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Comprehensive Education

Volume 885: debated on Monday 27 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with progression towards universal comprehensive secondary education in Wales; and what proportion of Welsh secondary schools are organised in a manner which satisfies criteria laid down by Her Majesty's Government.

Yes. Seventy-six per cent. of maintained secondary schools, providing for 86 per cent. of secondary school pupils in Wales, are organised on comprehensive lines. Local education authorities and teachers are to be commended for this rapid progress towards establishing a fully comprehensive system of secondary education.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I consider that most of the unfortunate 14 per cent. of the secondary school population who are not receiving comprehensive education seem to be in my constituency? Will he ensure that sufficient finance is placed at the disposal of the Gwent County Council to ensure that the necessary expansion of Crosskeys College of Further Education takes place, so that when we embark upon full comprehensive education in that part of my constituency the start will not be blighted by homelessness among these senior schoolchildren?

I take the point. Next Wednesday I am going to Gwent to examine the situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwelty (Mr. Kinnock) has been a long campaigner on this issue. I remind him and the House that the overriding need at present is to contain public expenditure. This means that only the most pressing school building projects can be programmed, but I hope that I can find some in Gwent on Wednesday.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great depth of feeling aroused in Bangor over the conflicting proposals for the reorganisation of secondary education there? Will he give an assurance that no irrevocable step will be taken without consultation with him?

I am fully aware of the strength of feeling in the Bangor area, so I shall say nothing to antagonise the community at this stage; I merely give an assurance that before a reorganisation scheme comes into being the local education authority of Gwynedd will have to present the scheme to the Welsh Office.

Whilst the hon. Gentleman is progressing with the organisation of comprehensive education at secondary school level, will he indicate what progress is being made towards a comprehensive structure of higher education, and ensure that the reorganisation of present colleges of education and technical colleges will not hinder further development towards full-comprehensive higher education?

That is a strong philosophical point. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman said. However, it includes matters to do with the Department of Education and Science as well as the Welsh Office. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is a very strong, continuing and sympathetic Welsh interest.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many areas are not satisfied with the criteria laid down, that these criteria refer to buildings, and that, very often, the quality of education and the opportunities afforded to youngsters have changed very little in places where the style of education continues as before?

My hon. Friend is making a case for equality of opportunity, which for decades has been a great ideal of the Labour movement. We take full note of that.