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Hereford And Worcester (Selective State High School)

Volume 22: debated on Tuesday 20 April 1982

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to decide on the section 12 application submitted by the Hereford and Worcester local education authority for the establishment of a selective State high school.

The authority has yet to submit to my right hon. Friend its observations on the statutory objections. The proposals were only published by the authority on 29 January 1982.

In view of the widespread doubts about the wisdom of spending money on this experiment at a time when educational expenditure is being severely curtailed in the counties, and in view of the anxieties about the effects on other schools, will my hon. Friend, when replying to the representations, take the trouble to point out that the reorganisation in Worcester was made necessary by the decision of the grammar school to go independent, that, therefore, the attempt is to cater for those children, and that it is unlikely to have effects on efficiently run schools in other parts of the county?

It is difficult to comment on a section 12 notice when all the information has not arrived at the Department. At the moment the authority is preparing its reply to objections in the area. Once those objections come to us, and once we receive the authority's reply, we shall have to make the decision. I am sure that if my hon. Friend wishes to bring a delegation to see me—not that there are so many vacancies in my diary these days on section 12 notices—I shall be delighted to see him and the other objectors.

Does the Minister realise that the extraordinary proposal from the Conservative leadership in the county is opposed by every teacher organisation, by councillors in two parties and independents and by the majority of organisations consulted?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a libertarian. He must know that individuals who decide to do certain things contrary to current enlightened opinion may at times be right.

As the proposed superschool, which, as has been said, has been condemned by all the main teaching associations, will cream off pupils from schools in and around Worcester and also discriminate in favour of those who can afford to travel to school, how can the Minister say that it will not harm State schools in the vicinity?

I did not think that I had said that. I must listen to myself more carefully in future. We shall comment further on the proposal when it comes before us, but it is merely for the replacement of a girls' grammar school and a boys' grammar school in Worcester by a mixed grammar school.

When my hon. Friend considers the application from the county education authority, will he satisfy himself that there is full equivalence of opportunity for gifted pupils from all areas of the county?

I shall carefully note the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd). I am concerned, as I am sure all hon. Members are, that able, average and least able children are all taught to the maximum of their ability.