HC Deb 22 March 1984 vol 56 cc1168-9
9. Rev. Martin Smyth

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will use the same criteria throughout the system when schools are rationalised.

Mr. Scott

Yes, Sir. It has always been made clear that rationalisation of school provision should be examined by all school authorities, having regard to the same educational criteria.

Rev Martin Smyth

Is the Minister prepared to accept that in working-class areas of Belfast, particularly in South Belfast and around Park Parade, they see a different set of criteria, used to favour middle-class, so-called integrated education, where a school with a smaller number on the rolls is being given Government backing whereas one with a larger number of pupils is being closed?

Mr. Scott

I am aware that integrated education is not in everybody's favour in Northern Ireland at the moment. Lagan college, the school to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, has entry in only three forms for secondary provision but is well set to reach the level of enrolment that will fully justify the provision of a curriculum suitable to the needs of those children. There is no such future for Park Parade.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a fact that the number of students at Park Parade school is greater than the number attending Lagan college and that when houses are built in the area by the Housing Executive and by housing associations there will be more children available to attend that school? Can the Minister tell us whether he is signing an order to make the Gaelic-speaking school a maintained school?

Mr. Scott

What I am concerned with is the viability of the schools and their ability to offer the children who attend them a viable curriculum. I am satisfied that Lagan college will be able to do that. Having looked at all of the evidence, including that of the Housing Executive, I am not satisfied that Park Parade will be able to do so. My Department is still considering the development proposal for Bunscoil Ghaeleagh.

Mr. Kilfedder

Is the Minister aware that many people in Northern Ireland wish every success to Lagan college, which is making a brave attempt to bring about integration in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Scott

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment. All of those who have been behind the project for Lagan college, particularly the principal, and who have worked hard to establish its viability, deserve our congratulations.

Mr. Soley

In view of the Minister's encouraging comments about Lagan college, may I ask whether he thinks that the experiment can be monitored to see whether it could be extended?

Mr. Scott

The Department monitors the development of all schools in Northern Ireland and we shall certainly look at Lagan college. The Government have always said that if there is a widespread demand in an area for integrated education they would support it.

Forward to