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Direct Grant Schools

Volume 893: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate he is able to make, as a result of his discussions to date, of the likely cost to the education service of discontinuing the direct grant system.

I have nothing to add to the reply given on 8th April to a similar Question by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison).—[Vol. 889, c. 997–8.]

Is it not completely unsatisfactory that at a time of great economic stringency the Department is not able to give any indication of the cost, while at the same time it is giving the boot to a number of good schools?

The hon. Lady must try to understand that the financial implications of the abolition of the direct grant system, which I totally support, are difficult to estimate. There could be anything between a saving of £30 million and an addition of £12 million. Much depends on which of the schools elect to go into the maintained sector and which elect to become independent. By becoming independent they will subject themselves to any legislation which may be discussed or considered in respect of independent education. It is very difficult to estimate the cost until we know the outcome of our contacts and consultations with the schools.

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is typical of the Opposition that they should count the cost of educational policy in economic terms rather than bear in mind the real educational advantages of increasing equality of opportunity?

I should not dream of trying to do anything else, Mr. Speaker. Has the hon. Lady taken into account the possible capital cost of replacing the places in the direct grant schools which may go independent? If she does so, will she not find that the cost to the Exchequer is liable to be in the region of £100 million? Is it not an Alice-in-Wonderland state of priorities to be incurring this extra expenditure at a time when the education service is facing major cuts?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has done anything to improve my figures. He is quite right in suggesting that there may be some more capital expenditure, but I can only repeat that until we know which direct grant schools will opt for which options before them it is impossible to give an estimation of the cost involved. That seems to be a fair and reasonable answer.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the progress of his discussions with the direct grant schools.

Since my Department wrote on 1st May to the schools and local education authorities about the arrangements for phasing out the grant, my officials have discussed particular questions with individual schools and authorities, and consulted their representative bodies about a departmental circular to be issued when the regulations implementing the Government's decision are laid before Parliament.

Has the hon. Lady had discussions with parents of children at direct grant schools? Does she agree that the standards of education in those schools are such that they are always enormously over-subscribed.

In my three days in this office I have not had a chance to have discussions with anybody, let alone parents, about direct grant schools. I do not think it is necessary to do so—[Interruption.] A large number of parents have made their views known to the Secretary of State for Education and myself through letters and representations which have been made through other bodies.

Before the Minister comes to any firm policy decision, will she pay an early visit to Dulwich, where she will see the most obscene example of educational apartheid? On one side of the road, there is a direct grant school with great education and other facilities, and on the other side of the road a comprehensive school belonging to the Inner London Education Authority. The grossly obscene educational apartheid in that area surely will convince everybody in the country that the sooner we get rid of direct grant schools the better.

I agree with my hon. Friend's remarks, and I should be happy to visit at least some of the schools and make the comparisons which he has mentioned. Since at one time I was the chairman of the Labour Party working group which made recommendations that were included in our manifesto on the subject of direct grant schools, I am unlikely, on any ground, to change my view that the present system involves educational apartheid.

Is the Minister aware that the alternative she gave to the direct grant schools—namely, that they could go into the public sector or remain independent—discounts the fact that there are direct grant schools which have been told they can either go independent or be closed down, such as the Perse School for Girls? Has she taken that factor into account in assessing the cost?

I cannot assess the cost until I know which of the options the direct grant schools are to take. Although I have not had time to look into this matter, when direct grant schools are closed it will involve some costs in respect of those children who come into the State sector.