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Secondary Education (Kingston-Upon-Thames)

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what, if any, changes he wishes to be introduced in the secondary educational system of the Royal borough of Kingston-upon-Thames and why; and by what methods he intends that they should be introduced.

My right hon. Friend wishes to see, in Kingston-upon-Thames as elsewhere, the abolition of selection and the development of a fully comprehensive system. This is because the Government believe that selection is unfair and deprives children of the wide-ranging opportunities that comprehensive secondary education can provide. It is for the local education authority, in response to Circular 4/74, to inform him of the successive measures to be taken to that end.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the council and people of Kingston and Surbiton are more concerned with the quality of education in their borough than with its organisational form? On that criterion, we have one of the 10 best records of any education authority in the country with almost double the average number of university places. Should not that be the real test of a secondary education system? If so, why seek to change it? If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt, will he receive a local deputation to discuss this whole matter?

I shall be glad to receive a local deputation. It is precisely because we are concerned with the quality of education that we want to get rid of the selective system. [Interruption.] I do not think that shouting furthers the argument. Any system of secondary education which allocates without choice 80 per cent. of the children of a borough to schools which are not considered suitable for children who are academically able is denying the quality of education to the vast majority of children. We want to get rid of that system and give real equality of opportunity. That is why we are determined to get an early response from Kingston.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative Party is, as usual, demanding special favours for itself, not only in education but in hospital beds and so on? Does he further agree that nothing better could happen to the education system, not only in Kingston-upon-Thames but throughout the whole country, than complete comprehensivisation?

Yes. We have expressed that view to the Kingston authority. We want to abolish selection because it is educationally unsound and unfair. We are not prepared to tolerate indefinite delay by any authority.

On what does the hon. Gentleman base his statement that the quality of education in comprehensive schools is better than in existing schools?

There are various yardsticks. I believe that every judgment about education is a value judgment. We cannot measure education and its success merely by examination results. The evidence is there for all to see. Since we started the move towards a comprehensive system, examination results have been better and better as the years have gone by.