HC Deb 24 April 1996 vol 276 cc428-9
9. Mr. Tredinnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what recent representations she has had regarding selection as a means of extending choice and diversity in education. [25087]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

I receive frequent representations on that subject.

Mr. Tredinnick

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Dixie grammar school and Wolstan preparatory school in my constituency on joining the new assisted places scheme for seven, 10 and 11 year-olds? Does she not find it strange that a scheme that assists the children of the less well-off should be so fiercely opposed by Opposition Members? When will she expand the scheme further?

Mrs. Shephard

I have no difficulty in congratulating the successful schools that my hon. Friend mentioned. We are firmly in favour of the assisted places scheme because we believe that it extends further choice to children from less well-off families—a policy that one would indeed think that Opposition Members would be happy to espouse but against which they have firmly set their faces.

Mr. Blunkett

Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether on Monday, when she was attempting to curry favour with the right by backing the Euro-sceptics, she knew that the Prime Minister would today slap them down and whether, as a consequence, her efforts to try to stop the Prime Minister introducing secondary moderns—

Madam Speaker

Order. This question is about diversity in education. Supplementary questions must follow the substantive question.

Mr. Blunkett

With respect, Madam Speaker, I am getting there. I was asking whether the Secretary of State was withholding her support from the Prime Minister's efforts to introduce secondary modern schools in every town. Does she agree that it would cost £2.5 billion to introduce grammar schools into 300 towns and that excluding 95 per cent. of the local population from access to those schools is entirely contrary to lifting standards and providing excellence for every child?

Mrs. Shephard

It took the hon. Gentleman a little time to get there. I would like to set the record straight. Selective schools are popular with parents. We shall continue to examine ways of meeting parental preferences that also drive up standards, as selective schools do. That is in stark contrast to the so-called policies of Opposition Members, who believe in choice and selective schools but that that choice and such schools are only for selected members of their Front Bench team. The hon. Gentleman said, and it is worth repeating, Watch my lips: no selection. What a pity that the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) was not watching at the time.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a chronic shortage of places in secondary schools, selective and non-selective, in the north of Lancashire, especially in Lancaster and Garstang? That is because the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council insists on keeping empty places in the east and centre of the county, especially in Skelmersdale and Burnley, which was mentioned earlier, when the money should be going to north Lancashire and to Lancaster and Garstang in particular.

Mrs. Shephard

It is extraordinary that parental preference should be so ignored as my hon. Friend described in her inimitable way. That is yet another example of Labour setting its face against choice.

Mrs. Mahon

Does the Secretary of State accept that, when Calderdale council says that it wants to end selection in the two grammar schools in Halifax, it does not mean that it intends to close them? Will she tell the Tory group on the council that lying about that simply debases political debate and causes anxiety to parents, children and teachers? The Labour group on the council does not intend to close the two grammar schools. Publishing rubbish that says that it will debases the debate.

Mrs. Shephard

I believe that Calderdale council is unable to close the schools as they are grant-maintained.