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In my view, that is also a reason why academic selection between schools works, as my hon. Friend generously acknowledged by paying tribute to Wellington high school in my constituency, which gets outstanding results. It is not the only high school that does so. Most high schools in Trafford, and all those in my constituency, are achieving fantastic results and could not be described in any sense as failing. They also perform particularly well in the value-added league tables. Altrincham college of arts, a high school in my constituency, is the best-performing school in the borough of Trafford in that regard. As I also pointed out to my hon. Friend, however, and as he accepted, the figures for valued-added performance also show that grammar schools get remarkably good results. That completely confounds the argument so often advanced that grammar schools do well simply because they admit bright children. They admit them, but they then raise standards of attainment even more than other schools would have done. That is why, on the value-added basis, 18 of the 21 best performing schools in the country for 11 to 14-year-olds are grammar schools.

The high level of performance in selective education authorities is shown in Trafford and across the country in the value-added league tables. It is also shown in the figures that I provided on Second Reading about standards from high-performing LEAs at primary level being maintained into secondary education. The comparison that I mentioned then was between Trafford and the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames.
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Trafford starts off being second in the country at primary level and goes up to first place at secondary level; Richmond starts out first in the country at primary level, slipping down to 65th place at secondary level. The point is also borne out by the number of selective education authorities that are at the top of the performance tables, year in, year out.

The first part of the consensus is to keep selective education where it exists because it works, and the second part is to maintain and increase selection within schools also because it works. Almost everyone believes that that is a way of raising educational standards within comprehensive schools. However, another issue should be dealt with. It relates to another part of the consensus, which appears to be that there should be no more selective education, even if it would work. As I made clear on Second Reading, I have no desire to impose a new system nationwide. All the arguments about the dangers of disrupting selective systems could be said to apply equally to comprehensive systems. It is generally a bad thing to march in from Whitehall and attempt to reorder and re-engineer the provision of local services by diktat. I would not support that in any way, but I hope that we will, in time, move to a more thoughtful and more open-minded consensus—one built only on what works and what parents want for their children. In doing so, we will certainly defeat new clause 39, but I also hope that we will endorse a much more diverse provision of education, which should include some academically selective schools, especially in our cities.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I shall speak briefly to amendment No. 112, but I do not advise hon. Members to reach for the amendment paper to see what it says because it is gobbledegook. What is does, however, is to close an unintended loophole in the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, under which an adjudicator could increase the level of selection at a partially selective school back up to the 1998 level. Thus, if a school selected 50 per cent. of its pupils in 1998 and has since been instructed by the adjudicator to decrease it to 25 per cent., it would be open to the adjudicator to increase it back up to 50 per cent.

If anyone thinks that that is not what Parliament intended, I would agree, but Parliament only passes the law and the judges decide what it means. In this case, Mr. Justice Collins decided in the High Court a couple of years ago that the true meaning of section 100 of the 1998 Act was not that there could be no increase in selection, which is what we thought that it meant, but that there could be no increase above the level that obtained in 1998. A group of parents in my borough asked the adjudicator to increase selection at two partially selective schools in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) from 25 to 50 per cent.

I am glad to say that, on this occasion, the adjudicator did not accede to the request, but she stated in her determination of September 2004 thatit would be within her power to agree an increase to50 per cent. I put it to my hon. Friends that, if there were such an increase from 25 to 50 per cent. in a partially selective school, we could hardly view it as agreeing with our election promise to have no new
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selection. Indeed, we could hardly justify it by saying that it is not an increase in comparison with 1998.

5.15 pm

Mr. Khan: Is not one of the problems that that loophole allows the possibility of future sets of children and their parents being made miserable by the annual wait for year 6 results? If a school is allowed to increase from 25 to 50 per cent. those whom it selects by ability, the number of those who come in because of their siblings, proximity or special needs is reduced.

Martin Linton: I agree with my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, who knows all too well that the effect of selection in the partially selective schools in his constituency has a very big effect on other parents of year 6 children in his constituency and, indeed, in mine.

Significantly, the mistake was not made in the admissions code of practice, which does not use the 1998 level as its benchmark but says that selection cannot be raised if it has been continuous since that time. However, the code of practice was not mandatory. Unfortunately, the 1998 Act causes the problem. That Act was never intended to say what the judge says that it meant. I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who was the Secretary of State for Education and Skills when Mr. Justice Collins made his ruling, and I have a letter from his Under-Secretary—Stephen Twigg, whom we all miss, I am sure—who wrote:

The then Minister went on to say that

The time has come; the opportunity is here.

I raised the issue with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I understood that she would consider it in Committee. It has not yet been dealt with, so I have tabled an amendment that would deliver what the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 intended, what we meant when we said, “No new selection”, and what most of my constituents and, I am sure, those of my hon. Friends are expecting.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), both of whom were educated in my constituency, will understand when I say that, when the 1998 Act was passed, there was in my constituency one of the six lowest performing schools in the country—not the one that they went to—and its performance was worse than that of any school in Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds. Since that Act was passed, that school has dramatically improved its pass rate from 4 per cent. to more than 30 per cent., partly because the partially selective schools in the neighbouring constituency were forced to stop taking the most academically gifted children from our borough.

The adjudicator forced those schools to reduce academic selection in successive steps from 50 to 33 to
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30 and then to 25 per cent. The head teacher and the staff of that school, having rolled that heavy boulder up from the bottom of the hill to the top, are now on the verge of a bright new future, as an academy. I want to be able to assure them that that process will not be suddenly reversed by an adjudicator who can decide to increase the proportion of selective schools, with all the devastating consequences that that would have for the other schools in the borough.

I wish to say a brief word about new clause 39, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor). I am a great admirer of the work that he does with Comprehensive Future—a total supporter—and I believe that it is important to keep hold of the fact that ballots in fully selective areas of the country and adjudicators in respect of areas with partially selective schools are the two means by which we can gradually reduce and then I hope, one day, eliminate the use of academic selection in secondary schools.

I welcome the new cross-party consensus—although it does not appear to have reached all Opposition Members—the logical conclusion of which is that we must make ballots and the adjudicator system work. With my brief amendment, I am trying to ensure that the adjudicator system works in the way that we intended. My hon. Friend is trying to improve the ballots system, but I fear that putting the onus on supporters of grammar schools to call for referendums may make it easer for them to run “Save our grammar schools” and “Vote no to abolition” campaigns, and to have the upper hand in referendums. I am not convinced that reversing the current system and providing for ballots opposing abolition would advance the cause that my hon. Friend and I both support. For that reason I shall not vote for his new clause, but I should like the Minister to say what the Government intend to do about this loophole.

Mr. Binley: I realise that time is short, so I shall be brief, but I cannot resist commenting on the fact that the only member of the present Cabinet who went to a secondary modern school is the Deputy Prime Minister. I wonder whether Labour Members might tell me whether he and, indeed, I are good examples of that system. They might like to come up to me in the bar and let me know privately.

I can reassure the Secretary of State and his Ministers that my speech will be non-contentious, and that mine is a simple, innocuous, highly non-political, immensely practical and, I hope, entirely helpful new clause. It provides:

I hope that the Secretary of State will jump to his feet and say immediately that he wants the new clause to be included in the Bill. If he does, I will of course sit down.

Anne Snelgrove: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Binley: I see that the Secretary of State is not moving all that quickly, so I will.

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Anne Snelgrove: I think that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed. The draft code for admissions specifically bans what he is proposing.

Mr. Binley: I am delighted that that point has been made, because I expected it and am therefore able to reject it.

The Bill states that there can be equal preference for admission, but that is not strictly true, and I can cite a number of cases in which it has proved not to be true. A school can include in its admissions policy the provision that, if it is oversubscribed, it will have to choose from an excess of applicants. It can give preference to those living in certain areas, and thus less preference to those outside those areas; it can give preference to children with a medical need, and thus less preference to those without such need; and it can give preference to children with siblings already at the school. So it is not quite right to say that equal preference should be pursued.

It would be perfectly possible, within that framework, for school governors to give preference to the admission of children of staff, and that is what my new clause seeks to allow. It seeks to give preference to teachers with one or two children whom they might wish to go to the school in which they teach. There is good reason for that proposal. We argue, again and again, that we want ladies, in particular, who have had children and who have been teachers to return to teaching.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): Who, other than ladies, can have children?

Mr. Binley: I reject that sedentary observation. I shall ignore it, and continue my remarks to the Secretary of State.

There are ladies whom we want to attract back to the profession. I believe that the new clause would give ladies a major boost, and would help to attract them back to teaching when their families are growing up. I ask the Secretary of State to consider the new clause. I recognise that it is not the most vital part of this debate, but it would help a number of teachers returning to the profession, and it could well help in those areas where we particularly need to attract experienced teachers.

Jim Knight: We have had a lively debate on school admissions. The Bill creates a more equitable and transparent admissions process for parents and children. Labour Members have always been opposed to any extension of selection by academic ability, and the Bill reaffirms that stance. I am delighted that we have now won the argument, with the Opposition today agreeing that, far from having a grammar school in every town, there should be no new selection. That is a great victory for progressive politics. Perhaps thehon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb) will have to inform one or two of his Back-Bench colleagues about that policy; they did not seem to be that informed about it during the debate. Nevertheless, we welcome it.

It will be unlawful for any school to introduce selection by ability to its admission arrangements, or, if
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it already selects part of its intake by ability, to increase its level of selection. I shall address in a little while the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) made about that issue.

Schools that set their own admissions arrangements need to know what is and is not acceptable, so that parents are treated fairly. Clause 37 sets those limits by creating a new, stronger schools admissions code with which admissions authorities must act in accordance. The skeleton code that was issued to Members in Committee and circulated among the educational community has been widely welcomed. Opposition Members seek to undermine the new, stronger code through amendments Nos. 103 and 104, and I strongly urge the House to oppose them.

5.30 pm

We will ban interviews as part of the school admissions process. They have long been perceived by many to be an unfair and subjective means of deciding which applicants should be offered school places, and the provision banning them has been widely welcomed.

Members in all parts of the House asked for more to be done to give priority for admission to looked-after children. I am delighted that in Committee, clauses 43 to 47 were inserted to give local authorities powers to direct the admission of children in public care to appropriate schools, in order to ensure that that most vulnerable group is not disadvantaged in the admissions process. Of course, we have considered how schools and local authorities can work together to ensure that admissions processes work for parents, take account of local circumstances and do not restrict fair access. We believe that we have provided helpful clarification, and that the Bill’s provisions will ensure a fairer admissions process.

New clauses 24 and 46 and amendment No. 95 illustrate the concern, shared by Members in all parts of the House, that some admissions authorities might not administer their arrangements fairly. The proposal is to give local authorities or some other, more independent body responsibility for allocating places to all maintained schools, by considering applications against published admissions criteria.

I fully appreciate Members’ motives in proposing the new clauses and amendment, but we are already taking the right steps to create a fairer admissions system. We now have a single-form application via the local authority, and we have created a robust system of checks and balances. Legislation and the schools admissions code establish parameters within which admissions arrangements must be set and operated. The schools adjudicator and the Secretary of State both have a role to play in dealing with complaints and objections. Under the current system, individual admissions authorities are accountable for decisions to permit or refuse admission to their schools. We do not want to change that, particularly because they, as individual admissions authorities, might be better placed to consider applications against their own admission arrangements—especially where they relate to faith criteria or require an aptitude assessment.

As I said in Committee, there is nothing to prevent schools and local authorities from agreeing, through their admissions forum, to take such an approach if
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their admissions arrangements lend them to it. Indeed, I am interested to know whether any areas are keen to pilot that approach, so that we can learn from it. I hope that Members will accept that as a sign that we are relatively relaxed about that approach, and that we do not feel the need to include such a statutory requirement in the Bill.

Sarah Teather: When we discussed this issue in Committee, I pointed out that there was no reason why faith criteria could not be taken into account. A letter from a priest could be appended to an application or a tick box could be added to the form to say what criteria were required. We welcome the Minister’s comments about pilots, but will he actively encourage them or is he simply trying to prevent us from voting against the Bill?

Jim Knight: If there are admissions forums that want to pursue the hon. Lady’s first point, my officials would be interested. It would have to be with the agreement of the members of the forum. For example, the faith communities would want to be happy with it and, at the moment, some are cautious. They are certainly cautious about who is best placed to make judgments about faith criteria—

Mr. Chaytor: My hon. Friend will know that new clause 24 is very similar to new clause 46, which I tabled, and I welcome the assurances given. Can he give us some idea of the timescale for the process of working towards those pilot schemes?

Jim Knight: I cannot give my hon. Friend a definite commitment on timescale. We have to allow time for the new admissions forums to be set up in their new form. In many cases, they will be significantly enlarged, and they need to identify the core members and elect the chair. We need some time for the arrangements to bed in before we have any idea about an accurate timetable. I fear that I might mislead my hon. Friend were I to give him anything concrete.

Paul Farrelly: My hon. Friend raises the interesting and practical idea of pilot schemes. Would he consider piloting trust schools until they are proven to raise standards as the Government hope they will?

Jim Knight: Foundation schools, including those with trusts, are already proven. They have effectively been piloted already, and we had that debate last night, as I recall.

I turn to the amendments on selection, as I imagine that that is why most hon. Members are present for this debate. The Government do not support the extension of selection by ability. I do not like selection. That has been our stance since 1997 and clause 36 reaffirms our stance that selection by academic ability cannot lawfully be introduced. But the Bill is not about imposing our view on structures centrally. It is an enabling Bill, and we want to encourage schools of all kinds to work together to benefit all pupils.

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