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Estelle Morris: Just for you.

Mr. Willis: I know that it is just for me.

The right hon. Lady has often said, "The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough doth protest too much because most schools have not used the 10 per cent. aptitude provision but ignored it, and that proves the case." I say to her that we have a golden opportunity. Schools do not want the aptitude provision. Only 7 per cent. of schools have used it, and most of them were selecting before. As we have heard—I will not reopen the debate—schools are selecting by faith.

The new clause would simply get rid of the whole business of selecting by aptitude. The right hon. Lady knows that such selection is nonsense, as does the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West. If the Government are to introduce selection, they should at least have the guts to make it by ability. If not, let us get rid of the nonsense. I ask the House to support new clause 4.

Mr. Brady: I am delighted to have the opportunity, however brief, to speak to new clause 12. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) has made clear his opposition to the remaining grammar schools. At least he has always been both clear and consistent in that. The Government have been clear in their opposition to the remaining grammar schools but not always consistent. They seem to move to and fro on the issue.

We have not only had the celebrated instance to which the hon. Gentleman referred of the then shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), saying, "Read my lips: no selection by exam or interview." The Government appear to have reneged on that as they have developed a belief that selection by ability or aptitude in some circumstances can be a route to raising standards in schools.

The latest twist and turn in the process came just before Christmas when, on 7 December, in an article on the front page of The Times under the headline "Labour ends its 30-year war against grammars", we read:


The article continues:


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We welcomed that enormously. The article also says:


an obvious reference to his Deputy. There was some concern in the article, but its gist was welcome: the Government, after being ideologically hostile to the remaining grammar schools, had come around to accepting that they are excellent schools which provide opportunity for children in the communities that they serve.

I am proud to represent one of those communities. I am delighted that one of the partnerships between grammar schools and other parts of the maintained sector in which the Government have recently invested is based partly in my constituency. Altrincham grammar school for girls, the sister school of the school which I attended, is, as the Secretary of State will know, in partnership with her old school, the nearby Whalley Range high school. That is a welcome initiative. If Members will forgive a brief indulgence, I shall point out that the right hon. Lady frequently visits her old school to make announcements and promote Government policy, so perhaps I can ask her to join me on a visit to its partner, Altrincham grammar school for girls. Together we could explore the great advantages of grammar schools in spreading best practice to other parts of the maintained sector.

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman has talked about diversity. What sort of diversity is there in my constituency, where we have no comprehensives? We have the two sides of the selective coin—grammar schools and secondary moderns. Where is the choice for my constituents?

Mr. Brady: We support Government policy in that area. I hope that, as has been the case in my constituency, the hon. Gentleman's constituency increasingly has a blend of grammar schools, specialist schools and others; I hope that there would be few schools which offered no choice or advantages to his constituents. We welcome the increasing diversity of schools.

Chris Grayling: Would my hon. Friend explain to Government Members that grammar schools select children from all walks of life and all backgrounds, and are genuinely socially inclusive? Comprehensive schools tend to use the system of selection by estate agent, which cannot be fair to pupils in his constituency and elsewhere.

Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend is right, and I am acutely aware of the problem. If my old school, Altrincham grammar school for boys, had been a comprehensive when I was a boy, I would not have fallen within its catchment area; eligibility would have been limited to the most affluent parts of my constituency.

I do not wish to detain the House on parochial matters. The vital fact is that we, like the Government, recognise the excellent work that grammar schools are doing.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Does my hon. Friend realise that even if he wished to detain the House, he cannot do

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so for more than seven minutes, so he may not succeed in developing his argument and will not touch on any other issue? Does he not agree that that is a total disregard of Parliament and what it ought to stand for?

Mr. Brady: I agree. If my hon. Friend had had the misfortune to witness the Government's mismanagement of the Committee stage, he would be even more outraged than he rightly is now.

Mr. Chaytor rose

Mr. Brady: I shall give way in a moment; I fear that the hon. Gentleman may be a convert to the cause of grammar schools, as the Government appear to be. We, like the Government, recognise the important job that grammar schools in the maintained sector do so well. The latest research published a few months ago by the National Foundation for Educational Research demonstrated the great strengths of the grammar schools in achieving better performance up to GCSE level for middle-ability children and up to key stage 3. I know that the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) recognises that.

Mr. Chaytor: Acknowledging that the benefits of a mature understanding of diversity have been conferred upon us all, does the hon. Gentleman accept, with reference to his earlier point about insecurity related to selective systems, that he should support my new clause 8, which would make it easier for a ballot to take place, whereby the issue could be settled for a number of years? As long as it is more difficult for a ballot to take place, the axe is always hanging over the school. It would help his cause and provide stability and security if the ballot could take place and the issue could be settled.

Mr. Brady: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, as he leads me to the central point of new clause 12, which involves stability and how best we can remove the threat that hangs over the remaining grammar schools—a threat that can arise every year. Even when there is no real will in a community to dispose of the grammar schools, it is possible for a small group of parents, frequently politically motivated, to initiate a petition. As soon as that happens, the schools are under threat. An enormous amount of effort is diverted from the educational priorities of the schools. The time of staff, governors and parents and fund-raising efforts are taken up not with helping the school but with fighting misguided attempts to abolish it.

That is why new clause 12 seeks to provide that once a petition has been initiated, or a ballot has been initiated or taken place, there will be a period of six years during which no further petition can be initiated. That is vital for thousands of children who attend grammar schools. It is essential that they have a period of grace during which their education can proceed without their school being faced with uncertainty and threatened with closure. The importance of the six-year period is that if a child starts at a grammar school in a year in which a threat is faced by the school, he can proceed through the remaining six years of what is likely to be a seven-year period at the

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school, without further threats to the school. New clause 12 provides the stability that the hon. Member for Bury, North described and I hope that he will support it.

Mr. Chaytor rose

Mr. Brady: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman and I have very little time. I cannot give way now.

The new clause would protect our existing grammar schools from repeated threats of closure, giving them stability and allowing them to thrive without being under constant threat. It would not do away with the ballot process, but it would improve life for grammar schools and the children whom they serve. That is why I hope that we will have an opportunity to press new clause 12 to a Division. This is a matter of the utmost importance to many thousands of people outside the House, and it will be of great concern to them if the House does not have an opportunity to divide on such an important matter.

Sadly, as a result of the Government's intransigence and incompetence, we have not had the opportunity properly to debate the new clauses and amendments relating to selection by aptitude and ability. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends and hon. Members on the Liberal Benches to support the new clause. I hope that the Government will take advantage of the opportunity to make real what they claim is the end of their hostility to the remaining grammar schools, and prove that they recognise the value of our grammar schools by giving them a chance to flourish and grow as they should be able to do.


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