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House of Commons

Tuesday 28 February 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Trafford (Secondary Education)

1. Mr. Tony Lloyd : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received concerning secondary education in the borough of Trafford.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John Butcher) : My right hon. Friend has received 19 letters in support of the Trafford local education authority's proposals to reorganise secondary education, 270 statutory objections and 96 non-statutory objections. He has also had requests from two hon. Members for meetings to discuss the proposals, and a similar request from Trafford LEA.

Mr. Lloyd : The Minister may be aware that the borough of Trafford intends to maintain selective education. Is he aware that in Trafford's primary schools, while some 20 per cent. of those schools have a pass rate of more than half the pupils, about 40 per cent. get under a fifth of their pupils into the grammar schools, including 11 of the 13 schools in my constituency, which is the poorest part of the borough? Can he tell me whether he really believes that selection in Trafford is a measure of educational ability or possibility, or whether it is simply a very good measure of social class and address?

Mr. Butcher : No, Sir, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's contention. If he looks at various reports he will find quite spectacular differences in academic performance between schools in the same socio- economic grouping. I happen to believe very strongly that selective schools have a major benefit in that in the main they produce a good social mix which is based on the grounds of ability alone.

If the hon. Gentleman would like to discuss what I agree is an interesting if somewhat disconcerting phenomenon, I shall be pleased to do so either in conjunction with a delegation from Trafford or in a conversation with the hon. Gentleman.

Further Education Colleges

2. Mr. Franks : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will consider introducing legislation to allow colleges of further education to opt out of local authority control.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : My right hon. Friend has no current plans to do so.

Mr. Franks : Does my hon. Friend agree that many colleges of further education, particularly in large rural areas such as Cumbria, would be far better off if they could to opt out of local authority control? In view of the Government's commitment to devolve responsibility from local authorities to schools, parents and teachers, will he consider a review of policy for the future to give far greater independence to colleges of further education?

Mr. Jackson : I direct my hon. Friend's attention to a speech made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State the other day to the Association of Colleges for Further and Higher Education, outlining a very wide-ranging set of proposals for the improvement of the supply of further education. Under the Education Reform Act colleges will shortly be gaining new powers and a great deal of autonomy from the LEAs. They will also have the opportunity to obtain corporate status, and we hope that they will take that opportunity, but the LEAs will continue to have an important planning and funding role. We believe that it is best to wait and see how they perform that role before considering any further changes in the structure and organisation of further education.

Mr. Rowe : I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply, but I hope that he is aware that in colleges of further education such as mid- Kent college, of which I am a governor, the range of courses undertaken is of such diversity that they face very serious problems in knowing which direction to take, whether to move closer to higher education or to concentrate more on providing technical education. I believe that a degree of autonomy such as my hon. Friend has suggested would assist in that direction.

Mr. Jackson : As my hon. Friend says, mid-Kent college has a great deal of autonomy under the Education Reform Act, which offers a great opportunity to colleges of further education for the exercise of autonomy in determining their future. It is also a great challenge for business, because business will have a key role to play in supplying the governing bodies for the new colleges.

New Teachers

3. Mr. David Evans : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many new teachers were recruited in 1988 with experience in non-teaching professions ; and what plans he has to encourage recruitment of other skilled mature entrants to the teaching profession.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : Thirty per cent. of new student teachers training in 1988 were aged 26 or over. We have a campaign to boost the number of older people from industry and business who want to switch to teaching. The licensed teacher route will directly help such people.

Mr. Evans : Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Welwyn Hatfield in Hertfordshire on its lead in that matter, and make sure that such a policy is followed elsewhere so that specialist teacher posts can be filled in part by students?

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Mr. Baker : I have no hesitation in endorsing my hon. Friend's comments. The Hertfordshire scheme for recruiting mature entrants has been successful. In the past two years there have been 53 appointments of mature people with a variety of experience and I hope that the scheme will pave the way for other local education authorities to follow suit. The introduction of our licensed teacher scheme later this year will greatly help that process.

Mr. Beggs : Does the Secretary of State agree that, considerable progress has been made in increasing the number of graduates with teacher training entering the teaching profession, which should not be diluted? Does he further agree that mature students with experience in commerce and industry have skills which will complement the expertise already in schools? What arrangements will he make for those entering teacher training without any direct class contact?

Mr. Baker : There are two schemes. One is for mature entrants in their twenties and thirties who have not had teacher training but who wish to change their career. From September this year, they can be taken on as teachers in schools. The head teacher and the local education authority will be responsible for their training for two years, principally on the job, with some day release to colleges. That will be widely welcomed in the education service.

Mr. Patrick Thompson : When dealing with mature entrants, will my right hon. Friend consider the continuing shortage, often expressed by head teachers and others, of teachers of physics, chemistry and other specialist subjects, and do what he can to deal with that problem at the same time?

Mr. Baker : I agree with my hon. Friend. I recognise that that is a problem. There are various schemes to meet those teacher shortages. For example, the bursary scheme makes available a grant of £1,300 for the one-year training course. I have extended that scheme in financial terms and to include people who want to train as chemistry teachers from September this year.

Mr. Vaz : The Secretary of State may like to know that last week I conducted a survey of schools in my constituency which revealed an appalling recruitment record. One headmaster stated that he had left to become a double glazing salesperson, and one class had had 12 different teachers in the past year. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the crisis of confidence in our education system is directly related to the Government's policies? When does he intend to allocate more cash to improve prospects for teachers?

Mr. Baker : The hon. Gentleman should know that last Friday I visited one large successful comprehensive school and one small primary school in Leicestershire. I specifically asked the head teachers of both schools whether they had any vacancies or recruitment problems and their answer to both questions was no.

Mr. Favell : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one question that should be asked of entrants is whether they are prepared to help with team sports? Did he hear Roger Uttley on the "Today" programme this morning saying that there was an enormous shortage of pupils leaving

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school prepared to play rugby football? Does he agree that team sports are an essential part of education for everyone, but that there has been a decline in the past 10 or 20 years?

Mr. Baker : I understand that rugby football is enjoying a boom at the moment. [Hon. Members :-- "Not in Wales."] Wales will have to do better next term.

Education is not simply a matter of training either children's minds or their bodies, and time will be devoted to physical education as part of the national curriculum.

Mr. Straw : When does the Secretary of State expect the teacher shortage crisis to be solved?

Mr. Baker : The hon. Gentleman knows that we have a range of proposals in place. Last year there was an increase of 1,000 in those wishing to enter teacher training, making an increase of some 3,000 over 1986. The hon. Gentleman is always accusing me of increasing my Department's publicity budget, but the largest increase has been on programmes to recruit teachers.

Schools (Opting Out)

Mr. French : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what information he has as to whether the resources of any local education authority have been used to support campaigns (a) for or (b) against opting -out proposals for secondary schools in the maintained sector.

Mr. Kenneth Baker : Any local authority is free to make its views known about a proposal that a school in its area should become grant- maintained. I expect all authorities to ensure that they act fairly and responsibly and that any costs represent a proper use of public funds.

Mr. French : Will my right hon. Friend make sure that any decision either for or against opting out is based on the result of a free and fair ballot? Will he, in particular, make it clear to parents that they have the right to demand a ballot, irrespective of the views of LEA officials or recalcitrant governors?

Mr. Baker : I agree with my hon. Friend. There has been a great deal of misrepresentation in some of the ballots that have taken place so far, which I deplore.

Ms. Armstrong : What about your propaganda?

Mr. Baker : The stuff that we put out is absolutely correct and absolutely fair. We put forward the advantages of the opportunity. What the Opposition do not like is the extension of parental choice which grant- maintained status provides. I assure my hon. Friend that we shall make it clear to parents that they have that right as well as governing bodies. The right is being exercised on a growing scale. I noticed yesterday that three schools voted to opt out.

Mr. Harry Barnes : I am not sure what the Minister's photograph has to do with objectivity, but that is one of the things that is sent round. Why has the Department's propaganda expenditure risen by 3,000 per cent. since he became Secretary of State?

Mr. Baker : I have already mentioned one of the large increases. The other large increase in my publicity spending is on informing parents, governors and teachers about the effect of the Education Reform Act 1988. The hon. Gentleman talks about advertising. I have here a

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minute from Derbyshire county council--his own county--saying that it is agreeing to a contribution of £350 to enable teachers in the Chesterfield school wishing to oppose GMS to produce leaflets and letters to parents. That is money being used by a particular education authority on just one side of the argument.

Mr. Pawsey : Does my right hon. Friend believe that the circular letter that he recently sent to local education authorities stressing the right of parents and governors to opt out will be observed by local education authorities and that it will stop some of the unacceptable practices now going on? Does he also agree that it might reduce the amount of black propaganda circulating recently in some of our schools about the situation?

Mr. Baker : I hope that it will. I am sure that the great bulk of local education authorities will observe the advice that I have given in that letter. One of the most offensive devices was for LEAs to threaten to take governors to court, with the threat of huge legal bills. I have made it clear that if governors act in good faith and are taken to court the LEAs will have to pay the legal fees incurred.

Mr. Straw : What has the Secretary of State to say to those who regard the Grant-Maintained Schools Trust, with a Conservative Member of Parliament as chairman and a Conservative councillor as director, as a Conservative front organisation?

Mr. Baker : The Grant-Maintained Schools Trust and its promotional activities are funded entirely by private money, and that is how it should be. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been attacking grant-maintained schools for a very long time and will continue to do so. What I find extraordinary is that he should write articles in The Times, the very crown of Mr. Murdoch's empire, extolling consumerism and how Socialism must relate to consumerism, but when it comes to listening to parents as consumers he is against it.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Given that 16 out of the 27 schools which have balloted to opt out are schools facing either closure or merger, and that the reason why local education authorities campaign is sometimes that they are afraid that the Secretary of State does not take into account the strategic planning of education in their area, how much weight does he give to the effect of other educational provisions on decisions to opt out when he makes his decision whether to approve a ballot?

Mr. Baker : I have to take many factors into consideration. I have to discuss the viability of the school and consider whether it is strong enough to survive. I take into account the degree of support that is expressed in a ballot. After the events in Yorkshire last week, I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman has gone off balloting. However, his figures are wrong, because 30 schools have voted to opt out, 11 have said no, another decision is pending, and about another 20 schools are going through the process.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Does my right hon. Friend agree that knowledge is power, and that if parents are to have sufficient information about either the virtues or the disadvantages of opting out, increased publicity is necessary? Does my right hon. Friend not find it strange that the Labour party believes in parent power except when parents are able to express it through the ballot box?

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Mr. Baker : I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that the ballots and the campaigns surrounding them are conducted on a level playing field, and in a way which ensures that the arguments on both sides are put fairly. Obviously one is concerned when, in particular cases, public money is used.

Science (Women Teachers)

5. Ms. Quin : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to encourage more women to go into science teaching.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : We are very keen to encourage more men and women into science teaching. We have made available £6.5 million to higher education for specially designed courses to increase the supply of teachers in shortage subjects, including physics and design and technology. Some of those courses are specially designed to include part-time study and distance learning, with women graduates returning to teaching after starting a family in mind.

Ms. Quin : In view of the shortages and predicted shortages in science teaching, will the Department regard it as a matter of urgency to encourage more women to enter the profession? Can the Minister give details of how many new access courses will be created and when they will come into effect?

Mrs. Rumbold : As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we are encouraging mature students from other careers who are seeking a career change to teaching. We are also attacking the hidden shortages with in-service training for the conversion and updating of under -qualified teachers. Open learning materials commissioned from the BBC and the Open University will also be used to mitigate the problems of supply cover. We are collaborating with a group of independent television companies to produce science videos for updating and improving the teaching skills of science teachers. All those efforts can be targeted at helping returners to teaching--including women wishing to return to the profession after having families--to update their skills. According to information to be published later this week by the National Foundation for Educational Research, girls are doing better than boys in science learning in United Kingdom schools. That is very encouraging.

Mr. Bowis : Does my hon. Friend agree that one way of attracting more women and men into science teaching is to encourage more part-time teachers, so that scientists working in industry and elsewhere can give the benefit of their knowledge to our schoolchildren? Incidentally, the science that they teach may be even more up-to-date.

Mrs. Rumbold : The new licensed teacher route is geared directly to such entrants, and we look forward to enjoying the results of that scheme when it is introduced.

Nursery Education

6. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to increase support for nursery education ; and if he will make a statement.

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Mrs. Rumbold : The number and proportion of three and four-year- olds in schools have grown steadily over the period of the present Government. Our plans for expenditure on under-fives education in 1989-90 are, at £536 million, 10 per cent. higher in real terms than those for 1988-89, thus allowing that healthy trend to continue.

Mr. Griffiths : The Secretary of State may recall that one of his predecessors, who has since moved to higher things--to a position that the right hon. Gentleman himself perhaps coverts--predicted in 1971 that by 1981 there would be 700,000 places in nursery education. The Government have been in power for a decade now, but they are still 200,000 places short of that target. Why have they failed to achieve it, and why do Labour local authorities provide most places and Conservative local authorities least?

Mrs. Rumbold : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present when the House recently debated the subject, when he would have learned that about 85 per cent. of three and four-year-olds have some form of pre-school education. That record is considerably better than 10 years ago.

Sir John Stokes : Will my right hon. Friend take great care that in increasing support for nursery education she does not tempt mothers to dump their children? A mother working at home is doing just as important a job as one working in an office or factory. I did not leave home and go to school until I was nine, and it has not done me any harm.

Mrs. Rumbold : My hon. Friend is a clear model of parental care, showing that parents are the first and the best educators of young children.

Ms. Armstrong : When will the Minister ensure that the opportunity for choice in nursery education in Tory areas matches that in Labour areas?

Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Lady is well aware that the amount of money put into rate support grant is targeted particularly towards the inner cities and to areas where there is perceived to be a special need. That is why, in the case of the inner cities, there is more provision from the local education authorities and the local authorities, while in the county areas there is greater provision from the voluntary sector.

City Technology Colleges

7. Mr. John Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress he has made on his plans for city technology colleges ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Baker : The CTC programme is making excellent progress. Kingshurst opened last year, Nottingham and Teesside will open in September, with Bradford, Gateshead and the London school for performing arts and technology due to open in 1990. Further announcements will be made soon.

Mr. Hughes : As the CTCs have failed to attract public support, and as the Secretary of State has been finding it increasingly difficult to raise private donations, what percentage of the capital cost of future CTCs will be met by the taxpayer and what proportion does he expect to get from private donations?

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Mr. Baker : I reject entirely the premise of the hon. Gentleman's question. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Sir John Egan, chairman of Jaguar, proposed a CTC for Coventry--the hon. Gentleman's city--at a meeting with the chief education officer and the vice-chairman of the education group. The Labour majority on the education committee decided not to go ahead with the proposal and, unhappily for Coventry, that would appear to be the end of the matter. It is particularly regrettable when one bears in mind the fact that Coventry is the 16th highest spender in the country but only 61st in terms of the examination results of its school leavers.

Mr. Tredinnick : On behalf of my constituents, I thank my right hon. Friend for his decision to visit John Cleveland college and Barwell primary school in my constituency on Friday. Given his plans to look at CTCs, and bearing in mind the 25 per cent. increase in land prices in Leicestershire last year, will he also consider the county council's capital allocation? If that were increased, it would allow for the refurbishment of Barwell primary school.

Mr. Baker : My hon. Friend's question goes a little wider than the original question. However, I can say that Leicestershire's allocation of £6.8 million for 1989-90 represents 53 per cent. of its planned expenditure, compared with an average of 34 per cent. for all authorities. Leicestershire has therefore done considerably better than the average. It is up to the authorities there to decide how to spend their allocation-- whether on land purchase or on other capital work.

Mr. Madden : Why is the Secretary of State so enthusiastic about parents having ballots to enable schools to opt out of the state education system, but so implacably opposed to the parents of children who may go to a CTC having ballots to decide whether or not they want, as in Bradford, £7 million or £8 million of taxpayers' money to be spent on the establishment of a school when the city's existing schools are crying out for expenditure on renovation and repairs?

Mr. Baker : I will make a forecast to the hon. Gentleman, who represents part of the city of Bradford, that when that school opens next year it will probably prove to be one of the most popular in Bradford and that many of his constituents will want to send their children to it.

Mr. Thurnham : Will my right hon. Friend remind industry that its support is very welcome, not only for city technology colleges but also for schools which opt out? Is he aware of the great jubilation in Bolton this morning at his decision about St. James' school despite the pernicious obstruction by the local council?

Mr. Baker : Again that goes rather wide of the question. Let me remind the House, however, that I decided this morning that St James's Church of England school should become grant maintained, and I consider that it will be a successful and viable school.

Mr. Fatchett : When the Secretary of State told the Conservative party conference in October 1986 that he would establish 20 CTCs by the end of the decade was that a serious target, and can he now explain why he has failed?

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Mr. Baker : I assure the hon. Gentleman--because I know that he wants to see the programme succeed--that we shall have more than 20 CTCs. [ Hon. Members-- : "When?"] As soon as authorities, especially Labour authorities, co-operate in the provision of sites. Only when the Conservatives gained control of Bradford city council was it possible to start a CTC in Bradford.

Cleveland (Education)

8. Mr. Devlin : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent correspondence he has received on the state of education in Cleveland.

Mr. Butcher : During November last year my right hon. Friend received three very helpful letters from my hon. Friend about a range of issues arising during his visits to schools in his constituency.

Mr. Devlin : Does not the lack of other correspondence from the people of Cleveland show that the overwhelming majority are very happy with the new arrangements for higher standards in the national curriculum? Testing arrangements, the new city technology colleges and the changing status of our polytechnic will all receive a general welcome throughout the county, contrary to the allegations of the local Labour party.

Mr. Butcher : My hon. Friend has made a gracious commendation of the delivery of excellence in education by the schools in Cleveland. Cleveland is No. 8 in terms of academic results from school leavers, and is the 34th highest spender. That goes against the usual pattern of Labour-controlled LEAs, which combine high spending with low academic achievement. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for his comprehensive reports from a large school visits programme, and I assure him that we respond as positively as we can to the information that he sends in.

Mr. Bell : The people of Cleveland will welcome the Minister's statement on the high standards that we have obtained in the county. He ought to add his congratulations to the local Labour-controlled authority which has brought that about.

Can the Minister tell us why more was spent on the CTC than on the 200 schools in the county of Cleveland? Would it not have been more appropriate to put the same amount into those schools as into the CTC?

Mr. Butcher : No. [Hon. Members :-- "Why not?"] If I have interpreted the hon. Gentleman's past comments correctly, I think that he and I share an interest in maximising inner city children's chances of improved opportunities in the labour market, and indeed elsewhere. If that is the case, I hope that he will accept that the new initiative will be of immense benefit to Cleveland.

This is new money, and I suspect that the Labour party will find itself in a major dilemma. In the early days its members opposed council house sales, and that rebounded on them. They will find that, for social reasons, their opposition to CTCs will do the same.

Engineering Degrees

9. Mr. Patrick Thompson : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many students started first degree courses in engineering during the last three years.

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Mr. Jackson : In 1987 there were 19,300 first year full- time first degree students studying engineering at higher education institutions in Great Britain. In 1986 and 1985 there were 19,000 and 18,200 students respectively.

Mr. Thompson : Does my hon. Friend agree that although, thanks to the Government's successful policies, engineering output is growing strongly, the number of applications for engineering places has declined? Does he agree that that is not a healthy situation, and can he spell out what steps he and his colleagues are taking to improve it?

Mr. Jackson : We accept the advice that we receive from employers and from the Engineering Council that there is a need to sustain and increase the number of engineering graduates to maintain our competitiveness. We have taken a number of initiatives--the engineering and technology programme, the manufacturing systems engineering programme and the hi-tech programme--but we are not satisfied with the progress being made. That is why we have announced a series of studies--and we are grateful to the Engineering Employers Federation and the Engineering Council for supporting them--to try to find out more about the reasons for the unacceptable high wastage rate in engineering courses, and also to find out more about the attitudes of suitably qualified school leavers to the study of engineering.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the Minister accept that, in the past, many youngsters left school at 16, obtained good engineering apprenticeships and got into higher education as a result of day release and night school? As that avenue has now been stopped, because of the decline in the number of apprenticeships, is it not high time to reform education for 16 to 18-year-olds to make it more appropriate for people going into engineering? Does the Minister also accept that the present A- level syllabus does nothing to encourage people to go into engineering?

Mr. Jackson : The hon. Gentleman will have noticed the programme for an integrated engineering degree sponsored by the Engineering Council, which the Government have broadly welcomed. On the broad issue of 16 to 18- year-olds, the hon. Gentleman should refer to the speech, which I mentioned earlier, made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Association of Colleges for Further and Higher Education. It showed the way in which the Government are addressing the subject. I notice, meanwhile, that the policy attitude of the hon. Gentleman's party seems to be shifting.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend care to make a statement about the impact of the thoroughly unprofessional activities of the Association of University Teachers on the individuals who have entered engineering studies? Will he give an assurance that the Government will not give in to the unprofessional blackmail being practised by the AUT?

Mr. Jackson : The Government deplore the line being taken by the AUT. We consider it to be irresponsible and damaging to the aims that the AUT and its members claim to hold dear, and we condemn it utterly.

Mr. Andrew Smith : Are the Minister and Government not concerned that, notwithstanding the initiative to which he referred, Britain still produces barely two thirds the number of engineering graduates as does, for example,

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West Germany? Moreover, is the Minister aware that serious concern is now being expressed about the standards and quantity of first degree courses in this country? Has the Minister read the article in the National Institute Economic Review on the subject and what does he propose to do about it?

Mr. Jackson : I have already expressed the Government's concern about the number of engineering graduates. There is a controversy about the international comparisons to which the hon. Gentleman refers. He will have studied the reports in the Department of Employment Gazette on that point. The Government are taking various steps, such as the survey that we are undertaking to find out more about the attitudes and motivation of engineering students. I must emphasise the importance and relevance to all this of the changes we are making in schools, such as the broadening of the school curriculum through the national curriculum, which will have a major impact.


10. Mr. Amos : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the teaching to pupils over the age of 13 years of subjects covering the issue of abortion.

Mrs. Rumbold : It is for schools to decide whether and how to deal with the issue of abortion. The Government look to schools to show sensitivity in dealing with issues such as abortion, taking into account the views and concerns of parents.

Mr. Amos : Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1987, there were more than 4,000 abortions on girls aged 15 and under, compared to only 553 in 1968? Virtually all those were under the statutory ground No. 2. Will she, therefore, ensure that sex education involves far more teaching about the moral issues involved, instead of just the mechanics?

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