HC Deb 02 March 1966 vol 725 cc1385-441

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Grey.]

7.12 p.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

Before I say anything else this evening, I am sure that the whole House would like to say how much we regret the absence of the Secretary of State for Education and Science owing to illness, and how much we all of us here wish him a speedy recovery.

The subject of secondary reorganisation is, I would say, attracting more attention than any other aspect of educational policy at the present time, and I think this is understandable, because, after all, the history of education in Britain has been in considerable part the history of these educational institutions which have earned for themselves a high standing by achieving traditions of excellence, and it is natural that very many people should ask whether those traditions will survive if the institutions themselves are all to lose their identity.

There are two points I should like to make at the start which, I think, have been too often neglected in this whole controversy. The first is this. The National Plan shows clearly that the expansion of the education services over the next five years will be limited by an acute shortage of money for many essential tasks, and this especially applies to schools. The Government's plan for education, as stated in the National Plan, assumes that the expenditure on schools will rise less rapidly than that on education as a whole. I think the figures are 27 per cent. for schools between 1965–70, and 32 per cent. for education as a whole. This lower figure for schools is put in the National Plan despite the rising school roll, major shifts of population, and, of course, the commitment which the present Government have taken over from their predecessors to raise the school-leaving age. Well, this means that there must be a clearly established order of priorities; and we on this side of the House say—and we shall make this quite clear during the General Election—that the two foremost priorities must be, first, to increase teacher supply and, secondly, to devote more resources to the improvement and expansion of primary education.

The right hon. Gentleman made a widely publicised speech on teacher supply last April. Since that date he has imposed a six months' moratorium on college building starts and taken credit for a college building programme for the next financial year which is actually rather smaller than the programme which I authorised for 1964–5. There has been no progress announced in this House regarding the all-important superannuascheme for part-time teachers.

We heard a great deal at the last election, as my colleagues will remember, about the school building survey and the state of the primary schools. The National Plan states that there is going to be no money at all for primary improvements during the next five years. I should like to make it quite plain that we on this side are dissatisfied, as we shall show in the election, with the provision made in the National Plan for improvements to the primary schools.

What are the other priorities? I will briefly mention three. I would say they are, first, restoration of the university and technical college building cuts and the provision of substantially more money than is provided for in the National Plan to cater for those who choose to stay in full-time education beyond the compulsory school-leaving age. We shall return, of course, to technical education tomorrow. Secondly, I would say there is the need to expand the special school sector to which the whole House agreed last Friday week; and, thirdly, the need to do more for the Newsom sector—the children in secondary schools of average and below average ability whose real interests have been largely overlooked and ignored in current controversies on secondary reorganisation.

To imagine that we can have all these things and also achieve a new system of comprehensive secondary schools comparable with the best elsewhere in the world is just a piece of humbug. We in this country have a number of excellent purpose-built comprehensive schools, and I would say that all of us on this side are proud of them, particularly when they exist in our own local areas. I welcome the fact, for example, that in Birmingham, as the Joint Under-Secretary of State well knows, we have what I think is beyond any question just about the most successful purpose-built comprehensive school anywhere in the West Midlands. But even if there were no other considerations we would not ourselves on this side give anything like such high priority as the party opposite does to secondary reorganisation in those areas where existing schools already make adequate provision for a full range of educational opportunities. We just do not see how, on the priorities of the Party opposite, the primary schools are ever to get their proper share of resources.

My second initial point is this. Let us remember that all over Britain during the past 10 years secondary opportunities have been steadily widening. It is quite true that in the past—I have often said this myself—many local education authorities, and, I think, public opinion generally, under-rated what many children were capable of achieving. Those of us who regularly visit secondary modern schools will know the growth in the numbers of children who can cope with algebra and achieve O-levels in subjects like general science, or gain from learning the use of a modern language. I think that in the past we very largely underrated the numbers of children who could do at any rate a part of the traditional academic curriculum, and that is very important when we want to make a reality of "secondary education for all."

This, of course, has been happening, and it is really just absurd for people like Professor Townsend—and indeed, frankly, the present Secretary of State—to say that secondary education has been organised on the assumption that only a fixed proportion of children are capable of attempting G.C.E. Those who use that line of argument simply cannot have looked at the figures in the Department's current statistics. Between 1956 and 1963, not a very long period of seven years, the total numbers of G.C.E. O-level passes very nearly doubled, from, I think, 645,000 to 1,242,000. The total number of G.C.E. O-level passes very nearly doubled at a time when numbers in secondary schools went up by a third. That is a complete disproof of the idea that when we were in power, secondary education was organised on any assumption that the proportion of children who could do academic work was fixed.

In Birmingham, the proportion of children in secondary moderns staying on until the fifth form rose from 3 per cent. in 1956 to nearly 20 per cent. in 1964. Those figures represent a number of influences: advice from successive Ministers, encouragement from Her Majesty's Inspectors, enthusiasm among local education authorities and also the growing aspirations of parents for their children.

The point is that secondary education has not been at rest since 1944. In a real sense, we have been reorganising and setting our sights higher all the time, especially during the past 10 years. Think, for instance, of the tremendous task of getting rid of all-age schools, which was a particularly large task for the country authorities. I could not help feeling sorry for the County Borough of Salford, Lancashire, which was celebrating the reorganisation of its last all-age school on the very night that the right hon. Gentleman's circular arrived. It was a case of "back to the drawing board" with a vengeance.

Certainly we agree that opportunity in secondary schools needs still further widening, and it is no part of our policy that the needs of a small minority of children should be satisfied at the expense of the rest. It is in line with that view that my own party will fight in Birmingham next May at the municipal elections on a policy advocating that every secondary school in the city should offer G.C.E. and C.S.E. courses to all children capable of attempting them.

Having said that, where we differ sharply from the party opposite is over their belief that the only way to extend opportunity to every type of child is to compel every secondary school to provide for the whole range of normal ability. Let me speak clearly about this so that there is no question of a misunderstanding. The policy of the present Government on secondary reorganisation is based on an objective, namely, the complete elemination of all separate grammar and secondary modern schools, which is completely unacceptable to those of us on this side of the House.

We believe that there are areas of the country—for example, scattered country districts and areas of new and expanding housing—that seem particularly well suited to a pattern of organisation that does away with the need for selection between different kinds of schools. I believe that the pursuit of any uniform pattern of organisation, and even any uniform age of transfer from primary to secondary, must be wrong. I disagree with those, like Professor Pedley, in Exeter, who take the line that ultimately the Government should not merely compel all authorities to get rid of all existing grammar and modern schools, but that only one type of comprehensive organisation throughout the country should be allowed.

There is every reason for thinking that a great deal of flexibility and variety is the right course. There is really sense in the word "flexibility" when one is considering the different needs of different areas. We on this side are not committed to selection between schools as a principle. When there is selection, we want to soften its impact by putting off until the last possible moment any final decision as to what kind of course a boy or girl is capable of achieving. But we are committed to bearing in mind the performance of good existing schools and the esteem in which they are held. I am on record as having said, as I believe, that the fight to prevent the total abolition of selective schools, especially in our big cities, will be prolonged and bitter.

I want to deal with two aspects of the controversy between us. First, I shall explain to the House why we oppose the Government's policy and, secondly, I shall deal briefly with some of the arguments that the Secretary of State has used in his speeches to justify it.

We oppose the Government's policy because, in the first instance, the schemes of supporters of the party opposite for the big cities so often involve what I would call "botched-up" schemes, or in a more toned down Parliamentary expression, what directors of education have referred to as "excessive improvisation". A good school must normally be purpose-built. It is no substitute to take a group of existing schools, often separated by wide distances, and give them one head. As the House will no doubt remember, one of the most respected figures in the education service. Sir Alec Clegg, the Director of Education in the West Riding, just over a year ago referred to the deplorable business of agglomerating a group of widely separated buildings and calling them a comprehensive school". He said I have spoken to the heads of some of the best comprehensive schools I know, heads who have themselves run schools in separate buildings, and what they say is that it is almost impossible in such circumstances to develop a sound corporate spirit, that staff and pupils tend to develop allegiance to buildings, rather than schools.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West) I have followed the right hon. Gentleman's argument very closely. Would he not agree that at least 40 per cent. of secondary school children in the country today are having secondary education in schools that are not purpose-built?

Sir E. Boyle

But not in schools which are the sort of agglomerations Sir Alec Clegg had in mind. In the first place, many of them, even if not purpose-built from the start, became purpose-built as the plans went along. One example is the Martineau comprehensive school in Birmingham, which was not exactly purpose-built from the start, but which was planned as a whole by the time that it was completed. I know relatively few secondary moderns which are agglomerations in the sense that a number of proposals have been put forward for big cities. I would have said to the Secretary of State had he been here that I hope that he will deal at least as severely with the Manchester plan as he dealt last year with the Liverpool plan.

The truth is that the Secretary of State has asked local authorities to reorganise, but has not been in a position to promise them the money to do the job properly. It is important to remember that the cities which put forward plans that do not involve "botched-up" schemes nearly always fall into the opposite trap, or misleading exercise, of assuming quite unrealistic building programmes. The Birmingham plan, so far as it affects my own constituency, assumes six forms of entry being provided to build up existing schools, while two three-form schools are to be discontinued as county secondaries. The National Plan makes that expectation completely unrealistic and, anyway, the proposal of Birmingham ought not to have priority over more resources for the hard-pressed primary schools, bearing in mind especially the immigrant problem in Birmingham.

The second reason why we oppose the Government's policy on secondary reorganisation is that we believe that the complete and unconditional abolition of all selective grammar schools involving the loss of identity of all those established schools of real quality, is bound to prove educationally damaging. I would link what I am saying to our Robbins objective. We have set our sights, rightly, on a larger proportion of young people going on to higher education. How can it be right to make it harder for a number of children to reach that objective than it is already?

The Minister of State will agree with me that we want to see more sons and daughters of manual workers getting to university, but surely he must recognise the part that many grammar schools, both aided and maintained, have played in enabling children to overcome the handicaps of a poor district. It is no good pretending that an all-through comprehensive in a poor district will offer them the same opportunity. One of the curious illusions that persist, and it is a point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord James in a previous Session, is the belief that, if we have a comprehensive system, everyone will go to the same school. They will not. It is naive to suppose that comprehensive schools will all achieve "parity of esteem" in the way that secondary schools have not up till now. Some are bound to be more successful than others and to be more highly regarded by parents concerned with the future of their children.

What bothers us on this side of the House is that in the absence of any selective schools, when a parent of young children is allotted a council house, its location in the city may well play a large part in limiting their educational future no matter how gifted these children turn out to be or how ambitious their parents may be for them.

My third criticism—which is the most fundamental one, and I put it seriously to the Government—is this: do we really want an educational system in which there is no school provision save, on the one hand, completely non-selective State secondary schools, and, on the other, completely independent schools? I shall deal later with the question of direct grant schools. But let me make it clear that we on this side instinctively oppose any action by the central Government which says that "certain types of institution ought not to go on existing, not because they are bad, but because they are too good or because all children cannot benefit equally from them".

In this context, although I did not agree with everything in it, I was interested in the article by Dr. Koerner in the Daily Telegraph. I agree with two of his points. First, he said: There is a strong case to be made in Britain for maintaining multiplicity in types of schools, for avoiding massive standardisation, for leaving room for heterodoxy and choice and dissent, even within the State system. And surely there is an even stronger case to be made for the survival of those many schools, both independent and maintained, that have earned over many years a reputation for excellence, some of them the envy of half the world. That is exactly our case.

What are the arguments—because I should like to try to meet them—which have been put by the party opposite? I think that the Secretary of State has relied in the main on three arguments. First, he says—and I believe him here—that he feels deeply that "separate schools exacerbate social division". I think that this is by far the least convincing of the arguments used by the Secretary of State, and I do not think that it carries a great deal of conviction.

Dr. Koerner says: First, comprehensive schools, because they are comprehensive, serve relatively small catchment areas precisely in those parts of the country where the problems of inequality are greatest—in and around cities…The social effect of such schools is to re-enforce rather than combat class consciousness. One can debate the causes and cures for this condition, but the immediate point is that neighbourliness between classes is not a function of the comprehensive school where neighbourhoods are themselves homogeneous. I find it impossible to believe that a policy of encouraging the provision of nothing but comprehensive schools will of itself cause our nation to become less socially divided.

The Secretary of State's second argument is that separate schools involve a waste of human resources. Let me concede at once that if we had in this country, as it were, sharply divided separate schools—if there were no overlap at all between the standards at the bottom of the grammar, and the top of the secondary modern school—there would be substance in this point. It is very important indeed that the secondary modern, or county secondary school, should be sufficiently ambitious for those in the higher forms, just as it must never neglect those lower down—those who may need a different kind of curriculum and who must receive a proper secondary education also. But there is no reason why separate schools need involve a waste of human resources, so long as we recognise the need for an overlap in standards demanded of the lower forms of grammar schools and the upper forms of secondary moderns.

The published statistics do not bear out the Secretary of State's assertions. If anyone does the exercise of grossing up the percentage of all children in separate grammar and secondary modern schools taking G.C.E., he will find that it is about 28½ per cent. The percentage of children in all comprehensive and bilateral schools taking G.C.E. is about 30 per cent. In other words, there is no sign from the figures as published, separate schools as we have them today are leading to a great waste of human resources, though I would be the first to insist that in many areas country secondary and secondary modern schools ought to be more ambitious than they are—and I have no doubt that it would be easy enough to find a number of comprehensive schools which are not sufficiently ambitious either. At any rate, on the figures available there is nothing to justify disrupting those sixth forms in the best grammar schools which are the envy of many parts of the world.

Incidentally, I should like to answer the point which the senior Minister of State, if I may put it that way, made when winding up the debate in January last year. He said that if there was an overlap at all, it was really a sign that we ought to go all the way. I cannot see this point. I would rather put it the other way, and say that if we have separate schools—if we are going to maintain, as I believe we should, a number of selective schools as separate grammar schools—it is important to have an overlap. I cannot see anything wrong in the belief that secondary modern schools should provide G.C.E. opportunities for all those who can take advantage of them, while none the less disagreeing with the proposition that all our schools should try to cover the whole range of normal ability.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. R. E. Prentice)

I found two things wrong with that argument, and I still do. First, the logic of saying that there should be an overlap is that we go towards the comprehensive system if we believe that there should be equality of opportunity for those boys and girls who overlap in ability, as we know they do.

Secondly, if we do not go all the way towards the comprehensive system, we are saying that we accept for a long time ahead two categories of school, one of which will be superior to the other, for which there will be a selection, with all the evils of the 11-plus and the effect on primary education, and so on, with which the right hon. Gentleman has not dealt.

Sir E. Boyle

I am coming to the point about primary schools. Perhaps I might briefly reply to the hon. Gentleman on his first point. It seems to me reasonable to think that secondary modern schools today should be more like comprehensive schools than they were in the past, without believing that it is the right policy to eliminate grammar schools completely. That still seems to me a reasonable view to hold.

I come now to the third of the Secretary of State's arguments—and I concede that this is the most persuasive one—where he says that he wants to lessen the early sense of failure. How far, in the areas of the country where secondary modern schools provide good opportunities, children in the schools—and their parents—think of themselves as failures is, I think, open to argument. But I would not seek to deny that this is an argument for a comprehensive approach, rather than for separate schools, in areas of new or expanding housing where one can plan ahead with a good deal of elbow room. I think that most of my hon. Friends would agree with that. Most of us these days would doubt whether it was sensible to plan in this sort of area on the basis of a bipartite system.

But what bothers me about the Secretary of State's speeches on this subject is his apparent belief that if we advance towards the complete elimination of all separate grammar and modern schools everywhere there will always be, in social and educational terms, a net gain and never a net loss. It is this belief which we on these benches emphatically do not share.

I think that the difference between the two sides of the House becomes focussed most sharply when we come to the direct grant schools—though a number of their characteristics, including their wide catchment areas, are also shared by a number of London aided grammar schools. We on this side of the House feel disturbed at the future of these schools. The direct grant schools are as important to the nation as the more publicised public schools, and they are faced with a far more immediate threat. The best that I can say about the party opposite in connection with the direct grant schools is that, however much we disagree with the Secretary of State, at least he has a clear knowledge of what is a direct grant school. One cannot say that with equal confidence about the winding up speech recently in another place. What are the characteristics of many of these direct grant schools? First, they have very high academic standards yet admission is in no way dependent on the accident of birth. The best of the direct grant schools—especially in the north of England—are good enough to attract a number of children who would otherwise go into independent schools, but they are also accessible to the poorest people. Secondly, they are schools within the State system, with representatives of a number of local education authorities on their governing bodies, yet they feel free in a way that a maintained school cannot feel free. Thirdly, these schools achieve a social mixing in a way in which a neighbourhood comprehensive school would not.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that he could add to the list of advantages the fact that in the north of England, especially in industrial towns, teachers can be attracted to that part of the world, away from the lush pastures of the South, who would never go there unless they had the opportunity of teaching the very agreeable material which the direct grant schools attract.

Sir E. Boyle

I am coming to the question of teachers. My hon. and learned Friend gives me an opportunity of saying that we in the South tend to forget that there are not all that many independent schools of high prestige in the North, and that direct grant schools play the part of the best known independent schools in the South.

Most people would surely feel that a school which provides opportunity, on merit, for the poorest, brings State education and private education closer together, and achieves true social mixing, is a type of school to foster. It must seem crazy to observers from overseas that it is these schools that the Secretary of State has described as having had a "warning shot across their bows". Of course, I am not against some measure of compromise. I should certainly advise a direct grant school to come to terms with a local education authority which preferred to take up places at 13 rather than 11. My impression of direct grant schools is that they are very ready to reach a reasonable settlement on their methods of entry.

But how can an outstanding academic school select without employing selection? And if a direct grant school feels that it cannot accept the terms of a local education authority obedient to the wishes of the Government, and decides to go independent, what possible social or educational purpose will the Government have served? Is it not obviously better that some children should get publicly-provided free places at these admittedly very good schools than that none should?

Anyway, as my hon. Friends and I shall make clear during the election campaign, we would far rather see a number of first-class independent schools become direct grant schools than the other way round. More generally, are we really to regard "choice" and "selection by merit" as dirty words? I know that relatively little choice exists at present for many parents, but why on earth should that be regarded as a reason for eliminating such choice as we now possess, can retain, and can extend? I expect that many Members have read a very interesting report on school selection in London, which appeared in yesterday's Guardian. It said: Last summer the parents of all children transferring from primary to State secondary education in the Inner London area chose a school. Eighty-five per cent. of the children went to first-choice schools. [Interruption.] I said in 1963 that I thought that the London decision had dealt the old-fashioned 11-plus examination a mortal blow. Moreover, now that the scheme's ramifications have been studied in depth it is clear that comprehensive schools have not lost out at every turn to London's remaining grammar schools. The continuance of grammar schools does, of course, pose problems for administrators attempting to avoid the concentration of too much talent; but under free choice the comprehensives generally fared better than expected. In that case, why should not London grammar schools and comprehensive schools be allowed to exist side by side? Many of us know both types of school. I have no time for anyone who wants to run down London comprehensive schools as a category. I have been honoured by being invited to present prizes in a number of them, and have visited a number of London grammar schools. They are different types of school. I warmly admire the work done by the London grammar schools. But I have been no less impressed—and no less attracted—by some of the finest comprehensive schools and I am thinking especially of some of the assessments of values I have heard made by the heads of these schools at speech days in their school reports.

I believe that there is room for both types of school in a city the size of London. I have little doubt that in 20 years' time we shall have considerably more comprehensive schools than exist today, and rightly, but that we should also be regretting any decision that had been taken earlier to limit the categories of school that can find a place in our system.

As for "selection by merit", I am impressed by the number of people I meet—sometimes supporters of the party opposite—who want to see rather more social equality in education than in the past, and yet, equally decidedly, do not want to see all the grammar schools disappear.

The fact is that we are short of educational resources. We need to use our existing resources as economically as possible and we need to attract first-class brains not just into teaching but into school teaching. It is no good revolutionising maths teaching and science teaching, as we are doing, unless schools can also recruit first-class staff who will want to spend at least some of their time teaching viable sixth form groups to the highest level. We simply cannot afford any let-up in the quality of our sixth form education, and the danger to sixth form standards is one of the most serious risks inherent in the drive to eliminate all selective schools.

It is for these reasons that we find the objective of the present Government—the complete elimination of all separate grammar and secondary modern schools—unacceptable. We fully agree that any pattern of secondary organisation must extend opportunity to every type of child and not just to a minority, but we do not believe that a totally comprehensive system, in which no other type of school is allowed is the only method of extending opportunity to those who should have more of it, and we think that it will positively reduce opportunity to many children who have hitherto enjoyed it. It is our view that a system of priorities in the education service, and of putting first things first, need not impair social justice nor forbid an expansion of good comprehensive schools; but not everywhere, and above all, not on the cheap.

It is for those reasons that we have asked for this debate this evening, and we find ourselves sharply differing from the policy of the Government as laid down in the preamble to their Circular 10/65.

7.49 p.m.

Mr. Trevor Park (Derbyshire, South-East)

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) will forgive me if I do not immediately follow him in the matters of which he has spoken, although I hope to touch upon them later. I want to begin with a declaration of interest which is also a statement of my qualifications for intervening in the debate. Prior to becoming a Member I spent the whole of my adult life as a teacher, first of children and then of adults.

I was educated in a direct grant boys' grammar school, and after graduating from university I became a teacher in a local authority mixed grammar school for several years. After a spell as a W.E.A. tutor, I was a lecturer for four years in the extra-mural department of the University of Sheffield immediately before being elected to the House. It is against this background of educational experience that I speak tonight.

I want to make a confession at the outset. I have not always been a supporter of the comprehensive principle. I was a Socialist and a member of the Labour Party long before I became an advocate of comprehensive education. My conversion to it was not so much an expression of political conviction as the result of educational experiences. It was a conversion reached as a teacher first and a Socialist second.

As a grammar school teacher, I soon became aware of the substantial number of children who were not primarily suited to the rather narrow academic form of education which grammar schools provided about 10 years ago, children who would have been much happier and whose achievements would have been much greater if the opportunity had existed for them to take courses of a more technical or practical bent. Such opportunities did not exist at that time in the school in which I taught, although I understand that the situation has changed since. They still do not exist in many of our grammar schools.

At the same time as I was becoming aware of these problems on the part of a not insubstantial number of grammar school children, my secondary modern teacher colleagues were telling me of their awareness of the problems of late developers—of children who had not been selected for grammar school education at the age of 11, but who later showed a great aptitude for that form of education which had been denied them. As a tutor in adult education, my impressions and experience were immensely reinforced. I had among the students in my classes coal miners, steel workers, housewives and shop assistants. I suppose that the vast majority of them could have been labelled 11-plus casualties, yet many of them showed a capacity and an enthusiasm for study which, if they had been given the opportunity earlier, would have led to the highest academic honours. The frustrations, the unhappiness, the monstrous waste of talent in these cases were the results of an unfair and ineffective selection system.

We must recognise that this is what is at stake in the subject we are debating tonight. It is a basic conflict between two different educational principles, I might almost say between two different philosophies of life—the separatist principle, which is enshrined in the tripartite system, and the comprehensive principle, which seeks to eradicate and to overcome weaknesses of the system as it has been known in many areas since 1944.

The separatist view, as Dr. Pedley rightly says, is dominated by the philosophy that life is a race with limited prizes for a fortunate few. It is a philosophy of restriction and limitation. Its conclusions are that the weakest must go to the wall and it is based essentially on applying the precepts of jungle law to the lives, experiences and opportunities of school children. That is the basis—hon. Members opposite cannot escape it—on which the tripartite system lies. We, by contrast, think that all children and, for that matter, all adults are basically of equal worth and are equally deserving of such aids to personal growth as we can give them.

I hope that hon. Members will forgive this brief return to first principles. The party opposite increasingly appears to be trying to evade them whenever the question of comprehensive education arises. Hon. Members opposite are no longer willing to stand up and be counted as being opposed to comprehensive schools on principle. They seek instead to prevent their being introduced by means of a highly devious and somewhat discreditable rearguard action."Yes", hon. Members say, "you can have your comprehensive schools, but we must preserve the grammar schools intact."

As a former grammar school teacher, I believe that all that is best and most worth while in grammar school education can not only exist within a comprehensive system, but can, indeed, flourish and take advantage of opportunities which today's grammar schools do not possess. The great thing about grammar school education is not the possession of a school badge or a school cap, but a particular outlook on or an attitude to the matter of learning. That can exist within a wide, comprehensive umbrella just as well and can extend itself so that its advantages can be: claimed by more and more people than if it is restricted as it is at present. I believe that the child matters more than the school. It is to the needs of the child that our educational institutions, be they grammar, secondary modern or comprehensive schools, ought to be shaped.

Another argument which the Opposition sometimes put forward is that we can have comprehensive schools, as long as we do not interfere with the freedom of local authorities to decide their own forms of educational organisation. Of what freedom do they speak? Judging by their record in office, it appears that the party opposite champions a very one-way type of freedom.

Local authorities, they would say, are free to keep things as they are, but if the local authority wants to change the system and to develop a comprehensive approach then, on their record when in power, the attitude of the party opposite would seem to be that that freedom ought to be withdrawn—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] Yes, Conservative Governments time after time placed difficulties and obstacles in the way of local authorities who wished to develop the comprehensive principle—

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

The Opposition Front Bench apparently denies what my hon. Friend just said. Is it not within his recollection that a previous Conservative Administration denied the freedom of London to incorporate a grammar school into a comprehensive school? What freedom was that?

Mr. Park

My hon. Friend is right and other examples could be given from other parts of the country—

Sir E. Boyle

As we are on the subject, I would say that, if the hon. Member would look at the record he would find that the present Secretary of State has had considerably more disagreements with local authorities on their comprehensive plans than ever I had between 1962 and 1964. Let me make it clear that I do not disagree with his decision in regard to Liverpool and Luton, but I do not recall one single occasion during my whole two years when I had a sharp disagreement with a local authority over reorganisation.

Mr. Park

I think, then, that the right hon. Gentleman's memory is not as accurate as I thought it might be. Many local authorities could tell a very different story.

I will turn to another of the arguments deployed by Conservatives on this question. It was deployed by the right hon. Member for Handsworth earlier this evening. He said that one can have comprehensive schools, but that they should be purpose-built and not take the form of the reorganisation of existing school buildings. There are many schools, not comprehensive schools, but secondary modern and technical schools, which were never purpose-built.

If we are to wait until such time as we can build in every local authority area, a comprehensive system of purpose-built schools, the right hon. Member knows very well that we should have to wait a long time. What is happening again is that, not daring to make a frontal assault on the comprehensive principle, not daring to put themselves forward as the champions of selection and segregation, the party opposite is seeking to use more devious means. It would be more honest and courageous of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I would have more respect for them, if they said what they really mean; that they want to preserve inequality and privilege in the world of education because they also want to preserve inequality and privilege in the world outside the schools.

Circular 10/65 leaves to local authorities very wide degrees of discretion in the forms of reorganisation which they choose to adopt. Paragraph 46 states: The Government are aware that the complete elimination of selection and separatism in secondary education will take time to achieve. They do not seek to impose a destructive or precipitate change on existing schools. They recognise that the evolution of separate schools into a comprehensive system must be a constructive process, requiring careful planning by local education authorities in consultation with all those concerned. This is not an attempt at revolution by compulsion, but an endeavour to obtain reform by agreement. If hon. Gentlemen opposite really seek a bipartisan approach to this issue—and many of the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite, including that of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg), in the debate last year, expressed that wish—they can achieve it on the basis of this circular. If we can obtain this approach, all well and good and we will be satisfied. But if we cannot, then the responsibility will lie where it should lie; with the party opposite, on its representatives on local authorities and in the House.

On 21st January last year the then Secretary of State for Education and Science declared his wish to proceed in this matter by agreement. I am sure that all hon. Members accept that this is infinitely the better way of going about it. But if the negative and obstructionist tactics of some Tory-dominated local authorities make it necessary, I trust that the present Minister will not hesitate to ask for legislative powers.

Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)

It strikes me as a somewhat odd bipartisan policy which the hon. Gentleman is representing to the Opposition. What sort of bipartisan policy is it which says that so long as we agree with changes to the comprehensive principle, even when we believe they are wrong, that is all right, but that in no circumstances must his party yield an inch in the comprehensive system, even when local authorities want to?

Mr. Park

It is no different from the bipartisan approach which was being put forward by the party opposite 12 months ago.

Mr. Maude


Mr. Park

I hope that the more responsible elements in the party opposite—and I include the right hon. Member for Handsworth among them, although in view of that last intervention of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) I do not know whether I should include him—will exercise all their influence to make legislation in this field unnecessary. However, if they do not do that, and if legislation must be brought in, the House and the country will know where the responsibility lies.

8.4 p.m.

Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

What we have just heard from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park) about bipartisan policy follows closely on the ideas of the Prime Minister about unconditional surrender in other spheres. That and nothing else, is the sort of bipartisan policy the hon. Gentleman understands.

The tragedy of the policy of the Government today is that the all-party agreement which we have experienced for so many years in education has to go. This was stated in wiser terms by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) in January of last year.

Mr. Park

Would the hon. Gentleman explain how he distinguishes his concept of bipartisan policy from a Tory policy?

Mr. Gurden

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) clearly said that he is not a biggot in these matters and that he is prepared, where they are absolutely justified, to have comprehensive or any other types of school as long as they are good for education. That I consider to be bipartisan policy. The hon. Gentleman's argument, on the other hand, was for the further and continuous improvement of secondary modern schools and—

Mr. Park


Mr. Gurden

That was the logic of his argument, although he defeated himself when he said that he deplored the fact that children could not get into grammar schools.

Mr. Park


Mr. Gurden

I have given way enough at this point in my speech. The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to intervene later.

When he was opposing the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth he seemed to forget what most hon. Members recognise—that my right hon. Friend probably has better knowledge and experience of the subject than any other hon. Member. I should have thought that my right hon. Friend's policy was acceptable to the vast majority of enlightened people and that it should form the basis of the only truly acceptable policy on this issue.

The best forms of education are, I believe, those which offer advances for each child according to his ability and not simply those which adjust a child's opportunity to the advancement of others who may be limited in capacity. This is what the comprehensive system means—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—and the basis and strength of our system in the past has been that it has been administered by local authorities. Our whole educational system and policy has been interpreted by local authorities and we have not had doctrinal direction from Whitehall instead of local advice.

There is abounding evidence in some situations to show that comprehensive schools could do harm to the existing schools. This is the strength of my right hon. Friend's argument, for there is equally evidence to show that, in some situations, comprehensive schools would do no harm to the existing schools. As has been said, in certain areas one type of school could gain from another.

All hon. Members will surely agree that a good comprehensive system needs a vast building programme. In that case it would be ideal. Yet, as we see in the Birmingham proposals now put forward in response to the circular, that is completely out, and Birmingham has been driven to proposing a system which would not include any great building programme. Further, if we are not to have purpose-built schools for comprehensive education, the problem of staff movements and requirements will be aggravated.

We now know that money is the trouble—it always is in education. On these matters, the National Union of Teachers agrees with what I say. I would not consider the N.U.T. to be exactly a 100 per cent. Conservative organisation, but its spokesmen have said the same thing. If it is finance that stands in the way of the policy of the party opposite, what are the priorities? The Government have so often told us in this Parliament that with them priorities count more than anything else, so perhaps they can tell us what their priorities are for this change of policy in secondary education.

Is secondary education the top priority? If so, what about other things? Where does primary school building come in? We must all recognise at once that that aspect ought to be high on the list. What about further education? What about teacher-training colleges? The universities, too, have suffered a severe blow. What about the technical schools on which, surely, the Government's plans must depend very much if their National Plan means anything at all? What about the money that will be required to expend on the capital equipment necessary to take care of the higher school-leaving age to which, I believe, both parties are committed?

We have now reached the point where we can no longer ignore the fact that we are up against political ideology. It is argued on a false premise that selection at 11-plus produces an absolute necessity for comprehensive schools. That is nonsense. Because the present selection system has been found to be faulty in many respects it does not mean that we can be rid of selection. Selection comes to all of us in life, whether we like it or not, and no political party can remove it from life, nor remove it from education.

The question is, at what age and in what form do we have selection? Selection need not be considered harmful at all. We know from experience that it can be a challenge to a child, even at the age of 11, as is proved by the late-developers. Those children have accepted their late development as a challenge, and have shown that they can meet it.

There is no reason to suppose that a reasonably satisfactory system of selection cannot be evoked, perhaps not at the age of 11, but at some other age. [HON. MEMBERS: "how?"] I will tell hon. Members. I recently went to a secondary modern school in Birmingham, where I found that several children had been taken into local grammar schools after the age of 11 simply because the headmaster had found them to be late developers. They had come along very well, and by some arrangement, about which I did not ask, the headmaster had been able to get them into grammar schools. That is only an example of what can be done.

Accepting that selection is the way of life and cannot be taken away by any political ideology, let us realise that some children never will, and will want never to, join the intellectuals. They do not want that way of life. They are happier doing the more moderate jobs. This goes on throughout the world, and always will. Some children do not want to be intellectuals. They have no desire to do more than learn the ordinary things.

I am sure that if there were more debates on educational matters during elections, we would then find this dictatorial imposition of the party opposite turned down. The public at large do not want to see this direction from Whitehall. It has been shown in local government elections that local electorates want their locally-elected people to decide whether or not they should have x number of comprehensive schools, or more direct-grant schools, and the like.

The real aim of the party opposite is to get rid of grammar schools and direct-grant schools, and ultimately to do away with any form of independent school. After all that I have read, seen and heard I am convinced—and it was supported basically by the hon. Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Walden) when I debated the subject with him in Birmingham, when he convinced me, if I ever needed convincing—that this is the hidden threat about which we are talking immediately prior to the election.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-west)

We all have different views of what we mean by it. I was surprised that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) should have concentrated so much on the achievement of the secondary moderns in the O-level sphere, because I know that he agrees with us that when we talk of education we are not just talking academic attainment.

The argument about the comprehensive principle and the development of secondary education has been concentrated far too much in the narrow academic field. We tend to compare the different schools on the basis of their achievements at O-level and in external examinations. I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman when he claims that all is well because in secondary modern education every school in the City of Birmingham has to offer O-level to all its pupils. This is a waste of talent. It is a good argument for the comprehensive school. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, in Durham on Saturday, said categorically that we believe that the local authorities must retain their freedom and their independence and that we do not envisage a centralised system of education with direction from Whitehall. That is not in our minds at all.

I remind hon. Gentlemen that education is not carried out in Curzon Street, or even in the office of the local director of education. It is carried out in the school, in the classroom, through the confrontation between the teacher and the taught. Here we are dealing in a sense with the framework of education and not with its essence when talking about the reorganisation of secondary education.

The right hon. Gentleman talked about opportunities for the children of manual workers in the system of direct grant schools and State grammar schools. When I was a small boy, I heard about the common land system and enclosures not at school, but in a class to which my father, who was a miner, took me. That class met each Thursday and read journals like Hibberd's Journal—which has gone out of existence—and John O'London's Weekly.

These men worked very hard in the mines. They had a culture of their own and they knew about their heritage. In a sense, modern education, through the grammar schools, has taken such men out of the community. They now go into the professions and are divided, whether we like it or not, from their fellows.

This is my main reason for criticising the system that has existed in this country. We call it a tripartite system, but it is really a bipartite system. We must remind ourselves, first of all, that the system is unjust because it selects and that however we select—and we have given great care to the process—we select some who should not be selected and leave out others who should be. We all know that, in our grammar schools, there are a tremendous number of youngsters who are in the wrong type of school. Crowther reminded us that 48 per cent. of children with an I.Q. of 120 and 87 per cent. with an I.Q. of between 108 and 120—that is, above average intelligence—left school by the age of 16. There is a waste of potential under the present system and no one can deny it.

We all pay tribute to the grammar school, but, in a sense, it is a closed school and entry is by what we call "measured intelligence". But what are we measuring? We know that, however much care is taken in the preparation of the tests and the recommendations by the teachers, which are the best forecasts, it is very difficult to decide. I was reminded by the right hon. Gentleman that if people believe in grammar schools they believe in selection. Parents are against selection. I have not heard anyone on an election platform defending it.

Whatever criteria one uses, if one selects, those who are not selected feel that they are rejected. If we have a grammar school we must also have some other kind of school to which those who are not considered good enough academically can go—and with the best will in the world this is really the issue we must face when talking about selection and the grammar schools.

Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)

The hon. Gentleman is making a most persuasive speech and is setting out what he considers to be the central issue. Does he really think that the youngsters who go to comprehensive schools in London all feel themselves selected because they do not happen to be in grammar schools? Does not his argument conflict with the statistics given by my right hon. Friend, showing that 85 per cent. of London children are able to go to schools of their first choice?

Mr. Armstrong

I accept that there are varying degrees in different parts of the country and that in London, in certain parts, apparently, there are those who choose comprehensive schools. I am equally certain that in other parts of the country many parents choose grammar schools which are regarded locally as being schools where those of the top ability range attend. But even if 85 per cent. are satisfied, that still leaves 15 per cent. In many parts of the country, the selection involves only 15 per cent. and the other 85 per cent. are not accepted for grammar schools.

Mr. Hamling

Is my hon. Friend aware that many of the parents of children in grammar schools in London are objecting because they do not want the children to mix with what they call "failures" who have gone to other schools?

Mr. Armstrong

I want to come to that issue soon.

First, however, I want to deal with the so-called measuring of intelligence. Whatever we measure has nothing to do with the human qualities that go to make mature men or women. We are not producing all that we ought to produce, if I may put it that way. We are not the sort of society that all of us feel we should be—not because our people have not the "know-how" and not even because we fail in intelligence. It is because of the system we have had of trying to identify the elite and to give them a superior education while not caring too much about the sort of education the rest receive. Fortunately we are getting away from that attitude to some extent now.

Sir E. Boyle

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman again. He is, I agree, making a very attractive speech on this, but I think that we on this side would agree that the advantage of having a number of separate grammar schools is precisely that we do get away from that situation. We fully accept that separate grammar schools only make sense morally provided that we extend opportunity in the widest way to all children in the modern schools according to their abilities. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Newsom sector is important, but it has to be proved that they really get on better in comprehensive than in good modern schools.

Mr. Armstrong

I accept that we have had arguments about priorities and the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) talked about them. John Vaisey, in a recent article, said that, on average, a boy or girl in grammar school gets 185 per cent. of the resources allocated to the boy or girl in the modern school. We like to talk of equality of opportunity, but in fact, down the years, the grammar schools in most local authority areas have had the majority of the resources.

In the pamphlet "Secondary Education for All", which was published by the last Administration, I remember that it was indicated that in certain rural areas, and certainly in the new towns where there was not a long-established grammar school, a comprehensive school might be accepted. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Handsworth. In Sunderland, when I was chairman of the education committee and he was the Minister, the right hon. Gentleman authorised a comprehensive school which is now so successful that we are going all comprehensive without very much opposition from anybody. We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for blazing the trail.

I should have thought that we could offer some limited kind of choice. In education, whether we like it or not, when we talk about choice we cannot have every parent in the country having complete freedom of choice as to the location and the type of school. A good deal of nonsense is talked about freedom of choice. I thought that the right hon. Member for Handsworth was not his usual self tonight. He is so eminently fair on most occasions, but I know that an election is coming. The fact is that no two schools are alike. I do not know the London comprehensive schools well, but I have visited a number of others and I know some very intimately and I find that the truth is that a school depends far more on the headmaster than it does on the name given to it.

I see comprehensive schools developing strongly in one direction and another school strongly in another direction and I cannot see why, particularly in the conurbations, there should not be some choice—and I think that this is coming. In one borough one will have one school where the classics may well be the forte of that school because of the influence of the headmaster and certain outstanding members of the staff. In another school engineering may well be the strong subject. In Sunderland, there is a school where nautical engineering is taught. There can be interchanges, and why should there not be? There can be flexibility and local experiments. I am sure that I speak for the Department when I say that this will be encouraged. There is no question of Curzon Street sending a circular and saying that a comprehensive school will be organised in such and such a way. Headmasters will retain their freedom and we shall have greater flexibility than has been suggested tonight. In the past, our schools have had much too narrow a purpose in their outlook.

The grammar school, after all—and this is certainly true in the area where I live—was a remarkable gateway of escape. It was the only gateway of escape in that area from the pit. It was a preparation for the professions, and so on. I read with great care the book on preparatory schools which I suspect has been sent to all hon. Members. The preparatory schools are a preparation for the public schools. I do not suggest for a moment that they do not do all sorts of other things as well. I look forward to the time when all our secondary schools will be open schools, in the main neighbourhood schools, and will be involved in local life.

This is what schools should be. They should not have a narrow purpose with sights fixed on particular universities, and so on. There can be local experiment and flexibility within the comprehensive principle, and I hope that the local variety in English education, which has been its strength, will remain its strength in the new system.

I know that the Department would not follow me here, but I believe that until all our children come within the State system we shall continue to have the sort of conditions which we now have in State schools throughout the country. This is why I believe that the Department has been right to make known now what it believes should be the organisation of secondary schools. I think that the right hon. Member for Handsworth knows, and I suspect that the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) who is to wind up the debate for the Opposition knows, that the decision will have to be made by the local authorities, whatever Curzon Street says.

One factor hindering comprehensive school development today is the number of new three-form and four-form entry modern schools which have been built since the war. Local authorities must make up their minds now. We know that it will not happen overnight, but every building coming forward in the next few years will have to fit into some sort of scheme. Whatever is built, we are either moving towards the comprehensive system or making it more difficult.

So long as people, for any reason, be it measured intelligence or the ability to pay, can contract out of teacher quotas and the evils of an inadequate supply of staff—surely, the most important thing in education—or the restrictions which seem to come upon education from time to time, from both Front Benches, if I may say so, then those who are able to contract out tend to be less concerned and less passionate about the state of the rest of the system. This is why I am in favour of an all-in system.

I support comprehensive schools because I believe that we must, somehow, turn our backs on an education system which has always envisaged success as getting to the top of the ladder and winning one of the few prizes available. We have to remind ourselves that all our children, wherever they will work and whatever their talent or lack of it, must, somehow or other, co-operate together, and their education must be a broad highway along which all of them will travel. We must get away from the idea of advancing or getting beyond one another simply because some of us seem to have more intelligence than our friends. This is why I feel so strongly and passionately on this matter.

I am sure that the Government are on the right lines. I hope that educationists throughout the country will argue this question on an education basis, not a political basis. Our system of education is the most important part of our government; indeed, it determines our system of government.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Berry (Southgate)

With the aims which the hon. Member for Durham. North-West (Mr. Armstrong) expressed for our children in his concluding remarks I am in full agreement, but I did not follow him in the ways which he suggested for attaining those aims.

Looking round the Chamber now and remembering that it is 14 months since we last debated this important subject, I cannot help noticing that there are several hon. Members present who took part in that debate. It was a momentous day in English political history. Earlier that day, I made my maiden speech, and, later on, my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Buxton) was elected to the House. I was followed on that occasion by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. J. Idwal Jones), who paid me the usual courtesies and, as a fellow Welshman, made them sound very genuine. Today we have had words from the Midlands and from the North, and I think that it is time now that we had a word from London. I hoped that I would evoke a "Hear, hear" from the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) at that, but perhaps it was too much to hope.

In that debate, I followed the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Bagier), who must be a near neighbour of the hon. Member for Durham, North-West, and he had said that his area had just adopted the comprehensive system. In following him, I observed that, although I though that in a great city like Sunderland there must be excellent grammar schools, Sunderland, no doubt, had good reasons for adopting the comprehensive system, but in other parts of the country there were equally good reasons for not adopting it.

The main reason for my wishing to intervene in the debate today is to reiterate remarks which I made that evening about my own constituency which are again pertinent at this moment. My constituency of Southgate, is part of the London borough of Enfield. Last night the education committee approved a plan to impose the comprehensive system in the borough. The background to that decision is that nearly two years ago a Labour majority was elected to the council—by 31 to 29. The number of Labour representatives was quickly made up to 43 as a result of the Labour Party taking all 12 aldermanic seats, and it was that majority which imposed the decision last night.

The proposal is that the system should start in September, 1967. In May, 1967, there should be the local elections, but if the Labour Party has its way those local elections will be put off for another year, in which case the electorate of the Borough of Enfield will have no opportunity of expressing an opinion whether they think the system is good or not. I cannot believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House who have education at heart would take very seriously the imposing of such a system in what can only be described as an extremely undemocratic way.

In changing over in this way, we are dealing in something which is far more important than goods, manufactured products and so on. We are dealing in human lives, and I do not think that they ought to be treated in this way. It is true that over the past year there has been an examination of the whole secondary education system in the area, but just because the headmasters and masters of the schools gave their opinions in answer to questions that they were asked, it is wrong to claim that they were necessarily in favour of the new system, which is what is being suggested. I should have been much happier if I had felt that the parents had been properly consulted, but I know that they were not.

If the system is imposed, where will the comprehensive schools be? They will be in the existing buildings of the present grammar and secondary modern schools in the area. There is no question of new buildings because there is no money for them, and, anyway, there is no space. What money is available should, I think, be used for improvements to the old schools, of which many are in considerable need. To join together these schools, some of which are a mile or a mile and a half apart, and call them one comprehensive school is a complete negation of our approach to education. Other arguments are used to suggest that the comprehensive system is a very good one. Social equality is mentioned. I think that some of our American friends, who are far more knowledgeable about what has happened there than we are, have destroyed that argument fairly successfully.

Recently a school mistress friend of mine in London made some inquiries of teachers living and working in the London area as to what types of school they sent their children. In the case of the 60 teachers questioned, nine of the children were going to comprehensive schools and 51 to grammar schools and other types of school.

Mr. Hamling

What does that prove?

Mr. Berry

It proves that the teachers themselves think that the grammar schools are better.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West interrupted me, even from a sitting position, because it gives me a chance to say a word to him. I remember that in the course of my maiden speech I referred to a mock election held in Southgate during the last General Election campaign, and during my remarks I said that the result of that mock election had been the same as in the General Election. The hon. Gentleman then said "Hear, hear", which rather puzzled me, because what I was intending to refer to was the result of the General Election in Southgate, with the Conservatives coming first and the other parties well behind. I take this opportunity to correct him and to assure him that what Southgate thought at the last General Election the whole country will think at the next one.

Mr. Hamling

Wait for it!

Mr. Berry

It has been a long time, but it will be worth it.

I have intervened in the debate to give what I can only describe as an up-to-date example of the way in which the comprehensive system is being imposed. I respect the views of hon. Members opposite, many of whom have far more experience of education than I, but there are many aspects of the problem and many parts of the country which are suited in different ways. At this time, we are still waiting for the Plowden Report, and various fact-finding surveys, which the Ministry originated, are going on. There are also what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) described as the growing aspirations of parents. All these are reasons for not imposing but for examining the system further before we make such a major change in the lives of our children.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park) said that it was the child who mattered. It is precisely because it is the child who matters that we cannot afford at this time to tamper with his future in this way.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. J. Idwal Jones (Wrexham)

By a strange coincidence, I have the privilege once again of following the hon. Member for Southgate (Mr. Berry). It is nearly 40 years since the publication of the Hadow Report on the Education of the Adolescent, and we are still waiting for a sound system of universal secondary education. Twenty years have gone since the 1944 Act and it is time that the country made up its mind on this all-important issue. We have had an experiment lasting over a period of 20 years and I am bound to say that in some fundamental respects that experiment has broken down.

After the 1944 Act, we had the tripartite system, which some called the bipartite system, with the new school—the secondary modern school. If allowed to develop in its own way, the secondary modern school might have been a success, but, unfortunately, it was not given parity of esteem with the grammar schools. Consequently, its image was debased and we are now facing the problem of having to evolve a new system of universal secondary education.

We hear people, and hon. Members opposite especially, championing the cause of the grammar schools. I was a pupil of a grammar school which was founded in 1575, and of which I am proud. I am glad to say that it is to be a comprehensive school in the near future. Had those championing grammar schools been so ardent in championing the cause of the secondary modern schools in the last 20 years, we might have had a different story, but the secondary modern schools were not championed. It was the children of the secondary modern schools who had the rawest deal, and let us not forget that they represent 75 per cent. of the adolescents.

They were taught in Victorian buildings never meant for secondary education. Since 1945, 75 per cent. of the adolescents of this country have passed through buildings of that kind, with inferior equipment, inferior classrooms and inferior school buildings generally. The greatest indictment came from the Crowther Report, which admits quite clearly that these children had the worst deal in our educational system. I know the work of secondary modern schools and I have a high regard for the work which the teachers in them are doing.

As a nation, we have committed two errors in the system of secondary education during the last 20 years. The first was that of trying to economise on the education of our children. This was particularly so in the case of the secondary modern schools.

Mr. Maude

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not overstate his case. He was talking about 75 per cent. of all children going to schools like this. That may be so in Wales, but has he never been in one of the hundreds of post-1945 secondary schools in England?

Mr. Jones

I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman does not know the facts. The position in Wales is better than that in England. When I am championing the cause of secondary schools, I am championing the cause of these schools in England much more than in Wales.

We have also laboured under a mistaken educational theory in the same period. We have sought to divide children into two types, academic and non-academic and we have further thought that we could divide them into 25 per cent. academic and 75 per cent. non-academic. The children have suffered under this mistaken educational theory. I know that all children are not of the same educational ability. I have been in schools for far too long to think otherwise. But the all-important point which we too often forget is that while children vary in ability they also vary in the rate of development.

That is why the 11-plus examination has broken down. I have seen very bright children who have begun to slow down after a period in adolescence and other children who are slower at the start, but develop with great rapidity later. We have thought that by a system of selection and the 11-plus we could decide which were the academic types and which the non-academic types. But it did not take into account the varying rate of development; and so the system has broken down.

Because of the breakdown of this system, because of the fallacy of this educational theory, we find our secondary modern schools trying to correct the situation by preparing children for the G.C.E. Had the 11-plus been a success then there would be few failures in the grammar schools, and it would not have been necessary for the secondary modern schools to prepare courses in G.C.E.

Mr. Maude

What a futile argument.

Mr. Jones

As one who has been in the schools, I think that I know what I am talking about.

Mr. Hamling

The hon. Member opposite does not.

Mr. Jones

But I do.

Today, the grammar schools prepare their pupils for the G.C.E. The pupils who do not make the grade will in the future prepare for the Certificate of Secondary Education. The secondary modern schools are also preparing their pupils for the G.C.E. and the C.S.E. The result is that the middle wall of partition between these two types of school is being eroded. There is only one answer to that, and that is the comprehensive system.

The whole conception of education needs to be revised and reconsidered. Segregation at the age of 11 is wrong. A school should be a reflection of the community in which it is situated, and the school itself should be a community. There are different abilities, interests and achievements in a community. In a school which functions properly there is room for all types of ability. One boy may not be able to do his Latin or French, but he might be an excellent gardener, and that is an achievement in itself. Other boys may do well in the woodwork department or the metalwork department. Some girls may do well in needlework or domestic science.

They may not get their G.C.E., but they have their part to play in the school community. In a school which is a community every child is respected and has a place, because he is regarded by his fellow pupils as a fellow pupil. It is by creating the community spirit in the secondary schools that we shall establish the basis of a sound democracy for the future.

8.58 p.m.

Mr. John Astor (Newbury)

I listened, I hope attentively, to the hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. J. Idwal Jones), and indeed to previous speakers, but I have not heard any educational advantages put forward for the comprehensive system in practical terms of the type of courses offered, the staffing, and so on.

Mr. Hamling

I could give some.

Mr. Astor

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity, if not tonight at some other time, to put them forward.

Like my hon. Friends, I agree that comprehensive schools can perform a very useful function in certain places. But I am not persuaded—and this is a rash assumption for hon. Members opposite to make—that their claims are so superior to the existing system that they justify jettisoning a single good grammar or modern secondary school, let alone the whole system of education as it has developed.

I hope that the Minister who answers the debate will enlighten us a little on the educational advantages of the comprehensive system. I suspect that he may be a little light on information, because the Secretary of State recently set up a research project to evaluate the qualities of different types of comprehensive systems. My first point, therefore, is that before any Government are justified in imposing a comprehensive system throughout the country they should prove their case on educational grounds, which I do not believe has been done.

I am very concerned with certain aspects of Circular 10/65, because it will result in a diminution of standards, at least among the schools in the better areas. The hon. Member for Wrexham said that the secondary modern schools in Wales were very good. I assure him that we have some very fine modern schools in Berkshire which I should be delighted to show him.

The results of the circular to which I have referred will be bad in two ways. First, it will throw up many unsatisfactory interim schemes and a substantial number of unsatisfactory long-term schemes based on types of organisations which the circular admits are inferior. I know that the circular is only a request to local authorities, but I believe that quite a lot of them are interpreting it as an instruction to produce a scheme of some sort. They feel that they must produce a comprehensive plan willy-nilly, whether it is good or bad.

I can quote an example of a recent case. A working party which was presenting its proposals for an area was asked whether it was satisfied that the educational advantages of the scheme which it was putting forward outweighed the educational advantages of the existing facilities. The somewhat surprising reply was that the working party had not given serious consideration to this aspect of the problem. It is a serious matter that people are going ahead producing schemes which may be thoroughly injurious.

In general, therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State will discourage interim schemes. They are most likely to be unsatisfactory makeshifts. They will cause two upheavals, very often quite unnecessarily, because the population in many places is increasing rapidly and if an area decides to go comprehensive, it can go over to the orthodox comprehensive system in a few years' time by showing a little patience and omitting the interim period, in which, I am sure, there is no need for haste. I hope that the Secretary of State will not insist upon undue haste in his desire to abolish separatism.

Bearing in mind that there will be no extra money specifically for going comprehensive, it seems necessary that many local authorities will have to adopt a two-tier system. Unless the Plowden Committee recommends a change in the school transfer date, it is inevitable that a two-tier system would involve a two-year course either in the junior or in the senior school. Most people would agree that that is thoroughly undesirable from the point of view both of the pupils and also of the staff in those schools. We have heard very little about the staffing of these schools this evening. It will be extremely difficult to attract good quality teachers to go into a school which is, in effect, only a staging post in children's careers.

The fact that some working parties utterly reject the two-year course in a junior school and others equally emphatically reject it in a senior school shows that the very concept of a two-year course is unacceptable on educational grounds. It is true that the Plowden Committee may reduce the disadvantages of a two-year system, and, incidentally, if it suggests an alteration in the school transfer date, it will make nonsense of many of the schemes which are being prepared.

Direct-grant and aided grammar schools have a special difficulty, even those which are prepared, as some of them are, to co-operate as far as they can with the local authorities. With a two-or three-form entry, it is virtually impossible for a grammar school, which is geared to a particular range of courses, to adapt itself to take in the full range of ability over the full period from 11 to 18 years of age. Naturally, these grammar schools are reluctant to see their sixth-form standards in any way lowered. The only way in which many of these schools could co-operate is by vastly increasing their intake, which requires additional money.

I should like to ask the Minister of of State a specific question about which there seems to be doubt in the minds of many local education authorities. It may be that an aided school would be willing to adopt controlled status so that the local authority could finance it. If, however, such an aided school had recently undertaken a building project of its own, partly on borrowed money, would the local authority be within its legal rights in assuming responsibility for the indebtedness which was still outstanding?

The quality of existing grammar schools has often been emphasised and it does not need re-emphasis. Not enough attention, however, has been paid to the very much changed standards of the secondary modern schools. They are often ignored and usually underestimated.

Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)

Will the hon. Member be sending his child to a secondary modern school? If not, which school will he go to?

Mr. Astor

Where I send my child is my own affair. I am one of those people who defend the right of anybody to do what hon. Members on either side are perfectly willing to do—to spend their money on their children's education rather than on bingo or anything else. I think that that is a perfectly good right.

A great deal of harm has been done to the secondary modern schools by the way in which they have been denigrated—partly by the public, who may not be aware of the facts, but still more reprehensibly by hon. Gentlemen opposite who are always criticising them. In fact, in the areas where we have new secondary modern schools the reputation which they have gained locally, and the degree of confidence and pride which they have established among pupils and parents, is quite amazing. Great credit ought to be given to the staffs of those schools who have built them up in this way.

Authorities who provide for overlap in the standard of their secondary modern schools—overlap between the secondary modern and the grammar schools, coupled with arrangements for transfer from one to the other, are already providing a comprehensive education and ensuring, what is important, that every single child has the opportunity to develop his or her talents to the full.

Where these arrangements are working satisfactorily, as they are in many parts of the country—I agree, not everywhere, but in many parts—I would plead with the right hon. Gentleman not to try to impose a series of botched-up schemes which would inevitably have the effect of reducing the standards of education for all those children.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)

My hon. Friends on the back benches have argued—quietly, I think I may say, and persuasively—some of the difficulties which have become apparent in their own areas as a result of the Government circular. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park) really believes that those who have reservations about a policy of 100 per cent. comprehension are simply motivated by a desire to retain inequality and privilege.

Mr. Park


Mr. Hamling


Mr. Chataway

"Yes" says the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). Well, he must find an awful lot of evil around him, because there is no doubt that there has been growing anxiety over Government policy. The Guardian, which, perhaps, hon. Gentlemen opposite will accept is a paper which is not always hostile to their point of view, and which certainly has over the years argued very consistently for the comprehensive cause, supporting a large number of comprehensive schemes, on 8th January this year, in a long and important leader, had this to say: There is surely a developing case for pausing, rethinking, drawing up a more co-ordinated, more carefully evaluated programme, based on detailed economic assessment". I believe that as a result of the months which we have had to watch the working of the Government's circular this is a view which is becoming more and more widespread.

I think there is anxiety on three grounds. First, about the educational objective of that circular an objective which, I think, may fairly be described as a 100 per cent. comprehensive system in which the only selective schools to be tolerated would be schools for the educationally sub-normal and the handicapped. Secondly, I think there is anxiety about the timing of Government policy, and the time scale which has been laid down by it. Thirdly, there is some anxiety and even some rejection of the rather grandiose talk that Ministers are continually producing to accompany a Government policy which is giving a lower priority than their Conservative predecessors to the expansion of educational expenditure.

I want to deal first with the point about resources, because it is absolutely crucial to the debate. In the National Plan, the Government look forward to a 32 per cent. increase in educational expenditure over the five-year period. That compares with an increase of more than 40 per cent. in educational expenditure over the first five years of the 1960s, the five years for which my right hon. Friends were responsible. At the same time, during their first 17 months of office the Government have had to cut back on the building of teacher training colleges and universities. That is at a time when the Government have made it clear that they consider that there will be slower rate of growth in education than previously. It is a time of scarce resources.

By urging a universal comprehensive reorganisation at a time when the Government are giving a lower priority to educational expenditure, inevitably they are providing an incentive to local education authorities to produce unsatisfactory schemes—the botched-up schemes to which so many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have referred. I hope that the Minister of State may be able to tell us something about one or two of the more unsatisfactory schemes that are under consideration at the moment in the Department. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) referred to the Manchester proposals. They are, as I am sure the Minister of State will agree, as unacceptable as was most of the Liverpool scheme, and I hope that he will be able to tell us that they will be rejected as well. I know that there is anxiety in London about the proposals that have been put forward by the London borough of Brent, which again is an unsatisfactory scheme if ever there was one. I hope that he will be able to give us some information about that.

That, then, is the first ground of anxiety about Government policy. They are full of exhortation to local education authorities but are not producing the funds to go with the kind of policy that they are urging upon them.

In the same leader in The Guardian it was said about the speech of the Secretary of State at the North of England Education Conference earlier in the year: Mr. Crosland was long on moral principles and painfully short on both basic essentials for a truly coherent national policy; that is to say, long term guidance and financial resources. The second set of reservations, to some of which my right hon. and hon. Friends have referred, relate to the timing of the scheme. If one is going to carry through a major reorganisation of secondary education, with all the upheaval that it is bound to produce, it is essential that one should at the end of the day have a relatively stable arrangement that will last for some time. I believe that many of those who are the most passionate believers in a comprehensive system would not want to see carried through now a reorganisation which has to be altered again in a few years' time.

It is for that reason that the Government were wrong to insist that local education authorities should draw up their schemes at the present stage, before the Plowden Committee has reported. If Plowden recommends that the age of transfer be changed to 12 or 13, which is what all the information that we have suggests is quite likely, local education authorities will be required to change their schemes once again.

There is also, I think, a growing realisation that it may not be possible to raise the school-leaving age in 1970–71. If one looks at the capital figures in the National Plan, I believe that one is bound to entertain serious doubts about whether this Government, if they were in power then, would be able to raise the school-leaving age in 1970–71. The Minister of State shakes his head, but the facts as set out in the National Plan are that on the capital side, for school building, over the five-year period there is to be an increase from £105 million in 1964–65 to £138 million in 1969–70.

At first sight that may seem a reasonable figure, but when one looks at the way in which it is divided, I believe that one may well come to the conclusion that raising the school-leaving age in 1970–71 will be almost impossible. Out of the £105 million for 1964–65, £30 million was for school replacements, and hon. Gentlemen opposite know that during 1964–65 they felt that there were many schools which ought to be replaced, but which did not find a place in the programme, particularly primary schools.

When we come to the programme for 1969–70, we see in the National Plan that £99 million will be required for basic needs, and £33 million for raising the school-leaving age. This will leave nothing for replacing old and inadequate schools. Is it really conceivable that for most of the period from now until 1969–70 the public, the schools and the local education authorities will be satisfied not to have any old schools replaced? Is it really conceivable that in 1969–70, for that one year alone, one could have a situation in which virtually no old primary schools could be rebuilt or replaced? I believe not. In that circumstance, there is inevitably a good deal of speculation about the certainty of the date on which the school-leaving age will be raised.

Mr. Park

I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument very closely. I would be grateful if he would make it clear whether he is now saying that a Conservative Administration would not raise the school-leaving age as planned, or whether he is saying that a Conservative Administration would be prepared to raise taxation in order to provide more money?

Mr. Chataway

What I am saying is that on the basis of the National Plan I find it difficult to see how the school-leaving age can be raised in the year that we plan, and I believe that if those figures are adhered to, and the reduced rate of increase in educational spending is maintained, there must be serious doubts about this.

With those doubts, and particularly with the doubts about the age of transfer, it seems to be the gravest mistake to require local education authorities to produce their full plans for reorganisation by July of next year. Many of my hon. Friends know that local education authorities have found it an appalling burden to have to divert resources and staff to the preparation of these plans when, in many cases, they simply have not the evidence on which to work.

Most of the anxieties and misgivings which have been expressed today relate not to timing, or even to the resources which have been made available for this policy, but to the policy itself, to the objective of a 100 per cent. comprehensive system in which the only selective schools to be tolerated are the special schools. I have yet to hear any convincing educational arguments for doing away with all the grammar schools.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth gave the House some statistics about London. He showed that at the moment 85 per cent. of children in London were able to be placed in schools of their first choice. Some hon. Members said, "This still leaves 15 per cent. who are rejected." Surely, if we have a 100 per cent. comprehensive system there is likely to be a fair number of children who will want to go to a comprehensive school that is already full. There must be a fair number of those who have to accept a second choice, even in London, who at the moment put down a comprehensive school as their first choice.

In this situation, what are the arguments against co-existence. I have in my constituency two excellent aided grammar schools—the Prendergast Grammar School for Girls and the Colfe's Grammar School for Boys. I do not believe that many comprehensive schools in the area would argue that if those two schools were to be maintained it would be impossible for the comprehensives to have adequate sixth forms. That is an argument against having 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. of children going to grammar schools. I understand this argument from the comprehensive point of view. If there is that kind of proportion it may be impossible to run adequate sixth forms in comprehensive schools.

In New York City, where a largely comprehensive system exists, 7 per cent. of the children go to selective schools. I wonder whether, if hon. Members opposite had the task of running the education system of New York, they would seriously set about abolishing the Bronx High School for Science, or the Stuyvesant High School. Those are two of the outstanding schools in the United States, just as some of our selective schools are outstanding here.

It is very odd for those who believe in the comprehensive system to argue that no grammar schools can remain. One of the arguments that we have heard tonight for the comprehensive system is the inaccuracy of the 11-plus examination. If hon. Members opposite believe in the inaccuracy of the 11-plus examination or in any later system of selection, it is not open to them to say that if we have 10 per cent. of children going to grammar schools they would be selected with such deadly accuracy it would not leave enough able children to give the comprehensives a large enough sixth form.

If there is an argument against the retention of grammar schools in this situation, I hope that the Minister of State will put it forward. I shall be grateful if he can tell me why direct-grant grammar schools should not remain in an area where they are taking perhaps 5 per cent. or 7 per cent. of the children and why, in my own area, every grammar school must go, despite the fact that we have comprehensives which are gaining in popularity and acquiring an excellent reputation.

My right hon. Friend has spoken about the direct-grant grammar schools. It was most unfortunate of the Secretary of State to say that he had "fired a warning shot across the bows of the direct-grant grammar schools". I suppose that we can forgive this descent to the type of Walter Mitty language that we normally associate with the Prime Minister when it comes from a member of a Cabinet that is busy reducing the Navy—so we gather from the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew)—to the status of a sitting duck. I suppose that is a form of compensation. But it is hardly surprising that the direct-grant grammar schools are deeply disturbed about the prospect facing them.

My right hon. Friend has spelt out in some detail the advantages of those schools. They are a bridge between the maintained and the independent systems. Nobody will deny that many of the direct-grant grammar schools are institutions of the higest academic excellence, or that they have been responsible for giving opportunities to young people from all social classes. In the article by Dr. Koerner to which my right hon. Friend referred, this American educationist, who is certainly no opponent of the comprehensive schools, describes himself as shocked and horrified by the Secretary of State's cannonade against the direct-grant grammar schools. He makes the point which ought to be understood and considered by the Government Front Bench—that, in the United States, with a totally comprehensive system, there are many comprehensive high schools with a narrower social range than is contained in the direct-grant grammar schools.

None of us on this side of the House has sought to argue that comprehensive schemes are always wrong. My right hon. Friend the Member for Hands-worth has, I believe, a reputation for impartiality in this sphere. He has never pretended that all the arguments are neatly stacked on one side or the other. There are some good arguments for comprehensive schools and there are some bad arguments. The only thing which can be said about most of those arguments is that they do not apply to every part of the country.

But the worst argument of all is the argument of social equality. There is very little reason to believe that we should have a more equal society if we had a 100 per cent. comprehensive system. One has only to think of most of our major cities to realise that, if we had only neighbourhood comprehensive schools, our educational system would be likely to resemble that of the United States. The United States, after all, is almost alone in having a long experience of comprehensive schools and one is bound to look at its experience.

I believe that many, of the comprehensives which we have developed in this country are better than the majority of high schools in the United States, but one thing which they are bound to have in common in the big cities is that they will be primarily neighbourhood schools, drawing from their own neighbourhood. I doubt whether many hon. Members opposite who advance the simple, extreme case for a totally comprehensive system have really envisaged the difference which would be likely in social composition between the comprehensive school in the poor area and the comprehensive school in the rich area—

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

Surely it is exactly the reverse. Should it not be driven home very plainly that the Shoreditch comprehensive draws entirely on Shoreditch, whereas, if one had a comprehensive school in Chelsea which drew entirely from Belgravia and Chelsea, this would present the reverse of the picture. The people in Chelsea and its neighbourhood are middle-class and upper middle-class type who would be delighted to send their children to a comprehensive school because it would enable them all to come from the same neighbourhood. Those coming from Shoreditch would represent exactly the reverse picture. The reverse will be achieved. I am with my hon. Friend, but he ought to take this to its logical conclusion, which is that hon. Members opposite will get the reverse of what they think.

Mr. Chataway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There is, of course, a danger that, with their present policy, the Government will defeat their own objects in this respect. This was the point to which I was coming. If we are to have a 100 per cent. comprehensive system, if the direct grant schools are to be required to conform to that policy, what will be the result? In the State sector there will be neighbourhood comprehensives. Of the direct grant grammar schools, some of them, will be drawn in to become neighbourhood comprehensives. More will go out into the independent system and there will be an absolute cleavage between independent schools, on the one hand, and State secondary schools on the other.

The Government will almost certainly give a great impetus to private education and the number of independent secondary schools will expand. There should be five major objectives in this sphere. First, one should encourage comprehensives where they make sense. This is our view, we did this when we were in power and we will do it again. Secondly, one should broaden opportunity for all children. The hon. Member for Wrexham (Mr. J. Idwal Jones)—who has, unfortunately, left the Chamber—seemed to take it as generally accepted that comprehensive schools were always the right answer for Newsom children, but it is significant that the Newsom Committee came to no such conclusion and, at various points, suggested exactly the opposite. There is a fair measures of agreement about the kind of policies that are needed to widen opportunities for children of average and below average ability. We have got some way, but only a small way, in this matter. The most important objective of all in relation to the Newsom child is more staff and better staff to expand the supply of teachers.

Thirdly, we want to widen choice. Of course, we all accept that the area of choice is limited for a lot of parents, but this is no argument for saying that one should, therefore, do away with what choice remains. To widen choice is, I believe, not only democratically right but educationally right. All research is tending to show that educational improvement is due as much to the parent as to the child. If we are to involve the parent more in his child's education, we must give to the parent a greater measure of choice in regard to that child's educational future.

Fourthly, we want to enable local education authorities to keep the best of their selective schools, to keep their best grammar schools, and I believe that there is no valid argument against that course. This will certainly involve keeping those direct-grant grammar schools which have made such a great contribution to our secondary education. I also believe that, in time, many of the independent schools will wish to become direct-grant grammar schools.

Fifthly, the Government must accept the mixed system. Whether or not we like it, we are going to have the mixed system of secondary education for some time to come. We believe that the best of the grammar schools should be accepted—that we should recognise that in this country, as in the majority of countries of Western Europe and North America, a mixed system of secondary education is the right answer.

It is because we have the gravest reservations about a doctrinaire policy which regards only the comprehensive school as capable of providing suitable secondary education in this country that we have initiated the debate today.

9.33 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Edward Redhead)

I am sure that the House shares the regret expressed by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle) that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is unable to be here by reason of illness. I am sure that he would have been delighted to have taken part and that he would have dealt with the matter more effectively and in other than Walter Mitty language, which, no doubt, would have been more effective. I acknowledge with gratitude the expression of good wishes to my right hon. Friend by the right hon. Gentleman, which I shall be happy to convey.

I will, first, attempt to clear up one or two apparent misconceptions that seem to underlie so much of this debate. Circular 10/65, which was issued in July of last year, requested local education authorities not, as the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor) said, to submit any kind of scheme—that they must present a scheme good, bad or indifferent; which would suggest that the hon. Gentleman should take the trouble to read the Circular before venturing into such a debate—but to submit by July of this year—and this answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Newbury about timing—with the opportunity to ask for extensions of time which would be conceded where there were exceptionally good reasons for so doing, schemes for reorganising secondary education along comprehensive lines. This was, of course, in accordance with the Resolution of this House of 21st January of last year.

I should like to make abundantly clear, because it does not appear to be appreciated in so many quarters, that this Circular did not initiate the movement towards comprehensive education but gave it impetus and direction. The Circular was not, either in form or intention, an arbitrary imposition of some new and untried principle or, indeed, as some have suggested, a preface to some kind of rigid control over secondary schools or a limitation on their initiative and potential for experiment.

The hon. Member for Newbury asked me to advance the educational advantages of comprehensive schools. I would suggest that as well as reading the Circular he might at some time be good enough to pay a few visits to comprehensive schools when, perhaps, he might share the limited enthusiasm shown even by his own Front Bench for those comprehensive schools from which they cannot withhold their praise and admiration.

The hon. Member for Newbury says that, when research is to be instituted, it is premature to take this step before we know the results of that research. Once again, the hon. Gentleman has misconceived the object of the research that has been instituted. It is not to determine the principle, but to determine, as in other fields of education, what help and advice can be given to make the comprehensive schools as fully comprehensive as possible; to assess the variations they are capable of introducing.

This, then, is not in any sense an arbitrary imposition. The policy is quite clearly, for any one who will read the Circular with any objectivity, a practical, realistic and flexible approach. It is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park) rightly said, a Circular which gives the widest measure of discretion to local education authorities. It postulates various methods by which they may achieve the objective, and paragraph 46, which my hon. Friend quoted at length but which I do not propose now to repeat, makes it abundantly clear that discretion exists.

The Circular lays down a common objective to be achieved by a variety of possible methods at different rates according to local circumstances. But we do take the view, and take it very emphatically, that it would not be right to postpone the very substantial advantages that can be made now simply because it is not practicable to do everything at the outset. Had that been the principle in education in the past, no advance would ever have been possible at all.

Of course, there are difficulties about this. No one will deny that there are difficulties in the way—

Sir E. Boyle

The Minister has emphasised that this Circular is not a directive with the force of law and, if I may say so, I am glad that he has done that, because there is still some misconception about it. But he will agree, I think, that in its introductory paragraphs the Circular says, in effect, that it is the Government's declared objective that there should be no separate modern and secondary grammar schools. This is an important new departure in policy, and contrasts sharply with the policy we have stated tonight which is that certainly over the years we expect to see more comprehensive schools, but not nothing but comprehensive schools.

Mr. Redhead

I am afraid that I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in his interpretation in this respect, and I beg of him to study the Circular in a little more detail. In every aspect of any proposal for educational advance there have always been difficulties to be apprehended, but in the past these difficulties have not been regarded as an excuse for abandoning the objectives but accepted, as we believe they should be accepted now, as a challenge, and as difficulties that can, in our judgment, be overcome.

Running throughout this debate has been the suggestion—and the right hon. Gentleman used the term—of "botched-up" schemes. It is an implied suggestion that my right hon. Friend is giving approval to "botched-up schemes". I repudiate that at once. I want to insist not only that every scheme is meticulously examined to ensure the points about which the right hon. Gentleman is anxious—the safeguarding of sixth forms and the position of children already in selective schools—but that the whole organisation is geared to ensuring that there shall be a most careful and meticulous examination of every proposal.

It is not our purpose or desire merely to approve a scheme because it happens to bear the label "comprehensive" upon it. We desire to be satisfied that the scheme is demonstrably capable of bringing about the advantages envisaged in the comprehensive principle. The local authorities, far from being imposed upon in this matter, are being encouraged to seek informal discussions with the Department before putting their full plans. They are being given every facility of advice and guidance and, indeed, numbers of them have already been asked to think again as a result of our detection of weaknesses or doubts in the plans they have submitted.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) expressed hopes about certain schemes now under consideration. He asked me in particular to comment and to say that certain schemes such as those of Manchester and Brent will be rejected. It would be highly improper for me to do any such thing at this stage, when the schemes are under consideration in the Department.

Mr. Chataway

But surely no more improper than the Chancellor's speech yesterday on the Budget.

Mr. Redhead

That kind of intervention is not worthy of the hon. Gentleman. I want to take the House back to the basic considerations which lie behind the conception of comprehensive education. First, the 11-plus examination, whatever form it takes—and I acknowledge the varieties—is demonstrably unsound in its assumption. It assumes that it is possible to assess an immutable degree of ability in a child at the arbitrary age of 11-plus. We know that even intelligence tests are impossible in that respect. The examination is deleterious in its effects upon many children and parents, distorts the pattern of primary schools and fails, to a very considerable degree, in its ostensible purpose.

The second basic consideration is that selection and separatism—the separation of sheep and goats in this respect—of which the 11-plus examination is the fallible instrument, is educationally unsound, unjust in its results and wasteful in practice. When hon. Members quote the example of the secondary modern school in repudiating the case for comprehensive schools, I wonder whether they have thought this one out deeply enough. I do not deny the great achievements that have been made at secondary modern schools. I give all praise to the teaching staffs who, in some cases, have achieved the well nigh impossible. It is true that these schools have proved the ability of many children to qualify in O-level G.C.E. examinations.

But in extolling the virtues of secondary modern schools, I wonder how many hon. Members realise that, in fact, they are substantially conceding the case for comprehensive education. Who are the inmates of secondary modern schools? They are the children who were judged to be failures by the 11-plus examination. By the very character of that choice, they were sent to secondary modern schools. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The hon. Gentleman says, "No". I do not know what answer he would offer today, but clearly the child who goes to a secondary modern school is the child who does not pass the 11-plus examination.

Sir E. Boyle

Not final.

Mr. Redhead

The right hon. Gentleman says that it need not be the final decision. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that an opportunity at 13-plus is the complete answer to the point? Does he believe that every child at 13-plus who proves in that period that a mistake was made at the 11-plus examination gets the opportunity of transfer to a grammar school?

Sir E. Boyle indicated dissent.

Mr. Redhead

If the right hon. Gentleman does not say that, he must not advance that argument in response to the aspect of the secondary modern school to which I drew attention just now.

When hon. Members opposite try to deny that a system of selection and separatism is socially undesirable and then try to get out of the argument by referring to the fact that the comprehensive school in a given area, drawn from much the same social class, will only intensify social inequalities I would ask them to look again at the Circular. Paragraph 36 makes it abundantly clear that the Secretary of State is prepared to take consideration of this factor wherever it arises. He asks the local authorities to bear this in mind and he directs their attention to the desirability of so determining their catchment areas as to mitigate those difficulties.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite must make up their minds where they stand on this basic aspect. It is not at all clear as a result of this debate. Both the right hon. Member for Handsworth and the hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) seem to be trying to ride two horses at the same time, and they express a point of view quite different from views expressed on the back benches opposite and certainly very different from those of many Conservative speakers in the constituencies. If they want to make an election issue of this, I ask them whether they want to perpetuate the 11-plus examination.

Mr. Chataway

The hon. Gentleman must realise that one does not have to be for or against comprehensive schools in this country, any more than one has to be in the United States or anywhere else. If we have selective schools we shall have some selection forward, but we do not have to retain the 11-plus. It have been abolished in London.

Mr. Speaker

Order. An intervention is an intervention.

Mr. Redhead

But hon. Members opposite have still to answer the question to the electorate—do they want to perpetuate the 11-plus examination and the system of separatism with all that flows from it? If that be the desire and intention of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, let them say so, and if they want to make an election issue out of that we shall be only too glad to meet them.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)


Mr. Redhead

No, I will not give way. I have little time.

If hon. Members opposite want to abolish the 11-plus and get rid of separatism they must face the implications and not pose, as many of them do in that fashion which says very piously, "We are not opposed to the principle of comprehensive education but" and then go on to argue, as we have heard them argue tonight, "Yes, by all means have comprehensive schools but let us preserve the grammar schools". That is an utter inconsistency which cannot be supported logically. [Interruption.] So manifestly is that so that I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should ask his question. Hon. Members opposite want to preserve various devices for maintaining selection in part or for privileged sections, and they then tell us that they want to abolish the 11-plus examination. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called the Government Front Bench to order last night. I will not have running commentaries from the Front Bench on either side.

Mr. Redhead

Some play has been made of the fact—

Sir E. Boyle

May I make this clear in answer to the challenge which the hon. Gentleman has thrown out? The whole case which we put, which has not been answered, is that one can extend opportunity to children of all ranges of ability without having to do away with all first-class selective schools in this country. We stand both for recognising the qualities of the finest existing schools and realising that the comprehensive school has its part to play and for extending opportunities to all children at the secondary stage.

Mr. Redhead

I understood the right hon. Gentleman's argument at an earlier stage. It has been pointed out to him repeatedly that what he is saying is this: secondary modern schools have been doing very well—no one denies their tremendous achievements—they should be encouraged to do even better, and greater facilities should be accorded to them in respect of O-level examination courses. But he will not recognise that this is tantamount to saying that we ought to strive to make the secondary modern school more and more like the grammar school. If that be a desirable objective which he supports, then I again put the question: why preserve all the paraphernalia of the 11-plus examination and all that that involves in order to perpetuate two kinds of school of different standards, generally speaking, with different labels and all the other implications?

Play has been made of the inadequacy of buildings but, when we hear plaintive pleas, as we did tonight, for the primary schools and references to the deplorable condition in which many of these schools undeniably still are today, I find it a little plaintive that these pleas should come from the other side of the House. These deplorable conditions were not the creation of the last 18 months. They are the inheritance of years of neglect. This is part of the problem with which this Government have had to grapple.

It is true that the Circular advises local authorities not to plan on the basis that their individual programmes will be increased solely to take account of the need to adapt or remodel existing buildings on a scale which would not have been necessary but for reorganisation, but, notwithstanding that, the National Plan provides for much larger building programmes in the future—£120 million in 1967–68 and £138 million in each of the two succeeding years, compared with £105 million in 1966–67.

I say quite honestly that I wish that the allocations could be greater. There is a need to be satisfied. But this Government have tackled a job which has never been tackled before, an objective assessment of this country's economic resources and an attempt, for the first time—derided by hon. Members opposite—to determine a sensible order of priorities within the assessed character of our economic resources with a view to settling those priorities and allocations in accordance with the various demands upon resources for equally socially desirable ends.

In any case, new projects where justified on other grounds in submissions from local education authorities for their building programmes can be recast; they can be included in the current programmes to the same end, and authorities will have discretion to use their minor works allocations for smaller-scale improvements to existing buildings in order to facilitate reorganisation at an early date. We shall look at every proposal which comes up in the building programme in order to ensure that, if it is possible, the new buildings will be consistent with whatever the authority's plans may be in the direction of reorganisation on comprehensive lines.

This is not an untried principle. Hon. Members opposite have spoken a great deal of the desirability of waiting until we have more experience and more knowledge, as if there has been no test of the principle at all.

I would refer hon. Members opposite to a publication from the University of Birmingham Institute of Education in which Dr. T. W. G. Miller, an Australian and thus an impartial observer, after very thorough and critical examination of the historical and philosophical backgrounds of the comprehensive idea, undertook a very careful review from three regions of comprehensive schools. It will be useful for hon. Members opposite to study it and discover that the conclusion to which he came is that comprehensive education can achieve something not gained in grammar and modern schools. He came definitely to the conclusion that the moral interests and sense of belonging are enhanced in the academically less able pupils in comprehensive schools, and that this is done without lowering the standards of attainments of abler pupils. This is the answer as a result of an impartial survey.

In conclusion, we are determined to move forward believing that our objective is a sound one, to move forward as rapidly as we can but consistent with an objective assessment of every scheme that is submitted, for while the need to achieve the complete elimination of selection and separation in secondary education, in our conviction, is urgent, it is equally important that the change to a comprehensive pattern should not be a destructive process, and that is the approach that we are making.

The rate at which authorities are able to advance will vary according to individual circumstances, particularly in so far as existing buildings lend themselves to the new pattern of organisation. Just as it would be wrong to ignore the opportunities to reform, so it would be unwise—and we acknowledge it—to impose changes where conditions are as yet unsuitable. But, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in the speech at Harrogate to which reference has been made, what is important is that we should move as quickly as we can but as slowly as we must. But as to the objective we have no doubts at all.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite challenge that objective. I beg of them, instead of trying to find excuses and justifications for their attitude by saying "It is too soon, we do not know enough about it, and there are difficulties", and presenting all kinds of specious arguments, to be courageous and come out openly and tell the electorate precisely where they stand. Their position is that they believe in separation and still want to perpetuate selection, and the only honest thing for them to do is to say so and let the electorate judge, not least the parents of the 75 per cent. of our children who, by implication, are judged to be failures and are condemned, by and large, to an inferior standard of education, a condition which this side of the House is not prepared to tolerate.

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)

The House has been waiting to hear from the hon. Gentleman the reasons which he said he would give us in favour, on education grounds, of a universal system of comprehensive education. He has utterly and lamentably failed to give us that. He rested his case exclusively on the weakness of the 11-plus examination, as though he had never heard of any other systems of selection. I believe in selection by merit in the education system and throughout life. I do not believe that one can wish it away by Circulars.

In particular, the hon. Member gave no answer to the powerful point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), that the abolition of the direct grant schools under his scheme will deal a heavy blow to the able children in the poorer areas where the comprehensive schools will not have, whatever he says, the same prestige as those in—

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.