School (Reform of Pupil Selection) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 11:49 am on 2nd December 2022.

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Baroness Blower:

Moved by Baroness Blower

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour

My Lords, I declare my interest as a patron of Comprehensive Future.

Although this Bill concerns a relatively small section of England’s schools, it is concerned with a significant principle about how our education system and service is organised. I believe profoundly that it is an important principle that the education service should provide access on an equitable basis to all children and young people. This is not, of course, what happens in the 35 local authorities where access to certain state-funded schools is on a selective basis.

The majority of the most successful education systems globally are of a comprehensive nature, meaning that, post their primary education, where there is virtually no selection, all children are welcomed by their local school—although I will address the issue of special schools later. Professor Stephen Gorard and Dr Nadia Siddiqui from Durham University have looked into selection. They conclude that

“pupils attending grammar schools are stratified in terms of chronic poverty, ethnicity … special educational needs and even precise age within their year group. This kind of clustering of relative advantage is potentially dangerous for society. The article derives measures of chronic poverty and local socio-economic status… between schools, and uses these to show that the results from grammar schools are no better than expected, once these differences are accounted for.”

Gorard and Siddiqui further conclude that:

The UK government should consider phasing the existing selective schools out” in England. Such an opportunity is afforded by this Bill.

Comprehensive schools raise the attainment of all children. More children do better in a comprehensive system. The attainment gap, which has increased since the pandemic, between disadvantaged and more advantaged pupils, is narrower in comprehensive schools. Figures from the DfE show that non-selective—that is, secondary modern schools in selected areas—produce poor results, statistically significantly below the national average because of the nature of their skewed intake. Research from the University College London Social Research Institute shows that access to grammar schools is highly skewed by a child’s socioeconomic status, with the most deprived families living in grammar school areas standing only a 6% chance of attending a selective school. Interestingly, Gorard and Siddiqui note that their

“analysis also shows that the chances of accessing a grammar school vary hugely by family background, even when we compare children who have the same attainment at age 11”— or possibly 10—as determined by key stage 2 stats.

Access to grammar schools by pupils from wealthier backgrounds is also likely to be associated with additional private tutoring that is not available to their economically disadvantaged peers. Therefore, the 11-plus has become a test that favours those with the ability to pay for tuition, a suggestion supported by the fact that only 3% of children in grammar schools are entitled to free school meals, the most widespread proxy for poverty in our system, as opposed to the 18% to 20% entitlement to free school meals in non-selective schools. At present, about 5% of pupils in England attend a grammar school, but as many as 19% are affected by academic selection, with about 100,000 pupils a year sitting the 11-plus—or, rather, an 11-plus, given that there are over 100 different 11-plus tests. Different selective areas and different grammar schools in so-called non-selective areas all set their own tests. There is no official body overseeing the 11-plus. Neither the DfE nor anyone else is responsible for quality-assuring this multiplicity of tests.

There can be a long-lasting and damaging effect on children from failing the 11-plus, as reported by teachers and parents. It can dent the confidence of 11 year-olds as they begin their secondary education. If they are not selected, axiomatically they are rejected. This is not the frame of mind in which to begin the next phase of their education. However, as demonstrated by an article in the Times last Wednesday, even people who go on to be successful in life may never lose the sense of shame and failure that not passing the 11-plus leaves behind. The headline was:

“Shame of failing 11-plus haunts TV trailblazer.”

This Bill seeks that secondary schools have regard to the comprehensive principle by providing for admission to schools to be not based wholly or mainly on selection by academic ability. As Gorard and Siddiqui suggest, this Bill provides the mechanism to phase out the practice of academic selection and its corollary of rejection. The Bill would leave in place arrangements for admission to special schools for children and young people with a relevant special educational need or disability.

This is a social justice and levelling-up Bill. As I have said, 19% of England’s secondary school pupils feel the impact of selection, whether they face an 11-plus test or not. This is because the overall effect of concentrating higher-attaining pupils in particular schools depresses the overall GCSE results in the surrounding area. Research demonstrates the advantage of teaching lower, middle and higher-attaining pupils together. Higher-attaining pupils continue to obtain highly, while middle and lower attainment levels are generally raised. Kent’s GCSE results being lower than the national average confirm that selective schools do not improve results across the area. A comprehensive principle is that we all do better when we all do better.

As to the social justice and levelling-up points, selective education produces social segregation. The proportion of pupils in grammar schools from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a special educational need or a disability, or who are looked-after children, is extremely low. It follows, therefore, that surrounding schools take a disproportionate number of pupils with disabilities or special educational needs. The law needs to change to end the unnecessary division of children into schools by means of the outdated and unreliable 11-plus scheme. This Bill offers a phased plan to bring about comprehensive admissions policies to England’s remaining state-funded selective schools. This would bring England into line with education systems in Scotland and Wales and ensure a fully comprehensive education system.

In conclusion, while there is currently a grammar school ballot legislation in place, frankly, it is unworkable, and rewriting it is not a good solution to this problem. In evidence to the Education Committee in another place, a conclusion was drawn that the grammar school ballot regulations were designed precisely to retain the status quo. Selection in Guernsey was ended by a parliamentary vote, not a local one. The parliamentary vote was acknowledged and accepted because clear evidence was advanced outlining the reasons and the rationale for the change. The people of the island understood the benefits of phasing out the selection, even when they did not initially agree with it.

I commend this Bill to the House. It is a brief but precise Bill, the effects of which would bring great benefits and enhance the social justice that I am sure that we all seek from our education system. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative 11:59 am, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving your Lordships’ House the opportunity to consider the issue of academic selection for schools, which was, until Prime Minister’s Questions in the other place on Wednesday, probably the most politicised issue in the education system. How do 163 schools in more affluent areas demand such attention, when there are 4,081 schools that are non-selective? Should the local decision-making that has allowed this historical anomaly to exist be taken away by central government to end this situation? I support this Bill as the status quo is unacceptable.

Nothing that I say is to denigrate the hard work of those in these schools. It is not personal, but it is principled and pragmatic. Here, briefly, are three reasons: education is a social experience; there should be parity of parental choice; and there is what I term the micro-geography of education.

While some non-selective schools do not have a broad background of pupils and some families ameliorate the issues I will outline with extracurricular social activities, the profile of our grammar schools, with few exceptions, is narrow. They do not have many children with additional needs, who are on free school meals or who are looked-after. At the census date last year, 68 of our grammar schools had no looked-after children at key stages 3 or 4. That is a product of not giving priority admissions and selecting on the basis of the entrance test only. If I think back to my school and remove all those children, it would have been a poorer education.

Additionally, 13% of children entering grammar schools come from outside the state sector—presumably they are from abroad or the private sector, or have been home-educated—compared with 2% in other state schools. Nowadays, employers do not want qualifications only; they want an appreciation of different talents and life experiences, as well as protected characteristics. Is this really the education we want in the 21st century, and should the taxpayer be funding it? Can the Minister outline whether the taxpayer funds the costs of running these additional examinations?

Secondly, on principle, in England parents should have parity of choice in choosing a good local school, but they are offered other additional choices, such as in the area of faith. Although a larger catchment area is served, parents can choose a faith school—not only Church of England, Catholic or Jewish but, since 2010, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh state-funded schools. It is only right to expand that and give parents of faith parity of choice. If you are going to offer selection, it should be all or nothing.

Parents living in selective areas such as Lincolnshire often want a non-selective system, but for most people, if you want selection, it is not open to you. At the moment, this choice is predominantly not given to parents in deprived areas, which tend to lack grammar schools. Noble Lords might say that that is an argument for bringing them back wholesale; this is where micro-geography is the trump card.

I grew up in a small town in the smallest county—Rutland. Rutland topped the country’s league table for the best GCSE results for the first time, but it has only three secondary schools. Much of that was due to Catmose College in Oakham, under the leadership of Stuart Williams and his great team, which has been improving things year on year, doing their teacher-assessed grades with integrity so the reintroduction of exams meant even more improvement. You could make it a grammar school, but there is no other school in the town and a huge proportion of pupils would have to travel from towns large enough to sustain a secondary school. That would be not a parental choice to travel, but no option.

The second aspect of micro-geography is that, although there has been a policy of expanding grammar schools for intermittent periods, it looks innocuous but is not always. A small town might have two schools: the grammar school is expanded, then the comprehensive school might suffer from a lack of numbers; it starts to have fewer pupils through the door, starts to get less money and then starts to fail. Education is often a microeconomy that is very sensitive to what look like subtle changes at the policy level. There are hundreds of children now travelling out of large towns to get education, because the only school now on offer is a grammar school.

I leave it to other noble Lords to add to the detailed evidence on academic attainment that the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, outlined for these schools. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for sending me some of that information. However, I noted that this is ESRC research. Who funds that? The taxpayer. Surely, we have better things to spend our research money on than looking into an anomaly created by a historical accident in our education system.

I wish I could remove the politics from this, but I fear that even the rather more heavily populated Benches of His Majesty’s Opposition have not been able to grasp this nettle politically and look at the grammar school issue. The greatest irony, in my mind, after the issue raised at Prime Minister’s Questions, is that, when assisted places were abolished, some of our private schools set about raising the money to replace them. For instance, Manchester Grammar School offers one-sixth of its places on scholarships and bursaries. You are perhaps more likely to find more socioeconomically and ethnically diverse children, and more looked-after children, in a private school than in some state-funded grammar schools. If we are going to spend our money on research, we should research that.

Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 12:05 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Blower for promoting this Bill on a subject whose time has come. At a time of scarce public resources, there is a need to spread them as equitably as possible and that particularly applies to education.

What a pleasure it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge: we discussed education issues at the Dispatch Box on many occasions. We rarely agreed, for obvious reasons, but we are in agreement today and I am pleased that she is part of this debate.

Those in favour of grammar schools claim that they help to increase social mobility, but the evidence points in the opposite direction. Today, less than 3% of pupils at grammar schools are eligible for free school meals, compared with 18% in non-selective schools. If grammar schools were really increasing social mobility, all—every one of the 163—would need to demonstrate that more than 18% of their intake were entitled to free school meals. It is clear that they are not increasing social mobility in the areas in which they currently operate.

I have a problem with the term “social mobility”, and grammar schools epitomise the reason why. To give a disadvantaged few a hand up in any sphere is always welcome but, as the free school meals figures show, when it comes to school pupils, they are very few. This suggests a level of self-satisfaction, coupled with an acceptance that the remainder of pupils can be left pretty much to carry on as before. That is why I prefer the term “social justice” to social mobility, because we need to consider the school population in its widest sense and ensure that we do all we can to improve learning and outcomes for all pupils, not just the fortunate few.

Let us not sugar-coat the issue: grammar schools are often much better at social selection than at academic selection. Many children who succeed in gaining entry to grammar schools are from two categories: those who have attended private prep schools rather than their local primary school and so are already privileged, or those who have remained within the state system but come from families whose parents can afford to pay for private tutoring to ensure their children pass the 11-plus exam. I think I know the Minister well enough to believe she genuinely wants to see an increase in social mobility, but not enough in her party share that aim. If they did, surely they would invest more in early years education, the stage at which state intervention makes the greatest contribution to a child’s life chances.

Advocates of grammar schools rarely state that each one needs around three non-selective schools. What about those? They are filled with children who are told, at the age of 11, that they are failures. There is a cruelty involved in stigmatising children at such an early point in their development, and many never recover. Although I was educated in Scotland, where there are no grammar schools, I sat the 11-plus. I very much remember the divisions that caused and the lost friendships that resulted. There are many who recall siblings and friends being separated, with people branded as failures, snobbery reinforced, class divisions entrenched and, perhaps most importantly, opportunities denied. Who would want or even tolerate those outcomes?

The truth is that grammar schools are damaging not just to individual young people, but to communities, because they are about being exclusive, not inclusive. Some would say that that is their raison d’être; it is more about who they keep out than who they let in. They do not raise general education standards. My noble friend Lady Blower mentioned Kent, which 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.

We hear much about the postcode lottery of school admissions, and it could be said that there is already a form of selection by house price. Of course, grammar schools defy the postcode lottery. Rather than seeing 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 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 result are everything and promoting community cohesion—supposedly a legal duty of every state school—appears to count for very little.

There is no shortage of Tory party Members of Parliament in favour of creating more grammar schools, the most vociferous being Sir Graham Brady, the influential chair of the Back-Bench 1922 Committee. That is not a surprise, given that 50% of schools in his constituency are grammars. I wonder whether he would be so ardent if he represented a seat in Surrey, where there are no grammar schools.

The argument is that more grammar schools would create more choice. That would certainly be the case, but it would be the schools being given more choice over pupils rather than parents being given more choice over the school they want for their child. No child should be required to earn a place at their local school.

This issue has been around for as long as I can remember. Everyone in my party is in favour of a fully comprehensive system. Some say that to move towards it would be a distraction to an incoming Labour Government, because of the fuss the media would cause, and so we should not make it a priority. Whether it is a priority or not, I believe it should be a manifesto commitment for the next election. To those in my party who argue otherwise I simply say: if not now, when? I wish my noble friend well with her Bill and look forward to continuing this important debate in Committee.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 12:11 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, for bringing forward this important Bill and giving us the chance to have this important debate, and for taking steps to implement a long-term, consistent Green Party policy—which I have no doubt will be a priority of the first Green Government, should it still be an issue.

I say that noting line ED112 of the Green Party’s policies for a sustainable society, which says:

“Selection by aptitude, ability, or social class runs counterproductive to creating a high quality education system for all students. Excellent all-ability schools with balanced intakes are the best way of ensuring that every child receives a first-rate education”.

The policy goes on to say:

“Many of the existing problems in our admissions system stem from the emphasis on SATS and League Tables, both of which the Green Party will abolish”.

I quote that second point because there is in the nature of grammar schools a fundamental underlying problem of the way that we currently look at education. It is set up as a competition between pupils trying to get into schools, and between schools trying to get higher on the league tables. If we look at this in a much broader context we see that we face so many issues given the state of our world today. We need to develop the human potential of every person on this planet to the best possible level. That would be to the benefit of all of us. It is not a case of saying, “We’re going to get our school system ahead so it’s better than somebody else’s.” We all benefit the better schooling is all around this country, and all around the world.

Many noble Lords already set out some of the stats, figures and evidence, but it is worth picking out three points from three sets of evidence. First, I refer to a Durham University study published in the British Journal of Sociology of Education in 2018. Using the kind of measures that the Government themselves like to use—what it describes as “effectiveness”; that is, exam results—the study found that, once the nature of the intake, including chronic poverty, ethnicity, home language, special educational needs and age of the group, had been taken into account, grammar schools are no more or less effective in outcomes than other schools. They do not achieve what they aim to achieve. The study found that their apparent success is due just to the selection of the pupils.

Coming towards a measure of schools that is much more like the one I would like to see, there was a study in the same year by the UCL Institute of Education that analysed data from 883 children in England and 733 children in Northern Ireland who had similar academic achievements at primary school and were from similar backgrounds. It looked at these pupils at the age of 14 and at some of the traditional tests in English, maths, verbal and non-verbal reasoning, and vocabulary. There was no difference in the result; there was no benefit from the grammar school. Crucially, given some of the issues we face and the concerns that I have about schooling, looking at the pupils’ mental health, engagement at school, well-being and interaction with peers—the way a school prepares pupils for life—there was also no benefit from a grammar school education.

On the broader impacts, not just on individuals but on communities, a hugely valuable study from the University of Bath looked at areas with grammar schools and areas without. It found that inequality in earnings is significantly higher for people who grow up in areas with grammar schools compared with those who grow up in areas with a comprehensive system. The Government tell us that they are concerned about poverty and inequality. Here is an absolutely crucial statistic: low earners who grow up in a grammar school system area earn less than low earners who grew up in a comprehensive school area.

We all know that, given the timings—we saw my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb’s Private Member’s Bill go through the House and be sent to the other place today—we really have to get our skates on to get this one through the same process. This is a crucial issue. I applaud the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and echo the point she made that this certainly is not meant as an attack on pupils, teachers or people associated with grammar schools. People make the best of what they have. Indeed, I visit a number of grammar schools with Learn with the Lords and other school visit programmes. Generally speaking, pupils do not choose to be where they are at school, so I will visit any school. I have visited Eton and Harrow, among others, and found that very educational, in its own way. We need to debate these issues and, more than that, act on them. I wish this Bill from the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, good speed.

Photo of Lord Davies of Brixton Lord Davies of Brixton Labour 12:17 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support this important and timely Bill. I thank my noble friend Lady Blower greatly for introducing it. It has not actually been much of a debate so far; the speeches have been remarkably one-sided. I very much look forward to the Minister’s reply, but that one-sidedness reflects the situation we are in.

This debate is timely. This week saw the launch of an active campaign on the issue, Time’s Up for the Test. It is important, in the sense that it raises the profile of this issue. Those involved in education will be conscious that there has come a time when this issue will need to be confronted; it cannot be tucked under the carpet any more. The mission statement of Time’s Up for the Test says:

“We want the remnants of the discredited secondary school system which dates back to the 1940s to be swept away. Nowhere in England should young children be divided on the basis of some ill-conceived perception of intelligence. The 11+ should be abolished and every child should have the right to attend a comprehensive school.”

I could not put it any better myself, so I am happy to quote what it says. We are talking about comprehensive education. The basis is that all children benefit from a fully comprehensive education; that is education in its wider sense—not just exams but how you learn to live in society.

Earlier in the week, the Prime Minister, in answering a question, referred to parental aspiration. All parents have aspirations for their children; it is only a subset who have the money to support those aspirations. If you really want to aspire then comprehensive education is best for all.

It is important not to underestimate the significance of selective education. There are still 11 local authorities that the Department for Education designates as being highly selective—that is where more than 25% of pupils attend grammar schools. The Department for Education’s own figures show that schools in highly selective areas have the lowest attainment, statistically below the national average. There is no evidence that the high-attaining children gain any advantage but clear evidence that those who find it more difficult to attain a high standard of education do worse. It is one-sided.

We have had some figures and I shall cite some more, from the Comprehensive Future website. Noble Lords can look them up and do their own due diligence. I think they are compelling. One that has already been mentioned but should always be referred to concerns free school meals. They are underrepresented in grammar schools, with just 5% of grammar school pupils taking free school meals, while the average in non-selective schools in selective areas is 23%; that is 5% against 23%. Where is the equity in that? The pupil premium is an alternative measure of disadvantage. It is based on eligibility for free school meals at any point in a pupil’s school life. Grammar schools’ intake is made up of around 8.3% of pupils entitled to the pupil premium compared to a national average of 27.6% for disadvantaged pupils in secondary schools; that is 8% against 27%.

All this goes back to the total failure of the test, as has been mentioned. The test is a test of social selection. It is not a test of innate educational ability. For example, those born in September or October have an inherent advantage over those born in July or August. What justice is there in that? It also benefits those with parents who can afford the all-pervading tutoring that is now available. The figures are compelling. I conclude by emphasising that the superior results, to the extent that there are superior results, in grammar schools reflect the ability of the intake and not the success or otherwise of grammar schools’ ability to educate children.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education) 12:23 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and other noble Lords, I take part in the Learn with the Lords programme, which involves all types of schools, from maintained schools to academies, independent schools and grammar schools, and I meet children and young people who want to learn and are excited about learning. For me, it is about the young people themselves and how we develop them for the best and provide opportunities for all children. I support the School (Reform of Pupil Selection) Bill and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, for bringing it forward. I am pleased that such an important issue is being given the appropriate attention.

Supporters of selective grammar schools often remind us of such schools’ superior results. Admittedly, data pointing to such conclusions abound. For instance, the 2017-18 GCSE attainment data between grammar schools and non-selective schools in highly selective areas show that the average attainment per pupil was higher by almost 30 points in selective schools. When this House briefly discussed grammar schools in June, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, used an analogy to address such statistics. He said that if a hospital was allowed to choose patients and admit only those very lightly injured, its mortality rate would be impressively low. The same goes for schools. If a school is allowed to admit only pupils with above average aptitude, of course its results will be better than those of schools offering education to every student regardless of their abilities. In fact, those who use such data to justify the outdated and frankly traumatising system of selection and rejection would do well to remember the first law of scientific research: association is not causation.

Even disregarding the unfair advantage given to selective schools in allowing them to choose who to admit and who to reject, we can find hardly any evidence-based justification for their existence. It is often said that such schools are centres of excellence, being especially well adapted to accommodating and developing the above average abilities of their students. Yet a University of Durham study which looked at chronic poverty, special educational needs, home language and age in year groups found no evidence that grammar schools were more or less effective than any other schools. Once again, it was pupils’ overall circumstances rather than the school they went to that decisively influenced their academic performance. It would be good if the Government focused on addressing this recurring pattern of academic underachievement and underprivileged background instead of trying to perpetuate an outdated, unfair and exclusive model of schooling.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 12:26 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I very much welcome my noble friend’s Bill. Like her, I am a patron of Comprehensive Future. The relevance of this debate is, of course, that we are in the lead-up to the next election, and we will be interested in my noble friend’s response to this debate. It is a good opportunity, too, for the Minister to state expressly the Government’s offer and promise in relation to selective education and grammar schools. Going back, in 2016, Theresa May as Prime Minister said that the Government intended to lift the ban on the creation of new selective schools. That was in the 2017 manifesto. Since then, we know that, had the Schools Bill made progress in your Lordships’ House and gone to the Commons, a number of concerned MPs there would have wished to amend it to get rid of the ban on selective education. My noble friend Lord Watson quoted Graham Brady’s views and his article in House magazine in July, in which I think it would be fair to say that he evangelised for grammar schools. It is therefore legitimate for us to ask the Minister to say, when she winds up on my noble friend’s Bill, what the Government’s view on selective education is.

I am old enough, I am afraid, to have been brought up in a selective system of education in Oxford. I lived through the experience of the pressure of taking the 11-plus exam, the private coaching that did take place, even in the 1960s, and the devastating impact on so many children who “failed” the 11-plus exam and went to secondary modern schools. I do not underestimate the hard work of teachers in those schools, but they had much less resource and less ambition, and we consigned so many young people to a future that did not always have a positive outcome.

We need to remember that the move to comprehensive education was hugely popular, because this wretched system that divided children when they took the exam, mostly at 10, was very unpopular with many people. Those who now argue for grammar schools present only the image of children who passed the 11-plus; they never talk about the impact on the others. They simply assume that the comprehensive system, if you like, can just chunter on, without grammar schools having a devastating impact on it.

I do not want to repeat all the statistics that we have heard; they are overwhelming. Grammar schools clearly do not aid social mobility. The big argument that Conservative MPs always trot out is that this will give a leg up to poorer children. It is a very small number of kids. Overwhelmingly, their pupils come from more advantaged social backgrounds. As the social mobility tsar said recently, selective education does not work. You cannot have grammar schools without the 11-plus. You cannot have the 11-plus without paid coaching buying advantage. The whole system is rigged against the poor.

In quoting my noble friend Lord Knight, the noble Lord, Lord Storey, was absolutely right. We know that private health insurance weeds out people who are going to make expensive demands on the system. Imagine hospitals doing the same. The outcomes would be better and, no doubt, people would proclaim that they were the best hospitals because their outcomes were better. This is what we often get in relation to grammar schools. I am afraid that until recently Ofsted often fell into that trap.

From the Minister we are looking for a clear statement that the Government will not support the expansion of the grammar school system. I hope they say that they will not allow any more satellite grammar schools to go ahead, because clearly that is driving a coach and horses through the current prohibition. I hope they also say that selection at 11 has absolutely no purpose or point for our young people.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated 12:32 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the register of interests and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this issue.

The central point I want to make today is that we have to make education, and improving standards in education for all young people, our country’s number one priority. In a world in which technology and skills are crucial but in which we are finding it harder and harder to compete, there can be no more important issue. Improving education would enable us to tackle all sorts of issues. It would not just help young people to lead more prosperous and fulfilled lives but strengthen the economy, help us to tackle the deficit, bring new investment and better jobs to towns that have lost traditional industries and reduce the costs of inequality and poverty on the NHS, housing and benefits.

Unfortunately, when it comes to literacy and numeracy, we are lagging behind our competitors. It is not just countries such as China and South Korea; we are struggling even to compete with post-communist nations—Estonia, Poland and Slovenia. For decades, Germany has provided many more apprenticeships and had much better technical education.

Let us look at the challenges in education: so many working-class pupils, particularly white, working-class boys, leaving school without even basic qualifications; decades of not taking technical education seriously enough or providing enough apprenticeships; and a teacher recruitment crisis. Look at yesterday’s scandalous figures showing the plummeting number of young people going into teacher training. Look at the catastrophe of Covid for children from poor or overcrowded homes or those with special needs.

Given all that, who would say, as the Minister for School Standards appointed in September did—thankfully, he is no longer in office—that their “biggest fear of all” in education is the abolition of charitable status for private schools? Whatever you think of the idea, who would say it is the biggest problem in education?

Likewise, given the scale and urgency of the task of improving education for all young people, I am not sure that abolishing selection should be the top priority for an incoming Labour Government. I understand the objections set out to selection at 11, of course, but the Explanatory Notes say the Bill would also prevent schools with sixth forms from selecting pupils for A-levels. What about the BRIT School, which does a very good job on performing and creative arts? What would be the impact on other specialist schools?

Whether we like it or not, selection is a major feature of our education system, whether it is a few state schools, private fee-paying schools or parents buying a home near the best state schools. The question is not whether selection takes place but who gets to choose and on what basis.

According to the Sutton Trust, only 7% of pupils attend independent schools but they produce seven out of 10 High Court judges, more than half our leading journalists and doctors and more than a third of our MPs. Five public schools send more pupils to Oxbridge than 2,000 state schools—two-thirds of the entire sector.

Look what happened in Covid: every independent school I know provided a full timetable on Zoom from day one. I do not begrudge them that at all. Spending money on education for young people, either as a parent or as society as a whole, is the best investment possible, but I do not know a single state school—comprehensive, selective or otherwise—where that happened. Children from poor or overcrowded homes were hit worst of all, so the gulf between poor children and the rest—already a scandal, and greater in the UK than anywhere else—gets bigger than ever.

Instead of abolishing selection, we should look to open up elite private schools to all pupils on the basis of ability, which is what the Sutton Trust proposes. That would open access to leading independent schools by selecting pupils for all places purely on merit, with parents paying a sliding scale of fees according to their means. When this was piloted in Liverpool, open access saw academic standards improve and the social mix of schools become more diverse, with 30% of pupils on free school places and 40% paying partial fees. Top independent schools are prepared to take part in trailblazer programmes on this, benefiting thousands of pupils every year whose parents could not afford fees. Extending that to 100 or more leading—

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Labour

The noble Lord is making his case, but the school in which it was piloted in Liverpool, the Belvedere School, has since joined the state system as a state academy and does not have selective admissions or fees any more. Might there not be a lesson from this that if more of these elite private schools joined the state system, access to them would be much more open than with them charging fees of £15,000, £20,000, £25,000, £30,000, £35,000, £40,000 or £45,000 a year?

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

I am afraid that my hearing aid meant I missed the first part of the noble Lord’s question, but I got the gist of it. I think the answer is that there is not much chance of that happening, but there is a chance that they are prepared to join the Sutton Trust programme. That would have a dramatic effect on the diversity of these schools and the opportunities open to young people from poorer homes.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)

The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, mentioned Belvedere, but there is also the independent selective school Liverpool College, which is now an academy with no selection; and St Edward’s College, which was a selective independent school, is now an academy. The results are better than when they were grammar schools.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

That is fantastic to hear, of course. Can I seek some guidance? Do I get a bit longer after the interventions? Does it work like in the Commons, where we get more?

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, given that there have been a couple of interventions, a minute longer.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

I am very grateful for that. My other point is to ask why the Government cannot increase choice and competition by allowing popular and oversubscribed schools with consistently good results, strong governance and sound finances to provide more places. The problem at the moment is that funding follows the pupils. Oversubscribed schools cannot provide places to accommodate more pupils. Allowing them to provide the facilities first and then pay back the cost of expanding the facilities through the money that the additional pupils generate would deal with that problem.

I am very grateful for the extra time I have been given. I will not read the rest of my speech, but I am grateful to have had the opportunity to contribute to this debate.

Photo of Lord Hendy Lord Hendy Labour 12:39 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I thank the clerks, your Lordships and my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark for allowing me to speak in the gap before him.

I support my noble friend Lady Blower’s Bill as a matter of high principle. I also have a personal reason for doing so: I am one of those who failed the 11-plus. Remembering it now, I do not think I realised then what the significance was of failing that exam, but I remember the sadness of knowing that my mates were going to grammar school while others were going to secondary modern. I remember the shame of the failure of that exam, and I remember the sadness that I brought to my mum and dad for having failed it.

As it happens, I was lucky; I went to a first-rate comprehensive, Mellow Lane School in Hayes, where I blossomed in education for two years. Unfortunately that came to an end because my parents moved to another borough in London, which I will not mention, where I went to a second-rate grammar school and my education diminished in stature.

As it turns out, I have not done too badly in life—I have had a very enjoyable career, and here I am among your Lordships—but I do not cite myself as an example. Statistically speaking, I am non-existent. What I am very aware of, and so are noble Lords now from the statistics that others have mentioned today, is that those who fail the 11-plus are most likely condemned to a worse standard of living and a worse enjoyment of life than those who pass.

I only make the point that, if it is proposed to maintain selection, the Minister should remember the pain that is inflicted on those who are rejected when they fail. That is, as my noble friend Lady Blower mentioned, a scar that I personally bear, and will do so till my dying day.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative 12:41 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I too am glad to speak in the gap. The noble Lord has of course not done too badly, and I am sure that his scar is not quite as acute.

I was delighted when the noble Lord, Lord Austin, made his speech because we had debate for the first time. The basic proposition proposed by the noble Baroness in her Bill—and I congratulate her on bringing it forward—was being challenged, and I think rightly. I must declare an interest: I am the product of a grammar school education. Before I entered Parliament in 1970, 52 years or more ago, I taught in the independent sector and the state sector. I taught in a docklands secondary modern as well as in an Edward VI grammar school, founded in the 16th century, in a little country village. I have therefore seen education in a variety of forms. I believe that it would do no service to abolish a particular group of schools that contains some of the most remarkable schools in our country. I am much more of the Austin persuasion of opening up and encouraging.

The real problem in education, more than any other single factor, is discipline. You need discipline for learning, but so many of our large comprehensive schools do not have good discipline. One sees the shining examples of those that do, but it really is crucial that we concentrate on that—I would say more than any other single factor. If there is no discipline, children cannot properly learn. They go astray and their parents are let down.

I accept that this has to be a very brief contribution in the gap. I hope my noble friend the Minister will recognise the factor that I have spoken about and will not pledge any future Conservative Government to abolish a particular group of schools but rather will seek to bring them all up and give all children an equal opportunity to learn in a disciplined environment.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Shadow Chief Whip (Lords), Deputy Chairman of Committees 12:44 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, maybe I should declare that I went to St Thomas the Apostle, a Catholic boys’ school and comprehensive in Peckham. I thought that I got a very good education from that school; prior to that, I went to St Joseph’s in Camberwell, so I had two good Southwark schools.

I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Blower for securing this spot for her Private Member’s Bill, which has enabled its Second Reading today. She did far better than I have with my Private Member’s Bill. I am way down the list and do not think I will be getting anywhere near this level, but I will keep pressing the Government—you never know. In paying tribute to her, I also commend my noble friend for her work in the field of education over many years. I think we all recognise that and we are pleased to have her here with us, particularly on our Labour Benches.

It is fair to say that all noble Lords who participated in this debate care deeply about education. Ensuring we have the processes, procedures and framework in place so that every child gets the chance they deserve to have a first-rate education is what we all want to achieve. It is also fair to say that schools are struggling with an unprecedented array of issues. They are struggling with the Covid catch-up and all the other issues that we have to cope with, including energy prices, rising food prices and the mental health crisis among children. We talk about and grapple with all those issues every day.

Clearly, there is an uneven playing field in England today. A week ago, DfE data revealed that children on free school meals achieve education outcomes that are 20% lower than those who are not. In Richmond upon Thames, Wokingham or Surrey, 73% of pupils reach a good level of development; but if you grow up in Manchester, Middlesbrough or Luton, it is nearer 50%. Those figures should raise alarm bells for, and are a challenge to, all of us. For me, that is what levelling up is all about.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, gave the whole House some very important points to think about in her excellent speech. As I said, I went to school in Peckham and Camberwell, while the noble Baroness went to school in Rutland. But my housemaster was Michael Wilshaw—who I believe went on to other things. I had a fairly good education at the school I went to. I learned to play the bassoon there and played it in school orchestras. I also learned to love Shakespeare, theatre and stuff. The education I got in my comprehensive school was excellent.

Education to me is all about changing lives for the better, no matter where people live. Sadly, that has failed to be delivered in many cases. If we look at education policy over the last 12 years, for me it is one of failure, and that is most disappointing, and no more so than on levelling up. We hear so much about levelling up from the Government but we see no work at all on levelling up education.

Grammars certainly represent a minority of schools. The evidence does not support that grammar schools improve outcomes for children across the education system. My noble friend Lady Blower highlighted that in some of the figures that she gave to the House, so we support the existing ban on new grammar schools opening. My noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie is right that there is a debate about where we as an Opposition should go with our policy and where an incoming Government should be. I am unable, though, to offer support from the Front Bench for the Bill. There are big issues facing the education system around children’s recovery, the supply of teachers and ensuring that young people leave education with the skills they need to thrive and work throughout life. That is our priority, and it should be the Government’s too.

My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set out, in a very good speech, some of the huge challenges that we face in education today. My noble friend Lord Austin of Dudley made the point about literacy and numeracy. He is right on that; what we need to do is to offer an education to young people that actually equips them for the world of work—to get a job, provide for their family and then be an active participant in society. To me, those are the most important things.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, also mentioned private schools. The Opposition certainly have policy on private schools. We intend to end the tax break for private schools and invest the money that raises in driving up standards for children across the piece, by delivering thousands of new teachers, professional career advisers for every school and work experience for pupils.

I conclude my remarks by again congratulating my noble friend on securing a Second Reading. I will look carefully as the Bill proceeds through the House.

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 12:49 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, I echo other noble Lords in offering my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, on securing a Second Reading for her Bill and in acknowledging her lifetime of commitment to children and the education system. While I understand the intention of her Bill, I must express our reservations about it.

As we have heard in the debate, it may be a truism, but selection by ability is certainly a controversial area. We know there are strongly held views both for and against selection by ability, as we have seen laid out here, in the other place and in the media. However, I am delighted to agree with the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Austin, in saying that the Government’s mission is to raise education standards for all. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said earlier this week, this Government believe in opportunity. To be absolutely clear, that is our priority: to raise the standards of education for every child. We live in a land where the education landscape is diverse; we do not have a uniform system where all schools share the same characteristics. The Government believe that this is one of the key strengths of our education system.

We have heard surprisingly little mention of parents in this debate. Parents clearly like to have a choice of differing types of schools. Schools of all types—small and large, co-educational and single sex, selective and non-selective, faith and secular; there are examples in every category—are oversubscribed. As your Lordships are aware, grammar schools are also oversubscribed. As a Government, we want to support and facilitate choice for parents. We can either look to make all schools the same or we can embrace the diversity of our school system and strive to ensure that all schools are good and outstanding. Your Lordships are aware of the considerable progress that has been made by this Government in that regard, with 87% of schools now rated as good or outstanding.

Fair banding aside, this Bill would, ultimately, end all forms of selection in secondary schools, in both England and Wales, including for entry to school sixth forms. I am not aware whether that was the noble Baroness’s intention, but that is the impact of her Bill. There are 457,000 pupils in secondary sixth forms in England, where selection is commonplace. Selection for sixth-form entry helps ensure that students succeed in the courses that they enrol upon. It helps ensure that young people are choosing the courses that are right for them and where they can thrive, whether they choose to pursue an academic route or more technical route.

As your Lordships have pointed out, selection by ability for children of compulsory school age is less common than in post-16 schools. As we have heard, there are currently 163 grammar schools in England—5% of secondary schools—providing education for 188,000 children. In addition, there are 40 schools that are permitted to select a minority of their pupils by ability or by a form of aptitude selection not otherwise permitted. This right was enshrined within the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Finally, we have schools that select 10%—and only 10%—of their intake by aptitude in prescribed subjects: the visual or performing arts, modern foreign languages or sport. All these schools are part of the choice and diversity that our education system provides. I note that this Bill would retain pupil banding.

Some 97% of grammar schools are rated as “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted. They are popular with parents where they are located and regularly oversubscribed, just like good and outstanding comprehensive schools, including faith schools. Those grammar schools offer excellent standards of education and benefit the children who attend them. Several grammar schools share their expertise with other schools as teaching schools and are experts in stretching the most able pupils.

The majority of the 163 grammar schools now prioritise children eligible for free school meals or the pupil premium for admission. Even so, there is lots more for them to do in this space, as your Lordships have highlighted. I urge all good schools, including our existing grammar schools, to do more to increase the numbers of disadvantaged pupils—and, as my noble friend said, looked-after and previously looked-after children—who they admit, so they act as real drivers of social mobility.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, asked for the Government’s position on the expansion of grammar schools. As I have said, the department’s priority is to concentrate on ensuring that as many children as possible, whatever their ability, have access to an outstanding education, rather than creating more grammar schools.

In reference to the points made by my noble friend Lord Cormack about the importance of good behaviour within schools, that is clearly necessary across all our schools, and I would absolutely agree that it is a foundation on which good curricula and teaching need to be built.

My noble friend Lady Berridge asked whether the taxpayer funds 11-plus exams. I suspect that she knows the answer to her question. Admissions authorities pay out of their schools’ budget, so in effect the taxpayer does pay, but I hope that the House would agree with me that it is not the role of central government to micromanage small elements of school budgets. That feels like a path we should not be going down.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. As I said, we want parents to continue to have a diverse choice of good and outstanding schools that deliver opportunities for every child. Selective schools form a small but important part of this diverse provision. While we have no plans to open new grammar schools, neither do we believe that existing and excellent schools that have, historically, been selective for a very long time should be forced to remove their selective admission arrangements and become comprehensive.

I therefore hope that my remarks give noble Lords something to reflect upon, although I am not optimistic that I will change many minds. I look forward to working with your Lordships more broadly to ensure that all children and young people in our country continue to have access to the highest-quality, and diverse, education.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

The Minister made a major part of her contribution the assertion that parents like choice. I am not sure whether she is aware of the article this year in the Journal of Social Policy by Aveek Bhattacharya, the chief economist at the Social Market Foundation. In a comparison with Scotland, where parents generally do not have a choice of schools, he found that parents in England were less happy. They described themselves as “cynical, fatalistic and disempowered” in the situation of having choice in schools. In asserting that parents like choice, is it not simply the case that a few sharp-elbowed parents like choice and lots of other people suffer in that system?

Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I really do not think that it is helpful to be judging parents and accusing them of being sharp-elbowed. I think that every parent wants the best for their children. In relation to the Scottish education system, I point the noble Baroness to the attainment of children in Scottish schools compared with English ones.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour 12:58 pm, 2nd December 2022

My Lords, writing notes to reply to a debate on the hoof when you are also listening to speeches is tricky, and something that clearly I must develop more fully. I thank all noble Lords who have engaged in this debate. Like my noble friend Lord Watson, I genuinely believe that this is a Bill whose time has come. Many people have long campaigned over the issue of selection, which, as noble Lords will recall from my opening speech, I choose to refer to as “rejection of the many”. We have done that because we genuinely believe that the comprehensive principle is the right one. Recent publicity has shown that even many years after the experience of failing the 11-plus people still feel damaged by it. The testimony given by my noble friend Lord Hendy indicates that even people who are supremely successful—as the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, KC obviously is—have that feeling within them that somehow or other there was a point at which they were not quite good enough.

I note that the contributions on the Bill have come from all sides of your Lordships’ House. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for expressing the view that her education would have been poorer had it been in a school that had a grammar school profile. That was a significant contribution, and it speaks to how the social integration, rather than social segregation, in comprehensive schools is deeply felt by a lot of people and very important to them. I say to her that I will do a lot more work on micro-geography, which is a really interesting issue.

I entirely agree with my noble friend Lord Watson’s preference for the expression “social justice” rather than “social mobility”. If noble Lords take anything away from this debate, they might take away his remark that no child should be “required to earn a place” at secondary school. The fact is that children have a right to be educated to secondary level.

Social class, whether it is described as that or as being disadvantaged, less wealthy or other things, has run through this debate. Clearly there is an issue here about the fact that some families have much greater resources than others, which means that they have privileged access in different ways. For me, this is a significant issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned the inequality wrought in society by the very fact of the existence of grammar schools. Quite a lot has been written about the fact that, if you achieve a grammar school place, you are likely, certainly at some stages of your life, to have a more successful career. Frankly, we do not think that this is the proper way for the education system to be organised.

My noble friend Lord Davies referenced the Time’s Up for the Test campaign that was launched last evening, in a piece of extraordinarily brilliant coincidental timing, since that meeting was arranged before any of us knew that Second Reading would happen today. I was not present, but I understand that it was very successful and gave an opportunity to discuss these issues outside this Chamber. It demonstrates that, although people are able to assert—because they feel they can—that grammar schools are popular, there is also the much less discussed fact that grammar schools are not popular with a whole range of people. I am pleased about that timing and that he talked about one of the aspects of education being how we learn to live together. We do so with a much narrower group of people if we are in a grammar school than if we are in a comprehensive school.

The noble Lord, Lord Storey, made a great speech; I am glad that he was able to stay in the Chamber long enough to make it. He referred to the hospital analogy, also referred to by my noble friend Lord Hunt—this is an apt and well-made point.

The devastation of many children and families at failing the 11-plus was described by many speakers, particularly my noble friend Lord Hunt. Noble Lords probably underestimate how serious this is.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Austin, brought some perspectives to this that meant that it actually was a debate, and I would be happy to discuss this further with him. I realise that it is absolutely true that there is a lot to do in education. I simply feel that this step can be taken now; it is a good step, and it would improve our education system.

Photo of Lord Austin of Dudley Lord Austin of Dudley Non-affiliated

If the noble Baroness thinks that this should be the priority for an incoming Labour Government above all the other problems the education system is facing, why does she think the last Labour Government—several speakers in this debate, including me, were Ministers in it, and one was the Schools Minister—did nothing about this in 13 years?

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour

Since I was not in the Government, I cannot tell the noble Lord what their thinking was. Sometimes the priorities of parties in government are not the right ones. I believe this would be an important priority for any incoming Labour Government to take on. My—

Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but she will be aware that the convention is that the wind-up lasts about three or four minutes. Even though there has been one intervention, we are already on nearly seven minutes, so I advise her to conclude.

Photo of Baroness Blower Baroness Blower Labour

I will conclude by thanking my noble friend Lord Hendy and saying to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that I do not think the word “abolish” was mentioned once in the debate. The noble Lord talked about opening up the system; in fact, that is what the Bill is about. If he visited more schools, he would find that there is quite a lot of discipline in quite a lot of comprehensive schools. I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.