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3.42 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I oppose what I believe is an ill-thought-out and damaging proposal. I fear that it will do nothing to raise educational standards in this country, and I very much hope that the House will join me in opposing the motion to introduce a Bill that would reduce the threshold for selection in our schools.

The Bill is not simply an attack on grammar schools; it is an attack on many state schools across the country. It is an attack on those state schools that select, for local reasons, a small proportion of their intake—currently, they are allowed to select up to 10 or 15 per cent. of that intake. The Bill is also an attack on state schools that are building up specialisations that can help them to achieve excellence in their chosen field, or it is an attack on schools that have already successfully built up such a specialisation. For example, city technology colleges have done much to improve technological skills in recent years.

The Bill has been proposed by a Labour Member, but it flies in the face of the Education Bill and the principles that lie behind it that have taken up so much parliamentary time in the past few months. This Bill goes against the powers to innovate that are set out in the Education Bill and against the city academies that will be set up under it. How can those schools find the children whom they need to achieve excellence in their areas of specialism if they have no ability to select by aptitude? How can a technology college or an arts college achieve excellence if it cannot give places to the pupils with particular skills in technology or the arts?

16 Apr 2002 : Column 461

I know that the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) is a long-standing and principled opponent of grammar schools. I understand that and accept his point of view, but I think that he is wrong. I suspect that, ultimately, opposition to grammar schools lies at the heart of the Bill. I admire his determination, but disagree fundamentally with his objective. He misses the point that opponents of grammar schools so often miss—selection still exists in every part of this country, but in too many places it is selection by estate agent, not by skill. In today's Britain the chances are that, if someone is born on the wrong side of town, they will end up in a school that is less good than if they had been born on the right side.

I went to a grammar school and I had friends from all walks of life. Grammar schools in many great towns in the north of England, such as Bury, were built as centres of educational excellence. They attracted pupils from all areas—the deprived as well as the good. They provided a way out of deprived areas for many of their pupils, and they took pupils regardless of background. In my view, it is tragic that some of those great schools—such as Manchester grammar school—are no longer a part of our state education system.

The difficulty with the grammar school issue was that we tried to tackle the problems that undoubtedly existed by dumbing down our best schools, rather than by creating excellence in other schools, as the Germans did. Even now, the reality is that a selective school system can make a major contribution. Many London boroughs have a selective system, but the non-selective schools still do better than their peers in nearby comprehensive boroughs.

At the end of last year, the Office for Standards in Education highlighted the fact that, in its view, comprehensive schools do not know how to identify gifted and talented pupils, or to teach them properly. Recent research by the National Foundation for Educational Research, to which the hon. Member for Bury, North referred, reinforced the benefits that selective education can offer. It found that, for pupils of average and above average ability, grammar schools do a much better job than comprehensives. It rightly adds the caveat, which we need to bear in mind, that

We certainly need to discuss how to ensure that pupils do not miss out once and for all at the age of 11. However, dealing with that issue correctly does not mean that we have to throw the baby out with the bath water and get rid of grammar schools altogether.

The conclusion of the NFER's research is absolutely clear:

That wholehearted endorsement from an independent and highly respected research body shows that grammar schools offer something that the comprehensive system too often fails to deliver. We will not sort out the problems in our education system by chopping the legs off grammar schools, instead of investing in other schools to ensure that they can deliver the same educational benefits as grammar schools.

16 Apr 2002 : Column 462

If we are to deal with this country's education problems, the last thing we should do is once again tackle the issue of selection. It is the wrong issue at the wrong moment. It is true that big problems exist in our education system. Any head teacher will mention over-regulation and the endless initiatives and reforms that they face. Why on earth should we choose to impose on head teachers already overburdened with reform yet another change? They want less change, not more. They want a period of stability to get to grips with the task already in hand, not a new set of responsibilities.

As a result of Government changes associated with the introduction of the Learning and Skills Council, a school in my constituency has a £50,000 funding shortfall for its sixth form. In the next few weeks, it faces the prospect of making a teacher redundant to meet that gap, unless the funds can be found by the LEA or the Government. That school selects 15 per cent. of its intake for local, strategic reasons. The last thing on earth that its head teacher needs is to be confronted with the task of reshaping her admissions processes and reorganising the way the school admits pupils, rather than getting to grips with the real problems on her doorstep.

On teacher shortages, many teachers are leaving the profession not because selection exists, but because—as one local head teacher said—they want to get out and get a life. A recent report, produced by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Government, shows that they are overburdened by a work load that causes many to work in excess of 50 hours a week. They are also leaving because the lack of discipline in our schools is getting out of hand, and they feel that the Government are not giving them the necessary support to deal with that issue.

The Bill flies in the face of the recent Education Bill. It would engender reforms that are unwanted by head teachers, who already have to deal with too much change. It would undermine some of our best schools while doing nothing to raise standards. It does not deserve to be introduced and I call on the House to oppose it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 163, Noes 112.

Division No. 211
[3.50 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane
Allan, Richard
Allen, Graham
Atherton, Ms Candy
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Barnes, Harry
Barrett, John
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Bennett, Andrew
Best, Harold
Borrow, David
Brennan, Kevin
Bruce, Malcolm
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Cable, Dr Vincent
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Challen, Colin
Chaytor, David
Chidgey, David
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clwyd, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Jean
Cotter, Brian
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Dean, Mrs Janet
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dismore, Andrew
Donohoe, Brian H
Doughty, Sue
Drown, Ms Julia
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Fisher, Mark
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Don (Bath)
Galloway, George
Gardiner, Barry
George, Andrew (St Ives)
Gibson, Dr Ian
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W)
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David
Hendrick, Mark
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Humble, Mrs Joan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kirkwood, Archy
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Lamb, Norman
Lepper, David
Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Elfyn
Lucas, Ian
McCafferty, Chris
McDonnell, John
Mackinlay, Andrew
McWalter, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Marshall–Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Meale, Alan
Mole, Chris
Moore, Michael
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Oaten, Mark
O'Hara, Edward
Owen, Albert
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter
Plaskitt, James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Price, Adam
Pugh, Dr John
Purchase, Ken
Rapson, Syd
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Tyler, Paul
Tynan, Bill
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Webb, Steve
White, Brian
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wood, Mike
Woodward, Shaun
Worthington, Tony
Wright, David (Telford)
Younger–Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:

Lynne Jones and
Dr. Stephen Ladyman.


Ancram, Rt Hon Michael
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bacon, Richard
Baron, John
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burns, Simon
Burnside, David
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, John
Cameron, David
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth
Clifton–Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Djanogly, Jonathan
Duncan, Alan (Rutland & Melton)
Duncan Smith, Rt Hon Iain
Field, Mark (Cities of London)
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger
Gibb, Nick
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gray, James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Hammond, Philip
Hayes, John
Hendry, Charles
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mark
Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hunter, Andrew
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Lansley, Andrew
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell–Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
McIntosh, Miss Anne
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John
Mates, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Francis
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moss, Malcolm
Murrison, Dr Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Prisk, Mark
Randall, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Rosindell, Andrew
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Keith (Mid–Norfolk)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spink, Bob
Spring, Richard
Streeter, Gary
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Trend, Michael
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Young, Rt Hon Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Michael Fabricant and
Mr. George Osborne.

Question accordingly agreed to.

16 Apr 2002 : Column 464

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Chaytor, Andrew Bennett, Valerie Davey, Mrs. Janet Dean, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Glenda Jackson, Lynne Jones, Dr. Stephen Ladyman, Mr. Tony Lloyd and Mr. Chris Mullin.

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