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House of Lords Hansard
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12 September 2016
Volume 774

Statement

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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in the other place earlier today by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the Government’s consultation published today, Schools that Work for Everyone, copies of which I have placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, this Government are putting the interests of ordinary working-class people first. We want this country to be truly meritocratic, where what matters most is a person’s individual talent and their capacity for hard work. So we need to build a schools system that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. The various proposals set out today in this consultation document all drive towards one simple goal: increasing the number of good school places.

Over the last six years we have made great strides forward, with over 1.4 million more children in “good” or “outstanding” schools than in 2010. The flagship academies programme has unlocked the potential in our schools. This Government are committed to helping all schools enjoy academy status freedoms and school-led system improvement through multiacademy trusts.

The reforms carried out by my right honourable friends the Member for Surrey Heath and the Member for Loughborough have had a transformational effect on education in this country. Now we need to build on the Educational Excellence Everywhere White Paper—our dedication to good teachers in every school, world-class qualifications and reforming school funding—and put an end to the underperformance that still exists in pockets throughout the country.

We need radically to expand the number of good school places available to all families, not just those who can afford to move into the catchment areas of the best state schools, pay for private education, or those belonging to certain faiths. We need to give all schools with a strong track record, experience and valuable expertise the incentives to expand their offer to even more pupils, driving up standards and giving parents greater choice and control. We have sought to do this already, for example, through university technical colleges and specialist subject schools.

The reality is that demand for school places only continues to grow. But too many children still do not have access to a good or outstanding school—in some areas as many as 50% do not have one locally. In fact 1.25 million children attend schools which are not good or outstanding, in spite of all the progress that has been made, and that is unacceptable.

The Government make sure that schools have the resources to help the children most in need, for example through the pupil premium, and, of course, that will continue. But the Prime Minister is right when she says that disadvantage can be hidden in this country—it is not just about those children who receive free school meals. We have to come up with a broader definition and look at the ordinary working-class families, just managing to get by, who are too often forgotten about.

This consultation deliberately asks big, open questions about the future of education in this country. The plans set out in Schools that Work for Everyone focus on how we can unlock four existing parts of the educational community so that they can have a bigger impact for all children. First are the independent schools that give wealthier parents the option of an outstanding education for their children, often sending a high proportion to the best universities and guaranteeing access to the best career outcomes. Many of these schools already make a contribution to the state sector. Some even sponsor or run schools. While we recognise that work, we want independent schools to do more, so we want stronger, more demanding public benefit tests for independent schools to retain the benefits associated with charitable status. We want independent schools to offer more places to those less able to afford them and to sponsor or set up schools in the state sector. For smaller schools we will look at a proportionate approach, and are seeking views on how they can make their facilities available to state schools and share their teaching expertise.

Secondly, our world-class universities need funding in order to maintain that status and, under this Government’s approach on access agreements, we have made sure that steady investment is available while at the same time made sure that university is not out of reach for disadvantaged people. We want the huge talent base in our universities to do more to widen participation and help more children to reach their full potential. We therefore want universities to open or sponsor schools in exchange for the right to raise their fees. This will ensure they are not just pulling in the most qualified applicants, some of whom might have had an educational head start, but increasing the number of students with the GCSE and A-level grades that open doors to degree courses.

Thirdly, when we talk about selection in this country we have to acknowledge that we now have selection by house price for those able to buy houses in the catchment areas of the best schools. We know that selective schools are in high demand, as are specialist art, music and sports schools. Selective schools are good for pupils, particularly the most disadvantaged ones who attend them, and yet for most children the chance to go to a selective school simply does not exist. We want to look again at selective schools and how they can open up excellent places to more children, particularly the most disadvantaged. We will therefore look at how we can relax the rules on expanding selective schools, allow new ones to open and non-selective schools to become selective where there is a demand. At the same time, we have to challenge ourselves and selective schools to raise attainment more broadly.

It is really important that I am clear about how we will ensure that all schools improve. We do not want to see a return to the old binary system of good schools and bad schools. Every child deserves a place in a great school, That is not just what they deserve, it is what our country deserves. What is clear is that selection should be part of the debate on how we make sure that the right number of places exists. Selective schools will be expected to guarantee places for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, and far from tainting the standards of education in the schools around them, we will explore ways for selective schools to share their expertise. We want them to raise standards in every part of the schools system, for example by opening excellent feeder primary schools or by sponsoring local non-selective schools.

Finally, let me turn to faith schools. I am sure that many colleagues will have children who go to high-quality faith schools. The current rules to promote inclusion mean that when new faith free schools are oversubscribed, they have to limit the number of pupils they admit on the basis of faith to 50%. This has not worked to combat segregation and acts as a barrier to some faiths in opening new schools. We want to remove the barrier so that new places can be created, but at the same time consult on more effective ways to ensure that all new faith free schools are truly inclusive. We will look at new requirements on the proposers of free schools to demonstrate that they are attracting applications from other faiths, to establish twinning arrangements with schools not of their faith, consider sponsoring underperforming non-faith schools and bring members of other faiths and none on to their governing bodies.

The Government want to build on the progress made over the past six years and make the schools system truly fit for purpose in the 21st century. Schools that Work for Everyone is about engaging with as many views as possible so we can design policies that make the most of the expertise we already have and widen access to good and outstanding school places for all. We on this side of the House believe in building a true meritocracy. We think that every child deserves a school place that will best serve their individual talents, not limited by where they live or how much their parents earn. There is so much potential in our country and the talent base needs us to ask the big questions, leaving no stone unturned, so that we can build a schools system that truly works for everyone”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. The former Labour Prime Minister and former Member of your Lordships’ House, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, once opined that a week was a long time in politics. Well, rather a lot has happened in the past week in politics, particularly in the area of education, beginning with the leak, accidental or otherwise, of government plans for an expansion of grammar schools. Since then, we have had a Statement from the Secretary of State saying that there was really nothing to say, followed a mere 24 hours later by a detailed Statement from the Prime Minister, which begs the question as to whether the two actually speak to one another. Now we have a 36-page consultation document outlining radical plans for an expansion of grammar schools, a relaxation of restrictions on faith schools, plus new demands on universities and independent schools. At this rate, we can expect a Bill tomorrow and the completion of legislation by the time Parliament rises on Thursday.

It is only natural that the Prime Minister wants to make her mark early, but the proposals contained in the consultation document are little more than a hastily put-together hotch-potch of wishful thinking. These plans will neither help to bring about an inclusive education system nor promote social mobility; in fact, they will do quite the opposite. It is all very well to reference “ordinary working-class people”—ignoring the fact that the biggest proportion of the population now regards itself as middle class, ordinary or not—but to say that these people will become the Prime Minister’s priority is simply not credible when so many schools are underfunded, there is a teacher shortage and parents are to be denied any say in the manner in which their children’s education is to be forced into the straitjacket of academies.

That begs the first question for the Minister: where do the plans announced today leave the hitherto mantra of the great drive towards academisation? Judging by her remarks on Friday, it is a question that the former Secretary of State would also like to have answered. Secondly, from where do the Government believe that they gained a mandate for such a radical change to the education landscape, breaking a consensus that has existed for 40 years? The fact is that they have none, and no legitimacy to introduce these retrograde proposals. If it is the Government’s intention to form this into legislation and attempt to get it through Parliament, can the Minister indicate the timescale that that might involve?

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement but regret to say that it appears no more than a dog-whistle response by the Conservatives to the current state of the nation. How much easier it is to throw up the idea of more grammar schools than to concentrate on the real difficulties facing many working people across the country. There can be no other explanation for this situation. Earlier this year, we spent much time in this House debating and then enacting the Education and Adoption Act, which aimed to improve the quality of education in our schools through the academies route. Some of us did not support entirely the aims of that Bill, but certainly we could understand why the Government were pursuing that. Presumably, all that is now jettisoned so that we can have grammar schools brought back.

One thing on which we can agree on this side is that all children need, deserve and have a right to the opportunity of a good school. Given the figures that the Minister repeated this afternoon of more than 1 million children not having education in a good school, it seems to be a failure of this Government not to have addressed that earlier.

I will focus my comments on the proposals for introducing more grammar schools. One reason given is that it gives parents more choice. I cannot see, where schools are in the position to do the choosing, that parents have any choice. That is the whole problem of selection by test or examination: the school does the choosing. There is no way that we on this side can support that.

The second argument in support of bringing back a failed education policy from the 1950s and 1960s is that it will help children from deprived areas. At the same time it is argued that we currently have selection by house price. Apparently, this new proposal is to help children in working-class families. However, such families do not have a problem with selection by house price because most of them are in rented accommodation or in poor parts of the country where house prices are not an issue.

Thirdly, I have always thought that we ought to base our education policy on evidence. All the research over all the years, and currently, points to the fact that selection at 11 fails hundreds—thousands—of children. For the 80% of children who go into the non-grammar schools, but even for many of those who attend grammar schools, the statistics and evidence show that they do not necessarily thrive. I do not see how the Government propose to make the case for grammar schools based on evidence. I would have more faith in what they were doing if, instead of saying that they wanted to promote more selection, they said that they were actually going to promote more secondary modern schools, because that is precisely what they are doing. They are going to write off the 80% who are not going to get through the 11-plus—or whatever new test they have devised—and at 11 those children will feel that they are failures. No one who cares about children will be able to support such a divisive approach.

In conclusion, I am astonished that the Government have come forward with this proposal and we on this side will vigorously oppose it.

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My Lords, I note the criticism of our plans by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, but I do not believe I have heard any plans at all from the Opposition Benches recently in relation to education. I would be very interested to hear their thoughts. We have only just made this consultation document available so it is completely understandable that people have not had a chance to read it; it is quite long. In answer to his point about academies, paragraph 13 on page 7 says:

“These proposals complement our wider approach to school improvement and our drive to build capacity in the system through multi-academy trusts. It remains the Government’s ambition that all schools ultimately benefit from the autonomy and freedom to innovate and to meet the needs of their community that academy status brings, and we will be supporting schools to make this transition”.

As far as the timescale is concerned, as I have said before in this House on this matter, we intend to have a thorough consultation. We are asking for an open debate and when we have analysed the responses, of which I am sure there will be many, we will reflect and design the precise details of our plans and bring them forward to your Lordships’ House in due course. We believe that it will be possible to enact our plans in a way that benefits the wider school system as a whole.

With regard to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, about house prices and rental accommodation, I am afraid she lost me. I do not really follow the argument so I think we had better have a private conversation about that. I would be interested to understand that better.

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My Lords, the Minister will know from both his role and his close involvement in academies in London that London is the highest-performing region in our country and the best place to be poor if you want to go to a high-status university. Will the Minister explain what lessons the Government took from the success of London that led them to focus on more selective and grammar schools as a way of giving more opportunities to working-class children?

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The noble Baroness is absolutely right. London has been a great success story. It started under the Labour Government with the London Challenge and their academies programme, which we have sought to continue. Of course, there are quite a few schools in London that are selective in one way or another. It is also fair to say that it is much easier to attract teachers in London than in many of the areas of the country where we see these underperforming schools. Although there are many lessons to be learned from London, there are still many coastal towns and former mining villages in this country that seem to have struggled, partly because of intergenerational unemployment and partly because they struggle to attract really good teachers. It is those kinds of issues that we are really keen to focus on.

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Does my noble friend recognise—

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My Lords—

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This is about English schools. Does my noble friend recognise that the phrase “schools that work for everyone” applies to the majority of independent schools? I declare an interest, having been chairman of the governors of Bedford School, under the Harpur Trust, which runs three secondary schools in which well over 200 pupils receive substantial bursaries. The trust is the main financial promoter of the Bedford Academy. All the schools make their facilities available in different ways. My own school makes its planetarium available to every primary school in Bedfordshire. Against that sort of background, I have to say to my noble friend that it is not helpful to read in the papers of a quote, allegedly from the Prime Minister, that independent schools are “divorced from normal life”. They are not. Furthermore, does my noble friend recognise that every parent who goes to an independent school has already paid the cost of state education through the community charge? People who come to the independent sector make great sacrifices and come from all classes. They believe in good education and they are prepared to pay for it.

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My Lords, I fully recognise the contribution that independent schools make to our school system by reducing the cost to the taxpayer and providing wider support to our state system. I know, for instance, that independent schools provide more than £700 million a year in bursaryships and subsidised funding to their pupils. From my own experience, I was for many years a trustee at the Eastside Young Leaders’ Academy in Newham, where at any time we look after up to 100 black boys—and now, I am glad to say, some girls—who are on the edge of exclusion from school. We have now sent 90 scholars, as we call them, on full bursaryships to schools such as Rugby and many others, so I have seen the benefits that this has had. I am also aware of the many school partnerships that take place between the independent and state sectors—an excellent one being King’s College School, Wimbledon, where the pupils themselves visit primary schools on a Friday.

The Government funded the Schools Together website last year, which has more than 1,000 examples of co-operation between the independent and state sectors. We have also funded 20 independent/state school partnerships between those sectors, particularly to help the subjects being taught in primary schools. There is no doubt that many independent schools already provide a great deal of help but we feel that, in some cases, there is more that they can do. We need to encourage that to happen, so where schools have the capacity and capability to do so, we will ask them to sponsor or set up new schools, or to offer a certain proportion of places as funded bursaries, on which some may well qualify already. Where they are smaller schools, we will obviously look for a proportionate response but will still look to them to engage more widely with the state school system.

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My Lords, the Minister has on several occasions mentioned disadvantaged children and disadvantaged families. Does he accept that the most disadvantaged children are from those families where the parents are not motivated and have no educational drive for their children? Even when entering school at the age of five, those children are well behind the rest of their cohort. Would it not be far better if the Government gave far more attention to early years education, rather than coming up with silly plans like this?

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I agree with the noble Baroness that the early years are very important and that sadly many parents do not engage as well as they could with the school system on behalf of their children. To me, that is why we should be very focused on primary schools. One of the things that we have said is that selective or independent schools may be able to help with primary education. Everybody gets so fixated on GCSE results but in fact the work, as we all know, has to be done in primaries. The depressing statistic is that if you do not get your required level 4 when leaving your primary school—your pass mark, effectively—then you have only a 7% chance of getting five good GCSEs.

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My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to a meritocratic society and to increasing the number of good school places. My noble friend will know that the Government are veering into contested territory with this Green Paper, so can he confirm two things? First, will the Government consent to an increase in academic selection only if they are totally confident that the evidence shows that it will increase and spread the number of good school places? Secondly, following any increase in academic selection, will the DfE evaluate the impact of these changes on the schools system to ensure that social mobility has indeed been improved?

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My noble friend makes some good points. It is our intention to ensure that the impact is favourable across the whole system and that there is a net benefit across it. We will of course continually monitor the impact of our policies.

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My Lords, does the Minister agree that if you are to get people ready for selection you must have done some groundwork by making sure that they are properly taught? Will he give some assurance, given Stephen Munday’s review and the Carter report, that special educational needs will be properly covered and implemented in all teacher training, particularly if a pupil is going up for a selection process? They will otherwise be guaranteeing that anybody with a hidden special educational need is at a massive disadvantage. This will also run counter to a lot of law. Can we make sure that it happens?

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The noble Lord is right that the Carter report highlighted the importance of SEN training. It is something that we are determined to improve. I will specifically discuss this matter with the Minister responsible, Nick Gibb.

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My Lords, does the Minister accept that in the Statement there are many descriptions of the problem but few of the answers? In terms of 11-plus selection, during the passage of the legislation, will he cite exactly how any relevant study justifies selection? In fact, it is not selection at the age of 11; it is rejection for the overwhelming majority of children. Attainment is being judged. The noble Lord referred to special educational needs. Yes, regard will be given to children with statemented special educational needs, but not to others. What about summer-born children who may have had a full year less than their age group by the time they reach the age of 11? Early years education was a foundation on which to build, particularly for children from deprived, working-class communities. Are the Government going to back that in future and extend it? The Minister is falling for a cheap trick by the Prime Minister. He professes to be concerned that all children should be able to reach EBacc. Now the evidence we see is based on 20%—or is it 25% or 30%?—getting through and the others being rejected.

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As I have said, we believe it should be possible to design plans that would benefit the wider system. We are working with the Grammar School Heads Association on a test at 11 that will be much more difficult to coach and prepare for. The noble Baroness made an extremely good point on summer-born children. This is something we are looking at very closely. I have just taken over responsibility for admissions, and I am looking at this extremely closely. On early years, over the past few years, we have invested significant sums in widening access to childcare for parents, particularly the less advantaged. On the EBacc, our ambition is not that all children should take the EBacc; we fully understand that there will be some for whom it is not appropriate, but we see no reason why a target of 90% taking it, if not necessarily passing it, is not achievable. We are seeing that many schools that formerly had single figures for pupils taking EBacc are now achieving 70% or 80% of pupils studying these subjects quite happily.

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My Lords, is it not a bit silly and outdated nowadays to depict the academic educational route to a career as in some way superior to the route through high technology and technical skills? Is it not the case that you can find the path to achievement and high success through either route and that the old idea that one is failure and one is success belongs to a past century? Does the Minister also agree that if every child and their parents are to have the choice of going down the route that suits them best on the road to the top—the road to success—it demands not merely expanded grammar schools, which is good, but a comprehensive and complete pattern of very high-quality high-technology schools and vocational schools that will enable children with that inclination to achieve and succeed just as much as if they had been to a grammar school?

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I entirely agree with my noble friend’s point that the academic and the vocational routes should be equally valued. All pupils should have a basic grounding in academic subjects such as English, maths, science et cetera, but there is no doubt that we need to do more to improve vocational education in this country.

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My Lords, at a time when, surely, the great challenge for political leadership is to unify a country which the Brexit vote exposed as being deeply divided by age, class, region, skills, income and wealth, the Prime Minister is insisting on introducing this most divisive of policies. The Government say that their concern is for ordinary, working-class people. Will the Minister acknowledge that the evidence we have indicates that although the policy could be beneficial to some of the 20% of children who may have the aptitude to qualify for grammar school education, it will clearly be to the detriment of other schools in areas where the new grammar schools are established or existing grammar schools are expanded, and to the detriment of the interests of the 80% of the nation’s children who will not go to a grammar school?

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I invite the noble Lord to read the consultation document carefully. There are some very well thought out plans there as to how we believe we can ensure that this has a much wider benefit, particularly for less advantaged pupils. Just because something has not worked in the past does not mean that something with the same kind of principles cannot work in the future. We are determined, as I have said, not to go back to the previous, binary divide.

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My Lords, I hope my noble friend will forgive me, in view of my noble friend Lord Naseby’s injunction that this is an English matter, when I point out that when I left office as Secretary of State for Scotland in 1997, the number of children of school leaving age getting five decent passes was about 10% higher than in England. Today, it is the other way round. That is because of the reforms that have been brought in by a Conservative Government, which have been opposed by the parties opposite every step of the way. Does my noble friend not think that there is something quite bizarre about people wanting to make it against the law to have selection for intake into state schools when many of them, such as the former Deputy Prime Minister, benefited from expensive, highly selective schools giving them an excellent education themselves? Will my noble friend press ahead with these reforms and ignore the parties opposite, some of whose members wish to pull the ladder up after them?

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I am grateful for my noble friend’s support for our policies, which have been very successful. We have created 600,000 new school places and have plans to create another 600,000. We have doubled the number of pupils passing the EBacc, we have many more competent young readers as a result of our phonics programmes and we have many more pupils leaving primary school with the necessary literacy and numeracy skills to help them achieve in secondary schools. I am delighted that my noble friend has pointed this out. Our record on this is pretty good, and I invite all noble Lords to look at our plans with an open mind. This is of course a consultation, and we welcome all contributions.

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My Lords, the Minister has said that it is already more difficult to recruit good teachers outside London. Will his proposals today not exacerbate that problem for schools outside London that are not grammar schools, because the status of those schools in those areas will be further diminished—just as they were when we had secondary modern schools? How is he going to increase the quality of teaching for those poorer pupils in poorer-performing schools outside London which will not be grammar schools?

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The noble Lord is quite right to point out the difficulty of recruiting teachers in some areas. Teach First, which has been a very successful programme, has recruited 1,441 applicants, the majority of whom will be going outside London. It is having quite a lot of success at sending young teachers into certain locations such as coastal towns, particularly when they are sent together so that they feel part of a group. It is very important that they are placed in schools that welcome them and where they have good career development opportunities such as, in particular, in multiacademy trusts, where there are obviously much greater career development opportunities than in single schools. We also have plans, through the National Teaching Service, to send more teachers to what we call “cold spots”.

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My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge, when he speaks of the great support there is for an increase in grammar schools, that most parents who support them do so in the belief that their own children will get in? How will he deal with the disappointment of the parents whose children fail?

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The noble Baroness makes a good point about what has happened in the past. But, as I said, we believe that although this happened in the past, if we have the strong requirements on the opening or extension of selection that we set out in our consultation document, which is to have wider access to more disadvantaged pupils and to support the wider school system, we can devise proposals that will benefit the wider system.

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My Lords, noble Lords will know that independent schools that are charities receive certain fiscal advantages for so doing. Will those schools that would like to do so, and certain have indicated to me that they would, be able to opt out of charitable status and therefore demit the 3% or 4% of their income that they would lose by doing that?

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They will, of course, but we would hope that everybody involved in the schools system across the country feels an obligation to improve social mobility.

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My Lords, I heard the Prime Minister say—this is repeated in the Statement—that there is to be no return to the “binary system”. I put it to the Minister that there is nothing more demonstrably binary than saying to 11 year-old children and their families, “About 20% of you will go to a selective school and 80% will have failed to do so”. Is the cat not let out of the bag by the sentence in the Statement that says of selective schools, once they are established:

“We want them to raise standards in every part of the schools system … by sponsoring local non-selective schools”?

So you try to get your child into a selective school but they fail the exam; however, you then find that the selective school, out of the kindness of its heart, will give a bit of assistance to the second-division school down the road containing the 80% of pupils who failed to get in.

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Again, the noble Lord is harking back to the days when the choice was between a very high-performing grammar school and a secondary modern that might quite possibly not have entered many of its pupils for any exams at all. We have moved a long way since then. The choice might now be between a grammar school and a highly performing academy that might be more appropriate for that particular child—so I do not think the choice is binary at all.