asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many proposals for the closure of village schools he has approved since taking office.
Since taking office my right hon. and learned Friend has approved proposals to cease to maintain 23 rural primary schools.
Is my hon. Friend aware that proposals have been made for the closure of further village schools in Staffordshire, and that many of these proposals are extremely unpopular? If the proposals are eventually submitted to my right hon. and learned Friend, will full weight be given to the genuine public disapproval of the proposed closure of these schools before any final decision is taken?
I am aware of my hon. Friend's strong feelings. The only proposal to close a primary school in Staffordshire that is with us is a long-standing one from the Elms County primary school at Elmhurst, near Lichfield. None of the other proposals has come to us. If they come to us, they will follow section 13 notices. Obviously my right hon. and learned Friend will consider the proposals carefully, bearing in mind the effect on the rural communities from which they come, their popularity, the travel that is involved and standards within schools. He will have also to bear in mind the economic aspect of the schools' continuance.
How many proposals to cease to maintain village schools has the Secretary of State turned down since the Government took office?
In 1979, 61 proposals for primary school closures were approved, of which 26 were rural schools and 35 were urban. At the same time, one proposal for the closure of an urban primary school was turned down.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are many villages with growing populations in the South-East where there is a demand for the opening of secondary schools? In my constituency there is a large village with more than 500 children who have to travel about eight miles to schools in different directions. Will my hon. Friend give serious consideration to helping the county council to open a secondary school?
When decisions are made on the closure of rural primary schools, the forecasts of the number of children in the area will be taken into account. Similarly, if a county council proposes the opening of a new secondary school to take account of the increased population in the area, it will be seriously considered by my right hon. and learned Friend.