HC Deb 19 November 1998 vol 319 cc1102-3
9. Jacqui Smith (Redditch)

What support he provides for areas undertaking school reorganisation to remove surplus places. [59110]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Charles Clarke)

We make capital allocations to support cost-effective projects to remove surplus places. We have allocated £40 million for surplus place removal projects due to begin in the current financial year.

Jacqui Smith

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that Redditch schools are being reviewed with the aim of removing 2,000 surplus places. While I support that aim, it is causing considerable local concern as at least 20 schools will be directly affected and the knock-on effects will cover the whole town. Will he assure me that if the reorganisation plans end up on his desk, he will undertake to get the views of parents, schools and governors throughout the town? Furthermore, as he has recognised the capital implications of such reorganisations, will he assure me that areas such as Redditch will get priority for capital allocation?

Mr. Clarke

I am aware that my hon. Friend's local education authority is still consulting on options for Redditch. That is properly a matter for the authority. If it decides to publish proposals, local people will have an opportunity to object and make their points clear in whatever way they think fit. A decision on any such proposals must be made on the merits of the case, taking account of education, economic factors and the views of local people. I will be happy to listen to and consider carefully all representations that my hon. Friend and her constituents make.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

Will the Minister give a simple pledge that no school will close as a result of any reorganisation that may follow a ballot leading to the abolition of grammar schools?

Mr. Clarke

First, as the hon. Gentleman knows, grammar schools are not being abolished. Secondly, grammar schools have nothing to do with school reorganisation to remove surplus places. Thirdly, I will not give a pledge that no school will close as a result of reorganisation to remove surplus places. As he well knows, that is a matter for local education authorities, which will decide how properly to deal with it. I am confident and pleased that LEAs are dealing with the issue in a responsible and forward-looking way, without making party political points as he takes great pleasure in doing.

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