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O And A-Level Courses (School Sizes)

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the minimum size of selective grammar school which is considered sufficient to support viable GCE O and A-level courses; and what is the comparable size for a comprehensive school.

Circumstances vary and it would be inappropriate to be prescriptive about the minimum size of schools. However, one would expect a grammar school of about three forms of entry and a comprehensive school of about eight forms of entry to be able to sustain a balanced range of courses leading to O and A-levels.

I am grateful for that excellent reply which shows, as always, the flexibility of the Conservative Government. Will my hon. Friend not agree that, where an area has been forced to go comprehensive against the wishes of a large majority of the parents in that area, and where there has been an assumption that sixth-form education would be provided in all the new comprehensive schools thus formed in the reorganisation, it is wrong for the local education authority to renege on the assurance that was given to parents?

Where new schemes have been put into operation at the request of local authorities, it is the responsibility of those authorities to fulfil the aspirations of parents in the area. If they had been promised viable sixth forms and those sixth forms are not available, the local education authorities must provide alternative arrangements.

Will the Minister bear in mind the educational needs of those children who are not taking A-level or O-level subjects? They are just as important, probably more so, than the minority who take A and O-levels. Instead of concentrating on specialist courses for these latter children will he bear in mind instead that neighbourhood community schools, offering security and reducing the need for bussing children all over the place are very often in the best interests of childern and provide a better service to the community?

I respect the right hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) as an ex-schoolmaster. Obviously it is important that all children should have the opportunities to fulfil their talents. Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) wants proper sixth-form provision in the comprehensive and grammar schools in his area, similarly one would presume that children who need help to become literate or numerate should have proper provision. This Government believe that by means of the core curriculum, and developments from the fourth and fifth years onwards, this need can be fulfilled.