Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1973 Apr 4 We
Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Education (Work Experience) Bill [Lords]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [854/522-27]
Editorial comments: 1928-40.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1778
Themes: Secondary education, Employment
[column 522]


Order for Second Reading read.

7.28 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to restore a state of affairs which existed before the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16 last year and to enable local education authorities and schools to continue to make arrangements for a particular type of educational provision which would otherwise cease to be permitted and which it is generally felt is desirable.

First, it might be as well to explain what is meant by the term “work experience” and precisely why legislation has become necessary. The term is one which has grown up in the educational world to describe activities undertaken by senior pupils as part of the process of learning about the adult world. The part of this process with which the Bill is concerned is the broadening of the pupil's experience and understanding by introducing him at first-hand to the conditions and circumstances of adult work. Clearly, pupils may be taught about the outside world in a classroom, but this teaching needs some reinforcement by first-hand experience.

Some of the points made in the classroom can be illustrated by half-day or whole-day visits by school parties who undertake conducted tours of factories or other undertakings as observers. Such visits have their place in the programme, but a greater impact and deeper understanding can be achieved if the pupil can take part in the work. It is this actual [column 523]participation which gives rise to the problem which the Bill seeks to resolve.

As the law stands, a pupil who participates in the work of an establishment is considered to be employed. If the pupil is below the upper limit of compulsory school age he is a “child” for the purposes of legislation which prohibits or regulates the employment of children. The effect of the law is that pupils of compulsory school age are prohibited from employment in industrial undertakings or in mines and quarries by legislation which extends back to the Employment of Women, Children and Young Persons Act 1920 and includes various provisions of the Factories Acts. Their employment elsewhere is subject to restrictions, mainly under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the equivalent Scottish Act of 1937, which forbid in any form, the employment of children during school hours, or for more than two hours outside school hours, on any school day. The effect is that participation in work experience which involves taking a hand in the work of the undertaking is restricted to pupils who are above the school leaving age.

In fact, most of the schemes which have been in operation were designed for pupils aged between 15 and 16—that is, those who were in their first year after the school leaving age, until that age was raised in September 1972. Experience with these schemes showed that they were of very great value in the education of the pupils and were particularly relevant to the knowledge and needs of pupils of this age. Provided they are given proper support in the curriculum within the school, both in preparation for their visits to factories and in the follow-up afterwards, pupils of this age are well able to appreciate what is involved, to link with experience gained outside with their teaching in school, and to draw conclusions from it.

The difficulty caused by raising the school leaving age is that the date on which any individual pupil ceases to be of compulsory school age is postponed by one year, and therefore the upper age limit of a child, for the purposes of the statutes, is raised by one year. The effect is that the very group of pupils for whom most of the schemes have been devised [column 524]would be excluded from those schemes until they reached the new upper limit of compulsory school age.

Hon. Members may well ask whether, in this situation, it would not be possible to devise different schemes, aimed at pupils between 16 and 17—the first year after the new school leaving age—and to rely upon those pupils who stay on voluntarily beyond that age. There are two objections to this suggestion. First, although we expect that raising the school leaving age will have some secondary effects on the number of pupils staying on voluntarily until the age of 17, we do not yet know precisely what these effects will be. Secondly, the experience gained has been mainly with the 15- to 16-year-old group and has demonstrated the value of these schemes for that group.

With these considerations in mind in 1971, I undertook consultations to discover the views of the various interests concerned on the general proposition that the law should be changed to enable pupils of 15-plus to continue to participate in the out-of-school part of work experience schemes after the school leaving age was raised, in the same way as they were able to do beforehand. Among the bodies consulted were the professional associations of teachers, the associations of the local authorities and the CBI and TUC, representing the employers and the organisations of the employees collectively. The response was almost unanimous. The teachers' associations, the local authorities and the employers in England and Wales were agreed that, on educational grounds, this change must be made. Their attitude was one not merely of agreement but of enthusiasm.

It is fair to say, however, that the TUC, both in England and in Scotland—where similar consultations were undertaken—had reservations on the ground that they did not consider work experience of this type to be a proper and relevant part of secondary education. The Educational Institute of Scotland also had reservations.

It is in the light of this response that the Government have decided to bring in this very short Bill, to make this small but important change in the law. I emphasise that support for this measure [column 525]was expressed on educational grounds by the representatives of the authorities who are responsible for providing education in this country, and in an overwhelming majority by the teachers who are engaged in the daily business of putting theory into practice.

I think that we would all agree that it is necessary to protect the young against exploitation and ensure that they receive a proper education. It is also right that those who have doubts about the new proposals on the ground that they may be diminishing the protection which we have built up over a great many years in this country should express those doubts. But, with great respect to those who expressed those doubts, I think that they may have misunderstood the purpose and the nature of these schemes. They are not intended to produce any sort of vocational training. The schemes have been devised to fit in with the general education given within the schools, to reinforce that education with the help of illustrations from the real world outside, and to help in the transition from school to work.

For example, in one scheme the pupils were involved in some of the preliminary letter-writing necessary to make arrangements for their visits. They were required to write diaries and reports on their experiences as they went along, and to record descriptions and impressions of the work at the end of the course. This, I suppose, might be described as the use of English in a practical situation. In another scheme in which boys were visiting an engineering firm, a great deal of emphasis was given to the importance of safety in the work of the firm. Before the boys actually began the work they were given a training session on the subject and issued with a copy of the “Accident Prevention Code for Young Workers in the Engineering Industry” . In a number of schemes the pupils are required to work out their travel arrangements in advance.

I have mentioned the need to protect young people and the emphasis given to safety in one scheme. Consultations in 1971 emphasised that any work experience scheme should be subject to proper safeguards and that if the law were to be change the safeguards applying to the 15-year-olds should be maintained. It might be helpful to turn to the pro[column 526]visions of the Bill in order to show how we propose to do this.

Clause 1(1) removes the application of the enactment relating to the employment of children, subject to certain conditions. This subsection bites only on those enactments which are framed in terms of “children” . It has no effect on the enactments designed for the protection of workers in general and expressed without any limitation of age. This will apply to pupils who are taking part in work experience schemes under the Bill. The conditions imposed by this subsection are, first, that the employment is within the pupil's last year of compulsory schooling; second, that it is part of arrangements made or approved by the local education authority as part of an educational programme; and, third that it conforms with the additional requirements set out in subsection (2).

These conditions set work experience firmly in the educational context and place on the local education authority the responsibility for making or approving the arrangements. The further requirements in Clause 1(2) impose the same safeguards relating to health, safety and welfare as previously applied to pupils of this age taking part in such schemes.

To take them in order, work experience as provided for under subsection (1) will not be permitted if it contravenes legislation framed in terms of specific ages and prohibiting or restricting the employment of persons under those ages. The next proviso takes account of the particularly hazardous nature of employment on ships, and provides that work experience on ships—if anyone had it in mind to provide such experience—may be undertaken only within the very narrow range permitted by the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act 1920 or those provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts 1970 which will supersede the provisions of the 1920 Act when they are brought into force. Finally, no work experience arrangements are to be made which would entail work by a 15-year-old which would be illegal for young persons, that is to say, those between 16 and 18 years old.

The Bill is largely an enabling measure, which permits the authority to continue to make arrangements of the sort which it has been making in the past, subject only [column 527]to a little more formal restriction. It is, however, the intention of the Government if the Bill is passed to issue guidance to education authorities and schools explaining the legal provisions and giving advice, based on the observation of good practice, about the organisation of work experience schemes, the need for proper preparation and consultation with those who will be asked to cooperate in carrying them out, and the safeguards and supervision which should be provided in order to protect the young people who are taking part. It is our intention to consult existing authorities about the content of this guidance and to give them a chance to comment before it is published. It is certainly my intention that these consultations should include, as before, not only the educational and local authority interests but those of employers and employees.