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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Labour Party and the Government have been very clear in ensuring that we do not wish to see further grammar schools. I reiterate what I have said previously in your Lordships' House. Our concern in this matter was of the number of children not allowed to pursue the quality of education that was offered within the grammar school system in days gone by. What we now have is a schools system where every child is moving towards being able to achieve his full potential and in many schools is already able to achieve his full potential. We want to ensure that every school gives the best opportunity to every child. It is true that in schools where we still have selection in certain areas we offer that opportunity. It is also true that our own figures show that in comprehensive schools children from the brightest groups do better than they do in grammar schools.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, is the Minister prepared to congratulate Kent County

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Council on providing a variety of schools? It has a selective system that caters for children of different abilities—vocational, academic and so on. Are the Government prepared, as they award Beacon excellence to grammar schools and some of the Kent vocational schools, to accept that that is an alternative? Is the Minister prepared to accept Professor Jesson's evidence, which has been seriously questioned in a number of academic journals?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as the noble Lord has referred to Professor Jesson, I shall do the House a service by reporting on what he actually said. He was commissioned to look at the structure and performance of secondary education in Kent. The major findings of his report were that grammar schools in Kent and Medway do less well and are performing at lower levels than other grammar schools in the country and that secondary modern schools show similar, if less pronounced, characteristics.

In looking at whether I should congratulate a local education authority, I think it is absolutely pertinent to ask whether we think that we can support that education authority to achieve better outcomes for all its children. That is entirely what the department would wish to do. So I am quite clear that if Professor Jesson's research is correct—I have no reason to believe otherwise—we need to support Kent to ensure that it is able to do the best it possibly can. I am sure that all the political leaders and officials in Kent are very keen to do that. Indeed, I know that they are.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, in view of the research done by David Jesson and others, does the Minister agree that the best system is a good comprehensive school in which the special needs of children at both ends of the ability spectrum are well catered for and well resourced?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as I said, we know that children at the upper end of the band do better—marginally better—in comprehensive schools. We also know that, generally, a well delivered comprehensive education delivers for all the children. That is a cornerstone of the Government's policy, so I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important that we offer that breadth and quality of education to every child.

There are still some grammar schools. We have made our policy towards them clear with the parental ballot, and we still believe that that is the right way to go. We work with all schools to ensure that, whether one lives and raises a child in a selective or non-selective area, the quality of education that the child will receive is the highest that it can be.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most extensive and detailed research done in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is that done by Dr Marks? Dr Marks concludes that selection is better for all pupils, not just those selected to attend grammar schools. The average advantage is about 25 per cent at GCSE. The good overall performance of the selective

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system is, in part, due to the good performance of pupils at the widely underrated secondary modern schools. That is most evident in Northern Ireland, where the system is entirely selective. There, education results are well ahead of those in the rest of the United Kingdom—by 30 per cent, at least.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, Dr Marks provides important evidence. In part, that is why, in my Answer, I said that we continued to note conclusions. There is different evidence, and, often, the issue is whether the evidence can be used to make genuine comparisons. I mean no criticism of any of the research by that, but, often, when we examine the research, it is difficult to see the comparators in the way that noble Lords might want.

It is clear that the provision of the highest quality education must be paramount. From the evidence that we have, we believe that we provide that best through a comprehensive system that is high quality and looks to meet the needs of all children. That is what we will continue to do.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, Professor Jesson has a knighthood, so he has done rather well. However, the Minister did not answer my question. Professor Jesson's research has been seriously questioned in at least three academic journals. Is the department aware of that questioning?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we continue to consider all research and the questioning of all research. That is why I said that we look to ensure that the comparators are equal. We know that Professor Jesson examined 15 selective areas, although we would recognise only 10 of those as being within our criteria. That is an important point.

I am more concerned about Ofsted reports, which help us to ensure that we have high quality education. In view of this debate, noble Lords will understand why that is an essential part of our evaluation of schools.


2.53 p.m.

Lord Bramall asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the up-to-date information that appeared in the British Intelligence Dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction published in September has now been passed to the United Nations observers for verification and any necessary action.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, a copy of the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was passed to UNMOVIC at the time of its publication. It is up to UNMOVIC to decide how to act on the contents of the dossier.

Lord Bramall: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that slightly cautious reply. Does she accept that it is infinitely

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better that the so far unfettered UN observers, backed by all the, presumably, detailed intelligence and evidence that we and the Americans possess, should seek out and destroy any nuclear, biological and chemical weapons—a better description than weapons of mass destruction—that still exist? That is better than using quibbling over paperwork to drift into a war that, whatever the early success, will have untold consequences for the longer-term stability of the Middle East.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble and gallant Lord. So far, there have been 200 such inspections.

I am unaware of the sort of quibbling to which the noble and gallant Lord referred. As I said, the dossier was passed to UNMOVIC at the time of its publication. The noble and gallant Lord may be pressing a little further on other intelligence that has been conveyed to UNMOVIC and the IAEA, over and above that published in the dossier. If that is what concerns the noble and gallant Lord, I can tell him that, in addition to the published information, further information has been made available to the inspectors.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, now that the Foreign Secretary has—rather belatedly—recognised and acknowledged the intimate links between rogue states such as Iraq and the global terrorist system, can we look forward to another dossier, giving some of the intelligence underpinning that conclusion, on the lines of the information that has been circulated in Washington and provided to Congress about terrorist links with Iraq? Is it not now time for us to hear the same story, in order that those who have doubts about the war against Iraq and the need to take out Saddam can be reassured?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I take issue with the pejorative remarks about it being late in the day to acknowledge links. We have always said that there were no direct links between Al'Qaeda and Iraq. There are no such direct links on which we have firm information or intelligence, and I continue to answer your Lordships' questions on that point. There are links between Iraq and some other organisations, and we have discussed those. A connection can certainly be made, in so far as it might be claimed that, "My enemy's enemy is my friend". I suggest that that may well be the sort of link that informs the noble Lord's question.

We will continue to publish information that we believe to be helpful in explaining why Her Majesty's Government take the view that they do of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we will always put the safety of our intelligence sources and of our Armed Forces in the forefront of any judgment about what to publish.

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