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Comprehensive Schools (Gifted Children)

Volume 934: debated on Tuesday 28 June 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is satisfied that the exceptionally bright student's abilities are being developed to the full in most all-through comprehensive schools.

I am satisfied that, in general, schools of this type succeed as well as other schools in meeting the special needs of exceptionally gifted children. I am encouraged by the interest shown in the national conference on the gifted to be held in November and by the evidence that schools at large are becoming more aware of what they can and should do for these children.

Is the hon. Lady aware that I am grateful to her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the concern that she has shown recently about the lack of adequate provision at sixth form level of options in many all-through comprehensive schools, especially in deprived urban areas such as in London? What is the hon. Lady or her Department going to do about it?

We hope that over the years as staff become more available, especially with pupil numbers falling, it will be possible fairly speedily to remedy this situation.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency the comprehensive school which took over from the grammar school has had an exceptionally fine record in what it has been able to do with bright students? Not only that, but is she aware that it has a multiracial background and an integration record that is second to none and that the successful students are not necessarily all of one ethnic group?

Yes, I am aware of both points that my hon. Friend makes. He has made the point clearly that these children can be helped in comprehensive schools. The common assumption that they can be helped only in grammar schools is erroneous. There are many case histories of gifted children not being helped in grammar schools and there are cases of gifted children who failed 11-plus selection tests.

I am glad that I have caught the headmaster's eye. When it comes to a question of the education of bright children in central London, does the hon. Lady realise that facilities are extremely limited? Is she aware that at a school in my constituency the 73 boys who took A-level science all passed? Is that not a remarkable record? Is it not therefore outrageous that that school— namely, St. Marylebone Grammar School —should be threatened with closure by ILEA?

Order. I ask the Under-secretary of State to ignore the part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question relating to the St. Marylebone Grammar School. I ruled earlier—maybe the hon. Gentleman was not present— [Interruption.] Order. I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt. It is sub judice.

I can repeat the answer that I gave earlier—namely, that in many parts of London more facilities are becoming widely available as school rolls fall.

Will my hon. Friend tell me how it is possible to judge in my constituency how well the exceptional child can do when he is already being creamed off by selection processes?

My hon. Friend is correct in deploring creaming, but, as he will be aware, it is only a small percentage of children—about 2 per cent—that we are discussing when we talk of the really gifted child. There is no question that the whole grammar school population consists of such children.

Is the hon. Lady aware that, although we welcome the Secretary of State's concern for the exceptionally gifted child in the comprehensive system, many of us are also concerned for the gifted child? Has the hon. Lady read yesterday's article by John Izbiki in the Daily Telegraph which shows that the Polish Communist Party is far less doctrinaire in education than are the so-called moderates in the Labour Party?

I must dispute the hon, Gentleman's argument. In many Communist countries it seems that they are more doctrinaire and less considerate than we are of the needs of the child, including the child's emotional needs and his need to be able to fit into society rather than merely developing his brain for public use.