HC Deb 01 March 1994 vol 238 cc774-5
10. Dr. Wright

To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on parental choice of schools.

Mr. Patten

The Government have given parents the right to express a preference for their choice of school. In some 90 per cent. of cases, that preference is met. Parents now have much more information, in particular through the publication of school performance tables, school prospectuses and annual reports. There is a wider choice of schools now, with the expansion of the self-governing grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges, more schools with sixth forms, and the network of new technology colleges which I launched yesterday.

Dr. Wright

How does the Minister explain parental choice to the parents at Five Ways primary school in my constituency who have just been told that the Department for Education will not allow them to expand that popular and successful school because someone in Whitehall has discovered that there are surplus places at a school two miles away? What would the Minister further say to the 38,000 parents who last year had to go to appeal because they were not given the school place of their choice? Does not that show that although the Government talk about parental choice, it means increased power for schools to choose parents and less power for parents to choose schools?

Mr. Patten

Labour-controlled Staffordshire county council does not have the best reputation for local education administration. The second of the hon. Gentleman's two questions about the number of appeals shows how well the parents charter and the citizens charter are working. Parents are rightly making successful use of the appeals mechanism. Nine out of 10 parents receive their first choice the first time, which is good. I do not know about the case of the specific school mentioned by the hon. Gentleman in the first of his two questions. If he writes to me I shall personally consider the position and write to him.

If there are two schools within two miles of each other, and there are many surplus school places, there should probably be only one school. The school left should be the high-quality school around whose walls parents queue for their children to gain admission. We want top-quality schools, not half-empty schools such as those kept by Labour local education authorities, in Staffordshire, for example.

Mr. Ashby

What choice do parents in north-west Leicestershire have when the local education authority refuses to pay the travel costs of children whose parents have made a choice of school? That applies particularly in rural districts where distances travelled may be great.

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is right. Leicestershire is another local authority that is notorious for discriminating against parental choice. In the same way, the new Lib-Lab pact in Essex is trying to discriminate against those who want to send their children to schools of their choice.

Madam Speaker


Mr. Patten

The Liberal and Labour parties are doing the same thing in Wiltshire, where they are deliberately discriminating against parents who exercise the choice to give their children a religious education.

I am sorry for that, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I should hope so.