Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Self-government for Schools

4.35 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The Statement is as follows:

25 Jun 1996 : Column 790

25 Jun 1996 : Column 791

    not with the LEA. LEAs do, however, have a role in supporting schools in their efforts to raise standards. That includes working with schools in setting targets for improvement and intervening where Ofsted has found that schools are failing to provide an adequate education.

    "LEAs in their turn must carry out these functions effectively. The record of LEAs has, to say the least, been mixed. So the Government will be looking to develop better mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of LEAs themselves to ensure that what LEAs do, they do well.

    "Fourthly, the White Paper proposes more choice for parents through a range of new measures to extend diversity. The Prime Minister and I have made clear that the Government want to see a spectrum of schools matching the varied talents, needs and interests of our children. That includes grammar schools. Grammar schools have a proud tradition of academic excellence. We want more parents and pupils to have these opportunities where there is demand for them in the local community--opportunities enjoyed by some Members opposite. We will welcome proposals for new grammar schools. Where an existing LEA school wants to become a grammar school, we intend to give the governing body a right of appeal if the LEA tries to block reasonable proposals. We intend to give the Funding Agency for Schools powers to propose setting up grant-maintained schools, including grant-maintained grammar schools, in all areas of the country where there is a need for a new school.

    "Encouraging grammar schools gives parents greater choice. But our plans for increasing diversity go further. We do not want to see just two types of schools, grammars and secondary moderns. That agenda is out of date. The debate has moved on. Selection, too, is not just about the 11-plus. You can select in a range of ways, including by aptitude for a particular subject. Our view of selection is that it is about getting a better match between what schools offer and what parents want for their children to suit their individual needs.

    "We want to encourage all schools to develop distinctive strengths and identities. There are many excellent comprehensives which serve their communities well. But we need diversity. We need choice. The White Paper would encourage that by a variety of measures.

    "First, we want to give grant-maintained schools the right to select up to 50 per cent. of their pupils by ability or aptitude without needing central approval. Secondly, we want to give technology and language colleges the right to select up to 30 per cent. of their pupils by ability or aptitude in their specialist subjects. Thirdly, we want to give those responsible for admissions at all other LEA schools the right to select up to 20 per cent. of their pupils. Fourthly, we plan to reinforce the specialist schools programme by giving more support for technology and language colleges and by extending the approach to include schools specialising in sports and the arts. Fifthly, we

25 Jun 1996 : Column 792

    want all schools to consider each year, in consultation with parents, whether, by using their new powers to select some of their pupils, they could contribute more to the diversity of schooling available to local parents.

    "A lot of progress has been made over the past few years. The Government have now put in place, despite resistance every step of the way from Members opposite, an effective framework for raising standards.

    "It is a framework which provides a clear specification of what schools and pupils should be achieving; which holds schools accountable for what they do; which gives schools freedom to decide how to run their affairs; and which gives parents more choice.

    "Much more remains to be done. Our social and economic future depends on making sure that all our children are helped to achieve to the limits of their ability.

    "Today's White Paper sets out important new measures for making further progress in giving freedom for schools and choice for parents. It will help to get the best possible match between what schools offer and what parents want--which is a good education suited to the individual abilities, interests and needs of their children. I commend it to the House."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating that interesting Statement. We on these Benches wish at the very outset to extend our deepest sympathy to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who is so obviously suffering severely from a badly dislocated conscience caused by the repetitive strain of having to make so many U-turns so quickly. This year has been a difficult one for her.

We all know that the Secretary of State was no passionate enthusiast for the privatisation of student loans and that she espoused that Bill only to help the Treasury and the PSBR. We all know, because she said so, that nursery vouchers were not her preferred option and that she cooked up that absurd scheme only when her right honourable friend the Prime Minister told her to. And now, in loyal obedience to her leader, which we must admire, she has laboured and brought forth this White Paper on selection and grammar schools when we all know that she has always been a strong supporter of the comprehensive principle, even when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Prime Minister. And, my Lords, that took courage!

Is it not a fact, as the newspapers told us last weekend and I have not heard denied, that as a Norfolk county councillor and a member of the education committee in the late seventies the Secretary of State voted for the closure of grammar schools, including the one which she herself had attended, despite legislation brought in by the Tories in 1979 which allowed local education authorities to retain them? She voted against them. She

25 Jun 1996 : Column 793

voted for their closure. But now, because the Prime Minister has stated airily that he wants to see a grammar school in every large town--whatever that means--up she comes with an entirely new set of principles and a wholly unnecessary, divisive, irrelevant White Paper.

One wonders who is in charge at the DfEE? Is it the Secretary of State? Or is it the Prime Minister, making policy on the hoof week by week and indulging the dying days of his discredited administration in a nostalgic fantasy about resurrecting the grammar schools of his childhood where 20 per cent., selected by the iniquitous 11-plus, went in their little blazers and school caps, or their gymslips as the case may be, and learnt Latin and played with their cricket bats or their jolly hockey sticks according to sex? Alas, the Prime Minister really should be told that those dear, dead days are dead and gone, long past recovery or recall.

We have heard an outline today of what is in the White Paper. It is an outline which seems to bear all the stigmata of a pretty rushed and incomplete job. On the Statement, I wish to ask the Minister just three questions. First, if the proposal to have a grammar school in every large town ever came to fruition, would it not inevitably mean that 19 out of 20 children in that town would lose out? The grammar school would simply cream off 5 per cent. of the most able children, and 95 per cent. would once again make do with inferior education in contemporary versions of the old secondary modern schools. Those who were not selected for the grammar school would be told by their parents in some cases and by their contemporaries in every case that they had failed to get into the grammar school. Let us have no nonsense about being specially selected as more suitable for some kind of language college or tech. They would be regarded once again, as were so many children a generation ago, as failures at the age of 11. That is what we on these Benches are against. How long would it be before, in the interests of equity and efficiency, the old 11-plus examination again reared its ugly head as a general means of selection? Is that the ultimate aim of this Government and, if not, how can it be avoided?

Secondly, if the grammar school proposal goes ahead and assuming there are something like 200 localities which could qualify as large towns in England and Wales, at about £10 million per school, would not the whole operation over time cost something not unadjacent to £2 billion? Can the Minister tell the House here, today, now, from where that money will come? The education budget is tight enough, as 31 per cent. capital cuts for universities make abundantly clear. There is no flexibility possible. It must require new money. Where is this obedient, pliable and helpful Secretary of State to find £2 billion? It must come from generous donations out of their budgets by her colleagues in the other spending departments. Or perhaps from the National Lottery. Or perhaps from Father Christmas.

Thirdly, is it not a fact that no one, except the Prime Minister, has demanded the new selective grammar schools? The Funding Agency for Schools said yesterday that there was no parental demand for them. The FAS has no money for them. Its new initiatives budget is a mere £13 million and it is having to cut back

25 Jun 1996 : Column 794

now on money for grant-maintained schools. And there is no demand from schools to have more selection--not even from the grant-maintained schools. Is it not a fact that out of 1,100 grant-maintained schools only 41--about 4 per cent.--have opted for increased selection? Of that 41, 35 have done so on the grounds of specialisation in music or drama, and we on these Benches have no problem with that. Where is the proof that parents, teachers and schools are crying out for more choice and more selection? There is simply no truth in the idea that parents want more and more choice. If they did, this proposal would not provide it. Selection means schools choosing their pupils, not parents choosing their schools.

We shall need to study the White Paper carefully but if today's Statement is any kind of advertisement for it we shall not approach the task with any manifest enthusiasm. Let us fervently hope that before it can damage too much it will all be swept away by a general election which will enable a Labour government to restore some sense, stability and sanity to an education scene which today seems to be directed only by the perfervid imaginings of a Prime Minister lost in some dreamland of his own.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page