HC Deb 18 March 1993 vol 221 cc393-4
5. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proportion of children in Northern Ireland are educated in voluntary or selective schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

Of the total school population—that is primary and secondary—54 per cent. attend voluntary schools and 39 per cent. of secondary pupils attend selective schools, about 75 per cent. of which are voluntary.

Mr. Coombs

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely significant that a high proportion of children in Northern Ireland attend schools after having been selected either by ability or aptitude? That is accompanied by the fact that in terms of GCSE results, A-level results and staying on rates, results in Northern Ireland are significantly better than those in the rest of the United Kingdom. Does not that have implications for the way in which we organise our education system in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hanley

My hon. Friend is right about the excellence of schools in Northern Ireland. Some statistics might bear that out. The House will be interested to know that 32 per cent. of Northern Ireland school leavers achieve at least one A-level compared with 26 per cent. in England; 75 per cent. leaving grammar school achieve at least one A-level; 45 per cent. of all school leavers achieve five or more GCSE grades A to C compared with 40 per cent. in England; over 55 per cent. continue in further or higher education compared with 34 per cent. in England. However, in Northern Ireland more pupils leave school with no GCSE qualifications than in England. I believe that to be a corollary. it is 13 per cent. in Northern Ireland compared to 7 per cent. in England, but the position has greatly improved from 27 per cent. 10 years ago. We must concentrate just as much on that end of the spectrum as on the excellence that is achieved in Northern Ireland education.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Following the recent decision to give 100 per cent. funding for new Roman Catholic voluntary schools, will the Minister assure the people of Northern Ireland that there will be no discrimination and that similar 100 per cent. grants will be available to the Protestant churches, such as the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church, if they decide to build their own schools?

Mr. Hanley

The right hon. Gentleman is right that Catholic schools have recently been able to apply for 100 per cent. grants, the same as most other schools. That removes discrimination and gives equality of opportunity to the majority of children in Northern Ireland. With that comes a change in the constitution of the schools' boards. As long as schools comply with those constitutional changes they will receive the same grant.

Sir Giles Shaw

Will my hon. Friend take a little further the answer that he gave to the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor)? What proportional grant is given to the relatively few schools that are seeking to be integrated into the education system on a Roman Catholic and a Protestant basis? Is my hon. Friend encouraging the development of such schools?

Mr. Hanley

Yes, indeed, I am helping to encourage the numbers of pupils who attend integrated schools in Northern Ireland. The schools receive the same level of grant. At the moment, they educate about 1 p er cent. of all children in Northern Ireland. I believe that they give an excellent education and I hope that their future will be encouraged.

Mr. Stott

The Minister will surely be aware of the deep unease that is felt about curriculum assessment and testing by the teaching profession throughout all the schools in the sector which he has mentioned. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the largest teachers' union in Northern Ireland recently held a ballot in which 95 per cent. of teachers voted in favour of boycotting testing and assessment? When the Minister spoke in the appropriation orders debate a couple of weeks ago he said that he was a listening Minister. Will he listen to the voices of the teachers, as expressed in the ballot on whether testing should take place?

Mr. Hanley

I am in regular contact with the teaching unions. I am extremely pleased that many teachers are trying to use the opportunities that are provided by a pilot year of assessment. They will, therefore, be able to practise the new assessment techniques and provide feedback to the Department for Education so that we can get assessment absolutely right. There will be no benefit to children or teachers in boycotting the assessment procedures. I am glad that the National Union of Teachers, for instance, is being constructive in this regard.

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