HC Deb 21 March 1995 vol 257 cc131-2
5. Mr. Hinchliffe

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what is her policy on selective education. [13246]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Mr. Robin Squire)

The Government believe that schools which select pupils by ability, or which specialise in particular subjects, have an important part to play in giving parents a choice of schooling for their children.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Is the Minister aware that, as well as the serious budget cuts in various parts of the country, one of the anxieties of those lobbying Parliament today is the reappearance of selection, especially in Tory areas such as Wandsworth? The last thing that I want for my children and for my constituents' children is for them to be written off at the age of 11, as I was under the Tory education policies of the 1950s and 1960s. While selection may be the obvious next step in terms of the Government's policy, will they for once look at the lessons of the past and learn from the experiences of people like myself and thousands of others in the 1950s and 1960s?

Mr. Squire

Unlike the hon. Gentleman and his party, the Government are not bound by dogma or ideology when it comes to selection in schools. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, we believe that it is up to local education authorities, controlled schools and, where relevant, grant-maintained schools to make proposals for selective education if they believe that it meets the demands of parents in their area. If the Labour party showed our commitment to higher standards in schools, it would not attack good schools of proven worth.

Mr. Haselhurst

Will my hon. Friend assure me that he will approach with caution suggestions for changes in admission arrangements where they might have an unbalancing effect on a cluster of grant-maintained schools in a given area?

Mr. Squire

I can reassure my hon. Friend that any proposals on admission changes are considered most carefully by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That consideration includes the impact that those changes would have on other schools in the area.

Mr. Jamieson

Will the Minister explain to the House why, since 1970, successive Tory Secretaries of State have signed the orders to close most of the grammar schools?

Mr. Squire

I can only say in answer to the hon. Gentleman that those proposals did not come to me. They came to my ministerial predecessors, who will have considered them on precisely the merits of the schools which I implied in answer to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Stevenson) a moment ago. Labour Members seem unable to grasp the fact that there should be diversity and choice in our education system and that the Government are pledged to defend that choice and diversity.