HC Deb 06 July 2000 vol 353 cc405-6
2. Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

What his policy is on selection in schools. [127921]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Jacqui Smith)

It is a matter for local parents to decide whether or not local grammar schools continue to use selective admissions. The admissions code of practice gives schools guidance on other issues and it is for the schools adjudicator to resolve disputes where they arise, including on issues of partial selection.

Mr. Chope

That is not a very satisfactory answer from the Minister. Why is it the Government's policy to force popular schools to select pupils on the basis of whether their parents can afford to move into their catchment area? That is one of the most pernicious aspects of the Government's selection policy. Would it not be much fairer to allow school boards to decide for themselves their own admissions criteria?

Jacqui Smith

There we have an outrider for the Leader of the Opposition's speech this week, asking us to create a sort of free-for-all in admissions policies—presumably that would be what the Opposition wants—which would presumably also apply to primary schools, whose governing bodies would also have the right to select. Are we now to see the nightmare vision of primary moderns in our system—not just a return to the 11-plus, but a 4-plus for our children?

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, following the interview by the shadow Education Secretary on Channel 4's "Powerhouse" yesterday, many schools in my constituency are extremely worried, particularly primary schools, that they will have to consider selection by academic ability, and that many of them will be left as part of a second-rate tier of schools? What on earth can we do to avoid that threat posed by the Conservative proposals?

Jacqui Smith

My hon. Friend raises a matter of considerable concern among parents. It is important that we continue with the planned situation, which gives parents the chance, where possible, to choose, but also, through the admissions forum, provides much more certainty about what will happen. The key point about our proposals, by contrast with those of the Opposition, is that it is not possible to allow both parents and schools to choose. Our emphasis is that, wherever possible, parents need to be able to express a preference, not that schools should have the right to weed out children whom they do not want, thereby depriving parents of their choices.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given that the hon. Lady is in review mode, will she confirm one thing that she will not do and three things that she will? Will she promise to do nothing to make it easier to abolish a grammar school, promise to limit petitions to one every five years, promise to allow grammar school parents the right to vote in all ballots, and promise to adopt the Conservative policy of making every school a free school—free to select its pupils, free to choose its term times, free to manage its budget, free to arrange its transport, free to enforce its discipline and free to run its own affairs?

Jacqui Smith

I think that I lost count of the questions as we went through them. The key matter is that we made it clear that, where grammar schools exist, parents will decide the future of their selective admission arrangements. We have extensively debated concerns about balloting arrangements. We have no plans to review the threshold. We have no plans to take away the right of parents to decide on the future of selective admission arrangements, which is what the Opposition's proposals would do.

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