Standing Committee A
Tuesday, 7th April, 1970 ,p>[Mr. John Brewis in the Chair]
Principles Affecting provision of Secondary Education
Amendment No. 20 proposed—[24th March]—in page 1, line 25, at the end to insert:
“(d) the maintenance or creation by a local authority of catchment areas designed to secure a balanced ability intake for each school” —[Mr. Newens.]
Question again proposed.
I remind the Committee that we are also discussing Amendment No. 55: page 1, line 25, at end insert:
(d) such allocation by reference to ability or aptitude of pupils to a particular school as may secure a reasonable balance of ability for each school.
Mr. David Lane
This debate is one of the most important that we shall have in our proceedings and I was all the more sorry, because of that, that I could not be here at the last sitting before the Easter Recess. However, I have read the Official Report of the debate. I hope that the parents and electors of London will have noted the obstinacy of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State and the Minister of State in their opposition to banding. This is admittedly a very difficult question, and I realise that there is a fine balance of argument. Judging from his speech at the last sitting, the Secretary of State has a closed mind and a distorted view of this. The Inner London Education Authority has been operating a system of banding designed to get nearer to equality of educational opportunity, which we all acknowledge is a desirable objective. Unless the Government can be persuaded to have second thoughts, this I.L.E.A. system looks like being outlawed. If the Government are ever able to have their way, their prejudice against banding will [column 228]cause a definite setback to educational progress in London.
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) took an extremely reasonable line when presenting his case for Amendment No. 20. We all realise that we are on a tightrope when looking at the related question of catchment areas and banding. We all recognise that there is a real dilemma between parental choice and overall fairness to all the children concerned. None of us can be sure about what is admitted by the Government to be a transitional period, and the only wise course is to seek a sensible compromise between these two desirable, but somewhat conflicting, objectives.
The hon. Member said that he hoped that the Plowden concept of educational priority areas in primary education could be progressively extended to certain geographical areas for secondary education. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), in whose name Amendment No. 55 stands, used a phrase which sums up what we are trying to achieve. He said that our banding system would prevent the grossest disparities from arising. In other words, it would get nearer to the equality of educational opportunity about which I have spoken.
I am sorry to sour the atmosphere so early, but we then had the intervention, near the end of the last sitting, of the Secretary of State. He seemed to be in his worst form, and I hope that if he intervenes today we shall find him in one of his more mellow and statesmanlike moods. His speech was described as confusing by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), but that was a polite way of putting it. It is baffling trying to follow the Secretary of State. He has a fixation about innate and environmental ability, again an exceedingly difficult matter. He is letting his prejudice cloud his judgement and it has come out in one or two striking phrases. There was his rather sneering description of “so-called ability” on Second Reading.
I apologise if I misunderstand him because I was not present, but from reading the Official Report I get the impression that he said at one point that it does not really matter what happens or what is done in certain areas about banding or catchment areas, particularly about banding, so long as he does not know about it. [column 229]Then he seemed to reject both Amendments. He said it would be a blow at parental freedom of choice. Up to a point, it would be, we all realise this, but we are trying to look honestly at the dilemma and find the wisest solution, taking all these conflicting arguments into account.
At the last sitting, the Secretary of State made what was perhaps a Freudian slip. He was talking about the provisions which must be satisfied in judging appeals from parents and he said:
“If these provisions are satisfied I must always find in favour of the parent, I am afraid.”
Then my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) asked him:
“Why ‘I am afraid’?” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24th March, 1970; c. 213.]
She received no answer. If the Secretary of State is pro-parental choice, why should he be afraid? If he is really dedicated to providing equal opportunity, why is he so fearful of some slight modification, because that is all that is involved in these transitional arrangements?
On 24th April last year, in answering education Questions, the Secretary of State said that comprehensive schools alone could offer a sufficiently wide range of courses to give a meaningful choice to parents. That may very well be true—and I would not quarrel with him—in an ideal situation, the sort of situation we may reach in five, ten or fifteen years' time. Looking at the Bill, which has a much shorter-term effect, we should consider what is the actual situation in one or two areas where comprehensive education has already been introduced and is in its early stages. It is this short-term prospect and these real situations rather than any ideal and theoretical situation that we have to bear in mind.
I understand that in August last year the City of Newcastle decided that some form of sixth-form rationalisation scheme should be carried out from the beginning of the school year which started last September. This was because it had been found—and here I quote from The Times Education Supplement of 8th August, 1969—that
“Because of the social geography of the city the comprehensives have most of the characteristics of neighbourhood schools, serving fairly well-defined social areas.”
Backing that up, only more generally over the comprehensive age range and not [column 230]merely dealing with the sixth-form problem, which is raised by this neighbourhood situation, it was reported in the Teacher of 10th October last year that one of the comprehensive school headmasters in Newcastle, the headmaster of the Walker school, had complained that the school was getting so many entrants of low academic ability that its development would be ‘seriously impaired” . He went on to warn that unless something was done the school would have to cut drastically the number of subjects it could offer for external examination and resort to a rigid system of streaming. Here is one example of the dilemma. I do not want to press the Newcastle situation further, although I would like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's comment upon it.
A second example is the situation at Haringey. I quote a few sentences from a letter of explanation written by the Chairman of the Education Committee at Haringey as to why it had decided to go in for a scheme of banding. He said:
“The decision was made because our present system of free parental choice and its natural tendency to lead to neighbourhood schools was creating in our borough comprehensive schools without any semblance of a comprehensive intake. The disparity was such that some of the schools were finding it impossible to provide a comprehensive range of education for all the children. In an attempt to confirm our thinking we sought the advice of the N.F.E.R. and they provided the most suitable verbal reasoning test available and standardised the scores. The results of these tests are enclosed, with the 12 schools represented by letters.”
The schools were not identified by name. The letter went on—and I stress this because it is relevant to what was said earlier about parental choice:
“We also believe that the good or bad reputation schools gain from the result of this great disparity eventually restricts free parental choice. The good schools become over-subscribed and parents are forced to send their children to the bad schools they are trying to avoid. Again because selection for an over-subscribed school is based on distance between home and the school, parents are forced back into the neighbourhood school pattern. Although we would not place too much emphasis on our present figures because we have only had comprehensive education for three years there is a noticeable decline.”
He means that there is a decline in the degree to which they are able to satisfy parental freedom of choice. There are many statistics, and I will quote only one illustrating the freedom of choice difficulty.
According to the Haringey records, in [column 231]1967 the percentage of parents able to send children to the school or schools of their first choice was 88.3 per cent. In 1969 it had fallen to 83.8 per cent. Those figures, apart from all the others, ought to make us pause before we dismiss either of these Amendments. Dealing with the Haringey situation still and the 12 schools concerned, taking the first year of entry, the percentage of pupils who scored over 111, which is the top range of the test which was carried out by the N.F.E.R., varied from a low percentage of 6.4 in one school to a top percentage of 41.7 in another. There are many other difficulties supporting the arguments in Haringey, but I do not want to go further into them now.
The third example, to illustrate the more positive effect of banding, is Coventry. Faced with the same dilemma, Coventry has tried to correct the imbalance and is encouraged in this by the changes that it has managed to achieve. The figures I quote relate to the composition of intake of a 10-form entry comprehensive school. I will again try to summarise the figures, because they are relevant to Amendment No. 55. This is an analysis of pupils entering these schools in terms of verbal reasoning quotients at various points. The comparisons are, first, the percentage breakdown, taking the whole city of Coventry; secondly, how the percentages came out, taking a natural catchment area without modification; and, thirdly, the equalising effect that was achieved by the banding procedure. I again take figures at the top and bottom end of the v.r.q. range to make the comparison as simple as I can. I often wish that we had visual aids in Committee. Until we have, I will do my best to summarise as clearly as I can.
In the first case, the representative breakdown of the whole city of Coventry's ability range, in the level of v.r.q. 110 and above, the index would be 100. At the other end of the scale, those below 90 v.r.q., the index would again be 100 out of a total of 300. So we have approximately 100 at the top, 100 in the middle and 100 at the bottom.
Taking the natural catchment area analysed in this example from Coventry, the top index at v.r.q. 110 and above comes to only 40, whereas the bottom end of the ability range, below 90, is 144. So we have, over the whole city, 100 at the top and 100 [column 232]at the bottom, and in the natural catchment area only 40 at the top and 144 at the bottom.
In the third analysis, the pattern modified by Coventry's banding procedure, we have 90 at the top range and 115 at the bottom. Therefore, 90 and 115, which is the result of this banding procedure, is much nearer the total Coventry situation of 100 and 100. I am sorry to inflict these figures on the Committee, but I am trying to back my views and assertions with examples which I hope will give the Government time to pause and reconsider.
I should like to mention a final illustration, unbacked by figures but simply based on my wife's personal experience as vice-chairman of the governors of a girls' secondary modern school in Lambeth which is shortly going comprehensive. The school is in one of the less fortunate areas of the I.L.E.A. range of schools. I have heard from my wife about the difficulties facing it, the wonderful way they are being tackled, given the stretched resources available in this part of London, and the devoted work and thought by administrators, teachers and others. If comprehensive education is to succeed in the way in which it is evolving in the I.L.E.A., here is a clear case of a school which will get a proper take-off towards successful comprehensive organisation only if it is given extra injection over and above the natural area which so far seems likely to be feeding that school.
I hope that we shall have time to try to persuade the Government further. We are all working in the dark. We are trying to get the best solution over a difficult transitional period. We know that whatever we decide will not be ideal and will be open to objection from one point of view or another. However, in view of the examples that I have given, I hope that we shall have a more constructive response from the Government. I appeal to them, even at this point, in the interests particularly of London and some of the other places from which I have quoted examples, to give us the first crumb we have had in Committee by undertaking to look at the matter of banding and catchment areas again before Report.
Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee
I should like to mention one preliminary point before supporting what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) has been saying. Comment has been made [column 233]that these are probably some of the most important Amendments that we shall discuss. We had talked about them for only just over an hour before we rose at our last sitting. It will be within the recollection of the Committee that we on this side assisted one hon. Member opposite, who is not here, in the sense of giving him an opportunity to make his contribution. It must, therefore, be agreed that it would be reasonable to spend a little more time discussing this important matter.
One of the counties to which the Bill is directed and with which the Amendment is concerned is Norfolk. It is highly significant that the tapes this morning show that the Conservatives have strengthened their hold in that county. This clearly shows that the Amendment must have been in the eyes and ears of the electors, as was the Bill. Therefore, the electoral effect of the Bill is not what the Government intended. This is the start of further consolidations as the week progresses.
I now direct my attention specifically to the Amendment. I draw attention to what the Secretary of State said at our last sitting. It will be remembered that, in talking about Amendment No. 55, the right hon. Gentleman outlined three situations which would be likely to arise. The first and second do not concern my argument at the moment. But the third was expressed in this way:
“The third situation concerns a scheme now in existence. This would not end overnight with the passage of the Bill, any more than grammar schools will disappear overnight when the Bill becomes law, but I make clear that we could not regard it—and we have made it quite clear to the Inner London Education Authority—as a permanent feature of the educational landscape. We could not regard it as anything more than an interim device during a period of a mixed economy.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24th March, 1970; c. 214.]
I do not want to weary the Committee with lengthy excerpts, but the right hon. Gentleman went on to talk again about it being an interim step.
The burden of our argument is not that in every circumstance in every part of the country banding is right and certainly not that it should be imposed, but that it is wrong to preclude it in every circumstance in every part of the country. That is the burden of the argument raised by the second Amendment and it must be met.
Although the Secretary of State talks of an interim situation in a mixed [column 234]economy, he has elsewhere in our deliberations—I will not bore the Committee with the references—conceded that that interim period will be of long duration. The right hon. Gentleman was pressed at our first sitting, I think, to set a terminal date by which the interim period would come to an end, and he said that the cost of doing so would be astronomical.
If any of us imagine that there will be a rapid movement to a short interim period, I suppose that the latest evidence is the famous Donnison Report, which was so helpfully made available to us at our last sitting. The Donnison Report, in paragraph 68, says:
“Clearly anyone making recommendations which would call for a substantial increase in public expenditure must not expect to see them implemented in the immediate future.”
That is one of the under-statements of the year. The point is that, by common consent of both sides of the Committee, we are going to live in what the Secretary of State has described as a mixed economy for as long as we can reasonably foresee, whatever the future may hold. I suspect that it will be not less than a 20-year period, and that may be too optimistic. Throughout that agreed interim period on the passage of the Bill—I am directing my remarks to that period without prejudice to my views as to what the final pattern should be—the system, known colloquially as banding, will be prohibited.
It is important that we get a further statement about this matter from Government spokesmen. I want, therefore, to explain the system in, at any rate, one area. It is important that the electorate this week should understand what is being prohibited and how it works. I therefore take a few moments to describe the system, as I understand it, and for that purpose I take the I.L.E.A. scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge quoted from it in outline and also from certain other cities. I will try to explain the system and illustrate the difficulties into which it will lead us.
The scheme operates at school level in three parts. First, there is the preparation of what is technically called a profile by the primary head concerned. It is a profile of a child taken from one who knows it most intimately and well in its period at primary school level. This is followed by selection by the parents in consultation with the primary heads of the secondary [column 235]school. I realise that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price), whose absence we understand but regret, has certain reservations about this step. I am as aware as anybody of the limitations imposed at times by building, and so on, but it is an important part of the procedure that there should be parental consultation at this early stage. I attach the greatest importance to the question of parental choice. Thirdly, there is the consideration by the heads of the secondary schools of all the applications they receive consequent upon this procedure.
From then on, the scheme operates in what are identified as “large schools” . For the purpose of the scheme, a large school is a five form entry school or over. The object of the exercise on these schools is to obtain for each a balanced intake of children covering a wide range of ability. It might be of interest to the Committee to know how this operates in practice and what, therefore, will be prohibited if the second Amendment is not accepted.
First, a formula for admissions is worked out based on the respective numbers of pupils per form entry of 30. This operation represents the top, middle and lowest broad bands of ability. It is based on a verbal reasoning group and on a seven point scale. I cannot compete with my hon. Friend in his technical expertise in explaining the great complications of the scheme. I am content to rest on what he said. I merely wish to show the great care taken in the practice of the scheme, so that the top 40 per cent. are placed in general ability groups 1, 2 and 3, the middle 35 per cent. in groups 4 and 5 and the lowest 25 per cent. in groups 6 and 7.
Having arrived at that calculation each year, the number of children in each of these broad bands likely to go to what I have described as a “large school” as defined is estimated. I accept that, in a mixed economy, this estimation must take account of the numbers going to a selective grammar school. In Inner London at present, the grammar schools are taking about 17.5 per cent. of the intake.
Mr. Stan Newens
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, in London, it is the existence of the selective schools which creates difficulties, since originally it was proposed by the I.L.E.A. to recruit nine above average, 12 average and nine below [column 236]average per class of 30? Afterwards, since the grammar schools were not getting their full demand for places taken up, those figures were cut to five above average, 12 average and 13 below average. Thus, the banding system alongside the continued existence of the grammar schools is resulting in a process whereby the comprehensive schools are unable to recruit a balanced intake. Their intake has been worsened in relation to the balance of ability in order to preserve the grammar schools.
Mr. van Straubenzee
In the first place, this scheme operates with the approval of the Secretary of State. The schools of which the hon. Gentleman complains will be in existence up to 1975 under a scheme approved by the right hon. Gentleman. The Secretary of State concedes that they must exist for a considerable period of years. Again, it is just because of the problem of the intake of grammar schools that the intake is taken into account in the process I am outlining. I understand that the 17.5 per cent. is not necessarily coterminous with the top verbal reasoning group. It is spread mainly over the top band, but that is a large band.
The hon. Gentleman refers to groups 1, 2 and 3 in the top band. Has he any evidence that grammar schools normally recruit from below the above average band—namely, from group 4 downwards?
Mr. van Straubenzee
I accept that they are mainly off the top bands. But the hon. Gentleman has to live with this situation for as long as he can foresee. If he will not accept it from me, which I take in a friendly way, he will accept it from the Secretary of State, who says precisely the same thing. The right hon. Gentleman says, when pressed by the hon. Gentleman says, when pressed by the hon. Gentleman to bring this situation to an end in 1975, that he cannot do so because the cost would be astronomical. The hon. Gentleman's interest and expertise in education is acknowledged by all of us, but he has to live with the fact that we shall be living for as far as we can see in a mixed economy, to use the phrase of the Secretary of State. This is only one of the reasons why the scheme I have outlined makes educational sense.
Sir Edward Boyle
Is there not one more variable, namely, the number of children of secondary school age at a given time? Everyone realises the problem put [column 237]by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) at a time when one has 17 per cent. selection and a relative trough in secondary school numbers, but it does not follow that a banding system would present the problem at a time when one has 10 per cent. selection and very much larger numbers in the secondary school age group.
Mr. van Straubenzee
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend. The point he has put adds great strength to my argument.
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the difficulties which have arisen through banding are exaggerated by the existence of the grammar schools? Whether or not he says that it is desirable to keep them because we have no alternative in the light of cost, is it not the case that the problems would not arise in this way if we had a fully comprehensive system and if the grammar schools could be integrated immediately?
Mr. van Straubenzee
That is a matter of view. I shall come to that aspect. There is at least one example in London between comprehensive schools. I am doubtful whether this is right. We are charting unknown seas, and I am doubtful whether we shall be content to say that there are no circumstances in a notionally wholly comprehensive system where it might not make sense for a local authority to have power to band, subject to parental choice, if necessary. I hope that the Committee will keep clearly in mind the object of the Amendment. It is not dogmatically to force banding on local education authorities, but to secure that it is not impossible for them to do so should they think it right in their circumstances.
I was explaining about the 17.5 per cent. intake and how it is dealt with from the grammar school point of view. One has then the calculation of the formula for guidance—and it can only be guidance—for entry to “large schools” which the heads are asked to follow in terms of guidance. But even then there may well be special circumstances, as the I.L.E.A. readily admits, in which a formula can act only as guidance, and it is important to make clear that one of the circumstances it has in mind is parental choice.
It needs to be emphasised that this scheme has been carefully thought out on certain principles. The first is that the five [column 238]form entry school, the defined large school, should recruit as far as possible the whole range of ability in reasonable proportion. Secondly, the I.L.E.A. feels that the problems of staffing and organisation are made infinitely more difficult if the intake is over-weighted either at the top ability range or at the other end. This is one of the reasons why the I.L.E.A. wants to retain the ability to operate the scheme it still has in operation. Thirdly, it believes that every school should have an equal opportunity of recruiting the more able, so that there is no hierarchy of schools, subject, of course, to parental choice. Fourthly, the I.L.E.A wants to give priority to those living near a school. It believes in this very firmly. Finally, it believes that some control of admissions is necessary so that one particular school is not adversely affected by the actions of another. It is this scheme which we are discussing.
It was fascinating that the prohibitions in the Bill came under such critical comment from The Times on 7th February. It was interesting to note that it drew the analogy, which has occurred to many people, with the phenomena to be observed in the United States. The newspaper said:
“To be sure of correcting the natural bias towards inequality possessed by a pattern of neighbourhood schools throughout a large city, and so counter the tendency for the worst residential areas to have the worst schools also, it is necessary to have some selection by ability. The selection is done not in order to create ‘selective schools’ but, on the contrary, in order to prevent the creation of schools which acquire, by conformity to social geography, the chief characteristic of selective schools, that is to say, a bunching of pupils according to their ability. Selection is undertaken expressly to avoid the so-called ‘evils of selection’. Yet the authors of the Bill, wittingly or unwittingly, proscribe even this virtuous form of selection by ability.”
It is this to which the Second Amendment is directed. It is the view of the I.L.E.A. that it is right to prevent a well-established, purpose-built comprehensive school from taking too much “cream” , to use the vernacular, particularly from the school which is in old and separate buildings. Here we come again to the provision of finance as being crucial to the whole issue. I should like to give some examples because this bears directly on the point put to me by the hon. Member for Epping.
If one takes the Inner London area, there is the Holland Park School, which [column 239]is frequently commented on when comprehensive schools are discussed and which is heavily weighted with the top band and compares it with Ladbrooke and Isaac Newton, and if one makes the contrast between Forest Hill, Sydenham and Crown Woods with Samuel Pepys, Christopher Marlowe and Langdon Park, it is this sort of situation with which I.L.E.A. has to cope. In a closely knit area such as London, two schools can serve an almost identical catchment area—a situation well known to the Committee and of which I will give an example.
In Tower Hamlets there are close together the two schools of St. Paul's Way and Langdon Park, both catering for secondary education of children from the Isle of Dogs and situated just north of that area. One is a magnificent purpose-built school and the other is in two old buildings which are separated. This is the situation in a closely knit area which the administrators have to deal with. It is I.L.E.A's view that only by holding St. Paul's Way school, in its magnificent new purpose-built buildings, to the formula I have described can it secure a reasonably balanced intake for Langdon Park. It is that situation with which I answer the hon. Member for Epping. When one has two comprehensive schools, it is precisely because this situation which he mentioned arises with a sharp contrast in buildings and facilities, that I.L.E.A. thinks it proper in the interests of the children to have this banding system which would be prohibited by the Bill.
It would be right to leave the power for local authorities to exercise the banding procedure if they desire and I want to make it as clear as words can that I am not advocating that this should be thrust down the throats of anyone. I want simply to reserve the power for local authorities to band if they wish. I have tried to direct attention to the interim period of a mixed economy which will go on for a very long time.
I recognise that, as is shown by the fact that I have an Amendment down on planned catchment areas, but this does not mean that I accept the hon. Member's view of banding. If an authority is entitled to have banding, it may reduce to narrow proportions the children from top ability bands—those from grades 1, 2 and 3—who are allocated to comprehensive schools in order that [column 240]they can go to selective schools and as a result the comprehensive school would be unbalanced from the beginning. Must there not be some restriction to stop this, because, while we are talking of the danger of children from the top bands being too low a proportion, there is also the danger of the opposite in selective schools as long as these continue to exist?
Order, In Committee interventions should be briefer.
Mr. van Straubenzee
I do not want to incur your wrath, Mr. Brewis, and it would be better if the hon. Member for Epping were to pursue this himself rather than that I should pursue it now. I know that he feels strongly about it.
In theory, exactly the same result could be achieved under the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Epping by a ruthless authority. The hon. Member nods his agreement. One must always make the proviso that a local authority would need to have that intention, but I am glad to say that I have greater confidence in local education authorities than has the hon. Member for Epping. I do not think that the work of I.L.E.A., in its splendid three years of the control to be renewed on Thursday, is anything which anyone on this side of the Committee needs to be ashamed of.
This is a very important Amendment on which we are entitled to a further statement from the Government.
Mr. Kenneth Lewis
Some of the comments made by my hon. Friends today have been a little too technical to me. When I first joined the Committee and looked at the Amendments, I was not sure what “banding” meant—unless it was something to do with the Salvation Army. We are all much concerned about the effect on education of banding or of not banding, but there is also the effect on those who have to educate their children.
Whether we accept this Amendment or not, some of the things which we have been saying will happen if we pass the Amendment will happen if we do not pass it. The only difference will be, I suppose, if the Secretary of State accepts the Amendment, when there would be an obligation on everybody to make this happen. In the other event, some local education authorities will do it and others will not, so there will be a variation across the country, and, according to one's lights, a [column 241]good system in some parts of the country and not such a good system in other parts.
The question really is what education is all about. As an ordinary parent educating a couple of children, and having talked to other parents who are trying to do so, and speaking as one who was perhaps only partially educated, I see a danger of the teaching profession becoming a little too pontifical—and the Ministry going along with the profession—about what education should be about and what should be provided, whether the parents want it or not.
I was surprised at something which the Secretary of State said at our last sitting:
“The intelligence quotient, we believe, is about 20 per cent. due, not to innate factors, but to environmental factors.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24th March, 1970; c. 213.]
This intelligence quotient is of children coming from working class homes rather than from better-off homes, and I am sure that the Secretary of State, with his background, must know that environmental factors have an effect on whether intelligence is developed or not.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)
That is what the quotation says.
It is not really.
A child's schooling is affected by any deficiencies which may exist within the home, and it is therefore important that the child should go to the kind of school where his ability will be brought out and he will be given opportunities to develop. If one puts a child in a neighbourhood school where he is not getting the opportunity to mix with ability, it affects the advance he will be able to make. But there is something more important than that—and I speak as an ordinary parent—which is nothing to do with education as such. The Secretary of State must know that it is not only a question of mixing with ability but that if a child comes from a home where he does not have a chance and mixes with children in a school who have come from better homes, the child not only mixes in the school with those children but also in their environment and in their homes. He goes to their homes, plays games with those children and he involves himself in hobbies with them. His whole education, not his narrow education, which may be academic or scientific, is affected by the fact that he is mixing with this range of children. That [column 242]is what we are losing with a comprehensive neighbourhood school, and this is not just to do with the narrow question of academic education.
I agree with almost all that the hon. Member says, but is he saying that, because a child cannot mix with children of higher ability in a neighbourhood school, there are no children of high ability in working class areas like the one in Jarrow from which he came?
The right hon. Gentleman does not get the point. In a grammar school there is a mixture of social class and of income groups and therefore the children mix not only in school but out of school.
Send them all to grammar school.
The Secretary of State says it does not matter.
I said that it does matter. It is my whole thesis that children should go to schools of that kind and not just the 20 per cent. who go to grammar schools.
If we have a neighbourhood school without selection for ability or other reasons, we shall have all working class children going to that school in that area because it happens to be an area of working class people.——
No high ability?
It has nothing to do with ability. I am talking of education in the widest sense. Of course, there will be children of high ability in the working class area and they will be in that school. There will be children of high ability, others of not such high ability, and others who are dragging behind.
Why does the hon. Gentleman want banding?
They will not be mixing with children of ability from these higher income groups. The right hon. Gentleman is telling me that it does not matter. I believe that in the context of wider education it is good for children of the higher income groups to mix with those of other groups. That does not appear to happen with neighbourhood schools.
Is banding to be done on the basis of parental income?
I did not want to get bogged down in this matter, but since there is [column 243]plenty of time, let us take the other side and switch to the neighbourhood where all the rich people are. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that there are plenty of such areas, like Gosforth in Newcastle, in his own area. He knows that a comprehensive school in Gosforth will be splendid and that if there is a good comprehensive school in Gosforth people living in Byker will, quite rightly, want to move from Byker to live in Gosforth in order that their children may go to that comprehensive school, just as they have done in Holland Park. The right hon. Gentleman knows what has happened in Holland Park, and that is likely to happen in Gosforth and in other parts of the country, so we get in the neighbourhood school not all children of the working class but all children of the professional and business classes, all those who earn more money. So far as they are all living together and their children are going to the same school, that is bad for those children because they are seeing only their own class, not only in school, but in the evening and at weekends.
Is not that an excellent argument for the abolition of the independent schools?
That is the best case for comprehensive schools that we have heard for a very long time.
The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that one. I am a great supporter of direct grant schools. There are five difficulties about this, and here I am speaking as the representative of people having children to educate. First, comprehensive schools will need an ability range. That goes without saying. Whether the right hon. Gentleman or I say it does not make any difference. Headmasters of schools will say that they need an ability range. Whatever we say or do here, that is a fact of life.
Secondly, parents wish to get their children into the school which seems best to them. I know that we may be able to stop parents. The right hon. Gentleman, at the last sitting of the Committee, spoke in column 214 of the Official Report of the parent's right of appeal. Quite properly, he was not prepared to take away that right, but the fact remains that not many parents appeal. I have had cases coming to me of parents wishing to send their children to a particular school, but [column 244]they do not get much change when the education authority refuses a transfer. The Secretary of State intends to retain the right of appeal and I hope that he will make it effective, because in many cases it has not been. Nevertheless, parents on many occasions will want their children to go to the school which seems to them best.
The third difficulty is that it will always be the wish of parents to keep their children in a neighbourhood school. In talking of getting an ability range, it is easy to say that as we want children to come to an area which happens to be one where there is a lack of ability range we are going to claw children from another area to make up that ability range. But we have the problem of persuading parents in a given area to transfer their children to another area, and this may be a little more difficult than we think, because we are dealing with parents who want their children to go to the school they believe is best for them. If the neighbourhood school is a good one, they will not be pleased if they have to transfer their children to a school on the other side of the town which they do not like.
The fourth point is the wish of parents in a bad neighbourhood to send their children to a school in a good one. That is the wish of some parents. This is a little easier because they want to do something that is of advantage to them, so we have the parents on our side from the beginning. It is easy to get parents to transfer their children from a bad to a good neighbourhood area.
Fifthly, many parents will wish to get their children into a school that indulges in or has acquired a particular ability, perhaps almost a reputation, in a particular subject. The right hon. Gentleman may have seen the television programme, I believe on Sunday evening last, on Wandsworth School, which has a musical tradition. One man, as the leading force, has created the background of musical ability in this school. It came out in the programme that, although children are not drafted there because they have musical ability, if the parents of a child having such ability want the child to go to that school, they are given the opportunity to send him there.
Mr. van Straubenzee
Has my hon. Friend observed that the Bill will preclude [column 245]that in future, because that particular school is not one where the arrangements for admission.
“are based on selection wholly or mainly by reference to ability in or aptitude for music …” ?
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)
The hon. Gentleman will remember that when we discussed the Amendment dealing with that I said precisely what is now being advocated by the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis)—that this could be done by the parents of the children.
To a limited extent, it can happen. But suppose that there is a development of abilities and reputations in certain subjects on a wide scale. We are not then dealing with the transfer of a few children for a limited number of subjects. We might get pressure from parents to transfer on a large scale. We have then to decide what to do in those circumstances. Once this developed it would be difficult to control.
I may have spoken some technical nonsense; I do not know. I am not technically competent on the question of banding. But when we legislate we have to be careful to understand not just what the educationists want but also what parents want and will seek to achieve for their children. This more than anything else will determine the pattern of education.
Sir E. Boyle
This is one of the most important debates we shall have in Committee. It is a good idea, first, whether or not we feel technically competent in the subject, to consider the problem which this group of Amendments is designed to meet. That problem was fairly and accurately stated by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) towards the end of our last sitting:
“Everyone concerned in education authorities knows that middle-class schools really look after themselves and that the real problem is trying to prevent some schools from becoming so depressed that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) says, good teachers tend to leave and there are continual staffing and social problems.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24th March, 1970; c. 223.]
That is the difficulty with which we are concerned here. We say this problem is best left to the judgment of local authorities, and that a large local education [column 246]authority like the Inner London Education Authority should be left with a wide range of options to use at its discretion in different types of area. We are not trying to force any particular solution on any particular authority. We merely say that the problem of organising secondary education in a big city is sufficiently difficult on educational and social grounds that a wide range of options should be open to them.
I agreed with the hon. Member for Perry Barr when he said later, in column 224, that he would like to see “massive discrimination” in favour of the problem schools. I agree with him. Sometimes we are a little too frightened of the phrase “neighbourhood school” . I can imagine certain types of area in the centres of big cities, sometimes perhaps heavily immigrant areas, where it would be right to apply at the secondary stage the same approach that Plowden recommended—the concept of an educational priority area with specially generous provision of resources. But we on this side believe that local education authorities should have other options open to them.
In certain types of area, I would favour the kind of zoning approach of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens)—
“catchment areas designed to secure a balanced ability intake for each school.”
The issue of zoning has always been unsatisfactory from the point of view of the working of the Education Act, 1944. We now have an opportunity in this Bill to bring the law more into consonance with reality. Thirdly, I believe there is scope for banding. There are also types of areas where the banding solution is right. When I last spoke in Committee I defined banding as
“trying consciously to ensure, by consideration of primary school records, a balanced intake in terms of ability to as many comprehensive schools as possible.—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24th March, 1970; c. 210.]
Not only the Editor of The Times would hold the view that a policy of that kind is essential if more schools are to become truly comprehensive, and if “comprehensive” is not to be just the label on the door.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) rightly pointed out that this is not a new policy for London. It was the policy introduced by the Labour Party during its long years in power in the Inner London Area. It has [column 247]been continued under the rule of my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr. Chataway) and now Mrs. Townsend as Chairman. It has been worked out with a considerable degree of care and sophistication. That is an important point to remember. We ought to give every encouragement to authorities to work out plans with a considerable degree of sophistication based on experience and should not interfere with their range of options in this kind of circumstance more than we feel we must. For us to say to Inner-London, “We shall have to go along with some of what you are doing for the time being, but we want this to fall into disuse as soon as possible” is the wrong approach by the House of Commons to a body with the resources and experience of I.L.E.A.
What are the arguments used against? There was the intervention of the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) whose sincerity we on this side all respect. I would like to try to meet the points he has raised. One which was perfectly legitimate, though exaggerated, was that banding must always be something of a bogus policy because, after all, London grammar schools only take children in groups 1, 2 and 3, and they always come off better in circumstances of this kind.
That is not the view of the London grammar schools. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the London aided schools always supposed themselves to be favoured by the system as compared with the comprehensive schools, let him speak to representatives of a body such as the National Association of Governors of Aided Schools. That is not its view at all. It is a sign, not of bad, but of good administration if there is a certain amount of tension, if at one moment the comprehensive schools can justly point out the problems of getting their full range of ability caused for them when the secondary age group falls.
Equally at other times the aided schools may feel that they are not getting the same proportion of able pupils that they used to get. I think it may well be—and I say this in a spirit of cynicism—a mark of good administration, not bad, if, like Count Taafe, the Hapsburg Prime Minister, in the late nineteenth century who said that he had to keep all the nationalities in a [column 248]state of moderate discontent, there are times when the best administrator may have to keep all of his clients in a state of moderate discontent.
The more important point made by the hon. Member was when he said, quite correctly, that the fact that we look on banding as an option at all reflects the fact that we have comprehensives and grammar schools side by side. If only we did away with the selective schools there would no longer be any need for banding, the problem would not arise. I hope that I have not misrepresented him or put his point unfairly.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has put my point a little too strongly. I recognised that there is a problem here, and that is why I tabled the Amendment. I felt that it could be dealt with by planned catchment areas. I do not say that there is no problem. Obviously there is still a problem.
Sir E. Boyle
We all agree that there is a problem, and the hon. Gentleman and I agree that artificial zoning, the kind of approach put forward in his Amendment, may, in certain areas, be the right way to cope with the problem. If he presses his Amendment to a Division, I shall vote for it because this ought to be one of the options open to an authority. I would not favour the hon. Member's banding if I were considering the problems of immigrants in the centre of big cities. I am not sure that large scale bussing is necessarily the best answer there.
There are certain types of area where banding is a better approach than the priority area approach or the artificial zoning approach. The fact that we consider banding as one of the alternatives results from the fact that we still have a proportion of selective schools. The hon. Member seemed to make it clear that, in his view, if we decided now to make a courageous, once-for-all decision to end selective schools at a fairly early date, the case for banding would finally go by default.
I would give two answers to that. First, I wonder how many hon. Members think that it would be practicable to run down the proportion of selective education in London to a figure lower than 10 per cent. by 1975. We have in London a proportion of absolutely first-class selective schools for which no obvious future under a non-selective pattern can easily be worked out. [column 249]There is not the slightest difficulty about going comprehensive in a growing suburban area. There is no difficulty about working out a scheme for non-selective education in a place like East Grinstead, in Sussex, which I know well.
There is a very much greater problem, as we all recognise, in London, and I do not believe that it would have been practicable under any system to run down the proportion of selective schools faster than from 17 to 10 per cent. by 1975. In any case—and perhaps it is here that the hon. Gentleman and I differ—I disagree with the approach which says, “If only we take a courageous decision to do away with all selective schools, then non-selective education will prove its worth in a very short time.” I do not believe that that is true in many areas.
I am inclined to take the other view. It is when comprehensive schools have established really successful sixth forms and shown their own inherent qualities that it will be much easier, by agreement, to run down the percentage of selective schools to a smaller figure. It is exactly when a comprehensive has a sixth form, not of just over 100, but of 200 to 250, that more and more local opinion will come to question whether it is necessary to run a comprehensive school and a selective school as two separate institutions in the area. I see this problem to some extent in the big cities as one of selective and non-selective schools running side by side in many areas for a certain amount of time and gradually, more and more, the non-selective school, the new comprehensive, becoming widely accepted by a whole range of opinion as fulfilling its true comprehensive objectives. That is happening in many other parts of Britain besides London.
I end as I began by pointing out that what we are saying is that we should trust large authorities of wide experience, which have done a great deal of detailed work and organisation in the big cities, to make sense of the mixed economy in the way that seems best to them. The neighbourhood approach may be justified, giving it special priority and special hope. I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price), and I agree with the hon. Member for Epping, that there is a case, in certain types of area, for the [column 250]
“creation … of catchment areas designed to secure a balanced ability intake for each school.”
I hope that some hon. Members opposite will see that there is also room for the kind of banding approach with which my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has dealt in such detail, using the great experience of the Inner London Education Authority. I cannot see why the Secretary of State should not also see the case for flexibility and a wide range of options. After all, it was he or his predecessor who, in paragraph 36 of Circular 10/65, deliberately encouraged local authorities to try to create comprehensive schools which were as socially and intellectually comprehensive as possible. It is by pursuing this objective that we say that it is much better to have a wide range of options and not to rule out a number of approaches—the banding approach is one—which experience has shown to be variable.
Mr. J. E. B. Hill
I find this an extraordinarily difficult problem upon which to form a judgment. I am sorry that I missed the start of the debate at our last sitting, but I have studied the speeches and have followed this morning's debate carefully. I find it difficult to decide. Clearly the object of both Amendments is to help comprehensive schools, trying to develop themselves in areas which are probably poor and certainly educationally deprived. It seems that they are in the nature of remedial exercises, sometimes even blood transfusions.
I can see the Minister's objection to enshrining the conception of a catchment area in statutory form. I do not go along with him when he says that it would abolish parental choice, but I do think that it would make the apparatus of appeals under Sections 76 and 37 much more complicated. If we were to give the catchment area conception statutory form, we should do it in a much bigger Education Bill, when we could get the balance right. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) has suggested, the overriding principle should be to maintain a proper degree of parental choice. The Minister takes the view that the children in the poorer areas are handicapped only by a comparatively small proportion of environmental disability compared with their high average innate ability. [column 251]
I notice that since the Secretary of State's Second Reading speech the proportion attributable to environment has gone down from 24 per cent. to 20 per cent. I do not think that we can keep up that rate. Although I would not accept his contention that 80 per cent. of the intelligence in children is common to all children—that is putting it too high—none the less, it is surely indisputable that so many children, however intelligent and gifted they may be, suffer a tremendous handicap through a failure to have acquired the means of communication, to look at only one aspect of it. There is a lack of vocabulary. They may have the ideas, they cannot get them across.
That is the whole point.
I am showing how much I agree with the Minister. Where I disagree is in thinking that this will necessarily be overcome by having all the children in the one school. It is much more likely to be overcome by better family motivation, by the efforts of teaching, and not necessarily the admixture of the total ability and age range. Too much faith has been put in the idea that if only we get all the potential grammar school children into the comprehensive schools that of itself will make all the difference. I do not believe that it is as simple as that. Banding and the design of special catchment areas administratively can cope with only a rather limited situation. In so far as they are coping, this seems to be a reason for keeping them.
I have not had experience of banding, but what seems to be significant is that it is working well in I.L.E.A. It has been devised over many years. Someone has said that it is a sophisticated system which is producing satisfactory results in I.L.E.A., in the same way as I would argue that our present methods in Norfolk are also producing a satisfactory rate of educational progress. In each case the local education authorities, staffed by devoted educationists, genuinely trying to do their best, have worked out what seems to them to be the best way of coping with their immediate problems, and I would like these to be permitted to continue.
There is a limit to both the use of catchment areas and banding. If pushed too far, I imagine that there will be some parental reaction. Therefore, they can be practised only within the broad limits of parental [column 252]agreement. I accept that many parents do not press the matter very far and may accept the rulings given to them without much question, but we must realise that this situation is probably not likely to continue. All parents are progressively learning more about the educational options and possibilities open to their children and their rights as parents in exercising their choice. Parents may take objection to banding in so far as it must clearly imply a measurement of ability and aptitude in the allocation of a child to a school other than that to which the child would otherwise have gone either as a natural consequence of the immediate geography of the child's home in relation to the school or as a result of the parent's choice. As long as parents do not mind, I agree that banding will be acceptable. But I doubt whether it can overcome really large disparities. 12 noon
The evidence from America suggests that it does not. I do not want to weary the Committee with many extracts, but I commend Mr. Koerner 's book, “Reform in Education” , because it compares the American experience with our hopes. Mr. Koerner warns us against being over-optimistic about the results that can be achieved. On page 225, in the chapter “A Candid Message to the English People” , he says:
“Confident claims are sometimes made in England that the neighbourhood limitations of the comprehensive school can be overcome by redrawing school lines. I think you will find that re-drawing school districts along artificial lines or bussing children from ‘under-privileged’ neighbourhoods over long distances to put them in somebody else's neighbourhood schools is not as simple as it may look in prospect. And transporting middle-class children into under-privileged schools only embitters their parents, who then opt out of the State system altogether.”
I think that in much that he says he is referring to the more extreme racial disparities and divisions in America than exist in this country. However, it is a warning from his experience.
He goes on:
“Second, it is very doubtful that schools, no matter how they are organised or what the neighbourhood patterns are, can create such a thing as social equality.”
Whether we agree with him or not, he is saying—I have some sympathy with his view—that it is asking a lot of schools to do the altering of society. My view is that [column 253]schools reflect the characteristics of society much more than they create them.
Mr. Koerner says:
“If there is no real consensus in British society in support of the equality of classes, you can hardly expect institutions so closely related to homes as are schools to do the job. People, not institutions, decide what a community will be. I think you might be disappointed if you look to the comprehensive school to surmount the barriers erected by the English people themselves.”
I am not suggesting that the Secretary of State would agree with that view, but it is pointing out the difficulties in the light of American experience. Therefore, I believe that, however these schools develop, human nature being what it is, preferences will develop, often for good reasons as well as bad, in the sense that parents will want to avoid a school which is thought to be inferior. In future they will want to opt for a school which clearly has special merits.
We must face the problem of what the admissions procedures will be for the more favoured schools or, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) pointed out, for the less favoured schools. Whichever way we look at it, some schools will be preferred because they offer better education. But we will have the distinction, even when schools may have what is recognised to be equally good education, between their particular buildings and general equipment.
I mentioned earlier the problem, which seemed to be typified at the moment in Swansea, of the £1 million purpose-built comprehensive and the comprehensive which is grouped in the old buildings. When all is free, parents will say, “We want the best” . Therefore, there will be a swarming effect to the better-equipped school. Hitherto, some of the selective grammar schools have probably been in relatively poorer buildings because they are old. Because parents on the whole preferred, as a matter of choice, the academic education, they accepted conditions which, frankly, would not easily be tolerable in the new secondary modern school. If we remove the balancing element in the quality of the teaching which made the environment of a school acceptable, we will reach the position where some schools inevitably will remain more popular than others.
If schools are and remain neighbourhood schools, without any of the adjustments of [column 254]banding where it has been worked out, we may, in the not so long run, be substituting a curious alternative to selection by ability and aptitude. We may be substituting a new kind of privilege based on the chance of birth in the catchment area of a favoured school or of wealth in the ability to buy a home within that catchment area.
Birth and wealth are at a much lower level than has hitherto been thought in terms of educational privilege. Nevertheless, an educational advantage stemming from where a child was born, not to whom it was born, and from whether parents are able to obtain or buy a house in the area of a particular school, may commonly occur in future. We have heard that this is already happening. I can conceive a situation—it may already have come about—where a parent will not say, “Can my son get into this school?” , but will make inquiries whether a certain address is within the catchment area. If so, it will be a factor in deciding to live there, the parents knowing that they have several children they would like to send to that particular school. If that happens, how will the admissions procedure work? I should like the views of the Secretary of State on that matter.
I believe that it is sensible to retain the ability to band in this Bill. It must be specified in the list of exceptions to the Clause. Otherwise, it is outlawed. I should also support, though this may not be strictly logical, the administrative practice, subject to appeal to the Secretary of State by aggrieved parents, of zoning or designing catchment areas so as to keep a balance in the schools. But, over all, the real answer to the problem in the long run must be to provide more effort on the lines of educational priority treatment, so that we weight the balance of educational resources going into the poorer schools. I should prefer this to, as it were, pushing the children around. To that extent, I am in agreement with the Secretary of State. Where I disagree with him is in outlawing what seems to be a sensible and helpful practice. Therefore, I support my right hon. Friend's Amendment.
Mr. Fergus Montgomery
We have had a very interesting debate on these two Amendments, but I became more confused as we went along.
The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) suggested that we should redraw [column 255]the catchment areas—in other words, fiddle the catchment areas—to achieve a reasonable ability mix in the comprehensive schools. If we do this, we will have some very funny shaped catchment areas. If the catchment areas are redrawn in the way advocated by the hon. Gentleman, some children will have to do quite a lot of travelling to get to school. In other words, there will be a certain amount of bussing.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke on Amendment No. 55. On travelling distance, he said that the very process of selection added on many occasions to the travelling which selected pupils had to do because the selective school in many areas had to draw from a much wider catchment area than would a comprehensive school. I asked how this was in accord with Amendment No. 20, to which the hon. Gentleman said that he could not be drawn into that argument because he would be ruled out of order. On the first Amendment, the hon. Gentleman was arguing against selective schools because of the travelling distance, but on Amendment No. 55 he was arguing that we should redraw the catchment areas, which will also mean a great deal of travelling by some children.
I should like to make clear that I am not arguing for a general re-drawing of catchment areas throughout the country. I should like local authorities to have power, where they think it necessary, to draw catchment areas to secure a wide social mix. My right hon. Friend has convinced me that this is possible within the scope of the Bill as it stands. I am not suggesting that children should be bussed a great distance from one area to another. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not exaggerate the point that I made.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point, but I think that he will admit that, if we re-draw catchment areas in the way advocated by him, it could mean that children will have a long trek to school in some instances.
The Secretary of State, earlier in the debate, said:
“I do not believe that a neighbourhood school necessarily does not give a fair spread of ability.” [Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24th March, 1970; c. 213.]
I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to an article in the Teacher on 10th October, 1969, which states: [column 256]
“The Headmaster of a 1,300-strong Newcastle comprehensive school has complained that the school is getting so many entrants of low academic ability that its development will be ‘seriously impaired’ … . only 25 pupils out of last year's intake of 258 will be capable of getting five O-levels at the end of their fifth year. He thinks that fewer than a hundred will be capable of either C.S.E. or G.C.E. work. Last year Walker, which serves a generally deprived area in the east end of the City, had only 20 pupils with an IQ of 120. At Heaton school, an ex-grammar school with a largely middle-class clientele, the figure was 85. At the lower end of the scale Walker got 82 children with IQs below 89 compared to 28 at Heaton.”
This part of the country is well-known to both the Secretary of State and myself. Both schools are in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East constituency. For five years I represented that constituency until the electors tired of me and sent me packing. One elector in the Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East constituency is the right hon. Gentleman.
I did not vote for the hon. Gentleman.
I could never understand why the right hon. Gentleman did not vote for me, because occasionally we saw eye to eye on some points.
At the end of our last sitting, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price), who we understand cannot be with us today, made a speech in which he made the interesting observation that we should build council houses on Hampstead Heath. I am sure that he is in the prayers of the Labour candidate fighting the Camden election on Thursday.
These Amendments show the difficulties which will be created by the Bill. What we are talking about is the intake of comprehensive schools. The original idea of comprehensive schools was that they should be neighbourhood schools. That means great difficulty in urban areas. In the rural areas, there are not the same difficulties because a comprehensive school there covers a wide and not very populous area. In urban areas, there will be great disparities as between outer districts of the town or city and the more central areas. This is the American system, and anyone who has visited schools there knows the tremendous disparity there is between the good residential and the inner city areas. I fear that the same thing would be likely to apply here. [column 257]
I believe that parents caring about the education of their children would move into better residential areas in order to ensure their children going to a school in such an area. The only possible answer for neighbourhood schools is to follow what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) and hon. Members opposite have suggested. I believe again that this is in accord with what the Secretary of State would advocate, that the Plowden idea should be applied to secondary schools in poorer districts to ensure that they get a balanced intake.
What are the alternatives to the neighbourhood schools? The hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens) advocated that local authorities should have power if they wish to re-draw catchment areas in order to get a balanced intake in comprehensive schools. This also presents difficulties. I have mentioned parents moving into an area as a deliberate act of policy in order to enable their children to attend a particular school, and we know cases where builders, in advertising their new houses in certain areas, offer as an inducement to parents that the educational opportunities there are excellent.
I have an excellent comprehensive school in my constituency, the Regis School, Tettenhall. It is an area of middle to upper middle income groups, where parents care deeply about their children's education, where children have the right sort of home environment because they hear good conversation and there are books for them to read. If a comprehensive school would not work in such an area, it would not work anywhere. I am certain that there are people who work in Wolverhampton who have moved into the Tettenhall area in the belief that the Regis School is good and because they are anxious for their children to attend it.
Mr. Simon Mahon
We often hear in this Committee about middle class parents being very ambitious for good education for their children. I do not dispute that. But we would be making a fundamental error if we thought that the ambitions of the working class for their children were not as high as those of the middle class.
I do not dispute that. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland [column 258]and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) and I were born in the Jarrow area just before the 1930s. We spent our childhood there and it is an area which would certainly be classed as deprived. If we had not passed for the local secondary school, as it was then, on the old 11-plus system, neither of us could have attended a direct grant school or a fee-paying school because the income of our family would not have allowed it. Of course, a lot of people in working class areas care deeply for their children's education. But, if we are to be honest, we must admit that there are also people in such areas who, for economic and other reasons, do not have books in the house and do not have particularly good conversation, although these are beneficial to a child's environment. This is something which schools in many areas try to put right, and it is a great advantage of teaching in a tough area. The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) and I had an altercation about this matter before the Easter Recess. I have taught in a tough area and there is a tremendous challenge in such an area, where a school can contribute an enormous amount to improving the environment of these children.
I understand that Amendment No. 20 would make it difficult for people who have moved into Tettenhall deliberately in order that their children can attend the Regis School. How much parental choice would there be if local authorities could “fiddle” catchment areas in order to provide a social mix in comprehensive schools? If we are honest, we must admit that a certain amount of bussing would have to take place and children would have to travel long distances to attend school. There would be an angry reaction from many parents because their children had been refused the opportunity to attend the school nearest to their homes, especially if that school happened to be a very good one, and had to go to a school in another part of town.
Amendment No. 55 is based on the question of banding. I am not particularly happy about it because the aim seems to be to get an ability mix. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said, the children would be assessed at primary school and on that assessment would be allocated to different secondary schools, and each comprehensive school would have to have a certain [column 259]percentage of children in each ability range.
Mr. van Straubenzee
In fairness to the scheme I was explaining—the I.L.E.A. scheme—my hon. Friend will recall the very important part played by parental choice. I would not willingly overrule that, as he knows.
I accept that, but, broadly speaking, the idea is to try to adjust the intake by ability in each of the comprehensive schools.
That is banding.
Yes. I think that we have to accept that, in certain areas, there would be a high percentage of brighter children so that a certain school might have too many brighter children, with the result that some would have to be bussed elsewhere. In certain other areas, there might be a large percentage of not so bright children—more than a school could cope with—and some of these would have to be bussed to what might be called higher rated areas. But, here again, parents would be angry to find that their children could not go to the school nearest to hand to which they particularly wanted them to go.
I reiterate the wise statement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth. Whilst I am not particularly happy about the Amendment, his point is that the option should be kept open for local education authorities to use this system if they feel that it would be beneficial. What he is vitally concerned about is that the Bill as it stands would prohibit this altogether. He says that the local education authorities should at least be allowed to decide what they can do under Clause 2. I can see disadvantages in both Amendments. I am not happy about either, but that is not surprising, because I am not particularly happy about the Bill. I shall be delighted when the Bill is repealed later this year, as it will be when we have a change of Government. That will be to the general satisfaction of the majority of parents.
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher
My right hon. and hon. Friends have advanced most of the arguments, some in considerable detail, relating to the circumstances in areas in which they are interested. There will be a problem about which children go to which schools. That is what the two Amendments are about. The local educa[column 260]tion authorities will have provided a large number of comprehensive schools. They have a large number of children to go to them. How does one allocate which children go to which schools? Generally speaking, there seem to be three approaches. The first is the approach of the neighbourhood school; the second is the approach of the social and ability mix; and the third is the approach of parental choice. To some extent, they overlap.
The traditional idea of the comprehensive school seems to be that of the neighbourhood school. The 1947 Circular defined a comprehensive school as one intended to cater for the secondary education of all the children in a given area without an organisation into three sides. That idea still seems to be perpetuated in Volume 1 of the Statistics of Education, which defines a comprehensive school as follows:
“Secondary education is being increasingly provided in comprehensive schools which are intended for all secondary school pupils in a district.”
The first approach is the neighbourhood approach. In some areas, this is a very good approach; in others, it produces problems. They may be educational or social or disciplinary problems. There are some schools which have such tremendous disciplinary problems that it is not possible to retain staff there for any length of time, and there is a high rate of staff turnover, while influences among the children are such that many parents would not wish to send their children to the school.
One cannot ignore these problems. One may set out to improve them, but sometimes we are a little too optimistic about the rate at which they can be improved. I know of some areas where schools are supreme purpose-built comprehensive schools with all possible facilities, such as indoor swimming pools and excellent gymnasia, and where the council housing is new and very good. But these schools are still problem schools because it takes far longer to change the attitude of parents to education than it does to build a purpose-built comprehensive school and new housing. For a long time these schools will still be problem schools, although all the bricks and mortar work has been done, because the changes in attitude have not yet been brought about.
My right hon. and hon. Friends have deployed arguments about people moving [column 261]into the area of a good school in order to secure the best possible education for their children. This accentuates the differences between the educational opportunities provided by some schools in some areas and others, although they might all be called comprehensive. There is the second approach of the social and ability mix, to call it by its shorthand name, with which both Amendments are concerned. I am not sure that we know as much as we should about the consequences of either.
My hon. Friends have referred to some quotations and books. I propose to refer briefly to the book “Social Class and the Comprehensive School” and the article which preceded it, by the same author, “Comprehensive Schools as Social Dividers” , written by Julienne Ford. One of the objects of writing this book and doing the research was to question and measure some of the theories in the light of such experiment as can be devised with proper controls. The results of the research seem to imply that many of the theories about comprehensive education are not borne out by experience.
The author, in a letter to New Society on 24th October, 1968, said:
“I wanted to show that some of the more naive assumptions about the consequences of the abolition of tripartite are at least questionable.”
The Edward ShortSecretary of State will know the book and will know that one of the conclusions reached was quoted in the article in New Society on 10th October, 1968:
“Table 3 also shows that in one respect, comprehensive schools may be increasing rather than reducing class-consciousness. Those children who have been ‘successful’ under the selective system … are not conscious of class background in their choice of friends. For them, their own future occupational status is probably more important than their fathers’.”
The whole book should be read so that hon. Members may realise that many theories about comprehensive education and social mix are not necessarily borne out by the facts so far as we have yet been able to discover them.
This makes it very important that we allow local authorities a good deal of latitude in their approach to allocating pupils for comprehensive schools as more and more information becomes available. Amendment No. 55 is concerned not only [column 262]with securing ability mix but that sufficient children of high ability should be available to make each school comprehensive in the sense of having a wide range of studies so that they should stimulate one another. There will be problems, and they will continue, in sixth forms and in getting enough children of high ability to a particular school, especially in some city areas.
The Secretary of State travels more widely than I do, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) has even wider and more prolonged experience than either of us, but we all know how much circumstances differ from city and urban areas to rural areas, and even between certain cities. I would not like the conception of bussing children because of ability or catchment area from one area to another. One problem which would arise would be that teachers would never meet the parents of the children bussed into the area. One of the great differences in educational standards derives from the amount of interest which parents take in their children's future, whatever the background of the parents. Bussing would preclude one of the major means of advance which can come only through co-operation between teachers and parents. Bussing tends to be against parent-teacher co-operation, but there may be areas where it works. Thus we return to the reason for both Amendments—to give local authorities as much latitude as possible to enable them to provide the maximum educational opportunity for all children.
The third approach to allocating children is the approach of parental choice about which the Secretary of State said a good deal and of which most of us are in favour. The children who will do best by that system are those whose parents are concerned about their educational future. The children who will do worst by it are those whose parents do not take a great deal of interest in their schooling but regard it as a thing apart.
Most systems of allocating children consist of a number of these provisions. The local authority may well give priority to children living near a particular school. After reading the Secretary of State's speech several times, I am still not clear about his policy and philosophy. I think that he would like a neighbourhood school with a social and ability mix, chosen by the parents, so that there were no prob[column 263]lems at all. But that is a Utopian situation which is not likely to exist in practice in many places.
The Secretary of State said:
“The admission policy remains with the local authority, but the parent has the right to appeal against it.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 24th March, 1970; c. 214.]
But admission policy does not remain entirely with the local authority, and it is because it does not remain entirely with the local authorities that we have had to table the Amendments—to ensure that admission policy remains with them, subject to the overriding appeal to the Secretary of State.
Does the Secretary of State want admission policy to remain with the local authority? He said in his speech that if a parent appealed to him on grounds of parental choice he would be bound to uphold the appeal provided that it did not involve the local authority in undue expenditure and that the school was not full. But on what basis will he judge the school to be full? Will it be on the basis of geographical allocation or of social mix by the local authority? The local authority may have had 250 applications for places and have decided that only 100 of those applications can be granted. On what basis is the 101st not to be allowed to go to that school? That doctrine gives rise to difficulties.
The other problem is to ferret out the legal position. The Secretary of State is anxious to have a mix, and his Circular 10/65 referred to a social and intellectual mix. One could interpret his speech as meaning that local authorities can and do use catchment areas, but that if anyone challenges that in the courts it would not be legal but that he hopes they will continue to do this and that no one will challenge it. It is an awful muddle.
The law is a muddle.
If the Secretary of State is saying that it is not legal but that he hopes local authorities will continue to do this to get a social and ability mix but that if anyone challenges it he will have to uphold the parent when there is room in the school, this gives rise to great difficulty.
Dealing with Amendment No. 55, the Secretary of State is saying that admission policy does not remain with the local authority if its policy includes band[column 264]ing. If it does, he says he will take the policy away from the local authority by invoking his powers under Section 68 of the 1944 Act to give local authority directions as to how it shall discharge functions, or by exercising his power under Section 99 of the 1944 Act, in which case he could take over the administration of education in a local authority area. So admission policy is not remaining with the local authorities. In so far as it is, their powers and duties are somewhat doubtful in law. However, if a parent appeals, the Secretary of State says that he will allow it if the school is not full, although we do not know the basis on which he judges whether it is full.
If the Secretary of State insists on smaller classes, it will be easy for any school to say that it is full because it has a larger number in each class than is thought necessary by the Department.
The consequences of not allowing either or both are considerable for the admission policy of the local authorities in discharging their duty to provide maximum educational opportunity. Bearing in mind that a good deal of research is being done in bringing social and ability factors to light, it is surely our duty to allow local authorities the maximum latitude to carry out their task as best they may, always remembering that in the background there is a right of appeal to the Minister under other Sections of the Act.
What is the right hon. Gentleman's intention on admission policy under the new Education Bill, about which I understand a White Paper is to be published? We ought to know that. Will he keep parental choice as a permanent method of entry to the schools and reject other methods regardless of the factors which may come to light as more and more is known about the consequences? We should be very slow to refuse latitude to the local authorities. It is the Opposition's policy to give as much latitude as possible. Therefore, we would vote in favour of both Amendments.
This has been an important debate, probably the most important we shall have on this Bill, partly because it deals with a considerable dilemma facing education administrators. They are facing dilemmas all the time because our whole system of government is impossible. We [column 265]have come as close as anybody in the world to finding a solution to this dilemma.
There are three potentially contradictory principles which give rise to difficulty. The first is that we want comprehensive schools to have a wide social and ability mix. The second is that the 1944 Act gives parents the right to choose the schools to which their children shall go. The third is that it is extremely desirable that we should have, wherever possible, neighbourhood schools because of the integrating effect which they have on the local community.
The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) started by trying to make a political speech, but his approach is so objective that he could not go on with that and he got on to some rather obscure statistics and complained about rigidity in my approach to the admission policy. He hoped that the electors of London would note it. I hope so, too. I also hope that they will note that I am against banding. I went to Battersea last night to say so. Incidentally, I understand that nobody was at the Conservative meeting a few streets away.
I hope the electors of London will also notice that the Opposition want to retain the 11-plus—or so the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) says. [Hon. Members: “No” .] She is on record in the Official Report as saying on Second Reading that she wished to retain the 11-plus where parents wanted it. Those were her words and that is exactly the system we had in this country 40 years ago.
Order. The right hon. Gentleman must come back to order.
I believe that that is the first time during our proceedings that you have called anybody to order, Mr. Brewis, but these points were made and I am simply replying to them.
I hope that the electors of London will notice that in pressing these Amendments the Opposition are trying to take away to some extent parental choice in London schools. We are talking only of London, for that is the only banding scheme in existence. The hon. Member for Cambridge spoke of Haringey. I am sorry that he did so because he knows that the Haringey scheme originated in a racial consideration. The hon. Gentleman certainly made a case for a social mix in these schools. He does not need to do so. Certainly we want [column 266]a social mix and Circular 10/65, in paragraph 36, encouraged this.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) also made a case for a social mix in schools. I believe that this is the way to tackle this problem—by an admission policy which will produce a social cross-section. Unfortunately, people tend to cluster in social groups. They do not scatter themselves round at random. There is, therefore, a need for an admission policy which will bring in people from different social groups. I completely reject, and I hope everybody on this side rejects, the allegation inherent in most of the speeches of hon. Members opposite, thought not all of them, that working class children are less intelligent than middle class children. They may appear to be less able, and, I agree, do appear to be less able, because of their poor environment.
I am sorry I quoted two different figures recently, but figures of between 50 and 20 per cent. have been quoted as attributable, not to intelligence, but to environmental factors. There has been reference to verbal ability, and there a good deal more is due to the child's background, his home, his parents, how many books are lying around the home, and so on. Most tests are based on reading the questions, to put it at its very lowest, so that verbal ability certainly enters into tests of almost all kinds.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) spoke of the I.Q. of children in Newcastle, an area which he and I know very well. I do not accept that children from Byker have a lower innate intelligence than those from more lush areas in the northern part of the city. They may appear to have lower intelligence quotients, although they do not have, in fact. The need, which I spelt out at great length last week at the conference of the National Union of Teachers, is for compensatory education to counteract the effect of and to improve the environment. In particular—and I am glad that hon. Members opposite have mentioned this—there is a need for local authorities to make more and better teachers available in the so-called depressed schools so that children in those schools can be taught in smaller groups with better equipment.
I hope that local authorities will use their minor works programme to improve schools of this kind. Too often I find that the showpieces are in the lush suburbs. [column 267]and the down-town schools are very often in an extremely depressed state, physically as well as educationally. I know that this is not entirely the fault of local authorities. It is because for many years we have had the problem of meeting the basic need of providing roofs over heads, with the result that most of the new schools have been built in new areas. But local authorities must now try to divert as many resources as they can to the older, deprived schools.
If the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) bases his forecast of the final outcome of the long series of council elections on Norfolk of all places, he is not nearly as astute as I thought. He is equally wrong if he bases his view of public opinion on what The Times says on education. Last Thursday, in a leading article, The Times denied that state education could have a social purpose. The Times, at present, is the most reactionary journal in the country so far as education is concerned.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford, for whom I have a very high regard, prefaced his remarks with typical honesty by saying that he knew nothing about banding. That probably holds true for quite a number of hon. Members. Nevertheless, he talked a good deal of sound common sense. He made the best case for the comprehensive school that I have heard for a very long time. He said that he wanted comprehensive schools to have a full ability range. The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley said that she wanted comprehensive schools to have sufficient children of ability. But surely the policy of the Opposition, if such it can be called, rules this out. As I understand it, their educational policy is to have grammar schools and so-called “comprehensive” schools co-existing. This means that the top 20 per cent. of the ability range will be siphoned off to the grammar school. Hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford and the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley cannot say that they want schools with a full range of ability, with sufficient high ability, and at the same time retain grammar schools.
Surely the comprehensive school can have a full range of ability without having 100 per cent. of the children in the neighbourhood within the [column 268]school. True, it may not have some of the brightest children because their parents will opt for more selective education. They are not all at the top of the range. Many parents of the brightest children will still want them to go to comprehensive schools.
In speaking of the full range of ability, we mean the number in each bracket in proportion to the number in the population; and clearly this is not possible if they are siphoned off to go to the grammar school. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford said that he wanted to retain parental choice, and so do I. That is one part of the 1944 Act I would like to retain, which is one of the main reasons why I reject the Amendments.
I believe that the answer to the dilemma presented by the contradictory factors is to have, first, an admission policy which is a matter for the local authority and which would give a social mix even if it means to some extent abandoning the neighbourhood school principle. I mentioned, either during the Second Reading debate or in Committee, that on some occasions an elongated catchment area instead of a circular catchment area can be drawn to give a social mix. It is possible to have a policy which will give a social mix and to some extent retain the neighbourhood principle. But it must always be subject to the overriding right of parents to choose when they want to exercise that right in accordance with the conditions laid down in the 1944 Act.
The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley talked of my “doctrine” . But this is not a doctrine; this is the law. This is the 1944 Act, introduced by a Conservative Minister in that year. Incidentally, I have invited him to participate in the centenary celebrations on 1st May, such is my regard for him. But the chaos of which the hon. Lady complains was not created by me or by this Government but by that Act. What is wanted is an admission policy which will give a social mix plus, at the same time, a real effort on the part of local authorities to compensate for a deprived background, and the allocation of resources and especially teachers to help children in down-town, depressed schools, to catch up with children in other schools. For these reasons, I cannot accept either of the Amendments.[column 269-270]
In view of what the Secretary of State has said—that he never loses an opportunity to encourage local authorities to draw catchment areas in the widest way to produce a wide social mix—I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
Is it your wish that the Amendment be withdrawn? [Hon. Members: “No” .]
Question put, That the Amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.
Division No. 12.]
Boyle , Sir Edward
Lane , Mr. David
Lewis , Mr. Kenneth
Maude , Mr. Angus
Montgomery , Mr.
Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
van Straubenzee , Mr.
Armstrong , Mr. Ernest
Bacon , Miss Alice
Evans , Mr. Fred
Mahon , Mr. Simon
Newens , Mr. Stan
Oakes , Mr. Gordon
Price , Mr. William
Short , Mr. Edward
Woof , Mr. Robert
It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order. Committee adjourned till Thursday, 9th April, 1970, at half-past Ten o'clock.
The following Members attended the Committee:
Brewis , Mr. (Chairman)
Armstrong , Mr.
Bacon , Miss
Boyle , Sir E.
Evans , Mr. Fred
Hill , Mr. J. E. B.
Lane , Mr.
Lewis , Mr. Kenneth
Mahon , Mr. Simon
Maude , Mr.
Montgomery , Mr.
Newens , Mr.
Oakes , Mr.
Price , Mr. William
Short , Mr. Edward
van Straubenzee , Mr.
Woof , Mr.