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Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, and I am grateful to my noble friend. I was surprised on both counts.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, perhaps I may begin with some details. The noble Baroness has still failed to address two points. I raised the complex issue of banding and of how the tests would work. The Government have forbidden parental interviews, but if a school is to admit so many pupils of high ability and so many pupils of low ability tests will have to be carried out before children enter the school. I suggest that the Government are facing a certain contradiction in that they seem to be against interviews or testing before entry to a school, which would limit parental choice. Banding limits parental choice. What tests would they use? I am sorry that the noble Baroness did not face this problem although I can understand why because it is very complex. However, I hope that at some point we shall know how the Government intend to do this.

I am not worried about a conflict between aptitude and ability. That is a problem more for the Government than for me. There will have to be pre-entry tests in schools specialising in academic subjects, such as science or languages. Aptitude and ability are inextricably linked in that case. I did not think that the comments made about technology covered my point although I accept that that is a different case because technology is a vocational type of subject. The problem facing the Government is that they are against testing before entry. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, wants total freedom of choice, but banding will prohibit that. There is an appeals procedure--

Lord Peston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way so that I can point out that I do not want total freedom of choice; I want comprehensive schools. I am completely consistent on that point. Freedom of choice leads to complications which we need to think through. What matters is the fundamental commitment to comprehensive schools.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, we know where we stand. My noble friend will refer later to certain of the points mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. My noble friend has some examples that will interest him.

The Minister referred to a skilled workforce. I must underline the comments made by my noble friend Lord Dartmouth who is no longer in his place. We cannot be complacent about a skilled workforce. I remind the Minister that when the West German state was faced with the problems that also faced our state in the early 1960s--namely, that the Gymnasium enjoyed greater prestige than the other schools--money was spent on those other schools. The British state could have done that instead of going comprehensive, except in limited areas. In Germany, people are now happy for their child to attend either a Gymnasium or a Realschule or whatever. We must accept that as a fact. It is insular of the noble

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Baroness to assume that a country which is generally acknowledged to have a more skilled workforce than ourselves has a selective system of education. I am sorry that the noble Baroness is so dogmatic that she can dismiss the point so easily.

I am very interested in the 18 "misspent" Tory years--

Lord Annan: My Lords, I do not pretend to be an expert on Germany, but is it not true that there is no national system in Germany? Education is run by the Lander and some Lander such as Land Rhein-Hesse have always based their whole education systems on the Gesamtschule, the comprehensive schools. I should have thought that that was also true of Brandenburg and of the Lander in what used to be the Deutsche Demokratische Republik.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I cannot speak with authority on the former East Germany, but I believe that only one state in West Germany, with perhaps a little bit of another, had a comprehensive system. Of the states of the former West Germany, all but Hamburg and, I think, one other used selective education. Indeed, when a comprehensive system was suggested, it was voted down in one or two states. However, as I said, I cannot speak with authority on eastern Germany.

The Minister referred to the "misspent" Tory years. I shall be interested to see this year's GCSE and A-level results because all of those children were educated under Tory control. I hope that the noble Baroness will not show total hypocrisy and say that this Government are doing well in office if the results are good. I would say that given the Minister's view of those "misspent" 18 Tory years, the results should be terrible. I hope that the noble Baroness will pay attention to that point in the middle of August when the results are published. However, the Government are in power and I am not. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 176C not moved.]

5.30 p.m.

Clause 100 [Permitted selection: pupil banding]:

[Amendments Nos. 176D and 176E not moved.]

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 177:

Page 76, line 31, leave out ("approved or otherwise determined") and insert ("have fallen to be implemented").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 101 [Permitted selection: aptitude for particular subjects]:

[Amendments Nos. 177A to 177D not moved.]

Clause 103 [Designation of grammar schools]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 178:

Page 78, line 2, leave out (", 106 and") and insert ("to").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 178 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 179 and 182 to 185. Perhaps what I say is a hostage to fortune but I hope not to take up

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too much of your Lordships' time with this group of amendments. The amendments are entirely technical and are designed to clarify one or two issues and correct two cross-references. My noble friend Lady Blackstone has written to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to explain their purpose.

Amendment No. 178 amends the reference in Clause 103(4)(a) to the procedures for altering the selective admission arrangements of grammar schools so that it includes a reference to the new Clause 105 which the Government introduced at Committee stage in response to recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. Amendments Nos. 179, 182 and 183 make it clear that some parents who are eligible to sign a petition, and would be eligible to vote in a ballot if it were held at that same time, may not be eligible by the time the ballot is actually held. This is particularly likely in the first year of operation when petitions could be raised during the school year 1998-99. We propose that no ballots should be held before September 1999. It follows that some children will have changed schools in that time or reached the end of their last year of compulsory schooling and their parents will no longer be eligible to vote in the ballot. These three amendments remove any misunderstandings about eligibility. Amendment No. 184 simply clarifies that a parent must appear on the school's list as a registered parent of a registered pupil.

Finally, Amendment No. 185 corrects a cross-reference in the Bill. Clause 105(5) concerns sections of the regulations which will determine whether a parent is resident for the purposes of subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b). However, subsection (1)(a) does not mention residency but subsection (1)(c) does. The cross- reference therefore needs to be adjusted to remove the reference to subsection (1)(a) and include a reference to subsection (1)(c). I commend the amendments to the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 104 [Procedure for deciding whether grammar schools should retain selective admission arrangements]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 178A:

Page 78, line 37, at end insert--
("( ) Before any ballot under this section takes place, the local education authority or authorities within whose areas the relevant grammar schools referred to in subsection (2)(a), (b) or (c) are situated shall--
(a) prepare and publish outline proposals for the reorganisation of schools consequent upon a successful ballot including an estimate of capital expenditure, setting up costs and predicted annual revenue costs, and
(b) send a summary of such proposals to all eligible parents.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 178A I speak also to Amendments Nos. 178B, 179A to 179H and 186A.

    "Put simply, excellent schools should not be treated in the same way as others. One of our priorities over the next few months is to identify ways in which excellent schools can simply be allowed to get on with what they do well without undue distraction. So why not give them greater freedom to continue to achieve high levels of attainment and active encouragement to share the secrets of their success with other schools?"

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Those are not my words but the words of the Minister for School Standards, Mr. Byers, in a speech made only in the past week.

What is the reality? We go back to the politics of envy. Out goes the assisted places scheme. We are now considering a Bill that ends existing grant-maintained schools, engineers the demise of grammar schools, ends selection and increases bureaucracy and central control. Government actions do not match government rhetoric, but that is not a new phenomenon, as we have discovered over the past year.

Despite the warm words of Mr. Blair and Mr. Byers, Mr. Blunkett and unreconstructed Old Labour are in the driving seat on education and this Bill is their vehicle. This is very mean-spirited politics. Even Mr. Andrew Adonis, special adviser to Tony Blair on education at No. 10, comments on page 40 of his book A Class Act: The Myth of Britain's Classless Society that,

    "The direct grant scheme succeeded, without any fanfare, in opening up many of the best independent schools to ability rather than wealth. It is a sad irony that in destroying the direct grant schools on the altar of equal opportunities the 1974-79 Labour Government succeeded only in denying opportunities to many poor children and increasing the number of fee-paying parents".

History is about to repeat itself. One has only to listen to the Ministers' responses to hear the egalitarian message, in particular the unequivocal message from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, last Thursday evening. But Mr. Adonis went on to say at page 55 of his book:

    "The comprehensive revolution, tragically, destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price. Middle class children now go to middle class comprehensive schools, whose catchment areas comprise middle class neighbourhoods, while working class children are mostly left to fester in the inner city comprehensives their parents cannot afford to move away from";
that is, unless one's name happens to be Blair, Harman or Boateng, to name but a few of the members of the Government.

What hypocrisy! First, they enjoy the privilege and then close the door of opportunity to all others.

Only today the Government announced awards to 75 schools of excellence, designating them beacon schools. Torquay Boys' Grammar School was among the list. I am not surprised. What a good school it is. What must the parents of the children of that school think to be given such a boost one day by the Government who on the same day mount a war of attrition to end the life of that great school?

It is also a supreme irony that one argument used by the Government is that where selective education takes place children not selected are deemed to be failures. We heard the argument trotted out a moment ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. But also featured in the list of 75 excellent schools are two secondary modern schools, the grant-maintained Aylesbury High School and Ashton on Mersey grant-maintained school; deservedly so because they are outstanding schools. I understand that they are not the only secondary modern schools in the list. Those schools have earned such a reputation in an area where selective education

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takes place, quashing yet another myth that is perpetuated by those who are prejudiced against selection.

There are many bright young pupils for whom a fast-track academic education is educationally appropriate. Bright young children from low income homes whose parents cannot afford independent education have been helped by two important rungs on the ladder of opportunity: the assisted places scheme and grammar schools. We know that the assisted places scheme has been abolished and that the demise of the grammar schools is more or less assured by the rigged balloting system proposed in the Bill.

At Committee stage noble Lords on the Liberal Benches accused the Government of duplicitous behaviour in that the Government lacked the courage to do what the Liberal Party would have done; that is, to seek to insert clauses into the Bill to abolish grammar schools. Instead, they resort to a balloting system in the guise of "Let the people decide" which will prove equally threatening to the existence of these fine schools. As for letting the people decide, the franchise for schools in what will be a whole LEA ballot area will allow all parents of children aged nought to 16 to petition and vote, whereas with any smaller group of schools the franchise is restricted to parents of children attending schools where five or more children have been selected for a grammar school place over the past three years.

It is scandalous that the parents of children who attend the very grammar schools under threat are denied a vote in the ballot. How, for example, can the Government defend a situation where the parents of children attending the outstanding King Edward schools in Birmingham or the excellent schools on the Wirral are disfranchised from voting when the very existence of their schools is at stake?

Amendment No. 178A is fundamental to those arrangements. It requires LEAs to prepare and publish outline proposals and costings for the reorganisation that will have to follow any successful ballot before a ballot takes place. In some parts of the country, reorganisation resulting from the closure of all grammar schools in an area will be substantial. We know already from preliminary work done in Kent that the costs will be considerable.

The issues already identified include the size and location of grammar school buildings and their unsuitability for translation from selective to completely non-selective schools in a short timescale. Who owns the buildings? Will the Government give the money to purchase them or lease them back, or will they forgo that cost? There is the spectre of substantial split-site arrangements; the costs and turbulence caused to LEAs in relation to the grammar and many other schools in the area; the pre-emption of capital and revenue spending; home/school transport arrangements; single-sex grammar schools; and the resistance of parents to mixed arrangements.

There is a knock-on effect for non-selective church schools which have not been consulted. I understand that in Kent 12 such schools have been completely cut

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out of the consultation procedures. There is the effect on parental preference; the retraining of teachers. There are many other issues of concern about these proposals. My amendment describes the information which must be made available to parents who are being asked a simple question. The consequences of signing such a petition should be made known.

Amendment No. 178B requires that 40 per cent. of eligible parents should sign a petition to trigger a balance. The consequences of a single ballot are serious. Therefore the hurdle to be overcome should be such as to rule out a purely vexatious attempt to trigger a ballot.

Amendment No. 179A provides for parents being asked to sign a petition to know that when they sign they are agreeing to close a specific number of named schools. Amendment No. 179B requires a register of eligible parents to be published.

Amendment No. 179C is important. It requires that a ballot to close all grammar schools in an area should be deemed successful only if there is a majority for the proposition, and when at least 40 per cent. of eligible parents vote for such a proposition. If that formula is acceptable for trade union recognition in the workplace, it is surely good enough for a ballot which signals the end of a whole category of outstandingly successful schools.

Amendment No. 179D requires that the terms of the question on the ballot paper should make it clear that a number of named schools will close if the ballot is successful.

Amendment No. 179E calls for a moratorium of five years between the failure to secure the requisite number of signatures on a petition in any year and the next opportunity to collect signatures. That would go some way towards minimising what can only be described as a relentless war of attrition on grammar schools which would serve only to destabilise parents, teachers and non-teaching staff, and, most significantly, would disrupt the lives and the education of the children at those schools.

Amendments Nos. 179F and 179G extend the franchise to feeder schools where any parent has applied for a place at a grammar school in the area in any of the three previous years. It should enfranchise at least those people who aspire to their children attending a grammar school.

Amendment No. 179H suggests a 15-year interregnum between ballots, which would allow for only two generations of a school's intake, and, again, would minimise the relentless war of attrition.

Amendment No. 186A extends the period following a ballot within which an LEA must have fully comprehensive, non-selection in place. Practical difficulties and disruption will be caused to the education of children going through the school. To refuse the amendment will display, on the part of the Government, a real contempt and disregard for thousands of pupils, their teachers, and their parents.

Before the election, Mr. Blair and other members of his now government claimed that grammar schools were secure and that there were no plans to affect their future.

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We now know differently. The thrust of the Government's education policy, manifested in the previous debate on selection, is a levelling down.

This group of amendments seeks to address the unsatisfactory procedures which the Government are planning to put in place which will give rise to a relentless war of attrition until all our grammar schools are no longer part of the education scene. They are schools which have served our country so well over the centuries. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, the whole purpose of the Bill, as stated by the Government, is to raise standards of education in schools, as confirmed by my noble friend's quotation from Mr. Byers. The standard of education in grammar schools in Essex is first class, as proved by any league table published. In those circumstances, why single them out among all schools for the questioning of their very existence, as in the clauses we are considering? All that can achieve is to divert the attention of staff, parents and pupils from the overriding aim of providing a good education for the pupils. It is a return to old Labour with a vengeance. I should prefer the wholesale removal of the clauses questioning the existence of the grammar schools, but, in lieu, I wholeheartedly support my noble friend's amendment.

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