Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Do a Government who fail to consult, carry out any infrastructural audit or produce costings have any right to your Lordships’ support? Let me quantify that. On 30 June last year, in answer to a Written Question, I was told:

On 30 November, I was told:

On 7 March this year I was told that,

With planning and foresight of that calibre, is it any wonder that our troops in Afghanistan are under strength and ill equipped; that rapists and murderers are released from prison and back on to our streets and we do not know who they are or where they come from? Are we wise to trust a Government like this with our children's toys, let alone their futures?

This is about education for generations to come, about opportunity and social mobility. How can any Government be so pitifully na├»ve or callously undemocratic? How could we democrats justify such perversity? We have been told that what is proposed here today is, apparently, so trivial that it can be accepted here and now on the basis of 60 minutes’ debate and then repudiated on 24 November next if the Northern Ireland Assembly is, by then, up and running. No, my Lords, you are not dreaming; you are simply sharing my nightmare.

Should children be part of a coercive tactic designed to force a devolved arrangement on Northern Ireland? That is what the Government tell us they intend. Let us forget our impatience and frustration with the Assembly. I am an eager devolutionist—I always have

10 July 2006 : Column 557

been—but as a teacher and a democrat I cannot ever sanction children being sacrificed in the front line. This Order in Council will inevitably militate against the poor and will deprive the neediest of opportunity and the chance to achieve. Is that the value we put on democracy?

Democracy is ever a tender plant. As parliamentarians we must shelter it against abuse. Children are our hope for the future. They are tender plants too and it would be so wrong to allow them to be used as political pawns as this Order in Council would do. Tonight, democracy is on trial. I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rogan.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I have received literature from different organisations and individuals, including Members of your Lordships' House, seeking my support for their particular stance on this issue. The measure before us this evening has been influenced by the report of an 11-strong working group led by the chairperson of the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, which was set up to provide advice on options for future arrangements for post-primary education. There has been much debate on this issue over several years, but little agreement on the way forward, with some widely diverging views being held, particularly, as we have heard tonight, on academic selection.

The working group’s unanimous view was that a clear and early decision on the future direction of post-primary education in Northern Ireland was needed. The working group also took the view that the interests of the pupils should be paramount, and considered that while high-achieving pupils perform well, the system was failing too many other pupils. As a result of its review, the working group concluded that the status quo was not an option, not least because changes already taking place for demographic reasons were having, and would continue to have, a great impact on future provision. By the end of the decade it is projected that the number of pupils in post-primary schools will have fallen by some 8 per cent or 12,600 pupils. By 2040, it is projected that the 11 to 18-age population will have fallen by a quarter.

There is already substantial over-capacity in the post-primary school estate, and in 2002 32 such schools had fewer than 300 pupils. Popular schools, including grammar schools, are likely to continue to fill to capacity, despite overall pupil numbers steadily declining, resulting in an increased number of small schools. Indeed, grammar schools are already admitting a wider-ability range of pupils, with an increasing number of pupils having the lower transfer grades C and D, which raises questions about the appropriateness of the curriculum being offered in the light of the broader range of ability of pupils in these schools.

8.30 pm

On the other side of the coin, a smaller proportion of pupils will transfer into non-grammar schools. The figure is, I think, about 60 per cent non-grammar to40 per cent grammar, leading to an even greater concentration of socially and educationally disadvantaged pupils in non-grammar schools and an increase in the

10 July 2006 : Column 558

number of schools with low enrolments, raising serious questions about their future viability. Small post-primary schools cannot provide their pupils with the same level of curriculum choice as larger schools, to the disadvantage of the pupils concerned. In such a situation, pupils’ choices are constrained by what is available, rather than enabling them to take courses that are relevant to their needs and aptitudes—and, indeed, as shown by the 2002 skills monitoring survey, relevant to the needs of employers as well.

The working group proposed that schools to which pupils aged 11 should transfer should offer a broad general education, together with extension courses to widen and develop interests and which also reflect a school’s particular emphasis and ethos. At age 14 and beyond, schools would offer a wider variety of learning routes, whether in-house or in collaboration with other schools, the further education sector or other providers. The working group considered that age 14 was the earliest point at which major decisions involving greater choice for parents and pupils about the most appropriate learning routes or pathways should begin to be taken, whether vocational or academic or a mixture of both.

I believe that the working group on whose report the draft order is based made a compelling case for change—change based not on closing grammar schools, which would no doubt largely maintain an academic rather than a vocational ethos, but on an increasing choice of curriculum and courses in post-primary education to meet the differing needs of pupils and the needs of employers; change based on recognising and addressing the adverse impact of democratic movements and change on schools and pupils alike; change based on recognising the pressures, unfairness and distortions on so many pupils and the primary school curriculum of the transfer test and academic selection; and, as the working group stated quite clearly, change on which positive decisions are needed now.

Lord Steinberg: My Lords, I am resplendent in wearing my honoured tie from the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, known as Inst. We have four Peers in the House today, showing what a good standard of education we have. Let me say straight away that I am not an educationalist. Noble Lords have heard from other noble Lords and fellow countrymen about how difficult this education order is, and I shall not be any different in my criticism of it. Forgive me if I repeat some of the points already made.

Interestingly enough, I am not criticising the Government for producing this order, but I am blaming them for a lack of knowledge and understanding of the situation in Northern Ireland, particularly in its schools. One has to go through over 30 years of violence to realise how well the education system coped with the mayhem, murder and violence. It is remarkable that schooling continued as efficiently as it did under such aggravating circumstances. There are a few things that the Government just do not understand but, principally, Government are supposed to operate by consensus, and the people of Northern Ireland do not want a change in their educational system, which has worked so well for so many years. My school was

10 July 2006 : Column 559

founded in 1810, and has an unblemished record of providing some of the best brains in Northern Ireland, which extended right through the 19th and 20th centuries and continues to this day. My former head boy was the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Carswell, and he is here this evening.

We are all grateful for the wonderful education we had, which is down to the system. I am not going to get into any religious discussions, but I want to point out that the schools which are under threat in this order obtain their pupils from a complete cross-section of the community in Northern Ireland. We recently met with the heads of Belfast Royal Academy; Lumen Christi College, Derry; and the Royal School, Dungannon. They all agreed on the unfairness of the proposed order. That is something the Government should understand.

For countless years the standard of education in Northern Ireland has been higher than that in Great Britain, and that continues to be the case. Discipline in Northern Ireland schools is much better, the teaching staff are much more compatible with the job, and a vast number of them have worked their entire professional life teaching in those schools that are now under threat. I could talk about the hundreds of letters that have been received by myself and my colleagues and about the many opinion polls that have been conducted, but my fellow Ulstermen will doubtless have made the same points in this debate.

I can talk about the document issued in June 2006 for a proposal for a draft Education (Northern Ireland) Order, prepared by Maria Eagle MP, the Minister with responsibility for education. She says in the foreword:

Thirty-nine amendments were discussed, of which two were agreed to. One was to allow Irish to be taught as a modern language and the other dealt with expulsions, both of which I support. What kind of a one-sided document is this, and what kind of a statement is it that says:

That is just not correct. Very little account has been taken.

Your Lordships are going completely against the people, the educators and the teachers of Northern Ireland. This is a case where the absence of local government shows the vacuum that exists. I will only say in the strongest possible terms that the people do not want this, the pupils do not want it and neither do we. I urge the Government to drop it. In conclusion, I am proud to have been educated in a grammar school in Northern Ireland, and I hope that in the future many pupils will be able to say the same. I support the amendment.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, if I may, I will raise an issue on the order itself. This is the only opportunity one will have to do so in this debate. This issue echoes a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, whom I commend for his introduction, when Secretary of State, of the notion of integrated

10 July 2006 : Column 560

education. Integrated education offers a hope and a way forward for Northern Ireland of singular, proven merit. I would be grateful if, in summing up, the Minister would make reference to Article 6 of the order, which prescribes the broad curriculum content for every grant-aided school. That includes eight areas of learning.

I would particularly appreciate it if the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, would look at column 1 of Part III of Schedule 1 and see there that it refers to “local citizenship” and “personal development” as being two of the areas of learning that every curriculum should deal with. If the Northern Ireland Assembly is not back in action by the end of November, and if the Government therefore exercise powers directly in terms of subsidiary regulation under this order, will he ensure that the directions then given take full account of the unique benefits and advantages that local citizenship and personal development offer? I should declare an interest as I was involved professionally as a lawyer in setting up the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.

Having heard the debate, I realise that if you are a poor old Englishman, commenting on selection in Northern Ireland education is a bit like walking into a lion’s den, but I cannot resist making some quick points. First, nobody has referred to the fact that the five teachers’ unions in Northern Ireland support the measure strongly. It seems to me that that is extremely powerful evidence. Secondly, has anybody done a survey or attempted to do any research into the educational background of the men of violence in Northern Ireland? I would be amazed if there was not a correlation between violence and those who have gone to schools for those who failed the 11-plus. Thirdly, I understand the pride of the noble Lords, Lord Rogan and Lord Steinberg, in the grammar schools they attended. I absolutely sympathise with somebody, particularly from a working class background, who has been lifted out of a rather dreary prospect in life by dint of going to a grammar school. That is perfectly understandable. None the less, surely one has to face the fact that those grammar schools are privileged in the most powerful way—in the ability of the pupils who attend them. I suggest that is a much more potent privilege than any financial privilege.

Nobody has yet referred in this debate to the failures—the majority of children in Northern Ireland who do not get to a grammar school. Nobody has said a word about them, the schools they go to or the quality of those schools. However, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to that very briefly. I suggest that to ignore that majority because of the success of the minority is not good enough. How could one not expect grammar schools to be wonderful and to have better results on the basis of their selection? It is rather like an army that puts all the best soldiers into one regiment. It will fight better than the others. It is like a hospital that corralled all the best doctors—it would be better. I believe strongly that the ideal of educational egalitarianism is fundamental to a good society. I bow to the intimate knowledge of their province of noble Lords who

10 July 2006 : Column 561

come from Northern Ireland, but I urge them to give a thought to that. Nobody has referred to it.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, referred to parents favouring some form of selection. I believe that I have quoted him correctly. I favour some form of selection. I went to a state primary, passed the 11-plus and was then sent to an independent school—a highly privileged school. None the less I sent my children to a comprehensive, of which I was a governor. A good comprehensive has some form of selection—streaming. It does not constitute the dramatic and damaging trauma of failing or passing an 11-plus examination. I make those comments because, if I may say so, the debate so far has been rather dominated—

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he asked about the educational abilities of those involved in terrorism. I can tell him that, like himself, Gerry Adams passed the 11-plus.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I knew that Gerry Adams had passed the 11-plus. It is pretty apparent that Gerry Adams is a smart fellow. I am talking about the run-of-the-mill men of violence. I would be very surprised indeed if they had all passed the 11-plus. It seems manifestly obvious that they did not, and that part of the baggage they carry comprises failure. That is all I wanted to say.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I shall intervene very briefly. It is with a sense of dismay that we are being called on to vote on a matter of Northern Ireland. I do not want to.

I want to make one point to the Minister, and you may say that it is not relevant to the order. I know the Government care very much about the disadvantaged and those who do not succeed at school but it has been a scandal of our comprehensive system that year in, year out, and still today, we fail 20 per cent of our young people and they leave school at 16 functionally illiterate and innumerate. It is to our shame. The best thing the Government can do to help the education of Northern Ireland is address that problem. It can only be addressed by resource, and big resource, and it will be the best investment for Northern Ireland the Government could ever make.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not propose to answer all the points as it would take too long and I sought to cover a lot of them in my opening remarks, so it would be repetition. I am very grateful to noble Lords who have spoken. There have been one or two quite specific questions which I can answer more or less as a yes or no. The answer to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, is no. I do not seek to elaborate on that.

I will emphasise one thing. There were not many schools mentioned—the Royal Belfast Academical Institution was one. It is a well respected boys’ grammar school. Twenty per cent of the pupils get C and D grades. No one is arguing that it is not a good school with an academic ethos. In other words, the intake is totally different from what it would have been when Members of your Lordships’ House were younger boys.

Also, just to clear up any doubt, I hope that my remarks referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney,

10 July 2006 : Column 562

are not taken out of context. They certainly were not meant in that way. I do not compare myself as a direct rule Minister to direct rule Ministers 10, 15 and 20 years ago. The pressures on us are nothing like what they were. I fully understand that and in no way was I seeking to demean the fact that security, rule of law and respect for the law are fundamental to a decent society. Without that, Northern Ireland will not be a decent society. It is not a normal civic society today. Some elements are missing. We are seeking to put those building blocks in place.

It is still the fact that Northern Ireland has fewer graduates at work than anywhere in the UK. This is probably because we are creating the graduates and they are exporting themselves because they do not want to live and work in a society that has been created by has-been politicians who have not actually got together to work. They export themselves to the UK and around the world. I am talking about graduates working in Northern Ireland, not creating graduates. It is a fact that adult literacy rates are poor anyway in the UK. It just so happens that in Northern Ireland they are poorer than anywhere else.

On the point that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, made, I do not have the figures in front of me but I remember seeing them in the early days and speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, about them. I am not a Northern Ireland Minister any more, and anyway I was not the Education Minister, but the fact is, I was sitting with my colleagues discussing these issues. Some of the educational attainment among Protestant working-class boys is a damned disgrace. It was quite clear the Protestant working class was not being represented by working-class Protestants. They were being represented by people who were not pushing for those extra resources. That is the only way this could have been brought about. It is a really serious issue and I suspect that the point that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made is probably answered by low educational attainment, but these spivs and crooks certainly know how to manipulate the legal system for extortion. They can add up pounds, shillings and pence, if I can put it in that way. They know how to do blackmail and smuggling. They are not thick and stupid. They may not have an academic qualification but I do not think that is the criterion that one can use to measure this.

The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, asked me a specific question; of course, if the order fails, the provision he asks about will not come in anyway. But, Article 6(1)(c) provides an assurance that we have a continued commitment to integrated education. Regarding the point raised by the noble Lord, the curriculum framework will include citizenship and give particular emphasis to encouraging that aspect.

Finally, it is with some sadness that I point out—and the record can be checked—that at no time during the speech given by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, did the words “curriculum” or “entitlement framework” cross his lips. I think that that was very sad.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this evening’s debate. I have

10 July 2006 : Column 563

listened with care and attention to the Minister and I beg leave to test the opinion of the House.

8.50 pm

On Question, Whether the said amendment shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 97; Not-Contents, 172.


Division No. 2


CONTENTS

Attlee, E.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Ballyedmond, L.
Blaker, L.
Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.
Bridgeman, V.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Brookeborough, V.
Brougham and Vaux, L.
Buscombe, B.
Byford, B.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carswell, L.
Chester, Bp.
Cobbold, L.
Colville of Culross, V.
Colwyn, L.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Courtown, E.
De Mauley, L.
Denham, L.
Dundee, E.
Eccles, V.
Eden of Winton, L.
Elton, L.
Ferrers, E.
Flather, B.
Fookes, B.
Glentoran, L.
Hamilton of Epsom, L.
Hanningfield, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Henley, L.
Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.
Howard of Rising, L.
Howe, E.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Howe of Idlicote, B.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Inglewood, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L.
Jopling, L.
Kilclooney, L.
King of Bridgwater, L.
Kingsland, L.
Laing of Dunphail, L.
Laird, L.
Luke, L.
Maginnis of Drumglass, L. [Teller]
Marland, L.
Masham of Ilton, B.
Mawhinney, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Monson, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Montrose, D.
Moonie, L.
Moran, L.
Morris of Bolton, B.
Morrow, L.
Newton of Braintree, L.
Noakes, B.
Northbrook, L.
Northesk, E.
Norton of Louth, L.
O'Cathain, B.
Paisley of St George's, B.
Palmer, L.
Parkinson, L.
Patten, L.
Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Quirk, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rogan, L.
St John of Fawsley, L.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Seccombe, B.
Selsdon, L.
Sharples, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Shephard of Northwold, B.
Skelmersdale, L.
Steinberg, L. [Teller]
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Strathclyde, L.
Tebbit, L.
Trimble, L.
Ullswater, V.
Waddington, L.
Wade of Chorlton, L.
Walker of Worcester, L.
Walpole, L.
Wilcox, B.
Willoughby de Broke, L.

NOT CONTENTS

Acton, L.
Adams of Craigielea, B.
Addington, L.
Adonis, L.
Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page