HC Deb 18 March 1965 vol 708 cc1448-51
5. Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether in his circular inviting local authorities to put forward schemes for the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines, he will deal with the issue of compulsion.

79. Mr. Boston

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, in asking local education authorities to submit schemes for the reorganisation of secondary education, he will deal with the issue of compulsion.

80. Mr. Jackson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, in inviting local education authorities to submit schemes for reorganising secondary education on cornprehensive lines, he will state his policy on compulsion.

Mr. Crosland

I propose to settle the terms of the circular after consultation with the local authority, teacher and other appropriate associations to whom I hope shortly to send a draft.

Mr. Lloyd

Since the right hon. Gentleman seems to have a more conciliatory tone on secondary education than his predecessor, does he recollect that Mr. Gaitskell gave his approval to inter-working between the grammar schools and what one might call the new generation of secondary modern schools where O-level courses are taken and suitable children have the opportunity to proceed to the higher forms of the grammar schools? Would he bear in mind that this might prove a healing formula if he would accept it as one form of the comprehensive principle in suitable cases?

Mr. Crosland

I cannot detect any change in tone between my predecessor and myself. I regard the question of compulsion as an academic question at the moment. We have to remember that, despite the discouragement of the previous Government, the movement towards comprehensive reorganisation is already very strong. I am perfectly confident that local authorities will respond voluntarily and co-operatively to our request to submit plans.

Sir E. Boyle

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind, first, that his remarks about active discouragement go too far in a number of cases, and secondly, that the crucial question is whether all children, on transferring from primary to secondary schools, should go to a school which covers the whole range of normal ability? The question is, should authorities be compelled to adopt some school pattern of this kind? There is no burking that issue.

Mr. Crosland

On the question of active discouragement, I would willingly say that the right hon. Member gave more encouragement to comprehensive reorganisation. I think, than any other Conservative Minister of Education. Certainly, one or two of his predecessors acted in a way to which I do not think it is unfair to apply the description "active discouragement". On the second point, the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, I would ask him, if he would, to await the terms of the circular. I do not think he will find that this represents any attempt to compress this reorganisation into one mould. Far from it.

Mr. Park

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the principle of compulsion, to which hon. Members opposite are now objecting, was adopted by them on a number of occasions in the past, when Conservative Ministers of Education refused to allow local education authorities to implement agreed schemes of comprehensive education?

Mr. Crosland

It is true, as my hon. Friend says, that Conservative Ministers of Education never took the view that they would allow local authorities to do exactly what they liked in this matter.

23. Mr. Fell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, in considering schemes for the introduction of comprehensive education, he will have particular regard to the details of each scheme and its likely effect on the resulting standard of education in the area concerned.

Mr. Crosland

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Fell

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask him if he realises that Great Yarmouth has a very high educational standard? Will he examine very carefully the scheme put to him by Great Yarmouth, and does he agree that it is better to wait for a good comprehensive system of education than to try to push something which is a sham system?

Mr. Crosland

I am very aware that Great Yarmouth has a very high educational standard, which is reflected in the alacrity with which it put forward a scheme for the comprehensive reorganisation of its secondary schools. I have written to Great Yarmouth saying that I welcome its decision to go comprehensive, but there are two particular implications of the scheme which I want to examine before taking a final decision. One concerns any possible report of the Local Government Boundary Commission, and the other concerns what the Norfolk authority will do in respect of the places which it now takes up in the selective schools in Yarmouth.

Mr. Boston

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the great advantages of the comprehensive system is its flexibility and adaptability to suit local conditions and that much more could be done to publicise the various systems which can be used?

Mr. Crosland

Yes, Sir. I absolutely agree that that is an advantage. As to the publicising of the different methods, this will be done as soon as we issue the circular to local education authorities, which I shall issue in draft form very shortly.

Mr. R. W. Elliott

Would the Secretary of State use the maximum influence he can on local authorities in order that they might take the teaching profession in each local education authority area into full consultation before they introduce comprehensive schemes? Is he aware that the headmaster of a famous grammar school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne has described a recently proposed scheme there as purely social engineering without a single good educational reason underlying it?

Mr. Crosland

If the hon. Gentleman would put a Question on the Order Paper regarding that Newcastle point, I would be happy to answer it. On the general point, I think that consultation with the teachers is of the greatest possible importance. I have personally emphasised this many times in speeches. It will be strongly emphasised in the circular which will be issued to local authorities, so I am in no disagreement with the hon. Gentleman on this.

Sir E. Boyle

When the right hon. Gentleman talks of the circular being issued very shortly, does he mean, as he said in another context, before Easter?

Mr. Crosland

I hope that well before Easter the draft of the circular will go to the teachers' organisation, local authority associations and so on for consultation.