HC Deb 20 January 1987 vol 108 cc721-2
2. Mrs Shields

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress he has made towards the establishment of city technology colleges.

15. Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress he is making with the establishment of city technology colleges; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

The Department is making good progress in discussions with prospective sponsors of the first city technology colleges.

Mrs. Shields

Given that the maintained sector is the responsibility of the Secretary of State and that the establishment of city technology colleges will involve great expenditure, will the right hon. Gentleman give assurances that other areas of education, such as primary and secondary schools, will not be financially penalised as a result?

Mr. Baker

I readily give that assurance. The money that will be made available to the CTCs is additional, as is made clear in the public expenditure White Paper. I remind the hon. Lady that the CTCs will improve parental choice. Therefore, I hope that the Liberal and Social Democratic parties will support them.

Mr. Freud

Does the Secretary of State have so little faith in the existing city comprehensive schools that he feels that the additional money being ploughed into the CTCs would not create centres of excellence if it were invested in the existing schools? Does he agree that it is divisive to ask local industry to fund a school which will remove the best teachers and pupils from the community?

Mr. Baker

First, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is no longer the official spokesman on education for the Liberal party. I have enjoyed his contributions in that role. There was not much policy, but he made up for it with style. The hon. Gentleman's interpretation of how CTCs will work is wrong. In response to CTCs, we have received letters from a large number of former teachers saying that this is just the kind of institution that would tempt them back into the teaching profession.

Mr. Pawsey

May I urge my right hon. Friend to reject the entirely predictable comments from Opposition Members? Will he take on board the fact that the CTCs are widely welcomed by industry and will do much to bridge the gap which exists between education and industry, and that if they provide centres of excellence they are entirely to be commended?

Mr. Baker

There has been an overwhelming response to the CTCs from the public and from industrialists, which has been very encouraging. There is a clear recognition that the new proposals and ideas these days come from the Conservative party, and these have been very well received.

Sir Peter Emery

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that in pursuing his general policy to create centres of excellence, of which the CTCs are a good example, he will also ensure that well-established and long-founded grammar schools are not be allowed to be swept away by the political views of Opposition parties?

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend's question goes rather wider than the original question. However, I assure him that in the draft circular that I published in the middle of last year I made it clear that in any proposals coming before me for the reorganisation of secondary education I would want to be satisfied that schools of proven worth were not destroyed, as so many have been in the past 20 years.

Mr. Madden

How many sponsors have shown their willingness to fund the CTC in Bradford?

Mr. Baker

Support has been shown in specific cities and general areas. Some sponsors have said that they are prepared to consider funding colleges in Yorkshire—in Leeds and in Bradford. Those offers are being pursued at the moment. I have received a specific proposal from one company to pay for all the computer equipment for the CTCs in Leeds and Bradford.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

Does my right hon. Friend not deplore what might be described as the "backwoodsman" approach of some local authorities—of which, sadly, my authority of Nottinghamshire is an example—in taking the view that the CTCs will be established only over their dead bodies?

Mr. Baker

Some local authorities have been very welcoming, and one has offered specific premises. Others, however, have been very unhelpful. I do not believe that those authorities are reflecting the interests of the pupils or students who live in their areas. I must thank my hon. Friend for the help that he is giving in Nottingham in that regard.

Mr. Sheerman

Is the Secretary of State aware that the CTCs are yet another gimmick in the long history of gimmicks that litter his career? Does he accept that they will be damaging to existing educational provision? Is he further aware that they will not be regarded as progressive by any of the informed opinion in educational circles? Do not the CTCs actually have more to do with the Secretary of State's public relations campaign for the leadership of the Conservative party? I am reminded today of his previous incarnation as Minister for Information Technology, when he set up the information technology centres, half of which are now in danger of collapsing.

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman has drawn my attention to the information technology centres. He is correct to say that I set up that network, and they have provided excellent training for many young people. I am proud to have set that system going. The hon. Gentleman's attitude is negative and does not respond to the technological needs of education. I assure him that the colleges will go ahead.