boyson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing Professor Rutter's book to the attention of the House. Professor Rutter makes it clear that, with the same resources and teaching formula, the difference in achievement between schools with the same intake is tremendous, according to the commitment to the school of the head teacher and the staff and their agreement on the methods to be used.

Mr. Kinnock

In view of the copious leaks in The Daily Telegraph yesterday and in The Times today about the Government's consideration of the voucher system, will the Minister explain how he believes a voucher system or any of the other proposals of the leaked Think Tank report could be of assistance in overcoming the problems encountered by schools, including city schools, especially as we know that inner city poverty levels are greater than in practically every other environment?

Dr. Boyson

The Conservative Party and the Conservative Government are concerned to increase parental choice and to look at all measures to achieve it.

There are questions on the Order Paper to my right hon. Friend about vouchers. I assure the House that we shall take no action that will not extend parental choice, with the agreement of the mass of the British people.

Mr. Farr

Is my hon. Friend aware that the size of schools applies not only to city areas? Is he further aware that in many county areas people are mystified by the Government's policy, which seems to tend towards the large schools of 1,000 or more while at the same time closing down perfectly viable and valuable village schools?

Dr. Boyson

My right hon. Friend and I examine carefully all the recommendations that we receive from local authorities. We assess them according to the circumstances in their areas. We also said in circular 2/81 that we realise that we reach a point where we cannot shut village schools without destroying an area. Therefore, authorities should look at the possibility of closing schools in towns where they are nearer together.

Mr. Marks

Has the Minister examined the report from the city of Manchester, which has compared results in CSE and GCE this year with the academic qualifications, for example, in verbal reasoning, of the same children five years ago? Spurley Hey school, which the Minister referred to as a sink school, showed good results. Does parental choice make any difference here? Will the Minister examine the Manchester report in his anxiety for the publication of examination results?

Dr. Boyson

I know of the hon. Gentleman's concern about education in Manchester. He referred to Spurley Hey school. The very fact that I chastised it verbally five years ago, because of the results it achieved, has caused that degree of improvement. The hon. Gentleman must pay tribute to the service I have done to the Manchester area. I have not seen the report to which he referred, but I shall be delighted to read it and to discuss it with him.