Infant Class Sizes
Orders of the Day — School Standards and Framework Bill
Mr William Cash (Stone, Conservative)
What my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) has said is entirely consistent with reality. The recent league tables show that Cheshire and Staffordshire are two of the counties that achieved tremendous school results. There is a remarkable symmetry between what has been going on in those counties, which are, to a great extent, rural counties.
From time to time, I have had to fight very hard within the Staffordshire county council educational framework to ensure that the rural schools in my constituency have been sustained. Indeed, I pay tribute to the county council, which has pursued a policy of ensuring that rural schools survive, even though they may have class sizes well below the numbers that are being promulgated at the moment. Such schools perform an immensely important function in sustaining the rural community. It is not realistic to set arbitrary limits that will prevent rural schools, particularly infant schools, from surviving.
I thoroughly support new clause 8, which would guarantee arrangements to ensure the preservation of schools that should be preserved. The Government are in power largely as a result of the support—which I think was misconceived, as the Bill betrays—that they received from people in rural areas in the general election last year. If the Government want to maintain that support, they should listen to the arguments that are being advanced by Conservative Members.
Rural schools are vital to a community's sense of identity, as was demonstrated by the Countryside Alliance only 10 days ago. Although the alliance's main objectives concerned other questions relating to rural areas, schools are fundamental to rural communities.
It is essential that we ensure the survival of rural schools, even if they are undersized. I hope that the Minister will show due regard to the significance of those schools, and ensure that the Bill's measures will do nothing that would lead to their being closed. If the Government make a mistake on this, they will pay the price in the ballot box.