Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC S 2R [Education Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [795/1473-1509]
Editorial comments: 1622-1812. MT spoke at cc1473-88, 1491, and 1502.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 13205
Themes: Education, Secondary education, General Elections, Local government
[column 1473]

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

I listened with great interest to Edward Shortthe Minister's opening lecture on genetics, inheritance and intelligence. Until he spoke, my own impression had been that our ignorance in tha t sphere was rather greater than our knowledge and that there was still a great deal to be discovered about a child's intelligence and its relation to both heredity and background.

I also listened to his description of the present educational system and its previous achievements, and I must confess that I did not really recognise parts of it. I did not recognise the 80 per cent. children as failures. I am thinking particularly of a prize-giving I went to in my own constituency when with great pleasure I presented a prize to a boy who had won a top maths scholarship to Cambridge. He had gone to a secondary modern school and had been transferred as a late developer. Two boys were transferred at the same time and both were brilliant maths pupils, certainly not failures but very great successes. They took their O levels at a secondary modern and then went on to what t he right hon. Gentleman would no doubt call a sixth-form unit or college, but was really the top of a grammar school. I think it is very wrong to label children who do not go to a grammar school as failures.

May I now turn my attention more closely to what I had intended to say. This time last week we were waiting for the Bill to be published. We had to wait while there was a statement on another White Paper which concerned the alteration of existing boundaries in local governments across the country. Then this Bill was published whi ch compels local authorities to prepare plans within existing boundaries. So on one and the same day there was a White Paper to change all the boundaries and a Bill compelling authorities to put forward plans within existing boundaries. Those plans would have to be altered if the White Paper is ever to take effect.

Moreover, the irony of the juxtaposition of those two documents was that the White Paper propounded the principle of increasing freedom for local authorities, and the Bill we are discussing propounded [column 1474]the principle of reducing the freedom of local authorities. It was extremely ironic that these happened to come on the same day. Th e freedom flaunted by Anthony Croslandone Minister was killed instantly by the action of the right hon. Gentleman in producing this particular Bill.

I do not dispute for one moment that any Government has very considerable power over education under the 1944 Education Act. But the local authority also has very considerable powers and rights. Both are elected bodies, both finance the education system, both should have a say in the decision-making process. The problem we have to sort out, and I accept this, is exactly where that boundary line should be drawn.

The 1944 Act gives the Minister power to promote education and

“the progressive development of institutions devoted to that purpose, and to secure the effective execution by local authorities, under his control and direction, of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area” .

That is the only place where the word “comprehensive” occurs. It does not occur in the new Bill at all, and the reason is that it is already in its true context in the governing Act, the 1944 Act— “a varied and comprehensive educational service” , using the word not in its new, emotive sense, but in its true sense.

The Minister has very considerable powers over future schools. He has to sanction the capital programme, so he has pretty well absolute powers, after discussion with the local authorities, over what new schools shall be built in any particular area. He has not, of course, absolute powers over the pattern of existing schools, and I submit that t here is a difference in the way he should deal with them. For him to exercise power over new schools is quite different from his trying to impose upon local authorities a pattern which they do not wish to have for existing schools. It is because he cannot do this under the existing Act that he is having to take special powers.

I would emphasise most strongly one thing about the 1944 Education Act which was pointed out by Tyrrell Burgess in his excellent book “A guide to English Schools” :

“Hitherto educational law had had social, as much as educational, objectives, emphasising [column 1475]the protection of children rather than the promotion of education beyond the elementary stage … The 1944 Act was by comparison educational, indeed almost child-centred, in outlook, enacting that children should be educated suita bly for their ages, abilities, and aptitudes.”

It is interesting that it was thought to be a tremendous advance for an Education Act to be educationally and not socially centred. It was, of course, a generally agreed measure, and Lord Butler and Chuter Ede were the joint authors. It is interesting to see that 26 years on we are now ret urning to what we then advanced from, namely, founding a whole education policy on social reasons—at any rate, the Minister is returning to it. I have quoted from that book by Tyrrell Burgess as an independent commentator—independent from the point of view our side, shall I say, although I think I am right in sayin g that at one time he was a Labour candidate. [An Hon. Member: “Yes.” ] My hon. Friend says “Yes” , but I would not be quite certain about it.

All of us at the time had tremendous hopes of the 1944 Education Act. All of us believed that its objective was to give to children, whatever their background, the instruction that their abilities warranted. Instruction is too narrow a word, I mean education and all that that implies, which is a great deal more than academic learning. I agree t hat the right hon. Gentleman and I many years ago learned a great deal more than facts and actual knowledge. Whatever kind of home the child came from, the object of the Act was to educate him to the full level of his ability. That Act was partially successful in attaining that objective.

I saw in the Daily Telegraph today a paragraph which said:

“Selection to grammar schools has been based on hard work and ability, and has worked so well that over 26 per cent. of our university population and 35 per cent. of all students in higher education are of workingclass origin. This proportion is much the highest in the Western world, according to figures issued by Mrs. Shirley Williams.”

Our system has been better than others in the Western world, but that is not to say that it is yet good enough for us. It is not to say that we have yet found all the ability that there is. This is why my right hon. Friends now on the back benches put in hand the four major education reports. [column 1476]

It is important when considering this Bill to try to see where the 1944 Act was not quite sufficient and where it fell down. Certainly it brought through many of the able children, but I admit that in a number of cases there were some children who appeared to go to schools which did not give them a good chance if their talents dev eloped at a later stage. For some of us in the South with very good secondary modern schools there were facilities for late developers. We have seen from the Newsom Report that in a number of schools those facilities did not exist. I condemn any education authority or school of any classification which does not provide for the late development of a child's abilities at whatever age those abilities occur. The Education Act should have ensured such provision, but there were not the resources and money at the time whoever was in power. The problem has been to provide the resources for more and more of these children to have the opportunity we all wish them to have.

By the time the middle fifties came very interesting educational developments were taking place. Some authorities were having to alter the system under the 1944 Act. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd) made a tremendous drive to improve the secondary modern schools, and very successful he was. During that time, the Secretary of State will remember, we had the first departure from the 11-plus by the Tory-controlled Leicestershire authority; the first big new experiment in education. Had we frozen the existing system under the 1944 Act as the Secretary of State is now attempting to freeze it, there would have been no scope whatever for an educational experiment. It would have been a very great loss to the nation. We entered a period of innovation and experiment, and departure from the 11-plus. A number of Tory-controlled authorities have chosen their own systems, some of which involve selection, some of which are almost totally comprehensive. They hav e chosen them bearing in mind the wishes of local electors and in conjunction with and discussion with my right hon. Friends who previously held the post of Minister of Education.

What are the objectives of the new Bill? The Secretary of State gave some. [column 1477]One appears to be to end selection; at any rate he said that that is one of them. The Bill refers to selection, not to comprehension.

Mr. Edward Short

It is the same thing.

Mrs. Thatcher

It is not the same thing. If the right hon. Gentleman's desire, his objective and aim, is to end selection, this Bill does not achieve it. Nor do we end selection under the present educational system. We have the most rigid selection at 18 for available university and higher education places. Under this Bill we h ave selection for sixth-form colleges. When one of my hon. Friends said “Selection” the Secretary of State said “Certainly” . I hope that Hansard got that. So the right hon. Gentleman is not against selection in education. There is within the Bill the possibility of selection before 16 because, if it “is expedient” , children can be put into the sixth form colleges before they are 16 years of age. Expedient on what grounds? It must be on grounds of ability, that they have attained a certain education al standing through examinati on. Then it is “expe dient&cqq ; to put them in sixth form colleges.

There is selection , mentioned on the first page of the Bill,

“for music or dancing or any other art” .

There we have selection by aptitude. I do not know whether “any other art” includes literature or writing ability. I wish it included mathematics because that is a very special gift and if we have any children specially gifted in maths we cannot afford not to bring on their ability very early indeed. There is a considerable element of s election under this Bill. To imply that the Bill ends selection is sheer trickery, for it does not.

Mr. Edward Short

The Long Title of the Bill is quite clear. The Bill deals with selection by ability for admission to secondary schools. If one abolishes selection by ability one is saying one is in favour of comprehensive schools. The two mean the same thing.

Mrs. Thatcher

They do not. I am glad to have from the right hon. Gentleman in implied terms that he is not against selection in education.

His second possible objective, which he expressed, was to promote equality of [column 1478]opportunity. I would not quarrel with him over that objective, but I quarrel with him if he thinks that a universal comprehensive system with our present stock of schools will achieve equality of opportunity. He knows full well the kind of argument I am going to adduce because every educational commentator has put it forward in the last ten days and before that. He also knows the many differences which are now emerging between comprehensive schools within the various areas. If we have a total comprehensive system there are only a number of ways in which one can allocate—to use neutral words&em ;pupils to those schools. We can do it by geography—in other words, the school to which a child first goes is determined by the situation in a street of his home. That becomes a neighbourhood school and that school will reflect the character of neighbourhood. If it is a very good neighbourhood the chances are that whatever one calls the school the children there will be of wide ranging ability and it will be a good school with a large sixth form. If it is a school in a twilight area, or a poor area, it may be a poor school with a poor staff.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Will the hon. Lady accept that there is undoubtedly an argument for neighbourhood schools not being confined to such areas, but that is not an argument against comprehensive schools? It is an argument against slums and bad neighbourhoods. Sec ondly, we need catchment areas large enough to attract all sections of our society for those schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

I fully accept what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is saying. I am pointing out that if the right hon. Gentleman says that a universal comprehensive system will provide equal educational opportunity for each child he is wrong, because one will have as many differen ces between comprehensive schools, according to the area which they serve or the type of pupil which they attract, as one has now with existing schools. The hon. Member comes from Liverpool and he must know some of the problems in Liverpool. I only have access to the published figures. Among the comprehensive schools in Liverpool there are four wh ich I believe were previously selective schools. They have entries of about 1,200, 1,100, 1,000 [column 1479]and 1,500. The right hon. Gentleman would probably cite them as a tremendous advertisement for the system, and we would agree.

There are other comprehensive schools in Liverpool which were formerly two secondary-modern schools put together and called a comprehensive school. They have very much smaller sixth forms. Alsop, an ex-selective school with an entry of 1,200, has a sixth form of 137 pupils, Croxeth, with an entry of 900, which was two secondary modern schools, has a sixth form of 55, and Arundel, which was two secondary modern schools, has a sixth form of 23.

Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)

The hon. Lady has mentioned one particular school which was a grammar school before. That is why it has a large sixth form.

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, but that is what I said.

Mr. Crawshaw

I thought that it was apparent that this has only been a comprehensive school for the past two or three years and that those children were already at that school because they had gone from grammar school places.

Mrs. Thatcher

That is what I said, and I thank the hon. Gentleman profusely. It is based on a selective school with a high sixth form entry, and it is probably a very good comprehensive school. But when one goes on to another comprehensive school which was not based on an old grammar school but formed from two secondary modern schools the sixth form is much smaller and the graduate staff smaller and the range of sixth form courses is also smaller.

Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Is the hon. Lady saying that the children in the working-class comprehensive school in the two secondary modern schools put together will be worse off than they were previously when they were in a small, isolated secondary modern scho ol with no decent facilities at all, because that is what she has to argue to make her case?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am taking the Minister up on his assurance that to go comprehensive gives equality of educational [column 1480]opportunit y. I think that even hon. Members opposite have seen from the cases which I have cited that, very regrettably, it does not.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Lady does not give way the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

Mrs. Thatcher

I will give way.

Mr. Newens

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, because I have taught in one of the schools which were formed from two units, one of which was secondary modern and one of which was central. Let no hon. Member opposite sneer at that type of school. When we started off in that school we had no si xth form at all, so we had to take time to build it up. Does the hon. Lady not realise that the numbers in the sixth form would accordingly be nil as compared with a comprehensive unit which started off with an existing sixth form?

Mrs. Thatcher

No one is sneering at the school. Once again, let me say that it does not matter what one calls the system or what one calls the schools. There will be very substantial differences in the opportunities which are offered and, therefore, by virtue of going comprehensive one does not necessarily do what the Minister implied—provide equal educational opportunity for all children.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)


Mrs. Thatcher

I must get on with my argument. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am generous in giving way and enjoy doing so, but I must get on with some of my own arguments and I hope the hon. Gentleman will give me the courtesy of listening.

I was asked whether I was suggesting that these children would have been any better off without the comprehensive scheme. I believe that Liverpool still has some grammar schools, and it would be possible for a pupil to get away from his own neighbourhood and go to a grammar school, thus mixing with others from widely differing backgrounds. Some grammar schools have done wonderful service for pupils from poor areas. I shall quote from Mr. C. S. Hilditch addressing the Assistant Masters' Association on 31st December 1969. He was talking about a grammar school in what he called a working-class area and about the headmaster who had created it. In my mind I visualised that he would be like the right hon. Gentleman, but now I do not quite think so somehow. This headmaster built up a grammar school in Crewe—and I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) is here—after the 1902 Act. Mr. Hilditch said:

“I know no other town which was so overwhelming working class as Crewe, with no tradition of learning …” at grammar school. He describes how this gentleman built it up, and went on:

“His successors built on his work and Crewe Grammar School men and women have distinguished themselves in an older and newer universities sense.”

Mr. Hilditch continued:

“When I read that the grammar school is a class institution, an institution of privilege, which does not give the working class child a fair chance, I think of them, and I think of Mac. To find a working class boy and to bring him on and to send him to the university—what reward is like it?

We safeguard salaries, but to destroy the lives and the life work of such men as I have spoken of we must be mad.” If one had some grammar schools such as this alongside a substantially comprehensive system or alongside some other system not necessarily geared to the 1944 Education Act, there are some boys and girls in poor areas who would have greater opportunities than they will get in neighbourhood schools. [Interruption.] There will have to be selection for direct grants schools. I hope there will be someone in the Cabinet who will be fighting at least for Manchester Grammar School. I think this dual system was that kind of thing which Harold Wilsonthe Prime Minister had in mind in his famous quotation about “grammar schools being abolished over my dead body.” I never like to quote without looking at the entire background from which the quotations come and so I obtained the report of the 1963 Campaign for Education to look at that background and to see if there was any chance that this might have been taken out of its context or was subject to the sort of gloss which the right h on. Lady wants to put on it. The Prime Minister was asked two questions: [column 1482]

“Does the implementation of comprehensive education imply co-educational schools throughout to the exclusion of single sex grammar schools and sectarian schools at grammar school level? Will the Labour Party abolish all grammar schools?”

“Mr. Wilson: If I might answer the second question first: would the Labour Party abolish all grammar schools—the answer to this, as a former grammar school boy, is over my dead body. There may be some people who think that's worth it, but I don't.”

That was the end of the Prime Minister's answer to that part of the question. He went on to answer the other part. It took him a foolscap page. If he had wanted to put a gloss on what he meant by the retention of these schools, he could have done it. I believe that that language was sincere and intended and that a number of the electorate had i n mind the kind of situation I have tried to paint, amid interruptions—tha t a person who would otherwise have to go to a neighbourhood comprehensive school might be far better off by getting out of that school and going to a grammar school which serves a very wide catchment area.

Mr. James Johnson

The hon. Lady is talking about the disabilities of a neighbourhood school in a slum or poor area. There are what she and her party, like the Americans, would call “bussing” schools, but in this instance not all-colour schools but based on a selectivity ba r. I suggest, however, that one can have “bussing” schools in the comprehensive system whose students can move to other areas to other schools without the selectivity she postulates.

Mrs. Thatcher

I was going on to deal with the “creaming off” argument and I shall deal with that first before replying to the hon. Gentleman.

I was interested to hear Edward Shortthe Secretary of State choosing as an example a comprehensive school in an area I know very well, Tulse Hill. I drove through it every day for years. It is a marvellous school. It happens to be near a highly selective school in the same area. That, of course, is Dulwic h College, which, if any school “creams off” , would do so. Dulwich does not recruit over a small area but over a wide enough catchment area for the two schools to co-exist. If the Government were not so extreme in this Bill, there could be co-existence of comprehensive and some grammar schools of excellence. [column 1483]

I believe that there are some parents who would like to take the option of letting their children be assessed to go to well known grammar schools.

Mr. Edward Short

Does the hon. Lady say, then, that she is in favour of retaining selection in order to select the pupils for these grammar schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

At the option of the parents. [Laughter.] Of course. I point to the system which exists in London and the discussion in “Man Alive” , about the situation in London which has a system of comprehensive schools existing side by side with grammar schools.

Mr. Christopher Price

It is not possible.

Mrs. Thatcher

It is possible, and it is working. The point is that the parent has a choice either to send his child to a comprehensive school or to send him to a grammar school. I suggest that hon. Members read the script. In it, Mrs. Townsend said that a growing number of people with the choice&em ;that is to say, with children whose ability is such that they could go to grammar schools if they wished—were, in fact, choosing, some of them, comprehensive schools. I have the full script of the programme here. Some hon. Members have it no doubt. It is possible for such schools to work side by side. One parent will say, “No. I want my ch ild to go to a comprehensive school even though he could go to a grammar school.” Another parent similarly placed will say, “I want my child to go to the grammar school.”

Mr. Christopher Price


Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot give way again. Hon. Members are trying to make my speech for me.

I want now to refer to the argument made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. James Johnson)—that it is possible to have “bussing” schools or what is called “banding” . I assume he means that, if we put pupils with a range of abilities at every comprehensive school, every c omprehensive school will then offer virtually the same educational opportunity. If one is to “bus” children from one area to another and get a range of abilities at the schools, pupils have to be selected by reference to their abilities. But that would be out [column 1484]under the Bill because it forbids selection under these circumstanc es by reference to ability. In a system which takes children from one area to another the authority simply says to the parent, “Your child will go to this school whether you want it or not and will bus from one area to the other.” The hon. Member knows what has happened in the United States and I do not wish to see it here.

There are three other methods of selection, one by parental choice, which works and gives very good results in some areas. Quite a large number of people get the school of first choice. The second method is random selection. The third is by sixth form subject and a number of comprehensive schemes are fragmenting sixth forms, putting so many sub jects in one school and so many in another. Some comprehensive schemes will undoubtedly suit some areas and I do not quarrel with them. If an area wants total or partial comprehension, then, under our view of the powers of the local authorities and of the Secretary of State, it should be entitled to have it, provided that electors, teachers and pa rents agree. But to impose the system upon some other areas is to attempt to impose a system to which the buildings are totally unsuited.

I want to give an example of one particular comprehensive system, again taking it from the Assistant Masters Association lecture. The speaker said:

“One teacher in my own area has to switch from one block to another six times in one day—and in N.E. Lancashire weather. We know one ‘School’ where buses leave for all parts of the schools—at 9 a.m., 12.30 p.m. and 1.40 p.m. This is made up of four schools, two at one end of the town and two, one and a half miles away, at the ot her end. It also uses a Church Hall and a classroom in a Primary school. One of the four former Heads is the new Head Master. The other three, still in charge of their old buildings, bear the title of Warden.

Broken health, broken hearts and early retirement are the fruit of such schemes of reorganisation. The people who devise them—and approve them—should be made to work in them.”

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

What a local authority!

Mrs. Thatcher

What an education authority!—but also what a Minister who wants to impose such a system on an area. The Secretary of State must have approved that system.

[column 1485]

Mrs. René Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Where is it?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will give the Secretary of State the quotations and I am surprised that apparently he has not read the lecture because it is a very important one. Surely his Department would almost certainly have brought it to his attention.

Mrs.Renée Short


Mrs. Thatcher

It is in North-East Lancashire. The lecture was given by Mr. Hilditch. Possibly the right hon. Gentleman knows him. Surely the Secretary of State has enough people in his own Department to have brought this matter to his notice. Does he condemn that sort of arrangement? If so, why did he approve it?

Mr. Edward Short

The hon. Lady has mentioned the name of Mr. Hilditch. Will she tell us the name of the school and where it is?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will give the right hon. Gentleman the quotations. I have two copies of the report. I will send him one. I am delighted that now the right hon. Gentleman apparently condemns utterly that kind of comprehensive system, which has schools in separate areas and “bussing” from one to another. It produces a sy stem of turmoil.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

On a point of order. Is it in order for the hon. Lady to refuse to those of us who live in Lancashire the name of this school?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have quoted from the example given by the lecturer. The hon. Gentleman can check up with him and I will let him have the lecture too. I cannot be fairer than that.

The right hon. Gentleman obviously wishes to know what the criteria are upon which we think that any scheme of reorganisation should be judged. May I make the following suggestions. First, is the scheme in the educational interests of the children going through the schools now as well as in the coming few years; secondly, will it retain an d attract first-class teachers; thirdly, will it fit existing buildings and not require so much capital [column 1486]that resources have to be diverted from the primary schools; fourthly, what will be its effect on sixth-forms, pupils and staff; fifthly does it make full educational provisions for unusually gifted children from wha tever background they come or in whatever spheres they are gifted, whether the arts or science; sixthly, does it provide at all stages for late developers and lastly is it demonstratably acceptable to the parents in the area?

I suggest that those are the criteria against which we should judge any educational reorganisation. I am sure that we all agree that although our methods differ we are all at one in our anxiety to improve the educational standards of those children who are not getting full opportunities at the moment.

Perhaps this would be a suitable stage to mention the treatment of parents in the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. It is pretty high-handed. In Clause 2 he sets out the consultation procedure to be adopted before a plan is submitted to him. Contrary to the assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman, the Bill shows almost a complete disregard of t he wishes of the parents in connection with the reorganisation scheme. Those who must be consulted are the managers or governors of a school, those who may be consulted are the teachers of the school but when it comes to parents they are told. They are not consulted. I quote from the Bill which says:

“… the authority shall convey information about the methods proposed to be embodied in the plan to parents of the pupils who in the opinion of the authority would be affected by the execution of those measures” .

There is an absolute disregard of the parents' wishes.

Another point about the Bill is that a number of approved schemes will no longer meet the requirements set out in it, particularly those schemes depending upon selection at the age of 13. This means that a lot of them which could be approved under the original Circular 10/65, and have been approved, will have to be resubmitted. I suggest that this will cause turmoil in some local education authorities for a long time. They thought that their schemes had been approved, they are co-ordinating their capital programmes and now the schemes will have to be resubmitted.

I would have thought that this would have caused a lot of increased work in [column 1487]the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but I see at the front it says that:

“The Bill will not cause any increase in the staff of the public service.”

If the Bill will cause a lot of increased work, and there is not to be any increase in staff it strikes me that there is a lot of organisational slack in the Department. However I do not think that can be so, because I see from yesterday's Western Mail that:

“Swansea will shelve its £125,000 comprehensive schools scheme and bring back the 11-plus examinations if the Department of Education and Science does not hurry up and take a decision on the plan … the Education Committee warned last night after waiting seven months for the ministry to reply.”

One other point about the kind of dialogue we are having now about selective and comprehensive schools comes from the Times Educational Supplement of 30th January. It says:

“Sixth form colleges should be regarded as “comprehensive” even if they are “selective” .”

That is from the Department of Education instruction for compiling Form 7. It seems to be absurd. It does not matter whether a system is selective or not as long as it is called comprehensive!

The Bill will not provide equal educational opportunities, in some cases it will diminish opportunities. The word “impose” occurs several times in it. It takes away substantially from the powers of local authorities, although they have to be elected and find roughly half the money to provide for the educational system. I do not believe that it will alter the social structure of Britain although undoubtedly this is one of the aims of the Bill.

I renew the pledge given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) that we shall repeal this Measure. If the Government were confident that they would win the next election they would not need to introduce this Bill now. They could introduce it in its pro per place, which would be against the background of the new, major Education Act. I can only think that they believe we will win the next election and are therefore trying to get the scheme in now. This Bill replaces the three “A's” in the 1944 Act[column 1488]—age, aptitude and ability—with the three “T's” —trickery, turm oil and tyranny, and we shall oppose it.

Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)

I very much hope that this Bill, which has been long awaited—the need for which has been amply demonstrated since Circular 10/65 by the action of a minority of local education authorities—will become law. The speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) even more amply demonstrates the need for this. The case for the comprehensive school as my right hon. Friend pointed out has been conclusively established.

The Crowther Report showed that two-fifths of the top ten per cent. of boys left school at 16 and two-thirds of the next 20 per cent. in terms of ability left at 15. The position was worse for girls. It is clear that had it not been for the advent of comprehensive schools, many young people of this type would have lost the opportunity to get th e sort of education of which they could have taken advantage. In these circumstances the case for comprehensive schools has undoubtedly been proved.

The reference the hon. Lady made to the 1944 Act and what has been achieved under it needs some comment. The process of providing extended courses in the secondary modern schools ran contrary to the original intentions of the people formulating that Act. At that time it was thought that children could be divided up roughly into three groups and one particular group would require only a general education, not an academic type of education which the extended courses were later introduced to provide. I would argue that the 1944 Act was shown to be wanting in this respect by the introduction of the extended courses.

The argument that the more gifted children suffer as a result of the introduction of comprehensive schools is, to my mind, completely unproven. In the Stockholm experiment of 1954, the south side of Stockholm had comprehensive schools and the north side had two types of secondary schools. After two years, the academically gifted children were f ound to have made similar progress, but the children from the poorest type of homes had achieved highed standards. [column 1489]

My right hon. Friend has already referred to the fact that comprehensive schools provide——

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

The hon. Gentleman has just referred to the Stockholm experiment. Is he aware that a subsequent re-examination of the data shows that the gifted children on the academic side learned a great deal more on the way, besides the formal requirements w hich they were trying to measure? That is the point.

Mr. Newens

I will discuss it with the hon. Gentleman at some other time, because I do not follow his argument. I believe that the Stockholm experiment made it clear that gifted children do not suffer from the introduction of comprehensive schools. Such schools provide a greater range of su bjects for all children and, what is most important, they avoid the sense of failure at 11 which is felt by children who fail to be selected for the selective or grammar schools.

This sense of failure is not limited to the secondary modern schools, where they exist. It extends even into the lower streams of grammar schools. Because they are in this type of rat- race, many children feel that they are not doing as well as they ought and that they are failures if they do not get to the top of the grammar school.

We should recognise that the sensation of being rejected at the age of 11 as sub- standard is not only unpleasant but extremely damaging. In my view, it is vital that we should have a system of comprehensi ve schools as envisaged by the Bill to get rid of that sense of failure.

The process of selection is unjustified on practical grounds. It is socially divisive because it splits up children. One child of a family may go to a selective school when another child in the same family may not gain a place. It even casts a shadow over the primary schools which so often are geared towards getting the greatest number of pupil s into grammar schools where there is a system of selection. This does considerable harm to the whole bias of primary schools which are forced to compete in this way.

The hon. Lady spoke of the freedom of choice. However, the notion that freedom of choice can be provided by [column 1490]retaining selection is nonsensical. Parents only have freedom of choice if a school chooses their children. There is little freedom of choice for the parents of a child who fails to be selected. What the hon. Lady and her ri ght hon. and hon. Friends demand is a freedom for a minority which is denied to the majority. That is privilege, and it is privilege that the other side of the House is defending today.

I would ask right hon. and hon. Members opposite how many parents turn out and demonstrate in favour of the right to send their children to secondary modern schools. Further, I would ask how many right hon. and hon. Members opposite send their children to secondary modern schools.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)

How many Members on the Government benches do?

Mr. Newens

I am referring to the Opposition side at present, because it is from that side that the demand comes for a system which means the retention of secondary modern schools.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

Before the hon. Gentleman runs down secondary modern schools any further, perhaps I might invite him to come with me to a secondary modern school in Cambridge about which I have an account of the way in which parents are becoming involved in the further progress of the school.

Mr. Newens

A great many secondary modern schools have done some very good work, largely through the efforts of teachers and often with the support of parents. However, that does not detract from the argument in favour of establishing comprehensive schools which give much greater opportunit ies for that sort of work to be carried even further.

Each year in my area there occurs what I always refer to as the midnight conversion to the principle of comprehensive education. Parents go to bed one night defenders of parental choice and grammar schools. Next morning, when the results of the 11-plus are published, like Saul of Tarsus they have a flash of inspiration, having learned that thei r children have not passed. Every year at that time I receive a flood of [column 1491]letters, many of them from strong Conservatives, asking that their children should be allowed to go to schools in the Harlow area, which is fully comprehensive, and seeking my assistance to get places for their children.

The hon. Lady discussed whether comprehensive schools can exist reasonably alongside selective schools. Harlow has a completely comprehensive system, and it is surrounded by an area in which selective schools still exist. Taking the intake of the whole of Harlow, in September, 1969, there were 1,680 places for new admissions, and 1,768 children were admitted from Harlow who could be accommodated there. In addition, there were 107 children from the catchment area outside Harlow who, broadly speaking, were children who had not passed the 11-plus and who immediately sought to go to a comprehensive school because their parents realised the advantages which would accrue to them from comprehe nsive education compared with education at a secondary modern school.

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman is arguing a marvellous case for the choice between grammar and comprehensive.

Mr. Newens

No. I am saying that some parents want their children to go to comprehensive schools but are not able to get their children into Harlow. They would be very happy if their children were selected to go to selective schools in the area, many of which are in the constituency of the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison). When they find that this is not possible, they want their children to go to comprehensive schools.

Looking at the trade the other way, only 12 children from Harlow went to selective schools outside the area. That shows that the vast majority of parents—I happen to be one of them—are quite satisfied to send their children to the schools which exist in Harlow, and there is no demand for the type of choice to which the hon. Lady referred. In the areas adjacent to Harlow, there is strong public pressure for comprehensive schools to be established.

After previously holding out against it, the West Essex Divisional Executive [column 1492]is seeking to establish comprehensive schools in Epping, Ongar and Waltham Abbey. The vast majority of opinion has been in favour of comprehensive schools, as the two systems have been seen flourishing side by side——

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

The hon. Gentleman referred to my constituency. We have long wanted a comprehensive school in Ongar, and I hope we shall have the support of the hon. Gentleman in securing it.

Mr. Newens

If the hon. Gentleman remembers, I spoke at a meeting at Ongar, in his constituency, to demand such a comprehensive school. I will give him every support, and I am delighted that we should have an opportunity of working together on this local issue, as we often do on others.

From the example which I have given, it is clear that, where people see comprehensive schools in operation, they know what opportunities are offered and the benefits which accrue. I remember having a debate on this issue with the conservative agent in my constituency prior to my election. I was surprised to find that he was a strong advocate of comprehensive schools in the area. From the way in which the hon. Member for Chigwell spoke, it seems that strong pressure in the area must have been generated by the experiment introduced some time ago in Harlow.

Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

The hon. Gentleman finds it strange that some hon. Members on this side of the House are not opposed to comprehensive schools. I, personally, and many of us, are not opposed to comprehensive education. What we are opposed to is that the Governm ent should force comprehensive education down people's necks against the wishes of the local people.

Mr. Newens

The hon. Member for Finchley said that she wanted to retain selection for the children of those parents who wanted it. It is not possible for the two systems to exist side by side without wrecking the system as a whole. It is all very well for the right hon. Lady and hon. Gentle man opposite who say that they do not agree with intervention from the local authority, but the late Baroness Florence Horsbrugh, when she [column 1493]was Minister of Education in a Conservative Government, thought it was quite reasonable to intervene to prevent the development of comprehensive schools in South-East London. I am thinking of Kidb rooke. So it seems to be all right for the Government to intervene to prevent comprehensive schools but not to ensure that the system is fully comprehensive throughout the country in the eyes of right hon. and hon. Members opposite.

May I mention certain misgivings about the Bill? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.” ] I am glad to hear hon. Gentlemen opposite saying “hear, hear” . My misgiving is whether the Bill is strong enough and has sufficient teeth. I want to know what my right hon. Friend will do in the event of a local authority continuing to put up unsatisfactory schemes. Under Section 99 of the Education Act 1944 the Secretary of State has power to give direction, where he is satisfied that a local authority is failing to discharge its statutory duties, and enforcement can be obtained by application to the courts for a writ of mandamus. Will the intentions of the Bill be enforced in a simil ar way, or are there alternatives?

My second misgiving is about timing. How long will it take to enforce a proper comprehensive system on an authority which is out to resist to the last possible point doing what the Minister wants it to do?

My third misgiving is about sixth form colleges which are exempted from the provisions of the Bill. I give notice that, if I am a member of the Committee, I shall give strong consideratio n to moving an Amendment to make sixth form colleges subject to the provision of the Bill.

May I, as a member of the National Union of Teachers, say a word or two about the attitude of teachers to the Bill. At the last N.U.T. annual conference in 1969 the following resolution was passed:

“This Conference calls on Her Majesty's Government to provide sufficient money to make possible a successful system of comprehensive education, and to make the necessary legislative changes to bring about comprehensive education by abolishing selection for secondary education. It believes that this can be achieved by incorporating the gr ammar schools and other selective secondary schools into the comprehensive system, thereby creating a unified system for all children. Conference believes that the continued existence of the grammar schools completely nullifies all [column 1494]attempts to create a fully comprehensive system.”

That declaration of the N.U.T. is completely contrary to the views expressed by the hon. Lady today.

The National Union of Teachers would, however, support my remarks about the desirability of removing the exemption of the sixth form colleges. The N.U.T. is extremely concerned at the inadequacy of the provisions for ensuring proper consultation. According to Clause 2(3)(b) consultation by the local authorities is to be:

“to such extent and in such manner as the authority consider appropriate … or as the Secretary of State may direct …” .

A local authority might hand-pick the teachers it wished to consult or consult them in a peremptory manner, and the Bill should ensure that consultation is adequate. This is not a theoretical point. If my hon. Friend the Member for Newport (Mr. Roy Hughes) catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I feel sure h e will refer to what has happened in his constituency, where a change of authority has resulted in an excellent scheme being seriously threatened and the teachers not being properly consulted. I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to make clear whether consultation would be mandatory where a local education authority modifies a plan or submits a completely new plan under the Minister's direction.

Subject to those misgivings, I still believe that this Bill is a very good one, deserving the wholehearted support of hon. Members on this side of the House, and, I hope, some below the gangway on the other side. It is quite clear that the Opposition are fighting for the preservation of privilege. The Bill is designed to end the perpetuation of inequality, privilege for the few, and denial of the rights of the less affluent sections of our community.

I believe that the job that this Bill seeks to carry out is the sort of job that the Labour Party ought to be doing. I am proud today to have had the opportunity of speaking in favour of it, and this evening will take great pleasure in voting for this very great improvement in our educational system.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston- upon-Thames)

I call well understand the apprehensions of the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) about the time factor in connection with the Bill. In view of the clear statement from the Dispatch Box thi s afternoon by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), it is obvious that the Bill will never effectively operate. It is an intrusion on the rights of local authorities and the next Government will repeal it.

It is obvious to all those who know the time it takes to prepare these schemes, and, indeed, as we heard this afternoon to get the Department's answer to them when submitted, that this cannot be done within the lifetime of this Parliament. It is a misuse of language for the hon. Gentleman to say that those of us who object to the Bill are speak ing on behalf of privilege. We are objecting to an intrusion on the established rights of local authorities to act in accordance with their electors' wishes. We are opposed to this Measure in the interests of those able children whose education will be damaged by some of the changes proposed.

The Secretary of State was right when he began his speech by saying that the purpose of the Bill was clear and obvious. It certainly is, and it is not a Bill designed to forward in appropriate cases the proper introduction of comprehensive schools, as one might have thought from his speech. It is designed to compel elected local authorities to do what they were elected not to do. It will compel them, whatever their judgment of the situation in their area, whatever the wishes of their electors, to do the opposite of what they were elected to do. I suppose that it does not seem a serious thing for this Government to compel elected persons to disregard their election pledges. One cannot ch arge them with making other people do what they are unwilling to do themselves. In this context that would be an unfair charge.

I would ask the Minister of State to appreciate that elected persons, in many cases elected quite recently on a clear election programme relating to these matters, cannot be expected to disregard the promises which they gave and the wishes of those who elected them. The right hon. Lady will understand, because she studies these matters, that wh at the Bill—a Bill which might have been described in the words of the philosopher [column 1496]Hobbes as “nasty brutish and short” —will do is to seek to alter the whole constitutional relationship between central and local government.

There is pathetic irony in its timing. For at the very moment when the Minister of Housing, or the “Secretary of State for Pollution” , or whatever he is now called, is claiming that local authorities are to be given increased freedom, a major part of the most important local authority function is being over-ridden by the central Governm ent. The Government are also putting in issue, perhaps more than they realise, the justification for local rates bearing a substantial proportion of the cost of education, which it that there is effective local administration and control of education.

Once it becomes plain that local authorities are simply supposed to carry out the policy of the central Government, whether they believe in it or not, the whole case for putting something like 40 per cent. of the cost of education on the rates disappears. Indeed, it is asking a great deal to ask local councillors to impose on ratepayers a rate for purposes of which they and their ratepayers both disapprove. Therefore, the Government are doing a more dangerous thing than they realise in attempting this shift towards central control.

Furthermore, this change is being carried out in the most authoritarian manner possible. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State has just left the Chamber, because she visited my constituency a fortnight ago for the purpose of explaining this prospective Bill to a section of my students. The local newspaper, the Surrey Comet, which has a good reputation for accuracy, reported this meeting as follows:

“‘Education authorities like Kingston and Richmond which have said “No” to comprehensive schools must be brought to heel by force if they will not act voluntary,’ a leading Government education spokesman said on Saturday.”

Leaving aside the English, which is a trifle eccentric from a Minister in the Department of Education and Science—I hope that the Under-Secretary of State is not in charge of English teaching—are not those the accents of authoritarianism when they are directed, not even at private citizens, but at elected local authorities if they will no t do what the [column 1497]central Government wish, although at the moment the central Governments wishes have not an ounce of support in law?

If the doctrine, “If they are not prepared to do it, they must be brought to heel” is to be accepted, it is a doctrine of very wide application. It means the end of local responsibility for education. That is why I venture to say to the Minister of State that the Government are doing a much more dangerous thing than they realise in brin ging this Bill forward.

The advantage of local decision in these matters is that the needs of areas vary as do the wishes of parents area by area. We are a country of a wide variety of circumstances. It is an extraordinary naïvety to suggest that only one system of secondary education could possibly be tolerable or acceptable in any part of the United Kingdom, wh atever the local circumstances.

It is sometimes helpful for hon. Members to contribute the experience of their own constituency. In my own we have certain special circumstances. We have an ancient grammar school, whose high record over three centuries of academic work is marred, if marred at all, by the fact that it was responsible for the education of one right hon. Gentlema n now of Cabinet rank. [Hon. Members: “Cheek” .] We have two of the best maintained grammar schools in the country, with an extraordinarily high standard, and we have several of the very best secondary modern schools.

The other day I attended the speech day of a secondary modern school there which showed a high standard of success. Those who were there that evening would have been very surprised to hear the Secretary of State sneer at schools of that sort as second-rate. [Interruption.] It is in the recollection of the House that he used that expression. He used it deliberately from his prepared script, and it was visible to us all.

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has left. That sneer comes particularly ill from him when the school in question is one from which he has withdrawn the approval for necessary building works which his Department gave two years ago, and withdrawn it—this has been admitted from the Dispatch Box—largely because of the disagreement be tween the local authority and the De[column 1498]partment on the very subject matter of the Bill.

For the right hon. Gentleman, in those circumstances, then to sneer at a school where a magnificent educational job is being done under a dynamic headmaster, and to classify it as a second-rate school, is utterly unworthy of the holder of the high and responsible office of Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Of course, an area like this I have described, with a very close geographical concentration and high accessibility of one part to another, offers a totally different educational situation as compared with a widely dispersed country area, a new town or an industrial town in the north of England.

Direct grant and maintained grammar schools are not built up in a year, or, indeed, in a decade. They are built by a devoted staff who build up a tradition of hard academic work and high standard year after year. It is easy to destroy a school like that overnight. It is a much longer business to build it up. I beg the House, the Department and the Minister to hesitate before taking, in areas with schools of this kind, a step which must bring them effectively to an end.

It was all nonsense to say, as the right hon. Gentleman did, that these were places of privilege, that pupils were selected for them as a result of their social background. Those who know these schools in their own constituencies, as I know these, will know that there is the widest possible social mix. Some of the children come from extremely p rosperous families, some come from the poorest section of the community, and they are selected from every section of society on the basis of one test—ability. Yet ability is the one test the Bill proposes to exclude.

Even there, it is not consistent. If one's ability happens to be in music and dancing, and, as the Explanatory Memorandum says, “etc.” or, as Clause 1 says: “any other art” then one's aptitude and ability can win one special training. Very good. But does not the same principle apply not only to aptitude and ability in mathematics, to which my hon. Friend referred, [column 1499]but to aptitude and ability in physics, chemistry and all the new sciences and technology in which this country stands in the most enormous n eed of trained people? If there is a case for providing special courses for special ability in music and dancing—admirable and laudable activities, but not the whole of life—why not in academic subjects, and academic subjects of practical application to this country's economy?

We all applaud the provisions being made for the training of educationally sub-normal children. But is not there a case also for special provision for educationally super-normal children? Do not the same arguments apply?

My hon. Friend suggested the possibilities of a compromise system. She suggested that we might well have a system—and I understand that something of this sort is developing in Wolverhampton—under which those parents who want to put their children in for selection for establishments with high academic standards would be free to do so, whil e those parents who do not could opt for a non-selective school. One or two hon. Members laughed when my hon. Friend suggested that. I am sorry that they did so, because is not that one of the best methods of meeting the variety of individual circumstances and the variety of individual needs of children?

Why is it wrong if a parent wants to enter his or her child for an examination or test of any sort at any age—11, 13, or whatever it may be—for a special course that he or she thinks may be suitable for that child? Why must one deny that parent that right? And why not say, as many of us do, that those parents who do not wish, for perfectl y good reasons, to subject children to any test at all, whether at 11 or 13, should equally be free not to do so? Why should not the different needs of parents and their wishes be taken into account?

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the tremendous 1944 Education Act of my noble Friend Lord Butler. In that Act is enshrined the doctrine of parental choice. It is easy to say that one can find circumstances where there is no choice. Everybody knows that, but it is not an argument for failing to provide this when one can provide it. There are [column 1500]circumstances—and I think that the circumstances of the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames exemplify them, although there are many others—where one has well-established selective schools of high standards and high-standard modern secondary schools with geographical proximity to a large populati on, where it is possible to give both those choices, and, indeed, a third. Those which many parents rightly select today are the church schools.

What I am saying to the House is, grant much of what hon. Members opposite have said; grant, as I do, that final selection at 11 without further choice seems unwise and unfair; grant all that: why must the matter be carried to the ruthless point of exterminating alternative systems, when it is perfectly possible to offer parents and c hildren a choice and a greater variety of education?

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me just how many parents in Kingston upon Thames opt voluntarily for the secondary modern school?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

We do not have that system in operation, so I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman. I do not know, nobody knows.

The tragedy of the Bill is that it makes it so much more difficult for those of us who want to try to meet different needs and different views by this kind of system. This is made almost impossible when the Government act as they are now acting. If one takes a big stick to people, if one threatens them and demands 100 per cent. of what one beli eves to be right, one hardens opposition. That is common human experience. One makes it more difficult to get a sensible solution and turns what should be an issue of practical educational administration into a hotly contested arena of political controversy. This is the responsibility of the Government in introducing the Bill. They are preventing wide variety developing. They are preventing compromise and conciliation. They are introducing a Bill that they know must be repealed. They are hardening the lines. They are doing very real damage to education.

If the Secretary of State enjoys good health for many years ahead, which we [column 1501]all wish him, I think that he will live to regret the Bill, regret this day, and regret the advice on which he brought this Measure forward.

Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

The right hon. Member for Kingston- upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) at one stage in his speech suggested that it might be a good thing if very gifted children, as well as subnormal children, had separate s chools. The National Association for the Gifted Child, which consists of parents who are particularly concerned about this matter, insists on one thing, namely, that it does not want separate schools for its children. That is because it has studied the problems in Russia and it knows that the social disadvantages of separate schools enormously out weigh any intellectual advantage that may be gained.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I never suggested that children should be compelled. If the hon. Gentleman is right, many parents would not exercise the option that I would give them. If he is right in thinking that many parents are of this mind, it is difficult to reconcile that with the enormous pres sure of the parents of able children to secure admission to grammar schools who sometimes seek the help of their Members of Parliament in securing it.

Mr. Price

I do not want to pursue that point too far. I was referring to the parents of very gifted children who can be identified in the same way as sub-normal children. So far as the opinions of those parents can be assessed, they do not want the schools on which the right hon. Gentleman seems to wish to spend public money.

I will now take up some of the points made by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). The most pleasant thing about education debates is that the Conservative Party suddenly evinces enormous concern for the underprivileged areas of our towns and cities. It is pleasant to see this concern coming forward. But every time the hon. Lady mentio ned these under-privileged areas she talked of the two or three children who might, as it were, get out of their community and go to a grammar school. By doing so, she tacitly ignored the problem of the 97 per cent. who stay. [column 1502]

Although many cities select, say, 20 per cent. to go to grammar schools, in the under-privileged areas it is nothing like 20 per cent. That 20 per cent. represents an average between 60 and 70 per cent. in the smart suburbs and about two, three, five or seven per cent. in the under-privileged areas. The hon. Lady said that the int erests of 90 per cent. of the population in certain areas must be sacrificed to some fictional advantage which three, four or five per cent. might get. We totally reject that argument.

Mrs. Thatcher

Not in the least. I am saying that we should not necessarily sacrifice the interests of those specially gifted children in those areas. If we send those out we can at the same time raise the standards within the area not only of education, but of all the other facilities as well.

Mr. Price

The dreadful truth is that we cannot.

The hon. Lady referred to the “Man Alive” programme. She may have seen some of the problems of the London schools in that programme. We need every bit of talent in those areas to try to make the schools work and produce a reasonable sixth form. To take away from a school which has more disadvantages and difficulties than ordinary school s the intelligent children who might create a reasonable sixth form is to condemn it never to be a proper comprehensive school. That is, in effect, what the hon. Lady was saying.

The hon. Lady also sketched, which was fascinating to me, the gentle backpedalling of the Conservative Party on this issue over the past 20 years. She said, first, how the Conservatives were quite happy for Leicestershire to go comprehensive, because that was a Tory area; but that did not mean that other areas like Kingston-upon-Thames— and the right hon. Gentleman made this point—should go comprehensive.

It is very much like the Church, gradually accepting that the earth goes round the sun. But the Tories are saying, “Here we stand. Although we agree with the advances made so far, here we have to stop.” In 10 years' time, when only one or two per cent. will be going to grammar schools, they will still be getting up and saying, “It i s right that [column 1503]98 or 99 per cent. should go to comprehensive schools, but we must preserve this 1 or 2 per cent.” The Tories do not know where they stand on this issue, and they never have known.

Mr. Richard Hornby (Tonbridge)

The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Tory Party was being, if not static, at least over-gradualistic. Will he tomorrow morning look in Hansard at the last words of his right hon. Friend who, in summarising what he had to say about the Bill, said that the progress to be achieved by the Bill, if it is to be progress, needs to be in our lifetime?

Mr. Price

I am not an advocate of being able to go completely comprehensive tomorrow.

This brings me to my next point. The hon. Member for Finchley read out a long list of conditions, which reminded me of our conditions for going into the Common Market, which must be satisfied before any comprehensive school could be established. If I read the Government's strategy aright, it is, in many ways, like our conditions for going into the Common Market. The effect of that list of conditions read out by the hon. Lady is to make sure that progress towards comprehensive education is certainly held up, and perhaps halted altogether.

I used to teach. At one point the school at which I taught was put in two buildings more than a mile apart. We had to drive from one part of the school to the other if we had lessons there. It was a disadvantage. It was not as convenient as it might have been. However, many of our public schools are in widely scattered buildings, but parents ar e still willing to pay £500 a year to send their children to them. As I said, it was a disadvantage, but it was a factor which had to be weighed against many other advantages.

The hon. Lady said that if there is a disadvantage because of the buildings that must always outweigh what we would consider to be the prime wrong and disadvantage of selecting children by ability for one school or another. The effect of the hon. Lady's speech was to show up the hypocrisy of the Conservative Party on this issue. Although the Op position dare not say that they are against comprehensive education, because [column 1504]they know that would be unpopular—I suspect that they are put in a similar position to the Government's attitude to the Common Market—they put up a list of conditions which they know will prevent comprehensive education coming with any speed.

The House should be aware of the real attitude of the Opposition to the problem. I should like to take up the point about local authorities which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. Over the past few years this Government have given local authorities, in the organisation of their schools, immeasurably more freedom than anything which might be taken away by the principle in the Bill.

In 1964 the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) brought in a Bill, with all-party backing, for the removal of the biggest straitjacket that the Government imposed on local authorities—the straitjacket of primary and secondary education—that all children under 11 had to be in pr imary schools and all children over 11 had to be in secondary schools. This produced a monolithic system, which some people might think a good thing. He also said that for administrative reasons practically nobody could take advantage of that Bill and only one or two authorities under his régime were allowed to take advantage of it.

As soon as the Labour Party came into power, it gave general freedom to local authorities to adopt all kinds of middle school ways of going comprehensive. This effectively gave the biggest increase in freedom in the ways that local authorities organised their comprehensive schools that they had ever had through legislation.

Some people say that freedom has gone too far; others that it is the duty of the Government to impose some kind of stable education system on the country so that when people move—we have a mobile population—from one area to another they do not come across different systems.

I do not hold to that view. I agree with the freedom that my right hon. Friend is giving to local authorities—the six different ways of organising comprehensive schools—all-through schools, sixth-form colleges, middle schools, etc. [column 1505]To pretend that the Government have given no freedom to local authorities in organising their secondary schools is claptrap. They have given them more freedom than they had before.

Sir E. Boyle

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that authorities wishing to have a middle school scheme were prevented by the Conservative Government, that is nonsense. Authorities like Yorkshire, which wished to try that out, were given every encouragement to do so. All that we said—and it was responsible to say it—was that this was a new proposal and that the speed at which such proposals could be approved must depend on us knowing the drill so that it could be carried out efficiently.

Mr. Price

I am glad to know what was on the right hon. Gentleman's mind. For a time I had some responsibility for reorganising a system in local government and I was informed by my director of education that the Minister would allow only two authorities to take advantage of the 1964 Act, a nd there was no hope of the city for which I had some responsibility using it.

The other point that the hon. Lady mentioned was parental choice, and this is a lovely phrase that the Conservative Party throws out. Let us get this straight. Whether one allows parental choice or one does not within a local authority has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one goes comprehensive or not. Some authorities allow general choice for grammar schools, secondary modern schools and comprehensive schools. Some authorities zone their grammar schools as they zone their secondary modern schools.

I have always thought this is the logical thing to do—if you zone your modern schools zone the grammar schools as well. But this has nothing to do with the comprehensive argument. Where I think that parental choice is dangerous is that the argument is very often used in a very “phoney” sense. London is always boasting that 85 per cen t. of its parents get first choice, and just over 10 per cent. get second choice.

I have three children who have been through the London primary school system, and I know how it works. It is only achieved by the headmaster of the primary school bullying the parents into [column 1506]opting as first choice for that school which they are liable to get anyway, and it is not parental choice at all. It is a sort of “fiddle” operated by the I.L.E.A.—I am not particularly accusing London, because there are other authorities that do it as well.

They try to give the impression that parental choice exists, but what happens is that a parent goes along and says, “I would like to put my name down for such-and-such a grammar school” . The headmaster says “Yes, you can, I am not stopping you; you have the legal right. But take my advice: if you do not get your first choice yo u are liable to end up with your fifth. And if you take my advice you will put down perhaps the less fashionable comprehensive school” .

This is not parental choice at all. Parental choice is perfectly clear: if there is room in schools, if the schools are not over-full, one can have a degree of parental choice in the city. But in any area the deciding factor must be the proximity to the school where parents live. But so often parental choice is used in relation to the popular s chools—where everybody wants to send children, and, clearly, it is right from now on that those schools should be limited to the children who live near them.

I agree that, in the early stages, this seems to be monstrously unfair. Children living near a good school would get a good education, and children living near a poor school would get a poor education. But 'twas ever thus. That has always been the education system, and not until one forces this principle can one force local authorities to treat all their secondary schools in their area alike. While they have grammar and secondary modern schools, some of the secondary modern schools get lost and forgotten; they get lost in the middle of a council estate and get more and more under-privileged.

While we are on the subject of choice, by far the greatest benefit of comprehensive schools and the greatest increase in choice which comes about is pupils' choice, because the real argument against the secondary modern schools is not that they are bad schools, or that teachers do not try hard. It is that when the 13 or 14-year-old boy is tryin g to choose [column 1507]a career, in all too many of them his horizons are utterly limited by the range of options which he, the pupil—his parents by this stage become practically irrelevant—would care to choose for himself. The great advantage of the comprehensive school is that it achieves a degree of choice for pupils, which they have n ever had before except in some of the bigger grammar schools. We are now giving this to every pupil in the country. This is a very good thing.

I agree with the hon. Lady that some schools will always be better than others, but that is not an argument for not trying to raise the condition particularly of the less advantaged schools. I would, like my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) to ask my right hon. Friend a few questions about the Bill, be cause, although I thoroughly support it, I think that it is a very weak Bill; it does not go nearly far enough, and I would like to see it very much strengthened.

What about the direct grant schools? Cannot we get the Donnison Commission to hurry up and give him its report so that he can integrate his policy on direct grant schools with the provisions in the Bill, because it really will make a nonsense in many areas if we are to get the voluntarily aided schools to co- operate—I want to ask him about t hat later. But if we are to get all sorts of grammar schools to co- operate in going comprehensive, will the direct grant schools be allowed to stick out there like a sore thumb and refuse to co-operate with the nationally agreed policy? This is very important.

What about the voluntary schools? I am not thinking of the Church voluntarily aided schools, particularly those of the Roman Catholic Church, which have co- operated magnificently in going comprehensive. But what about that class of voluntarily aided schools which do not have any particular Church allegiance, what I would call the “social&cq q; voluntary aided schools, the schools normally aided for no better reason than that they are 400 years old. At the moment, they have, on their boards of governors, a majority of what are called “independent” people, which means self-perpetuating Conservatives very often. The Bill says that the local [column 1508]authorities are to consu lt the managers and governors of these voluntary schools. Suppose they start consulting the governors and the governors just refuse to co-operate at all. What sanction are we to suggest to put in the Bill to make sure that it is effective in relation to the voluntarily aided schools as well? I would like to hear from my right hon. Friend about tha t.

There is a very good article in New Society today which shows that although my right hon. Friend has painted a very cheerful picture of the progress towards comprehensive education, we are not there yet. There are still 179 directgrant schools over which local authorities have no proper control at all; there are still 900 fully main tained country grammar schools; and 180 voluntary aided schools. This is a problem which I am not sure the Bill covers. I want to hear from my right hon. Friend what she has to say about it.

This has been a good debate, because it has shown what the position is. What is the Tories' policy? The hon. Lady did not tell us. She made a lawyer's speech: I hope that she does not mind my saying that. It was a slightly nitpicking speech in regard to my right hon. Friend's argument, but nowhere was there any positive statement of what the ho n. Lady and her right hon. and hon. Friends believe in and what their education policy is. No one knows.

New Society says:

“It is difficult to see how the Conservatives can object to this Bill except as a Pavlovian response, because Edward Short has been baiting them consistently since comprehensive legislation was promised nearly two years ago.”

I am glad that the dogs have dribbled and that we are having this argument. It will show the electorate, particularly those who say that there is no difference between the parties, that there is a difference, that the Conservatives are entrenched in the defence of a small, privileged minority and that the Labour Party stands for schools which c ater for the whole range of society.

I do not expect the Bill to work overnight. Many Governments have sworn to repeal Bills and then the thing is quietly forgotten. Perhaps the civil servants have not prepared the repealing Bill as fast as they might, or opinions have changed. I predict that, in the [column 1509]highly unlikely event of the Conservatives ever winning power again in this country, substantially the Bill will never be repealed, because they know that it commands the respect and support of the vast majority of the people. They are scared stiff to oppose it openly on the comprehensive principle because they know that that principle has the support of the country. I, too, have great pleasure in supporting it.