Clause 14

Education and Inspections Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 25th April 2006.

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Proposals for discontinuance of schools maintained by local education authority

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I beg to move amendment No. 333, in clause 14, page 10, line 23, leave out ‘rural'.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 334, in clause 14, page 10, line 43, leave out subsection (b).

No. 335, in clause 15, page 11, line 8, leave out ‘rural'.

No. 336, in clause 15, page 11, line 11, leave out ‘rural'.

No. 337, in clause 15, page 11, line 26, leave out ‘rural'.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

This is an important clause. My amendments relate to subsection (4), and Members will see that they deal with four criteria, which must be considered and taken into account by those proposing to close a rural school. I am in favour of subsection (4), and these are sensible criteria. I am delighted that the Minister is obviously concerned about what is going on with the closure of rural schools.

I represent a rural constituency. One of the greatest heartaches over the years has been our campaigns, successful and unsuccessful, to keep open small rural schools. They often involve very small schools, such as the recent campaign in Holton le Moor. At the start of the campaign the school had 17 pupils in total; the closure has now been confirmed with the school roll having fallen to seven pupils. Those who represent urban constituencies may question how a school can be effective with only 17 pupils, but these schools in remote rural areas are often extremely popular and provide a very good education. Some educationists deny this, because year groups have to combine, but I assure hon. Members that the tremendous spirit, care, love and all the rest of it in these primary schools is a joy to behold.

The school that I am talking about now has been in existence for over 100 years. It is at the heart of the community in a small village. It is often heartbreaking when these rural schools close. Often, as happened at Holton le Moor, a school closes because the head teacher is approaching retirement. We now live inquite a competitive environment. There is nothing wrong with that, and of course I support that in terms of education—schools are competing for pupils. Sometimes when a head teacher is approaching retirement or perhaps has a more traditional view of education based on catchment areas, the school may not be as vigorous in recruiting pupils as neighbouring schools. That is obviously what happened in this case. There is nothing wrong with the head teacher; he gave years of loyal service. Equally, in Lincolnshire as elsewhere, we have falling school rolls and this puts pressure on the county council which itself is under pressure from the Department. They have to find schools to close and some of these small schools can be an obvious target.

I have no objections to the subsection. It seems perfectly sensible that when one is closing a rural school one should look at the likely effect of its discontinuance on the local community. It is undoubtedly true that when these villages have lost their village shop, when the church only operates one Sunday a month, and when the school is ripped out, they become almost suburban dormitories, albeit in the middle of the countryside, with no life going on during the day.

Certainly, a county like Lincolnshire is hit extremely badly. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings will confirm, as he is also a Lincolnshire Member, we have a great problem with the cost of school transport. We argue constantly that the Department does not give adequate recompense to the county council to deal with the heavy costs that we have to meet in bussing children around. If a school closes in a village by definition the children have to be transported further afield. Paragraph (b) is very sensible. Paragraph (c) mentions the use of motor vehicles. Obviously if a school closes the use of motor vehicles increases.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships) 12:15 pm, 25th April 2006

As my hon. Friend mentioned my constituency interest, will he say a word in this context about the particular difficulties of providing services in sparsely populated rural areas? Much is said about rurality, but less is said about sparsity. They are different but overlapping factors and have a real impact on local public service provision, including education, and a consequent impact on the need for proper transport. It is worth emphasising that on behalf of sparsely populated rural areas such as those we represent.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

“Sparsity” is a technical term of art, but it is important to recognise the difficulties that it causes to local authorities such as Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire’s population is evenly distributed throughout the county, whereas counties such as Devon have some areas of high population concentration and others, such as Dartmoor, where there is virtually no one at all. They do not, therefore, suffer as much as Lincolnshire does  from the sparsity problem. Because our population is so evenly distributed its transport costs can be very high. That is the point that my hon. Friend was making. All the paragraphs in subsection (4) are perfectly sensible, and I am delighted that the Minister seems to have understood the position. Presumably it is why the provision has been framed as it has.

The reason for my amendments is that, although I have no argument with the idea of considering the criteria in the clause in relation to rural schools, I wonder why the Minister does not consider that many of the factors listed in the relevant paragraphs apply to all primary schools, wherever they are—this may be where I attract the interest of Members representing urban and suburban seats. My amendments would merely ensure that the sensible factors in the provision, which should be considered, would be taken into account when any primary school was closed.

Why, for instance, should the closure of a school affect the local community only if it is in a rural area? I should have thought that if we were to close a school in the heart of an inner city, a suburb or anywhere else the community might well be affected; it might be a big issue. My amendment is intended to tease out from the Minister why she thinks that those factors apply only to rural schools.

Another instance that we might consider concerns

“the availability, and likely cost to the local education authority, of transport to other schools”.

I must now wear my green hat, because of course I am now totally committed to green politics. I have done the school run in London for many years, and it is not only in rural areas, as we know, that people take their kids to school in cars. I do not, therefore, know why the Government think that the likely effect of a closure on transport to other schools is relevant only to rural schools. One need only look around London to see large numbers of 4x4s transporting kids to school. What do the Government mean by that paragraph?

The same argument also applies to paragraph (c) and to considering

“any alternatives to the discontinuance of the school”.

Why does the Minister think local education authorities should not take into account those factors?

To add insult to injury there is subsection (7)(b). I would like to know what it means. It leaves it to the Secretary of State to define a rural school. That might, surely, be a quite arbitrary decision. The paragraph enables the Secretary of State to choose which primary schools are expendable and which are not. I am sure that that is not the intention, so my amendment would delete that paragraph. It is surely difficult for anyone, let alone the Secretary of State in London, to determine whether a school is rural.

I suppose that I represent four or five traditional market towns and more than 100 villages, but some of the villages are not really villages any more. They are huge suburban communities to the north of Lincoln, which could by no stretch of any definition be termed rural. Presumably there is no difficulty in determining that other villages, with tiny populations of perhaps a dozen or two dozen people, are rural. However, there are many villages in between. How can the Secretary of  State choose which primary schools are rural and therefore entitled to the extra defence under subsection (4), by which the local authority must have regard to the various factors?

I am delighted that subsection (4) is in the Bill and that the Government are taking note of rural schools, because, contrary to what many educationists believe, small rural schools provide an excellent service. I want to find out from the Government, however, why they think that the effects on transport and on the community do not apply equally in urban and suburban areas.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Perhaps in surprise, I find myselfin total agreement with the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I did not quite follow the exact reasoning behind the amendments before I heard his speech, but I am now absolutely convinced of the argument. People struggle with my constituency’s name, but, as may be imagined, Mid-Dorset and North Poole is a mix of urban and rural communities. It has village schools that struggle for numbers, while in the more urban areas there are very large primary schools that possibly suffer in funding because of the existence of other schools.

Nevertheless, the contribution of those other schools to the local community is so great that a value must be put on it, and I agree that the closure of a school situated in an locality classified as urban might be just as devastating as the closure of a rural primary school. I support the sentiments that underlie the amendments.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

I, too, support the amendments. Although I represent a rural constituency, I have spent most of my life in the city of Liverpool, so I am in a strange position because, although the provisions have advantages for my constituency, I am slightly aggrieved for the schools of my home city, where the same considerations would not apply.

In mid-Bedfordshire there are three, small, urban conurbations, but there are many rural schools in the constituency. We have been in the strange situation of discussing whether to go from the three-tier system to the two-tier system, which may result in some school closures, and we are currently in the consultation period and we know that that would have a devastating effect. The constituency is rural, so there are not that many roads, but if local, rural schools began to close we would find ourselves in the bizarre position of having gridlock during rush hours, because the roads already get into that kind of state.

Nevertheless, the fact that consideration is being given to rural schools but not to schools in cities and urban areas is of some concern, and I ask the Minister why schools in cities such as Liverpool would not merit the same consideration. I support the comments of my hon. Friend. Subsection (4) is excellent for mid-Bedfordshire but does not have any bearing on urban areas, which seems unfair to schools in cities such as Liverpool.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I want to raise one quick point with the Minister. My hon. Friend mentioned that the definition of a rural primary school is in subsection (7)(b), which says that

“‘rural primary school’ means a primary school designated as such for the purposes of this section by an order made by the Secretary of State.”

In the Minister’s letter of 27 March to Committee members, the only illustrative regulations circulated in relation to clause 14 are the School Organisation (Establishment and Discontinuance of Maintained Schools) (England) Regulations 2006. In my reading of those I could not see a definition of a rural primary school. Will the Minister shed some light on that?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Schools and 14-19 Learners), Department for Education and Skills 12:30 pm, 25th April 2006

As has been discussed during our deliberations on this group of amendments, the Government take the role of rural schools seriously. In fact, the protections in clauses 14 and 15 for rural schools reflect amendments made during the passage of the Education Act 2005, but there was already recognition in legislation and in the processes for the consideration of school closures of the importance to their communities of rural schools, and we support and encourage their preservation.

Notwithstanding the important points that have been made by hon. Members about the difficult decisions in respect of any school closure—in a moment, I shall talk in detail about the processes involved in that—there are specific issues relating to rural schools, particularly primary schools. For example, often they provide services beyond educational ones. That is becoming increasingly important with the development of extended schools. Such schools might well be centres for local child care provision as well as other services—for example, some rural schools run the local post office, too—so they have a significance beyond educational services. If a rural school closes, it is more likely that there is not another school within walking distance, which is an important consideration. That is why in statutory guidance to those who decide on school organisation proposals we have a presumption against the closure of rural schools, and have had for some time. Since 1998, that has brought about a big reduction in the number of rural school closures per year.

The provisions of clause 14 require any local authority or governing body preparing proposals for a rural school closure to consider the potential impact on the community, transport implications and possible alternatives to closure. Clause 15 requires that body to consult parents, the local authority and district and parish councils before publishing those proposals. The vast majority of authorities and governing bodies would take those steps without such requirements in the Bill, but their inclusion puts those important steps beyond doubt. As I outlined, we attach special importance to the preservation of rural schools if they contribute to standards, are wanted by parents and have the support of the local education community.

The hon. Members for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and for Gainsborough asked about the designation of rural primary schools. On the 30 March, we wrote to directors of children’s services in England and diocesan directors of education, and asked them about that issue, particularly with respect to the commencement of section 70 of the Education Act 2005 which puts in place proposals for a specific designation of “rural primary school”. We identified for each local authority, those schools that we think come within that category. In preparing the draft order in which we will designate certain schools as “rural  primary schools”, we used the rural indicator on the EduBase register to identify those schools.

In case hon. Members are not aware, that register is an indicator based on the Office for National Statistics’ rural indicator developed by the Countryside Agency, the Office for National Statistics, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Welsh Assembly. It is the same indicator to which decision makers refer when considering proposals to close rural schools in relation to the presumption against closure that I have outlined already.

As I said, we asked directors of children’s services for their comments on the proposed inclusion of a list, which we attached for each of those 150 authorities, of primary schools in the area that we intend to include in the designation order as “rural schools”. We also said specifically:

“You should consult the schools as appropriate when considering the list. We will review the designation order annually and will consult individual local authorities and dioceses on proposed changes as appropriate.”

Not only are we using a recognised measure of the nature of a school that could be designated as rural, but we are also inviting consultation responsesfrom directors of children’s services and diocesan authorities, and asking them to discuss that with the schools before including them on a list, which we shall then be willing to review in order to keep it up to date.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The recognised measure that the Minister describes does indeed take account of sparsity in the mix of considerations that it uses to define rurality, but given the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, will she look again at the circumstances of a large area with a sparse population, such as the county of Lincolnshire? There are concerns that, even though the measure takes sparsity into account, it is given insufficient weight where sparsity affects the whole of a county. It does so rarely, but that is certainly the case for Lincolnshire. Would she have another look at that?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Schools and 14-19 Learners), Department for Education and Skills

Of course it will be possible for the director of children’s services in Lincolnshire, when considering the designated list, to comment if schools have been left off that the director considers to be rural. We are inviting comments from directors of children’s services by Friday 23 June. I am not convinced that individual schools would be excluded because of the measures that we have used, but we are consulting precisely because we want to ensure that the list is right.

The amendments, as we have heard, are probing amendments about the extent to which we should extend the requirements to all cases where a local authority or governing body proposes to close any category of primary school. I know only too well—I am sure that other hon. Members do as well—how sensitive school closure proposals can be for pupils, parents, staff and others who might be affected. We would not expect a decision to close any school to be taken lightly. I would not want hon. Members to think that because we are discussing the specifics of the closure of rural schools, that implies somehow or other  that there is not an important and significant process for the consideration of the closure of any school, primary or secondary.

Responding to the proposed amendments to clause 14—amendments Nos. 333 and 334—as I have said, those considering making proposals to close any school will consider a range of factors, including the impact on standards, pupil number forecasts, the pattern of parental demand and levels of diversity in addition to the factors in clause 14. The body that takes the final decision on such proposals will expect to see evidence and well reasoned arguments for closure on those and a range of other factors. Establishing a statutory requirement to consider the four factors set out in clause 14 could be misinterpreted. For example, it might be read as lessening the importance of the other factors that I have spelt out. I do not think that there is a defensible argument for treating primary school closures as a whole differently, as that would bring into doubt whether the issues that I have outlined should be considered with respect to all school closures, rural and urban.

I turn now to clause 15 and amendments Nos. 335, 336 and 337. Those preparing to publish any type of statutory proposal, including for closure, must consult any such persons as appear appropriate. In doing so, they are required to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance. That guidance already exists and is in operation. It includes the parties listed in the provision. If the decision maker wanted to set that guidance aside and not consult some of those parties, they would have to have an extremely good reason; if not, they could be subject to a judicial review. I cannot see any reason to make special provision and to treat primary school closures differently from any other type of school closure.

I hope that I have reassured hon. Members not only that we take the specific position of rural schools seriously, which is the reason for the presumption relating to closure and the provisions that we have made, but that we have in place robust guidance and processes for proposing and considering the closure of all types of school—rural or urban, secondary or primary. We fear that the amendments would put in question the robustness of those arrangements, which is why I hope that the hon. Member for Gainsborough feels reassured and able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I am pleased that we have had this debate. It has given the Minister the opportunity to put on record the importance that she attaches to rural schools and the factors that might apply to them—for instance, the fact that they provide other services to the local community. I am very reassured by that and by the fact that factors such as the effect on a local community and local transport will be taken into account before an urban or suburban school is closed.

I am less convinced by her argument that such factors cannot be included in the Bill in the case of an urban school because they might somehow detract from the importance of other elements. Surely that argument could also apply to rural schools. I am still slightly worried about why subsection (4) appliesonly to rural schools. However, if I were to press the  amendment to a Division, it might be misunderstood outside the Committee. Some people might come to the incorrect conclusion that I somehow wanted to lessen the protection of rural schools.

Somewhat reassured by the Minister’s comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

I beg to move amendment No. 100, in clause 14, page 10, line 25, at end insert—

‘(aa) the effect of the discontinuance of the school upon the ability of the local education authority, andupon the governing bodies of other schools maintained by that authority, to continue to perform and carry out the duties and functions in relation to education imposed upon them by this or any other enactment,'.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 31, in clause 14, page 10, line 26, leave out

‘to the local education authority'.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

Amendment No. 100 would insert an additional criterion into subsection (4). It brings a new dimension to the debate. I do not want to repeat the arguments that we have already been through—the hon. Member for Gainsborough put the case extremely well and made an important argument for having a set of criteria that applies to all potential school closures. That would be helpful to local authorities and governing bodies in preparing their proposals. He could have made the case for deleting not only the word “rural” but the words “primary school,” because the arguments apply equally to secondary schools.

Amendment No. 100 would ensure that the wider system of schooling in a given area would have to be considered before decisions on school closures were taken. It draws particular attention to the capacity of the local authority and of other schools to continue to perform and carry out their duties and functions—that is, to run viable schools with a broad and balanced curriculum. That is an important dimension. Too often in the case of school closures, we look in a rather narrow way at the individual school and the immediate impact on the community that it serves. In most parts of the country—rural areas are arguably an exception—there is a network of interrelated schools and it is difficult to take decisions on one school without there being a wider impact.

My recollection is that subsection (4) emerged as a compromise during the debate on the EducationAct 2005 because of a Government defeat in the Lords, so it may not be in the Bill for the most logical reason, having come about as a result of a political fudge. There is, however, a strong case for strengthening it to apply to all schools, both primary and secondary, and including an additional criterion to focus on the impact of the whole network of schools on a given local authority.

This is not an argument for or against closing schools, or for increasing or reducing the likelihood of their closure; it is simply an argument that all local  authorities and governing bodies should act in accordance with an agreed set of criteria that have credibility and take all factors into account. I am currently involved with a school closure in my constituency and during the past nine years I have supported the closure of a number of schools in my constituency. I know how sensitive such issues are and how easy it is for parents not to understand a local authority’s wider reasons for proposing such closures. I know how easy it is for parents to adopt a very narrow focus on the impact on their child in the immediate future. Those cannot be the only criteria; we have to take a wider view.

I have another point, which was made particularly effectively by the 2003 Ofsted report on pupil place planning and more recently by the Audit Commission’s submission to Education and Skills Committee’s inquiry on the White Paper. Attention was focused on the relationship between quality and popularity. There is a tendency to believe that when a school seems to be losing pupils or when, for a variety of reasons, it does not have as many pupils as the neighbouring school down the road, that is a reflection of quality. Myright hon. Friend the Minister stressed the important criteria of standards, parental preference and diversity in determining any school closure, but that is not a simple and straightforward matter because parental preference may be exercised in favour of school A rather than school B for a variety of reasons other than an objective assessment of the quality of the school.

I am putting down a marker in support of the argument that we need to consider the wider impact on the local system of any school closure. We should separate the issues of popularity and of quality. There may well be very good schools—occasionally high-performing ones—that are not judged to be popular schools, based on the patterns of parental preference. It is a mistake always to go for popularity rather than quality as the key criterion for a decision on the future of a school.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 12:45 pm, 25th April 2006

Does that mean that the hon. Gentleman is now downplaying the importance and validity of parental preference and choice in an area? When he moved his amendment during the debate on the previous clause, he cited how important parental choice and involvement are in establishing new schools.

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

No, that is not the case at all. It is not an either/or matter. I think that the situation is slightly more complex than the official Opposition would have us believe.

Popularity does not equate to quality. A simple example of why that could be the case is the fact that many schools happen to have been built—whether it was 20, 30, 40, 50 or 100 years ago—in the wrong location. They were built to serve a community that existed then but economic change has meant thatthose communities no longer exist, or that thelocal population has declined greatly. That causes difficulties. If a school is trapped by its geography and a decision on its location that was taken many years ago and it cannot draw on new areas of residential  housing, it will struggle for ever to increase its numbers—unless it is able to reach out to new groups of parents in adjacent areas. However, that does not mean that it is a poor or unpopular school. It may well be popular with those parents within easy travelling distance who can send their children to that school.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I can see some sense in his argument. However, is his view not at variance with the basic premise of the Bill, which is that greater parental choice and greater responsiveness to the choices they make are likely to drive up quality? Is that premise right or wrong?

Photo of David Chaytor David Chaytor Labour, Bury North

In relation to previous amendments, I said that parental choice is important. My criticism of the arrangements in the schooling system in England and Wales is that we confuse parental choice with institutional choice. In many parts of the country, schools determine which pupils will attend. Parents do not have an absolute right to send their children to certain schools. The point of my amendment is that parental choice does not happen in a vacuum; there are a series of constraints. Most parents understand that there is no such thing as pure parental choice. The system cannot be based on pure parental choice without building in vast excess capacity. The issue is how parental choice is managed and regulated and the framework in which it operates.

Amendment No. 100 suggests that when a decision is taken about the future of an individual school, the framework must include the consideration of the decision’s impact on neighbouring schools.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am not unsympathetic to thehon. Gentleman’s amendment. School closure has implications not only for the community that it serves directly, but for the schools that are required to educate the children who would previously have been educated at that school. Amendment No. 31 would ensure that the matters that must be taken into account before deciding whether to close a school, as set out in subsection (4), should include the increased transportation costs that would accrue as a result of the closure. Subsection (4)(b) provides that the likely additional cost of transport that would accrue to the local authority must be taken into account, but it says nothing about the likely costs to individual parents. They are just as much costs to the community as costs incurred by local authorities. We shall debate school transport issues under part 6, but it is incongruous that in determining the efficacy of a school closure, costs that might be incurred by local authorities should be a factor in determining whether the school should close, but costs to individual parents should not.

The Forum for Rural Children and Young People points out that rural children and young people often find school transport unresponsive to their needs. Those problems are echoed by the social exclusion unit in its report on transport and social exclusion, “Making the Connections: Final Report on Transport and Social Exclusion”. The report noted that children in some areas are prevented from taking part in extra-curricular activities because of a lack of public  transport at the required time. The Central Council of Physical Recreation is quoted in the report as saying that in one school, 40 to 45 per cent. of pupils were missing out on after-school activities owing to transport constraints.

The report also highlighted more general concerns about the availability of transport in rural areas.More than half of people in rural areas live more than 13 minutes’ walk away from an hourly daytime bus service, and 29 per cent. of rural settlements have no bus service at all. The lack of public transport, combined with the lack and cost of taxis, leave people unable to get to key places. Some rural families have to go without certain things in order to afford to run a car. The cost of transport would also be an issue if a denominational school were closed in a rural area.

Our amendment would therefore remove the words

“to the local education authority” from subsection (4)(b) to make it provide simply that the matters that should be taken into account are the availability and likely cost of transport to other schools.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour, City of Durham

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North said, amendment No. 100 would add to the criteria listed in subsection (4). In particular it would ensure that, when a school was being considered for closure, the impact on other schools in the area and on the local education authority—especially in relation to its ability to provide parents with diversity and choice in school provision—would be considered. I also seek an assurance from the Minister that, when a closure process is to go ahead, it will be properly managedand that all relevant factors will be taken into consideration.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I would like to make a brief comment on amendment No. 100. I very much support the sentiments behind it, but I wonder whether it should refer to local authorities in the plural, to cover instances of schools on boundaries. Poole unitary authority has schools on its boundaries—except for the one with the sea. Schools on the boundary with other authorities suffer knock-on effects and it can be difficult to get both authorities, which have their own budgets, to take the decision that is best for the community overall. In the proposed reorganisation it is proposed to delay any activity in respect of a large and excellent comprehensive school that is right on a boundary. That causes considerable concern among  constituents who live in the adjoining local authority. I should like the amendment to be strengthened to cover the cross-boundary issues.

I have some sympathy with the intention behind amendment No. 31, although I am not quite sure whether that would be achieved.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State (Schools and 14-19 Learners), Department for Education and Skills

We have got on well this morning, have we not? Just before I start, for the information of the Committee, I should point out that when we break for lunch information will be available for hon. Members to consider alongside clauses 17 to 19—in case we are fortunate enough to reach those this afternoon. I do not want to push my luck, but I am hopeful.

To deal first with amendment No. 100, as we discussed on the previous group of amendments, we already make special provision when it is proposed to close a rural primary school. We require local authorities to consider a range of specific factors; that requirement reflects an addition to the present arrangements under an amendment to the Education Act 2005. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North is right about the provenance of that amendment, but it was built on a presumption against the closure of rural schools that the Government had already established for decision makers. For the reasons that I gave previously we strongly support the continuation of rural schools that have strong parental support and contribute to the community and to education standards in their area.

My hon. Friend rightly argued that it is important to consider the wider implications of proposals to close schools. Those proposals would be made only by the local education authority or the governing body of a foundation or voluntary school. Given the potential impact of closing a rural primary school, we shall require the local authority or governing body when drawing up school closure proposals to consider whether there are any alternative options. They should consider the impact on the local community; the availability and cost to the local authority of transport to alternative schools; and the increased use of cars by parents who must drive their children to school.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Labour, Stockton North

Order. The Committee will have observed a Government Front-Bench representative approach the Chair seeking permission to deposit on the Table material for consideration alongside clauses 17 and 19. The Chair has been quite pleased to be able to grant permission retrospectively for that.

It being One o’clock,The Chairmanadjournedthe Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.