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Direct Grant Schools

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether the grant payable to the direct grant schools will be paid in full in 1976.

As I told the House on 27th January, I shall make a statement in due course about phasing out the direct grant system. I have already told the House that the grant will remain payable in respect of upper form pupils already in the schools when the phasing out begins. The exact position in 1976 will be governed by the nature and timing of the phasing-out operation.

Will the Secretary of State reconsider this reactionary policy, which has neither educational nor social justification and which serves to drive many of the finest schools out of the State sector into the independent sector, ensuring that those schools are made available only to those who are most well-off?

I think that many educational and social reasons could be advanced. I suggest that the Opposition should consider whether independent schools should be truly independent, whether they want such schools to receive a State subsidy and what possible justification there is for paying—on behalf of a Government and Parliament which have declared their will to go comprehensive—a State subsidy indefinitely to schools which are by their very nature selective.

Where direct grant schools decide to go into the local authority system, will my right hon. Friend advise local authorities to ensure that their staffs receive the same protection as is afforded to local authority teachers in reorganisation schemes?

I shall take account of my hon. Friend's point. Many such matters are now under active consideration.

Is there not a further point to be added to the cogent point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley): that parents of children at direct grant schools save the taxpayer approximately £18 million a year? In view of the small sum of £4 million for improvements of schools in the building programme announced by the Secretary of State, would it not show a much better sense of educational priorities to leave these schools alone and to devote that money to secondary school improvement in general?

No, Sir. The implications of this change for public expenditure are difficult to assess exactly. However, from the provisional assessments we are making it is clear that there will be both a saving to public funds and an increase in public expenditure, which I think will very nearly balance out. Certainly it will not make much difference one way or the other to total public expenditure in the next few years.