HC Deb 03 March 1986 vol 93 cc3-4
2. Mr. Grist

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what advice his Department has given to local authorities considering the establishment of sixth form colleges.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wyn Roberts)

The Macfarlane report, which was commissioned by the Government and the local authority associations, identified the advantages and disadvantanges of establishing sixth form colleges and considered various patterns of provision.

Mr. Grist

Does my hon. Friend agree that whereas some schools have adequate and large sixth forms, many with falling school rolls no longer have and are unable to offer a sufficiently wide choice of subjects to those pupils who are academically able? In such circumstances, is it not wise for local authorities to consider setting up sixth form colleges?

Mr. Roberts

My hon. Friend is right. We are faced with falling secondary school rolls, and between 1981 and 1991 there will be a decrease of 22.9 per cent. in secondary school pupils in Wales. That is why many local authorities are trying to rationalise by making alternative provision for them.

Mr. Wigley

In any discussions that the Minister has with local authorities, will he ensure that if they are considering moving towards sixth-form colleges they take into account the Welsh language, especially those councils that have bi-lingual secondary schools, and the consequences that will flow unless there are Welsh language sixth-form colleges? Will he also consider the effect on rural areas and the need for local authorities to have more resources to cover transport costs or the cost of children staying at one centre?

Mr. Roberts

The Welsh Office does not seek to prescribe the pattern of provision to local authorities. That provision is basically a matter for them. There are various options. For example, there are the traditional sixth-form colleges, tertiary colleges and further education colleges. The Macfarlane report states that special steps are needed to ensure continuity between sixth-form colleges and their feeder schools in both education and pastoral matters. I should have thought that the Welsh language was covered by that statement.

Mr. Best

My hon. Friend may be aware that one of my constituents, Mr. John Rowlands, the headmaster of Holyhead school, is on a year's sabbatical to consider the problem raised by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). Is it not imperative that we recognise that there is only one choice available to us if we are to provide the great variety of disciplines that are necessary in a sixth form, which is to establish sixth-form colleges, especially when we bear in mind falling school rolls?

Mr. Roberts

I have already said that that is only one alternative. There is only one sixth-form college in Wales, and that is Yale at Wrexham. There are other options, including those that I mentioned, but it is important that there should be rationalisation of provision for secondary school pupils to reflect falling rolls.

Dr. Roger Thomas

What advice would the Minister give to anxious parents of sixth formers at our small comprehensive schools? I am thinking of the one in Llandovery, which is quite a distance from any other school and has only 400 pupils. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the choice of A-level subjects at such schools is disgustingly small? The choice is extremely limited and the pupils at such schools are suffering a disadvantage when compared with those who attend schools in more populated areas.

Mr. Roberts

One of the advantages of sixth-form colleges, as outlined by the Macfarlane report, is that they are able to offer a wider range of subjects than sixth-form schools. I am glad the hon. Gentleman is apparently prepared to support a proposal for the rationalisation of secondary education in his constituency and county.