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Lord Tope: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, is aware that we still have four grammar schools in my area? I accept that they are excellent schools, but I would not know whether they are better than Stalin's schools in the Soviet Union.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I am delighted. During the time I spent near the noble Lord's area, his party was making great efforts to get rid of one or two of those schools. But I know that it will not want to do so now.

The fact is that the Government want to have their cake and eat it. They have accepted the partial failure of the local comprehensive school, but they have tried to maintain it in another and more elaborate form, demanding greater bureaucracy and making it a recipe for conflict. Parents will not understand banding and there will be disputes. The adjudicator will have more work and it will cost more money. The Government see

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the need for specialist schools, but cannot accept that in full. It is another sorry chapter in a sorry Bill. It is framework rather than standards. I am sorry I have to say this, but at least the noble Lord knows my ideology as I know his. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, these amendments were originally brought forward at the Committee stage and withdrawn. Noble Lords on the Conservative Benches have a very strong attachment to selection by ability. We are very aware of that attachment and the ideological difference between us. I do not believe that we should dispute that there is such a difference. The Government do not share their attachment.

These amendments are a direct attack on the Government's policy on selection. They are intended to completely reverse the present effect of Clauses 98 to 101, which implement the widely-welcomed commitment--which I emphasise--that we gave in the White Paper, Excellence in Schools, to rule out for the future any new selection by ability. The amendments would allow schools to propose just that. Indeed, I believe that they are pretty close to being wrecking amendments.

The new clause set out in Amendment No. 176C puts in place an entirely new mechanism for the introduction of selection--and not just partial selection by ability, but total selection by ability--running completely counter to Clauses 103 to 107 on grammar schools. It would allow a grammar school, which had been required to discontinue its selective arrangements following a parental ballot or approved statutory proposals, to seek to reintroduce full selection. Amendment No. 176B presses home the attack by making these newly-created selective arrangements a permitted form of selection by ability.

Amendments Nos. 176D and 176E seek to widen the Bill's definition of banding so as to permit even more selection by ability. There is no question but that admission by banding is admission on the basis of ability. But we believe that banding is compatible with the principle of comprehensive education, provided it is done in the way presently envisaged in the Bill. Clause 100(1)(b) of the Bill says, in effect, that if banding is to be lawful, it must not lead to substantial over or under-representation of any particular level of ability in the school's intake.

Amendment No. 176E would remove the safeguard of subsection (1)(b) and so would sanction banding which is inconsistent with the comprehensive principle. What is more, Amendment No. 176D would allow schools to admit only high ability pupils if they so wish. That is simply unacceptable to us.

Like the noble Lord's other amendments, Amendments Nos. 177A to 177D are intended completely to reverse the effect of the existing clause and so to overturn the Government's policy, this time on admission by aptitude.

The amendments remove the 10 per cent. limit on admission by aptitude and so would allow unlimited selection by this device. They remove the stipulation

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that schools may admit by aptitude only in subjects prescribed by the Secretary of State and so would enable schools to select by aptitude in any subject. But more than that, by removing the safeguard that any testing for aptitude must be designed to assess an aptitude for one of the prescribed subjects in which the school specialises, they would make it possible to test for other aptitudes of any kind, however remote from any specialisation, or indeed to test for general ability.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has raised again the issue of aptitude against ability and the distinction. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves that the distinction has been drawn by successive governments, including those of the party opposite. That distinction has been enshrined in legislation since 1944. The last Education Act enacted by the previous government, the 1997 Act, refers in Section 10 to admission arrangements,

    "admitting only pupils with high ability or with aptitude".
But even more telling, the previous government commissioned research on the strength of their belief that ability and aptitude are different. Launching the research in May 1996, the then Secretary of State said,

    "To help specialist schools which want to identify pupils' aptitude for a specialist subject as opposed to ability, I am announcing today a government-funded research project. The National Foundation for Educational Research will be developing tests to identify technological aptitude as opposed to ability at the age of 11".

Perhaps I may return to the amendments. The effect of Amendments Nos. 177A to 177D would be to introduce a selection free-for-all in which any school could select and test for any percentage of its admissions on any basis it liked, under a nominal cover of selecting by aptitude. This is yet another attempt by the Opposition to bring back unfettered selection by ability.

I am somewhat reluctant to enter into the debate that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, had with my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey on the previous occasion. But I wish to say a few words about the impact that selection by ability had in the past. All too often, failure at the 11 plus meant that the vast majority of pupils were condemned to an educational environment where expectations and, consequently, opportunities, were low. Add to this the sense of failure for the majority of pupils. That cannot be right in today's competitive global environment which calls for a highly skilled workforce. It cannot be fair on pupils themselves.

The Earl of Dartmouth: My Lords, does the Minister consider that British schools as presently constituted provide a skilled workforce able to compete in the global economy?

Baroness Blackstone: No, my Lords. After 18 years of Conservative government, this new Government are committed to raising standards in our schools and to repairing some of the damage done by our predecessors. That is what we shall do. That is what the Bill is designed to bring about.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, also referred to systems abroad and implied that every system in Europe is selective. Perhaps I may remind him that Sweden and other Scandinavian countries in particular have had

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non-selective comprehensive systems for many years. Their systems are extraordinarily successful in educating not the few, but the many. That is what this Government are absolutely determined to do.

This package of amendments is, as I have pointed out, no less--

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, before the Minister concludes, can she seek to justify why she has put on the face of the Bill that schools can continue to select according to aptitude or ability up to 10 per cent. of their total intake? What is the magic of that figure? Why not 15 per cent. or 20 per cent.? Is the Minister arguing that if 20 per cent. of a school's intake were selected for aptitude or ability, that would distort the whole balance of the school? Does she not appreciate that the trend in education is towards more specialist schools? That will be the way of the future. If the Minister restricts selection to just 10 per cent. of an intake, she is setting herself and the Government against a trend which most parents and children want.

Baroness Blackstone: No, my Lords. I do not accept what the noble Lord has just said. We believe that selection by aptitude for specialist schools should be restricted to a relatively small proportion of children. We want to maintain the comprehensive principle by which we can ensure that children are given the maximum possible opportunities and not labelled too early as failures.

The amendments are a blatant attempt to reintroduce the previous government's "grammar-school-in-every-town" policy which failed miserably. No one wanted that system. When the previous government produced their White Paper proposing it, it was universally condemned. The House will appreciate that there is no way in which the Government can accept these amendments which, as I said, would bring back the divisiveness and the neglect of majority interests associated with the Conservatives' pro-selection stance. For those reasons, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Peston: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down and before the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, tells your Lordships how he intends to proceed, was not my noble friend puzzled by the noble Lord's failure to address the question of parental choice in the context of selection by ability? Is it not a logical point that selection by ability is selection by the schools and that that is completely contradictory to the possibility of parental choice which--I must point this out since the noble Lord was disparaging about the 1960s--has been a commonplace among those of us who have taken an interest in education since at least the 1960s? As the noble Lord also made disparaging remarks about the earlier comprehensives, was not my noble friend puzzled that the noble Lord did not reflect on what schools would be like in areas where a selective school was introduced? Would not those other schools be area non-selective schools or what used to be known as area

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secondary moderns? It seems to me that the noble Lord did not address any of the logical consequences of his remarks. Was not my noble friend surprised by that?

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