|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Whitty: I am not sure how to reply to the noble Baroness, who ranged widely in her comments. I was not entirely sure which clauses she addressed. I shall have to consider how I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I had thought that the noble Baroness was speaking to Amendments Nos. 230D and E on banding. I do not recall that banding was referred to. However, I am prepared to accept that she has subsumed that in her general castigation of the policy and has addressed Amendment No. 230F and the related amendments.
I shall address briefly the issue of banding. The noble Baroness's amendment on banding uses the term in an entirely different sense to our understanding of it. We consider that it is not destructive of the comprehensive principle in that it aims to ensure that schools do not contain a disproportionate number of children from any one ability band. That was the approach taken by certain Old Labour authorities. We consider that, when used flexibly, it could enhance our new system. The form of banding that the noble Baroness proposes would allow a "creaming off" and therefore reintroduce selection by a different method. We cannot accept that form of banding.
As regards aptitude and ability, the transition from Old Labour to New Labour has been painful for many but also enlightening for many. We do not believe that education should be based on selection from above, selection by schools of parents and of children. But we do believe nowadays--even if we perhaps did not believe this clearly before--in diversity among schools and choice for parents within an essentially comprehensive framework. We recognise that some schools will specialise. We have provided partial selection to enable testing for aptitude for a certain proportion of children in particular subjects in which certain schools specialise.
However, that specialisation and that selection are subject to certain important conditions. The three most important are that selection by aptitude should apply to no more than 10 per cent; selection should be only for prescribed subjects--which the noble Baroness seeks to delete--and aptitude must not be used to cover what is really old Toryism; that is, selection by ability. The amendments before us in this group remove two of those
We would wish to confine our selection by aptitude in the sense of these clauses to the four subjects the Government have already identified; namely, music, technology, foreign languages and sport. These amendments would allow a school to name anything else as an area where aptitude could be tested and therefore reintroduce testing by what pretty much amounts to general ability. This would cut across our general approach in favour of comprehensive education and equality of opportunity for all children, and as far as possible equality of choice for all parents within a diverse but nevertheless essentially comprehensive school system.
The noble Baroness also referred to Amendment No. 231A. That amendment would remove the safeguard against extending aptitude into broad ability testing and selection on that basis. It would therefore allow aptitude to become a cover for selection by ability.
I hope that the noble Baroness's broad brush approach and my response have allowed us to deal with a fair number of the remaining amendments. There is obviously a clash of approach between us. The noble Baroness accuses us of destroying all that is good in education. I respond that we are providing the basis of an education system that will benefit all our children and not merely an elite which probably does not even amount to the 20 per cent. referred to earlier by noble Lords opposite. We believe that is the forward programme for education in this country.
Although we have enormous differences and I am sure the noble Baroness will wish to return to this matter on Report, at least for tonight perhaps we may move on to the few remaining groups, and then go home and return to these matters on Wednesday.
Baroness Blatch: Noble Lords opposite can be sure that I shall return to this matter. To help the noble Lord move on, I have subsumed Amendments Nos. 230D, 230E, 230F to 230H, and 231A. Those are the last of my amendments for tonight.
If this Bill is meant to represent a raising of standards in education in this country, I simply say, and make no apology for it, "God help us!"--because this Bill certainly does not do that. It destroys all that is good in British education. It really is the most destructive Bill I have ever come across.
To the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I simply say: do not be surprised about what I have said. The way in which this legislation is presented is destructive, but it has been "Blairited". It suits the Blair image to lull people into a false sense of security. It is his approach to middle England. What middle England does not know is what is behind the clauses in this Bill. That is not surprising: it is an incredibly difficult Bill to read. If, as the noble Lord says, believing in the pursuit of excellence and in appropriate education for children, including meeting the needs of the most able children in our land and providing for the least able, is "old Tory", if that is his criticism, I am very proud indeed to live and die as an "old Tory".
I am glad to hear one phrase at least that the noble Lord used tonight, because it is true. It is the first time that it has been said in relation to this Bill in this place or another place--namely, that its content essentially amounts to comprehensive education. That is in fact what subsection (1)(b) on page 73 adds up to:
There is one other point that I must raise, however late the hour; namely, the hypocrisy of this Government. It is all right for Harriet Harman to choose a selective grammar school; it is all right for Tony Blair to choose the best school that he finds in London and to reject the schools in his own area; and it is all right for other members of the Cabinet. But is it not all right for the other citizens of this land. Why is it that they are to be denied the school of their choice? Miss Harman's child goes a very long distance to be educated at a grammar school. That is another policy in the Bill which we shall discuss on Wednesday. This is again sleight of hand. It does not suit the Government's image to say that grammar schools will be abolished, so they set up a rigged balloting system to make sure that, over time, that is exactly what will happen.
I find this one of the most depressing moments that I have had in this Chamber. When the Parliament of which I am a Member puts a seal on the Bill, I shall have been party to the demise of all that is good in British education. I am deeply ashamed of that. The only thing that allows me to go home with a clear conscience is the fact that I shall do my bit, as long as the Bill survives, to fight the Government in their prejudiced policies. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Lucas: I have given notice of my intention to oppose this Question. I am puzzled as to what the noble Lord thinks the clause achieves for parents. In what way does this form of selection benefit parents or their children? How is the wording that appears in the clause designed to achieve that benefit? It seems such an inexact form of words. There is no absolute definition of what the bands should be. The bands are not in relation to anything definable but just in relation to the ever-changing sea of who the applicants may be in a particular year. One may find substantial proportions of one band subsumed by brothers and sisters and therefore those who are found to be in this band will suddenly have to live much closer to their school, if it is one of the schools that has an as-the-crow-flies rule, whereas children who fall in another band will be able to come from three or four times the distance. The clause will produce a very unpredictable pattern for parents. They
What procedures will be used to test the children? Will there be a nationally recognised test on which the results will be scored, or will different schools run their banding in different ways? Will there be any restriction on which parents are allowed to apply to a particular school? Could one find that particular bands are made up of parents who live a long distance away from the school, whereas other bands are made up of parents who live much closer?
As far as I can read it, a very confusing and unsatisfactory position for parents will be produced if a school adopts this formula for banding. I do not see that it will do parents or their children any good. I can see that it might generally be thought to be of mild convenience for a school to know roughly what proportion of children of what kind of abilities it will have in any particular year. But most schools survive without having that kind of arrangement, and do so very well. I cannot see that the mild convenience for the school is in any way worth the inconvenience for the parents.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page