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Twyford High School, Ealing

Volume 414: debated on Tuesday 28 October 1980

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2.41 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what decision has been reached on the proposal to transfer the Twyford High School in Ealing to the Church of England.

My Lords, on 23rd September, 1980, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science approved the London Diocesan Board of Education's proposal to establish a Church of England voluntary aided high school in the premises of Twyford High School, Acton, with effect from 1st September, 1981. On the same day he approved a proposal by the London Borough of Ealing to cease to maintain the Twyford High School at the end of the summer term 1981. Both proposals were submitted to him under Section 13 of the Education Act 1944.

My Lords, is not this a case where doctrinaire views have been preferred to educational needs? Is it not the case that the great majority of the pupils, the parents and the teachers at this school are opposed to the move? Is it the case that half the pupils have no association with the Church of England, belonging to other denominations and other faiths, including one third of the pupils who are of the Asian community?

My Lords, I cannot accept any of the points the noble Lord made. The noble Lord may like to know that the Secretary of State received letters and petitions signed by 11,575 people in support of the proposal and by 7,623 against it. Secondly, the Church of England has church schools both for the first and middle school in Ealing, but not a high school for pupils over the age of 12. The need is quite clear because about 100 children leave the borough each year to go to Church of England schools in other authorities. The Church of England made a canvass of parents in the borough, and the returns showed that parents of 2,638 children would make a Church of England school their first choice.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister to say how much money the taxpayer will have to pay to buy this school and how much the Church will pay? Secondly, may I ask whether she thinks it is a suitable use of public funds to establish a new denominational school and whether, in the case of other people—such as the Sikhs, who I understand are seeking to buy Villiers High School—the same response will come from the department?

My Lords, the London Diocesan Board of Education will pay the Ealing authority £1·78 million for Twyford School and will be eligible for a grant of 85 per cent. of the purchase price of the school from the department. They will pay the remaining 15 per cent. from their own resources. Therefore, there will be no overall increase in public expenditure, as the authority will surrender a sum equivalent to the purchase price of the school from the allocations made to them for capital expenditure purposes. To answer the second part of that supplementary, I should like to make it clear that the Government believe there should be opportunities for parents who wish to send their children to a Church school, that they support the principle of voluntary aided schools and that in the case of a Sikh school, I understand the Ealing authority have considered the proposal by the Sikh community to establish a voluntary aided school in the premises of Villiers School in Southall. Ealing have decided in that case not to support that particular proposal, but they are firmly committed to the principle of voluntary schools.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, despite a few local difficulties in the past between the Church of England and the Government, which are now happily resolved, the Church of England as a whole is very grateful indeed for the nexus between Church and state education, of which this is a very good example? Is the noble Baroness aware that we are deeply grateful to successive Governments of both parties for the maintenance of this particular and important tradition of education in this special way? Further, is the Minister aware that the partnership is very good for children of all races, before they become either hardened or prejudiced against each other, to be together? Although the Minister told us that there are a very large number of Church of England families desiring membership of this school, may I ask whether she is aware that the diocesan authorities desire to make this a true community school where children of all faiths will be welcomed? Is the noble Baroness also aware that the agreed syllabus of the ILEA Learning to Lire provides a very broad basis of religious education in terms of comparative religion? Therefore, is the Minister aware of the great comfort and satisfaction in her action?

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate very much for his remarks.

My Lords, following the right reverend Prelate's intervention, may I ask the noble Baroness whether the children who are now at the school will definitely still be there in September 1981 and whether the admissions policy will favour the children of the whole community or whether the children of Anglican and Christian parents will have priority?

My Lords, so far as the admissions policy of the school is concerned, as the noble Baroness will know, that it is a matter in a voluntary-aided school for the governors of the school, and I understand that it was originally the Diocesan Board's intention that admissions to the new school would be arranged so as to reflect the social and ethnic composition of the borough. No doubt the noble Baroness will be aware that the Commission for Racial Equality advised them that any arrangements on those lines could be regarded as illegal under the Race Relations Act. My information is that, on the basis of the statement made by the London Diocesan Board in November 1979, they have suggested that applications for admission to the school would be open to all children in the borough; in the event of over-subscription, preference would be given to the children of Anglican parents. I cannot, however, accept that this school could be regarded as being in any way against the interests of ethnic minorities in the borough.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most of us feel that we have a good deal to be grateful for to the Church of England for making this arrangement in Ealing?

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us whether any other denominational schools have been provided for on anything like this scale, other than that denomination which has so often been described as the Tory Party at prayer?

My Lords, the particular arrangements that have been agreed in this specific case in Ealing are, so far as I know, the only ones of this exact kind. There are, however, other instances in which the Church of England has bought county schools, and I should like to reiterate the importance the Government attach to the dual system of education.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have asked this Question not out of opposition to the Church, whose contributions to social and racial questions I greatly appreciate? Is it not the case that this school was one of the pioneering and most successful comprehensive schools in this country, and is it not divisive to education to seek to separate it in this way?

My Lords, I am quite prepared to accept that this school has been a good school in the past, and I have every confidence that it will remain a very good school in the future.