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Mr. Willetts: Of course the evidence is that phonics is a very effective way of teaching children to read. We believe also in a statement that we used to hear from the Secretary of State--something called intervention in inverse proportion to success. Teachers who are already teaching literacy very successfully are irritated that the literacy hour often has disoriented, distracted and changed their effective teaching methods when it should have been focused on the areas where there was a problem.

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman has done exactly the opposite. We listened to teachers, who at the

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beginning of September were sceptical, and who are now converted. We listened to those who thought that they had done everything they could, but have discovered that there was something else that they could have done. There is added value. If teachers are gaining higher results, we do not say, "Completely transform your teaching methods." If 90, 95 or 100 per cent. of children at key stage 2 are reaching level 4, we are not saying to the teachers concerned, "Drop what you are doing." However, that is not happening. When we came into office, 40 per cent. of our young people were not achieving level 4. That is the problem.

Across the country now--with the materials and with £60 million-worth of in-service training--children are beginning to reach that level. I want again and again, publicly as well as in the House, to ensure that Conservative Members are pinned down on whether they believe in teaching phonics. That is what the literacy hour is all about. Every time Conservative Members deny the literacy hour they deny, the best way of teaching, as developed by the national literacy centres which my predecessor established. The right hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard) said that, if she had had the money, she would have spread the practice throughout the country. Well, we have put in the money and the resources, and we are putting in the teaching.

I want to deal with one other calumny, and that is the obsession that some in the country have--leader writers, journalists and a great many people who send their children to private school--not with 7 million children and their education, not with 24,000 schools, but with the issue of grammar schools. I want to place on the record the nonsense that has been written over the past two weeks. I do not intend to keep raising the matter publicly because we have something better to do, which is to raise standards for all our children rather than be obsessed only with a few.

I put it on the record again, for the umpteenth time since July 1995 when we published our proposals for parents to choose, that we are not abolishing any schools. We are not abolishing good schools. We are talking about allowing parents--the audacity, the sheer cheek--to decide whether they want to change the admissions policy for a particular school. We are setting a threshold before parents can have a ballot. Incidentally, the criticisms launched this evening about the way in which the Secretary of State can intervene if a ballot has been wrongly conducted are based entirely on the grant-maintained model introduced by the Conservatives.

The Tories do not understand the ballot paper, which will say that parents of a registered pupil attending a school which sends children to a named grammar school are entitled to vote in a ballot held in accordance with the Education (Grammar School Ballot) Regulations 1998. The ballot will determine whether or not the grammar school continues to select pupils on entry through examination by academic achievement--for example, using an 11-plus exam--or whether admission arrangements should be introduced that will admit pupils of all abilities. It asks whether the parents are in favour of the school introducing arrangements that admit children of all abilities. That is all that the ballot paper will say.

From reading The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and even The Sun, it would seem that we committed some dastardly act of secretly hiding matters from parents who obviously, according to those who attacked us, are not

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intelligent enough to know that a grammar school that is called a grammar school is a grammar school, or who will not understand a ballot paper that asks them to decide whether they want the school to continue with an 11-plus examination. It is an insult to suggest that parents will not understand. Furthermore, the critics suggest that they should be forgiven for not wanting to change the admissions policies of those 160 schools, in perpetuity.

Mr. Willetts rose--

Mr. Blunkett: I shall give way, because we might as well have the matter out. It is a suitable time of night for dealing with it.

Mr. Willetts: Perhaps those parents believed the Prime Minister when he said of the 160 grammar schools that there are, "Let them remain." Does the Secretary of State agree with that statement by the Prime Minister?

Mr. Blunkett: It is important to make it clear, because I have heard both a parent and a head teacher suggesting otherwise on Radio 4's "Today" programme, that we do not propose to close the schools.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): Yes, you do.

Mr. Blunkett: No, we do not. We are doing one simple thing. We are not ruling from Westminster on admissions policies. We are not asking local education authorities to rule. We are not asking the schools to determine matters. We are asking the people who have a direct interest in whether their child enters a school whether they want to keep the current admissions policy.

Mr. Brady: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett: Of course. We might as well have an education lesson, even though we are perilously close to 10 o'clock.

Mr. Brady: In the borough of Trafford, we need few lessons in education from the right hon. Gentleman or

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his party. The borough achieves top 10 results for GCSEs, and last year it had the best A-level results in the country. That position was achieved by grammar schools and secondary modern schools in my constituency and in the rest of the borough.

I want to pick up the Secretary of State on his clearly inaccurate statement that only parents with a direct personal interest would take part in a ballot. Let me tell him that parents in Stretford or Old Trafford have no interest in the future of a grammar school in Altrincham or Sale. They do not send their children there, and they have no direct interest.

Mr. Blunkett: I may be wrong, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the fact that some people in Trafford borough send their children to comprehensive schools because they have no choice of a grammar school in the area because there is a straight 11-plus. I think that that is the hon. Gentleman's message.

Mr. Brady: Can I make the message clear?

Mr. Blunkett: No, I have to wind up.

The truth is that the people who should decide are those who have an interest. Those people are parents within the area involved. Anyone who thought that we would allow a system of admissions to atrophy in perpetuity would have to be daft. No one in their right mind would ever do that.

We have found a sensible system of dealing with a difficult problem and we will ensure that no grammar school has to fear anything. They do not have to fear letting children into a school. If anything was wrong with what happened when the 11-plus was abolished throughout the country, it was that we did not raise the standard of the old secondary schools to that of the grammar schools--it was not the children entering, but the change in policy. A school that fears a child entry because he or she does not appear at that moment to be bright enough or has a special need, cannot face with us the challenge of the 21st century. What we want is for every child, in every school, in every part of the country to get a decent education, and, above all, to know that they will get a job.

Debate adjourned.--[Mr. Pope.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Arts (Liverpool)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Pope.]

9.56 pm

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): Liverpool is a city of talent, and nowhere is that talent displayed more than in the arts. It is shown in Liverpool's fine theatres: the Everyman, the Playhouse, the Unity, the Royal Court, the Empire and the Neptune. It is shown in Liverpool's museums. Only a few months ago, Liverpool's conservation centre was declared the European museum of the year. It is shown in the city's unique Liverpool institute of performing arts, which trains the performers of tomorrow and which was opened by Sir Paul McCartney in 1996. It is shown in its orchestra--the world-renowned Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, which is a regional and national asset, nurturing talent for the whole community.

The talent is shown in Liverpool's imaginative festivals, such as "Brouhaha", "Africa Oye", "Hope Street" and the FACT--Foundation for Arts and Creative Technology--video festival. It is shown in its first-class galleries--the Tate and the Bluecoat. Films made in Liverpool include, "In the Name of the Father", and "The Hunt for Red October". Liverpool is the headquarters of the North West Film Commission and, in Mersey TV, Liverpool shows what it can achieve in television production.

Liverpool has produced a long--almost endless--list of excellent performers and writers. They include musicians from the Beatles and George Melly to Libor Pesek writers; such as Jimmy McGovern, Alan Bleasdale, Lynda la Plante and William Russell; and poets and artists such as Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. Actors who have performed in Liverpool at a critical time include Anthony Sher, Alison Steadman, Julie Walters and, of course, currently the Brookside cast.

Arts do matter. They matter for enjoyment and enhancing sensibilities and they matter in generating jobs through the increasingly recognised creative industries. All that is being acted on by this Government and the European Commission. I congratulate the Government on allocating an additional £125 million to the arts, in contrast with the cuts of the previous Tory regime. I also congratulate the Government on producing this month the first national report on the creative industries--the industries and jobs associated with the arts. Those industries generate revenues of £60 billion per year nationally and provide 1.4 million jobs. In Merseyside, 17,000 people are employed because of the creative industries, producing revenues of more than £92.6 million a year. Indeed, 5 per cent. of Liverpool's work force are employed in those industries.

The European Commission has recognised the economic importance of the arts, by funding arts-related activities through its objective 1 programme. Yet there is chronic insecurity in arts funding in Liverpool in two principal areas. That has come about because of the legacy of Tory cuts, together with the consequences of the abolition of Merseyside metropolitan county council in 1986.

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Pope.]

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