HC Deb 13 December 1989 vol 163 cc1089-129 10.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

I beg to move, That the draft Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved. This draft order contains provisions which represent the most far-reaching changes to education law for almost half a century. Such changes are not undertaken lightly, and while the order reflects the Government's general education policy, it is a uniquely Northern Ireland piece of legislation.

The Government first published their proposals for reform in March 1988. In the 21 months since then, there have been two formal periods of consultation—first on the original discussion document, and secondly on the order itself. In practice, however, the consultative process has been continuous over the period. I said at its outset that the consultation would be genuine—that we would listen, discuss, and change where appropriate. That commitment has been honoured.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene so early in his speech. I congratulate him on the extent of the consultation, which has been real and widespread, in marked contrast to that which preceded the Education Reform Bill. Will he please tell us why, bearing in mind the importance of integrated education, he has not taken the trouble to meet the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education?

Dr. Mawhinney

I shall come to integrated education later in my speech. I have met many groups who have been involved with integrated education, and representatives of the schools and of the original two trust groups which were set up and are, as it were, the parents of those trust groups. The council is a much more recent group. It had an opportunity to make representations during the consultation period.

The order is the product of more than 5,000 written submissions, a large number of oral presentations and numerous discussions in other forums. It contains many changes from the proposals that were originally put forward and reflects as broad a consensus of support in Northern Ireland as we can achieve. I am grateful to all who recognise the importance of these reforms and who contributed of their knowledge and experience.

The Government have two main objectives in introducing this legislation. The first is to raise educational standards. Northern Ireland's young people are its greatest natural asset. Some of them achieve A-level and general certificate of secondary education examination results which are among the best in the United Kingdom, but at the other end of the academic spectrum, Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of pupils who leave school without any formal qualifications. We intend to preserve the best. We must secure improvement elsewhere.

Our second objective is to give parents more choice and involvement in the education of their children, on terms similar to those enjoyed by their counterparts in England and Wales. These twin objectives are reflected throughout this order.

Giving effect to the first objective, the order will set in place a common curriculum to be followed by all pupils from the age of five to 16. This will guarantee them a broad education based on common programmes of study and offer a common basis for assessing what progress they are making. The order lays down that the curriculum must include six areas of study within which pupils will follow a number of compulsory subjects. In addition, hon. Members will note the inclusion of six important educational themes which will be interwoven with, and taught as part of, the compulsory subjects. This framework will leave adequate room in the timetable for schools to add to the common curriculum those subjects most appropriate to the children in each class. In future, no child will be disadvantaged because his or her school does not offer an educationally balanced programme, or allows its pupils to opt out of essential areas of the curriculum.

The continuation of a selective system of secondary education will not present a barrier to achievement for those outside the grammar school sector. I firmly believe that, in the long run, secondary intermediate schools will benefit most from these proposals. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] All schools will have the same basis for their common curriculum and will, in addition, be able to develop their own particular strengths. These curriculum reforms will present secondary intermediate schools with an unprecedented opportunity to achieve increased status and, in the opinion of many of us, long-overdue public esteem.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

I thank the Minister for giving way. Does he not recognise that many secondary intermediate schools already have enhanced status, which was granted to them by the education and library boards when they were allowed to change their names and call themselves high schools because of the distinctive courses and qualifications that youngsters attending them could achieve?

Dr. Mawhinney

Yes, I do, and I am confident that the reform proposals will enhance not only their status, but that of other secondary schools also.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I thank the Minister for giving way and apologise for intervening so early in his speech, but my point may clear up something. What exactly does he mean by "enhancing the status" of a school?

Dr. Mawhinney

As Northern Ireland Members know, I mean that there is widespread perception in Northern Ireland that, if at all possible, parents wish their children to go to grammar school. That is unfair to a significant number of secondary schools which deliver good education now and which, as a consequence of these proposals, will he enabled to deliver even better education—and will be seen by the community to be delivering better education—

Mr. Mallon

They will do the opposite.

Dr. Mawhinney

The people of Northern Ireland fiercely defend the many positive values in their society, the moral and social well-being of their children, and the preservation of their traditions. At the same time, they are increasingly receptive to changes which will strengthen those values and play a part in bringing together the two communities.

Historically, Northern Ireland's children have been educated separately—by religious belief and tradition. An increasing number of parents are now demanding a third option. They want their children educated in the same classroom as children from the other side of the community, in a school which values both traditions. So this order contains new arrangements to help establish integrated schools. It also places a duty, for the first time, on the Department of Education for Northern Ireland to encourage and facilitate integrated education.

That does not mean that we intend to impose integrated education. We do not. It will happen only when and to the extent that parents themselves choose it. This order also enables Government to offer greater and earlier help to those seeking to establish new integrated schools. It signals our commitment to afford integrated education equal legitimacy alongside the controlled and voluntary sectors.

Mr. Eddie McCrady (South Down)

I thank the Minister for giving way again. He is obviously going to use the term "integrated education" and "integrated schools" considerably during his speech, so for the benefit of the less well informed, such as myself, will he define what he means by those terms? Does he mean 50 per cent. Catholic plus 50 per cent. Protestant, or 80:20 or 10:90, or does he mean to include other religions as well?

Dr. Mawhinney

No, it does not mean 16 to 90. It means exactly what the order defines it to be. If the hon. Gentleman will be patient for a few minutes, I shall come to precisely the point he raises.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Does the Minister agree that, if we are to have three types of schools in Northern Ireland, they should all be treated equally? Is it not a fact that the order discriminates in favour of what the Minister calls integrated education and will mean the reduction of money to other schools which have previously achieved good work in the education system?

Dr. Mawhinney

No, I do not accept that. The capital arrangements in Northern Ireland to which the hon. Gentleman referred are exactly the same as those in England and Wales. Schools with no predominant majority of one particular group on the governing board, such as controlled schools, receive 100 per cent. capital funding. The schools in which one group retains an overall majority on the board of governors receive 85 per cent. That applies to Catholic maintained schools and voluntary grammar schools in Northern Ireland, some of which would be perceived as Protestant voluntary grammar schools. That is exactly the same as in England and Wales. The new proposed integrated schools will not have any group holding a majority on the board of governors. Therefore, they qualify, as does a controlled school, for 100 per cent. capital funding.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Is the Minister prepared to give the precise percentage given to Catholic schools in England and Wales?

Dr. Mawhinney

Not without notice, but I can obtain the information for the hon. Gentleman. We are talking about Northern Ireland here.

Mr. McNamara

The Minister drew a comparison between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Dr. Mawhinney

The arrangements between those schools which have no overall majority in control of the governing body and those which have are similar in Northern Ireland, England and Wales.

Mr. Beggs

There are more Members present tonight than there have been for some time. Will the Minister clear up the confusion over the extent of interest and enthusiasm in Northern Ireland for integrated education? Does he agree that in a recent survey carried out in the Coleraine area—a likely spot for developing integrated education—only 4 per cent. of parents interviewed considered that they might send their eldest child of pre-school age to an integrated school? That is a reflection of the level of interest across the Province. It will take much promotion by the Minister and financial inducements to develop integrated education.

Dr. Mawhinney

I have no idea whether those figures are well based. If I understand the implication of the hon. Member's question, he seems to hint that, because only 4 per cent. of people in Northern Ireland are interested in integrated education, the option should not be available to anybody because that is not a big enough percentage to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. The basis of the order is that an option will be made available of equal legitimacy to parents in Northern Ireland. It will be up to them to decide whether integration should take place, to what extent and how quickly.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

Does the Minister take comfort from the poll conducted by the Belfast Telegraph which shows that large numbers of people in Northern Ireland from both parts of the community want to see the integration option made available? In Lagan college, the numbers increased from 28 at its inception to nearly 600 pupils today. About 1,700 pupils are now in integrated education, and ultimately that must be a matter for parents.

Dr. Mawhinney

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his robust and long support for the concept of integrated education in Northern Ireland. I am grateful to him far drawing that reference to the attention of the House, thus saving me from having to do it. Perhaps I may now make some progress with my speech.

Mr. Mallon


Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his own speech. I shall come back to integrated education.

I spoke about equal legitimacy and I stress the word "equal". Assistance to this group of schools does not imply a lessening of esteem for any other type of school; nor is integrated education a panacea for Northern Ireland's future. It is a legitimate education option and will be treated as such. Its legitimacy is no more and no less than other existing school options.

We recognise, however, that for the foreseeable future the majority of children in Northern Ireland will continue to be educated in schools which reflect the two different traditions. Given that reality, it is vital that our young people learn early that differences do not have to lead to division but can become the strength of a society. We intend, therefore, that the school curriculum should play its part in fostering greater understanding, tolerance and respect across the community divide.

Therefore, for the first time, all children of all ages in all schools will study two new cross-curricular themes—education for mutual understanding, and cultural heritage. In addition, they will learn from a common history curriculum. Those changes are designed not to produce a homogenised Ulster man or woman, but to allow all in the community to live comfortably with cultural diversity and differences of aspiration, without threat to their own beliefs and identity.

Religious education occupies a central role in the curriculum. The order will strengthen the quality of religious education teaching by opening it to inspection by the Department's inspectorate, where a board of governors so wishes. The order also enables arrangements to be made for the provision of a core syllabus for religious education, and to that end constructive discussions have already taken place between the main churches.

For some, an important element of their identity is the Irish language. The Government recognise the important place that the language occupies in the educational and cultural life of a significant proportion of the population, as well as its place in the curriculum of many schools. The order therefore enables children to study Irish in addition to, or instead of, one of the major European Community languages which the school must also offer, in accordance with their parents' wishes.

If parents are to be constructively involved in their children's education, they need more and better information about how well their children are performing at school and how the schools themselves are performing. Schools, too, need to know how their pupils are progressing so that they can gear their teaching to each child's needs. Therefore, the order will set in place arrangements for the regular monitoring of pupil achievement. It is anticipated that the arrangements will follow broadly those being introduced in England and Wales. The aggregated assessment results of all the pupils in a school will form part of the annual report which each school will produce. The report will be available to parents and will contain a wide range of information about the school's activities and educational opportunities.

Among the most important provisions in the order are those in part IV, which relate to the admission of pupils to grant-aided schools. The Government consider it unacceptable that parents who wish to send their children to a particular school which has places available to accommodate them are prevented from doing so by artificial quotas. We intend that admissions will be constrained only by the physical capacity of the school. Parents will be able to choose the school they wish their children to attend, and the school will be obliged to admit them so long as it has places available.

Hon. Members will already be familiar with the concept of the local management of schools, which was introduced in the Education Reform Act 1988. Schools in my constituency have been managing their own budgets for several years, and I believe that none of them would wish to return to the old system. The new delegation arrangements in part V of the order give those directly involved in the day-to-day operation of the school much greater financial control over their own priorities.

I now turn to Part VI of the order, the provisions of which are intended to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, mainly through the establishment of integrated schools. These provisions are introduced in direct response to public demand. The integrated education sector is as yet small, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) said. It comprises eight primary and two secondary schools, with some 1,600 pupils in all. But its growth has been rapid, and I pay warm tribute to the determination and perseverance of parents who have achieved this, at some personal sacrifice.

The Government's consultation paper included a proposal for a new category of schools to be known as grant-maintaned integrated schools. Responses were strongly supportive of the proposals and advocated that they should be extended, in particular, to provide the means for assisting new integrated schools with strong growth potential to get started. Both these proposals are reflected in the order. Grant-maintained integrated schools will be established by parents choosing, through secret ballots, to transfer a school from its existing structure to GMI status.

Throughout this part of the order there are key references to the need for the enrolment of an integrated school to include "reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils". A number of representations have been made that this provision should more strictly define integrated schools as having an equal balance in the numbers of pupils from each tradition.

We have carefully considered these representations. It is axiomatic that an integrated school should have a reasonably substantial representation of pupils from both backgrounds, and Governments will seek to ensure that this is always the case. However, we also want the aspirations of as many parents as possible for integrated schooling to be realised. The harsh reaity is that, in Northern Ireland, only a few schools could hope to achieve rough equality of balance and maintain it over a period of time. In our view, therefore, the end result of imposing such a rigid definition would be to reduce the number of eligible schools to unacceptably low levels.

Physical numbers are important, but they are not the sole determinant. Indeed, the key features which are likely to distinguish integrated schools from others will transcend considerations of mere arithmetic. The perception by parents of the character and ethos of an integrated school will depend on how the school operates day by day, and how effectively it respects and accommodates the cultural identities of all its pupils. The central responsibility for offering these guarantees to parents must lie with the managers and teaching staff of the school.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West)

Many Conservative Members support the order as a genuine attempt to break down sectarianism in Northern Ireland. However, I am worried about the governing bodies of the schools. Can my hon. Friend assure us that, although there is nothing in the order, there will be a balance between the two communities on the boards of governors? At present, nothing in the draft order requires those making nominations to have regard to the balance between the two communities.

Dr. Mawhinney

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for the general principle of integrated schools. Integrated schools are defined in the order in terms of their management, control and ethos. If they do not reflect some element of balanced representation of the two communities in all three of those attributes, they will not qualify under the terms set out in the order. I believe that that is the assurance that my hon. Friend seeks.

Mr. Ashdown

Like the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Bellingham), I support the order. The Minister has provided what we seek. He talked about a rigid equation. However, no one has asked for a rigid formula. We want some statement that will allow for a balance; something that might be left for the courts to decide in the last analysis. By no means do we want a 50:50 analysis. He used the words "a rough balance". That is exactly one of the characteristics that we seek. If he can say that in his speech, why can he not enshrine it in the Bill?

Dr. Mawhinney

For the reasons which I have already given the House. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that I said that the Government recognise the importance of having significant numbers of pupils from both Protestant and Roman Catholic backgrounds if the ethos and character of the school is to be truly integrated. The Government will seek to achieve that when development proposals are submitted, subject to parents choosing to opt the school out of an existing structure into a grant-maintained integrated structure.

Mr. John David Taylor (Strangford)

If a school opted to become an integrated school and was accepted as such, but after a time failed to comply with the conditions and criteria which the Minister has just described, what kind of school would it be? Could it convert back to being some other form of school?

Dr. Mawhinney

The order covers entirely those circumstances. The board of governors ultimately has legal responsibility, and if it did not carry out that responsibility under the order, it would be replaced.

In Northern Ireland, unlike in England and Wales, it is proposed that a school can change its character at the time of acquiring grant-maintained status. There have been some representations that special arrangements, similar to those made in the Education Reform Act 1988, should be made in this order to protect the existing ethos of a school acquiring GMI status. However, they ignore the fundamental difference that, in Northern Ireland, a grant-maintained integrated school can only have an integrated ethos, and if a school was not formerly integrated there must of necessity be a change of ethos.

Let me also emphasise that schools do not just proceed automatically to integrated status following a ballot. Applications will be decided by the Department of Education having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including whether or not the school would be likely to be attended by reasonable numbers of both Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils. It will also be possible for a proposal to be approved subject to certain conditions.

Part VII of the order deals with further education. The further education sector in Northern Ireland plays an important role in the training of suitably qualified young people who have the knowledge and skills to support the economic life of the Province and create new areas of enterprise. Colleges will henceforth be given delegated budgets which will enable them to meet more effectively the needs of the communities which they serve. They will also have new governing bodies in which local business and professional people will have a major involvement. Education and library boards will be given new specific responsibility for the strategic planning and the preparation of schemes for the overall further education provision in their areas.

The Catholic maintained school system is an important element in Northern Ireland's education system. This sector will benefit from the creation of the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, described in part IX of the order. Both Government and the Roman Catholic Church authorities saw the need for a central body which would promote effective management in Catholic maintained schools, as well as advising the Department and the education and library boards on matters relating to these schools.

The Government welcome the creation of the council, not in any sense as a sixth area board, but as an important element in its objective to raise educational standards in all parts of the system. The statutory responsibility to provide curriculum support for all types of schools, including Catholic maintained schools, will fall to education and library boards.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is the Roman Catholic council a public body in the same sense as the education and library boards, and therefore subject to scrutiny by the ombudsman and the Fair Employment Commission?

Dr. Mawhinney

It is a public body, the members of which are appointed either through the Church or the Department of Education.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Will it be subject to the ombudsman?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. I shall double-check the answer.

Mr. Alton

I am grateful to the Minister, who has given way a number of times. On the issue of the reorganisation of schools within the Catholic sector, where there is some need to reorganise in any event, can he give an assurance that capital expenditure and grant rate will be reconsidered and that he will be open to representations on that issue and on that about governing bodies?

Dr. Mawhinney

We always take seriously a request from all sectors of the education community for capital expenditure. That is foremost in our thinking on reorganisation and rationalisation schemes when, each year, we decide how to disburse the capital programme. I hope that that is the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks.

I can tell the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that the council will be subject to the ombudsman procedure.

Rev. Ian Paisley

And to the Fair Employment Commission?

Dr. Mawhinney

Education does not come under the auspices of the agency, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Another feature of this order that has been welcomed is that it clarifies the responsibilities and roles of each of the major partners in the education service in Northern Ireland. At a time of radical change, it is important that each partner in the education service knows its role and that that role is valued. In particular, the education and library boards will have a central role in supporting the implementation of the reforms. They are to have major new statutory duties relating to curriculum support and in-service training. As major partners in the delivery of the education service, their views, as well as those of the CCMS and others, will continue to be sought and to influence education policy in the Province. It will be essential that the close partnership that already characterises our system is both maintained and strengthened to permit a smooth transition to the new arrangements. I am committed to ensuring that that will happen.

Teachers are at the forefront of these changes. One of the prime objectives of this partnership must be to support them, both professionally and with resources, as they discharge their duties. We all admire their professional commitment and are grateful to them for their dedication to the children we place in their charge every day. The Government have already shown that support for teachers by the decision to phase the proposed introduction of the programmes of study, so as not to overburden them or their schools.

I do not under-estimate the size of the challenge ahead as we implement these reforms. Meeting that challenge will, I believe, be exciting for everyone involved. It will also be costly. Major programmes of in-service training for teachers and boards of governors have been initiated. Large capital and equipment expenditure will be required. The Government are committed to providing the necessary resources and additional money has already been allocated. I intend to make a further announcement soon about the future levels of increased support that we shall be making available. That will demonstrate our commitment to the classroom.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

My hon. Friend has told the House that this is a measure of massive importance for the reform of education in the Province. Does he really believe that it is satisfactory for such a measure to come before Parliament that is unamendable and with no opportunity for any debate in Committee or on Report? Can my hon. Friend reassure my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and me that this measure has the approval of the Government of the Irish Republic?

Dr. Mawhinney

I shall begin with the last point. This measure has not been presented to the Government of the Irish Republic, so I have no idea of what their views might be. It certainly does not come to this House with their approval, as it has never been presented to them for their approval. Indeed, it has not been presented to them for comment.

As to the hon. Gentleman's first point—

Mr. Gow

Honourable Friend.

Dr. Mawhinney

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon.

As my hon. Friend knows, his first point is a matter not for me, but for the Leader of the House. He also knows that Northern Ireland business on transferred matters is conducted through the Order in Council procedure in the House. It was at least partly with that in mind that we conducted an extensive consultation during 21 months in Northern Ireland. Like my hon. Friend, I would wish to see the order in as good shape as possible and as sensitive to the needs of the children of Northern Ireland as it is possible under the circumstances to achieve. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that we have sought to do that in presenting the order to the House.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Mawhinney

No. I have almost finished, and I have given way generously.

Hon. Members will recognise that the order is a major piece of legislation. To permit hon. Members as much time as possible to comment on its provisions, I do not intend to go into more detail. All legislation that comes before the House is important, but that which affects the education of our children, and thus the future quality of our society, is particularly important. The fact that the legislation concerns Northern Ireland, with its unique combination of social and economic problems, gives the order an added significance. It deserves our special attention. I am honoured to commend it to the House.

10.51 pm
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) took the words out of my mouth when he asked a simple but important question. I have been a parliamentarian for a considerable number of years, but I come to my present position as Opposition spokesman for Northern Ireland in some kind of virginal innocence.

We have before us a document which is hardly insubstantial. It is a weighty tome. It contains what the Minister has described as the most fundamental revolutionary changes in Northern Ireland's education system since the war. The sadness is that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) said last night, the matter would have been best dealt with in some devolved system of government where Northern Ireland representatives could at least have had the opportunity to debate and amend what is being proposed. In the absence of any devolved Northern Ireland Parliament, the order should at least have been debated in Committee so that we could have subjected it to the test of scrutiny and tabled amendments.

I should have preferred that to the further centralisation of power in the hands of the Secretary of State, whose presence we note. I am sure that he has read article 158 which further enhances his plenipotentiary powers in Northern Ireland. We should have preferred a different method of dealing with the order.

The Labour party welcomes some elements of the proposals. The Government's commitment to integrated education, the expansion of the curriculum to include courses designed to improve cross-cultural harmony and the abolition of the 11-plus examination in its present form are all supported by the Opposition.

Mr. Mallon

This debate is not about integrated education. It is about whether any sector should take financial preference over other sectors and be able to jump the capital expenditure queue. It is about the justice of the proposal.

Mr. Stott

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I intend to deal with integrated education. If he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have no doubt that he will make a robust contribution to the debate.

We support certain elements in the order. However, it is an ill-informed and ill-conceived attack on Northern Ireland's education system. The Minister referred to financial support for the recommendations. Northern Ireland's education system is underfunded. Between 1979 and 1986, net expenditure on education, libraries and arts in Northern Ireland fell from 22.7 per cent. of the Northern Ireland budget to 20.9 per cent. If we use the GDP deflator to calculate the necessary level of spending, by 1986 education in the Province was underfunded by £35 million. Despite that evidence, the Government say that there have been no cuts in the education budget.

That claim was refuted by the Southern education and library board in a paper to the Secretary of State for Education on 29 April 1986. It said: Since 1980/81 the annual increases in cash allocation to our board have been insufficient to keep pace with inflation. Evidence of underfunding is backed up by articles in the Belfast Telegraph: City schools face £700,000 in cutbacks and Government will force more closures and Good and bad news as board agree cuts and Education blueprint will need cash aid, warns head. Without sufficient funding, Northern Ireland's schools will be unable to implement these expensive and far-reaching changes.

Rev. Ian Paisley

If there are to be across-the-board grants to schools, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we must first raise the level of all schools and then deal with the grant system?

Mr. Stott

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that underfunding is a major problem. If the proposals in the order are applied to schools that are already underfunded, they will increase their existing problems.

Who is to implement the changes? Who will be at the sharp end'? Those dedicated men and women in Northern Ireland who are responsible for teaching Northern Ireland's children will have to implement them. I am married to a teacher. I know from first-hand experience that the education system in England and Wales is experiencing great difficulties as a consequence of its reorganisation.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

And Scotland.

Mr. Stott

Yes. My hon. Friend reminds me that Scotland is experiencing the same difficulties.

The core curriculum, testing and opting out have put great pressure on the education system in England, Wales and Scotland. The teaching profession in Northern Ireland has been steadily demoralised during the 10 years of Conservative Government. Morale is at an all-time low, with a constant flow of teachers quitting the education system. Recent research shows that in 1988 the number of teachers retiring prematurely through ill health increased by 42 per cent. and that during the past 10 years the ratio of teachers leaving the classroom before retirement age has gone up by a staggering 260 per cent.

David Allen, the leader of the Ulster Teachers Union, blamed those figures on teachers being "saturated with innovation". Stress consultant Dr. Sandra Mills warned that the Government's proposed reforms will serve only to increase teacher stress and further undermine the delivery and standards of education.

The result of the drain on teaching resources has been extra pressure on the remaining teachers, with substitute teachers now being so scarce that the absence of a single teacher may result in other classes being swollen by as many as 50 pupils. Only today I learned that the pupil-teacher ratio in Northern Ireland is the worst in the United Kingdom. The situation is compounded by the chronic lack of investment in the physical environment of schools in the Province. Because of the Education Reform Act, teachers in England and Wales have no direct salary negotiations. I understand that that is not the case in Northern Ireland.

This evening I received a factsheet from the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, stating: The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 currently provides for the Department determine teachers' salaries. Practice to date has been for the Department to issue regulations which encompass the agreements reached by employers representatives (including the Department) and the recognised teachers' unions at negotiations. It is now being proposed that unidentified 'prescribed persons or bodies' may determine teachers' salaries. This new provision has been included in the Draft Order laid on 23 November 1989; it did not appear in any of the Consultative Documents nor in the Proposal for a Draft Order published in June 1989. There has been absolutely no consultation on this matter which is of central importance to all teaching unions in Northern Ireland.

In spite of what the Minister said about the consultation period, he has failed to consult the teachers on the important issue of salaries.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister should follow the precedent of his former colleague in the Northern Ireland Office who, in a similar situation when something was introduced into an order at the last minute, gave the House an undertaking that he would introduce amending legislation at the first opportunity?

Mr. Stott

Perhaps the Minister will note what the hon. Gentleman said, and perhaps we can persuade him during the debate. Having listened to the veracity of the arguments, he may very well take that point on board.

I am conscious of the time and I know that other hon. Members wish to speak so I shall try to get through my speech as quickly as I can.

Although official figures show, and the Minister has pointed out, that school leavers in Northern Ireland are more likely to leave school with A-levels—23.4 per cent. compared with 16 per cent. in England and Wales—the figures at the other end of the scale show that in Northern Ireland 21.9 per cent. of school leavers leave school with no GCE or CSE qualifications. The figure for Wales is 16 per cent. and in England it is only 9.6 per cent. Clearly, although the Northern Ireland education system is doing well for those geared towards A-levels and higher education, it is not performing effectively for the majority of schoolchildren not geared to those qualifications.

We believe that the current attainment problems are a direct result of the selective system of education in the Province which labels children as educational failures at an early age and seriously limits their future opportunities. We are concerned at the omission from the order of a serious appreciation of the differences in educational qualifications of school leavers from the Catholic and Protestant backgrounds. The 1978–79 report of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights highlighted the fact that, in 1985–86, 19 per cent. of leavers from Protestant schools were classified as having no qualifications, compared with 25 per cent. of leavers from Catholic schools, and that in 1987 it would have required a 10.4 per cent. increase in the number of Catholics leaving school with A-levels to match the Protestant position. That is unacceptable, and I do not believe that the order has addressed the problem.

We welcome the fact that the Government have substantially withdrawn their proposals to allow schools to opt out. They tried to justify opting out on the ground that it represented a democratisation of education provision. As the Minister with responsibility for education admitted, and I think that I quote him fairly, absolutely no one thought it a good idea. People appreciate that in reality opting out represents a Government attempt to centralise educational power by further removing local control and placing further additional powers in the hands of the Secretary of State.

Opting out in Northern Ireland now applies to only one class of school—integrated schools. Once a school is officially recognised as integrated, it becomes eligible for grant-maintained integrated status. Labour Members are strong supporters of the concept of integrated education and believe that it has a vital role to play in the development of a school system which does not promote and reflect sectarianism. There is growing support in the Province for integration. A poll conducted in April last year for the Fortnight magazine showed that 67 per cent. of people were in favour of the Government supporting integrated education. However, we are concerned that the Government's proposals for opting out may seriously discredit integration as an option throughout the education system in Northern Ireland.

I have recently received a letter from the Belfast Charitable Trust for Integrated Education, which says: Several governors of integrated schools have in recent weeks declared their opposition to seeking GMIS status for their schools if the draft order is not suitably amended. We fear that if it is not we will soon have a small number of schools outside the legally defined integrated system, but accepting our definition of integration (i.e. schools where Protestant and Catholic children are educated together on a footing of equality), while the schools inside the legally defined integrated system will not be accepted by the integrated education movement as properly integrated. Although we support the principle of integration and integrated schools, we believe that the Government are going about it in the wrong way.

On the subject of integration, the leader of the Social Democratic party asked a question—

Mr. Ashdown

Liberal party.

Mr. Stott

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot get the name right, he cannot expect me to get it right either. He asked a question concerning the consultation with the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education. I wonder why the Minister has not seen fit to talk to the council. It has made suggestions in its correspondence about "reasonable numbers" and "a reasonable balance". The Minister tried to justify what he meant by that. As I understand it, these people want a ratio not of 50:50 but of something like 40:60.

There are other people in Northern Ireland who may not be religious, such as those from ethnic minorities or those families in which the parents come from different sides of the religious divide. There is nothing to prevent the Minister from accepting the definition that people want. I am sorry to labour the point, but here again is an issue that could have been taken up in Committee and on which we could have tested the Minister. We could have flushed out the reason why he has refused to accept that definition.

We also dispute the Government's claims that their proposals to allow open enrolment in schools will lead to greater choice for parents. Their stated intention is to force schools to enrol to the limits of their physical capacity according to the number of parents who want to send their children to a particular school. In practice, that represents a system of rationalisation because while some schools will expand, others will close. Grammar schools, as a result of their elitist reputation, are likely to benefit from the new system as parents will compete to send their children into what they perceive to be the best school. Aside from the adverse implications for non-grammar schools under this system, grammar schools will find themselves oversubscribed and will be forced to introduce some type of selection. That seems likely to be on academic ability and parental suitability. In short, open enrolment provides a backdoor method for preserving the 11-plus and the less popular schools will go into a vortex of decline.

A Northern Ireland head teacher recently summarised the situation in stronger language when he said: We would prefer to have a marriage rather than a rape. We are afraid that the grammar schools will just take over and push many of the secondary schools to the wall.

Mr. William Ross

Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that, whenever the Minister was speaking on this matter, he said that schools could enrol up to their capacity, but that he did not define the capacity? Is the hon. Gentleman as well aware as the Minister that there are many schools in Northern Ireland with many temporary huts sitting in the school grounds? Are they included in the capacity or is it simply the permanent buildings that are being covered?

Mr. Stott

I am aware of that. We have serious doubts about the Minister's description of how open enrolment will work. Will it be carried out until schools are bursting at the seams? We believe that there should be some planning in education. In England and Wales, the local education authority, the local community and the local education committee have the responsibility.

One of the key Government proposals is for the establishment of formal tests at the ages of eight, 11, 14 and 16 to assess pupil performance. The system of testing that is proposed could lead to a lowering of standards, reinforce failure and demotivate many children. Assessment and testing in the widest sense are integral to the very process of teaching and learning. Some testing is beneficial both for individual pupils and their parents, and for those who are concerned with judging the effectiveness of schools. But the Government's proposals represent an over-reliance on inappropriate forms of testing which could result in paradoxical results and to a possibility of lowering rather than raising standards.

Experience in some American schools shows that testing can lead to teachers teaching to test and neglecting both the high and low achievers. Rigid testing at an early age will have a demoralising effect on some children who perform poorly and will lead to their developing a feeling of inadequacy.

I believe that information on a child's performance at school should he gleaned through sensitive diagnostic testing which fully tests each child's strengths and weaknesses. We welcome the Government's decision not to use tests to construct league tables of pupil against pupil, of class against class and of school against school, but some of us are still not convinced that the testing data will not be used for such purposes.

The Labour party considers that the Government's proposals to establish a formal test at the age of 11 represent a back-door method of preserving the 11-plus examination. The move clearly reveals the Government's desire to resist the development of universal education and to reinforce and further develop selective education. That is also the view of all the people in the Northern Ireland trade unions to whom I have spoken over the past two weeks.

The Labour party has always believed that the framework for the curriculum should be clear and more explicit. Our 1987 manifesto contained a commitment to a "clear but flexible core curriculum agreed at a national level." We therefore welcome the broad concept of a Northern Ireland curriculum, but we have serious reservations about its detail. We are alarmed that the national curriculum does not apply to pupils in the private schools. The Government's plans are not about establishing a common curriculum for all pupils but about setting up a state syllabus that applies only to certain pupils. That is both politically dishonest and educationally divisive. We also feel that the Government's proposals are too rigid and too prescriptive. The likelihood in practice of time impositions for the compulsory contributory subjects will serve to squeeze out important subjects such as information technology, electronics, statistics, personal, social and career education and home economics. We believe that schools should be permitted great flexibility in the range of compulsory subjects offered and the teaching approach adopted.

The proposal to include education for mutual understanding as a cross-curricular theme deserves praise. We fully support the aim of EMU in educating children to understand the different traditions in Northern Ireland. We also support the Government's new position on the Irish language. Irish is a key strand of the Catholic tradition in Northern Ireland and is growing in popularity —it is second only to French, the most studied language in schools. It is being studied by more than 20,000 students. We believe that the Government have made the right decision in allowing schools the flexibility to include Irish in the framework of the curriculum.

We feel that the current method of educational funding may create problems for voluntary schools in the provision of the full curriculum. Controlled schools, which tend to be Protestant schools, receive 100 per cent. funding from the Northern Ireland Office for capital projects, compared with only 85 per cent. that the voluntary, largely Catholic, schools receive. It is often argued, for example, that the reason why proportionately more Protestants than Catholics study for A-level science is that controlled schools can more easily raise the funds needed for expensive science blocks whereas Catholic schools have been faced with the problem of having to raise significant sums from donations.

The Labour party believes that the system of differential capital funding should be ended. That change would not only facilitate the more successful implementation of the curriculum but would play an important role in the achievement of greater equality in educational attainment between the two main sectors.

I have already explained that this substantial document deals with virtually all aspects of education in Northern Ireland. But it does not deal with one very important aspect of Northern Ireland education—pre-school education. Pre-school education in Northern Ireland is woefully inadequate. Day nurseries provide only 2.8 places per 1,000 children aged between one and four, against a United Kingdom average of 16.7 places. Only 208 places per 1,000 children aged between three and four exist in registered playgroups in Northern Ireland. In the United Kingdom the average is 322. Only 13 per cent. of Northern Ireland's children aged between three and four exist in registered playgroups in Northern Ireland. In the United Kingdom, the average is 322. Only 13 per cent. of Northern Ireland's children aged between three and four attend nursery classes, as against the United Kingdom average of 23 per cent., which is bad enough.

The Government have clearly failed in their duty to provide adequate child care provision in Northern Ireland. We consider the Government's failure to tackle the problems of pre-school education while introducing the most wide-ranging reforms of the education service in the Province since the war represents a shameful neglect that clearly illustrates a blinkered approach to education in Northern Ireland. We believe that nursery education should be provided for every three and four-year-old whose parents want it.

The Labour party believes that education is central to the quality of individual lives, to the establishment of moral values, to the functioning of society and to the general economic prosperity of the Province. We believe that the people of Northern Ireland should be entitled by right to the best education without regard to their family background, income, sex or religion.

The proposals outlined in the order represent a combination of dangerous, divisive and destructive measures which constitute a substantial threat to respected Northern Ireland educational values. We cannot amend the order. It will go forth and its provisions will be visited on the educational establishments of Northern Ireland. All I can say is that when the next Labour Government assume office in two years' time we shall return to the subject and involve everyone in Northern Ireland in its implementation and in meaningful consultation.

11.21 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

I should like to place on record at the beginning of my speech the continuing dissatisfaction of Ulster Unionists and other right hon. and hon. Members at the fact that we are forced to embark on yet another debate on an unamendable order which affects the education of children in Northern Ireland.

This is not the beginning of a personal attack on the Minister, but a further reminder to the Government that elected representatives from Northern Ireland agree that the use of the Order in Council procedure to deal with the affairs of Northern Ireland is shameful, reflects badly on the mother of Parliaments and should be discontinued and replaced before the end of the Session with proper legislative procedures.

I recognise the efforts that the Minister made to consult and to obtain submissions and responses, but I must observe that although the Northern Ireland Office and the Government think that a considerable time was given for consultation, because the recent consultation period covered the holiday months of July and August, even with the extension granted by the Minister, the timing was not conducive to obtaining maximum participation of all interested parties and in-depth analysis of such complex and radical proposals.

The electorate in Northern Ireland, school governors and members of education and library boards are sceptical about the consultation process. If consultation is to be effective, and not just a cosmetic exercise, there must be seen to be positive responses to representations. Some of us had considerable difficulty persuading major interests to respond at all, and even then it was difficult to arrange suitable dates for discussion of the proposals. Consultation on education matters with people involved in schools is well nigh impossible in the holiday period and utterly impossible in the first month of a new school year.

I accept that the Minister responded positively when advised of the difficulties faced by those seriously wishing to examine the provisions in the order and extended the consultation period to 30 September, but concerns still remain, despite the ministerial statement of 10 August which emphasised that the proposals were designed to give more power and greater freedom of choice to parents and school governors. It is clear that many of the changes have been widely accepted and welcomed and it is recognised that education has always been a partnership between parents, teachers, boards and the Department.

Will whichever Minister replies to the debate tell the House whether part II, article 3, of the order has made provision for central control of education by the Department of Education, thereby reducing considerably the function of the education and library boards and other bodies in Northern Ireland? If the proposals were designed to give more power and greater freedom of choice, why has there been this centralising of the control of education within the Department? It is dangerous in a democratic society and especially dangerous in a divided society.

The Minister should tell the House whether article 3(a), which extends the Department's duty to promote the education of the people of Northern Ireland, thereby goes beyond the provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988, which appears to have no similar provision for education in England and Wales. Suspicion arises from perceived central control of education. People in both communities demand an assurance—the Unionist community demands that its children will not be subjected to indoctrination through a green-tinged curriculum and the Roman Catholic community demands assurances that there will be no orange indoctrination of its children.

Under article 4(i) of part III, the board of governors and the principals of every grant-aided school are charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the curriculum in the school satisfies the requirement of the article. Good Ulster schools have always provided a broad and balanced curriculum which is child-centred and has sufficient flexibility and depth in the subjects studied to match the age, ability and aptitude of the pupils. Principals and teachers, as professionals, produced that balanced curriculum.

Does the Minister really believe that members of governing bodies desire responsibility for curriculum matters? Perhaps he will tell the House why the order has departed from the provision made for England and Wales under section 1 of the Education Reform Act whereby the Secretary of State, the local education authorities, the governing bodies and the head teachers have responsibility for delivering the curriculum. By omitting area boards and other bodies from article 4(1), the Minister has reduced the functions and responsibilities of the area boards. Will education and library boards be consulted on curriculum content, or will schools and boards be forced to accept packages produced by Ministers and hand-picked curriculum draftspersons?

If it is accepted that professional teachers and principals will be expected by most governing bodies to have a key role in curriculum matters in each school, why, under schedule 8(3), do the qualifying conditions for membership of the Northern Ireland Curriculum Council and the Northern Ireland School Examinations and Assessment Council not include any reference to knowledge and experience of education? Members only have to be persons appearing to the head of department to have knowledge or experience relevant to the council's functions.

It is strongly felt by some practising teachers that teachers should be members of each council. Will the Minister give an assurance that teachers will have such representation and, if possible, give further information about the proportion of teacher members, the areas of expertise and the means of selection that will be used to appoint teacher members to the two councils?

Curriculum responsibility is referred to in articles 4, 10 and 11. Article 11(3) states: It shall be the duty of— (a) the Department and the boards in relation to all grant-aided schools … to exercise their functions with a view to ensuring that the Boards of Governors and principals of grant-aided schools are in a position to fulfil their duties". These articles give area boards no direct authority in matters relating to curriculum, yet many matters of policy are concerned with curriculum issues. Has the Minister amended, or has he even the power to amend, the order to include a change of emphasis to reflect these area board functions?

Arising from the requirement that school curriculum policy should reflect the findings of inspections, will the Minister say whether all schools can expect to have more frequent general inspections and subject inspections than in the past? Will he explain why, under article 6(4), there will be no formal assessment within creative and expressive studies? Will not the decision lead to a loss of esteem by parents, pupils and employers and to a deterioration of provision for such study within schools? Will the Minister reconsider article 6(4) and remove this permanent exclusion from assessment to ensure that the career prospects of many talented young people in Northern Ireland are not adversely affected?

Articles 9 and 34 cover external qualifications. There is concern in schools to meet the needs of individual pupils. Article 9 provides that no course of study for school age pupils leading to an external qualification shall be provided except when the Department approves the qualification and the syllabus. That requirement applies to courses offered to all pupils of school age in grant-aided schools and may, by order, be extended to include pupils above compulsory school age and students below 19 in full-time further education. Acknowledging that GCSEs will form the basis of assessment at 16, will the Minister ensure that alternatives to GCSEs which have relevance and currency in the sphere of further education and the world of work, and have met individual pupils' needs in the past, will still be available to post primary pupils?

Part IV deals with admissions to grant-aided schools. Will the Minister spell out honestly for parents that unless they make realistic choices when stating a preference for the post-primary school at which they wish their child to be educated, they and the child could be disappointed?

Does the Minister agree that, in reality, grammar school heads will select? Does he accept that open enrolment will lead to a demand for grammar school places to fill available accommodation and that only when oversubscription occurs will academic attainment or aptitude be used as criteria for admission to those grammar schools?

How does the Minister expect secondary or community schools to compete fairly for pupils? In the long term, removing the 27–73 per cent. split of intake between grammar and secondary schools could prove harmful to both types of school. Grammar schools which use open enrolment to accept pupils beyond those who are highly motivated academically will have difficulty with less able pupils, and many smaller secondary schools will be unable to provide the curriculum demanded in the order and will be forced to close or amalgamate.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

I have an enormous admiration for grammar schools in Northern Ireland and I am amazed that Northern Ireland does so much better in A-level and 0-level attainment than England, Scotland or Wales. What do Ulster Unionists think about the abolition of the 11-plus in article 38(5), bearing in mind that that will not happen in England and Wales—thank goodness—and that grammar schools in Northern Ireland have a broad social base and get the best out of above-average pupils?

Mr. Beggs

I have no doubt that the grammar school system as established in Northern Ireland will remain. Even with the disappearance of the 11-plus selection procedure, the new attainment testing will provide a basis on which children will be enrolled in grammar schools. Our real concern is that to maintain numbers and to protect staff when there is falling enrolment, there may be a temptation for some heads of grammar schools to enrol pupils who will not benefit from a grammar school education.

Mr. Mallon

Surely the nub of the problem is that secondary schools are apeing grammar schools and not performing the role for which they were intended. Open enrolment and the proposed system of testing will encourage that trend to increase, with the result that we shall have even more of a two-tier system.

Mr. Beggs

I accept that some secondary schools ape grammar schools. In our better secondary schools, however, children have had an opportunity to realise their potential with only a small group being encouraged to proceed to examinations which are on a par with the courses that are available at grammar schools. Reference has been made to the level of young people who leave school without qualifications, but we should be honest with ourselves and take into account the low grades that have been achieved by many school leavers in England and the way in which they were evaluated by employers.

It is impossible to provide opportunities that will ensure that all children will have the same level of achievement. We must accept that there are wide ranges of individual ability while affording the opportunity to each individual to realise his or her potential.

I am concerned that with the loss of the 27–73 per cent. intake split there will be damage done both to grammar schools and secondary schools. I fear that many smaller secondary schools will be forced to close. If that should happen, the Government's intention of improving education standards across the board could be destroyed.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that secondary schools have closed and have then reopened with a lower intake of pupils as integrated schools which receive the full grants? The Government had said that they could not support the schools as they were. That has happened in Belfast and elsewhere.

Mr. Beggs

It is difficult for many of us to accept that once enrolment falls in a secondary school, whether it is maintained or controlled, there is pressure for closure, it is difficult to understand how they can be reopened as integrated schools on the same site. Of course, much more money is available for the schools because integrated education is the flavour of the day and gets every encouragement and incentive. We do not object to that development, but people should realise that there has always been a degree of integration in education in Northern Ireland. We have never been given much credit for that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), the leader of our party, was educated at a Roman Catholic school. I am a member of the governing body of a voluntary grammar school which has a high percentage of Roman Catholic pupils. The matter has never come up because the religion of those pupils is nobody's business but their own.

Mr. Alton

Schools such as Sullivan Upper, which I visited a few weeks ago, bear out exactly what the hon. Gentleman says. Some schools have a mixture of pupils and are not designated as integrated schools and do an excellent job. I think that Hazelwood school was mentioned in the debate. Does he accept that that school, which has 209 pupils, has gone from strength to strength because it decided to become an integrated school and therefore became more popular?

Mr. Beggs

It has gone from strength to strength because there is a demand for that type of education. I am not aware of its impact on smaller maintained Roman Catholic post-primary schools or controlled post-primary schools in the area. It seems nonsense to encourage a new start at the expense of closing neighbouring schools. It would he much better to encourage co-operation and the sharing of expertise and so on.

So that others can check my comments about the demand for integrated education, I should like to put on record a reference in the second edition of an independent education magazine for Northern Ireland called Education North. It is edited by the education staff of Queen's university and the University of Ulster. It says: Indeed, only 4 per cent. of the sample visited were extremely likely to send their children to integrated schools. I am not here to thwart the wishes of such parents because we all believe in parental choice. I want to sound a word of caution and ask for consideration to be given to the impact of Government policy. I urge people to look closely at what is happening to community schools and small secondary schools in the rural and border areas of our Province. I hope that the Minister will assure us that open enrolment will not be allowed to be the final straw that drives out Protestant families whose number is declining because of the Government's failure to provide proper security and defeat terrorism in those areas. Those small community and secondary schools need support and protection in areas where they have been subjected to sectarian terrorism.

I was disappointed to read in the Belfast Telegraph tonight that the Minister, who is encouraging and promoting integrated education—none of us wishes to block that development—is not permitting it to happen because of parental choice. He is doing so with the co-operation of teachers. The paper attributes to him a categorical statement that he would not give consideration to teachers, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, who feel on the grounds of conscience that they could not move with their Roman Catholic school to integrated status or from their controlled school to integrated status. He said that he would not give consideration to teachers who wished to be transferred to another school or leave teaching altogether and seek compensation. He wanted to know what he would be compensating them for.

I hope that the Minister will rethink his position. It is important that teachers should feel free to go along with the proposals if they wish and not feel coerced into supporting Government policy.

As Ulster Unionists, we believe that the funding of all schools should be fair and equitable. We seek an assurance from the Minister that the state has equal regard for all children that there will not be priority or privileged status for integrated schools and that extra funds will not he directed towards currently fashionable schools.

Mr. Mallon

That is in the order.

Mr. Beggs

The Minister must tell us that he is prepared to treat all children in the Province equally.

We accept the right of parents to choose to send their children to grant-maintained integrated schools, but we want the Minister to justify why they cannot be maintained by education and library boards as is the case for Protestant and Roman Catholic schools and, indeed, schools in the controlled sector.

Does the Department have extra funding for the promotion of grant-maintained integrated schools?

Mr. Mallon

The order says so in article 64(2).

Mr. Beggs

There is a strong feeling that other schools have lost out so that integrated schools could be promoted.

Mr. Mallon

I do not want to delay the hon. Gentleman unduly, but it is stated clearly in articles 64(1), (2) and (3) that it is Government policy to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated schools and to provide funding to do that.

Mr. Beggs

But is it extra money? I am anxious that there should be extra money and that the money is not taken from the overall money available to Northern Ireland.

What assurance can the Minister give that under local financial management school governors will not become the buffers between parents and the Department when spending cuts occur and the perception of responsibility for cuts in school budgets transfers from the Department to school governors?

The order establishes in legislation a council for Roman Catholic maintained schools. We as Ulster Unionists have not objected, but as the role and influence of the main Protestant churches has been steadily diminished in controlled schools, it is an appropriate time to invite the Minister to take steps to establish a similar council for the transferor representatives of the three main Protestant churches. It is important to demonstrate to Protestant communities that their church representatives enjoy recognition, status and esteem equal to that afforded to other interest groups in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that churches other than the Catholic church handed over complete control of their schools to the state, thereby unfortunately lessening their control over what was happening? Is he saying that state schools, which we always understood to be non-sectarian, are Protestant schools?

Mr. Beggs

I accept the hon. Gentleman's helpful intervention. It is easy to be wise after the event. The assurances given when those transfers took place were not honoured. It is therefore appropriate to invite the Minister to establish a similar council for the transferor representatives of the main Protestant churches.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it not a fact that the then Stormont Government refused to increase the grant to the Protestant schools and said, "Hand the schools over to us and we will guarantee your rights as transferor"? Immediately that happened, the money increased. If the hon. Gentleman were as old as I am, he would remember the fight about 65 per cent. grants and the battle that took place between the Protestant Churches which were deceived by the Stormont Administration and the Roman Catholic Church.

Mr. Beggs

I will take the hon. Gentleman's comments as read and on the record.

Mr. Alton

I am sorry to intervene once again—

Mr. Beggs

I would appreciate it if the hon. Gentleman would let me finish my speech because others want to make their points.

There is so much in the order that one would like time to deal with. It would have made a proper Bill and we could have discussed the issues thoroughly in Committee. We must endeavour to prevent an abuse of power by the Department of Education and to ensure that public confidence is maintained. To that end, an independent ombudsman should be appointed in Northern Ireland to deal with specific education matters.

We hold our teachers in high esteem. We congratulate them on the achievements of primary guidelines, the 11 to 16 initiative and the introduction of GCSE. I am confident that, despite this enforced legislation, which deserves more thorough discussion, teachers in all sectors of education in Northern Ireland, including further education, will successfully cope with change, provided that the Government provide the necessary financial resources, adequate staffing levels and opportunities for in-service training, and take the necessary steps urgently to improve morale and halt the drift of highly qualified, experienced teachers who are leaving the education service because of the pressures under which they are expected to work in schools and colleges.

11.54 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Northern Ireland is under a great shadow tonight. Two gallant members of the Army were murdered this afternoon, with another seriously injured. Those who did those acts evidently escaped over the border to the Irish Republic. We meet under that shadow. It runs deep into the hearts of the Ulster people. I want to express our sincerest sympathy to the families and the assurance of our prayers at Christmas time. They have received terrible tidings that will go down into the depths of their hearts.

Before I come to my main points, I wish to protest about the procedure tonight. We are at a great disadvantage. This is a massive Order in Council. Hit were a Bill, I do not know how long it would take to go through this House and its Committee stages, yet we have to discuss it in three hours. I do not blame the Minister—he gave way quite often—and I do not blame the Opposition spokesman, but at the end of the day, and because in courtesy we must allow time for the Front-Bench spokesmen to reply, we are left with only one and a half hours to debate the order. That makes it not a properly brought about law, but rule by decree. That is the measure of how the procedure has deteriorated.

The Minister and others have said that we might have had only an hour and a half in total. I know that, but must tell the Minister that three hours is just crumbs from the rich man's table. To be told that we are lucky to have three hours rather than an hour and a half is like the dog licking the sores after he gets the crumbs. That is how we feel about this procedure tonight. The Government should have provided at least a full day's debate on this Order in Council.

We are asked, "Why do not the leaders of the Unionist parties and the SDLP get together?" We did, and we made a request for further time to debate this matter. What happened? The Government said, "Oh no, you are not getting any further time." What is the use of the Government preaching that we should get together when, on the simple matter of giving Government time to deal with an order that the Minister admits is comprehensive and drastic and turns around education in Northern Ireland, we are denied further time and asked to consider it in these circumstances? The anomaly is that, if it were a Bill about education in England, Wales or Scotland, I could move an amendment; for Northern Ireland, however, I cannot move an amendment. All that we can do is to vote against the motion, and I shall exercise my right to vote against it. It is the only way to register my protest at the way that this matter has been arranged.

I know that the Minister will say that there was time to consult. Democracy is not built on consultation and the Government deciding what the consensus is. The Government have the right to consult the people concerned, but the meaning of democracy is having a proper debate in the parliamentary forum, where the legislation can be examined line by line, arguments can be advanced, and the Minister must reply. The reply may not convince those who oppose him, but at least he has to attempt to justify the legislation.

We could not read this Order in Council in one and a half hours. We could not intelligently digest it in one and a half hours. Yet that is the impossible test for us. What an uproar there would be if this was offered as an Order in Council for England or Wales. What an uproar there would be if it were to be passed as we are being asked to pass this Order in Council. The Minister and the Secretary of State could have helped us a great deal if they had said, "Look, we are dealing with the whole of the education system of Northern Ireland, so let us have a full day's debate at least, and let it be open-ended so that all hon. Members can take part."

Many hon. Members from England, Wales and Scotland would have liked to take part in the debate. No doubt their contributions would have been valuable. But. out of respect to Northern Ireland Members, they are giving us what little time there is. That is not helpful, as Northern Ireland happens to be, and I trust will ever continue to be, a part of this United Kingdom.

Mr. Alton

I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Is there not overwhelming evidence that throughout the House hon. Members want to see the establishment of a Northern Ireland Standing Committee so that issues such as this can be remitted to it for proper discussion? Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that if there is ever to be normalisation of politics in Northern Ireland, these bread-and-butter issues are exactly the sort of thing that should be analysed line by line in Committee before they come to the House to be pushed through in this undemocratic way?

Rev. Ian Paisley

That is a right which has nothing to do with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. As of right, Northern Ireland should be treated like any other part of the United Kingdom. A happier position would be a devolved Administration in Stormont. A happier position would he that those Northern Ireland Members who are affected by such legislation could debate it. That was done in consultation in the Stormont assembly, but we at least had the opportunity to examine Orders in Council line by line.

The time has come for a change. But I do not want a talking shop upstairs with no power. Legislation should be submitted as a Bill, so that amendments could be moved in a proper Committee session, if not on the Floor of the House, at least after a Second Reading on the Floor of the House. That would give Northern Ireland Members real power, and that is what we want.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Does the hon. Gentleman understand why the Government introduced the fair employment legislation in the form of a Bill, but introduced this much more important piece of legislation on education reform in the form of an order?

Rev. Paisley

I do not know the answer to that. The Government would probably argue that this is not primary legislation; that it alters certain laws that apply to Northern Ireland. I do not know. But the Minister can argue his own case. I shall not be an apologist for the Government.

Mr. Lenihan made a long statement in The Irish Times in which he said that education was thoroughly discussed at the Anglo-Irish Conference, and matters relating to opposition from Nationalists to certain Government proposals were discussed and would be further discussed as they were important matters.

The Minister guarded himself carefully and gracefully. He said, "We did not submit this to the southern Government." No. But according to Mr. Lenihan, statements and matters in the order were discussed at an Anglo-Irish Conference. I suppose that the controversial matters were discussed and exchanges made. We will never know, because they are like masonic lodge meetings. They are on the square. We will never know exactly what takes place behind the doors. We shall have to leave the matter there.

However, I would take exception to the Minister pretending—I hope that I do not misjudge him; I do not want to do so—that Dublin had no influence on the matter. Dublin has an influence on all legislation that comes before the House for Northern Ireland through the Anglo-Irish Conference.

The order deals with the general duties of the Department, the curriculum, the admission of children to grant-aided schools, the financing of schools, integrated education and general provisions relating to education in the Province. Its scope is wide-ranging.

It is not right to ask hon. Members to say whether they are for or against integrated education. I sent my children to an integrated school. They sat side by side with Roman Catholics. Education in Northern Ireland should be non-sectarian. Northern Ireland's state schools are not Protestant schools. The education system should be non-denominational. Denominational ministers should have the right to instruct children in state schools according to the tenets of their faith.

That is impossible in Northern Ireland, for the simple reason that the Stormont Government built up the grant system for Roman Catholic schools, not for Protestant schools. Dr. William Corkey has written up the story of the battle for grants, and it is available in the Library.

When I was in Los Angeles, I met about 100 pressmen. I asked them, "How much money does the Government here give to Roman Catholic schools?- They said, "Not a penny." I asked, "Do they pay teachers' salaries?" They said, "Not a penny." Then I asked whether the Government paid their pensions. The reply was, "Not a penny", so I pointed out to them that they had said that, during 50 or 60 years of Stormont misrule, Roman Catholics had been very badly treated.

Roman Catholic Church schools were liberally treated by the Stormont Government. Their representatives should acknowledge that fact. We cannot now say to the Roman Catholic Church, "We're going to take away all your grants." It is impossible to create a non-sectarian, non-denominational system of education for Northern Ireland. It is developing into three systems.

The tragedy, however, is that the Government have not allowed every system to take its chance. They have made special provision for integrated schools. What about state schools that have been integrated for a long time? What about schools that have always opened their doors to those on both sides of the ecumenical divide? One state school in Londonderry that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) knows very well, in an area where there has been severe bombing, has been integrated almost from the beginning. Both Protestants and Catholics attend that school. However, it will not enjoy the same financial advantages as an integrated school will enjoy. It is not fair that those who have worked hard should be treated in this way.

Everybody knows about my opposition to the Roman Catholic Church, but it has worked hard and increased the number of Roman Catholic schools. Why should they be discriminated against? The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) may smile, but Roman Catholics have come to me and said, "We are being discriminated against." The bishops have threatened to take the Minister to court. The hon. Gentleman need not shake his head. Members of his own Church in Northern Ireland are not happy about the proposals in the order. I am not their spokesman, but that needs to be said.

Mr. Alton

An interesting coalition appears to be developing between the hon. Gentleman and Cardinal O'Fiaich. I do not support the idea of sectarian education. The hon. Gentleman should look at what happened in the diocese of Chelmsford last week, when an Anglican school and a Roman Catholic school amalgamated to become a Christian school. Christians decided to work together to provide non-sectarian education in which Christian values could be maintained. I hope he will consider that as a comparable model for Northern Ireland.

Rev. Paisley

In Northern Ireland we have three systems. Independent Christian schools are not included in any grant scheme. They get absolutely nothing from the Government.

I am asking that all the systems should stand equally in the market and be treated in the same way. But they are not being treated equally. I shall illustrate that point. Hazelwood school, which I am sure the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) knows well, had to close down. It was immediately turned into an integrated school and money was poured into it. Although the attendance at that school has not improved, I understand that it was closed because of falling pupil attendance. That is not right, because the state sector suffered to the advantage of the integrated sector. I agree with the spokesman for the Ulster Unionist party, the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), that we should look at the results of integrated education.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill mentioned Lagan college. I am sure that he would hope that Lagan college would keep within the law. Is he aware that that building was built without planning permission and defied the planners? Is he aware that there had to be an enforcement order against it'? Is he aware that only influence in the Department prevented them from being taken to court while other people who put up a sign saying, "Belfast says No" were taken to court'? Those are the facts. The hon. Gentleman should go to Castlereagh council planners and find out exactly what happened in respect of Lagan college. Are those the ethics that they plan to teach their young people? Example is stronger than precept, so they should set the right example.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill referred to a coalition. I am opposed to abortion, but that does not mean that I join the Roman Catholic lobby in my opposition to abortion, so let us not talk foolishly about coalitions, but see things in perspective.

I am worried about the emphasis that has been placed on education for mutual understanding and cultural heritage. I am sure that the Minister will understand how 1 feel. He told a certain gathering that part of the work of education for mutual understanding would be to de-mythologise some beliefs among children. Where do they get those beliefs? Are they the beliefs of their parents? It does not matter which side of the argument one supports. There are people who consider that some of my beliefs should be de-mythed, and equally I consider that some of their beliefs should be de-mythed, but who is to decide?

When the Minister says that education for mutual understanding is to de-myth some beliefs among children, I regard that as a very serious statement. I do not like the underhand way in which this matter is being handled. Teachers who were called to a conference in Enniskillen were told to tell no one its purpose. The first steps in this education for mutual understanding came from that conference. No teacher has a right to say to a child, "Do not tell your parent where you are going today."

I strongly protest. I should like the Minister to give me an unequivocal assurance that that will not be his Department's policy and that parents will have the right to say whether their child goes somewhere and say that he will not study a certain book. I should like the Minister to tell us all the beliefs that he thinks need to be de-mythed. He had better start working on that. Proceedings in the House begin every day with a prayer from the Prayer Book. Some things in it are anathema to the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics would say that that Prayer Book should be de-mythed. Everyone has a right to his beliefs.

I do not believe that education for mutual understanding and cultural heritage will achieve anything. A faceless member of the educational establishment stood up and said, "The older generation of Ulster will never change, but we will change their offspring." That was a reference to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I have news for the Minister. An attempt was made recently to involve schoolchildren in a massive rally, but it did not come off because the children did not come. We cannot change children.

Mr. Mallon

What about the demonstration on 15 November?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Those were grown-ups.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

The hon. Gentleman said that we cannot change children. If he is correct, that means that their view will not differ from his, and of course we respectfully listen to his view. An Edinburgh person called James Connolly went to Ireland and argued in a Marxist way for a Socialist Ireland. Surely his view should be understood in Ireland, North and South. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is anathema to the South, to the green Tories as well as to orange Tories? Does he agree that James Connolly's view is understandable and acceptable?

Rev. Ian Paisley

James Connolly was entitled to believe whatever he believed. I cut my political teeth in the Dock ward. Lord Fitt was there as well. He was a Connolly man and preached Connolly's Marxism in the streets of the Dock ward. I have been well indoctrinated, and 1 know exactly what Connolly believed. It is not the duty of a teacher to de-myth the beliefs in which a child has been brought up. If we make schools a place where we change children's beliefs, we are on dangerous ground.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) has a family. If he has, its members would probably have been brought up to be staunch Socialists. He would not want a Tory teacher to say, "I have come to de-myth your beliefs," and teach the child the wonders of capitalism and all the blessings that flow from it. The hon. Gentleman would be the first to denounce the teacher and all his work.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Following through his argument, does the hon. Gentleman accept that, apart from what teachers may be asked to do, it is wholly anathema for a Conservative Government who talk about parental choice to try to impose this indoctrination on our children?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I thoroughly agree with that comment. I should have thought that no Government in Westminster would take that line. This is a serious matter and it is causing great concern in Northern Ireland. I do not know what will be taught in the Roman Catholic schools. I should like to sit in on their education for mutual understanding and to see the textbooks that they will use. I should like to know what will happen. The Secretary of State made a dangerous speech when he said that the Government would "de-myth" the beliefs of children.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

Might de-mything not depend on the approach that is adopted to try alter people's views in the long term? Will there be counter-indoctrination to try to change people's views or will there be questioning, which should be part of education? Will there be questioning of beliefs as well as everything else? In the questioning process, it is possible that different, freely chosen views will start to emerge in the children who are subject to that climate of investigation.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Gentleman refers to education, but education is a different matter altogether. De-mything beliefs will go to the heart of a child's beliefs. Where do children get their beliefs? They get them from their parents and from the Church in which they are brought up.

Mr. Ron Brown

And from prejudices.

Rev. Ian Paisley

They get them from their parents. It may be that there are prejudices. Some Tories would say that the hon. Gentleman is prejudiced. Where does it end? Let us get the matter straight. I do not know or care whether the House agrees with me: I do not believe that it is the duty of a teacher to de-myth belief. It is the duty of the teacher to say what happened when giving a history lesson and to paint Cromwell, warts and all. The teacher should tell it as it is. Hon. Members may not know that, unfortunately, Irish history was never taught in the schools of Northern Ireland. I never learned Irish history in my curriculum because the state schools never taught Irish history.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

It is not taught over here either.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I had to read all about it when I was older. All I can say to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes)—and I know his view of the matter—is that a teacher has a responsibility, but it is wrong to put this extra load on the teachers of Northern Ireland. They cannot carry it, and it is not fair to them. The Government have no right to try blatantly to manipulate children who are sent to school. That view must be stated.

Mr. Ron Brown

The hon. Gentleman is not going to manipulate children in church?

Rev. Ian Paisley

Yes, of course I indoctrinate them in church by preaching, but they can say aye or no. The very genius of Protestantism is not authoritarianism, but the right of every man to choose for himself. I can preach to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith the necessity for a new life and a new birth, but he may not accept that. He may say that he does not want anything to do with that new life or that new birth and that he will go his own way. He is entitled to do that. I am not going to get into a preaching session with the hon. Gentleman or we might have a penitent, and dear knows what would happen. He might be lost to the Socialist party eventually.

Education for mutual understanding causes serious doubts. The committee that drew up the curriculum is very unbalanced. I do not see one prominent member of the Protestant community, although I see names of people who are well known for their religious and political views. Why was a man who was well known for his Protestantism, as some of these people are well known for their Roman Catholicism, not chosen as a member of the committee to draw up the proper curriculum? Those are the questions that need to be asked, and I should like the Minister to tell us why that did not happen.

I must now deal with finance—

Mr. William Ross

Before the hon. Gentleman gets too far away from the whole question of religious instruction, let me ask him this. Did he note that the Minister said that the Department's inspectors would examine the quality of religious education, and would he, with his own religious qualifications, care to inquire what theological training the Department's inspectors have?

Rev. Ian Paisley

I do not know anything about the inspectors at the Northern Ireland Office; I do not know what their religion is or what their religious views are. I can only say that I fear that this concept will take us into deep waters, and I do not think that we should embark upon it. If people want to hear what others teach and believe, they have a perfect right to hear it directly from those people's representatives. But it is not right to tell teachers that it is part of their job to de-myth children's beliefs.

The financing of schools will play an important part in the programme. I fear for secondary schools. I fear that grammar schools will be put at a great advantage because they can take in all the pupils that they want to accept but can then exercise a veto. The headmaster can say. "You cannot send your child to this school because it will be detrimental to his educational interests." That is too strong a veto for any headmaster to have, and I do not think that it is right and proper that secondary schools should be put at that disadvantage. I worry about secondary schools, especially in the areas that the hon. Member for Antrim, East mentioned, because they are in danger.

It has been argued that the financing of schools should be put on a par. But will we bring all the schools up to the same level before introducing level pegging? That is an important matter, and I ask the Minister to enlarge on that theme. Can we have the money to pay for the massive changes that are envisaged? One only gets what one pays for. The time has come for the Minister to tell us whether he is prepared to bring all the schools up to a certain level before he starts handing out the grant because at present some of the schools are disadvantaged.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East made an important point when he asked about the schools whose grounds are filled with Portakabins. Will they be given proper capital grant so that they can build proper school rooms, or will they be left as they are? We need to know that, and I trust that the Minister will be able to help us.

We must also consider the whole concept of the curriculum. We know that the Government are postponing for a period their production of the new national curriculum, but the Minister should spell out clearly what the Government propose to do in Northern Ireland.

Article 158 of the draft order is viewed by many as a dictatorial and draconian measure. It seems from article 158 that, despite being obliged to consult, the Department of Education is given wide-ranging powers in regard to the education service in Northern Ireland. We are well used to diktat in Northern Ireland, and it seems that the order will perpetuate that feature of life in the Province.

I have a question about the new Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. The Minister said that education does not come under the Fair Employment Commission, but am I not right to think that boards and their employees come under its remit?

Dr. Mawhinney

The hon. Member is making a good point. Schedule 9 provides that staff employed by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools are subject to the ombudsman and the fair employment legislation.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I wanted to clarify that, although education is not covered, those who are employed by boards are.

I think that boards are having powers taken from them. I wonder whether the Minister is moving towards having one board for the whole of Northern Ireland. Having got one Roman Catholic board, is he trying to get one education board for the other schools? Perhaps he would care to tell us whether that is what he has in mind. There is no doubt that boards' powers are being depleted. Many people who want to serve on them, and who have done good service on them, will not want to serve because they will not have the powers they want to exercise to help forward education in Northern Ireland.

I regret that we cannot have a proper debate, move amendments and have a free-for-all. That is not possible, so my colleagues and I will vote against the order.

12.31 am
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I appreciate that many right hon. and hon. Members want to speak and I shall try to be brief, but we have had two long speeches from members of the Unionist community in the North of Ireland, so if I require more time than I should like to take to describe a different view, I shall, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, take it.

I deeply regret that it is the present Minister with responsibility for education who is bringing this order forward. I have found him prepared to listen to people's views, to get out of the ivory tower and to talk to people. That has been noticeable. I say with the utmost sincerity that I cannot understand why he has not got the message from the entire community which we shall give him tonight. I and my party will vote against the order with the other political parties in the North of Ireland, knowing full well that our opposition is shared by the Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, all teacher unions, area boards and the Council for Integrated Education I want to know who these people are who were able to have such influence on this Minister who, to his credit, travels the North of Ireland and listens to people. Those people will have told him that he is touching a raw nerve. For historical reasons, education is part of the folk memory in the North of Ireland. People of the same religious denominations as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and me were once not allowed to be educated. We are non-conformists in our various ways. We could not have schools and be educated because we were considered dangerous. What did we do? We had something called Hedge schools. That is going back a bit, but it is relevant because it is in the memory of the people in the North of Ireland. That is why their nerves are touched by these proposals. That is why when the Minister started to bring forward these proposals, manyof us said to him, "Tread softly because you are not just treading on dreams; you are treading on the sacrifices that many families made to create and build schools and to send their children to them. You are treading on the deep pride of local communities at having their own spick and span schools and at having a good education system." The people of Ireland have always taken pride in education for the simple reason that in many ways it has been the only alternative to the dole queues in the present and to famine in the past. We asked him to tread softly—

Rev. Martin Smyth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way on that point which I should like to underscore. Does he equally acknowledge that it was out of our Presbyterian tradition that the Royal Belfast Academical Institution was founded? It was open to everybody and was to the educational benefit of the Minister.

Mr. Mallon

I confirm exactly what the hon. Gentleman has said and that the same position applied to many schools in the North of Ireland which did not draw attention to the fact that they were indulging in what is now called "integrated education". They did not have to do it, but they were making a contribution and the community knew it and responded.

Ironically in a place such as the North of Ireland, where the whole fabric of society is falling down around us, the Government have chosen to change the one thing that was succeeding—the education system. Furthermore, they are changing it fundamentally. It will not be easy because those traditions are in our folk memory and in people's historical dimensions. They are shared by the people of the North of Ireland. Given that the three Northern Ireland parties in the House are asking the Government to stop, even at this late stage, will not the Minister recognise that fact and respond to it? Has he chosen to tread on all those susceptibilities to cater for the predilections of the few? Who are they? I do not know because we have not been told, but we are entitled to know.

I should like to make many points about the order, but time does not allow it and I shall make only four. First, should like to consider the one most important thing in education, which has not yet been mentioned tonight, and that is the child, the person who is being educated, and who I believe must have some rights in this. 1 am concerned about the rights of the child in relation to the new procedure of testing. I am not opposed to testing. Indeed, as a teacher for 20 years, I used it myself, but there is a difference between diagnostic testing which is helping the teacher and the school to try to gear the child's educational programme, and testing that puts one child against another, one school against another and one position against another. I believe that that is contrary to article 16 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which surely must be noted when it states: The education of a child shall be directed to (a) the promotion of the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential". That principle should underlie everything in relation to testing.

However, I am afraid that we are getting a market mentality about this. I shall not go so far as to say that we are getting Conservative dogma in that market mentality, but I shall quote from the Ulster Teachers Union which best sums up what I want to say. I give the union credit for saying it much better than I could when it stated that this approach reflects the economics of the market place which are not appropriate in the field of human endeavour". That sums up the way many people feel about this testing. I repeat that I am not against testing—indeed, it is essential to the education process—but it must be done for the right reasons. It must be done so that we can learn something from it so that the child's education is improved. It must not be done for the reasons behind these proposals.

This testing is dangerous because it is aimed not at the pupil but at the teacher. Who better to quote as an authority for that than the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) who, during the debate on the Education Reform Act 1988, said that resistance to testing came not from pupils and parents, but from teachers. It was a fear of quality control. That is as though we were talking about something which was inhuman and wrapped up in a parcel—part of a market mentality which the Ulster Teachers Union was right to identify. George Orwell said something about this long before the right hon. Member for Chingford.

I shall make a point related to testing, about which I feel strongly, and which I tried to make in an earlier intervention. I have taught in more than one secondary school. The following problem has not been faced by the Government, the Department of Education, the church authorities of whichever church—whether Catholic or controlled: a vast number of young people in the North of Ireland are not receiving the vocational skills they need. We are not training them to be good bricklayers, joiners, cabinet makers and plumbers because the Department says that they must study this subjects, that subject and other subjects. The principal says that they cannot do one subject because we have to compete because if we do not we shall go down the tubes and will not receive more pupils. The management says that the school will not get a good photograph in the local paper for prize-giving day and will not look like a grammar school. What does that matter if we send people out equipped to enter the world and bring their skills and talents to the rest of the community? That is what we should be doing.

The testing procedure is not for the child's benefit or as a diagnostic tool to help the child, but a crude market stick to create competitive forces in a field which, thankfully, has been protected from those forces for more than 40 years. The Minister's reasons are not good, fair, just or workable in the terms stated. I ask him to rethink them.

The other substantive issue to which I wish to draw attention is open enrolment. I shall not have time to expand in detail, but I wish to nail one great lie: open enrolment is not based on parental choice, but is the choice of headmasters of good schools in good areas. That is what open enrolment involves. Grammar schools will increase at the expense of secondary schools, especially those in isolated rural areas and deprived urban areas. Less able pupils will suffer because none of us has had the courage to say, "Let us train people for the lives that they will lead afterwards."

Schools will be categorised. There is a case for rationalisation, but it must be planned and not determined by market forces which are identified in this legislation. The essence of this unfairness is shown by the fact that we have created two types of school: one, called a grammar school, for the academically able pupil; the other, called a secondary school, for the less academically able. Then we say to the pupils that they will be given a common test and curriculum and be expected to compete. Wonder of wonders, the Department, Her Majesty's inspectors and the Ministers will all be surprised when they do not compete. The absolute injustice of this system is that we put two football teams on the pitch that simply cannot compete against each other.

I am proud to quote from the UTU document which states that the system shows a cynical disregard for those smaller, less fortunate and less well-resourced schools which have done splendid work over the years, despite the system which is now going to militate against them even more harshly. In reality, we are talking about school choice, not parental choice, that will be based on the place where the school is built and the type of pupil who goes towards it and not on the merits of the school. There is the inherent and human element of snobbery in the education system. It will not go away, but we do not have to nurture it in this way.

If we have secondary schools and grammar schools with the same curriculum, tests, assessments and scrutiny, let us give them all some chance of competing equally. Let us have co-ordination, not competition. There must be co-ordination of schools that are not equal initially. Without that, there is injustice.

This is not a debate about integrated education. It is a debate about a set of Government proposals that will give a new sector within the education system preferential treatment in terms of capital expenditure and in jumping the queue to obtain additional capital expenditure, and in my book that is unjust. It is wrong if that advantage is given to a maintained system, a controlled system, an integrated system or any other system. That, however, is Government policy. It is the Government's policy to create that unfairness by providing moneys that other schools will not get. The opting-out provisions will place other schools at a tremendous disadvantage.

The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), in a fine speech, talked about lack of funding. Funding will be much more of a problem when the pool is much smaller. Surely that is unjust. I am not discussing integrated education, although I think that there is a place for it. When I spoke at the Northern Ireland Assembly as long ago as 1973, I said, "Let's try it. Let's see what is involved. Let's see what it can contribute. Let's have the courage not to turn it down." I emphasised, however, that it should not have unfair advantage. I said that it should not take money from other schools that might have been waiting 15 years for improvements or extensions. I stressed that such a system should not be placed ahead of other schools that had been waiting a long time for valuable moneys. My view was that we should not be unjust in our efforts to be fair, and that is one of the great contradictions in the Government's proposals.

I believe that parents have the right to seek integrated education and to have their children educated within such a system. That right must be defended by us all. They have no reason to tell us of their objectives, definitions or motivations, but we can guess at them. There are some who say that it will contribute to the alleviation of conflict and the promotion of reconciliation. That view deserves to be respected. It is a commitment which deserves to be respected. There are those who say that it is the answer to the divisions in our society. That, too, is a sincere view which must be respected. It is entirely wrong, but it must be respected and we must let people act upon it.

There are those who argue for integrated education for good, old-fashioned snobbish reasons that are always attached to education. Whatever their reasons, people do not have to explain them to us. If, however, a Department brings forward legislation that will be with us into the next century, it has a duty to present and explain its definitions. It must explain its objectives and their bases. Does this order do it? It does not. The Minister failed abysmally to answer the question in the intervention of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown).

We have heard many quaint and whimsical approaches by the Minister and others. The Minister should be honest and tell us the basis of the analysis. Why do the Government think that somewhere down the line the result will be the one that they envisage? People in the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church, the SDLP, the DUP, the Ulster Unionists and the teachers' unions might agree with the Minister if only they were told the Government's view. There is a case for being honest in relation to that. There must be an overridingly worthy objective to justify the change and it must justify putting us all through the emotional wringer of this legislation.

The Government cannot get away with not answering questions that they do not like. They are dealing with our lives and, more important, the lives of our children and they have a duty to answer. We await those answers and we want no more whimsy or quaintness. The Government should be straight and deal with the matter. I could go on at great length about that, but I should like to sum up in relation to integration, but not in relation to integrated schools.

It is unfair for schools to be put in a queue for scarce money. It is unfair to maintained schools which get 85 per cent. of their capital costs on foot of exercising parental choice. I am a parent and I contribute to that. It is okay for me to do so because I am exercising my parental choice. I have no quarrel with that, but when other people who exercise parental choice on foot of exactly the same position get a 100 per cent. grant I have reason to say that there is a difference which militates against me. There is not parity of treatment nor the type of approach that would add to the status of what will be. None of us knows what integrated education will become, but unfortunately the whole concept has started and has produced emotion and ambivalence all over the North of Ireland. That is bad.

I am being encouraged to finish and I shall do so. How can we justify allowing opting-out? If a group of parents decide to have an integrated school, how can the Government justify the taking of property on a different basis from that which applies in England and Wales? The trustees have some rights as well. The order says that the Government will consult the trustees in such circumstances. How nice of the Government. They will say, "That which you have owned for 200 years will be taken away from you, but don't worry because we will consult."

Mr. McGrady

The Government will pay in pennies.

Mr. Mallon

That is right and it goes back to the syndrome that I have spoken about. Section 89(2) of the Education Reform Act 1988 for England and Wales is most specific. It provides that the trustees of Catholic schools in England and Wales are assured that no proposals shall be published under the section for the purposes of making a significant change in the religious character of a school unless the trustees of the school have given their consent in writing to the change in question.

There is no doubt that where there is a change in a grant-maintained integrated school in Northern Ireland its ethos and its religious position will change as defined in the order. Where is the parity in that? When we ask about income support and family credit we are told that there must be parity in every region. No doubt we shall be given whimsy in relation to that, too. Some people will look for a lot more than whimsy. They will make sure that the proposals are subjected to the utmost rigour of examination. Whimsy will not be enough.

I said that I should finish at 5 minutes to I and I shall. I wish to leave the Minister with two quotations, again from a Northern Ireland source. They are both kind to the Minister about his efforts to create understanding within the community in the North of Ireland and about the whole concept of integrated education. They are from an editorial in the Irish News. I put them on record as the view of a paper which, by and large, reflects the Catholic Nationalist position and yet is kind to the Minister. The first is: Whatever about the merits of integrated education, there can be no justification for diverting much-needed resources away from disadvantaged schools and pupils to underwrite the choice of a minority … the present Minister seems bent on re-opening old wounds by promoting legislation which flagrantly discriminates in favour of a sector with a specific religious ethos—that of 'integration'. That must surely sum up the view of the Catholic Nationalist community and is reflected across the whole of the North of Ireland.

Aristotle once said, in what could be described as cynical terms, that education is the best provision for old age. The Government should not make education another item of confrontation in the North of Ireland where there is already far too much confrontation already.

12.56 am
Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

I regret that all the hon. Members who wished to speak in the debate have not been able to do so. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box to speak about Northern Ireland, particularly as he came here from his sick bed to inflict his opinions on us. We welcome his opinions—we just hope not to get the flu.

The number of issues running through the debate shows the anxiety felt about the Government's proposals in the state, Catholic and integrated sectors of education. The Minister has gone out of his way to listen to people but on occasions it has seemed to be a dialogue of the deaf. He has heard and made changes where appropriate, but none of the changes has been appropriate in the view of any of the Northern Ireland Members who have spoken.

I welcome what the Minister sought to do in the education for mutual understanding and the cultural heritage proposals. I also welcome the provisions that he has made about teaching the Irish language and some of the other provisions that he has made.

The Minister must reply to several profound questions which cause anxiety. The first is about resources. My hon. Friend mentioned the reduction in resources for education. If the changes are to take place easily and properly in schools in Northern Ireland, adequate finance must be provided to back up the great demands that the Government are making.

The Minister made several vague statements at the beginning of his speech giving promises of jam tomorrow. Let us hope that there wil be some jam today. We want jam, not spread thinly, but put into the system in large quantities if the changes are to work. He must also look at the morale of teachers, who are at the front line of education changes. Proper recognition of their status in society must be accorded. Otherwise, the flood of teachers out of education will continue—as has happened in the United Kingdom generally—into other jobs where they receive better financial rewards and greater respect from the general public.

It is not only the financial aspects of the teachers' rewards that must be considered, but the status and administration of the new system. Teachers should have a proper stake in the overall direction of events and a place on organisations such as the Northern Ireland Curriculum Council and the Northern Ireland School Examinations and Assessment Council and on the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools. It should be as of right for teachers to appoint teachers to represent the opinions of teachers on those bodies.

Hon. Members have said a great deal about their fears about the assessment of pupils and schools. There is a real fear that one school might be played against another, and that a school in a middle-class area might do better than one in a deprived area. We need to know more about the assessment techniques that will be used. We must ensure that schools in deprived areas do not go further and further down in the people's estimation because they are not getting pupils because they are not getting support from the Department because they are not getting the necessary funds to carry out some of the more difficult tasks in some of the more difficult areas. Trouble in the North of Ireland is often in deprived areas where teachers and schools are held in low esteem. That must change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) spoke about the problems of open enrolment, which will place in doubt the viability of schools in more remote or deprived areas and has serious implications for planning the allocation of resources and for the periodic necessity to rationalise the provision of education. Open enrolment is of great significance to the integrated schools movement.

Over the years, the Minister has constantly refused to give his definition of what would be reasonable balance and a balanced intake. He was asked again today by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and others. The definition in the order is wide open to abuse. It is bound to be the subject of judicial comment and people are bound to seek a judicial review of it. The order provides no guarantee that a school which pretends to be integrated will actually be fully integrated. Supporters of integrated education are horrified at the way in which the order seriously undermines all their work in recent years.

The proponents of integrated education are joined by the Catholic bishops on this issue. They believe that the order permits people who would seek to discredit the integrated schools movement to set up schools, the real purpose of which is the opposite of promoting mutual understanding which the integrated schools movement seeks to promote.

In such circumstances, the Minister's response to the most reasonable suggestions put forward by the Northern Ireland Centre of Integrated Education is most disappointing. The centre suggested departmental monitoring of the status of schools and proposed balanced representation of both traditions on the boards of such schools. Both are sensible recommendations and we should like to hear the Minister say that they will be carried out in full in the regulations on integrated schools which are to be published.

Integrated education has raised a further issue which the Minister must take extremely seriously and which has been raised by the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Newry and Armagh and for Wigan. The Labour party is convinced that an essential element in ending the conflict in Northern Ireland is to ensure complete equality of treatment for the two major traditions. The order fails to do that.

Rightly, the order provides for 100 per cent. financing for integrated schools. We accept and welcome that. We urged that on the Minister when the discussions were first opened. We fully support that initiative. However, we fail to see why the order should institutionalise discrimination against the Catholic school system in such a way that the 85 per cent. limit on finance remains intact. That is a serious defect and the Government should rectify it as soon as possible. If they cannot do so immediately they should set a target of time during which they will remedy that to make it 100 per cent. If the position deteriorates, the bishops will take the Ministry to court under the terms of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. That would be detrimental to the Government's credibility, to the credibility of the education system and to the commitment to establish equality between the two traditions, to which the Government have given their endorsement explicitly in the Anglo-Irish Agreement and on several occasions before and since the Act.

This is an important order, and hon. Members have said that it should have been discussed in a devolved assembly in Northern Ireland. It is an insult to the people of Northern Ireland. All their representatives, from every opinion in the Unionists, the SDLP and the Democratic Unionists, are opposed to the order, to its contents, to the manner in which it has been introduced and to the Government's failure to meet legitimate concerns. The degree of unity that the Government have managed to achieve among so many disparate Northern Ireland Members holds out great hope for the future of Northern Ireland. They all agree that they dislike the Tory Government's proposals and the English ideas being imposed on Irish people in the North of Ireland.

We shall accept the invitation of our hon. Friends in the SDLP and of other Northern Ireland Members to reject the order.

1.5 am

Dr. Mawhinney

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I welcome the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) to our debates. I did not agree with everything that he said, although I admired the vigour with which he said it, especially as I am suffering as he is this evening.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and both Labour party spokesmen spoke of the advantage of devolved structures. The hon. Member for Antrim, North said that it would be a happier arrangement. I agree with him and I hope that we shall soon move to that happier arrangement. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to welcome the hon. Gentleman or any other Northern Ireland Member as my successor as Minister with responsibility for education.

The question of resources was raised by both Opposition spokesmen. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Wigan implicitly said that he supported the reforms, but that they would need additional resources. We have already identified £30 million of additional resources especially for this proposal. He will have noted that the education budget for next year has been raised by 10.5 per cent. I hope and expect to be in a position before Christmas to announce how that money will be disbursed. There will be a substantial increase, in addition to the £30 million, set aside specifically to resource the introduction of education reform. I hope that he feels that I have fully met his point.

Mr. Alton


Dr. Mawhinney

I gave way a great deal in my opening speech, and I wish to deal with some of the points raised.

The hon. Member for Wigan also raised a question from the Irish National Teachers Organisation about regulations on rates of teachers' salaries. It is a serious point. Under the 1986 order, statutory responsibility for determining teachers' salaries rests with the Department.

That also includes such matters as promotion allowances and increments. Under the new arrangements, we believe that those matters should become the responsibility of the boards of governors, because they will be legally responsible for the schools. I assure the hon. Gentleman, INTO and other teacher unions in Northern Ireland that, although the order gives us power to make regulations to that effect, we shall not do so until there has been full consultation with the teacher unions. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) will not, I hope, think it too damaging if I say that he made a most thoughtful speech. He aired a number of genuine concerns of the people of Northern Ireland, and they are precisely the sort of concerns that we shall seek to address in implementing these reforms. I assure him that we will handle with sensitivity the very issues that he raised.

The hon. Gentleman said that good Ulster schools have always provided a broad and balanced curriculum, and he is right about the good Ulster schools. However, as a former teacher and an expert in education matters, he also knows that too many schools in Northern Ireland have not offered their pupils a broad and balanced curriculum.

For example, the hon. Gentleman knows that secondary schools in Northern Ireland have a higher proportion of girls stopping science at the end of the third form than anywhere else in the Kingdom, and that is not acceptable. Many schools are not doing any technology at all when we are trying to train them for employment of whatever sort in the world into which they will be moving. It is precisely because we are trying to achieve a broad, balanced and coherent curriculum from the age of five through to 16 that we are introducing the curriculum proposals.

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) mentioned the membership of the Northern Ireland Curriculum Council and the Northern Ireland School Examinations and Assessment Council. We formed the judgment that teachers had to be members of those because they were at the chalk face. They were the people who were best equipped to be involved in those organisations. I am speaking from memory, but I believe that at least 50 per cent. of the membership of those two organisations are teachers, and that is what the hon. Gentleman wanted. They are there because they have experience and expertise in their own right and are recognised as having such by their peers, which is more important than being so recognised by someone such as me.

The hon. Member for Antrim, East said that removing the 27:73 arrangements would affect rationalisation. The hon. Member for Antrim, North pointed out that we have always had rationalisation in Northern Ireland. Schools have been closed over many years as pupil numbers have fallen and people have moved to different parts of the Province. Rationalisation will continue to take place as now, affected by parental choice, although perhaps more so in future.

I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he was seeking on isolated rural schools. I have already entered into arrangements with the education and library boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools in identifying a number of isolated rural schools which each of them believes should, if possible, have an assured future, subject to parental choice. We shall do that by ensuring that the curriculum made available in those schools is sufficient for the children there. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that assurance.

I am not in the business of trying to indoctrinate young people, and neither are the Government, in terms of education for mutual understanding. That is precisely what it says—mutual understanding. I am not seeking to change people's beliefs. I am not seeking to infringe people's consciences. I am happy to give the hon. Member for Antrim, North that assurance. I am sure that he will join with every other hon. Member in affirming that it is important that our young people should have as balanced an understanding of the community in which they live as possible. That may expose them to the fact that there are beliefs other than those that they hold. But it is in no sense an attempt to cause them to change those beliefs, much less to force them to change those beliefs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that assurance.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Mawhinney

No, I have only two minutes left.

I want to assure the hon. Member for Newry arid Armagh (Mr. Mallon) that we look positively at assessment. We shall be following the line taken in England and Wales. We have said many times that we are not seeking to erect hurdles over which children will have to jump who will be disadvantaged if they cannot do so. Rather we are seeking to encourage them fully to achieve their potential, and I hope that at least on that point we are in agreement.

Enrolment will be a matter of choice for parents. Schools will not be in a position to make selection unless they are oversubscribed. That is a crucial point. Children will be able to go to schools chosen by their parents. [Interruption.] That has always been the case.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh also referred to integrated education. It is available because parents have said that they want that option to be open to them. The hon. Gentleman may not like that, he may say that that is whimsy, but it happens to be the answer to his question. It is not discriminatory. The capital provision for integrated schools will be the same as for controlled schools. If maintained schools wish to change the structure of their governing boards, they too will qualify for the 100 per cent. capital grant.

I commend the order. It will have the effect that the Government intend. It will raise education standards in our schools. It will increase parental choice and involvement in the education of their children. We owe it to the children of Northern Ireland. I have every confidence that the order will achieve those objectives.

It being three hours after the motion was entered upon, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to the Order [8 December].

The House divided: Ayes 88, Noes 18.

Division No. 19] [1.15 am
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Alton, David Bevan, David Gilroy
Amess, David Boswell, Tim
Arbuthnot, James Bottomley, Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bowis, John
Ashby, David Brazier, Julian
Atkinson, David Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Burns, Simon
Burt, Alistair Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Miller, Sir Hal
Carrington, Matthew Mills, Iain
Chapman, Sydney Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Chope, Christopher Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Moss, Malcolm
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Moynihan, Hon Colin
Cran, James Neubert, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Nicholls, Patrick
Davis, David (Boothferry) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Dorrell, Stephen Paice, James
Dover, Den Porter, David (Waveney)
Durant, Tony Redwood, John
Fallon, Michael Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Forman, Nigel Sackville, Hon Tom
Garel-Jones, Tristan Shaw, David (Dover)
Gill, Christopher Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Goodlad, Alastair Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Harris, David Speed, Keith
Hind, Kenneth Stern, Michael
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Summerson, Hugo
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Hunter, Andrew Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Jack, Michael Thurnham, Peter
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Twinn, Dr Ian
Knapman, Roger Viggers, Peter
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Lawrence, Ivan Wells, Bowen
Lightbown, David Wheeler, John
Lord, Michael Widdecombe, Ann
Maclean, David Wood, Timothy
McLoughlin, Patrick
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Tellers for the Ayes:
Mans, Keith Mr. John M. Taylor and
Maude, Hon Francis Mr. Irvine Patnick.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Beggs, Roy Skinner, Dennis
Cryer, Bob Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Dixon, Don Stott, Roger
Flannery, Martin Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
McNamara, Kevin Wilson, Brian
Mallon, Seamus
Meale, Alan Tellers for the Noes:
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Mr. William Ross and
Paisley, Rev Ian Mr. Eddie McGrady.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 23rd November, be approved.