HC Deb 10 June 1999 vol 332 cc778-9
11. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

If he will make a statement on his responsibilities in relation to proposals for the closure of secondary schools. [85410]

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

Madam Speaker—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Thank you to the fan club.

Proposals for the closure of schools are usually brought forward by the local education authority and are copied to the Secretary of State. If there are no statutory objections and the proposals are not called in for decision by the Secretary of State, the decision may be made by the local education authority. If proposals fall to the Secretary of State for decision, they will be decided on their individual merits, taking into account the advice of Her Majesty's inspectors and any points made by interested parties in the local area.

Mr. Winterton

I am grateful to the Minister for his detailed and helpful reply. Although I am totally in favour of excellence and success, I also support the idea of a number of schools being designated to take those with learning difficulties. League tables, unless responsibly used, can mean that a school will suffer as a result of the fact that it takes youngsters with learning difficulties, and many parents may opt to send their children to other schools.

Will the Minister, the rest of the Government and the bodies that are to take responsibility for making decisions on the closure of schools take into account the fact that some schools take on the burden, and the important task, of dealing with children with learning difficulties? Should that fact not be borne in mind before a hasty decision is taken to close a school because of a reduction in numbers?

Mr. Clarke

The short answer is yes. The hon. Gentleman has made his point powerfully and correctly. In several of the individual cases that I have had to consider during my time in office, the issues that he has raised have been taken into account, because of the considerations that he has mentioned. The general issue that he raises is the difficult one of the relationship between league tables and people with special educational needs. We are thinking carefully about how to ensure that crude league tables are considered only as part of a fully rounded view that takes into account all the issues that schools must address in trying to meet the needs of pupils in their areas. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest, and commit myself to respond positively to his approach.

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