HC Deb 24 April 1996 vol 276 cc419-20
3. Mr. Pike

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what recent representations she has received from parents regarding allocation of secondary school places for 1996–97. [25080]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mrs. Cheryl Gillan)

The Department receives many inquiries from parents about school admissions in general.

Mr. Pike

Because schools do not have elastic walls, it is not possible for all children to go to the school of their choice. Does the Minister accept, however, that often parents are disappointed if they cannot send their children to a school that is one of their first three preferences, given that all three preferences are reasonable? Will she support local authorities that must provide additional capacity to meet the demands of such parents?

Mrs. Gillan

I hope that my hon. Friend on the Opposition Benches has checked the policy that he is developing with his Front Benchers. The Government are committed to continuing to extend parental choice and ensuring that as many parents as possible can send their children to the school that is their first preference.

There are, of course, good schools that are always over-subscribed, and parents who have been disappointed by the result; but a recent survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research shows that 85 per cent. of parents are satisfied, or very satisfied, with admission procedures or outcomes. I should have thought that, following the decisions of the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) and the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) in regard to the allocation of secondary school places, rather more representations would have been received by Opposition Front Benchers than by my Department.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that extra money from the Funding Agency for Schools for England to increase the size of excellent secondary schools such as the direct grant schools in my constituency is not a full solution to the problem in residential and highly built-up areas such as Ruislip-Northwood? Will she ensure that parental choice is better achieved by preventing pupils from flooding across boundaries to the detriment of such choice?

Mrs. Gillan

I agree with my hon. Friend, but I repeat that the Government are committed to extending choice and diversity. That is a key element of our overall strategy of levering up standards and enabling pupils to realise their full potential, regardless of which school they go to and where it is.

Mr. Spearing

The Minister claims that parental choice is being extended in regard to selective secondary schools. What evidence has she that the performance of secondary school pupils at 16-plus can be assessed on the basis of assessments of primary school pupils at 11-plus?

Mrs. Gillan

It is obvious that the Government's strategy to extend choice is driving up standards throughout our schools. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman's party does not adopt our policies. We have given parents more choice through more open enrolment; we have provided them with more and better information, partly through the publication of performance tables and school prospectuses; we have given them the right to vote for grant-maintained status; and we are encouraging schools and local education authorities to respond to parental demand for selection, partial selection or specialisation. It is a pity that Opposition Front Benchers do not take a bit more notice of the hon. Gentleman's views.