|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Lucas: I confess I am disappointed but not surprised by what the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said. I should have thought that the Government Front Bench on this Bill was a pretty good advertisement for selective education and a credit to the schools which educated them, all of which are great schools. I should be fascinated to have the statistics that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, referred to. Perhaps he could drop me a note in the course of the next week or two on the relative performance of selective and non-selective education. I would much appreciate that. I am a great collector of such information.
You cannot say no to selection by ability. You get it anyway. People choose where they live and they will choose to live somewhere like the London Borough of Sutton because it has a good education system. This produces a disparity of performance which has nothing to do with the ability of the child, but which has to do with the ability of the parents to pay the price of the local houses, and to have the sort of job which allows them to live far from where they work.
In some ways it is unsatisfactory because you have to make the choice for all the children in your family, and you do not have the ability to choose, in every sense, a good unselective comprehensive school for a child who would be better suited to that. It is also unsatisfactory because it becomes a socially based selection rather than a purely academic selection.
The Government should be prepared to look at what happens in the private sector. There is, in the private sector, a good range of schools from the very academic to the extremely unacademic. Parents choose the sort of school which suits their child best. Of course, there are unacademic children who choose to go to academic schools because that is the sort of environment in which they flourish. By and large the majority of academic children do better in academic schools and the majority of non-academic children do better in rather broader schools. There are some academic children in particular who do much better in a broader environment than they do in the relatively narrow confines of a strongly academic school.
We need to look after the academic people. They are an important part of our strength as a nation. Even more than that, we need to look after the non-academic people because it is the non-academic who employs the academic. If one looks at the old boys and girls of the famous selective independent schools, you will see that it is remarkable how few great innovative people come out of the highly selective schools and how many come out of the less selective ones. We have to do our best to make sure that the people who are going to be
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: I shall begin by casting an element of doubt into the love affair between the Liberal Democrats and the Government. I welcome the fact that the Government have become a little more pragmatic than was the case when they were last in power, in setting up schools of special excellence, which is going to involve selection by ability, even if it is only in French, Spanish and German. That is selection by ability, so that is a step in the right direction.
At this stage of the morning I certainly do not want to swap statistics, although I do think serious thought ought to be given by the Minister and the department to the situation in Holland, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, where certainly their selective systems, on many studies, have produced a better performance than we produce in England. One of the reasons for this Bill being introduced is that we are worried about standards. We must face the fact that, if the standards here are not good and the standards in schools in Germany and Holland are good, then some thought ought to be given to structures as well as to exhortation and organisation.
That said, I realise that the gap is still large, although, as I say, the Government spokesmen have come nearer us than would have been the case when I have debated this with some of their predecessors in other forums. When there is economy of scale, some schools can specialise in the more vocational elements of education and others in academic elements. When they have to do both it is an expensive operation.
I shall not dwell on this. I shall withdraw the amendment, but pragmatism is beginning to prevail, and even though the Liberal Democrats remain true to their distant past, I think the Government are gaining sense. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Tope: I proposed the Motion so that we would have the opportunity for a lively and sparkling debate, whereby the Liberal Democrats could demonstrate that they have stood firm on the principles that they have held for many years, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. Furthermore, the Conservative Party could demonstrate the opposite and the Government
Perhaps at one o'clock in the morning we have debated the subject enough, but I wish to make one point. I was a little confused about what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. He spoke of Richard Branson and said that we need to have grammar schools in order that future Richard Bransons can flourish without interference from academically gifted pupils. I did not wholly follow the argument and I am certain I am not doing justice to it. Perhaps some of that is deliberate.
My concern always is not so much for the academically gifted, nor for those on whom we have rightly spent a lot of time tonight; for want of a better term, the more disadvantaged. My concern is for the vast majority of children who fall into neither category. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I was concerned about the simple distinction between the academic and non-academic. Most children--most people--do not fit neatly into one or other category. The vast majority fall within a narrow range of ability, and we need to be concerned about such children.
The noble Baroness challenged the Minister, who did not take it up, to show how selection had dragged down standards of achievement. I would not want to take up that challenge, still less to use that expression, but I do not remember in recent years selection being reintroduced. I know of one or two former Conservative LEAs which thought they might like to do so and perhaps some have done. There is no broad-based research in this country to demonstrate the result one way or the other.
However, there is considerable experience of the reverse--where selection has been abolished in recent years and where standards have improved for the greater number of children and not deteriorated for the academically gifted who would have gone to grammar school. I believe, and there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate it, that where selection has been abolished there is a greater opportunity for children who would not have gone to grammar school. There are greater and stronger incentives to teaching staff, and a school which has a full range of ability is a better microcosm of the society in which those children will live. That is also an important point.
I do not wish to reopen a debate which we have rightly concluded, but I wish to ask about Amendment No. 230A and the reference to a ballot of parents. I imagine that what was intended was a ballot of parents at the school making the proposal. But a change to one school usually affects a number of other schools. If one were to have such a ballot it should take place among the parents and other interested parties. Indeed, prospective parents are often far more important than parents of children at the school because many will have left before a change has taken effect. When we discuss these issues we are always concerned, perhaps rightly, for the more gifted, the children at the grammar school or the prospective grammar school. We seldom have so much concern for those who are not in those schools and who do not have those advantages.
It is too late at night for the lively and sparkling debate that I hoped for when I tabled this amendment, but I still make clear my opposition to this clause and hope that at least we will hear how old Labour has become new Labour.
Baroness Blackstone: I am quite sure that the one thing I cannot do at this time of night is to sparkle. Indeed, I am a little nervous in replying, in that I am not sure how I will measure on the Richter scale of flexibility versus rigidity. At this stage I will certainly not try to engage in some of the arguments raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I think that the Government's views on partial selection are now quite well known. All too often it has led to both controversy and confusion, and it certainly detracted from the wider goal of raising standards for all. Accordingly, it would have been open to the Government to introduce a Bill designed to bring an immediate end to all partial selection; but we have chosen not to do so because we do not believe such an approach would be in keeping with the spirit of the Bill, which seeks to promote local co-operation and agreement--something which in general the Liberal Democrat Party supports. We have to bear in mind that there may be some areas where existing partial selection is not causing problems and it may even command quite widespread local support. We want to allow for that possibility.
The approach that we have adopted squares with what we said in the White Paper. The key is that Clause 95 and the others relating to partial selection must be read in conjunction with the provisions in Clauses 84 and 85, which set out the detailed consultation requirements and the adjudicator's remit.
I am very grateful to the earlier suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. I think he implied that the Government are pragmatic about these matters. I accept that and I take it for the compliment I think it was meant to be. I believe that the Government are also realistic. They seek to give responsibility and freedom to those at local level to determine what works best in their area, set against a duty to consult each other and to have regard to an admissions code of practice. It is through working together that any problems arising from partial selection will be resolved.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page