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Comprehensive Education

Volume 889: debated on Tuesday 8 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many local authorities have now submitted plans to him in response to Circular 4/74 issued by his Department;and how many have refused to do so.

Of 96 local education authorities in England, 86 have delivered a substantive reply and a further five an interim one. No authority has refused to respond.

I am delighted by my hon. Friend's reply, but is he not aware that some authorities have said that they will not go comprehensive? Is he also aware that in respect of some authorities which have said that they will go comprehensive there is considerable doubt about the precise time when they will do so? Has not my hon. Friend a good precedent in the Education (Milk) Act 1971, which was introduced by the Leader of the Opposition, to coerce recalcitrant local education authorities?

Yes, I am aware of the situation, and we are making a close analysis of all responses from the local authorities. The Government are determined to have genuine comprehensive reorganisation in every part of the country. We shall not stand aside and allow local authorities to prejudice the best educational interests of children by perpetuating the wasteful arid unfair system of selecting and rejecting children. The Government will take all necessary steps to implement national policy as agreed by the House.

Will the Minister deny recent reports that the Government intend to introduce compulsive legislation in the near future? Would it not be much wiser to act gently to allow for the evolution of public opinion and the greater availability of resources, rather than try to force the pace in the way the Minister indicated, with all the bitterness and distraction that that would involve?

This controversy has been going on for a long time. In going round the country I have found that even local authorities which are in genuine difficulty about going comprehensive are gratified that the Government have indicated firmly that they will implement the national policy. Far from repudiating any statements that have been made, we want to persuade local authorities. We are arranging meetings with local authorities which say that they will defy national policy. We shall talk to them and explore all the possibilities, but in the end, if legislation is necessary it will certainly be brought forward.

Without massive finance, how does the Minister propose to provide comprehensive schools of a viable size out of schools that are viable because they are selective and are of an average size of about 500 or 600 pupils—a size that we are told by the pundits of the comprehensive system is unthinkable for a viable comprehensive school?

We are not prepared to tolerate for a day longer than necessary a situation in which many thousands of children are rejected and sent to schools that are for children who are not clever enough to be selected for grammar school places. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the situation in Birmingham, for instance. I could take him to many other areas where, without the injection of extra resources, many thousands of children are being given a real educational opportunity.