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7.22 pm

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart): I shall make just one quick point about school sport. I speak as a Scottish Member of Parliament, so I am not always all that aware of what is happening down in England and Wales. What destroyed school sport in Scotland, particularly team sport, was a long strike by teachers because they were not properly paid and felt that they were not being properly looked after by the Government. During the strike, school sports disappeared and it has taken a long time to get them back.

We must not emphasise only the major team sports. Surely the aim should be to give youngsters a broad spread of sports from which they can decide which one to take on into later life, whether golf, tennis, judo or whatever. I have a son who plays rugby. I want to see him playing rugby at school. He plays club rugby very much in relation with his school.

Sir Peter Fry (Wellingborough): Would the hon. Gentleman be interested to know that no less a rugby luminary than Mr. Cliff Morgan, who is not particularly well known for his dedication to the Conservative party, said clearly that the decline of Welsh rugby began when the grammar schools were abolished?

Mr. Maxton: In Scotland, that would not be true. The problem with Scottish schools rugby is that it is dominated by boys from a small number of schools in the independent sector rather by those than from state schools. Even when a state school team wins in a trial in Glasgow, 12 out of 15 boys come from the five independent schools rather than from the other schools. Out of 45 boys selected from three school districts in Scotland--Central region, Lothian region and Glasgow--only five came from the state sector. We cannot encourage rugby in the state sector if that is what happens.

As a Scottish Member of Parliament, I do not often hear the Secretary of State for Education and Employment speak, but every so often I hear colleagues and Conservative Members tell me how good she is. Her speech today was one of the most appalling speeches that I have ever heard from the Front Bench. I wondered

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initially why she was taking so many interventions. By the end of her speech, I had worked it out. If there had been not one intervention in her speech, she would have sat down within 10 minutes. She had nothing to say. She kept taking interventions, making points in response to them and hoping and praying that someone else would intervene so that she could keep her speech going for the 43 minutes or whatever it was for which she spoke.

The Secretary of State kept saying that selection and choice went together. I do not see how selection and choice go together. Let us imagine that I am a parent of a 10-year-old child about to go into the secondary system in England. In Scotland, the child would do so at 11. Let us say that I want to send my child to a particular grant-aided school. The school says that, to get in, the child must pass an examination. My child fails that examination.

It is not me, the child or my partner who has made the choice, but the school. I do not see the difference between that and the system under which the local authority decides what school a child goes to. Where is the parental choice which supposedly has been at the core of the Government's argument about education? The introduction of selection is the denial of all choice in education.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir A. Haselhurst) said that choice was often denied under the LEA system because parents could not get their children into specific schools. I accept that parents choose from two schools which are the same the one they think is better, but under a selective system they choose between two schools that are radically different. One school is supposedly best because it has the brightest pupils, and the other takes the dimmer pupils. That is the major difference between the two systems.

One reason why the 11-plus was abolished was that on educational grounds it often failed to select the right pupils, as it so obviously did in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Mr. Steinberg). He should obviously have been selected. One has only to look at his career since to know--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) may laugh, but my hon. Friend went on to do A-levels, go to university, go into teacher training, become a teacher and then become a head teacher. That is not the normal route for someone who fails the 11-plus.

If the hon. Member for Blaby had been here when my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) spoke in a recent Scottish debate on education, he would have heard him describe the trauma that occurred in his family, not when he failed--anyone who knows my hon. Friend knows that he is an exceptionally bright academic--but when his brother failed the 11-plus. There was great trauma in the household and the parents were in despair that the child was to go to a secondary modern, or junior secondary as it was called in Scotland.

Unlike my hon. Friend, his brother went to junior secondary and did not sit his O-grades or take A-levels. He left school at 15 and worked in the shipyards in Greenock. When he was 17 or 18, he realised what a waste that was, so he educated himself, and he is now professor of aerodynamics at an English university. The system failed to select: some children in grammar schools

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should not have been there, and some children in junior secondaries, or secondary moderns in England, should have been in grammar schools.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West): Cannot the hon. Gentleman see the difference between parents having their first preference rejected by selection, and possibly their second or third preferences accepted, and not having any preferences at all because the education authority dictates which school their child should attend?

Mr. Maxton: Under legislation that the Government have introduced, local authorities cannot dictate the choice of school. I have some sympathy with parents who move into an area in, say, October or November--perhaps because their jobs have taken them there--and cannot get their children into the local secondary school because it is full as a result of parents exercising parental choice. They have a right to feel aggrieved. The school their children should attend may be next door to where they live, but they have to travel two or three miles to another school.

It is argued that comprehensive education has failed in this country. As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said, comprehensive education has not failed the vast majority of pupils. It has given more children more opportunities to succeed in education and in whatever they do thereafter than the old selective system did. As my hon. Friend said, the expansion in higher education under the Conservative Government and the last Labour Government would not have occurred without comprehensive schools. Higher education would mainly have been limited to pupils from grammar schools, which would not only have damaged children but have caused excessive damage to our society.

Throughout this century, one of the major problems has been the failure properly to educate enough of our population. Children in this country lose badly compared with children in the United States, France or Germany. Far from comprehensive schools failing our society, the Government have failed comprehensive schools. They have consistently under-resourced schools, and have constantly changed the curricula and the structures by introducing new ideas. The Government have always made it clear that they do not believe in the comprehensive system. As a result, the morale of teachers is very low.

My family has 130 years of teaching experience, mainly in Scotland. Most of my family on my mother's and my father's side were teachers. I was a teacher, my wife was a teacher, her father was a teacher and her brother is a teacher. Despite that tradition of teaching, none of the next generation of children--my brother's children, my sister's children and my in-laws' family--is opting for teaching. Why? Because they believe that the teaching profession is not properly regarded by society, and is badly paid compared with other professions taken up by people with ability. Teachers feel that they have no real option, because many Conservative Members do not agree with the comprehensive system and do not send their children to comprehensive schools.

There has been much talk about discipline and morality. I do not accept that there is a breakdown in the moral structure of our society. The same arguments were made

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in the 1960s when the Beatles grew their hair long and youngsters copied them, and when there was an upsurge in the taking of soft drugs. When mods and rockers rioted in the streets of Brighton, we were told that our society was collapsing around our ears. That was blamed on our schools.

We cannot expect schools to solve the social problems that arise from other sources. Discipline can be a problem in schools, but it is the indiscipline outside school that causes the problems, not what is happening in schools. I made the point to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) that children who live in deprived areas do not see the point of going to school. Their fathers and mothers are unemployed, they live in poor housing where they have no chance of doing their homework, and their brothers and sisters and most of their friends are unemployed. They are wrong, and we should ensure that they see schools as better places than they do now.

Some children succeed in that system, largely because of their parents. I hope that the two women on the Opposition Front Bench do not think that I am being sexist, but I must say that it is usually the mother who provides the drive and motivation to improve her child's position. Bright children may succeed, but it is difficult for ordinary pupils in such deprived areas to become motivated.

Motivation is vital in education. Children need to feel that there is some point to what they are doing, and that there is an end product. The end product, after four or five years of listening to teachers teaching them subjects that they do not find interesting and that they do not think are relevant, is a visit to the social security office, to be told that they cannot have any dole money. They may be unable to find a job, and if they do find one it is very low-paid. It is easy to understand why many of those kids stay away from school, or cause problems if they go to school.

Let us not put the blame entirely on indiscipline in schools. Of course unruly children cause problems in some schools. That is true even of the independent sector: in the 1830s, Marlborough college was burnt down by rioting students. We should not believe that we can solve problems in schools simply by tightening discipline.

There is also much talk about a moral code. I always feel queasy when politicians talk about moral codes. The idea of a daily religious service in schools is abhorrent to many people. Fewer than 20 per cent. of people in this country attend church on anything like a regular basis, yet their religion is shoved down the throats of the other 80 per cent. I am not religious: my children have never been christened. I openly and proudly announce that I am an atheist. But I did not take my children out of religious education in school. Cowardly? Perhaps, but I never wanted to make my children feel that they were different or stood out, because to make children feel that they are radically different from their contemporaries is the worst thing that one can do to them.

Why should I have had to make that choice? Why should I have been put in that position? I do not believe in religion, and my children certainly do not believe any of it now--so why should they have been made to have religious education?

The second aspect of the moral code is that we must bear in mind the fact that intelligent young people's moral standards are different from ours. We cannot impose on

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the new generation, even on those who know best, a moral code that stems from the 1940s and 1950s. Modern contraceptive methods have meant that the sexual morality of our young is different from the one in which we were brought up. More casual sexual relations are now possible, without the side effects--children. Young people now are also more tolerant of sexual relationships that are not the norm. For instance, they are much more tolerant of homosexuality.

Many young people do not see why it is right--or, if not exactly right, certainly not condemned out of hand--to drink 10 pints of beer with one's pals or have a few whiskies after a game of sport, and it is all great fun, whereas, if someone takes one ecstasy tablet, or smokes one reefer of cannabis, that is both morally and legally wrong. Our youngsters do not altogether understand when people say that it is wrong to take drugs, but that, although one should not really do it, going out and drinking 10 pints of beer is okay.

Finally, as I said earlier when I was talking about motivation, the real answer to the problems in our schools is to make them places where children want to be. That is why the "back to basics" stuff about the three Rs is nonsense. I have stood in front of 25 or 30 kids in a classroom, and it means that one has to base the teaching on the average, so the bright get bored, if one is not careful and does not give them enough work, and the less able never manage to keep up.

We should give real choice and equality in education. That is how we can ensure that each child can develop his or her talents to the fullest extent, at the speed and level best suited to that child's abilities.

That may sound like the sort of lecture that I used to give in a college of education in the 1970s, when modern ideas were all the thing, but I still think that it holds true. The problem in the past was that, because of the structure of schools, because of the training of teachers and the way in which they taught, because of the 45-minute or one-hour periods, and because of the way in which learning techniques were put across, the aim was not easy to achieve.

Often the attempt did not work. I accept that the aim was difficult to achieve, and that there were failures with those modern methods of learning. I say "methods of learning" rather than "methods of teaching", because it has always been my view that education is about learning rather than about teaching. We tend to forget that.

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