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Chester (Direct Grant Schools)

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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14.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will pay an official visit to the direct grant schools in the city of Chester.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my constituents will be disappointed that he has no such plans, because they are proud of their direct grant schools in Chester, not least because they afford the opportunity to children of every background to have extra education? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that any decision he takes to abolish these schools will be contrary to the majority decision of my constituents?

My proposals are not to abolish schools. I hope that many direct grant schools will have a constructive future to play in local comprehensive secondary arrangements. If others opt to go independent, they must be truly independent and not expect to be subsidised from public funds.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the education debate last week the former Conservative spokesman on education said there was a danger that the Conservative Party would appear to be interested only in direct grant and independent schools? Do not this Question and a host of others on the Order Paper today show that not only does the Conservative Party appear to be interested only in such schools but it is interested only in them and cannot care less about the others?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I should like sometimes to hear Conservative Members address themselves to the point that under the selective system about three-quarters of all children find their way to secondary modern schools. They should also address themselves to the question of what improved opportunities are due to the majority of children, and they should judge our comprehensive plans against that criterion.

In view of the sharply rising running costs of all schools, in whatever sector, may I ask what steps the Secretary of State is taking to enable direct grant schools to meet these rising costs either by raising the direct grant or by allowing fees to be raised at the right pace?

I have no proposals to raise the level of grant. I am prepared to approve increases in fees provided I am satisfied that the schools concerned are being as austere in their standards as maintained schools are having to be in the present economic climate.