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The Government wants all secondary schools to play to their strengths and provide a flexible curriculum able to meet the needs of individual pupils. Selection by aptitude allows a small number of pupils with particular gifts and talents to benefit from particular curriculum strengths.
I agree with all of that. Where I part company from the Government is that I regard all-round academic excellence as an aptitude, but I know that, for historic reasons, they cannot adopt that view. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his consistency. He disapproves of any kind of differentiation. He wants all secondary schools to be the same and he is completely consistent in that.
I think that the Government were right in that response and they are right to reject new clause 39. I do not want to impose the system that obtains in Kent on other areas of the country if they do not want it and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should want to impose his system on my constituents and the schools in my constituency. I believe in local choice, and I demand that local choice for parents in my locality. They have said clearly that they admire the work done in all the schools in Ashford. They want to keep the current system and they would hate political interference driven by an out-of-date levelling down ideology to get in the way of good schools. I urge the House to reject new clause 39.
Ms Keeble: I will keep my comments brief because I know that a large number of other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. I am opposed to the new clauses and amendments tabled by the hon. Members
for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) and for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). The new clause moved by the hon. Member for Brent, East proposes an admissions policy that is based on a mistrust of head teachers. That seems fundamentally flawed. We rely on the ability and leadership provided by head teachers for the quality of what happens in schools, so it would be wrong to have an admissions policy that assumed that they were trying to cheat. I also think that, when we are trying to encourage schools to build more links with their communities, it would send mixed messages to say that they can have links at all times, except where anything to do with admissions is concerned, when an exclusion zone applies. The way in which that was presented was completely false. The proposals made by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton were clearly a retrograde step and would undo the progress that had been achieved by Labour Members.
In opposing those new clauses, I ask MinistersI have spoken to my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools about this matterto give me some assurances about the position on admissions in relation to a particular group of pupils: those who have been excluded from school. They seem to have been missed out of the present debate, although there are supposed to be some provisions in the Bill for them.
A school community can be shaped by not only admissions, but exclusions. All of us who know of schools that have opted out over the years, or entered into different management arrangements, have often seen that accompanied by large-scale exclusions. When I was a council leader in London, a school became a city technology college under the then Conservative Government. Its establishment as a CTC was accompanied by shedloads of pupils being excluded, all of whom ended up at a neighbouring community school. The situation had a profound impact on the community schools ability to cope and its performance. Although we have an admissions code, I am worried that it is not clear that the priorities will also be applied to children who are excluded. I do not want to end up with school communities shaped by not only admissions policies, but exclusion policiesin other words, selection by behaviour, not ability.
I am especially worried because we must consider the real ethnic impact of exclusions. Segregation in schools has been profoundly damaging. Information from the Office for National Statistics shows that permanent exclusion rates are highest for children of Traveller Irish heritage, with a rate of 66 children in every 10,000. The rate for children of mixed ethnic origin is 25 in every 10,000, which is much lower. The exclusion rate for pupils of mixed ethnic origin and black pupils is similar, and it is about twice the rate for white pupils. The figures are similar for fixed-term exclusions. We also know that the peak point for exclusions is for boys aged 13 and 14. Unless we are sure that those children can get back into schools and that there is a code on, and sensible arrangements for, their readmission to schools, we will run the risk of finding that there is a drift of difficult children from schools that abide by the consensus to those that decide for one reason or another to be outside it.
Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend as concerned as me to ensure that the effect ofclause 94, which deals with reintegration interviews, and clause 95, which sets out the duty in relation to excluded pupils, is monitored in the context of race and social deprivation?
Ms Keeble: I completely agree. I tabled a couple of amendments on the matter, but they are not being debated, so I am having to tailor my remarks to the amendments in the group; otherwise I might be ruled out of order. All the issues that my hon. Friend raises are extremely important.
I hope that the Minister will give us assurances on the points that I have raised. I understand that it will not be possible to deal with them all under the framework of the Bill, but given the big concessions that the Government have made on admissions to ensure that we have a cross-section of the community accessing local schools in a proper and fair manner, we do not want skewing to occur owing to the impact of exclusions and what happens with the readmission of excluded children.
I wish to speak against new clause 39, which is a clumsy and, some would say, spiteful attempt to destroy the remaining 160-odd grammar schools throughout the country. The hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) is an intelligent and decent individual. He is also my colleague on the Education and Skills Committee, and he often speaks with insight and creativity on education matters[Hon. Members: More!] I am building him up. However, the hon. Gentleman has allowed himself to be sucked into the Deputy Prime Ministers style of class warfare. Just because the hon. Gentleman dislikes grammar schools and selection does not mean that those in existence are wrong in principle.
Reading school for boys and Kendrick school for girls offer local children a fantastic start in life. They come from a range of backgrounds. Many are bright and come from poorer or disadvantaged backgrounds. They often apply to the grammar schools because schools elsewhere in the borough are appalling.
Mr. Chaytor: Is it not the case that 70 per cent. of the intake of the wholly selective schools in Reading comes from outside Reading? How can the hon. Gentleman say that they give opportunities to local children? They are kept out of those selective schools because of their admissions policy.
As I said, many of the other local schools are not of sufficient quality that parents wish to choose them, although there have been improvements. The good work at Highdown school means that it is catching up fast.
Merely a year ago, the local education authority in Reading was judged by Ofsted to be only satisfactory, and that was by a whisker. Some 40 per cent. of pupils in Reading are exported to South Oxfordshire and Woking authorities. Why? Because the performance of local schools, particularly at secondary level, has been poor historically. The fact that we float slightly above the bottom of the league tables is thanks to the performance of the grammar schools.
Parents in my constituency will be angry that an MP from Bury has decided that they should not be able to exercise a choice that, in the case of Reading school, has been open to them for hundreds of years. That is unacceptable.
Mr. Hayes: Is my hon. Friend familiar with the work on the subject by Lord Adonis, the Prime Ministers special adviser on education? He argues in his book A Class Act: Myth of Britains Classless Society that the abolition of grammar schools has had the effect that my hon. Friend describes. He disagrees with the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) about social mobility and makes the case that selective schools aid social mobility, a view supported by the work of the London School of Economics last year, which essentially concluded the same thing.
Damian Green: As, I think, the only pupil from Reading school in the Chamber[Hon. Members: We rest our case.] Very good. However, I can assure the hon. Member for Bury, North that, whatever he thinks about the intellectual attainments of individual pupils, when the admissions policy of local education authorities were more rigid and 100 per cent. of pupils who went to Reading school came from within a
narrowly defined boundary of a growing townhe will know that that is often a difficultythe school was extremely socially mixed. Many of my school friends came from deprived backgrounds, and went on to successful university careers and careers following that, precisely because they went to a very good academic grammar school. It was a force for social mobility in the town.
Mr. Wilson: The idea that a ballot of parents provides legitimacy is a fig leaf for the views of the hon. Member for Bury, North. I dare say he would say that it is democracy in action, but we have seen how that form of unpleasant democracy worked with ballots for grant-maintained schools. At a school in my constituency where a ballot took place, there was a disgraceful local campaign of intimidation and bullying. The school community took a long time to recover, and I dare say that such events were repeated in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green).
It is not right to politicise schools in that way. May I tell the hon. Member for Bury, North that the current arrangements demonstrate that there is no appetite to destroy the few remaining grammar schools, including two in my constituency? He would do much better to concentrate on the fact that 1 million children have been failed by schools for which his party is responsible.
Anne Snelgrove: I shall be brief. The hon. Gentleman was silent in Committee, so it is interesting to hear his views today. He maligned successful schools in Reading local education authority, but having served as vice-chair of Berkshire county council education committee at the time, I can attest that there was not a malicious campaign against grant-maintained schools. Parents rightly debated the issue, as did politicians of all colours. I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman denigrated Reading LEA, as it has made great strides in improving the schools in the area.
Mr. Wilson: I am afraid that, as she did yesterday, the hon. Lady shows her ignorance of both the historical and current situation in Reading. I certainly have not denigrated any schools that have achieved a reasonable performance.
greater flexibility and encourages collaboration by permitting schools, or groups of schools working together, to adopt admission arrangements that band applicants.
There are three kinds of banding: it can apply to a single school, across the local area, or it can represent a national ability range. The previous attempt to encourage banding failed, because it was a lengthy process and there were applications from only 15 schools, two of which were turned down. I hope that the present attempt fails. I have two main objections to banding. First, it derives from an ideology that dictates that the quality of a school can only be determined by planning its intake. People who push that philosophy do not believe that the success of a school is determined by ethos, quality of teaching or leadership. Banding is a substitute for making genuine improvements to a school. It attempts to fiddle the figures, rather than address the problems inherent to a school or to a group of schools.
Mrs. Dorries: Is my hon. Friend aware that city academies use a banding system for admission? They take a percentage of children with special needs and a percentage of children of certain ability. They argue that as they have accepted a certain percentage of children with special needs they will not take any more. As a result, community schools in the neighbourhood are affected. In Southwark, for example, where the City of London academy is located, 62.2 per cent. of pupils at neighbouring schools are children with special needs. [ Interruption. ] There is a table that shows how many schools are affectedit is not just one or two. Many community schools in the area have far more children
Secondly, banding ultimately takes children away from their local school. They are bussed to schools in an extensive area for the sake of social engineering that diminishes parental choice. I do not understand how that fits with the LEAs responsibility under the Bill to champion parental choice. I am sure that parents will not support the measure, so perhaps the Minister can explain why he thinks they will do so. I have serious concerns about whether banding will work effectively. The new clause, the Bill, and the code of admissions do not give the number of bands for good or best practice. Will there be a 10, five or three-band system? Will all those systems be used, and will the number of bands differ from school to school? Who decides the banding category? Is it the governors, the LEA or another authority?
The proposal has not been properly thought through. I instinctively oppose anything that smacks of social engineering: clause 48 is an unnecessary interference in local administration of schools, so it should be removed. I hope that the Conservative spokesmen will press the matter to a vote.
Paul Farrelly: I, too, shall speak to the new clauses moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) which also bear my name, and particularly new clause 39. I want to contribute also from personal experience, as someone who was educated equally at a grammar school and a comprehensive school. I was part of the generation that went through the changes implemented by the then Labour Secretary of State, Shirley Williams, and my school, Wolstanton county grammar school, became the Marshlands comprehensive school in my fourth year, when I was 15.
I speak, too, as someone representing a constituency where selection remains very much part of the landscape. In 1997, as part of my rite of passage, I contested Chesham and Amersham, that favourable ground for Labour in Buckinghamshire, so I am familiar with a broad range of opinion about the academic selection still practised in that county.
Before I begin my remarks, I crave your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, to take this opportunity almost a decade after that election to pay tribute to the late Keith Kingswood. Keith was the secretary of the Chesham and Amersham constituency Labour party, a tough calling in an area where for many people even new Labour conjured up the same fears as old Vikings. Keith, a very erudite and educated man, was above all a fervent opponent of academic selection all his life and a leading light in the Campaign for State Education, CASE.
Sadly, during that election, Keith died and was never able to see a new Labour Government. Such was his dedication that he flew over to New York to see his son to register a postal vote, of all things. During that visit, he contracted a mystery virus and never recovered. In 1997, while many people were still partying to the strains of Things can only get betterand they haveon election night we went quietly to bed and, with his family and widow Janet, laid Keith to rest at his funeral the next day.
There is no better tribute to Keiths lifelong efforts than the work done by Comprehensive Future, by the Socialist Education Association, of which I am a vice-chair, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, and by dedicated educationists like Fiona Millar, in drafting and tabling the new clauses.
Of course, we would all like the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools to support the new clause or even allow a free vote. After comments I have heard from many Labour Back-Bench colleagues, Ministers and indeed some of the Whips, I have no doubt that if there were a free vote, new clause 39 would be passed today.
I passed my 11-plus. I was also the only person in my year who did so and was refused entry at a grammar schoolthe Catholic grammar school of choicebecause of a bad reference about my behaviour. The Whips reach is long and I am still getting bad references now. So I went to Wolstanton, which is a non-denominational school, where I am now a governor, and in hindsight that did me the world of good, because I do not think I was made for the Christian Brothers discipline.
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