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Lord Tope: I do not want to discourage the Minister from having a place in history, especially on a subject of this kind. I was slightly surprised to hear the noble Lord accuse the Government of having rigid views on the subject of selection. I could accuse the Government of holding anything but rigid views on selection. I intended to ask her to explain how old Labour had transformed into new Labour on this issue.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, with great care. I too must join in the all-round confession of having held rigid views for rather more than 20 years. My LEA still has a selective system. It has a number

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of very good grammar schools and secondary modern schools. The Conservative administration 20 years ago decided that grammar and secondary modern schools would all be called high schools and it would be assumed that all were equal.

I would be interested to see the research to which the noble Lord has referred. It is late at night to try to understand these points. I understood the noble Lord to say that there were many secondary modern schools which had better results than comprehensive schools. But I did not understand--perhaps it was my shortcoming--how selection improved the standards of other schools. These days almost anything can be proved by research and statistics. I take my area as an example. We have a number of very good grammar schools which produce good results, not surprisingly. We also have a number of what may be called--but are not called--secondary modern schools with less good but still very satisfactory results. That reflects the nature of the area in which they are situated and many of the homes from which the children come. There is generally a higher level of attainment in a borough like ours than in many others. The relatively small number of grammar schools in this country, and by definition the rather larger number of secondary modern schools, are in areas of that kind. They tend to be in middle class areas (if I dare to use that term) of higher attainment. Therefore, they are likely to produce better results than, say, inner-city areas whose schools may be wholly comprehensive.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: Is the noble Lord entering sociological facts into the fact that Northern Ireland, with a totally selective system, faced with endemic civil war for the past 25 years, produces a 10 per cent. better result than England? Do you explain it there by sociological facts? Northern Ireland is not an affluent country in the same way as England. Those are facts.

Lord Tope: Parts of Northern Ireland are extremely affluent. Parts of it are not, I readily accept. I want to be wary of jumping to simplistic conclusions to prove a point. I might argue--though I do not particularly want to--that, for instance, denominational schools achieve better results. I suspect that generally that is true. That may well be just as much a factor in Northern Ireland as a system of selection. So I think we have to be rather wary of seeking to prove what we wish to prove through rather dubious and doubtful statistics stated to be research. I think that even in their new incarnation the Government are likely to reject these amendments. I would certainly wish to urge them to do so.

Lord Whitty: The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is quite right. I did not expect, at this time of night, to be looking in detail at educational and sociological research. However, I must make a few remarks on the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington.

I do not believe that there is any comprehensive survey of total research which would prove that selection produces better results for those who are not

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selected. Indeed, both common sense and a large number of statistics indicate precisely the opposite. The very narrow base on which he based his comparison with the remaining secondary moderns and some comprehensives is clearly subject to the sociological difference to which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has referred. While recognising his effective leadership of the London Borough of Sutton--

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Would the noble Lord like to prove that the opposite is the case and that where selection exists, education is actually dragged down?

Lord Whitty: I think that there are a number of statistics which would prove that precisely, not all of which I have to hand tonight. However, if one looks at a couple of examples within what used to be regarded as the Tory heartland--I am not entirely sure where the Tory heartland now is--in Hampshire and Kent, Kent has a selective system whereas Hampshire is non-selective. Consistently, Hampshire has had a higher number of pupils gaining five or more GCSEs than Kent. I am not claiming that that proves that the same is true everywhere. But I believe that the majority of research studies would show that and not what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is claiming.

In relation to secondary moderns, if I could just complete my sideways praise of Sutton, I do not think it has a lot to do with the noble Lord's leadership; it has to do with a different sociological basis. I do not think you prove anything by saying that secondary moderns in Sutton do slightly better than comprehensives in Tower Hamlets. I do not think that that is a relevant comparison.

As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, of course I come from Northern Ireland but I was hardly educated there. I was educated in England, but it is possible that it is the input at the earliest stages which is of higher quality rather than the added value in Northern Ireland. I would certainly subscribe to that theory.

I do not believe that the system of selection in Northern Ireland gives better results. I would caution the noble Lord, Lord Tope, in his praising of denominational schools in Northern Ireland. The social costs and the political costs of having an entirely divisive denominational system in Northern Ireland perhaps considerably outweigh any marginal improvement in the academic achievement. However, let us be frank about this--

Lord Tope: Would the Minister accept that I was not necessarily praising, or, for that matter, condemning denominational schools. I was simply saying that one could make just as reasonable an argument for saying that that was a reason for a higher level of attainment as the selective system. I entirely accept and agree with the general point the Minister makes.

Lord Whitty: I accept what the noble Lord says. However, we can go about this looking at the facts and figures and no doubt we can all draw our own conclusions. But the reality is that for most of this Bill,

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despite the occasional frissons between us, we have been examining the best ways in which we can achieve, broadly speaking, agreed aims within the context of the framework of the Bill as proposed.

We have diametrically opposed views in that area. The amendment is a full frontal attack on the provisions for selection in the Bill. It challenges directly the commitment we gave in the White Paper and before the election that we rule out any future new provision for selection on general ability. We have committed ourselves to no new selection. The amendments seek to allow any school to propose just that.

The new clause would put in place an entirely new mechanism for the reintroduction of selection and would allow a school to propose not just partial selection by ability, which we oppose, but total selection by ability--running completely counter to Clauses 99 to 102 on grammar schools.

Under this provision a grammar school which had been required to discontinue its selective arrangements following a parental ballot could re-introduce full selection by ability. We will not agree over the amendment, which would have a deeply destabilising effect upon schools, parents and children. It would allow ballots for the reintroduction of selection, engineered annually, thus distracting the schools from their main task of raising standards.

We are prepared to accept that existing arrangements should remain. We consider that the views of parents form an important element in the consideration of any proposed changes. That is why we propose ballots for the decisions on the removal of grammar schools' selective arrangements, and why we have introduced the amendment referred to earlier, to give parents a right to object to the adjudicator.

On the issue of new arrangements for selection by ability, we have already listened to parents. The feedback to the White Paper was totally welcoming. We do not wish to have an unnecessary battle over schools that already have partially selective arrangements unless the parents who feed into that school wish it. The amendment would sanction not just the continuation of existing arrangements but their substantial extension or modification. Clause 95 provides that schools wishing to benefit from preserving existing partial selection must not increase their proportion of selective admissions in any relevant age group, nor must they make any significant change in the basis of selections.

The amendments would turn that limited freedom to maintain existing partial selection into an unlimited ability to extend selection across the board. They would even allow schools which now select just a small proportion of their intake to turn themselves into what are effectively totally selective grammar schools by the back door. I am aware that Members opposite oppose that position, but these are, in effect, wrecking amendments to a significant part of the Bill's strategy. They would make a mockery of the Government's policies to expand educational choice and increase equal opportunities for all children. There is no way the Government can accept the amendments. They would

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bring back a great deal of the divisiveness that existed in the education system and would neglect majority interests.

I ask the mover of the amendment to withdraw it. I have no doubt that the noble Lord will tell us that he reserves the right to come back at a subsequent stage, but at this time of night, despite the fact that we have a pretty clear ideological and strategic conflict here, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment.

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