EDUCATION AND SCIENCE
1. Mr. Ashley
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many plans for comprehensive systems of education she has now received; and how many she has rejected.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
I informed the House in April, 1971, that I had discontinued the practice of approving non-statutory plans for the reorganisation of secondary education; before then I had approved three plans and rejected none.
The Minister may or may not be approving general plans. Is she aware that by refusing to sanction plans for specific schools she is sabotaging general plans? Will she therefore try to look at plans through a telescope rather than inspecting specific schools through a microscope?
I have a legal duty to look at individual proposals under the Education Acts. The precise figures are [column 424]that of 2,300 Section 13 proposals I have rejected only 92.
Mr. Edward Short
My hon. Friend's point is valid. The right hon. Lady has approved thousands of projects but in many cases, by deleting one proposal, she makes nonsense of the whole scheme. Perhaps I might quote Kidderminster as an example. Her decision there made nonsense of the whole area scheme.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) may have a valid point, but the answer is equally valid. I have to carry out my duties under the terms of the section.
James Report (Consultations)
2. Mr. Sydney Chapman
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the progress of consultations on the James Report.
11. Mr. Willey
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a further report on the consultations on the James Report.
My consultations are almost complete. I hope to announce Government decisions on the issues raised in the report before the end of the year.
I am obliged to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Realising that she received this important report only 10 months ago and that it contained 133 specific recommendations, may I ask whether she would be prepared to go a little further this afternoon and say what is in her mind concerning Recommendations 10 to 12 about the right of teachers, after seven years' service, to have release with pay for in-service training for courses of at least 12 weeks?
I hope to say something about in-service training when we give the decision on the whole report. I agree that that is a part of the report which has received almost universal acclaim. We hope to do something in that sphere.
Whilst the right hon. Lady is considering her conclusions, will she realise that we have largely lost the impetus of the James Report and that [column 425]she would be well advised now to concentrate on those parts of the report which were generally accepted and to seek their speedy implementation?
I do not believe that we have lost any impetus at all. It is quite remarkable that we took only a year to get the report and have acted fairly quickly in having extensive consultations upon it. I still have two more organisations to see either next week or the week after. As soon as those are clear, I hope to put recommendations before the House.
Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the future of teacher training will be set out in the White Paper on higher education, which is being prepared, and thus remove all doubt that teacher training is in fact part of higher education?
I am not sure that a White Paper on higher education is being prepared. We hope to announce extensive decisions, including the James Report and, of course, the quinquennial settlement, which to some extent will include decisions about the polytechnics programme; and the future of teacher training colleges will be included in those decisions.
3. Mr. St. John-Stevas
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is in a position to make a further statement on the reform of student unions.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)
Discussions with the parties mainly concerned are not yet complete, and I expect further talks to take place this autumn.
Mr. St. John-Stevas
Do not the recent disgraceful events at Stirling University, involving a tiny minority of students, and the subsequent inability of the student council, as reported today, to take any action, show that the decent, law-abiding majority need protection from the militant minority and that the best way of doing it is by appointing an impartial registrar of student unions?
Mr. van Straubenzee
I do not think that I shall comment on individual sug[column 426]gestions relating to this matter while consultations are going on, except to say that I slightly doubt whether they would have assisted in the events at Stirling. In respect of Stirling University, however, I feel sure that I express the views of the vast majority of the House when I say that what occurred there was a disgrace and ought never to have occurred, and that one of the most regretable feaures of all is that the present leadership of the National Union of Students has not felt able to condemn it out of hand.
Although I represent Stirling and Falkirk, Stirling University is not in my constituency. Nevertheless, it has to be said—and I trust that the Minister will be aware of this—that the events at Stirling University highlight the problem not of student unions but of university administration, not only at Stirling University but at all universities. Will the hon. Gentleman give his attention to this problem when he is considering questions which are biased and distorted by Members speaking from a background of ignorance rather than of fact?
Mr. van Straubenzee
I hope that I have not got the correct inference from the hon. Gentleman's question, which seemed to have some element of support for what occurred. If that is the position, I do not support it in any way. I must make it clear that, as has been properly said, what occurred involved a minority of students, but I think that the rest of us are entitled to expect that the majority, who would always wish to show good manners to any visitor, would make their views very definitely heard.
Sir Gilbert Longden
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a demand among the great majority of moderate students for a registrar? As we are to look forward, we are told, to a lighter legislative programme, will my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend take over the Bill which I introduced last Session?
Mr. van Straubenzee
I am not sure that there is all that widespread support for one particular solution, but, as I have said, while consultations are in progress I do not think it would be right for me to come down firmly in respect of one solution or of another. It is impossible for me to forecast the legislative programme for the next Session.[column 427]
Mr. Edward Short
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of an even more reprehensible development in student politics? I am referring to the recent plan of the Monday Club to prepare dossiers on Left-wing militant students, which presumably will be made available to prospective employers. What has the hon. Gentleman to say about that?
Mr. van Straubenzee
The only thing I know about it is what I have read in the Press. Certainly no action by my Department will encourage that kind of activity.
4. Dr. Marshall
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she now expects to receive the report of the working party on school transport.
I cannot forecast how long it will take the working party to complete its work and submit a report to me.
When the working party reports, will the right hon. Lady treat any recommendations which it makes as a matter of great urgency in order to remove both the dangers and the hardship faced by many scholars and parents, such as those living at Old Goole in my constituency?
I shall certainly do so, because I know of the widespread interest in this topic on both sides of the House.
May I draw attention to the school transport situation in my constituency? Bedfordshire is in the process of going comprehensive, and certain parents in the Houghton Regis and Dunstable area have experienced difficulties in getting their children to school. Will my right hon. Friend have talks with the Bedfordshire Education Authority and local bus companies to see whether the difficulties can be overcome?
I think that local education authorities have sufficient discretionary powers to deal with transport. problems, but if my hon. Friend has any particular query in mind and raises it with the Department we shall do what we can to help.
Mr. David Clark
Will the right hon. Lady give her assessment of the effect of [column 428]VAT on school transport, in view of the fact that it will be levied on certain means of school transport?
The discretionary powers of local education authorities will, I think, still be sufficient to deal with the matter if there were any increase.
Nursery Schools (Wandsworth)
5. Mr. Thomas Cox
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals she has for approving financial grants towards improving nursery schools in the London Borough of Wandsworth.
Mr. Van Straubenzee
Proposals submitted by the Inner London Education Authority under phase 7 of the urban programme include additional nursery schools and classes in the Wandsworth area. The list of approved projects has not yet been announced.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that reply. Such replies will be extremely welcome in Wandsworth, where we face many of the social problems which exist throughout inner London, such as poor housing and lack of social amenities, and any help that we can get from the Department or from the Inner London Education Authority will be warmly welcomed. I look forward to the publication of the help that is to be given.
Mr. van Straubenzee
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He will be aware that announcements in respect of the urban programme will, as always, be made by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
6. Mr. Greville Janner
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will now arrange through the school medical service for teaching aids required for sex education, including the danger of venereal disease, to be made available to local education authorities.
Information about teaching materials suitable for use in schools is circulated to local education authorities by the Health Education Council, and authorities can draw upon the services of school medical officers as appropriate.[column 429]
Is the right hon. Lady aware of the appalling increase in the incidence of venereal disease, as revealed today in the report on the nation's health? Does she not think that the best way to combat this is through further health education in schools? Will she take steps to make suitable films and other aids available to schools and ensure that these are used so that young people are aware of the dangers they face?
I think I have already made clear that this is done by way of the Health Education Council. I am aware of the seriousness of the problem, but I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that it is an easier problem to pose than to find precisely the right solution for it. It is a very sensitive problem, and in anything that one does through the schools one has to be careful not to do more harm than good.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied with the way in which sex education is conducted and also that the rights of parents who have expressed concern at different times are properly protected?
In the vast majority of cases, with very rare exceptions, if parents and teachers get together on this problem the rights of parents are respected.
Is there not a case, as in some other advanced countries, for eventually working towards a system whereby sex education becomes compulsory in the State school system?
There may be a case, but it is not one that I should support immediately.
7. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many Nature Conservancy establishments she has visited officially during the recess.
Is not this a bit of a pity when such radical alterations are being made to the Nature Conservancy? More constructively, what institutional arrangements will be made to ensure co-operation on a scientific basis between the Nature [column 430]Conservancy and the National Environment Research Council?
I believe the hon. Gentleman is well aware that Mr. Heaton has been appointed to advise upon the changes that will take place. We expect his report next month or the month after. When we have received it, we shall look at the institutional arrangements to ensure the kind of co-operation which I know the hon. Gentleman wishes to see.
Sir H. Legge-Bourke
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Government's statement of policy on the Nature Conservancy as contained in the White Paper commenting on the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology is a great departure from the attitude when this matter was looked at by the Select Committee investigating the National Environment Research Council? Will my right hon. Friend consider issuing a White Paper separately setting out the real arguments why the change was thought wise?
I think that all possible changes in responsibility for the Nature Conservancy had some drawbacks to them, and some opponents. It was therefore thought, for reasons which have been set out, that it was best to keep the research functions with the National Environment Research Council—which I think my hon. Friend will support—and to put the Nature Conservancy element with the Department of the Environment. I think that that will work well provided we get full co-operation between those at the conservancy end and those responsible for research both in former Nature Conservancy laboratories and environmental matters in general in NERC itself.
Does not the right hon. Lady agree that to a large extent the high standing of the Nature Conservancy is due to the high personal quality of the management and research workers who have been attracted to it over the years? Does not the right hon. Lady fear that if this research work is taken away from the Nature Conservancy its credibility will be severely damaged and it may become not much more than a glorified organisation concerned with the keeping of parks?
No, Sir. I should not wholly agree with that. If we get the[column 431]degree of co-operation that we want, all will be well. I hope that hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there would be quite severe consequences if we were to separate the Nature Conservancy research from NERC itself. That, too, would meet with a good deal of opposition from many quarters.
Mountain and Moor Visits
8. Mr. David Clark
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she intends to publish her advice to schools and youth groups concerning the dangers of mountain and moorland visits in winter.
A departmental pamphlet entitled “Safety in Outdoor Pursuits” has been sent for printing and will be published early in November.
Does the right hon. Lady realise that there has been one tragic accident already this season although we have not reached the most inclement weather, and will she do all in her power to try to issue the document to the schools as soon as possible? Will she also try to arrange as much publicity as possible to parents and teachers about the absolute need for safety on the mountains?
Yes, certainly. I have done my best to hurry up the printing process. I should like to say how sorry we all were to hear of that tragic accident. The pamphlet has taken a long time because we felt it necessary to have the maximum consultation with all the organisations which could give advice and contribute towards a very good pamphlet.
Does the pamphlet make clear that even the simplest mountain can become extremely dangerous in certain weather? Therefore, does it advise that schoolchildren, particularly the younger ones, should not be taken out without someone experienced to accompany them?
The pamphlet makes clear absolutely the necessity for qualified leadership and proper equipment. I think my hon. Friend will be satisfied with the pamphlet when he sees it.
Mr. Edward Short
Will the right hon. Lady ensure that the pamphlet goes to [column 432]independent schools as well as to others, because the recent accident involved boys from an independent school which has had two serious accidents in the last few years? Before she finally decides on the pamphlet, will the right hon. Lady look at the statement by Dr. Ogilvie, the leader of the Patterdale mountain rescue team which went to the rescue of the boys in the recent accident?
The pamphlet has already gone to the printers and to get it back now would, I am afraid, retard its publication, which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would wish. I shall look at the statement to which he has referred.
Education of the Deaf
10. Mr. Redmond
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will seek to ascertain how many vacancies for full-time training for the specialist qualification in the education of the deaf there are at the Department of Audiology and Education of the Deaf at Manchester University, the University of London Institute of Education and the University of Oxford Institute of Education: and how many applicants there have been in the last three years.
Mr. van Straubenzee
There is at present only one vacancy left for such training and that is at the University of London Institute of Education. Applications for the courses at London, Manchester and Oxford together numbered 250 in 1970, 230 in 1971 and 276 in 1972. Some candidates applied to more than one of the institutions.
Those figures are interesting, but does my hon. Friend agree that there have been instances when, in spite of the shortage of these valuable people in the schools for the deaf, there have been vacancies at the courses which have not been filled even though there have been suitably qualified candidates for them? Is not that a serious situation?
Mr. van Straubenzee
I would be helped if my hon. Friend would give me details, because the provision of teachers in this specialist field is one about which we are deeply concerned. I have, by the figures my hon. Friend asked me to [column 433]give, shown that there is one vacancy. That does not entirely seem to show, at any rate in the current year, that qualified people have been turned away.
Would not this be an opportunity for the Under-Secretary to announce on behalf of his right hon. Friend that she was setting up a central advisory council for handicapped children under the 1944 Act so that the council could conduct an inquiry into special education and teacher training therefor, as was promised by the Prime Minister before the last election? That is one of the Prime Minister's pre-election promises that we would not like to see reversed.
Mr. van Straubenzee
It would not be a suitable opportunity because it would overtake the fulfilment of that pledge in the way in which I think the hon. Gentleman knows, a way which covers a wide range of handicaps with which we are all concerned.
13. Mr. Willey
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress has been made in the review of teachers' superannuation schemes.
The working party has completed its review. My right hon. Friend G. Campbellthe Secretary of State for Scotland and I have accepted its report. I have made the first of the new set of regulations, with effect retrospective to 1st April, 1972.
Direct Grant Schools
14. Mr. Spearing
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement concerning her proposals to adjust financial arrangements with direct grant schools.
Subject to parliamentary approval of the necessary amending regulations. I propose to increase the annual capitation grant to the schools by £9 with effect from April, 1972. This sum is about one-third of the average increase in cost per pupil that the schools are having to meet from that date.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her answer. Can she now state the totals which are involved as well as [column 434]the increase? Does she agree that in making this increase she is doing her best to encourage the direct grant sector which, rather than providing simply parental increase of choice increases the choice of the schools and parents alike?
I agree that I am encouraging the direct grant sector and I believe that there is a great demand for such encouragement. The net cost to the Exchequer, if that is what the hon. Gentleman is seeking, is £600,000 in a full year. The net increase in public expenditure is very much less.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that the move by the Labour-controlled Bradford Education Authority to do away with free places at the local direct grant school is a direct blow at educational opportunity for the less privileged children in that part of the country?
Yes, I agree, It can do not good whatever to deprive a few children of the very best education which they can receive in the name of some egalitarian principle. The parents can apply directly to the direct grant school for a free place or an income-assisted place and they do not have to go through the local education authority.
Mr. Raphael Tuck
Does not the right hon. Lady feel that she could change the title from “direct grant school” to “select grant school” ?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware if he has followed the Press recently, children have to be selected upon some basis or another and selection for comprehensive schools has caused as much trouble as selection for other schools.
Will my right hon. Friend consider giving still further encouragement to the direct grant schools by reopening the list?
I have to say “No” for the time being to my hon. Friend.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that her figure of £600,000 is certainly not chicken-feed? I could tell her of educational priority areas in the north of England which with £600,000 could provide long-overdue facilities for children who have no choice in the school they attend.[column 435]
The cost of the State taking over the direct grant schools would be very much greater and, therefore, I would expect the hon. Member to welcome the increase in grant.
15. Mr. Spearing
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps she has taken to ascertain the long-term needs of the educational priority areas.
Through the urban programme, the increased allowance for teachers in schools of exceptional difficulty and through the school building programmes we have already made a positive contribution towards meeting the needs of educational priority areas. I am now considering the recommendations in Dr. Halsey's book “Educational Priority” published at the beginning of October.
I am glad that the right hon. Lady has considered the report, but does she not agree that, whatever is written in research institutions or by researchers, in the end success depends upon the people in the schools? Can she assure us that when considering the future of teacher training and teacher supply she will ensure an adequate priority and other areas which will very shortly need more than one teacher per class in order that basic educational standards can be maintained?
I agree that the key to solving the problems of these areas lies in the teachers in the schools and parents in the home. The co-operation of both is required, with the co-operation of the social services, if the best is to be done for the children. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are not short of teachers to go to these areas at the moment and I am delighted to see a number of dedicated teachers operating in the primary schools in those areas.
Mr. Edwin Wainwright
Will the right hon. Lady take into account that some areas of educational priority still have some very old schools? One school in my area, the Swinton Fitzwilliam Junior Mixed School, was built in, I think, 1853. It has no hall in which the children can take their meals and they have to [column 436]travel about 400 yards each way in very inclement weather to take their meals in another place. Will the right hon. Lady do something to make certain that a new school is built as soon as possible?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will put that school to me and tell me what priority the local education authority has accorded to it in its recommendations, because that influences the decisions we make.