Parental Choice

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd May 1995.

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Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth 12:00 am, 23rd May 1995

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what assessment she has made of the contribution of choice and diversity to the quality of education and the contribution of grammar schools, city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools to parental choice and the quality of education. [23820]

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

The exercise of informed parental choice has a key role to play in raising standards. Grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, city technology colleges and specialist colleges mean greater diversity in the kinds of schools to which parents can apply, and high-quality education to large numbers of pupils.

Photo of Mr James Pawsey Mr James Pawsey , Rugby and Kenilworth

Does my hon. Friend agree that the overwhelming majority of the nation's parents want greater freedom of choice and diversity in education? [Laughter.] Does he further agree that Opposition Members—who are currently laughing about education and do not see it as an important matter, as we do—would abolish grant-maintained schools, grammar schools and the assisted places scheme, all of which are in demand by parents? Would not the cost of abolishing those schemes come from the scarce resources in the education budget? Would that not represent a total waste?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

Not only is my hon. Friend right but, unusually, he understates. We can see from the answer to a previous question that a further group of schools will be threatened should the lot opposite come to power. The Government want all schools to develop their own identity, while the Opposition are motivated more by dogma and are prepared to attack excellent schools in the name of that dogma.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield

If the Minister is going to talk about the proper use of taxpayers' money, will he defend the information he gave to me in a written answer, that his Department is spending millions of pounds on brainwashing parents in favour of grant-maintained status, including producing a free video which is placed on every seat at every vote? That is not about choice, and it should be paid for by Conservative central office.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would share our wish that all ballots should take place in an informed and accurate way. The publicity to which he referred must comply with the proper codes of government conduct, and it is not the equivalent of party propaganda. I certainly bow to the hon. Gentleman's greater knowledge of that subject.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

Is the Minister aware of the remarkable educational achievements of Southend's four grammar schools, which are unique in offering free education to one quarter of all children from Southend-on-Sea? What steps can he take to protect those schools from Lib-Lab-controlled Essex county council's appalling proposal to abolish free school transport, which will mean that freedom of choice will be available only to the upper-income groups? Would not Keir Hardie, who was a remarkable, truthful socialist, turn in his grave at the thought of that appalling proposal?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

As my hon. Friend is aware, I have considerable knowledge of the achievements of Southend schools to which he rightly refers. I was particularly saddened to read about the proposals of Essex local education authority, which, as my hon. Friend implies, can result only in ensuring that the children who go to those schools in the future are likely to be from better-off families than at present—now, they are drawn simply on the basis of their educational merit.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

If state schools are now so superb, is it not time that Conservative Members of Parliament took their children out of the private sector and sent them into the public sector? Furthermore, if these schools are so good, is it not about time that a member of the royal family sent his or her children into the public sector?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

Well, there was a lot of bile there, was there not, Madam Speaker? First, as a state-educated pupil, I have no reason to apologise for the state of my education then or, more important, the state of education in our maintained schools now. It is improving, but it must improve more. How the hon. Gentleman has the gall to talk about private education, given the nature of the Leader of the Opposition, I simply do not understand.