HC Deb 17 December 1985 vol 89 cc149-50
10. Mr. Neil Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to restrict the circumstances in which local education authorities may intervene in the internal management of schools; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Chris Patten

The Education Bill to be introduced this Session will include proposals to establish a consistent pattern in the distribution of functions between the governing body, the local education authority and the head teacher. The local education authority will not then be able to override the governing body or the head teacher in the discharge of the functions allocated to them.

Mr. Hamilton

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am sure he will be gratified to learn that we are on the same wavelength. There is a widespread desire among parents to strike off the shackles of political control and make schools more autonomous. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the Bill will cover the circumstances such as have occurred at Poundswick school in Manchester? What happens in the meantime, until the Bill is passed? What protection is there for parents?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend has filled my cup to overflowing and I very much hope that he is a member of the Committee that considers the Bill. Irrespective of whether we are talking about Poundswick or other matters, what is at issue is not so much the powers held by different interests, as how they are exercised. When responsibilities are split, there is scope for unproductive conflict. That can never be entirely removed.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The Secretary of State wrote to me on 9 December about the dispute at Poundswick high school in Manchester. As today-17 December—marks the time limit for a reply from the Manchester education authority to the Department's recent letter, is there anything more that the Minister can say further to the reply that I received on 9 December?

Mr. Patten

We have not yet received a reply from the education authority. I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's concern and we shall, of course, get in touch with him as soon as possible.

Mr. Lawler

If the Labour and Liberal groups had had their way in Bradford, Mr. Honeyford would have been summarily dismissed a long time ago merely for expressing views with which they happened to disagree. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that, in the forthcoming legislation, opportunities for local authorities to dismiss school staff will be restricted?

Mr. Patten

I suggest that my hon. Friend awaits the Bill. I understand that the difficult and sensitive issue to which he referred has now been settled, but I deplore the way in which some extremists have aggravated a delicate situation in a way that is clearly not in the interests of children.