I considered the London County Council's arguments in support of their proposal to cease to maintain the Eltham Hill Grammar School and to transfer the pupils to Kidbrooke Comprehensive School on its opening. I studied the many objections received, the grounds on which they were made, and the authority's observations on these objections. After taking into account the reputation of the Eltham Hill school, and the success with which it has served its purpose as a grammar school, I concluded that it would not be educationally advantageous to close it.
The Kidbrooke School will open as a comprehensive school exactly as was planned under the London Development Plan. There was no thought then of closing Eltham Hill and transferring the children from Eltham to Kidbrooke. As to the popularity of the decision, I think we must leave the choice to parents and teachers themselves to decide where they wish to be, as far as possible. I am glad to hear that the London County Council has given full opportunity to both teachers and children to transfer, if they wish, from Eltham to Kidbrooke.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statutory requirement to which she refers is upon not only her but also all local education authorities—the requirement that children are to be educated as far as possible in accordance with the wishes of their parents? Is she further aware that the overwhelming majority of the parents of girls at Eltham Hill School are grateful to her for her decision and applaud her courage?
Is the right hon. Lady aware that the facts which have been asserted are disputed? Secondly, can she assure the House that in coming to her conclusion upon this matter—and we agree that she should come to a conclusion on the weight of the arguments and evidence on both sides—she has not been actuated by party political considerations? Did she or did she not encourage the London Conservative Party organisation to involve themselves in this matter and give them some impression that she would support their efforts to oppose the closure?
Under the 1944 Act it is the Minister who takes the decision. Under that Act, too, it is the duty of the local authority to publish notices informing the electors of their rights, which are that, in connection with the closing or opening of a school, 10 or more local government electors may object to the Minister. I have said, and I am glad to have the opportunity of saying it again today, that one change has taken place since the Miscellaneous Provisions Act was passed; the local government electors now have that opportunity for only two months instead of the three months open to them before. Local government electors have their opportunity and their rights. The local authority has its rights. But the final decision is the responsibility of the Minister under the 1944 Act.
If I may say so, I was quite aware of that. I knew that the Minister has the final decision. Would the right hon. Lady be good enough to answer the body of my question? [An HON. MEMBER: "It was insulting."] It was not insulting. Will she say whether there was political partiality in conjunction with the London Conservative Party?
I thought that 1 should not have to believe that the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting to me that, when taking a decision which lies upon me as Minister of Education, I took political consideration into account. 1 have said at Conservative meetings, at Labour meetings, and at educational meetings throughout the country that local government electors have certain rights. I have added, over and over again, that when that time is up it is no use their complaining. They have their rights now for two months to send in their objections, instead of for three months. That is the information which I have given and which I will continue to give.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that her decision strikes not only at the Kidbrooke School but at the whole of the London County Council plan for comprehensive schools? Can she explain how there can be, in an area, both a comprehensive school and a grammar school; because obviously, if the grammar school is there, children have been creamed off? The right hon. Lady spoke of the rights of parents under the Education Act. Do I take it that any parent whose child is at a modern school can automatically ask for the child to be transferred to a grammar school?
The point which the hon. Lady put in the first part of her question does not arise. There are grammar schools in that area already, as well as a comprehensive school, and the London County Council made it clear that if the Eltham Hill School were closed there were about 80 places at other grammar schools to which children could have been transferred if their parents so wished. As the hon. Lady knows, in the London Development Plan Kidbrooke was to open without Eltham Hill being closed.
As for the transfer between a modern school and a grammar school, it is for the local education authorities to try as far as possible to meet the wishes of the parent, if they think the education is suitable for the child's age, aptitude and ability.