Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1970 Apr 14 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Education Bill] (government defeated)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC Standing Committee A [305-324]
Editorial comments: 1030-1139. Eighth Sitting reproduced in its entirety. MT spoke at cc.318 and 321. At this Sitting, the Opposition unprecedentedly succeeded in deleting the only substantive clause of a Government Bill.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 6634
[column 305-306]


Standing Committee A


Tuesday, 14th April, 1970

[Mr. John Brewis in the Chair]

Clause 1

Principles Affecting Provision Of Secondary Education

10.30 a.m.

Amendment No. 55 proposed—in 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.—[Sir E. Boyle.]

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 7.

Division No. 14.]


Boyle , Sir Edward

Eyre , Mr. Reginald

Hill , Mr. J. E. B.

Lane , Mr. David

Lewis , Mr. Kenneth

Montgomery , Mr.

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

van Straubenzee , Mr.


Armstrong , Mr. Ernest

Bacon , Miss Alice

Evans , Mr. Fred

Oakes , Mr. Gordon

Price , Mr. William

Short , Mr. Edward

Woof , Mr. Robert

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

On a point of order. Since the Amendment has been carried, it alters the Bill, and we should like to know whether the Government will accept the Committee's decision and what their general attitude is.

The Chairman

Order. That is not a point of order which we can pursue now.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee

I beg to move Amendment No. 24, in page 2, line 5, leave out “the” and insert “that or another” .

Having made such a satisfactory start to our work today, I naturally hope that this Amendment will also be accepted by the Government. It is really a probing Amendment to test whether the provisions for sixth forms and sixth-form units, which are specifically made in subsections (3) and (4) also apply when those facilities are shared. Subsection (3) says:

“For the purposes of subsection (1) … the arrangements for the admission of pupils to a school shall not be taken to be based on selection … by reason only that, in the case of pupils admitted to the school for the purpose of entering a sixth form unit comprised in the school, …”

As we read it, the sixth-form unit must be comprised in the school.

The Amendment may not be absolutely accurate, in which case I shall certainly accept guidance from those who know much more about these things than I do. Its purpose is to ensure that the exemption given in subsection (3) applies, not only to a sixth-form unit comprised in the school, but in that or another school. This is an important matter.

We have now moved on to the whole question of sixth-form provision. In this, as in so much else, the Donnison Report is of great help in guiding us. In paragraph 55, for example, it reminds us of what it describes as the dramatic growth in sixth forms. It says:

“In twenty years the numbers of pupils aged sixteen or more who are still at school has risen from about 115,000 to 373,000. Taking those in maintained schools only, the rise has been even steeper, …—an increase of nearly 300 per cent … ”

This is clearly a very important and growing facet of our educational work.

Directly relevant to the Amendment are the comments in paragraph 75 of the Donnison Report. I probably echo the views of many hon. Members when I say that, whether or not one agrees with everything in the Report, it makes beautiful reading, and it is a joy to have a report presented to us in this way. Paragraph 75 starts by reminding us that:

“The expansion of sixth form numbers and studies is putting, and will continue to put, a tremendous strain on the profession” ——

that is, the teaching profession. It continues:

“Meanwhile teachers of some subjects too often work with classes of no more than five or six pupils. There will be increasing pressures on schools to make more economical use of their skills. Critical questions will be asked about small sixth forms, and the barriers between separate schools may have to be broken [column 307]down. Other countries contending with the same problems have had to reorganise the staffing and structure of schools, giving greater responsibilities and higher pay to some of those at the top of the profession, introducing more aides and technical assistants, and building more closely integrated systems of secondary education linking the work of different schools.”

That last sentence is particularly relevant to the Amendment. It is because it is our anxiety that, intentionally or not, subsection (3) inhibits precisely that linking together, this is a probing Amendment. I trust that if that is a wrong interpretation, as it may be, the matter can be explained to the Committee. If the explanation is satisfactory, I do not think that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I will press the Amendment.

This matter has in Inner London, for example, been the subject of considerable investigation, and I think that it is relevant today of all days to recall that that inquiry and investigation crossed party lines. This illustrates how much of the thinking in Inner London was of a non-party nature. Some of it is not, but quite a lot is. That was stressed by Mr. Ashley Bramall in comments reported in The Times only yesterday.

This was started by a sixth-form survey by I.L.E.A. in November, 1967. I have it here, so I can give any details if I am asked, but I do not think that I should weary the Committee with it. It is a long and, rightly, technical document. It was followed by one that those of us interested in education in Inner London in one capacity or another studied at the time with great interest, “Sixth-Form Opportunities in Inner London,” the report of a working party presided over by Dr. Briault, which naturally stamps it with considerable authority. There are many aspects of the report that are not directly relevant to the Amendment, and so I shall not burden the Committee with any comment on them. But one quotation from a long and technical document will illustrate the sort of thing I have in mind. It explores, for example, association between schools. I know something of this as chairman of governors of one of those schools which was asked, and willingly acceded to the request, to take part in such an association. Paragraph 50 of the Report contains the comment:

“While we would welcome this new move towards ‘close association’, we would also [column 308]commend another pattern of association as yet largely untried. This would be the linking of two or three—perhaps even four—schools which by themselves could hardly sustain a viable sixth form. The contributory schools would together form a ‘consortium’. As in the cases already instanced, unselfish goodwill would be a sine qua non. Again, there would need to be careful co-ordination of the timetables and a sixth-form mixing or pooling which still allowed each sixth-former to belong to his school of origin. This belonging should be not only a matter of nominal role but also of personal loyalty and responsible service.”

I think that there is no one associated with this kind of idea who would want to sever links, so ably expressed in that report, of the sixth-former in question with his or her school.

There are very real difficulties in making, at any rate in our present state of development, viable sixth-form provision in some parts of the country. Others in the Committee can speak with experience and great knowledge of other parts of the country. I do not pretend to speak with detailed knowledge of London, but I know something of its problems, and they are well known to the Secretary of State. As the report shows, there are very wide variations in different parts of Inner London in the present and probably future staying-on rates.

The report, in its conclusions on page 18, for example, says:

“The number of pupils per form entry who may be expected to stay to the second year sixth in non-selective schools by 1975 ranges from two to three in three divisions” —

that is three divisions of I.L.E.A.—

“to 5½ or 6 in certain others. Five or sixth form entry non-selective schools in some parts of London can therefore expect by 1975 only small A-level groups.”

This was an across-the-board survey. Party politics are not involved in a report of this kind, and I suspect that the kind of proposals put forward by I.L.E.A. will remain a constant viewpoint in spite of last week's changes. I hope that nothing in the Bill will inhibit that work.

10.45 a.m.

The report advises that at least 10 to 12 subject should be on offer to A level students; that if A level teaching groups are to be no smaller than five and no larger than 15, then the A level year group needs to number 40 to 45.

The conclusion is:

“We are bound, however, to draw attention [column 309]to the disadvantages of a number of schools which provide independently for very small numbers of A level students.”

By comparison with other matters which we have been discussing, this is a small Amendment, and it is possible that the Secretary of State will be able to show that my apprehensions are not valid. But I think he will agree that at least there is some solid base for anxiety when the provision, as at present drawn, specifically limits the exemption to pupils admitted to school for the purpose of entering the sixth form unit comprised in the school. To the ordinary person, that means limiting to the sixth-form unit in that school. To the ordinary person, it seems that if one is following out something of the I.L.E.A. practice, pooling sixth-form facilities to which it is legal by this Bill, if it becomes an Act, to admit according to aptitude and ability, then the fact that it is not admitted to that particular school seems to make it run foul of the provision as drawn.

There is such widespread agreement on this comparatively new and massively growing provision in our secondary education, that I believe that we as a Committee would wish to do nothing to inhibit experiments of the kind I have sought to place before the Committee. I put the Amendment forward in order to get the matter quite clear.

Mr. David Lane

I wish to make a few points to reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has said. This is a small but important Amendment. We believe that continuing school-swapping arrangements will be essential for some time to come, and we feel it vital to widen the narrow way in which the paragraph is apparently drafted so that a pupil mainly in one sixth form may be able to do sixth-form work in certain subjects or disciplines in another school.

We are trying to lessen the rigidity of the Bill and to make it more flexible, practical and closer to common sense. I hope that most hon. Members share my impression that there is no part of education today in which there is greater uncertainty and agnosticism than about the 16 to 19 age-group. This is a good reason for putting into the Bill the maximum flexibility.

To illustrate my general argument, I spent a most instructive Saturday evening [column 310]earlier this month with committee members of the Cambridge Association for the Advancement of State Education. What struck me more than anything else about our discussions was the real disagreement and uncertainty in their minds—and they comprised educational experts and enthusiasts who are far more knowledgeable about these matters than I am—particularly on the question of the 16 to 19 year olds.

As it happens, it is on this point that the present reorganisation plan of the Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Council is stuck, in consultations with the Department of Education and Science. As the Secretary of State will know, the Department has suggested in response to the first plan that it appears to provide for too many sixth-form units with possibly too thinly spread and uneconomic use of resources. The Department has queried whether more pupils could be in sixth form colleges and rather fewer in sixth forms. This is now being discussed in Cambridge, and there was a meeting only a week or so ago of the City Education Committee. One of the points made by the Chairman of the Education Committee was that it was absolutely vital in schools to have strong sixth forms. The Chairman added:

“Some young people in the sixth form range want the security of a school environment. Others would benefit more from the freer atmosphere of a college of education. The Committee should not make provisions outside their schools which would prejudice the provisions in the schools.”

The decision which the Committee then took was that, while recognising the need to provide A level courses for the 16 to 19 year olds at colleges of further education, this college facility should be limited so as not to prejudice the development of strong sixth-form units in schools. I mention this to illustrate the need for flexibility generally.

My hon. Friend has referred to the London situation. It is not only in London that we are getting increasingly into a dilemma in regard to the 16 to 19 year olds, in that we need infinite variety. The phrase “mixed economy” has been used in rather a different connotation in earlier debates. We must aim at a particularly mixed solution of this aspect of our problem, in the sense of the different kinds of provision for 16 to 19 year olds.

I should like to make a quotation from [column 311]the Donnison Report in addition to the quotations made by my hon. Friend. Paragraph 387 of the Report says:

“In this country there is likely to be an increasing shortage of the most highly qualified teachers in mathematics and science subjects, and the greatest care must be taken to ensure that they are deployed to the best advantage. It is open to question whether they are best used in the teaching of the most able eleven and twelve-year-olds or whether they should concentrate on older children capable of taking their education beyond the minimum leaving age. Clearly” —
I would stress this sentence—

“they must not be wasted on teaching tiny groups of two or three children for A-level subjects.”

The paragraph continues:

“… the advantages to be gained from co-operation between schools at sixth-form levels should be explored in all areas.”

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Bar (Mr. Christopher Price) is not here. The other day I read an article by him in the New Statesman of 4th July, 1969, entitled “Do we need sixth forms” . This was prompted by the I.L.E.A. report mentioned by my hon. Friend. I am not suggesting that the hon. Member for Perry Bar would agree 100 per cent. with our views on this or on other issues in the Bill, but he suggested that I.L.E.A. was making a mountain out of a molehill and that the matter would be much easier if there were no grammar schools at all in the I.L.E.A. area. But I suspect that he was exaggerating, and whether or not grammar schools continue to exist in I.L.E.A. or in other big conurbations, there would still be the problem about sixth form resources. I quote one sentence from his article:

“Somehow the number of sixth forms must be less than the number of secondary schools.”

This is what we are seeking to secure by this Amendment.

Finally, I should like to quote what was said by the Secretary of State on 6th April of this year. I was heartened by one sentence in his remarks during the European Seminar of the World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession:

“Traditionally the sixth form has been a place of preparation for university entrance, but an important proportion of our sixth formers is likely to go straight into employment, associated perhaps with further part-time education. Their needs will be quite different from those preparing to start a degree [column 312]course, and the challenge to the sixth form of the future is to find a way of accommodating both the academic and the non-academic student.”

I read that as showing a leaning by the Secretary of State towards maximum flexibility. I hope that he will be sympathetic to our anxieties.

In summary, we believe that we must provide for maximum school-swapping and pooling arrangements. They will be needed for several years at sixth form level, not only in London and in big cities, but in other areas, and certainly in my own area. The Bill may veto this, and it is essential that we should ensure that these arrangements can be made where needed. I hope that we shall have a satisfactory answer from the Secretary of State on this point.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

I wish to reinforce the arguments put forward by my hon. Friends about the need to put the meaning of this provision beyond doubt and to make certain that the text, without the Amendment, does not make for inflexibility in operation.

I should like the Minister to deal with one point in his reply. I hope that it is not out of order since it does not bear directly on the Amendment. What is the current definition of a sixth form? The definition in the Crowther Report is

“the upper part of a grammar or technical school entered ordinarily at 15 or 16 after taking some subjects at ordinary level by G.C.E. examination” .

The Crowther Report talked of a general sixth form with a wider range of curriculum of a much less academic nature.

I should like to be clear what is the qualification of a sixth form. It may, with voluntary staying-on, include many people senior in age even if they have not passed the O level examination. This is an important matter because the comparison of numbers and all the statistics should be based on a common definition. If that definition has been altered, we should know about it.

The difficulties mentioned by my hon. Friends apply mostly to the children who are following academic courses where the shortage of sixth form school teachers is so great. Clearly, we must enable cross-postings for children or teachers and swapping of sixth form tuition to take place between schools. Although we talk in terms of the comprehensive school [column 313]being able to offer a wide range of courses, as it should, it is unrealistic to suppose that comprehensive schools any more than universities should be encouraged to try to provide everything. Languages are an example. I suppose that comprehensive schools will offer two or three languages but particular pupils might want to study others, like Russian, Italian, Chinese or Latin. This shows how important it is for these pupils not to be barred from going across to the sixth form of some other school within reach.

11.0 a.m.

There are many difficulties, which may disappear, but which at the moment lay burdens on teachers of sixth forms. Shortages force some practices which are probably not very desirable. A report of the Assistant Masters Association, entitled, “Teaching in Comprehensive Schools” , said that teaching these small sixth forms with limited resources required sacrifices lower down the school, and put great burdens on those extra masters of the calibre to take the brightest pupils. There are in individual pupils' timetables periods marked as “O” or “9” , meaning that both pupil and master must deal with that subject out of ordinary hours.

Another undesirable factor is the necessity to combine the teaching of first-and second-year sixth form pupils in the same class. Yet this has had to be done in some schools, except for maths. One of the most serious disadvantages is that separating the sixth forms from the schools leaves those schools short of skilled graduate staff who add vitality and inspiration to the rest of the staff as well as to the pupils. It is an echo of the standard disadvantage of the middle school, that the best teachers tend to go to the later age ranges.

Another disadvantage is that, to economise, O level courses are standardised at five years, and facilities are not easily available for a faster course for earlier developers.

It is therefore likely that comprehensive schools will develop their own specialised excellence, which is what we want and expect. Such a school might have very good sixth form tuition in a limited range of subjects, thereby offering the attractions of a sixth form unit, and achieving some economies in the scarce [column 314]tuition and—in science especially—equipment resources. Pupils can be gathered from neighbouring schools to make up satisfactory sixth form and A level groups.

In sixth form tuition, it may be possible to share skilled tuition and expensive facilities between some local education authorities and independent schools in their areas. It would be a great pity if legal limitations discouraged that. This is where a useful, if small, link between the two sectors of education could be established, to the benefit of all. I am thinking particularly of scientific teaching, perhaps maths and languages, and probably the use of, and training in, computer work. I do not suggest that excellence in these subjects is confined to independent schools, but some of them have marked achievements. Local education authorities should not be prohibited from using this service if the independent schools wish to cooperate in sixth form teaching.

My last doubt about the Clause is whether this provision is limited to pupils of 16 and over. Is it intended that 15 year olds should also be able to attend a school with a sixth form unit? This does not seem clear from the Clause, since pupils under 16 are referred to only in the definition of the sixth form college——

The Chairman

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting away from this Amendment and on to Amendment No. 25.

Mr. Hill

I apologise, Mr. Brewis. There is a link between these Amendments and I thought it appropriate to express that anxiety before we left this point. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Clause is not as restrictive as we fear, and that, if his legal advice is that it might be, he will accept the Amendment or correct the wording at a later stage.

Mr. Lewis

The Amendment pinpoints the certain variation in comprehensive education and the fact that the Minister is assisting it. So far as selection by ability and aptitude for sixth forms is acceptable to the Minister, there are bound to be complications. We think that they are the right kind of complications, because they provide the right kind of flexibility. For a foreseeable time, there will be three types of schools, whether [column 315]one likes it or not. First, the grammar schools will survive to a certain extent, even if reduced in numbers, and will take up some of the sixth form population. Second, comprehensive schools will need sixth forms wholly to themselves. This is apart from any ability content, although it may concern aptitude.

Comprehensive schools need the leadership of a wide-ranging sixth form. It would be a mistake to over-dilute sixth forms in comprehensive schools. It is difficult enough as it is—even hon. Members opposite will recognise this—to get young people to stay at school until 18 or 19, and in comprehensive schools there is bound to be a wastage through some dropping out because they want jobs. So those who remain must be retained for their own benefit and for that of the school.

One can hardly run a large comprehensive school without an effective sixth form. The scope provided by the Bill extends to sixth form colleges. I agree with scope for this. There is an example in my own county of which I have already spoken and which I might be able to speak about later. Sixth form colleges are better when they develop with a grammar or direct grant school, or entirely independently. I hope that the Minister will not close his mind to their development in co-operation with grammar and direct grant schools, which have the experience, tradition and staff, are geared to the running of a sixth form, and so can provide expertise for any sixth form college.

The Amendment would allow switching among subjects, especially where such colleges are involved with direct grant or grammar schools, but it would be a mistake to add to the types of school a sixth form college if this meant that sixth form material was unevenly spread. If one tried to add these colleges to grammar and direct grant schools in an area like London, one would be in difficulty. That is why they should be linked with the existing schools. There is a shortage of the necessary staff to run sixth forms, and if too heavy claims are made on them there will be poorer staff in some schools and better staff in others. Rather than spread the staff too thinly, there is a lot to be said for allowing pupils to switch if they are required to take particular [column 316]subjects, so long as switching—and this is important—does not take them away from their own schools for too many periods in the week. A sixth form is more than purely academic. It is concerned with the leadership of the school and with the leadership qualities of those in the sixth form. Switching to take particular subjects is acceptable only as long as it does not remove from the pupil the kind of experience he is getting in government of the school and the leadership qualities we seek form sixth formers.

11.15 a.m.

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

Clause 1(3) as drafted, which allows for selective entry at sixth form level, refers to

“pupils admitted to the school for the purpose of entering a sixth form unit comprised in the school”
, and the effect of the Amendment is that the subsection would refer to a sixth form unit comprised, not in the school, but
“in that or another school” .

The Amendment is wholly without operative effect because pupils are not admitted to one school for the purpose of entering another at sixth form level. All the references in the Bill are to admission of pupils as registered pupils. That is what “admission” means in the Education Act—registered pupils.

Although it is not the point of the debate, may I give an example. Take school A with pupils from 11 to 16, school B with pupils from 11 to 16, and school C with pupils from 11 to 18 where the sixth formers go from schools A and B to school C for the sixth form. Sub-section (3) exempts from Clause 1(1) arrangements under which pupils from school A and school B are admitted as registered pupils to school C at sixth form level on a selective basis.

I realise that what the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) was talking about was sharing arrangements where pupils from school A attend the sixth form classes at school B. Clause 1(1) does not catch these arrangements because the pupils of school A remain registered pupils of that school. There is nothing in the admission arrangements to school B about them. Exemption is not required when pupils are not formally admitted, because Clause 1(1) bites only on formal admission arrangements, and where sixth [column 317]form facilities are shared the pupils from the other school are not “admitted” to the school providing sixth form facilities. Therefore, subsection (3) does not need to exempt them and the sixth form rationalisation of I.L.E.A. is not affected by the Bill. I hope that, with that assurance, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am much obliged. I think that the Secretary of State will understand that there was a genuine sense of anxiety. It is common ground between us that we are anxious to see experiments made of the kind I have outlined. As at present drawn, the Bill was not absolutely clear to everybody. But I accept the emphasis which the Secretary of State has placed on “admitted” , and it is useful to have the matter clear.

There are a number of areas in the country where schemes of this kind are in operation, and obviously those who administer them will be looking at and taking advice carefully on subsection (3). I hope that it will be agreed that it is valuable to have the matter clear and on the record on the authority of the Secretary of State.

Mr. Hill

Has my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) reflected on what the situation would be under the Secretary of State's grouping, with school C of 11 to 18 year olds, if there were also a school D with 11 to 18 year old pupils and pupils from A and B go either to C or D because of specialised facilities or a variety of facilities which we have mentioned on this side?

Mr. van Straubenzee

It is not for me to put words into the mouth of the Secretary of State, but if I understood him aright—and he will correct me if I am wrong—the situation is the same because the pupils to whom my hon. Friend refers have still been admitted to school A or school B even though they are, in the instances he has posed, going to school D for some part of their sixth form instruction. If I have understood the matter aright, the emphasis is placed on “admission” .

Before I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment can the Secretary of State assist with a small point? Can he say in [column 318]what Section of the 1944 Act “admission” is defined as registration? This is a crucial point.

Mr. Short

It is not defined in the Education Acts. I have described the way it has been construed for many years—at least for the last 25 years.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

So the Edward ShortSecretary of State's reply is based on custom rather than statute?

Mr. Short

It is based on the construction of English words, and the way the education administration has applied and construed this word for many years. “Admission” means officially registered admission.

Mrs. Thatcher

It does not in the ordinary meaning of the English language, but it might in the education meaning, bearing in mind the context in which it occurs.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 2, line 12, after “expedient” , insert

“by reference to ability or aptitude” .

I shall move the Amendment briefly. If what I say is what the Minister has in mind, I should be grateful if he would say so immediately so that we can move to the next Amendment. This is a probing Amendment. Clause 1 excludes the possibility of arrangements for admission on ability and aptitude, but subsection (2) specifies certain exceptions to that general principle—sixth form colleges and sixth form units—and we then consider what a sixth form college is and we have the curious definition of pupils who have attained 16 years without reference to ability and aptitude and pupils below that age whom it is expedient to educate with the pupils of 16 years. What does “expedient” mean in that context?

“Expedient” occurs in many places in the 1944 Act and normally takes its meaning from the context of the sentence in which it occurs. If the Secretary of State meant expedient by reference to ability or aptitude, I should have expected him to say so. He has used a similar phrase in subsection (3) in relation to sixth form units. It is possible to construe [column 319] “expedient” as meaning early developers, children who get on particularly quickly and pass all their examinations and are ready for more advanced education earlier than one would expect from their age. As it stands, the provision is not confined to that. I wonder what the Secretary of State has in mind.

It would be possible to say, for instance, that a boy has passed his O levels and has a younger brother who is not bright but the two have a great friendship and that it would be expedient to send the younger brother to the sixth form with the older, even though the courses were too advanced for him.

Mr. Short

I am amazed at the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Throughout this Committee, she and her hon. Friends have been appealing for flexibility, but here they are limiting something.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am probing.

Mr. Short

The Amendment would alter the definition of sixth form college so that it would be defined as a school for providing secondary education suitable only to the requirements of pupils who have attained the age of sixteen years and of

“pupils below that age whom it is expedient by reference to ability or aptitude to educate together with pupils who had attained that age” .

The Amendment would result in a definition which would not only be infelicitously expressed but a misdescription. A sixth form college is a well recognised type of educational institution which is accurately described by the definition in the Bill. It is doubtful whether there is a sixth form college to which entry is selective below the age of 16 and non-selective above it. Even if there is, the intention is that the Bill should use the expression in its ordinary meaning and no useful purpose is served by limiting it in the way proposed.

The hon. Lady asked for an example. I give as an example a sixth form college taking in pupils at 15 years 10 months or 15 years 11 months who have gone to this school with pupils who are one or two months older. I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw her probing Amendment.

[column 320]

Mrs. Thatcher

I assume, then, that the expression means an early developer, the opposite of a late developer. In view of what the Secretary of State has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Hill

I beg to move Amendment No. 39, in page 2, line 13, leave out “together” .

This is a short, minor probing point, although none of us wants this Bill to be too inflexible in practice. The Clause defines a sixth form college and refers to pupils below 16 years

“whom it is expedient to educate together with pupils who had attained that age” .

I wish to know whether “together” simply refers to their going into a sixth form college as a whole, or whether it means that anyone below 16 must necessarily be educated with those over 16 in order to qualify them for this special advancement. It is accepted, in any event, that first and second year sixth form teaching should be where the facilities are available, and that the younger pupils should be taught separately. But there is also the possible desirability of able children, early developers, benefiting, in the judgment of the sixth form college, by being taught in their own group as a kind of preliminary to joining some of the older children. I merely wish to know that these sixth form colleges will not be limited in having this degree of flexibility.

11.30 a.m.

I have some slight doubt as to what the position would be in the mushroom type of school with an expanded sixth form at the top but not a sixth form college, which is really a separate institution. There might be a very big unit at the top of the mushroom school, halfway in size between the school's own sixth form, generated from its own intake, and a separate sixth form college. Could pupils below the age of 16 be admitted to such a school comparatively early, in the knowledge that they would go on to the sixth form sector of that school? A child who took O levels early in life might benefit by being admitted to the school so that it came into contact with its later teachers rather earlier than would normally be the case. I hope that the word “together” is not too limiting on the [column 321-322]structure of teaching within the sixth form schools.

Mr. Short

I must admit that we were a little foxed by this Amendment. I thought that the hon. Gentleman had tabled it out of regard for the English language. Had that been his motive, I would have had a great deal of sympathy with him.

The word “together” does not appear to affect the meaning of the definition. However, the language used in this paragraph is based on that used in paragraphs (a) and (b) of Section 8(1) of the Education Act, 1944, which defines primary and secondary education. The provision in the Bill is on all fours with that relating to this paragraph, and it is thought desirable that the same language should be used. I believe that the word “together” simply means in the same school, but not necessarily in the same class. It is not an attempt at streaming by the back door. There is nothing Machiavellian about it. This wording is only to keep it in line with that of Section 8 of the principal Act and it simply means in the same institution, in the same school, and nothing more.

Mrs. Thatcher

Having in another incarnation spent a lot of time on the construction of taxing statutes, I would ask whether, when it comes to drafting a new Education Act, the construction and language can be as explicit as if the Department expected every single phrase to be challenged because it would give rise to a liability on the taxpayer? We might not then get superfluous words in the legislation.

All this legislation is drafted in very general terms as if it is not expected to be challenged. If we are to have new legislation, it might be as well if we sort out exactly what we mean before we give instructions about embodying it in statute form. If my J. E. B. Hillhon. Friend withdraws his Amendment, perhaps we can get on.

Mr. Hill

In view of the Secretary of State's explanation that there is no limiting intention, and in the expectation that under his guidance a new Education Bill will be drafted to improve the English, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of opinion that the principle of the Clause and any matters arising thereupon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the Amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 47 (Debate on clause standing part) and Standing Order No. 59 (Standing committees (constitution and powers)), That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Division No. 15.]


Armstrong , Mr. Ernest

Bacon , Miss Alice

Evans , Mr. Fred

Jones , Mr. J. Idwal

Newens , Mr. Stan

Oakes , Mr. Gordon

Short , Mr. Edward

Woof , Mr. Robert


Boyle , Sir Edward

Eyre , Mr. Reginald

Hill , Mr. J. E. B.

Lane , Mr. David

Lewis , Mr. Kenneth

Maude , Mr. Angus

Montgomery , Mr.

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

van Straubenzee , Mr.

Mrs. Thatcher

On a point of order. As the Clause does not stand part of the Bill, it seems that there is no point in going on to Clause 2. May we hear from the Edward ShortSecretary of State?

Mr. Short

I am afraid that I am a bit lost. I have never encountered this situation before. Perhaps the best thing would be to adjourn. I ought to know the answer, but I do not.

I beg to move, That further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes to Twelve o'clock till Thursday, 16th April, 1970, at half past Ten o'clock. [column 323-324]

The following Members attended the Committee:

Brewis , Mr. (Chairman)

Armstrong , Mr.

Bacon , Miss

Boyle , Sir E.

Evans , Mr. Fred

Eyre , Mr.

Hill , Mr. J. E. B.

Jones , Mr. J. Idwal

Lane , Mr.

Lewis , Mr. Kenneth

Maude , Mr.

Montgomery , Mr.

Newens , Mr.

Oakes , Mr.

Price , Mr. William

Short , Mr. Edward

Thatcher, Mrs. van Straubenzee , Mr. Woof , Mr.