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Column 242school that their children attend. It is not true to say that, where schools in England and Wales have voted to opt out, that has provided an opportunity for selectivity. The real reason is best illustrated by the example of Baverstock school in the Maypole area of Birmingham, where the headmaster said :
"Out here, people thought that they had been abandoned" and when not abandoned, meddled with. Parents at that school took the opportunity provided by the Government to be in charge of their own destiny. The introduction of selectivity did not enter into it. That school acquired a bad reputation, suffered from it, and became unpopular. Under the new headmaster and his team, the school was turned around. One of their innovations was to introduce a system whereby the staff are addressed as "Sir" or "Ma'am", uniform is compulsory, and every day begins with assembly. Such a regime was not offered by the local education authority but was wanted by the parents. They voted for self-governing status for that reason, not to introduce selectivity. They wanted to change and protect the ethos of the school in a way that the local education authority would not have permitted.
Mr. Leigh : The point must be made that it is not just a matter of pumping more resources into schools. It is also a question of changing their ethos. When schools become self-governing, they may not necessarily be given more resources, but their ethos will alter.
Mr. Howarth : That is true. Opposition Members underestimate the desire of parents to bring back some of the old-fashioned virtues and notions in schools where they have been almost driven out. 9.30 pm
Mr. Howarth : As one who was chastised with the cane at school, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, although other things may have done me harm, that was not one of them. I was very conscious of the need to preserve the discipline of the school.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has been under considerable pressure to resist the idea that self-governing schools ought to be able to introduce an element of selectivity. I accept what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside about the problems in rural areas, but in densely populated urban areas containing a number of schools, diversity of educational provision could be an advantage. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) would keep quiet for a moment, he might learn something to his advantage.
Mr. Howarth : The hon. Gentleman has had too good a dinner ; that is the trouble. As a Douglas from the borders, I am used to hearing the speeches of well-refreshed members of my family from time to time.
It is wrong to suggest that parents now have unlimited choice, despite the parents' charter that the Government introduced in Scotland. Throughout the United Kingdom--Scotland is not the only victim--there is rationing by
Column 243catchment area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes pointed out, if people want to opt for the educational provision that exists in Lincolnshire, they must move house. People will often move to a particular area and buy a house there simply to be able to enter the catchment area of a certain school. It is wholly untrue that, in a great Socialist Valhalla, people have been provided with choice by benevolent Socialist councillors and their local education authorities.
I do not see why a school should not be able to set academic criteria when there are alternative schools. To deny that possibility is to imply that academic attainment is all that counts, which is not so. Today sporting ability can lead not only to a fulfilling career but to an extremely lucrative one, and the same applies to artistic and creative abilities. The new clause therefore strikes me as unnecessary.
I believe that, in some instances, academic selection could certainly be entertained by the Secretary of State. If Opposition Members fear that, they should bear it in mind that my right hon. and learned Friend has put it on the record categorically that he is against selection on the basis of academic ability. [Interruption.] He has said that ; it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke).
Mr. Foulkes rose --
Mr. Foulkes : Does the hon. Gentleman not remember that the same Secretary of State made an absolute pledge that he would not introduce the provisions of this Bill? That shows how trustworthy his promises are.
Mr. Howarth : If it were true, and my right hon. and learned Friend had changed his mind, he must be the most sensible of men, and I am sure that the people of Scotland will be even more grateful for his flexibility of mind.
The Opposition have completely failed to make a case for the amendment. The Bill provides hurdles to ensure that some of their worse fears are confounded. A very good case can be made for academic selection. The Bill does not destroy comprehensive education. Many people believe that a lot of our educational ills can be put down to Mrs. Shirley Williams who compulsorily made education comprehensive. However, this Bill is not the measure to change that.
Mr. Salmond : I do not know why the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and other hon. Members are in difficulties about the wording of the new clause. It is a model of clarity, if it is compared with many of the amendments and new clauses.
The phrase "general academic selection" is well understood. The hon. Member for Tayside, North agreed with the principle of the new clause but he said that he was worried about its wording. The Under-Secretary of State has it within his power to bring about an historic compromise between the hon. Member for Tayside, North and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) by giving an
Column 244assurance that he will introduce an appropriately worded amendment in the other place. Such an assurance would, I am sure, be received favourably by the hon. Member for Fife, Central. It would also show whether the Government are serious about not allowing selectivity to creep into Scottish education.
The hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) often say what the Minister is thinking about educational questions. Both of them, drawing on their exhaustive knowledge of the Scottish education system, have supported academic selection. I have always thought that it is invidious to compare education systems. However, it is appropriate to compare the education system with which the hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes and for Cannock and Burntwood are familiar and the education system in Scotland.
The English system is fragmented. It is partly selective and substantially private. Its achievements should be compared with the Scottish comprehensive system. In Scotland, 21 per cent. of our children gain the necessary qualifications for higher education. In England and Wales, only 15 per cent. of children gain those qualifications. I do not claim that 21 per cent. in Scotland is a remarkable achievement. It should be substantially higher than that. The hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes and for Cannock and Burntwood have offered us some lessons that they say we in Scotland should learn. They have used the power of their votes in Scottish Standing Committees to push through amendments that they favour, but they should base their offer of the lessons that Scotland should learn on the experience of better international education systems rather than on the experience of an education system that is substantially worse, according to a number of criteria, than the Scottish one.
The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) referred to rural schools. I support his arguments. If selectivity were to be introduced in rural schools, pupils would have to be bussed substantial distances to other schools. The only alternative would be to establish in rural communities schools for pupils with lower attainments. Neither of those possibilities is attractive to any Scottish Member of Parliament who represents a rural constituency. There should be no exclusion on any grounds of a pupil from a rural community school. That view is strongly held by all Scottish Members of Parliament with rural constituencies. Conservative Members have consistently argued that it would be simpler for an education authority in Scotland to adopt the selective approach than it would be for a school that had opted out and that was awaiting the Secretary of State's decision. There is a fairly substantial difference. Scottish education authorities are democratically elected. They represent, one hopes, the local communities within their area. The same certainly cannot be claimed for the Secretary of State for Scotland. His views of Scottish education are certainly not representative of the Scottish community. Earlier this evening, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), said that he did not want an unrepresentative minority to grab control of a school in Scotland. The problem we face is that an unrepresentative minority has grabbed control, not of a single school but of the entire education system in Scotland. That was supported by the English battalions in Committee and in the House tonight.
Column 245The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) suggested that the criterion for selecting English Members to serve on the Standing Committee was ignorance of the Scottish education system. I rather suspect that the criterion for selection was familiarity with the Minister responsible for Scottish education. It is clear from the interchange between the surviving members of the No Turning Back group--perhaps the Minister is still a member of such a group--that their purpose was to egg the Minister on to greater and more radical things. Unfortunately the greater and more radical things are not wanted by the vast majority of the Scottish community.
Finally, we are told that we must accept the assurances of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside said that he would be prepared to accept such assurances, but I remember the right hon. Gentleman telling the House on a previous occasion that during the last general election he specifically inquired about the possibility of opting out being introduced into Scottish education and had received an assurance from Conservative central office that there were no such plans. That is the credibility of assurances from the Secretary of State and from the Government Front Bench. Had those assurances proved valid in the past, we should not be discussing this legislation this evening.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : We have had an interesting debate on new clause 2. Time and again, opponents of our proposals for self-governing schools return to their claim that giving parents the right to seek greater involvement in the running of schools will bring about the return of senior secondary schools, complete with a qualifying examination.
Those opponents claim to base their view on the existence of machinery in clause 28 designed to allow self-governing schools to respond flexibly to future developments by seeking to change their fundamental characteristics. By now they are well aware that any such change requires the support of parents voting in a ballot and the approval of the Secretary of State. The clause 28 machinery exists as a protection for the existing fundamental characteristics of a school that opts for self-governing status. We have deliberately made it difficult to alter those characteristics--more difficult than any parallel changes in an education authority school. It is interesting that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) argues that the difference is that local authorities are more democratic. He appears to believe that a local authority education committee is more representative of the wishes of parents.
The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is seeking to argue that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is not representative of the parents, but although the decision to alter the characteristics of a school is taken by the Secretary of State, it can come to the Secretary of State only when a majority of the parents have voted for it. The process is started by the parents. The hon.
Column 246Gentleman is seeking to argue that the education authority committees are more representative of the wishes of parents than are the parents themselves.
If we accept the view that self-governing schools will lead to a return of selective schools, our opponents must believe that enough Scottish parents are sufficiently dissatisfied with the present system of secondary schools to support a return to selective schools. What evidence do they have for that? Why do they continue to make those claims? In any secondary school a fair number of parents will have other children still at primary school. They at least are unlikely to be strong supporters of bringing back fully selective entry.
In many parts of the country, a school that aimed to exclude large numbers by a selective entry test would simply find itself unable to attract sufficient pupils to remain viable, and any proposals under clause 28 require the consent of the Secretary of State. He will have regard to the viability of the particular school and any consequences for the wider provision of education for all pupils in the area. On Second Reading my right hon. and learned Friend made it quite clear that there was no question of a return to the selective secondary schools of the past.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan- Smith) asked me to repeat the assurance that I gave in Committee that there would be no question of allowing selection in any community--rural or otherwise--where the effect would be that children were denied the opportunity of going to the only possible, practical school. I am happy to repeat the undertaking that I clearly gave in Committee.
I am puzzled why the Opposition should be continually obsessed with that issue. In Committee I made it clear that one use of admission arrangements based on ability or aptitude could be in a school operating a specialist unit of one sort or another. The new clause carries the heading "general academic selection", with the suggestion, perhaps, that particular academic selection would be more acceptable.
In Committee, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) initiated a debate on the concept of giftedness. In the view of Opposition Members, specific provision for giftedness might be seen as acceptable. We still do not know the hon. Gentleman's view on that matter. It appears that the selection of children based on a gift for music or dance is entirely virtuous. We have established that. However, selection for specialist facilities relating to ability in classics or minority foreign languages seems to be a more difficult subject for Opposition Members. They recognise that that might be the most effective and perhaps the only sensible means of making such provision, but such arrangements were clearly coming too close to the bogy of general academic selection. Certainly, any form of selection based on a particular gift with mathematics or mainstream languages was to be ruled out.
What are we to make of all of this? One clue is that Strathclyde regional council makes specialist provision for music at Douglas academy at Milngavie and for dance at Knightswood. By definition, those arrangements must be virtuous, and recognition of special ability in more academic subjects, however, is to be an absolutely no-go area.
Column 247The drafting of the new clause is less than certain. It is against academic selection in self-governing schools, but it appears to define academic selection by reference to any form of selection based on the ability and aptitude of pupils. I accept that Opposition Members do not intend to exclude the necessary judgments on specialist provision to be made for those with defined special educational needs. They probably did not intend to exclude selection for music or dance units, but the new clause certainly does that. Our view is that the Bill should not rule out such changes It should be open to schools to develop all sorts of specialist provision where they find it possible and valuable to do so. It is for parents in the first instance to vote on whether they consider proposals for such provision acceptable.
Diversity is one of the main themes of our proposals. This new clause is against diversity, and I ask the House to reject it.
I noticed also that the Minister stuck closely to his brief. For example, he did not stray from it to agree with the comments of, for example, his hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth). Perhaps he thought that, had he strayed from it, he might have let slip the true intentions of the Bill, rather than remaining constrained because of the present political realities in the country.
Although the Minister uttered words of reassurance to his hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) about rural schools, he did not reiterate the commitment given by the Secretary of State about not permitting this legislation to be used as a method of reintroducing selection into Scottish education. The Minister did not tonight give such an undertaking. I will resume my seat immediately if the hon. Gentleman wishes to rise to give that undertaking. He simply made a passing reference to the Secretary of State and said that there was no chance of returning to the selective education of the past.
That is a different undertaking from saying that schools which opt out will not be able to reintroduce selection. I accept that not many schools, if any, will opt out, but we want to know--as I say, I will allow him to intervene immediately if he wishes to reassure us--whether those schools will not be able to reintroduce selection of the type that we know we are discussing. I am not talking about a general provision for Scottish education but about the schools in question.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : My right hon. Friend gave a clear commitment on Second Reading. He is the Secretary of State. He declared the Government's policy. I support the Government's policy and the hon. Gentleman is wasting the time of the House by seeking to look at nuances of differences of view which do not exist.
Mr. Galbraith : The House will have noted that the Minister again failed to give the assurance for which I asked. We are bound to be suspicious when it comes to selection, particularly following the contributions of the
Column 248hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes, for Cannock and Burntwood and for Hexham (Mr. Amos), who is no longer in his place, in which they clearly said that in their view selection should be reintroduced into the Scottish education system and that that would be their intention if they had their way.
We are now discussing the crux of the Bill. We have so far tonight discussed some important technicalities of the measure, such as ballots, majorities and special needs education. We now discuss what we regard as the main problem, that of the reintroduction of selection into the Scottish education system, a system that got rid of selection many years ago.
We do not want that system reintroduced by the back door. In Committee there was much talk about the Government reintroducing such matters through the front or back doors. Our fear is that they wish to reintroduce selection through the back door. That is why we are totally opposed to the measure. The Minister spoke of hurdles, but they are not very high. Certainly any hurdles of which the Minister spoke would be extremely high if my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden, (Mr. Dewar) were Secretary of State, as he will be soon.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : When the hon. Gentleman says that the hurdles are not very high, he should remember that the first hurdle is to secure the majority of parents in a school for this view. Are we to take it that he believes that there are large numbers of parents in schools in Scotland who will wish to vote for this principle? I do not believe that. If the hon. Gentleman describes that as a small hurdle, he must believe the opposite. Where is his evidence for that view?
Mr. Galbraith : The Minister keeps arguing that there is no great demand for this change, that this is simply a piece of enabling legislation and that it will not be required much. Have we spent months listening to rubbish from Conservative Members, wasting the time of Parliament, for a piece of legislation that is irrelevant and that, in the view of the Minister, will hardly ever be used? It beggars belief to hear that sort of rubbish from the Government Benches-- [Interruption.] One does not wait for murder to be committed before trying to prevent it. That is why we are anxious to deal with this issue properly at this stage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker)--I deliberately refer to him as my hon. Friend--talked about rural schools, as did a number of other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman took us on a trip through the Tay valley, on to Killiecrankie and Blair Atholl, and I was waiting, as he moved on, to hear the Uist tramping song. He seemed to think that the trouble with the legislation was that, if one of his local rural schools opted out, it would not be able to offer certain subjects such as Gaelic or specialist sports. If I have misrepresented him, he will correct me.
Mr. Bill Walker : My concern--my intervention gives me an opportunity to correct a misapprehension on the part of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)--was that the new clause, if accepted, could mean that, if one of my local schools decided to become self-governing, it could not continue to offer the kind of opportunities for selection that are now offered, for example, for Gaelic. In other words, I was concerned about the effect that the new clause could have on schools in my constituency.
Mr. Walker : Again, the hon. Gentleman either has not heard or has not been listening. I am concerned that schools that become self-governing, which are now offering specialist subjects, for which children travel long distances beyond what would be considered the catchment area, might be prevented from offering such subjects if the new clause were accepted.
Mr. Galbraith : I do not think that they would. However, the hon. Gentleman is again introducing a red herring. I do not believe that the new clause could do that technically. Kingussie high school, a rural school, offers shinty. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) is not in his place. I do not believe that such things would be excluded on the basis of our new clause.
If the hon. Gentleman was honest in saying that he did not wish to reintroduce selection and that the only reason that he was opposing the new clause was that he thought that it was technically unsound--
Mr. Walker : I thought that I had made the position even clearer. I said that I had no wish to go back to the 11-plus, and I have not. I believe--I hope that my speech made this clear--that there is room for selection in specialist subjects for which the teachers have specialist aptitudes and abilities which they are offering now. I do not want that position to change.
Mr. Galbraith : The more that we debate this--this is the value of debate in the House--the clearer the positions of other hon. Members become. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman wishes to reintroduce selection, although he does not want to reintroduce the 11-plus.
Mr. Walker rose --
The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes made it clear that he wanted to reintroduce selection. I believe that I am correct in attributing that view to him. That worries us. He also said that the Opposition are complacent about Scottish education and believe that there is nothing wrong with it. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are all aware that most things in our society could be improved ; education certainly could. However, not on Second Reading, in Committee or tonight on Report have we heard exactly how the Bill will improve Scottish education.
We have to take the Minister's assertion and make an act of faith. We have to believe that, if a school is allowed to opt out, there is a de facto reason and some logic that somehow that school will be better. I cannot accept that. We need more and better assurances and some explanation, but they have been missing.
The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood made several contributions in Committee and spoke again
Column 250tonight. We are worried because he said that he wished to reintroduce selection based on academic criteria. I believe that I am correct--
Mr. Gerald Howarth : I said that I thought that a strong case could be made for academic selection. I was not specifically calling for it in Scotland. I was simply saying that a strong case could be made, and I should be happy if it could be reintroduced in England and Wales.
Mr. Galbraith : It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman has said, "A strong case could be made." Is the hon. Gentleman simply making a debating point, because "a strong case could be made" either for or against? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not made his mind up either way, but I suspect that he believes in academic selection. The other interesting thing that I enjoyed hearing from the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood was that the whole purpose of the Bill--and the hon. Gentleman's solution to improve Scottish education--was for the pupils to start calling all teachers "Sir" or "Madam". Many educationists in Scotland will be grateful for that contribution.
Opposition Members oppose the Bill for many reasons, but mainly because it is about introducing selection into the education system by the back door. Many of us remember the 11-plus and the divisions that were created in schools and societies. We remember the mornings when the exam results were made public and the division in classrooms where half the pupils were to go to the senior secondary and other half to the junior secondary, which, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, was the equivalent of a secondary modern school. We do not wish to return to that.
The Minister says that that is not a problem because the sort of testing that he suggests reintroducing into Scottish education will not be used as a method of selection but that the results will be given only to the parents. Is the Minister trying to make us believe that, if a school opts out, he will not ask the parents what results the pupils got in the test? Are we to believe that, somehow, the results that are available from that test will be kept secret from the parents and that they will not be allowed to pass them on through the educational system? No--the results will be used, together with opting out, to damage the comprehensive system within Scottish education.
It being Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to Order, [3rd May] and the Resolution this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time :
The House divided : Ayes 203, Noes 265.
Division No. 253] [10 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Allen (Paisley N)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Beith, A. J.
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.