HC Deb 09 March 1944 vol 397 cc2324-31
The Chairman

Before calling on the mover of the first Amendment, may I suggest that it might be for the convenience of the Committee if the whole question of grouping was discussed on it?

The following Amendment stood upon the Order Paper in the name of PROFESSOR GRUFFYDD: In page 16, line 10, after "authority", to insert "of a county borough."

Professor Gruffydd

I suppose that the matters included in this Amendment are within the range of the proposals to be made by the Minister later on. The point of the Amendment is not to give a county borough a special privilege but to exclude from the provisions of Clause 19 all except county boroughs. I take it that this proposal will be answered by the Minister later on and I shall therefore not press the Amendment at this stage.

Mr. Harvey

I beg to move, in page 16, line 12, to leave out "two or more."

This Amendment is to be read with a following Amendment—in line 13, after "them," to insert "not exceeding four in number." It is moved with a view to making provision to see that too many schools are not grouped together and placed under one board of governors or managers, because the effect of that will be that the governors or managers will lose the intimate touch with the schools which is essential if they are to do their duty as I feel sure the Government and the Committee want them to do. There is a real danger that local education authorities might, in some cases—I do not believe it would apply to wise and enlightened authorities—but they might in some cases, for administrative convenience, looking at it from a shortsighted point of view, combine under one body with a few outside members, a large group of schools. That would take away the influence and interest that Members ought to have in the schools under their charge. I do not like four being under one body. It should mostly be a smaller number, one or two, but there may be exceptional reasons for larger groupings and four ought to be the maximum.

We ought not to leave the Clause so widely worded and open the door to a real danger. We must preserve the living interest of the governors or managers in the schools under their care, and we cannot do that if we put too many schools under one body. I can speak from personal experience of many years ago when I was a manager of elementary schools in East London. It is hard to have an intimate personal knowledge of teachers and children in a considerable group. I was manager of a group of three schools, each of which had a boys', girls' and infants' department. I felt that I could not take an equal interest in all the schools and I closely associated myself with one of them, although of course I had to try to do my duty by the others. It is physically impossible to look after more than a small number of schools if you are to do your duty.

Mr. Lindsay

I support my hon. Friend's Amendment and would also mention my own Amendment, the effect of which is to separate primary from secondary schools. This is not because of any distinction between managers or governors, but because I think a school should have a life of its own and it is impossible to have managers or governors for both primary and secondary schools. The effect of these Amendments is to insist on that. I have a letter here from which I should like to read a sentence: It is good there should be the variety in school outlook and personnel. It is the basic and most creative element in English life. Schools are built on personalities, not regulations. Clause 19 will remove the last hope of imparting personality and variety to the most intensely personal service in social life.

Mr. Butler

That is an exaggeration.

Mr. Lindsay

It may be an exaggeration, but it is written by one of the most experienced headmasters in England. The idea that we should not have a separate governing body for secondary schools is a frightening one to anyone who has ever been on a governing body. I can see the point of the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey), because there are cases like the King Edward VI school at Birmingham where there is a governing body for six schools. It does not, I understand, work badly, but there is a great tradition which has been going on for hundreds of years. There is also the case of the trust at Bedford where there are four schools under a governing body. There is also the Girls' Public Day School Trust under which there are a number of schools. That is not a very good argument, however, because ancient traditions are involved and the grouping is of schools which have comparable ideals. In some places freedom is gained where there are a large number of schools and members of the education committee are so busy that they cannot visit them. That is no guarantee that they are looked after, they are just left, and from that point of view they gain freedom. That is not what we want, however. We want to encourage people to take a personal interest in the schools. If a higher education committee acts as a governing body for 10 schools, there cannot be a personal life and interest in the schools. That is the main reason for our objection to the Clause as it stands.

Captain Cobb

The object of the Amendment in my name—in line 13, to leave out from "them," to end of line 15, and insert: "being primary schools"—is the same as that of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay). It is to ensure that every secondary school shall have a separate governing body. I do not agree with the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey), who wants to confine the grouping of primary schools to not more than two. In large towns, certainly in London, virtually all the elementary schools are in groups of four under one body of managers.

Mr. Harvey

My Amendment says four with that in view.

Captain Cobb

If my hon. Friend wants to limit it to four I am happy to agree with him. That is all right for the elementary schools, what are now to be called the primary schools, but I contend that it is not good enough for the secondary schools. I want every secondary school to have a board of governors just as the public, independent and direct grant schools have. It is the wish of everybody to raise the status of the secondary schools, to make them, in fact, really secondary schools. If we are to achieve that end we ought to give them the same kind of governing body as existing secondary schools have to-day. If we group secondary schools into three or four under one governing body, we shall not get the personal interest of the governors in the schools.

I would be happy to have members of the local authority appointed to the governing body. I used to find when I was a member of the Education Committee of the London County Council, that the members who were appointed to the governing bodies of the secondary schools, in order to watch the Council's interests, shortly became advocates for the secondary school at the meetings of the higher education committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) will bear me out in that. That is a good sign, because it shows that these people are really taking a personal interest in the welfare of the schools of which they are governors. There is the danger that if the new secondary schools are grouped in the same way as the elementary schools are, the impression will go abroad that the claim we make that we are providing secondary education for all is nothing but eyewash. That would be an unfortunate impression to create in the minds of the public. I want the secondary schools to have a life of their own and to have a body of governors who are vitally interested in their development. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will accept the principle of these Amendments and will ensure that secondary schools are not treated for this purpose in the same way as the elementary schools.

Sir P. Harris

I want to endorse the very excellent speech that we have just heard from the hon. and gallant Member, who was a very distinguished chairman of the Education Committee of London. He has had vast experience, and I agree with every word he said. I think he will agree—and this applies to most parts of the country—that when you have to find men and women to act as governors or managers of primary schools it may be necessary to group. I suggest that we should remember that we are passing an Act of Parliament and that to put figures, numbers, limitations and qualifications into it will handicap local authorities when they try to administer it. We must have some confidence in the guiding hand of the President of the Board of Education, and elasticity and discretion. The more we try to bind local authorities by putting figures or limitations into the Measure, the more difficult it will be to work it.

Mr. Butler

The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) represents exactly the views of the Government, and I am very grateful to him for putting it so clearly before the Committee. We are not at all against the spirit of the Amendment, but it is necessary to take some powers. The major powers that we have spent so much time on to-day are a re-enactment of existing legislation. It is time that the Committee were reminded of that fact, and of the fact that if we are to go over existing legislation in the way we have done to-day we may have difficulty in making the progress that we desire. There is an addition here, which has been pointed out by the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb), and that is the effect upon the secondary schools. It may be thought alarming, particularly after the discussion we have had on having governing bodies for secondary schools, that it should be possible in some instances that they should be grouped. The reason for that is that, frankly, we have discussed this matter with those who are responsible for administration of education in our great cities, and they tell me—and I have had an opportunity of personal discussion with them, men who really run the education of the country—that it is absolutely essential to have a power to amalgamate certain schools which will fall within the secondary sphere—I do not wish to particularise which schools—partly because, in a compact city, you will get overlapping of personnel and of problems. Therefore, the Government have taken these powers, over and above those in existing legislation, to deal with the secondary position. That makes it difficult for me to accept the Amendment which applies solely to primary schools, and therefore I cannot accept it.

I turn to the position as put by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey) as to whether we could limit the number to four or to two, as he suggested. I am afraid, although it may very likely be the case that four would be a perfectly sensible number, that it would be unwise to take that power in the Statute itself. It might conceivably be the case that one city might want to nominate five, which would bring them outside the Statute. This brings the Committee up against the question of what it is wise to put in an Act of Parliament and what it is not. Other hon. Members who took part in the Debate have certainly put points of view in regard to the philosophy of education administration to which I take no exception at all.

I should therefore like to assure the Committee that, in this Clause, we are taking powers for which we have been asked by the leading education administrators of the country and that it is not the intention of the Government that the Clause should be so operated that the independence of schools will be overrun and destroyed, or that we should so amalgamate secondary schools that what we have been saying will have been rendered of no value. The only weakness in my argument is that I cannot offer to the Committee any definite legal provision whereby what they want would be secured, but I want to ask the Committee whether they think it wise that the Amendment should be pressed. I would rather have the Clause with its general powers, with the understanding that it will not be misused. From the information I have, I can say that there is no intention on the part of the important authorities to misuse the Clause.

Mr. Lindsay

I should be pleased to withdraw the Amendment if the Minister would make one concession. Does he or does he not favour one governing body for primary and secondary schools in any case?

Mr. Butler

I prefer schools to have their own individual governing bodies. There is power here in certain cases, which I do not think will be very many, to amalgamate, and I do not want to eliminate it, because the request for it has been made to us by the authorities. I should rather leave the Clause as it stands in that respect.

Mr. E. Harvey

I am sorry that the President has not gone a little further and I should be glad if, even now, he would give the Committee an assurance that he would consider the possibility at a later stage of finding words which would enable him to prevent the worst abuse—which he admits would be serious—arising from the grouping together of too large a number of schools. I think he agrees, and the Committee agree, that that would tend to destroy the individuality of the schools and would make it very difficult for the governors to do their duty. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman consulted headmasters he would get the strongest impression that no board of governors is in favour of this grouping. It always means a loss to the individual schools. It may be necessary, for some extraneous reason and in some cases, but it is a regrettable thing when it happens. I hope that the President will consider giving us an assurance that he will not put aside the idea of finding words at a later stage to safeguard schools from this danger.

Mr. Butler

I will certainly return to the sources from whom these ideas are derived, particularly those who are responsible for schools and including those worthy people, the headmasters and head- mistresses, who are so keen on the independence of their schools. If the hon. Gentleman will not press me further I will certainly be ready to do that, but I must warn the Committee that this proposal is what is generally desired.

Mr. Harvey

In view of the President's assurance, for which I am very grateful, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.