HC Deb 10 June 1971 vol 818 cc1212-3
7. Mr. Armstrong

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations have been received to date requesting postponement of the raising of the school-leaving age; and what replies have been sent.

11. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received from teachers about her proposals to raise the school-leaving age; and what replies she has sent.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have received representations on behalf of two local branches of teachers' associations and a few other organisations, as well as a number of letters from hon. Members, individual teachers and other members of the public. My replies reaffirm the Government's intention to raise the school-leaving age to take effect in the school year 1972–73.

Mr. Armstrong

Is the Secretary of State aware that her stand on this will be supported on both sides of the House and by people outside, particularly by those in the Northern Region? Will she now take the next logical step and withdraw Circular 10/70, because most of the children directly affected by the lengthening of the school career are children who have been labelled, segregated and separated at the early age of 11 and an extension of the comprehensive re-organisation would be the beginning of the granting of educational equality of opportunity to such children?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not believe that Circular 10/70 has anything to do with this question.

Mr. Hunt

Did my right hon. Friend see the letter which I sent on to her from a common room in my constituency arguing strongly for the continued encouragement of voluntary staying on rather than what the writers called "self-defeating compulsion"? Even at this late stage, does not my right hon. Friend think that we should pay some heed to authoritative views of that type expressed by teachers who are in direct and daily contact with the problems of secondary education?

Mrs. Thatcher

We all accept that there will be certain individually difficult problems. These will happen whenever the school-leaving age is raised, as it has happened whenever it has been raised in the past. I do not think that we can allow those exceptional cases to determine our course of action on the whole subject.

Mr. Marks

Will the right hon. Lady accept my congratulations on her stand on this issue? Will she, however, also consider the question of a single leaving date, because many of the problems of early leaving will continue if children leave at Easter in their fifth year?

Mrs. Thatcher

Not yet. At present we have sufficient problems in raising the leaving age on time. I would rather like to get that over first.

Mr. Montgomery

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. Hunt), who still feel unhappy about this? We are in favour of children staying on voluntarily beyond the age of 15, but we think that there are more important things that we should be doing in education than keeping children on at school against their will.

Mrs. Thatcher

I know that there are some worries about this, but some of the arguments which have been advanced would have been applied to any raising of the leaving age at any time since it was first 11. The sooner it is done now, the sooner the problems will be over and we shall begin to settle them and to give these children a very much better opportunity than they have had up to now.