11-plus Selection

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th February 1987.

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Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood 12:00 am, 17th February 1987

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has any plans to reintroduce selection at 11-plus years.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I have no plans to compel local education authorities to reintroduce grammar schools. It is for LEAs, in the first instance, to consider how to organise school provision in their areas.

Photo of Clare Short Clare Short , Birmingham, Ladywood

I am surprised by the Secretary of State's answer. We know that he has told the press that through an expansion of the city technology colleges he is planning to reintroduce selection at 11 years. Will the right hon. Gentleman come clean with the House? Has he not learnt that selection at 11 years, which he might think is popular with parents, is not popular with the majority who are not selected? The problem with our secondary school system is that it expects to fail too many children. Dividing them into sheep and goats at 11 years is no part of the answer.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I am surprised that the hon. Lady has tabled this question because she represents a city which is Labour controlled—Birmingham—which still believes in selective schools. Birmingham maintains eight grammar schools, and I am glad to say that I have no proposals before me from Labour-controlled Birmingham to abolish them.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whether or not we have selection at 11-plus, children's education will be severly damaged if teachers resume strikes? Does he not feel that the time has come for teachers to put their action behind them and look forward to negotiating a replacement for Burnham, which is the way they should go?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

As I said in reply to an earlier question, I deplore the fact that some of the leaders of the teacher's unions are again talking of disruption. I do not believe that teachers, generally, will respond to such an irresponsible call to inflict further worry upon parents, especially working parents, who will yet again be victimised if there is disruption in our schools and the children are sent home.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

When we hear the Prime Minister's rhetoric about the reintroduction of grammar schools, when we listen to the Secretary of State on bench marks and see that he is attempting to introduce city technology colleges, does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that there are many who fear that there is a secret item in the Conservative party manifesto, which is the wholesale re-introduction of selective education? Will he categorically deny that?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I have read what purports to be the Liberal party's education policy in its document — there is nothing secret in it, because there is nothing in it at all. As far as I can see, the policy of the Liberal party and the SDP is to support the Labour party in abolishing grammar schools, though I believe that the Liberals in the city of Plymouth will vote to keep their grammar schools.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

Yes or no? Answer the question.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

To answer the hon. Gentleman's question, I am trying to improve the standards of quality of all schools.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry , Banbury

Does my right hon. Friend not think that one of the most depressing things about education policy is the way in which our opponents seek to misrepresent what we are trying to do? Would it not be sensible for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) to ask her neighbour, the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), for a copy of his Ruskin College speech of 1976. where he spoke of the need for core curriculum, national standards of performance and an enhanced and strengthened inspectorate to maintain those standards? Is that not exactly what we are seeking to do with our bench marks and targets of attainment?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

The right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) is in his place, and I pay tribute to the fact that he started this great debate in 1976.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

Yes, he was not helped by his then Secretary of State, who has now joined the SDP. The right hon. Gentleman started on this road. I am glad to say that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman recently said that there would be agreement between us, and I dare say on both sides of the House, to move towards a national curriculum with the various bench marks and tests.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

Core curriculum, yes. I hope that that will be achieved by a measure of agreement and consensus throughout the country.

Photo of Mr Giles Radice Mr Giles Radice Shadow Secretary of State for Education

The Secretary of State is right to say that the Labour party has been in favour of a core curriculum for a number of years. Will he tell the House who is speaking for the Government on grammar schools? Is it the Prime Minister, who suggested last weekend that grammar schools should be reintroduced, or is it the Secretary of State, who has remembered that bringing back grammar schools would mean bringing back the 11-plus? Is it his policy to reintroduce more grammar schools, or does he want to bring back selection by stealth?

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has now given support to my proposals for a national curriculum.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

We have been in favour of a core curriculum for years. Look at the record.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Baker Mr Kenneth Baker , Mole Valley

If the hon. Gentleman had been in favour of the core curriculum he could have talked about it before I did, but he did not.

On the matter of grammar schools, looking at the history of the past 30 years, many people regret, and continue to regret, the loss of many fine schools. I am concerned with improving standards right across the system, and I intend to bring forward proposals to that effect.