HC Deb 23 November 2000 vol 357 cc422-3
4. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

What estimate he has made of the number of schoolchildren in the state secondary education sector who are sent to schools in Greater London outside the local authority in which they live. [138360]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

My Department has not collected that information centrally since the previous Government changed the basis for calculating standard spending assessments. Parents have a right to state a preference for any school, irrespective of the area in which they live. Local education authorities have a duty to ensure that there are sufficient school places for children in their area, but they should take account of cross-border movement in doing so.

Mr. Wilkinson

Is it not a pity that the hon. Lady's Department does not collect statistics on what is happening? In London, failing schools in Labour-controlled boroughs are causing a mass exodus of pupils into good Conservative-majority boroughs, such as my own in Hillingdon, where foundation schools and Church schools are a magnet. Is not the consequence of the failure of the inner-city schools in those Labour boroughs that parents in my constituency cannot get their children into the local school of their choice? Will the hon. Lady do something about that situation, which is causing great distress and unhappiness to parents who are being penalised for the success of their local schools?

Jacqui Smith

The hon. Gentleman highlights the challenges for inner-city schools, and I am sure that he will delight in the extra support that the Government have given to London through excellence in cities. He will also delight in the fact that, nationally, results in areas involved in the scheme have improved much faster than in other areas, as measured by the number of pupils gaining five A* to C grades. It is therefore unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman's party would do away with that excellent scheme.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

The hon. Gentleman's remarks were petty because they are as relevant to Kensington and Chelsea and to Westminster as they are to Labour-controlled boroughs. There is a problem with secondary schooling in London, and the great crowds of parents trying to get their children into good state secondary schools are testament to that. That is the result of 20 or more years of under-investment, and the Conservative party's only policy is to restore subsidies to private schools for their friends and their class, and to cut public expenditure for other schools.

I ask my hon. Friend not to treat this simply as a party political matter. There is deep concern among many parents in London about the quality and range of secondary schooling in the city, and it must be addressed—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend is right in both parts of his question. That is why I re-emphasise the action that the Government have already taken through excellence in cities, which introduces to London and other inner-city areas access to learning mentors and learning support units, enhanced opportunities for gifted and talented pupils, more beacon and specialist schools, small education zones and city learning centres. As I said, those are demonstrating their influence through improved results.

We are not complacent about standards in secondary schools. That is why this year we are investing in a pilot scheme to improve standards at key stage 3 and, following the successes of teachers and schools in the primary sector, we will maintain pressure and support to ensure that standards improve even further in secondary schools.

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