HC Deb 23 July 1957 vol 574 cc356-77

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I beg to move. That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Independent Schools Registration Regulations, 1957 (S.I., 1957, No. 929), dated 28th May, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 3rd June, he annulled. If it is convenient, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, perhaps we might be allowed to debate this Prayer concurrently with the next one, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison): That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Registration of Independent Schools (Scotland)Regulations, 1957 (S.I., 1957, No. 1058), dated 19th June, 1957, a copy of which was laid before this House on 27th June, be annulled.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I think that would be for the convenience of the House.

Mr. Stewart

I should say straight away that we do not move these Prayers in any spirit of hostility to the object of the Regulations, but because the reform which they introduce, for which we on this side of the House have pressed a long time, is too important to be passed over in silence. As I understand the position, these Statutory Instruments, taken together with another which the Minister subsequently issued, will apply to all those independent schools which are not at present recognised by the Ministry of Education as efficient, the recognised schools being excluded from the operation of the Regulations by the Instrument which the Minister has subsequently issued.

The schools which are unrecognised, therefore, by virtue of these Regulations will first become provisionally registered. The first question I should like to address to the Minister is whether, when an unrecognised school fills in the form which it is required by these Regulations to complete, provisional registration will be given to it automatically merely as a result of providing the information asked for in these Regulations or will the Minister reserve to himself the right, if at first blush it appears from the information provided that the school is obviously unsuitable, to refuse even provisional registration?

It may be, for example, that he might discover an independent school with children covering a considerable age range and with no member of the staff who had anything which could be regarded as proper qualifications for teaching. If that happened, would provisional registration still be given?

If we move on from the stage of provisional registration, once the schools are provisionally registered it is presumably the Ministry's intention to carry out, over a fairly long period, inspection of them and in the light of that inspection to decide whether the provisional registration can be confirmed it and if it is confirmed they will become registered schools. The next questions which I would put to the hon. Member, therefore, are: what estimate has he made of the size of the inspectorate which will be required if these Regulations are to be put into force and can he give us even an approximate date by which the bulk of the schools concerned in these Regulations will either have been registered or will have been told that their provisional registration cannot be confirmed?

In a letter issued by the Ministry to independent schools, the Minister implies that at present he can give no such date. It is now a few weeks since he sent out that letter, and I wonder whether he can be a little more precise or at least can say that he is satisfied that the size of his inspectorate is such that these Regulations will be more than a piece of paper and will result in the genuine inspection and the enforcing of proper standards in private independent schools.

I turn, next, to the information required in the Regulations. It is very brief, but perhaps that is not unreasonable, since in the first instance only provisional registration is in question. The form asks the name and the address of the proprietor or responsible body of the school, the number and ages of the pupils and the particulars, including educational qualifications, of the staff. I think the hon. Member will agree that that is the bare minimum for which one could ask.

There are two further points on which I should like to press the Minister. Is it not important quite early in the process of inspection and registration to obtain particulars, which are not asked for in this form, about the premises? In the letter which has been sent to independent schools special stress has been laid on fire precautions in the premises being such that there is no danger of casualty by fire, but it may well he found that premises could be satisfactory in that respect and yet could be profoundly unsuitable for carrying on the work of a school. Since the Minister has decided in his Regulations not to ask for any particulars about the premises, could he tell us what steps will be taken to see that these schools not only have a proper staff but are carrying on their work in premises in which it can reasonably be carried on?

For example, as I think will be found to be the case, a number of these schools have pupils of a fairly wide age range. Are there sufficient rooms in the building to enable those children to be taught in a number of classes large enough to be appropriate to the age range of the pupils in the school?

The hon. Gentleman may feel that the other question which I would ask him on this point is a little outside his province. Has he considered what requirements he ought to make with regard to the curriculum of the schools? In English education, it is normally assumed that the curriculum of schools is not the Minister's province but is a matter for the teaching profession and, to a certain extent, for the local education authority—although we all know that the people who have the largest say in it are the universities which set the examinations.

These schools have no local authority that is in any way responsible for them. Some of the functions that would normally be performed by a local authority will, presumably, have to be performed direct by the Minister, and I feel that he should take some steps to satisfy himself, when we are told, for example, that a school has a number of pupils in the higher age range, that the curriculum provided is of a sufficient variety to meet their needs.

Proceeding now to the point in time when the Minister will have carried out the inspection of a great many schools and will be considering whether or not to confirm provisional registrations, I would ask him what sort of standards he has in mind. We are very much in the dark over this. These schools, I believe, range from the very good to the very bad indeed. There will be wide range of efficiency and quality.

What sort of standards is he to require? If he is to require them in all cases to be as good as the schools of the local authority in the same area, I think that there are quite a number of schools whose provisional registration, he will not be able to confirm. At any rate, I think it is safe to say that he is bound to find a certain number of schools in respect of which, after inspection, he will have to say that he cannot confirm provisional registration.

This is quite a large problem. It is estimated that there are between 3,000 and 4,000 of these schools, and that they educate about 200,000 pupils. Can the Minister say whether he expects that, as a result of the possible closing down of schools which he cannot conscientiously register, any considerable burden of educating the children will be imposed on the local authorities? Is it possible for local authorities to begin now to take precautions against that possibility? I realise that that is not an easy question to answer, because we are still very much in the dark as to what the attempt to register will disclose.

Lastly, I want to refer to a matter which some time ago acquired a good deal of publicity, to which I am anxious not to give too much weight, but which should not be passed over altogether. There have, occasionally, been gross scandals in some schools in this group; of their having on their staff—or having even as their proprietors and headmasters—people totally unsuitable, both educationally and morally, to be running a school at all. Can the Minister say how he will use the procedure of registration to stamp out even the possibility of scandal of that kind?

It does not happen very often, but on the few occasions when it does happen the effect on the public mind is, quite rightly, considerable. It seems to be a curious thing that, in this country, if a person has been convicted of a felony he cannot run a public-house, but I believe that there is no legal bar to his becoming headmaster of a private school. I do not know whether the Minister is considering doing what was suggested to him some time ago and taking an opportunity to introduce legislation to deal with that. Failing that, is there any way in which this procedure of registration can be used? I must admit that I do not find that an easy question to answer.

In the letter issued to schools, special stress is laid on teachers who are unsuitable on medical grounds. We are told that the Minister excludes from teaching in local education authority schools, as unsuitable on medical grounds, those who are suffering, or have suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, epilepsy or mental disorder. The Minister requires the exclusion of such teachers from maintained schools until they can furnish proper evidence of their recovery. One hopes that a similar rule will become operative in the independent schools.

Has the Minister considered whether it would be desirable or appropriate to have any similar machinery to exclude people who, by their past criminal record, are obviously unsuitable to be schoolmasters? One is a little repelled at the idea of asking the proprietor of a school to state on a piece of paper whether or not any of his staff have been in prison before. We are all quite prepared to say "Yes" or "No" to that question when we are trying to get a licence to drive a motor car or for certain other purposes, but one feels that it might perhaps be insulting to the profession as a whole if that question were put. If the Minister takes that view, can he suggest any other way in which one could make scandals of this kind not only rarer than they are but possibly completely nonexistent?

Those are the points which it seems to me it was right to raise. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North will want to ask questions about this same problem in a Scottish setting.

10.26 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I beg to second the Motion.

I wish to ask a number of questions which I hope the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will answer. In our debate on the Education Estimates I raised this question and the Joint Under-Secretary of State, when he was winding up that debate, said that he would either write to me or perhaps we could discuss it. It seems to me that this is our chance to discuss the matter tonight.

My first question is this. Why in Scotland have we waited so long before operating the provisions of Section 109 of the Education (Scotland)Act, 1946? The Under-Secretary will now be aware, if he was not aware previously, that a decision was taken in 1951 by the then Secretary of State that we should begin to operate this provision and indeed make regulations so that this provision could operate. It is six years since 1951. During that time these independent schools in Scotland could have been registered. The Under-Secretary ought to tell us tonight why, after the Election in 1951, the Secretary of State decided not to do so.

Was it because the numbers of our schools were so great and our inspectorate so small that he felt he could not do it? I can assure him that the late Hector McNeil and I examined that point very carefully before we reached our decision and we came to the conclusion that we were ready at that time to put into operation in Scotland the provisions of Section 109.

We on this side of the House are most anxious that every child in Scotland should get the best education possible, and it may be—I put it no higher than that—that since 1951 there are certain children in independent schools in Scotland who have not been getting the best education which they ought to have had and which they might have been getting before this had the Secretary of State perhaps in November, 1951, not decided to postpone the registration of independent schools. If there were no shortage of inspectors, surely it is an indictment on the Secretary of State that because of the much greater number of these schools in England, the Ministry of Education was unable to operate Section 109 and we in Scotland have had to wait until the Ministry of Education was ready to do this work in England.

Will the Under-Secretary tell us how many of these schools he estimates there are in Scotland, and how long it will take his inspectorate to inspect them? I understand from Section 109 of the Act that registration, in the first instance, is provisional, and I should, therefore, like to have it stated as clearly as possible tonight how long it will take the inspectorate to examine these schools in Scotland.

It is provided in the Regulations that the proprietor of a school must make application. Is the Department of Education in Scotland in a position to know of every single independent school in the country? If it is, then the question I am about to ask need not be answered; but if we do not know of the existence of every such school in Scotland, then how shall we be sure that they will come under the provisions of the Regulations? In Section 109, it is provided that, six months after the coming into force of the Regulations, there shall be a penalty, on any proprietor who does not make application but there may be small schools about which nothing is known, and I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell us whether the Department of Education has information about every independent school in Scotland.

In connection with the decision to make registration final, that is, that the schools should be accepted, my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart)has asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education a number of questions, and I want to ask some others. First, will there have to be, in these independent schools, the same standard of accommodation for pupils? Will there be, for instance, the same standard maintained in the provision of laboratories for science subjects? Will there be the same standard of sanitary arrangements, which are of the greatest importance? Will it be expected and, indeed, demanded of these schools, before final registration, that the class rooms at least conform to what is expected in schools of local education authorities?

There is another very important matter which ought to be taken into account most seriously when a decision is being made as to whether or not registration will be accepted as final, namely, the standard of education provided in the schools. If the inspectorate in Scotland finds that the standard of education is lower than that demanded of the schools run by our local education authorities, what will be the attitude of the Secretary of State? Will he give any school falling short in that way an opportunity to bring itself up to the level expected of a local education authority school? Will he, for instance, give it a certain time within which to do so, and, after that, if the proprietors have failed to do it, will he then make a decision that the school cannot be registered and will have to go out of existence?

What will be the attitude of the inspectorate on the content of education, apart from the standard? Will the inspectorate apply to these schools the same values as were applied to the schools of local education authorities? I am not asking that there should be rigidity of content in education. Very often, the best type of independent school carries out experiments in education. I am a great believer in carrying out experiments in education, but in doing that one must be very careful that the experiments are worth while and that the children do not suffer. That is why tonight I want a specific answer, from whichever Minister replies, on the attitude that the inspectorate will take concerning the content of education in these schools.

I felt, as did my former right hon. Friend the late Hector McNeil, that it was of the greatest importance that the Department of Education should safeguard the educational interests of every child in Scotland, whether in a local education authority or an independent school. These Regulations are belated. I am glad that finally they have been produced by the Secretary of State, and I hope that we will be able to have an answer to these questions.

10.36 p.m.

Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

I have listened with great interest to the two speeches which have been made from the Opposition Front Bench. I have an interest in two independent schools and some of the points made by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart)and by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison)have spurred me to say one or two things which I had not intended to say.

The first thing I should like to make quite clear is that I should imagine that most independent schools, by their very nature, are anxious to give the best education they can for the children that come to their schools. It is wrong to start from the assumption that because there may well be in existence one or two schools, or even a number of schools, which might by anybody's standard be classified as subnormal, every independent school is not worthy of being allowed to continue as such.

I should first like to make that general defence of independent schools, because if the process of registration of the schools is effectively carried out, it might, judging by some of the points made by the hon. Member for Fulham, mark out those schools which everyone is anxious should not continue to bring a bad reflection on the whole of the educational system, whether private or local authority.

The two hon. Members opposite have referred in particular to the premises and the curricula of independent schools and they have spoken also of teaching. One of the greatest difficulties facing independent schools is how to get teachers of the highest standard. The reason is partly that a large number of the schools are boarding establishments, and when there are so many jobs available which do not entail the care of children after teaching hours it is not unnatural that qualified teachers should seek employment in those schools rather more readily than in schools of the boarding type in which this extra work is required.

The question of premises raises an important point. I do not know what my hon. Friend will say in reply—or, indeed, which of my two hon. Friends will reply—but I strongly disagree with what the hon. Members opposite have been hinting at. It is that the standard of premises of all independent schools, registered or otherwise, should be judged entirely by the standard of local authority schools. The standard obtained by local authority schools is extremely high. They provide magnificent class rooms, magnificent physical training facilities, play rooms, dining rooms, assembly halls, and playgrounds more often than not, and other sporting facilities such as the average private school can never compete with.

The local authority has a fairly limitless purse on which to draw in order to assist in the financing of its establishments. I think it is first-class that the local authorities should do this and I must admit that I am extremely envious of the sort of schools which they can produce. But I would urge my hon. Friend net to take the standard of local authority schools as the sole standard by which all educational establishments should be judged, because by no means the best education comes out of the finest building.

Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)

Surely the children at these independent schools are free to go to local authority schools.

Mr. Eden

I quite accept that point. My point was not whether the children were free to go here or there. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the local authorities are already hard put to it to meet the educational requirements of all the children, quite apart from placing extra burdens upon them.

On the question of the premises, I would urge my hon. Friend to bear in mind the fact that great stretches of magnificent glass windows, parquet flooring and magnificent halls, eminently worth while though they are for those who can afford them, are not necessarily the most valuable standards by which to judge the quality of the education that independent schools can give.

This naturally brings me to the subject of the curriculum, the standard of education given. This is a subject which I believe could be debated at considerable length. What is meant by education? Who is to judge whether or not a child has received education? Is some Ministerial official, who may or may not have a wide experience in these matters, to be the sole arbiter of whether or not a child has received adequate education? No mention was made by hon. Members Opposite of the parents' choice in these matters. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart)intervened a few moments ago to point out that children can move from one school to another if they so wish, but it is surely due to the parents' choice rather than that of the children that children are sent to independent schools.

Parents must obviously choose to send their children to an independent school for a number of reasons. I should like to think that the most important of those reasons was the standard of education with which the independent school will provide the child. Therefore, I would urge hon. Members opposite when they are obviously anxious to protect the interests of the children to recognise the fact that parents have a responsibility in this respect and that they are exercising that responsibility by paying for their children's education.

Finally, I would urge upon my hon. Friend, whilst he is anxious as we all are to make this registration scheme work effectively, to do nothing which would in any way interfere with the main strength of the schools to which we are referring, namely, their independence. If we once try to make them an extension of the State system or a poor relation of the local authority's fine educational services we shall destroy a very valuable part of the educational services in the country.

Let there be no mistake about it. Independent schools, though they have not the direct authority of the State behind them, do provide valuable services. I believe that most valuable service in education is being provided by them for the very reason that they are independent.

10.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

I would echo the words of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart), that the subject we are discussing tonight is too important to pass over in silence. I therefore hope that the House will forgive me if I reply to the debate at slightly greater length than is usual for responses to Motions of this kind.

I shall also try to answer what the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison)said. If I do not satisfactorily answer her, the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will enter the debate himself, but I thought it might, perhaps, be convenient if I replied to both the speeches which have been made from the Opposition Front Bench.

I begin with the background to these Regulations. The possibility of securing that children attending independent schools should receive adequate education under suitable conditions was fully considered by the Departmental Committee on Private Schools which was appointed as long ago as 1930. None of that Committee's recommendations could be put into effect before the war, but similar provisions were written into Part III of the 1944 Act; but the immediate post-war situation was not favourable to the operation of Part III.

In 1949, the late Mr. George Tomlinson stated, in Circular 196, that it would not be possible to bring Part III into operation until the building position and the supply of teachers had improved sufficiently for it to be possible for schools to remedy within the period of time which would have to be specified, under Section 71 of the 1944 Act, whatever shortcomings in premises and staffing might be found. By 1954, the building position and the supply of teachers were both considerably better and in July, 1954, my right hon. Friend the Member for Moss Side (Dame Florence Horsbrugh)announced the intention of the Government to bring Part III into force in 1957.

The immediate reason for making this announcement in 1954 was the wave of public uneasiness at that time about unsuitable teachers, in particular, morally unsuitable teachers, who were being found in independent schools. I shall have a word to say about teachers at the end of my remarks.

Much has already been done to prepare for the introduction of Part III and under the Ministry's Circular 196 practically every known independent school has received at least one visit from one of Her Majesty's Inspectors. In many cases a formal report has followed the visit. In recent months we have made every effort at the Ministry to acquaint proprietors with the measure of their responsibility and the possible consequences to their schools when Part III comes into operation. A lengthy explanatory memorandum was sent to all proprietors in March last year. Copies of the Independent Schools Registration Regulations were sent them about a week ago. On 4th July they were sent a letter from which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham quoted, with a form of application inviting them to apply to register their schools as soon as possible after 30th September next. So we have done our best to prepare for bringing Part III of the Act into force.

Miss Herbison

The hon. Gentleman has told us what has been done in England and Wales.

Sir E. Boyle

I shall deal with Scotland, too. I shall certainly deal with the steps taken after 1951. I have a note of that.

The Act imposes the duty on the Registrar of Independent Schools to register any independent school of which the proprietor makes application for the purpose in the prescribed manner and furnishes the prescribed particulars.

But in Section 70 of the Education Act, 1944, there is this proviso: the registration of any school shall be provisional only until the Minister, after the school has been inspected on his behalf under the provisions a Part IV of this Act, gives notice to the proprietor that the registration is final. Furthermore, Section 70 (3)makes it an offence to do any act calculated to lead to the belief that the school is a registered school while it is only provisionally registered.

Provisional registration follows automatically on sending in a form and there is no procedure for a sort of prima facie disqualification of the school. But there are very strong penalties in the Act attached to any attempt to suggest that a provisionally registered school is in any way formally registered. The bite in Part III will come at a later stage when, after the school has been inspected on his behalf, my noble Friend decides either to confirm registration or to serve notice of complaint on the proprietor that he finds the school objectionable.

He can do that on any of the following grounds—

  1. "(a)that the school premises or any parts thereof are unsuitable for a school;
  2. (b)that the accommodation provided at the school premises is inadequate or unsuitable having regard to the number, ages, and sex of the pupils attending the school;
  3. (c)that efficient and suitable instruction is not being provided…
  4. 369
  5. (d)that the proprietor of the school or any teacher employed therein is not a proper person to be the proprietor of an independent school or to be a teacher in any school, as the case may be."
The consequences which may flow from the Minister's decision that a school is objectionable may be serious indeed. We must face that. The consequences could even mean the loss of the proprietor's livelihood.

In certain circumstances, I think that the House would agree that this could well be just, but it ought not to happen simply because of an inference drawn from particulars supplied on the form of application for registration. Until the Minister has served a formal notice of complaint, the Act does not provide for the proprietor to exercise his right of appeal to the Independent Schools Tribunal; but he will have that right of appeal, and my noble Friend's opinion is that that right should be at all times thoroughly safeguarded.

We, therefore, confine the particulars asked for in the application for registration mainly to those which it is sensible for Her Majesty's inspectors to have before any one of them visits a school on the Minister's behalf. The particulars are the address of the school, the names of those responsible for it and the numbers and ages of the children at the school. The only other particulars asked for are in respect of the teaching staffs. We want these particulars so that the Ministry can check the names against its list of teachers already declared by the Ministry to be unsuitable on grounds of misconduct. One of my less agreeable duties at the Ministry is to examine these cases of misconduct on behalf of my noble Friend. Whether a teacher is a qualified teacher, in the sense of being competent at his job, obviously cannot be deduced from information supplied on a form. This can be judged only by someone who sees the teacher at work.

I come next to the question of the length of the registration process, and I will say a few words about the inspectorate. Because nearly every known independent school has already been inspected under the terms of Circular 196, the Department has a pretty good idea of what the task before it is likely to be. I will give figures for Scotland separately in a few moments. In England and Wales there are about 4,700 independent schools. About 1,400 of these are already recognised by my noble Friend as efficient under Rules 16. His Department has full information about them. Consequently, they have been exempted from the process of registration and will be deemed to be already registered. Since the Minister has already expressed his positive satisfaction with these schools, it is highly unlikely that they could possibly cause him to serve any notice of complaint.

Our estimate is that at least 90 per cent. of the remaining 3,300 or so independent schools are thought to be sufficiently good in the standard of their premises, accommodation and teaching for my noble Friend not to have any reason to find them objectionable. Indeed, my noble Friend hopes that many of them will seek recognition under Rules 16 so that they may receive the mark of his positive satisfaction.

That leaves a residue of about 200 schools whose circumstances will require fairly lengthy consideration. It is our view that some, though by no means all, of these 200 schools may give rise to a cause of complaint.

Mr. Peart

Can the hon. Gentleman be more precise? What is the reason for the estimate of 90 per cent.? What is the source of the information? Is it previous reports?

Sir E. Boyle

It is reports that we already have. Obviously, the figures cannot be precise. This is the estimate that we make in the light of the reports that we have already had from inspectors who have been inspecting schools under the terms of Circular 196. It will take some time to deal with these cases, but we believe that the major process of registration will be finished by the summer of next year. In Scotland we think it will be finished by the end of March next.

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

Can the Parliamentary Secretary give some idea of the general type of the 200 schools which he feels are unsatisfactory?

Sir E. Boyle

No, Sir. That would be asking too much. It would not be fair to the schools themselves to indulge in any generalisations. I want to be cautious about this. The most I am prepared to say tonight is that some of the residue of 200 schools, though by no means all, may turn out to be unsatisfactory and my noble Friend may have to serve a notice of complaint; but any further generalisations about the schools would be unfair.

I want now to say a word about the inspectorate, about which the hon. Member for Fulham asked me. The introduction of Part III will be by no means the only source of additional responsibility for inspectors in the near future. For example, in connection with the growth of technical education and in connection with such matters as the change-over to a three-year course in training colleges, the inspectorate will have a very important contribution to make.

The point I want to make is that I believe growth in responsibility has been shown by both teachers and schools since the war and, as a result the real value and importance of the inspectorate lies more and more in its advisory functions. It needs these days to give less time to some of its more routine duties, particularly formal visits leading to a full inspection report, and it has become clear that an appreciable saving in manpower in the inspectorate can be made and that we can adjust its duties to new developments without impairing its advisory value. Under the new organisation of the inspectorate I have every hope that that will prove to be so more and more in years to come.

The decision has, therefore, been taken to carry out inspections under Part III without actually recruiting additional inspectors for the purpose. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have taken very considerable thought before making that decision. I would remind the House that the inspections will admittedly entail a good deal of consequential work, but the most exacting part of the operation will be compressed mainly into the relatively short period during which the register is being compiled. This work, in its main bulk, will be of a once-for-all kind.

I have looked into this carefully in the light of the letter which the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to send me and I believe that the inspectors will be able to take this extra work in their stride by giving it reasonable priority during this period without neglecting other important sides of their work. Many of the schools to be inspected under Part III are already known to the inspectors. The most difficult cases will be dealt with by a small team which has been making a special study of Part Ill from the inspectorate's point of view. This small section will give a large part of its time to the work during next year, and I do not think the weight falling on the rest of the inspectorate will prove to be unduly heavy.

I come now to the highly important question of standards and here I think it important for the House to be realistic. I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden)spoke helpfully on this matter. We cannot be too precise and too categorical in advance. After all, independent schools range very widely, from small schools catering for a dozen or so small children to fairly large boarding schools taking children throughout most of the compulsory school age range. They are housed in all kinds of premises very few of which were built specifically as schools in the first place.

It is not practicable to lay down standards and, indeed, my noble Friend is not empowered to lay down precise standards of the kind laid down in the Ministry's building regulations for maintained schools. To give an example, regulations for maintained schools require that a class room for 40 primary children should have a minimum area of 520 square feet, that is to say 13 square feet per child. When one is building a new school that is a perfectly sensible and proper requirement, but if we tried to apply similar standards to a class of children meeting in the drawing room of a large Victorian house, it would not make very much sense.

One has to know the shape of the room, the size and disposition of the windows, the degree of ventilation and height, and so on. All our old schools have rooms which would be open to be condemned by modern standards. I am thinking of some of the older schools in the country and I cannot believe that Lower School at Eton College would be regarded as a particularly enlightened school room by modern standards, although I think it would be a great pity to suggest that no children should be taught there. I attribute my own in different eyesight to having studied the Greek Testament for School Certificate in a badly lighted room.

One has to know whether the child is using a sensible desk or working at furniture not really resigned for school use. Similar considerations apply to other aspects of the school and I put it to the House that there is no question at all of my noble Friend applying, as it were, an unfair standard of leniency to independent schools. If an independent school is to be complained about, it will not be because it has failed to meet one particular standard in one detailed aspect, but because taking into account the premises, the accommodation and the teaching staff and what they are doing, it has manifestly failed to provide adequate or suitable instruction.

There again, judgment can be formed only on the spot on the merits of each individual case. My noble Friend will be guided in his reports by inspectors specially chosen for their knowledge of independent schools. I would make the point that in no case will the decision to serve a notice rest on the advice of one single inspector. Ultimately, of course, standards will emerge from the decisions of the independent schools tribunals on cases brought before them. I agree that the curriculum is important; for example, how many subjects a master has to teach and whether certain subjects are available. But I think it would be wrong for the House to be categorical on the matter in advance.

My noble Friend hopes that most schools will welcome constructive criticism from the inspectorate and carry out essential improvements without there being any need to raise a formal notice of complaint. It is in the highest degree unlikely that so many schools will be closed that the children displaced will throw a noticeably heavy burden on the local education authorities. In fact, I think it possible that the Minister will need to seek the complete closure of only quite a small number of schools and there is every reason to think that local education authorities will be able to give such small degree of help as may be needed.

Before I deal with Scotland, I want to say a word about teachers. I am glad that the hon. Member for Fulham said that he was keen to put this in due proportion. Before the introduction of Part III was announced there was, of course, a danger that teachers declared unsuitable for service in maintained and grant-aided schools would increasingly try to find refuge in the independent schools. Some unsavoury cases have come to light. In the last three years, however, we have carried out a thorough checking process on a voluntary basis. Practically every known independent school has sent in at least one complete return of its teaching staff and nearly all have sent in three returns, and, as expected, the results have shown that most schools are above criticism in respect of unsuitable teachers.

In the 1954–55 check, 31 teachers were found whose names were on the Ministry's list of unsuitable teachers, and only in a very few cases was it necessary to exert any pressure at all to get the proprietor to take appropriate action. Nine more teachers of this kind were found in 1955–56 and another eight in 1956–57. We thought very hard about this problem, because, as my hon. Friend said, one or two bad cases give a wholly disproportionate picture to the country, but I believe that the figures which I have given reveal that the problem is down to insignificant proportions.

After September of this year, when Part III comes into force, we shall have the necessary legal power, subject to their right of appeal to the tribunal, to deal with both unsuitable teachers and unsuitable proprietors. I think it is important to realise, however, that no device for dealing with them can produce absolutely 100 per cent. safety, if only because there will always be the problem of the person whose first act of misconduct occurs when he is a teacher or a proprietor.

Under the Regulations, a proprietor will be required each January to furnish details of changes, and in this way we shall he able to make an annual check on the entry of undesirable teachers into the independent schools. I do not think that it would be reasonable or practicable to try to undertake more than this. Perhaps it is worth remembering that any change in proprietorship, which might well be a source of greater danger to the pupils and parents, will have to be notified at once.

I come, finally, to Scotland. I thought that it might be convenient for the House if I replied to Scottish questions, too, but my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will fill in any gaps, if it seems that there are some. There is not very much difference in effect between the Scottish registration Regulations and the English Regulations. In the form of application for registration the Scots are asking for slightly more detail. For example, they wish to know whether any part of the premises is situated away from the main part, whereas England would expect the inspector to find that out for himself.

Again, the Scots wish to know the exact legal status of the governing body where the proprietor is an incorporated or an unincorporated body. Again, they also wish to know the full names and addresses of the members directly responsible for the management of the school. There is no great significance in this, but it may be of satisfaction to you, Mr. Speaker, to know that the Scots are dealing in slightly greater detail than the English with these matters, and perhaps as they are dealing with only 160 schools as compared with 3,300, they can reasonably handle rather more detail than can we in England and Wales.

It is, of course, true that pressure for the introduction of Part V of the Education (Scotland)Act, 1946, began earlier than the corresponding pressure for the introduction of Part III of the 1944 Act, and some of the circumstances were slightly different. As the hon. Lady said, at a Press Conference in October, 1951 the late Mr. Hector McNeil announced his intention of bringing Part V of the Act into operation. On the other hand, whenever there is an Election in the offing a good deal of legislation is talked about. There was, however, a particular reason why at that time Mr. McNeil should have made that statement, because there had recently been reports about an independent school in Glasgow—I will not give its name—which was conducted in a private house and in which the sanitary arrangements were very inadequate and the only teachers were two unmarried sisters, both of them over seventy.

The hon. Lady, the Member for Lanarkshire, North and Mr. McNeil both took a serious view of this, but in the months immediately following the announcement visits of inspection showed that these independent schools—there were between 10 and 20 of them which had had their attention drawn to shortcomings in premises or staffing—were already taking steps to make these good, as far as they could at the time. In those circumstances, and in view of the difficulty at that time of securing labour and materials for improvements to buildings, my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. J. Stuart)decided that any further improvements required should continue to be secured by administrative action.

I think it is only fair to remember that 1951 was a time when there were a good many shortages of raw materials, when building licences were down to an extremely low figure and when it was not very easy to make an advance. Looking back, I think that would have been the height of the economic crisis in 1951, and it would have been difficult to bring Part V of the Act into operation.

Miss Herbison

The hon. Gentleman has told us that there were only 160 of these schools in Scotland, and then he gave us a figure of about 10 which were pretty well below standard. I am sorry, but he has not yet given me any adequate reason why action was not taken in Scotland.

Sir E. Boyle

I did go on to say that the small number of schools concerned which had their attention drawn to these shortcomings were already taking such steps as they could to get matters put right. Furthermore, later inspections have indicated that this improvement has been maintained and, in fact, the very unsatisfactory school in Glasgow did itself close of its own accord.

Some years later, in 1954, when there was public concern about the employment of unsuitable persons as teachers in independent schools, both the Scots and the English as a precautionary measure asked all independent schools to furnish particulars regularly of persons employed on their staff. The schools have readily agreed to do this and indeed have gone on regularly doing so every year.

I am sorry to have detained the House so long on these Regulations. I would end by saying that I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West on the importance of independent schools remaining independent. There is no question at all here on the one hand of the Minister trying to interfere in such a way as to upset the independence of these schools. On the other hand, it seems equally clear to me that in our modern society we have got to see that unsatisfactory independent schools do not continue.

If I can end on a personal note, I always remember when I was young, a visitor from abroad asking my father what he thought was the oddest British institution, and my father said that he thought the oddest institution was the fact that my father or I could go to the hon. Lady if we so wished and say "I think we will start a school" and nobody at that time would take the slightest notice or wish to inquire at all. I think it is quite right that that state of affairs should no longer continue.

We should have registration under Part III of the Act and my noble Friend should be satisfied that these schools are functioning in a proper way. We have got to find the happy medium on the one hand between excessive fussiness about administrative detail, between trying to be too categorical where we cannot be categorical, and on the other hand letting matters slide. I have no doubt that if we administer these Regulations properly we can do that.

Mr. M. Stewart

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his full and interesting reply and beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Does the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison)wish to move the second Motion on the Order Paper?

Miss Herbison

No, thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.