Deadline soon on comprehensives
Local authorities will be set different deadlines for introducing comprehensive schools and abolishing the 11-plus selection system if Parliament approves the Education Bill to be announced in the Queen's Speech on Tuesday. The Government is also likely to take powers to amend reorganisation schemes submitted by councils as it thinks fit.
The Bill, which will be fiercely resisted by the Conservatives, is likely to prove the most controversial in this pre-election Parliamentary session.
At present only one 11-year-old child in three goes to comprehensive school. And although 138 local authorities have gone some way to adopting comprehensives, a further 25, including major cities such as Birmingham and Leeds, and four London boroughs, have to agree to a 1965 request by the Government to replace the old-style education system.
The Government, spurred into legislation by Labour rank-and-file demands for action against the 25 rebels, is unlikely to name one specific date in the Bill by which all secondary schools in these areas must be comprehensive.
Opinion is hardening in favour of giving the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Edward Short, powers to set separate time limits for individual authorities.
This flexibility is designed to meet not only the differing needs and facilities of the 25 areas but also to spike the Tory argument that the Government is imposing its will on councils regardless of local conditions. It is unlikely, however, to appease Mrs Margaret Thatcher, the new Shadow Minister of Education.
“We are against imposing particular schemes on all local education authorities from the centre,” she says. Freedom of choice for parents and for local authorities are the Tories twin rallying cries.”