'(1) Chapter 1 of Part 3 of SSFA 1998 (Schools admissions) is amended as follows.
(2) After section 89 insert the following section—
"89A Admissions administration
(1) Admissions administration will receive all applications for places made on behalf of pupils seeking admission to maintained schools, academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts within its area.
(2) Admissions administration will determine the awarding of places at maintained schools within its area having regard to the arrangements which are to apply for that year, established by any admissions authority within that area, including special arrangements provided for in section 91.
(3) The admissions administration shall then make the list of places awarded available to maintained schools, academies, city technology colleges and city colleges for the technology of the arts within its local area and notify parents of the results of their application.
(4) The admissions administration shall always act such that the identity of the individual applicants cannot be determined by the schools for which they have applied or expressed a preference during the admissions process, until the list of places awarded is made available to schools and parents by the admissions administration.
(5) If a school believes that the admissions administration has failed to adhere to its admissions criteria, as set by the admissions authority, it may appeal to the admissions forum, which may review, and report on their findings.
(6) The person responsible for admissions administration within a local education authority must be employed or commissioned by the local education authority.
(7) In this Chapter "admissions administration" means the person responsible for the administration of arrangements for the admission of pupils to any school within a local education authority's area.".'.— [Sarah Teather.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 39— Retention of selection by ability or aptitude after parent ballot—
'(1) 'The Secretary of State shall by regulations make such provision as he considers necessary or expedient which may include the repeal, amendment or revocation of any legislation enacted prior to the coming into effect of this Act, for the purposes of giving full effect to the principle set out in subsection (2).
(2) The principle referred to in subsection (1) is that no admission arrangements for any school providing secondary education may, following the commencement of a school year on or after 1st August 2010, continue to make provision for the selection of pupils by ability or aptitude other than under section 101 of SSFA 1998 (permitted selection: pupil banding) unless the continuation of such selection has been approved in a ballot of parents of pupils attending primary schools from which such pupils may by choice of their parents transfer.'.
New clause 40— Independent body to review admission arrangements for secondary education—
'(1) The Secretary of State shall, not later than six months after the passing of this Act, appoint an independent body to review the arrangements in England relating to the admission of pupils for secondary education in Part 3, Chapter 2 of SSFA 1998 and section 36 of this Act.
(2) The Secretary of State shall invite representatives of—
(a) teacher associations,
(b) local authorities,
(c) parent groups,
(d) employer bodies, and
(e) such other persons as he considers appropriate, to make submissions to the body established under subsection (1); and the report of that body shall be laid before each House of Parliament not later than 1st April 2008.
(3) The Secretary of State, at the request of the independent body , may commision research into the admission of pupils for secondary education and related matters.'.
New clause 41— Secretary of State to implement independent review body report—
'(1) Following the receipt by him of a report of the body established under section [Independent body to review admission arrangements for secondary education], the Secretary of State shall enter into consultations with such bodies as he considers appropriate on proposals to give effect to the recommendations of that body by a date no later than 1st September 2008.
(2) Following such consultations as are mentioned in subsection (1) the Secretary of State may by regulations make such provision as he considers necessary or expedient, which provision may include the repeal, amendment or revocation of any legislation enacted prior to the coming into effect of this Act so as to give effect to proposals whether or not recommended by the body established under section [Independent body to review admission arrangements for secondary education] for the reform of the arrangements for admission to secondary schools in England.'.
New clause 42— Definition and use of oversubscription criteria—
'The requirements referred to in section 84(2) of SSFA 1998 shall include references to the following categories of pupils and these categories shall be taken as the criteria to be applied in the event of oversubscription in the order as set out below—
(a) children with a statement of special educational needs;
(b) children in public care;
(c) children for whom the school is most appropriate on medical or social grounds;
(d) children whose sibling or siblings will be enrolled at the school on the first day of term and who permanently reside within the area from which the school's intake is normally drawn;
(e) children for whom the school is the nearest appropriate school to their home;
(f) safe walking distance from the school;
(g) ease of access to the school by public transport;
(h) transfer from a named feeder primary school.'.
New clause 43— Restriction on oversubscription criteria in code for school admissions—
'The requirements referred to in section 84(2) of SSFA 1998 shall exclude the following from the criteria to be applied in the event of oversubscription—
(a) giving higher priority to children whose parents are more able or willing to support the ethos of the school or to support the school financially or in some other way;
(b) giving higher priority to children according to the occupational or financial status of their parents;
(c) giving higher priority to children according to the educational or social group or background of their parents;
(d) seeking or take account of, in giving priority to a child or in deciding whether or not to offer a place to a child, reports from his primary or nursery school about past behaviour or attitude;
(e) allocating places at a school on the basis that a sibling or other relative is a former pupil;
(f) the behaviour of other members of a child's family, whether good or bad, including a good or bad attendance record;
(g) parent's marital status;
(h) giving priority to children whose parents are staff or governors or who have another connection to the school;
(i) giving priority to children who (or whose parents) have particular interests, specialist knowledge or hobbies;
(j) giving priority to children based on the order in which applications were received;
(k) in the case of grammar schools, giving priority to siblings of pupils.'.
New clause 45— Admissions report by local education authority—
'After section 85B of SSFA 1998 insert—
"85C Admissions report by local education authority
(1) A local education authority shall once in every school year make a report to the admission forum containing the following information—
(a) the authority's plans for acting in accordance with the code for school admissions,
(b) the proposed admission arrangements for every school, including academies and city colleges, in the local education authority area,
(c) the number of applications for each year group admitting pupils for each school,
(d) the number of pupils accepted for each year group and, if oversubscription criteria are used, the number of pupils selected using each oversubscription criterion, and
(e) the area which the school recruits pupils compared to the area in which the school is situated.
(2) The opinion of the local education authority shall be included in the report as to—
(a) whether the proposed admission arrangements for each school complies with the code for school admissions,
(b) what changes, if any, each admission authority, or as the case may be the governing body of each academy or city college, should make to their admission arrangements to comply with the code for school admissions,
(c) the accuracy and appropriateness of information given to parents seeking admission to the school, and
(i) the totality of the admission arrangements for the area produces fair access to schools for all pupils, and
(ii) if not, what further action the authority intends to take to ensure fair access to maintained schools and academies and city colleges.".'.
New clause 46— Administration of pupil admissions—
'(1) Chapter 1 of Part 3 of SSFA (admission arrangements) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 88 (admission authorities and admission arrangements), in subsection (2) after "means the" leave out "arrangements" and insert "criteria".
(3) In section 89B (co-ordination of admissions arrangements)—
(a) in each of subsections (1) and (2) leave out "co-ordinating" and insert "administering",
(b) leave out subsection (5), and
(c) in subsection (6) at end insert "in particular that the local education authority admits pupils to each school in accordance with the admission criteria established by the admission authority for that school under section 89 (procedure for determining admission arrangements)".
(4) Leave out section 89C.'.
New clause 47— Academy admission arrangements—
'In subsection (4) of section 482 (Academies) of the Education Act 1996, insert after sub-paragraph (a)—
"(aa) conditions and requirements imposed for securing that—
(i) the proprietor of the school consults on the admission arrangements as if the school were a maintained school under section 89 of SSFA 1998 (procedure for determining admission arrangements),
(ii) pupil admissions to the school are managed by the local education authority under section 98B of SSFA 1998 (co-ordination of admission arrangements), and
(iii) objections relating to the admission arrangements are determined by the adjudicator under section 90 of SSFA 1998 (reference of objections to adjudicator or Secretary of State).".'.
New clause 51— Parliamentary control of code for schools admissions—
'(1) Section 85 of SSFA 1998 (making and approval of code of practice) is amended as follows.
(2) For subsections (4) and (5) substitute—
"(4) If, within the 40-day period, each House resolves to approve the draft, the Secretary of State shall issue the code (or revised code) in the form of the draft, and it shall come into force on such date as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.
(5) If no such resolution is made within the 40-day period, the Secretary of State shall take no further steps in relation to the proposed code.".'.
New clause 70— Admission of children of staff—
'Any child of staff currently serving at a maintained school shall be eligible for preferential admission at the discretion of the school governors.'.
New clause 75— Admission of excluded pupils—
'(1) A local education authority may direct any school in the authority's area to admit a pupil who has been excluded from any other such school.
(2) Before making a direction under subsection (1) the local education authority must—
(a) consult the head teacher of the school to which the direction is to be issued;
(b) have regard to local policies on exclusion; and
(c) have regard to the well-being of the pupils who are likely to be affected by the direction, whether directly or indirectly.
(3) In this section "school" means—
(a) a community, foundation or voluntary school, or
(b) an Academy, city technology college or city college for the technology of the arts.'.
Amendment No. 119, in page 26, line 8 [Clause 36], leave out from 'ability' to end of line 11.
Amendment No. 120, in page 26 [Clause 36], leave out line 21.
Amendment No. 121, in page 26, line 25 [Clause 36], leave out from 'omit' to end of line 28 and insert 'subsections (1) and (2).'.
Amendment No. 112, in page 26, line 28 [Clause 36], at end insert—
'(5) In section 100(1) of SSFA 1998—
(a) after "there is" insert—
(b) for "(a)" substitute "(i)",
(c) for "(b)" substitute "(ii)", and
(d) at end insert ", and
(b) as compared with the arrangements in force at the beginning of that year and of each subsequent year, no increase in selection.".'.
Amendment No. 103, in page 26, line 29, leave out clause 37.
Amendment No. 93, in page 26, line 38 [Clause 37], after 'requirements,', insert
'including requirements as to the criteria to be used in the event that an admissions authority receives more applications than they have places to offer ("oversubscription"),'.
Amendment No. 104, in page 26 [Clause 37], leave out line 40.
Amendment No. 94, in page 27, line 29 [Clause 38], leave out from 'England' to end of line 31 and insert
'shall consider the report published by the local education authority under section 85C (admissions report by local education authority) and prepare and publish its response to this report, which may include rejection, as may be prescribed.'.
Amendment No. 87, in page 27, line 43 [Clause 38], at end insert—
'(1D) An admission forum for the area of a local education authority in England shall prepare and publish annual reports to the Schools Commissioner on such matters connected with the admission of pupils to maintained schools in that area as may be prescribed.'.
Amendment No. 95, in page 29, line 28 [Clause 41], leave out '89C' and insert '89B'.
Government amendments Nos. 48 to 55.
Amendment No. 110, in page 37, line 18, leave out clause 48.
Amendment No. 122, in page 117, line 9 [Clause 171], at end insert—
'(2A) Section 36 comes into force on 1st September 2008.'.
The amendments relate to what is probably the most controversial aspect of our debate. What has concerned many people is the proposal in the Bill and in its forerunner, the White Paper, to give schools more freedom to control their admissions. People are worried about that because all the evidence suggests that when we give schools that freedom, over time they tend to move towards choosing the brighter children and the more middle-class children.
I am certain that hon. Members will have constituency examples of when that is not the case, and I would not want to say that that is what happens in all schools, because clearly it does not. However, the worry is that the evidence suggests that, on the whole, schools will use that power to choose those children because of the pressure to drive up standards, particularly in the light of league tables. We have seen evidence from the Sutton Trust, Simon Burgess from the university of Bristol, and Rebecca Allen from the Institute of Education, and it all suggests the same outcome.
In response to that widespread concern, hon. Members—certainly Liberal Democrat and, in particular, Labour Members, if not Conservative Members—put pressure on the Government, who responded by changing the proposals in the White Paper so that the Bill now states that all admissions authorities should act in accordance with the code of admissions, rather than just having to have regard to that code. That was a welcome change.
The draft school legal code was published while the Bill was in Committee and was debated extensively in Committee. It touched on many things that worried me and was a welcome addition. Some things in it are very good. They include the ban on interviewing and prioritising children in care and those with a statement of special educational needs. However, I particularly welcomed the focus on the softer aspects, such as the tendency for schools to put poorer families off applying by advertising expensive trips and expensive uniforms and, specifically, for schools to use information known about a family gained through either brothers or sisters attending the same school or through parent open evenings.
The difficulty with many of those things is that they require a subjective judgment about whether the school has used that information in coming to a decision on admissions. My fears were fuelled by an ICM poll published in the press a few months ago, which suggested that one in four head teachers cheat on their selection criteria to cherry-pick pupils. The latter aspect of that concerned me most: they were quite specific that they do it to cherry-pick pupils. If a head teacher cheats, that undermines trust in the system. It undermines the trust of parents, students and other schools in the same local authority area. Above all, it undermines the Government's good work and their efforts to improve admissions and tackle covert selection by introducing a code that is welcome in many ways.
The safest way to remove the danger of cheating is to allow someone else to administer the system. New clause 24 would allow schools to continue to set their own criteria in accordance with the code. Under that code, admissions criteria must be objective. They must not be subjective, and they must be easily understood. However, if they are objective, why must the school administer them? Anyone could do so, as they could be written down and measured. It would be better to give the duty to an impartial body. The local authority, which oversees and co-ordinates strategic provision, is best placed to administer the system. It does not have any incentive to cheat as it does not favour one school over another. It simply wants all its schools to do well and to raise standards across the area.
The hon. Lady takes the view that local authorities do not have any reason to favour one school over another in admissions. Does she accept that if a school is undersubscribed the local authority may have an incentive to try to move pupils into it?
It would have to act in accordance with the code and, indeed, with the selection criteria submitted by the schools and admissions authorities. We have included a safety net so that if a school believes that the administering authority has not administered admissions in accordance with its own selection criteria, it can appeal to the admission forum.
The hon. Lady appears to accept that the local education authority may not be unbiased and impartial. Why, therefore, is it better at administering admissions than the school itself?
No, I do not accept that. The local authority is far more likely than a school to be impartial, as it does not have an incentive to favour one school over another or to improve the standard of only a few schools. We have seen a great deal of evidence of cheating by schools, so to increase confidence in the system we must try to give the administration of the system to an impartial body. That would help to iron out the problem of cheating to which Members have drawn attention, including prior knowledge of the family. A child's brothers and sisters may be pupils at the school, or staff may have met parents at parents' evenings. In Committee, Mr. Chaytor highlighted the case of a faith school in London. Various procedures allow parents up to half a dozen contacts with the school before they submit an application. It is therefore unreasonable to assume that a school would not have prior knowledge of a family in such cases.
New clause 24 proposes that admissions criteria should be set by the relevant admissions authority, whether the school or the local authority, in accordance with the code. Those policies would then be submitted to a named local authority officer, who administers admissions in accordance with the criteria. Parents would apply centrally to the local authority, which would make application a great deal easier. Obviously, this is not the case in London, but in some areas parents are forced to submit applications to successive schools. Parents would state their preferred school and the authority would sort the applications, matching the children against schools' criteria.
There is no reason why local authorities should not work together on the system.
The key point is that the names of applicants should be kept from the schools. Obviously, applicants are not completely anonymous, as names are required for administrative purposes, but the proposal would deal with the problem of cheating. The local authority would send acceptance letters to parents and inform schools of decisions. Under the system, head teachers and governors would not see the list of names, so they would not be able to pick out difficult parents or children who are in trouble. In response to our debate in Committee, we have added extra protection so that if schools believe that the local authority has failed to administer the system in accordance with the criteria, they can apply to the admission forum for a review. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bury will speak to his new clause 46, which is similar to our new clause. The Local Government Association believes that the proposal would improve the transparency of the system, and individual councils are enthusiastic about it. Teaching unions have expressed concern about allowing schools more freedom to set admissions. They, too, favour a more co-ordinated system. New clause 24 allows schools to continue to set their own criteria, but it removes the danger of cheating.
New clause 39 leaves decisions on selection at 11 to local discretion, but it reverses the presumption in favour of selection, which would cease to exist unless local people asked for it in a ballot. That is a sensible way forward, and we shall support the proposal if it is pressed to a vote. As all Front-Bench spokesmen no longer favour selection, and would certainly not re-introduce it, I hope that, despite the fact that the issue was once divisive, the proposal will unite the entire House.
I listened carefully to Sarah Teather, who seems to have a skewed view of the principled stance taken by head teachers. I do not believe that there is mass cheating by head teachers who deliberately manipulate the admissions system to boost their results. If that is happening, we need to take action against head teachers who are behaving in such an unprincipled way, but I do not believe that it happens to the extent that she suggested.
Listening in Committee to Mr. Chaytor speaking about admissions, and to other Labour Members over the years, it is hard not to conclude that the new clauses tabled by him and his colleagues are driven primarily by ideology, rather than by a concern for raising standards in our schools. That ideology is based on the notion that the quality of a school is determined solely or largely by the intake of the school. That is not true. What makes a good school is the quality of the teaching, the quality of the head's leadership, and the ethos and approach to behaviour and discipline taken by the school.
There are schools in extremely deprived parts of the country where behaviour is impeccable because the head has in place strong systems and procedures that ensure that poor behaviour is dealt with swiftly and predictably. There are schools in leafy county towns that have appalling behavioural problems because of weak leadership. There are schools that have intakes where the most academic pupils have been creamed off to the local grammar school, yet those schools achieve examine results higher than most comprehensive schools.
Wellington high school in Trafford, in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Brady, is in effect a secondary modern school, where the 40 per cent. most academic go to the grammar school. At Wellington high school last year, 73 per cent. achieved five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, 66 per cent. including English and Maths, and there are no GNVQs in that figure. That figure—73 per cent.—is way above the national average of 56 per cent.
By contrast, there are many schools in leafy prosperous towns and suburbs that languish with just 35 per cent. achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, and in a number of cases schools with much worse results. In a small minority of schools, the intake can be so challenging that it becomes overwhelming and we need to intervene, but in the vast majority of the 3,500 secondary schools, the intake is largely not as relevant as what happens within the school.
The hon. Lady is making the same point as the hon. Member for Brent, East, who is leading for the Liberals. I do not believe that head teachers throughout the country are deliberately manipulating their intakes to boost their results. There may be a small number of exceptions to that premise, but I do not believe that it is happening on a large scale. It is not possible to engineer an intake to accurately reflect the local population to the last detail. I suspect that most of those results are capricious, rather than deliberately manipulated.
The problem is that heads have admitted that. It is not as though someone has done a survey and suspected that the system may have been manipulated. A Headspace survey reported that 38 per cent. of head teachers admitted breaking their own criteria.
I have not met such a head teacher when I have been going round. I ask head teachers, "Are you on principle and deliberately manipulating your intake?" and they always tell me no. [Laughter.] The point that I am making is a more serious one. Even if head teachers are unprincipled and are manipulating their intakes to boost their results and those do not reflect the quality of the school generally, my argument is that the intake is largely irrelevant to the quality of the school. It is the teachers, the leadership, the ethos and the behavioural policies that make for a good school, not the intake, whether that is manipulatedor not.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for paying such glowing tribute to Wellington high school in my constituency, which is an excellent school. May I support the excellent case that he is making with another useful statistic? In the value-added league tables, of the 21 schools adding most value between the ages of 11 and 14, 18 were grammar schools. That surely proves exactly the point that my hon. Friend is making—that is it what happens inside the school, rather than the quality of the intake that is most important. The value added in the grammar schools is even better.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The value added tables reveal which schools are genuinely adding value, regardless of the intake. They measure the added value to the particular child, based on their ability level and attainment before they arrived at the school. My hon. Friend's point is well made.
I believe that, at the vast majority of the 3,500 secondary schools, the intake is largely irrelevant. If we ensure that all academic subjects taught in the school are set or streamed by ability, the intake is even less relevant, because if we ensure that classes are made up of children of a similar ability, the ability levels elsewhere in the school have no impact on that class. The problem in many of our comprehensive schools is that the vast majority of academic lessons are taught in mixed ability classes. According to Ofsted, 60 per cent. of lessons are in mixed ability classes: 49 per cent. of English lessons, 69 per cent. of geography lessons and 71 per cent. of history lessons are mixed ability. Even in science, where setting is even more important, a third of lessons take place in mixed ability classes.
Can the hon. Gentleman give us some indication of the ages to which his figures relate? It is often difficult to set by ability at age five, even when the children might be doing simple science lessons. Does he agree that a whole range of subjects, including PE and art, are perfect for social integration to take place?
May I try to tease out some more precise figures from the hon. Gentleman? Does he have any information on the age range for which mixed ability teaching is used in secondary schools? It is quite common for secondary schools to begin teaching subjects in mixed ability classes and move to setting later on. That will affect his percentages for subjects such as history, because all children will take them to begin with, but fewer will do so once options are chosen.
The hon. Lady could be making a valid point, but the figures do not show that. She is right in that there is a slightly higher proportion of mixed ability teaching in year 7, but it does not vary much beyond that. In fact, in the GCSE year, it dips from the previous year, so that there is less setting than in the year before. Broadly speaking, it goes right across the five years of secondary education and is not confined to year 7. Even if it were, that would be an error too. We need to set and stream by academic subject in all years in secondary schools.
Maths has the highest proportion of lessons set by ability—86 per cent. That still means, if my maths is correct, that one in seven maths lessons in comprehensive schools takes place in mixed ability classes. That is very much a linear subject that should not be taught in mixed ability classes. Again, this is not confined to year 7 classes.
There is overwhelming evidence, particularly research by Jim Kulik of the University of Michigan, that if one sets by ability and tailors the curriculum to each ability grouping, with accelerated and enhanced curricula for the most academically able sets, one will see a huge rise in educational attainment in the top sets, with no falls in attainment in the lower ability set. The research also shows a small rise in self-esteem in the lower sets as pupils are given the time, space and attention to learn rather than drowning in a mixed ability group. At the top end, there is a small fall in self-esteem as bright pupils find themselves competing with other bright children.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that rigid setting is as bad as blanket mixed ability teaching? Perhaps we should be looking at banding instead of rigid setting, so that young people who would be in a top set in mathematics but a bottom set in English have ways of moving about in that band.
The hon. Lady uses the term, "rigid". Setting is by definition flexible—that is how it differs from streaming. The more homogenous a particular group of children is, the easier it is to teach them and the better able one is to tailor the curriculum to that particular set level. There is a philosophical divide between us—I will not be able to convince the hon. Lady—but I hope that through these debates we can convince the public that this is the kind of education that we want for our children.
The hon. Gentleman speaks with great conviction on these issues, and in many ways I agree with him about setting. I find the Ofsted figures difficult to understand in terms of the level of mixed ability teaching. However, I have a specific question for him. If there is general agreement across the House, and within the educational fraternity, that setting is a good thing that should be used in all academic subjects, does that mean that the Conservative party has now ceased to advocate grammar schools and selection by ability? If we followed his thesis, we would not need it.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has seen the text of my speech. I am about to deal with that precise point, if he will hold his horses for a moment. I am not a million miles from his view.
Such issues are more important than whether a group of children has access to an especially good school or whether a different group of children should have access to it. All that debates about admission, codes and prescriptive methodologies for determining intakes do is substitute one set of injustices for another. The genuine problem is that there are simply not enough good schools. If there were more good schools, the heartache and anger of parents who are unable to get their child into their preferred option would be less.
The National Audit Office report has been much cited in the two days of debate on Report. It reported that 23 per cent. of secondary schools underperform and that it is likely that a similar proportion is coasting. Ofsted reports that 34 per cent. of secondary schools are no more than satisfactory according to its grading system and that a further 10 per cent. are inadequate. Forty-four per cent. of schools are therefore either satisfactory, which we no longer regard as good enough, or inadequate. That is a sad and alarming indictment of our education system.
No one claims that the causes started in 1997, and they did not start under the previous Conservative Government. They date back more than 40 years. We all need to tackle the underlying causes in a practical and non-ideological way. We must examine the evidence of what works and not what fits our ideological stance. It is clear from the research evidence and the success of schools that set that, when comprehensive schools set all their academic subjects by ability in all year groups—with flexibility, so that children who develop later in a subject can move up to a higher ability group—and have smaller classes with more experienced teachers focusing on the lower attainment groups, far-reaching improvements occur in the quality of education in those schools.
If we can recreate in the top sets the academic education that grammar schools and many independent schools offer their pupils—an education that stretches children academically and enables them to fulfil their educational potential with an enhanced or accelerated curriculum—there is no need to undergo the upheaval of reintroducing the 11-plus and selection, and re-establishing grammar and secondary modern schools in areas where they were abolished more than 30 years ago.
There will be no need to reintroduce the 11-plus because a grammar stream will be created in an alleged comprehensive school. That is why I questioned the hon. Gentleman closely earlier. I am sure that Mr. Leigh will be delighted by the news, but we should warn the general public that that is what the Conservative party intends. It is not right. Children could be prevented from going further and faster by the policies that the hon. Gentleman proposes because they would be excluded from the grammar stream.
No, I do not propose that. We are trying to create a grammar school sort of education for the top sets in a school. Because the school would be on one campus with a setted structure, there is flexibility so that children who might have gone to a secondary modern at 11 but develop later, when they are 13 or 14, can move up the sets into the grammar stream. The grammar stream would not have a glass ceiling, which prevents children below from getting into it. There would be flexibility. Children could well be in the grammar stream for English but not maths. The purpose is to enable us to have the grammar school type education that the country needs but to make it flexible so that children of all abilities can move into those sets if they develop. It is precisely the opposite of what the hon. Lady suggests.
I said that we would not reintroduce the 11-plus and selection. We are committed to getting all academic subjects in all years in secondary school setted by ability in a flexible system. I probably share the hon. Lady's view that the binary division that took place at 11 with the 11-plus was socially divisive. It is uncomfortable for me to see children who have been friends at primary school being forced to attend separate campuses, with one turning right at the end of the road and the other turning left. That is why the Conservative party has taken the position that it will not bring back selection when it returns to office. Nor did we do so when we were last in office.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman's argument. Would he go further and advocate getting rid of the grammar school system in places such as Kent and Buckinghamshire? He has just described the system as socially divisive. If it is socially divisive in one place, surely it is in another.
I will come to that in a moment.
We believe that we can ensure that academically able children receive a grammar school-type education within the campus of a comprehensive school. To do that, however, we need comprehensive setting, and most comprehensive schools are far from being in that position at the moment. However, teachers and head teachers are far more in favour of that approach than of the upheaval implicit in any return to wholesale selection.
To deal with the point raised by Matthew Taylor, we will protect and safeguard the existing grammar schools and schools that have partial selection. It would be a criminal act to destroy schools that are providing first-class education to thousands of youngsters in this country. That is why we oppose the amendments tabled by Mr. Chaytor and his colleagues, which propose the end of selection by 2010 unless ballots are held in the areas in which grammar schools exist. I believe that any such ballots would come out in favour of retaining the grammar schools, because they are enormously popular in the areas that have them, even among parents whose children do not attend them.
I am sure that Mr. Woodhead, who is listening to this debate, has now abandoned his support of the Tory party. That cannot be a bad thing. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are talking not only about selection by ability in the 160 or so remaining grammar schools, but about the 10 per cent. selection by aptitude that exists in some schools? As he knows, we have been debating this matter for many years. Does he advocate getting rid of that arrangement, given that all the schools in the brave new Conservative world would have setting for academic subjects?
Chris Woodhead is a friend of mine, and we discuss these issues at great length. I am sure that he will retain his support for this party.
On the hon. Gentleman's question about the 10 per cent. selection, that arrangement is designed to achieve something different, namely to create an ethos in a specialist school. We are in favour of schools being able to establish an ethos, in relation to music, languages, maths, computing or whatever. We are therefore in favour of retaining the 10 per cent. selection on that basis.
To return to my point about the amendment on grammar schools tabled by the hon. Member for Bury, North, I believe that any ballots to retain those schools would be won, but why should the schools have to go through such a time-consuming and distracting process just to satisfy the ideological yearnings of a few Labour MPs?
"In subsection (3), for 'to have regard to' substitute 'to act in accordance with'."
The starting point of the whole saga of the admissions code is section 84 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which states:
"The Secretary of State shall issue, and may from time to time revise, a code of practice containing such practical guidance as he thinks appropriate".
It goes on, in a very non-prescriptive way, to say:
"The code may include guidelines setting out aims, objectives and other matters in relation to the discharge of their functions".
Subsection (3) of that section contains the famous phrase:
"It shall be the duty of"—
LEAs and governing bodies—
"to have regard to any relevant provisions of the code."
Clause 37 of the Bill does two key things. First, it replaces the phrase
"a code of practice containing such practical guidance" with the far more prescriptive words
"a code for school admissions containing such provision" as the Secretary of State thinks fit. It also replaces the looser phrase "to have regard to" with the far more authoritarian wording
"to act in accordance with".
As everyone knows, clause 37 was introduced into the Bill as a result of pressure from the Labour rebels, and following the Secretary of State's letter of
"As you know it has always been our intention that the Code of Practice on admissions should have real force."
She then said,
"we are concerned that recent legal judgements may have weakened the perceived force of the Code, so we will close the legal loophole so that admission authorities must 'act in accordance' with it, rather than having to have 'regard' to it."
On the first of those assertions, I looked in vain in the White Paper for a reference to the code having real force. The nearest I could find was at paragraph 3.22, which states;
"No one approach towards admissions will work in all circumstances. This is why we want to ensure that all self-governing schools...are free to use the approach to fair admissions that they think will best meet their local circumstances, as long as it is compatible with the Admissions Code."
Of course, in all their radio, television and newspaper interviews in the period between the publication of the White Paper in October last year and the concession letter of
"I can't agree, for the reasons we have given on many occasions, that this code becomes statutory".
The second slightly misleading statement in the letter of
We believe that clause 37 is far too prescriptive and that circumstances not envisaged by the drafters of the code might require more flexibility. For instance, it should be permissible for a school to refuse admission to a child whose parents refuse to sign a home-school agreement. We agree with the White Paper at paragraph 3.25, which states:
"We recognise that no form of admissions arrangements can increase the number of places at an oversubscribed school. That is why we are continuing to increase the number of good schools and the number of places in good schools."
That should be the focus of our attention rather than the over-obsession with admission arrangements.
I also agree with the Prime Minister, who was absolutely right when he said on
"Local authority efforts to create equity often produced deadening uniformity, with child-centred learning and a rigid adherence to mixed ability teaching too often failing to raise expectations and meet basic standards."
The focus of an incoming Conservative Government will be to raise standards in all our schools so that children of all backgrounds will have a greater opportunity to attend a good school.
The hon. Gentleman has talked about time scales and changes of mind, but I seem to recall that the Conservative party changed its mind on selection by ability in a remarkably short space of time. Was that for internal Conservative party reasons or external electoral reasons?
No, it is genuinely based on the belief that if we set flexibly but comprehensively—not rigidly—within a school, all the upheaval involved in returning to selection would not be necessary. We need to make sure that many of our comprehensive schools have an enhanced and accelerated curriculum that stretches the brightest children. In too many comprehensive schools, that is not happening. We are concerned about standards in schools, and we think that the best approach is universal setting in our comprehensive schools.
I believe that parents want concentration on standards in our schools. They want more good schools and they want their local school to be a good school. That, rather than developing ever more complex and prescriptive admission arrangements designed to allocate a dwindling number of good school places, will be our focus. That is why we will move amendment No. 104 at the appropriate moment, and I hope that it will have the support of the whole House.
I shall speak to the group of amendments tabled by myself, but may I say first that I agreed completely with many aspects of what Mr. Gibb said? He provided a powerful critique of selective admissions systems, which will also underpin my own argument in support of new clause 39. I am therefore extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making those points.
Today's debate, furthermore, could not have taken place without the Conservative party's dramatic switch of policy over selection earlier this year. My hon. Friend Paul Farrelly asked why that happened, and it may well have been due to the authoritative YouGov poll published in The Daily Telegraph last December, which showed that only 20 per cent. of parents supported selective admissions policies to secondary schools. That amounts to focus-group policy making with vengeance, but I am delighted that the Conservatives have listened to the focus group that The Daily Telegraph offered them.
I shall speak mainly to new clause 39 and briefly to new clauses 40, 41, 42, 43, 45, 46 and 47 in reverse order. New clause 47 argues the case for bringing academies into the overall admissions arrangements of other schools. New clause 46 is similar to new clause 42, which was tabled by Sarah Teather, but the latter has the advantage of dealing specifically with anonymised admissions.
New clause 45 raises the question of the local education authority's role as the co-ordinator of local admissions arrangements and the monitor of compliance with them. I feel slightly ambiguous about it because I was one of the first to argue that the admissions forums should have a new enhanced power to monitor compliance. I am very pleased to say that that is now in the Bill and I am grateful to the Government for including it. I would still like to test the argument and I hope that the Minister will think further about it in due course. Perhaps we should ensure that the admissions forum has the full support of the LEA, particularly in respect of secretarial and administrative functions.
New clauses 43 and 42 simply place within the Bill the admissions criteria that are deemed to be either acceptable or unacceptable in the current code of practice. There has been a long-standing debate about whether the code of practice or elements of it should be incorporated into the Bill, perhaps as a schedule, and these new clauses make the argument for having a full list of approved over-subscription criteria—not non-permitted criteria—placed directly in the Bill. We have already established a precedent for doing so with some over-subscription criteria: for example, we have agreed that the ban on interviewing, the priority given to children in public care and the promotion of banding should all be in the Bill, so it is illogical if other approved criteria are not in it.
New clause 41 is consequential on new clause 40, which argues, given that the Bill brings about significant changes to admissions arrangements, that we should establish, six months after the passing of the Act, an independent review body to monitor and assess the operation of all aspects of admissions arrangements across the country.
I wish to speak at slightly greater length to new clause 39 and I intend to press it to a vote. The new clause deals almost entirely with process rather than with the arguments between supporters and opponents of selection. An argument about process can take place now only because, for the first time in more than 30 years, we have a consensus between the three main political parties about not returning to selective admissions policies as an organising principle of secondary education in this country. For that, I am hugely grateful to the leader of the Conservative party, who changed the policy earlier this year. I believe that they have listened—
No, they have listened carefully to the arguments and considered the evidence about the impact of selective admissions policies. What new clause 39 does is to deal simply with the anomaly that is left. If all three parties accept that a return to the universal 11-plus system is not acceptable because of the various disadvantages of which we are all aware and about which I shall say more later, it remains completely inconsistent that we should support that system in the 36 English local education authorities where it still applies. I do not argue that there is a simple solution, and I do not argue that the Government should simply decide to change things overnight. The purpose of my new clause is to suggest a process whereby the remaining anomalies in the 15 wholly selective areas and the 36 areas that contain large elements of selection can be resolved.
At the heart of the issue is the fact that it can be resolved neither by local people alone nor by national Government alone. New clause 39 suggests that the Government establish a clear principle, namely that selection is not a desirable form of admission to secondary education, and that they set an end date beyond which selection will no longer be permitted. It proposes 2010 as the end date. At the same time, it allows the current ballot arrangements to be maintained. Parents would be able to engage in debate locally, consider the alternatives and express their views, and would have the right to vote to reintroduce selection if they were so minded.
Let me add my voice to the consensus to which the hon. Gentleman alluded.
The School Standards and Framework Act 1998, which introduced the current arrangements for balloting to take a grammar school out of the selective process and recreate it as a comprehensive, was deeply flawed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has only been one ballot, involving Ripon grammar school in north Yorkshire, and that process was deeply flawed because of the nature of the constituency.
I have described what happened. The balloting arrangements are deeply flawed: the hon. Gentleman and I agree on that. Mr. Chaytor has said that under his new clause the same arrangements would apply. If that is so, the same flawed system determining who can vote would be transferred to this Bill. I think it is appalling that the vast majority of people in the community surrounding a grammar school do not have a say, although it is their local school.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. He has rightly forced me to clarify my point about the balloting arrangements. Under new clause 39, there would still be a ballot, but the new clause says nothing about the details of the arrangements. I agree that the current ballot regulations are unfortunate. They are designed to protect the status quo, are limited in terms of how they describe the electorate and provide for different kinds of ballot depending on local circumstances; on whether the area is wholly selective, or is largely non-selective but contains individual selective schools. Different rules apply in different circumstances, but I think that the argument for reviewing the ballot regulations is powerful. I hope that if the Government are minded to adopt the new clause at some point, we shall in due course discuss the possibility of a more democratic form of electorate and procedure.
Thankfully, common sense prevailed in the Ripon ballot. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on at least demonstrating a greater commitment to democracy than Mr. Willis, but given his belief that there should be a role for ballots and for democratic choice, why does he not have the courage of his convictions? Why does new clause 39 not allow the balloting process to be available to parents in areas containing comprehensive schools that are failing?
The hon. Gentleman asked me the same question in a Manchester BBC studio about two weeks ago. The answer I gave him then is the answer I shall give him now. I am sympathetic to that argument, for the simple reason that if the Conservative party in my constituency went into the next general election arguing wholesale—in a ballot—for the reintroduction of the system that was scrapped in Bury 30 years ago and to which hardly anyone wishes to return, I should be delighted to fight the election on those terms.
The majority of my colleagues would also welcome that opportunity. If we were to find that the modern, newborn, compassionate Conservatives—the friends of the poor and the dispossessed—were suddenly, in the next general election, fighting ballots throughout the country to take us back to the 1950s, we would be delighted. So Mr. Brady makes an important point, and I am inclined to table a handwritten amendment to that very effect.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman does, and I might even be tempted to vote for it. However, surely those ballots ought not to be fought by political parties. Is not his point that this is a matter for parents to decide? If he believes that parents in areas that are currently selective should be able to decide, why will not he give a choice to parents in areas with failing comprehensives, who might choose a grammar school?
The point is that the new clause would deal with the remaining anomalies in the system. I take it as read that the three main political parties have settled their argument about what happens in the majority of the country. Of course, there is an internal debate in the Tory party between those who deeply resent the change of policy and those who are prepared to put up with it; but that is a matter for the Tories, and I suggest that they go somewhere else and have that internal debate.
New clause 39 has to be seen together with new clause 40. In retrospect, it may have been preferable to incorporate the latter into the former, because new clause 40 calls for an independent review of the admissions arrangements. So the strength of the argument is simply this. If the Government accepted the new clause, they would build on the all-party consensus that no longer accepts selection as the organising principle for admission to secondary education by following through the logic of that consensus and establishing the end-date of 2010. Six months after the Bill has been enacted, an independent review body would be established to examine all aspects of our admissions arrangements, and to study the evidence of the impact of admissions arrangements in different parts of the country. The review body would report before 2010, and we could then have an informed debate based on evidence, not on ideology or prejudice. Parents would then form their judgments in the light of that informed debate. That is precisely why I am confident that if such a procedure were adopted, very few parts of the country would choose to reintroduce selection.
It is hugely significant that since the great change to our admissions policies under the Labour Government between 1964 and 1970, and under the Conservative Government between 1970 and 1974—of course, we all know which Tory Secretary of State was responsible for abolishing more selection in our system than anybody else—we have been unable to have that informed debate.
I draw an analogy with the way in which we have tried to resolve other intractable problems when the political parties have themselves found it difficult to reach agreement. All the parties agreed that it was necessary to get a neutral third-party expert to consider the funding of higher education, and we invited Ron Dearing to take charge of the commission dealing with HE funding. The Government did not accept everything in the Dearing report, but it was subsequently considered to be the authoritative body of evidence and argument, and now we all refer to it. I am delighted that, in another of the Tories' historic flip-flops, they have adopted our policy on HE funding.
I also draw attention to the impact of the Tomlinson report on education reform for 14 to 19-year-olds. That issue was a political football that the parties kicked about for a number of years. There was a desperate need for consensus, and we resolved the problem by setting up an independent review body under the chairmanship of Mike Tomlinson. [Interruption.] No—Mike Tomlinson suggested that there would be a 10-year period of reform and change, and the Government have taken the first steps as part of that reform.
Let us move outside education and consider the analogy of pensions policy, the implications of an ageing work force, and the balance between the responsibilities of the state, the individual and the employer. What did we do to deal with that issue? We brought in a former president of the CBI and gave him the task of building a national consensus on pensions policy.
We can draw some lessons from the Turner report. A few months ago, there was very little public support for the raising of the state retirement age. Because of the work of the Turner commission and the informed debate that followed the publication of its report, the Government are now confident enough to raise the retirement age and a majority of the public are in favour because they now understand the arguments clearly. That is the best analogy I can give for the way in which I would envisage new clause 40 operating, with an independent review body of admissions. We need a neutral expert to lead the national debate and gather all the evidence. With such a lead, we could kill off all the old sterile arguments about which kind of school is best and how many A to C grades this school has as opposed to that school. We could really focus on the impact of selection in our system and, once we did so, people could form their views accordingly.
I assume—I may be wrong, and they can correct me later—that the Conservatives have reached their new position because they understand that selective admissions policies lower achievement overall. They understand, because they have read the recently published evidence from Professor Jesson, chief academic adviser to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust; because they have considered what the National Foundation for Educational Research has been saying for many years; and because they have read what the London Institute of Education has said. The Conservatives know that the brightest children perform equally well, if not slightly better, in all-ability schools than in selective schools. They know that the impact of selection is to depress results overall; to depress post-16 participation rates overall; and to increase levels of segregation overall.
The Tory party also knows the differential between selective and non-selective schools, in respect of the proportion of children on free schools meals. It is slightly over 1 per cent. in selective schools and almost 17 per cent. in the population as a whole. Similar figures exist for children with special educational needs and, in some parts of the country, from minority ethnic groups—an issue that has not been examined in the detail that it deserves.
The Tories also know what we find if we compare Northern Ireland, the most selective area with the highest levels of segregation, with Scotland, with the least segregation; it compares favourably with the Scandinavian countries that manage to combine equity and high standards. In Northern Ireland, the number of adults in the population who left school with no qualifications is twice the number for Scotland. In Scotland, the number of adults in the work force with degrees or degree-equivalent qualifications is almost 50 per cent. higher than in Northern Ireland. That is the most dramatic evidence that selective systems depress results overall, lower levels of attainment and increase levels of social segregation.
My hon. Friend anticipates my final remarks. The great advantage of new clauses 39 and 40 is that they combine the merits of the Government's policy in Northern Ireland—establishing a commission and setting an end date for selection—with the merits of the policy in the remaining selective areas of England, which is to leave the decision to parental ballot. The beauty of the new clauses is that we get two Labour policies for the price of one. I commend the new clauses to the House and confirm that I wish to press new clause 39 to a Division.
I wish to speak against unnecessary disruption in our schools and in favour of local choice, and therefore I speak against new clause 39, which was supported with characteristic eloquence and wrong-headedness by Mr. Chaytor. That is a reminder to us all that the prejudices of old Labour are still around, and that the party is still fighting the battles of the 1960s and 1970s.
I have not participated in education debates for a few years, so this afternoon's exchanges have been quite nostalgic for me. I have been struck by how insular and inward looking our debates on education are. The point underlying the speech made by my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb was that there are different ways to achieve an excellent academic education. That is true, especially when one looks at what happens in the rest of Europe.
By and large, the schools in Holland are big comprehensives that contain significantly different streams. In any given Dutch town, one can find what is effectively a grammar school on the same site as a good technical vocational school. Incidentally, it is the lack of the latter schools that is the real, long-term failure of British education.
The German approach is different, with different types of schools being provided. Over the past 30 or 40 years, both countries have gone through good and bad periods. Their results have been better than ours some of the time, and at other times they have been worse, but both have managed to ensure that debates about education have been about improving children's life chances. They have not allowed them to deal in social engineering, class warfare or any of the things that have bedevilled education debates in this country. I am depressed to find that those influences still affect our debates here.
It is a shame that Sarah Teather has left the Chamber. She did not respond to my earlier intervention, but I was fascinated to hear her commit the Liberal Democrats to supporting new clause 39 and therefore the abolition of all grammar schools. I shall be interested to see whether my Liberal Democrat opponent in Ashford at the next general election says the same thing, and whether his counterpart in the neighbouring constituency of Folkestone and Hythe is pledged to abolish the grammar schools in Folkestone. Over the years, I do not remember Liberal Democrats ever saying such things in counties such as Kent, but the party's policy may have changed under the hon. Lady's tutelage.
Nothing in new clause 39 would lead to the abolition of any school. It may cause some schools to change their character, and it would open up many good schools to more young people. Fair access and fair admission are at the heart of that new clause.
I feel that we have already debated the question of parental views and voting. Does the hon. Gentleman not think that it is perfectly reasonable that parents should have a say in how the education system is run?
Yes, I do think that it is reasonable. That is precisely the point that I am making.
I oppose new clause 39 because I saw the damaging effect of anti-grammar school campaigns in the late 1990s and the early years of this century, both in my constituency and across Kent. Those campaigns damaged all the schools in the area, and not just grammar schools, because they diverted effort, money, resources and energy from education. People who should have been involved in improving school standards took up opposing positions in destructive political campaigns that, in the end, achieved nothing because they had no support.
In Kent, for example, the Government's regulations meant that the anti-grammar school campaigners needed 45,000 signatures to trigger a ballot. When they set off, they were extremely confident that they would achieve that number, but that was in the late 1990s heyday of new Labour, when it was both new and popular. It is neither of those things today.
After months of trying, however, the campaigners were forced to admit that they were giving up, as they were able to raise only 7,000 signatures in the whole of Kent. That was not just a failure, it was a pathetic failure. Despite the opinion polls quoted by the hon. Member for Bury, North, the campaign showed that the parents who knew most about education did not want it to be disrupted. A majority of those parents would have known that their children would go not to grammar schools but to the high schools or comprehensives that we have in certain parts of Kent, yet not only would they not vote to change the system, but they would not even sign the petition to trigger a ballot.
That is clear evidence, in addition to the one ballot that actually did take place—in Ripon. Mr. Willis could not even bring himself to say what happened, which was that when parents were faced with a choice they voted to retain the existing system. In Kent, which is a much larger area, parents did not even want a ballot. However, the anti-grammar school campaigners came back again and again, and the energies and efforts of too many people were spent for too long on something that was not helpful to any school in the area.
I hope and expect that the common sense of those on the Treasury Bench, including the new Secretary of State, means that people of reason and common sense on both sides of the House will vote against the new clause—against the hard left of the Labour party and their natural allies, nowadays, in the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that they will be defeated, because when parents have had the chance to speak they have spoken loudly against that type of change. They do not want to destroy the existing school system.
The hon. Gentleman paints a picture of Kent that I do not recognise, and nor would my colleagues or the heads and staff of Kent secondary modern and high schools. We did not reach the tripping point because the level was set far too high. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the conversations between people who, like me, were campaigning for change, and the parents of primary school children were not on the lines of, "That's all right, I know my child's not going to get into the grammar school, but let's vote for the status quo anyway". It was the ambition of all of them to get their children into grammar schools, but they did not. If we held those conversations again, the answer would be very different.
Finally, has the hon. Gentleman ever met a high school head or teacher who supports selection—
The answer to the question put by Gwyn Prosser is: many. Very few head teachers have told me that they want the wholesale disruption of Kent schools; they all know that is what would happen if he had his way. He says that the problem is that the barrier to trigger the ballot was set too high. I have to say, first, that that is a touch pathetic and, secondly, it was not a near miss; the tripping point was missed by miles—by a quantum of six or seven. There is no enthusiasm for the change.
I realise that the hon. Gentleman campaigned for change and would no doubt continue to do so, but he had no support from the vast mass of parents in Kent, so he should change tack and support different systems in different parts of the country. I observe what happens in my constituency, as no doubt he does in his. In my nearby constituency, schools work well together. Ashford grammar schools and high schools co-operate in a forum; they work together in an imaginative new cluster system. People do not care whether they are working with a high school or a grammar school and primary schools work with both. Educational standards, which need improving, can be improved. Overall, the system works well for the children from relatively poor backgrounds who can benefit from a highly academic education.
As I understand it, the national policy of the Conservatives, as enunciated by their new, old Etonian leader, is not to have selection by ability for secondary schools. We can understand that a self-proclaimed Conservative wants to maintain the status quo in Kent—that is what Conservatives do—but what is the logic of saying that they are against selection by ability everywhere in the country except where there are grammar schools already? It is postcode selection.
The logic was very well explained by my hon. Friend Mr. Gibb. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman was here to listen to his speech. As I said, I am speaking in favour of non-disruption and local choice. The first seems an extremely sensible educational point. The second seems an extremely good Conservative principle. Indeed, the Government whom he sporadically supports occasionally say that they support that principle, too. They say that they are in favour of local choice. I invite the Government to put their words into practice and support local choice, as I think that they will in opposing new clause 39. I will happily go into the Division Lobby with them to do that.
The hon. Gentleman is not listening to what I am saying. I am not frightened of that, but I saw what happened after the ballots were introduced under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. There were years of disruption in Kent schools. People were not spending enough time making the schools better. They were spending too much of their time preparing themselves for a political campaign. I do not want to go through that again and I do not want the schools to go through that again.
Every parent—every family—should have choice, not just the well-off. One of the more sensible things that the Government have said in recent years was in their response to the Education and Skills Committee's report on secondary schools admissions in November 2004:
"The Government wants all secondary schools to play to their strengths and provide a flexible curriculum able to meet the needs of individual pupils. Selection by aptitude allows a small number of pupils with particular gifts and talents to benefit from particular curriculum strengths."
I agree with all of that. Where I part company from the Government is that I regard all-round academic excellence as an aptitude, but I know that, for historic reasons, they cannot adopt that view. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his consistency. He disapproves of any kind of differentiation. He wants all secondary schools to be the same and he is completely consistent in that.
I think that the Government were right in that response and they are right to reject new clause 39. I do not want to impose the system that obtains in Kent on other areas of the country if they do not want it and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should want to impose his system on my constituents and the schools in my constituency. I believe in local choice, and I demand that local choice for parents in my locality. They have said clearly that they admire the work done in all the schools in Ashford. They want to keep the current system and they would hate political interference driven by an out-of-date levelling down ideology to get in the way of good schools. I urge the House to reject new clause 39.
I will keep my comments brief because I know that a large number of other hon. Members want to take part in the debate. I am opposed to the new clauses and amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) and for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). The new clause moved by the hon. Member for Brent, East proposes an admissions policy that is based on a mistrust of head teachers. That seems fundamentally flawed. We rely on the ability and leadership provided by head teachers for the quality of what happens in schools, so it would be wrong to have an admissions policy that assumed that they were trying to cheat. I also think that, when we are trying to encourage schools to build more links with their communities, it would send mixed messages to say that they can have links at all times, except where anything to do with admissions is concerned, when an exclusion zone applies. The way in which that was presented was completely false. The proposals made by the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton were clearly a retrograde step and would undo the progress that had been achieved by Labour Members.
In opposing those new clauses, I ask Ministers—I have spoken to my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools about this matter—to give me some assurances about the position on admissions in relation to a particular group of pupils: those who have been excluded from school. They seem to have been missed out of the present debate, although there are supposed to be some provisions in the Bill for them.
A school community can be shaped by not only admissions, but exclusions. All of us who know of schools that have opted out over the years, or entered into different management arrangements, have often seen that accompanied by large-scale exclusions. When I was a council leader in London, a school became a city technology college under the then Conservative Government. Its establishment as a CTC was accompanied by shedloads of pupils being excluded, all of whom ended up at a neighbouring community school. The situation had a profound impact on the community school's ability to cope and its performance. Although we have an admissions code, I am worried that it is not clear that the priorities will also be applied to children who are excluded. I do not want to end up with school communities shaped by not only admissions policies, but exclusion policies—in other words, selection by behaviour, not ability.
I am especially worried because we must consider the real ethnic impact of exclusions. Segregation in schools has been profoundly damaging. Information from the Office for National Statistics shows that permanent exclusion rates are highest for children of Traveller Irish heritage, with a rate of 66 children in every 10,000. The rate for children of mixed ethnic origin is 25 in every 10,000, which is much lower. The exclusion rate for pupils of mixed ethnic origin and black pupils is similar, and it is about twice the rate for white pupils. The figures are similar for fixed-term exclusions. We also know that the peak point for exclusions is for boys aged 13 and 14. Unless we are sure that those children can get back into schools and that there is a code on, and sensible arrangements for, their readmission to schools, we will run the risk of finding that there is a drift of difficult children from schools that abide by the consensus to those that decide for one reason or another to be outside it.
I completely agree. I tabled a couple of amendments on the matter, but they are not being debated, so I am having to tailor my remarks to the amendments in the group; otherwise I might be ruled out of order. All the issues that my hon. Friend raises are extremely important.
I hope that the Minister will give us assurances on the points that I have raised. I understand that it will not be possible to deal with them all under the framework of the Bill, but given the big concessions that the Government have made on admissions to ensure that we have a cross-section of the community accessing local schools in a proper and fair manner, we do not want skewing to occur owing to the impact of exclusions and what happens with the readmission of excluded children.
I congratulate Ms Keeble on her speech and on bringing a different perspective to the debate.
I wish to speak against new clause 39, which is a clumsy and, some would say, spiteful attempt to destroy the remaining 160-odd grammar schools throughout the country. Mr. Chaytor is an intelligent and decent individual. He is also my colleague on the Education and Skills Committee, and he often speaks with insight and creativity on education matters—[Hon. Members: "More!"] I am building him up. However, the hon. Gentleman has allowed himself to be sucked into the Deputy Prime Minister's style of class warfare. Just because the hon. Gentleman dislikes grammar schools and selection does not mean that those in existence are wrong in principle.
There are two wonderful grammar schools in my constituency which provide excellence in education that is rarely matched anywhere else.
I am about to go into that, if the hon. Gentleman will bear with me.
Reading school for boys and Kendrick school for girls offer local children a fantastic start in life. They come from a range of backgrounds. Many are bright and come from poorer or disadvantaged backgrounds. They often apply to the grammar schools because schools elsewhere in the borough are appalling.
Is it not the case that 70 per cent. of the intake of the wholly selective schools in Reading comes from outside Reading? How can the hon. Gentleman say that they give opportunities to local children? They are kept out of those selective schools because of their admissions policy.
That is not true. The figure of 70 per cent. is not correct; it is much lower than that.
As I said, many of the other local schools are not of sufficient quality that parents wish to choose them, although there have been improvements. The good work at Highdown school means that it is catching up fast.
Can it wait? The hon. Lady's intervention yesterday was hardly useful.
Merely a year ago, the local education authority in Reading was judged by Ofsted to be only satisfactory, and that was by a whisker. Some 40 per cent. of pupils in Reading are exported to South Oxfordshire and Woking authorities. Why? Because the performance of local schools, particularly at secondary level, has been poor historically. The fact that we float slightly above the bottom of the league tables is thanks to the performance of the grammar schools.
Parents in my constituency will be angry that an MP from Bury has decided that they should not be able to exercise a choice that, in the case of Reading school, has been open to them for hundreds of years. That is unacceptable.
Is my hon. Friend familiar with the work on the subject by Lord Adonis, the Prime Minister's special adviser on education? He argues in his book "A Class Act: Myth of Britain's Classless Society" that the abolition of grammar schools has had the effect that my hon. Friend describes. He disagrees with Mr. Chaytor about social mobility and makes the case that selective schools aid social mobility, a view supported by the work of the London School of Economics last year, which essentially concluded the same thing.
As, I think, the only pupil from Reading school in the Chamber—[Hon. Members: "We rest our case."] Very good. However, I can assure the hon. Member for Bury, North that, whatever he thinks about the intellectual attainments of individual pupils, when the admissions policy of local education authorities were more rigid and 100 per cent. of pupils who went to Reading school came from within a narrowly defined boundary of a growing town—he will know that that is often a difficulty—the school was extremely socially mixed. Many of my school friends came from deprived backgrounds, and went on to successful university careers and careers following that, precisely because they went to a very good academic grammar school. It was a force for social mobility in the town.
The idea that a ballot of parents provides legitimacy is a fig leaf for the views of the hon. Member for Bury, North. I dare say he would say that it is democracy in action, but we have seen how that form of unpleasant democracy worked with ballots for grant-maintained schools. At a school in my constituency where a ballot took place, there was a disgraceful local campaign of intimidation and bullying. The school community took a long time to recover, and I dare say that such events were repeated in the constituency of my hon. Friend Damian Green.
It is not right to politicise schools in that way. May I tell the hon. Member for Bury, North that the current arrangements demonstrate that there is no appetite to destroy the few remaining grammar schools, including two in my constituency? He would do much better to concentrate on the fact that 1 million children have been failed by schools for which his party is responsible.
I shall be brief. The hon. Gentleman was silent in Committee, so it is interesting to hear his views today. He maligned successful schools in Reading local education authority, but having served as vice-chair of Berkshire county council education committee at the time, I can attest that there was not a malicious campaign against grant-maintained schools. Parents rightly debated the issue, as did politicians of all colours. I regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman denigrated Reading LEA, as it has made great strides in improving the schools in the area.
I am afraid that, as she did yesterday, the hon. Lady shows her ignorance of both the historical and current situation in Reading. I certainly have not denigrated any schools that have achieved a reasonable performance.
"greater flexibility and encourages collaboration by permitting schools, or groups of schools working together, to adopt admission arrangements that band applicants".
There are three kinds of banding: it can apply to a single school, across the local area, or it can represent a national ability range. The previous attempt to encourage banding failed, because it was a lengthy process and there were applications from only 15 schools, two of which were turned down. I hope that the present attempt fails. I have two main objections to banding. First, it derives from an ideology that dictates that the quality of a school can only be determined by planning its intake. People who push that philosophy do not believe that the success of a school is determined by ethos, quality of teaching or leadership. Banding is a substitute for making genuine improvements to a school. It attempts to fiddle the figures, rather than address the problems inherent to a school or to a group of schools.
Is my hon. Friend aware that city academies use a banding system for admission? They take a percentage of children with special needs and a percentage of children of certain ability. They argue that as they have accepted a certain percentage of children with special needs they will not take any more. As a result, community schools in the neighbourhood are affected. In Southwark, for example, where the City of London academy is located, 62.2 per cent. of pupils at neighbouring schools are children with special needs. [ Interruption. ] There is a table that shows how many schools are affected—it is not just one or two. Many community schools in the area have far more children—
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I am sure that the Minister will respond later.
Secondly, banding ultimately takes children away from their local school. They are bussed to schools in an extensive area for the sake of social engineering that diminishes parental choice. I do not understand how that fits with the LEA's responsibility under the Bill to champion parental choice. I am sure that parents will not support the measure, so perhaps the Minister can explain why he thinks they will do so. I have serious concerns about whether banding will work effectively. The new clause, the Bill, and the code of admissions do not give the number of bands for good or best practice. Will there be a 10, five or three-band system? Will all those systems be used, and will the number of bands differ from school to school? Who decides the banding category? Is it the governors, the LEA or another authority?
The proposal has not been properly thought through. I instinctively oppose anything that smacks of social engineering: clause 48 is an unnecessary interference in local administration of schools, so it should be removed. I hope that the Conservative spokesmen will press the matter to a vote.
I, too, shall speak to the new clauses moved by my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor which also bear my name, and particularly new clause 39. I want to contribute also from personal experience, as someone who was educated equally at a grammar school and a comprehensive school. I was part of the generation that went through the changes implemented by the then Labour Secretary of State, Shirley Williams, and my school, Wolstanton county grammar school, became the Marshlands comprehensive school in my fourth year, when I was 15.
I speak, too, as someone representing a constituency where selection remains very much part of the landscape. In 1997, as part of my rite of passage, I contested Chesham and Amersham, that favourable ground for Labour in Buckinghamshire, so I am familiar with a broad range of opinion about the academic selection still practised in that county.
Before I begin my remarks, I crave your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, to take this opportunity almost a decade after that election to pay tribute to the late Keith Kingswood. Keith was the secretary of the Chesham and Amersham constituency Labour party, a tough calling in an area where for many people even new Labour conjured up the same fears as old Vikings. Keith, a very erudite and educated man, was above all a fervent opponent of academic selection all his life and a leading light in the Campaign for State Education, CASE.
Sadly, during that election, Keith died and was never able to see a new Labour Government. Such was his dedication that he flew over to New York to see his son to register a postal vote, of all things. During that visit, he contracted a mystery virus and never recovered. In 1997, while many people were still partying to the strains of "Things can only get better"—and they have—on election night we went quietly to bed and, with his family and widow Janet, laid Keith to rest at his funeral the next day.
There is no better tribute to Keith's lifelong efforts than the work done by Comprehensive Future, by the Socialist Education Association, of which I am a vice-chair, by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North, and by dedicated educationists like Fiona Millar, in drafting and tabling the new clauses.
Of course, we would all like the Government and my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools to support the new clause or even allow a free vote. After comments I have heard from many Labour Back-Bench colleagues, Ministers and indeed some of the Whips, I have no doubt that if there were a free vote, new clause 39 would be passed today.
I passed my 11-plus. I was also the only person in my year who did so and was refused entry at a grammar school—the Catholic grammar school of choice—because of a bad reference about my behaviour. The Whips' reach is long and I am still getting bad references now. So I went to Wolstanton, which is a non-denominational school, where I am now a governor, and in hindsight that did me the world of good, because I do not think I was made for the Christian Brothers' discipline.
I was distraught at the time, however, and so were lots of children who, for whatever reason, "failed"—in inverted commas. That was the language. There were good friends of mine who passed but went to the secondary modern round the corner, the Blessed Thomas Maxwell, either because other mates were going or because grammar schools were seen as snobby and "for them, not for us". And then there were the kids—and parents—who at that age did not know, did not care and did not have a clue. That was a disgraceful and divisive way to run an education system—to mark out large numbers of children as failures, based on an arbitrary test on an arbitrary day at an arbitrary age.
As one of those failures who did not pass the 11-plus but was a very good boy indeed, I resent your remarks that people who did not get to a grammar school were failures—
Thank you for that advice, Madam Deputy Speaker. I take exception to those remarks. Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that the secondary modern schools in many parts of the country gave a very good education and set young people on a solid path to a good future?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ascent. He speaks eloquently, but perhaps he should listen more carefully. When I used the word "failure", I deliberately said "in inverted commas". That was the language. It should never again be the reality.
Selection by so-called academic ability through such a test is a throwback to the days when education was in effect a privilege, not a right. When I was young, the system acted at each stage as a sieve so that a small minority could go to university. At each stage—11-plus, CSE, O-level and A-level—those who did not make the grade were out: they had "failed". That was the language. Thank heaven that, for most children, those days have gone.
There was no proper vocational education at the local secondary modern. My two brothers went there and left without many qualifications or any preparation for working life whatsoever. In the 1980s, one of them went through a succession of so-called youth training schemes, stacking shelves, only to be "let go" days before his six months were up, when the company was supposed to offer a permanent job. What a great start to life that was.
I was fortunate enough to start at a grammar school. However, there were hierarchies among the grammars. There was a snobbery attached to the grant-maintained schools, all of which locally opted out to become private schools in the mid-1970s. Those hierarchies and snobberies explain why many of us are suspicious about the Bill, which creates yet another new class of schools—trust schools.
As I said, my grammar school went comprehensive. That was a painful process because it involved the merger of two schools—a grammar and a secondary modern—but once the pain was over I do not remember Marshlands high school being anything but the better for being a comprehensive. It was far more balanced—and we got girls for the first time, so perhaps I was biased. There was certainly no attachment to the old grammar school, the 11-plus and the all the disgraceful division associated with it, and since then there has been no call from any political party to go back to that system. However, the way in which it was done left an echo of selection that remains divisive to this day.
That time of reorganisation is full of great ironies. It is often said that the Secretary of State who turned more grammars into comprehensives was none other than Margaret Thatcher. And the Secretary of State who presided over the biggest expansion of private education, at least in my area, was a Labour Secretary of State who is now a Liberal Democrat and whose mother, coincidentally, comes from Newcastle-under-Lyme.
It was wrong then, and it is wrong now, that Labour has not followed through by fully addressing academic selection at such a young age. New clause 39 would address that historic anomaly, but not by imposition—it would allow for a ballot of parents of pupils and primary schools feeding grammar schools.
Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that the highest levels of independent education often occur in the areas that have comprehensive schools, whereas the lowest levels often occur in areas such as mine, which have extremely high-performing selective education?
When I was at my comprehensive in Newcastle-under-Lyme, I very much enjoyed going out to the ice rink at Altrincham. I can speak only for my area, where the historical legacy of the way in which the system was changed led to the expansion of private education, not the existence de facto of comprehensive schools.
I want to turn to the years before 1997 when I was campaigning in Chesham and Amersham in Buckinghamshire with my good friend Keith and other long-suffering Labour stalwarts such as my agent, Peter Ward. The area has some great secondary schools—high schools that are not grammars, such as Chesham high school. However, it would be wrong to say that as a result most parents to whom I spoke are happy with the selective system—quite the contrary. Many would welcome the opportunity of a change, or a proper debate about change, which new clause 39 would facilitate.
None of us would be supporting the new clauses if we did not believe that comprehensive education levels up, not down. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North quoted the evidence, which has remained unchallenged by Conservative Members. But there is another factor that is often overlooked. Selective schools, grammar and private, take out of the state system many of the very parents who are most likely to agitate for and contribute to better standards for every child in every school in every community.
I want to mention one another overlooked factor. In 2000, when, much to the horror of some of my former teachers, I became a governor of my old school, which is now Wolstanton high school, I was taken aback by its size. It had 1,200 pupils, compared with 600 when I was there. Whereas before it had teachers and form heads, it now had, like so many schools, senior management teams and lots of the bureaucracy involved with administering such a large establishment.
The hon. Gentleman paints a misty-eyed—some would say myopic—view of the comprehensive ideal. Does he favour it in its original incarnation—one sort of school catering for all abilities in one way—or does he support the Government's view of academies, specialist schools, trust schools and a diversity of provision, whereby different children go to different sorts of school, depending on where they live?
I favour schools with mixed ability that level up, not down, for everybody. Again, I cite the evidence to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North referred. The Opposition have not challenged it.
Labour Members have rightly emphasised smaller class sizes. However, after so many school mergers, the implications of school sizes for teaching and attention to pupils and standards are often missing from the debate. I hope that that will receive attention in future.
We want all schools to be good schools, not factories, inclusive and not divisive, and to level up, not down, for everyone. We want schools that improve life chances for everyone, not only a minority, and we want all parents to have a say. I therefore urge hon. Members, especially my hon. Friend the Minister for Schools, to support new clause 39.
I am pleased to follow Paul Farrelly, especially as he revealed his early days of skating on the ice rink in Altrincham. That is obviously where he gained his taste for skating on thin ice.
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friends who have spoken, especially my hon. Friend Mr. Wilson, who obviously does an excellent job not only for his constituents, but for education. One of the most important aspects of his speech was a preparedness to talk about bad schools. One of the most damaging things in education is the number of people who find it convenient not to admit that bad schools exist. They tend to ignore them and they get away with it. My hon. Friend mentioned Reading local education authority's performance, with about 46 per cent. of children getting five or more good GCSEs. That is unacceptable. Anne Snelgrove intervened on him, and I believe that 50 per cent. of children in her LEA obtain five or more good GCSEs. That is also unacceptable. Such levels of achievement should not be tolerated.
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon—I was discussing going to get a cup of tea, so I was not entirely paying attention, but I believe that he mentioned my local authority. We are doing several percentage points better than we were in 1997 when the Labour Government came to power.
The hon. Lady has fallen into the trap about which I was warning hon. Members—defending abysmal performance that should not be tolerated.I am delighted if the performance is marginally better, but getting 50 per cent. of children through five A* to C grade GCSEs is simply unacceptable.
No, I have dealt with the point.
I have a specific obligation in the debate because, as hon. Members who heard my contributions on Second Reading know, my constituency and the borough of Trafford have the best performing schools in England. The system there is wholly selective and it would be an act of vandalism and stupidity to disrupt and damage it.
My hon. Friend Damian Green, who also represents an area with selective education, made a point about the Liberal Democrats' contribution. I cannot resist picking up on that, especially given that Sarah Teather is again in her place, because my experience in Altrincham, like that of my hon. Friend in Kent, is that the Liberal Democrats support grammar schools and selective education. They know how popular they are with parents.
I am prepared to support the Bill because the current Government and the future Government thankfully agree on one issue—the excellent education that is offered in my constituency and elsewhere in the borough of Trafford should remain. The Government and the Opposition are joining together on that—new clause 39 will be defeated. Good education in those areas can therefore continue.
If the hon. Gentleman reads my remarks on Second Reading, he will see that I made some of these points then. There are of course other measures that I would like to see in the Bill or another education Bill. I have made that very clear.
I was about to make a point about the Liberal Democrats. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford was concerned about whether the Liberal Democrat candidate in Ashford would be honest enough to communicate the position of the Liberal Democrats on these issues. Whether or not they do so, I would urge my hon. Friend to do as I intend to do, which is to take it upon myself to inform the local community of how the Liberal Democrats vote on the Bill today. It is essential that people understand where the Liberal Democrats stand on quality education, and I intend to ensure that they do.
When the hon. Gentleman makes that position clear, presumably he will also make it clear that new clause 39 would allow for a parental ballot. It would therefore allow grammar schools to exist if they were very popular in a particular area.
I will, but I was listening carefully to the hon. Lady's opening remarks on this subject—brief as they were—in which she made it clear that she opposed selection and grammar schools. I will be happy to give way to her again if she wants to make it clear that she in fact supports grammar schools and selection; otherwise, I will rely on the remarks that she has already placed on the record.
Well, there we are—as with everything else for the Liberal Democrats, this is a matter for local discretion.
Mr. Chaytor has pointed out that we have had this debate many times before, both inside and outside the House of Commons. I know that his views are as sincerely held as mine. I believe that he is profoundly mistaken, and he believes that I am. That is the way in which debates ought to be conducted.
Well, the hon. Gentleman may be right, but his majority in Bury, North might prove more elusive than mine at the next election. I would have much more faith in the arguments that he advances—especially his argument for the maintenance of the balloting arrangement to mitigate the damage of his proposals—if he had put in his amendment a proposal that the ballots should be extended more widely to other communities. As I said in an earlier intervention, I might even have been tempted to vote for such a proposal.
I have no doubt whatever that the situation in my constituency would be similar to that in Kent, where the few campaigners against the grammar schools could get nowhere near the 5 per cent. threshold necessary to trigger a ballot. However, if such a ballot were to take place in my constituency, I am confident that the majority in favour of preserving the highest performing education system in the country would be at least as great as it was when such a vote took place in Ripon, albeit with a different type of electorate.
In that case, why is the hon. Gentleman so opposed to new clause 39? He should be supporting it, because it would give him the opportunity to prove once and for all that his pro-selection argument is supported by his constituents. Also, why is he not arguing for ballots in the other parts of Greater Manchester?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I do argue for precisely that, and not just in Greater Manchester. I advanced that case on Second Reading. I would be delighted if parents across the country were given the freedom to choose on this issue. He asks why I do not want to put this matter to the test in Trafford. He has already pointed out his own test, which is the test provided by the electorate. That is clearly why my majority has tripled in the past three general elections and why we have now regained control of Trafford borough council. Of course, if he were to advance the same cogent arguments that I do on this subject, he might still be gracing the House with his presence after the next general election, rather than merely until that time. I wish that he would come over to our side on this issue.
The hon. Gentleman talked about opinion polling, but he was slightly selective in his choice of statistics. He referred to a YouGov poll, which apparently took place last year, but did not allude to the ICM poll that took place in March this year—much more recently in the context of the debate about this Bill—which showed 70 per cent. support for more grammar schools. That, however, is not really the point. The fundamental point is what works in raising standards in education. He did not explain in his opening remarks why the borough of Trafford gets more than 70 per cent. of children through five or more good GCSEs, whereas the borough of Bury, which he represents, gets only 58 per cent. through. I have been trying to get that explanation from him for months if not years, so I would be delighted to listen to what he has to say.
If I did not explain that then, I shall explain it now. The borough of Trafford sucks in children from the whole of Greater Manchester, and the higher standards of Trafford are achieved at the expense of lower standards in Manchester, Salford, Wigan, Warrington and the county of Cheshire. It is simple.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that he does not know my borough as well as I do. If he did, he would know that those who are sucked in, as he put it, by the high-quality schools available in the borough come in many cases from much more deprived areas, such as Wythenshawe on the Manchester side of the boundary. I am afraid that there is no cogency to the point that he makes.
Similarly, the hon. Gentleman alluded to the education system and performance in Northern Ireland without, astonishingly, mentioning that Northern Ireland gets the best GCSE results in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is scandalous that the Government intend to proceed to abolish Northern Ireland's grammar schools, which, together with its high schools, achieve the best results in the whole country. He did not seek to apply his balloting regime there. Apparently, he is happy for Labour Ministers—from a party that is not even represented in Northern Ireland—to act over the heads of the people of Northern Ireland, the massive of majority of whom, when there was consultation on the subject, supported keeping the system as it is.
Does the hon. Gentleman also accept that the selective education system in Northern Ireland not only provides better results but better social mobility?
I absolutely accept that it does, and that is also the case in other areas that retain selective education. Of course, in many areas where there are grammar schools, they are enormously popular, especially with some ethnic minority populations, who find them a way of raising their achievements and increasing their opportunities in life.
The hon. Member for Bury, North talked about a consensus on this issue, and there is a sort of consensus developing— [Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position that I am not part of it, and he may be right. It is a funny kind of consensus, however. The Government and the Opposition agree that existing grammar schools and selective areas should be left alone because they work so well. My hon. FriendMr. Gibb also made it clear that the quality of education can be improved by teaching to a smaller section of the ability range, which is why setting and streaming works to raise standards in schools. Again, that is a point of consensus between Government and Opposition.
In my view, that is also a reason why academic selection between schools works, as my hon. Friend generously acknowledged by paying tribute to Wellington high school in my constituency, which gets outstanding results. It is not the only high school that does so. Most high schools in Trafford, and all those in my constituency, are achieving fantastic results and could not be described in any sense as failing. They also perform particularly well in the value-added league tables. Altrincham college of arts, a high school in my constituency, is the best-performing school in the borough of Trafford in that regard. As I also pointed out to my hon. Friend, however, and as he accepted, the figures for valued-added performance also show that grammar schools get remarkably good results. That completely confounds the argument so often advanced that grammar schools do well simply because they admit bright children. They admit them, but they then raise standards of attainment even more than other schools would have done. That is why, on the value-added basis, 18 of the 21 best performing schools in the country for 11 to 14-year-olds are grammar schools.
The high level of performance in selective education authorities is shown in Trafford and across the country in the value-added league tables. It is also shown in the figures that I provided on Second Reading about standards from high-performing LEAs at primary level being maintained into secondary education. The comparison that I mentioned then was between Trafford and the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. Trafford starts off being second in the country at primary level and goes up to first place at secondary level; Richmond starts out first in the country at primary level, slipping down to 65th place at secondary level. The point is also borne out by the number of selective education authorities that are at the top of the performance tables, year in, year out.
The first part of the consensus is to keep selective education where it exists because it works, and the second part is to maintain and increase selection within schools also because it works. Almost everyone believes that that is a way of raising educational standards within comprehensive schools. However, another issue should be dealt with. It relates to another part of the consensus, which appears to be that there should be no more selective education, even if it would work. As I made clear on Second Reading, I have no desire to impose a new system nationwide. All the arguments about the dangers of disrupting selective systems could be said to apply equally to comprehensive systems. It is generally a bad thing to march in from Whitehall and attempt to reorder and re-engineer the provision of local services by diktat. I would not support that in any way, but I hope that we will, in time, move to a more thoughtful and more open-minded consensus—one built only on what works and what parents want for their children. In doing so, we will certainly defeat new clause 39, but I also hope that we will endorse a much more diverse provision of education, which should include some academically selective schools, especially in our cities.
I shall speak briefly to amendment No. 112, but I do not advise hon. Members to reach for the amendment paper to see what it says because it is gobbledegook. What is does, however, is to close an unintended loophole in the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, under which an adjudicator could increase the level of selection at a partially selective school back up to the 1998 level. Thus, if a school selected 50 per cent. of its pupils in 1998 and has since been instructed by the adjudicator to decrease it to 25 per cent., it would be open to the adjudicator to increase it back up to 50 per cent.
If anyone thinks that that is not what Parliament intended, I would agree, but Parliament only passes the law and the judges decide what it means. In this case, Mr. Justice Collins decided in the High Court a couple of years ago that the true meaning of section 100 of the 1998 Act was not that there could be no increase in selection, which is what we thought that it meant, but that there could be no increase above the level that obtained in 1998. A group of parents in my borough asked the adjudicator to increase selection at two partially selective schools in the constituency of my hon. Friend Mr. Khan from 25 to 50 per cent.
I am glad to say that, on this occasion, the adjudicator did not accede to the request, but she stated in her determination of September 2004 thatit would be within her power to agree an increase to50 per cent. I put it to my hon. Friends that, if there were such an increase from 25 to 50 per cent. in a partially selective school, we could hardly view it as agreeing with our election promise to have no new selection. Indeed, we could hardly justify it by saying that it is not an increase in comparison with 1998.
Is not one of the problems that that loophole allows the possibility of future sets of children and their parents being made miserable by the annual wait for year 6 results? If a school is allowed to increase from 25 to 50 per cent. those whom it selects by ability, the number of those who come in because of their siblings, proximity or special needs is reduced.
I agree with my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, who knows all too well that the effect of selection in the partially selective schools in his constituency has a very big effect on other parents of year 6 children in his constituency and, indeed, in mine.
Significantly, the mistake was not made in the admissions code of practice, which does not use the 1998 level as its benchmark but says that selection cannot be raised if it has been continuous since that time. However, the code of practice was not mandatory. Unfortunately, the 1998 Act causes the problem. That Act was never intended to say what the judge says that it meant. I spoke to my right hon. Friend Mr. Clarke, who was the Secretary of State for Education and Skills when Mr. Justice Collins made his ruling, and I have a letter from his Under-Secretary—Stephen Twigg, whom we all miss, I am sure—who wrote:
"It was not widely expected that schools that had been compelled by the Adjudicator to reduce the level of partial selection would be able to raise it again. Nor was this our intent when we introduced this provision."
The then Minister went on to say that
"we may want to amend the School Standards and Framework Act at some time in the future".
The time has come; the opportunity is here.
I raised the issue with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I understood that she would consider it in Committee. It has not yet been dealt with, so I have tabled an amendment that would deliver what the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 intended, what we meant when we said, "No new selection", and what most of my constituents and, I am sure, those of my hon. Friends are expecting.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend Phil Hope, both of whom were educated in my constituency, will understand when I say that, when the 1998 Act was passed, there was in my constituency one of the six lowest performing schools in the country—not the one that they went to—and its performance was worse than that of any school in Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds. Since that Act was passed, that school has dramatically improved its pass rate from 4 per cent. to more than 30 per cent., partly because the partially selective schools in the neighbouring constituency were forced to stop taking the most academically gifted children from our borough.
The adjudicator forced those schools to reduce academic selection in successive steps from 50 to 33 to 30 and then to 25 per cent. The head teacher and the staff of that school, having rolled that heavy boulder up from the bottom of the hill to the top, are now on the verge of a bright new future, as an academy. I want to be able to assure them that that process will not be suddenly reversed by an adjudicator who can decide to increase the proportion of selective schools, with all the devastating consequences that that would have for the other schools in the borough.
I wish to say a brief word about new clause 39, tabled by my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor. I am a great admirer of the work that he does with Comprehensive Future—a total supporter—and I believe that it is important to keep hold of the fact that ballots in fully selective areas of the country and adjudicators in respect of areas with partially selective schools are the two means by which we can gradually reduce and then I hope, one day, eliminate the use of academic selection in secondary schools.
I welcome the new cross-party consensus—although it does not appear to have reached all Opposition Members—the logical conclusion of which is that we must make ballots and the adjudicator system work. With my brief amendment, I am trying to ensure that the adjudicator system works in the way that we intended. My hon. Friend is trying to improve the ballots system, but I fear that putting the onus on supporters of grammar schools to call for referendums may make it easer for them to run "Save our grammar schools" and "Vote no to abolition" campaigns, and to have the upper hand in referendums. I am not convinced that reversing the current system and providing for ballots opposing abolition would advance the cause that my hon. Friend and I both support. For that reason I shall not vote for his new clause, but I should like the Minister to say what the Government intend to do about this loophole.
I realise that time is short, so I shall be brief, but I cannot resist commenting on the fact that the only member of the present Cabinet who went to a secondary modern school is the Deputy Prime Minister. I wonder whether Labour Members might tell me whether he and, indeed, I are good examples of that system. They might like to come up to me in the bar and let me know privately.
I can reassure the Secretary of State and his Ministers that my speech will be non-contentious, and that mine is a simple, innocuous, highly non-political, immensely practical and, I hope, entirely helpful new clause. It provides:
"Any child of staff currently serving at a maintained school shall be eligible for preferential admission at the discretion of the school governors."
I hope that the Secretary of State will jump to his feet and say immediately that he wants the new clause to be included in the Bill. If he does, I will of course sit down.
I think that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed. The draft code for admissions specifically bans what he is proposing.
I am delighted that that point has been made, because I expected it and am therefore able to reject it.
The Bill states that there can be equal preference for admission, but that is not strictly true, and I can cite a number of cases in which it has proved not to be true. A school can include in its admissions policy the provision that, if it is oversubscribed, it will have to choose from an excess of applicants. It can give preference to those living in certain areas, and thus less preference to those outside those areas; it can give preference to children with a medical need, and thus less preference to those without such need; and it can give preference to children with siblings already at the school. So it is not quite right to say that equal preference should be pursued.
It would be perfectly possible, within that framework, for school governors to give preference to the admission of children of staff, and that is what my new clause seeks to allow. It seeks to give preference to teachers with one or two children whom they might wish to go to the school in which they teach. There is good reason for that proposal. We argue, again and again, that we want ladies, in particular, who have had children and who have been teachers to return to teaching.
I reject that sedentary observation. I shall ignore it, and continue my remarks to the Secretary of State.
There are ladies whom we want to attract back to the profession. I believe that the new clause would give ladies a major boost, and would help to attract them back to teaching when their families are growing up. I ask the Secretary of State to consider the new clause. I recognise that it is not the most vital part of this debate, but it would help a number of teachers returning to the profession, and it could well help in those areas where we particularly need to attract experienced teachers.
We have had a lively debate on school admissions. The Bill creates a more equitable and transparent admissions process for parents and children. Labour Members have always been opposed to any extension of selection by academic ability, and the Bill reaffirms that stance. I am delighted that we have now won the argument, with the Opposition today agreeing that, far from having a grammar school in every town, there should be no new selection. That is a great victory for progressive politics. Perhaps Mr. Gibb will have to inform one or two of his Back-Bench colleagues about that policy; they did not seem to be that informed about it during the debate. Nevertheless, we welcome it.
It will be unlawful for any school to introduce selection by ability to its admission arrangements, or, if it already selects part of its intake by ability, to increase its level of selection. I shall address in a little while the points that my hon. Friend Martin Linton made about that issue.
Schools that set their own admissions arrangements need to know what is and is not acceptable, so that parents are treated fairly. Clause 37 sets those limits by creating a new, stronger schools admissions code with which admissions authorities must act in accordance. The skeleton code that was issued to Members in Committee and circulated among the educational community has been widely welcomed. Opposition Members seek to undermine the new, stronger code through amendments Nos. 103 and 104, and I strongly urge the House to oppose them.
We will ban interviews as part of the school admissions process. They have long been perceived by many to be an unfair and subjective means of deciding which applicants should be offered school places, and the provision banning them has been widely welcomed.
Members in all parts of the House asked for more to be done to give priority for admission to looked-after children. I am delighted that in Committee, clauses 43 to 47 were inserted to give local authorities powers to direct the admission of children in public care to appropriate schools, in order to ensure that that most vulnerable group is not disadvantaged in the admissions process. Of course, we have considered how schools and local authorities can work together to ensure that admissions processes work for parents, take account of local circumstances and do not restrict fair access. We believe that we have provided helpful clarification, and that the Bill's provisions will ensure a fairer admissions process.
New clauses 24 and 46 and amendment No. 95 illustrate the concern, shared by Members in all parts of the House, that some admissions authorities might not administer their arrangements fairly. The proposal is to give local authorities or some other, more independent body responsibility for allocating places to all maintained schools, by considering applications against published admissions criteria.
I fully appreciate Members' motives in proposing the new clauses and amendment, but we are already taking the right steps to create a fairer admissions system. We now have a single-form application via the local authority, and we have created a robust system of checks and balances. Legislation and the schools admissions code establish parameters within which admissions arrangements must be set and operated. The schools adjudicator and the Secretary of State both have a role to play in dealing with complaints and objections. Under the current system, individual admissions authorities are accountable for decisions to permit or refuse admission to their schools. We do not want to change that, particularly because they, as individual admissions authorities, might be better placed to consider applications against their own admission arrangements—especially where they relate to faith criteria or require an aptitude assessment.
As I said in Committee, there is nothing to prevent schools and local authorities from agreeing, through their admissions forum, to take such an approach if their admissions arrangements lend them to it. Indeed, I am interested to know whether any areas are keen to pilot that approach, so that we can learn from it. I hope that Members will accept that as a sign that we are relatively relaxed about that approach, and that we do not feel the need to include such a statutory requirement in the Bill.
When we discussed this issue in Committee, I pointed out that there was no reason why faith criteria could not be taken into account. A letter from a priest could be appended to an application or a tick box could be added to the form to say what criteria were required. We welcome the Minister's comments about pilots, but will he actively encourage them or is he simply trying to prevent us from voting against the Bill?
If there are admissions forums that want to pursue the hon. Lady's first point, my officials would be interested. It would have to be with the agreement of the members of the forum. For example, the faith communities would want to be happy with it and, at the moment, some are cautious. They are certainly cautious about who is best placed to make judgments about faith criteria—
I cannot give my hon. Friend a definite commitment on timescale. We have to allow time for the new admissions forums to be set up in their new form. In many cases, they will be significantly enlarged, and they need to identify the core members and elect the chair. We need some time for the arrangements to bed in before we have any idea about an accurate timetable. I fear that I might mislead my hon. Friend were I to give him anything concrete.
My hon. Friend raises the interesting and practical idea of pilot schemes. Would he consider piloting trust schools until they are proven to raise standards as the Government hope they will?
Foundation schools, including those with trusts, are already proven. They have effectively been piloted already, and we had that debate last night, as I recall.
I turn to the amendments on selection, as I imagine that that is why most hon. Members are present for this debate. The Government do not support the extension of selection by ability. I do not like selection. That has been our stance since 1997 and clause 36 reaffirms our stance that selection by academic ability cannot lawfully be introduced. But the Bill is not about imposing our view on structures centrally. It is an enabling Bill, and we want to encourage schools of all kinds to work together to benefit all pupils.
Clause 48 on pupil banding is an example of how we are enabling schools to adopt such arrangements, which will widen access and provide an intake that is more representative of the range of ability of all applicants. Banding is not about selection. In fact, children cannot pass or fail a banding test. What happens is that children are allocated to ability bands and places are allocated from each of those in a non-selective way to produce a comprehensive intake. Although some banding schools run tests to assess ability and allocate to bands, it is not absolutely necessary to run separate tests for that. In Lewisham, where all schools band, the results of QCA year 5 SATS tests are used to allocate children to appropriate bands, so no additional testing is required. We will advocate the use of that means of assessing ability in the code.
Amendment No. 110 seeks to prevent the introduction of banding by removing clause 48. I believe that pupil banding arrangements have a key role in reducing social segregation in an area. The new flexibilities on banding are important because they will allow schools situated in areas of traditional high academic attainment to send out a positive message that they are also there to serve less able pupils who might not gain entry if the school banded simply to admit local residents. That, coupled with our reforms of pupil transport, will increase opportunities for less affluent children, and I encourage anyone who wants to see a more equitable admissions system to support clause 48 and oppose amendment No. 110.
Amendments Nos. 119 to 122 would go further and remove all selection by ability, including banding. New clause 39 would discontinue all selection except for banding purposes from all schools, unless local parents have voted in favour of its retention.
In 1997, the Government made a commitment to leave it to parents and governors to decide the future of their grammar schools. The spirit of this Bill honours that commitment, as it does not impose any structure on any school. Grammar school governing bodies can bring forward proposals to remove selective arrangements, and the appropriate mechanisms are already in place to enable parents to challenge the continuation of selection in their local schools.
I have every intention of doing so, but I felt that many colleagues wanted to hear what I had to say about grammar schools.
As we have heard, parents have organised a number of petitions about grammar schools, but only one has gathered sufficient support to prompt a ballot. I always listen to the opinions of my hon. Friend Mr. Chaytor with great care, as he has great knowledge and wisdom and adopts an instinctively progressive point of view. However, the evidence suggests that it would be neither productive nor cost effective for the Government to organise ballots across the country, given that there has been so little call for them so far.
My hon. Friend Martin Linton admitted that his amendment No. 112 read like gobbledegook, but it would prevent schools with partially selective admissions arrangements from increasing the proportion of children selected. In addition, if the schools adjudicator has upheld an objection and reduced a school's level of selection, the amendment would prevent that school from reinstating its original level of selection later.
As I said, I appreciate that it is still possible for the admissions authority to restore the proportion of intake that is selected, even though we have moved to make sure that the decision of the schools adjudicator will stick for two years. However, the loophole uncovered by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea goes against the Government's commitment to no new selection—a commitment now shared by the Opposition—and I shall look at ways to bring forward an amendment in another place to close it.
I turn now to the arrangements for admissions to academies, about which I know that my hon. Friend Ms Keeble is especially concerned. I recognise that there are concerns that academies should be subject to the same admission rules that apply to maintained schools. New clause 47 highlights that concern by seeking to require academies to consult on their arrangements and take part in a co-ordinated admissions process, and it would also require objections about those arrangements to be made to the schools adjudicator. However, the Secretary of State already places those conditions on academies through their funding agreements. Moreover, he, rather than the adjudicator, determines objections to their admissions arrangements. That means that we already have the power that my hon. Friend is looking for, although it is expressed in a different way.
The funding agreement goes further, requiring academies to comply with admissions legislation and to have regard to the school admissions code of practice. Once clause 37 is enacted, academies will also have to act in accordance with the new schools admissions code. I hope that that reassurance is sufficient for my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North.
I want to allow the hon. Member for Brent, East to wind up the debate, and I apologise that there is not enough time for me to tackle all the amendments. However, I think that we dealt in Committee with the arguments in respect of the ones that remain, and I urge that they be withdrawn.
In conclusion, this Bill addresses the needs of parents and children, while at the same time setting a sensible framework in which school admission authorities must operate. It allows a degree of flexibility to take account of local circumstances, but it also provides clear parameters.
We want an admissions process that allows parents to choose schools, rather than schools choosing parents. Ruling out admissions interviews, strengthening the status of the admissions code and giving forums greater responsibilities and powers will all help to achieve that aim.
I am grateful to the Minister for his recognition that distortion of admissions policy occurs on the ground, unlike Conservative Front-Bench Members who were unwilling to accept that fact.
I am pleased that the Minister has indicated that he will look at pilots, but I would have had more confidence in his commitment to do so if he had drafted a permissive clause or enabling regulations, such as those on banding or transport, so that the pilots can go ahead. My fear is that under pressure, perhaps from faith schools, the proposal will be kicked into the long grass. It is a point of principle for the Liberal Democrats. We are not willing to support greater freedom for schools to control their admissions without extra safeguards.
Despite the Minister's assurances, I shall have to test the opinion of the House on the new clause. We want the provision to be included. I hope that, perhaps in the other place, the Government will consider drafting enabling regulations or a permissive clause so that safeguards can be included in the Bill.