HC Deb 21 February 1995 vol 255 cc145-6
7. Mr. Colvin

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what is the trend in the formation of sixth forms in comprehensive schools; how this compares with the development of sixth form and tertiary colleges; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Boswell

Schools continue to bring forward proposals for the addition of sixth forms. All such proposals which come before my right hon. Friend are carefully considered on their merits in the light of our published criteria. Sixth form and tertiary colleges continue to thrive.

Mr. Colvin

I acknowledge that the introduction of local management of schools and grant-maintained status have greatly added to choice and diversity in education. Does my hon. Friend agree that comprehensive schools must think carefully before seeking to add sixth forms to their schools, especially when sixth form and tertiary colleges already exist locally and where those have a campus atmosphere more appropriate to sixth form education?

Mr. Boswell

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that comprehensive schools should consider carefully the importance of making such a proposal, which would be judged against our published criteria. Those include whether there is a basic need for new provision and, if not, whether the viability of existing good-quality provision would be adversely affected if the proposal were approved. A school would have to satisfy us on that criterion, among others, before we took a favourable decision.

Mr. Rooker

Does it remain part of the Government's published criteria that, in terms of value for money and educational opportunity, a sixth form should not have fewer than 150 pupils? If so, why have the Secretary of State and her predecessor continued to approve new comprehensive school sixth forms with fewer than 150 pupils, which is bound to damage choice and opportunity for those pupils?

Mr. Boswell

It may be for parents and pupils to determine whether choice and opportunity are removed. The criteria state specifically that the provision should be of sufficient size and quality to deliver a reasonably wide-ranging curriculum, and we consider the inspectorate's observations in deciding on a proposal. So the hon. Gentleman's concerns are not overlooked. However, there is no precise criterion, and we judge each case on its merits.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

Given the popularity and success of the Government's recent reforms affecting further education, will my hon. Friend bear in mind, when considering the best way to fund schools in the future, the fact that the funding of further education colleges is transparent while the funding of schools in the secondary sector is not?

Mr. Boswell

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but it may interest the House to know that, over the past quinquennium, there were 267,000 pupils aged 16 to 18 in the maintained sector and 471,000 pupils in FE and sixth form colleges, so the rate of increase in further education has been markedly sharper than in sixth forms.