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Lord Brett: My Lords, I had not intended to speak in this debate, but I have been moved to do so by the several references that have been made to Kent. I am a parent in Kent with two daughters. One is in a Kent primary school and the other has just passed through a Kent primary school. I should like to concur with my noble friend. It is true: head masters and head mistresses of primary schools in Kent are often put under pressure from a minority of parents not to teach the broad curriculum that it intended but to coach for the Kent test. Indeed, one or two village primary schools have a reputation of so doing to such an extent that there is a willingness among a small minority of parents to ensure that their children get into particular schools.

I live on the Romney Marsh. The selective grammar school that my daughters could have gone to, had they so intended and been successful, is in Folkestone. That is 17 miles away. It may well be that the majority of people in Kent have a view about selective education, and the noble and learned Lord may be correct in what he says. However, if those who wish to see an end to the grammar school system--as I do--were successful in persuading what in Kent is a large number of people to qualify for a ballot, I had anticipated that I would have the democratic right to express a view. I shall not go as far as to say whether or not that view would result in the end of selection, but I do not see that as being divisive between me and my neighbours.

Similarly, I do not see the torture and, indeed, I doubt that those in Ripon saw the torture of which the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, talked. What I see is rank opportunism by way of inserting the amendment into the Bill--an attempt, thereby, for prejudice to re-establish itself--not a selective system to be eradicated, if so required, by a democratic ballot.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, I have spoken enough on the subject in this House. However, I want to take a brief break from the insularity of this debate. I should like to point out that in the German state there has been a democratic choice. Only 9 per cent of schools are comprehensive. When East Germany joined West Germany it had a totally comprehensive system but, thereafter, 90 per cent of the east-German states--and this is the telling point--went over to the selective system of the west.

The noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, may belong to the world of dinosaurs and believe that the English state and society is so unique that it cannot live with the selective system, as exists over large parts of Western

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Europe. But even he must think about the choice that was given to East Germany. They had enjoyed the comprehensive system for 30 or so years, but when they had the chance to change they went selective; and they did so on a total ballot. We must not be insular about this. We must realise that the vaunted comprehensive system has produced some of the lowest results internationally of many countries.

We cannot boast, as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, does, about a perfect education system. Yes, I am prejudiced: I came from a poor family and, like the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, the grammar school gave me great advantages. The great criticism of English education is that neither the Right nor the Left would provide proper alternatives to the grammar school, as they did in France and Germany. We must not keep ourselves in this insular debate. Indeed, Ripon has provided an example that grammar schools exist for those who benefit from a largely academic education, and a technological college will provide the rest. Let us not stop this happening. I beg noble Lords to think carefully about this.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, this debate is not about the future system of education in this country; it is about whether or not there should be ballots of parents on the existing grammar schools. However, the debate has slightly widened and I should like to make it absolutely clear that I support the comprehensive principle. I do not agree with what has been said about the comprehensive school not providing an opportunity for parents to choose. Within the good comprehensive school there is choice for parents to concentrate on different aspects of the syllabus.

I live in an area not far removed from Ripon with a good school, the Ilkley Grammar School. It is not a selective school; it is open to all the children in the area, but it continues to produce students with good academic ability and students with other abilities too. I believe that that proves that one does not need the selective system to give parents a choice.

It is a bit rich that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, should table this amendment on the balloting of parents. I remind your Lordships that it was the government of whom the noble Baroness was a member who first introduced the principle of balloting.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way, but does she agree that there is an important distinction here; namely, the measure was initiated by the parents and the governors of individual schools?

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, the balloting under the previous administration's system did not concern whether schools should opt out of being selective but whether they should opt out of being directly funded by a local authority and should be grant maintained. Those were to be annual ballots, if parents and governors so wished. We are now talking about a five-yearly ballot. Again, it concerns parental choice; that

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is, whether parents in an area wish their children to be subjected to the selective principle. I had sympathy with my noble friend Lord Hattersley when he said that not all parents in the area we are discussing were entitled to a vote under the system. If we are to have balloting, it should cover all parents.

However, I suggest to your Lordships that this is not the occasion for a debate of this kind. We are debating the Learning and Skills Bill which concerns the education and training of young people from the age of 16 onwards, whereas the amendment introduces an area of the education system which is not covered by the Bill. I have no objection to our having a full debate on the principle of comprehensive education or on the principle of balloting. However, as I say, I suggest that this is not the occasion to have this debate. Therefore I am strongly opposed to the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I hope that I may deal shortly with the point that the noble Baroness has just made. She has made the point that it is not appropriate or proper to seek to amend another statute through this amendment, in this case the School Standards and Framework Act. If the noble Baroness will attend for a moment, I shall try to deal objectively with her point. The Title of the Bill states that it is a Bill,


    "to make other provision about education".

Amendments have already been tabled in Committee by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn to amend the Education Acts. It is understood that when these have been perfected in some form they will be presented to this House at Third Reading of this Bill. If that is the case, why should the noble Baroness object to amending another statute which is concerned with education through this amendment, when her own party proposes to do precisely the same thing as regards another statute which deals with education on Third Reading?

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I wish strongly to support the amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch. She is quite right to introduce it for two reasons. Two events have taken place in the past few days: first, the result of the ballot at Ripon over the future of the grammar school there; and, secondly, the remarks of the Secretary of State over the weekend. The result of the ballot at Ripon proved conclusively that parents wished to retain the grammar school and were satisfied with the educational arrangements. I, too, am pleased that the other school is to become a college of technology as those colleges have already proved their educational worth. I have no doubt that that school will benefit from that measure.

I have no reason to believe that the remarks of the Secretary of State have not been reported correctly, as they have not been denied. It appears that he has now said that what he said in the run-up to the election was not true and was a joke and that he wishes to draw a line under the argument about grammar schools. That means that we are in a different situation. My noble

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friend is quite right to press the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, to say what exactly the Government's position is. We need to remember that we are talking about pupils in school. Those at Ripon Grammar School are currently taking GCSE, A-level and other examinations. The teachers are teaching them; pupils' future lives are being determined. While that is going on there are arguments about whether there should be another ballot in five years' time. That is unsettling.

I do not believe that there is one Member of your Lordships' House who would wish to send his or her child to a school which was to be subjected to a ballot every five years to determine whether it would continue.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that the amendment would give rise to immense uncertainty in the education sector?

Baroness Young: No, my Lords, not if the statements by the Secretary of State are to be believed and he wishes to draw a line under this matter. That would mean that we would return to the status quo and we would stop arguing about these matters. If the Secretary of State was genuinely interested in children and in raising standards, he would put an end to these ballots. We all know that the staff in a school are the key to good education. If someone is employed in a school and thinks that there may be a ballot in five years' time which may result in him or her having to move or be out of a job, that person will consider whether to stay in that school or whether to move somewhere else. This process is unsettling for staff and for parents but, above all, it is unsettling for pupils in a school. I believe therefore that it is right to do what the Secretary of State has apparently suggested and to draw a line under the whole argument about grammar schools. Let us stick with the status quo. I support the important amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch.


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