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Bolton (Comprehensive Education)

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he now expects a system of comprehensive education to be introduced in Bolton.

The Bolton local education authority has informed my right hon. Friend, in response to Circular 4/74, that a working party which is now considering the position in those areas of the authority in which schools are not yet reorganised on comprehensive lines expects to finish its work by 30th June 1975. The authority has been told of the importance we attach to an early and substantive response to the circular with a view to the development of a fully comprehensive system as speedily as possible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable feeling in Bolton that this extra working party is merely a delaying tactic on the part of members of the local authority who do not wish to see a comprehensive system introduced in Bolton? Will my hon. Friend assure us that his Department will put sufficient pressure on the local authority to ensure that Bolton goes comprehensive not later than September 1976?

We are in constant touch with Bolton, and we are determined to press ahead. The difficulty in Bolton, I am sorry to say, is that the Opposition spokesman on education rather misled the Bolton authority. Last July, in the midst of much election talk, he wrote to the chairman of the authority telling him not to worry because when a Tory Government got back to office they would rescind Labour's Circular 4/74. The working party, which is representative of elected members and teachers, did not get down to work until after the October election, and we are now looking to it for an urgent response.

Did not the hon. Gentleman wisely say a few moments ago that these judgments as between direct grant schools, comprehensive schools and so on are value judgments which cannot be proved one way or the other? We accept that. Is it not logical in a free society that the choice should be left to parents and that they should express their views through their elected representatives?

Our experience is that parental judgment throughout the country is in favour of abolishing selection. I do not go back on my comment about value judgments. How we organise education and the kind of school that we want to see abolished is an indication of what we believe about children and the society in which they live. I want to see a society in which every child has equality of opportunity.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, far from misleading the Bolton Council, I gave it a clear pledge that if a Conservative Government were returned we should make good any losses in the building programme which it might have suffered for standing up for its own independence? I repeat that pledge today.

By his intervention the hon. Gentleman postponed the decision of the Bolton authority to get on with the job of giving equality of opportunity to all its children.