HC Deb 27 November 2002 vol 395 cc302-3
4. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

If he will make a statement on the future of grammar schools in Northern Ireland. [81602]

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy)

The consultation on the Burns proposals indicated an emerging consensus for the ending of the transfer tests, which the hon. Gentleman and I would recognise as the 11-plus, and I will be taking forward the review and working to abolish the transfer tests as soon as practical.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does not the Minister seek to abandon—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is far too noisy and it is unfair to those who are interested in these questions.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Does not the Minister seek to abandon the shameful and destructive policy, initiated by Martin McGuinness, of abolishing the selection test? Does she agree that the absence of a clear judgment in these matters will undermine a facility that provides opportunities for able children from working-class homes to break through class barriers and ensures that Northern Ireland has better A-level results than England, Scotland or Wales?

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman is right in that the education system does well for certain very able pupils in Northern Ireland. I assure him that no decisions have been taken about academic selection or new post-primary arrangements. In the consultation, various suggestions were made for future arrangements, including options involving academic selection. My officials have been discussing those proposals with the education partners and parents' representatives, and they will continue to do so over the coming weeks.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

Will the Minister give us a commitment that she will continue to support our grammar schools in Northern Ireland, just as her Government support the remaining grammar schools here in Great Britain? Will she acknowledge that it is now being acknowledged here that the comprehensive system has been failing pupils for far too long?

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman makes a forceful point, but he will know that the consultation on the Burns report indicated an emerging consensus, which, I hope he will accept, included political parties, on an end to the transfer test. I am confident that by working with our education partners and by keeping our focus on the interests of the child, we can develop a modern, fair education system that enables all children to fulfil their potential.

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