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(b) inform him that the land is being compulsorily acquired from them ; and
(c) pay to the education authority the whole or such part of the compensation which they receive in
Column 216respect of the compulsory acquisition as the Secretary of State may direct.'.-- [Mr. Michael Forsyth.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
A self-governing school shall not introduce general academic selection whereby the admission of pupils to the school or rejection of pupils by the school is made by reference to levels of ability or aptitude.'.-- [Mr. McLeish.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Many concerns were voiced in Committee about the Bill, but none more so than the concern about academic selection. Clauses 16 and 28 seem to include provision for a self-governing school to admit pupils on the basis of academic selection.
In Committee, the Government would not accept that definition of the words "aptitude and ability". But the Opposition clearly felt that aptitude and ability were an euphemism for admission on the basis of academic selection.
Over the past 20 years in Scotland there has been a consensus on the need to build and develop comprehensive education. That has been one of the big success stories of Scottish education over the past 10 to 15 years. The Opposition are alarmed that, under the guise of self-governing status, any school could use academic criteria to admit pupils. As the Committee progressed, the Opposition became less assured of the Government's intent. The Government were keen to suggest that aptitude and ability meant that there could be special provision for the arts and for sports, but the Opposition clearly felt that there was a real threat of academic selection.
There have been few studies on the impact of comprehensivisation on attainment in Scottish education. One is the work done by the Centre for Educational Sociology in Edinburgh. As usual, the Minister sighs with despair at the mention of that organisation, but it is a reputable, reliable and authoritative source on the benefits of comprehensivisation over the past few years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) reminds me, the Scottish Office invests considerable sums of money in tapping its expertise. Comprehensivisation in Scotland has meant an improvement in overall standards and, equally important, an equalisation of attainment between children of different social backgrounds. That was one of the motivating forces behind the introduction of comprehensive education, not only in England and Wales, but in Scotland.
The Centre for Educational Sociology has produced some interesting statistics on the impact of that change on the two areas of overall improvement and equalisation. In Committee there were few opportunities when the Government could resist the temptation to rubbish the work of the Centre for Educational Sociology, but they failed to provide any evidence to counter the representations that we were making, backed up by the welter of statistics on every educational indicator that we could find.
Column 217Clearly, comprehensivisation has been a success in Scotland, and the opposition are worried that that could be threatened by the back-door introduction of selection on the basis of academic criteria.
Scotland has dwelt on the twin aspects of child development--equal worth and equal access. We know that that is anathema to many on the Right wing of the Conservative party who do not believe that a modern progressive education system should have such qualities. Conservative Members like to talk about competition and individual choice, but one of the overriding qualities that comprehensivisation has brought to Scottish education is that children have been treated equally, with access that is not determined at an early age by testing ; nor is it dependent, for 98 per cent. of our Scottish schoolchildren, on the ability to pay.
Those are laudable objectives, which the Opposition believe should be nurtured and further developed. But if a self-governing school seeks to introduce academic criteria for admission, not only will the educational clock be put back some 20 years, but it will be educationally divisive. The introduction of admission based on academic criteria would lead to a diminution of choice for the vast majority of Scottish schoolchildren. The wider danger, knowing the Government's track record, is that, at an early date, that very concept could, through legislation, be introduced in education authority schools.
We are talking about more than merely academic selection being used in self -governing schools, but that is the thin edge of the educational wedge in satisfying the lust on the Government Benches in this new Right view of education where everything has to be competitive and children have to be failed at an early stage so that competition comes higher on the education agenda.
That is not the path which other European countries are following. It is widely recognised in education and in training that the countries that are competitive and whose performance greatly outstrips us have a system of education in which all children can develop and take advantage of the education system until the age of 16 or after when they can specialise in training, vocational education and further education. That requires a non- selective system of education at the crucial time in a child's development within a community. That is why the Opposition have sought to make this a key priority in the debate. We have sought to ensure that something that is not wanted in Scotland is adequately dealt with in the House tonight.
It is curious that we have a Bill which, by any stretch of the imagination, is uniquely objectionable to most Scots, and within which are even more objectionable aspects such as academic selection. At one time, when a Government brought legislation before the House, they would have evidence to justify or substantiate what they were seeking to do. The Government have nothing to justify the reintroduction of a method of selecting children for schools, which, as I have said, was smashed by the consensus which has emerged over the past 20 years.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : Where does the Bill introduce academic selection, or selection of any kind? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the Bill introduces two specific hurdles--the consent of the parents and the consent of the Secretary of State--to make such a change? Will he also confirm that education authority schools will be able to introduce academic selection on the basis of a simple vote
Column 218by the education committee? There are specific protections and it is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to mislead the House in the way that he has.
Mr. McLeish : With the greatest respect to the Minister, it is he who is misleading the House. In Committee, he made great play of the fact that Scottish education authorities could at any time reintroduce academic selection. The real test is that they have no inclination to do so, and that applied when the Conservatives controlled some education authorities in Scotland--an event unlikely to be repeated in the near future. However, it is not true to say that that is a power that local authorities have and would wish to use.
The Minister also asks where in the Bill there is a suggestion of academic selection. It is in clause 16, and there is a reference to aptitude and ability. We cannot accept for a minute that, after two obstacles have been overcome, we should trust the Secretary of State not to decide that a school can change its characteristics and allow academic selection.
Mr. Bill Walker : When the hon. Gentleman gets round to reading the statement that he has just made, he may see the conflicting arguments that he has used to present his case. He accepts that it is on the statute book that local authorities can, if they wish, introduce selection, but they have not done so because they did not wish to do so. The Bill simply gives parents and school boards a similar opportunity.
Mr. McLeish : I have some respect for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but if he believes that the Bill is permissive and will merely lie on the shelf in schools throughout the country and not be used, he is being extremely naive. The Government introduced assisted places and school boards on the pretext that they would offer parental choice. In truth, they provided the base on which to build self-governing schools. The Bill also reintroduces standardised testing. It all fits together, to allow a school to pit child against child at a very early age. It is very naive of the hon. Member for Tayside, North to assume that the Bill simply provides further parental choice. That is not its purpose. If the hon. Gentleman read some of the Right-wing nonsense in which some of his right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and Back Benches indulge, he would be more wary of the Minister's overtures about the Bill being only permissive legislation.
Why do the Government wish to see even self-governing schools return to a system that has been massively rejected by the Scottish people and by every other political party in Scotland, and which is repugnant to the majority of parents and educationalists? Even given the Government's comments about aptitude and ability, they must justify such an objectionable measure. In Committee, the Minister wriggled away from giving more precise definitions. I ask him to state tonight whether he believes that selection on the basis of academic ability should be reintroduced in the Scottish education system. I ask him whether he will allow that, as between the primary and comprehensive sector, and cause enormous damage to children?
Mr. Michael Forsyth : At the risk of irritating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), in Committee I made it clear that I am in favour of schools being selective in their intake. One example is pupils
Column 219wishing to join a school of dance, such as the Knightswood comprehensive school. In the case of the Douglas academy, selection would apply to children talented in music. In Committee, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) failed to say whether he was against such selection, and whether it was included in the term "general academic selection" in new clause 2.
Mr. McLeish : There was nothing very original in that response. The Minister gave the wrong reply to the right question. Setting aside social skills, culture and sport, does the Minister want to see in existence soon the situation in which a self-governing school, after a change in its characteristics, will admit children only on the basis of tests relating to their academic ability at primary school level? Does the Minister support that concept, or will he give an assurance that such a system will not operate?
Mr. Michael Forsyth : The Bill allows a self-governing school to make a proposal which, if it receives the endorsement of parents, can go before the Secretary of State for him to take a view. The hon. Gentleman describes music as a social subject whereas it is really an academic subject requiring great skill. Is the hon. Gentleman against schools having specialist departments for music? Is he against specialist departments of classics because of the need for a broad intake to run a successful classics department? Will the hon. Gentleman, like his hon. Friend the Member of Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) duck the issue of whether there should be selective intake for those whose native language is Gaelic? My view is that such matters are best left to the judgment of parents and to the good sense of the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman wants self- governing schools to be more restricted than education authority schools. He should be honest enough to answer the questions that have been asked of him.
Mr. McLeish : Our worry is that, if the Minister were to be sitting in the Scottish Office considering requests from parents, and given that he is ideologically committed to academic selection, he would agree to a school changing its characteristics under the banner of aptitude and ability. The Minister again wriggles away from answering the real question. In Committee, other definitions of ability and aptitude were accepted. Tonight, I ask the Minister whether he wants to see a return to the situation that existed in Scottish schools 15 or 20 years ago, whereby the result of a test set to children in primary schools determined their whole futures. Is that what the Minister wants to achieve in Scottish education?
Mr. Michael Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the answer to that question is no. In previous debates, we repeatedly gave assurances that the tests being introduced in primary schools will not be used for the purposes of selection and to rank children, but for giving parents information about their children's academic performance. They will not go as far as the tests run by education authorities such as that in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. His new clause is not about that aspect but about preventing schools from doing what the Douglas academy and Knightswood in the comprehensive sector have done, which is to be selective about particular specialist intakes in meeting a particular specialist need. I
Column 220am sorry that the hon. Gentleman's own narrow-minded, ideological bigotry would prevent parents from having the option to vote for or against any change, when he is perfectly content for any education authority to effect changes without consulting parents, other than in the most cursory way.
Mr. McLeish : I know that a number of my hon. Friends are keen to participate in the debate, and we are now going over ground that was covered in Committee. However, on a poll of Scottish parents, I know whom they would trust more, given a choice between the Secretary of State and the Minister, and the chairman and responsible members of an education authority.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does the hon. Gentleman include and embrace in his new clause physical education and all that it implies? If he does, the hon. Gentleman, with his experience of and background in professional soccer, and one thing or another, must surely agree that parents may want their children to enter a particular school because its staff have a reputation for being particularly experienced in that area of activity.
Mr. McLeish : I did not mind the hon. Gentleman's reference to my background in soccer, but his reference to "one thing or another" perplexed me. He follows the line of the Minister. Academic selection relates to admission on the basis of academic ability, which in turn suggests mental rather than physical aptitudes. The Minister nods his head in surprise, but that aspect was covered in Committee, and tonight we have tried to get the Minister to come clean and talk about general academic selection as it is generally interpreted. He has failed to do so. Instead we heard throwaway lines relating to music, dancing and other cultural subjects. My right hon. and hon. Friends will infer from that that the Minister is moving to admission on the basis of academic selection.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman asked me to give additional examples, but why did his list ignore the examples of the classics and of Gaelic that I gave? He rode over music as though it were a social skill. Is the hon. Gentleman against schools providing specialist teaching in specialist subjects and being selective about intake? If so, he is against the apparent current practice in comprehensive schools in Strathclyde.
Mr. McLeish : The Minister should read new clause 2, which refers to admission criteria on the basis of academic ability. The Minister clearly wishes to ignore our interpretation of that, but most Scots know what is meant by selection between primary and secondary schools. The Minister glibly ignores the reality. Beneath the guise of aptitude and ability, the criteria and characteristics of self-governing schools--established under clause 16--could change over a period, under clause 28. That could include admission on the basis of academic selection.
Mr. Bill Walker : As the hon. Gentleman will know, my constituency contains a number of schools. What will he tell primary schools that teach Gaelic? What will he tell parents who wish their children to attend a secondary school that, under the present comprehensive system, offers Gaelic as a subject, if it becomes self-governing because that is wanted locally? Will he say that the school can no longer be selective?
Mr. McLeish : I think that that point was covered earlier. Whether or not the Government understand the issue, the people of Scotland will understand it. Most of them fought for a long time to remove academic criteria from the face of Scottish education. Now, in the late 1980s, we see the possibility of a Government's wishing to return to that reactionary and regressive attitude to Scottish education.
We are opposed to such criteria for admission, for the simple reason that we believe that comprehensivisation has shown that we want to invest in every child, with no artificial cut-off point in relation to maturity or ability at any specific age. We do not want to return to a system of investing in failure by rejecting children of 11--or, under this bizarre testing procedure, possibly even younger--when they could move into comprehensive education at the age of 12, 13, 14 or 15, maturing at different stages and combining either academic ability or vocational training with their talents. That is the light that we have tried to cast on the gloom that will surround the future of comprehensive and self- governing schools if the Bill is passed.
We talked earlier about what we wished to do in the future, and I do not want to go into that now. Let me simply say that we see an odious practice seeping through the Bill. We hope that, if it is implemented, self- governing schools in particular will once again, at the earliest opportunity, see equal worth and equal access as an important priority. We ask the House to accept new clause 2, which we think will be widely welcomed in Scotland.
Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith : Let me briefly repeat some of the concerns that I had in Committee. I understand what lies behind new clause 2, although I suspect that some of the fears that prompted it are not as strong as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) makes out.
I am, however, anxious that if any genuine element of selectivity were introduced it could have a dramatic effect on schools in rural areas. As I said in Committee, parents subjected to it might have had no say in the opting out of the secondary school to which their children's primary school was feeding pupils. That in itself is bad enough, but if the parents had no choice because children were being fed to a specific centre, the denial of access to the secondary school that was in the natural position for their area would create horrendous practical and physical problems of, for instance, travel. I freely admit that the problem might not arise in urban areas, as there would be other suitable secondary schools nearby.
My hon. Friend the Minister gave me a strong assurance in Committee that in such circumstances the Secretary of State would on no account allow the introduction of selection on an academic basis. I very much hope that he will repeat that assurance tonight, as it has coloured my attitude to the new clause. I do not support the Bill in any case, but I want to be certain that when it becomes law it will not deny access to the geographically natural secondary school in a rural area because of action taken after the school has become self-governing.
Sir Russell Johnston : I strongly agree with what the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) has said. Nevertheless, he cannot say on the one hand, "I am not terribly worried about selectivity ; I think that the Opposition are exaggerating," and on the
Column 222other hand, "Oh dear me, it might happen, and if it happens in a rural context it would be dreadful." The two are not compatible. I share his anxieties for practically the same reasons, however, and consider it entirely right for him to ask for certain assurances. I strongly support new clause 2, and compliment whoever devised it on the straightforward language in which it is couched : I know that such pellucid simplicity is anathema to the arcane minds of the Minister's advisers, who do not appear to be around at present. The Minister, too, has departed, but no doubt he will be advised by his friendly colleagues. In Committee, he provided a regrettable demonstration that he is the grammatical slave of the obscure and recondite mandarins who write our legislation, and I hope that he will not descend into such arguments this evening.
Let me be more serious. I believe that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) was entirely right in saying that the most important single worry of those of us who oppose the legislation is that it could provide a way of introducing selectivity covertly at an early stage. I thought that the 11-plus argument was long buried, but I fear that it is not.
A long exchange between the hon. Member for Fife, Central and the Minister did not leave me much the wiser, but as I understand the new clause-- perhaps the hon. Member for Fife, Central will confirm this--it is designed to prevent general exclusion on academic grounds, but not particular exclusion. For example, if a school wished to concentrate on the various subjects cited by the Minister--dance, classics or Gaelic--I do not think that anything in the new clause could prevent it from doing so.
The new clause is designed to protect the slow developer. I am sorry to sound like an echo of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), but I speak as a slow developer myself. I have in my possession a report card. It says that I was 26th in the class in one year and that three years later I was in first position. Some people do not develop as quickly as others, but they are capable of making progress and even becoming Members of Parliament. We want to ensure that this is not a covert way of preventing that happening. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside is still very worried and his worries have led him to make the speech that he has just made. He is worried about the Bill being used to prevent people from developing at their own pace,. The new clause will not be used to prevent children from developing at their own pace, so I see no objection to its being accepted. It would not prevent schools from concentrating on the matters to which the Minister referred. That is perfectly proper, understandable and desirable.
Mr. Walker : I am wondering whether he was with the same group of 26 students or whether the composition of the group had changed--that from being bottom of the class in one group he moved to another group where he was top of the class.
Column 223My concern about the new clause is the inclusion of the word "aptitude." I should have thought that the word "ability" was sufficient. Aptitude is latent and can be developed. For that reason I intervened on a number of occasions during the speech of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). Degrees are now offered in a variety of disciplines, including what I believe to be variations on physical education. Certain schools employ teachers who are particularly good at coaching young people in football, rugby, sailing, skiing, hockey, netball, running and jumping.
The aptitude of a child can be spotted at a fairly early age. If he is provided with the right coaching, he may reach the stage where he can take up a career in which he can use his particular skills. He might be prepared to take a degree of a kind that did not exist 10 or 20 years ago. I do not complain about that. It is right that degrees in other than academic or theoretical subjects are now awarded. Young people are now able to use their great talents and skills to their own advantage and to the advantage of the nation, provided that their aptitude is developed at a sufficiently early age. It would be nice if Scottish people could be seen to be competing with and beating the best simply because they had attended a school where music, dance or drama had been part of the curriculum, due to a member of the staff having the skill to train young people with those aptitudes. The new clause could be used to prevent that from happening.
Sir Russell Johnston : Does the hon. Gentleman believe that specialist schools such as he has described could function in sparsely populated rural areas? I can see that happening in urban areas where young people would not have to travel long distances, but it could not happen in sparsely populated areas where general provision has to be made.
Mr. Walker : The hon. Gentleman, who has a background in education, ought to know that there have been remarkable developments in some of our rural area schools. Specialist skills are being exercised and used in my area. Local authority schools are encouraging youngsters, even though they live outside the normal catchment area, to travel to them, because they are able to offer specialist training. If a school is fortunate enough to have on its staff individuals, or an individual, with the special talent of being able to develop young people's ability in music, drama, or physical education, it is not surprising that parents encourage their children to travel to that school. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency, as in mine, many children have to travel long distances. Some of them have to live in hostels.
We spend a great deal of time talking about the problems of the inner cities, but we fail to understand the problems, challenges and opportunities that exist in rural schools. The schools in, say, Killiecrankie and the Bridge of Cally, where there is only one teacher, are good schools. Youngsters who are taught in one-teacher schools often excel because they receive tuition of a kind that is not available to youngsters in city schools. Even more important is the fact that they live in communities where learning and education are seen to be a way of improving one's lot and of getting out into the big world and doing things with one's life.
Column 224The teaching of Gaelic is growing. A number of schools specialise in the teaching of Gaelic and encourage young people to learn the language, but there is nothing mandatory about it ; they learn it by choice. The new clause relates to self-governing schools. It does not relate to local authority schools. Why should schools and parents in my constituency, which covers 2,000 square miles of rural Scotland, be deprived of opportunities simply because at one time the parents and the school board decided that the school should become self-governing? Why should they be any different from secondary schools with vast catchment areas that have remained within local authority control? Why should a school not be able to accept and select pupils because it has become a self -governing school? That is my worry about new clause 2. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's assessment of it. I believe that it would hit rural schools such as those in my constituency.
I shall use one group of schools as an example as they provide the best illustration. The schools at Blair Atholl and Killiecrankie feed into Pitlochry school and Breadalbane academy, as do many other schools. I have selected those two deliberately because of certain geographical matters. Pitlochry school only goes up to the fourth year so any children wishing to remain in school have to transfer to or begin their secondary education at Breadalbane academy. Breadalbane academy accommodates pupils in the school dormitories, but anyone who has looked at a map of Perthshire will know that it is not the easiest of journeys from Blair Atholl to Breadalbane. One has to go down the A9 and across country to Aberfeldy. The journey from Killiecrankie is just as difficult. Pupils from a number of other schools face fairly tortuous routes.
If Breadalbane academy decides to become a self-governing school, the parents and the school board decide to put forward that proposal and it receives the sanction of the Secretary of State, and if Breadalbane wants to continue to accept pupils to study Gaelic, although they are not from the catchment area, under new clause 2 it may not be able to do so, because it will have become a self-governing school.
Sir Russell Johnston indicated dissent.
Mr. Walker : The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber shakes his head, but I believe that new clause 2 could have an impact on rural areas. I was impressed by what my hon. Friend the Minister said in earlier debates on the Bill. He drew attention to the fact that those of us representing rural areas would obviously be anxious that children living in the accepted catchment area for a secondary school in a rural area should not be excluded because that school has made a certain choice. My hon. Friend gave a clear assurance, which I am sure he will repeat tonight if necessary, that people will not be left with a lack of choice because of the geographical location of the secondary school. That would be unacceptable to all hon. Members who represent rural constituencies, but my hon. Friend has given his word and has reassured me.
That is not what bothers me about new clause 2. I do not believe that new clause 2 would remove that possibility, but I believe that if it were accepted, it would prevent such a school from accepting from outside its normal catchment area pupils who had aptitudes in the disciplines that I mentioned earlier.
"admission of pupils to the school"
the clause would state :
"A self-governing school shall not introduce general academic selection whereby the rejection of pupils by the school is made by reference to levels of ability or aptitude."
I am not particularly interested in preventing pupils from entering a school ; I do not want to exclude people because of general matters or to create a situation in which schools are not allowed to accept pupils because of their aptitude.
"whereby the admission of pupils to the school or rejection of pupils by the school"--
there are two sides to the coin ; I am dealing with the side that worries me--
"is made by reference to levels of ability of aptitude." I thought that I said at the beginning of my remarks that if the clause is concerned only with academic ability the word "aptitude" is unnecessary. I may be wrong, but it is my judgment that the word "aptitude" embraces anything for which a child has an aptitude. That is why I drew attention to the special disciplines that have been developed in further education and the new degrees that are being offered.
Mr. McAllion indicated dissent.
Mr. McAllion : I am shaking my head because I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman is so silly as not to understand the wording of the new clause. If the new clause read, "A self-governing school shall not admit pupils to the school by reference to levels of ability or aptitude," I would understand his argument. But the new clause states that a school
"shall not introduce general academic selection".
That is all the new clause prohibits, so we have wasted about 15 minutes listening to a lot of nonsense about nothing.
Mr. Walker : I advise the hon. Gentleman to leave the Chamber and look up the words "general", "academic" and "selection" in the Oxford English Dictionary. When he has done so he should come back here and tell me whether I am talking nonsense. The hon. Gentleman should remember that, if the new clause were accepted, it would be on the statute book and it would be judged in terms of law considering what each of those words means separately and collectively. The hon. Gentleman may believe something quite different, but that is what would happen if the new clause became a matter of dispute. We have to consider that when we debate new clause 2.
I understood the argument of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). I doubt whether the way in which the new clause is phrased will produce what he intended. I understood that he objected to any overall assessment such as the 11-plus. He is afraid that youngsters will be selected at a certain age. I believe that the present wording of his new clause will not achieve that. In my view, the important word is "aptitude". I recommend that the hon. Member for Dundee, East should also look up the word "aptitude".
Mr. Walker : I am not in favour of going back to the 11-plus or anything remotely like it, but that does not mean that I am not in favour of individuals with special talents being given the opportunity to attend schools that have facilities for developing those talents. I believe that that would be a sensible use of education. It is happening now in the comprehensive system and I make no complaint about that. It is wise and sensible. Not every school can offer specialist teachers with skills to develop youngsters in particular disciplines. Not every school, and certainly not every rural secondary school, can do so, but some schools today offer specialist skills. Youngsters in my constituency travel fairly long distances to schools that offer specialist disciplines and skills. That is happening under the existing system of comprehensive education, and it has nothing to do with what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends say. I understand their concern, but the new clause does not achieve what they want to achieve. If it is accepted, it could frustrate schools that are presently able to offer specialist skills under the comprehensive regime. They would be frustrated by the new clause if they were to become self governing. I would have hardly thought that any hon. Member would wish children from within or outwith a catchment area to be excluded because they have an aptitude.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central said that, under the present system, schools can be made selective if the local education authority so wishes-- that provision is on the statute book--but they do not do so because the local education authority does not wish it and, thus far, the schools have made no such bids.
All that the Bill does is give self-governing schools the same opportunity as exists for local education authorities. Local education authorities are the final arbiters of these matters. If a local authority decides to make a school selective, the decision must be referred to the Secretary of State. A self-governing school cannot come into being unless the Secretary of State approves. That also is a fundamental change. Both fundamental changes are optional ; they are not mandatory. There is no requirement for the education authority, the school board or the parents to decide that a school should become self-governing. No one will force them to do that. However, they have an option and a back-up, with the Secretary of State making the final decision. The case put by the hon. Member for Fife, Central is weakest on that point. Education authorities have had those powers, but they have chosen not to use them. If he is right and there is no demand, there will be no self-governing schools because the option will not be exercised.
Mr. McLeish : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that certain education authorities have the power to introduce selection on the basis of academic ability? However, over some years, that practice has fallen into disuse and it is unlikely that it will ever be used again. In relation to self- governing schools, there need have been no reference to student ability. Selection has rightly been removed from
Column 227Scottish education, and the possibility of its returning is advanced by clause 16 and the reference to entry on the basis of ability or aptitude.
Mr. Walker : I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's argument, which he has repeated throughout the passage of the Bill, that there is no demand for self-governing schools in Scotland, that there will be no self- governing schools and that, with the passage of time, they will fall into the same category of selection ; local education authorities have not exercised their choice, and selection has fallen into disuse. If I am right, there will be some, but not many, self-governing schools, and my local education authority will respond with an understanding of the needs of rural schools.
I have made my case in support of the Bill, and my objection to the new clause is based on what I regard as the likely impact on rural schools in my constituency. Those schools will receive from the local education authority much more sympathetic understanding and treatment of the kind that the parents want for their children. The Bill has already brought about changes in Strathclyde. When it becomes an Act, the Tayside region will be much more responsive and receptive and less oriented to Dundee's many needs. There will be more understanding of the quality of teaching staff in rural areas. The quality of life is one reason why teachers opt to live in rural areas. We often get good teachers in rural areas--it is true also of doctors and lawyers--and that is why we have high-calibre schools. However, they sometimes feel that the education authority does not fully understand their motivation and why people live in rural areas. The quality of life is probably the most important aspect in their decision to do so.
It is important that, when we examine the Bill and consider what will happen, we should not be dominated by the needs and problems of Scotland's great cities. The Bill, like all the others that pass through this place, will affect rural areas. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, those areas must feel that their needs are being satisfied.
I understand why the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) is not present. She has made it clear how she feels about rural schools. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister would be wrong to accept the new clause. Its effect would not be the kind of effect that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for the Democrats-- [Interruption.] I always think of the hon. Gentleman as being what a Liberal Member of Parliament should be. It is rather sad that not all his colleagues emulate him. His comments are always courteous and generous. He would be an ideal Liberal Member. I do not doubt his concern for rural schools in his constituency, but we have different assessments of what new clause 2 will do. However, our fears are not dissimilar. That is why it is good that we have had this opportunity to put our views on record. For the reasons that I have given, I hope that the Minister will reject the new clause.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : I hope that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) will forgive me if I do not agree with everything that he said. I will deal with the problems of children with learning difficulties and children with special needs. I support the new clause. As it stands, the Bill does a great disservice to those children. I
Column 228have read the Committee debates in some detail, and I have been greatly impressed, as I was this evening, by the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish).
The Government have failed to justify changes that they are attempting to introduce into the Scottish system. Comprehensive education is being turned aside, which means that the kind of elitism that the Scottish people have long since rejected is again being imposed on our educational system. That is bad for the majority of Scottish children, but it is particularly bad for children with special needs whose difficulties and circumstances the House will wish to take into account.
I do not believe, and have never believed, that Scottish education for the majority of children has been the jewel in the crown of educational provision. Historically, prior to the introduction of comprehensive education, for a small minority it might have been said that we had a splendid system leading, for that small minority, to excellent achievement. But that was the realisation of Jean Brodie's creme de la creme and not of service to the majority of Scottish children.