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Volume 931: debated on Thursday 12 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what percentage of children in Northern Ireland attend selective schools.

In Northern Ireland about 33 per cent. of children of secondary school age attend grammar schools.

Will the Government urge the education authorities, the boards of management and the Church authorities to help to create more equality of educational opportunity for all the children of Northern Ireland by putting an end to the unfair system of selection into these grammar schools and replacing it by a fairer system of comprehensive education?

My noble Friend the Minister of State will be making an announcement in the not too distant future on the very point that my hon. Friend has mentioned. It is precisely in order to introduce greater equality that all the discussions, pronouncements and activity in recent years in regard to education have occurred.

Without dragging the 11-plus red herring across the trail, is it not the case that there is enough strife in Northern Ireland without dismaying the religious bodies, to whom the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) referred in his question, and the thousands of Ulster people who value their existing good schools?

Will the Government proceed very cautiously with any proposal based on the Cowan Report? On the assumption that it is Government policy to have eventual devolution, would not education in any case be a matter for a Northern Ireland legislature rather than for this House?

We always proceed with caution in all matters in Northern Ireland, but with regard to social affairs, whatever the political and security difficulties may be in Northern Ireland, we as an Administration feel, as I am sure the hon. Member would feel, that we should do all we can to improve equality of opportunity at every turn.