HC Deb 08 June 1976 vol 912 cc1176-8
4. Dr. Boyson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will pay an official visit to Manchester to discuss its external examinations with the local authority.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

Dr. Boyson

Is the Minister aware that published statistics of A-level examination results in Manchester indicated a fall of 20 per cent. between 1973 and 1974 in the results of 26 comprehensive schools there, and a falling off in the results of these comprehensive schools which make up two-thirds of the city's schools, compared with the one-third which are still voluntarily bipartite? If that is so, should there not be an inquiry into this fall in standards?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman has a genius for misreading any research results for his own purposes. He knows that the Manchester report itself entered the most serious reservations about using the results to compare performances of comprehensive schools with other schools. He knows, too, that all surveys that are based upon a classification of the school at the moment when the examination results are obtained are subject to the criticism that many of the pupils in comprehensive schools have, in the course of their secondary education, been educated in more than one type of school.

Mr. Hatton

Does my hon. Friend recall that when the survey results were first published in The Times Educational Supplement they appeared under the heading Manchester shaken by survey of comprehensiveness but that within a month the TES had considerably modified its point of view and said that results of this kind were notoriously difficult to assess, and that there were too many alternative explanations for the differences in the different sets of schools? Even as late as April of this year, in the reorganisation of Catholic comprehensive schools before the municipal elections, the same propaganda was put out, but it resulted in the Conservatives losing the seat and Manchester remaining under Labour control.

Mr. Fowler

I recall all that with crystal clarity, and I can only express the hope that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) will show the same modesty and willingness to admit former error as The Times Educational Supplement did.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will the Minister say what kind of explanation would be acceptable from Manchester, if the information that has been published is supposed to be unreliable? Will the Department put inspectors in to produce a report that we can all understand and agree about?

Mr. Fowler

I can give no guarantee that our research projects will be based in Manchester, high as my respect is for that city. We are funding a research project through the University of Hull, which I hope will be better controlled and more reliable than the Manchester survey, which was never designed to be used for the purposes for which Conservatives use it.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend agree that successes in external examinations since comprehensive education was introduced all over the country are massively greater than before? Everyone knows that except the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson). Does my hon. Friend accept that if the 11-plus examination was still as widely used as it was formerly, vast numbers of children who have taken first-class honours degrees, some of whom actually failed the 11-plus, would have been unable to take them? It ill becomes those who condemn comprehensive education not to look a little further and see the massive success that it really is.

Mr. Fowler

I agree with my hon. Friend. He and I, however, as educationists, must share the blame for one failure, namely, the failure to enlighten the hon. Member for Brent, North, however hard we try.