HC Deb 19 December 1989 vol 164 cc187-9
9. Mr. Dunn

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the programme of development for city technology colleges.

Mr. MacGregor

The CTC programme continues to make excellent progress. Three CTCs are now open and at least a further eight colleges will open in 1990 and 1991.

Mr. Dunn

While welcoming the Government's determination to press on with the CTC programme, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now time positively to encourage local education authorities to run some of their schools along CTC lines?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend will be delighted to know that the CTC in Dartford is making good progress, and that that is a CTC run exactly along the lines that we planned from the outset. As for his suggested broadening of the type of CTC that might be considered by local education authorities, I believe that that area could be further developed. Our top priority at present is to get completed the 20 to which we are committed as a target. The development of the CTC curriculum is another important area on which we have committed some expenditure. It is important for all local education authorities to gain from the innovations and changes that CTCs make to ensure that they are spread within the education system as a whole.

Mrs. Mahon

Is not the spending of huge amounts of public money on CTCs getting close to curruption? Is it not time that the Government looked to their responsibility to pay for education for the whole nation, and stopped funding a small, elite group?

Mr. MacGregor

That is the oddest description imaginable of money spent on an innovation that will bring considerable benefits to inner-city areas, assist in the development of technological innovation in education and help industry and education to work together more closely in schools. It is also important for the hon. Lady to see our spending in context. Next year we shall be spending about £28 million on CTCs, and just under £15,000 million on the maintained sector as a whole.

Mr. Pawsey

As one of the only two hon. Members of the House who went to a technical school—the other being my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce)—I well understand, as does my hon. Friend, the benefits of a good technical education. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ignore the carping, moaning and grumbling of Opposition Members, to accelerate the current programme and to develop more CTCs?

Mr. MacGregor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. It is interesting to note that parents who are in potential CTC catchment areas take an entirely different view from that of Opposition Members. The colleges now being developed are clearly oversubscribed.

My hon. Friend asked me to expand the programme. We have a big job ahead in achieving our target of 20 CTCs—there are always difficulties to be overcome in such circumstances, for instance sorting out planning, building sites and staffing, but we are making good progress, and I think that it is right to concentrate on that.

Mr. Straw

Does the Secretary of State recall that his predecessor said that 20 CTCs would be in operation by the end of this year? As only three are in operation so far, why does the Secretary of State not recognise that the programme is an immoral and wasteful failure? Her Majesty's inspectorate has said that half the children in secondary schools are being educated in sub-standard accommodation. Why does the right hon. Gentleman not immediately cancel this wasteful CTC programme and use the money to repair some of Britain's crumbling schools?

Mr. MacGregor

I have already told the House that the target set by my predecessor turned out in practice to be overambitious, owing to the difficulty of getting the practical realities off the ground. To describe the programme as immoral is, however, ludicrous. The plain fact is that practical problems are always involved in the business of gaining planning permission, finding sites and linking sponsors to those sites. That is what has caused our failure to meet the original timetable, but we are sticking to our target, and it is clear from the response that this has been an excellent innovation.

Mr. Squire

Is my right hon. Friend not appalled by the continuing opposition from so many members of the Labour party to yet another extension of choice? Will he confirm that, far from being elitist, CTCs draw their pupils from the widest range of ability possible?

Mr. MacGregor

My hon. Friend is right. If the Opposition abandoned their blind prejudice and looked at what is happening in the CTCs, they would obtain a very different view. They would see just how well the colleges are performing in inner-urban areas containing a considerable ethnic mix. I suspect that, just as they have changed their attitude to the closed shop, taxation and so many other matters, Labour Members will gradually come to recognise that we are right, and will cease their opposition to this innovation. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I ask hon. Members to listen to these important questions?