HC Deb 22 February 1996 vol 272 cc480-2
3. Mr. Gapes

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what percentage of children of secondary school age are in (a) comprehensive schools (b) grant-maintained comprehensive schools (c) religious denominational voluntary aided schools (d) private schools, and (e) selective state grammar schools. [15020]

Mr. Ancram

Because of the different educational structures at secondary level in Northern Ireland compared with Great Britain, school types do not read across directly. The relevant Northern Ireland figures are that some 40 per cent. of secondary age pupils attend grammar schools, 58 per cent. secondary schools, just over 1 per cent. grant-maintained integrated schools and less than 1 per cent. independent schools.

Mr. Gapes

Is the Minister aware that the statistical bulletin produced by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland refers to the unacceptable number of poorly qualified or unqualified school leavers coming out of schools in Northern Ireland? What do the Government plan to do to remedy that?

Mr. Ancram

That has been a matter of concern to me as Education Minister during the time that I have held that office. It was for that reason that I introduced the raising school standards initiative, which is directly targeted at dealing with that problem. In Northern Ireland, only 4 per cent. of pupils fail to achieve any GCSEs compared with 8 per cent. in England. Although there is still more to be done, our policies in that area are working.

Mr. John Marshall

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on that answer and the people of Northern Ireland on their good fortune—which many in England would like to share—in having so many grammar school places. Does not the main hope for the future in Northern Ireland lie in the growth of non-denominational education, as denominational schools can merely aggravate the religious divide?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his question. I know that the attraction of selective education is understood not only by Conservative Members but by one or two Opposition Members, who like to take advantage of it.

Education generally in Northern Ireland—not only the selective system—produces good results. It is worth remembering that 87 per cent. of pupils in Northern Ireland achieve two A-levels as against 81 per cent. in England. In addition, 51 per cent. of pupils in Northern Ireland achieve five good GCSEs as opposed to 44 per cent. in England.

We have always made it clear that we shall promote and encourage integrated education, but it must be based on parental demand and not on coercion.

Dr. Hendron

I would appreciate it if, at some time, the Secretary of State or the Minister would make a statement about the percentage of school children in my constituency of Belfast, West who have been able to attend a secondary school, grammar school or some school like that.

When will the Secretary of State be in a position to make an announcement about the proposal of the University of Ulster to have a campus at Springvale? I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that there is truly massive support throughout both communities in west Belfast and north Belfast, and far beyond, for such a campus.

Mr. Ancram

On the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I shall be happy to meet him to discuss the situation and to try to provide him with some of the information that he seeks.

As for the Springvale campus, the Government have received an economic evaluation, which we shall be examining closely before coming to a final decision.