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Secondary School Pupils

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimates he has made of the number of pupils in secondary schools in Scotland for each of the next five years.

The estimated numbers in each of the years 1988 to 1992 are 328,000; 313,000; 306,000; 305,000; and 308,000 respectively.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving those figures, which I am sure he agrees point to the need for rationalisation of secondary schools in Scotland. No one suggests that rationalisation is ever easy, but is he aware of the concern of a number of my constituents who exercised their right under the parents' charter to send their children to Paisley grammar school, which is now targeted for closure, apparently precisely because it is popular with parents?

Has my right hon. and learned Friend received a report from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary following his visit to that school? Does he agree that the wider implications of the threat to Paisley grammer school point to the need for opting out provisions to be included in the forthcoming Scottish Education Bill so that Scottish parents can have the same rights as English parents?

Given the high degree of overcapacity in schools in the Strathclyde region, we all understand that it is appropriate for Strathclyde regional council to reduce the number of schools commensurate with the total school population. We hope that in pursuing that policy it will take into account the views of the parents and the academic achievements of individual schools. I have no doubt that if it does apply such criteria there will be a powerful case for the continuation of Paisley grammer school, which clearly meets that criteria in an impressive fashion.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is the height of hypocrisy that, when he is pursuing policies that force cuts in education in Scotland, his henchman turns up here to ask a question under the pretence of fighting for the preservation of school places?

The hon. Gentleman should realise that the rationalisation of schools has little to do with the size of resources and everything to do with the size of pupil populations. In case he is not aware of the fact, Strathclyde regional council estimated that, out of a total capacity of 590,000 pupil places, over 200,000 places were surplus to requirements in 1985. That will be true, irrespective of the level of resources. It would be absurd to suggest that there is not a need in Strathclyde, as in other regions throughout Scotland, to reduce overcapacity. The point at issue is not the need to close some schools but, in making that choice, whether the schools with a proven academic record of great achievement should be put on such a list.

The Minister will know that parents in my constituency are going through a worrying period. Some have children at primary and secondary schools that could be under the axe. Does he not consider that if his colleague the Minister is to go on television and single out one school, he should be evenhanded and look at every school in Strathclyde? Paisley grammar school is important to some hon. Members and to the parents in the region, but other schools are just as important.

I have no doubt that all schools are important to the parents whose children attend them. That is why I have stated that I believe that the relevant criteria are parents' wishes and the proven achievements of the school in question. It seems sensible to take into account whether a particular school has a remarkable record of achievement with regard to the academic qualifications of those who attend it in determining whether it would be sensible to close such an establishment at such a time.

As the money that is spent on surplus places could be better spent on children in schools, will my right hon. and learned Friend say how much is presently being wasted on empty places?

I cannot give a precise figure, but it goes without saying that if only about two thirds of the accommodation presently available for schoolchildren in Strathclyde is utilised, enormous savings are clearly available to the regional council to be used on the education of children in a way that is more useful to them than the heating of half-empty buildings or the maintenance of unused buildings.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will prevail upon the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), to desist from meddling in matters that are not his direct responsibility? Does he agree that the Under-Secretary's visit to Our Lady and St. Francis' high school in Glasgow was mischievous and that his visit to Paisley grammar school was calculated to make life difficult for the education authority which is seeking to fulfil its statutory requirements? Such irresponsible actions serve only to use and abuse parents who are genuinely concerned for their children's future education.

My hon. Friend was perfectly entitled to respond to parents' invitations to visit the school and to see it for himself. Given that the Scottish Office provides the resources that are used, which cover a substantial proportion of the costs of maintaining such schools, it is absolutely appropriate that my hon. Friend should have visited them. I cannot help but notice the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment at the fact that the high quality of certain schools is brought to the forefront of public attention.

Order. I cannot take a point of order now. The hon. Lady may wish to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of that unsatisfactory reply I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment.