My Lords, I start by thanking all noble Lords who have made time for this debate today. We have a very distinguished cast of speakers; I am particularly glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton, has chosen this debate to make her maiden speech. We very much look forward to that; indeed, I look forward to the whole debate, particularly the Minister’s contribution.
At a time when, both at home and abroad, the country faces massive uncertainties and deep social divisions, there has never been a more important time for clear thinking, clever solutions and humane policies. The Prime Minister has decided that the answer lies in a nationwide expansion of grammar schools, described in the title of the consultative document before us today as:
“Schools that work for everyone”.
This, she says, is the way to create not just a meritocracy but—with capital letters—a Great Meritocracy, to be launched from the narrow ledge of educational and social selection. This is a controversial policy; it is a failed policy. It is a policy that was abandoned by all political parties as not fit for purpose more than half a century ago.
We have to take its resurrection and indeed the extension of systematic selection very seriously indeed. This has been made much more difficult by the terms in which the debate has been conducted so far. We live in an age where politicians are distrusted, language seems to have lost its meaning, and evidence can be simply ignored as irrelevant. There is a clear link between each of these. Language really matters. Grammar schools, whatever else they do, are not intended to work for everyone. By definition and design, they select and groom a small minority of academically inclined children. Other children pay a high price for this. Likewise, the term “meritocracy” has been turned on its head. Grammar schools were always seen by the man who coined that term, and indeed who wrote the book—Lord Young of Dartington, a good friend and much missed in this House—as the enemies of meritocracy. A true meritocracy follows only when every child in the early stage, irrespective of background, in every school has the same chance to succeed and access the curriculum.
Evidence for a massive reversal in education policy such as the deliberate reintroduction of grammar schools really matters. But, instead of evidence we are, I am sad to say, presented with a series of myths about the virtues of grammar schools, which have been rebooted for political purposes. We are told, for example, that parents want grammar schools, that they close the attainment gap between rich and poor children, that they accelerate social mobility, and that they galvanise all schools to do better. These claims are widely challenged already, not by the usual suspects but by a unique coalition, in my opinion, which has brought together previous Secretaries of State for Education—who see their records seamlessly undermined—the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, trade unions, Opposition politicians, academy trusts, networks, think tanks, educationalists and, of course, the Chief Inspector of Schools himself.
Most important of all, the myth of a golden age of grammar schools is being publicly dismissed on a daily basis, not least in parts of the conservative press, by people of my generation who know from bitter experience what it meant to be declared a failure at 11 and to have to live with that failure all their lives, packed off to secondary modern schools before they even had a chance to know what they were good at. It is true that polls suggest that many parents may like the idea of grammar schools in theory but, when pressed further, they certainly do not want a return to selection. Unfortunately, the two go together. As Peter Kellner, the pollster, put it:
“Many of us want the best possible schools, but hate the idea of children being sorted into sheep and goats”.
Let us also be honest about the language of choice. Where grammar schools still exist, in that small enclave of wholly selective areas, it is the schools that do the choosing, not the parents. The head of educational assessment at the OECD said recently that schools were very good at social selection, but less good at academic selection. He makes a very important point because, when grammar schools were at their height, research at the time estimated that 70,000 children were wrongly failed.
I turn now to the available evidence in the light of the proposition. Working-class children across the country as a whole are losing out specifically because they are being denied the unique opportunities of a grammar school education. Certainly, the evidence shows that, where they exist, grammar schools get better results than other schools—and so they should. It might have something to do with the fact that, as a recent IFS study found, entrants to current grammar schools are four times more likely to have been educated outside the state system than to be entitled to free school meals. It may also be something to do with the fact that many children who are entered for the exam are being methodically coached for that exam. Professor Frank Furedi of the University of Kent has said that the notion of the meritocracy has been “subverted” by “hard cash”, as parents pay for coaching to ensure a place. It is not so much a meritocracy as possibly a plutocracy. With this demography and these advantages, it would be scandalous if grammar schools did not do better.
So for me, therefore, the most irresponsible claim the Prime Minister has made is that grammar schools close the attainment gap between rich and poor pupils. Yes, indeed, they do, but only within grammar schools, and even then the evidence needs to be treated with extreme caution. What the consultative process will do, I hope, is to throw more light on the performance of grammar schools, because contemporary research from 1967 shows that even then, at the height of the grammar schools, the small proportion of working-class children who passed the exam were more likely to leave early and with fewer O-levels. Sixty years later not much has changed. Contemporary research on the way in which grammar schools meet the demands of the very few disadvantaged students who pass the exam concludes that some are working but others are not, and that one in five is giving cause for concern.
The Prime Minister should also look with equal caution at the evidence of how well grammar schools serve the brightest children. In the largest and most recent study of its kind, the Educational Policy Institute found that there is no benefit to attending a grammar school for high-attaining pupils. Since the White Paper is based on the opposite assumption, I would be very grateful if the Minister gave me contrary research to that effect.
For those who do not trust academics or experts, I say, “Look at London”. London schools in recent years have been transformed to the point at which they are now able not only to really stretch and improve results for the brightest but are reducing inequalities. The record shows that 15% of pupils on free school meals get eight or more GCSE passes at Grade B compared with 6% outside London. So perhaps the Minister can tell me why London schools and local authorities are not clamouring for more grammar schools. The reality is that the attainment gap that really counts—the national attainment gap—between the poorest children who get to grammar schools and those who do not is at its widest in selective areas. This is the gap that holds the whole country back.
The Educational Policy Institute has recently shown graphically that the Prime Minister’s claim that new grammar schools will help children from disadvantaged backgrounds does not stand up. In wholly selective local authorities you find the lowest attainment for free school meal pupils. Chris Cook undertook an extensive analysis of selective education for the Financial Times and found that poor children do worse than they would in the comprehensive system. The evidence from Kent, the exemplar of the selective system, reinforces this. Alan Milburn, the social mobility tsar, has pointed out that in Kent 27% of children on free school meals get five good GCSEs compared with the national average of 33%. The great meritocracy is, I fear, a great illusion. It advantages children already in grammar schools and disadvantages children in the rest of the schools. How could it be otherwise, given that Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools, has said recently that if someone had opened a grammar school next to Mossbourne academy he would have been absolutely furious? He added that it would have taken away the youngsters who set the tone of the school and that youngsters learn from other youngsters and see their ambition, which percolates through the school. In fact, we need look no further than the Government’s own consultative document, which goes to extraordinary lengths, I felt, to set out a series of damage limitation strategies precisely to protect local schools such as partnerships with non-selective schools, none of which, however, deal with the fact that opening a selective school in an area automatically handicaps every other school, no matter who owns it. Those are not my words but those of somebody who was until very recently an adviser to government on education. Once a selective system has been created, those other schools, by definition, automatically become second-best, along with their children, because what has not changed is the impact of being marked down as a failure for not passing the 11-plus on a single day. This is nothing less than a trapdoor through which the majority of 11 year-olds would fall.
For these reasons, the idea that grammar schools promote social mobility is risible. The fact that the heyday of the grammar schools between 1950 and 1970 coincided with significant social mobility driven by economic and technological change is just that—a coincidence. We can also in all humility learn from other countries. There is no evidence from the international PISA research or elsewhere to suggest that nationally selective systems are linked to better test outcomes.
There are no other models for systematic social selection in the English-speaking world. In Europe, England, along with the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland, is currently among the top countries which produce a high equity and better test outcomes on the Human Development Index. We should be proud of that record. What Government or country would want to jeopardise that achievement? Why would any country want to go down this distracting cul-de-sac, riddled with division and failure, instead of focusing on how to improve the diverse skills of all its children and give them an equal chance of success? Of course, many schools can do better—no one can challenge that. But my goodness, there are proven ways of doing that, with support, leadership and incentives, and the last thing that is needed is to set up a scheme for rival schools to reinforce failure. No matter how you dress it up, what you call the schools or what compensatory policies you put in place, the fact is that the majority of schools and children will be knocked back.
There is no doubt that this is an area where educational policy and politics elide in a toxic way, and that is neither effective policy nor effective politics. Indeed, I am generally baffled by the politics of it. At best, a policy which will now prioritise grammar schools over other models casts doubt on everything the Government have said they have already achieved in education over six years. Woe betide the academies and the free schools—they simply will not know what has hit them. The former head of the New Schools Network, Rachel Wolf, made this clear when she said in the Spectator that,
“the pursuit of grammars at the expense of academies and free schools could undo the extraordinary progress made in the last few years”.
She deserves an answer from the Minister today as to why the Government think this risk is worth taking.
It is important that we get an answer to that question because the Minister must know that the great enemy of meritocracy—the failure of children to thrive and therefore learn and succeed—is poverty. When a child grows up in a home with no books, no family support for reading or language and no access to rich experiences outside the home, they are born into disadvantage and locked into it. If the Government want to accelerate social mobility, the first thing they should do is implement the recommendation of their old Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty, including on parenting skills. If they want to close the attainment gap between the poorest and the wealthiest children, which starts at birth and widens every year of schooling, they should prioritise early years learning, particularly literacy and language skills. If they want to ensure that schools become as effective as possible, they will concentrate on what happens inside schools, not between them, and on the quality and the excellence of teaching and learning, not on everlasting changes in the ownership and structure of schools. They will continue to invest in school leadership throughout the school, encourage brilliant new teachers through the Teach First programme, invest in professional development and ensure that all children—I have experience of this—have a rich menu of things to do outside the school day which enables them to learn that success comes in different ways.
In a global, digital, highly stressed world, we should not be looking for a narrow, academic curriculum. We should follow other successful countries such as Singapore, which put greater emphasis on flexibility and creativity. If we did that, at least we might be able to face a post-Brexit future, with all its risks and exclusions, with greater confidence and a more collective purpose. We might have a more generous and more inclusive view of the future. We might be more successful as a country. The alternative, which is set out in this White Paper—its central principle an out-of-date and long-abandoned policy—will reinforce a view of a country which has lost its way and is content to rewrite history, reject evidence and revert to nostalgia: a country which may well work for no one.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the privilege of following the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who made a powerful and well-argued speech. She knows that I hold her in high regard, and there is one matter on which I agree with her unequivocally: I am greatly looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Vere of Norbiton.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, of course made a number of powerful points. She knows as well as anyone that I am not well known for being an unequivocal supporter of government on either side of the House, but on this occasion I find myself very much in support of the Government.
I must declare a number of interests. I received a grammar school education. My last teaching post was as head of history at a Staffordshire grammar school founded in the reign of Edward VI. It was a school with a real social mix, to which everyone from the son of the ploughman in the 19th century to the son of the squire went. I also had the great good fortune to fight the late Anthony Crosland 50 years ago in Grimsby at the general election. He was a man whom I came to admire and to know as a personal friend but with whom I disagreed profoundly on the subject of grammar schools. Indeed, I headed a group which fought—unsuccessfully, I am afraid—to preserve grammar schools in Grimsby in the late 1960s. So I come to this debate with form. I just wish that I had as long to develop my case as the noble Baroness, rightly, had. However, I shall make one or two points.
This is not a case of the Government thrusting a policy upon the country or upon this House or the other place. What we have is a reversion, of which I am very proud, to the principle of the Green Paper, White Paper and then legislation. We have a Green Paper—a consultative document—before us, and people have until just before Christmas to respond to it. A number of pertinent questions are asked in it to which I hope people will respond.
However, let us just get one or two things completely clear. This is not advocating a return to the 11-plus. I have always felt that 13 is a better age of transition. Indeed, in my native town of Grimsby many people did transfer at 13. I do not like the idea of a demarcation line at 11 and this does not suggest that; nor does it seek to pretend, as the noble Baroness implied, that the achievements of the last 20 or so years, with the development of academies, should be set at naught. Of course they should not. There is a diversity of education in this country and that will continue. No one will have a grammar school forced upon them against their will. But we believe in choice, as we all should, and none of us should seek to deprive others of what we ourselves have benefited from. I believe that there are certain things within the grammar school tradition that could be profitably developed elsewhere—indeed, some have been.
One hallmark of a good grammar school education was discipline and a respect for learning. That is very important. You cannot have an education where quality is at least as important as equality unless there is a disciplined framework within a school. We desperately need all our children to be excited by the discipline they are following—the academic or the sporting—and we need all our children to have a true respect for others and a tolerance of their beliefs. What is happening to freedom of speech in our universities ought to give us all real cause for concern, if not alarm. Another hallmark of good education is courtesy and respect for others, and I do not believe that what the Government are proposing in any way places that in jeopardy.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Andrews on securing this debate and declare a registered interest—an interest that goes back throughout my life, including when I had the privilege of being the Secretary of State for Education and Employment from 1997. That, of course, included piloting through the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998, which included a block on any further extension of selection, but also a range of measures intended to accelerate and build on previous progress on improving the life chances of children in every school, in whichever part of the country they were and whatever type of school they went to. Our mantra was “standards not structure”.
That is why—with, it has to be said, the support of my party and its conference—we chose not to abolish the 11-plus in those areas that chose to continue it, although we did have a cack-handed referendum clause, which never worked. Referendums rarely work, and this one certainly did not. The reason we chose not to go for direction from the centre was because we believed that it would have been a complete diversion of time, energy and focus away from raising standards in schools across the country. What we are presented with in this consultation paper is, once again, a diversion away from raising standards and towards structures.
It is 40 years ago this month since the former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan made his notable speech at Ruskin College, Oxford, on education. It was about a philosophy of modernisation and a change in the era from the 1944 Butler Act. That Act was implemented, it has to be said, by Ellen Wilkinson and Chuter Ede, but in a very different climate that did not require the majority of young people to progress to an academic level that would enable them to engage with the kind of economy that Jim Callaghan foresaw, back in the 1970s, and which we have very clearly reached today.
Callaghan’s philosophy was that it was wrong to rely on a social and economic policy that believed that if you educated the few very well, the benefit they gained would trickle down to the rest and they would then be enabled to succeed in employment and the future building of their family. Clearly, we are out of that era, if we were ever in it. Forty years on, we are also addressing the philosophy of Jim Callaghan that, in liberating the talent of every child, whichever school they go to has to succeed at the highest possible level.
I usually agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, but I say to him today that if this consultation paper were implemented, the imposition would take place of grammar schools where others had chosen not to go down that route. In the system that we have at the moment—and I am proud to support and take part in making a success of a multi-academy trust—the sponsor could determine that they were going to bid for a new grammar school. The existing multi-academy trust system would then allow for the allocation or transfer of an existing school to a selective model. Therefore, it would be imposed without any requirement for consultation or deliberation by other schools or parents in the area.
It was a German Chancellor who once said that the problem with some on the political right is that they promise to the many what they know they will be able to deliver only to the few. Grammar schools do just that. If one is imposed on an area or a transfer takes place to make an existing school selective, the parents and their children who would have expected to go to that school, who would have had an expectation of high-quality education for themselves or their child, will find themselves excluded by some form of examination. It is morally wrong, philosophically wrong and practically impossible to implement. I pray the Government will think again and place emphasis on raising standards for all, not for the privileged few.
My Lords, I begin by also thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and congratulating her on securing this timely and important debate. As a former grammar school pupil, a former teacher in a comprehensive school and a parent of two sons who attended the comprehensive school in which I taught, I felt that I might have some practical experience to contribute to this debate. I certainly valued my years in the local grammar school and appreciated the advantages that my education there gave me. But I was also very aware of the disadvantages my education bestowed on the pupils in the local secondary modern school. Failure to pass the 11-plus left many of these pupils having to deal with feelings of rejection and of having let their parents down. Sometimes, even, feelings against the grammar school pupils boiled over into open hostility and did very little for social cohesion in our small community.
For the majority of us in the grammar school, social mobility beckoned. Very few of us remained in our locality. We followed out careers outside our community and became doctors, teachers, head teachers, mathematicians, scientists, anaesthetists and successful businesspeople. But I would argue that social mobility was probably easier in those days because of the economic situation. Work was fairly easy to obtain; all sectors of housing were available to those in work and seeking a home; and mortgages were affordable, even to those on a teacher’s starting salary.
A comprehensive system of education began for us in Wales when one of the earliest comprehensive schools in the UK was opened in Holyhead on Anglesey in 1949. Now, every single school in Wales is a comprehensive. We have no grammar schools or academies and the Assembly’s Education Minister, Kirsty Williams AM, has recently pledged that there will be no grammar schools in Wales on her watch.
We in Wales acknowledge that performance in PISA tests has left us lagging behind our counterparts in England, but GCSE results in 2016 were more promising. This year in England, 66.6% attained five A* to C grades, whereas in Wales the figure was 66%. In England, 6.4% of pupils gained A* grades, with 6.1% gaining the top grades in Wales.
In Wales, there is an acceptance that we have to do better, but there is also pride in what we do right. When the OECD came to Wales to report on our education system, it had many critical things to say about it—many things needed to change. But the number one thing it praised was the fact we have a comprehensive system in Wales and that we are dedicated to it. International evidence shows that the best and highest-performing education systems across the world do not select their children. The Welsh Education Minister insists on making her decisions based on evidence, not dogma.
As someone who has seen comprehensive school pupils become doctors, dentists, scientists, teachers, head teachers, businesspeople, builders, plumbers, electricians, accomplished actors, musicians and artists, and all take their place in the world, I believe the comprehensive system, in the Government’s own words, has allowed them to go as far as their talents would take them, without having to attend a grammar school. All the pupils whom I taught studied all their subjects, except English, through the medium of Welsh, but they still attained careers in the UK.
The Government believe that they are responding to the call from parents for new grammar schools, but I contend that most young parents today do not understand the reality of the grammar school system. They have not yet had to cope with the failure of a child to pass the 11-plus or 13-plus exam. As my noble friend Lady Pinnock has said elsewhere, the headline should read, “Government to create new grammar and secondary modern schools”—for, inevitably, once what was known as the “crème de la crème” is taken from a comprehensive school or academy to form a grammar school, one is left with a secondary modern school and a system with all the problems that we thought we had begun to overcome 50 years ago. It is self-evident that selective schools give a minority of pupils a first-class education and a majority of pupils a second-class education.
My Lords, I not only thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, but warmly congratulate her on what was one of the most coherent speeches I have heard in my 20 years in this House. She set out the case magnificently.
I also declare one or two interests as set out in the register, particularly that of chairman of the advisory board of the Times Educational Supplement. I mention this in particular because one great asset of that role is that we probably have more data and more up-to-date information than the department itself. In that sense we are in an extremely privileged position.
One of the great roles of this House is its ability to detect and warn against unintended consequences, so I shall take my few moments to talk precisely about the unintended consequences of what could be a quite dangerous policy shift.
I have not been as regular an attender in the House in the past few months as I would have liked and for a very simple reason: I have been making a documentary. It is a four-part documentary on the impact of digital, on Europe in particular. One part of the series is specifically on education. This took me in April to an inner-city school in Dublin, where I interviewed a headmistress. It was a terrific school with a terrific principal.
In a break in the filming, I wandered around and looked at the noticeboards. My attention was drawn to one particular notice, which I photographed—I have the picture here. It set out the 10 top-performing kids at that inner city Dublin school; they were 13 year-olds and it was the Easter term. I shall not read out all the names, partly because I would probably mispronounce them. Suffice it to say that seven were from eastern Europe and three were from Asia; there was not one single Irish kid.
I think that that Dublin school will be typical of almost any inner city school in this country. The very notion that, by reintroducing selection, the people whom the policy is intended to attract—the traditional white working class—will suddenly find their children surging into new and better grammar schools is a fantasy. What will actually happen, which I admire and salute, is that migrant and first-generation kids from Asia—we know already that the highest-performing children in Britain are Bangladeshi girls—and eastern Europe will sweep into those schools, and God bless them. The small problem will be that the disgruntled and now disconnected white working class, who believed that they were going to get better schools, will not get in. I can think of no more dangerous tinderbox that you could strike under hard-pressed and already divided communities.
This is a potentially lethal policy. It is ill thought through and ill considered, and it could do far more damage than I think anyone fully understands.
My Lords, today is my seventh sitting day and on each of them I have reached my goal of 10,000 steps a day thanks to these corridors. I have been overwhelmed by the spirit and warmth of the place, and the officers, staff and doorkeepers have been a huge help. As the daughter of an army officer, I like things to be just so. “Morning” should mean morning and “afternoon” should mean afternoon, but I understand that this is not always the case.
My route to your Lordships’ House has been somewhat unconventional. My careers guidance officer at school said to me, “Charlotte, you should become a pharmacist”. So I left school at 17 and studied biochemical engineering at UCL—not entirely what she had in mind. I then headed to the City for 10 years and took myself off to the States to do an MBA. I then settled into a life of running things in recruitment, mental health, education and retail.
My political journey has also been somewhat unconventional, and I am grateful to my two supporters, my noble friends Lady Jenkin and Lord Gilbert, for their guidance. I fell into politics completely accidentally. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in my friend’s kitchen having a cup of tea with Zac Goldsmith. I went on to stand in the 2010 general election, where I lost horrendously to the Greens. Then I went on to fight one of two national referendum campaigns—do we not love those? I was on the side of no for the alternative vote, so am one up.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for raising this topic. I understand that I am to be uncontroversial, so I am delighted to speak on such an uncontroversial subject. I will focus on a principle that I hold dear and on which I believe we can all agree. It is the simple notion that every child, from whatever class, race, city, town, village or household income should be educated to take full advantage of their academic potential. A body of evidence shows that teaching pupils in mixed ability settings lifts the attainment of those of lower ability. However, the corollary is that those who would have achieved the most achieve slightly less. The most able have their wings clipped.
The reasons for inequality in selective settings are many: poorer teachers in charge of less able classes; a lack of confidence sometimes in less able children; the lack of positive peer-group role models. However, rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that all selection by ability is always bad, perhaps we should mitigate the impact and look at clever solutions, as has been said, so that our most able can fly.
One sector in education seems to be able to cope with all-corners. I raise another uncontroversial subject: that of independent schools. Until recently, I was the director of an association of head teachers of independent schools. While independent schools are usually characterised by the most exclusive and selective, the reality is very different and much underreported. Most independent schools are not selective in admissions at all, but they stream and set by ability. They operate in a marketplace where parents pay for education and so have very sharp elbows. This means little Johnny, whether he is in the top or bottom set for maths, is encouraged to reach his full potential. Independent schools are getting it right for children of all abilities and not just the most able.
Why should we redouble our efforts right now? While “morning” may not always mean morning, I know that Brexit means Brexit. In my role as director of ConservativesIN earlier this year, I fought hard for remain. The result remains a defining moment in my life and that of our country. While I am over the worst, uncertainty will be our new norm for many years to come. We will rely on talent from our own shores. There are already plans to expand the number of doctors trained at our medical schools, but will the state system be able to deliver the high quantity of candidates needed, or will it be disproportionately up to the independent sector to fill these places? Budding medics need our support, as do lab technicians and hospital administrators. Our NHS will need them all.
What should we do? Can we create a system more fluid than cliff-edge selection at 11? Yes. Could we have greater streaming across ability range in schools? Maybe. Should we recruit more top-quality teachers and incentivise them to work with the children who need them most? Absolutely. We should look beyond bricks and mortar and go back to the principle that each and every child should be able to maximise his or her potential. We need to find ways to make it happen.
My Lords, first, I declare my interest related to my work at TES. I congratulate my noble friend on her fine introduction to this debate. It is also a delight to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Vere of Norbiton. Clearly, her expertise will make an important contribution to our work. I noticed on her Twitter timeline that she recently saw David Gilmour at the Albert Hall, but I think we would both reject his message that:
“We don’t need no education”.
I congratulate her on a fine speech, on joining the House and on her recent engagement.
The 1911 census shows my grandfather William working in a lock-making factory in Wolverhampton, aged 15. Two years previously, he had left school at 13. He had attended a school founded by the Sisters of Mercy for the children of poor Irish immigrants. They taught him to read and write—everything he needed for factory work. With the outbreak of the First World War, William joined up. He fought in the Somme, he was gassed; he survived. The social mix of the war changed him. His new ambitions rejected returning to the factory and he became a salesman.
Thirty years later, his daughter—my mum—made the cut and passed the 11-plus. She went to grammar school and joined the professions in banking. My dad went to the neighbouring grammar school for boys, as did his little brother. They went into articled accountancy and banking respectively. Their two other brothers missed the cut and followed the destiny of their fellow 75% into the forces, farming or factories via the secondary modern.
Twenty years on, my professional parents could afford to buy me and my brother the privilege of going private. We went to an independent school specialising in getting boys into Oxbridge. As a result, we were the first in our family to go to university. We were implicitly promised that if we worked hard, did well in our exams and got a good degree from a great university, we would want for nothing. We could choose our career, get a job for life, join a final salary pension scheme, get a 25-year mortgage and retire in our 50s. That promise is over. I am on my fifth career but maybe as a Peer I have the ultimate job for life. For my children, longevity and technology have changed the game, yet we still have a schooling system designed around that promise.
My family’s story can be told as a great social mobility story—from locksmith to Lord—thanks to selective education. But it is also a story of brothers divided, of your destiny set at 11, of life chances being bought and of education being designed to meet the needs of the economy, regardless of fairness. Selective education is unfair. Those arguments have been well made, particularly by my noble friend Lady Andrews. But I want to argue for a schooling system that meets the needs of our new economy and gives every child a chance to do well in this changing economy.
This summer Foxconn laid off 60,000 workers in China. It was cheaper for it to deploy robots than $5-a-day workers. Around the same time, the first artificially intelligent robot, ROSS, was hired by a law firm, BakerHostetler. No wonder this week’s Science and Technology Committee report on AI calls for a more flexible education system in response.
Most fundamentally, we cannot afford to expand a system designed more than 70 years ago to filter 25% of children at 11 into the professions, knowing that the remaining 75% have a secure economic future working in, or marrying someone destined for, the factory. We cannot afford that wastage in a modern economy where we all thrive together on the basis of everyone outcompeting robots.
As the excellent book The 100-Year Life by Professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott points out, a child born today has a more than 50% chance of living to over 100. Neither the child nor the taxpayer can afford for them to retire any earlier than in their 80s. That 60-year or 70-year working life means several careers and a lifelong relationship with learning, so that alongside recreation that person can also do re-creation as technology continues to deskill us.
As employers tell me—I confess that they are normally part of the global elite which the Prime Minister sneers at—we need much more breadth in school and higher education. We need more human and creative skills as well as STEM skills, and every child needs them. The last thing we need therefore is more narrowing of options through selection, so we have to campaign and persuade the Government to give our country, and the discontented majority, a future but not by creaming off some lucky ones and not by an exclusive academic focus. Instead, we should give them hope through radical reform that is joined up across the three pillars of the re-unified education department—skills, schools and universities—and that believes in the ability of every child.
My Lords, I always knew that this subject would provide a clambering back to traditional battle lines but also that everybody would say, “No, they are not the battle lines. They’ve changed slightly”. The big change has been the Government saying, “We are having grammar schools. We all think we know what grammar schools are, with selection at 11 and so on, but we’re not going to do that. We’re going to select in a different way”. When I had a little exchange with the noble Lord, Lord Nash, I suggested that he look at common entrance because it seems to work very well and there was an agreement that it does. It takes place at 13 for boys but not for girls—well, some girls do it at 13.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, from these Benches on her very interesting maiden speech. The private system is very good at dealing with everybody because it has an incentive to do so. She is quite right there but if we gave an incentive to the state system, which it should have, along with cash and resources then I am sure that it would have an equally good response, providing that we can get the parents to buy in by making sure that investment and effort pays off for the child. This is where things start to break down. The minute a child fails that exam and there is nothing to pick them up that they think will benefit them, the incentive is suddenly lost to give that investment from the parent into the child. Education starts to become irrelevant, not something you are going to benefit from. That is the fundamental problem with saying that you have done it, if you have not.
Let us look at a few other practical problems with this. If one lot of schools changes over at 11 and another at 13, when you have free schools, academies and schools run by local authorities, we are creating an industry for people to be bureaucrats and advisers to parents sorting their way through the system. How you would organise this, God alone knows and apparently He has not told anyone yet. The right reverend Prelate is giving me a slightly stern look for that. Anyway, if we are to do this, this complicated system looks as if it will get more complicated.
Let me throw my own little brick into the pond. It is a pretty open secret that I am dyslexic; I am president of the British Dyslexia Association. We are engaging far more with the idea that was not recognised when people such as Sir Cyril Burt did his famous work on this—I think it was between the 1920s and the 1950s. The reaction was to whether he had faked his results or not. There was great fun to be had there and it is the basis of the 11-plus exam. If we are to get accuracy for the mainstream special educational needs of dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and autism, and the huge number of speech and language problems which cross-reference to all these groups, we must have an education system which identifies these people so that we can do this new, whizzy intelligence assessment. We will otherwise place 20% of our school population at an extra disadvantage, guaranteeing that we will not identify huge numbers of people who could benefit from such a school if they got into it.
A fundamental flaw has already been created. Grammar schools are great things if you are in them. That is the bottom line. If you are creating something that guarantees that you do not get there, you have a problem. This is not the first time I have asked this of the Government: when it comes to looking at Stephen Munday’s reassessment of the Carter report, how far have we got in at least making sure that teachers are trained and given some awareness package to spot these most commonly occurring disabilities? At the moment, most teachers do not receive training on this or even awareness packages.
There is another fundamental problem here. You can then go into ethnic background, language and everything else to add to this. Identifying accurately is a massive problem, and unless it is addressed any form of selection, regardless of whether you think it is going to be good or bad, is bound to be a relative failure, or a failure for a large number. Unless we can address this, we are talking on false premises.
My Lords, I hope it is not out of order to say that I simply cannot understand why a Government faced with the greatest constitutional, economic and intellectual upheaval for more than 70 years should want to spend so much time and energy on the future of grammar schools. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Andrews on an excellent opening speech, in which she picked apart the Government’s case.
The evidence is all about us that some of our few grammar schools are doing well and some are doing less well, but many maintained comprehensives and schools like them have largely replaced them and brought multidimensional benefits. I agree very firmly with my noble friend Lord Puttnam that what the Government are seeking to put into operation could be incendiary.
It might be useful to speak from personal experience, as several other noble Lords have done. I went to a grammar school in Wigton in the north-west of England. By the 11-plus I was separated from many of my best friends, who went to the secondary modern. The stigma of success of getting into the grammar school when they did not was not unlike, although not at all equal to, the feeling of failure that several of those who did not pass the 11-plus had and retain. Unnecessary discrimination set in and proved to be a pattern in life.
In 1957, the Nelson Thomlinson Grammar School that I attended sent one person to Oxford. Later it became a comprehensive school with a much smaller catchment area and an unboundaried diversity of intake, yet last year, if this is any measure, seven students from that comprehensive school went to Oxford or Cambridge and one went to Yale.
I was lucky to be very well-taught by teachers of the calibre of Mr James, the history teacher, and Mr Blacker, who taught English, but current students are every bit as well-taught. I was on the board of governors for a while and still keep close and active contact with the school and especially with the sixth-formers. The skill and dedication of the teachers, and therefore of the pupils, is outstanding. The range of activity outstrips what we did back then. For instance, the young enterprise team reached the national finals in London last year; the school runs serious scientific research projects with the local factory, Innovia Films; it was the first comprehensive in Cumbria to be judged outstanding by Ofsted and it has bred a highly successful rock band, the Hardwicke Circus, which is going professional and includes four head boys, one of whom is still at the school.
We have to face up to the fact that for many young people in this country, state schools have changed for the better. Nostalgia is rarely very rational, generational memories are notoriously unreliable and we seem to have trouble admitting that some aspects of our life have improved, especially among the young, and that the new generation is very often surpassing us.
That success is now following through. Again, it might be useful to point out that Oxford, recently declared the most successful university in the world, has steadily increased its figures from the maintained sector to almost 60%—not enough, but going in the right direction. If we want to improve the education of all young people in this country, we should do as my noble friend Lady Andrews suggested and look at the great London experience, whereby resources and talent were piled in, transforming what is probably the most complex and large education region in the land into an outstanding education success story.
If we want to—and I think we absolutely need to—improve the technical and skills base of our society after years neglect and mismanagement from Governments, then the need is not for more grammar schools but for more technical colleges properly linked to strategic re-industrialisation. If we want better education, we should put more money into state schools to help them do more science, and put in more facilities for languages, sports, drama and art. If we want to build a new skilled nation, we should put money into technical colleges. If we want to engineer social mobility, the elephant in the room is obvious: we could have a radical reappraisal of that beta-blocker of social mobility, the public school. What benefits could flow from that—what great consequences and positive aspects for our future.
I am very grateful to the teachers at Wigton’s Nelson Thomlinson grammar school, but I am even more proud and pleased that it has transformed itself into such a democratic, decent, diverse and generous comprehensive, which, given a fair wind, will grasp and answer the needs and ambition of our unequal and troubled modern society, which needs all hands on deck and everyone feeling that they have an equal chance to help.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing this debate. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely, our lead bishop on education, cannot be in his place today, but I am glad to contribute from these Benches and to hear an excellent maiden speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Vere.
Like many others in your Lordships’ House, I attended a grammar school. I was also the first in my family to receive a university education. At Northampton Grammar School for Boys, as it then was, you imbibed an ethos and culture which simply assumed you would seek university entrance. My grammar school was hierarchical, full of petty rules and almost entirely male—the perfect preparation for a career in the Church of England.
I am not sure whether many of our masters knew much about teaching. Quite a few had no teaching qualification at all, but they were bright, interesting and knowledgeable, and loved talking about what they knew. You caught the excitement of knowledge from them, especially from the most eccentric of them, who, if they had a lesson plan, kept it very quiet. Even at the time, we thought that most of them would never survive teaching in a secondary modern—and that is the problem. I fully understand why grammar schools are thought to be the engines of social mobility for some, even if it is contested territory, but I never hear anyone saying, “Bring back secondary moderns”. We can relabel them as high schools, or give them some other title, but they remain schools where around a quarter of the pupils, and the most able in any area, are missing.
The challenge for the Government, surely, in taking these proposals forward is to ensure that no one is educationally disadvantaged. The emphasis must remain on ensuring that every child can attend an excellent school. I remember only too well the shaming threats at my primary school about the prospect of wearing the green blazer, which was the secondary modern uniform. We were threatened that if we did not work hard, that is what would happen to us. How the Government would prevent that happening again seems to me absolutely fundamental to this proposal.
Selection through academic ability is not the only form of selection in the proposals in the Government’s consultation, although we have not mentioned any of the others. I welcome the vote of confidence from the Government in the quality of education provided by schools with religious designation. This is indicated by the removal of the cap on faith-based admissions. However, such a move will make minimal impact on the fundamental principle on which the Church of England’s engagement in education rests. Our schools educate around 1 million children and the overwhelming majority are community schools providing the best possible education for every child, regardless of faith. Just as the ministry of parishes in the Church of England is to a designated local population, and not to a congregation, so it is that our schools are intended to serve the common good and the wider community. That is why they are attended by children of other world faiths or those whose parents have no faith at all. It is also why, within my own diocese of Norwich, admission criteria make scarcely any mention of faith but are based on catchment areas, with looked-after children and siblings, for example, as the priorities, not the children of regular churchgoers.
I am pleased that the Government have chosen to make Norwich one of the six opportunity areas announced by the Secretary of State last week. The Social Mobility Commission named Norwich as the second-worst cold spot for social mobility in the country—a distinction the people of Norwich do not want. Chloe Smith, the Member for Norwich North in the other place, formed a steering group in response to this, bringing public sector, business, voluntary and faith leaders together, and I am glad to play a part in that. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what parameters there are on the new funding and whether there is more information about it.
The Church of England remains committed to its broad role in education, and actually we are looking forward to expanding our capacity in technical and special education. It was the failure to embrace technical schools in the old system that was one of its greatest weaknesses. If my grammar school had one educational advantage, I suspect it was that it operated within a relatively settled framework. There is a weariness among the teaching profession—I speak on behalf of my daughter who is a teacher—about the constant reshaping and fiddling within our educational framework. If the Minister could promise us the prospect of a more settled period in education, that would be a blessing in itself.
My Lords, one would have thought by now that the subject of a return to grammar schools to this country was dead and buried, and that having them back was surely such a gigantic mistake that even the Tory party would not have considered a return to such folly. One could hardly have thought it possible that this would be debated today; in the Tory manifesto at the last election there was no mention of the introduction of grammar schools. I consider that most thinking people will recognise that, far from increasing social mobility as the Prime Minister is for ever banging on about, all the evidence suggests that the very opposite would be the case.
Is it not ironic that the only other female Prime Minister we have had, Margaret Thatcher, abolished more grammar schools than any of her predecessors? The current Prime Minister, despite boasting that she is a reforming premier, is in this case only setting the clock back in a most destructive way. The late and brilliant Tony Crosland, a former Secretary of State for Education, is reputed to have said to his wife, “If it’s the last thing I do in life, I’m going to destroy every flipping”—actually he did not say “flipping”; it was an unparliamentary word that I will not repeat—“grammar school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland”. I am sure Tony would not have envisaged that his wish nearly came true with Margaret Thatcher’s leap forward and her ambition to scrap every grammar school in favour of the comprehensive system.
Still, despite the fact that the issue of selection almost went away under Thatcher, it has come back to haunt us today. Selective education is increasingly seen as a backward step by most serious commentators and educationalists. Education and social mobility experts have already criticised the Government’s proposals. Most argue that grammar schools increase inequality and creates an “us and them” divide in education and in society. The evidence is clear: grammar schools benefit the few at the expense of the many, increasing inequality and breeding division. All the evidence that I have been able to muster is that even among middle-class parents, who are mostly believed to benefit from this policy, there is little desire for their children to return to the policies of the 1960s and be subjected to a test at the age of 11 that in many cases determines their prospects for a brighter future and better life.
I can outline to the House the kind of trauma that some have to go through at the age of 11 in the selection process. I speak with some experience of this. When I was evacuated to the county of Durham away from my county of Kent at the age of 11, after my school reports consistently showed that I was at the top or very close to it at the end of each school term, I was very confident that when the 11-plus came along I would go to one of the local grammar schools. Unfortunately, a few days before the examination I experienced a terrible tragedy in that my younger brother, with whom I and another brother were travelling, jumped off the school bus too early before it had stopped. He hit his head on the side of the bus and was killed. My brother and I were shipped out to an uncle in Northumberland to avoid the inquest and the burial of our young brother.
On my return, I discovered I had missed the 11-plus exam and had to take it, not under examination conditions but in a rowdy art class with fellow pupils who had already taken the test. I had a lot of unhelpful advice from people who kept looking over my shoulder and giving me advice that I did not want and certainly did not heed, but nevertheless it affected my concentration and I failed the exam.
In my case, the problem was somewhat restored on my return to Kent at the age of 13 and in different examination conditions. Without doubt it slowed my educational progress—irretrievably, some unkind colleagues have argued. Seriously, that is not everybody’s experience who fails the 11-plus but, in my many years as a Member of Parliament, I have had to help many who had particular difficulties through family illnesses or death at various examinations they had to take. I conclude by congratulating my noble friend on raising this important and timely issue today, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I should start by declaring a particular interest. Until today, I thought that I was the only Member of your Lordships’ House who had failed the 11-plus. I now acknowledge that I am not and that I share that experience with another.
I want to make a couple of points about failing the 11-plus because it brings lasting shame and humiliation on the life of those who suffer it in a way that makes it virtually impossible to get past it and get on with anything else in your life ever again. To my father, it did not matter. He was a church orphan and said, “You don’t need education. I got where I am today without it, so you don’t need it, either”. To my mother it was shame beyond belief in terms of a social slide down the scale because her family had had two bishops and two Victoria Crosses the previous 45 years, and never thought of having an 11-plus failure to put with that roll of honour.
I say, bring on more grammar schools if indeed you wish to have them, but please can we have a more proactive policy on what to do with the failures? I think that there is a category of failure that needs to be addressed because it is so serious that pupils in it should not be let loose without some special help. That is my great plea to you all.
I failed the 11-plus for one very simple reason—I could not read. It is very hard to pass an exam if you cannot read the exam paper. I could not read because we were bombed out in 1941, went to Chichester where there was no first school education at all, came back to London in 1945 and I was sent to school that had been bombed, was overrun with rats and mice and had a cat in every classroom. I had a cat allergy that closed my eyes within five minutes of entering the classroom every day—so I could not read. Nobody did anything about that until they realised when I failed the exam that there was a problem. The people who then started to move on it—God bless them—were in Lewisham Borough Council, of whom we have a distinguished Member usually sitting on the Front Bench here. He thinks that I am paranoid about the behaviour of Lewisham councillors but I am paranoid only because they were clearly out to get me—and very nearly succeeded.
My father had a very difficult time coming back out of the Army. He got an officer’s rank and did not want to go back to his old career in the kitchen. He managed to find some local education connections for me, one of which was a private school which would take me for £18 a term, which was something like 60% of his salary in 1948. So it was a very generous move on his part. The schoolmaster who owned the place was a victim of the trenches in the First World War, and he was running a crammer for foreign students; we were the first school in England to take German students after the war. He had a special class for very backward children, which I certainly qualified to join, but he would not take anyone on until he had interviewed them first. He sat me down and said, “I see on the notes about you that you like to play chess”. I said, “Yes”. He said, “Will you play me?” I said, “Yes, sir”. So we sat down and he said, “Ten seconds a move”—and he lasted 12 minutes, by which time he said, “There’s nothing wrong with you, I’ll take you”.
At this point, Woolwich borough council decided that this was still quite unacceptable and sent me to three secondary modern schools to be interviewed, all of which said, “He’ll slow everybody down—we can’t possibly have him”. This is my major concern with all this. Things get out of hand because people in official positions think that they must react in different ways. We must have a better code of practice for what to do about the children who are victims of failure. They then proceeded to serve a notice on my family to the extent that I was going to be deported to Australia. They started that process; they even went to court to get a court order for it. We got a young barrister—I think that it was about the first case that he had ever handled—who was still wearing his RAF uniform when he came in. My mother was always convinced that that was what convinced the lady magistrate; he looked so handsome that she had to let him win his case. It was overturned, so I did not go to Australia—but it was a very close-run thing.
Now, 70-odd years later, I have been chairman of 12 public companies and bodies and have somehow or other found my way into your Lordships’ House. I am 79 years old, so my comeback policy has probably hit the buffers and is not going to go any further—but I am satisfied with what I have got. One thing I leave with your Lordships is that we should please concentrate on what to do with the failures. It is not the clever-clogs who get to the grammar schools who worry me; they will be all right anyway. It is the failures we need to worry about. Let us have a proper policy for them and make that work.
My Lords, I am almost tempted to join the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in defending grammar schools, since everyone is so busy dumping all over them—but I am not really able to do so, although I shall develop a different line of argument from that which most noble Lords have adopted so far.
In early September this year, the PM gave a speech on schools and meritocracy. That speech paved the way for her proposal to introduce a raft of new grammar schools. Whoever put the speech together seems to have thought that if you stick the word “great” in front of every policy idea, it makes it so. The PM asserted repeatedly that the Government will create a “great meritocracy” in the UK. She even ended with the proclamation that Britain will be,
“set on the path to being the great meritocracy of the world”.
That is not even particularly grammatical, if I might say so.
Michael Young coined the term meritocracy precisely to ridicule the tripartite system, with its effect of leaving those who failed the 11-plus with an abiding sense of failure. We all have our personal stories. I somehow passed the 11-plus and went to a grammar school—and who was sitting along the corridor from me but my noble friend Lord Puttnam, who was busy humming the tune that later became the song of “Chariots of Fire”? That is a moment of great distinction—and here we are, both together after all these years.
According to the Prime Minister, things will be very different this time, since grammar schools are seen as part of a diverse school system. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made that point. But the effects on the majority in any given part of the country who fail to get in will surely be similar. The point of the great meritocracy is supposedly to promote social mobility, but I see no sign that the Government understand what that notion means. Sociologists distinguish two forms of social mobility, which we call absolute and relative. That does not sound too attractive in the context, but it is crucial for anyone in understanding what possibilities there are for improving social mobility. It is a crucial distinction.
Absolute mobility refers to mobility chances created by positive structural change. In Britain, over the past several decades, there was a great deal of social mobility. Virtually all of it, however, was absolute mobility: the result of opportunities opened up by the expansion of white-collar and professional jobs and the corresponding decline of manual ones. Those in my generation were beneficiaries of this process.
It is crucial to understand that relative mobility, where some are able to move up because others do less well than their parents was rare, and remains so today. For the up-and-coming generation, the situation in future—over the next three decades or so—will be very different from the experience of people sitting here. Rather than expanding, a range of core white-collar and professional jobs look set to disappear over the next couple of decades. The problems here are huge.
Against such a backdrop, there are only two possible strategies for increasing social mobility, and both would have to be deployed to get any significant effect. First, large-scale social spending, way beyond anything in existence at the moment, would be needed to improve the life chances of those from poorer backgrounds. Secondly, in current circumstances, for children of the less privileged to move up, put bluntly, others from more privileged backgrounds must move down. The Government would have actively and systematically to attack the privileges of those at the top. Private tuition, the dominance of private schools and personal connections transmitted from generation to generation, are all ways in which those advantages will be sustained.
As virtually all noble Lords have said, the plan to create a new wave of grammar schools will exacerbate the situation rather than transform it. In education, as elsewhere, we should be looking not backwards but towards the gigantic changes impacting on our lives today. The digital revolution is set to transform education in the classroom just as radically as it is affecting other areas of life. Properly harnessed, it offers opportunities for the radical levelling up of education at all levels. At the moment, it does not seem to figure in government thinking at all.
That celebrated thinker, Woody Allen, remarked that confidence is what you have before you understand the problem. In the case of promoting greater social mobility, that is exactly the position in which the Government find themselves today.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for the opportunity to debate this important issue and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, on her, if I may use the term, spot-on maiden speech.
I am a product of grammar schools, yet I have serious concern about selection at the age of 11 or at any other stage during pupils’ teenage years. Young people of school age have to cope with many pressures, and the potential that someone’s academic performance will be adversely affected, unrelated to their academic ability, is significant. Making hard decisions about which type of school a young person should attend at any age creates the possibility that able students are not given the stimulus and challenge they need to achieve their full potential.
I was coached to pass the 11-plus at a time in my life when I was unaware of my sexuality, but it was shortly afterwards, around the time that I moved into secondary education, that I realised I was different from the other pupils in my single-sex school. It was at a time and in a culture where homophobia was rife in society. At a school where none of the 600 boys identified as gay and in what I perceived to be a home environment intolerant of homosexuality, the feeling of isolation and loneliness was intense. At a time when most young people are exploring their emotions, I was frightened to engage in any friendship or relationship because of my sexuality. Others at the school began to sense my sexuality, and I became the subject of bullying, both verbal and physical. The emotional strain of such isolation was immense and, despite being totally dedicated to my studies, my academic performance was, as a consequence, disappointing.
I am talking about sexuality in my case, but it could be a whole range of other issues. It could be marital break-up in the home, domestic violence at home or a bereavement that impacts on someone’s academic performance. For those who like research into twins, I would lock myself in my room for hours on end studying, while my brother did his homework in front of the television in no time at all. He outperformed me in every department.
For me, school was a painful struggle, where I could not even achieve the three Cs at A-level that I needed in 1976 to go to medical school—I understand that standards have gone up since then. Thankfully, after five years in the police service, being more confident in my own skin and with my self-esteem restored, I earned a university scholarship and chose to study politics, philosophy and economics at Queens College, Oxford, where I excelled academically. My other academic achievements are a matter of record.
The conclusions I want to draw from this are twofold. First, I hope that noble Lords will accept that to write off any school-age pupil at any time during their schooling, when young people are having to cope with many pressures outside the academic arena, is potentially to put them into an inappropriate academic setting. I know that the Government propose that selection should perhaps happen at another time, but the disruption and potential stress imposed on someone part-way through an examination course of having to move to another school should not be underestimated.
The second point is this. If noble Lords are thinking that my story is of its time and no longer relevant, I say this. I am attending a charity event this evening in support of the Albert Kennedy Trust, to support young people who, even now, are being thrown out of their family home when their parents discover their sexuality—simply because they are gay. A survey carried out in 2014 by Stonewall showed that 86% of secondary school and 45% of primary school teachers said that pupils in their school, regardless of their sexual orientation, experienced homophobic bullying.
A comprehensive education system ensures that, at every stage, pupils can receive the education most appropriate to their needs.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the second Cumberland grammar schoolboy to speak in this debate and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, on her maiden speech. As a fellow strong pro-European, I welcome her to this House. However, the subject of this debate may well be typical of what I fear most about Brexit: that we will go in for backward-looking insularity in our approach to the world. I can think of no other European nation that would today be having a debate about the reintroduction of selection at the age of 11.
I shall make three points: one about the past and two about future policy. I became an opponent of the 11-plus on a summer day in 1958 at my junior school, Morley Street, in Carlisle. We had all got the results, and I remember the chap I shared a desk with, one of those old Victorian desks. I passed and got to the grammar school, but my best friend beside me had not and was going to the secondary modern. For me, that changed a day of what should have been success into one of intense pain, and I have felt that for people who have failed for all my life.
The grammar school did an excellent job for me. I was lucky to have special tuition from excellent masters to get me into Oxford—the same college as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, as it happens.
The school system not only ignored the consequences for the kids who did not get there, but did not look after the less academic children in the grammar schools very well. It caused social division. I well remember being in my grammar school uniform and having to dodge the stones thrown by some of the lads on the council estate who resented the fact that I was going to the grammar school.
Now to the future. We should not reintroduce this. As my noble friend Lord Bragg has said, there are excellent comprehensive schools that achieve great success. I now represent his home town on Cumbria County Council, and the Nelson Thomlinson School is an excellent comprehensive school which sends a significant number of pupils to top universities every year. What I fear about the reintroduction of selection is the disruption it could bring to the ecology of education in our county. Let me give a local example. We have one grammar school in Cumbria, in Penrith, and already quite a lot of pupils go from Carlisle to Penrith—a journey of 17 miles. Of course, none of those pupils will have parents who are low paid, because they could not conceivably afford to pay the costs of the journey.
If existing schools are allowed to convert to grammar schools, we will find, I think, that some of our schools will want to convert, seeing it as a way of expanding their student numbers. What then happens to other schools that fear losing pupils in competition with these new grammar schools? It could be extremely disruptive to the success of our comprehensive system. I can see no proposals for making sure that this will proceed in an orderly way with some kind of guiding hand.
My second point regarding the future is that this whole debate is a distraction, as several of my colleagues have said, from what should be the central issue in education policy: how we extend opportunity to everyone and how we raise standards in our schools. We need better standards. The initiative of my noble friend Lord Blunkett was very important but we need a renewed emphasis on standards, and the debate about structures will simply be a total distraction from a necessary reform agenda.
My Lords, I begin by registering something for your interests: I did not go to grammar school and I did not go to university, but I will return to that later. I commend my noble friend Lady Andrews on securing this extremely important debate and on the brilliance of her opening statement. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for referring to the brilliant work done by Stonewall, particularly on homophobia in schools, which should shame us all—I declare an interest as the founding chair of Stonewall—and for his reference to the work done by the Albert Kennedy Trust.
I am extremely grateful for the many briefings made available to us and the widespread concern that has been brought to my attention by NGOs, academics, the education sector, think tanks, teaching unions and a great number of parents. From reading their submissions it is clear to me that there is a broad consensus that grammar schools do not improve social mobility. Selective systems actually increase inequality in attainment and earnings. I will share some of the findings. While those from grammar school areas who do well—top attaining, top earners—do much better than those who do well from similar, non-selective areas, those who do not do well—the bottom half in terms of attainment or earnings—do significantly worse than their counterparts from similar, non-selective areas. In systems with more academic selectivity, educational attainment is more strongly related to family background. Again, the evidence shows that access to grammar schools, both historically and more recently, favours more affluent children, even when comparing similarly high-attaining 11 year-olds. Taking both these pieces of evidence together, it suggests, or rather confirms, that grammar school systems exacerbate existing inequalities across generations.
If anything, grammar schools lead to less rather than more social mobility. The implications for social mobility are not positive. The evidence again clearly suggests that selective systems exacerbate inequality both in terms of education and later labour market outcomes. These systems work well for those who end up at the top but are harmful for those who end up at the bottom. When this is combined with evidence that pupils from more deprived backgrounds have less chance of accessing a grammar school, even when they perform well in their key stage 2 test at age 11, it suggests—indeed confirms—that family background will play an important role in deciding who gains access and who will end up at the top or the bottom. Hence, these systems contribute to persistent inequalities across generations, hindering social mobility.
I refer to a matter raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. The Government’s intention to remove the 50% cap at religious free schools, where pupils can be selected on the basis of their religion as part of the admissions arrangement, would allow new and existing religious schools to select all their places with reference to religion. For many, including me, this would represent a significant step back in the efforts to make our education systems fairer, more inclusive, and more integrated. This rule is only part of the free school funding arrangements and is not underpinned by statute; the Government will not have to consult Parliament on this issue. I believe that Parliament must be consulted, as this measure would have profound consequences.
In my last minute I will refer to my own experience. At the age of 11, I did not even know that I was sitting the 11-plus. I failed it; I was written off. I was sent to a secondary modern school where I would be pointed towards going into a factory or similar job. I felt that I did not belong. If it had not been for a drama master who saw some spark of energy, I would have remained there, feeling that sense of complete disempowerment and disfranchisement. My father said that if I had not gone to stage school—taken as a child actor at the age of 12 to a fee-paying stage school—I would have ended up in prison. I believe that he was absolutely right, because there was a child who felt that he did not belong—my only option was to rebel.
My plea to the Minister is: rethink these proposals and focus, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord James, on making sure that every single child is never cast aside but is given the opportunity throughout their school years and beyond to achieve their amazing and unique potential.
My Lords, in 1938, Sir William Spens produced a report recommending a system of grammar schools, secondary modern schools and technical colleges, based on a system of selection. Following the 1944 Education Act this was adopted and it worked well. It was widely understood and accepted. After the war, the system was maintained by that wise man Clement Attlee and continued by subsequent Conservative Governments. In January 1964, there were 1,298 grammar schools, educating 22% of all pupils.
Then began the government interference, which led to the best education system in the world being reduced to the situation we have today where, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, 1.25 million children are receiving education euphemistically labelled “inadequate” or “requiring improvement”.
In 1965, Labour Education Minister Anthony Crosland told all grammar schools to convert to comprehensives. Most did; some held out. By 1979, they were teaching just 5% of our children. Finally, they were banned altogether by a Labour Government in 1998. Those brave survivors that held out have thrived and have been vindicated.
I have always been completely mystified by the amount of irrational and ill-informed animosity directed at the principle of selection in secondary education. Teaching classes of mixed ability is a complete educational nonsense. A few may go at the right speed for them but the high-flyer will be held back, the lower-flyers will flounder and the teacher’s time will be very badly spent. The only way to teach properly, with maximum benefit to both teacher and pupils, is to have classes containing as near as possible pupils of similar ability. This was recognised by everyone in education until 1965, and has been steadfastly held to by grammar schools, the best comprehensive schools and all our public schools, all of which select, stream and set. I find it fascinating that while parents are clamouring, competing and paying to get their children into schools, state or private, which select, stream and set, because this is acknowledged to provide the best education, so many people still set their faces against the principle of selection.
One of the arguments used against selection at 11 is that those who fail will be psychologically damaged and their life chances impaired. While it is true that any failure is disappointing, these effects can be greatly exaggerated and were certainly no justification for scrapping an entire education system. Children are stronger than we sometimes think and often understand better than we appreciate what the world is like and where they fit in. The job of parents and teachers alike is to stand by those who go in a different direction and to explain to them that, as we have heard from your Lordships today, there are many routes to fulfilment and happiness perhaps better suited to their talents, as exemplified by many famous people such as some of your Lordships.
Can our nation’s educational policy really be, “Because some will not succeed none must try”? How depressing. What a message to send to our young people and how gloomy for the long-term prospects of our country. The greatest asset of many poor children from educationally unaware families is their brain—their mind. Surely it cannot be right not to let them use it to the full.
This will be a permissive measure. It will not be obligatory and examinations can be taken at 14 and 16 as well as 11 to make it as accurate and fair as possible. Over recent years there has been a growing awareness that mistakes have been made and things need to change. There is little point in looking backwards, in recriminations or in fighting old battles. Valiant attempts are now being made to repair the damage done and I applaud the Government’s initiatives and effort. There can be no return to the past: nor should this be attempted. We now have many excellent schools of all shapes and sizes and they must be encouraged and supported. Grammar schools will grow because of their proven and acknowledged value, but this must not be at the expense of existing schools but in addition to and in co-operation with them to everyone’s benefit.
The former secondary modern schools and technical colleges were very good in their time and their modern equivalents are doing an excellent job. The revival and promotion of apprenticeships is a huge step forward. Not everyone is, or wants to be, academically inclined and the nation would not last five minutes without the knowledge and skills of our technicians, plumbers and electricians. We are interdependent and so should our schools be—different but with the same ambitions to provide for every child the maximum opportunity to make use of all their talents to allow them to follow the path most suited to their needs. Let us be positive about the future, but in order to do that and to go forward together it is important that we acknowledge the contribution that grammar schools made in the past and will make again in the future.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, with whom I worked when I was junior education spokesman in the Commons and she was our prime researcher in the House of Commons Library. Thinking about that reminded me just how obsessive certain people on the Conservative Benches were about grammar schools at that time. It also reminded me that in 1979 Bolton was introducing the comprehensive system. The 11-plus had been abolished and parents had been asked which comprehensive school they wished their 11 year-olds to go to. Then we had the general election on
We have heard a lot today about the evidence indicating why a selective system does not work. It does not work in the interests of those poorer pupils about whom we have heard and does not deliver the social mobility that is so often talked about. In fact, it reinforces privilege for very many people. We have heard that evidence and I remind the Benches opposite that many people in the Conservative Party understand this. I suggest that they read what the Conservative chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee has said. If I read out his recent comments, they would make a perfect speech on this occasion. However, there are a few other things I want to say. Nevertheless, I shall quote one thing he said recently:
“It is now a well-established fact that by age 11, poor children are lagging nearly a year behind their more affluent middle class peers. They are not only less likely to pass a grammar test at age 11, but it is also unlikely their parents would consider one”.
That goes to the point of what is so important about this debate. The Government need to understand that you do not give equality of opportunity to children simply by creating hurdles for some of them to get over.
We have heard a few personal stories. I shall illustrate an episode from my experience concerning two young girls from the same council estate in the north of England. They started out in a brand new primary school on the same day and took the 11-plus together. I was the lucky one. I passed the 11-plus and was offered a place at a very good school. Indeed, it was considered to be the best. My best friend was the unlucky one. She was not unlucky because she failed the exam: she passed it. But when you took the 11-plus then, your parents had to sign a form stating that their child would stay at school until the age of 16. My best friend’s parents did not understand that. They did not want to sign that form. When they were eventually persuaded to do so by my head teacher, my best friend went to the school without parental support and without a proper uniform. Four years later, when she was 15, her parents paid a fine to the local magistrates’ court and got her a job in a local grocery shop. The 11-plus did not give her opportunities. I was lucky, not because I passed the exam but because I had parents who supported me and wanted me to get an education. If we are to make a real difference, we must tackle the problem of those parents who cannot engage in education and do not understand the value of the opportunities that should be provided.
I recall what the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said about the programmes in which he is engaged. It is those parents who are disaffected, alienated and do not have the confidence to take advantage of educational opportunities who we have to help. That primary school now takes children at the age of two to try to counter the impact of non-involvement by parents. If we are to make real changes and give real opportunities, it is the early years that deserve our attention, not this nonsense that segregates children at the age of 11.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Andrews for this fascinating debate, which gave the opportunity for the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, to make her very interesting maiden speech.
I will follow on from my noble friend Lady Taylor. What issues face the education of children in our country? One major issue is underattainment by children, particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, and disadvantage, as my noble friend said, can come in many forms. It can be poverty, or poverty of aspiration, or people not believing that the system is for them. The underattainment and failure, particularly of children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, is matched by disadvantage for children who have grown up in households where education is seen as “not for us”.
I will talk about increasing the attainment of children who come from backgrounds where we are concerned that they do not do well in the education system. My noble friend referred to nurseries; there is also Sure Start, which involves parents. I recall the Midwinter experiment in Liverpool many years ago, where parents—particularly, but not solely, mothers—were asked to go into the primary school, which was a very gentle, friendly and non-threatening environment. I met a young woman, a single parent with young children, who told me that she had come into the school on Valium—she could not cope with life. The school encouraged her to listen to children learning to read even though she herself was barely literate, so she took adult education classes. She then took a welfare rights course. She said to me, “As a result of that, I now want to go on a course to find out how to get some blankety blank rights”. This is about families like that. Sure Start should be expanded everywhere to help children who this policy will do little or nothing for.
Lancashire County Council was proud to be the first authority in the country to provide means-tested education maintenance allowances for all over the age of 15 who qualified, and we allowed adults who left school to come back. We are not tackling the huge pool of talent that is out there, which would benefit both children and the community. I am not the sort of person who believes that the sole function of education is employment. I know that employment is important, but everyone is entitled to a good education. People say that in many places 25% got in, but my own grammar school education taught me that it was far fewer than that. Interestingly, for what was then about 15% of the population, a third of the girls were told that they could go to university, a third were told, “My dear, you can become a domestic science teacher”, and a third were told to consider secretarial work. That was the ethos. The world is not like that any more.
We ought to offer everybody the chance to improve their education. If we want to help the most disadvantaged children, we will provide the services for them, but more importantly, for their parents and their families, who were rejected and told that they were failures the first time round.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing this debate and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, on her maiden speech.
The noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, will be pleased to know that I can join his elite and exclusive club, because I failed my 11-plus. In those days, the results were published in the local newspaper. My mother had the embarrassment of walking down the road to be confronted by various neighbours, who said, “We’re terribly sorry that your Michael didn’t make it to the grammar school”. I hope that the Government do not propose to bring back publishing the results of those who pass or fail.
I started my teaching career in a town called Prescot, which was part of Lancashire County Council, division 16. It was a small town, whose main, declining industries were BICC and Pilkington glass. The school I taught in was a small, one-form entry church primary school in the middle of a council estate. After two years, the school I was in asked if I would take year 6, which in those days was called top juniors. They were 40 wonderful children, with wonderful, caring parents. The secondary provision was a boys’ grammar school and a girls’ grammar school, and several secondary moderns. After Christmas the joy of learning was put on hold as we prepared constantly for that 11-plus exam. They practised on past test papers, had verbal reasoning and numeracy tests, and day in, day out, we laboured at this style of learning in the hope that we might squeeze some extra children through to the grammar school.
But what did it mean in practice? It meant that the pressure placed on those children, both emotionally and psychologically, was enormous. It meant that for many months the joy of learning stopped, and that many summer-born children were already at a disadvantage. “Please, sir, why is it called the 11-plus when I’m only 10?”, asked one innocent child. It meant that once the results came out, there were many “hurt” children—and yes, a few joyful children. It divided school families and communities, and 20% of the children were creamed off each year to go to the grammar schools. Of course, it was grossly unfair, because first, there were more places at the boys’ grammar school than at the girls’ grammar school, so girls failed even if they got a higher score than the boys. Overall, it depended on the number of places available, so children one year could fail with a higher score than children who passed the previous year.
Of course, the grammar schools creamed off not just the children but the teaching staff and resources, and as we heard before, the secondary moderns were perceived by parents as the inferior schools, and the pupils as inferior students. This was not social mobility but social and educational apartheid. Do we really want to go back to those days?
Until Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative faithful, academic selection in our school system—pass an exam and see what type of school we send you to—was seen as the past. Grammar schools, as Margaret Thatcher observed, were widely unpopular when they were abolished, which is why she agreed to close so many of them when she became Prime Minister. She did not turn the clock back; she looked at ways of improving standards.
Grammar schools enjoyed a hallowed status in certain parts of the Conservative Party and were seen as engines of social mobility that transformed the chances for a generation of bright children from poor backgrounds. How untrue that was then, as it is now. Even if grammar schools boosted social mobility for the lucky few, they left the majority behind. In areas that still use the 11-plus, the evidence proves that. It favours affluent children and obstructs the poorest. The wealthiest parents will of course pay for the best available education, whether that means moving house to a better catchment area, paying private school fees or paying for tuition to prepare their children for an 11-plus option that is not available to all.
At every educational level, the reintroduction of grammar schools is wrong. As I said, they divide communities and families, and they cause real pain and anxiety for children and families. They do not deliver on social mobility; they do not deliver on improving educational standards and life chances; they do not deliver on choice; and they certainly do not help the neighbouring schools in the community.
As we have already heard, Kent is a county that has retained the grammar school system. Perhaps if we want empirical evidence of whether grammar school education improves the education of all children, we can look at Kent. There, the gap in attainment between children on free school meals and those not on free school meals at key stage 4 is 34%. If you go to inner London, where there are no grammar schools, the gap is 14%. As our Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michel Wilshaw, said, if Mrs May’s priority is social mobility, she should be replicating the best comprehensives in London.
The Government claim that creating more grammar schools will help increase social mobility. That is plainly wrong. It will have the opposite effect, narrowing opportunity and limiting life chances for the majority of pupils in England. Evidence shows that grammar schools have a disproportionately lower number of pupils on free meals than secondary schools. Only 2.6% of pupils at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals compared with 14.9% across all schools. So it is clear that grammar schools do not increase social mobility in the areas in which they currently operate.
If we really want to tackle social mobility in education, grammar schools are not the answer. By the age of 11, a child from a disadvantaged background lags nearly 10 months behind their peers in making progress in education. It is then too late to tackle many of the education and development problems that disadvantaged children face. The answer, as we have heard, is to start with early years on language development, reading and oracy, numerical concepts and socialisation with peers, and giving real support to parents in those disadvantaged areas—support that was available in the Sure Start centres. If we do that, we can ensure that the gap that keeps widening and widening as those children go through their education experience is stopped.
As I have said before, for summer-born children the 11-plus is very unfair. We know that summer-born children—of which I was one—on average perform poorly in most tests compared with those in their year groups born earlier in the school year. This is most noticeable in primary school children. The learning gap is still statistically significant right up until school leaving age, as summer-born children are 5% less likely to get A to C grades in GCSEs. I ask the Minister whether there are any plans to rectify this unfairness.
The Prime Minister said that she intends to promote a grammar school-style education for all. I wonder how the sponsors of academies and free schools feel about that. If, say, in the catchment area of Pimlico Academy there were suddenly to land a grammar school which, by its nature, creamed off the academically top 20%, how would the Pimlico trustees or our own Minister feel about that, and what effect would it have on the school? We know how the Chief Inspector of Schools feels about it. Writing in the Times, Sir Michael Wilshaw said:
“If someone had opened up a grammar school next to Mossbourne Academy”— the school he was head of—
“I would have been absolutely furious as it would have taken away those youngsters who set the tone of the school. Youngsters learn from other youngsters and see their ambition; it percolates throughout the school”.
Can the Minister tell us what plans can be put in place to protect the balanced intake and curriculum of secondary schools if a grammar school is established in the same area?
The Prime Minister’s pledge on grammar schools is but a distraction—perhaps a distraction to appease some of her more fervent Members who hark back to their grammar school days. Come on, we can do better than this. Do we really want an education system in the 21st century that divides our children by an exam that they pass or fail? Do we really want to create a segregated academic elite in our communities? As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, noted, the abolition of the 50% cap in our faith schools will mean that even more of our children will be separated and segregated by their religion. I want an open education system that does not segregate any pupil because of their ability or their faith—a system in which no child is left behind.
My Lords, like everyone else, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Andrews for securing this debate. Her opening remarks set the tone for what has been a high-quality debate from many noble Lords.
The Green Paper we have been discussing today is named Schools that Work for Everyone. Well, its proposals did not work for the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Gatley. For him, it was apparently the final straw in his general dissatisfaction with the Government of whom he was a part. He resigned as a Treasury Minister 10 days after the Green Paper was published, with much reporting of the fact that grammar schools were a major factor. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, went further, because he also resigned from the Tory party and now sits as a Cross-Bencher—a very cross bencher, it would appear. It is perhaps instructive that we have heard only four Tory Back-Bench speeches today. I would have hoped that more would be present to justify what the Government are seeking to do.
Schools that Work for Everyone is a misnomer. That is not the case if your child fails the 11-plus or if you want your child to attend a school based on a faith other than your own, and certainly not if your child has special educational needs or a disability, because these words do not make a single appearance in the document’s 36 pages. I hope that the Minister will offer an explanation for this oversight, although perhaps it should not come as too much of a surprise because the Green Paper is, after all, about being exclusive, not inclusive. Some would say that that is the raison d’être of grammar schools: it is more about who they keep out rather than who they let in.
Ministers claim that creating more grammar schools will help increase social mobility. We have heard many examples in the debate to head off that argument, and I hope we will not hear any more about that from the Government. Quite simply, all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Today, only 2.6% of pupils at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals, compared with 14.9% across all schools. So it is clear that grammars are not increasing social mobility in the areas in which they currently operate. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, has just talked about Kent. That county has the highest number of grammar schools in the country but also the highest number of failing secondary schools, including academies, of any local authority in the country. As my noble friend Lady Andrews said, grammar schools are often much better at social selection than they are at academic selection.
If the Government were genuinely concerned with increasing social mobility, surely they would invest in early years education—the stage at which state intervention makes the greatest contribution to a child’s life chances. Yet, since 2010 this Government and their predecessor have ruthlessly cut, across the country, the network of Sure Start centres, which provided a vital community resource for less well-off families, many lacking the skills to give their children the early help that is so vital. Sixty-five per cent of nursery school places are located in the 30 most deprived areas in England, yet the Government, who claim to care about social mobility, are about to cut nursery school funding. That shows their true colours: they are about being exclusive, not inclusive. That is the context within which this Green Paper has been forged. It is damaging dogma, seeking to reverse the educational orthodoxy of the past five decades and return to a so-called golden age—a time when society was ordered and people knew their place, at least in the parlance of the Conservative Party.
I will not repeat the statistics that many noble Lords have highlighted demonstrating that grammar schools widen the attainment gap between rich and poor. I found the report published last month by the Education Policy Institute particularly compelling in this regard. My noble friend Lord Cashman rightly emphasised that, in systems with more academic-style activity, educational attainment is more strongly related to family background.
A major factor in this is what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich recalled as “shaming”. There is cruelty involved in stigmatising children at the age of 11, of which we have heard many examples today. Although I was educated in Scotland where there are no grammar schools, I none the less did sit an 11-plus. I remember very much the divisions that have been highlighted today by my noble friends Lord Knight and Lord Liddle, and, most movingly for all Members of your Lordships’ House, my noble friend Lady Taylor. They talked of siblings and friends being separated and people being branded as failures, of snobbery reinforced, class divisions entrenched and, perhaps most importantly, opportunities denied. Who would want or even tolerate those outcomes?
The Green Paper states, on page 28, that selective schools need to ensure that the pupils they admit are representative of their local communities. They certainly do, but they have a lot of ground to make up there. We hear much of the postcode lottery. Indeed, the Prime Minister referred to it when she said that there is selection by house price. Of course, grammar schools defy the postcode lottery. Rather than see themselves as part of a community, they cast their net far and wide, resulting in often ridiculous situations such as children travelling from Brighton to attend grammar schools in the London Boroughs of Kingston and Sutton—50 miles away. Southend, for instance, has four grammar schools, yet only one has a majority of children whose home is in Southend. What is the point of that? This is public money being spent on public education, yet it is being used to stroke the egos of grammar school head teachers for whom results are everything and promoting community cohesion—supposedly a legal duty of state schools—counts for, it would appear, next to nothing.
The Government suggest that creating more grammar schools within the education system will create more choice. As other noble Lords have said, it will, but it will be the schools that are given more choice over pupils, rather than parents given more choice over the school they want for their child.
I turn now to a lesser-highlighted part of the Green Paper, one mentioned by only the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and my noble friend Lord Cashman. The proposal to allow faith-free schools, as well as those currently in existence, to dispense with the 50% limit of pupils from that faith is potentially playing with fire and should be dropped immediately, whatever the fate of the remainder of the Green Paper.
An ugly and worrying consequence of the decision by a majority of the people of England and Wales to turn inward at the referendum in June has been the development of toxic situations in many communities, with many non-British residents fearing for their safety, even those who have lived here for many years and now have British nationality. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, on her fine maiden speech. She told noble Lords that she was now over the worst of the referendum result. I take no pleasure in this, but I am afraid to say to her: “You ain’t seen nothing yet”. The developments that lie ahead of us in the years to come are very worrying.
The Government’s response to those kinds of attitudes in those communities ought to be one of concern, enlightenment, bridge-building, solidarity and hope. Instead, it is none of those things, because the Government want to facilitate a policy that will harden the divisions between children by ensuring that those not of a certain faith will be shut off from their neighbours and friends because they are to be prevented from attending a local school that their parents want them to attend. So much for choice. The Government’s plan is to allow groups of children to be segregated and prevented from mixing while they learn for life, conscious only of each other’s differences and not what binds them together as citizens. This move would have been a negative one at the best of times, and, as I have already alluded to, we are very far away from the best of times.
Walls are dismantled by people coming together, not by keeping them apart. Further selection on the grounds of faith will lead to more pupils being discriminated against, primarily based on their parents’ faith. The Government claim that the cap should be scrapped because it has had little impact on improving integration in minority religious schools, but it has been in place only since 2011 and is certainly not doing any harm. If faith schools are not yet successful in promoting diversity with 50% of pupils of that faith, why on earth would they be more likely to do so with 100%? Like so much of this Green Paper, it just does not make sense.
All the evidence shows that creating more selective schools will not raise overall educational standards and is likely, as I have said, to widen the attainment gap between well-off and poor children. The Government must now give due weight to that evidence and abandon their misguided pursuit of grammar school expansion. If they do not, they will condemn countless children to second-class status and a stigma that some may never cast off. I echo the calls made today by my noble friends Lord Blunkett and Lord Liddle for the Government to focus on standards rather than structures. I also urge the Minister to urge the Secretary of State to address the existential problems facing education today—a teacher recruitment crisis, a primary assessment system in chaos and severe school budget pressures. To sideline those issues while prioritising a policy for which, it should be remembered, the Government have no mandate, would be a dereliction of duty.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing this debate on the important matter of selection in education. I acknowledge that this is an issue about which noble Lords feel passionately and on which opposing beliefs are strongly held. The noble Baroness herself set this tone at the outset. I hope that I can provide some balance to the debate as others have done—in particular, my noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Framlingham. I am aware that this House is privileged to have many distinguished and experienced educationalists contribute to the debate.
As noble Lords will know, and as was mentioned earlier, we are facing great change as a nation as we prepare to leave the European Union—a change that will require us to define an ambitious new role for ourselves in the world. Rather than these proposals being a diversion, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said, or a distraction, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said, I believe that this is the very time we should be seeking to make these changes. In doing so, we need to consider what our place and role should be on the world stage, and how we can best develop our home-grown talent and skills to their full potential to ensure that we can truly compete as a global trading nation.
Those points were raised by my noble friend Lady Vere of Norbiton in her excellent and well-considered maiden speech. Her arguments set out the questions that are at the heart of our consultation and Green Paper, and indeed this debate. She alluded not only to those questions but to the bigger picture and, as I said, our place in the world.
We are required to build a school system which works for everyone and ensures that every child has access to a good school place, regardless of their background, and that education provision caters to the individual needs and abilities of each child. To that extent, I believe that the whole House agrees with me. It is therefore right that we should ensure that each child can go as far as their talent and hard work can take them.
When we look at the global landscape, we see that some of the highest-performing countries have highly selective systems, including the Netherlands, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Indeed, some of those countries were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. Although, as she and the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, said, the OECD’s 2012 PISA concluded no direct link, we should not ignore the fact that the majority of countries performing above England in the international student assessment have a more selective secondary system. It is therefore right that we should question the status quo, as we have done in our Green Paper.
Our education reforms over the past six years have already seen us make great strides in this regard, with the provision of many more good school places. There are now over 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding school places compared with 2010, and a further £7 billion is being invested over the course of this Parliament to deliver new school places. We have also seen more control placed back in the hands of parents and head teachers; a renewed focus on learning the basics in primary school; and initiatives to help young people pursue a strong academic core of subjects at secondary level, ensuring that every child has the key knowledge and skills for later life.
As has been mentioned, teaching also continues to remain a popular and rewarding career. We have record numbers of teachers now entering the profession, with 15,000 more teachers in our classrooms than in 2010. Teacher retention continues to be stable, as it has been for the past 20 years, with three-quarters still teaching in the state-funded sector three years after qualifying.
However, I am sure the House will agree there is still a long way to go. For far too many children in England, a good school still remains out of reach. As my noble friend Lord Framlingham said, 1.25 million children are attending primary and secondary schools in England rated as requiring improvement or inadequate. For some regions this is the case for over a fifth of pupils.
At the same time, demographic pressure for good school places is increasing, so we cannot afford to ignore or shy away from this issue. Doing nothing is not an option. We need to radically expand the number of good school places available to all families, not just for those who can afford to move into the catchment areas of the best state school, or to send their children to private school or to pay for private tuition, as mentioned. Access to good and outstanding schools should no longer be based on a postcode lottery, or whether you are wealthy enough to move or afford tuition. Every child should be able to access good school places and to go as far as their talents will take them, irrespective of their background.
The time has come to tackle the remaining inequalities in the system. Statistics show that those who attend state schools are still less likely to reach the top professions than those from independent schools, which make up only 7% of the population. We must continue to strive to break the link between future career and family background.
Let me be very clear. This is not to say that our existing schools are not already making great progress here. We have more than 6 million children in either good or outstanding places. Indeed, we should also trumpet the good work of our comprehensives—75% are rated good or outstanding. The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, spoke passionately about the experience in Wales. But we have to admit that inequalities persist, particularly for families that are less well off.
We believe there is therefore a strong argument for giving all schools—including selective schools that have a strong track record, experience and valuable expertise—the right incentives to expand their offer to even more pupils. This is why our proposals seek to ensure that universities and independent schools, as well as selective schools, play a full part in raising standards across the whole system. But this is part of a wider education strategy that will ensure that the education system addresses the individual needs and talent of each child, from their early years, through primary and secondary schools, to university and the workplace.
I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, spoke passionately about the inequality that can be created by selection in education, but I can assure her that under our wider education policies, this issue will be addressed in terms of the disadvantages children can experience before the age of 11. That is why total government spending on early years is increasing from £5 billion in 2015-16 to £6 billion in 2019-20. Selective schools will also be required to support primary schools and help them to increase access for disadvantaged pupils.
However, we accept that grammar schools as they currently operate admit too few disadvantaged pupils. Again, points have been made in the debate that they could do more to raise standards for all pupils in the areas in which they are based. That is why our proposals will ask them to do more. Some schools are already showing how this can be done. For example, the five Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham, which run the Opening Doors campaign to challenge preconceptions about a grammar school environment, have made changes to their admission arrangements to prioritise pupil premium pupils, and expanded by 20% to enable more bright children from less-privileged backgrounds to join the school. Secondly, the Wallington County Grammar School in Sutton is seeking to share its expertise to drive up standards more widely through the opening of a new mixed non-selective school, due to open in 2018, and its existing sponsorship and outreach work with local primary schools.
I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, and other noble Lords who have spoken that we are not proposing a return to the old binary system of grammar schools and secondary moderns. “No return to the past”, said my noble friend Lord Framlingham, and he is right. We are instead proposing additional selective schools within a system where more children than ever before already attend a good or outstanding school, so that there is a choice between good selective education and good non-selective education.
In answer to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, we are not proposing to impose grammar schools on communities that do not want them. The Secretary of State will take account of their impact on local communities when considering whether to approve them.
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but could he just explain how it could possibly be, were a selective school to set up in an area that has a successful comprehensive school and therefore take away from that school the most able pupils it has been able to attract up until then, that the character of that comprehensive school will not be affected? I do not see, and I do not think anyone else sees, how that would be possible.
I might have expected the noble Baroness to raise that point, but first, it may not be right that a new selective school is set up there anyway. We need to lower the temperature on this. If it is the case, the whole point is that the selective schools will be used, where appropriate, to help raise the standards in non-selective schools. It is upping the ante and raising up to the higher level.
The Minister seems to take for granted that grammar schools will raise the standards at comprehensive schools when again and again pupils from comprehensive schools are outgunning those from grammar schools wherever you look. He is just wrong about that. I am awfully sorry to say that—no, I am not all that sorry: he is wrong about that.
Again, I note the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, which are clearly opposed to what we are planning, but I can only repeat that it is right to question and look at these issues to see how selection can play a greater part in our education system, as a holistic approach.
We will expect selective schools to play their part, either by supporting other less well-performing schools or sponsoring new schools in areas where they are needed, as well as removing the barriers that prevent disadvantaged students accessing selective education. I took note of the many comments made, notably by my noble friend Lord James, the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, about the 11-plus, the main point being that certainly in the past—a long time ago—the 11-plus meant that children were classed as failures. I must repeat that we are not talking about introducing the 11-plus. We are proposing that more selective schools are introduced in a diverse schools system.
A flexible approach to new selection is the priority. For example, we are proposing to encourage new selective schools to consider admission at later ages and how they could respond more flexibly to children’s differing rates of development, and according to their talents. This could include moving pupils between schools, encouraging this to happen at different ages, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said, such as 14 and 16, as well as 11, or pupils joining the selective school for specific subjects or specialisms.
Selective schools are good schools. Some 99% of selective schools are good or outstanding and 80% are outstanding. They are popular with parents. As I have already mentioned, there are also a number of non-selective schools that are similarly highly rated, but this is a complex picture and about giving parents the choice of the high-quality education that they want for their children—a choice between good selective education and good non-selective education. It is only right we should examine how we can open up this choice to more families.
Contrary to the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, the evidence shows that grammar schools provide good results for those who attend them. Looking at the raw exam results, almost all pupils in selective schools—96.7%—gain five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and mathematics, compared with 56.7% at non-selective schools.
I am very sorry to interrupt the Minister. I would not dispute what he said: I said that grammar schools get good results, better results, because of the demography and the support parents give children to pass the exams. That is why it is social, rather than educational, selection.
I realised that we would probably have a dispute at some point about not only the statistics but the ideological angles that we take.
The most recent research by the Educational Policy Institute indicates a positive impact of around a third of a GCSE grade higher in each of the eight subjects. Even when we take the higher-ability intakes into account, we see that pupils still perform better in selective schools than in non-selective schools. I can assure the noble Lords, Lord Giddens and Lord Cashman, that the consultation focuses on how selective schools can contribute more to ensuring greater social mobility.
A number of studies have found that selective schools are particularly beneficial for the pupils from disadvantaged families who attend them, closing the attainment gap to almost zero. Indeed, one study found the educational gain from attending a grammar school to be around twice as high, of seven to eight GCSE grades, for pupils eligible for free schools meals as for all pupils—around 3.5 grades.
While it is hard to determine the real impact of selection on those who do not attend selective schools, Sutton Trust found no evidence of an adverse effect on their GCSE performance, while others found small adverse effects. Nevertheless, this is evidence based on the selective school system as it currently operates.
Selective schools could contribute in a number of ways, sharing expertise and resources, assisting with teaching and curriculum support, and providing support with university applications. The Government’s proposals intend to make grammar schools engines of academic and social achievement for all pupils, whether they are in selective or non-selective schools.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich asked about the parameters of funding for the new opportunity areas, as Norwich is one of the first that we have announced. We will make available up to £60 million of new funding to support targeted local work in the opportunity areas to address the biggest challenges that each area faces. We expect it to be used to fund local, evidence-based programmes, local project management and evaluation.
I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, that any proposal to remove the 50% cap on faith admissions for faith schools will include proposals to ensure that they promote inclusivity and community cohesion. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, raised a point about plans for existing schools to become selective in a planned manner. I can assure him that the consultation asks for views on how existing non-selective schools should become selective. The Secretary of State will also take account of the impact on local communities when deciding which proposals to approve.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and the noble Lord, Lord Bragg, asked why London schools appear to be successful without selection. There are a number of reasons why London schools have improved in recent years, but there is no evidence to demonstrate that a lack of selective schools is one of them.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to special needs and the need for more teacher training in SEND. In July 2016, the Government published a new framework of core content for initial teacher training, developed by Stephen Munday’s expert group.
I believe that I am running out of time. I have a few more questions that I would prefer to answer, but I fear that I will have to call a halt. I will certainly write to all noble Lords who have raised questions and review in Hansard what I and others have said.
My Lords, I am grateful for a little extra time. It has been a splendid debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords on all sides of the House for their contributions. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, on her maiden speech. She managed to be non-controversial on a controversial subject—we look forward to more of that. We are all in stages of recovery in many ways, but we will go on trying to do our best.
It has been a challenging debate for the Minister and I completely understand why. I began by making a plea for greater clarity in this policy and in educational policy as a whole. I say with the greatest respect to him that we have not had it. What we have done in the House today is to do a service to the Government, because we have provided a wealth of evidence about the impact of grammar schools not only on the children who attend them but on the whole ecology of education and the life chances of children who do not go. The evidence—I think, counterfactual evidence—that he cited in relation to London was hollow in the extreme. I will read his speech with care, but I hope that he will read this debate with care and draw it to the attention of the Minister for Education in this House.
It is imperative that we get the right evidence in the right place at the right time to tackle inequalities in education. That is what this debate has been about. We have heard moving stories about the personal impacts and evidence from my noble friend Lord Giddens about the true nature of meritocracy and how it can be galvanised in a highly complex and highly competitive society. From the problems of failed expectations to which my noble friend Lord Puttnam drew attention to the many issues raised, not least by my noble friend Lord Knight, about the future, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about “standards not structures”, it is clear that there is a wealth of hard information here. I really hope that it will be taken advantage of.