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School Closures

Volume 20: debated on Tuesday 16 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what criteria he has in mind when considering an application by a local authority for a school closure.

I consider all proposals on their individual merits, taking careful account of the educational and financial issues involved, including any representations made by parents, teachers and governors.

Is it not true that local authorities would prefer not to close schools and that Labour-controlled authorities especially wish to improve the pupil-teacher ratio, but that the Government give emphatic strength to the financial considerations and that Government cutbacks are forcing local authorities to consider the closure of nursery, primary and secondary schools? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider improving the educational component of the grant so that local authorities are not forced to make such invidious choices?

No Minister can make any mistake here. Of course closing schools is unpopular, but we must keep a balance between educational progress and public spending.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House will be pleased that he said that he will always consider school closures on their merits? Can he take on board the closure of primary schools, especially in small villages, where sometimes it is not just a question of numbers but of educational opportunities? Even in a school with a small number of pupils, and perhaps only one teacher, that village is providing good education for the child and the child need not make a long or difficult journey on dangerous roads to another school.

What my hon. Friend said is a factor that Ministers bear very strongly in mind. There are educational advantages and disadvantages in small rural schools and we must try to take both into account.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his circular on small schools was not intended to be a signal to local authorities to close village primary schools that could reasonably be kept open? Will he reiterate the sound advice given in the circular about the special problems of village primary schools?

I repeat that we try to take all the arguments for and against into account in each case and thus come to a decision on the merits in each case, including small rural and village schools.

In view of the enormous social, financial and educational problems encountered by families, children and communities as a consequence of school closures, will the Secretary of State consider changing the law and the financial arrangements so that bus services for school children who must travel longer distances can be fully restored to their 1979 position?

The balance of argument in each case is for the local education authority to decide. However, if the hon. Gentleman has a particular point to make, perhaps he will either write or speak to me.