HC Deb 21 March 1944 vol 398 cc787-90
Mr. Silkin

I beg to move, in page 29, line 19, after "school," to insert: or whose disability is such as to render him liable to attend at a special school. Sub-section (1) of this Clause provides that children attending special schools should remain until they attain the age of 16. I want to extend that provision to children whose disability is such as to render them liable to attend a special school. My right hon. Friend will remember that in Clause 31 there is a provision that the arrangements made by a local education authority for the special educational treatment of pupils of any such category shall, so far as is practicable, provide for the education of pupils in whose case the disability is serious in special schools appropriate for that category, but where that is impracticable, they may attend an ordinary school. There will be a number of children who ought to be at special schools but will be attending ordinary schools. Merely because they cannot attend special schools is no reason why they should not be required to attend until they reach the age of 16. It may be that, after they attain the age of 15, provision may be made for them to attend special schools. Underlying Clause 36 is the assumption that it is good for children attending special schools to remain at school until the age of 16. All I am asking is that the same provision should apply to other children who, because of circumstances, are not attending special schools but ought to be. I think my right hon. Friend could very well accept the Amendment.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Member's point is quite clear. The difficulty arises from the fact that we have not enough special schools. They are very deficient in number. That is another of the educational policies and programmes which the Committee must add to the growing sum that I have outlined to-day. I hope the authorities will concentrate on building more special schools. Pending the production of special schools, either from voluntary sources or by authorities, it may be necessary, as the hon. Gentleman says, to send some children to ordinary schools, even though they require special schooling. What the hon. Gentleman desires is to see that children stay until the age of 16, as children would in special schools. I have taken what advice I can on this matter, and I am advised that to keep a child on at school until the age of 16 for special reasons—to use the technical interpretation of the word "special"—would tend to single out that child, and to put a stigma on that child. I am also advised that our attempts would not be well received if the normal leaving age at the school is 15. An additional year might be of advantage to some children, who are very dull and backward at their lessons, but I would rather that they should be kept there voluntarily than through compulsion. Another reason why I am not keen on accepting the Amendment is that it might give laggard authorities a chance to say, "If we accept special children and send them to ordinary schools for another year, there is no reason for us to press forward with special schools." For those reasons, which are both human and administrative, I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment, and that he will see that it would be better to arrange this system voluntarily than to put it in the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Butler

I beg to move, in page 29, line 23, to leave out "is," and to insert: has under arrangements made by a local education authority become. There has been a certain amount of criticism of the drafting of Sub-section (2). The chief objection is that an authority in whose area a voluntary residential school was situated was brought into the picture to give the consent required by the Sub-section. In the case of many such schools, the authority of the area in which the school is situated has nothing to do with the school. The object of the Amendment is to cut out the consent of the authority for the area in which the school is situated, and merely to secure the consent of the authority to whose special school the child is sent. It is only a matter of clarification, and I hope that the Committee will accept the Amendment.

Mr. Messer

The Minister has gone a long way to meet the points which were made on an Amendment which we put down. His Amendment completely meets the situation, and I want to express my satisfaction.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 25, leave out from beginning to end of line 27, and insert "that authority."—[Mr. Butler.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

Major Conant (Bewdley)

I want to ask my right hon. Friend if he would consider this point. Under this Clause, we are establishing a compulsory school age of 16 for all children at special schools. In practically all cases that must be definitely to the advantage of such children, but there are occasionally children who would obviously gain by leaving school at an earlier age. There ought to be some provision by which an authority, on medical advice, when a suitable provision is found, perhaps in the country, would be able to allow such a child to leave school before the age of 16. At present all children at special schools are compelled to stay there, whether they are gaining any advantage or not. I think that this is rather too stereotyped, and that there ought to be a little more elasticity. I would ask my right hon. Friend to see whether, with suitable safeguards, an authority could not be allowed to permit children to leave before reaching that age.

Mr. Butler

I must approach this matter with considerable caution, because we do not want discretion given by legislation to result in any detriment to the child, and I can imagine conditions in which advantage might be taken of children in such schools, particularly if we included less general powers in the Bill. I am sure that those are not the motives of my hon. and gallant Friend, and if fie can give me particulars of any instances of hardship, I will certainly look into them. Subject to that, I would like to get the Bill as it stands.

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