HC Deb 19 May 1992 vol 208 cc138-40
10. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether he has proposals to introduce selection by examination for secondary school entry.

11. Ms. Estelle Morris

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what proposals he has to introduce selection by examination for secondary school entry.

Mr. John Patten

We have consistently made it clear that the Government do not intend to impose any particular organisational pattern for schools. It is, in the first instance, for local education authorities and school governors to establish the organisation most appropriate for their area, in the light of local needs and the wishes of parents and the community.

We firmly believe in a diversity of provision of schools and in maximising choice for parents. We are ready to consider any application for a change in a school's character put forward by a local education authority or by the governors of voluntary schools or grant-maintained schools.

Mr. Griffiths

Why cannot the Secretary of State see that the selective opt-out structure will not mean that parents choose schools for their children, but that the schools choose the parents and children that they want? That will mean chaos, as many disappointed parents will appeal against the consignment of their children as an educational underclass forced to go to schools that have not opted out, which the Government deliberately fund less well than opted-out schools.

Mr. Patten

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's serious interest in the subject. Unfortunately, toward the end of his question he slipped into the lingua franca of the early 1960s when so much damage was done to the education system. The grant-maintained school system is beginning to show parents the positive opportunities that can be given to them by having a range of schools from which to choose. The more grant-maintained schools there are, the more pressure there will be on schools that underperform to perform better.

Ms. Morris

How will the Minister avoid the problems of entries to specialist or magnet schools by competitive examination, should the supply of places not meet the demand for them in any one specialism?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Lady comes to this place with a reputation for knowing a lot about education. I believe that to be so. Therefore, she knows as well as I do that today about a quarter of local education authorities have selection for a number of schools in their area. In addition, the excellent city technology colleges have spread across the country. I should like a number of schools to take the route of specialisation, developing a leading edge in technology, music, the arts or some other subject.

Mr. Butterfill

Will my right hon. Friend confirm, however, that selection has been retained in several areas? One of the problems in those areas is that pupils in junior and primary schools are often funded on a per capita basis at a lower level than pupils of the same age in middle schools. Does he agree that, if selection were to become more widely available, it would be wrong to maintain that differential? Will he take steps to eliminate the current differential?

Mr. Patten

It is certainly open to local education authorities to change their funding formula within their counties. I shall look specifically at the point that my hon. Friend raises and write to him in greater detail.

Mr. Butcher

Will my right hon. Friend take a close look at the German secondary education system, where tripartite selection puts children into high schools, technical schools and grammar schools at the expense of the state? Does my right hon. Friend not think it regrettable that selective schools are now predominantly fee-paying, because many parents would like free access to selective state schools?

Mr. Patten

The German education system has been praised by many educationists from right, left and centre of the political spectrum in this country, who have told us that we should take a look at those schools. Parents should have the widest possible choice of schools in their area, but parents and the local community should lay down the shape and pattern of that education, rather than its being done by diktat from my desk, attractive though that possibility is.

Mr. Fatchett

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that, if standards have risen and the stay-on rate of post-16 education has increased, it is the result of a system that is predominantly comprehensive, and the comprehensive revolution in this country has been a success? Why do Conservative Members and the Secretary of State want to turn the clock back to a system in which one child out of five was deemed to be a success and four out of five deemed to be failures? Why do the Government trade in failure and not try to build on success?

Mr. Patten

That is the authentic voice of the early 1960s. The hon. Gentleman is refighting battles that the Labour party has long lost. It is no wonder that the Labour party lost the recent general election.