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Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, I confirm that under the previous administration, more than four in 10 pupils did not reach the expected level for their age in literacy and numeracy. That has spelt disaster for

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the large numbers of young people who leave school with extraordinarily poor levels of literacy and numeracy. We are absolutely determined to turn round that situation. It is surprising that the party opposite has not given wholehearted support to our initiatives on literacy and numeracy and, indeed, to the many other ways in which we are turning around primary schools and improving the output of schools for young children.

I shall give a few figures: 11 year-olds achieved higher standards than ever in the 1999 tests in English and Mathematics. At the time of the election, when the targets were set, 57 per cent of 11 year-olds reached the target expected for their age in English and 54 per cent did so in Maths. This year, the corresponding figures are 70 per cent and 69 per cent. It is particularly encouraging that nine out of 10 of the education authorities making the greatest gains are in deprived areas.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I return to the question of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. Clearly, the Minister has forgotten what the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, said to her yesterday. My understanding of what the Secretary of State said--I am paraphrasing it; I do not have a note of it but I am repeating it from memory--was that he would like to draw a line under the issue, to stop hunting grammar schools, and to leave the matter as it is. Surely that is inconsistent with the Statement that the Minister has just read out.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I have not forgotten what my noble friend Lord Hattersley said yesterday. He made a long and highly eloquent speech in which he raised a great number of different issues. He made a number of criticisms of the Government and many more of the Conservative Opposition during their period in power. I have absolutely no idea to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, was referring. What my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said is entirely consistent with what he has said since 1995 when that policy was first set out at the Labour Party Conference. He has said the same thing again and again and he has done so today in the Statement which I repeated to this House.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, is not the real issue the question of raising educational standards in the 3,600 secondary schools up and down the land, not the admissions policy of 164 grammar schools? Is it not the case that we should like the Opposition to be obsessive about raising educational standards to satisfy the desire and needs of parents up and down the land who want to see resources going into our secondary schools in order to raise educational standards?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Tope, have already referred to the Conservative Opposition's obsession with this particular issue. I have already said that I do not believe that it is an issue about which the vast majority of parents around the country are

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particularly concerned. We must focus on ways in which we can improve our secondary schools. Many schools could be improved. Many are doing a good job, but I am sure that the head teachers of even the best schools would welcome a commitment to doing all that we can to improve those schools, let alone those which are not performing as well as they might.

As I made clear yesterday, this Government are spending an extra 16 per cent in real terms on education in this Parliament. Over the course of the Parliament, the proportion of national income spent on education will rise, whereas in the previous Parliament it fell. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment set out a radical programme for raising standards in our secondary education, particularly at key stage 3. That is a crucial stage between 11 and 14 years, a phase of education that has been grossly neglected in the past. This is a real agenda, raising standards for all our pupils, but most particularly for those in disadvantaged communities.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, perhaps I may refer to a matter that occurred at the outset of these proceedings; namely, whether a copy of the Statement is to be vouchsafed to Opposition spokesmen. If an answer to a Private Notice Question is to be economically and constructively elucidated, surely there is every reason why it should be so vouchsafed. Could the matter perhaps be considered by the usual channels and preferably then by the Procedure Committee?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his intervention. He has made a sensible suggestion, that this matter should be considered by the usual channels and then, indeed, by the Procedure Committee. It is important that Opposition spokesmen should receive copies of Statements as soon as they can. I am surprised that the noble Baroness did not receive one.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, why is the choice of a child for a school where ballet, for example, is a specialist item, not a form of selection?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I did not say that it was not a form of selection. The noble Baroness could not have been listening. I said that it was bizarre and absurd to suggest that there was something strange about the Government being selective through their music and ballet scheme. The scheme supports a small number of highly specialist institutions which provide training for those children who show great talent in a particular area such as ballet, music or playing an instrument. Of course they tend to be selected. These schools are about developing that talent. If a child does

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not have any such talent, it cannot benefit from such schools, which is what I said. The noble Baroness could not have been paying attention.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, I thought that the government view was that there was to be no selection in general terms; that comprehensively, overall there would be no selection. Am I mistaken?

Baroness Blatch: That is what he said.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am afraid I am losing patience. I cannot believe that such obtuse questions can be asked. I have made clear that the Government are opposed to selection for standard secondary schools which cover a broad curriculum. The Government have never said that they are opposed to selection for highly specialised music or ballet schools. We have to have selection in those cases because only a tiny minority of children would be able to benefit from the curriculum they provide. They are, in part, training institutions as well as schools providing general education for people who need to be trained at a much earlier age than is normal because of the nature of the particular talent they have.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the Minister agree--

Lord Bach: My Lords--

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we have not yet reached 20 minutes.

Lord Bach: My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, the Front-Benchers have had their turn. The Back-Benchers have now had their turn. As I understand it, what normally happens at this stage is that we move on to the next business. If I am wrong, I am sure I shall be put right. The Front-Benchers have had their 20 minutes. The Back-Benchers have now had as long as they want. We should not return to the Front Bench.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the noble Baroness--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would help me. I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Merlyn-Rees. I went to a grammar school. I took my eleven plus at the age of 10. I only subsequently discovered, when I passed, what incredible anxiety it created for my parents, who literally became ill.

Most important, from the day I left primary school, I never again met or saw three quarters of the boys and girls with whom I was at that school. I cannot believe that anyone in this Chamber would wish that the opportunity for a life chance should be taken and lost or won at 10 and that communities could ever possibly

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be built on a system which strikes one quarter of the children away from three-quarters of the friends they made at primary school. It surely is insane. I really believed that we were moving into a sensible system of education which prevented that type of community and parental pressure and dreadful pressure on the children.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I strongly endorse the comments of my noble friend. One of the great disadvantages of the previous selective system was that it divided children into sheep and goats. It meant that children who had been at primary school together were separated. Some, as I have said earlier, were labelled as failures. Others were immediately defined as successes. It cannot be right to do that to 11 year-old children. That is why this Government oppose the principle of selection by ability in this context.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, apropos the answer to my noble friend Lady Fookes--

Noble Lords: Order!


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