Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1970 Mar 19 Th
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 [137-180]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1030-1300. Fourth Sitting reproduced in its entirety. MT spoke at cc.161 and 174.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 15484
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Autobiography (marriage & children), Secondary education, Society
[column 137]




Thursday, 19th March, 1970

[Mr. John Brewis in the Chair]

Clause 1

Principles affecting provision of secondary education

Amendment No. 15 proposed—[17th March]—in page 1, leave out line 20.—[Mr. Newens.]

10.30 a.m.

Question again proposed.

The Chairman

Before calling the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans), may I say that I do not think that a discussion on nursery schools is in order on an Amendment about sixth form colleges.

Mr. Fred Evans

I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has a rather more important meeting to go to, and I shall be very brief. The growth of the open sixth form, to which I referred at the last sitting, is a powerful argument for asking my right hon. Friend to have regard to the perturbation expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) about the possibility of academic bars to entry into the sixth form.

The changing pattern of examinations, whatever emerges from the current thinking on recast A levels, O levels and C.S.E. examinations, will add impetus to the growth of the open sixth form. The desirability of transferring this pattern into a sixth form college or a junior college is therefore strengthened. We could once again find that some parts of the country had purpose-built all-through comprehensive schools with a continuing growth of the open sixth form, whereas other parts had sixth form colleges with an academic bar, and the inconvenience of the 11-plus and other forms of selection may be perpetuated.

I believe that a system in which the academically gifted and those who have practical bents are both given an opportunity is socially desirable. It gives a broad [column 138]spectrum of abilities and a social mix. It would be valuable to have a college of this sort where the students could understand what makes other students tick. This interplay of abilities and social background can do nothing but strengthen democracy.

On the educational side, I do not think that the academically gifted would suffer. This argument occurs all the way through from primary school upwards. In this context, as in all others, the key things are teachers, equipment and buildings. I ask my right hon. Friend to give serious consideration to the perturbation felt by my hon. Friend for Epping and by others on this side of the Committee.

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

I intervene at this stage, not with a desire to end the discussion but simply because, as I have explained to the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), I have another meeting at eleven o'clock. I will deal with this matter as objectively and concisely as I can.

First, I refer to Circular 10/65, paragraph 16 of which sets out the two acceptable concepts of a sixth form college—the selective concept and the open or non-selective concept. I say at once that the second of those concepts is the one which I would prefer, as would my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans).

There are at the moment nine sixth form colleges in operation and of these the one at Luton is selective, but even that college admits a fairly wide range of ability. There are 44 colleges already approved by the Department of Education and Science in reorganisation schemes put in by 26 local authorities. These include eight or nine selective colleges, one of which is the Stoke college, which will cover the whole town, and is due to come into operation in September of this year.

If the Amendment were carried, it would mean a considerable reversal of the Circular 10/65 policy on which local authorities have been working. I would be very reluctant to change the rules in the middle of the game when so many local authorities have worked out schemes and have had them approved by the Department. As I have said, there are only nine in existence, so we have very little experience of sixth form colleges. I do not want to prevent local authorities from innovating and experimenting. In the 16 to 19 sector, above all, [column 139]there must be innovation and rationalisation.

The schools and the further education colleges have developed side by side and very often duplicate provision. There must be an end to the rigid demarcation line between schools and further education colleges. As I said in the speech I made to the A.T.T.I. Whitsuntide annual conference at Torquay, they both have a rôle, and we must ensure that buildings, teachers and other facilities are used to the best advantage.

It was to build up a better picture of educational provision in the 16 to 19 age group that last year we embarked on a pilot study on the pattern of provision for these age groups in the areas of five local education authorities. The study is concerned both with further education and with sixth form provision. Among the areas that have been looked into are Southampton, with its three general sixth form colleges, Luton, with its academic sixth form college, and Mexborough, in the West Riding, which operates as a sixth form unit for neighbouring schools in the area. There are limitations on the scope of this study but, in spite of that, it is preeminently a pilot study into cost effectiveness techniques, and I believe that this exercise offers an opportunity for examining in closer detail the merits of the various concepts of sixth form colleges and could be of great assistance to the authorities which have sixth form colleges in the planning stage.

Clearly, if facilities exist for this age group in a local authority area in further education colleges, there is no case for duplicating them in sixth form colleges, so we are seeing a great growth of link courses. Sometimes all the age group is in school, sometimes it is in the sixth form college; in the case of two towns it is in the further education college. I think it right to allow this experiment to take place. Sometimes the A level courses are in the sixth form college, with the non-examination courses or the sub-A level examination courses in the further education colleges, where often there are greater facilities for practical work.

The essential point at this stage is to use our teaching resources, our buildings and other facilities to the best advantage. Circular 10/65 said that, when the sixth form pattern is being considered, it is [column 140]essential for the local authority to review most carefully the respective functions of, and the relation between, the sixth form colleges and the further education colleges. Clearly, we must now regard them as complementary. If we regard them as complementary, the requirement that all the needs must be met in the sixth form college is unnecessary.

The first point I make is that I would be reluctant to do this, because local authorities have been planning on this basis since 1965, and, because we must inject a bit more realism and sense into the way in which resources are used in this sector. Secondly, I cannot believe that the purely educational arguments about the injustice of selection at 11-plus have the same force at 16-plus. We believe that 11-plus selection is wrong, first, because it measures social factors as well as the child's inherent ability and, secondly, because it closes the option for a child at much too early an age. But these factors do not operate at 16, or, at any rate, not to the same extent.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend saying that the social background of students who go into a further education college or into a sixth form has no influence? Surely, social factors have just as strong an influence in dividing children between the school traditional network to higher education and the further education traditional network to higher education as they have at the age of 11? It is all part of the same thing.

Mr. Short

I cannot accept that those factors operate with the same force at the age of 16. Students at the age of 16 have all undergone a five-year secondary course, and selection, where this arrangement exists, is on the basis of the type of course they wish to follow. At this stage the facilities, the buildings and equipment are of tremendous importance.

Thirdly, selective sixth form colleges do not mean that children of 16 and over are being prevented from following full-time schooling. They have a right to this, but the local authority also has a right to put them where it has the facilities to cater for them. It is not sense to put the non-academic pupils into a school which has only A level courses and to allow them to sit in on those courses.

I assure my hon. Friends that, when a local authority puts forward a selective [column 141]sixth form college solution to its problems, the solution is examined, not in isolation, but in the context of the total provision for the 16 to 19 age group in the area. Having said all that on the educational side, and pointed out the need to rationalise the use of facilities in the 16 to 19 sector so that they are used to the best advantage, I admit at once that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has said, there is an argument for non-selective sixth forms, for non-segregation at this age, on social grounds, as there is on the university side, too.

May I say once more, as I have said in the House, that I hope we shall evolve towards that, and I certainly hope that all sixth form colleges will eventually become non-selective. But, in trying to look at this objectively, on balance I feel that at this moment, with so little experience and with so many local authorities working out their plans, we should allow further experiment and further innovation. I hope, with the assurances that I have given, that my hon. Friends will not press the Amendment.

Mr. Stan Newens

Does not my right hon. Friend think that a clear indication should be given in the Bill that experimentation on selective lines at sixth form colleges is not to be encouraged, otherwise, at a later stage, we shall be accused of changing the rules half way through the game?

Mr. Short

I think we must allow this to go on. I have expressed the hope that they will evolve into non-selective colleges, and I am sure they will, but I do not think my hon. Friend should push the matter further on this point.

10.45 a.m.

Mr. Angus Maude

I am sorry that an attack of influenza has so far prevented me from assisting in the deliberations of the Committee, but I am glad to be able to say something about Amendments Nos. 23 and 27, which I put down, and which would eliminate the sixth form unit from the ambit of the Bill. The purpose was to call attention to the fact that the exception in favour of a sixth form unit from the rule about non-selectivity is completely illogical. Certain comprehensive schools will not be comprehensive at all, and the benefits which we have been continually told are to be derived from comprehensive [column 142]reorganisation will not exist in the case of a considerable number of secondary schools. I should be grateful for some comment from the right hon. Lady the Minister of State on this.

It is absurd to say, as so many proponents of the comprehensive school have said, that it is possible so to reorganise schools that we will get a comprehensive system, that each of the secondary schools will be able to provide for the academic child a range of sixth form teaching as good as he would have had at a selective grammar school—hon. Members opposite have given this assurance over and over again—that boys and girls who at present go to a high school or a secondary modern school will be offered a range of sixth form teaching, with G.C.E. opportunities which they have never had before, and at the same time to make provision in the Bill to allow—I can only think that it is to allow—for a number of schools which do not provide proper sixth form teaching at all.

If the exception in favour of the sixth form unit means anything, it must mean that certain comprehensive schools will provide sixth form teaching for a range of other so-called comprehensive schools in their neighbourhood and that they will not be able to provide sixth form teaching of anything like the standard which we would expect now in a reasonably good selective grammar school. In that sense, it makes a mockery of the whole system.

Either a comprehensive school is comprehensive within its own age range and provides G.C.E. opportunities and sixth form teaching up to A level and university entrance standard, or it is not comprehensive and does not. What the Government are trying to achieve through this exception is to enable a number of so-called comprehensive school to survive with no attempt to provide an adequate range and quality of sixth form teaching, and they are doing this by allowing boys and girls to be transferred on a purely selective basis from these schools to the better-endowed comprehensive schools in the neighbourhood which can produce this kind of sixth form teaching.

Experience shows that it is likely that, if an authority goes over from a selective system to a so-called comprehensive system, there will be, probably central in the nearest town of an area, one so-called comprehensive school which con[column 143]sists of the former selective grammar school and perhaps one or two comprehensive schools in the town. There will be a series of former secondary modern or high schools round about which will be called comprehensive schools but will not provide a proper range of sixth form teaching, and boys and girls of an academic bent working for university entrance will then be removed from the smaller schools and taken to the larger one, which will in fact be the former grammar school under a new name. This has been happening in at least one area and the result is that selection is continued. There is a selective school and there is a number of other schools which are called comprehensive but in fact are very little other than the former secondary moderns under a new name.

The Government should come clean and tell us whether they intend to allow a number of so-called comprehensives to get in under the comprehensive umbrella without being comprehensive at all and without providing a proper range of options in sixth form teaching.

The exception in the Bill provides an opportunity for authorities to produce botched-up schools and get away with them for considerably longer than they would be able to do if they were doing what they purport to do. We should at least have some explanation of what this is intended to cover, of whether it is the intention, for example, that a school which is to be called a comprehensive school is to be allowed indefinitely to exist without a proper range of sixth-form teaching or not. If this is the intention, a number of the arguments which we have hitherto heard from the other side about the virtues of reorganisation are nonsensical, if not downright dishonest.

Mr. Christopher Price

I was very disappointed with the Secretary of State's speech. I had expected that he would show more sympathy with the Amendment. But even if his arguments were accepted, the Amendment should be carried. In the real world of a secondary school, with a number of children wanting to go into the sixth form, in which sort of school I taught immediately before becoming a Member of the House, I cannot think of a single instance of a child—parents become irrelevant here; we are talking at this stage [column 144]about pupil choice—wanting to go into the sixth form and the headmaster refusing. Only five years ago there were all sorts of O level qualifications for the sixth form, but my experience shows that every sixth form unit which I know, every grammar school and secondary school which I have been in recently, has almost totally abandoned this and allowed any child who wants to profit from the sixth form to go into it.

So, in the real world of secondary schools, there is no reason why the Amendment should not be passed. For one thing, heads are anxious to accept children for the sixth form because that does not do their salary any harm, with the present method of weighting schools, although I am not so cynical as to believe that that is the only reason. There is a genuine argument that, by the age of 16, children have their own future in their hands. If they want to stake their future on a sixth form course, why should the headmaster or anyone else say nay? To pass the Bill without the Amendment would be genuinely retrogressive in the general atmosphere of secondary education.

But, apart from that, I was very apprehensive about the whole tone of my right hon. Friend's speech. I agree with him that the situation for the 16-to 19-year-olds in full-time and part-time education is grossly unsatisfactory at the moment—and it has been for some time. When I had some connection with the Department of Education and, in W. S. Gilbert 's words, I was running

“little errands for the Ministers of State,”

there was a 16-to 19-year-old study group which was trying to decide what to do with this age range. I am very glad that it is getting down to figures now and is doing a cost efficiency study between sixth forms and colleges of further education. This matter deserves a lot of study.

I was worried when my right hon. Friend began to talk of rationalisation. The sort of rationalisation which he seemed to imply was making the colleges of education into secondary modern schools and the sixth forms into grammar schools——

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

I think that my hon. Friend used the wrong term. I think he meant colleges of further education, not colleges of education.

[column 145]

Mr. Price

Yes, I am sorry; I meant colleges of further education.

In the last few years, for a 16-year-old, these were all his options. At the moment, if he has some C.S.E.'s and O levels, he has a choice. He can opt for the grammar school and go into a school atmosphere for the two years between 16 and 18, perhaps wearing a school uniform and attending at regular times, or he can opt for the much freer atmosphere of the college of further education. This is a good thing: I approve of a bit of competition in the education system. Under this system, colleges of further education have started a whole range of advanced level courses, very often for 16- to 18-year-olds who cannot stand the institutional atmosphere of a school. In many cases, I do not blame them.

If now we are talking of rationalisation, it is very dangerous, because what my right hon. Friend appeared to say was that all the A level courses—he said that he was prepared to approve of this in specific cases, although not generally—should be segregated in the sixth form college and all the lower courses, of whatever nature, should be put in the college of further education. As a philosophy, this is quite dreadful, because it negates everything we are trying to achieve at the age of 11. It gives a class basis to these two routes through the educational system, through secondary education and further education. What makes me happy is that, in the last few years, we have started to break it down and to allow not only A levels for university and polytechnic entrance, but O.N.C.'s and O.N.D.'s.

I was very pleased the other day, at Strathclyde, to see someone finishing an engineering degree whom I had known as a complete drop-out at my school. He had left when he was 15, on the first day that he was entitled to be ejected, and had then done a job of work and obtained his O.N.C. Clearly he will now get a good engineering degree, the school, in the mean-time, having forgotten about him.

One day, we must have rationalisation, but that day will come when we put all our 16- to 18-year-olds in our colleges of further education or sixth-form colleges. To talk of rationalisation as a sort of interim measure of segregating academic and non-academic 16-to 18-year-olds just at the point in our educational history when these barriers are beginning to break [column 146]down in both types of institution, when many sixth forms are building up courses for pupils who do not expect to go into higher education but want to continue their education for two more years before going into a job—many of them do later go into higher education—would be absolutely tragic. Leaving the Bill as it is would encourage places like Luton to set up sixth form colleges of the kind they want to set up, a philosophy with which I profoundly disagree.

Sir Edward Boyle

Looking to the future, does not this depend to some extent on the pattern of buildings? I think that all of us on this side of the Committee welcome the experiment which is to be carried out in Barnstaple, but I think of a county with a number of small grammar schools which take fewer than 600 pupils. Will it not be a mark of progress if that county decides to make a small grammar school the basis of post-O-level education? But will it not be impossible for a long time, with limitations on resources, to talk about everybody in that area receiving their 16 to 18 education in one institution?

11.00 a.m.

Mr. Price

If that was the real situation, it would be difficult, but the real situation is that most children who want to stay have qualifications and only 10 or 12 in each school want to stay on without qualifications and without hope of getting A levels simply because they or their parents want them to stay as they want some more education. I take it that we are arguing whether we should legalise the right of a headmaster or the governors of a school to refuse to accept such pupils on academic grounds. They can always throw them out on other grounds. If a child is a frightful nuisance and is past the statutory leaving age, he can be asked to leave for other than academic reasons, but we are legalising the head of a small country grammar school saying to the parent of a farmworker's son—or, far more likely, the son of a middle-class parent who wants the child to stay on for more education—that the child has not done well in O levels and that he cannot stay on at the school.

It is easy to say that we should rationalise and tell the child to go to a college of further education. When I was in Sheffield and we were mapping out the further education there and thinking of [column 147]colleges of further education, headmasters said, uneconomically and against the principles of good education, that there were instances of pupils saying they would like to stay on but would not stay on unless they could stay in a certain school among staff in whom they had some confidence and in an atmosphere they knew. The danger of rationalising the education system in the way suggested is that by saying “You go to a college of further education and from there to commercial school when you are past statutory leaving age” , a lot of people just do not go anywhere if they are prevented from going to the institution which they want to attend.

I consider that the difficulties in the arguments about selection at 11 are political difficulties because we are talking not about children but about parents' emotions. When a child reaches the age of 11, a parent rightly becomes very emotional about the future of the child. At 16, parents becomes far less relevant and do not worry about the status of the institution. Most children would be far happier in an institution which was genuinely comprehensive than in a narrow elitist one. There are no political difficulties about this situation and I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would be frightened if there were.

I am even more convinced that we should press the Amendment. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) and I am sure a lot of his hon. Friends feel as we do, and I look forward to them joining us in the Division.

Mr. David Lane

I first take up a point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price). He said that he would not exclude the headmaster's right to throw out of some schools, for other than academic reasons, children who were over school age. I take it that he would approve of the right of university authorities to do the same for other than academic reasons. I signed Amendment No. 15, not because my views are the same as those of the hon. Members for Epping (Mr. Newens) and Birmingham, Perry Barr, but because it is essential to probe thoroughly the Government's thinking in two major areas: their general view about selection, and selection for sixth form colleges in particular.

Simply listening to the hon. Member for [column 148]Perry Barr shows how much perplexity there still is about Government intentions and we look forward to hearing the Minister of State defining what her right hon. Friend said.

I wish to say a few words about selection. The hon. Member for Perry Barr has talked about banner words. One banner phrase is that the purpose of the Bill is to end selection. But, at second sight looking at the small print and the key provisions, we find that selection will, at least for a time, be acceptable in entry to sixth form colleges.

I should be grateful if the Minister of State would clarify the position for local authorities who will have to administer the Bill if it is brought into effect. Does Clause 1(4)(a) mean that it will be all right, even in a basically comprehensive system of education, for a local authority to select at 15 or even 14 for entry to sixth form colleges? That is my interpretation. This makes logical nonsense of the Government's rigid rejection of selection at an earlier age.

The Secretary of State, in an earlier debate, accused my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) of trying to ride two horses at once. I hope that we shall not have any more talk like that. I hope the Secretary of State and the Minister of State will look into the mirror——

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

The Secretary of State accused me of trying to ride three horses at once.

Mr. Lane

We are getting distracted by horses, and it is a difficult day for this.

I remind the Minister of State of a phrase in the Department's document, instructions for compiling Form 7 (Schools) 1970:

“Sixth form colleges should be recorded as ‘comprehensive’ even if they are ‘selective’.”

We want a bit more elucidation.

So much for the second sight. There is a third sight. The Government, and still more some of their supporters are hankering after the end of selection at the earliest possible date. The Secretary of State returned this morning to his idea of comprehensive universities. It would be out of order to pursue that further, but we need a clearer statement of Government thinking about selection at all ages from 11 to university stage. We are owed this by the Minister of State. I hope that the Government will pay much more attention to im[column 149]proving the present methods of selection for universities by introducing more aptitude tests in view of the problems which we shall face in the next few years.

The Secretary of State again today made clear that he would like before long to bring about totally non-selective entry for sixth form colleges. He lives in a curious mixture of moods. I sometimes admire what he says. He is capable of making extremely wise remarks about students but sometimes he gets into a wilder mood and makes a Gadarene rush sweeping away landmarks and standards without saying what will replace them. I was glad he took a firm line today in resisting this Amendment. If there is a Division. I must disappoint hon. Members opposite by not supporting their Amendment.

Passing from selection to sixth form units and colleges, I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) said in his searching questions about the logic and thinking on sixth form unit ideas. We have not heard anything adequate from the Secretary of State about this so far. I hope that we shall hear more from the Minister of State. Coming to sixth form colleges, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) said some relevant things on Tuesday. I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Fred Evans). As someone who has never taught, I find it difficult to make judgments about educational problems when I listen to the varying but sincere views based on the long experience of distinguished teachers, some here and others outside this Committee.

I think it was the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. J. Idwal Jones) who first, in 1942, floated the idea of sixth form colleges. I hope that we shall have a contribution from him on this subject. We have the promising results from the Mexborough experiment. Sixth form colleges have a considerable part to play. However, I have heard a good many teachers who are sceptical about the latter, particularly because many qualified teachers are anxious to teach the advanced ranges of academic work but not to lose touch with children below the age of 16. All hon. Members here are aware of the fear of a possibly undesirable effect on the quality and standards of teaching and learning in schools for 11- to 16-year-olds if we cut off at the top. [column 150]

We have not had enough time to form definite judgments. The Secretary of State took us a little way along the road but did not give us a full explanation. I hope that we will have a definite undertaking that the Government are not going overboard for sixth form colleges.

A plan has been worked out in Cambridge for one sixth-form college, but it has now been returned from the Department for further discussion with a good deal of pressure for perhaps one or two more colleges. I hope that there will be no question of stampeding or pressuring local authorities.

The Secretary of State said this morning that we want innovation and experiment. If the Government are to take this enlightened approach to the sixth form college and the college for further education, it makes it all the more sad that they are taking a highly doctrinaire approach to the earlier years of secondary education. The Government owe it to the Committee and to the country to give a fuller explanation this morning of their philosophy of selection at different ages and to assure us that behind the right hon. Lady's smile there are no twisted intentions about what may or may not be imposed in the next few years.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee

I intervene shortly, but not, to borrow the words of the Secretary of State, to bring this discussion to an end. I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) that on this matter it would be valuable to have the views of the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. J. Idwal Jones), who has made a special study of these matters.

I want to say by way of introduction that it is true that because of the way in which you, Mr. Brewis, have helped the Committee by grouped Amendments we are permitted to have a fairly wide-ranging discussion over a number of the matters in Clause 1 which affect the sixth form colleges and the matter of selection. But may I make it clear that I am specifically staying away from any question of sharing sixth form facilities, which is the object of Amendment No. 24. I make that point because it is a matter of real concern and those interested might otherwise expect that we would go into that matter this morning. [column 151]

As I listened to the Secretary of State this morning, I reflected again that there are silver linings to grey clouds. I regard this Bill as a complete waste of time in educational terms, but at least it allows us, in a quiet and dispassionate way, and with considerable dispatch, to discuss a number of matters which interest us all in the educational field. There are not sufficient opportunities for this in the House. It is the fault, not of the Government, I hasten to add, but of our system.

The Government are sharply divided between the quiet and reflective discussion of educational subjects, illustrated by the speech of the Secretary of State this morning, and the exclusively political subject matter of this Bill. I do not want to spoil the reflective atmosphere of this morning, but it has to be said that in political terms the Bill, and in particular this Clause, is being thrown around the country as illustrating that selection will end under Labour. As we have heard from the Secretary of State, that is palpably not so.

This group of Amendments highlights the fact that selection is still permissible for the sixth forms and is still permissible for those who are younger and who, in the words of the Bill, it is expedient to educate with older children. We have now got ourselves into the ridiculous situation that by law it will be impossible to select at 11—an age of selection which anyway is rapidly dying out and is insisted upon only by a minute number of authorities in respect of which the powers of this Bill are very leaky indeed. That is outside the law, but selection at, say, 15 or conceivably 14, is lawful. I cannot see why the time of Parliament has to be taken up with a Bill like this, unless this is exclusively a political Bill.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Taking into account the physical conditions that we have in education today, and the lack of traditional schools in some of our great industrial areas, is the hon. Gentleman really advancing the argument that selection at 11 and selection at 16 are the same thing? If so, is he being honest?

Mr. van Straubenzee

If I were putting forward the concept that selection at 11 is the same as selection at 16, I would agree that different considerations were involved, although, as I shall show later, some of them are not all that different. [column 152]That is not the point I was making.

My point is that the Bill will outlaw selection at 11 but will permit it at 14, not 16. Therefore, the idea that under this Bill selection will be ended is plainly incorrect. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) would not go round his constituency saying that selection has been outlawed by the Labour Government because he knows that that is not accurate, and he would not wish to be other than strictly accurate. He also knows that selection at 11 will remain with us in a substantial number of cases, for precisely the reason he has given, namely, the facilities which we have inherited and the buildings. He has more cause to know this than almost any other member of the Committee. I am certain that there is an immense impetus away from this, but we are the prisoners of our inheritance in this matter.

The part of the Secretary of State's speech which interested us most was that concerning the sixth forms. One of the useful points about our discussions is that we are helpfully being given facts about the developments that are taking place. I hope I understood the figures correctly, but if not I am sure I shall be corrected if inadvertently I give the wrong figures. It is helpful to see the developing pattern, with 44 colleges being approved by 26 local authorities and eight or nine of them being based on selection. That is a surprisingly high number.

The Secretary of State gave an admirable Conservative speech in that respect, and I propose to send him a membership form for the Conservative Party because plainly he is on the wrong side of the Committee. How very sensible to see gradually developing, as we move into this fascinating and developing field, the right structure and how curious that the other half of his mind is almost totally made up when it comes to the subject of the education of younger children. I thought his speech this morning was so wise and statesmanlike. Indeed, if I ever had any doubts about whether I should join him in the Lobby, I am bound to say they have now been removed, and he has a convert.

What I found fascinating was the argument taken up, as always, so ably by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price), which I hope I followed correctly as I should not like to do him an injustice in his absence, namely, that the importance of social conditions [column 153]and social background lessens with a child of 16 as opposed to a child of 11. If I did not make myself clear when I was referring to absence, I must make it plain that I was referring to the absence of the Secretary of State and not to the hon. Member for Perry Barr, who is looking somewhat bewildered.

When one gets to the age of 16, I should have thought that the background of the young person, particularly the encouragement of the home to go on with a course of some kind, surely becomes if anything almost greater. I do not find it easy to strike a balance, but I find it surprising that the Secretary of State should have said that 11 was an age at which social factors weighed exceedingly heavily but at 16 they weighed far less heavily. I am not sure that I am prepared to accept that argument, partially because we are embarking on matters on which there is uncertainty on both sides of the Committee.

Mr. Hill

Has my hon. Friend considered one social factor which seems to be operating in comprehensive schools? There is some evidence from the research work of Dr. Douglas which is contained in his book “All our future” that the bright children from working class homes still seem to be less likely to stay on when academically they should do so and the social factor of early leaving is working against their long term interests. This seems to happen more in a comprehensive school than the selective schools to which many of them hitherto will have gone.

Mr. van Straubenzee

These are interesting reflections and an example of the way in which we all need to know much more before being dogmatic on this matter. If the evidence quoted by my hon. Friend is correct, it should weigh very much in our discussions. My view is that we are moving increasingly into an era where education at this age will be of a much more relaxed nature. For example, I noticed with interest that recently the hon. Member for Perry Barr mentioned how many of those we are now educating found quite intolerable the institutional atmosphere of a school. We are all familiar with this phenomenon.

I have referred before to that splendid series of articles in The Times in 1965 which sparked off so much of the discussion on these matters. There was then a fascinating description of the college of Mex[column 154]borough, and it illustrates very well the kind of approach which is at work in those places. In the sixth of those articles the special correspondent wrote this:

“The facilities at Mexborough are quite spectacular—of all the schools I have visited, the sixth form college is the most lavishly equipped. The sixth formers have their own common room, equipped with Scandinavian furniture of the kind usually found in an ideal home” ——

I am not quite sure whose ideal home—

“and certainly hardly likely to be seen in the miners' cottages clustered in rows of dirty back streets that make up this coalfield town.”

I am not responsible for those words, I hasten to add.

“The students eat in their own self-service restaurant, with a choice of dishes. They can, and do, invite guests. They take morning coffee and afternoon tea” ——

the phrase used is “take tea” —

“after school in their common room, where they discuss their interests or the day's papers.”

A slight nuance of the Carlton Club there, I thought, but I am sure it is greatly to the benefit of the school that it be so.

11.30 a.m.

Then this section of the article ended:

“There is no supervision whatever. The only rules the headmaster imposes are a ban on smoking and stiletto heels in school, eating in the street, and”

—the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) will be glad to know—

“compulsory attendance at morning prayers.”

Clearly everything is catered for at Mexborough.

Miss Bacon

I have been to Mexborough. I did not recognise it from what the hon. Member has said.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I do not want to be unkind, but perhaps the right hon. Lady did not get an invitation to tea. Perhaps as a result of my giving the matter publicity that will be put right and she will be able to enjoy discussing the morning papers with the sixth formers.

The serious point is that we are clearly moving into an era of more relaxed education at sixth form level. All of us will have to learn how the structure is formed. With that kind of background, it is surely wrong to exclude any possibility, as the Amendment now put forward proposes.

I read in the Press—I do not know whether it is accurate or not—that this Amendment, like others, emanates from the National Union of Teachers. I share [column 155]the immense respect for the work of that union which is common to both sides of the Committee, but I am bound to say that there are moments when I detect in some of its views a doctrinaire approach which I do not find congenial. I refer merely by way of illustration to a debate earlier this morning on the Floor of the House when we discussed precisely such a doctrinaire approach in relation to those who are in teaching at the moment but who have to leave it at the end of August. I hope we can persuade our friends in the National Union of Teachers not always to adopt such a doctrinaire approach in matters of this kind.

Mr. Newens

May I correct the hon. Member? He alleged that this Amendment emanated from the National Union of Teachers. In fact, it emanated from certain hon. Members in this Committee and has the support of the National Union of Teachers. It would be quite wrong to allow the impression to be given that these are Amendments dictated by interests outside this Committee. The Amendment also has the support of a number of other organisations very much concerned with the matters we are debating here.

Mr. van Straubenzee

If the hon. Gentleman says that, I accept it entirely. I merely believed what I have read in the newspapers, and that is always a mistake. I see the difference, and I gladly make that correction. It is an Amendment for which the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are entirely personally responsible, as is in accordance with our traditions. The hon. Member said on Second Reading:

“The National Union of Teachers would, however, support my remarks about the desirability of removing the exemption of the sixth form colleges.” —[Official Report, 12th February, 1970; Vol. 795, c. 1494.]

It was from that remark by the hon. Gentleman, together with Press reports, that I put two ends together.

I conclude my remarks by pleading for a certain flexibility of approach as we enter this new era. To exclude one of the possibilities by legislation is surely wrong, and at the outset of our debate this morning we hear one of the most powerful arguments in favour of following the course I approve.

Mr. J. Idwal Jones

Reference has been made to my memorandum of 1942. Per[column 156]haps I can refer to my experience, and especially my sixth form experience, which was rather unique. I was the only member of the sixth form at my school. It was a grammar school of some eminence. It was founded in 1575. I had the honour of being the last guest speaker at that school as a grammar school.

The situation in 1942 was this. Conferences on education were being held all over the country after the war. I drafted a memorandum. At that time I happened to be headmaster of what was known as a central school. I had had some experience with children. I had many late developers. I resisted the idea of my central school having examinations of any kind. Consequently, if I had a child whom I considered to be promising, I transferred him to a grammar school, although that meant some loss in my salary. That was my general principle. I wanted the central school to be non-examination, and the grammar school to be examination.

When I put out this memorandum I visualised a new system altogether, a comprehensive system of education where each child should work with children at his own level. A boy may be a grammar school boy in Latin; he may be a central school type in geography. Why should he not work with a grammar school type in Latin and a central school type in geography? That was the idea I had in mind at the time. I visualised a comprehensive system of education.

Then there was the question of differences in area. I suggested in that memorandum—and we must remember that at that time the school leaving age was 14—that after the school leaving age there should be another type of school, comprehensive in nature, but which would provide means for children who wanted to enter the professions. That was my idea behind what was called the secondary grammar school, to prepare for the professions such as the teaching profession.

I should like to say this about my social background. The grammar school which I attended had children from a peculiar type of community. I have never been able to understand the attitude that working class people cannot produce grammar school types. I resist that argument. The school to which I belonged had children from communities which were working class, and that school made a fine record for itself. [column 157]

Since then things have changed. Not only do we want to prepare children for the universities, colleges, and so on; there is also technical work to be done. In addition, there is something far more important in community life. There is the possibility of young people knowing too much about nuts and bolts and not enough about culture. Consequently, I believe in education there are studies which are of a non-examination type. The sixth form college could provide both types of education: education to prepare pupils for the professions, and education to give children a cultural background, a knowledge of literature, knowledge of history and knowledge of geography to make them a knowledgeable democracy of the future.

Miss Bacon

In the days when my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) had the

“privilege and pleasure. That”

he treasured

“beyond measure … to run on little errands for the Ministers of State.”

his Secretary of State produced Circular 10/65. I ought to read what is in Circular 10/65 because largely what we are embodying in this Bill and putting into statutory form is what has been done voluntarily by local authorities at the request of Circular 10/65.

Paragraph 19 of Circular 10/65 said:

“It is essential that no scheme involving the establishment of a sixth form college should lead to any restriction of existing educational opportunities for young people of 16 to 18. Where authorities are considering the establishment of sixth form colleges they should review all the educational needs of the 16 to 18 group in their area and the provision they have hitherto made for them, both in sixth forms and in colleges of further education. Where, in the light of this review, it is proposed to establish sixth form colleges, the relationship between these colleges and colleges of further education, and their respective functions, will require careful consideration to avoid unnecessary duplication of resources and to ensure that the best use is made of the educational potential of each.”

What we are doing is merely to put in the Bill the views which were embodied in Circular 10/65 and to which we have been working since 1965.

Mr. Christopher Price

I think my right hon. Friend would admit that the very carefully drafted sentence in Circular 10/65 which she has just read is thoroughly vague and does not really say anything [column 158]about what the review of the two lots of facilities should produce. Is she saying that the meaning of that sentence in Circular 10/65 was that A level courses should be concentrated in sixth form colleges and all other non-A level work for 16 to 19 years olds should be concentrated in colleges of further education? The Circular was careful not to say that in so many words. Is that what she is saying now?

Miss Bacon

I will come to that in a moment because that is not what we are saying in this Bill either.

Paragraph 16 of the Circular says:

“Two conceptions of the sixth form college have been put forward. One envisages the establishment of colleges catering for the educational needs of all young people staying on at school beyond the age of 16; the other would make entry to a college dependent on the satisfaction of certain conditions (e.g. five passes at Ordinary level or a declared intention of preparing for Advanced level).”

I stress that what is in this Bill is very like Circular 10/65. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. J. Idwal Jones) said, I think quite rightly, that he thought that by and large sixth forms should cater for everybody. My right hon. Friend this morning indicated that that is what he would prefer. But we do not live in a perfect world and we must look at what is there. Sizes of some of the sixth form colleges, both those in operation now and those we have already passed in local authority plans, are too small, both in resources and in buildings, to provide not only the general academic courses but also the courses which are being provided nearby in colleges of further education. This is not a new problem that has arisen only since the comprehensive scheme. There has always been the problem of passing from the fifth form into the sixth form.

I stress that the Bill does not prohibit a local authority from admitting pupils in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr wishes. If a local authority wishes to do this, has the resources and finds that this is a convenient method of reorganisation, it can provide for everybody and for all courses within the sixth form college, or within a comprehensive school.

Mr. Newens

I take my right hon. Friend's point that the Bill does not prohibit this, but are we positively encouraging it? While we recognise that there may [column 159]be difficulties about resources, we hope that local authorities will have non-selective sixth form colleges, or junior colleges of education, or whatever we call them.

11.45 a.m.

Miss Bacon

I am about to explain that we would prefer that, but in some areas there are circumstances which would make it extremely difficult. As I was saying, just as the Bill does not prohibit local authorities from admitting all pupils over the age of 16, so it does not prevent a local authority, if it does not have the facilities, from providing education for some 16-year-olds elsewhere.

My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr spoke of the atmosphere in sixth form colleges and colleges of further education. As I go round the country, I find that the social barriers between children over the age of 16 in sixth forms, in sixth form colleges and in colleges of further education are being broken down. I find no social distinction whatever between the youngsters. I think my hon. Friend recognised that there is a movement amongst youngsters of 16 and over towards preferring to go to the college of further education, sometimes because of the courses it offers and sometimes because the youngsters wish to be free from going to school and to get into a college atmosphere. The barriers are being broken down.

Mr. Christopher Price

The movement that my right hon. Friend has described will be welcomed by almost everyone. But surely the Bill will allow local authorities to strip the colleges of further education, to which these youngsters prefer to go because they do not like the institutional atmosphere of school, of their A level courses and of the academic attractions which draw those pupils to them. Although I agree that local authorities can do this in a sensible way, surely the Government should take a decision to prevent local authorities from down-grading colleges of further education which hitherto have been getting a stream of intelligent children who want higher education.

Miss Bacon

Nothing in the Bill will have that effect. This is an entirely administrative matter within the local authority areas. There are many link courses between sixth forms and colleges of further education. We want to [column 160]encourage these, and bring the sixth forms and the colleges much closer together. That is why I welcome the experiment which is to be embarked on in Exeter, where the provision for children of sixth form age is being concentrated in the college of further education. There is no sixth form college block and further education block. The whole of the education will be in this unit at the college of further education. We want to encourage this.

Mr. Lane

Will the right hon. Lady complete the interesting picture which she has given of the breaking down of social barriers at this age range by agreeing that, even with the present system, at lower ages in the secondary modern and grammar schools this same breaking down of barriers is going on all the time, particularly in the extra-school activities and in community service?

Miss Bacon

No, I have not found that quite so much.

Mr. Lane

It is happening.

Miss Bacon

It may be happening to a small extent. I have not found this and, in any case, this is no argument for retaining selection at the age of 11.

Since we have been working to Circular 10/65, which has not prohibited a very small number of local authorities from having a sixth form college based, not entirely but to a certain extent, on academic standards, we could not now upset the programmes on which those authorities have embarked. I am sure that no headmaster would turn out of a school somebody who wished to stay on in that school and go into the sixth form. I give the specific assurance that we would not accept from any local authority a scheme which did not provide opportunities for the education of all children beyond the age of 16 who wanted to continue their education beyond that age.

Hon. Members opposite have spoken about selection at 11 and at 16. Even if the Clause is retained in the Bill, we do not envisage that there will be rigid selection at 16. What we are getting rid of in the Bill is rigid selection at the age of 11, which still exists in some local authority areas. I assure my hon. Friends that we, too, have doubts about this. We shall watch it carefully, but we do not think at this stage, with our present resources and bearing in mind the small size of some [column 161]sixth form colleges, that we could insist in every single instance that there should be provided within every sixth form college a duplication of what is already provided by the local authority in a college of further education.

With the assurances that my right hon. Friend and I have given that we shall not accept any scheme which does not provide for the education of all children who wish it beyond the age of 16, I hope that my hon. Friends will be willing to withdraw the Amendment.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

I join with my hon. Friends who have said how much they agree with some of the educational parts of the Edward ShortSecretary of State's speech, especially those directed to the need for experiment and innovation at this level of education. I was almost stung to rise when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) said words to the effect that parents were not relevant to youngsters of 16. That might apply to him, but will he please not apply it to parents on this side of the Committee.

It is easy to make generalisations. A parent with more than one child in the 16–18 age group finds it difficult to make decisions. One of my children would not wish to leave the school where Mark Thatcherhe had all his education up to 16 and would not like the prospect of going to another school for his education between 16 and 18. My Carol Thatcherother child was quite determined to leave school and go to a sixth form unit in another school, which seemed to her to offer a much wider range of academic study. Whatever theories we may have, in fact, the schools will offer a quite different range of opportunities and subjects for some time to come.

My child who wanted to go to the sixth form unit in a well-known school was firmly told that she would have to enter by ability and take an examination. I do not fear this for a child of 16. She worked harder than she had ever worked before, which gave her a foretaste of what she would have to face later in life, and passed the examination. If she had not passed the examination, she could have gone to a college of further education. Some students have another reason for going to a college of further education, the best reason of all, that they sometimes offer a better course than either a sixth form college or a sixth form in a school. Indeed, for science [column 162]and mathematics, some colleges of further education offer far more opportunity than some schools.

This illustrates one feature about the Bill and the Amendment. The Bill is an enabling Bill with regard to sixth form colleges and open sixth forms. It enables a wide range of provision. With the Amendments, the Bill would be restrictive. It would ignore many practical realities and would preclude full educational opportunity for some children.

It is probable that specialist courses will always be offered, as they should be. I do not see why a sixth form college should not specialise in courses for languages for students going on to the Interpreters School in Geneva. It would be reasonable to have an ability or aptitude test for such a course so that the student can benefit from the course. I would regard that as a special opportunity and not a restriction of an opportunity.

May I refer to a college which has not been mentioned, but which, I think, ranks as a sixth-form college. That is the Atlantic College in Wales, which the right Alice Baconhon. Lady will know. It is one of four; the others will be set up. It is run by the World College of the Atlantic under the auspices of Lord Mountbatten. It takes pupils of university calibre, recommended by the local authorities from, I believe, 29 countries. The idea is to intermingle those pupils so that ultimately they will look at world affairs from the standpoint of pupils who have been educated with pupils of a similar standard from other countries. The Government have put £65,000 into the project, the Government of West Germany have put in a large amount of money and most European countries co-operate in the project. The project has great ideals. Pupils of ability from various countries are brought together in the hope that they will go back to their countries to become leaders in many different spheres and to look on world problems from a wider standpoint. That is a sixth form college with an ability or aptitude intake and these Amendments would stop its activity. 12 noon

We would regard the Bill's existing provision for sixth form colleges and units as an enabling measure—enabling experiment, innovation, variety and a wider range of educational opportunity than the Amendments would allow. I agree with [column 163-164]the right hon. Lady that all of us would wish those who want to carry on beyond 16 to be able to do so, even if they are not studying for A level courses or other courses. They will in future have to face very different occupational opportunities from the rest of us. They will almost certainly have to retrain at some time in their lives, and their retraining will be much better and easier the better their general standard of education.

I agree with the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. J. Idwal Jones) that the working classes can produce the calibre for grammar schools. That is how many of us got there in the first place. But one thing which strikes me about these debates is that we hear far more about social class and background than we are ever aware of outside this place. I am not sure how my own would be described; I did not think about it much before I came here. I am probably one of those ordinary middle class parents who, although not always beloved of educational commentators, are always a force to be reckoned with.

We would not wish to press the Amendments to a Division, because the Bill without them allows a wider range of educational opportunity from about 15, or, in the case of a brilliant mathematician, 13 onwards.

Miss Bacon

May I put the record straight on what the hon. Lady said about Atlantic College? I am told that it is not a school in law at all and that therefore the Bill would not apply to it.

Mrs. Thatcher

I asked last night how pupils were nominated for this college, and I was told that it is by the local education authority on the understanding that they are of university calibre. As I understand that, therefore, the nomination of pupils would be precluded by Clause 1(1), because this tries to end the sending of pupils by local authorities to any establishment with an intake based on aptitude or ability.

Miss Bacon

Yes, but it does not take children of statutory school age. They are over the statutory age. Anyway, we can probably pursue this later.

Mr. Newens

I very much regret that I must press these Amendments. The debate has shown that, although my right hon. Friend's intention is that there should be non-selection after 16, the opportunity will be open for various local authorities to introduce selection at sixth form colleges, which would frustrate many of the aims of the Bill. In these circumstances, I must with regret press the Amendment to a Division.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 2, Noes 6.

Division No. 8.]


Newens , Mr. Stan

Price , Mr. Christopher


Armstrong , Mr. Ernest

Bacon , Miss Alice

Mahon , Mr. Simon

Oakes , Mr. Gordon

Price , Mr. William

Woof , Mr. Robert

Mr. Hill

I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 1, line 24, after “for” , insert “mathematics” .

The Chairman

We can discuss at the same time Amendment No. 17, in page 1, line 24, after “for” , insert “languages” ; Amendment No. 18, in page 1, line 24, after “for” , insert “athletics” ; Amendment No. 38, in page 1, line 24, after “for” , insert “navigation” ; and Amendment No. 19, in page 1, line 25, leave out “other art” and insert, “art, science, discipline or skill” .

Mr. Hill

These Amendments would widen the exception Clause, which is the single provision, apart from subsection (4)(a), which allows certain under-16s to enter sixth form colleges in special circumstances, permitting any selection under 16—not just at 11—for some form of preferential secondary education. It contrasts sharply with Section 8(2)(c) of the Education Act, 1944, which provided—rightly, it is still to be provided—special treatment for children suffering from a disability of mind or body. [column 165]

But the only gifts—that is to say, exceptional ability of mind or body—for which selection is permitted are music, dancing, or any other art. I find that quaint. I could not help wondering whether it did not represent a victory by the right hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Jennie Lee) for the arts over the dead bodies of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State.

We confirm the desirability of exceptional treatment to develop and train precocious talent in dancing and music. Both are recognisable at a very early age and both need the most skilled and sympathetic treatment. Even the most fervent non-streamer would concede that a top-grade ballet school must select its children with reference to ability and aptitude. Likewise, great musical talent can flourish only if it is brought under the influence and inspiration of the highest possible teaching. The best contemporary example is probably the Yehudi Menuhin School, founded in 1964.

The point of these two types of schools is that the particular subject, dancing or music, must have priority, not to the exclusion of other education but in the emphasis put on it. We on this side of the Committee do not believe that exceptional talent in children is confined to—certainly it should not be catalogued as only existing in—these or any other arts, and still less that no children below the age of 16 should be selected to enable them to benefit from a more intensive or discriminating education for some particular aptitude.

It is extraordinary that, at a time when it is generally agreed that not only do we need the maximum number of great scientists and mathematicians that we can muster, but that we are particularly short of teachers in all these categories, we should make no recognition for the exceptional treatment which these qualities, in cases of very high talent undoubtedly deserve. I do not know what interpretation the courts might put on the phrase “or any other art” . I will not seek to do it, although I am sure that my right hon. Friends could enliven us with a very interesting debate on it.

On the particular subjects, I turn first to children with an outstanding gift in mathematics. Surely there can be no dispute today that this quality exists and is easily identifiable by those capable of recognising it in children of a very early [column 166]age. I think that as a quality it arises to a greater degree from genetics than from environment. In Russia, for example, they appreciated some years ago that this talent was very precious, very rare and comparatively short-lived, that it needed spotting early so as to enable children to develop their skill to the full. In mathematics, it seems that a genius's best work is finished by the age of 40. So there is a premium on discovering where a nation's talent lies and bringing it on. The Russians have established a series of schools started by Professor Kolmogoroy, first in Moscow, then at Novosibirsk and then across the Russian continent.

I do not know whether there are, anywhere in the maintained system in England, centres of that quality of mathematical teaching. We should like to feel that it is within the powers of the Department or the local authorities to establish such a school. Such teaching can be obtained in England, but, so far as I know, these centres are outside the maintained sector.

The young English mathematicians are very good. In the international competition in 1967 an English team was entered, largely with the support of the Guinness Foundation in the preparatory work, and some persuasion, if not pressure, had to be put on the Department to support the venture. In that competition, Russia was first, East Germany second, Hungary third and England fourth—ahead of any other Western power. That position of fourth was repeated in the next competition. The centres of excellence for this teaching tend to be notable, like Manchester Grammar School, a direct grant school to which reference has already been made and within the independent sector, for example, at Eton and Winchester. I would have liked to feel that we should be free to establish, if we wished, a special school for young mathematicians. It would have to be a centre of excellence. It is hard to get mathematics teachers of the quality required together. They are rare.

12.15 p.m.

I turn to languages. As a nation we are, at long last, making much more general improvement in the learning of languages and one agreeable feature of recent educational development has been the starting of a second language in our primary schools. This is very good. It is not excellent, because excellence in mod[column 167]ern languages means a degree of fluency which is now needed nationally but is not easily acquired in an area school.

This nation, after a long history of insularity, is applying to join the European Economic Community. If we enter Europe, there will be an even greater premium on people, particularly younger people, who can think and, as it were, live in two, three or even more languages as easily as in their native tongue. There must be plenty of children who, let us face it, have a certain social advantage, even if only for the reason that they are born of marriages of mixed nationality and have therefore grown bilingual from the cradle. I would like to feel that modern language schools could be established, if thought desirable, in which many of the subjects and not just the languages might be taught in a foreign language.

A number of brilliant, children, having no difficulty in being bilingual, could become trilingual, but this means an intensity of teaching and ability which is not commonly found and would not be expected to be found in a school whose catchment area was limited to one district. Some children might wish to study classic Latin and Greek. Some comprehensive schools will no doubt have a classics course which is very good, but not all area schools, as I would call them to emphasise the nature of the Government decision to have schools based on areas, can have a first class classics course. They would not have the staff available and there might be only one child whose bent was that way. Hitherto that child's escape route would have been a scholarship through the direct grant system into a classics training course of high quality, but if all those routes are to be cut we must think how the comprehensive system is to provide for this type of child with a rare talent. One of the greatest doubts about the comprehensive system is whether it can meet the need of the individual would-be classicist. Ancient history may present no great difficulty, but taking the languages of Greek and Latin themselves is a different problem.

In so far as the comprehensive school, with the best will in the world, tries to cater for such a pupil, at what cost to other children, is that necessary concentration and diversion of skilled staff? I would think that the case was unanswer[column 168]able that the Department must enlarge this Clause.

These Amendments concern the education of particularly gifted children and I was interested to read the Department of Education and Science Report on Education for July, 1968, which dealt with this subject. Although all these reports are careful to say that the views expressed are not necessarily those of the Department, this was of a conference attended by many of Her Majesty's inspectors and I should like to make a few quotations from it, although I hope that hon. Members will read it or refresh their minds if they have already read this interesting document. Inevitably one's quotations must be selective.

On page 1 the document says:

“The conference also agreed that it would be wrong to conclude that gifted children should be educated separately and considered that comprehensive education need not be in opposition to their needs”

That is fair enough, but there is a scintilla of doubt and it is quite different from the assertion, as I understand it, from the Secretary of State and certainly from the Bill that comprehensive education can definitely cater for their needs to the exclusion of other alternative provisions.

Again on page 1 it says:

“Not all gifted children experience difficulty in social adjustment. Nevertheless, if a child's social and emotional development were outstripped by his intellect he could be at risk in the ordinary school situation and unlikely to grow into a rounded personality. He could become bored, apathetic and hostile, or aim at assurance by intellectually ‘throwing his weight about’ at school, antagonising teachers and fellow-pupils alike. On the other hand there was no guarantee that the highly able child would wish or be able to pursue academic excellence.”

On page 2 the document says—and this is pretty obvious:

“Gifted children are obviously important to society, economically and culturally, and society should be concerned to see that they grow up to be an asset and not a liability … If we were to have genuine equality in education we must accord due recognition to all manifestations of human talent, not just a few of them.”

The paper points out some of the difficulties which have to be faced with regard to these children and makes varied suggestions about in-service teacher training. It points out that the gifted child should be educated with his fellows of a wide range of ability but he should be in the company of children of his own intellectual level some of the time: he should also be in contact with first class minds among their [column 169]fellows and their teachers. The higher up the secondary school, the more did tutorial sized groups become necessary. The paper refers to some experiments, including a pilot course at the Goldsmith's College, which had studied

“various aspects of handicap including the deprivation experienced by some gifted children.”

Although the paper summarises the best thinking on this difficult problem, in 1968, there was no conclusion beyond doubt. I do not think anyone is in a position to form a more certain judgment today, and certainly not a statutory judgment, as to where and how we shall make the best of our important minority of really gifted children.

I must emphasise that we are not demanding a provision but resisting a prohibition. This is essentially disenabling legislation and I do not think it is wise, in the light of our present limited information and experience. The Secretary of State seems to be laying down rigid restrictions for the future without knowing what the future is likely to hold. I therefore do not find these restrictions educational so much as egalitarian, positively Tarquinian.

A mind, not on the same side of politics as I, but much loftier and better informed is that of Lord Snow. May I commend to the attention of the Committee his Clayes-more lecture given in March last year under the title, “Kinds of excellence” . He said:

“egalitarianism, like elitism, has two faces, one ugly, one benign. It is good to believe—it is essential to believe if one is a decent human being—that men are equal in the sight of God; it is ugly to try and achieve this by cutting down the tall poppies, as the Australians say.”

I turn to the next Amendment, dealing with athletics. Dancing is not the only form of physical prowess in which, if a child is to realise his full potential, it is desirable to start at an earlier age than 16. The Committee will have in mind world championships and how early talent is brought to full development in such sports as swimming, athletics, and the now less exotic sport of skiing. They are all highly competitive. I must return for a moment to Lord Snow who exactly summarised my feelings in a much better way than I could:

“Now curiously, no one doubts that other lucky characters are born with outstanding athletic talents … No one questions this. Everyone accepts it as a fact of life, which it is, of course, and I have never heard of anyone object to these abnormally gifted people being trained [column 170]differently from the rest of us. No one thinks that is undemocratic.

“But to do the same with intellectual talent worries a great many people of good will. I mean that quite seriously—not people who are envious, as many are envious—but people of good will. It does worry them. I am absolutely sure that they are wrong and I think it is about the only thing I am sure of in the field of education.”
That statement makes my case.

There are few things of which one can be sure in education and therefore we must not be rigid in our restriction. When we think of athletics or sport, surely it is likely that as a nation we shall continue to want to participate in international sport. Whatever we may think individually, this is what many people care about, and undoubtedly it is a much better form of international rivalry than the military form which has cursed the world throughout civilisation. Yet we can see that the pressure of competition is forcing the limits of skill and endurance further and further, and the age at which detection may be made of some physical skill needing special training in the pursuit of sports becomes earlier and earlier.

Mr. Newens

Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to be saying that he would favour the establishment of specialist schools for children of the age of 11 to enter for all these subjects, including mathematics, and even for athletics? If so, would he tell us something about the process of selection which he would have to enable the children to have the full range of opportunities presented to them?

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Hill

I specifically said that this Clause outlaws selection below the age of 16. It is not an argument about selection at 11 or 11-plus. With mathematics, I understand that the age when this can definitely be spotted beyond any doubt is probably earlier than 11. The time when we want to get them into the special schools may be around the age of 15. At any rate, that is the time when the Russians do it.

I really do not know about sports. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman ought to ask Sir Alf Ramsay, or someone like that. I think that he will find that a skilled person can spot this talent which is, after all, largely a physical gift concerning the co-ordination of eye, mind and muscle. It is a question of training and bringing it out. I am not [column 171]suggesting, and never have suggested, that we should set up schools for children over 11 with these special talents. What I am saying is that we should not prohibit ourselves from doing so at an age lower than 16 if it seems desirable in the future.

We are moving that way because the first two Olympic bursaries have recently been awarded. They happen to be taken by students in further education, so they are well over 16. The Government have recognised that on an experimental basis we should try some bursaries for people of great talent in particular sports, and the particular sport at the moment is pole vaulting, so that someone with these limited and special gifts can have the benefit and the facilities of coaching and continuous practice with a view to competing in the Olympics. It may be that the age will be pushed further back.

There is a second point about athletics and education. If someone has this great talent, it is fair to say that, especially if a person is young, it is easy for him to think only in terms of that athletic talent and to let the rest of his education go by the board. This has been one of the great drawbacks of our education system, particularly in the “bad old days” that we have all heard about, but it is just part of young human nature. It is also clear that exceptional talent has a high commercial value, and people will legitimately try to get control of it.

I think it is admitted that some of the professional football clubs are rightly concerned about the continuing education of some of their younger members. Therefore, it might come about in future, if the age is lowered at which one needs to get training, that will be doubly important for this to be accompanied by the best possible educational provision, so that the athlete is not someone who can merely jump brilliantly but is also a whole man, properly educated. We would not be putting them like horses into a stable but maybe like young Spartans into a training academy, with the emphasis on sports. If that is not done there is the danger that someone with great talent will end up at quite a young age relatively uneducated.

I now turn to Amendment No. 38, which is of a very different kind, but I must mention it because it is grouped with the others. It proposes to insert the word “navigation” . So far, we have dwelt upon [column 172]selection because of some specially high aptitude and ability in children. I have put in navigation, but it does not fit my general argument, which has been devoted to high talent in children. This is much more an example of where a craft, skill or calling may attract children and be provided in a particular school by way of specialisation, and yet to go to that school there must be some reference to ability and aptitude, plus the inclination and motivation. This is not so remote as it seems, and I only realised the difficulty when I considered how this Bill might affect the present arrangements in Norfolk, which are governed very much by geographical necessity.

Our secondary modern schools, which again I insist are very good schools, may not have the range of comprehensive schools, but they are good, particularly in such matters as pastoral care. They are being encouraged to develop a particular specialist emphasis for the later years of schooling. When a school is near an agricultural or horticultural institute, it will develop a slant towards farming or market gardening. In the case of navigation there is a secondary modern school near Lowestoft, where the fishing fleet is based, and in that school there are facilities readily available for studying navigation, and being in contact with the Merchant Navy. Other secondary modern schools may develop a pre-nursing course. This is not peculiar to Norfolk; I think it is happening all over the country. The point is that below 16 years of age it may seem desirable to parents and the education authority to route a child to a secondary modern school—and this could equally well happen with a comprehensive school with a necessarily somewhat incomplete range of subjects—and it may be desirable to route that child to a school outside its own area.

It appears that this Bill may prevent that, because although this exception, in which I am trying to include navigation—and in that sense I hope the right hon. Lady will realise it is a probing Amendment—the exception has to be selection “wholly or mainly” because of some aptitude. I would not claim that it is “mainly” , and certainly it is not “wholly” , unless the child shows some unlikely talent, which I do not think is reasonable to suggest in navigation. In the Bill as a whole selection is ruled out under [column 173]Clause 1 if it is “wholly” or “partly” . The difficulty with regard to navigation is “partly” because there must be some reference to the child's ability or aptitude, otherwise the local education authority could not form a view that to go through a school with a slant towards nursing or navigation would be appropriate for that child. I hope the Minister will bear this point in mind. Is this practice to be prohibited? If so, the children will suffer. We shall return to it in some degree when we deal with Amendment No. 40. The local education authority must select since it must be satisfied in all cases that a child is likely to benefit, and also in some cases to justify the extra costs involved, which are likely to be concerned with travelling and perhaps boarding.

Lastly, this series of Amendments ends in what is virtually a comprehensive statement of what the position should be, to leave out “other art” and to insert “art, science, discipline or skill” . As I have said, I cannot see the Government wanting to fetter themselves or local education authorities in providing whatever form of education may subsequently seem to be desirable, either locally or nationally, for children with special gifts. Again it is curious that at the other end of the scale we do not have this over-sensitive attitude to some special provision. One of the best things in the Plowden Report is its recommendation for positive discrimination to overcome social and other deprivations. Surely that can apply also at the top of the scale as well as at the bottom.

I end with a further reference to the Department's Report on the education of gifted children. I commend to the right hon. Lady the conception that is gaining ground in America at both ends of the scale, if not yet in this country, that unequal education may be necessary to promote equality of opportunity—and that, for gifted children, is what these Amendment are about.

Miss Bacon

I do not want to close the discussion at this stage, but I wish to make a statement before this sitting ends.

12.45 p.m.

We are dealing here with the exceptions to selection, and all the Amendments which have been moved this morning are exceptions for one reason or another. My inclination is that I would like not to have [column 174]made all those exceptions, and certainly I would not like to extend them. The exceptions we have made are for special schools, for schools catering for the arts and music, and for sixth form colleges. It has been generally agreed that we had to make exceptions for special schools. In that respect, over the next year or so, we shall be taking into my Department far more children who will be under the special schools provision than ever before.

We have already announced that responsibility for the education of the severely handicapped children, at present regarded as unsuitable for education in schools, is to be transferred to my Department. They are at present the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Security, either in training centres or in hospitals. Everything that applies to children in special schools will, in future, apply to those children. The Bill is to be introduced in another place today. I can announce this morning that the vesting day for the transfer of responsibility will be 1st April, 1971, and guidance will be sent to local authorities.

The purpose of the Amendments is to extend the exceptions. We have had the list from the hon. Member for Norfolk South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill). He has argued that mathematics, languages, athletics, art, science discipline or skill, and navigation, should be regarded in the same way as special schools, or the schools for music and art. The section on music and art contains a tiny minority of schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

It does not refer to art as such. It refers to music or dancing or any other art. One would not expect that phrase to be limited to graphic art.

Miss Bacon

I made a mistake. I should have said music, dancing or any other art.

There are nine schools which cater for music and dancing, eight of which are independent schools and one of which is a voluntary-aided school. They are the ones which would be affected by the Bill. At the moment they cater only for about 1,500 children in the country.

I said on Second Reading that there were two points of view about putting children with musical or dancing ability into special schools. My personal view is that I do not like to see children put into special schools just because they have musical ability. But I know that there is [column 175]another point of view. There is the Yehudi Menuhin school.

A great friend of mine is a well-known music teacher who has produced some of the finest pianists in this country. She does not like to see children put into special schools. I have in mind a young concert pianist who is now aged 22 or 23 but whose ambition when at school was to be a doctor. As he was found to be brilliant at music at the age of 17 or 18, he decided to become a concert pianist. It was his own decision at that age. Had he been put into a special school at a much younger age he would not have been able to decide whether to be a pianist or a doctor.

As I have said, we have made this exception because of the schools which exist and because of the feelings expressed by some musicians that it is a desirable thing to do.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Would the right hon. Lady apply her strictures on separation to the exception in the Bill of schools for dancing, bearing in mind the necessity for early specialisation whilst the body is supple?

Miss Bacon

I know that people put this argument forward. I have no strong point of view about it. We have made these exceptions in the Bill, and together they would apply to only 1,500 children throughout the country. I accept that it should go on, but I have personal reservations about it. Now we come to mathematics.

Mr. Mahon

Does this new legislation cover children who of necessity are confined to their own homes, who are not in any kind of school—and we all know children like this—who may have a particular talent?

Miss Bacon

It does not deal with those children because there would have to be some special reason why they were not in school. If they were not in school, their education would have to be provided for in some other way.

I come to mathematics. When I was at school, I was regarded as being extremely good at mathematics. I did all my own mathematics plus those of the rest of the class. I cannot think of anything worse than my having been put in a special school for young mathematicians. The whole course of my life would have been changed if I had been. I do not think it [column 176]right to take children who are specially gifted in one subject and put them into special schools with others who are so gifted. I know there are two points of view, but I do not believe that it is right.

We have heard a long list of exceptions which the hon. Gentleman would wish to make: mathematics, languages, athletics, art, science discipline or skill, and navigation. If all these exceptions were made, it would defeat the purpose of this Bill. There would be little of it left.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned navigation. I thought that he was going to raise H.M.S. “Conway” on the Island of Anglesey. Although this is now a voluntary-aided school, and not a private school, run by the Cheshire local authority, when we gave Cheshire permission to take it on as a voluntary-aided school we laid down the condition that it must be a sixth form college eventually. The Cheshire authority is taking steps to raise the admission age for this college.

I am not very happy about children at an early stage going into a school to specialise in navigation or to prepare for the Merchant Navy, or anything else. If there is specialisation, 16 is a reasonable age at which this might begin, after the child has had a normal secondary schooling.

Mr. Hill

I am glad the hon. Lady has mentioned the case of H.M.S. “Conway” . Although I was not aware of it, I appreciate these examples and difficulties may obtain elsewhere in the kingdom. My point was that it is a perfectly normal school. If the local education authority thinks a child will do better by having that training towards the end of his schooling, it avoids a change of school at what is a bad age if he can go through the school from 11—or 12, as it will be—to 16. One does not want to spend just two years in a school. Why not start in the school which offers the course at the end of one's school life? Why not start at the beginning?

Miss Bacon

The hon. Gentleman spoke about children who are now in secondary modern schools. The child in the secondary modern school should do a full five years ordinary schooling rather than specialise for navigation or the Merchant Navy. I do not wish to see this extended.

I do not think that the Opposition is serious about these Amendments. As I have said, they would exempt mathema[column 177]tics, languages, athletics, art, science discipline or skill and navigation. They would drive a coach and horses through this Bill, and because of that I must resist them.

Mr. Maude

The last few sentences of what the right hon. Lady said showed quite clearly that she has not the remotest understanding of what we are trying to do. If she really thinks that this is an attempt to destroy the Bill, it shows that she has not understood the difficulties into which the Government will get if they try to enact the Bill in its present form.

I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) to have said that, in the case of his rather improbable pre-occupation with navigation, this was a probing Amendment. Amendment No. 19 standing in my name is not a probing Amendment at all. It is perfectly serious. The right hon. Lady, by lumping it in with mathematics, navigation and athletics, has failed to appreciate the point.

If the Government try to put the Bill through in its present form, they will find an enormous series of anomalies, difficulties and possibly court cases coming up in the case of various reorganisation schemes. The right hon. Lady dealt only with the case of special schools for particular skills, aptitudes and arts, and said there were only nine in the country. That is not the only thing we are talking about here. My hon. Friend said that it was not his idea that all children who showed precocity and an aptitude in athletics or mathematics should be isolated in individual schools. Clause 1(2)(c) says:

“the provision of education in any school where the arrangements for the admission of pupils to the school are based …”

It does not say “the admission of all pupils” ; it says “the admission of pupils” . Therefore, if in any school any pupils were admitted to this school because it was judged that their abilities or aptitudes [column 178]made that school especially suitable for them, then unless they came within the exceptions at present stated in the subsection the authority would be transgressing the letter of the Bill as the Government are trying to put it through. This will produce serious difficulties.

Towards the end of his speech my hon. Friend spoke about particular schools. He talked about secondary modern schools—under the compulsory reorganisation scheme these will no doubt become comprehensive schools—which had a slant towards local skills, crafts or interests. There are many such schools all over the country, and it is to be hoped that there will be more rather than less in future. If we are to have a reasonable degree of variety in education in this country, it is absurd to suggest that every school in every area of the country is exactly the same, and that one cannot have a flourishing faculty in a school which attracts children for a specific purpose and with particular gifts to it rather than to another local school. Deliberately to prevent local authorities from making any arrangements of this kind seems not only extraordinarily inconvenient but absolute folly.

There are a number of other difficulties, and I will say a little more about those later, but there are some in definition. My hon. Friend asked what “any other art” means. How is one to say what is “any other art” ? Is English literature an art? It has generally been considered so. Are we to allow children to be specially selected for particular schools because of their ability in English literature? If so, we shall be back to the 11-plus in something like its existing form very quickly.

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

Committee adjourned till Tuesday, 24th March, 1970, at half-past Ten o'clock. [column 179-180]

The following Members attended the Committee:

Brewis , Mr. (Chairman)

Armstrong , Mr.

Bacon , Miss

Boyle , Sir E.

Evans , Mr. Fred

Hill , Mr. J. E. B.

Jones , Mr. J. Idwal

Lane , Mr.

Lewis , Mr. Kenneth

Mahon , Mr. Simon

Maude , Mr.

Montgomery , Mr.

Newens , Mr.

Oakes , Mr.

Price , Mr. Christopher

Price , Mr. William

Short , Mr. Edward

Thatcher, Mrs.

van Straubenzee , Mr.

Woof , Mr.