Schools - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:17 pm on 12th September 2016.

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Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat 4:17 pm, 12th September 2016

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement but regret to say that it appears no more than a dog-whistle response by the Conservatives to the current state of the nation. How much easier it is to throw up the idea of more grammar schools than to concentrate on the real difficulties facing many working people across the country. There can be no other explanation for this situation. Earlier this year, we spent much time in this House debating and then enacting the Education and Adoption Act, which aimed to improve the quality of education in our schools through the academies route. Some of us did not support entirely the aims of that Bill, but certainly we could understand why the Government were pursuing that. Presumably, all that is now jettisoned so that we can have grammar schools brought back.

One thing on which we can agree on this side is that all children need, deserve and have a right to the opportunity of a good school. Given the figures that the Minister repeated this afternoon of more than 1 million children not having education in a good school, it seems to be a failure of this Government not to have addressed that earlier.

I will focus my comments on the proposals for introducing more grammar schools. One reason given is that it gives parents more choice. I cannot see, where schools are in the position to do the choosing, that parents have any choice. That is the whole problem of selection by test or examination: the school does the choosing. There is no way that we on this side can support that.

The second argument in support of bringing back a failed education policy from the 1950s and 1960s is that it will help children from deprived areas. At the same time it is argued that we currently have selection by house price. Apparently, this new proposal is to help children in working-class families. However, such families do not have a problem with selection by house price because most of them are in rented accommodation or in poor parts of the country where house prices are not an issue.

Thirdly, I have always thought that we ought to base our education policy on evidence. All the research over all the years, and currently, points to the fact that selection at 11 fails hundreds—thousands—of children. For the 80% of children who go into the non-grammar schools, but even for many of those who attend grammar schools, the statistics and evidence show that they do not necessarily thrive. I do not see how the Government propose to make the case for grammar schools based on evidence. I would have more faith in what they were doing if, instead of saying that they wanted to promote more selection, they said that they were actually going to promote more secondary modern schools, because that is precisely what they are doing. They are going to write off the 80% who are not going to get through the 11-plus—or whatever new test they have devised—and at 11 those children will feel that they are failures. No one who cares about children will be able to support such a divisive approach.

In conclusion, I am astonished that the Government have come forward with this proposal and we on this side will vigorously oppose it.