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Column 1087Question accordingly negatived .
Question , That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to .
Mr. Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to .
Column 1088Resolved ,
That this House welcomes the speed and effectiveness with which Her Majesty's Government has responded to the threat of famine in Northern Ethiopia through the provision of food and emergency aid ; and strongly endorses its diplomatic action aimed at persuading the parties to the civil wars in Ethiopia to seek a negotiated end to these conflicts and to facilitate the transport of food to those at risk of famine.
Column 1089Education Reform (Northern Ireland)
That the draft Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved. This draft order contains provisions which represent the most far-reaching changes to education law for almost half a century. Such changes are not undertaken lightly, and while the order reflects the Government's general education policy, it is a uniquely Northern Ireland piece of legislation.
The Government first published their proposals for reform in March 1988. In the 21 months since then, there have been two formal periods of consultation--first on the original discussion document, and secondly on the order itself. In practice, however, the consultative process has been continuous over the period. I said at its outset that the consultation would be genuine--that we would listen, discuss, and change where appropriate. That commitment has been honoured.
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil) : I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. I congratulate him on the extent of the consultation, which has been real and widespread, in marked contrast to that which preceded the Education Reform Bill. Will he please tell us why, bearing in mind the importance of integrated education, he has not taken the trouble to meet the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education?
Dr. Mawhinney : I shall come to integrated education later in my speech. I have met many groups who have been involved with integrated education, and representatives of the schools and of the original two trust groups which were set up and are, as it were, the parents of those trust groups. The council is a much more recent group. It had an opportunity to make representations during the consultation period.
The order is the product of more than 5,000 written submissions, a large number of oral presentations and numerous discussions in other forums. It contains many changes from the proposals that were originally put forward and reflects as broad a consensus of support in Northern Ireland as we can achieve. I am grateful to all who recognise the importance of these reforms and who contributed of their knowledge and experience.
The Government have two main objectives in introducing this legislation. The first is to raise educational standards. Northern Ireland's young people are its greatest natural asset. Some of them achieve A-level and general certificate of secondary education examination results which are among the best in the United Kingdom, but at the other end of the academic spectrum, Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of pupils who leave school without any formal qualifications. We intend to preserve the best. We must secure improvement elsewhere.
Our second objective is to give parents more choice and involvement in the education of their children, on terms similar to those enjoyed by their counterparts in England and Wales. These twin objectives are reflected throughout this order.
Column 1090Giving effect to the first objective, the order will set in place a common curriculum to be followed by all pupils from the age of five to 16. This will guarantee them a broad education based on common programmes of study and offer a common basis for assessing what progress they are making. The order lays down that the curriculum must include six areas of study within which pupils will follow a number of compulsory subjects. In addition, hon. Members will note the inclusion of six important educational themes which will be interwoven with, and taught as part of, the compulsory subjects. This framework will leave adequate room in the timetable for schools to add to the common curriculum those subjects most appropriate to the children in each class. In future, no child will be disadvantaged because his or her school does not offer an educationally balanced programme, or allows its pupils to opt out of essential areas of the curriculum.
The continuation of a selective system of secondary education will not present a barrier to achievement for those outside the grammar school sector. I firmly believe that, in the long run, secondary intermediate schools will benefit most from these proposals. [ Hon. Members :-- "No."] All schools will have the same basis for their common curriculum and will, in addition, be able to develop their own particular strengths. These curriculum reforms will present secondary intermediate schools with an unprecedented opportunity to achieve increased status and, in the opinion of many of us, long-overdue public esteem.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : I thank the Minister for giving way. Does he not recognise that many secondary intermediate schools already have enhanced status, which was granted to them by the education and library boards when they were allowed to change their names and call themselves high schools because of the distinctive courses and qualifications that youngsters attending them could achieve?
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : I thank the Minister for giving way and apologise for intervening so early in his speech, but my point may clear up something. What exactly does he mean by "enhancing the status" of a school?
Dr. Mawhinney : As Northern Ireland Members know, I mean that there is widespread perception in Northern Ireland that, if at all possible, parents wish their children to go to grammar school. That is unfair to a significant number of secondary schools which deliver good education now and which, as a consequence of these proposals, will be enabled to deliver even better education--and will be seen by the community to be delivering better education--
Dr. Mawhinney : The people of Northern Ireland fiercely defend the many positive values in their society, the moral and social well-being of their children, and the preservation of their traditions. At the same time, they are
Column 1091increasingly receptive to changes which will strengthen those values and play a part in bringing together the two communities. Historically, Northern Ireland's children have been educated separately--by religious belief and tradition. An increasing number of parents are now demanding a third option. They want their children educated in the same classroom as children from the other side of the community, in a school which values both traditions. So this order contains new arrangements to help establish integrated schools. It also places a duty, for the first time, on the Department of Education for Northern Ireland to encourage and facilitate integrated education.
That does not mean that we intend to impose integrated education. We do not. It will happen only when and to the extent that parents themselves choose it. This order also enables Government to offer greater and earlier help to those seeking to establish new integrated schools. It signals our commitment to afford integrated education equal legitimacy alongside the controlled and voluntary sectors.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : I thank the Minister for giving way again. He is obviously going to use the term "integrated education" and "integrated schools" considerably during his speech, so for the benefit of the less well informed, such as myself, will he define what he means by those terms? Does he mean 50 per cent. Catholic plus 50 per cent. Protestant, or 80 : 20 or 10 : 90, or does he mean to include other religions as well?
Dr. Mawhinney : No, it does not mean 16 to 90. It means exactly what the order defines it to be. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient for a few minutes, I shall come to precisely the point he raises.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Does the Minister agree that, if we are to have three types of schools in Northern Ireland, they should all be treated equally? Is it not a fact that the order discriminates in favour of what the Minister calls integrated education and will mean the reduction of money to other schools which have previously achieved good work in the education system?
Dr. Mawhinney : No, I do not accept that. The capital arrangements in Northern Ireland to which the hon. Gentleman referred are exactly the same as those in England and Wales. Schools with no predominant majority of one particular group on the governing board, such as controlled schools, receive 100 per cent. capital funding. The schools in which one group retains an overall majority on the board of governors receive 85 per cent. That applies to Catholic maintained schools and voluntary grammar schools in Northern Ireland, some of which would be perceived as Protestant voluntary grammar schools. That is exactly the same as in England and Wales. The new proposed integrated schools will not have any group holding a majority on the board of governors. Therefore, they qualify, as does a controlled school, for 100 per cent. capital funding.
Mr. Beggs : There are more Members present tonight than there have been for some time. Will the Minister clear up the confusion over the extent of interest and enthusiasm in Northern Ireland for integrated education? Does he agree that in a recent survey carried out in the Coleraine area--a likely spot for developing integrated education--only 4 per cent. of parents interviewed considered that they might send their eldest child of pre-school age to an integrated school? That is a reflection of the level of interest across the Province. It will take much promotion by the Minister and financial inducements to develop integrated education.
Dr. Mawhinney : I have no idea whether those figures are well based. If I understand the implication of the hon. Member's question, he seems to hint that, because only 4 per cent. of people in Northern Ireland are interested in integrated education, the option should not be available to anybody because that is not a big enough percentage to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. The basis of the order is that an option will be made available of equal legitimacy to parents in Northern Ireland. It will be up to them to decide whether integration should take place, to what extent and how quickly.
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill) : Does the Minister take comfort from the poll conducted by the Belfast Telegraph which shows that large numbers of people in Northern Ireland from both parts of the community want to see the integration option made available? In Lagan college, the numbers increased from 28 at its inception to nearly 600 pupils today. About 1,700 pupils are now in integrated education, and ultimately that must be a matter for parents.
Dr. Mawhinney : I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his robust and long support for the concept of integrated education in Northern Ireland. I am grateful to him for drawing that reference to the attention of the House, thus saving me from having to do it. Perhaps I may now make some progress with my speech.
Mr. Mallon rose --
Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his own speech. I shall come back to integrated education. I spoke about equal legitimacy and I stress the word "equal". Assistance to this group of schools does not imply a lessening of esteem for any other type of school ; nor is integrated education a panacea for Northern Ireland's future. It is a legitimate education option and will be treated as such. Its legitimacy is no more and no less than other existing school options.
We recognise, however, that for the foreseeable future the majority of children in Northern Ireland will continue to be educated in schools which reflect the two different traditions. Given that reality, it is vital that our young people learn early that differences do not have to lead to division but can become the strength of a society. We
Column 1093intend, therefore, that the school curriculum should play its part in fostering greater understanding, tolerance and respect across the community divide.
Therefore, for the first time, all children of all ages in all schools will study two new cross-curricular themes--education for mutual understanding, and cultural heritage. In addition, they will learn from a common history curriculum. Those changes are designed not to produce a homogenised Ulster man or woman, but to allow all in the community to live comfortably with cultural diversity and differences of aspiration, without threat to their own beliefs and identity.
Religious education occupies a central role in the curriculum. The order will strengthen the quality of religious education teaching by opening it to inspection by the Department's inspectorate, where a board of governors so wishes. The order also enables arrangements to be made for the provision of a core syllabus for religious education, and to that end constructive discussions have already taken place between the main churches.
For some, an important element of their identity is the Irish language. The Government recognise the important place that the language occupies in the educational and cultural life of a significant proportion of the population, as well as its place in the curriculum of many schools. The order therefore enables children to study Irish in addition to, or instead of, one of the major European Community languages which the school must also offer, in accordance with their parents' wishes.
If parents are to be constructively involved in their children's education, they need more and better information about how well their children are performing at school and how the schools themselves are performing. Schools, too, need to know how their pupils are progressing so that they can gear their teaching to each child's needs. Therefore, the order will set in place arrangements for the regular monitoring of pupil achievement. It is anticipated that the arrangements will follow broadly those being introduced in England and Wales. The aggregated assessment results of all the pupils in a school will form part of the annual report which each school will produce. The report will be available to parents and will contain a wide range of information about the school's activities and educational opportunities.
Among the most important provisions in the order are those in part IV, which relate to the admission of pupils to grant-aided schools. The Government consider it unacceptable that parents who wish to send their children to a particular school which has places available to accommodate them are prevented from doing so by artificial quotas. We intend that admissions will be constrained only by the physical capacity of the school. Parents will be able to choose the school they wish their children to attend, and the school will be obliged to admit them so long as it has places available.
Hon. Members will already be familiar with the concept of the local management of schools, which was introduced in the Education Reform Act 1988. Schools in my constituency have been managing their own budgets for several years, and I believe that none of them would wish to return to the old system. The new delegation
Column 1094arrangements in part V of the order give those directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the school much greater financial control over their own priorities.
I now turn to Part VI of the order, the provisions of which are intended to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, mainly through the establishment of integrated schools. These provisions are introduced in direct response to public demand. The integrated education sector is as yet small, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) said. It comprises eight primary and two secondary schools, with some 1,600 pupils in all. But its growth has been rapid, and I pay warm tribute to the determination and perseverance of parents who have achieved this, at some personal sacrifice.
The Government's consultation paper included a proposal for a new category of schools to be known as grant-maintaned integrated schools. Responses were strongly supportive of the proposals and advocated that they should be extended, in particular, to provide the means for assisting new integrated schools with strong growth potential to get started. Both these proposals are reflected in the order. Grant-maintained integrated schools will be established by parents choosing, through secret ballots, to transfer a school from its existing structure to GMI status.
Throughout this part of the order there are key references to the need for the enrolment of an integrated school to include "reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils". A number of representations have been made that this provision should more strictly define integrated schools as having an equal balance in the numbers of pupils from each tradition.
We have carefully considered these representations. It is axiomatic that an integrated school should have a reasonably substantial representation of pupils from both backgrounds, and Governments will seek to ensure that this is always the case. However, we also want the aspirations of as many parents as possible for integrated schooling to be realised. The harsh reaity is that, in Northern Ireland, only a few schools could hope to achieve rough equality of balance and maintain it over a period of time. In our view, therefore, the end result of imposing such a rigid definition would be to reduce the number of eligible schools to unacceptably low levels. Physical numbers are important, but they are not the sole determinant. Indeed, the key features which are likely to distinguish integrated schools from others will transcend considerations of mere arithmetic. The perception by parents of the character and ethos of an integrated school will depend on how the school operates day by day, and how effectively it respects and accommodates the cultural identities of all its pupils. The central responsibility for offering these guarantees to parents must lie with the managers and teaching staff of the school.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : Many Conservative Members support the order as a genuine attempt to break down sectarianism in Northern Ireland. However, I am worried about the governing bodies of the schools. Can my hon. Friend assure us that, although there is nothing in the order, there will be a balance between the two communities on the boards of governors? At present, nothing in the draft order requires those making nominations to have regard to the balance between the two communities.
Column 1095Dr. Mawhinney : I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the general principle of integrated schools. Integrated schools are defined in the order in terms of their management, control and ethos. If they do not reflect some element of balanced representation of the two communities in all three of those attributes, they will not qualify under the terms set out in the order. I believe that that is the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks.
Mr. Ashdown : Like the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), I support the order. The Minister has provided what we seek. He talked about a rigid equation. However, no one has asked for a rigid formula. We want some statement that will allow for a balance ; something that might be left for the courts to decide in the last analysis. By no means do we want a 50 : 50 analysis. He used the words "a rough balance". That is exactly one of the characteristics that we seek. If he can say that in his speech, why can he not enshrine it in the Bill?
Dr. Mawhinney : For the reasons which I have already given the House. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I said that the Government recognise the importance of having significant numbers of pupils from both Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds if the ethos and character of the school is to be truly integrated. The Government will seek to achieve that when development proposals are submitted, subject to parents choosing to opt the school out of an existing structure into a grant-maintained integrated structure.
Mr. John David Taylor (Strangford) : If a school opted to become an integrated school and was accepted as such, but after a time failed to comply with the conditions and criteria which the Minister has just described, what kind of school would it be? Could it convert back to being some other form of school?
Dr. Mawhinney : The order covers entirely those circumstances. The board of governors ultimately has legal responsibility, and if it did not carry out that responsibility under the order, it would be replaced.
In Northern Ireland, unlike in England and Wales, it is proposed that a school can change its character at the time of acquiring grant-maintained status. There have been some representations that special arrangements, similar to those made in the Education Reform Act 1988, should be made in this order to protect the existing ethos of a school acquiring GMI status. However, they ignore the fundamental difference that, in Northern Ireland, a grant-maintained integrated school can only have an integrated ethos, and if a school was not formerly integrated there must of necessity be a change of ethos.
Let me also emphasise that schools do not just proceed automatically to integrated status following a ballot. Applications will be decided by the Department of Education having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including whether or not the school would be likely to be attended by reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils. It will also be possible for a proposal to be approved subject to certain conditions.
Part VII of the order deals with further education. The further education sector in Northern Ireland plays an important role in the training of suitably qualified young people who have the knowledge and skills to support the economic life of the Province and create new areas of enterprise. Colleges will henceforth be given delegated
Column 1096budgets which will enable them to meet more effectively the needs of the communities which they serve. They will also have new governing bodies in which local business and professional people will have a major involvement. Education and library boards will be given new specific responsibility for the strategic planning and the preparation of schemes for the overall further education provision in their areas.
The Catholic maintained school system is an important element in Northern Ireland's education system. This sector will benefit from the creation of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, described in part IX of the order. Both Government and the Roman Catholic Church authorities saw the need for a central body which would promote effective management in Catholic maintained schools, as well as advising the Department and the education and library boards on matters relating to these schools.
The Government welcome the creation of the council, not in any sense as a sixth area board, but as an important element in its objective to raise educational standards in all parts of the system. The statutory responsibility to provide curriculum support for all types of schools, including Catholic maintained schools, will fall to education and library boards.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Is the Roman Catholic council a public body in the same sense as the education and library boards, and therefore subject to scrutiny by the ombudsman and the Fair Employment Commission?
Mr. Alton : I am grateful to the Minister, who has given way a number of times. On the issue of the reorganisation of schools within the Catholic sector, where there is some need to reorganise in any event, can he give an assurance that capital expenditure and grant rate will be reconsidered and that he will be open to representations on that issue and on that about governing bodies?
Dr. Mawhinney : We always take seriously a request from all sectors of the education community for capital expenditure. That is foremost in our thinking on reorganisation and rationalisation schemes when, each year, we decide how to disburse the capital programme. I hope that that is the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks. I can tell the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that the council will be subject to the ombudsman procedure.
Another feature of this order that has been welcomed is that it clarifies the responsibilities and roles of each of the major partners in the education service in Northern Ireland. At a time of radical change, it is important that each partner in the education service knows its role and
Column 1097that that role is valued. In particular, the education and library boards will have a central role in supporting the implementation of the reforms. They are to have major new statutory duties relating to curriculum support and in-service training. As major partners in the delivery of the education service, their views, as well as those of the CCMS and others, will continue to be sought and to influence education policy in the Province. It will be essential that the close partnership that already characterises our system is both maintained and strengthened to permit a smooth transition to the new arrangements. I am committed to ensuring that that will happen. Teachers are at the forefront of these changes. One of the prime objectives of this partnership must be to support them, both professionally and with resources, as they discharge their duties. We all admire their professional commitment and are grateful to them for their dedication to the children we place in their charge every day. The Government have already shown that support for teachers by the decision to phase the proposed introduction of the programmes of study, so as not to overburden them or their schools.
I do not under-estimate the size of the challenge ahead as we implement these reforms. Meeting that challenge will, I believe, be exciting for everyone involved. It will also be costly. Major programmes of in-service training for teachers and boards of governors have been initiated. Large capital and equipment expenditure will be required. The Government are committed to providing the necessary resources and additional money has already been allocated. I intend to make a further announcement soon about the future levels of increased support that we shall be making available. That will demonstrate our commitment to the classroom.
Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : My hon. Friend has told the House that this is a measure of massive importance for the reform of education in the Province. Does he really believe that it is satisfactory for such a measure to come before Parliament that is unamendable and with no opportunity for any debate in Committee or on Report? Can my hon. Friend reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and me that this measure has the approval of the Government of the Irish Republic?
Dr. Mawhinney : I shall begin with the last point. This measure has not been presented to the Government of the Irish Republic, so I have no idea of what their views might be. It certainly does not come to this House with their approval, as it has never been presented to them for their approval. Indeed, it has not been presented to them for comment.
As to the hon. Gentleman's first point--
As my hon. Friend knows, his first point is a matter not for me, but for the Leader of the House. He also knows that Northern Ireland business on transferred matters is conducted through the Order in Council procedure in the House. It was at least partly with that in mind that we conducted an extensive consultation during 21 months in
Column 1098Northern Ireland. Like my hon. Friend, I would wish to see the order in as good shape as possible and as sensitive to the needs of the children of Northern Ireland as it is possible under the circumstances to achieve. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that we have sought to do that in presenting the order to the House.
Hon. Members will recognise that the order is a major piece of legislation. To permit hon. Members as much time as possible to comment on its provisions, I do not intend to go into more detail. All legislation that comes before the House is important, but that which affects the education of our children, and thus the future quality of our society, is particularly important. The fact that the legislation concerns Northern Ireland, with its unique combination of social and economic problems, gives the order an added significance. It deserves our special attention. I am honoured to commend it to the House.
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan) : The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) took the words out of my mouth when he asked a simple but important question. I have been a parliamentarian for a considerable number of years, but I come to my present position as Opposition spokesman for Northern Ireland in some kind of virginal innocence.
We have before us a document which is hardly insubstantial. It is a weighty tome. It contains what the Minister has described as the most fundamental revolutionary changes in Northern Ireland's education system since the war. The sadness is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said last night, the matter would have been best dealt with in some devolved system of government where Northern Ireland representatives could at least have had the opportunity to debate and amend what is being proposed. In the absence of any devolved Northern Ireland Parliament, the order should at least have been debated in Committee so that we could have subjected it to the test of scrutiny and tabled amendments. I should have preferred that to the further centralisation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State, whose presence we note. I am sure that he has read article 158 which further enhances his plenipotentiary powers in Northern Ireland. We should have preferred a different method of dealing with the order.
The Labour party welcomes some elements of the proposals. The Government's commitment to integrated education, the expansion of the curriculum to include courses designed to improve cross-cultural harmony and the abolition of the 11-plus examination in its present form are all supported by the Opposition.
Mr. Mallon : This debate is not about integrated education. It is about whether any sector should take financial preference over other sectors and be able to jump the capital expenditure queue. It is about the justice of the proposal.
Column 1099Mr. Stott : If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I intend to deal with integrated education. If he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have no doubt that he will make a robust contribution to the debate.
We support certain elements in the order. However, it is an ill-informed and ill-conceived attack on Northern Ireland's education system. The Minister referred to financial support for the recommendations. Northern Ireland's education system is underfunded. Between 1979 and 1986, net expenditure on education, libraries and arts in Northern Ireland fell from 22.7 per cent. of the Northern Ireland budget to 20.9 per cent. If we use the GDP deflator to calculate the necessary level of spending, by 1986 education in the Province was underfunded by £35 million. Despite that evidence, the Government say that there have been no cuts in the education budget. That claim was refuted by the Southern education and library board in a paper to the Secretary of State for Education on 29 April 1986. It said :
"Since 1980/81 the annual increases in cash allocation to our board have been insufficient to keep pace with inflation."
Evidence of underfunding is backed up by articles in the Belfast Telegraph :
"City schools face £700,000 in cutbacks"
"Government will force more closures"
"Good and bad news as board agree cuts"
"Education blueprint will need cash aid, warns head."
Without sufficient funding, Northern Ireland's schools will be unable to implement these expensive and far-reaching changes.
Mr. Stott : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that underfunding is a major problem. If the proposals in the order are applied to schools that are already underfunded, they will increase their existing problems.
Who is to implement the changes? Who will be at the sharp end? Those dedicated men and women in Northern Ireland who are responsible for teaching Northern Ireland's children will have to implement them. I am married to a teacher. I know from first-hand experience that the education system in England and Wales is experiencing great difficulties as a consequence of its reorganisation.