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Lord Peston: My Lords, the noble Lord is unfair; he has never heard me say a word against the government to which he refers. I am not saying that all that they did contributed to those achievements; I think the achievements were overwhelmingly those of the teachers and pupils.
Lord Joseph and I thought that the National Curriculum introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was too complicated and we rejected it at the time. The noble Lord will recall a vote in this House. Then his own government changed in our direction. I am not a uniform critic of his government--not everything they did was wrong; they did one or two things right.
I accept that some of the GCSE and A-level results will be from girls and boys at grammar schools, so I will not make that kind of stupid distinction either. I am simply saying that our education system, although not good enough, is largely a comprehensive system and it succeeds. If the system were 100 per cent. comprehensive we would achieve even more.
To finish my story about the fastest gun in the West, I then went to Princeton and, having thought how clever I was, I met people who were really clever; and that was when I started to learn the lesson that no matter how good you think you are and how keen you are to separate yourself from everybody else, there are cleverer people than you around. The sooner you learn that lesson, by going to the same kind of school as everybody else, and learning that there are lots of decent people around even if they are judged by some criteria to be inferior to you, the better. I hope that one day some noble Lords opposite will learn that lesson.
Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am always happy to take part in debates about grammar schools and comprehensive schools. I agree totally with the last comment of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I have previously talked at some length about the fact that I went to a grammar school and that my children went to a secondary modern school which became a comprehensive school. Education is not just about academic attainment. Educating somebody for life is about educating them to understand the environment and the society in which they grow up. I know that I did not gain that at grammar school and I know that my children did. That is a very important point.
I was just reflecting that I achieved much worse A-level results than my children did and I received appalling advice about careers. They have gone to university and I did not. My post-graduate education came when I was very much older.
We have heard very emotive arguments this afternoon. I should like to mention some points that people are forgetting. The Minister talked about education in Sweden. I lived there for three years and that is where I became absolutely convinced that everybody can have a high standard of education if the resources are made available and if it is done through a
This is all about resources. Equality of opportunity was another argument advanced this afternoon. It is not equality of opportunity if you put all the resources into grammar schools so that the children who attend other schools do not get the benefit of the same amount of resources. If everyone got the benefit of all the resources that go to individual children in grammar schools, I am sure that all children would be doing very much better. That is what I want to see in education in this country. Indeed, I have been castigated by both sides of the House for wanting more money to be put into education. Adequate resources are the answer.
One argument that I found it very difficult to be comfortable with was that concerning rigged ballots. I am not absolutely certain that the Government have got it right. I believe that they are a bit muddled about where they propose to go on grammar schools. As someone who was a member of a local authority when the previous government said that if people did not take part in a ballot for the houses that they were living in to be transferred to another landlord they were voting "yes", I find the argument about ballots a little difficult to take.
I resisted the temptation to stand up and speak earlier because I knew that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, would quote John Stuart Mill at me. Indeed, he managed to do so even before I stood up to speak. I hope for everyone's sake that no one provokes him to stand up and do so again. However, I wanted to make those important points, which I believe may have got lost in the arguments. Comprehensive schools do work if they have the same resources that we have seen put into some of the best schools--namely, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools and a variety of others.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as on the previous occasion when we discussed this issue, we have had a fair degree of rhetoric about what are rather mundane amendments. I do not object to that. I am as willing as anyone else to join in the arguments about comprehensive schools against grammar schools. I am as willing as anyone else to talk about selection by ability and to go back over the history of education in this country since the 1944 Act; or, indeed, earlier if anyone wishes to do so. However, I have an obligation to respond to the amendments, despite the tone of the debate, which I shall not be able to neglect.
However, I hope that I shall be forgiven for responding to the debate first. The gap between rhetoric and reality has seldom been so blatantly exposed as it has been during the course of the past 49 minutes. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, started by talking as if what we were doing here was somehow to undermine what Stephen Byers calls, "encouraging excellent schools". Nothing could be further from the truth.
The truth of the matter is that we have done exactly what we said we would do before the election and have said, unceasingly, we will do since the election. I know that my noble friend, Lord Peston is unhappy about this, but we have not said that we would abolish all grammar schools; what we have said is that we will let local parents decide whether grammar schools should be abolished. If we are criticised for that and told by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that that is shameful, then I would ask him to contrast his stance and that of the noble Baronesses Lady Knight, Lady Platt and others--namely, that they want to keep grammar schools at all costs--
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister for giving way. Will the Minister consider that he has perhaps misread what we have been trying to say? We do not for one moment object to parents deciding such matters; we object to the very limited and rather unfair choice of a narrow group which will be allowed to vote.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I should not have allowed the noble Baroness to interrupt me in the middle of my sentence. I shall try not to do so again. However, when I read the Hansard report of her speech, I think I shall find that I am right to say that she was fundamentally delivering a most moving and clearly sincere defence of keeping grammar schools at all costs.
If the Government are told by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that it is shameful to consult local parents on the subject--indeed, he said so in so many words more than twice--and that it would have been honourable just to say that we are going to abolish grammar schools, I must put it to him that the argument on the other side would only be honourable in the same sense if the Opposition were to move to take out these clauses altogether rather than tinker with the franchise. I find tinkering with the franchise, with the obvious and quite clear object of ensuring that ballots will fail--I do not like to use the word "shameful" as freely as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, does--less than open and not up to the standards which I would have expected of the noble Lord and his colleagues.
There are so many mis-statements and illusions about what is being done here. Indeed, the words: "closed, abolished or demise" were used by so many noble Lords. None of these schools is going to be closed and none of them will be abolished. None of them will have its property taken away. Perhaps I may use the example of the King Edward schools in Birmingham, which was used by a number of speakers. We are talking as if the foundations of those schools will somehow be valued, taken away, expropriated, paid for, or something of that nature. It is no such thing. If the parents in Birmingham vote in a ballot--I get trapped into the jargon myself by the continuous mis-statements--for the change in the status of the King Edward schools so that selection is no longer possible, those schools will not close and their foundations will not change. All that will happen is that, in the first year, there will no longer be selection for entry to those schools. That is not abolition.
I am not just talking about the future. It happened to me. I was a member of Haringey council during the years 1966 to 1968 when it went 100 per cent. comprehensive in a period of 18 months. We had a foundation school exactly like the King Edward schools--the Stationers Company School. It was a voluntary aided school; we did not control it. However, it agreed to come in with our abolition of selection and our creation of comprehensive schools. It had one reservation; namely, that it wanted to stay a boys only school, which we agreed to. So that can be done without any disruption. Indeed, there was no disruption at that time, as my noble friend Lord Peston well remembers because both he and I sent our children to the same comprehensive school.
However, all this rhetoric about closing, abolishing and killing excellent schools is far from the reality of what we propose, although I hesitate to call it that. I should perhaps say that it is far from the subtleties of the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. Perhaps I may deal with them as quickly as I can.
I should begin with Amendment No. 178A. A comparable amendment, with very little difference, was moved in Committee. We do not consider it sensible to require any party to a ballot to publish assessments of the likely organisation which might be put in its place. It does not matter whether they are called, as they were in Committee, "fully-costed proposals" or "outline proposals" as is the case with the current amendment. There is a perfectly good case to be made against this sort of information being provided by one participant in the process.
If there is a vote for change, there will have to be consultation on any changes to admission arrangements or any consequential proposals. Although the LEA--which is named in the amendment as having to publish these proposals--takes the lead, the governing bodies of individual schools have a crucial role. They are the admission authorities for foundation and voluntary schools. They will be able to publish proposals to alter such schools.
The noble Baroness asked whether the LEA would determine the plans in the event of a ballot for change to a whole LEA area's schools. The LEA is not the determiner of matters like this. The LEA is responsible for drafting the school organisation plan but it is for the school organisation committee to agree both the plan and any specific statutory proposals.
If local education authorities want to publish some kind of preliminary assessment of what might happen, they can do so in publications to their electors. Amendment No. 186, which we shall discuss in the next group of amendments, makes it quite clear that they can prepare and publish fair and reasonable assessments of the consequences of a ballot. But I suggest that it would be wrong to require them to do so.
We have had the revival of the cost of implementation argument. As I have made it clear that schools will not be closed or abolished, but that the change will affect their admission arrangements in the first year, I think your Lordships can put that into context and realise that
Amendment No. 178B is another attempt by the noble Baroness to make the task of raising a petition and moving to a ballot ever more difficult. We have already proposed that the threshold for a petition should be 20 per cent. of eligible parents, or in the case of a selective LEA, 20 per cent. of the number of parents of children at schools in the authority. It is proposed that the figure should now be 40 per cent. I said in Committee that this can only be intended to prevent any change whatsoever. The noble Baroness is now proposing a figure of 40 per cent. rather than 50 per cent. as she proposed in Committee. In Kent, that would mean 200,000 validated signatures. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, said that little will be done as regards checking eligible signatories. However, the Bill provides for a ballot administration company to do that. That is more than was provided for under the noble Lord's grant-maintained school ballots.
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