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Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): I am interested in the Secretary of State's comments about including all children in new admission arrangements. Can he therefore explain why he has not sought fit to make it a requirement on all local education authorities to include children with special educational needs? That would make our society, through our maintained schools, a wholly inclusive one.

Mr. Blunkett: The Green Paper we published recently--which the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Yardley dealt with at length in the House a couple of Fridays ago--seeks to include special support where it is necessary and appropriate and will ensure that we design the system to meet the needs of the child rather than the other way round.

I am happy to receive representations about the development of admissions policies that ensure that special needs children are taken into account. Let me go further--I am mindful to hear from people how they believe we can best ensure that over-subscribed schools are able to take children with special needs as well as those who previously had difficulties, and encourage them and help them flourish. That is not always the case, given that the admissions procedures have not always allowed over-subscribed schools to take on that challenge. Instead, those arrangements have tended to divert such children to under-subscribed schools, where places exist in abundance. I look forward to people contributing to that important debate.

Back in June 1995, we spelled out our position on grammar schools. I am able to confirm that the Bill and the criteria I will lay down as part of our admissions policy will remove partial selection where it currently exists. That causes havoc in terms of the admission of local children, and denies fairness to parents because of the lack of choices and opportunities open to them.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, as he has been generous with his time. As he says that people are fighting over places, could he explain why, given that Bromley gives places to nearly 3,500 secondary pupils and nearly 1,500 primary school pupils from outside the borough, he has not reversed the Greenwich ruling?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Lady raised that question with me in a slightly different form during questions on education and employment--it seems a long time ago, but was only about 10 days ago. I shall give her the answer: we are not against the exercise of a parental preference; we are against situations in which, for no other reason than the partial selection system and because parents are exercising their preference from a distance, local parents living in close proximity to a school in, for example, Bromley, find it impossible to get their children into it.

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I have made it clear several times that we are not prepared to overturn the Greenwich judgment. It is specifically, although not exclusively, a London problem, and we want London boroughs to co-operate to begin to ensure that we can make sense out of what is currently a shambles.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): The Secretary of State has been more than helpful in trying to resolve the problems that we have in Southend-on-Sea, where four people's grammar schools take 25 per cent. of the children, and where, despite high unemployment and many social problems, we have higher educational achievements overall than any other part of Essex.

However, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that, as long as local primary school parents are in favour of the continuation of those four grammar schools, they will be permitted to continue? As he considers that, will he bear in mind the appalling situation in Glasgow, where I used to live, where they had the most dreadful education results ever recorded, partly because all the selective schools there were abolished?

Mr. Blunkett: The fact of whether there is selection or non-selection does not affect the standard of education, which depends on the teaching in the classroom, the holistic work of the school, the development of links with the community, the support of parents, and the work which, I accept, needs to be done with parents whose interest in, and commitment to, education is so variable.

I can confirm to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) that, in the case of individual grammar schools, parents of children at the appropriate feeder and primary schools will make the decision. Only where 20 per cent. of the parents in those individual grammar schools wish to trigger a ballot will a ballot take place.

I want to make it clear this afternoon that a disparate admissions policy makes it more, rather than less, difficult for the teachers to do their job in balancing able and less able children with different aptitudes. That is why we are establishing an adjudicator, who will complement the criteria on admissions and help to ensure that a smooth change is achieved, and that, where there is disagreement at local level, there will be a right of appeal on policy matters.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): My right hon. Friend will know that democratic socialists, almost by definition, are opposed to grammar schools, and that many of us would vote to close them tomorrow because we believe that they completely undermine education in our constituencies, particularly where they exist near our constituencies. Does my right hon. Friend look forward to some time in the future when, under a Labour Government, those infernal institutions will have disappeared for ever, and we will be able to look forward to a secondary system in this country that feeds equality to all?

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for that very enjoyable question. Perhaps the best way I can answer it is to quote

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directly from our document "Diversity and Excellence", which I published on the day that the previous Prime Minister resigned to stand against himself in June 1995--two and a half years ago:


    "Our opposition to academic selection at 11 has always been clear, but while we have never supported grammar schools in their exclusion of children by examination, change can only come through local agreement. Such change in the character of a school would only follow a clear demonstration of support from the parents affected by such decisions."

That principle is embodied in the Bill and in the criteria that I shall lay down; it is in our manifesto, and I shall carry it out to the letter.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): I am grateful to the Secretary of State, who has been extremely generous in giving way. In view of the shifting sand that is the Government's policy on selection, will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to explain to the House his understanding of the difference in meaning between the words ability and aptitude?

Mr. Blunkett: It is the same meaning that was built into the previous Government's legislation and the criteria laid out in DfEE circular 6/93. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the previous Secretary of State, who will no doubt enlighten him. The adjudicator that I shall establish will ensure that aptitude is not used as a cover for selection. That is why we are establishing the adjudication system.

The whole thrust of what we are doing is to improve standards, and I am pleased to announce that we are notifying education authorities today of the next tranche of resources relating to our standards fund. The additional £59 million will include £49 million to establish in-service training for teachers and new literacy co-ordinators, and to purchase books. There will be an extra £4 million for the excellent work that the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells) is doing on family literacy, which, as I said, is so crucial to our success in achieving progress.

We are allocating £3 million to extend the premier league initiative for after-school and homework centres, so that division one clubs in England can also participate. I look forward to the possibility in the near future of rugby league and rugby union clubs participating, although some good rugby league clubs, including Sheffield Eagles, are already doing an excellent job of work in helping children out of school hours. Finally, £3.3 million will be used to help reading recovery for pupils transferring from primary to secondary school; we all remember that the previous Government did away altogether with national funding for the reading recovery scheme.

This afternoon, we have an opportunity to spell out the Government's unequivocal commitment to the task of healing our education system, fostering innovation and ensuring that people have the power to act sensibly in making those aims come alive in their own schools and communities. The Bill will ensure that 14 and 15-year-olds can legally take part in work experience, and so enable them to develop their contact with the world of work while remaining within school and benefiting from GCSE, GNVQ1 and the experiments that are taking place in further education.

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The Bill takes an holistic approach. We are reinstating nutritional standards in school meals 17 years after the Tory Government withdrew them. We are overcoming silly anomalies so that schools can provide free school milk, and provide it at any time of the day, rather than being subject to the nonsense that exists under current law. We are ensuring that capability procedures for teachers are tough but fair. We are making it possible to co-ordinate what is happening between schools and colleges and between school and school. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and his colleagues will also be able to do so.

The Bill sets behind us two decades of muddle and dissension, and builds on the progress that we have made in the past eight months in reinvigorating, re-motivating and bringing new morale to the education service. I offer this Christmas as a new beginning for the education service, and I look forward to everyone of good will working with us to implement it on behalf of our children.


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