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The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The Statement is as follows:
"The Government's education reforms have one central aim: to raise standards in schools. To achieve that, we have put in place a framework based on four elements: first, the national curriculum, linked to regular testing at seven, 11 and 14, and regular inspection of schools, so that there is a common understanding of what children should be learning, and what standards they can be expected to achieve.
"The second is greater accountability and transparency so that parents, governors and the wider community know how the system is performing. We have published secondary school performance tables, and will publish primary school tables from next spring. We have ensured that all school inspection reports are published. We have ensured that schools provide parents with regular reports on the school and on their children's progress.
"The third is more choice for parents and more diversity among schools. Church schools, grammar schools and others have long provided some choice for some parents. But we wanted more parents to be able to choose from a range of good schools the education which will best suit the abilities, interests and needs of their children.
"Thus we introduced the assisted places scheme. We set up the 15 city technology colleges. We have helped 180 schools develop their strengths in particular subjects by becoming technology colleges and language colleges. We have given all schools the chance to become grant-maintained. So far, more than 1,100 schools have done so.
"The fourth is more freedom and independence for schools, within this framework of accountability and parental choice, to run their own affairs. All local authority schools now control a high proportion of their budgets so that they can match their spending to their own priorities. All schools now have their own governing body, representing parents and the local community, and are responsible for overseeing the running of the school. Grant maintained schools which have opted out of LEA control have greater freedom to manage their budgets, their staffing, their premises and their future development.
"Now we need to take the next step. Schools have gained experience and skill in handling their own affairs. They have shown that they can use that freedom well. So today's White Paper sets out a range of new measures to build on the framework we have put in place, particularly to give schools more freedom and parents more choice.
"We propose action in four areas: first, to give local authority schools more control of their budgets; secondly, to give grant-maintained schools more freedom in developing the education they provide; thirdly, to define more clearly the role of LEAs in supporting schools; and fourthly, to encourage more choice and more diversity, including through more selection of pupils.
"First, as regards more freedom for local authority schools to decide how to spend their budgets, delegation of school budgets and local management of schools have been a great success. LMS helps schools get better value for money and to match resources to their own priorities.
"We propose to bring more spending items within the global budget which LEAs use to set individual budgets for schools. And we intend to increase from 85 per cent. to 95 per cent. the proportion of that global budget which LEAs must delegate to schools. These steps would increase by some £1.3 billion the resources which LEAs are required to pass on to schools. Since many LEAs are already delegating more than the 85 per cent. minimum requirement, that is an extra £600 million, or some £90 per pupil, over what schools are currently getting in their budgets.
"Secondly, the White Paper proposes more freedoms for grant-maintained schools. Despite the Opposition's continuing hostility to giving schools the right to govern themselves, we now have over 1,100 grant-maintained schools. They include many of the best state schools in the country.
"The Government intend that grant-maintained status should continue to offer the fullest independence possible. We want to give grant-maintained schools more power to change what they do in response to local needs without seeking central approval. They would be free to increase their numbers by up to 50 per cent., and to open new nursery classes and sixth forms. We also want to give grant-maintained schools the choice to take on new functions currently undertaken by LEAs, such as running their own pupil transport.
"Thirdly, the White Paper sets out a clearer, tighter definition of the functions of local education authorities. LEAs would continue to have a role in providing services which schools cannot carry out for themselves. That includes, for example, drawing up statements for children with special educational needs. But it is not for LEAs to control what schools do. Each school should decide for itself how to operate. That includes deciding what support services it wants to buy, from the LEA or elsewhere.
"LEAs in their turn must carry out these functions effectively. The record of LEAs has, to say the least, been mixed. So the Government will be looking to develop better mechanisms for assessing the effectiveness of LEAs themselves to ensure that what LEAs do, they do well.
"Fourthly, the White Paper proposes more choice for parents through a range of new measures to extend diversity. The Prime Minister and I have made clear that the Government want to see a spectrum of schools matching the varied talents, needs and interests of our children. That includes grammar schools. Grammar schools have a proud tradition of academic excellence. We want more parents and pupils to have these opportunities where there is demand for them in the local community--opportunities enjoyed by some Members opposite. We will welcome proposals for new grammar schools. Where an existing LEA school wants to become a grammar school, we intend to give the governing body a right of appeal if the LEA tries to block reasonable proposals. We intend to give the Funding Agency for Schools powers to propose setting up grant-maintained schools, including grant-maintained grammar schools, in all areas of the country where there is a need for a new school.
"Encouraging grammar schools gives parents greater choice. But our plans for increasing diversity go further. We do not want to see just two types of schools, grammars and secondary moderns. That agenda is out of date. The debate has moved on. Selection, too, is not just about the 11-plus. You can select in a range of ways, including by aptitude for a particular subject. Our view of selection is that it is about getting a better match between what schools offer and what parents want for their children to suit their individual needs.
"We want to encourage all schools to develop distinctive strengths and identities. There are many excellent comprehensives which serve their communities well. But we need diversity. We need choice. The White Paper would encourage that by a variety of measures.
"First, we want to give grant-maintained schools the right to select up to 50 per cent. of their pupils by ability or aptitude without needing central approval. Secondly, we want to give technology and language colleges the right to select up to 30 per cent. of their pupils by ability or aptitude in their specialist subjects. Thirdly, we want to give those responsible for admissions at all other LEA schools the right to select up to 20 per cent. of their pupils. Fourthly, we plan to reinforce the specialist schools programme by giving more support for technology and language colleges and by extending the approach to include schools specialising in sports and the arts. Fifthly, we
"A lot of progress has been made over the past few years. The Government have now put in place, despite resistance every step of the way from Members opposite, an effective framework for raising standards.
"It is a framework which provides a clear specification of what schools and pupils should be achieving; which holds schools accountable for what they do; which gives schools freedom to decide how to run their affairs; and which gives parents more choice.
"Today's White Paper sets out important new measures for making further progress in giving freedom for schools and choice for parents. It will help to get the best possible match between what schools offer and what parents want--which is a good education suited to the individual abilities, interests and needs of their children. I commend it to the House."
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, the whole House will be grateful to the Minister for repeating that interesting Statement. We on these Benches wish at the very outset to extend our deepest sympathy to his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who is so obviously suffering severely from a badly dislocated conscience caused by the repetitive strain of having to make so many U-turns so quickly. This year has been a difficult one for her.
We all know that the Secretary of State was no passionate enthusiast for the privatisation of student loans and that she espoused that Bill only to help the Treasury and the PSBR. We all know, because she said so, that nursery vouchers were not her preferred option and that she cooked up that absurd scheme only when her right honourable friend the Prime Minister told her to. And now, in loyal obedience to her leader, which we must admire, she has laboured and brought forth this White Paper on selection and grammar schools when we all know that she has always been a strong supporter of the comprehensive principle, even when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was Prime Minister. And, my Lords, that took courage!
Is it not a fact, as the newspapers told us last weekend and I have not heard denied, that as a Norfolk county councillor and a member of the education committee in the late seventies the Secretary of State voted for the closure of grammar schools, including the one which she herself had attended, despite legislation brought in by the Tories in 1979 which allowed local education authorities to retain them? She voted against them. She
One wonders who is in charge at the DfEE? Is it the Secretary of State? Or is it the Prime Minister, making policy on the hoof week by week and indulging the dying days of his discredited administration in a nostalgic fantasy about resurrecting the grammar schools of his childhood where 20 per cent., selected by the iniquitous 11-plus, went in their little blazers and school caps, or their gymslips as the case may be, and learnt Latin and played with their cricket bats or their jolly hockey sticks according to sex? Alas, the Prime Minister really should be told that those dear, dead days are dead and gone, long past recovery or recall.
We have heard an outline today of what is in the White Paper. It is an outline which seems to bear all the stigmata of a pretty rushed and incomplete job. On the Statement, I wish to ask the Minister just three questions. First, if the proposal to have a grammar school in every large town ever came to fruition, would it not inevitably mean that 19 out of 20 children in that town would lose out? The grammar school would simply cream off 5 per cent. of the most able children, and 95 per cent. would once again make do with inferior education in contemporary versions of the old secondary modern schools. Those who were not selected for the grammar school would be told by their parents in some cases and by their contemporaries in every case that they had failed to get into the grammar school. Let us have no nonsense about being specially selected as more suitable for some kind of language college or tech. They would be regarded once again, as were so many children a generation ago, as failures at the age of 11. That is what we on these Benches are against. How long would it be before, in the interests of equity and efficiency, the old 11-plus examination again reared its ugly head as a general means of selection? Is that the ultimate aim of this Government and, if not, how can it be avoided?
Secondly, if the grammar school proposal goes ahead and assuming there are something like 200 localities which could qualify as large towns in England and Wales, at about £10 million per school, would not the whole operation over time cost something not unadjacent to £2 billion? Can the Minister tell the House here, today, now, from where that money will come? The education budget is tight enough, as 31 per cent. capital cuts for universities make abundantly clear. There is no flexibility possible. It must require new money. Where is this obedient, pliable and helpful Secretary of State to find £2 billion? It must come from generous donations out of their budgets by her colleagues in the other spending departments. Or perhaps from the National Lottery. Or perhaps from Father Christmas.
Thirdly, is it not a fact that no one, except the Prime Minister, has demanded the new selective grammar schools? The Funding Agency for Schools said yesterday that there was no parental demand for them. The FAS has no money for them. Its new initiatives budget is a mere £13 million and it is having to cut back
We shall need to study the White Paper carefully but if today's Statement is any kind of advertisement for it we shall not approach the task with any manifest enthusiasm. Let us fervently hope that before it can damage too much it will all be swept away by a general election which will enable a Labour government to restore some sense, stability and sanity to an education scene which today seems to be directed only by the perfervid imaginings of a Prime Minister lost in some dreamland of his own.
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