|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I shall touch briefly on something said by my noble friend Lady Blatch about cost--something I do not believe the Government have borne sufficiently in mind should they proceed with abolishing some of the grammar schools. The Government may not know that the King Edward Foundation schools in Birmingham--there are five of them--own not merely the land upon which their schools stand but all the playing fields. They are expensive tracts of land in valuable parts of our city. In addition, they own a large number of private dwellings. In the previous debate we heard about cost being a deterrent to doing even what was right. I wonder whether the Government recognise that the cost of this move will be far greater than they thought.
Having read the Bill and listened to the Minister, I cannot avoid the suspicion that the Government do not know what they want or are anxious to hide at what they are aiming. The situation reminds me of the old game of "shame" and "hooray". About a month before people were deciding how to vote in the general election, many of the fears of parents interested in a grammar school education for their children were lulled by the statement of none other than Mr. David Blunkett who said,
So new Labour now supports grammar schools--hooray; but the Bill clearly threatens the existence of grammar schools--shame; there will be a vote on the continuance of grammar schools--hooray; but the ballot will be rigged--shame; selection will still be allowed--hooray; but not by ability--shame; grammar schools may exist--hooray; but grant-maintained schools will go--shame.
Let us be clear about the importance of grammar schools to our country. Britain needs its bright children, from whatever homes they come. That factor seems to have escaped the Government altogether. Since at least the 16th century, and in the case of the Birmingham foundation since the time of Richard II, grammar schools have been the bridge over which clever children from poor homes have received an academic education.
One would have thought that that would be a worthy aim. Do not let us bother about the kind of homes from which children come; if they are clever and have ability, let us take them to the limit of that ability by giving them an academic education. But, dear me, no: the old dogma of socialism is alive and well and must be adhered to. Equality must be imposed on everything from wealth to intelligence quotient.
Yet we should aim at equality of opportunity, not simply equality. A far higher authority than Blair, Blunkett or Blackstone decreed centuries ago that human beings are different and are unequal. Some are brainy; others are not. Some work hard; others slack. Some are good with their hands and absolute duffers at everything else. Of course they all have value to society, but not all are equal. It is ludicrous to suppose that the bright and brainy will not be held back if we lump everyone together. It may lead to equality but it will be equality of mediocrity.
The Bill proves that Labour has not changed its spots, read Blunkett pre-election as one will--although there is a glaring illogicality about the belief that if all children go to the same kind of school a happy state of equality will prevail. Unless all children with high and low intelligence ratings are taught in the same class, there will be a new elite because there will be streaming. Some would be taught in A classes; others in B classes. Goodness me, how awful and unequal that would be! It would be wrong. We cannot have that. So then what?
I must say a few words about the ballot system imposed by the Bill. Unless it is radically changed, it will be the most unfair and unjust system ever devised. As my noble friend reminded the House, in Birmingham it is proposed that only the parents of primary school children will be allowed to vote. No parents of grammar school children--they surely know far more about the benefits, the pluses or minuses, of grammar school education first-hand--will be allowed a say. What about those of us who have benefited from a grammar school education? My parents could never have afforded to send me to a private school; they could not have afforded to pay for my education. But I went to a grammar school; and I should be failing that grammar school if I did not use this opportunity to say how much I benefited from that, and how much I wish to see similar benefits given to other children in the future.
I am not allowed to vote on this issue. That seems to me wrong. We should be able to vote from our knowledge and experience of grammar school education. Why cannot commerce, business or the universities have a vote? They are extremely interested in bright children receiving the education they need. But those bodies are not allowed to vote.
The question of whether or not grammar schools should continue will vitally affect our whole country. It should certainly not be decided on rigged ballots. Experience, not dogma, should guide voters. Since the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, when an education Minister in another place, destroyed her first grammar school in the 1960s or early 1970s, I have watched with interest and some dismay those schools as they ceased being grammar schools and became comprehensive schools. I have looked in vain for one single grammar school transmogrified into a comprehensive which is better than the old grammar school, producing better results and giving children a better chance. Why get rid of excellence because of dogma?
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Baroness to give an example. In my own town of Dorking, Ashcombe School, part of which was a grammar school and part a secondary modern, now gives a grammar school type of education to anyone who wishes to come to the school. It has excellent results, in the top tier of the ratings.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, the noble Baroness destroys her own argument. She said that the school now gives a grammar school education. That is what I seek to defend. My belief springs from my knowledge of grammar schools not only as a former pupil but as a member of a local educational authority. I have had much to do with grammar schools. I repeat: I have yet to see one which has been improved by its change to a comprehensive school. I give strong support to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch.
Lord Monson: My Lords, there are many amendments in this grouping which I saw for the first time only just over three-quarters of an hour ago. Although not an expert in the field, I agree with everything that has been said. I am particularly attracted to Amendments Nos. 179A and 179D which require the names of schools facing abolition to be published. If accepted, the amendments would at minimal cost allow parents thinking of voting for the abolition of grammar schools in their area to contemplate the consequences of casting their vote in this way. Faced with the idea of closing down named schools with a great reputation and possibly a proud and ancient tradition, some may be inclined to think again.
If the Government resist these two modest amendments, it will tend to indicate that they are anxious to discourage parents from reflecting upon the admirable aspects of our grammar schools and their proud and possibly long traditions.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, my brief point is addressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. In moving the amendment, she placed great emphasis on the disruption and chaos--I am not sure that she used the word "disruption", but it is what she meant--which will be caused by a democratic and rational system for change. I think that we would all admit that there are
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, earlier today the Government were clearly defeated on a point of principle. As the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Ripon said, the vote was on a principle, and the Government were behaving in an unprincipled way. The House decided that by a clear majority.
I believe that in these clauses the Government are behaving in an unprincipled, and I think rather shameful, way. Unlike some of my colleagues, I shall not particularly argue the case for or against grammar schools. Some people are for them; some people are against them. I am very strongly for them. But that is not the issue. The issue is that before the election, the Government certainly gave the impression that grammar schools would be safe in their hands.
A few years ago, they were much more absolute. When I was Education Secretary, the party opposite was going to abolish grammar schools. That was the view of old Labour. It was the view of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and his colleagues. It was not so much old Labour as antediluvian Labour. They were against selection and against grammar schools. I do not agree with that view but I do respect it. I know where they are coming from. Previous Labour Education Secretaries were explicit about the matter. They brought in legislation to do away with grammar schools. They were quite principled about it. I did not agree with it but at least one knew what they were saying and in what they believed.
This Government are devising a system which will allow other people to decide whether or not grammar schools survive, under the pretence of democracy. That is shameful. It would have been better to have had a provision on the face of the Bill which abolished all grammar schools. We could have had a vote on that and the Government have such a large majority in the other place that it would have been carried. Why did they not do that, because that will be the effect of the legislation they are proposing?
It will be extremely difficult for grammar schools to survive because the electoral system which is to be devised will be rigged against grammar schools. First, there will be two electorates. In an area as large as Kent, people who live as far as 40 miles away may be asked to vote about the fate of a school of which they have never heard and which they do not even know exists. Is that reasonable and fair? I do not believe that anyone would think so.
Of course, by its very nature, the children who go to grammar schools and the parents who want their children to go to such schools are likely to be in a minority in almost any area because of the system of selection. As I said in a previous debate, the Liberal
That is shameful. Some of the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch seek to install safeguards. Surely in our democracy we are used to electoral lists, are we not? Even trade unions have electoral lists of members so that they know who is going to vote. Who is going to prepare the electoral lists of all the eligible people? Who will check that the people who have signed the petition are residents and that that is their proper signature? Who will do all the things which we are well practised in doing in running our democratic process? The answer is that very little will be done as regards any of those matters.
Therefore, I believe that this is a shameful process. The position of the Liberal Democrats is much more frank and honest. They have always been against grammar schools. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, is no doubt no longer a Member of the House of Commons because he resisted the four very successful grammar schools in his area and they have survived him.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Baker, is aware that I am leader of the LEA with a majority of 36 over all the other parties. His party, the staunch defender of grammar schools, which fights every election on the issue of grammar schools, now has only five of the 56 councils in the London boroughs.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page