Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 226A:

Page 203, line 9, at the beginning insert ("if the panel so direct,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 227 and 228 not moved.]

Schedule 25, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 91 to 93 agreed to.

Clause 94 [General restriction on selection by ability or aptitude]:

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 228A:

Page 72, line 3, at end insert--
("( ) any selection by ability conducted in connection with the admission of pupils to the school who have disabilities or special educational needs which the school is particularly equipped to accommodate;").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 230. These two amendments address completely different subjects. The first amendment is in response to seeing Amendment No. 229 on the Marshalled List. I thought, "Hey, wait a moment, you ought to allow schools to select people who have a particular disability, where schools have gone to great expense and trouble to put in place the facilities to deal with that disability". If a school is particularly equipped to deal with people in wheelchairs and neighbouring schools are not, it seems sensible that the school be allowed to select people who need wheelchair access so that the school's facilities may be taken advantage of. A school may also have particular facilities to deal with other forms of physical disability. That is what I am aiming at. I hope that the Minister will tell me that the amendment is entirely unnecessary because schools will be able to do that anyway.

Amendment No. 230 comes back to a chestnut which was roasted at great length in the other place. It is unsatisfactory that there should be a definition of "ability" in the Bill but not of "aptitude" when both words have similar weight and are used in ways which can be quite confusing if there is no accepted definition of aptitude. This amendment is my personal and, I hope, reasonably common sense definition of aptitude and

8 Jun 1998 : Column 846

ability and the way in which they relate to each other. I hope that it proves acceptable to the Government. I beg to move.

Lord Tope: I speak briefly to Amendment No. 229, which is largely self-explanatory. Schools must not, as a policy, reject the applications of disabled pupils and require admissions systems to consider disabled children in an unbiased way. In a sense it is the flip side of the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has moved, which is a very sensible amendment. I feel sure that the Government will be able to support both amendments.

Lord Whitty: We are committed to the objectives of the noble Lords, Lord Lucas and Lord Tope. However, we do not consider that these amendments are necessary in certain circumstances. In more general terms, they also come within the strategic approach that we are adopting towards special educational needs. I can assure Members of the Committee that Clauses 94 to 98 do not in any sense undermine the existing legislation governing the assessment of children with special educational needs, including those with disabilities.

The Committee will know that the existing legislation provides strong safeguards for children with statements of SEN. Naming a school in a statement overrides all other admission criteria whatever the nature of the school. The admission authority, including that of a selective school, is under a duty to admit a child to a school. Therefore, in part these amendments are unnecessary in relation to children with statements.

On the broader issue, we have given a commitment under the Green Paper, and the consultative exercise which is under way on that paper, that we shall make it clear that all children with SEN cannot be treated any less favourably than other applicants. As I said in earlier debates, we are still drawing our conclusions from that consultation and we hope to issue a statement to that effect in the autumn. Meanwhile, we are spending substantially greater sums on school access than previously. In addition, as I mentioned, we are engaged in looking at the question of the relationship between disability legislation and education legislation.

Our aim is to ensure that any legislation works that protects over and above that which already exists for children with SEN and is within an overall and coherent programme for such needs. These amendments are not the way to achieve that and are partly unnecessary. They could only come into full effect if they were within the overall package which we intend to produce in the autumn. On that basis I hope that the noble Lords will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, Amendment No. 230 is entirely different. It is an attempt to play the lexicographer in this slightly complex area of distinguishing between ability and aptitude. As he said, it caused many debates in the other place. In fact, the distinction between the two has been enshrined in Education Acts since 1944. The previous government commissioned substantial research from the NFER on it. We believe that such matters, however gallant an attempt at definition, are best left to guidance and the code of practice. We can consult on this difficult matter

8 Jun 1998 : Column 847

which may apply differently in different specialist areas. All parties will have to have regard to the guidance and the code, but we would not be statutorily rigidly bound by a specific definition. We therefore prefer to deal with this definition in that manner. I have no doubt that I could provoke a lengthy debate, even at this hour of the night, on the distinction between "aptitude" and "ability", but I hope that in the circumstances the noble Lord will accept that this is not the best way of going about it and that our provision of guidance on the matter will, in practice, be more helpful.

Nevertheless, I thank the noble Lord for his attempt to help us and for his recognition that there is a distinction which, frankly, some of his colleagues failed to recognise at earlier stages.

Lord Lucas: I am grateful to the noble Lord and if, as he says, guidance is to be given on what "aptitude" means in particular cases, that seems to meet the requirements of the legislation quite nicely. However, I should be grateful if the noble Lord could point out to me which clause of the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to issue guidance on this point.

Lord Whitty: I understand that that point will be covered in the code of practice on admissions and by the provisions on partial selection.

Lord Lucas: I look forward to the code with even greater enthusiasm. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 228B:

Page 72, line 3, at end insert--
("( ) any selection by ability consequent upon section (Admission arrangements: selection procedure);").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 230A, 230B and 230C. Noble Lords will realise that these all deal with the old subject of selection by ability and seek to provide at least partial use of selection by ability, allowing governors to ballot parents, and so on.

I am not raising this matter to cause arid controversy at this late stage--or rather, at this early hour of the morning. I want to put before the Government certain research that shows that selection by ability can assist in bringing about an improvement in the overall standards of education. Traditionally, when comprehensive education was first introduced, it was argued--the argument has almost become written in tablets of stone--that the selective system benefits only the top 20 per cent. and disadvantages the rest. However, I suggest that recent research has shown that selection need not benefit only the top 20 per cent., but that it would also help all the others.

Perhaps I may give the Committee some statistics. In England, in local authority comprehensive schools, the percentage gaining five or more passes at grades A to C at GCSE is 39 per cent.; further examination reveals that the proportions are 47 per cent. for voluntary Church

8 Jun 1998 : Column 848

comprehensives; 49 per cent. for GM schools and 94 per cent. for grammar schools, whereas the surviving secondary moderns, relatively small in number, have a rate of 29 per cent., but do better than 700 comprehensive schools. In mathematics, the secondary moderns are ahead of 900 comprehensive schools.

Perhaps I may give another comparison. Northern Ireland has maintained a selective system with secondary modern schools and 52 per cent. of its secondary school pupils gain GCSE passes at grades A to C--that is, 10 per cent. better than the English comprehensive schools. I suggest that if the Government allowed some selection--or, more radically, followed Northern Ireland's example--that would improve our results similarly.

Perhaps I may give an analogy with what happens on the Continent. In Germany, which has a very selective system, with the Gymnasien taking 30 per cent. of the age range--as do Northern Ireland's grammar schools--the mathematical attainments of pupils in the lower half of the ability range are better by the equivalent of two years' schooling than the corresponding range for pupils in England. The problem is that England has become so obsessed with the ideology which has governed educational debate for the past 30 years that these facts are ignored. It is not true that only 20 per cent. of the ability range benefits if there is some form of selection. If one adds into the equation, as in the case of Germany, excellent technical schools, one can improve the position even further.

I very much doubt whether at this time in the morning the noble Baroness the Minister can be persuaded to change her mind given the fact that over the past 20 or 30 years she has held rather rigid positions on this point. I also hold fairly rigid positions. But these amendments ask the Government to give some thought to the research that has produced these results in deciding how, if standards are to be improved, the education system can be altered to achieve better performance. The Government do this when speaking of schools with special emphasis which will undoubtedly have to select by ability on the basis of modern languages, science, mathematics or whatever may be chosen. Therefore, my amendments do not go against government policy. Very shortly, in the following clauses to which my noble friend will speak, the Government move in my direction. Why not go the extra mile and improve the results and do as well as Northern Ireland? Then the Minister will have a place in history. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page