HC Deb 02 December 1986 vol 106 cc758-9
7. Mr. Stern

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he intends to bring forward any proposals to aid the speedier reorganisation of schools by local authorities; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Dunn

My right hon. Friend intends shortly to issue a circular to local education authorities giving guidance on the action needed to reorganise schools in response to falling rolls.

Mr. Stern

Does my hon. Friend agree that the principal cause of complaints that are heard from time to time about low capitation and poor quality of repairs in schools is the failure of authorities, such as Avon, to reorganise schools, thereby wasting the money that could otherwise be provided to improve standards in schools? Will he allow and encourage authorities to speed up much-needed reorganisation? Will he also take into account the fact that when authorities are contemplating reorganisation, they are often considering a period of three years?

Mr. Dunn

The point of the circular will be to answer just the points made by my hon. Friend. How, when and why local education authorities reorganise their provision is entirely for them, but they must take account of the children and the needs of the community if they do so.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the Minister consider carefully the way in which the Education Act 1981—the Warnock Act—could be better implemented, with reorganisation, to enable more facilities to be made available?

Mr. Dunn

I undertake to do just that.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Will my hon. Friend look at the administration of our schools, as many teachers who serve on local education authorities appear to act in a negative way, especially in relation to Leicestershire county council schools? Will he also encourage further single-sex schools to be established, as they are the only real way to allow pupils to develop?

Mr. Dunn

Our role in the receiving sense is simply to take account of the provision as it stands and how it might be shaped for the future. The maintenance of schools of proven worth and of single-sex schools figures highly among our concerns.

Mr. Eastham

Does the Minister realise that the Department of Education and Science is pressing for the economic use of schools? It is recognised that in future some of those places will be required as the numbers increase. Therefore, some authorities are applying under section 13 for closures of one form per school to allow a thinning-out to get over the problem temporarily. However, on occasion, the Department is overruling the recommendations, especially in Tory areas, and that is causing an imbalance in other parts of the city.

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman seems to be somewhat confused about the provisions of the 1980 Act. Local education authorities can reduce their planned admission levels by up to 19.99 per cent. without recourse to the Department. If they wish to go beyond that, they must have recourse to the Secretary of State. How local authorities respond is entirely a matter for them.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Has my hon. Friend studied the recent figures which show that the part of the United Kingdom with the highest success rate in A and O-levels is Northern Ireland, where 25 per cent. of all children go to grammar schools? Consequently, will he resist, or look very carefully at, any proposals from county councils that seek to wind up, abolish or undermine grammar school education in places such as Southend, as it is extremely successful and popular?

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend, as ever, has his constituency interests at heart. However, we take careful account of all the arguments before approving any proposals for closure or amalgamation.