HC Deb 10 March 1944 vol 397 cc2356-68

Question again proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. R. Morģan (Stourbridge)

I want to address a question to the Minister on Sub-section (2). It says: Subject to the provisions hereinafter contained as to religious education, the secular instruction to be given to the pupils in every aided secondary school shall, save in so far as may be otherwise provided by the articles of government for the school, be under the control of the governors of the school. I had an Amendment on the Paper, which was not called and on which I had proposed asking the Minister to define exactly what was meant by the powers granted in this Sub-section. In my opinion it can be read to mean that the governors of the school can if they so desire change the whole character of the school. They can alter the type of the school, if necessary. Will the Minister tell us whether that is so? If it is possible to construe it in this way, I suggest that it means a revolution in the powers given to governors of such schools. I understand that the Minister is to give us an authoritative statement as to these powers.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

I think it is essential that we should have a statement on the Clause. It makes a great change in the present situation. At present secular education is under the control of the local education committee. This Clause seems to transfer that power to the managers. You may have control of secular education in the hands of a minority of the governors. I should like the Minister to explain why this change is taking place. There is a good deal of concern about it. It would be useful if the Minister would make a statement as to why the change has been deemed necessary.

Mr. Moelwyn Huģhes (Carmarthen)

I should like to reinforce my hon. Friend's request. In this Clause the whole of the secular instruction comes under the local education authority, with one exception. The secondary schools, where they are aided, are exempt, and the secular instruction there is outside the purview of the local education authority. I should like to inquire why they have been so exempt. One of the fundamentals that have been accepted, in relation to the advance which the Bill envisages, is that secondary schools should be on a level basis and should have an equal status—that the grammar schools, like the technical type and the modern type of school, should have the same status. Here you are exempting aided schools. It is impossible to envisage an aided technical school. Imagination boggles at the idea. The inevitable result will be that the only class exempt in this way will be the aided grammar school. Therefore, in any given area, you will have your county technical school and county modern school, with their curricula of secular instruction decided by the local education authority and the aided secondary school of the grammar school type, with its secular instruction under the control of the governors.

That is bound to lead to differentiation. It is found to lead to an endeavour, in a great many cases, to establish the grammar school as something necessarily superior to the modern and the technical schools. If we encourage them by exempting them in this way, that is the natural course that the governors would seek to follow. They will act independently, whereas all the others will be controlled by the local education authority. This is really inviting an invidious distinction in the secondary school field, as well as encouraging the present superior status which the grammar school type possesses. In the Debates on the White Paper and the Second Reading it was stated that the intention of the Government was to equate these types of secondary school. I should like to hear why this special type of school has been exempted, in respect of secular education, from the jurisdiction of the local education authority.

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

I wish to address myself particularly to Subsection (2), as I had an Amendment to it on the Paper which was not called. Under Clause 10, the local authorities are required to make a survey of the educational facilities in their area, and under Clause 11 the Minister is to make orders. In connection with this survey, the local authorities will have ascertained what are the requirements, not only of secondary education as a whole, but of the different types of secondary education, and they will have based their requirements on a certain number of modern, grammar and technical schools. This Sub-section places aided secondary schools under the control of the governors. I do not quarrel with that, but we wish for some kind of limitation on their powers to change the character of the school. Having made the survey, and having settled the different types of school, it would be possible for the governors, if they were unfettered, to change its character from modern to grammar or vice versa, which would tend to upset the whole balance of the arrangements made by the local authorities. I should, therefore, like an assurance—while not quarrelling with the control of the governors over aided schools—that some limitation will be placed on their right to change the character of such a school.

Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)

We have been talking about the question of control, and I wonder whether the President can give us some information about what it is intended to control. The Bill talks about secular instruction, and I would like to know what is to be included in that instruction. Is it to be obligatory to give teaching and training to young people on the composition and duties of the Armed Forces of the Crown? Is it intended that, as well as training young people for a purely private and selfish living, opportunity is to be given for them to prepare themselves for giving their physique and brains to the service of their fellow countrymen and, if need be, of their country? Will there be opportunity in this secular instruction for training in the arts of seamanship and airmanship and all that they involve? In fact, will there be training and preparation for our young people to be brought up so that they know how to defend their awn country? We all know that at the outbreak of the war there was a serious deficiency in this preparation and training. While we hope that there will never again be the need to defend our own country, yet to be prepared for this purpose is a good insurance in advance. Will this instruction also include training on a miniature rifle range—

Mr. Cove

Good old Hitler.

Mr. Wakefield

We want to know whether these things are to be included in secular instruction of our young people.

The President of the Board of Education (Mr. Butler)

In order not to disappoint my hon. Friend, I ought to tell him that I could not undertake to give a reply on the content of education, on this Clause.

Mr. Wakefield

The question of control is important and we cannot discuss control without knowing what is to be controlled. That is why I raised the point.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I am sorry to find myself in strong disagreement with my hon. Friend. I agree with his point of view, naturally, because he and I see eye to eye on this matter, but nothing would be more dangerous than to attempt, at this stage of the discussions, to suggest a line to those who will be responsible in this matter. I cannot imagine a better way of defeating the object which my hon. Friend and I have equally in mind than to put the emphasis, as he has done, on certain aspects of training.

Mr. Parker (Romford)

I want to raise various points in connection with Subsection (2). It seems to me that this is a dangerous Sub-section and that it goes further than my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Huģhes) suggested. As I read it, all education over the age of 11 becomes a form of secondary education, and schools that have been hitherto elementary schools, run by the different denominations for boys and girls up to 14, 15 or 16, as the case may be, will not henceforth have their secular education under the control of the local authority in the area. In the past, all elementary education, as far as secular education is concerned, has been under the control of the local education authority. This change, by which secondary education will refer to all children over 11, means that the secular education of children in a large number of schools will be removed from the control of the education authority. This is an enormous concession to the denominational schools. Some quid pro quo should have been given for a concession of this kind. It is a dangerous concession, because it may lead to what we see already in a limited number of grammar schools, and what we shall see in all secondary schools in future, that is, indoctrination. We do not have Baptist or Catholic arithmetic, but there is a danger in teaching things like history and civics, that there may be an attempt to indoctrinate the children with a particular view. With all respects to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes), I visited his school once and was very impressed by the buildings and so on, but I noticed on the walls portraits of the various rulers of England, and I found to my surprise that Oliver Cromwell and the Common-wealth—

The Deputy-Chairman

This Debate has strayed a good deal and we cannot go into the curriculum now.

Mr. Parker

I would like to make the point—

The Deputy-Chairman

That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman cannot do. When he begins to make a point, and is stopped by the Chair, he cannot go on making it.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)

May I ask how it is possible to define secular instruction without touching on the curriculum?

The Deputy-Chairman

It is very difficult, but the curriculum in the main comes at a later stage of the Bill.

Mr. Parker

There are further points on this Clause. Having made the point that indoctrination is a danger, I would like to ask the Minister whether the Clause will mean, as I have suggested, that secular education in the secondary schools, as well as in the grammar schools, and in denominational schools will be under the control of the denomination and not the local education authority. An important concession has been made to the denominations, and the Committee ought to be clear if that is what the Clause means. Many of us take the view that if public funds are given, there should be full public control in return. We feel that this concession means a departure from that view.

Mr. Butler

I think it would be useful if I explained the significance of this Clause, as I undertook to do yesterday. In general, I would assure hon. Members that their causes for alarm are, fortunately, rather exaggerated. We are addressing ourselves to a legal instrument, and, as set out in the Bill, the position is as has been rightly observed by hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate. That is to say, that in the case of the aided secondary schools the instrument comes down on the side of secular instruction being in the hands of the governors, save in so far as is provided otherwise by the articles of government. On the other side, in the county schools, there is a similar saving in the articles of government. We, therefore, come to the position that the Bill is so compensated, that in one case the tendency is on one side, and in the other case it is on the other side. I would ask the Committee to consider the position against the background of the speech I made yesterday on the subject of articles of government. The position is governed by the articles of government, and that is why I attach so much importance to the remarks I made yesterday when I put the Committee in possession of the main principles which the Government have in mind, for the government of secondary schools as a whole. I will come to that in a moment but meantime I take up the points which have been made by hon. Members to-day.

Some anxiety has been expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Moelwyn Huģhes) and the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) lest, with the new secondary school world organised—to use the words of the hon. and learned Member—on a level basis, this provision may make some changes which are undesirable. Let me tell them that it is the Government's desire that there shall be, in fact, a broad, universal secondary system which, to all intents and purposes, shall secure equivalence of opportunity. I am expressing to them what is Government policy. They want to know whether the provisions of the Clause render that equivalence of opportunity unreal and illusory. In my opinion, they do not. It has been a remarkable feature of our discussion with the secondary schools hitherto that it was the aided schools, more than any one else, who desire to see general principles adopted for all secondary schools. It has been a remarkable feature of the negotiation that the aided schools themselves desired to see the status and liberty of the county schools assured, as much as the liberty of the aided schools.

Therefore, in view of this broad-minded attitude on the part of the aided schools, while it has been necessary to make what some hon. Members have described as a concession in this Clause, they will see that, really, it is not very much of a concession, because, in the case of the existing grammar schools, secular instruction is under the control of the governors. The Clause simply carries on the existing situation. Let me repeat what I said in my opening remarks; this simply describes the legal position, which carries on, broadly, the existing situation. I must remind hon. Gentlemen—though perhaps they will not have forgotten—of the last words in Clause 16, which lay down that we shall have regard to the manner in which the school has been conducted hitherto. If that provision in the Clause has any significance, it is that we desire to preserve the tradition of the school. If that be so, this is a concession to tradition.

Having got as far as that, I must reassure the Committee that this concession to tradition and to the high standards existing, does not mean that certain schools are to be unduly favoured. I answer that point in the following way: Thanks to the attitude adopted by the aided schools, it will be possible, in my opinion—and I hope I shall not be proved wrong—to produce a statement of general principle covering all secondary schools. I propose to assist the Committee now, by a further description of how I think this will affect secular education. I have been asked by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), whether the general character of the school can be altered by this, as he regards it, rather alarming provision. In fact, that will not be possible under the development plan, which will be approved by an order of the Minister. The general types of secondary school in an area will be put forward by the authority under the procedure which we have discussed at great length, on the earlier part of the Bill. It will then be approved by the Minister, and the governors will not be able to alter the character of their school, unless by an amendment of the development plan. Therefore, the main fear of hon. Members that this has any great sinister significance is removed.

Hon. Members will want to know whether the governors will have an undue share in regard to secular instruction and whether certain of the alarming tendencies to which the hon. Member for Romford referred, may gather undue way, and run away with the ordinary secular instruction of the pupil. I propose to give, so far as I can, a definition, which we have in mind at present, subject to future negotiation, of the various bounds of responsibility of the local education authority, the governing body and the head teacher—who is, we must not forget, specially mentioned in Clause 16.

Mr. Lindsay

Is this to develop what the right hon. Gentleman adumbrated yesterday?

Mr. Butler

Yes, this is developing what I said yesterday, in the light of this Clause. When I referred to secular instruction in my speech yesterday, I said it would be dealt with more fully on this Clause, and I therefore deferred the further discussion for this Clause, which I shall give now.

Taking the three bodies—or, I must not call them bodies, because the teacher is an individual person and I had better say the three people—who will control this matter, the local authority, the governing body and the head teacher, I will begin by saying that the local education authority, as I see it, will have responsibility for the broad type of education given in the secondary schools, including the aided grammar schools and other aided secondary schools, and its place in the local system, according to the local needs. The broad picture will be governed, so far as I can foresee the future, by the needs of the district and the needs of the children. To develop that point, I would say that I imagine that, if it appeared to the authority that a certain school was particularly good in the higher ranges of scientific or mathematical study, they might agree to a tendency for that school to specialise in that direction, while other schools might specialise in different directions. The governing body would, in our view, have the general direction of the curriculum as actually given from day to day, within the school. The head teacher would have, again in our view, responsibility for the internal organisation of the school, including the discipline that is necessary to keep the pupils applied to their study, and to carry out the curriculum in the sense desired by the governing body.

Mr. Cove

Would it not be possible under the Clause as now drafted, for the local authority to make over the instrument of government or management, and if that were done, for the managers or the governors to change the character of the individual school? To put it in another way, what comprehensive power would the local education authority have, once the power of secular instruction had passed to the managers or governors of a particular school?

Mr. Butler

The whole thing would be governed by the instrument, which would be framed according to the principles, which I propose to try to produce at not too distant a date and to let the Committee see. Therefore, if the governors did what is suggested, that would involve the whole machinery of dispute, which would bring in the Minister, who would operate on the principles to which I have already referred. I think the hon. Gentleman's point is fully met.

I was just coming to another aspect of the matter, having described the various spheres of influence of those three types of persons. It has been felt that, in certain areas, there is a danger that the Secretary, or director of education, may fancy himself in certain subjects, or in some branch of study, and may go into a school and, by an obiter dictum, try to direct the secular instruction of that school more, as he would say, according to the wishes of the authority. That sort of interference with the individual life of the school is undesirable. What we have in mind, while not seeking to deprive any worthy person who has educational ideas of opportunities of attempting to influence the education of his area, is that some more formal method of altering the curriculum of a school is desirable. We therefore suggest that, in future, major changes in the curriculum should be brought formally before the local education authority and the governors; and not done in some chance way. I believe that, if that practice is followed, it will be in the interests of all concerned and will fully safeguard the position of the local education authority.

If we can get this sort of principle arranged, hon. Members opposite will see that the only danger to them, of letting the Clause go as it is, is the tendency for the legal instrument to be so drafted that it does not have some regard for the traditions of the past. It does not mean that the legal position destroys the power of the local education authority in the case of the aided secondary school of influencing the curriculum or influencing the type of school. The type of school is laid down by the development plan, and the general lay-out of the curriculum must be a matter for the locality.

The Committee will want to know what chance there is of seeing those principles within a reasonable time. They will rightly say that if these principles are to come in the Greek Kalends there is no great point in my observations. I would like to make this further observation, as the result of a study of yesterday's Debate. I cannot guarantee that the negotiations with the various bodies will be over by a certain date, but I hope they will be. If they are over, I shall attempt to lay a Paper indicating the general principles for the governance of secondary schools, before the Committee has lost sight of the Bill. In view of what I said yesterday about rushing negotiations, I would then if that is not possible, endeavour, on my own responsibility, to set out what I think the lines should be. In either case, I would not be delaying the Committee but doing my best to offer that guidance for which they have been so kind as to ask.

Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)

I wish to ask one or two questions on the Clause It is my ambition to see the Bill carried into law but it seems to me amazing that we have reached this stage and are about to pass a Clause which deals with the education of the children of this country in the most formative period of their lives, up to school leaving age, and there is not a single word said so far in regard to anything even remotely like the Amendment in my name, which has not been called—I agree in view of the wisdom and experience of the Chair—dealing with instruction in the work of the Forces. But it must have come to the notice of the two Ministers, and I want to ask them how it is that something of that kind has not been embodied in the Bill at any point. I also wish to ask the Ministers how it is that when they see an Amendment of this kind, which is absolutely fundamental to the safety of the country, they do not approach the Members who have put down such Amendment. I wish to keep in Order if I possibly can.

The Deputy-Chairman

I am afraid I must tell the hon. and Gallant Member that the Minister could not possibly answer that question.

Rear-Admiral Beamish

There are one or two other points about which I want to ask. How does it come that we use in this particular Clause the words "secular instruction"? Am I to understand that "secular" in the Bill means "sceptical of religious truth" and "opposed to religious education"? That is the definition of "secular." I think I am in Order in reminding the Minister that that is so. It also has one other meaning, that is "profane." I also want to know how it is that we are able to use the word "education" when it concerns religion and we are able to use the word with respect to further education, but when it comes to the question of the youth of the country up to school leaving age, we speak of "profane" instruction. I would like to know, and I wish to receive the assistance of the Committee in this, to me, fundamental matter. I believe myself that whatever feelings people may have, in regard to their religious beliefs, deep down in their hearts they must agree that, in some way or other, this so-called secular instruction must include something of the type of training of which I speak. There is much more one could say, and I hope that I will be just in Order when I remind the Committee that this Bill is before us because of the war.

The Deputy-Chairman

We cannot discuss why the Bill is before us. What is before the Committee is really a rather narrow matter.

Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)

I think the Minister's speech has not cleared the air a great deal. Many of us are as interested, as he is, in a school preserving its individuality. I think those who have had experience of some aided schools are bound to admit that the character of a school has followed a pupil into later life, and that something in the tradition of a school has affected such a pupil, not to his disadvantage. The difficulty in which I find myself is this, that while I desire to see the special characteristic of a particular school preserved, I do not want to see the local education authority deprived of its control of secondary education, It seems from the speech of the Minister that what he is proposing to do is something which I thought was impossible, namely, to maintain control and yet preserve that individuality. The question I want to put to him is this: is this to be done by regulation, or what statutory force will there be behind the principles to which he has referred? I do not think that it would be possible for us to say that just a recognition of certain principles will be enough; there must be some instrument that will give power to assure that the standard of education will be maintained under some measure of control, whilst preserving this valuable characteristic—the personality and individuality of the school.

Mr. Lindsay

Before we leave this Clause I would like to ask my right hon. Friend again, or plead with him, that we should have these general principles before we part with the Bill. What has happened to-day? We have had what is, I suppose, one of the most important statements made by the President, on this Clause. I am not sure that there is anywhere else in the Bill where we can discuss the broad question of what is supposed to be an advance in equality of opportunity but nobody quite knows what it means. My right hon. Friend said that the broad picture will be governed by the needs of the area; that the governing body will deal with the daily curriculum and the head master with internal administration. That bears very closely on the articles of government mentioned yesterday. He then went on to say that this was to be a part of the development plan and that the Board of Education would issue an Order, I think, and he also referred to the possibility of an amendment that would govern the way in which these schools were to proceed for the remaining years. I beg my right hon. Friend again, as I did on the Second Reading, not to be too rigid about this matter. I am thinking of the head master with a new idea, who wants to develop a new enterprise. We do not want him to be prevented because there is a development plan. We want to see these principles promulgated in broad terms; and before we part with this Bill we should be given a comprehensive statement.

Mr. Butler

I do not think I need add much to what I have said. I will pay attention to the point put by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay). Perhaps when we have this Paper set out, I can then discuss the question raised by the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer). That raises very wide implications. We do not want to do this by regulations. We want to allow for variety. We want to give an opportunity to hon. Members to take an interest in what is happening.

Sir Georģe Schuster (Walsall)

The right hon. Gentleman in his statement on the functions of the three parties or the three factors in the management of the school, brought us down to the head teacher, and said that the head teacher's responsibility would be for internal administration and discipline, whereas the governing body would be responsible for the general direction of the day-to-day curriculum. I hope that in whatever statement we are to have from him later he will make it clear that the head teacher's advice and ideas will be taken into account by the governing body in their day-to-day direction of the curriculum, because it is from the head master that ideas come as to how the curriculum is to be worked.

Mr. Butler

Certainly. I mentioned this point yesterday about the desirability of the head teacher meeting the governing body.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.