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Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I am extremely glad that the noble Lord has managed to reconcile the conflict within his own breast of the Liberal Democrat Party being against grammar schools and having an LEA which still runs four excellent grammar schools. I am delighted to know that. He must have struggled with his conscience and won.
I conclude my remarks by saying that this is a shameful process. If the Government want to abolish grammar schools--and that is the purpose of these clauses at the end of the day--they should come out of their corner and say so. They should be honest about it. They are abusing democracy by these processes.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him to deal with the point which is similar to that which I raised with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. We would all agree that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was very much opposed to grammar schools. There is no doubt
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I dealt with that on the last debate but perhaps I may remind the noble Lord of what I said on that occasion. That was not the most glorious episode in the life of my former colleague and Prime Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher. As I said on the last occasion, when I was Education Secretary, I mentioned to her on two occasions that she had abolished more grammar schools than anyone else. When I did that I ducked, because she did not like to be reminded of it. However, that does not justify the process which the noble Lord is being asked to support this evening. If the noble Lord is against grammar schools, he should table amendments to the face of the Bill which will abolish them. It should not be done in an underhand, devious, tricky little way in the name of democracy.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the point which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, makes about the validity of the ballot is interesting. He casts doubts upon it because he says that the parents of children at grammar schools will be in a minority in the electoral school.
However, it seems to me that the real point is that the impact which grammar schools make on the whole system makes it important that there should be a wide electoral school from parents of children throughout the school system. That is very much my own experience as a parent in Birmingham or children in the Birmingham school system.
The noble Baroness, Lady Knight, has referred to the five King Edward grant-maintained schools in the city. There we see children selected at 11. Many have already been to primary schools which are well known for coaching children towards the 11-plus exam. It is hardly surprising that the children who do best in those exams at 11 also do well in their examinations at 16. Those who do not do well in those schools are weeded out and are certainly not encouraged to take A-levels. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that the A-level grades of those schools are better than those of the comprehensive schools in the city.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord is particularly close to the King Edward schools. Does he rejoice in the possible demise of some of the finest schools in the country which are in Birmingham?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the King Edward schools in Birmingham has had a negative effect on the school system as a whole in the city. I have no doubt about that whatever. In effect, children have been creamed off from the comprehensive system in the city. That has meant a denial of choice for thousands
I welcome the opportunity for parents in the city to be balloted on this matter. The amendments proposed would put many hurdles in the way of a clear, straightforward and easily recognisable ballot by parents in the city. I very much hope that your Lordships will reject them.
Lord Peston: My Lords, although the amendments are specific, we have got up to our usual antics of having a broad general debate on the subject of comprehensives, selection and related matters. Therefore, I could not resist the temptation to join in. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, slightly misunderstands her own amendment, Amendment No. 179H, on the 15-year point. It is not that only two cohorts would be protected; if there cannot be a ballot for 15 years then as a matter of elementary arithmetic, 15 cohorts will be affected. It is a mistake to divide 15 by eight. The point is that 15 entry classes will be affected. That is my only contribution to the technical point.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is correct in thinking that some noble Lords, myself included, would have liked to see on the face of the Bill a straight end to selection. He is wrong to use the word "Neanderthal". The expression that I have had to point out to noble Lords before is "Labour Gold". I am the main representative for Labour Gold in this House, but I do not resile from the views I hold. I believe that the comprehensive principle is right. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. I thought that the riposte made to her was a complete misinterpretation. The noble Baroness said that within comprehensive schools we have academic education across the whole group of people, and that is what we want. My eldest child, who has not, to say the least, been entirely unsuccessful in his life, went to a school that was an amalgamation of two secondary modern schools. All the children in that school, who would have been told under the earlier regime that they were failures because they were at a secondary modern school, were told that they could be a success. Other schools in Haringey were a combination of secondary modern and grammar schools. The grammar schools were not destroyed, but the other schools were enhanced.
Noble Lords opposite, and the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, in particular, demonstrated in their speeches the tremendous advantage of having a grammar school education. We want good education for all and we do not see any schools being destroyed. I know nothing about the situation in Birmingham, but I believe that those schools in Birmingham will change and will not be destroyed. What will be destroyed is the selective system. This is not a matter of destruction, it is a matter of change.
The Government cannot win. I would like to see a straight end to selection, but the Government decided, and said to people such as me, that we have to be more modern. Old Neanderthals such as us have to look specifically to the people and take ballots. The moment the Government decide to have ballots they are accused of being underhand, devious, tricky, hypocritical, shameful, and so on, by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, et al. The Government cannot win.
As I have said before, I am doubtful about this because I am not convinced that the ballots will abolish any schools, and I do not like that. The notion that the ballots are rigged is quite ridiculous. It will be incredibly difficult to win a ballot for those who wish to see the end of selection, which is why I have doubts. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, gets involved in the detail, she may be able to explain how the rigging would work, but I cannot see it at all. I see a democratic process. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is right, I do not like it; but my noble friends do and they are the up-to-date people. Therefore I live with what they have to say.
The relative decline of the British economy occurred long before the first comprehensive school was introduced; it occurred during the heyday of the view that if you could pay you could get an academic education. But the rest got what was coming and what was available. The notion that the decline of our country is connected with the rise in comprehensive education has no connection with reality, but it does highlight the problem which noble Lords opposite have. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said that we are about to see some very good GCSE and A-level results. I hope that we are, but where will those results come from? They will come from an overwhelming majority of comprehensive schools. I cannot understand the antipathy to the 1960s, but these schools were started in the 1960s, operated in the 1970s and were continued by noble Lords opposite in the 1980s and 1990s. In so far as there is achievement, it is due to all of our people.
I went to a grammar school. I view them rather like the so-called problem of the fastest gun in the West. The golden rule is never to say that you are the fastest gun in the West because someone faster than you will appear. I went to a selective grammar school. On the first day, all the boys who went there thought that they were very clever. By the second day, three-quarters of them were in forms B, C and D. As an A form boy myself, I knew they were inferior because that was the name of the game. No one told me that those boys might be as good as I was at least as human beings.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, when the noble Lord was extolling the virtues of all schools contributing to the A-level and GCSE results which we will be soon seeing, and also the published school test results which are likely to be the best in our recorded history, I hope that he will pay tribute to the 18 years of Conservative
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