Secondary Schools (Hertfordshire)

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Employment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th November 1997.

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Photo of Claire Ward Claire Ward Labour, Watford 12:00 am, 13th November 1997

What measures he proposes for the improvement of the present admissions procedure to secondary schools in the Hertfordshire area. [14329]

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

New admissions criteria will provide for a genuine partnership to get schools to work together with their education authority, to ensure that we overcome the scandal of some parents finding that they do not have places for their children in September, because they have had to make multiple applications in a chaotic system, such as my hon. Friend must suffer in parts of Hertfordshire.

Photo of Claire Ward Claire Ward Labour, Watford

I thank my right hon. Friend for his acknowledgement of the problems in Hertfordshire. Is he aware that many parents in my constituency of Watford have serious concerns about the forthcoming round of selections by academic ability, which will result in some children not obtaining a place in any school of their choice, and the subsequent emotional effect on the children? Will he assure me that, in any forthcoming legislation, he will take into account the specific difficulties that face Watford and south-west Hertfordshire in the admissions process for secondary schools?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

I will give my hon. Friend the absolute assurance that we will do so. Parents and children deserve a system that meets their needs and in which their preference is respected, rather than the school choosing the pupil, and chaotic multiple admissions systems that result in children failing to have a place, and therefore failing to have the opportunity that others take for granted.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell Shadow Secretary of State for Education

Can the Secretary of State clear up a misunderstanding which was raised with me when I was in a Hertfordshire school last week? Does the right hon. Gentleman remember telling the Labour party conference that, under a Labour Government, there would be no return to selection? Will he confirm to the House that his White Paper makes it clear that specialist schools will be able to give priority to children who demonstrate a special aptitude? Can the Secretary of State make it clear to the House and the people of Hertfordshire what made him change his mind, or is there a difference between selection and giving priority to those who demonstrate aptitude?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett Secretary of State for Education and Employment, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends know perfectly well that recognising an aptitude for music is entirely different from selecting a child by the 11-plus examination. We all know that the commitment that I have given on selection stands. It will stand. The admissions criteria that I will publish, and the Bill that we will pass through Parliament, will ensure that every child has the opportunity to use his or her talents to the full.