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Technical Education

Volume 204: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress is being made in the promotion of technical education.


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the building and equipment needs for technical education.

The Government are promoting technical and vocational education through a wide range of measures. They include the introduction of technology as a subject for all pupils from the age of five to 16 and of an improved range of vocational qualifications; the establishment of city technology colleges and of a network of technology schools; and new freedom and flexibility for our further education colleges.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the £25 million technology schools initiative to further technical education in schools. Does he agree that such initiatives help to give young people a better start and help to provide the type of recruits needed by industry? Does he further agree that Labour Members' knee-jerk opposition to city technology colleges shows their obsession with standardisation rather than with improving the quality of education in schools?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the widespread support for the technology schools initiative, with 89 local education authorities having submitted bids. In addition, in a number of LEA areas where it had been decided, mainly for doctrinaire reasons, not to submit bids, we have received individual bids from schools.

Further to my hon. Friend's final remarks, it should come as no surprise to him or to anybody else that Labour Members are opposed to choice. They are committed to abolishing city technology schools, grammar schools and the assisted places scheme, and they have no time for parental choice.

Does my hon. Friend share with me some anger that 19 Labour authorities still have not even bothered to bid for the funds that are available? Does he agree that that contrasts with the breath of fresh air that is now flowing through our universities and polytechnics? The universities have attracted large sums—more than £700 million of additional funding—for the current year, and our polytechnics likewise, now that they are independent of the stifling hand of Labour authorities— [Interruption.]

Will the Minister pledge total support for the Nottingham city technology college for doing just what our young people and the nation need?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I visited the Djanogly college and was impressed with the quality of education offered to so many young people. It was interesting to note that so many heads of secondary schools, in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere, are coming to see what has been achieved at Djanogly college and to learn the lessons from it. With regard to bids to become technology schools, my hon. Friend will be heartened by the quality of the bids that we have received from individual schools, including some exceptionally good schools in Labour-controlled areas.

Does the Minister accept that, as there are now 50 different definitions of a professional engineer, it is unrealistic for the Minister's Department to tell Newcastle council, which put in two bids for technology schools, that it should have submitted only one. Does the Minister agree that, to tackle such antique snobbery, two bids from one city should be allowed?

I shall look into the matter because I recognise that Newcastle is a Labour authority that has put aside its doctrinaire opposition to technology schools. So far as I am aware, Newcastle local education authority is as free to submit two bids to the Department as any other local education authority. I assure the hon. Gentleman that those bids, when received, will be evaluated in comparison with other bids. If he is genuinely concerned that Newcastle has been prevented from putting in more than one bid, I shall look into the matter for him.

Does the Minister not think it unfair to spend £7 million on a city technology college in Bradford, when that amount equals the sum spent on the nearly 300 publicly owned schools in Bradford? As the Minister should know, those schools are very much in need of large-scale capital expenditure. Many of them are of a Victorian standard and need considerable investment. Does he agree that the schools in Bradford provide a perfectly good technical education and that they need to be built on and improved, rather than being attacked by diverting public funds into city technology colleges?

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has visited the city technology college in Bradford. Indeed, he has refused invitations to do so. That college provides an excellent education to many pupils in Bradford. Parents are extremely keen to have their children admitted to the college because they want them to take advantage of the excellent education that it offers. The hon. Gentleman should take more time to encourage schools in Bradford to learn the lessons from the city technology college to improve the quality of technology education in Bradford. He should also have words with his colleague, Councillor John Ryan, who needs to improve the quality of his submissions to my Department for funding from central Government.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of the finest technical education in Europe is given to the 7,000 students of the Derbyshire college of higher education? Its bid to become a polytechnic has been supported for many years by Conservative Members from Derbyshire. Is my hon. Friend aware that, as polytechnics are to disappear, we now support its bid to become a university? Will he ensure that everything possible is done so that Derbyshire can have its first opportunity to have a university, in contrast with Nottingham which will have two, Leicester which will have three, and Loughborough which will have one? At present, Derbyshire has none.

I am aware of the strong support from my hon. Friend and other Derbyshire Members for that development. The position has been clearly explained to the college in Derby and I am sure that it will pursue the opportunities.