Education (Northern Ireland) Order 2006
Lord Phillips of Sudbury (Spokesperson in the Lords (Id Cards & Charities Bill), Home Affairs; Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, if I may, I will raise an issue on the order itself. This is the only opportunity one will have to do so in this debate. This issue echoes a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mawhinney, whom I commend for his introduction, when Secretary of State, of the notion of integrated education. Integrated education offers a hope and a way forward for Northern Ireland of singular, proven merit. I would be grateful if, in summing up, the Minister would make reference to Article 6 of the order, which prescribes the broad curriculum content for every grant-aided school. That includes eight areas of learning.
I would particularly appreciate it if the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, would look at column 1 of Part III of Schedule 1 and see there that it refers to "local citizenship" and "personal development" as being two of the areas of learning that every curriculum should deal with. If the Northern Ireland Assembly is not back in action by the end of November, and if the Government therefore exercise powers directly in terms of subsidiary regulation under this order, will he ensure that the directions then given take full account of the unique benefits and advantages that local citizenship and personal development offer? I should declare an interest as I was involved professionally as a lawyer in setting up the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education.
Having heard the debate, I realise that if you are a poor old Englishman, commenting on selection in Northern Ireland education is a bit like walking into a lion's den, but I cannot resist making some quick points. First, nobody has referred to the fact that the five teachers' unions in Northern Ireland support the measure strongly. It seems to me that that is extremely powerful evidence. Secondly, has anybody done a survey or attempted to do any research into the educational background of the men of violence in Northern Ireland? I would be amazed if there was not a correlation between violence and those who have gone to schools for those who failed the 11-plus. Thirdly, I understand the pride of the noble Lords, Lord Rogan and Lord Steinberg, in the grammar schools they attended. I absolutely sympathise with somebody, particularly from a working class background, who has been lifted out of a rather dreary prospect in life by dint of going to a grammar school. That is perfectly understandable. None the less, surely one has to face the fact that those grammar schools are privileged in the most powerful way—in the ability of the pupils who attend them. I suggest that is a much more potent privilege than any financial privilege.
Nobody has yet referred in this debate to the failures—the majority of children in Northern Ireland who do not get to a grammar school. Nobody has said a word about them, the schools they go to or the quality of those schools. However, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, referred to that very briefly. I suggest that to ignore that majority because of the success of the minority is not good enough. How could one not expect grammar schools to be wonderful and to have better results on the basis of their selection? It is rather like an army that puts all the best soldiers into one regiment. It will fight better than the others. It is like a hospital that corralled all the best doctors—it would be better. I believe strongly that the ideal of educational egalitarianism is fundamental to a good society. I bow to the intimate knowledge of their province of noble Lords who come from Northern Ireland, but I urge them to give a thought to that. Nobody has referred to it.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, referred to parents favouring some form of selection. I believe that I have quoted him correctly. I favour some form of selection. I went to a state primary, passed the 11-plus and was then sent to an independent school—a highly privileged school. None the less I sent my children to a comprehensive, of which I was a governor. A good comprehensive has some form of selection—streaming. It does not constitute the dramatic and damaging trauma of failing or passing an 11-plus examination. I make those comments because, if I may say so, the debate so far has been rather dominated—