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Able Children

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will seek to make special provision for the educational development of the most able children a mandatory requirement for all education authorities.

There is a statutory duty on local education authorities under section 8 of the Education Act 1944 to secure provision

"to afford for all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities, and aptitudes".

Does my hon. Friend accept that the more able children are not adequately provided for at present and that they are therefore inclined to become bored and fed up with the type of education that is provided for them, whereas those who are not up to the average standard have special provision made for them?

As my hon. Friend will know, a number of HMI reports have said that able children are not sufficiently stretched in schools. Both area and general reports have referred to this. Indeed, the Cockcroft report recently said that at least 5 to 10 per cent. of 16-year-olds could go further than the O-level syllabus at that stage and should be trained to do so.

Will the Minister confirm that the HMI general report states that very able children are among those who suffer most from the increase in mixed-age teaching, where it is due to reductions in the number of teachers and not, as at the primary school to which he referred earlier, where it is part of the deliberate policy of the Inner London Education Authority and the authority provides the necessary funds and teachers?

As the pupil-teacher ratio on 1 January this year was the lowest in English history, that cannot be blamed for the need for mixed-age group teaching.

Do not the bright children suffer most from the mixed-ability teaching so beloved by so many Labour-controlled local authorities?

I agree. I believe that in mixed ability teaching it is the able children who suffer most.