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Rising Fives

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 17 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will advise local education authorities to make maximum provision for the admission of rising-five children to primary and infant schools.

It is for local education authorities to decide how to use their statutory powers to provide education for children below compulsory school age. But we have already advised authorities that rising fives may be admitted where there would otherwise be vacant places and the extra call on resources is insignificant.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Conservative-controlled Lancashire County Council is severely restricting the entry of rising fives, not on the ground that there is a shortage of accommodation or of teaching staff but to save a paltry sum in the provision of school meals? Is she further aware that the same authority is allocating £3 million towards the upkeep of private schools within the county? Does she not think that that is disgraceful?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have already expressed our disapproval of unnecessary take-up of places at independent schools. I was not aware of the grounds advanced for Lancashire's policy on rising fives. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the information.

Is my hon. Friend prepared to put further pressure on Lancashire County Council? After all, in many areas of Lancashire not only are children who are rising five not taken into schools—they are even being turned away now—but there is a severe shortage of nursery school places. This is placing a severe burden on working mothers as well as depriving young children of worthwhile education.

I shall make some inquiries about my hon. Friend's comments. As he knows, it is a matter for the local authority concerned on what grounds and to what degree it admits children, even where there is a shortage of nursery school places. But I shall look further into the matter.

Would it not be a good idea, while we are on the subject of advising local authorities, if the Minister had a word with the Minister for Housing and Construction so that there could be a synchronisation of housing plans and the building of primary schools, which are a necessary adjunct to such expansion?

Is my hon. Friend aware that the failure of the expansion of nursery schools, plus the halt in the admission of rising fives in many local authority areas, coupled with the failure to expand the provision of day care for children, means that we shall see a mushrooming of private provision for all sections of pre-school children? Does she not think that it would be a good idea if the DHSS and the DES got together on an integrated service for the pre-school child?

It has for some time been the intention of both the DHSS and my own Department to make some joint provision, and we are discussing such matters at the moment. However, I must remind my hon. Friend that over 50 per cent. of four-year-olds were receiving some form of educational provision in January last year, the latest date for which figures are available.