I want to speak this evening about education. Some strong words were spoken recently suggesting that the education system was an embarrassment. I did not hear the speech in question, and I do not know whether such damning criticism is deserved.  I can only say that my own experience of the system is more positive. There is, however, an unfortunate tendency, when strong criticism is voiced, to react defensively by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Jersey has an unusual system of education in that about 43% of students are educated at fee-paying schools, compared with about 7% in the UK. That seems to me to be a strength, and not a weakness. I fundamentally disagree with the recently reported comments of the Education Minister, if he was correctly quoted, that our system is socially divisive. That is not my view, nor is it the view of the Council of Ministers. The existence of many fee-paying and state schools gives parents a wide choice, and even among fee-paying schools there are choices as to the type of teaching and ethos with which people feel most comfortable. I do not see anything wrong with that. The notion that all children should be compelled to join a state system of education is one with which I am afraid I do not agree.

That is not to say that nothing is wrong with our education system. It may well be that the academic results in a number of schools are not as good as they should be, and that investment in those schools is needed. Maybe choices in language learning could be improved by greater cooperation between the sixth forms of several schools. Maybe we need to think more creatively about vocational training, and education as a preparation for employment. Maybe not enough flair is shown in relation to sport, music and culture to ensure that children receive a properly rounded education. It is certainly true that the university grant support system needs improvement, and perhaps a student loan scheme created. A survey recently showed that a large number of parents would support the creation of a bilingual primary school where children could be taught in French as well as English. Bilingualism is an important skill in the 21st century, and we need to ensure that our children have this opportunity too. All these issues need to be debated and acted upon in the next 4 years.