Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1970 Apr 30 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Education (re-committed) Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Committee
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC Standing Committee A [53-98]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1030-1300. Second Sitting reproduced in its entirety. MT spoke at c.91.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 16148
Themes: -
[column 53-54]

EDUCATION (re-committed) BILL


Thursday, 30th April, 1970

[Mr. John Brewis in the Chair]

Clause No. 1

Principles affecting provision of secondary education

(1) With a view to the ending of selection of pupils for admission to secondary schools by reference to ability or aptitude, every local education authority, in fulfilling their duties under section 8 of the Education Act 1944, and in the exercise of any power-for the purpose of fulfilling those duties, shall (subject to the following provisions of this section) have regard to the need for securing that secondary education is provided only in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on such selection.

(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall be construed as affecting—

(a) the provision, whether in special schools or otherwise, of special educational treatment as mentioned in section 8(2(c) of the Education Act 1944 (which relates to pupils suffering from a disability of mind or body), or

(b) the provision of education in any sixth form college, or

(c) the provision of education in any school where the arrangements for the admission of pupils to the school are based on selection wholly or mainly by reference to ability in or aptitude for music or dancing or any other art.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section the arrangements for the admission of pupils to a school shall not be taken to be based on selection as therein mentioned 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, the arrangements for their admission are based on selection by reference to ability or aptitude as well as by reference to age.

(4) In this section—

(a) “sixth form college” means 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 to educate together with pupils who have attained that age, and

(b) “sixth form unit” means a separate department or class for providing such secondary education as is mentioned in the preceding paragraph.’

Question proposed (28th April), That the Clause be read a Second time.—[Mr. Edward Short.]

10.30 a.m.

Question again proposed.

The Chairman

I regret that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) is not present, because there is a printing error on the Notice Paper from which it appears that the Question was put and agreed to at our last sitting. That, of course, is not the case.

I remind the Committee that, with new Clause No. 1, we are taking new Clause No. 3:

Principles affecting provision of secondary education

(1) With a view to the ending of selection of pupils for admission to secondary schools by reference to ability or aptitude, every local education authority, in fulfilling their duties under section 8 of the Education Act 1944, and in the exercise of any power for the purpose of fulfilling those duties, shall (subject to the following provisions of this section) have regard to the need for securing that secondary education is provided only in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on such selection.

(2) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall be construed as affecting—

(a) the provision, whether in special schools or otherwise, of special educational treatment as mentioned in section 8(2)(c) of the Education Act 1944 (which relates to pupils suffering from a disability of mind or body), or

(b) the provision of education in any sixth form college, or

(c)the provision of education in any school where the arrangements for the admission of pupils to the school are based on selection wholly or mainly by reference to ability in or aptitude for music or dancing or any other art, or

(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. [column 55]

(3) For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section the arrangements for the admission of pupils to a school shall not be taken to be based on selection as therein mentioned 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, the arrangements for their admission are based on selection by reference to ability or aptitude as well as by reference to age.

(4) In this section—

(a) “sixth form college” means 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 to educate together with pupils who have attained that age, and

(b) “sixth form unit” means a separate department or class for providing such secondary education as is mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee

When we adjourned on Tuesday, I was saying that I agreed with the Secretary of State that these proceedings would be historic and that his speech would be especially historic. But I had no time to develop that view, and I propose to do so now, quite shortly. Before doing that, as we are talking generally about new Clause No. 1 and new Clause No. 3, I want briefly to define the Opposition's attitude to our discussions on them, and I do so with the authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).

Hon. Members will notice that the Notice Paper has changed since our last meeting. A number of detailed Amendments have been removed from it. This is illustrative of the Opposition's attitude in the circumstances of considering two new Clauses which have but one very important difference between them and, furthermore, in a situation where new Clause No. 1 is identical with Clause 1 of the previous Bill.

Mr. Brewis, you gave us helpful guidance at our last sitting, and it was quite clear that, had the Opposition chosen, they could have gone back over new Clause No. 1, assuming that the Committee gave it a Second Reading, and done so in the greatest detail. We on this side have decided that that is not in accord with an adult way of approaching the situation in which we find ourselves.

We yield to no-one in our hostility to the situation, and retract not a word of [column 56]criticism of the method which has brought us together this morning. But, as a result of our general approach, the small detailed Amendments have been removed, and there will be no disposition on this side of the Committee to go back over matters which have been discussed and on which assurances have been given. I have in mind, for example, the time-table for the coming into force of the direct grant provisions. Nor are we disposed to hold up discussions on small detailed matters. As a result, the Notice Paper now contains four important groups of Amendments.

Amendments (h) and (d) deal with direct grant schools, which we all agree are important. Amendment (e) gives greater flexibility, while making it clear that there should be comprehensive provision. Amendment (g) deals with boarding. Amendment (f) is an important Amendment concerning the provision of special arrangements for the education of particular children. Amendment (h) vests in the Secretary of State a greater freedom in respect of future provision for special skills.

There are four major groups, and there is no disposition on this side of the Committee to discuss them at length. Hon. Members will notice that there is no specific Amendment about banding. The essential difference between the two new Clauses is banding, and therefore there is no need for a specific argument on that point.

The order of batting will be as follows. We shall vote down new Clause No. 1. We shall give a Second Reading to new Clause No. 3. For that purpose, the appropriate Amendments to new Clause No. 3 have been tabled, and there is no problem about the Amendments being incorporated in it. This week has given us yet another illustration of the way in which business emanating from the Department goes awry. We recall the right hon. Gentleman's frolic with mistresses in another place. It is clear that we on this side are in the ascendancy when it comes to discussing education matters.

I move on to define the Opposition's attitude to new Clauses Nos. 1 and 3. It has been said again and again, and it must be repeated, that a great many Conservative authorities have themselves initiated important changes, and have themselves, under Tory Governments in [column 57]many cases, moved away from the basis of age 11. Furthermore, a Conservative declaration of policy printed at mid-term states:

“Conservatives recognise that the age of 11 is too early to make final decisions about what type of secondary education the children should receive by separating them into different types of school.”

There is a clear commitment, and it was for that reason that, on Second Reading. I was able to refer to the fascinating Bulmershe lecture given by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) who at the time was a Minister of State in the Department. She said that on this issue there really was no major political division between the parties.

Apparently, the Secretary of State has not grasped that, or it may be that he regards it as electorally prudent to repeat a statement which has been rejected constantly from this side. I do not have the ability to see with precision the exact form of our secondary school system for the next 20 years, but I suspect that, in those places where a comprehensive school is either purpose-built or is in buildings which make educational sense when they are grouped together, and it is a school which provides meaningful sixth form provision for those able to benefit by it, such a school will gradually, by parental choice, have the ascendancy over a selective grammar school. I believe that that is how, eventually, parental choice will develop.

In the meantime, under this new Clause, for as long as we can sensibly plan ahead we have to live in a mixed economy, and that has the authority of the Secretary of State. Therefore, we reject the concept that it is not possible, in an urban area especially, for these two systems to live side by side.

Perhaps I might give an illustration. I will not identify the schools for reasons which will at once become clear, though I am willing to tell hon. Members in private where they are. One is a good comprehensive school. The second is a mediocre comprehensive. The third is a good selective grammar school. They are all in one catchment area.

The good comprehensive school is a meaningful bringing together of a former grammar and a former secondary modern, both with high standards. It is clear to all parents that it is providing the full width of courses and meaningful sixth [column 58]form provision. The mediocre comprehensive school is, as yet, a blown-up secondary modern. It is needing to have imposed on it a grammar provision and, as yet, is a mediocre comprehensive without a meaningful sixth form provision. Finally, there is the selective grammar school. The curious feature is that approximately the same number of parents whose children have places in the selective grammar school are opting to send them to the good comprehensive as are the parents of children who have places in the good comprehensive opting to send them to the selective grammar. That is parental choice working in a meaningful way in an urban area.

In the course of years, when the mediocre comprehensive can give the full width of courses which we all wish to see, I suspect that parental choice will tend to go to both the comprehensives. But I cannot be sure and, meanwhile, I treasure the element of parental choice. I do not have the fear which seems to be so deeply instilled in hon. Gentlemen opposite of the two systems living together. For as long as we can foresee, it has to happen, and we on this side will not take part in a process which wilfully excludes one section of the system.

It is possible that the age of intake into the sort of selective grammar schools that I am discussing will move up to a higher age than 11. That would meet with my full approval. There is nothing sacrosanct about the age of 11. Apparently, that has to be said and re-said. But we are not prepared positively to exclude from this process some possible way forward. We are not prepared positively to exclude for ever selection by ability and aptitude for some special ability.

We are not prepared to say dogmatically, “We are absolutely certain that we will never want to select for mathematics or languages.” There is nothing in any Amendment to ram it down people's throats that there should be compulsory selection. Nor are we prepared to be dogmatic and say that all those people, some of them devoted to the comprehensive concept, who conscientiously believe that there must be banding to make a meaningful comprehensive school in some areas, are wrong and should be prevented from doing so. There is nothing in new Clause No. 3 to force this solution down people's throats. It merely reserves the [column 59]power to do so. Therefore, I am unhappy about this dogmatic approach.

10.45 a.m.

The kernel of my attack is against the thinking behind new Clause No. 1. I attack its rigidity and authoritarianism. It is distasteful educationally. I make no apology for being an agnostic in a wide area of this rapidly developing world. The actual wording of the new Clause, as distinct from its thinking, is rightly attacked from a different direction. The Secretary of State told us last time that it is a good thing to give the electorate what they want. What he is seeking to convey to the electorate, because he thinks that this is what they want, is that the Bill ends selection. The Leader of the House also used this phrase, and he is not an amateur in education matters.

But, of course, as we have had to say over and over again, the Bill does not end selection. It enshrines selection. Listen to this fervent quotation by the Secretary of State at our last proceedings:

“Ending selection” ——

he hymned—

“is the same as having comprehensive schools. This is an equation which one cannot avoid. If we have comprehensive schools, we end selection. If we end selection, we have comprehensive schools. It cannot be otherwise.”

This no doubt will be enshrined for ever as a statement of the right hon. Gentleman's belief. Yet he was saying that on Second Reading of a Clause which enshrines selection. When, minutes later, I took him up on this, he was forced to correct himself. He is correctly reported as saying that what he meant was ending selection at eleven. But this is not an issue between us. The Bill permits and enshrines selection for an able 14-year-old. We should say precisely what we mean.

I must give one other quotation from the Secretary of State, a little earlier, which will also, no doubt, be enshrined on the desks of at least some of those administering education. He was criticising my hon. Friend. He said that we had said that the Clause

“… would take away freedom from local authorities. What utter nonsense. There is no service in this country in which there is more consultation. We do not do anything in the education service without consulting the other [column 60]two partners, the teachers and the local authorities.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 28th April 1970, cc. 51, 50.]

Mr. Fergus Montgomery

Consult them, and then take no notice.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I was reflecting, as I listened, upon that splendid day in the Burnham negotiations, when, in the morning, the Secretary of State's own representatives told the Committee that the sum upon which they had previously settled, against all persuasions, from both parties, was the absolute final sum given by the Government, and when, in the afternoon, the Secretary of State himself came down, with no prior consultation, and altered the whole basis of the negotiations. I will say nothing further about that, because it does not actually appear in new Clauses Nos. 1 and 3, but it is an illustration of the way in which the Secretary of State regards consultation with the l.e.a.'s——

Mr. Stan Newens

Is the hon. Gentleman disappointed?

Mr. van Straubenzee

No, I am not disappointed. If the local authorities had had their way, there would have been a settlement long before——

Mr. Newens


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

That is completely untrue.

Mr. van Straubenzee

As an illustration of consultation and of not doing anything without consultation, it is one of the best examples of the Secretary of State's own words being thrown flat in his face.

Mr. Newens

Would the hon. Gentleman have preferred the dispute to continue——

Mr. Short

Of course he would.

Mr. Newens

Is he disappointed that the Secretary of State showed very great statesmanship, and succeeded in ending this dispute and doing great credit to the teachers as well?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I will answer that by asking a simple question. Why could this not have been done before Christmas?

[column 61]

Mr. Newens

I am not prepared to argue about the timing of this. What I am asking the hon. Gentleman to say quite clearly is whether he would have preferred the Secretary of State to do nothing about it, when he did, but to allow the dispute to go on.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Now we have got to the nub of the dispute. We should come away from the subject, I think, Mr. Brewis, or we will incur your wrath. I am sorry that there was a dispute with the teachers, but I am highly critical that there was the necessity for all the ill-will which the dispute aroused. If the global sum was available when the Secretary of State said it was, it was available before Christmas——

Mr. Short

Could I make it clear, to put it on the record, that the global sum which was settled, on which the settlement was reached, was made available to the local authorities many weeks before the end of the negotiations?

The Chairman

Order. I have allowed the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) too much latitude. I must call the Committee to order on this point.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I defer at once to your ruling, Mr. Brewis. That last statement of the Secretary of State will lead to discussion elsewhere, but when it is in order, of course. I have made my point about the criticisms. It must be said clearly that the Association of Education Committees does criticise the Bill. We were reminded of this at our last sitting in a very powerful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill).

Under the two new Clauses, there will be nothing in the Bill to force the voluntary aided schools to take part in the reorganisation envisaged by the two Clauses. It is generally agreed by all spokesmen, that the representatives of the voluntary aided schools, which are overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, of course, the two great churches of the country, have been and can remain co-operative and anxious to move forward towards comprehensive education. But they are presented with very great difficulties.

My next remark is highly topical this morning. I have taken some small part [column 62]in these negotiations as they affect Inner London. I do not speak on behalf of the Anglican Church, with which I have a modest connection, but I speak with some knowledge of it. The representatives of the Anglican Church, in the two dioceses concerned, of London and Southwark, reckon that they took part in meaningful discussions with I.L.E.A. and reached a concordat which recognised the realities of the situation and set 1975 as a terminal date for those plans. This must have commended itself to the Secretary of State, because he gave his imprimatur to the decision so made.

It is worth remembering that, when the Conservatives took over I.L.E.A., they did not try to make the river flow backwards. There was a consistent policy which in its essence remained. I know that this came as a surprise to many people in Inner London, who genuinely believed that there would be a very reactionary outlook under a Conservative I.L.E.A. There was not.

It entitles me to say that, because there was a reasonable approach and that forward flow of policy, it is not unreasonable to ask for consistency in return. In ecclesiastical circles, the new leader of the Inner London Education Authority may find a disposition to say—I talk only of Anglican circles—that, having taken part in these discussions and reached finality with the Secretary of State's approval, they are not prepared to waste further time in further discussions, with further plans being taken out of pigeon-holes.

Mr. Short

This is a pretty shocking thing to say.

Mr. van Straubenzee

No, it is not. I am saying it quite clearly. If the Secretary of State wants a confrontation with the churches, he had better say so: I do not believe he does. But I had better finish my sentence——

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman had better make himself clear, too. He has no right to speak for the churches.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I will make myself clear. I have no intention of being bullied by the Secretary of State, who is too apt to lose his manners when he is sitting down. I will make it clear what I am saying—that there is a strong disposition within Anglican circles not to [column 63]take part in meaningless discussions and revisions of plans which have already been carefully agreed up to 1975. I am saying that deliberately. If it is regarded as provocative, it is as well for it to be said, and it had better be clearly understood that the legal position is that there is nothing at all that the Secretary of State can do about it.

Mr. Short

May I have it placed on the record that I also am associated with the Anglican Church? May I say that the hon. Gentleman has no right whatever to speak for the Anglican Church in this matter? He is speaking for himself alone.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is why I made the position exceedingly clear. I made it as clear as words can make it that I was not so trying to do, but I am entitled to say that I have some detailed knowledge of a lot of those concerned and of the organisation concerned——

Mr. Short

So do I.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That much I am entitled to say. And I am entitled to say that there is no disposition to enter into further discussions on matters which are not meaningful educationally. The general public, whose views, of course, include church opinion, are entitled to say that, if that democratically elected body makes an arrangement, that arrangement shall remain. Post-1975 is a different matter.

I am saying to the Secretary of State and Mr. Bramall that they may find that worms can turn, even when they are wearing surplices.

11.0 a.m.

To summarise, I am attacking the attitude of mind behind the new Clause. I am attacking the authoritarian, doctrinaire rigidity, and, as I believe it, the removal of parental choice. I am attacking the attitude of mind that has caused this Clause to be drafted, and I am attacking it because when it comes to the actual wording it is misleading. Far from removing selection, it enshrines it. Far from making it mandatory, it merely requires us to have regard to—and we constantly have reminders of how weak those words are. When we have this combination of rigidity and jelly drafting it is right that this new Clause should be thrown out.

[column 64]

Sir Edward Boyle

Listening to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) I was a little reminded of one of the movements in Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra called “Interrupted Serenade” .

Mr. Gordon Oakes

We have had the “Donkey Serenade” .

Sir E. Boyle

I will not deal at length with the content of the interventions made by the right hon. Gentleman except to say that I do not believe that we have heard the last of one of the interpolations made by him.

I want to turn to the distinctions between new Clause No. 1 and new Clause No. 3. The Secretary of State explained why he had tabled new Clause No. 1 in its present form, and I appreciate his point. Nonetheless I do not regret, and I hope that he does not, the amount of time that we have spent in our earlier proceedings on the issue of banding and zoning. We all realise that there is an acute problem of organising comprehensive education in the big cities because all children do not go to the same school, whether there is a bipartite or a comprehensive pattern. There is always the difficulty of deciding what the basis of admission to different schools should be.

The Secretary of State spoke of the 11-plus as one of the greatest remaining social injustices. Whatever else comprehensive reorganisation will effect, no one can say that, in the big cities, it will automatically solve the problem of social injustice. It certainly does not do that, and I do not blame anyone for it. The strongest enthusiasts of rapid comprehensive reorganisation tend to live in areas where there is good sixth form provision in comprehensive schools. When considering this question, we should consider the genuine dilemma of parents living in areas where a reorganisation plan provides unsatisfactory sixth form opportunities.

When it comes to the organisation of comprehensive education in big cities, we believe in leaving a wide measure of discretion to city local education authorities. The big city authorities should be able to tackle this question in a variety of ways. In certain city areas there is much to be said for a neighbourhood school to which priority is deliberately given in matters of expenditure. At this point I would commend, insofar as I had time to read them, the remarks made this morning by [column 65]Mr. Nicholas Deakin on behalf of the Institute of Race Relations. We are only at the beginning of steps which will be needed to provide fair opportunity in some of the older city areas. In other parts of the city there should be artificial zoning: the approach suggested by the hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Newens). That has merit.

Banding ought to be one of the options within the power of the local education authority. It is of particular importance in London because it is there that we will see a number of grammar schools side by side with comprehensive schools for a considerable number of years. I thought my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham made a perfectly reasonable point about the aided schools in London. The aided schools in London, and he was speaking specifically of the Church of England aided schools, came to an agreement with I.L.E.A. before 1967. They came to a further agreement after the change of control in 1967. As I understood my hon. Friend's point, he was saying that the Church authorities could surely be forgiven if they did not feel inclined to re-scramble their plans every time there was a change of control. That does not seem unreasonable. In any case, we are bound to see a number of grammar schools, particularly aided grammar schools, side by side with comprehensives in London.

Quite rightly, there has been scope in London for the consideration of primary school records to ensure a balanced intake into a number of comprehensive schools. I hope that we shall leave wide discretion to local authorities who have the responsibility for deciding admission policy in the big city areas. I realise that we cannot move an Amendment on this subject at this stage but I hope that it may be possible for us to return to this subject when we reach Report.

The debate has been and will be represented outside the Committee as a debate for and against the 11-plus system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) pointed out at our last sitting, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham pointed out today, this is not true. No one on this side of the Committee seriously believes that in areas of growing population we should solemnly build new grammar and modern schools side by side. I do not remember [column 66]any such proposal having been made in the years that I was Minister.

Only last Friday I was opening the new buildings of a comprehensive school on the outskirts of Lichfield in Staffordshire. Staffordshire is one of those many counties which has been gradually reorganising at its own pace without any dictation by Governments, ever since the early 1950s. I did not meet one parent during the whole evening who doubted the wisdom of having set up the Nether Stow School as a comprehensive.

I was glad to learn that there were more parents outside the Nether Stow School catchment area wishing to send their children to the school than there were parents inside the catchment area wishing to send their children to grammar schools outside the area. I found that extremely welcome, just as I found it welcome that there was a balance of occupations represented in the school. The daughter of the Chairman of the Staffordshire Education Committee attends the school. In the area there was very little disagreement about the right way to proceed. I do not say that there was no disagreement, because I am mindful of yesterday's leading article in the Daily Telegraph. There is a certain limitation on any editorial, however eloquent, which seems to bear little relevance to the policies of Government during the past 10 years or to the likely policies of any Government in the following 10 years.

Very few people believe that the normal pattern of secondary school reorganisation should be a system of 20 per cent. in grammar schools and 80 per cent. in non-selective modern schools, segregated at the age of 11. As I said on Second Reading, this scheme made sense in the 1940s but it does not make sense to the great majority of parents today when in some parts of the country more than half the children stay on until the age of 16. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham pointed out, change has been coming to many parts of the country. I am thinking particularly of counties like Leicestershire and Kent and both parts of Sussex, of Wiltshire and Staffordshire. Change has been coming gradually under successive Governments and at no one's dictation.

Authorities have been working out their own plans for reorganisation which get rid of the need for early selection without damaging the essential qualities [column 67]of good schools. We oppose compulsion. On Second Reading. I gave five reasons for this which I will repeat briefly. I said that I believe the balance of power and responsibility as laid down in the 1944 Act was right; that I believe that satisfactory social reform needs co-operation, and that I believe that the Bill will intensify the political controversy. It will make life more difficult for chairmen of experience who have worked hard and fearlessly to get a sound agreement that makes educational sense. It is a great pity that we should make the task of these people deliberately that much more difficult.

I further believe that the Bill is fraudulent because it contains no promise of financial help. If anything, I understated this on Second Reading. I was thinking not just in terms of the building programme but also of the problems of recurrent expenditure of local authorities. Comprehensive education, if it is to be a reality and not just a change of the label on the gate, must involve more recurrent expenditure. It is not just a matter of labelling: it is a matter of the proper provision of science facilities, sixth form facilities and library facilities, etc.

There is something fraudulent about a Bill which appears at the same time as the Government's White Paper on public expenditure, setting, as we all think, quite unrealistically low targets for the increase in educational expenditure during the early 1970s. I would press the Government very strongly on this. It is a fraud to introduce a Bill of this kind, not merely because no increase is to be made in the building programme but because we all know the very severe restraints under which authorities are now working in terms of recurrent expenditure.

My fifth point was that I thought this to be a bad Bill, and nothing has caused me to alter my opinion. It is bad in the wording, and in the thought behind it.

I would add one more point to my list, and that is that it is a bad thing for us to endorse the idea that any scheme which gets rid of early selection must automatically be a net improvement. I simply do not believe that this is so. It is wrong that we should encourage authorities to submit schemes which may be scandalously bad, which are not properly thought out and are not really believed in, and which just apply to part [column 68]of an area. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon in his place, and he will know exactly what I am thinking of at the moment. To deal with the County of Warwickshire, it is probably true that no one doubts that the ordinary comprehensive school is right for the big housing estates on the outskirts of Birmingham. I do not think my hon. Friend would dispute any more than I do the idea that the sixth form college might be the right answer for Nuneaton. There are parts of the country where a perfectly satisfactory scheme has been put forward. The county was not able to work out a satisfactory scheme for the south of Warwickshire, and it was quite right not to submit a scheme for that area.

Mr. William Price

That hon. Gentleman represents it.

Sir E. Boyle

My hon. Friend does represent that area, and he also happens to be right. The county was also right in deciding not to submit a scheme. No satisfactory scheme was put up.

Let me give an opposite example of the approach, in the County of East Sussex, where I was for a short time a co-opted member.

I think that the Chairman of East Sussex Education Committee had exactly the right approach. He said, “Let us start with the easy parts of the county and those where we can see clearly what should be done. At Rye and at East Grinstead there was no difficulty, and from our experience of dealing with those parts where the solution seems obvious we shall put ourselves in a much better position to devise schemes for the more difficult parts.” Gradualism is the right policy, and we should do nothing which would encourage authorities to put forward unsatisfactory schemes for even a part of their areas. I fear that that is what this Bill will do. 11.15 a.m.

Growing doubts are felt by teachers over the balance of advantage. Irrespective of party politics, many teachers wish to get the right educational answer here, and many have genuine doubt about a number of the schemes put forward.

Let me answer the point which the right hon. Lady the Minister of State has made to me about the minority of authorities which are totally resistant. There is a danger in the House of our setting [column 69]too great a value on total uniformity. An untidy solution gained by consent is much better than uniformity gained by compulsion. The right hon. Lady exaggerates the handicap for children in those areas as yet unreorganised. I accept completely that according to all the evidence we have, three-quarters of parents reject secondary modern education for their children. We should have it always in mind that they would rather not have secondary modern schools, but let us not pretend that all the children in them are sunk into a Stygian gloom.

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

I never said that.

Sir E. Boyle

When it is suggested that all those in secondary modern schools are rejected, it does less than justice to the efforts of many secondary modern school teachers. I take the example of Bournemouth——

Miss Bacon

Bournemouth again?

Sir E. Boyle

Before the right hon. Lady makes too disagreeable a face, let her listen. She reacts sharply and unfavourably and too quickly at times, although we all have great affection for her.

I am far from saying that I would like to see the rest of the country imitate Bournemouth but the fact that it believes in its scheme, and believes in it passionately, is in itself an advantage to the children being educated there—they are keen to make a success of it. I would not like to see compulsion used in this case. I would rather see the experience of Bournemouth and of Hampshire side by side, and let us see it work itself out with public debate and discussion.

Miss Bacon

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are fond of bringing Bournemouth into the debate, but the right hon. Gentleman is a Member for the City of Birmingham, and yet he veers away from talking about Birmingham.

Sir E. Boyle

On the contrary, I have frequently answered the right hon. Lady on that point, and I will answer her straight away about Birmingham. There are large numbers of schemes which still have to be fully implemented there, and some are still coming in. Now that Solihull has decided to reorganise, if the right [column 70]hon. Lady can help it with its scheme that will have much more effect in Birmingham than will this Bill. The success of schemes like those at Solihull, Warwickshire, Sutton Coldfield and West Bromwich will have an effect, and the right hon. Lady should concentrate on helping them.

Mr. Christopher Price

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned having some regard to the feelings of teachers in these areas and, intervening at a previous sitting, he said that he was not in favour of total local option. Is it fair to the teachers of Birmingham, when both major teachers' organisations there have pleaded for many years for comprehensive education, that the Government should ignore their feelings and do nothing to press Birmingham?

Sir E. Boyle

On the point of local option, if Birmingham were now proposing, in an area of expanding housing, large numbers of new grammar school and secondary modern schools side by side, I think that it would be perfectly in order for the Secretary of State to ask for discussions with that authority and to press on it strongly the wisdom of this course. There may be a reason for it. I have always said that one cannot risk children being kept out of school simply because of disagreement on reorganisation between the Secretary of State and the authority. There are times when the Secretary of State is entitled to ask for discussions and to make his general views felt, but we cannot risk children being kept out of school. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) is wrong in supposing that teacher opinion in Birmingham is unanimous on this point. I am strongly of the impression that it is not.

The hon. Member and I tend to meet different people on this subject but, trying to assess opinion, I believe that there is a larger section of opinion in Birmingham which is nervous of wholesale reorganisation than in most other parts of the country. I believe that the right way to approach this problem, rather than attempting to coerce a small number of authorities, is to do all we can to make a success of the plans of those who want to reorganise.

This Clause and all the discussions on the Bill have caused sharper controversy than has any other educational issue in recent years. I personally regret it [column 71]because, on the whole, for the last 15 years there has been relatively little all-out political controversy on this subject. In all parts of the country, and certainly in most counties, we have had gradual change with a great deal of give and take of local opinion.

I regret that this Bill should be so unworthy a celebration of the centenary of the 1870 Education Act.

There is a great danger of concentrating overmuch on this aspect of reorganisation to the disadvantage of other aspects of education. I sometimes feel—and I have never concealed my support for soundly-based schemes of reorganisation—that we may oversell the subject both ways. Somebody has to use the old buildings, and not all children can have equal access to graduate teachers. Nor should we forget that if one grosses up the total results figures for G.E.C.[sic] in grammar schools and modern schools and compares them with the results for comprehensive schools, making allowance for the fact that comprehensive schools in some areas do not have children with a complete range of abilities, the result is rather less different than some suppose.

It would be right to go on with reorganisation by consent in as many areas as possible when soundly-based schemes are devised and resources become available. That is the right approach, and not the approach of this Clause which, I hope, will not—if it reaches the Statute Book—remain the law for long.

Mr. Simon Mahon

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) will not think that I am reacting precipitately or unfavourably. I do not seek to answer him, but I could show him, not two types of school with degrees of comparison, but three types. The results of an examination I made of 15,000 school children in my constituency showed that there was not all that much difference between children in comprehensive schools, direct grant schools, and other schools. We have been at fault for many years in exaggerating the differences between children.

I should like to answer the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), and to do so with care, but regret. He said something serious and disturbing, and from someone who is a [column 72]responsible person in this sphere it was all the more disturbing. As one representing the Roman Catholics in a modest way, I took it from his remarks that the change in the political colour of I.L.E.A. has brought a more difficult position for the Anglican people, and that they are showing resistance to them which was not shown previously. That is a serious statement.

Mr. Short

Serious and untrue.

Mr. van Straubenzee

It is important to get the facts clear. I was making no reference to the political nature of this matter. There is no politics in it. They made a settlement under one political colour and revised it under another, and they have demonstrated that party politics does not enter into it.

Mr. Mahon

But the inference was very clear.

Anyone who knows anything of the history of voluntary education and of the wealth of understanding between the various churches over the years must appreciate the attitude of the varying ministries over the same period of years and should not wish to disturb the existing relationships, but it appeared to me that the hon. Member for Wokingham meant, and said, that the change in the political control in London had made the position more difficult.

The direct grant and voluntary-aided schools have great difficulties, and there is some resistance when someone builds up a magnificent school under a pattern of education and then change comes. Change is not always acceptable or desirable, and is not always easily provided for. One can therefore understand the concern of the churches when any Government comes along with some form of reorganisation which will place them in difficult financial circumstances. This must be understood. I know some of the people who represent my party on I.L.E.A., and for anyone to say that any of them would make it more difficult for the Catholic or Church of England schools to follow the pattern they wish to is very wrong.

11.30 a.m.

I, too, have put down Amendments on which I shall need clarification before accepting what any Minister says. But, knowing I.L.E.A. and the present [column 73]Minister of Education, I say that no-one could have done more to meet our point of view up to now than the present Minister of Education. He has placed himself at tremendous inconvenience at all times to try to meet opinions proffered to him. I leave it to him to say later whether we have made upon him the impression we would hope. But I would warn, in a friendly way, the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. van Straubenzee), for he is walking on very treacherous, dangerous ground if he seeks to upset the relationship for which we have worked so hard, not only in my lifetime but in the lifetime of many others, by references which could be misunderstood by those who think differently from the way he and I think.

I only wanted to clear up that point, because the hon. Gentleman gave the impression that my colleagues on I.L.E.A. are less appreciative of the difficulties of the voluntary-aided schools than are some of those present. I refute that with every possible emphasis. It is just not true. In case the hon. Gentleman suggests that he made little of it, let me say that to me his speech appeared to be making a very important point of it. Of course there are difficulties, and these can be overcome. But I am sure that direct grant and other voluntary agencies are looking not only to political parties but to the good sense of the country to appreciate their difficulties: and good sense here means that they can play as important a part in education in the future as they have in the past.

Mr. David Lane

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, I would say that I understood the main sense of what was being said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham to be that with each successive change of course the patience of those engaged in discussion wears thinner.

Mr. Mahon

I can understand that point of view, but this impatience can apply to anyone or to any local authority. They are very impatient when they rediscover problems. That will be understood by anybody who has been in local government as long as I have and has seen changes taking place from time to time.

But there was a greater and deeper implication in what the hon. Gentleman [column 74]said. If he did not mean it, I accept that to be so. His comment is then reduced to ordinary proportions if it was only a suggestion that people were being slightly inconvenienced and found the situation tiresome. But I am sure men in religion do not display a tiresome reaction as quickly as that. In my experience of meeting Church authorities on both sides, Anglican and Catholic, I have found them very patient people. They are hoping their patience will be rewarded.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery

I should like to comment on a clash between my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) and the Secretary of State, on the teachers salary negotiations, when the Secretary of State said that the money was available to the local authorities weeks before. I asked the Minister in the House whether he had given his negotiators word that he was prepared to accept the higher figure. He never answered in the House. What he has said today is completely contrary to a report which appeared in the Sunday Times. No doubt he thinks that that is a reactionary newspaper, because he considers anyone who disagrees with him is reactionary.

The Chairman

I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to make his statement. He must come back to the Amendment.

Mr. Montgomery

I wished only to clarify the position. We have had a very interesting but rather one-sided debate, because until the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) spoke, the only other hon. or right hon. Gentleman on the other side who has spoken has been the Secretary of State. I still say that we have heard nothing from the benches opposite disputing what we have said, which is that the Bill has no educational value, and is purely a propaganda Bill. In previous discussions, hon. Members opposite have said that if it is propaganda, obviously that is what people want. We do not call it propaganda in the sense, [sic] but as a sop to the left wing of the Labour Party; an election bribe to get them on their side.

The Bill is supposed to be against selection, yet selection is definitely written into the Bill. I am also curious to know why there is this great rush. We on this side are perfectly well aware that if this Bill becomes an Act it will be repealed later [column 75]this year when we again have a Conservative Government. It should be said over and over again, as it has been by my hon. Friends, that we are not opposed to the concept of comprehensive schools. Many Conservative local education authorities are pursuing such a policy in their area. What we are against, as has been said so effectively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) is that the Bill hits against the freedom of local education authorities. We have made that point many times, despite distortions from the other side. We have the Government apparently in favour of local government being given more freedom, but now we have the Department of Education and Science taking an entirely different view.

The right hon. Gentleman said that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was inconsistent and illogical but the boot is really on the other foot. In a discussion in the House last week hon. Members on the other side talked of this “puny” Bill, while members of the Government believe that it is a Bill of great importance. We also have the illogicality of the Government putting forward a Bill which is supposedly to stop selection, when selection for sixth form colleges is enshrined in the Bill.

What I am really anxious about is the intake into comprehensive schools. On this issue the Government have got themselves into a mess. New Clause No. 1 completely ignores the Amendment successfully moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth in a previous existence of this Committee, but the point is in New Clause 3, so we are able to discuss it. I am still unsure of what is meant here. The Secretary of State seems to believe in neighbourhood schools. I am sure he will admit that there are great dangers, because we shall have wide disparity between neighbourhood schools in one part of a city and those in another part of it.

If we have nothing but neighbourhood schools, we shall have the problem of people buying a house in a particular area as a matter of policy to ensure that their children will go to the school nearest to where they live. Those parents would be very annoyed if for some reason or other their children were refused admission to [column 76]the neighbourhood school in their area. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman and I are in agreement on one point—which makes me very suspicious—and that is the idea of extending the Plowden principle to ensure that money is channelled into neighbourhood schools in deprived areas. I still cannot understand why the Government have been so inflexible and overbearing on the redrawing of catchment areas.

I previously told the Committee that I was not enthusiastic about either idea because I could see difficulties, but that I was prepared to support Amendments put forward by my right hon. and hon. Friends on these issues because I believed that they gave local education authorities a degree of flexibility which I thought they should have—particularly local education authorities which cover city areas. I can see great problems here whatever happens, because if we change the catchment areas or have banding we shall have the use of buses, and lack of parental choice. Nevertheless, I believe that local education authorities, particularly in city areas, face enormous problems. Therefore, the more flexibility and latitude we can give them to try to solve their particular problems the better, and this is something we should do.

At our last sitting the Secretary of State spoke of elongated catchment areas, whatever they may be. I should like to quote a report which appeared in the Wolverhampton Express and Star last night, quoting a lady candidate for Wolverhampton Borough Council—who, I am glad to say, is unlikely to be elected. The report states:

“Wolverhampton's neighbourhood system for secondary schools was denounced today as likely to expose children in parts of Blakenhall to dangerous traffic surging down Dudley Road and the Birmingham New-road. … What was needed was a school bus, and eventually, a new school she said. … Commented Mr. Frank Carter, Deputy Director of Education: ‘There are no arrangements for a school bus. We have had discussion on this, but it is not within the normal limits in which we provide a bus’.”

Here is someone urging a school bus for children living less than three miles away. I believe that a school bus is provided if children have to travel more than three miles from home to school.

Miss Bacon

A school bus has to be [column 77-78]provided if children over eight live more than three miles away; and for those under eight if they live more than two miles away. But there is nothing to prevent a local authority using its discretion to provide a bus, if it wishes, for shorter distances.

Mr. Montgomery

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, but I am sure that the lady I have quoted wants a free bus.

Miss Bacon

Let me make it clear that I am talking of a free bus.

Mr. Montgomery

It is certainly an interesting point, which could be taken up. At the same time as the Labour Party in Wolverhampton is screaming for the rates to be reduced, this lady is asking for increased expenditure. It shows the difficulties of administering this Government's policy. It is right the local education authorities should be allowed much greater flexibility than is contained in New Clause No. 1. I cannot understand the Government's attitude, though that is hardly surprising. I would be much happier if the Government were less dogmatic in their approach to secondary education. I should have preferred them to drop this whole thing, and to give higher priority to nursery schools and to reducing the size of classes in primary schools. In that way we would be doing a great deal more for our deprived children.

Instead, this Government seem hell bent on going on with a scheme to force comprehensive schools down the necks of every local education authority in the country. When the operative Clause of the Bill was defeated a few weeks ago the Government had a golden opportunity to drop a Bill which restricts freedom of action of local education authorities. They did not take that opportunity, and we on this side will go on opposing the Bill in the hope of improving it before it becomes law.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:

The Committee Divided: Ayes 11, Noes 9.

Division No. 1.[


Armstrong , Mr. Ernest

Bacon , Miss Alicé

Evans , Mr. Fred

Mahon , Mr. Simon

Newens , Mr. Stan

Oakes , Mr. Gordon

Price , Mr. Christopher

Price , Mr. William

Short , Mr. Edward

Wellbeloved , Mr. James

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.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I beg to move, as an Amendment to the proposed Clause, Amendment (b), in line 3, leave out “and in the exercise of any power for the purpose of fulfilling those duties” .

The Chairman

With this Amendment, it will be convenient to take the following:

Amendment (d), in line 15, at end insert—

(d) the exercise by local education authorities of their powers under section 9 of the Education Act 1944 as amended in relation to direct grant schools.

Amendment (f), at end insert—

(d)special arrangements for the education of any particular child where the local education authority is satisfied that it is not otherwise possible to provide full educational opportunity for that child.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Owing to an accident, the Committee has given a Second Reading to new Clause No. 1. “Accident” is now the technical term which is applied to these situations. As a result, we are not able to vote on new Clause No. 3. That means that we cannot vote on banding, so we must reserve our position on that for another stage.

The first two amendments refer to the direct grant schools. I will leave to others of my right hon. and hon. Friends the discussion on the special arrangements for the education of particular children. This will be of importance because, since we last discussed these matters, the second Report of the Public Schools Commission, better known as the Donnison Report, has been published.

In spite of the little foray being conducted by the Government Whip, I [column 79]imagine to try and make sure that his hon. Friends do not speak——

Mr. Christopher Price

On a point of order. In fact, my hon. Friend was urging me to speak.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is a rare occurrence. I am glad to hear that because, when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) is speaking, clearly he is present.

I want to thank the Secretary of State for the great courtesy that he showed the Committee in allowing us to have access to the Donnison Report immediately it was published. Admittedly, it interrupted a powerful speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), but I am sure that he did not mind that. It was a courtesy on the Minister's part which I gladly record.

From time to time, it is the duty of hon. Members on both sides to read reports. It is a great joy to read one which is so beautifully written, and which flows so well from chapter to chapter. Whether or not one agrees with all its conclusions is not in point. It is a great contribution to our educational thinking, and much of it is of immense value in all that we try to do in education.

A number of important statistical points come out of it, though it is not yet possible to have the appendices so as to be able to see the detail upon which much of them are based. There are certain features about the schools which we are now discussing, one of them being the large number which are still single sex schools. There are 81 boys schools and 95 girls schools.

The other statistic which I want simply to distill is that they teach 3 per cent. of the secondary school population but 10 per cent. of the sixth formers. That is one of their great strengths and contributions to the provision of education. It is also interesting to see that nearly one third of the boys taking boarding residuary places enter at 13 or 14. That is relevant to a matter upon which I shall touch shortly.

When the right hon. Lady did her Salome act and gave us a half revelation of the contents of the Report, I expected to find that the question of social mix had been dealt with in a different way, or that it was damaging to the direct grant [column 80]schools. In fact, the figures are interesting in the reverse direction.

We are without the appendices, and we are warned that we have to be careful of drawing too firm conclusions. As the Report says in paragraph 115:

“Our evidence about parental occupations must be treated with caution, as we explain in Appendix 6, Section 3.”

I appreciate that warning, and I understand that, when we are dealing with overall figures, the position in any one school will become truncated. Therefore, it is also important to know how wide the catchment area is for any school. I suspect that, the wider the catchment area, the narrower the social mix in the case of some of the well-known direct grant schools. But it is clear that there is a wide range of parent able to use these schools, though it may not be in every case as wide as some proponents of the system sometimes suggest.

I want to restrict myself to quite simple statements of my approach to this matter. As drafted, the new Clause to which we have given a Second Reading will eventually preclude any local authority taking up a place at a direct grant school where that school selects its pupils by ability and aptitude. Admittedly, the right hon. Lady explained to us that that did not mean that the proviso came into effect as soon as some people feared. I think that it would be within the power of the Secretary of State under Clause 2 to approve plans which phased out the taking up of direct grant school places over a period. I hope that I have understood the right hon. Lady correctly. She was a little nervous when I put the question to her. She thought that it was a legal question and that she was being trapped. But there was nothing clever about it. As I understand it, it will be open to the Secretary of State to say that he approves a plan for taking up of the direct grant school places on a phased basis.

We on this side of the Committee have not yet had the opportunity to hold the detailed discussions with those concerned with direct grant schools that we should expect to hold before making a firm policy pronouncement. Therefore, our conclusions are of a tentative nature.

I believe that there is value in a system which is neither wholly maintained nor exclusively private. There is value in another system. I use the word “system” deliberately because, although we in this [column 81]Committee understand that the direct grant schools cover an immense range of schools, that is not always understood outside. Therefore, I talk about the direct grant system. Although I foresee changes in that system, I do not see merit in moving to a situation where we have either wholly maintained or wholly private provision. There is merit in a system which straddles both. I do not believe that there is any possibility of change or improvement in the system. Few people who work in it take such a limited view as that. I take my stand on the matter of principle which divides the two sides of the Committee.

Secondly, I do not accept that selection at the age of 11 is essential to the life of a direct grant system. A very substantial number have selection at the age of 11 at the moment. But that is changing. It is not outside the bounds of co-operation and discussion between the Department, the local education authorities and those in the system progressively to move away from the age of 11, and it will not be reasonable if hon. Members opposite seek to castigate the system on the basis of the age of 11. Since the Report was published, I have discussed this point with certain well-known names in the direct grant system, who entirely agree with this proposition.

12 noon

I should have thought that it comes clearly out of Donnison that a significant number of direct grant schools are too small to be comprehensive and, because of their geographical situation, could not be so in the foreseeable future. I am talking about a large number of schools with a wide variety and range. I am carefully not being dogmatic about every school. No doubt hon. Members can produce individual examples of such schools which could go comprehensive almost at once in a meaningful way—the right hon. Lady gave a recent example—but I am talking of a significant number.

We are in still uncharted waters when discussing the minimum size for a meaningful comprehensive school. There is a view in the London Labour Party that a four-form school could be meaningful. I should have thought that five forms was about the figure. But I am unashamedly agnostic in all these matters. We are all charting our way forward. I want to be cautious before setting up a [column 82]substantial number of very small comprehensives, and would need better evidence of their working.

My next limited proposition is that I do not shy away from the co-existence in large urban areas of schools selecting by ability and aptitude with schools which are not. I developed this matter on Second Reading of the new Clause, and need not elaborate on it again.

My next limited proposition from Donnison—this is not acceptable to hon. Members opposite, I believe—is that there is nothing objectionable in a feepaying element in a school in partnership with the State system. There is room for genuine disagreement about this, but I believe that, if we are to cope with the gigantic problems, future educational finance will harness private funds in a way which we do not contemplate at the moment.

My final limited proposition is that I doubt whether the public good is served by a significant number of direct grant schools going into the private sector. I would stand up for the right of a parent to spend his money in educating his own children. This is not a matter of dispute, because the party opposite has done nothing to stop the private sector, although given the opportunity. So it is not as hostile as it used to be. But I cannot believe that the public good is served, particularly, by direct grant schools which are academic leaders going private.

I notice that the governors of Manchester Grammar School have decided that, if the Government implement majority Donnison, Manchester Grammar School will go private. Some theorists will greet this with acclaim, but I rather think of the boys who will not be given access to that school as a result of that decision. When I think of the problems of coping in great areas with the appropriate educational facilities for the able children, I doubt whether the public good is served by a decision like that. I would prefer that they remained, if not exactly, approximately in the present relationship to the L.E.A.s and the State. I would not want to push it so far that that was the result.

I make no apology for the fact that these are limited propositions, but this matter should be raised on the new Clause, because, as it is drawn, the door is inexorably closed by degrees, of course, upon State participation in the direct grant [column 83]system. In the present state of our knowledge, this is an extraordinarily unwise step.

Therefore, I hope that two things will happen, apart from acceptance of the Amendment. We are lucky that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) is with us, who took me up in a friendly way just now. Nothing that I said related to the political constitution of an authority but simply to the principle of starting again. We do not disagree on this. But he may be able to help the Committee with his wide experience and knowledge.

Since the publication of Donnison, we have read with great interest the public statement by representatives of those concerned with the Roman Catholic direct grant schools, which are an important proportion. We all remember the hon. Gentleman's trenchant defence of the system on 12th March. I do not suggest that he is defending the status quo in every particular, but there must be some anxiety as to whether majority Donnison can be consistent with his view that if he thought that

“direct grant schools would get the ‘chop’, I would not support the Government. But they are not getting the ‘chop’.” [Official Report, Standing Committee A; 12th March, 1970, c. 84.]

I should be greatly helped to know what thought lay behind those public statements.

Finally, it will be valuable if the hon. Lady says something about Government policy. When the new Clause is being rediscussed by an accident after it had been voted on by the Committee by accident, we can re-open this subject. The whole direct grant world is interested in the Government's view. The right hon. Lady will have come prepared to make a substantial statement, and I am sure that she will do so in some depth, with her usual courtesy. This is the kind of opportunity, which does not come very often, for which Ministers of State pray.

These are the reasons for the Amendments. It is a case of the unwisdom of shutting doors unnecessarily. The Report sets the matter in a new perspective and allows meaningful discussions. I hope that, in these discussions, the limited propositions which I have put before the Committee will be approved. That is the spirit of the Amendments.

[column 84]

Mr. Lane

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has covered the ground well and thoroughly. I am glad that speeches from hon. Members opposite are being encouraged, at least on this Amendment. We look forward to hearing from the right hon. Lady, I hope rather more positively that when she replied to our last debate on direct grant schools. I hope, too, that we shall hear from the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon). I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) has gone now. We should be delighted to hear more of his views on education in the Committee and have to rely less on the columns of the New Statesman. I shall listen to his contribution especially, today or Tuesday.

Two direct grant schools in Cambridge, the Perse Boys' and Perse Girls' Schools are held in great esteem, with never a whisper of envy throughout the community and the surrounding area. The general position in Cambridge is a very good example of the variety, constantly evolving, which must be the right approach in education in the years ahead.

There is no question of either of these schools having to close, whatever the Government's decision as a result of Donnison, whatever the fate of the Bill or the result of the next General Election. They will have two choices—total absorption into the maintained sector, on whatever terms can be worked out, which I fear is what the right hon. Lady would like, or going wholly independent. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said, taking the example of Manchester. It would be very sad if these two Cambridge schools were forced to go totally independent as a result of misguided Government policy.

12.15 p.m.

My hon. Friend mentioned some of the doubts we have undiminished by study of Donnison, on the Government's blinkered attitude towards the direct grant system as it will be affected by the Bill. I echo what was said about what a pleasure it was to read the Report. How immensely valuable it is to our consideration of the problem of secondary education in the widest sense, even if we have reservations about the conclusions. In the first and second Reports of the Public Schools [column 85]Commission it is not surprising that the majority reached the conclusion that it did, given the bias in the terms of reference which I have always thought unfortunate. Possibly more significant was the evident division of view within the Commission before it produced the second Report. The inconsistency between the majority recommendation in that Report and the recommendation of the first Report is significant.

The first Report envisaged a kind of partnership between the independent schools and the State system, at least in the main boarding schools. Here we are advised, if we take the second Report, that this partnership should be broken. This is a disturbing change which we need to probe further. After listening to debates in this Committee, and having looked at the Donnison Report and the reactions to it so far, my conclusion is that we need a great deal more discussion before we can reach any firm decisions.

I was interested to read the other day the comment of the Association of Municipal Corporations which is very much affected. I will quote one sentence which says:

“All these are factors which lead to the conclusion that the relative advantages and disadvantages of altering the present situation still require very careful consideration, and that rather more knowledge than is at present available is needed of the effect of different types of educational provision within the concept of a State system of comprehensive education.”

We should take this view seriously, because many members of the Association will be in a definite dilemma.

So far the direct grant schools have made it clear that they would like much more discussion on possible courses that might be taken in devising the methods whereby they could work more closely with the maintained system without being absorbed into it. There is the possibility of broadening the academic range of many of these schools. There is the possibility of narrowing the age range. I endorse what my hon. Friend has said about the age of selection not necessarily having to be at 11 or anything like it. There is the question of sixth form provision, and more and more we are discovering that we have to look at this in the widest possible co-operative way, geographically and for different types of school, to make any sense of the next few years.

All of these are points that the direct [column 86]grant schools are willing to discuss. I conclude that the Government would certainly not be justified in doing what they intend to do and stick to a hard and fast exclusion of the direct grant schools from the reorganised pattern of secondary education.

Earlier we spoke of the rôle of the direct grant schools as a link between the two systems. The right hon. Lady brushed this aside rather hastily. I hope that we will hear more from her now that she has had time to digest Donnison and to think more about it. I would be exceedingly sad if these links were broken as a result of the Bill. They have great value, which is not properly appreciated by the Government. If the direct grant schools were to go independent in large numbers they would be less socially comprehensive. That is self-evident. There would be the problem of the diversion of public money, and there is the obvious point that the country would be more clearly divided educationally into two nations, which is the reverse of what we want.

I hope that we are all anxious, sometimes I suspect that this may not be so with some hon. Members opposite, to avoid a monopoly of State education. We have talked much about mixed economies in looking at the developing pattern of secondary education within the State system. Here again we are wise to envisage a mixed economy continuing indefinitely as between a relatively small independent sector and the maintained sector. The independent sector is small, but it has an important part to play. Surely, in commonsense, in the application of our normal British pragmatism, here is a case where we want to develop and to keep this bridge if we accept that the two systems will co-exist indefinitely. In other ways contacts between the two are increasing year by year and it would be retrograde if by this Bill the Government sought to reduce the links and break the contacts.

I want to dwell on the position in Inner London. The new régime controlling the I.L.E.A.——

Miss Bacon

The Labour Party.

Mr. Lane

The Labour régime now in control of I.L.E.A. seems hell-bent on getting rid of any link with the direct grant schools at the earliest possible date. This seems a vivid example of the dangers of being too hasty. Hon. [column 87]Members have probably read the figures given in The Times yesterday of the number of assisted places in direct grant schools in the Inner London area. I read this morning that it is the intention of I.L.E.A. to continue the present arrangements worked out for assisted places in September of this year but that after that there will be a change, and there will be no assisted places in September, 1971. Despite what the right hon. Lady said at our previous sitting, this is a fairly immediate threat, posing big problems for some of those schools and, by implication, for other schools in the maintained system which might have to take pupils who would otherwise go to the direct grant schools.

Is the right hon. Lady satisfied about the haste with which I.L.E.A. is now apparently moving? It is wholly unwise at this time, with all the other problems and the drain on resources, that I.L.E.A. should be attempting to move at anything like this speed. At our last sitting we spoke of the burden which will be placed on local authorities if the exclusion of direct grant schools from the maintained system is rigidly carried through. There were figures and estimates in Donnison. We know that they were put forward as tentative figures and no one can be certain about what is involved.

Here I will quote again from what the Association of Municipal Corporations has said about the direct and practical effects of this changeover. After talking about the options that may be open to the direct grant schools, it goes on:

“It is evident that the option to become a maintained or voluntary-aided school would be equally unacceptable to many independent or direct grant schools; with the loss of pupils paid for by local authorities and/or the loss of a direct grant, the facilities provided by these schools would not be available to local authorities (except for special needs) and some” ——

I stress this:

“(probably more than anticipated by the Commission in paragraph 202 of the Report) will have to close. In either case there could be serious financial implications for local authorities; in Chapter 13 the Commission admit that the cost of the proposals is extremely difficult to assess. In particular, especially if the possibility of ‘full-grant’ status is excluded, the uneven distribution of independent schools means that a heavy burden will fall upon relatively few individual authorities. Moreover, insufficient account seems to be taken of what will happens if, as feared by the Association, a [column 88]number of schools have to close and the cost of providing alternative facilities falls wholly upon local authorities (without the aid of fee-paying pupils and, more important, the benefit of accumulated capital provision, such as premises and endowment funds).”

These are serious doubts and anxieties which the Government have not taken sufficiently seriously. I beg the right hon. Lady to pause and reflect further before we have the White Paper which she promised would be out next month dealing with the Government's reactions to the Donnison Report. In our last discussion on direct grant schools there was a quotation from the Crowther Report which is still exceedingly topical. It was:

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

Whatever else people may say about the direct grant schools they are undoubtedly schools of quality and opportunity, and I am afraid that these will suffer if the Government do not change their policy. They are blindly pushing their doctrinaire theories too fast in this scheme, and I beg them to think again.

Mr. Christopher Price

I am glad to hear from the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that there is no intention on the other side of unduly extending our sittings, because that gives us a chance to join in. I hear that during the few minutes when I had to go out of the room to make a telephone call it was suggested that I might give my opinions directly to the Committee rather than indirectly. I have never to my knowledge written in the New Statesman about direct grant schools. There was an excellent leading article on the subject recently which was quite anonymous, but the views in it corresponded strongly with my own.

The phrase “direct grant system” can lead to much confusion. It has been said that selective education is intrinsically bound up with the direct grant system. This is not so at all. Some direct grant schools, particularly the Roman Catholic direct grant schools, are in a very good position to go comprehensive quite quickly, with agreement. If we look at the Donnison Report we can see that many years ago the Roman Catholic schools virtually eliminated fee-paying. There is almost no fee-paying, because the Roman Catholics know that they have a responsibility to cater for all people [column 89]for whom they are responsible, equally and fairly.

12.30 p.m.

In many of the big city Roman Catholic direct grant schools which have eliminated fee-paying, often the biggest obstruction to going comprehensive, the two-tier system using Roman Catholic voluntary-aided schools as the middle tier and the Roman Catholic direct grant schools as the upper tier can be done quickly. There are many plans to do it which are far advanced. Many Roman Catholic direct grant schools have already gone completely comprehensive, so it is dangerous to talk about the system.

The direct grant schools which everybody thinks about are not the Roman Catholic schools and a few Church of England direct grant schools, but those which are direct grant schools for no better reason than that they happen to be fairly well endowed and are 400 years old. As the Donnison Report says, the direct grant school is a complete accident. It was felt that £½ million could be saved by giving them the option to continue, and the lists were closed five years later. The present direct grant schools are those which happened to opt for that status by then.

It was as far back as 1942 that the majority Report of the Fleming Committee recommended that direct grant status should be abolished. It was wrong for the then Mr. Butler to give in to the pleading of the minority and to accept a minority Report, full of special pleading, and signed almost exclusively by direct grant headmasters and governors. That was nearly 30 years ago and we are still in the same position.

It is said that the direct grant schools, the Manchester Grammar schools of this world are a bridge. I do not know whether they are a bridge between the State system and independent schools, but I think that they are not a bridge, but a road block in the way of making comprehensive schools and the existing grammar schools into viable units, because they cream off, not the more intelligent pupils so much as the leaders of the community. The city engineers, the directors of education, all the people with important positions in the community, tend to make sure, in the big cities of Britain, that their children do not go to [column 90]school with the children of parents in other sectors, simply because of the accident of direct grant schools.

This covers all those schools founded by pious gentlemen out of the pickings of Henry VIII's destruction of the monasteries. There was all this money lying around, and something had to be done with it. A lot of well meaning gentlemen said “We might as well use it for education” . The schools were meant to belong to the community, and if the governors say “We are going to opt out” , it is more important for the community to build up its own comprehensive schools than to allow these people to prevent their schools becoming comprehensive.

I am unhappy about the Manchester Grammar School decision. The governors have legal power over the substantial amounts given for the benefit of Manchester children, and if they want to use that power in that way I cannot stop them.

However, we want to get some sort of compromise so that we no longer have direct grant, voluntary aided, and maintained status. This has happened with institutions of higher education of all sorts, including polytechnics and colleges of education, which all now have the same sort of status, and I would like to see this happen with secondary schools. I should like to see direct grant schools become more like voluntary aided schools, and State-aided schools given more autonomy so that we do not have these divisions in the education system.

Until we get that position, I agree with the purposes of the Bill; that one priority we must have is to build up our State system of education. If certain people on the fringe of that system say “We will not co-operate in building up a comprehensive system” that decision is theirs and theirs alone, and they should pursue the rest of their time outside the State system without help from the State at all. It is a pity, but that is it. I do not believe that many of the direct grant schools which say they will go independent will, in the last resort, do so. There will be a lot of shadow boxing over this in the next few years, whichever Government are in power, and many will come to co-operate with the State system.

I want to refer to the Inner London Education Authority because I have been deeply interested in the last few weeks, [column 91]not as a member of I.L.E.A. but as the parent of an 11-year-old boy in South London. When we had to put down our name for the school we chose, I said “I want to choose that comprehensive school first and the direct grant school second” I was told “You cannot do that. It has never been done before.” They did not say that it would wreck the computer, but the implication was that one chooses the direct grant school first, and if that school does not want the child, the child goes to the comprehensive, but I persisted, and insisted that if there was true parental choice——

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

Will the Christopher Pricehon. Member indicate whether the comprehensive school he mentions is one of those schools with considerable sixth-form opportunities, or whether this is one of the areas where there are few sixth-form opportunities?

Mr. Christopher Price

There are a number of comprehensives. The Bill will mean developing the sixth forms—[Interruption]—I do not deny anything. I do not detract from anything which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) said about comprehensive schools with different sizes of sixth form or detract from the dilemma of parents faced with a grammar school and choosing between that and the comprehensive school with virtually no sixth form. As a parent, one does this.

The local authority and the Government insist on putting parents, particularly parents whose children do not quite qualify for the grammar school, in that dreadful, invidious position, and by being unwilling to take a comprehensive decision they allow that to go on for the foreseeable future. The dilemma of individual parents is totally different from the dilemma of education authorities and the Government. That is why the Government have the absolute right to say “We will take parents out of this invidious position of having to choose between a comprehensive school with a bad sixth form and a grammar school by quickly having comprehensive schools” .

Hon. Gentlemen opposite say “We do not like the 11-plus. We like comprehensive schools. We are the same as you.”

[column 92]

Mrs. Thatcher

We are not the same as you.

Mr. Christopher Price

Apart from the hon. Lady, many of hon. Members opposite get up and make noises about hating the 11-plus——

Hon. Members


Mr. Christopher Price

At the pace at which hon. Members opposite wish to travel, many of the present children will be grown up and have grandchildren and great-grandchildren——

Mr. Reginald Eyre

Testing the hon. Member's arguments and applying them to Birmingham, may I ask him what help it will be to destroy King Edward's School, Edgbaston, which would represent only the tiniest fraction in a school which serves a region, rather than getting straight on to a more positive step and building up the investment in education throughout the rest of the city?

Mr. Christopher Price

Applying that test to Birmingham, if the King Edward's School and the high school for girls became the upper tier of a comprehensive system for the area in Edgbaston, I do not believe that standards at that school would decline one whit, because of the sort of parents who live in Edgbaston. Reorganisation which would involve the three or four King Edward's Schools and grammar schools in Birmingham, using existing buildings, with a two-tier system and secondary modern schools for those up to 12, 14 or 16 years of age, could be agreed with the Government so that the good equipment in the grammar schools could be used for the older children. This could be brought about in two or three years if the self-perpetuating governors of King Edward's School would discuss the matter, but they have no intention of doing so, nor has the Birmingham Corporation any intention of discussing it with them. That is why I want this Clause, so that we can get on with Clauses 2 and 3 and make Birmingham get on with this sort of plan.

I never quite finished my short story—my little bit of biography. The only point I wanted to illustrate was that if in the little area of South London in which I live—and accepting what the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said about comprehensive [column 93]schools having good sixth forms—the direct grant schools served a comprehensive purpose and were an upper tier to a comprehensive system, with sixth-form facilities for all the children in this area of London, it would be far better, and more equal, and would send far more people to university than go there at the moment, without detracting in any way from those facilities. I am, therefore, pleased with the Bill, and I hope that the direct grant schools wake up to the fact that their standards do not decline at all in a comprehensive system.

It can be read passim throughout the Donnison Report that there lies within the governing bodies of the direct grant schools tremendous political power which hon. Members opposite are using for their own ends to embarrass local authorities and Governments trying to build up a fair and just education system open to everybody concerned.

That is at the hon. Members' opposition. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member of State will tell us something about Government policy towards the direct grant schools, but I am glad that I.L.E.A. is getting on with it before the Government talk about it. It is absurd to expect an education authority to work out a system which is fair to all the children in the area in which it is responsible if one or two schools are able totally to frustrate their purpose year by year and decade by decade.

That is why I hope very much that we can persuade all direct grant schools, as the larger direct grant schools have been persuaded already, that there is nothing that need detract from their academic standards and that many standards could be improved and much of the curriculum could be modernised, in comprehensive education.

I am quite sure that if they would co-operate, many of the elements of direct grant status, which are very good, would give the schools the right themselves to continue as institutions under any system we have.

12.45 p.m.

I hope we will not spend too long on this debate. I very much hope that as a result of it we can get over the point that whatever happens to direct grant status, which may be very good for all the schools in the country, there is no [column 94]reason why direct grant schools should be prevented from accepting a rôle within the comprehensive system.

Mr. Angus Maude

One can understand why the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Price) wants to leave the Clause and get on with the Bill, because it is in this first Clause that the real nub of the argument is. That has become apparent, although the hon. Member himself has no real argument to make upon it. He wants to get rid of the various systems of nomenclature in secondary education. But that is not what this Bill is about. It is about imposing on all kinds of secondary schools, whatever they may be called, a particular kind of non-selective system. I will pass over his persecution manias about the governors of direct grant schools, for those are too silly to be worth discussing.

His next point was that it was necessary for the Government to force direct grant schools to co-operate with local authorities. But they have been doing so perfectly happily for years and decades. And where local authorities are anxious to reorganise, many direct schools have already initiated discussions with them. Some have already produced schemes for widening the ability range of entrants to those schools. There is no evidence at all that direct grant schools cannot and have not co-operated with local authorities. This Bill seeks to inhibit that co-operation, because it says that a local education authority and direct grant or aided schools can co-operate only in one particular way.

We come here to the Donnison Report. I do not share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) and for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) for that Report. There was one thing said by the hon. Member for Cambridge with which I must express my complete disagreement. He said that the mischief of the two reports of the Public Schools Commission lay in the terms of reference, and that to a considerable extent the bias in the terms of reference dictated the recommendations in both reports. With respect, that is simply not so. The Newsom Committee flatly rejected one of its terms of reference, and came to a conclusion that to my mind was not at all consonant with its terms of reference.

What the Donnison Commission did, [column 95]which is really important for purposes of these Amendments, was to go way past its terms of reference, and to produce recommendations which were not only not essential to its terms of reference but went far beyond them. Let me read the words of the important term of reference:

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

Could one have anything more mild, tentative, piecemeal or gradual than that? What on earth was there in that reference, which I am sure was deliberately drawn by the then Secretary of State as widely and mildly as possible to allow any number of compromise solutions, which could have impelled the Donnison Commission to feel that it was under an obligation to recommend that there was no alternative, except in the form of sixth form colleges, to direct grant schools going completely comprehensive? The suggestion does not stand up for a moment.

Donnison could perfectly well have made any number of compromise suggestions, exactly as Newsom did in respect of independent boarding schools. Newsom, faced with the comprehensive question, said there were certain schools which were too small to be fully comprehensive in terms of sixth form teaching; and it compromised on a degree of selection which went down to C.S.E. level but not below.

It was perfectly open to the Donnison Commission to do so under its own terms of reference, and yet supposedly academically respected and intelligent ladies and gentlemen managed to sign the majority reports of both Newsom and Donnison. The two sets of conclusions, if not completely incompatible, are largely contradictory. Look at the two major sets of recommendations of these two bodies. Newsom, having rejected its terms of reference, to all intents and purposes came down in favour of turning public schools into direct grant schools.

Now we are told that existing direct grant schools must be confronted with a choice which it is freely admitted will mean some going independent and some having to close. For some, this is no choice at all that Donnison offers. When [column 96]Newsom was faced with the difficulty of considering whether small schools could become comprehensive, it compromised, and said, “Let us widen their ability range of entry. Let us not make them wholly comprehensive because they cannot cope.” Donnison, faced with the same problem, utterly rejects compromise, and comes down with a certain Draconian alternative which it accepts, frankly, will cause some schools to close.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr, says that schools will not be forced to go independent, but Donnison itself was clear that that would be the result. A number of the most academically distinguished schools, which in some cases have a fairly substantial proportion of fee-payers, will inevitably go independent if the combined effects of Donnison and this Bill are enforced on local education authorities and direct grant schools within the next few years.

By his own argument the hon. Member demonstrated the precise reasons why such schools will be obliged to do so. He says that under this system if direct grant schools are not prepared to co-operate with local education authorities, that is their decision and they must get out of the system or run as best they can. But direct schools all over the country have been co-operating perfectly happily with local education authorities for many years.

But what kind of co-operation is it, and what kind of educational future for governors, headmasters, headmistresses and staffs of great schools with a fine academic tradition, that is offered by the hon. Member? This is to be co-operation on the Government's terms. It is not even co-operation on the terms of a freely locally elected education authority. It is co-operation enforced by compulsion on the local education authority by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Christopher Price

The hon. Member has asked what kind of co-operation I offer to headmasters of these schools. The kind of co-operation I would like to offer those with local authorities is exactly the same kind of co-operation that I would like to offer the headmasters of some of the great academic comprehensive schools, grammar schools and other schools in this country—put them on exactly the same basis as all the others.

[column 97]

Mr. Maude

That is precisely what I said. The hon. Gentleman can only think in terms of one single kind of school, one kind of selection and organisation; and if it does not happen to be what governors, headmasters, headmistresses and staff of a particular school have adopted after a considerable period of experiment and experience, the hon. Gentleman will say that all that is irrelevant to the argument and they have to be like every other direct grant school. Why should a great school which has shown by its academic results that it is performing a useful service, valued by the community, and providing opportunities for extremely bright children from working class homes, have to submit itself, without protest, to the authoritarian intentions of the hon. Member?

The answer is, quite simply, that many of them will not do so. They have to perform a function which they, and I, too, believe they are performing effectively, and their desire is to go on doing so for all social classes of society. In the event of the Donnison recommendations and the provisions of the Bill being enforced, that will become virtually [column 98]impossible for some schools. There are some that are too small, some which could perfectly easily come into some form of co-operation with a gradually reorganised local education authority, and many which have said they will be able to do so and have already started negotiations.

It seems to me that to intervene at this point with a direct instruction from Curzon Street, and compulsion, at a point when many of these negotiations are reaching a fruitful stage, is extraordinarily tactless. It is putting into the minds of the governors, headmasters and headmistresses of these schools the thought that the whole temper and atmosphere is to be changed; that they are to have to negotiate under threat of compulsion, and that it is unlikely that their proper interests will be looked after or that they will be able to come freely into negotiations with a co-operative local education authority—

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

Committee adjourned till Tuesday, 5th May, 1970, at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:

Brewis, Mr. John (Chairman)

Armstrong, Mr.

Bacon, Miss

Boyle, Sir E.

Evans, Mr. Fred

Eyre, Mr.

Hill, Mr. J. E. B.

Lane, Mr.

Lewis, Mr. Kenneth

Mahon, Mr. Simon

Maude, Mr.

Montgomery, Mr.

Newens, Mr.

Oakes, Mr.

Price, Mr. Christopher

Price, Mr. William

Short, Mr.

Thatcher, Mrs.

van Straubenzee, Mr.

Wellbeloved, Mr.

Woof, Mr.