Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1970 Mar 10 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Education Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Committee
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC Standing Committee A [1-48]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1030-1300. First Sitting reproduced in its entirety, MT’s contributions making little sense by themselves. She spoke at cc.3, 15, 31, and 39. The Second Sitting, 12 March [49-88], from which MT was absent, is included as an appendix.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 30196
Themes: Education, Primary education, Secondary education
[column 1]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Mr. John Brewis (in the Chair)

Armstrong , Mr. Ernest (Durham, North-West)

Bacon , Miss Alice (Minister of State, Department of Education and Science)

Boyle , Sir Edward (Birmingham, Handsworth)

Evans , Mr. Fred (Caerphilly)

Eyre , Mr. Reginald (Birmingham, Hall Green)

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

Jones , Mr. J. Idwal (Wrexham)

Lane , Mr. David (Cambridge)

Lewis , Mr. Kenneth (Rutland and Stamford) [column 2]

Mahon , Mr. Simon (Bootle)

Maude , Mr. Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)

Montgomery , Mr. Fergus (Brierley Hill)

Newens , Mr. Stan (Epping)

Oakes , Mr. Gordon (Bolton, West)

Price , Mr. Christopher (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

Price , Mr. William (Rugby)

Short , Mr. Edward (Secretary of State for Education and Science) Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret (Finchley)

van Straubenzee , Mr. W. R. (Wokingham)

Woof , Mr. Robert (Blaydon)

Mr. K. A. Bradshaw, Committee Clerk

[column 3]

EDUCATION BILL

Standing Committee A

OFFICIAL REPORT

Tuesday, 10th March, 1970

[Mr. John Brewis in the Chair]

10.30 a.m.

The Chairman

I should like to apologise to hon. Members that we are meeting today in this room. I hope that in future we shall be able to make other arrangements.

Question proposed,

That during the proceedings on the Education Bill, the Committee do meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays at half-past Ten o'clock.—[Mr. Edward Short.]

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

Obviously we have no objection to the sittings Motion, but we express the hope that we shall not be in this room for any longer than this morning. It is extremely difficult for us to be so far from the Library and from the usual facilities of the House. We shall protest vigorously at our next sitting if the hope which you have expressed, Mr. Brewis, is not fulfilled.

The Chairman

I shall be ready for protests at our next sitting.

Question put and agreed to.

The Chairman

Before calling the first Amendment, I call attention to the fact that adequate notice of Amendments should be given. As a general rule. I do not intend to call manuscript Amendments. A sheet giving the proposed groupings of Amendments is on the Table if any hon. Members want it.

Amendment No. 1— Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at beginning insert:

(1) Section 8 of the Education Act 1944 shall be construed as if the words “abilities” and “aptitudes” were deleted therefrom—is out of order.

Clause 1

Principles Affecting Provision of Secondary Education

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 5, to leave out subsection (1) and insert:

(1) To section 8(2) of the Education Act 1944 [column 4]there shall be added a new paragraph:— “(e) to the need for securing that secondary education is provided only in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude” .

We should be happy if the following Amendments were discussed at the same time:

Amendment No. 3, page 1, leave out lines 5 and 6.

Amendment No. 4, page 1, line 7, leave out from “authority” to “shall” in line 9.

Amendment No. 6, page 1, line 10, after “section)” , insert

“and to the provisions of section 8 of the principal Act” .

Amendment No. 33, page 1, line 10, leave out “have regard to the need for securing” and insert “secure by 1st September 1975” .

Amendment No. 7, page 1, line 10, leave out second “the” and insert “any” .

Amendment No. 8, page 1, line 10, leave out “need for securing” and insert “Secretary of State's intention” .

Amendment No. 9, page 1, line 11, at beginning, insert “in their area” .

Amendment No. 10, page 1, line 11, leave out “secondary education is provided only” and insert “there is provision for secondary education” .

Amendment No. 11, page 1, line 11, leave out “is” and insert “shall be” .

Amendment No. 12, page 1, line 13, leave out “such selection” insert: “selection by reference to ability or aptitude” .

Amendment No. 34, page 1, line 13, at end insert “at any fixed age” .

Amendment No. 13, page 1, line 13, at end insert:

Provided that in any case of conflict the provisions of section 8, subsection (1), of the principal Act that the schools available for an area shall not be deemed to be sufficient unless they are sufficient in number and character to afford for all pupils such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes, shall be overriding.

However, we hope that we shall be able to have a Division more than once, on exactly which ones will depend on the reply of the Edward ShortSecretary of State. Will that be in order, Mr. Brewis?

The Chairman

Yes.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Amendments are designed to elicit the right hon. [column 5]Gentleman's intention on subsection (1) and how far he thinks the subsection gives effect to his intention.

Before the Bill was published, the right hon. Gentleman made a speech which was reported in the Teacher on 10th October, 1969. It was headlined, “Bill may not stop selection” , and the right hon. Gentleman is reported to have said:

“Mr. Short said the Bill to be introduced in the next Parliament would not go as far as he would like in dealing with these recalcitrant authorities or bogus comprehensives. ‘The Bill will not have the teeth in it that we would like. We cannot do this technically without rewriting much of the 1944 Act. We are going to the absolute limit we can go in a short Bill’, he said” .

That would seem to indicate that the the proper way to vary Section 8 of the 1944 Act would be by a major Bill amending the 1944 Act, and that in any event the draftsman would be in difficulty in a small Bill. That difficulty is apparent from the drafting in front of us.

My. right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (

Sir E. Boyle) said on Second Reading, as reported in c. 1533 of the Official Report, that there could well be a conflict between Section 8 of the 1944 Act and the apparent instruction which is given in Clause 1(1).

Section 8 of the 1944 Act was drafted by reference to laying on the local authority a duty to secure certain objectives without specifying in detail the way in which those objectives should be achieved. In many ways it was drafting and legislation way ahead of its time, because the theory of management by objectives is comparatively new. The Section was the forerunner of education management by objectives. It is interesting that when everyone else is moving towards managements by objectives the Minister is apparently moving to management by much more minute direction.

Section 8, which appears to be the overriding Section, though none of us is quite sure in view of Clause 1(1), has several parts. In its first subsection it specifies the duty of the local education authority

“… to secure that there shall be available for their area sufficient schools (a) for providing education, … (b) for providing secondary education. …”

Then it continues with this phrase:

“and the schools available for an area shall not be deemed to be sufficient unless they are sufficient in number, character, and equipment to afford for all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and [column 6]training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities, and aptitudes and of the different periods for which they may be expected to remain at school” .

That Section has been interpreted comparatively widely and was amended when the Enfield case raised one or two questions about the character of a school. The right hon. Gentleman will have occasion to remember that in that judgement a number of things were said about what constitutes the fundamental character of a school. The word “their” was thought to be rather narrower than most of us would have taken it to mean in its natural context. Whatever the decision, the definition of the word “character” was even further narrowed by the Education Act, 1968, but as it stands this provision will permit a wide variety of methods of achieving the objective of providing

“such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable”

in view of the different ages, abilities and aptitudes of the pupils. It can be provided in different schools for the same age group. That variety of instruction can be provided in theory within one school or within a number of schools, each of which has a similar intake. In other words, it can be provided by a tripartite system, a bipartite system, or by a totally comprehensive system.

As I understand it, the Minister is offering an instruction on how local authorities shall construe their duties under Section 8, but it already offers a number of instructions in subsection (2). Some of the language is similar to the language the right hon. Gentleman uses and yet he has not offered the instruction by the simple method in our first Amendment, by adding another paragraph to subsection (2), which says that in fulfilling its duties a local education authority shall, in particular, have regard to the need for securing that primary and secondary education are provided in separate schools; there is another need for the provision of nursery schools; there is a third need for pupils suffering from any disability of mind or body; and there is one expediency.

Therefore, we must attempt to construe what the Minister is trying to do in Clause 1(1) by reference to the language already used in the governing 1944 Act. There is some doubt whether the words “have regard to the need” are effective in doing what the Minister wishes to be done. For example, one of the needs to which the [column 7]local authority is to have regard is for securing the provision of nursery education. That need has been observed in the breach, and I imagine that the Minister has failed to add a paragraph (e) to sub-section (2) because he thinks that if he did it in that way that need could also be observed in the breach—that is to say, it would not be a binding instruction.

It is with the object of securing the Minister's views on that instruction that we have tabled our first Amendment. It would make more drafting sense to do it in that way. Whether it would be effective to do what the Minister wants, I doubt. Whether the method he has chosen will be effective in doing what he wants, I also doubt.

I return to the overriding Section, which tells local authorities that they must offer

“such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of”

the different ages, abilities and aptitudes. That instruction and training can be provided in a system of grammar and secondary modern schools. It can also be provided, and is provided now in some areas, in a system which is totally comprehensive.

I come to the question which was put from this side on Second Reading: what happens if the overriding instruction that the training must be sufficient for ages, abilities and aptitudes cannot in some areas be provided in a totally comprehensive system because the buildings and characteristics of the area will not yield to that arrangement? Is the local authority then to observe the duties laid upon it in Section 8, or is it to observe the apparent instruction in subsection (1) of Clause 1?

Again, with a view to ascertaining this, some of my hon. Friends have tabled Amendment No. 13, which provides that in cases of doubt the provisions of Section 8(1) shall be overriding. Without that Amendment, there is substantial doubt about the precise meaning of what the Minister says he is doing in Clause 1(1). May I illustrate that by referring to a particular case?

The Bournemouth case has had the most publicity. According to the Minister, under subsection (1), the local education authority

“shall … have regard to the need for securing that secondary education is provided … in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based”

[column 8]on selection by ability or aptitude. Taking an area such as Bournemouth, what does “have regard to the need” mean? There is not a need on educational grounds. Bournemouth happens to be a unique scheme, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. It was published in detail in a lecture given in Londonderry on 26th April, 1969, in which the Chief Education Officer set out the results it has achieved.

He embarked on the scheme on the basis that the traditional methods of selection operated in the past had been deficient and had not given maximum educational opportunity to all pupils. He thought that there had been a great deal of wastage through inefficient secondary education. Therefore, in drawing up his scheme under the 1944 Act, he decided that the only way to avoid the wastage was to ensure that every boy and girl would, on transfer at 11, be in a school where a course leading to O level G.C.E. would be taken whenever the ability to do so made itself manifest, with opportunity to go on to A levels. He therefore had a system of grammar schools and bilateral schools—schools he called bilateral which some of us would call secondary modern—but in that second group every child could take an O level course, going on to an A level course. Over the years he adopted a very special method of selection based on a quota system which did not depend in any way on examinations. He described it as follows:

“(a) Verbal reasoning tests are set throughout the primary schools at various stages as part of routine school records and guidance.

(b) The scores of tests taken at 9, 10, 11 are sent in to me, and the three scores for each pupil are aggregated on the computer which puts the totals in order of size, selects the top 16%;, and shows how many from each school reach scores coming within the 16%; list. That number, not the named children, becomes the measure of ability of the school, and is called its quota.

(c) Each primary school is told it may nominate up to that number of children for allocation to grammar schools and must form a panel of staff in their school who have taught the pupils at any time during their primary school career, to examine school records and name the individual children for admission to grammar schools.

(d) The Primary school is also told it may nominate without limit other children for G.C.E. classes in the secondary modern schools, now named bilateral.”

So he has a very specialised system of [column 9]selection without any examinations. It would appear that it works and gives first class educational opportunity to all pupils. 10.45 a.m.

What about the parents? He says that in the first year in which the scheme operated he was a little worried about their reaction; but in the first year only seven out of 1,600 parents protested about their children not being allocated to a grammar school, while four refused places in grammar schools, preferring places in G.C.E. courses in the bilateral schools. In the second year only four parents protested, and in the third year only one. So here we have a system with no 11-plus examination, and maximum educational opportunity, which is very satisfactory to the parents.

What about the educational results? In the lecture the chief educational officer went into some of them and gave the success record per 1,000 pupils under his system compared with the average for the United Kingdom. The average for all county boroughs of pupils going to universities was 27.4, while his system gave 42.3. Those going to other comparable institutions from all county boroughs averaged 17.9, and for Bournemouth the figure was 59.5. The total figure for county boroughs was 45.3 and for Bournemouth 101.8. It would also seem that the O and A level courses show extremely good results in Bournemouth.

Where is the need for that education authority to change its system? It is instructed in the Minister's direction to “have regard to the need,” but there is no educational need. No need has been displayed by the electors of Bournemouth. There is a preamble to the provision, but the direction is:

“… shall … have regard to the need. …”

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

It is not “need” full stop.

Mrs. Thatcher

It says that the local education authority

“… shall … have regard to the need for securing that secondary education is provided only in schools …”

But there is not a need, though there may be an opinion. It would seem that the right hon. Gentleman believes that the Clause gives a specific instruction, but if he says:

“have regard to the need”

[column 10]it does not stop there. It does not stop there in Section 8(2) of the 1944 Education Act. There are several needs specified there, but they have not all been met. If the Minister thinks that he has achieved everything he has set out to do in directing the specific institutions, what will happen in an area where the variety of instruction and training cannot be provided in a totally comprehensive system because of the inadequacy of the buildings or other local reasons?

There are a number of other Amendments. I should like to refer especially to Amendment No. 10, by which we wish to remove the phrase “secondary education is provided only” and substitute

“there is provision for secondary education.”

This shows one of the basic differences between us.

Many of us are reasonably happy that all parents should have a choice between sending their child to a comprehensive school or sending the child either to a direct grant school or to a school like those in the Bournemouth system, taking an entry based on ability proven over the years. A number of authorities are not providing any comprehensive alternative, and a number are not providing any alternative to the comprehensive scheme, although there is a substantial minority opinion in some of those areas. In my area, for example, the local authority is going totally comprehensive.

A substantial body of opinion would like to have more choice than a totally comprehensive scheme would offer. In other areas, like Richmond, there appears to be no comprehensive alternative and parents tell me that a substantial body of opinion would like one. Passions run very strongly about education, and it would be as well if we attempted to meet substantial opinions in the education areas and did not direct that one system, and one alone, should prevail.

Mr. David Lane

I support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and would like to direct attention to a few other Amendments in the group. My hon. Friend has demonstrated very well the difficulty between the Bill and the 1944 Act—the fact that if the Bill becomes an Act in anything like its present form many authorities will be confronted with a constitutional dog's breakfast, and the least we can do is to try to clear it up a bit. [column 11]

The other strong criticism I have relates to the unrealistic suddenness of the change the Government are trying to inflict. There is bound to be confusion in local authorities, and there will be distraction from other urgent jobs.

Many of the Amendments are designed at least to try to even out the transition in a more realistic way, thinking always of the people at the receiving end, whether the parents, the local authority or those who matter most—the children.

The Bill is also a threat to local choice. I shall quote a certain amount from the experience of my own authority in Cambridge, which has been trying very hard since the Circular of 1965 to produce a scheme which made sense. It is still engaged in discussions with the Department about the scheme it has produced. This illustrates very well the difficulties which authorities have been in for five years and which the Bill will not minimise by any magical formula. Our Amendments would do something to meet the plea of many of the local authorities, put to some of us only in the past few days by the Association of Municipal Corporations. I would like to quote one sentence from its comments:

“It is indeed the need for flexibility and the ability to develop schemes according to local circumstances that this Bill seeks to deny.”

In seeking to smooth the suddenness of the effect of the Bill, we are emphasising our view that it would have been far better for the Government to await the larger Bill that we know they have on the stocks. We are forced to the conclusion that it is in a transparent effort to do a political rather than an educational job that the Bill has been brought forward. If so, let us at least try to make it a somewhat less dishonest job.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Surely the hon. Gentleman does not expect right hon. and hon. Members on this side to accept that? Many of us who have been in the education world and are interested in the advance of children will not accept from him the condemnation that we are doing a dishonest job. We will not accept that sort of injunction, and the hon. Gentleman might as well know that at the beginning. Some of us have been making speeches about the inequity of the 11-plus examination for the whole of our public life. This is in no way an ill-considered or untimely [column 12]Measure, nor has it been introduced with undue haste. Many of us wish that it had been introduced many years ago.

Mr. Lane

In using the word “dishonest” , I withdraw any imputation against individual Members opposite. What I am trying to convey is that it is intellectually dishonest to suggest that merely by passing the Bill we shall leap magically into a new era of secondary education where all the difficulties are suddenly conjured away, and that we shall immediately go forward with a faster rate of improvement than we have been able to achieve. It is no good wishing these difficulties away, because we all know that they exist.

I do not hold any brief for the 11-plus, as I said on Second Reading. We are all aware of the disadvantages. I plead only for a rather more realistic approach to the problems in our different areas. Ever since I first read the Bill I thought that it smacked of wishful thinking and would not solve the problems.

Amendment No. 3 seeks to leave out line 5 and 6 on page 1. We want to remove the words

“With a view to the ending of selection of pupils for admission to secondary schools by reference to ability or aptitude …”

Hon. Members will have noticed an Amendment that goes with it in line 13. We are not getting rid entirely of the ending of selection because we are leaving in the words at the end of the subsection. We want to get rid of lines 5 and 6 in the interests of realism, so that we shall not suggest to anyone outside that when the Bill becomes an Act selection will be magically ended completely. It is wrong to impose this on local authorities. We all know areas where, with the best will in the world, buildings will not be adequate for a satisfactory comprehensive system in the shortness of time implied by the Bill.

Let us not insist that all selection be ended like that. The Bill provides for selection at 15 or perhaps at 14 for sixth form colleges. Let us be realistic and allow flexibility to local authorities so that selection, but not in the rigid form of the 11-plus that has been so open to criticism, should be continued for at least some time during the transitional period. 11.0 a.m.

Amendment No. 33 in the name of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr [column 13](Mr. Christopher Price) picks out the magic date of 1975. My authority, after years of hard labour and burning of midnight oil in trying to work out a reasonable scheme, has said that no reorganisation can wisely be undertaken in my area, given the difficulties of geography and the forecast of pupil numbers, as the buildings, and, above all, the finance are not likely to be available before 1975 at the earliest. This, coincidentally, fits in very well with Amendment No. 33 as an illustration of a reasonable time scale in some areas. This cannot be done by 1970 or 1971, but it may be done by 1975, although I would not say at the latest by 1975.

May I dwell for a moment on Amendment No. 10 and the Amendments related to it? Should not the Minister make the Bill less rigid and allow more scope and judgment to local authorities? I entirely support the general move towards comprehensive education so long as it is not forced through at the unreasonable pace suggested by the Bill. Let us try to fit in with the realities and amend the Bill to allow the authorities which wish to do so to develop comprehensive schools when they are satisfied that the circumstances are right and that the general standards of education will benefit therefrom. Let us leave much more room for local judgment.

I mention briefly Amendment No. 34, which provides for the insertion of the words “at any fixed age” at the end of line 13. This emphasises that nobody—certainly not those who tabled the Amendment—is wedded to the age of 11. We increasingly realise that 11 is not a satisfactory age. The sooner whatever selection may continue to be made is moved to 12 or 13, the happier we shall be.

Amendment No. 13 is an effort to help local authorities out of the dilemma, or dog's breakfast, in which they will otherwise be landed. We must pay attention to the facts on the ground and the possibility of getting the buildings right in the time available. My constituency of Cambridge is fortunate in school buildings, teachers and administrators. But, although we have more than the normal number of buildings in similar cities for modern and highly satisfactory grammar and secondary modern schools and the difficulties of geography are not particularly great the view of the local authority, in the light of [column 14]Circular 10/65—and this is the view of all political parties represented in the local authority—is that it would not be right to bring in a scheme before 1975. Let us recognise this by making it clear to local authorities that we are leaving them discretion in difficult cases.

This is a bad Bill. Let us try to make it less bad by persuading the Government to accept at least some of the Amendments.

Mr. Christopher Price

I first make a few comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). It seems that we shall hear many words like “magic” , “sudden” and “complete” in these debates. I have never believed that there was any magic, easy, safe or sudden way to comprehensive reorganisation, and neither have my colleagues. It is not sensible to throw around adjectives which do not represent what anyone believes.

Two other points mentioned by the hon. Member for Cambridge need far closer analysis. If hon. Members opposite do not mind my saying, they tend to use “flag” words: they choose a word and wave it around like a flag. The word “buildings” is a flag word. They say that buildings are an insuperable obstacle and that if only the buildings were right they would be in favour of comprehensive reorganisation. Buildings are but one element in the schools system. All the studies here and in the United States show that the arrangement and type of buildings are by far the least important factor in terms of educational attainment. The Coleman Report in the United States, the equivalent of our Plowden Report, discovered absolutely no difference in the educational attainment of children who attended schools having widely differing kinds of buildings and arrangements of buildings. Although it is right that our schools should be in suitable buildings, this aim must be put in context with our other aims, particularly the primary aim of Clause 1(1) of the need to end selection. This is a far greater need than to have every school in absolutely perfect buildings. Buildings are used more as an excuse than as a reason.

The hon. Member for Cambridge drew a distinction between rigid selection ages, which he regarded as a bad thing, and “softened” selection, which he regarded as a good thing. But selection is absolute; there cannot be different degrees of it. If a child is selected for a school that is [column 15]not his first preference, that is an absolute selection and he either attends that school or he does not.

Clause 1(1) says:

“With a view to its ending of selection of pupils for admission to secondary schools by reference to ability or aptitude …”

I am pleased about this. No scheme which tries to make the blow of selection less severe and tries to improve the quality of all the schools cures the real problem.

The hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) had a lot to say about the Bournemouth scheme. The Bournemouth scheme is not unique. There are many schools in the country where O levels can be obtained. For example, Warwickshire's high schools aimed at this system. Had such a system met the needs of teachers, there would not have been demands from teachers and parents over the past 20 years for the ending of selection and for comprehensive education. There is nothing new in Bournemouth's system. There is nothing to link the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) to the type of school system. All the evidence links the figures to Bournemouth and to the social background of the children there as against anywhere else.

Mrs. Thatcher

Is not the evidence that the results of the Bournemouth system are very satisfactory?

Mr. Price

Any system of secondary education in Bournemouth will show up well when compared with the national average because of the advantage which the children in Bournemouth have from their home backgrounds compared with children in the Midlands and the North. That does not mean that the system in Bournemouth could not be made better. I look forward to the time when Bournemouth sees the light and adopts full comprehensive education so that the director of education can say that the number of O levels obtained has been doubled, if there are O levels in those days, and the number of A levels trebled. Figures which suggest that Bournemouth has done better than the national average cannot be related exactly to the schools system. All the evidence is that they are related to the social background of the people in the area.

Mr. Lane

I am sorry I did not make [column 16]myself clear. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) accused me of waving flags. What I have in mind in talking about the rigidity of selection is the flag that the Secretary of State always waves, on which is inscribed “11-plus” . We do not want to see half the children in one school and half in another. We are all the time getting away from the original form of the 11-plus. It is the 11-plus in its original form, the once-for-all test, that has caused the greatest amount of unfairness and hard feeling, and that is what we are trying to get away from.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)

No, it is not. The hon. Member mistakes the whole point. It is selection.

Mr. Lane

I know that that is the Secretary of State's view. I am trying to convey the view that parents and others have put to me, that the more we can get away from that original rigid eleven-plus type of selection and modify selection, so long as it exists, both by the method and by the age at which it takes place, the more we shall get over the feeling of unfairness.

Mr. Price

When the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) says that it is the harshness and the rigidity of the 11-plus that we are attacking and not alternative methods of selection, I could not disagree with him more. He is 10 years out of date. That is what people were attacking 10 years ago when his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) was Minister of Education. That was the battle in the 1950s, and that battle was finished long ago. We are moving into the 1970s, and no one now believes in a rigid examination. For a parent whose child is sent to a school that does not do A levels rather than a school that does, it makes not the slightest difference whether the child went to that school as a result of the teacher's assessment, an examination on one day, or a mixture of the two. Nor does it make very much difference, his child having been rejected by the school which does A levels, if he is offered a choice of six other schools. The selection is there, and it is with a view to ending selection that my right hon. Friend has brought in this Bill.

If the hon. Gentleman speaks to any parents who are adversely affected by [column 17]selection or to any teachers who have to run the system, he will discover that however much we fiddle round with the system—I have in mind, for example, the Thorne scheme in the West Riding—with a view to ameliorating the impact of the primary schools, the crucial point is whether we have selection. I am pleased that this Bill goes some way to getting rid of selection.

Mr. Reginald Eyre

Just now, the hon. Gentleman was talking as if buildings did not matter——

Mr. Price

No, I was not saying that. I said that they were one of a number of elements to be taken into consideration. The scientific evidence about the educational attainments of children shows that they are not the most important element, though I agree that they have an impact in other directions.

Mr. Eyre

Thinking of North Birmingham, would the hon. Gentleman reduce his argument about buildings to a point where he was in favour of introducing what some educationalists have called “botched-up comprehensives” ?

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Price

Frequently there is a dilemma. The choice is between going comprehensive very quickly by using existing buildings in a two-tier system, rather as Leicestershire did, which I do not think could be described as “botched-up” , or going comprehensive slowly and insisting on purpose-built schools. The second alternative is not a genuine one. By the time that purpose-built comprehensives are ready, probably there will be new ways of organising education, particularly among 16 to 19 year olds. I should be in favour of using existing buildings in Birmingham in a two-tier system next year. That could be done without very much difficulty and with the teachers behind the plan. That would be better than a lot of pious preaching about believing in comprehensives and waiting for purpose-built buildings. If they could be built this year, they would be purpose-built for the right purpose. If they are purpose-built in 12 or 15 years, they may be purpose-built for the wrong purpose.

One has to be flexible. That is why I do not like the idea of purpose-built comprehensive schools. The more flexible the buildings are, the better, because in that [column 18]way they can be changed as educational ideas change. The idea of building large schools with halls like mausolea to accommodate large numbers of children may turn out in 20 years to have been mistaken. The Bill is about selection. It is not about the site of schools or how to organised comprehensive systems.

Turning to Amendment No. 33, accusations have been made by right hon. and hon. Members opposite against my right hon. Friend to the effect that the Bill is a big stick, a bludgeon, a piece of dictatorial legislation designed to bully local authorities into carrying out his policy. My fear is exactly the opposite. I accept what my right hon. Friend says about the Bill not being designed to do everything, and that it must be seen in the context of a move towards the redrafting of the 1944 Act with a view to getting our legislation on this subject more finalised.

It is important that the Bill should be seen to do something. It is one stage in the movement towards comprehensive education which has been going on since the Second World War. The first stage was the individual decisions of a number of local education authorities after the war to build comprehensive schools rather than grammar and secondary modern schools. The second stage was the encouragement given by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) to the process in Leicestershire of changing buildings over quietly and gradually towards comprehensive education, though we all know that, under the Enfield judgment, that turned out later to be an illegal process. The third stage was the Circular put out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). When he was Secretary of State, he issued Circular 10/65 requesting local authorities to move forward. These stages have brought comprehensive education to a large number of local authorities.

This is the fourth stage in the attempt to deal with the problem of those authorities which have not complied with Circular 10/65 and drawn up plans but which, instead, continually draw up plans which they know are not comprehensive and do not end selection. I look forward to the redrafting of the 1944 Act as the final stage. This Bill is not the last word on the matter.

The Bill could be a lot stronger, and that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) and I have [column 19]tabled Amendment No. 33. To a great extent, it is a probing Amendment. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell the Committee what considerations induced him not to put in the sensible words “… secure by 1st September 1975” . I am not dogmatic about the date. Some people may think it should be earlier. Others may think it should be later. However, it is important to lay upon local authorities an obligation to do something, rather than merely to have regard to a particular need. I know that difficulties will arise in putting it in this way. But anything that one does in the present state of our law on education will produce difficulties. Whether we legislate now or leave it for another three years, a great number of difficulties will arise, and the centre of them is the pattern of control of the Department over local education authorities and of the local education authorities over their schools.

As a result of Circular 10/65, what has happened in case after case is that local authorities wanting to reorganise and go comprehensive have consulted the governors of aided schools and direct grant schools and have received no co-operation. In this connection, I refer not to those aided schools which come within the sphere of influence of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), but to those schools which exist for no better reason than that they are 400 years old or because of some other accident of history. A number of individual boards of governors of such schools have been able ever since the Circular to frustrate the wishes of their local authorities and of the Government. Very often, these boards of governors are little self-perpetuating oligarchies, responsible to no one. They have no democratic responsibilities.

Mr. Mahon

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says about the sphere of education in which I have some influence. While I accept what he says about the schools to which he has referred, will be make it clear that, as regards those with which I have some connection, there has been considerable co-operation in the move towards comprehensive education?

Mr. Price

I would go even further. There are many areas in which Roman Catholic aided schools are anxious to get comprehensive schemes going and where, very often, it is the local education [column 20]authorities which are dragging their feet in getting on with it.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State speaks to this group of Amendments, I hope that he will say why it is not possible to be more specific in Clause 1. Perhaps he will also say what sanctions he intends to give local education authorities which want and should be allowed to reorganise the schools in their areas. The 1944 Act makes it clear that they are responsible for the pattern of secondary schools in their areas. What sanctions will local authorities be able to impose against schools run by managing bodies over whom the local authorities have no control? Sooner or later, this problem must be faced.

I look to the redrafting of the main Act as being the time when we shall finally come to a consensus opinion about how to deal with the problem which clearly was not foreseen in 1944, since it did not arise in this form. In my opinion, a solution cannot wait for the big Act. A number of authorities want to reorganise, and great difficulties occur at the fringe as a result of local government reorganisation. We have seen the situations in Leicester and Wolverhampton where local government boundaries have changed in such a way as to bring in comprehensive areas. Unsatisfactory circumstances have arisen where good comprehensive schools have been progressively run down by people who worship at the altar of keeping grammar schools going.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery

Would the hon. Member give us an example?

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Price

I was thinking of the Regis School, Tettenhell, Wolverhampton Grammar School, and the Leicestershire schools which are now within the city of Leicester. There are others in other areas and will continue to be so as we reform local government. What is a local authority to do when it is faced with schools which are not willing to come into the national pattern of comprehensive reorganisation?

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) has made the case for flexibility because he has described so many differing conditions and factors. I see no hope of his Amendment ever being a [column 21]reality—that uniformity could be reached by 1975.

Mr. Christopher Price

“Uniformity” is another flag word which we shall hear a lot of. What does the hon. Member mean by it?

Mr. Hill

Moving to one system of secondary reorganisation with schools of different types all conforming to it. I think the hon. Member's argument was directed to selection between institutions and not to selection within institutions, streaming, which he also wants to get rid of.

Mr. Christopher Price

Would the hon. Member describe the six different systems of education in Circular 10/65 as uniformity?

Mr. Hill

Uniformity in aim. The pattern is in different buildings. This demands some variety but the hon. Member must realise that two of the six patterns are frowned upon and therefore there will only be four different patterns. It is the aim that 100 per cent. of the age group should be within the institution and to that extent there would be a uniformity of treatment.

Positively I had wondered whether to take the Bill seriously because I realise that the reason it has come ahead of the main Bill is that it is hoped during discussion of it that some useful propaganda may be generated for any forthcoming general election. I regret that it will necessarily produce polarisation of views. Inevitably, however hard we try in this Committee to keep the political argument from dominating educational considerations, the Bill will highlight one educational question when many others deserve our attention and resources. It is odd to give priority to compelling local education authorities to produce plans for going comprehensive. It is even odder to bring in a Bill when the move towards comprehensive education seems to be going well in comparison with any other educational development. It is not much more than 10 years since the first comprehensive school was created.

Mr. Fred Evans

May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that in Anglesey comprehensive education was in force well before the 1950s.

Mr. Hill

I beg the hon. Member's pardon.

[column 22]

The Chairman

I should like the hon. Member to address his remarks to the Amendment.

Mr. Hill

I want to link what I am saying to the Amendment, but I am trying to make the case for more flexibility, which is what the Amendments are generally aimed at.

It is hard to get the balance right and it would have been easier to get it in a new Bill than in this one. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) stressed that the general purpose of the 1944 Act is to provide a variety of education suitable to the differing aptitudes, abilities and ages of the children. I fear that if this Bill goes through in its present form and these Amendments are not accepted, it make it much harder for those local education authorities to carry out their main duty. Acceptance of the Amendments will have the advantage of avoiding a lot of legal conflict. If they are accepted the Bill will be less dictatorial to local education authorities in general. That is important because the passage of the Bill will inevitably damage the Government and local education authorities.

The Amendments would mitigate that damage and would enable local authorities, while accepting the newish principle of comprehensive education, to make some variety of provision to fit the geographical circumstances and the facilities and resources available in their areas.

I should like to make my own position clear. I am strongly against the 11-plus as the final word in a sudden test of a child's ability or potential. It is well enough known that I would put more educational emphasis on the pre-school years. I believe in the pool of ability and that the comprehensive system has come to spread but in my judgment there is all the difference between having a system spreading on its merits in favourable conditions by conviction, and seeking to enforce it everywhere, even where it may run flagrantly counter to the hard brutal realities of geography and finance.

As I said in replying to the hon. Member for Perry Barr, I disagree with him in supposing that one cannot have a viable comprehensive school system of schools without having in them 100 per cent. of each age group. A lot of the confusion and controversy which has arisen has stemmed from the statement in [column 23]Circular 10/65—although I know it was a resolution of the House of Commons—that Government policy was to end selection by the 11-plus and eliminate separatism in secondary education. One can end the 11-plus and have viable comprehensive schools without forcing 100 per cent. of the age group to be within the schools. I do not want to argue what is the necessary percentage. It would vary with localities. We know in other countries with comprehensive experience that comprehensive schools work well in co-existence with highly selective schools.

I would put in two cardinal principles. The educational system, and the local authorities in particular, should try to provide an educational environment which matches the needs of the child and in which it is most likely to make satisfactory progress. This means a flexible approach. Secondly, local education authorities should be able to provide as wide a variety of options as they can to fulfil that purpose—options which are important to local education authorities. They have to deploy their resources. One guiding principle should be that we cannot as a nation afford to lose a single good school and precipitate insistence on plans may prematurely cause a school to be injured if not destroyed, because it does not need the execution of a plan to destroy a school. The threat may destroy confidence in it, and begin a process of deterioration.

I represent part of one of the counties which is judged to be recalcitrant. One reason why I support this group of Amendments is that Norfolk, if it is to do its job well, must have a degree of flexibility as it happens to be faced with some circumstances which, if not unique, are not common. We have just finished what we consider to be and were told was secondary reorganisation. We have built across the county at roughly 12-mile intervals fine post-war secondary modern schools. Our aim now is to get the primary foundations right.

We are an agricultural county and we think it important to get early primary conditions right. In agriculture, it is useless to grow a crop unless the undersoil drainage is correct. One of the most tiresome things about wartime control was that a farmer might be directed to grow a crop on ill drained land. Without proper drainage the young plants can[column 24]not reach their full potential. We have a range of educational institutions scattered widely. It is more important for us to concentrate on a system of middle schools for those from eight years to 12 years, which we decided on in advance of Plowden and which were discouraged by Circular 10/650 before that. The other priority is the infants from four to eight years in village schools. When we have done that we shall be in a position to see how we can bring in a comprehensive system. But our immediate priorities must be to get the earlier ages of education, which have suffered greatly, right. 11.45 a.m.

I would acknowledge that we have in the last five years been able to build 11 new primary schools.

We have said no building that we wish to put up will be incompatible with ultimate comprehensive reorganisation. But we are very short of money. We are getting about 20 per cent. of what we asked for on the capital programme. Our geography is such that schools are very scattered, and one of our problems is the excessive travelling that children may be required to do. The Committee will appreciate that even if the conception of the hon. Member for Perry Barr of a comprehensive school in tiers in different buildings were adopted, it might be easy in an urban area where buildings are probably not more than a quarter of a mile apart, but in the country, where they may be 12 miles apart, it would create an appalling problem of transport, which really rules it out as an immediate practical proposition.

The question of local authority boundaries has been mentioned. The White Paper on Local Government Reorganisation proposes to move a part of Suffolk into Norfolk, which would have a substantial effect on catchment areas. Likewise, the proposal to move away part of the western area of Norfolk would sever a catchment area which promised well for an early essay in the comprehensive system. Even with those difficulties, Norfolk, as any other local education authority faced with the same difficulties would do, has devised a wide variety of educational provision which removes any possibility of a final judgment and certainly any possibility of a child properly being labelled a failure at 11.

I am bound to say that the descrip[column 25]tion by the Secretary of State of secondary modern pupils as failures simply is not true of Norfolk. I wish he had not said it. We have a system of long and detailed assessment, as many authorities do, and it is over 15 years since we abandoned the rigid one-day 11-plus. We also have a system of annual reassessment for those children——

Miss Bacon

I have listened for a long time to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying about Norfolk. It is entirely opposite to what a deputation from Norfolk, including the chairman and director, said to me recently about the building programmes. They told me that they would shortly produce a scheme to end selection at 11 and a scheme for comprehensive reorganisation. It is true that as soon as we allowed the buildings they took a different point of view, but what the hon Gentleman is saying now is not what that deputation said to me.

Mr Hill

I do not think there is any difference between the right hon. Lady and myself. If the Government pass legislation, Norfolk, which is a law-abiding country, will——

Miss Bacon

The hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. This happened before the Bill was published. Quite apart from the Bill, they said that they were about to produce a scheme which afterwards they decided not to do.

Mr. Hill

Because conditions are changing so rapidly, and also because whenever Norfolk puts in a building allocation the Government feel obliged to cut it to about 20 per cent., it is impossible to produce a viable scheme. The kind of scheme that would be produced by local education authorities would vary very much with the year in which the scheme was put forward. If Norfolk had to put forward a scheme next year, it would not be likely to be such a good scheme as one put forward in four or five years' time, when resources would be available. This is partly because there are very sharp increases in population in different parts of the county and also because we wish to reduce excessive travelling.

Other points we are not certain about clearly make it somewhat difficult to produce a scheme. We do not know, and we will not know at the end of this Bill, what the Government's plans are to enable some part of a child's compulsory [column 26]schooling to be spent in further education institutions when the school-leaving age is raised to 16. It is very important for Norfolk because we are trying in parts of the county to introduce specialist courses which may be in institutes of further education and which we want to relate very closely to school development programmes.

I am stating these facts and difficulties to show that I do not think this Bill will fulfil any useful purpose if it simply requires a few local authorities to produce plans before they have the materials and facts and resources to devise the best possible plans. It is not long since it was rightly said that in Norfolk, and no doubt elsewhere, the cost of abortive planning is high. It means asking top people to produce detailed plans on a series of often uncertain hypotheses, and this itself can be deemed a waste of time unless there is a chance of fulfilling that plan within a reasonable time. The hon. Member for Perry Barr has stressed how quickly plans become out of date, and with a rapidly-changing situation on the ground I would have thought it was not sensible for a local authority to commit itself to a definite plan unless and until it has the resources and the certainty of going ahead within a year or two.

For those broad reasons, I very much hope that the Amendments will be accepted, at any rate in sufficient number to permit more flexibility in the operation of the Bill.

Mr. Stan Newens

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said that a much better scheme could probably be put forward for Norfolk five years hence than in a year's time, because more resources would be available. The argument which he advanced made me even more concerned that the Bill should be strengthened. I am unable to agree with him that the Bill is in any way dictatorial. I therefore support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) in what he said about Amendment No. 33. The Bill does not stipulate any time limit, and it seems to me desirable that it should. I should like my right hon. Friend the Minister to explain how he thinks we shall be able to overcome the arguments advanced by local authorities and others who have no desire other than to postpone [column 27]the introduction of comprehensive education indefinitely.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) were concerned about the abolition of the 11-plus. We on this side are concerned not merely about the 11-plus but about getting rid of selection completely, and a Bill such as this is necessary if this is to be done. I hope the Bill will not ever be weakened. I have seen in several areas the way in which authorities continually put forward arguments such as those which have been advanced this morning about difficulties over buildings and resources. Whether in a rural area or in a highly built-up area, it is possible in most cases to introduce a scheme of comprehensive education by the adaptation of existing buildings. However, I am prepared to concede that it may not be possible to do that overnight, and in those circumstances the date proposed in Amendment No. 33 would give opportunities for such changes in buildings as are required.

I taught in the London area for a number of years and I am well acquainted with the difficulties which the old L.C.C. had to overcome in introducing comprehensive education. In many ways, the difficulties in London were greater than those in rural areas because in London there are a number of very old school buildings and also limitations on the space available for the expansion of existing buildings which are unlikely to exist in rural areas. In addition, there is the difficulty in highly built-up areas of main roads. Although two buildings may not be very far apart, they may be separated by busy roads, which creates a situation as difficult as that in rural areas.

Mr. Hill

Would the hon. Gentleman make it quite clear that, whereas the countryside has more space, it has a number of old buildings which are quite as antiquated and unsuitable as those in urban areas? Would he not agree that when the work has been done it is still very important how much time in the child's day has to be spent travelling? A system which imposes a great deal of extra travelling is not a good one.

Mr Newens

I agree that rural areas have some very bad school buildings, and that problem has to be tackled, but I do not concede that the existence of these [column 28]buildings precludes the introduction of comprehensive schemes.

On the point about travelling distance, the very process of selection adds on many occasions to the travelling which selected pupils have to do, because a selective school in many of these areas has to draw from a much wider catchment area than would a comprehensive school. When I was a child living in West Essex, I had to travel 12 miles to attend a selective grammar school. It is desirable not to add unduly to travelling distances, but every scheme must be adapted to the conditions prevailing in a particular area. I believe that in principle comprehensive schemes will lead to fewer travelling difficulties than selective schemes.

Mr. Montgomery

How does the hon. Gentleman's argument accord with his Amendment No. 20, in which he asks local authorities to design their catchment areas to secure a balanced intake? Would not that mean that many children would have to travel long distances to school?

12 noon.

Mr Newens

If I dealt with the argument for Amendment No. 20 now, I should be ruled out of order, but there are arguments which must be raised in connection with catchment areas in certain districts. What I shall have to say about that Amendment does not contradict what I have said about the arguments raised by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South about travelling.

I am extremely doubtful whether it is so difficult as is often made out to adapt buildings for the introduction of a comprehensive scheme. I think that it would be adequate to allow until 1975 for this to be done. We were told that in the area of the West Essex Divisional Executive the difficulties were such that it was impossible to introduce a comprehensive scheme for a considerable time. There the difficulties were quite different from those which have been outlined today. According to the opponents of comprehensive schools, we had spent too much on good selective schools. However, as a result of the considerable local pressure from people who wanted comprehensive schools to be introduced in the area, the Divisional Executive has now discovered that the problems are not as difficult as they were claimed to be. I am sure that if we can have the sort of pressure which [column 29]is required at the centre, if Amendment No. 33 were accepted, authorities would find that there was certainly a way of achieving the introduction of a comprehensive scheme as quickly as is laid down here.

I think that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) used the term “botched-up-schemes.”

Mr. Lane

I do not think that I used that phrase. But a few moments ago the hon. Gentleman referred to opponents of comprehensives in the Committee. I am not an opponent of comprehensives. I am trying to be realistic about them.

Mr Newens

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman goes at least part of the way with us.

An hon. Gentleman opposite used the term “botched-up schemes.” It is all very well to use that expression to sneer at schemes which have been introduced under difficult conditions, but I believe that the introduction of schemes which use existing buildings often provides, and would certainly provide if introduced wisely, much better opportunities for the majority of children than the continuation of the existing system in the area. Every year that the introduction of comprehensive education is postponed in an area a number of children lose the opportunity of the benefits which would accrue to them. The majority of them will be unlikely to make up for the opportunities they lose, so the effect is permanent. Therefore, it is not the same as postponing a road scheme or another development. In this case the education of certain children is lost for ever. Therefore, the Bills should be strengthened to ensure that comprehensive schemes are introduced and that we get rid of the old selective system completely by 1975.

Mr. Eyre

The programme which the hon. Gentleman proposes would take up resources. Has he considered the total amount of resources that would be consumed in pushing forward such a programme, and what other educational progress would have to be held back to make them available within the limitations which we all know and which were set out by the Chancellor a few weeks ago?

Mr Newens

I think that I should be going beyond the limits of the debate if I went into that too deeply, but I have [column 30]said elsewhere that I am concerned about the projections for public expenditure on education. It is not a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I believe that developments and expansion within the other sectors of education, particularly the primary sector, are vital, but I do not accept that the sort of arguments advanced this morning detract from development in them in any way. Existing buildings and the existing set-up can in most cases be adapted to the introduction of comprehensive education and the abolition of selection. I am prepared to accept for the sake of argument that there are certain areas where there are considerable difficulties over the adaptation of existing buildings, but, once we have said that selection must be abolished, the arguments are strengthened for asking the Government to provide the resources to implement the policy. I do not believe that this weakens what I am saying. I do not accept that the case being made out this morning undermines developments in other sectors of education.

Mr. Mahon

Would my hon. Friend agree that areas like Liverpool which have considerable social problems, such as bad housing, are very often the places with the so-called inadequate schools? Would not delaying the introduction of comprehensive education continue the social inequalities that exist not only in a general sense but an educational sense? Those of us who were born in those areas have always felt that it was iniquitous to be discriminated against not only socially in the form of bad housing but also educationally.

Mr Newens

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) quoted the case of Bournemouth. It is interesting that she should speak of an area which is very prosperous and where the majority of the population are fairly well off compared with those in other areas. She used the criterion of the number of O and A level passes obtained in Bournemouth as a justification of the existing system there. It is very difficult to measure educational achievements and the satisfactory nature of a system except by present methods, but in many cases the real advantages of comprehensive schools accrue to the children who will not necessarily pass any O or A levels, and who will benefit [column 31]in social terms which cannot be measured in the way she stated. The way in which she quoted Bournemouth illustrated only too clearly the inadequacies of the basis of her arguments.

Mrs. Thatcher

The purpose of my speaking of Bournemouth was on the construction point, that the Edward Shortright hon. Gentleman has not said that every local education authority shall provide secondary education only in non-selective schools. That would have been clear, but he has deliberately used different phraseology, namely:

“… shall … have regard to the need for securing …”

That is different from the direction, and I suspect that it is different deliberately to give the right hon. Gentleman an out, because where that phraseology has been used in the past it has not been implemented in some cases, even in the 20 to 30 years since the 1944 Act. The right hon. Gentleman has not been direct and the words he has used must have a specific meaning different from the wording of the provision.

Mr Newens

I had better leave my right hon. Friend to deal with that aspect of the problem. I do not think that it detracts from my argument.

I remember when the schools with which I was concerned in Hackney were amalgamated. We had an old central school which we might say was, in the best sense of the term, a second-grade grammar school and a secondary modern school. They were in old buildings some distance apart and separated by a busy main road. The number of children who stayed on in the old secondary modern school was very small and no courses were provided for them. Over the years, during which the schools were knitted together, we found a completely different atmosphere developing. The children who might have been expected to go to the secondary modern school—and after a while it was impossible to tell who they were—had exactly the same sort of attitude to their school as the children who might have been expected to go to the old central school. Socially, the advantages of this are enormous.

I imagine that most of us here were sufficiently fortunate to have got through school feeling that we were not failures. But there is something very unpleasant [column 32]about feeling that one has been relegated to the school for children who are not as capable, not as intelligent or socially desirable, as those who go to selective schools. This has a very bad effect on the children who are sent to secondary modern schools. Where there is streaming, in most schools the children in the bottom stream often develop a frame of mind in which they think, “If we are not good at academic subjects, at least we will show them how tough we are.”

If we want to get away from that state of affairs we must have comprehensive schools and end selection, and the arguments advanced from the other side of the Committee today in favour of procrastinating must be dismissed. Therefore, the Bill needs strengthening, and I hope that if my right hon. Friend feels that my Amendment cannot be accepted he will make the reason very clear. I hope that he will reconsider the whole issue, and introduce a time limit, so that the present system will be abolished more quickly in certain areas of the country.

Mr. Montgomery

In making his point about children in the lower stream in secondary modern schools, the hon. Member went on to say that this was one reason why he wanted a comprehensive system. Is he advocating no streaming in a comprehensive system?

12.15 p.m.

Mr Newens

To reply to that question would be going on to another argument, but I should be delighted to take up the point with the hon. Member another time. The arguments on streaming should be considered. I am in favour of softening the streaming system and introducing setting, but not in one fell swoop without considering the best possible methods of doing it. It is undesirable to gather together a group of pupils in a school who will eventually be regarded by many people and by themselves as misfits, and who often react to this treatment in an anti-social way. This does not detract from the need for keeping together e.s.n. children. I would like to discuss this point at greater length with the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery).

Sir Edward Boyle

I suspect that the short answer to Amendment No. 33 is that the Secretary of State would never have succeeded in getting a time limit to [column 33]the Bill past the Treasury. The hon. Member for Epping (Mr Newens) misunderstood the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre). His point was that it would be cynical if a time limit had been put on the Bill in the light of the White Paper on Public Expenditure which has just been presented to the House of Commons. I agree with the hon. Gentleman in wanting to press for increased resources to be devoted to education; indeed, I hope to be able to do that in a future incarnation. With all that needs to be done in the education service, I think most people outside would have considered it cynical if, in view of the White Paper on Public Expenditure, the Secretary of State had put a time limit on the Bill, even if he could have got his colleagues to agree.

I wish to concentrate principally on Amendment No. 4, which seeks to leave out of clause 1(1) the rather disingenuous words:

“in fulfilling their duties under section 8 of the Education Act 1944 …”

Before doing so, may I say make one or two comments in reply to the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price). No doubt he will have an occasion later in the proceedings to reply to me. May I take up two points which he made. First, buildings. I agree with him that one can exaggerate the buildings difficulty, but I make one very major exception, and that is sixth form provision. Surely, we all recognise nowadays that satisfactory sixth form education is not possible without adequate libraries and laboratories, and, in my view, adequate common room space. The comprehensive plans run up in a hurry which have bothered me most during the 1960s have been those which dealt with sixth form education in a slaphappy or unsatisfactory way, and from that point of view I believe that buildings are of great importance.

If we are considering what have been called flag-waving words, may I suggest that the word “selection” can also be a flag-waving word, for this reason. As I said on Second Reading, there is always the temptation to speak as though, under a comprehensive scheme, all children go to the same school. Of course they do not. There still must be some basis for selecting boys and girls for different schools. I hope on a later Amendment [column 34]that we can discuss the issue of banding, and how the selection should be done. Let us remember, as I said to the House, that ruling out any element of selection by ability can result in a much greater and more indefensible degree of inequality between schools.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a fundamental difference between an overt system of selection on academic ability, with all the feelings of deprivation this causes to the children who are told that they lack academic ability, and all the other systems of selection used in selecting children for various schools in a city?

Sir E. Boyle

I am glad to hear from the hon. Member that there could well come a time in this dialectic when he and I might not totally differ. As I have said in the House on many occasions, majority opinion in this country believes that the moment of transfer from primary to secondary is too early for separation of children into schools of different types. Nonetheless, as I have also said, both in the House and in the country, I have always been opposed to proceeding by compulsion. I gave many reasons for that in the Second Reading debate, and I will concentrate on only one aspect this morning, the difficulty of framing a satisfactory law and, in particular, one very unsatisfactory feature of the Bill.

I take up the challenge of the hon. Member for Perry Barr. I would have stopped at what he calls the second phase, although I would call it the third phase. The first stage was the wise action of Lord Butler and Mr. Chuter Ede in 1944 in introducing a Bill which permitted comprehensive schemes. The Education Act, 1944, was deliberately drafted in such a way as to enable authorities, if they so wished, to provide what were then most often called multilateral schools. Both I and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) welcomed the Leicestershire plan as an experiment in 1957. In 1963 I gave a clear indication that I realised that reorganisation was in the air and that we must no longer think of bipartism as a norm compared with which everything else was dangerously experimental. But I would not have gone beyond that. I would not have issued Cir[column 35]cular 10/65, still less would I have introduced this Bill.

Without necessarily endorsing the Bournemouth scheme and the interesting speech made at Londonderry by the Director of Education for Bournemouth, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is much more sensible to encourage the neighbouring county of Hampshire to make a success of the reorganisation scheme on which it has embarked than to be concerned with coercing Bournemouth. I would rather give all possible help to Hampshire, a large county which made a success of getting rid of all-age schools in 1950, is reorganising its rural schools and now wishes to reorganise further. I would rather concentrate on helping Hampshire than coercing Bournemouth where, to put it at its lowest, conditions are not so very intolerable. It is not as though tremendous injustices were being done to the children of Bournemouth. As I think was implied, quite rightly, from the other side of the committee, whatever system there is, educational conditions in Bournemouth will be rather better than those in many other areas. I agree, and I think that the argument cuts both ways.

Mr. Christopher Price

In advocating complete local option on selection for local authorities, is not the right hon. Gentleman laying up a lot of trouble for the reorganisation of local government? Is not it sensible for a Government to have a national principle running through secondary education?

Sir E. Boyle

My answer to that is twofold. First, I would not advocate complete local option. If it is believed that an authority is denying opportunity to the majority of children, of course the Minister must intervene. If I may say so with no disrespect, I intervened in Bournemouth in 1962 when I thought the authority was mistaken, and, fortunately, we were soon able to reach agreement. There is a great difference between the Minister deciding to intervene in a particular case where he thinks injustice is being done and generally proceeding with secondary reorganisation by compulsion. I make no bones of the fact that I would rather proceed by gradualism and persuasion than by compulsion. As I said on Second Reading, I believe that that [column 36]will result in the long run in many more better schemes.

When the hon. Member says that surely it is intolerable for a small part of the country to have a different system from the rest, let us recall that under the Government's own plans there would be very different systems in different parts of the country. Let us not have any doubt as to the real feelings of parents about moving from areas where secondary education starts at 11 into areas with middle schools. Whatever else Government policy is bringing about, it is not unanimity, so there is that difficulty anyway.

May I come to my point on Amendment No. 4. As I said on Second Reading—and I fear that I must go over this ground again—I believe that the Bill, and particularly Clause 1, is a very unsatisfactory addition to our body of education legislation. Clauses 2 and 3 amount to a fundamental change in the balance of power in the education service. At the same time, the Government do not want to appear to be making a fundamental change, and the result is a Bill which will prove in operation to be both unsatisfactory and ambiguous.

Clause 1 has been framed with Section 8 of the 1944 Act in mind. Section 8 is an absolutely key section, which provides that local education authorities must offer

“such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of”

the children's

“different ages, ability and aptitudes …”

The courts have always taken the view, as we discovered at the time of the Kesteven judgment, that this is one of the key Sections of the Act which takes preference over Section 76 which says that, so far as is practicable, children should be

“educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents.”

I agree with the right hon. Lady the Minister of State when she said in winding up the debate on Second Reading that Section 8 has to be put into operation in conjunction with Section 99.

Suppose that the Bill becomes an Act, even for a short time, and a local education authority is genuinely satisfied that full educational opportunity cannot be extended to a small proportion of children in non-selective schools. The right hon. Lady said that a test case could [column 37]always be brought, but she could not believe that it would succeed. She could not believe that any parent would have a grievance because his child was in a comprehensive school rather than in a grammar school. It seemed to her that it would be far more likely that a parent would have a grievance if the child had been put in a secondary modern school rather than a comprehensive school.

12.30 p.m.

My answer to the right hon. Lady is that I was not envisaging a situation in which an authority decided to remain exactly as at present or as has been the custom in the past with, say, 20 per cent. in grammar schools and the remainder in secondary modern schools. I envisage a position in which an authority provided, in the main, non-selective education but decided to keep a very small percentage of selective provision. I am thinking of an authority which is not only short of sixth-form provision but which also may be short of mathematics and science graduates and which feels that, if it is to do justice by the ablest children, one or two selective schools must remain.

Alternatively, what about an authority which, in a part of its area, keeps a certain number of schools which are selective from 13 or 14? I have in mind such areas as Doncaster and Kent, Thameside. Suppose Ministers change their view and an authority wishes to keep to such an arrangement? In those circumstances, would it not have a strong case to bring before the courts, if only because it was a scheme which deliberately took parental preference into account?

I think that the answer is clear. It is that the powers, duties and responsibilities laid on local authorities under Section 8 are cancelled out by the precision of the powers conferred on the Minister under Clauses 2 and 3. In that case, it would have been much better if the Government had been honest. Since the Bill makes a major change in the relative positions of the Government and the local authorities, it would have been more honest drastically to amend Section 8 of the 1944 Act and have done with it. It is for that reason that, in our Amendment, we deliberately leave out the words

“… in fulfilling their duties under Section 8 of the Education Act 1944, and in the exercise of any power for the purpose of fulfilling those duties.”

[column 38]

I know that we are dealing with children and that we must be careful not to think of educational law as something which exists for its own sake. I do not doubt the sincerity of hon. Members opposite in wanting to extend educational opportunity more widely to children. Nonetheless, I believe that the law has a vital part to play in our education service. Throughout the history of educational progress in the last 100 years there has been a long tradition of agreement about the legal basis of education and trying to render the law as satisfactory as it could be made. By the time that the 1944 Measure passed into law, everyone felt that the legislation was in as satisfactory a form as possible at that time.

Again, I remember the real concern which was felt through the 1950s about the legal position of the aided schools, and more recently we have had a proper tidying up of the law on secondary reorganisation following the Enfield case. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) is right when he says that the law and reality were getting out of line with one another. In this Bill, we are making the mistake of getting the law out of line with reality. The proposed legislation is disingenuous and, for that reason, unsatisfactory. I hope that the House will resist legislating a new principle into the relationship between the Government and local authorities while trying at the same time to pass legislation which gives the impression that no such new principle is being introduced.

Mr. Short

We have had an extremely good debate on these Amendments. Perhaps I can deal with the speeches in turn.

The hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) talked about the objectives of local authorities in Section 8 of the 1944 Act. They are duties, and certainly Section 8 lays down the duties of local authorities in deciding the pattern of schools in their areas. It sets out the factors to which local authorities must have regard in carrying out those duties or in exercising their powers for the purposes of carrying out those duties. In effect, Clause 1(1) adds another factor to which they must have regard.

The hon. Lady asked, if that is the case, why not add it to the three in Section 8(2) of the 1944 Act? This course was taken not to give me an out, and I have no objection in principle to the idea [column 39]which she has put forward. But I had the Bill drafted in this way for two reasons. One was presentational and the other drafting. It is extremely important to incorporate a reference, and give it pride of place, to the ending of selection by reference to ability and aptitude. That is given pride of place in the wording of the Clause. As for the drafting, there is a need to include some reference to the exercise of powers for the purpose of fulfilling duties under Section 8 and those exceptions specified in subsections (2) and (3) of the Clause. For those two reasons, while I agree with the principle of what she said, I cannot accept the Amendment.

The hon. Lady went on to talk about the word “need” and said that there was no educational need for reorganisation. I wonder how she can ignore the consensus of educational opinion and research over the last two or three decades. The word “need” refers to a need established by Parliament in an Act of Parliament—that is, to national policy This Committee is meeting to lay down the need to which local authorities must have regard.

The hon. Lady then talked about Bournemouth. If she holds up Bournemouth as the pattern to be followed, she will be laughed out of court. Let her come to Newcastle and try. This is going back to the ancient Britons. Bournemouth has a pattern of grammar and secondary modern schools. It gets good results because it is Bournemouth and has a certain social pattern. It is an upstage, middle-class, well-to-do area. The hon. Lady spoke about the quota allocated to primary schools, as if that was an invention of Bournemouth. It arose out of the Thorne scheme, invented by the Labour-controlled West Riding County Council, and, when there was a Labour council in Newcastle, it was adopted there——

Mrs. Thatcher

Has the right Edward Shorthon. Gentleman finished what he intended to say on the word “need” ? If his answer is the need laid down by Parliament, there are three needs in the 1944 Act. One took 20 years to implement. The others have not yet been implemented.

Mr. Short

Certainly there is an educational need, which everyone recognises except the hon. Lady. The technical, legal meaning of the word “need” is different. It is that laid down by Parliament. At the [column 40]moment, I am talking about Bournemouth and pointing out that the scheme is nothing more than the old tripartite system, with good secondary modern schools getting good results. But I hope that no one will hold it up as an example to be followed in the rest of the country.

The hon. Lady went on to discuss Amendment No. 10, which I think she will agree is a wrecking Amendment. It could be fulfilled by having one or two comprehensive schools.

Then the hon. Lady came on to her favourite theme of the comprehensive alternative. This is the Tory policy of having selective schools side by side with comprehensives. By definition, it is impossible. Comprehensive schools mean that all children go to them. The hon. Lady made the point and laboured it on Second Reading. She is trying to ride two horses at once. She wants to be on the side of the comprehensivists and on the side of those who want to retain selection. On Second Reading, I asked her if she would retain selection, and she replied that she would, if the parents wanted it. But that is what happened 40 years ago. It was there for the parents who wanted it.

If there is creaming off, it makes comparisons between grammar and comprehensive schools extremely difficult, if not impossible, and it hinders the development of schools into effective educational units. I agree that a mixed economy of comprehensives and some selective schools is acceptable for a very short time in the interim period of changing over, but only for a short interim period.

Mr. Lane

Would the right hon. Gentleman explain how he squares his argument with the words in Clause 1(4, a) which provide for selection at the age of 15 or even 14 for sixth form colleges? Is he not over-stating the case?

Mr. Short

I will come to that later. It does not arise on these Amendments.

I come now to the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane). He said that he wanted to amend the Bill to leave local authorities free. In other words, he wants to destroy the Bill. I do not think I said that the Bill would transform the position overnight. Obviously it cannot. It is not a matter of a legal framework but of providing resources. It will not transform the position overnight, but it will set on the right course those local [column 41]authorities which are doing nothing or very little.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Amendment No. 34, the object of which is not apparent to me or my advisers. Presumably the term “any fixed age” means any specified age. That can only mean that ordinary admissions to an 11 to 18 school at the age of 11 would be nonselective but that any other admissions, say, of children coming from outside, would be selective. That is the only meaning that I can give to it. Presumably secondary education would be permitted in such a school because selective admissions not being at any fixed age would not be caught by the subsection. That seems nonsense to me. If the Amendment has any other meaning, I would like to know what it is. Its meaning is obscure.

My hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) and Epping (Mr. Newens) dealt with Amendment No. 33. I appreciate their desire to give the Bill more teeth and make it stronger. However, I am afraid that there are two reasons why I cannot accept their Amendment.

The first is that the Amendment would be unworkable because of the voluntary schools. The 1944 Act provides for persons who are not subject to the control of the local education authorities, the governors and managers of voluntary schools, to take the formal legal steps to convert their schools to comprehensive schools. Out of our 5,453 secondary schools, there are 985 voluntary schools. This is a sizeable problem and, because of the powers given to the governors of voluntary schools to take this action themselves, the Amendment would be unworkable

Secondly, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) said, there is the problem of cost. This would involve the injection of massive capital resources and, if it were to be done by 1st September, 1975, the cost would be astronomical. Reorganisation involves a great deal more than simply putting a new name on the board. When we changed our secondary schools after the war, under the 1944 Act, we often merely took down the old senior school notice board and put up new ones saying “Secondary Modern School.” We want the change to be a great deal more than that, a genuine change-over to a genuine comprehensive unit capable of [column 42]catering for the full age range. I shall not approve any botched-up schemes.

12.45 p.m.

The first requirement is to devise a plan so that the buildings and resources which become available in successive programmes can be deployed in the most effective way to a fully comprehensive system. Therefore, we want to ensure that the basic pattern on the ground is right. I do not think that a time limit can be set to the whole process. First, we want the plan and then we must study the apportionment of resources; and, above all, we must have a Minister in Whitehall who has the will to see that the schemes are carried out in accordance with the plan.

Mr. Christopher Price

I expected that my right hon. Friend to say what he said about voluntary schools, but can he give a little more information about them and say what measures he would expect a local authority faced with a non-co-operative voluntary school to do? How does one overcome that problem?

Mr. Short

In this Bill we are going as far as we can. With the churches there is usually no problem. We had the highest degree of co-operation from both the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Churches. They are only too willing to reorganise their schools. But there is trouble with some other voluntary schools, and I have no doubt that in the new major Education Bill there will be ways of dealing with that problem. At the moment it is a matter of discussion and agreement, if possible, between the local authority and the voluntary bodies and it is the duty of the education authority to submit schemes. The local education authority can submit it to me after approving it.

Mr. Mahon

The Secretary of State is held in the highest regard by those connected with voluntary schools, but how much educational progress would there be in any other sector of education if parents had to find one-fifth of the total cost of reorganisation?

Mr. Short

We all appreciate the sacrifices which the voluntary bodies make to provide their schools, but at the moment they submit their plan to the local authority and the local authority submits them to the Secretary of State. Clause [column 43]2(4, c) gives the Secretary of State power to specify the time allowed to a local authority to submit a plan. It is not the same point but it is relevant to it.

The hon. Member for Nofolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said that he regarded the Bill as propaganda. I wonder who is making the propaganda out of this? This has nothing to do with politics. On the hon. Gentleman's theory, a Government should never introduce any Bills in its last year in office because it would be propaganda with an eye on the election. This has to do with children who are deprived of a fair deal, certainly in Norfolk and in many other places throughout the country.

On Second Reading, I tried perhaps imperfectly, to set out the educational case. The hon Member for Finchley called it a lecture in genetics, but there is an unassailable case for reorganising secondary schools. The hon. Member for Norfolk, South tried to ride, not two horses, but three: viable comprehensive schools; highly selective schools, and he still did not want the 11-plus. He was in favour of comprehensive schools and the highly selective schools but all without the 11-plus. This is organisational nonsense. One cannot have it two ways and certainly not three ways. If the hon. Member wants selective schools in Norfolk or elsewhere, they must be on a basis of selection. The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley, in her famous intervention in the House, said that she wanted selection for parents who wanted it.

The Deputy Director of the Foundation for Educational Research published an article this week in the journal of the Advisory Centre for Education and referred to the fact that the Plowden Report said that 70,000 pupils each year were wrongly selected. He said the best possible devised 11-plus examination or system of selection would have that amount of error.

The right hon. Member for Handsworth spoke of the hypothetical case of a local authority which kept a small proportion of selective schools. If this occurred, it would not be in accordance with the duties which will be laid on them when the Bill becomes an Act.

Sir E. Boyle

Is the right hon. Gentleman referring to Clause 1, or is he saying as I suggested was the fact, that Clauses [column 44]2 and 3 and the powers given in them to the Secretary of State nullify the duties and responsibilities of local authorities under Section 8 of the 1944 Act?

Mr. Short

In carrying out the duties and powers under Section 8 and Clause 1(1), authorities would have to have regard to the need for securing that secondary education is provided only in schools where the arrangements for pupils are not based wholly or partly on selection by ability and aptitude. If the local authority ignored that, it would not be acting in accordance with the law.

The right hon. Member's other point was the difficult one of parental choice of school at age 13. This Bill does not affect parental choice, but, if the right hon. Member wants to talk about it, I believe that with comprehensive schools parents have a better choice than in the tripartite system where 80 per cent. of parents have no choice, or, if they have one at all, it is only between one secondary modern school and another and not the choice of the grammar school. The other 20 per cent. of parents can choose either the grammar school or the other schools, but in a large comprehensive school with a great variety of courses it should be possible for a child to obtain a tailor-made course. There may not be a choice of buildings or of instiutions but there is an infinitely greater choice of educational courses.

Amendment No. 4 would omit from Clause 1(1) the reference to the duties of the authority under Section 8 of the 1944 Act and their powers for the purpose of fulfilling those duties. The duty to have regard to the comprehensive principle if this had been omitted would then operate without any framework of reference at all, which would be quite unacceptable. It would not be sensible to impose on local authorities a duty to have regard to the principle without specifying the context within which they are to have regard to it. It would be ambiguous since it might be argued that it applied over the whole range of the Education Acts. I appreciate that this was not intended, but I am advised that it is ambiguous. I advise the Committee to reject all the Amendments.

Mr. W. R. van Staubenzee

It would be for the convenience of the Committee if we resolved our minds on these matters, and I hope that the Secretary of [column 45-46]State will acquit me of discourtesy if I reply briefly so that we can come to a decision this morning.

Listening to the debate, any fair observer would agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has uncovered a weakness in the Bill which the Opposition have pinpointed by a series of Amendments. We have shown clearly that the Clause is in conflict with the major Act. I hope that my hon. Friends will vote in favour of Amendment No. 4. I am conscious of certain technical defects in that Amendment, but the right hon. Gentleman is well aware of the practice of Oppositions making their position clear by hinging an argument on an Amendment. We will do that on this occasion, basing ourselves on the arguments deployed by my hon. and right hon. Friends.

We shall vote in favour of Amendment No. 10. We shall have ample opportunity on another occasion of developing this argument but frankly we do not accept that universality is necessary in meaningful comprehensive education. I shall leave the argument at that point and say no more. We shall vote in favour of Amendment No. 13. Here the provision of appropriate buildings seems a matter of great importance, and also the variety and character of the education provided. We shall come to the question of buildings more specifically later. This Amendment merely touches on it. Later we shall be able to take up the arguments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price.)

This Bill is purely political and, on the admission of the Secretary of State, we shall have to live with the existing situation for as long as any of us can foresee. We are to have a mixed solution. Therefore, most of what is in the Bill has no effect but is intended to give the impression that it has. As the hon. Member for Perry Barr said, the Bill is intended to give the impression of changing the situation overnight and that is emphatically not so, on the admission of hon. Members opposite. I hope that my hon. Friends will, on educational grounds, register their views by their votes in the Division.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment No. 4 proposed: In page 1, line 7, leave out from “authority” to “shall” in line 9.—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Question put, That the Amendment be made:——

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 11. Division No. 1.1

AYES

Boyle, Sir Edward

Eyre, Mr. Reginald

Hill, Mr. J. E. B.

Lane, Mr. David

Montgomery, Mr.

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

van Straubenzee, Mr.

NOES

Armstrong, Mr. Ernest

Bacon, Miss Alice

Evans, Mr. Fred

Jones, Mr. J. Idwal

Mahon, Mr. Simon

Newens, Mr. Stan

Oakes, Mr. Gordon

Price, Mr. Christopher

Price, Mr. William

Short, Mr. Edward

Woof, Mr. Robert

It being after One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Committee adjourned till Thursday, 12th March, 1970, at half-past Ten o'clock. [column 47-48]

The following Members attended the committee

Brewis, Mr. (Chairman)

Armstrong, Mr.

Bacon, Miss

Boyle, Sir E.

Evans, Mr. Fred

Eyre, Mr.

Hill, Mr. J. E. B.

Jones, Mr. J. Idwal

Lane, Mr.

Mahon, Mr. Simon

Montgomery, Mr.

Newens, Mr.

Oakes, Mr.

Price, Mr. Christopher

Price, Mr. William

Short, Mr. Edward

Thatcher, Mrs.

van Straubenzee, Mr.

Woof, Mr. [column 49] Appendix

EDUCATION BILL

STANDING COMMITTEE A

OFFICIAL REPORT

Thursday, 12th March, 1970

[Mr. John Brewis in the Chair]

Clause 1

Principles Affecting Provision Of Secondary Education

10.30 a.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 8, to leave out from “1944” to “shall” in line 9.

The Chairman

It will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following Amendments:

No. 36, in page 1, line 20, at end insert:

(c) the provision of education in a school in respect of which grants are made by the Secretary of State under section 100(1)(b) of the Education Act 1944.

No. 37, in page 1, line 20, at end insert:

(c) the provision of education in a school in respect of which the Secretary of State makes payments of fees and expenses under section 100(1)(c) of the Education Act 1944.

No. 35, in page 1, line 25, at end insert:

(d) the rights and powers of local education authorities to pay tuition fees for children at direct grant schools.

No. 41, in page 1, line 25, at end insert:

(d) the rights and powers of local education authorities to take up places at fee-paying independent day schools.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Mr. Brewis, I hope that I might be allowed to deviate marginally from order at the outset by expressing the appreciation of hon. Members, I suspect on both sides of the Committee, at the very effective representations which have clearly been made as to our place of meeting.

These Amendments affect the direct grant schools and certain other schools. I shall concentrate almost entirely on the direct grant schools.

The purpose of the first Amendment is to deal with the exercise of the powers under Section 8. It is under some of those powers that the argument on direct grant schools arises. We ought to start by having clearly in mind the position under this [column 50]Bill as it affects direct grants, as stated by the right hon. Lady, the Minister, when she wound up the debate on Second Reading:

“I want to make the position clear of direct grant schools under the Bill. The Bill does not mention direct grant, grammar or independent schools, but it does impose on authorities a duty to have regard to the need for securing that secondary education is provided in comprehensive schools. Section 9(1) of the Education Act, 1944, and Section 1 of the Education Act, 1953, confer powers on authorities to enable them to carry out their duties to secure that there are sufficient schools for their areas. One of the powers conferred is that of taking up places at direct grant and independent schools.

It is, therefore, implicit in the Bill that authorities who pay for children at direct grant and independent schools should have regard to whether the school concerned is comprehensive or not—that is, whether its admission arrangements are based wholly or in part on the ability or aptitude of pupils.” —[Official Report, 12th February, 1970; Vol. 795, c. 1577–8.]
So that what the right hon. Lady was confirming was that, although direct grant schools are not mentioned in the Bill by name, the Bill and this Clause affect them vitally.

Section 9(1) of the 1944 Act reads as follows:

“For the purpose of fulfilling their duties under this Act a local education authority shall have power to establish primary and secondary schools, to maintain such schools whether established by them or otherwise, and” , —

and this is the key to what we are now discussing—

“so far as may be authorised by arrangements approved by the Minister, to assist any such school which is not maintained by them” .

The 1953 Act extends that power in a material way, but I need not at this moment read out the relevant Section.

The direct grant schools are directly affected by this Bill, although they are not specifically mentioned. It is important that we make the point absolutely clear because there were some who, finding that they were not mentioned by name, were not clear whether they were affected by the Bill. The right hon. Lady made that perfectly clear on Second Reading. Clause 4 provides that the Bill, if enacted, will come into operation.

“at the end of the period of one month beginning with the day on which it is passed” .

I trust that the right hon. Lady will make clear the timing of the effect of this Bill on direct grant schools.

Let me explain the difficulty which is in the mind of some people. The Secretary [column 51]of State asserts roundly that local education authorities will be legally bound by the provisions of Clause 1(1). Looking at the matter as fairly and as equitably as I can, I thought that on Tuesday my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) peeled the Secretary of State like a banana. There was nothing left of what he was saying. He showed quite conclusively that the words “have regard to” gave him a total let-out. If I took the view of comprehensive reorganisation taken, for example, by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price), I would share that Member's anxieties. But what the Secretary of State said was absolutely clear:

“In carrying out the duties and powers under Section 8 and Clause 1(1), authorities would have to have regard to the need for securing that secondary education is provided only in schools where the arrangements for pupils are not based wholly or partly on selection by ability and aptitude. If the local authority ignored that, it would not be acting in accordance with the law.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 10th March, 1970; c. 44.]

He spoke with all the assurance of the law which is given to those who do not practise the law. As a result, he is clear, definite and firm. I believe that he is storing up trouble for himself in future, but we shall see.

The Secretary of State asserts that, in exercising its power under Section 8, the local education authority is bound to have regard to whether the provision of the education at a direct grant school is based on ability and aptitude. If it does not show that regard then, in his words, that local education authority would not be “acting in accordance with the law” . When one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State makes such pronouncement it is a serious matter, because all local education authorities are lawabiding. The combined effect of the Secretary of State's firm assertion as to what the law will be one month after the passing of this Bill and the timetable of the coming into force of the Bill, has led many people to assume that the provisos restricting a local education authority in respect of direct grant schools will come into force one month after the passing of the Bill.

I remind the Committee of what the timetable is likely to be. We on this side of the Committee have already given graphic evidence of our anxiety to assist the Government in a constructive way in [column 52]their business. For example, a brilliant speech at the end of our last sitting was truncated in order to get on. If, therefore, we proceed in this agreeable and civilised way—a way in which our education debates should be conducted—then it is likely that this Bill, assuming there are no changes in the composition of Parliament will become an Act at the end of the summer and will therefore come into effect about 1st September.

There is great anxiety that starting from 1st September, it will no longer be lawful for a local education authority to take up a place at the direct grant school where that school selects by reference to aptitude and ability. I should be greatful if the right hon. Lady would say, in as clear terms as possible, whether that is the interpretation which the Government puts upon this Bill. If so, I draw her attention to the catastrophic effects it will have, both upon local education authorities and upon the schools.

I quote one case as an example, although not a particularly exceptional example, namely, the Royal County of Berkshire, part of which I have the privilege to represent. The County annually takes up about 1,250 places at direct grant schools. If Berkshire is to be expected, from September, to make separate arrangements for 1,250 of its pupils, then the result will be chaos.

It is probable that the right hon. Lady, with her eagle eye, will direct our attention to Clause 2(1). She will probably say that our fears can be set at rest because that provision says that the authorities concerned must have regard to the need for fulfilling their duties. The words are “and exercising their power” . In other words, she will argue that it is appropriate for a local education authority to phase its direct grant provisions.

I hope that the right hon. Lady will take careful advice on these matters. She obviously has extremely skilled advice at her disposal. I beg her to notice that the whole of Clause 2 has the emphasis and weight upon schools controlled by or directly within the authority of a local education authority—involving consultation with the teachers, the information to the parent, and the provision of plans by local authorities. It would be a very sorry result if an enterprising body applied—as any group of citizens in this country can [column 53]—to the courts for an interpretation of this provision.

For example, a body which was immensely keen on comprehensive reorganisation might apply to the courts for a declaration that a certain local education authority, acting after 1st September, which is the date on which I assume the Bill will come into force, by sending young people to a direct grammar school which selects by aptitude and ability, is acting ultra vires. To put it no stronger, it would be an extraordinarily unhappy result if the Act were interpreted by the judges in that way. I want to be much more certain than I am that the fears which I have expressed are without foundation, and I expect a careful exposition of the situation from the right hon. Lady. 10.54 a.m.

The second thing to which I draw attention is the extraordinary position of the hight hon. Lady vis à vis the Donnison Committee. The facts are all on the record. The Secretary of State, on Second Reading on 12th February, told us that he had received the Donnison Report on 11th February. This report has been prepared, but not yet published, by a very distinguished group of men and women, headed by Professor Donnison, whose name in academic and other circles stands high.

The Committee is charged by the Government with looking at the matters which we are now discussing as well as wider matters concerning direct grant schools. Yet we have the admission of the Secretary of State that he drafted and published the Bill before he had even received the report of the Donnison Committee. By doing so he gives a mighty slap in the face to distinguished men and women who have devoted a great deal of time to this matter, and whose report, as has been generally known, was literally on its way. On what date does the right hon. Lady expect the Donnison report to be published?

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

I propose to say that.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am much obliged. I will just prepare the ground for the right hon. Lady so that she has it at her beck and call. She will remember that.

[column 54]

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I was at a meeting recently at which I was given the publication date for the Donnison report. I will not give it to the Committee. Many questions have been put down about this. Many people outside know the date when the Donnison report will be published, but Members of the House of Commons do not.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That would not be unusual. We are so accustomed to reading of major Government decisions in the Press that we have almost got used to it.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery

and non-decisions.

Mr. van Straubenzee

And non-decisions, but I am trying to be charitable on such an agreeable morning.

For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis), who has been a persistent and determined searcher after the truth on this matter, as on many others, asked the Secretary of State a Question on 5th March, when he was told that the report would be published within the next four weeks. I am much obliged to the right hon. Lady for saying that she will tell us the date on which the report will be published, for it is directly relevant to the Amendment. She has a major burden of proof on her hands to show why a fundamental step should be taken in respect of direct grant schools without her having before her the report of the committee which she and her hon. Friends set up to look into this question. If I were a member of the Donnison Committee, my language about the Government would not be as calm and as parliamentary as mine is this morning.

There is a tendency to try to place all direct grant schools into one tidy compartment. There is a direct grant system, and there are large number of direct grant schools, but they differ widely between themselves from one range to another.

Mr. Fred Evans

Does not every school?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I would not question that. I had not intended to go into this, but as the hon Member has invited me to do so, I will develop it a little, to show how considerable is the range in direct grant schools. If he feels [column 55]that I have misinterpreted the position, I hope that he will catch your eye. Mr. Brewis, and put me right.

There are in England and Wales 178 direct grant schools, which range in size from approximately 350 to approximately 1,350, a wide numerical range. Between them, in 1967–68, they provided about 60,000 free places. They comprise day schools and boarding schools, and boarding schools with a day element and day schools with a boarding element. Denominationally, they include Roman Catholic schools, Methodist schools, Anglican schools and non-denominational schools.

I have noted that we are much helped in this Committee by the powerful presence of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon), and I have extracted from the Catholic Council Handbook, 1969, the figures for three northern Roman Catholic dioceses to show the major part played in secondary education provision by Roman Catholic schools. In the Roman Catholic diocese of Lancaster there are 6,936 places in the maintained secondary schools for Roman Catholic provision. The direct grant provision in that diocese is 3,735. In the Roman Catholic diocese of Leeds, in the maintained secondary schools for Roman Catholic provision there are 16,937 places. In the direct grant schools Roman Catholic provision is 4,708. In the diocese of Salford there are 25,660 in the secondary schools and 9,126 in the direct grant schools. This shows what a high proportion of denominational provision is embodied in the direct grant schools. I know that all hon. Members are deeply concerned, as are the hon. Member for Bootle and myself, not only about the denominational character of these schools, but about the appropriate provision from a denominational angle.

Mr. Simon Mahon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing those interesting figures. Has he the figures for the Liverpool diocese, which is probably the largest Catholic diocese in the country?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I will gladly look up the figures, but I think the hon. Gentleman will have the information very close to his hand, and I think it will be possible, if he catches your eye, Mr. Brewis, for him to give the figures if he cares to do so. [column 56]

The schools are both girls' schools and boys' schools, all but two being single sex. They cover towns, cities and rural areas and they are not exclusive to one place. It is impossible to say that there is some kind of stereotype in schools which, for example, comprise the Manchester Grammar School, of great renown, the Hereford Cathedral School and St. Edward's, Liverpool, of great reputation. I include Oakham School, which we shall hear more about from my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) and the Convent of the Ladies of Mary at Scarborough. We are talking about a great diversity of schools and about schools which have voluntarily raised very large sums of money for their buildings. In 60 such direct grant schools the Governors have spent about £12 million in the last 22 years. No one knows better about the efforts and sweat involved in this than the hon. Member for Bootle and others who are equally concerned with denominational schools, either voluntarily aided or, as in this case, direct grant schools. All this aspect of the work has been done without any charge upon the State.

We are talking about a wide range of schools and a wide range of social intake. This is one of the most important aspects of the direct grant schools, which I touched upon on Second Reading. These schools run the whole gamut, from parents who would otherwise be paying fees of about £350 or even £400 at an independent school, to parents who pay nothing. They will be parents of a boy or a girl who has a free place provided by the local education authority or by the governors, or parents of boys or girls, who are fee-payers but are totally exempt under the scales of remission from making any contribution. Therefore, they are a widely based social range of schools. In the vast majority, there is selection. The famous phrase about direct grant schools is that young people go to them “according to their capacity to profit by the education of the school.” It is true that, for some at the top academic range, this largely means academic achievement, but not exclusively so. 11.00 a.m.

Those of us concerned with the denominational schools will know that it is the denominational preference of the parents [column 57]which will have priority over the academic achievement of the child. And they are a good bargain. I can prove this by reminding the Minister of State of what she said on 14th February, 1968. Defending the £20 per pupil cut in capitation grant to direct grant schools, she said:

“The local authorities take up to 60 per cent. of the places in the direct grant schools, but I do not think that we can say that they are going to bear a very great burden in this because, if they continue to take up all the places they take up now, they will be paying £140 per year per child.

But when a local authority takes up a place in another local authority school, it costs £164 for each child up to the age of 16 and £289 a year for those over the age of 16, so that those local authorities which take places in direct grant schools are still getting a bargain compared with what they would have to pay if they were providing the places themselves …   .” —[Official Report, 14th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 758, c. 1470–1.]
Her phrase was “a bargain” , and she is right.

Miss Bacon

I would much rather have waited to answer in my speech, but I must interrupt the hon. Gentleman here. Of course it is a bargain. The whole point that I was making is that it is a bargain because of the direct grant from the Government.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Precisely. But the point which the right hon. Lady has not fully taken is that her comparison was with other local education authority schools. That is a very fair comparison——

Miss Bacon

That was not my comparison.

Mr. van Straubenzee

With respect, the right hon. Lady will find that in her quotation. It is a fair comparison, and on that basis, her phrase about a bargain is a fair comment. So we are getting a good bargain, great variety and a very broad social mix.

Direct grant schools as a whole are far from blind about educational changes. One has only to talk to their headmasters, headmistresses and boards of governors to realise this. The Secretary of State himself paid great tribute to the willingness of voluntary-aided denominational schools to co-operate in a comprehensive re-organisation. I believe this to be equally true of the direct grant schools in principle.

Selection at the age of 11 is not essen[column 58]tial to the existence of these schools. My hon. Friends and I have said publicly—I repeat it now—that we most emphatically are not wedded to this magic age of 11. I have long accepted that educational—not political—opinion has been moving away from that age for some time. But selection, yes. This is not heresy. Selection at the age of 16 is enshrined later in the Bill and at an earlier age for a pupil whom it is expedient to educate with pupils who have attained that age. So selection is not an issue: it is in the Bill for 16, for a bright 15 and, in exceptional cases, for a very bright 14. Some of us know such very bright children and some of us have been educated with them. My own experience of them at my school was that they were rather intolerable small boys, but at least one grew to great academic stature later.

But the right hon. Lady accepts this—and there are places where direct grant schools are accepting at 13. There are beginning to be arrangements with the middle school concept of the direct grant reorganisation. Therefore, nothing in the Bill is fatal to the principle of selection. There is no reason, given good will on both sides and time, why these schools need not be brought into partnership in a comprehensive system. We do not accept that meaningful comprehensive provision must be universal, because we believe in variety, and particularly, if possible, in variety of choice for the parent.

I hope that I have made the case. These schools are large in number and wide in variety, many of them are excellent and they form a very important part of the denominational provision. The right hon. Lady's advisers who no doubt have taken immense trouble on this point, have not yet reported. It must be wrong to put in the Bill a provision which is of vital importance to these schools. The right hon. Lady may be able to show us that these provisions will not come into force on 1st September, as is interpreted by those more able than myself to interpret words. But she must say that without equivocation and give her reasons. If, gradually, there were a change in the local authority provision in these schools, the Bill would still make a fundamental change in the arrangements between l.e.a.'s and direct grant schools, which is fundamentally wrong before we have the expert report of those who have examined this matter. [column 59]

The problem in replacing this provision is mammoth. I have said that about 1,250 places are taken up by Berkshire each year. On a quick estimate, it would cost us about £500,000 to replace that provision or adapt it into a comprehensive system, having regard to the size of the schools concerned. We feel strongly about this in Berkshire, with such schools as Abingdon in our midst, which stands very high in the esteem of academic circles.

Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Lady will be persuaded by the arguments, and will indulge herself a little in the absence of her right hon. Friend, that she will tell him when he returns that common sense and wisdom have prevailed with her and that she has accepted the Opposition Amendment in his absence. That could do nothing but add to his and our esteem of the right hon. Lady.

Mr. Lewis

We all appreciate the powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) on this important subject. I echo his concluding words and hope that the right hon. Lady will accept the Amendment, which would be in her interests and those of the Secretary of State.

Unfortunately, I missed the first sitting of the Committee for a reason not unconnected with this debate. On Tuesday I went to my constituency, which is somewhat unusual in the middle of the week, to attend a meeting of the trustees of Oakham School, whom I joined a little time ago because they told me that they thought they would be in some stormy waters, in conflict either with the Minister or with the l.e.a. or with both. I did so in the hope of being an honest broker, but what happened on Tuesday makes me admit that I failed in this respect, because the Oakham direct grant school decided to go independent.

There are two direct grant schools in my constituency—Stamford, which has more day boys than boarders, and Oakham, where the position is reversed. I am sad that Oakham School has decided to go independent because I am a great believer in the direct grant schools, whose educational record is second to none—and I include the best of the independent schools in that.

It is a splendid social mix, and if [column 60]hon. Gentlemen opposite want to get a social mix they will not find a better medium than the direct grant schools, and they ought not to seek to destroy them. But I ask the Committee to consider why the decision was made that Oakham School should go independent. It has had it in mind for some time, at the same time as it has been discussing with the local l.e.a. and the Ministry various important matters affecting its ability to carry on in the future. The decision was finally arrived at because it was felt that in the interests of the school itself no other way was open. 11.15 a.m.

If I were to try to determine the forces against Oakham School that created this situation, I would say that partly those forces were the local Rutland County Council education authority—and I say that with a certain amount of sadness because I have many friends there, but I believe they have dragged their feet in this matter. Secondly, the Minister's policy for these schools was the factor which, behind the scenes, coloured every discussion on the question of remaining direct grant aided or going independent.

The purpose of this Bill is to try to prevent selection, even open-ended selection. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee)—and I have said this in my constituency—that there is nothing wrong with selection as such. We have it in every other aspect of our educational system. It is contained in this Bill and it goes right up to university. My only agreement with hon. Members opposite is that they say that there should not be selection at 11, but my party said that a long time ago. [Interruption.] I have repeated it on more than one occasion in my constituency. Some people have expressed surprise, and I have quoted the Leader of the Conservative Party in our last election manifesto. In recent years as a party we have not subscribed to this, and of course we are not going back into prehistoric times on this. Recently my party has not taken the line that 11 should be the age at which a child's future is determined. A late starter—and there are many of them—has a right to move ahead educationally just as a child who is bright from the beginning. In my own family I have an example of this which, if I needed to be convinced, would convince me that [column 61]selection should not be rigid at a given age but that there should be opportunities for advance at the ages of either 11, 12, 13 or 14 according to however briskly or slowly the child developed.

In this Bill the Minister has created a climate which gives the impression in the country that the grammar school system as such, living as it will alongside the comprehensive system, for we believe that this is not only possible but right and in any case in my view it is inevitable that there will be grammar schools for a long time to come and also direct grant schools whatever Bills the Minister may pass, and therefore we have to think in terms of a mixed educational system——

Mr. Stan Newens

The hon. Gentleman said that he did not accept the argument for selection at 11. I fully understand that he is asking for flexibility after the age of 11, but if grammar schools and direct grant schools are to exist alongside comprehensive schools catering for children from 11 upwards, there must be a process of selection at 11, whether or not it is by the 11-plus examination and whether or not there is flexibility after that time for removing children from one type of school to another. Surely in this respect it is not true that the hon. Gentleman is against selection at 11. There must be a process of selection in order to determine to which schools the children will go.

Mr. Lewis

In this Bill there is selection at 16. All I am saying is that, if there is selection at 11, let there also be selection at 12, 13 and 14 so that there may be transfers when children are academically ready to justify such a transfer or when their parents desire it. In so far as there is a grammar school situation as an island within a comprehensive system, the chances are that there would not be quite the same demand at later ages, but the opportunity should be available. If there is transfer at 13 or 14, there is no reason why there should not also be transfer at 11. I readily admit that in a grammar school system most transfers would take place at 11. All I am saying is that there would be transfers beyond that age.

The Minister and the right hon. Lady are creating a climate in which decisions are being forced along at an unhealthy pace. This is dangerous, for it creates a position in which there is no time for consideration or for discussion which [column 62]could lead to healthy and helpful compromises. I am always of the opinion that without prolonging discussion for too long a period it is important that there should be opportunities for people to decide whether they can come from one side or another so as to make a compromise. But the right hon. Gentleman is so pressurising this field that, as with Oakham School so with others, we will soon be in a position where these schools will decide that if they are to get the “chop” they had better get out of the butcher's shop.

The right hon. Lady must recognise that this will cause a considerable strain upon the resources of her Ministry, quite apart from the embarrassment that it will create for l.e.a.'s. Some time this month the second report of the Public Schools Commission will be made available, and it will deal with direct grant schools. Apparently the Minister could not wait for that before taking action, for the pressures from her Ministry against direct grant schools have been building up over the last year or two. She has not waited for this report to see whether such pressure was justified, but I would remind the Committee that in August, 1968, she had a swipe at them by reducing the grant from £52 to £32, at a time when costs were rising and when they were certain to rise more and it was difficult to make economies to bridge the gap which the cut imposed. At the same time the Minister also stopped the subsidy on milk. Certainly the direct grant schools found that the udders of the Ministry were beginning to run dry.

There is another problem for these schools, and this again is a contributory factor to the reason for Oakham School going independent. These schools must seek permission from the Minister before they can put up their fees to their own independent pupils. The Ministry has been restricting these increases. A certain amount of almost horse trading has been going on with the presentation of the accounts and the proposal that a school needs so much money. The Minister says, “I will give you so much” , the school says, “That is not sufficient” and the Minister says, “I will give you a bit more” , and about three-quarters of the way up the ladder there is a settlement which is inadequate for the school but with which the Minister is satisfied.

It is as a result of these two pressures [column 63]upon a school like Oakham and others that the decision which Oakham made the other day, and which others may be forced to make, has been necessary. I do not intend to provide figures of accounts from this particular school. I can only say that there will be a deficit this year and that there would have been a bigger deficit next year. This is because of the kind of educational prices and incomes policy which is being imposed by the Minister whereby the schools have to pay the prices but the Minister restricts the income. The schools have had to increase salaries and accept all the normal Burnham award increases. Oakham School, as with others in this sector, has gone independent because it wants to get out of the straitjacket. If I may coin a phrase, it has decided that it had better short-circuit the Minister.

When the Donnison Committee reports, I have no doubt that we shall be told by the Minister—indeed, we may be told by the right hon. Lady today—that the Government could not care less about the difficulties that are imposed upon direct grant schools, or indeed how many of them go independent, since it is no part of their job to subsidise private education.

I will come to that a little later but let me examine in particular, before I come to the general, exactly what has happened to what I believe was a possible promising outcome in Rutland County, because of the decision that has been forced upon this school. First, the local authority, because of Oakham School going independent, will have to pay a large sum of money to keep its pupils at Oakham School. It could be anything up to £10,000 annually. Secondly, if it recognises its own secondary education, it will have to provide new buildings. Certainly there will be increases in staff and all the services that go with the provision of new secondary education. This will cost the Ministry a considerable amount of money, and because the Rutland County Council will have to do this, at some expense to the right hon. Lady and her Vote, some other places will have to go short. If the Ministry has to spend money on this kind of activity, arising out of the Bill and other pressures on the direct grant schools, and if it spreads beyond the county of Rutland so that other direct grant schools going independent create a similar situation, [column 64]what will be the total cost? Where is the money to come from? Who will go short to pay for this? How will the Minister provide money to improve the comprehensive sector, in which she says she believes, if the extra commitments mean less available finance for doing away, for example, with the split schools, which I think both parties accept are not very satisfactory in the long run from a comprehensive point of view?

That is the material fact of the matter. That is what it will cost. But apart from that, the County of Rutland loses its association with an ancient school. The school, by going comprehensive, may be less able to maintain the aim of its founders to provide education for local boys.

Mr. J. Idwal Jones

For the poor?

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Lewis

Including poor boys and rich boys. There are a great many poor boys in the County of Rutland going to Oakham School under the present system. The Government will make this more difficult.

Mr. Jones

To what extent has that school prevented the organisation of comprehensive education in the area?

Mr. Lewis

The school has not prevented comprehensive education there, as I can show. It has been trying to assist in getting a working arrangement between itself and the other schools in the county towards having a mixture of the grammar and comprehensive.

What about the 11-plus, which the right hon. Lady and her colleagues want to get rid of? For a year or two, the county authority will have to buy into Oakham School those who now go on the 11-plus or at 12, 13 or 14-plus, for it has been agreed that there should be transfers at those ages. The county authority will have to pay the full fees for those boys to go to Oakham School. Going independent will enable the school to accept fee-paying day boys. So the Ministry has forced the situation that there will be 100 or 200 who go in under the county system, and those who fail the examination, whether at 11-plus, 12 or 13, will be able to go to Oakham School, if the headmaster will admit them, and their parents will pay for the privilege. The right hon. Lady is creating a class situation where it is possible to purchase an education in a school, the [column 65]very thing which she says she wants to avoid and which has always been criticised by her right hon. Friends, by her and by hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Newens

The hon. Gentleman has put the blame fairly and squarely for the developments at Oakham School on my right hon. Friend and the Government. As I understood it from what he said earlier, the Rutland authority was also very much concerned. As far as I recall, that is not an authority that has been dominated in recent years by Socialists, unfortunately. In those circumstances, would the hon. Gentleman like to clarify the position? If he can exonerate the Rutland authority completely and put the blame fairly and squarely on the Government, we should be interested, but if some of the blame attaches to the Rutland authority it should be pointed out that there are considerable rifts even on the side of the people who normally would support right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite.

The Chairman

Order. Interventions are getting rather long. I should be grateful if Members would keep them as short as possible.

Mr. Lewis

I am coming to the hon. Gentleman's point. I lay the blame fairly and squarely on the Government for creating an atmosphere which has precipitated the situation. If one had been able to hold it back it might not necessarily have taken place. It can also occur in other places.

Miss Bacon

I do not want to lengthen the hon. Gentleman's speech unnecessarily, but I do not follow what he is saying about Rutland and precipitating a situation.

Mr. Lewis

The right hon. Lady, in all innocence, can say to the Committee, though I doubt that many of us would believe her because we can prove the contrary, that she has spent the past few months assisting the direct grant schools and helping them maintain their direct grant status, promising that they would always be assisted to keep that status, and even in the Bill indicating to the world in general that the Government have a great love of the direct grant schools. The right hon. Lady knows perfectly well that she has sought to cane the direct grant schools at a time when caning [column 66]is going out. She has succeeded so effectively that Oakham School—and others will probably have to do the same—has decided that it wants no more of caning. Corporal punishment from the Department of Education and Science is out for the school and it is going independent. That is the short answer.

Miss Bacon

Rutland could have had a comprehensive scheme had it wished as long ago as July, 1966. The Rutland County Council declined to do anything or submit a scheme for reorganisation.

Mr. Lewis

I shall come to that, but the right hon. Lady has made my point for me. As long ago as 1966 she requested that a scheme should be put forward, and from that date there has been hanging over the heads of everyone in the county, the local education authority and the school, the threat that if they did not put forward a scheme something would be imposed on them.

I come to the possibilities that there were in Rutland for the reorganisation of secondary education. A possibility which, surprisingly enough, their Member of Parliament supported—some people might have thought that he would not do so, because it meant something rather different from what had existed for some time—was that we should create in the county a sixth form college, with the Rutland Girls High School which we have created in recent years, Oakham School and the village colleges all combining. The proposal was that

“(a) all Rutland children should go to strengthened 11–16 village colleges. (b) all boys and girls who wish to continue full-time schooling in any form come to a 16–19 Junior College run in collaboration with the L.E.A. in the combined buildings of the new girls' grammar school and Oakham School. (c) Oakham School continue to take boys as boarders from the age of eleven but admit no day pupils to age 16.”

That was the scheme. It is now rather remote. It is not likely to come to fruition, but it is what I and others wanted, and what the headmaster of Oakham School had found. Why has it not been possible to secure acceptance of the scheme? The l.e.a cannot escape some responsibility in the matter, but, equally the Minister's attitude to Oakham School has not appreciated that it was itself trying to achieve acceptance of the scheme.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Does my hon. [column 67]Friend feel that perhaps it is doubly unfortunate that the experiment has not got off the ground in the light of the Secretary of State's admission in the Second Reading debate, to which my hon. Friend contributed massively, that there is very little experience in the whole field of the sixth form college as yet, which is one of the reasons for putting a special exemption in the Bill? Does he not feel that it is additionally unfortunate that we do not have the experience in Rutland to draw upon, so that the Secretary of State might have had rather more experience than he has.

Mr. Lewis

I entirely agree. It is a great tragedy that my county has not sought to go in for this, and I have said so.

I have been somewhat puzzled by the attitude of the l.e.a. At a meeting on 27th May, 1968, it seemed to be completely unprepared to consider any form of reorganisation. Presumably it wished to continue working with Oakham School. Indeed, I had received assurances on that from the chairman of the l.e.a., the chairman of the county council and others. However, when the trustees asked the Department for a £16 increase in tuition fees in September, 1969, they did not receive any support from the l.e.a., and they got precious little support from the Minister.

By January this year there seemed to be something of a change. By this time Oakham School was harassed financially, was getting the brush off in seeking co-operation from the l.e.a. and was getting ready to go it alone. It was then that the Chief Education Officer stated in a paper dated January, 1970, that:

“In the light of current thinking and developments over the past three years or so, the establishment of Junior Comprehensives, eleven to sixteen, with a Sixth Form College, would seem to be the only feasible solution for this sparsely populated area. The main questions that arise are, I suppose, whether the Local Education Authority is satisfied:——

(a) that the change, if effected voluntarily, would in fact hold out better things for all our children and (b) that if the change is effected as the result of legal sanctions, whether it represents an improvement, or if this not the case, it at least does the smallest possible amount of harm.” I thought this was a move towards the sixth form college idea.

The sixth form college in Rutland, while [column 68]Oakham remained a direct grant school, would have succeeded in achieving what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) indicated a moment ago—a new experiment of a combination of the comprehensive and the grammar schools working together. Where did it fall down? Why has this not got off the ground, despite the discussion that has taken place? It has fallen down because the local education authority wanted complete control of the sixth form college. It indicated that it would not accept the control of the sixth form college by the headmaster of Oakham School—clearly the man with the most experience and expertise—co-operating with a direct grant school of the kind of which he is headmaster.

11.45 p.m.

It was with this situation confronting me that I offered a compromise. I suggested that the headmaster of Oakham School should be the head of the sixth form college; that there should be a trustee or governing body of this college&semi that it should compromise equal numbers from the local education authority and from Oakham School, and that there should be either an independent chairman or, if this were not acceptable, a revolving chairman—a chairman from one side for two or three years, followed by a chairman from the other side. After three years of working these arrangements, I felt sure that the difficulties anticipated would be seen not to exist.

This experiment would be worthwhile because it would be breaking new ground. There are certain problems, such as the changing of buildings. But these are administrative problems which could be resolved. I am sorry that the boat has been missed and that a trail has not been blazed. The local education authority will come to regret it because, once Oakham School goes completely independent, it will have to create its own system of secondary education. And, because it is not working with this very fine school, it will have something which is second best.

I know that it can be said that there is nothing to prevent any local education authority from co-operating with a completely independent school. I hope that this is so. But I warn that if co-operation is sought from a completely independent school, if the school is successful, if it is getting its full numbers and is financially [column 69]viable, it is difficult for that school to co-operate in the same way with the local education authority, whether it is in Rutland or anywhere else, because it is fully involved and committed to dealing with its own problems. The Rutland education authorities should have taken this jump. Because they have refused the fence, they might find the ground somewhat sticky for them a little way ahead.

I have spoken fully about what is a local matter because Bills go through the House dealing with matters which affect what is called “the country as a whole” —national policy. Bills affect little communities throughout the country which are remote from the House of Commons and this capital. It is important, therefore, when discussing this or any other matter, that we should see it in its local context.

Having dealt with the particular, I turn to the general. I ask the right hon. Lady whether she and her right hon. Friend want to do away with direct grant schools. Is that their aim? Does she want to force them to go independent across the country? There is a very large number of direct grant schools—about 200. If she does want them to go independent, if she wants to demolish the direct grant schools, how will she make up the loss of the contribution which they make in the State sector of education? How will she achieve a working arrangement between the direct grant schools and the local education authorities on village colleges, sixth form schools, and the like, if she forces them out of business? If she creates a situation in which the local education authorities have to jump as she cracks the whip, then what happened in Rutland, with a direct grant school going independent, will obviously be repeated in other parts of the country.

Does not the right hon. Lady recognise that these schools provide a bridge between the State system and the independent system which is the finest means of keeping some form of participation between these two sides of our educational system? It is no use the Secretary of State dealing with this matter on the basis of how he or his hon. Friends would like them to be. It is no good his dealing with the situation on the basis that he does not want to know about or have anything to do with the private sector. This would be well and good if the Secretary of State were in a position where he could get rid [column 70]of the private sector. He cannot get rid of it; the cost would be too great and, in any case, he would simply succeed in pushing it overseas. It would make no difference from the point of view of the people's right to send their children to whatever school they want them to attend. The private sector is here to stay. The direct grant system is the finest social mix there is. It should be encouraged, not discouraged.

We are in favour of direct grant schools. We should, and will give these schools every encouragement. We say to those who do not like a working arrangement with their local education authority to say, “Stick it” by disregarding this shabby Bill and whatever threats may come from the Minister. We say, “Hold on to your seatbelts for a year or so and then we in the Tory Party will try to put right some of the Government's unfortunate mistakes” .

Miss Bacon

I am not bringing this debate to a conclusion,but I thought that if I did not speak at this moment I would not be able to answer some of the questions put to me until next week. In an hour and a half, we have had only two speeches and I thought that the next one might have gone on until after One o'clock.

Let me answer one or two of the questions put to me about the Donnison report. It is now with us and will be published on 24th March. The Government are at present preparing a White Paper to be issued, it is hoped, in May, setting out the Government's intentions regarding education over the next decade. In the White Paper we shall able, I hope, to set out our plans and recommendations vis-a-vis the Donnison report.

Sir Edward Boyle

Will the White Paper cover higher education as well as the schools and university numbers? Secondly, will it include reference to the money to be made available over the next decade? Will it revise that which has been published in the recent White Paper on public expenditure?

Miss Bacon

I am not sure whether it is in order on this Amendment to answer a question about higher education in the coming White Paper, but the answer on higher education is “Yes” . If we go into this matter further at this stage, however, [column 71]we would be going far outside the scope of the Amendment.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) criticised the Government for not waiting for the Donnison Committee's report before publishing this Bill. I remind the Committee of the terms of reference of the Donnison Committee:

“To advise on the most effective method or methods by which direct grant schools in England and Wales can participate in the movement towards comprehensive re-organisation and to review the principle of central government grants to these schools” .

The Government therefore were entitled to assume that when the Committee did report it would advise on how the direct grant schools could be fitted into a comprehensive system and not whether the direct grant schools could be fitted into a comprehensive system. This Bill is anticipating the fact that the Donnison Committee will report on what it was asked to do, that is, how these schools can be fitted into a comprehensive system. This is for the future because, after this Bill has been passed, there will have to be plans on how the direct grant schools can be fitted in if the local authorities are still to take up places at them.

Regarding the direct grant schools, there are 178 grammar schools with just over 100,000 pupils. Each pupil is subsidised by the Government at the rate of £32 a year, with an extra £84 a year for every sixth former. There is a grant to recoup the cost of tuition fee remissions allowed to parents who cannot afford the fees. The cost to my Department is £6 million. They must offer 25 per cent. free places to local authorities.

There is a good deal of misunderstanding about the free places. They are not free to the local authorities. The local authorities have to pay the fees for the children whom they send to the direct grant schools. The local authorities pay fees for about 60 per cent., that is, 60,000 pupils, and the cost to the local authorities is £9 million. The proportion of places taken up by local authorities at individual schools varies from none to 100 per cent. The income of the direct grant schools is made up in this way: fees paid by parents £6 million, fees paid by local authorities for the pupils they send £9 million, and a grant from my Department of £6 million. The hon. Gentleman said that I said this was a good bargain. [column 72]Without the grant, the fees to the parents and the local authorities woud be much higher. 12 noon.

Some direct grant schools have co-operated very well in a comprehensive pattern, but I must admit that there are some direct grant schools which are holding up schemes for comprehensive education. I pay tribute to the Roman Catholic direct grant schools, which have co-operated very well in the schemes for secondary reorganisation. One direct grant school, St. Ann's in Southampton, has already become a fully comprehensive school, fees for virtually all the pupils being paid by the local education authority. Similar proposals have been agreed for St. Anthony's in Sunderland.

The direct grant schools are a very varied group. It cannot be said that they are all of one pattern. A few of them are famous, large and highly selective regional grammar schools. More are well established local grammar schools, much like the maintained grammar schools. Some are boarding schools. Many are Roman Catholic schools, providing an academic education for Roman Catholic children of a fairly wide range of abilities and drawing from a wide area, and there are schools which do not fit into any of these descriptions.

Taking direct grant grammar schools as a whole, their curricula, teachers, equipment and costs are much the same as those in maintained grammar schools. The achievements of their pupil appear to be similar to those of pupils of comparable ability in other grammar schools coming from the same kind of social background. Since the work, resources and achievements of this group cannot, for the most part, be distinguished from those of maintained grammar schools, I do not think that there is any case for treating them differently from maintained grammar schools, which is precisely what we are talking about this morning.

The hon. Gentleman said that there was a wide social spread and a broad social mix within the direct grant schools. I have always felt that this is a fallacy. Hon. Gentleman are shaking their heads. I am in a difficult position this morning, because I cannot tell the Committee what I have read in the report which is to be published. All I can say is that, when the Donnison report is published, I hope that [column 73]the hon. Member for Wokingham will read very carefully what it has to say about the subject. I cannot go further than that this morning.

Mr. van Straubenzee

The right hon. Lady is being naughty.

Miss Bacon

Yes, I know.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I chastise her very gently. She is now half taking off the veil and putting it on again, which is not fair to hon. Gentlemen on this side of the Committee. I should have thought that we could all agree, whatever our view of the direct grant schools, that in a large number of them there is a very wide social mix. Of course we shall pay the closest attention to this distinguished report, but meanwhile, the right hon. Lady should not tantalise us in this way.

Miss Bacon

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question. If I do so, I shall be accused of taking off the veil again.

Sir E. Boyle

The right hon. Lady said that there was no case for treating these schools differently from maintained schools. Does not that comment assume that all schools should be either fully independent schools or fully maintained schools? Surely that is to beg the whole question. There are those of us, both in the House and in another place—and I am thinking of people like the noble Lord James—who hold strongly that there are real advantages in having a certain number of schools neither fully maintained nor completely independent.

Miss Bacon

I do not want to comment on that point—I might be accused again of taking off the veil.

What we are discussing this morning is the Bill, which says that local authorities must not take up places at any school, including direct grant grammar schools, where admission to the school is based on selection.

The hon. Gentleman at the beginning of his speech asked me some pertinent questions about how the Bill will operate, particularly with regard to timing. As he said, it will come into operation one month after the passing of the Act. The Bill does not say, and my right hon. Friend at the last sitting of the Committee [column 74]did not say it says, that from the commencement of the Act the authority shall secure that secondary education shall be provided in non-selective schools. It says that the authority shall

“have regard to the need for securing”

that result. What the hon. Gentleman has said about the timing for direct grant school applies equally to grammar schools and secondary modern maintained schools. The hon. Gentleman should compare this with Section 8(2)(a) of the 1944 Education Act, which did not require local education authorities to get rid of all-age schools directly the Act came into being on 1st April, 1945.

When the Bill becomes an Act, the plans which local education authorities send to my right hon. Friend will have to show on what basis local authorities propose to take up places at direct grant schools. Clause 3 gives my right hon. Friend power to call for revised plans from local authorities which have already had a plan passed. The Bill does not in terms enable the Secretary of State to withdraw approval to existing arrangements, but it does enable him to consider the local authority's existing—I stress the word “existing” —and proposed future arrangements when he considers the plans for eliminating selection. This means that the hon. Gentleman's fear that immediately the Bill becomes law all the children will have to be withdrawn from the direct schools is without foundation. The Bill gives my right hon. Friend the power, not only in proposals which come from those local authorities which have not yet submitted a plan, but also to call for revised proposals from those which have submitted a plan. Those two sets of proposals, new proposals and revised proposals, must show how the direct grant schools take in the children from the local authorities. If that is done by means of selection according to ability and aptitude, the plan will be turned down, and this will not be allowed.

Mr. van Straubenzee

This passage in the right hon. Lady's speech does not come entirely as a surprise, but it is helpful to have it authoritatively stated by her. Just as under Clause 2 there is a provision that the Secretary of State may approve plans by stages, so, I take it, he could also approve the change in the taking up of direct grant places by stages; [column 75]in short, he could phase the provision for the taking up of direct grant places?

Miss Bacon

I cannot commit my right hon. Friend on what he does about any particular plan. The plans have to come to my right hon. Friend and be approved by him, but he has made it quite clear that he would not approve plans which envisaged selection according to ability and aptitude, either for direct grant schools or for maintained grammar schools. If this were in the plan, the plan would be rejected. The Bill seeks to abolish selection, and it would be utterly wrong, while abolishing selection at the age of 11 or 12 for maintained grammar schools, to allow some kind of super selection for direct grant schools. That is why the Clause covers both direct grant grammar schools and maintained grammar school, and it is why I urge the Committee to reject the Amendment.

Mr. Montgomery

I do not understand why the Government are so determined to “knock” the direct grant schools. If a direct grant school finds it impossible to continue and feels that it cannot go into the independent sector and therefore has to go into the public sector, has the right hon. Lady given thought to the extra cost which this will put on the Exchequer?

Miss Bacon

As I have demonstrated in my speech, direct grant grammar schools already cost the Exchequer and local authorities a considerable amount of money.

Mr. Montgomery

But in this event they will cost more.

Miss Bacon

This is what the hon. Gentleman is asserting. I assume that he has worked this out carefully before making his assertion and is not just declaring it. We are not discussing the whole future of direct grant grammar schools, although I hope before long that we shall be able to do so. What we are discussing this morning is whether or not local authorities will be able to send children by some kind of selection to direct grant grammar schools when selection is being abolished for maintained grammar schools.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

We are grateful to the right hon. Lady for at any rate making a flurry of one veil and giving us [column 76]the date of publication of the Donnison report. It is clear that we shall have to come back to this subject later. I was interested when she said that the terms of reference of the Donnison Committee amounted to saying how the direct grant schools were to be “fitted in” . This is a new phrase. What struck me about the Donnison terms of reference was their less sweeping nature than the Newsom terms of reference, which were to integrate the independent boarding schools.

Miss Bacon

I think the phrase is “participate” —that is what I said.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Hill

I agree. “Participate” seems to me different from “integrate” . It is less sweeping, so I suppose that in the terms of reference there is some elbow room, if the Commission recommends and the Government wish, for leaving some future for the direct grant schools and system.

Amendment No. 5 is so comprehensive that it has pulled in Amendments Nos. 36 and 37, with which I was directly concerned, which dealt with the Secretary of State's powers under Section 100(b) of the 1944 Act to make grants to the schools and under Section 101(c) to make payments towards fees and expenses. I have also added in Amendment No. 41 a specific statement about fees payable for independent day schools—not receiving direct grants, but much used by local education authorities. They are the subject of the Donnison report. They are doing a great service to the l.e.a.s, since otherwise so many places would not be taken up.

I have in mind, because I know it, the rôle played by the King's College School, Wimbledon, and, in my own area, by Ipswich School, where places are taken up by the East Suffolk Education Authority. Such places would be very expensive if the l.e.a. had to provide the buildings and the rest. I should be satisfied if the Government preserved inviolate the Secretary of State's powers under Section 100. The phrase in Clause 1, about having regard to whether

“… the arrangement for the admission of pupils are … based (wholly or partly) on such selection.”

would make the powers under Section 100 virtually unusable, unless the right hon. Lady has something of Lord Nelson about her and could turn a blind eye——

[column 77]

Miss Bacon

First the Seven Veils, now Lord Nelson.

Mr. Hill

I would rather that the right hon. Lady was Lord Nelson than Salome.

If the Amendments are not accepted, I think the pass has been sold. The right hon. Lady said that it need not all happen at once, but the schools cannot know what their future is and they must feel very apprehensive if the Clause is not amended. The direct grant system covers such a range of schools, including junior schools. One welcome thing which we shall get from the Donnison report is a thorough survey. Two things which most direct grant schools have in common are a measure of selection and some element of fee-paying, and, necessarily therefore, parental choice. These are both essential to preserve the autonomy of direct grant schools.

To give up either entirely—that is not to say that they cannot be modified—would produce an unhappy situation. After all, these schools depend on some selection to function. Demand for places has consistently exceeded supply. For that reason alone, therefore, I do not see how the schools can be filled without some selection.

The real criterion must be whether any child is likely to benefit from the type of education offered. Then, having regard to the educational aims of the school, there must be reference to ability and aptitude. The element of fee-paying is often attacked by the critics of the system. I would stand boldly in defence of fee-paying education for those parents who want it. It is an essential exercise in freedom that parents should be able to spend their money in procuring for their children, if they think fit, a different, a special and probably more intense form of education than they suppose they could get in the maintained schools in the area.

This is no reflection on the maintained schools. It is simply that, if we are to have a society in which parents and people generally can follow their own wishes within the law, it is natural that parents—just as they spend more money on houses for example—should wish to go for a particular kind of schooling, perhaps instead of running a car. That is a perfectly proper aim.

Another advantage of fee-paying is greater parental involvement. Mothers and fathers become much more interested and [column 78]have some of the customer's curiosity. I find it difficult to see why fee-paying should be so objectionable below 18 and acceptable above. A parallel, in a very different level of education, is that the Save The Children Fund, when operating play groups in the most difficult areas with Government grants, have found that they get a better parental response if they charge a fee for attendance, however small—2d. or even 1d. a morning. This somehow links the parent to the educational work. At this other extreme, fee-paying has a great educational and social benefit.

The right hon. Lady gave the figures for finance. I would stress the considerable extra burden placed on parents over the last few years. There was the reduction in the grant at the time of the education cuts in 1968, by £20 per pupil a year, and neither the 1967 nor the 1969 Burnham awards resulted in any extra grant. That was the first time, I think, that that had happened. Similarly, if, in the forthcoming Burnham award, no extra grant is made, this will again mean a sharp increase in fees—plus the 8½ per cent. superannuation contribution which, reflected in the fees, comes to about £20 or £30 a year extra. This is having to be found by parents who pay the full fees.

Miss Bacon

But they do not pay the full fees. I know that the hon. Member means the full fees charged, but they are not the full cost. Even then, they are subsidised.

Mr. Hill

I appreciate that. I meant the full fees as they emerge after the payment of direct grants. But the advantage of the direct grant system is that fees to the poorer families are tempered, so children from poorer families whose parents wish, and who have the ability and aptitude and who will benefit from the education—all loaded phrases, I am afraid—are not prevented from attending.

The local authorities, of course, get some benefit from the direct grant schools, apart from the bargain, which is substantial. If they had to pay £164 to another local authority when taking up a place outside their own area up to the age of 16 and £289 over the age of 16, this would make a great contrast to the £140 which the right hon. Lady gave us in the 1968 debate.

My attention has been drawn to a very robust defence of the direct grant system [column 79]by two direct grant schools in Coventry, Bablake School and King Henry VIII School, who point out that, but for their provision, the local authority would have to provide primary education for about 190 more children, and that they think that the two schools between them probably save the Coventry Local Education Authority no less than £150,000 a year. In addition, the governors here, and no doubt at other direct grant schools, provide some governors' scholarship place—in this case, 120—at no cost either to the local authority or to parents.

The impressions seems to have been given that central Government has to make an unduly heavy contribution. But, one way or another, education is being provided in these schools which would have to be provided elsewhere if these schools did not exist. My calculations show that the cost of providing secondary education in a direct grant school compares favourably with that in the equivalent maintained school, especially if we allow for the considerably higher ratio of the more expensive sixth form places provided which is about 24 per cent. in the direct grant sector, whereas in the maintained secondary sector it is naturally a great deal smaller, at any rate at the moment, and is between 6 and 7 per cent. We also have to allow for the capital expenditure and loan content, which the State gets for nothing from a direct grant school. The figures I have been given show that the cost per pupil per annum in the direct grant school is about £183 which, as I have said, a high proportion of sixth form places, and in the maintained sector it is £179 plus £23 for the element of capital expenditure and loan charges. Thus the direct grant place seems to be a more economic provision in terms of real resources.

12.30 p.m.

I pass to two important matters. The right hon. Lady said that the conception of the social spread and the benefits from it are somewhat fallacious. We must obviously read carefully what the Donnison Committee has to say. I do not think there can be much doubt that the direct grant schools have provided in the past—and will, I hope, continue to do so in the future, as other grammar schools have done in the past—an important ladder of opportunity for very able children, [column 80]especially those from poorer homes. In my view, this is a vital rôle that they have played because the ablest children have gone to the top in that way and have made a contribution to national life out of all proportion to their number. If the direct grant schools are forced either into the comprehensive system or into the fully maintained system, it is bound to lessen the opportunities for these children.

Mr. Newens

I cannot for a moment accept that children who go to comprehensive schools will have less opportunity that those in some of the direct grant schools. In fact, a high proportion of the children who have been taken into direct grant schools as so-called “poor children” have been creamed off by an intensive selection process, and these children will get just as good an opportunity in the comprehensive sector.

Mr. Hill

The hon. Gentleman has stated the reverse point of view. I hope he noted that I said “the very able children from the poorest homes” . I agree that one hopes a comprehensive system will generate much larger sixth forms. The “pool of ability” means nothing if it does not, but the very able children in the poor neighbourhoods have had this ladder which enabled them to go quite quickly into an intense educational atmosphere.

I have in mind one particular individual and school, namely, Sir Ernest Barker, a miner's son, and all that he gained in the early part of this century from going to Manchester Grammar School. I should like to quote from The Times Educational Supplement of 14th May, 1965:

“There is no escape from the conclusion that the clever poor boy has a better chance in a great city grammar school than anything a comprehensive system can possibly offer him.”

Then it quotes Sir Ernest Barker's own tribute to Manchester Grammar School:

“What a mother it was” ——

and then he mentioned the names of some of those who taught him.

“It taught me to work, to read, and to think. It gave me great friendship. It filled me entirely and utterly for nearly the space of seven years. Outside the cottage, I had nothing but my school; but having my school I had everything.”

That was a classic example, but there were many less well known people than Ernest Barker who profited in that way. Therefore, I believe it is a loss which the Government, if they insist on this policy, [column 81]must realise is part of the price which has to be paid. It must diminish the opportunity for the ablest children from the poorer homes and areas.

Not many outside critics have examined our education system in great detail, but a study was made about three years ago by an educationist who came to compare British with American education. In America the comprehensive system has widely developed. He found the direct grant system fascinating, typically British, in the unique government supported variation on a State educational pattern. He is Mr. James D. Koerner, who, in advance of the publication of his book, wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph on 25th February, 1966, in which he spoke of the direct grant schools in these terms:

“Academically these schools must be among the best to be found anywhere, and socially they are fully as mixed and democratic as thousands of schools in America. For the English people now, with forethought and deliberation, to set about destroying the flower of their educational system seems to me, if I may put it candidly, sheer masochism. It is the triumph of purblind political dogma over educational common sense.”

The second great function that I think the direct grant schools carry out is that they provide the bridge between the maintained and the wholly independent sector. Clearly the whole system is in a way anomalous and therefore it cannot appeal to bureaucrats with a tidy mind. I am not surprised that a Minister speaking for the Department of Education and Science and having as her first charge all the duties of promoting and developing a comprehensive system in the maintained sector should prefer to have a completely clear run, as it were, but the fact is that these direct grant schools, because they are autonomous and independent, stand as a bulwark to the independent sector of education.

I am quite certain that in any free democracy one must maintain a healthy independent sector of education. This is absolutely vital for the maintained sector as well as for those who may be educated in the independent sector, to provide competition in innovation and advance, but also to provide a safeguard against the monolithic tendency of all governments when running a maintained educational system, to abrogate more and more power into their grasp. This Bill is an instance of that, in that the balance between the education authorities and the Government [column 82]has been tipped in favour of the Government.

Equally it is undesirable that this independent sector, in the facts of economic life today, should necessarily be the preserve of only the better-off people. It is independence of mind and family attitude that one wants to encourage, and the direct grant system seems precisely to facilitate that. That is why I think from a national point of view we want to provide this system. I say nothing of the denominational aspect of it because other speakers are better qualified to refer to it.

Essentially some alternative options to the broad and no doubt very fine maintained sector—as I hope it will be—is desirable in our society. I do not profess in advance of Donnison to his views on exactly how it should be done. Clearly there is room for a great deal of movement, except I think on the two factors indispensable to autonomy, which must retain a measure of selection and also of fee-paying if parental choice is to survive. As drafted, the Bill seems to rule that out and, therefore, I hope the Minister will accept the Amendments, bearing in mind that all we are seeking to do is to preserve the Minister's existing powers unfettered. It will be possible at a later stage, after more consideration, for the Government to alter those powers after due reflection. To do so in advance prejudges the Donnison report and the whole debate that must follow the publication of the White Paper. Therefore, I hope that some of the Amendments, and particularly the two in my name relating to Section 100 of the 1944 Act, will be accepted.

Mr. Mahon

When I am in the atmosphere of a House of Commons Committee Room, listening to the reasonable voices of members of the Conservative Party explaining their regard for the direct grant system and the education system as a whole, I listen to them with interest and then I find myself thinking that I wished it really was that way. I never found it that way during a fairly substantial experience of living in a great city. For anyone in this country to regard members of the Conservative Party as being the only people who have a full appreciation of the direct grant schools and system is completely is fallacious and erroneous.

No hon. Member has a higher regard [column 83]for the direct grant system than I have. Most of the direct grant schools with which I have been connected have been fully vocational schools. How can one say in words how much one appreciates the complete surrender of a lifetime in vocationalism to the education of other people's children? Words are not adequate to describe my appreciation and that of other hon. Members and millions of parents, not only in this country but all over the world, of those people who sacrificed themselves in many of the direct grant schools of which I am speaking.

It is right for the Opposition to probe the attitudes of Members of Parliament about not only direct grant schools but their attitude to voluntary schools in general. Nobody has a greater appreciation than my right hon. Friend and the Secretary of State of the direct grant schools and the voluntary schools. Indeed, their appreciation is equalled only by the monumental appreciation of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) in the past. It is with great regret that I hear that he is not to remain a Member of the House to continue to give us the benefit of the wisdom and guidance which he has given us for so many years.

12.45 p.m.

One great direct grant school in Merseyside that I particularly think about is a famous girls' school, the Seafield Grammar School for Girls, a convent school run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. It was placed inside the industrial borough of Bootle and the orders were founded for the education of the poor. Many of the direct grant schools have been forced out for valid reasons to more salubrious neighbourhoods, and therefore the advantage has gone to other authorities. Many of us with direct grant schools in our industrial midst have had to find new methods of trying to educate our children up to the proper standard.

I was grateful to the hon. Member for Wokingham for providing the figures, which were most illuminating and give us some idea of the tremendous contribution which the builders of direct grant and voluntary schools have made to our society. No Government can lightly dismiss that. Anything that happens to direct grant schools must be for the benefit of the country, for the continued improved [column 84]education of the children, and that is what I hope will take place. One hon. Member spoke about the great broad social mix. Even accepting that a degree of social mix is taking place in the direct grant schools on Merseyside, could anyone say for a moment that it really was a great broad social mix?

No one spoke this morning about the fact that through the application of the present system and the selection that takes place 80 per cent. of the children on Merseyside are left without the high standard of education available in the direct grant schools. My interest in education was aroused when I became a member of an examination panel. As anyone can see, my experience is purely practical. I was not given the opportunity of a higher academic education. I was at elementary school for a while. What is the attitude of the party opposite towards the problem of the 80 per cent. who do not get those opportunities?

No one here would want to get rid of direct grant schools simply for the sake of doing so. If I thought that all our children were being given the excellent education available in direct grant schools, there would be no pertubation on the Labour benches about the situation in the country. But that is not happening, and someone must do something about it.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) talked about direct grant schools getting the “chop” . I am sure that he could have used a more gracious phrase. If I thought for one moment that direct grant schools would get the “chop” , I would not support the Government. But they are not getting the “chop” . I can speak with assurance on this. If anyone intended to get rid of the direct grant schools, I should be very irate, but that is not the position. Does anyone think that I would defend any party or Government that had in mind the destruction of the direct grant schools that I am talking about?

Let me put it as plainly as this. We Catholics on Merseyside would have made no progress at all without people having been picked out here and there to produce the leaders we produced. There is no argument about that. But times are moving on, and we have discerned that this system is not good enough and that we have been left with a tremendous [column 85]social problem. I do not want to talk about Wokingham and Rutland, because I am not entitled to speak about those areas; I know very little about them. But I know a great deal about the Liverpool waterfront, and even among ourselves there is the tremendous privilege of selection.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) talked about Sir Ernest Barker and the Manchester Grammar School. Sir Ernest was very generous in saying that he had everything. Of course, he had everything, and he took full advantage of it. How fortunate he was! That is marvellous, and everyone would say that that is the way things should be. Right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House appreciate the advantages of Manchester Grammar School. I am not objecting to that. I want the advantages to be spread, and they were not spread successfully until the Labour Party and the present Government started to advance their educational ideas.

Mr. Reginald Eyre

Where does the hon. Gentleman stand? I understand that the Government's position is that destruction of the direct grant schools, including Manchester Grammar School, is essential to produce social progress among the other 80 per cent. that the hon. Gentleman talks about. Does he take the view that the destruction of the direct grant schools is essential?

Mr. Mahon

I do not. I have not even thought of it happening in the context of what my party is doing. I take it that the absorption and co-ordination of the schools in any area will lead to an extension of the sort of education system I want. Of course, we shall not get there in a hurry. We can go too fast and too slow. I know all about these dangers because I was on an education committee for years and years.

I do not hold the dogmatic views of some members of my party on education. There is a remarkable happening at one direct grant school on Merseyside. The teachers, who have a high degree of educational qualification, go out from the convent they live in to the poorest parts of Merseyside. We have benefited greatly from this. Our social standards have been raised because of this and because of the integration that has gone on. That is what we want to see. Those teachers are [column 86]leaving a direct grant school to go into the dockside areas to teach, and we need that.

I do not want to inconvenience the Committee by prolonging my speech or to spoil the atmosphere created by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The debate has been most pleasant to listen to. Perhaps on another occasion I shall have the opportunity to say more on the subject, but it would be wrong for me to let it be said in the country that the sacrifices, vocational service and the contributions to our great education systems made by the direct grant schools were appreciated only by Members on one side of the Committee.

Mr. David Lane

I shall wind up the debate very briefly, because I know that the Committee wants to come to a decision on the Amendment this morning. My hon. Friends have made a powerful case, which makes my job easier.

The right hon. Lady the Minister of State speaks with such charm that we hate having to harden our hearts and minds to resist her arguments, but she has not answered our case, although up to a point she has been helpful. It is good to know that the White Paper will be published in May, and it is exciting to know that it will cover higher education as well as other matters. We still believe that the Government are prejudging Donnison in various matters, but we are reassured—and it will be a crumb of comfort to the schools concerned—to hear the right hon. Lady make it absolutely clear that there is no question of the schools being under sentence of upheaval at one month's notice.

The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) said some interesting things that we would have liked to probe further. I cannot help feeling after his tribute to the direct grant schools that the Government are showing a very strange sort of appreciation of their contribution by the provisions of the Bill. He said that these schools would not get the “chop” . I wonder whether he has really grasped the threat to them by the Bill. Occasionally he seemed to imply that if we cannot level up we shall have to level down. I dare say that he did not mean that, but some of us have that impression. I hope that we can return to this question on another occasion.

As we see it, the blow inflicted by this provision is first a blow to educational [column 87-88]excellence. I remind the Committee of one sentence in the Crowther Report:

“We cannot afford to lose any good school, whatever its classification.”

That is our fear of the provision. It is a blow, too, at social harmonisation. The right hon. Lady tried to play this down by suggesting that the social mix was not really such a wide mix as many of us have felt. However wide it is, it cannot be denied that this provides a social mix. It is a valuable bridge between the maintained and independent sector, and in their hardness of heart towards these schools the Government are knocking down this bridge, just as the whole Bill strikes a blow against partnership between the Government and local authorities. It must heighten our suspicion that the Government's real aim is to get as near as possible to a total State monopoly in education.

The financial implications have been well covered by my hon. Friends. My calculation is that the capital cost of providing within the maintained system places for the 60,000 pupils now going to the direct grant schools would be, on the figures my hon. Friend quoted for Berkshire, about £25 million all over the country, which is a large sum.

In the matter of the direct grant schools to which our Amendment No. 5 is directed, we believe that the Government are being irresponsible educationally, socially, and financially. Their attitude smacks of spite and obstinacy, and we cannot help suspecting that they are allowing doctrinaire prejudice to prevail over common sense. We have suspicions on a number of scores, and I hope that my hon. Friends will translate our suspicions and uneasiness into a strong vote for the Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 8.

Division No. 2.]

Ayes

Eyre, Mr. Reginald

Hill, Mr. J. E. B.

Lane, Mr. David

Lewis, Mr. Kenneth

Montgomery, Mr.

van Straubenzee, Mr.

Noes

Armstrong, Mr. Ernest

Bacon, Miss Alice

Evans, Mr. Fred

Jones, Mr. J. Idwal

Mahon, Mr. Simon

Newens, Mr. Stan

Price, Mr. William

Woof, Mr. Robert

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order.

Committee adjourned till Tuesday, 17th March, 1970, at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the committee:

Brewis, Mr. (Chairman)

Armstrong, Mr.

Bacon, Miss

Boyle, Sir E.

Evans, Mr. Fred

Eyre, Mr.

Hill, Mr. J. E. B.

Jones, Mr. J. Idwal

Lane, Mr.

Lewis, Mr. Kenneth

Mahon, Mr. Simon

Montgomery, Mr.

Newens, Mr.

Price, Mr. William

van Straubenzee, Mr.

Woof, Mr.