HC Deb 26 January 1956 vol 548 cc449-89

Read a Second time and committed.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. F. H. Hayman (Falmouth and Camborne)

I beg to move, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 231. I move the Motion with some diffidence, but feel that I ought to do so because I have personal experience of the operation of a Clause of this nature. Perhaps I ought to read the Clause. It states: Any agreement entered into by or on behalf of the Council with the parent or guardian of a pupil or intended pupil at any secondary school may make provision for the payment by such parent or guardian to the Council of any sum not exceeding ten pounds in the event of the pupil ceasing without the consent of the Council to attend such school before the date fixed by such agreement for the pupil to cease such attendance and the Council shall be entitled without proof of any actual damage incurred by reason of such pupil ceasing to attend such school to recover from such parent or guardian any sum not exceeding the sum specified in the agreement which the court may think fit to award in all the circumstances of the case. Subsection (2) of the Clause carries definitions, with which I will not weary the House.

I apologise for taking up the time of the House, but I am sure that hon. Members will grant me indulgence to speak at a little length in support of my arguments for the Motion. The matter of school-life agreements has never been discussed in the House. So far, no Minister of the Crown has sought these powers in any public Bill. It is true that since 1945 power has been granted by Select Committees to about twenty local authorities. On the other hand, in the last few years three authorities have been denied these powers. In two cases, the Bills were unopposed and came before a panel of Members appointed for that purpose, with the Deputy-Chairman of Ways and Means in the Chair. As the House will know, that Committee has the assistance of Mr. Speaker's Counsel.

This is, I agree, a matter of national concern. It was regarded as so important by the previous Minister of Education that she referred the matter to the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) at the end of 1952. These were its terms of reference: To consider what factors influence the age at which boys and girls leave secondary schools which provide courses beyond the minimum school-leaving age; to what extent it is desirable to increase the proportion of those who remain at school, in particular the proportion of those who remain at school roughly to the age of 18; and what steps should be taken to secure such an increase. In the autumn of 1954, the Committee presented a unanimous Report to the Minister of Education. It was printed in 1954 and reprinted in 1955, and is entitled "Early Leaving." The Committee consisted of twenty eminent people in education, including Sir Ronald Gould, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. The Report covers ninety-nine pages and represents an exhaustive survey of the question. It might be regarded as the verdict of the finest jury of impartial experts that could be obtained.

Paragraph 185, on pages 60 and 61 of the Report, contains the crux of the Committee's conclusions so far as this debate is concerned. It states: we … do not feel able to recommend, for reasons which we have fully set out … the general adoption of school-life agreements. All of us in this House will agree that a grammar school education is the natural birthright of every child in the land who is of appropriate age and has the ability and aptitude to profit by it. Clause 231 of the Bill, however, seeks to modify a child's birthright. It means that a child can be denied a grammar school education if the parent refuses to sign the school agreement.

It is true that the promoters and Parliamentary Agents for the Bill have issued a document, which most of us, I suppose, received this morning, saying that the county council would be prepared to qualify the demand that an agreement must be signed. I can, however, speak with experience. Before the war, in the area where I live and where I was the district education officer, it was part of my duty to require parents to sign agreements of this kind. Some parents refused utterly to agree to allow a child to take up a grammar school education because of the possibility of a financial penalty four or five years later. I tried to persuade the parents that the local authority would be indulgent and other members of the committee tried to do the same, but the fact that the penalty existed was sufficient to deter those parents from signing the agreement for the child to enter the school.

It may be said that the parents were unreasonable, and that may be true, but I assure the House that they were not careless people. They were not the type of people who would have withdrawn their children before completing their school course. When giving the matter thought, everyone will realise that the very parent against whom this proposed legislation would operate would care nothing about signing any agreement. That parent would be just as careless about signing an agreement as he would be later, perhaps, in withdrawing the child. I would say, therefore, from my experience, that the reservation which is suggested by the Parliamentary Agents is utterly worthless.

Because some children do not complete the school course, innocent children can be penalised. It is a strange doctrine that a child must suffer the penalty of all the misdeeds of the parents of other children, for that is what it amounts to. I think that there can be no precedent in our public Acts for such a penalty. I think that it is not too strong a term to use to call it an immoral penalty. The great Education Act of 1944 was passed through this House with the acclamation of every right-thinking person in the land. We set out to confer the right on every child of suitable age, ability and aptitude to have a grammar school education, but here this is being whittled away not by public legislation but by private Bills. I will seek to show presently that this enactment would be of doubtful validity. I think that perhaps it might be more appropriate if I justified my argument a little later.

The whole conception of this penalty is that it rests on the type of agreement which operated between the proprietors of private schools and the parents of scholars before there were any county secondary schools at all. There it was a case of damages. The proprietor of the school agreed to provide the education, to engage the staff necessary to do so, and required an agreement from the parents that no child should be withdrawn without a term's notice of withdrawal being given.

When public secondary schools came into being, they had a majority of fee payers as pupils, and this type of penalty clause was incorporated in the prospectus of the public grammar schools. It continued until the great Act of 1944. It is noticeable that Clause 231 uses the words: … without proof of any actual damage … It has been found necessary to insert those saving words. I am not a lawyer, and I am, therefore, unable to say what validity those words may have, but I am a little doubtful about it. Therefore, it not being something for damages which a local authority may have suffered, it becomes a penalty, and I think that we are all entitled to call it a penalty Clause and to consider it in that light when we vote, as I shall ask the House presently to vote, unless those who are supporting the Gloucestershire County Council are prepared to withdraw the Clause.

The Act of 1944 has altered the position entirely because it is now the statutory duty of the local education authority to provide grammar school education—or, at least, secondary school education; the grammar school is not mentioned in the 1944 Act. So the local authorities have no option but to provide this. This postwar school-life agreement is really of doubtful value, and the Committee does not recommend it.

I would quote from paragraph 26 of the Education Report of 1954. It says: The Central Advisory Council for Education for England completed their inquiry into the problem of premature school-leaving, and their Report on this subject was published in December. The Council found that the proportion of boys and girls leaving grammar schools at all ages below 18 declined, both in relation to the pre-war years and from year to year since the war. So that, although in the early post-war years there may have been some justification for considering a penalty, today I would say that that time had passed. I would say, too, that if there is to be some payment by the parent for withdrawing a child before he has completed his school life or his school curriculum and the courses he has undertaken, then it should be by a penalty in a Public Act of Parliament and not by the back-door method of a Private Bill.

I would like to read paragraphs 58 and 59 of the Report on Early Leaving, which will be found on pages 23 and 24. Paragraph 58 states: It has been suggested that the use of school-life agreements should be widely extended and their enforcement legalised by general Act of Parliament. We see great difficulties in this suggestion. In the first place, it is not clear how effective these agreements are. It would be impossible for any authority in present circumstances to enforce a leaving-age of 16 for all grammar school pupils without exception; they must often have to make exceptions in cases of hardship or of limited academic ability. It then becomes difficult to maintain a standard. On the other hand, if enforcement is attempted there is no assurance that it will be effective; the normal penalty of £10 is not likely to deter a parent who sees that his child can earn as much in a few weeks at work, and any great increase might well deter parents from sending their children to grammar schools. Paragraph 59 reads: But there is a more fundamental reason for our doubts about these agreements. The signing of the agreement takes place before the child is admitted to the grammar school, and clearly it is, implicitly and explicitly, a condition of his admission. What happens if the parent refuses to sign? If he is honest, and clear-sighted enough to look four years ahead, he may well do so. The authority must then either refuse the child a place or waive their claim to an agreement. We have heard of an authority which follows the latter course, but a requirement which a determined parent can evade in this way contains an element of bluff and will not long be respected. On the other hand, it seems very doubtful indeed whether it would be either legal or proper to refuse to admit the child to the grammar school. The authority have presumably satisfied themselves that a grammar school education is suitable to his ability and aptitude, and the conditions which they seek to impose have nothing to do with either. If the parent refuses to send his child to any other school and school attendance proceedings have to be taken, extremely awkward legal and administrative questions may arise if the parent, as he is entitled to do, asks the Minister to specify the grammar school as the school to be named in the school attendance order. A similar situation would result from an appeal by the parent to the Minister to decide whether there had been a contravention of the grant regulation requiring that a child should not be refused admission to a school on other than reasonable grounds. Indeed, quite apart from the legality of the matter, it seems to us entirely wrong to exclude a qualified boy or girl from a grammar school because his parents are more honest than other parents who sign the agreement without any firm intention of keeping it. I must ask the indulgence of the House to quote a little from paragraph 60, which states: … and if any support is given to the notion that the 'grammar school course' ends at 16 the building up of sixth forms may suffer. On the other hand, these schools contain widely varying proportions of pupils who find great difficulty in grammar school work. Many of those would do better in other types of secondary school and might be transferred at an earlier stage; but if they remain there there is no special ground for keeping them at school beyond the general leaving-age. From the school's point of view, their staying is as likely to unsettle other boys and girls as their leaving; from their own point of view it will seem that boys and girls who have not been at grammar schools are getting a year's start in their jobs. I would draw attention to another aspect of this problem. The selection age for children to go to the grammar school is generally one before puberty starts. Who can prophesy what puberty may do to a child's mental or physical capacity? We all know there can be very great changes. Paragraph 34 of the Early Leaving Report states that During five years of the grammar school course a large number of pupils have shifted their position in academic order … there is heavy wastage … among those originally placed high. Those with any experience of the working of a grammar school know perfectly well that children who do brilliantly in the entrance test often fail to develop along those lines and drop to very low positions in their forms. That is a very common feature of grammar school life.

Another paragraph in the Report refers to widespread changes in the academic order of these children between the ages of 11 and 18 years. Paragraph 36 refers to the intake into grammar schools, that is, the number of children entering them during a specific year. There are great divergencies between one authority and another, but the average for the country as a whole is 20. The Report states: … to secure from the bottom third of intake three pupils who will do very creditably in a grammar school it has been necessary to accept five who will do pretty badly. I need not labour the elementary point that a third of the intake is 33⅓ per cent.

Therefore, of eight children in that 33⅓ per cent., five will do badly, and five-eighths of one-third makes about 20 per cent. We find, therefore, that one in five of all children entering a grammar school is likely to do badly. These are not my figures. They are contained in this Report on Early Leaving, which is unanimously presented to the Minister of Education and presented by him to the House.

Actually, we find that the percentage of premature leavers is much less than 20. I will show presently from the statistics in the Report on Education for 1954, presented to the Minister, that the percentage is about 13.5. I should like to ask Gloucestershire County Council spokesmen what provision is made by Gloucestershire for this 20 per cent. who may never make the grade. I am afraid that the reply will be, "Almost nothing."

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

It seems to me that the hon. Member is now going beyond the provisions of the Clause and is raising matters with which the Clause does not deal.

Mr. Hayman

I am sorry, but I was endeavouring to say that many of these pupils, according to the Report, are not likely to be able to stay the course of five years.

I should like to know what Gloucestershire does to provide for them, but I will not pursue the subject except to say that where there are technical colleges and technical secondary schools it ought to be possible to arrange for the transfer of the pupils from the grammar school to the technical college. I know that obstacles are raised by the authorities to what would seem to me to be reasonable provisions of that kind.

Since we are asked to approve of a penalty Clause of this kind, are we to assume that the county council itself is entirely blameless? If the council seeks a penalty against the parent, cannot the parent seek a penalty against the local authority which has not provided the best grammar school education that the parent might expect? Are all the teachers of top grade? We know that they cannot be. We have had to recognise that it is very difficult to dismiss a teacher whose services are unsatisfactory, for the reason that he may never be able to obtain a job in another school. The situation is very different from that in other professions and, reasonably, the governing bodies of grammar schools and local education authorities are very reluctant to take a drastic step of that kind.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I am very reluctant to intervene, but these are really not matters within the scope of the Clause.

Mr. Hayman

I hope that I shall be in order in quoting some Questions which I put to the Minister of Education on 24th November, 1955, and his replies. I wanted to find out what really happens to children who complete the school course and stay on at least until they are 16 years of age.

I asked: How many, and what percentage of eligible grammar school pupils, over the age of 16 years at the latest convenient date, left school without taking the General Certificate Examination? The reply was: This information is not available. I also asked: How many grammar school pupils, at the latest convenient date, sat for the General Certificate Examination; how many failed in all subjects taken; and how many, in each category, were over 16 years of age. The reply given by the Parliamentary Secretary was: In the summer of 1954 144,362 grammar school pupils took the General Certificate Examination, of whom 131,903 were over 16. It is not known how many of these failed in all subjects taken."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th November, 1955; Vol. 546, c. 141-142.] This means that we have no evidence before us from which to discover what happens when children are compelled to stay at school when their parents or others feel that they are not likely to benefit by remaining. I would say that there is a fairly substantial percentage of children who fail in that examination.

I will go further and ask the House to consider the following point. If the Clause is approved it will mean that the local education committee will be the complainant, the prosecutor, the jury and the judge in its own case. It is a case of a court sitting behind closed doors to which the public have no access and a penalty can be imposed on a parent——

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

If my hon. Friend reads the Clause he will find that the last line but one of subsection (1) reads "which the court may think fit to award." It has to be dealt with by the court of summary jurisdiction. It is not a penalty imposed by the local education authority.

Mr. Hayman

With great respect, I suggest to my right hon. Friend that it is not the court of summary jurisdiction which is referred to here, but the county court.

Mr. Ede

I still think it is the court of summary jurisdiction.

Mr. Hayman

I also suggest to my right hon. Friend that very few cases ever come to the county court and that the decision is made not only by the education committee, but by the subcommittee of the education committee. If a penalty is desirable the case should go before a proper court of law, just as a parent who does not send his child to school can be prosecuted before a court of summary jurisdiction. Those of us who have had anything to do with local authorities know that many of these penalties are never collected and eventually have to be written off as irrecoverable. Again, it is the better parent who is penalised, because he pays, rather than the parent who does not care very much.

The Report on Education for 1954 shows that in all 22,566 children left the grammar schools for further full-time education. At the age of 15, 13,628 left for paid employment or other reasons and at 16, 37,103 left for those reasons. For all reasons 89,095 left the grammar schools. This shows that 13,628 left at the age of 15 for paid employment or for other reasons, which represents 15.3 per cent. of the total number of leavers.

A further modification must be made because these figures are taken at the end of the school year, which is 31st July, and a child who reaches his sixteenth birthday before the autumn term begins about the middle of September, will be counted as having left at 15. This represents nearly one-seventh of the total of this section of leavers, which could be reduced thereby to 12,054 or about 13.5er cent. I do not claim that those figures are exact, but they give a fairly good picture of what is happening.

I would also ask the House to take into account some further statistics in the 1954 Report for students at the technical schools and technical colleges. There, part-time day students of 15 years of age on 1st August, 1953, were 58,064 and in the evening classes there were 166,078. I believe that many of the children who leave grammar schools at the age of 15 are part-time day students at the technical colleges because they have gone into industry and are sent there by their employers, but there are no figures to show the precise numbers.

Now I want to comment on the statement sent to us by the promoters of the Bill. In page 2 there is a list of pupils so withdrawn from certain grammar schools for the years 1938–39 and from 1945–46 up to 1954–55. They are as follows: for 1938–39, 232; 1945–46, 245; 1946–47, 416; 1947–48, 444; 1948–49, 492; 1949–50, 473; 1950–51, 383; 1951– 52, 317; 1952–53, 344; 1953–54, 329; 1954–55, 245.

Now, 245 is almost exactly half of the highest figure of 492 in 1948 to 1949. Not only has a drop occurred, but the figure fell last year to 245 from 329 in 1953 to 1954. I suggest that since Gloucester has not had a penalty Clause, there is no reason for this. We have not been given any figures to show the total number of pupils leaving these grammar schools, so we have no means of finding the percentage.

Also, no reference is made in this statement to the very cogent Report by the Central Advisory Council for Education from which I have quoted rather freely. It is the standard document. The Parliamentary agents are a little at fault in not giving some indication about it to hon. Members who may not have known that such a Report existed.

I would ask those who speak for Gloucestershire whether they consulted the Minister and, if so, what advice he gave. I have obtained some figures from the Library from which it appears that the percentage of school leavers in Gloucestershire is roughly the same as the average for the country, and those leaving before completing the school course is also about the same as the average for the country. Therefore, no special conditions obtain in Gloucestershire.

I would ask the House to remember that the Central Advisory Council has stressed that a percentage of up to 20 of the children going into grammar schools will fail intellectually to stay the course. That is something that we must accept. The tendency is for the figures to improve; I have shown that they have improved by 50 per cent. in Gloucestershire over four or five years, and there has been a great improvement over the whole country. I would ask the House to consider whether there may not be some relationship between these figures for the post-war years and juvenile crime, which may have been partly the result of the disturbing conditions of the war.

The Parliamentary counsel for the Monmouthshire County Council had this to say about school agreements on 10th November, 1955, before a Select Committee of this House: It has always been a matter of debate, and has occasionally been a matter of legal decision, which I confess, to the advantage of my profession has sometimes gone one way and sometimes the other, whether such agreements are enforceable. It depends upon a highly technical point, whether the sum of £10, or whatever it may be is an honest assessment of liquidated damages made in advance or whether it is merely a penalty for not carrying out your agreement. In the first case it is recoverable and in the second case it is not. There we have an eminent barrister telling a Select Committee that there is a doubt about it.

I appeal to the House to support my Motion. I feel that, although only a few children may be deprived of a grammar school education because their parents are not prepared to allow them to enter a school while a penalty agreement remains, not one child ought to be sacrificed in this way. It may be said that the child might have displaced someone else; but that other child might not have stayed the course. I know men and women who have been denied a gramar school education because of such a Clause as this.

The Minister has said that there does not seem to be a case for general legislation to prevent the inclusion of this type of penalty Clause in school agreements. As he is not prepared to ask for general powers which have been advised by an eminent Committee, I ask the House to support me, in the Division Lobby if necessary.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)

I beg to second the Motion.

I do not think I can add any new arguments to what has been said by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) because he has very fully covered the case against the Clause. I am sure that hon. Members who have encountered this problem in their constituencies—my own town has such a Clause in its legislation—will have found it in practice to be thoroughly offensive in every possible way.

I think this is what has happened. When it is generally considered that there has been some misuse by parents of the welfare part of our education—the free education—somebody says "We must stop it. We do not know how to stop it. Let us see whether we can fine somebody." This is the sort of thing that has happened in other parts of our welfare system as it has grown up. People consider that there are abuses. Not knowing the right way to deal with them, they say "If only we can fine somebody, that will stop the practice." It is entirely a matter of expediency, and so is the Clause.

The arguments are very fully set out in the Report presented to the Minister. The problem is simply that at the age of 11 children are selected for further education. The implication of a fine is that that selection was right. If it is once admitted that the selection may not be correct, the parent has a perfect right, when his child is 15, to say "In view of his development since, he ought not to have been selected for a grammar school education, he is wasting his time, and I propose to withdraw him from the school course."

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne produced evidence that far more children are staying on in the grammar schools wasting their time than are leaving and becoming subject to a fine. Whether or not the figure of 20 per cent. which he gave is true, there is something wrong, and there is a problem. The proper thing to do is not to look around for some parents to fine but to discover what is wrong and then see whether some solution can be devised. That is what the Committee was asked to investigate, and that is what it has done. I urge the House no longer to support the inclusion by authorities in their Measures of a Clause which does not solve the problem, and, in relation to parents, creates gross injustice throughout the country.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I have great pleasure in supporting the plea that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) and the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Holt). I should like to make clear from the outset that none of us who take this view has any sympathy with the parent who frivolously and without very grave reason, but tempted by the immediate possibility of a high wage for a youngster, takes his son away from a grammar school before the boy has reached the age of 16. There is a very great deal to be said for a child staying in a grammar school beyond the age of 16. The parent who takes his child away at the age of 15 for the reason I have mentioned does injury to the community and does the child a great wrong.

Therefore, the objective which I suppose the promoters of the Bill have in mind is praiseworthy enough. They are looking for a way of dealing with a problem of early leaving, but what we have to consider is whether the device of a school-life agreement is good in itself. Is it a proper method to employ and has it any real relevance to the problem? This is a matter about which it is difficult to be dogmatic. If one studies the figures and finds that from year to year the number of early leavers has gone up or down, there is still plenty of room for argument about the cause of that variation.

The remarkable thing is that such evidence as has been provided to us by the promoters of the Bill points in a direction opposite from that which they desire. I should like to develop one or two more points in addition to those made by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne which emerge from consideration of that evidence. We are provided by Gloucestershire with the total figure of leavers under the age of 16 from grammar schools in a number of given years. What we are not told is what proportion that was of the number of children who entered the schools.

In the paper which has been sent to us we are given two possible indications of what the total number of children concerned might be. One describes the schools as being of one, two, three, four, form entry and mentions that a form is normally 30 to 35 children. On that analysis it would appear that about 1,500 children are the annual intake into all schools concerned. In another paragraph we are given the figure of 344 premature leavers in 1952, or between one-third and one-quarter of the intake. That would give a figure of about 1,000 children.

Throughout these years the number of children concerned, of which these figures of early leavers are proportions, may have varied between 1,000 and 1,500. The figures, therefore, tell us nothing about whether the problem of early leavers has become more or less serious in Gloucestershire during the period under consideration. However, let us suppose that that error is not there and that these absolute "crude figures," as the statisticians call them, represent about the proportion of the intake which leaves.

In that case, the conclusion to which we are bound to come is that to which my hon. Friend has already drawn attention. It is that Gloucestershire is apparently well on its way to solving the problem, without the assistance of a penalty Clause. It is a very interesting and a very encouraging development, if we can place any reliance on the figures, and I am charitably omitting the fact I previously mentioned that they are merely crude figures. We cannot be sure how significant the figures are, but, if they are significant, they show that in the naturally disturbed years immediately after the war there was a high proportion of premature leavers and previously a penalty Clause. Now that we do not have one, instead of that aggravating the situation, we are now triumphantly getting on top of it, and are now in the situation where the number of premature leavers is just thirteen higher than the pre-war figure when there was a penalty.

No one in his senses wants to impose penalties, fines and restrictions for the sake of so doing. Once it were established that there was at least a strong likelihood that the penalty would help to cure a grave abuse, the position would be different, but all the evidence which we have so far is in the opposite direction.

We have to add to that that there are certain general reasons of policy that could be advanced against the school-life agreement as a method of dealing with the early leaver. I shall not detain the House by stating those reasons, because my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Bolton, West, have very forcibly drawn the attention of the House to them, but I may be excused for again reading one quotation from the Report on Early Leaving, because it seems to go to the heart of the matter. It says: … quite apart from the legality of the matter, it seems to us entirely wrong to exclude a qualified boy or girl from a grammar school because his parents are more honest than other parents who sign the agreement without any firm intention of keeping it. If we admit the desirability of having a separate organisation for secondary education, with grammar, technical and modern schools—I do not like ft, but for the moment our discussion is on that basis—when the child goes to grammar school, the assumption has presumably been made and some attempt made to get evidence for that assumption that the child is fit for grammar school education. It would not be only the parent who wanted the child to go to a grammar school. The local education authority would have committed itself to the view that the child should go to a grammar school.

If later the parent is saying, "I want to take the child away," and if the child is saying, "I want to leave school prematurely," one blames the parent or the child, but it also suggests that the estimate of the child at the age of 11 which was made by the education authority may not have been correct. I believe that this attempt to estimate ability at the age of 11 is a very great mistake, but it is not a mistake for which parents should be asked to pay.

The attempt to impose a penalty should not be made as is done here in a way which will frighten from grammar school education some of the more timorous, perhaps more prudent, and, as the Report suggests, the more honest parent. The feckless fellow will put his name to anything, and if there is any question of enforcing a penalty the probability is that the boy, after being taken away from school prematurely, will himself recoup his parents for anything the courts may award against them, so that the penalty is not even likely to be effective.

One's general common sense and knowledge confirms the judgment which both the Gloucestershire figures and the national figures suggest. It is that what is proposed is not an effective penalty and that it has no relation to the problem of early leaving. In conclusion, I will risk drawing the attention of the House to one aspect of the problem. It was touched on but not developed by the hon. Member for Bolton, West.

There are other ways of dealing with this problem and, as he said, this habit of looking round for someone to fine, in the hope that in that way an important social problem may be dealt with, presents the danger that it may blind one to other more constructive ways of dealing with it. In the memorandum we have received from the promoters of the Bill there is no mention of any constructive steps which they have taken to deal with the problem. As the Report suggests, there are plenty which could be taken.

What is done in Gloucestershire about maintenance allowances? How does the authority there compare with other authorities in that respect? That is one of the matters to which the Report draws attention. It is stated that a number of children leave grammar schools prematurely because they have not the facilities at home to do their homework properly, and they feel that, in their difficult home circumstances, they are lagging behind their comrades at school.

It is suggested that a progressive and constructively-minded local education authority would endeavour to keep in touch with the home circumstances of the children and give what help it could to make provision, either in school premises or in some other way, for children who have difficulty in doing their homework at home; and to provide a place where it may be done comfortably.

Another reason why children may leave a grammar school prematurely—we are not told whether Gloucestershire has any problem of the kind—is that education may be conceived too narrowly by the particular grammar school. I should not subscribe to the view that a child's time at grammar school is necessarily wasted if he does not do well in the General Certificate examination or even if the examination is not taken. It is a good thing to take the examination, and it is always a good thing, when taking an examination, to try to do well. But do not let us imagine that is the sole measuring rod as to whether time at a grammar school has been wasted or not.

Obviously, if we are to offer anything like proper opportunities to all our young people, we have to be prepared to accept the fact that some will get into the grammar school who do not appear to be especially gifted academically. A grammar school ought to see that its curriculum gives special attention to the needs of those who are more gifted than the average and to those who are less gifted than the average. If we make a grammar school a kind of bed of Procrustes, we cannot complain if as many patients as possible get off as quickly as possible. That may be one reason why some authorities have the problem of early leaving.

One could also go to the professional bodies and say, "Have you considered that if you required rather higher initial qualifications for getting into the profession, it would provide a more powerful incentive for more children to stay at grammar schools longer in order to acquire them?" Local authorities who are worried about this problem might approach the professional bodies on that matter. What part have they taken in trying to implement any of the many useful and constructive suggestions contained in the Report on Early Leaving?

I hope that I have not been doing an injustice to the Gloucestershire authority. For all I know, it may have done all the things about which I have spoken, but if so, why have we not been told? Had it said, "We have done our best to implement all the positive and constructive recommendations in the Report, and we still find the problem is getting worse," what a case for a penalty the council would have been able to bring forward. But the authority does not mention a single constructive step which has been taken to deal with this problem; and despite that, the problem is apparently becoming easier for it. Unless it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that the proposal will reduce the number of early leavers—and I do not think that anyone has come within a hundred miles of showing that—I hope that the House will agree that the Clause be left out of the Bill.

8.34 p.m.

Captain F. V. Corfield (Gloucestershire, South)

I wish to oppose this Clause and I regret that it has been brought forward for discussion in this Chamber. It introduces no new principle. It was not only common in Gloucestershire and elsewhere before the war but, as was stated by the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman), it has been included in 25 Private Acts of Parliament in the last ten years. It seems to me that the Private Bill procedure is specifically designed for putting forward views and countering questions such as were referred to by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart). This is not the sort of Clause which can properly be thrashed out on the Floor of the House.

As the point has been raised, it might be of some use if I refer briefly to some of the considerations which have led Gloucestershire County Council, to my knowledge, to the belief that the Clause will help to increase the efficiency of education in Gloucestershire. First, there are its own experiences. Hon. Members opposite have gone too far in interpreting the figures of the last two years as a definite trend which shows that the problem is curing itself. Taking the period as a whole, there is no doubt that the number of children leaving grammar schools before the age of 16 has substantially increased since before the war.

This must be a matter of concern to any local education authority. It is a wastage of effort which we simply cannot afford. It is not only a wastage of educational effort, or of the potentialities of the pupils concerned; it is also a denial of opportunity to other children Who would have been willing to take those places and run the full course. It is all very well, as the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne remarked, to regard a grammar school education as the birthright of any child who can qualify for it, but it is surely no part of that child's birthright to deny that education to some other child because its parents are not willing to make full use of it.

This is a burning question in my constituency, where the population growth has been considerably greater on the periphery of the great City of Bristol than in other parts of the country, and where there is a correspondingly greater pressure upon grammar school places. I welcome almost any reasonable Measure which will help to make sure that such places as exist are used to the very best advantage. It is relevant to state that the heads of grammar schools in all parts of the country are in favour of the Clause.

Hon. Members opposite have raised the question whether some children prove at a later date that they were not, perhaps, the best selection for a grammar school education, but it is the headmasters who are by far in the best position to judge whether or not that is so. There can be no question of any education authority, let alone any court, granting a penalty when a child is removed upon the recommendation of the headmaster of a school.

This is not a purely local matter. Only a few days ago I read in The Timesthat it is causing very considerable concern in Scotland. No fewer than 25 local authorities have thought it right to include such a Clause as this in their local legislation in the last ten years. The Clerk to the Gloucestershire County Council has circularised those local authorities in order to discover their reactions to the Clause. Eleven authorities have replied emphatically to the effect that they have found the Clause useful, and are convinced of its value; eight have stated that, as their Bills are of very recent origin, they have not had sufficient time from which to draw a conclusion, and only three believe that it has been of very little value.

A recent case in the county courts was concerned with the question whether or not there can be legal enforcement of the Clause. That, in a sense, begs the question, because the value of the Clause lies far more in its existence than its enforcement. Local authorities are finding that it is a means of impressing upon parents the importance of allowing their children to complete their courses in grammar schools.

Mr. Holt

Do I understand the hon. and gallant Member to advocate threats, without any intention of carrying them out? That is just what he said.

Captain Corfield

I did not say anything of the sort. I said that enforcement was very rare indeed. It is not of very great importance to dwell upon the question whether or not it will be enforced in a large number of cases.

The point is that local authorities find that this power is of use in impressing upon parents the importance of allowing their children to run the full course. What is much more important is that it helps to impress upon parents that the winning of a grammar school place imposes not only a right but a duty, and that is a very good thing indeed.

Questions have been raised about the very occasional cases in which parents have refused to sign this agreement, and about the effect that this may have on the children. Of the 25 local authorities who have this power, only two have reported cases of parents refusing to sign.

Manchester Corporation reported one case where the refusal was on religious grounds and in which affirmation was accepted in lieu. Essex County Council have had cases, in which the children did, in fact, take their places in grammar schools. The Clerk to the Gloucestershire County Council, when asked to state the views of his council in this matter, replied in the following terms: I can find no record of any Gloucestershire parent refusing to sign the agreement, and, indeed, in my experience over three counties I have never known anybody refuse to sign. If anybody did refuse to sign on grounds of conscience, I think that the course we would take would be either to see the parent ourselves or to ask somebody on behalf of the governors to see the parent, and, provided it appeared that the parent was keen on his child's having a grammar school education, and made it clear that it was his honest intention to keep him at school to enable him to finish the course, I am quite sure we would accept that. Indeed, a parent with such a scrupulous conscience might be better material than the person who makes the ordinary declaration, but it would be impracticable to make a personal approach to all parents in this matter and the willingness to sign an agreement with a penalty attached is a simple and clear indication and one easily obtained.' That is the crux of the problem. It is obviously important to bring home to parents personally and individually the importance of this matter. I ask the House to reject the Motion and to allow the matter to be thrashed out in Committee upstairs.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. M. Philips Price (Gloucestershire, West)

My hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) has expressed strong views. I must confess that they failed to convince me and I hope that they will fail to convince the House as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said that he spoke with experience. I know he has experience of the education service, and his views are, therefore, entitled to respect. I, too, have had experience, not in the same sense. but as governor of two grammar schools in my constituency.

I know very well the effect of early leavers upon the morale of a school. We frequently have a headmaster complaining that owing to the early leaving of this or that boy or girl whom he knows is promising there has been a bad moral effect upon the form. We have considered that matter many times during the last five or six years, and it cannot be ignored. It is the duty of the governors of a grammar school like those upon the boards of which I have the honour to sit to advise the county council in these matters. Our schools have not been the only ones with this experience.

The Gloucestershire County Council has felt compelled to take action in this Bill. It is asking only for the same powers as have been granted to 25 other local education authorities. The authorities had those powers until 1939, but they were thought to be unenforceable under the 1944 Education Act and special power had to be sought from Parliament to re-establish the position.

Much play has been made with the figures of early leavers supplied by the Gloucestershire County Council. From 235 in 1938–39 the figure rose to its peak of 473 in 1949–50, but since then has fallen to a figure only 15 above that reported when the penalty clause existed. It is difficult to estimate exactly what the cost is, but surely it was sufficiently serious during those years. I remember very well that when the figure rose to 473 our board of governors frequently had to consider the position. We were spending considerable sums of the ratepayers' and taxpayers' money on those who did not make use of the education of which they were thought capable of taking advantage.

The hon. and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) has mentioned the very important point that in certain growing industrial areas—he mentioned a district near Bristol, and I know of certain areas in the north of my constituency—house building has exceeded the supply of schools. The result is a terrific demand for secondary education which cannot be met. The authorities in the area which I have in mind want to send the children to schools in the City of Gloucester, but the education authority there, naturally, does not like to have such a large school population forced upon it and objects. The fact remains that in certain areas the demand for secondary education is tremendous.

It is the duty of an education authority to see that all those who are considered to be able to make use of secondary education shall be given it, but there may be cases where examinations have failed to select the right pupils, or where they later develop differently from expectations. In such cases the child is not compelled to go on. We have had cases in our own grammar school where, for a number of reasons, parents have asked permission to withdraw their children before the course is over and have been granted it. I am sure that in the county there are children who have clearly not lived up to what was expected of them and have been withdrawn from the school by the education authority. That really answers the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne and those who support him, that there are children being forced to carry on with a secondary education for which they are not fitted. That is not the case in Gloucestershire, and I think that our education system there bears comparison with that of any county in the United Kingdom.

Nor must we forget that the cost to the taxpayer of keeping a child in a secondary school is £63 per annum. Gloucestershire County Council alone is now spending £¾ million per annum on grammar school education—a figure which includes the cost of transport, grants, maintenance allowances, and so on. That is a very serious matter. This money is provided by the taxpayer and the ratepayer and it is necessary to see that it is properly used and that the ratepayer and the taxpayer gets full value for his money. In view of the fact that our higher education is of the utmost value to us from the point of view of our position in the world, of our industrial efficiency and our export trade by which we live, surely we must see that it reaches the highest possible standard.

It may be doubted whether £10 is a sufficient penalty, but I think it is. It is perhaps not so much a question of the money as of the moral effect of asking a parent to sign a document which makes it clear to him that this education is of great value. The mere signing of the document will have the necessary effect. Statistics of the Gloucestershire County Council show that the year after the abolition of the penalty Clause the figures rose at once. There is every reason to think that the Clause will have the moral effect which I regard as necessary. People do not value things unless they have to make some sacrifice for them. They value something for which they have paid.

The difficulty has been and still is that some parents do not appreciate the value of secondary education to the child. They allow their child to begin the course, but after a year or two the child wants to leave in order to earn good money in a factory and they say, "Let him go." That has happened in the grammar school about which I know. Some have fallen to the attraction of the Gloucester aircraft factory and the good wages paid there.

I hope the House will take the view that this is a vital Clause in the Bill and will reject the Motion.

8.53 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

It may be helpful to the House if I intervene at this stage, I hope very briefly, to indicate the attitude of my right hon. Friend to school life agreements and their relationship to the problem of early leaving. I think it is obvious to all that it should be our policy to encourage the appropriate pupils to stay on beyond school-leaving age.

The increasing opportunities available in secondary education, together with the great possibilities which are becoming available as the plans for technical education and development are unfolded, make it vital that the abilities of boys and girls are developed to the full. I understand the House to be in full agreement on that point, and it was the reason for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh) decided, in 1952, to ask the Central Advisory Council for Education to investigate the problem of early leaving.

As a result of those investigations the Council produced what I personally consider a most excellent Report, to which much reference has been made in this debate. That Report revealed that a large number of pupils could with advantage have remained at school. I think it equally important, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) for making the point, to appreciate that the position has not deteriorated over the country as a whole during the last fifteen or twenty years. It has in fact been steadily improving since before the war.

I do not want to weary the House with figures, but I think that a few figures are relevant. Taking first the percentage of pupils who stay beyond their eighteenth birthday—which is something we want to encourage—in 1927 the figure was 15.7 per cent. In 1930 it had0 fallen to 10.6 per cent. By 1945, at the conclusion of the war, it had risen again to 15.2 per cent. and in 1948 it had risen to 29.6 per cent. The years to which I refer are the years of school entry and, therefore, in fact applied to pupils leaving four or five years later. Hon. Members will see that in the 1948 entry the percentage of those who stayed over the age of 18 was double the corresponding percentage for the 1945 entry.

If we take the other side of the case, those who left grammar schools before they were 16—something we want to discourage—the figures are equally encouraging. In 1927 the figure was 27.3 per cent. That, unfortunately, had risen by 1930 to 32.7 per cent. At the end of the war it had fallen to 24.3 per cent. and in 1948, again the figure for the entry year, it had fallen to 16.3 per cent. The latest figure available for the national average is 146 per cent.

I believe those figures are most encouraging. They show conclusively that in the grammar schools, where the problem is largely concentrated, the percentage of pupils leaving at various ages below 18-plus is diminishing and, conversely, the percentage of pupils remaining at school beyond 16 is increasing. I think it is agreed that we should strive for even better results, and to that end the Central Advisory Council put forward many excellent recommendations in its Report.

Those recommendations are in the Report, and I do not propose to explain them to the House in this debate. The majority are proposals for consideration and action by local authorities, by schools themselves and, in some cases, by employers and trade unions. My right hon. Friend hopes that wherever possible consideration will already have been given to those suggestions, as the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) mentioned, but there are considerations, such as the extension of family allowances and the revision of maintenance allowances, which are dependent upon Government action.

There have already been many discussions with representatives of local authorities and with the teachers on maintenance allowances. Further discussions are to take place very shortly with the main object of seeing whether the money now being spent is being spent to the best advantage and is giving help where it is most needed.

It is against that sort of background that we look at the school-life agreement. Perhaps before I deal finally with that specific point, I should say that more than the constructive proposals in this Report and more than the effect of the school-life agreement, the principal requirement in the whole of this problem of early leaving is a change in the attitude of some parents. The task of persuading fathers and mothers to see the immense long-term advantage of acceding to the suggestion of teachers that a child should remain longer at school is something in which all hon. Members can help.

I wish to say a few words about the school-life agreement, the subject of this discussion. It is a suggestion which the Council has not found itself able to recommend for general adoption. According to my information, since 1945, when school fees were abolished, a Section providing for these agreements and imposing a penalty not exceeding £10 has been included in 23 local Acts. I note that in the Gloucestershire proposal the number is given as 25, but I shall not dispute that small difference. The first was in 1946, in the case of Manchester, and the latest—Liverpool—in 1955. A similar Clause was contained in three other Bills but was withdrawn or disallowed by the House, mainly, I think, on account of the opposition of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne, who has moved this Motion. There are three other Bills still before Parliament, and three others, presented only last month, which contain a similar Clause. This debate, therefore, is of some importance to these other Bills.

It is clear from these facts that a wide variety of authorities, of all types and all political persuasions, see some merit in the proposal, and consider that so long as the competition for grammar school places is as keen as it is, there are good grounds for giving preference to the children who are likely to stay the course.

On the other hand, as the Central Advisory Council noted, there is some reason—it has been brought out in this debate—to doubt the effectiveness of such agreements; but I can give the House no evidence about the results achieved by individual authorities, although my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield) provided some evidence on the point.

It has been suggested in the debate that a school-life agreement is inconsistent with Section 8 of the 1944 Act, whereby the duty is imposed upon local authorities to provide education according to a child's age, aptitude and ability. It would, therefore, be open to a parent. to appeal against unreasonable exclusion or under a school attendance order, but it is a fact that no appeal has yet been made. That is evidence in support of the contention made by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) that authorities have used this power with discretion.

My right hon. Friend accepts the conclusions of the Advisory Council's Report as far as school-life agreements are concerned, and has no intention of taking any further general powers. He is not enthusiastic about school-life agreements, and would prefer to see further progress being made with the more positive proposals put forward. On the other hand, he appreciates that there may be local conditions which provide exceptions to this general approach. Indeed, that is contained in paragraph 61 of the Advisory's Council's Report, which states that there may be local exceptions to its general approach to this matter; and in this case there may be such an exception.

If, therefore, the Gloucestershire authority can prove to the satisfaction of hon. Members that there is special local need, the Clause will be justified. That is a matter which must be decided by hon. Members in the light of the arguments advanced and of my right hon. Friend's general attitude. It may be in this case that the Clause should be allowed to proceed to Commmittee for further consideration of the point.

9.3 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

For three mornings recently, I have sat opposite the Parliamentary Secretary and watched him preserving complete silence. I therefore congratulate him upon being able at last to find voice. This is a difficult matter to settle and I speak only for myself in anything I say, but I hope I carry all my hon. Friends on this side with me when I say that our ultimate objective is a school-leaving age of 16. When the 1944 Act was going through the House, not with so much acclamation as my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) said, this was one of the matters that was fiercely disputed.

I think it is safe to say that the Government of which I was then a member were wise in not making the school-leaving age 16 at that date. When one thinks of the trouble we have had to provide accommodation and teachers enough to raise the school-leaving age to 15, it is quite certain that to have made the age of 16 compulsory at that date would have resulted in a complete breakdown of the education for senior pupils at the present time. That does not, however, alter the fact that we believe it is the suitable thing for the compulsory school-leaving age to be raised to 16 as soon as opportunity and the provision of the service make it possible.

Until we get to that period, there will be difficulties for those schools which have a five-year secondary school course. That is the difficulty in this case. The secondary modern school, which has generally a four-year school course after 11, can provide a pupil with something that fully occupies his mind up to the age of 15. I think that some of those pupils would do even better if they took that four-year course over a period of five years, because not every child can proceed at the same pace as other members of the class.

We are left, however, with this problem, that while the compulsory school-leaving age is 15 a number of children will go into secondary schools which have a five-year course. I prefer that term to the term "grammar school," because a grammar school is unknown to the Education Act, 1944. The school with the five-year course—and I imagine that many of the technical schools which the Government now contemplate starting will be schools with a five-year course if they are to prepare their best pupils for the universities or technological colleges for really advanced work on that side of human development—will have some pupils who come in at 11 and leave at 15.

I have been a governor of several grammar schools and other schools having a five-year course, and I know the problem presented by the child who comes in and occupies a place in the school for about four years and then leaves and tries to get a job on the strength of the allegation that he was a pupil of a grammar school or a school with a five-year course.

I want to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne that I have great sympathy with the parent of limited means who keeps his child at school for the full five years. I am the son of such parents. There are many parents today who, in spite of education being free, are making great sacrifices to keep a child at school beyond the school-leaving age. I do not think that it is fair that that child's educational career should be belittled because children have left the same school without completing the course and have claimed that they are proper representatives of the school.

Mr. Hayman

Surely my right hon. Friend will agree that I have never said anything to suggest that I do not equally honour and respect those parents of limited means who keep their children at school. Of course I do.

Mr. Ede

I would not suggest that my hon. Friend had said so, but what I do say is that the sacrifice of these parents is entitled to be held in high honour by the whole of the community, and that it should not be thwarted because a boy or girl goes to an employer and says, "I come from such and such a school "and the employer says, "I had another one from there and I did not think much of him. "It is then found that that was a child who had not completed the course.

I regret some of the things that were said by the Parliamentary Secretary. I want to make a constructive suggestion. A child who is defective physically or mentally has a school-leaving age of 16, and the parent cannot take him away before he is 16. That was provided in Section 38 of the Education Act, 1944. I would have hoped that we might have had some such arrangement that where a child enters a five-year course and that course is approved by the Minister, the school-leaving age in such a school should be 16, in the same way as it is in the school for the defective.

But that would have to be followed up by having a set of maintenance allowances which would enable the parent whose child reaches the age of 15 and who needs help to be helped by a maintenance grant arranged, as maintenance grants are now increasingly being arranged, on a national scale. We try to make university grants uniform no matter what educational authority may be granting them. I should have thought that in a similar way it would be possible to deal with this problem.

Frankly, I do not like school-life agreements of this type which provide for what is. after all, a derisory penalty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) said, the parent takes his boy or girl away in defiance of the school-life undertaking and the maximum penalty that can be imposed is £10. Within three weeks or a month that child will have brought more into the home than the maximum amount of the penalty. Then one has the child who knows that his parents are making sacrifices to keep him at school and who says, "It is a shame that my father and mother should be making these sacrifices when the boy round the corner who is not as smart as I am, at any rate in my opinion, can go out and get a job which makes a substantial contribution to the home."

I am not at all sure from what I have heard when I have sat at quarter sessions that high wages for juveniles are not a greater contribution to juvenile delinquency than anything that happens inside a secondary or grammar school. One never hears now that they are tempted by poverty. Any barrister in the House would agree that the common form of defence now is, "This youth gets such big money that he has lost all sense of values, so please be kind to him for that reason."

I find it very difficult to make up my mind which way I shall vote on this matter, because, frankly, this is a problem which needs to be dealt with and I should prefer that a national system of maintenance grants should be established, having regard to the size of the family and the family income, and so on. I should prefer that where the child enters the five-year course, approved by the Minister—so that the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne that some schools do not give such a very good course after all could be met—the school-leaving age for that child should be 16. The sooner we get people accustomed to the idea that 16 is the appro- priate school-leaving age the better for the future of the education service and our supply of skilled craftsmen.

I do not think that the number of people who jib at this are so very many. I went to a secondary school in Middlesex a week ago tonight. There is a six-form entry there. Two forms are admitted for grammar, two for technical and two for general. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham knows the school to which I am alluding. For the first two years they carry on a common course. At the end of two years three of the forms are put on to the academic side instead of the two that were entered, and for those and the two technical forms (leaving only one general form ultimately) the parents are interviewed. They enter willingly into the undertaking, which is hardly ever broken.

I am certain that the schools themselves have a great deal to do in this matter. Having regard to the heavy task of the Minister if we are to get a really technically educated range of pupils in our schools, I hope he will feel that he can take some steps to make it quite plain that we cannot expect to get a good academic or technical secondary education with less than a five-year course.

With regard to the 20 per cent. of pupils who do not benefit from secondary education, again I share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham. I do not regard as the sole test of the success of education the examination which a child can pass. If, however, a child is not pulling his weight and is obviously a misfit, there should be arrangements by which he can be transferred to a school into which he can fit.

It would be most discouraging to local education authorities if this Clause were defeated. I do not think it is the best way of dealing with the matter, but it is a way, and I hope that within the next year the Minister will be able to find some way of seeing that, not penalties, but an appropriate power is given to the secondary school, whether grammar or technical, which has a five-year course.

9.18 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will forgive me if I do not follow him in the rather wider spheres through which, with his great experience, he has just been travelling. He has underlined the importance of this question. It is certain that no education authority, and no council worthy of the duties laid upon it, should neglect any means in its power to halt and to diminish early school-leaving.

It is calculated that every school place after the age of 16 costs £92 in Gloucestershire, and as we are dealing with annual figures of the order of 250, it will be seen that the education authority, as in duty-bound, is considering a loss to the community of about £25,000 a year. So, clearly, it is their duty to concentrate as best they may on this difficult question.

It has been said, and I associate myself with those remarks, that the effect on boys and girls who leave school early is, on the one hand, to waste the education they have had to some extent and, on the other, to stop others receiving education in the grammar and techncial schools who might have had it. Whatever may be the position in other parts of the country, in Stroud the pressure on those schools is extreme, and there is severe competition to enter them because of the expanding population in the area. It would be sad if the education authority did not do all it could to ensure that all the places were taken up and fully used.

The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) said it might be that the rights of children to secondary education were being whittled away, but if my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Cor-field) is right in saying that in only three cases have parents refused, the problem does not appear to be very severe. The children whose rights are being whittled away are not those whose parents have refused to sign but those who have left before they should have done, and they are whittling away their own rights and preventing other children from occupying places in the classes.

Reference has been made to paragraph 60 of the Central Advisory Council's Report on Early Leaving, which says: From the school's point of view, their staying is as likely to unsettle the other boys and girls as their leaving; from their own point of view it will seem that boys and girls who have not been at grammar schools are getting a year's start in their job. That is put forward as an argument against the Clause, but surely no one contemplates that the penalty, if it is a penalty, of £10 will be exacted from a boy or girl who is unsuitable for the school. The Clause is entirely permissive; the county council need not exact the full £10, and it need not exact anything.

Paragraph 61 says: We are conscious that in these paragraphs we are writing in very general terms. The difficulties we see are not necessarily decisive in every separate area; and if a local education authority finds that its arrangements for making and enforcing agreements work well it would be wrong to interfere with them. I am certain that education authorities would always take account of conscientious objection to signing, and the sincerity of parents who refused to sign would be an additional argument in favour of the penalty not being exacted from them.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

If the parents did not sign, the children would not be at the school.

Mr. Kershaw

If our figures are correct, that has never happened.

Mr. Pannell

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman's experience in this matter is, but I can speak as one who has been the chairman of an authority for many years. The form is put before the parent, and if the parent does not sign the boy does not go to the school. As to the cognisance which is taken of the conscientious parent, all the authority says is, "You are out." That point is very well made in the Report. If a parent insisted on his right to the contrary, undefined legal consequences would arise.

Mr. Philips Price

Perhaps I might point out that I know that in the case of Gloucestershire a headmaster or governor interviewing a parent who had a conscientious objection to signing, would, if he found real conscientious objection, send the child to the school without the agreement being signed.

Mr. Kershaw

The hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) was not present earlier when we were discussing the question he put to me. As the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price) has said, there has never been an exclusion of a child of a parent with a conscientious objection to signing. As the Parliamentary Secretary said, the legal difficulties have never arisen and are never likely to arise.

I am sure that hon. Members will agree that further education is one of the most important things for the country at present, and that all classes should share in it. It is disturbing to read in the Report that the number of boys and girls from unskilled and semi-skilled households who are leaving is far above that in other categories. It is said that out of 16,000 children who go to grammar schools from unskilled and semi-skilled households, no fewer than 9,000 fail to complete the course.

No one will suggest that the Clause will have an effect upon that type of household greater than its effect on any other. It has been said with justice that the Clause is more a reminder of obligations than a financial penalty of any size and that within a week or so any boy or girl ought to be able to make up the loss caused to his parents.

Mr. Hayman

Will the hon. Member not agree that it is precisely in those homes of the unskilled parent where there is very little opportunity for study, and that that makes it extremely difficult for children to continue their studies, quite apart from the tradition which, naturally, is not as strong as in professional homes or those of qualified artisans?

Mr. Kershaw

I entirely agree. It is, of course, the absence of privacy, and so on, which has its effect. Nevertheless, the problem remains and anything that can be done to ensure that they will stay on at school and benefit from a grammar school education for which they are fitted—otherwise, they would never be there in the first place—should command the attention of the House.

The financial penalty should be kept small. It is odd for the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) to say, on the one hand, that he dislikes the penalty—one might have sympathy with that, because the word "penalty" is somewhat disagreeable—and, on the other, to say that it is not worth talking about. It should not be a harsh penalty, but merely serve to bring home to parents the importance of the education their child is receiving.

Furthermore, let it not be thought that it is the only thing which the Gloucester- shire County Council is doing to ensure that children stay at school. We have been discussing only a narrow point, but other things are being done by the county council. If the Clause is rejected—and the county council can operate it and I am sure it will operate it in a sensible and merciful manner—hardship will be inflicted on many children in Gloucestershire. That hardship will fall not only on the children who leave early and who will later discover their loss, but also on those whom they are keeping out of their places.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Sourhall)

We should come back to the general principles upon which Private Bills are promoted. The usual practice is that a Private Bill is promoted to deal with specific things in a particular area which are not generally necessary or subject to general Acts of Parliament. Nothing has been said about this Clause, and no case has been made in any way by Gloucestershire, to indicate that Gloucestershire is in a position different from that of any other education authority. The Clause should stand or fall on whether there is an exceptional position and a particular reason for special legislation.

At the moment, it appears to me that the case is against Gloucestershire. The Gloucestershire figures on this question—and I am prepared to admit that it is a very vexed question—are very much the same, as is the experience of Gloucestershire, as those for the rest of the country. I claim to speak on the subject with some knowledge, because I was a governor of a grammar school before the war and, in the usual way, we had a penalty Clause. It was seldom enforced, and if any attempt was made to enforce it it had no effect.

We find very often that a much greater effect is achieved by a good talk to the parents by the headmaster on the general question of the desirability of leaving a child at school; and if there is any financial hardship, whether there are means by which it may be dealt with. That is a more positive approach and a method by which results may be achieved. This method will not have the effect of keeping one more child at school. It is an easy way to say that we will put in a penalty Clause and, if the child leaves school, impose a fine of £10.

The Central Advisory Council for Education came to exactly the same conclusion in this matter: that it is necessary to have positive methods rather than restrictive measures; and if that be so, then here we have no particular case. What has been said from the Government Front Bench seems to be an indication and an invitation to the House to adopt the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman) and to reject this Clause. The Clause refers to secondary education. It may well become increasingly the case that five-year courses will be run in secondary modern schools for particular purposes and a parent may say that he would like his child to take the course. This penalty may apply not only in grammar schools, but in secondary schools where there is a specialist five-year course for relatively few students. That would be an intolerable position in which to place a parent or the school.

Within its boundaries Gloucestershire includes the City of Gloucester which is another educational authority and also within and adjoining Gloucestershire is the County Borough of Bristol. I have no doubt that reciprocal arrangements exist between the different authorities regarding grammar school places. That is usual. What will happen if one authority has a penalty Clause and the other has not and there are children from an area in which a penalty Clause is operated going to school with children from another area where it is not? All these are important factors which should be carefully thought out before these matters are brought before this House at all.

It seems to me that the whole weight of the evidence which we have, the official evidence from the Government Front Bench and the Central Advisory Council for Education, and the experience of hon. Members, shows that these penalty Clauses are not in themselves of any particular advantage in keeping children at school. It is no use arguing that we want to do something because of the waste of educational facilities which occurs. The penalty does not stop a child from leaving school. Let us therefore turn to more positive ways of keeping the children at school and thereby perhaps eliminate the waste.

I am told that in Gloucestershire if there is a person with a conscientious objection to signing the agreement, he would be interviewed by a governor, and perhaps would not be required to sign it. What sort of a situation would result if that sort of thing became general? Were that the case, every parent would say they had a conscientious objection to signing the agreement, which would mean that it would not be worth the paper on which it was written. This method does not appear to present a solution. The whole of the evidence is against it. I hope that the House will accept the Motion and that we shall proceed to other and better means of achieving our purpose.

9.35 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Moyle (Oldbury and Halesowen)

I support the Motion moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Hayman). I was rather disappointed with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I have always had a deep respect for his expert knowledge of education, but I have rarely heard a speech in which the evidence adduced was so much against the verdict, as he expressed it in the last few minutes of his speech, when he said that he was opposed to the deletion of the Clause from the Bill.

It is because of his speech that I am inspired to say one or two things upon this matter. Three hon. Members for Gloucestershire constituencies have spoken—the hon and gallant Member for Gloucestershire, South (Captain Corfield), my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Philips Price), and the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Kershaw)—and I commend them for their zeal. They all opposed the Motion on two grounds: first, that it was a very small penalty; and, secondly, that if the Clause were retained in the Bill the penalty, being small, would be imposed only on very rare occasions.

In that case, why should we be asked to approve the Clause? Why should we be troubled with a matter of this kind when every hon. Member knows that the imposition of such a penalty—whether it be £10, £20 or £30—will not have the slightest beneficial effect in encouraging children to remain at secondary modern or grammar schools until their last year?

I can tell the hon. Member for Stroud what it will do in his constituency and many others. The more honest the parents, the more the deterrent will operate against secondary education. I can imagine some agricultural worker and his wife looking at the terms of the school-life agreement and the wife saying to her husband, "This son of ours is keen to go to the grammar school, but suppose he slips up? Suppose his enthusiasm for grammar school education declines? Can we afford, in all honesty, to face the prospect of a penalty of £10?" I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne had the better of the argument when he said that the Clause would make Gloucestershire County Council complainant, prosecutor, judge and jury all in one. Of course, it would, because all the county court judge would be called upon to do would be to enforce the law, and the only measure of liberty he would have would be in regard to the terms under which the penalty was to be imposed.

I am very glad that the Central Advisory Council for Education has strongly opposed this principle, because it is an unreasonable condition of entry into a secondary modern or grammar school. Further, what is to be the limit if we accept the principle underlying the Clause? Should we penalise undergraduates who fail to complete their full course at a university? Are we to suggest to local government authorities that nurses who do not carry out the whole of their training courses, and whose training is at public expense, should have the principle applied to them? If they break their agreements because of getting married, or through some other condition which causes them to leave the service, are they to be penalised to the extent of £10, £20 or £30? Is it suggested that civil servants who break down in process of their training should be subject to a penalty?

If we are not suggesting that these things should happen, why inflict such a penalty upon a child? Not a single statement was made by any of the hon. Members representing Gloucestershire constituencies about any constructive proposal which the county education committee has put into operation with a view to improving the percentage of those who remain at grammar schools until they are 16 or over.

I was gratified when my right hon. Friend spoke about parity of esteem, but to get parity of esteem there must be no distinction in principle between a secondary modern and a grammar school. This proposal hives off the secondary modern from the grammar school and makes the differential even greater. I can see the time coming when we shall have a normal five-year course in the secondary modern school and the grammar school, with interchange of scholars between one school and the other. What is to happen if a Clause like this exists? Is it to apply to the grammar school and not to the secondary modern school?

This is a silly proposition and has no merit in it at all. It seems to have a musty ring about it, because this is the kind of penalty that some people like to impose upon someone else. The effect of it in the countryside, if it is adopted in Gloucestershire, will be to reduce the number of children of agricultural workers who go through grammar school to the university.

9.42 p.m.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

I am opposed to the Gloucestershire County Council having this power, on two grounds, which can be stated quite simply The former Minister of Education, the right hon. Lady the Member for Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh), was greatly troubled about this problem of early leavers, so she submitted the matter for consideration to a body of expert educationists, the Central Advisory Council for Education, which included three professors and a large number of doctors in the field of education and not of medicine. They produced a long Report after giving the greatest care and attention to the problem. I notice that it cost the nation quite a large sum of money to prepare the Report.

It was a recommendation of that Council that this special power should not be given except in very exceptional circumstances. It was incumbent upon those representing Gloucestershire who have spoken here on behalf of the county council to show to this House that we ought to ignore the Report in the case of Gloucestershire because in Gloucestershire there were special circumstances. No Member has shown any special circumstance of any kind to exist in Gloucester- shire, and no argument has been put forward that could not have been put forward generally on behalf of every authority from one end of the country to the other. It was that general proposition that this expert body rejected.

If there was a case, if Gloucestershire had very special problems—if, for example, the percentage of leavers was very high there as compared with other parts of the country—and if hon. Members from Gloucestershire had shown that they had followed carefully every recommendation made by the Council, such as those in regard to improving the intelligence of the continuation or secondary scholars, and that nothing remained for them to do but to come to this House and ask for this permission, I am sure that the House would have given it.

I have listened to most of the debate because I wanted to make up my mind, having read the Report, whether there was any special circumstance relating to Gloucestershire County Council. I have heard none, and therefore I think that the House should support the excellent recommendation, which was supported by the Parliamentary Secretary who, if I heard him aright said, "The Minister stands by this Report." The Minister thinks that the recommendation of this Council should be followed unless there are very special circumstances, which Gloucestershire should prove. We have heard of no special circumstances. Therefore, if I can read the Minister's mind, I say that he would not approve of this Clause in this case because no special circumstances have been proved.

My other argument is based on a personal experience. I was a manager of a school in a very poor neighbourhood in Liverpool. We had not many bright children but occasionally we had a product of genius, and I remember one such product who really was quite an amazing child. He was the son of a dock labourer who said that he could not afford to keep the child at school until the age of 16 or 17, and that he must go to work. Three of us tried to persuade him.

We spent a very long time and finally, after three visits, we persuaded the man to allow his child to go to the grammar school in Liverpool. If, in addition to trying to persuade him to take that course we had had to tell him, "If you do not sign on the dotted line and keep your child at school for the full four years you will have to pay a penalty of £10,"I am sure that our work would have been wasted and that that child would have been deprived of his education.

We are legislating, not for the conscientious parents, but for the others. The conscientious parent, as we know, will always sacrifice himself for his child—otherwise I doubt whether many hon. Members would be present here. Though our parents may have been the poorest of the poor, there are very few among us who have been deprived of a secondary education because we were not allowed by our parents to stay at school for four years of secondary education.

If an expert body recognises that such a Clause as this should not be included except in very special circumstances, and unless we are legislating for very special circumstances in connection with particular children of parents who do not wish their children to have the advantages offered, I do implore the House not to give the Gloucestershire County Council a power which other education authorities manage quite well without.

9.46 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

Some years ago my daughter came ninety-fourth in the entrance examination for ninety-three places at a secondary school, and, therefore, did not gain entrance. Subsequently, some of the children who beat her in the list did not complete the course. Their parents took the children away so that they might earn money on a trading estate. It might well have happened that my child would have been permanently denied the benefit of a grammar school education and eventually going to college.

It was just a matter of good fortune that twelve months after this group had started at that school illness caused the withdrawal of a child whose place my daughter secured. My child completed the course and went on to college, but it might well have been that by the action of a parent who thought more of what a child could earn than of its education my child and the children of others would have been excluded from grammar school training.

The consequence is that I will do anything in reason to deter parents from taking their children from secondary schools before completing the course. I believe that we should take every reasonable positive step, and this penalty brings home forcibly to parents that when they sign on the dotted line it is a serious matter. I believe that we ought to give