HC Deb 21 April 1964 vol 693 cc1103-10

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide that any proposal by a local education authority to change the status or nature of a secondary school shall require the approval of the Minister of Education. I trust that hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept the fact that I introduce this Motion in no dogmatic mood. Indeed, this is the sort of subject matter about which dogmatic assertions are to be avoided. There is, I feel, a lot of common ground between both sides of the House. At the same time, there are doubtless, differences of emphasis. Probably few of us, in any party, would treat the tripartite division between grammar, technical and modern secondary schools as sacrosanct,

Hardly any of us I imagine, would cling to the principle of selection at 11-plus or selection at any other particular age in all cases, and in all circumstances. On both sides of the House, there is, I feel confident, a majority of hon. Members who wish to see ample and fruitful experiments in the field of secondary education. Perhaps the fully comprehensive school has appeared to be the most encouraging experiment in the last decade or so, and if suitable buildings were available in much greater numbers it might be possible to press ahead with schools of this kind at a greater rate. But for a considerable time, at any rate, the physical limitations and resources and the lack of appropriate buildings must limit this kind of experiment. Therefore, as the House is aware, local education authorities have evolved or are contemplating a variety of other experiments, of which the so-called Leicester plan is best known.

All sorts of schemes are now being mooted or contemplated in places as far apart as Bradford, Cardiff and Liverpool. Some of these appear to be soundly conceived; others seem to be slightly bizarre. Some are obviously designed to create a kind of comprehensive system in separate buildings. Others so change the ages of intake, or limit the ages for actual secondary education, as to make some experienced educationists doubt whether they can be recon- ciled with the provisions of a truly good secondary school career.

Some of the schemes now planned must involve, in effect, the destruction of grammar schools and other secondary schools of long-established merit. I do not wish to exaggerate unfairly the merit of some of our best grammar schools. I can, however, speak with some personal knowledge of some of those in South Wales. The Cardiff Boys' High School, the Cardiff Girls' High School, the other Cardiff high schools, the Barry Grammar School, in my constituency, the Whet-church (Glamorgan) Grammar School, and many others, have astonishing records of achievement. Annually, their pupils gain a surprising number of scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge as well as to other universities.

Speaking of the United Kingdom as a whole, I need hardly remind hon. Members today of the large number of scientists, technologists and industrialists who are trained in our grammar schools. Therefore, I respectfully submit that in our determination to explore the value of new methods, we should not he disposed to destroy the identity, and the contribution, of grammar schools or other secondary schools of established quality. As far as possible, too, we should heed the importance attached in the Education Act, 1944, to the principle of parental preference. Again, I do not wish to exaggerate; but, certainly, some of the new schemes now contemplated appear to pay little or no heed to the wishes or desires of the parents of the children to be affected.

Hon. Members may ask, quite pertinently, whether I wish to destroy all the initiative of local education authorities. That is not my desire. But the schemes now contemplated are so diverse, the consequences of change so great, that I feel that we should provide some ultimate safeguard beyond those now existing.

As the House is aware, the personal power of the Minister of Education to intervene is very small; if, indeed, it is not to be described as negligible. By Clause 13(1) of the 1944 Act (1) Where a local education authority intend—

  1. (a) to establish a new secondary school;
  2. (b) to maintain as a county school any school which at the time is not such a school; or
  3. 1105
  4. (c) to cease to maintain any county school, or, save as provided by the next following section of this Act, any voluntary school:
they shall submit proposals for that purpose to the Minister. The rest of Clause 13 of the 1944 Act prescribes the powers of persons to submit objections to the Minister, and the powers of the Minister to modify or approve the proposals. In addition, Section 68 of the 1944 Act prescribes, in effect, certain powers of the Minister of Education to intervene in what he deems to be unreasonable exercise of functions in such cases.

These, I submit, are most valuable powers and safeguards. They have not destroyed or curtailed the initiative of local education authorities in the setting up of new schools, or the other special cases for which the powers apply. But these valuable safeguards do not obtain, and do not extend, to the kind of readjustments and alterations to which I have referred.

At present, the Minister of Education does not possess similar powers where proposals are put forward which involve a change in the status or nature of any existing secondary school. The powers of persons affected, parents, etc., to submit objections do not extend to these cases. All that my proposed Bill would seek to do, in brief, is to modify and change in one small particular the Act of 1944 and to add this sort of case to the expressly stated cases in Section 13 of the Act. In those circumstances, I hope that the House will agree to give me leave to bring in the Bill.

3.56 p.m.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I oppose the Motion. It is ironic that the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower), a member of the party which constantly tells us that we are wrong, because, so it is said, we believe that the man in Whitehall knows best, should ask leave to introduce a Bill which would give far more responsibility to the Minister and take responsibility away from the local authorities. This is one illogicality in the hon. Gentleman's argument.

It is true that many local education authorities today are anxious to experiment. The Minister of State for Education and Science, who is responsible for schools, has constantly said that he believes that there should be freedom for experiment in education. The hon. Gentleman, on the other hand, is urging the opposite If a local authority has spent a great deal of time and trouble working out exactly what should be done in an experiment in education, perhaps spending two or three years on preparing the scheme, all its efforts, according to the hon. Gentleman, should depend upon the good will of the Minister or upon the influence of pressures which can be brought upon him to deny or give permission for the scheme to be put into effect.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about parental preferences. Pressures are brought to bear on parents by some of the heads of grammar schools where experiments are taking place. In my own local authority area, a circular has been sent by the head of a grammar school to all the parents of children in the school asking them to vote against the proposal; of the local authority to have new experiments in education in Stoke-on-Treat. This is the kind of pressure which we should be watching. Full consideration should be paid to parental preferences, of course, as provided by the 1944 Act, but we should be trying to prevent that kind of pressure.

Moreover, members of local authorities who are opposed to schemes which have been prepared sometimes, perhaps because they have children in one or other school, try themselves to bring pressure on the Minister. I have some correspondence which discloses that a Tory candidate opposing one of my hon. Friends in Stoke has himself been corresponding with the Minister and trying to influence him to prevent the experiment in Stoke-on-Trent taking place.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

It is not a crime.

Mrs. Slater

It is not a crime, but there is, at least, the matter of courtesy between members of local authorities and Members of Parliament for the area.

The whole purpose behind the hon. Gentleman's Motion is a basic opposition to experiment in education. Nowadays, when there is so much change in education, we should be going forward. If we were to wait until every local authority had adequate buildings for comprehensive schools, or we were able to build absolutely new schools, we should need to wait until after I was dead, and until after the younger generation now in the schools were dead, before experiments could take place.

It is no good being sanctimonious about it and saying that hon. Members on both sides want to see experiment in education if we are not prepared to make provision so that experiment can

take place. The country will benefit from the experiments and experience which go-ahead local authorities are prepared to undertake. They devote a lot of time and trouble to discussing and preparing their schemes in every detail, and they should be free to do so.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 152, Noes 176.

Division No. 74.] AYES [4.1 p.m.
Ashton, Sir Hubert Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.) Osborn, John (Hallam)
Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham) Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)
Balniel, Lord Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Barlow, Sir John Hastings, Stephen Page, Graham (Crosby)
Barter, John Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Partridge, E.
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Hendry, Forbes Pickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Hiley, Joseph Pitman, Sir James
Biffen, John Hill, Mrs. Eveline (Wythenshawe) Pitt, Dame Edith
Biggs-Davison, John Hirst, Geoffrey Pounder, Rafton
Bingham, R. M. Hocking, Philip N. Prior-Palmer, Brig, Sir Otho
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Holland, Philip Proudfoot, Wilfred
Bishop, Sir Patrick Hollingworth, John Renton, Rt. Hon. David
Black, Sir Cyril Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Dame P. Robinson, Rt. Hn. Sir R. (B'pool, S.)
Bossom, Hon. Clive Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Brewis, John Howard, John (Southampton, Test) Roots, William
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter Hurd, Sir Anthony Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Hutchison, Michael Clark Shaw, M.
Browne, Percy (Torrington) Iremonger, T. L. Skeet, T. H. H.
Buck, Antony Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Bullus, Wing Commander Eric Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Spearman, Sir Alexander
Butcher, Sir Herbert Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Speir, Rupert
Channon, H. P. G. Kaberry, Sir Donald Stainton, Keith
Ctark, William (Nottingham, S.) Kerr, Sir Hamilton Stanley, Hon. Richard
Cleaver, Leonard Kershaw, Anthony Stevens, Geoffrey
Cooke, Robert Kimball, Marcus Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm
Cordle, John Lagden, Godfrey Storey, Sir Samuel
Coulson, Michael Lambton, Viscount Studholme, Sir Henry
Courtney, Cdr. Anthony Lancaster, Col. C. G. Talbot, John E.
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Leavey, J. A. Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Critchley, Julian Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Taylor, Sir William (Bradford, N.)
Curran, Charles Lilley, F. J. P. Temple, John M.
Dalkeith, Earl of Lindsay, Sir Martin Thompson, Sir Kenneth (Walton)
Dance, James Linstead, Sir Hugh Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Digby, Simon Wingfield Litchfield, Capt. John Turner, Colin
Donaldson, cmdr. C. E. M. Longbottom, Charles Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Doughty, Charles Longden, Gilbert Vane, W. M. F.
Drayson, G, B. Loveys, Walter H. Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hon. Sir John
Eden, Sir John Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Vickers, Miss Joan
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Macleod, Sir John(Ross & Cromarty) Walker, Peter
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn McMaster, Stanley R. Ward, Dame Irene
Farey-Jones, F. W. Maginnis, John E. Weils, John (Maidstone)
Farr, John Maitland, Sir John Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Marten, Neil Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Freeth, Denzil Matthews, Gordon (Meriden) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gammans, Lady Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Gardner, Edward Montgomery, Fergus Woollam, John
Glover, Sir Douglas Moore, Sir Thomas (Ayr) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Grant-Ferris, R. More, Jasper (Ludlow)
Grosvenor, Lord Robert Nicholson, Sir Godfrey TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Gurden, Harold Oakshott, Sir Hendrie Mr. Tiley and Mr. Goodhew.
Hall, John (Wycombe) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Hendon, North)
Abse, Leo Awbery, Stan (Bristol, Central) Beaney, Alan
Ainsley, William Bacon, Miss Alice Bence, Cyril
Albu Austen Barnett, Guy Benn, Anthony Wedgwood
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.) Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Benson, Sir George Herbison, Miss Margaret Pargiter, G. A.
Blyton, William Hill, J. (Midlothian) Parker, John
Boardman, H. Holman, Percy Paton, John
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Holt, Arthur Peart, Frederick
Bourne-Arton, A. Hooson, H. E. Pentland, Norman
Bowles, Frank Howell, Charles A, (Perry Barr) Popplewell, Ernest
Boyden, James Howie, W. Prentice, R. E.
Bradley, Tom Hoy, James H. Probert, Arthur
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey) Randall, Harry
Brockway, A. Fenner Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Rankin, John
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Redhead, E. C.
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hunter, A. E. Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hynd, H. (Accrington) Reid, William
Carmichael, Neil Hynd, John (Attercliffe) Reynolds, G. W.
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Rhodes, H.
Chapman, Donald Janner, Sir Barnett Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Crosland, Anthony Jeger, George Robertson, John (Paisley)
Crossman, R. H. S. Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rogers, G. H. R. (Kensington, N.)
Dalyell, Tam Kelley, Richard Ross, William
Darling, George Kenyon, Clifford Royle, Charles (Salford, West)
Davies, Harold (Leek) King, Dr. Horace Short, Edward
Deer, George Lawson, George Silverman, Julian (Aston)
Dempsey, James Ledger, Bon Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)
Diamond, John Lee, Frederick (Newton) Small, William
Dodds, Norman Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Snow, Julian
Doig, Peter Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Sorensen, R. W.
Driberg, Tom Lipton, Marcus Spriggs, Leslie
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Lubbock, Eric Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Edelman, Maurice Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Stones, William
Edwards, Rt, Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) McBride, N. Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)
Edwards, Walter (Stepney) McCann, J. Stross, Sir Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Evans, Albert MacColl, James Swain, Thomas
Fernyhough, E. McInnes, James Symonds, J. B.
Finch, Harold Mackie, John (Enfield, East) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Fitch, Alan McLeavy, Frank Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Mahon, Simon Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)
Forman, J. C. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Thornton, Ernest
Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton) Manuel, Archie Timmons, John
Galpem, Sir Myer Mapp, Charles Wade, Donald
Ginshurg, David Marsh, Richard Wainwright, Edwin
Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P, C. Mason, Roy Warbey, William
Gourlay, Harry Mellish, R. J. Wells, William (Waisall, N.)
Greenwood, Anthony Milne, Edward Whitlock, William
Grey, Charles Mitchison, G. R. Wigg, George
Griffiths, David (Rother Valley) Monslow, Walter Wilkins, W. A.
Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Lianelly) Moody, A. S. Willey, Frederick
Grimond, Rt. Hon. J. Morris, Charles (Openshaw) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Gunter, Ray Morris, John (Aberavon) Winterbottom, R. E.
Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Hamilton, William (West Fife) O'Malley, B. K. Yates, Victor (Ladywood)
Harper, Joseph Oram, A. E.
Hayman, F. H. Oswald, Thomas TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Healey, Denis Owen, Will Mrs. Slater and Mr. Allaun.
Henderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)