HL Deb 30 June 1999 vol 603 cc348-63

7.33 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to accept that some selection in education has value.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the problem we are discussing tonight has bedevilled English education for the past 60 years. Let me give your Lordships an example. In 1938 the Association of Education Committees, in evidence to the Spens Committee which was meeting that year, spoke in this way. They said that there had been a concentration on grammar schools as compared to other schools, particularly those providing courses leading up to the work of advanced technology.

One of the problems of the Board of Education was that though it developed grammar schools it deliberately did down technical schools. The Association of Education Committees went on to advocate the development of technical high schools. After 1902 the English state, later than any other state in Europe, provided grammar schools which served about 15 per cent of the most able age group. Nothing was provided for the rest, and they left school at 14 and were expected to seek apprenticeships or other forms of training.

There were some technical schools. They were in short supply and mainly existed in certain cities. Hence, before 1914, selection meant privilege for a clever few and nothing for the rest. That is a fact that we must face and that is the background of this debate tonight.

The problem was not unique to this country. In France the academic Lycée dominated education and the same was true throughout most of Europe. Only in Germany did schools other than the academic enjoy similar prestige. This debate is occurring against the background of history, and the fact is that the meanness of the right, if you like, of my party, and the ideology of the left, your party, meant that we attempted to solve this problem universal to Europe in a different manner from our continental neighbours. This is the core of what I am presenting to your Lordships tonight. We got rid of selection and put all pupils in area comprehensives. We forgot that selection really means placing pupils in schools and colleges which best suit their interests, abilities and aptitudes. We forgot that this is not wrong in itself, but it is wrong if it only satisfies one element of ability, those who have one particular ability, which in England was academic.

This universal problem was solved by our continental neighbours in a different manner. I repeat, in order to drive the point home, that it was a universal problem. In Germany, Holland and many other countries they solved the problem by giving equal prestige to schools other than the Gymnasium—the grammar school—and by creating and fostering technical and other schools, as well as establishing highly respected and free standing—note the word "free standing"—vocational qualifications. The result in Germany, Holland and Austria was that selection was not then seen as passing or failing. I accept the criticism of the English system of selection as it existed in the 1940s, 1950s and up to the 1960s.

What it meant as far as they were concerned was providing different training for different abilities. It may be of interest to your Lordships that when East Germany was united with the west, all the states apart from Berlin abandoned their comprehensive system and took over the West German tripartite system.

In France and the Latin countries, Spain and Italy, schools are comprehensive up to the age of 16, when pupils again separate selectively. They go either to an academic lycée or quasi-vocational institution each with their own separate examinations. It is the baccalaureate professional in France and the academic baccalaureate. The same is true in Spain and Italy.

I turn to our system; the result of the great revolution of the 1960s. It is the method we followed to deal with the universal problem. If we are honest, we must admit that the results of our answer to the problem have not been as successful as theirs. Independent schools cater for about 8 per cent of the population. I speak from being involved in them for many years. They are mainly non-selective, only 40 or 50 being selective. Apart from the need to pay the fees, anyone can go to them. We must worry about a system where 72 per cent of pupils in independent schools achieve A to C grades in mathematics. They are from schools such as Milton Abbey, which I govern and which takes pupils of all ability. However, in comprehensive schools 32 per cent achieve A to C grades in mathematics. As regards French, 62 per cent of pupils in independent schools pass at grades A to C compared with 20 per cent in comprehensive schools. Those figures are for 1994.

Our continental neighbours, who have largely adopted selective systems, do better. In 1992–93, a survey was conducted of their intermediate examinations. It is published in a book by Michael Sanderson about academic education compared with industrial performance. The survey showed that in England and Wales 27 per cent of pupils passed at A to C grades compared with 62 per cent in Germany. In Northern Ireland, which still has a selective system, more pupils from families in Social Class III M-V, which is the manual worker class, were accepted for higher education; 38 per cent compared with 23 per cent in England. I hope that the Minister will not argue that Northern Ireland has a culture so different that we cannot compare it. I should like the Minister to comment on these figures which are a reflection of the policy we followed in the 1960s.

It is that, not political ideology, which has lead me to put forward the debate tonight. I beg the Government to reconsider their dogmatic views on selection. Ideology is a bad guide to performance either in politics or in education, as history has often shown. Our neighbours show us that selection does not mean pass or fail, as I accept it did in England in the 1930s. It provides institutions which best suit the different abilities and talents. If we are to realise that and to follow our continental neighbours, that means allowing schools to specialise and choose pupils for the specialisations which best suit their talents. Above all, it means restoring technical schools in every area.

I do not want to bore your Lordships with history. Germany led the world in technical schools, from the Sunday schools of Saxony which became technical. I can assure your Lordships that in late Victorian England we were well on the way to matching them. Then we destroyed it all. We destroyed it, first, with the Board of Education after 1902 and then we annihilated them in the 1960s. I beg the Government to think practically about that.

During my brief period on the Front Bench when I dealt with the Education Bill, I realised that the Government seem to have an affection for specialist schools. Yet I am puzzled—and I should like the Minister to comment—about how their dogmatic views on selection will enable them to decide which pupils will benefit from the specialist schools. There has been talk of language schools, science schools and mathematics schools.

Surely, selection is demanded. It need not be as it was in the 1930s and 1940s. We could refine it and produce a model like Germany where going to different schools is not seen as passing or failing but as enhancing opportunities for all. At present, we do not seem to be fulfilling the potential of many of our young people and the results speak for themselves. Good structures produce high standards. Attachment to ancient dogmas based on a vanished past is no guide to a successful future.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I have been lenient with the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, but I must warn all noble Lords, apart from my noble friend the Minister, that no noble Lord may speak once the clock shows "3".

7.46 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, it is always fun to be in a debate with the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington. I enjoy it. However, tonight I have reservations about some of the things he said. He was more accurate about what happens in Europe than he has been previously. I do not believe that he was entirely accurate about Northern Ireland. However, I was glad to hear his condemnation of selection. Selection leads to rejection, which is what we had before the change to comprehensive schools. The noble Lord was also wrong in suggesting that comprehensive schools had not been a success and he quoted figures. But he did not explain the way in which the pass rates at A to C grades have risen since comprehensive schools took over. That is the success story.

I am pleased to say that we have had commitments that we shall not return to selection—to the 11-plus—which is a relief. However, some of us fear that specialisation, which has been allowed, can bring us desperately close to selection, with all its social implications. The Secretary of State has said that he would expect schools with specialisms to share their expertise with other schools in a local network; that they could promote expertise throughout a community. Could the Minister tell us whether specialisms will make up an element of admissions policies? I hope that that will not be the case.

With a co-operative network of schools, surely children could gain the benefits of the specialisms while being enrolled in any school in the network. That would allow admissions policy to be based on other rules which would be less open to abuse. One sees the tendency to selection if specialisms are allowed to continue entirely in one school without others being involved in it. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance as to that.

7.48 p.m.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for asking this Question. I believed that the time has come when we ought to drop the word "selection" because to those of us who lived through the 1950s and 1960s it suggests a permanent distinction between the apparent sheep and the apparent goats. It was a bad system. If we dropped the word and concentrated on what the Government are obviously understanding—namely, the differentiation and diversity of educational provision—we could forget the poor record of the past and examine the development of the specialist schools.

It is quite clear that though there are very specialist schools such as music schools, ballet schools and the dramatic school in Croydon, there is a kind of specialist school growing up from the technical colleges which concentrates on a commitment to hard work, both on the part of parents and children and the provision of an environment in which clever or less clever children are allowed to be ambitious, whether in sport, music or technology.

In the past the real problem has been the difficulty that ambitious children have in showing their true colours. They have lived in an environment in which it is despised to work and absurd to express an interest in a subject. I am afraid that this has had an even worse effect on girls than boys. Girls are still supposed to be attractive and not know too much.

The provision of an environment which we could call specialist if we wanted to but which encourages children and expects an enormous amount of commitment, both of the children and their parents, provides for the real needs of a wide range of children. I warmly congratulate the Government on being able to perceive that this is a new way forward. In my view, it would be far easier to follow this and encourage the specialist schools by not talking about selection any more.

Of course the children who go to such schools will be the children of parents who are interested in education. That means cutting right across all kinds of class divisions. People will have a choice of whether to send their children to specialist schools. But, when they have done so, I believe we shall see an enormous improvement in the commitment and standards reached by those children. I should like to make clear that this is a new way of looking at differentiation for children's education. If we could put an embargo on the word "selection", we should do ourselves a very great favour.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I declare an interest in that my children went to comprehensive schools. They were ambitious. Their teachers were ambitious for them. For 30 years I have been a supporter of comprehensive education. I am as strong a supporter today as I was then. I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, that that makes me a member of the "Left", which is the first time I have ever been referred to as such.

The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has asked the Government a Question. My noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey will answer it. I can only answer for myself. By "selection" I assume we are talking about entry into secondary education, as that is what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, referred to. Is selection of any value? My answer is "No, tout court". Is it of any value when we are discussing so-called specialisms within schools? (Here I am being disobliging to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.) My answer again is "No". Selection is inefficient. The overwhelming evidence is that we are unable to select satisfactorily both generally, for academic purposes, and specifically within the context of the specialist schools. I refer to the "aptitude concept" which my right honourable friend invented in the past year or two.

I therefore remain, without any doubt, an opponent of selection for entry into secondary education. I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lady David that the comprehensive schools of this country have been a success. The original, earlier mixed structure was a failure, as the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said, to a large extent.

One of the difficulties in discussing this issue is that many commentators confuse the problem of comprehensive schools with the problem of the inner cities. I do not doubt that there is a problem in some of our inner cities. That is a problem of economic deprivation and poverty. It is a social problem, not unconnected with the economic problem. It leads to family breakdown. I have little or no doubt that in any approach to education family support is of enormous importance. However, it is not to do with selection or comprehensive education; it is to do with the way we run our lives and how we neglect in certain cases our fellow human beings.

I should like to ask my noble friend what is again a disobliging question. However, I must ask it because this is my only chance. We are not likely to have a similar debate at this time. I thought that this party was committed to the abolition of selection in secondary education. As far as I am concerned, "selection is selection is selection". Can my noble friend tell us whether there has been any diminution of selection in entry to secondary education in our country in the two years since our Government were elected?

7.55 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Pilkington for asking this important and central question to education. Delighted as I am to see that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is to reply, perhaps he could explain why the Minister for Education is unable to be present. That would be helpful to the House.

I take a different view from my noble friend. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, I see a great deal of selection being practised by the present Government. After all, we have selection for music schools, ballet schools, various drama schools and art of one sort or another. We have specialist language schools, which were first developed when we were in Government. I am very pleased to see that they are being continued. I believe there are to be schools for mathematics.

That all seems to me a highly desirable development. Whether we call it "specialisation" or "selection", children are being chosen for a particular kind of education to suit their needs. A number of Government Ministers believe in education selection. I would have thought that the Prime Minister was a prime example of that. I think we all agree with him. He has chosen what he regards as the best schools for his children. I have no doubt that they are very intelligent children and will do well. Of course, Mrs Harriet Harman chose a grammar school for her son. I even see that Mrs Jeremy Corbin has joined the ranks. It is never too late for a sinner to repent. That is a very interesting development.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, should say that he saw no value in selection. I believe that the Government have said that £60 million (I may not have the figure right) will go into sport. I do not know whether that will go to every school to encourage everybody to be good at sport or to encourage people who are talented in sport and who do extremely well. However, as the Secretary of State has decided that compulsory sports will no longer be necessary for those over the age of 14, I can only suppose the money is going to help talented or prospective sports people to do well. Good luck to them. That is selection of another sort. It is simply finding proper ways to encourage people to develop their talents.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston cannot just say that only the inner city comprehensives have problems. The problem which the Government have identified, and which we identified when we were in Government and which has so far defeated governments of both parties, is what do we do with the least able? They are the ones who are doing so badly in the system. They are not receiving the teaching they should. They are leaving school without qualifications. They have no commitment to getting a job. They therefore become dependent upon the welfare state and get themselves into trouble. There is no use in making excuses for all of that. We need to address ourselves to dealing with those children whom the education system has failed. We should find an answer to that problem. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, pointed out some examples of success with the least able.

8 p.m.

Baroness Thornton

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, on initiating this important debate. All parents want the best in life for their children. Obtaining the best education one can for one's children is surely the key responsibility for every parent. But over the many years that I have listened to, and sometimes participated in, the national debate in relation to education, standards and how to raise them, I have come to realise that those debates often take place with two sides talking about the same subject in totally different languages. The reason they talk in different languages is because they have totally different educational experiences and different aspirations about the education they seek and receive.

That is what I call the "95 per centers" and the "5 per centers"—although the noble Lord. Lord Pilkington, and I may disagree on the percentages. Those of us in the 95 per cent were educated in the state sector, myself in an excellent comprehensive in my native city of Bradford. We are ordinary folk who come from families who have always seen education as the way to get on in life, to get a good job and, in our turn, to try to ensure that our children have a better life and perhaps more opportunities than our parents and ourselves.

The problem for the 95 per cent, until the general election, was that our education system was in the hands of those who, by and large, experienced education only in the non-state sector; that is, the ones in the 5 per cent. Frankly, many of them had no real understanding of, and I am afraid that some of them did not even care about, the aspirations and needs of the majority. What a relief now to have a government who are concerned about the standard of education of the many and not the few, my children among them I am glad to say. We now have a government who put education at the centre of their programme.

This is too important a subject for political point-scoring. We need to look to the Government's record and what they are doing for the 95 per cent. The Government's aim is clear and unequivocal. They aim for every state school to be, and to be seen to be, good enough so that each and every parent will be happy to send their children to it.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, my concern lies mainly with those kids whose intelligence is not principally academic, but finds itself in one of two areas. I refer first to those who understand and work well with people. They are the foundation of a successful entrepreneurial and industrial society and we do not look after them well in schools. I refer also to those kids who become disenchanted by what is going on in school—even in primary school; let alone in the early years of secondary school—because the curriculum is so biased towards the academic system with which we have all grown up and which those of us who have been to state schools or grammar schools have seen in action.

We need to find a way of looking after those children better. I look at many schools during the course of the year and it is my experience that schools which specialise in looking after that sort of child—those which are broader; which have more of a direction in which to lead those children—do better for them. It is difficult to combine that in any sensible way with pursuing high academic ideals in the way that grammar schools do.

I heard the noble Lord, Lord Peston, express a distaste for selection. He said, "I don't think it works. It always produces idiotic results. We get people who are disappointed by not getting into a school for which they are probably not suited anyway and it is not a pattern to which we should return". But I applaud what the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said about differentiation. That is the right road to go down. We should be offering parents and children the choice of different kinds of school. It should be a parental choice; it should not be the choice of the school. Schools should not be choosing children; parents and children should be choosing schools—and we should be offering them a good choice.

That is what happens in the private sector. Not everyone wants to go to Winchester. But in the private sector there is a whole range of schools which suit different kinds of children, and parents spend a lot of time and money finding out which school is best for their kid. I do not see why that should not happen—or something as close as we can get to it—for the rest of us.

8.3 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, in the few minutes available I will concentrate on an illustration from a famous school to which the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, rendered never-to-be-forgotten service over a long period of years. I refer to Eton College.

When I went to Eton 80 years ago it was non-selective. I do not say that people who are now said to have what are called "learning difficulties" actually got in, but everyone else could. There is no doubt that once there the boys met people of all sorts, of all intellectual calibres. I am not referring to the college, where the 70 so-called "tugs" were assembled, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and later the noble Lords, Lord Denham and Lord Hurd. But the college was an exception. The rest of the other 1,000 boys—there are more there now—used to go to school, meet each other and mix with all kinds, except in classes. The classes were separate from the rest of the life. The clever boys were in the clever classes and the stupid ones in the stupid classes.

That was the way it was. It worked well academically. It also meant that the boys had a social life. To put it in a sentence (and that is all I have got!) it may be said that it is relatively easy to do that in a large boarding school. I may be asked how we can apply that principle in a day school. I suggest only that one could learn from the experience of Eton. One could work together with ordinary people all one's life, except in classes; and then one works with one's intellectual equal.

8.5 p.m.

Baroness Brigstocke

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Pilkington for introducing the debate this evening. I shall not talk about selection for entry to a secondary school.

A few weeks ago in your Lordships' House there was a stimulating debate on sport. During that debate the Government Deputy Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said, We are determined that our top sportsmen and women should receive world class backing to give them every chance of achieving international success".—[Official Report, 9/6/99; col. 1476.] In other words, the Government—I congratulate them on this—clearly accepted that selected athletes will be given the coaching and training they need. I have just come from watching top-class athletes competing at Henley—highly selective crews rowing their best. It has clearly been the responsibility of their coaches to select the most promising crews and then train them to the utmost of their athletic ability. I could make the same point about ballet dancers. Imagine the horror of Swan Lake if all-comers were accepted for the corps de ballet.

My question to the Government this evening is this: is not there a place for academic selection for those students who are academically gifted and in their sphere deserve world-class backing?

Let me make it clear that I speak tonight as the chairman of a large comprehensive school. I am fiercely proud of it. I am especially proud of the help, coaching and training which are given to those of our students who have difficulties with their studies; those who have "special educational needs". We also have students with other kinds of special educational need—a need to be helped and coached to fulfil their outstanding academic potential. I should like to have an assurance from the Minister that there will be money to pay for special academic coaching for the academically gifted as is planned for the athletically gifted; but it must be earmarked.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, I anticipated a radical and liberal few words from the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, because he asked a cunning and I felt deceptively simple question; that is, whether the Government, are prepared to accept that some selection in education has value". But the noble Lord shattered my expectations. He took us for a bit of a wander down memory lane. He took us via some examples of continental Europe—a continental Europe I thought it was now de rigueur for the Opposition to be critical of.

However, there are some facets of selection in education which have value, and I hoped the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, would lead us into some of those. I offer one or two examples, by no means an exhaustive list, of selection areas which have value. It is of value, for example, to select schools in areas where there are large numbers of pupils with diverse mother tongues, as exist in many of our inner cities, in order to focus upon those schools in greatest need specialist English language teaching skills—a scarce resource. That is a form of selection in education which I believe has great value and a great need which is currently not fulfilled. It is equally of value to select areas of great deprivation, social deprivation, physical deprivation, the areas to which good teachers tend not to go because of poor physical conditions, and to select them and provide additional education resources for them in order to break the cycle of deprivation.

Therefore, I very much welcome what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, in order not to get too hung up on the word "selection". While I agree with my noble friend Lord Peston about the usual sense in which this word is used, I believe that there are areas of selection which are extremely valuable educationally. I regret that my expectation that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, was going to lead us into some of those areas has remained unfulfilled.

8.11 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I begin by apologising to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, for missing the first minute of his speech, which started rather sooner than I had expected. I was going to begin by offering my answer to the question that he poses to the Government: of course, some selection has some value for some people in some circumstances. In other words, the answer is that "It depends". It is as simple as that.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way in which he presented the question and the way in which he spoke. We have had an all-too-brief but excellent debate, some very good points having been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has many times made continental comparisons in our education debates. I am very glad that he spent a little more time developing that point because I believe that he hit on a crucial difference. He is quite right that selection exists in the way that he described in many continental countries. The key difference between those countries and our country is that it has never been, and certainly is not now, as divisive in those countries as it is in this country. One key reason for that is because continental countries, particularly Germany, value their technical and vocational schools at least as much as their academic institutions. In this country we have always worshipped academic education—we still do—and undervalued the less academic, the non-academic, the technical and vocational.

The noble Lord referred to "succeed or fail" as belonging to the 1930s. I have to tell him, speaking from a borough where we still have full selective education, that it is still a question of succeed or fail. It ought not to be, and we all say that it ought not to be, but the reality is that it is. Many children who fail the 11-plus or fail to get into a grammar school regard themselves as failures. Their parents have put so much store on their succeeding in getting into that school that, when they do not do so, they inevitably feel that they have failed.

The noble Lord made comparisons between comprehensive schools and independent schools. We have no time to develop that point. However, I thought that they were enormously invalid comparisons. I accept that in a sense many of the independent schools are, as he put it, "all ability, except for the ability to pay". That is a fairly crucial difference, not only in relation to wealth, but also because it defines the nature of the home background from which the children come. It refers to the motivation of the parents, the children, and the teachers. Most, if not all, independent schools generally have much smaller classes and so on. It was an invalid comparison.

I, too, am looking forward to hearing the answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. As he knows, I share his view about opposition to selection because it is such an imperfect means of education. If I understood him correctly, he asked the Government whether they were still committed to the abolition of selection and, indeed, what progress has been made over the past two years. We are shortly going to hear from the latest in a succession of government spokesmen who attempt to tell us what they see as the difference between selection by ability, to which they remain resolutely opposed, and selection by aptitude. We went through this in the School Standards and Framework Bill. I do not believe that anybody told us what the difference was and how the provisions on it will be applied. I believe that tonight is this Minister's first attempt to come up with a satisfactory definition. I greatly look forward to hearing what that difference is and how the provisions will be applied.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords. I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Pilkington for this debate and for the way in which he introduced it. For the benefit of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, both my noble friend and I were educated completely within the state system; two of my children were educated wholly within the state system, and my other two children, when we were an Air Force family moving from posting to posting, spent a short time in prep schools but spent the whole of their secondary education in the comprehensive system. So such experience is not the preserve solely of noble Baronesses opposite.

I share the disappointment of my noble friend Lady Young that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, once again is not answering such a debate. I always understood, as did my colleagues when we were Ministers on the other side of the Chamber, that parliamentary business was the very first call on our diaries.

We have heard yet again, depressingly, arguments for a monolithic melting pot for all our children, irrespective of aptitude and ability. What is important for our children is that they should receive an education according to their need, their aptitude and their ability. However, "selection" is the word that dare not speak its name as far as the Government are concerned.

What is so hypocritical is that selection by interview and/or examination has been enjoyed by the very Ministers of this Government who are denying that same choice and opportunity to others. My noble friend Lady Young has already mentioned the Prime Minister, Harriet Harman, Mr Kilfoyle and others, who have all taken advantage of the selection process for their children. Indeed, there is a considerable anxiety on the part of a number of parents who feel extremely disadvantaged because the Prime Minister's daughter was selected by interview for a place at a highly popular school in London.

Can I ask the Minister why it is that such opportunities are denied to all other children and whether there should there be any disquiet about the mention of individuals? I defend my right to do so on the ground that the Government have been responsible for denying these choices to other parents' children.

Will the noble Lord the Minister also confirm that selection by test, examination and interview is taking place in our grammar schools, in our specialist schools, in our city technology colleges and our Church schools? Another question for the noble Lord the Minister is whether it is the intention of the Government to abolish all forms of selection, other than, of course, selection on the ground of religion.

My noble friend has given pertinent statistics to make the case for selection. He chose Northern Ireland as an excellent example, where all children do better than their counterparts in England and Wales. I know that I am not permitted to ask a question of the noble Baroness, Lady David, but I know also that my noble friend Lord Pilkington has checked his figures on Northern Ireland with an expert who has produced a learned piece on that country. Therefore, it would be interesting to know why the noble Baroness believes that the information he gave was incorrect.

If children are to be educated according to their need, their aptitude and their ability in order to deliver a differentiation, somebody has to "pick" the children, "choose" the children, "select" the children. Whatever the word is, we should not be afraid of it. But some form must be used to determine the appropriate provision for children. The Government should be expanding opportunity, diversity and choice for all our children, the highly academic and children at all other levels of aptitude and ability. I support wholeheartedly the case put by my noble friend.

8.19 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, perhaps I may be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, on a characteristically honest and analytical speech. The fact that he spent the first five of his 10-minute speech attacking selection, shows what an honest man he is; indeed, I admire him for it. In response to those noble Lords who have asked where my noble friend Lady Blackstone is, the answer is that she is hosting a function arranged a long time before this debate was tabled for the University for Industry, which is her prime responsibility within the department. Therefore, I apologise on her behalf, but I believe noble Lords know that I took a very active part in this section of the school standards and framework legislation last year and I did not hear any complaints at that time. However, I shall wait for the complaints after I have finished my speech.

I want to respond to the fundamental question which the noble Lord has raised and I have to answer it in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, answered it. Of course, by definition, we cannot say that there are no circumstances in which any kind of selection for any purpose for any pupil in any part of the country would not be legitimate or proper. My noble friend Lord Peston is a purist on these matters. Indeed, both he and I have been allies in that way for far more than the 30 years since we were members of the Haringey association for the advancement of state education.

Clearly the issue before us tonight is about the circumstances under which the Government believe that selection might be appropriate and those under which we very firmly do not believe that it is appropriate. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the Government have not changed their views since the school standards and framework legislation was debated about a year ago. Indeed, I can quote in evidence the Prime Minister from his speech to the National Association of Head Teachers at the beginning of this month, when he said: People don't want to go back to a system which divides 11 year olds into successes and failures. I know there are people who still support that system but I personally meet people for whom rejection at 11 was the most devastating thing that had ever happened to them as children and stayed with them for the rest of their lives". That is the Prime Minister's view and it is good enough for me.

In our manifesto we made it clear that we do not believe in selection by academic ability. We believe that academic selection is divisive and that it divides children into successes and failures. We want every child to reach his or her full potential, so we have ensured that there will be no new grammar schools. Again, our commitment on grammar schools was entirely clear at the time that the school standards and framework legislation was debated. They are an established feature of the education system in some areas; indeed, there are some 160 of them. Therefore, existing grammar schools will only have to remove their selective arrangements if local parents vote in favour of change. At present, LEAs cannot propose ending selection at the majority of grammar schools. From September, they will be unable to do so at any grammar school.

In answer to the question of the noble friend Lord Peston on progress, I can say that the first year in which ballots could take place was curtailed by the delay in the passage of the school standards and framework legislation. We do not know, but we do not expect there to be a significant number of ballots, if any, in the period which ends on the 31st July. Two grammar schools in Bristol have already gone comprehensive of their own volition and with the support of their local authority. However, if I may put it this way, I think that the "season" for ballots will be in the next academic year rather than this year, although there have been inquiries to the agency about the threshold numbers which are appropriate.

However, we have not ruled out partial selection by academic ability where it already exists. If local communities are happy with such arrangements, they should be able to continue. But where they have created difficulties and have not been supported by local parents, we have enabled the adjudicator to rule out these arrangements following complaints by another admission authority, or parents, if he considers that they are not in the best interests of parents and children in the area.

I am rather glad to say that a great deal of this debate has been about the question of selection by aptitude and ability. Indeed, much of it has been semantic rather than real. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, did not want to use the word "selection" and I believe the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would prefer to call it "differentiation". I am not terribly interested in the difference between words, just as I have to say that some of the distinctions which are made between aptitude and ability do not hold water.

The Government have a very clear view on the difference involved: the difference is that as regards aptitude, which is applied to very specific specialisms—for example, modern languages, the performing arts, the visual arts, physical education, sport, design, technology and information technology—we could identify potential capacities to succeed. But that is very much not dependent on prior or current education achievement. Where that happens and where these schools exists (there are something like 400 of them), up to 10 per cent of children can be chosen on the basis of their aptitude for that specialism. The Admissions Code of Practice is clear on that point and we are not opposed to that kind of differentiation, to use the preferred word of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.

Of course we recognise that there is a risk if this goes too far—and I refer now to the point made by my noble friend Lady David—as one would be losing the ability to have adequate teaching in those areas in all the other schools, which are not specialist schools. That must be a constraint on specialist schools.

We want all pupils to realise their full potential and all schools, whether comprehensive or selective, to meet the needs of their most talented pupils. I am responding here to the noble Baroness, Lady Brigstocke. We are developing a national strategy to improve the education of gifted and talented children, concentrating initially on pupils at secondary schools in the "Excellence in Cities" areas, which are the six largest conurbations.

Every school will have a trained co-ordinator for gifted and talented pupils who will be responsible for implementing an effective whole-school policy, including a teaching and learning programme for able pupils. Schools will form local support networks to help spread good practice and provide a wider range of study support activities for able children. We are developing world-class tests, initially in maths and problem solving, so that the most able can compare their performance with the best in the world. Similarly, we are providing guidance to help primary teachers—again, this was a point raised in the debate—to meet the needs of their most able pupils. That does not mean that we reject the point of view of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who has consistently expressed his concern for the less-academically able pupils. I admire him for that. He did so throughout the passage of the school standards Bill. However, it means that those criticisms of our provision for the most able pupils are really not well justified.

I do not agree with the noble Baroness's interpretation of what I said about top-class athletes. I really think that there is a difference between training people to win matches or races and training people for the wide range of activities which comprise adult life. I do not believe that anything that I said in a debate on sport can be transmuted to education as a whole—

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, as the Minister only has three minutes left to speak, could I beg him to comment on the 27 per cent compared to the 62 per cent figure in Germany, and only 20 per cent of pupils getting A to C grades in French? That is indeed a worrying situation for a state system.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Yes, my Lords. I had just about reached the point where I was going to say that I would respond to some of the points raised in the debate. Perhaps I may start by utterly rejecting the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington—and, I am afraid, of my noble friend Lord Longford—that independent schools can somehow be called comprehensive—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I never said so!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I thought that my noble friend said that Eton, 80 years ago, did not select by ability.

The Earl of Longford

Yes, my Lords; but I did not say that it was comprehensive.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I accept my noble friend's correction. However, if the definition of "comprehensive" for this purpose is not "selected by ability", which I think has been the theme of the debate, there is, nevertheless, some validity in my point. Of course that is not the case. Academic ability depends not only on innate ability but also on all kinds of social factors, as we know perfectly well from education statistics gathered in every country in the world over many years. The idea that performance in independent, fee paying schools—what are laughingly called public schools—can be compared with that in comprehensive schools does not hold water. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, made that clear.

I was asked particularly about Northern Ireland. I am sure that the statistics that have been given with regard to the social origins of those who get into university are valid. However, I believe it is also true that the gap between the achievements of the lower and the higher deciles in Northern Ireland is greater than in this country. It is also true—the noble Lord ought to recognise this—that Scotland which has a completely non-selective system has high academic achievement.

As regards exam results, my noble friend Lady David discussed that point effectively and pointed to the rise in examination results both at GCSE and A-level over the period during which comprehensive schools became prevalent in this country. We must recognise that although, as I said, some forms of selection for some purposes—for example, in particular subjects within schools—may be justifiable, we shall never go back to the abstract concepts of intelligence which were dreamed up or calculated by Sir Cyril Burt, whose memory is somewhat tarnished, and which achieved a quite unjustifiable scientific plausibility in this country in the years after the war. Those concepts are utterly unacceptable. The concept whereby—the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, recognised this—it was possible to say to a vast majority of the children of this country, "We have assessed you on a single scale at the age of 11 and you are failures" is a concept to which we shall not return.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, do children who do not get into the Oratory or into St Margaret's in Hammersmith and Fulham also feel that they are failures because the education they receive is not as good?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I shall certainly not answer questions about individuals. I never have done and I do not think that the noble Baroness should ask such questions.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.33 to 8.35 p.m.]