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Equal Opportunities

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recommendations his Department has made to local education authorities to promote equal opportunities in primary and secondary schools.

No specific recommendations have been issued to local authorities to promote equal opportunities in schools. Local authorities are bound by the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and the Government are firmly committed to equality of opportunity in education, as in other fields.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Is she concerned that equal opportunities policies are being abused by some Left-wing councils? Is she aware that a poll conducted last year among parents in Brent showed that parents felt that the council believed that its sex and race policies were more important than its teaching? Is she happy that the appalling abuses of the so-called race snoopers, so graphically shown on the BBC "Panorama" programme last year, have now been brought to an end?

Brent's development programme for race equality is currently the subject of an independent assessment by Sir David Lane. That assessment was commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to help him to determine whether the local authority should receive grant under section 11 of the Local Government Act 1986 towards the salary costs of the programme.

At the same time, HMI has been conducting an inspection of the work of the development programme for race equality in Brent schools. Reports from both Sir David Lane and HMI should be available after Easter. I hope that that answers my hon. Friend's query.

Order. I appeal to hon. Members sitting below the Gangway not to carry on conversations across the Chamber. It makes it very difficult to hear.

I am very disappointed at the Government's response. They are not making any commitments on what they will do to ensure that in future girls, and those from racial minorities, receive an equal chance in schools. What are the Government going to do to ensure that the national curriculum and testing arc operated in a way that will enable those groups to have a fair chance?

In the remit letters to the working groups on the subjects for the national curriculum we have asked for special attention to be paid to the importance of ensuring that girls are offered exactly the same opportunities and choices in subjects as boys, to make certain that the future work force—both girls and boys—receives suitable opportunities.

Does my hon. Friend accept that much more research is required? In some subjects, such as handicraft, metal and wood, girls do as well as boys, and they also apply themselves in other subjects such as home economics. However, although boys enjoy cooking and eating the food that they produce, they take no interest in diet and do not follow the subject to a suitable academic level

My hon. Friend is right. We still need to make some progress to ensure that there are equal opportunities for boys and girls in all subjects offered in schools. Equality is very important, particularly for girls. They should be encouraged to take up subjects such as engineering. We have taken particular care to examine the recommendations of organisations such as the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Does the Minister agree that equal access to the same curriculum must be supported by in-service equal opportunities training if the Government's declared objectives are to be met? Or are the Government ready to be hauled yet again before the European Court of Justice because of breaches of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975?

The hon. Lady knows that teaching institutions are required to follow the equal opportunities legislation, and also not to practise any kind of sex discrimination in their courses.