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School Statistics

Volume 128: debated on Thursday 25 February 1988

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12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what percentage of schools in Northern Ireland have a selective intake; and what percentage of school leavers in each sector achieve five or more higher grade O-levels or equivalent.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Dr. Brian Mawhinney)

In most areas of Northern Ireland pupils are selected for grammar or secondary intermediate school education on the basis of a transfer test undertaken at age 11. Twenty-nine per cent. of the secondary schools in Northern Ireland are grammar schools and 71 per cent. are secondary intermediate schools. The percentages with five or more higher grade O-levels are 83 and 14 respectively.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures that he has given, in overall terms and indeed for pupils in non-selective schools, are significantly higher than for many authorities in England and Wales? Does he also agree that the more flexible, less ideological and more pragmatic attitude towards selective education in Northern Ireland contains important lessons for those who wish to raise standards in England and Wales?

The Government are committed to raising standards in schools throughout the United Kingdom. I can confirm that in Northern Ireland 36 per cent. of school leavers have five or more good grade O-levels, as compared with 27 per cent. in England and Wales. I have to tell my hon. Friend, however, that in Northern Ireland those who leave school with no qualifications at all represent 22 per cent. of the pupils, whereas the figure in England and Wales is 10 per cent. That is obviously a matter of concern, and we must have responsibility for children's education and the raising of educational standards right across the education spectrum.

Is the Minister not concerned that 71 per cent. of children in Northern Ireland go to secondary schools, where they have only a 14 per cent. chance of obtaining significant O-level passes? Does that not mean that the bulk of children are not receiving real opportunities in secondary education? Will he reconsider the position?

I do not accept what the hon. Lady has said. We seek in Northern Ireland to run a school system that maximises children's potential. It is a mistake to assume that the only children worth educating are those who are intellectually bright. All children have the potential for development, and we try to run a school system that produces that development.

The religious apartheid that exists in education in Northern Ireland—two systems supported by the taxpayer—cruelly divides young people during their formative years when they should be getting to know each other, and learning together. Will the Minister, who has already done considerable work in this regard, provide further money for the integrated schools in Northern Ireland, which provide a good academic education?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the commitment that he has expressed over such a long period to seeking to educate the children of Northern Ireland together, or at least in closer association than in the past. He knows that we are trying to be as helpful as possible, in a variety of ways, to reduce the present divide between the children.