HC Deb 05 November 1971 vol 825 cc497-599

11.5 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

The Gracious Speech had this to say about education: The substantial programme of replacement and improvement of primary school buildings will be continued. Steps will be taken to raise the school-leaving age to 16. Grants to direct grant schools will be increased. Provision for higher and further education will be improved and expanded. I shall start by referring to school building. In August the Department published Report on Education No. 71 which set out the main facts and figures about school building since the war and also looked ahead over the next two or three years. Today I want to pick out some of the main points from those figures.

The major school building programme in England and Wales—leaving out minor works, on which I shall say something later—will be running this year and next at record levels. The total value of work to be started in each of these two years, £179 million, is about half as much again in real terms as the average for the second half of the 1960s.

Within the total there is, of course, first, the special programme of £125 million spread over three years for raising the school-leaving age which was authorised by the last Government and is now being carried out. Second, there is the programme for other basic needs; that is, the provision of new places to meet the increase in, and movement of, the school population. In some areas the number of pupils in primary schools is already falling, and over the country as a whole there will be no significant change between 1970 and 1975 in the number of children of primary school age. This means that the basic needs programme is being devoted increasingly to secondary schools.

The Government are continuing to give high priority to the improvement and replacement of old primary schools. The resources available for this purpose, nearly £190 million in the four years beginning in 1972–73, are very substantial. In those four years alone, it should be possible to replace or improve getting on for 2,000 old primary schools.

I know that there has been some criticism of our decision to concentrate on primary schools to the exclusion, in 1972– 73 and 1973–74, of the improvement of old secondary schools. There are two reasons for this. First, we believe that it is right to shift the emphasis in favour of the primary schools, the foundation on which all later education and training are built. Good school buildings are not everything. But if children at the age of 5 are given a chance in buildings properly designed and equipped for primary education, there must be lasting benefits.

Second, it is not generally realised how much more has been done for secondary schools than for primary schools since the war. By the end of 1970 the number of new secondary places provided since the war was equivalent to well over 80 per cent. of the secondary school population. The corresponding figure for primary schools was little more than 60 per cent.

Two more figures bring out the same point. One million—1 in 5—of our primary school children are in 19th century schools. This is true of only about 1 in 20 of our secondary school children. When we have made more progress with the replacement of the worst old primary schools, I hope that we shall be able to devote resources to the improvement of secondary schools.

Before I leave school building, I should like to mention three other points about minor works, nursery provision, and rural areas. I deal first with minor works.

From next April a minor project will be one costing up to £40,000. We are allocating well over £30 million a year for minor projects which local authorities can carry out at their discretion. A large part of this has to be devoted to the provision of extra places at schools where the numbers involved would not justify a major project, but many local authorities are able to carry out minor improvements of both primary and secondary schools from their allocations. This process will be speeded up by the Government's decision to allocate about £5 million extra spread over this year and the next for minor works by local authorities and voluntary bodies in areas of high unemployment.

Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State stated yesterday in an answer in this House, a further allocation of £1.2 million has been made for the provision of nursery places. This will be administered through the urban programme as part of the Government's plans to assist areas of special difficulty, and is in addition to the 5,000 places announced last January.

Thirdly, a word about the improvement of primary places in rural areas. Although the 1972–73 programme was weighted in favour of socially deprived urban areas, the improvements programme for 1973–74 includes many rural primary schools as well. I have asked the Inspectorate to let me have by the end of the year an assessment of the handicaps imposed on children in rural areas by bad school buildings, and, conversely, of the benefits which new buildings can bring.

Now I should like to say something about school milk. It is constantly being overlooked in public comment that milk is still supplied free to all pupils in special schools, to pupils up to the end of the school year in which they become 7 years of age, and to pupils between 7 and 12 years of age who have a health requirement and who are in primary or middle schools.

I realise that in the first term of operation school doctors had a difficult task initially in considering which children should be given free milk on medical grounds, but in subsequent terms the problems of examination and certification will be much easier. I am sure that doctors, as professional men and women, would not have wished the Department to tell them on what specific medical grounds children should be considered to need milk.

Meanwhile, plans have been made through the Chief Medical Officer's Sub-Committee on Nutritional Surveillance to monitor the position generally over the coming years. The new arrangements came into effect at the beginning of the autumn term. I shall not know till the results of the autumn census are complete how many local education authorities have yet been able to make arrangements to provide milk for sale to pupils under the new power conferred on them by the Act. They have not yet had long to consider whether to do so. Clearly, no local education authority will supply milk till it has assessed the extent of demand, and this may take a little time yet. I believe that many parents are quite willing to pay for the milk and would like it to be on sale in schools. As I said in the departmental circular of August, I hope authorities will be prepared to supply milk for sale where there is a sufficient demand to justify making the arrangements. Some authorities are already doing so.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

In considering the results of the survey, would the right hon. Lady also take into consideration the price which is being charged for school milk in schools in those areas where it is being sold? Is she aware that the retail price for 1⅔ pints, at one-third of a pint a day, is 9.6p a week? At Southampton, to take one example, the charge is 13p per week for one-third of a pint of milk a day because the authorities say they have to meet all the administrative charges and costs. Would the right hon. Lady look into that?

Mrs. Thatcher

This involves, for school milk, local authorities charging the price of the milk and any administrative costs arising from its sale.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

I am wondering whether the right hon. Lady or the Department has followed up a point which she made in a letter to me of 20th August in which she said: There is nothing in the Act which requires a medical officer to wait until there is overt sign of malnutrition before giving a certificate and in this sense preventive considerations may he a factor in his professional judgment in the individual case. Has it been made clear to medical officers of health or individual authorities that the preventive consideration should be applied in the medical judgment? To certain doctors, clearly, the preventive consideration would apply to all children.

Mrs. Thatcher

I think I have dealt with that point already in that part of my speech on school milk when I said that we were not giving specific advice to doctors about how they should make their judgments. They are professional people, and they have not had specific advice about how to carry out their duties, and I think they are well able to take their own decisions themselves.

In the related field of school meals I am aware of recent Press articles about take-up since the new term started in September. The fact is, however, that the official returns from local education authorities which relate to take-up on a day during the period 4th October to 15th October are only now reaching the Department. Too few have yet been received to form any useful comparison with the results of the census last May. When the complete results are known, I shall, of course, make them available to the House.

It is right that we should be concerned with the number of school dinners served both on payment and free to the pupils, but we should not be preoccupied exclusively with numbers. Circumstances have changed a great deal since the present pattern of the school meals service was established well over 25 years ago. These changes are reflected to some extent in the moves in some secondary schools towards the provision of meals other than the traditional school dinner, and there have been considerable advances in food technology in the last 20 years.

I think the time has come when we ought to review the aims and methods of the school meals service. My Department has already had a preliminary discussion with officers of the local authority associations, and I shall shortly be inviting their chairmen to discussions with me about how the school meals service can best be developed to meet modern conditions.

I turn now to that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with the raising of the school-leaving age. I have spoken on earlier occasions about the raising of the school-leaving age but this reform is of such importance that it is right that I should give the House a progress report.

As we approach the operative date it is essential that all of us involved should check our readiness more and more carefully. The purpose of the Department's Circular 8/71, issued last August, was to set out in precise detail the impact, timing and machinery, and to ask authorities to examine their preparations and to consider as a matter of urgency what remains to be done. I am satisfied, in general terms, that the resources which have been committed nationally are adequate and are being effectively applied, but I have asked all authorities to let me have by 1st December reports on the state of their preparedness. Where these reports show matters requiring further action I have asked that they should also indicate the nature and timing of the methods proposed.

It is natural that there should be fears that when the school-leaving age is raised schools will find they have an increased problem to deal with in the presence of pupils who do not want to stay on at school and may be tempted to stay away. The authorities and the teachers are well aware of the need to ensure that the curriculum for the secondary school course is seen to be relevant to practical objectives and, particularly in the final year, to career prospects. The circular has a good deal to say about curriculum development in this context.

The problem of truancy needs to be treated seriously but it should be kept in perspective. It involves only a small minority of pupils, and it certainly does not justify seconds thoughts about the wisdom of raising the school-leaving age.

The House may like to be reminded of the practical implications of raising the age. The effect is to substitute 16 for 15 in all the provisions of the Education Acts which deal with the upper limit of compulsory school age. The change will be made by Order in Council which will be laid before both Houses of Parliament and will be subject to negative Resolution by either House for a period of 40 days. The Order will be expressed to come into operation on 1st September, 1972. It is intended to lay the draft before Parliament as early as practicable in 1972. The change will affect all pupils at ordinary maintained, direct-grant or independent schools whose fifteenth birthday falls on or after 1st September, 1972—pupils at special schools already stay on until they are 16—who would, under the present law, be entitled to leave school at the end of either the Easter or Summer term 1973, depending on the precise date of their birthday. The effect of the change is that they will have to stay at school until the end of the Easter term 1974, if their sixteenth birthday falls on any date from 1st September, 1973, to 31st January. 1974, and until the end of the Summer term 1974 if their sixteenth birthday falls on or after 1st February, 1974, and before 1st September, 1974.

Those pupils in school during 1972–23, other than those at special schools, who attained their fifteenth birthday before 1st September, 1972, will be entitled, if they wish, to leave school at any time.

I have already mentioned the school building allocation of £125 million spread over three years for raising the school-leaving age. Virtually all the projects covered by the allocation for the first year started on time.

When the decision to raise the school-leaving age was taken in 1964, it seemed probable that immediately after the age was raised there would be a sharp deterioration in pupil-teacher ratio. This now seems unlikely to happen. The size of the teaching force is increasing faster than ever before, and in 1973/74, the year in which the extra burden falls on the schools, the increase in teachers numbers should be very nearly, if not quite, sufficent to match the rise in the number of pupils in the schools, so that the pupil-teacher ratio will worsen, if at all, by only a small amount. In the following year the improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio should be resumed.

Curriculum development, with the raising of the school leaving age in mind, has been stimulated widely in recent years by the Schools Council, and the establishment of nearly 500 teachers' centres has provided, throughout the country, the means whereby local curriculum development work is going forward. Since 1964 the Schools Council has given a high priority to a programme of activity in preparation for the raising of the school-leaving age and facts about that programme are set out in a leaflet published in September 1971, "Schools Council and the Young School Leaver."

At this point I should like to touch on the subject of work experience schemes for older school children because it is related in one respect to the raising of the school-leaving age.

For several years past there has been a growth in secondary schools of the practice of sending pupils to take part for short spells in the work of factories and other industrial and commercial under-takings. This is different from the observation visit or conducted tour. The object has been to give pupils greater insight than can be given in the course of a short visit into the world of work, its disciplines and relationships. "Work experience" of this sort has been confined to pupils who have stayed on at school after reaching the minimum school-leaving age of 15. This is because the law, as it stands at present, does not allow pupils below minimum school-leaving age to participate in the work of factories and commercial undertakings

There are a great many arguments in favour of this type of scheme as an introduction to the world of work. However, raising the minimum school-leaving age would have the effect of excluding the 15-year-olds from taking in this sort of experience unless the law were changed. I have consulted the educational interests, the local authorities and the representatives of employers and workers on the desirability of such a change. I am at the moment considering with my right hon. and hon. Friends, in the light of the views expressed by those interests, the possibility of such an amendment.

Before I turn to the subjects of further and higher education I have something to say about the direct grant schools. We gave an election pledge to encourage these schools, which give such excellent educational opportunities to pupils from many differing backgrounds. We now redeem that pledge. [Interruption.] I said "pupils from many differing backgrounds." We now redeem that pledge.

Two changes will be introduced from next January. First, the capitation grant payable for each pupil in the schools will be increased by £30, from £32 to £62 per annum. This increase restores the cut of £20 imposed by the previous Government and makes a contribution to increases in costs since that date. The necessary statutory regulations have been made, and will be laid before the House next week. [Interruption.] I will give the total cost later. The schools will be required to reduce the fees payable by a corresponding amount.

Secondly, I propose to amend the income scales under which parents whose children do not have one of the free places at these schools may qualify for remission of tuition fees.

An example may help the House to see the effect of the revised income scale. A family with one child at a direct-grant school and with an income of £1,500 per annum, will have to contribute £12 per term towards the tuition fees instead of nearly £30 at present. With two children at the school the fees would be £13.50 per term—£6.75 each child—compared with £41 per term at present.

These two changes, taken together, will mean that higher Government grants are being paid. But the extra funds will all be applied to the reduction of fees and will not be at the disposal of the schools to use in other ways. [Interruption.] This is the usual way with direct-grant schools. This will make it easier for parents of modest means to benefit from the education which these schools can offer their children. The net additional cost to public funds will be about £2 million in a full year.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Ardwick)

Will the right hon. Lady tell us how much school milk could be provided or how many school meals could be subsidised for that money?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that children at direct grant schools have as much right to be educated as children elsewhere. The excellence of these schools has been recognised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

The right hon. Lady said that children at these schools have as much right to be educated as children elsewhere. But that is not what the subsidy is for. It is for fees. It is not going to improve the quality of education.

Mrs. Thatcher

The quality of the education is excellent. That is one reason why these schools should be preserved. I wish that hon. Gentlemen would concentrate on keeping what is good, instead of destroying it.

I have felt that the House would wish me to devote the greater part of my speech today to the schools. But I must refer also to plans for further and higher education, which are no less important.

First, the universities. We expect that there will be about 238,000 students in the universities in the academic year 1971-72 which has just begun. This is an increase of 10,000 over 1970-71 and compares with the target of 220,000 to 225,000 set by the previous Government and with the Robbins Committee's recommendation of 204,000 students. Figures for expenditure are equally striking. In the current financial year the universities' recurrent, equipment and capital grants are likely to amount to over £300 million compared with £210 million when this quinquennium began in 1966–67 and well under £100 million 10 years ago.

The universities' next quinquennium starts in August 1972 and ends in July 1977. At the suggestion of the University Grants Committee we are following the same timetable for settling their grants as the previous Government did for the current quinquennium. The first step is to give the universities a provisional allocation of both recurrent and equipment grant for the academic year 1972–73 so that they may have 9–10 months in which to make their plans. I hope to be able to announce this provisional allocation very shortly. Meanwhile, the universities have now submitted their proposals to the U.G.C. for the whole of the next quinquennium. The U.G.C. is now analysing these proposals. It expects to offer the Government advice early in the spring of 1972, and the grants will be settled later in the year.

The reason why it is not practicable to speed up this timetable is that the U.G.C. thinks it essential, in the universities' own interests, to give the most accurate and reliable information it can about the pattern of university expenditure. Figures for 1970–71 are not sufficiently up-to-date for the purpose. In the U.G.C.'s view, it was well worth waiting for universities to produce forecasts of their budgets for 1971–72, as they have now done.

In considering the future shape and pattern of higher education we shall have to look very carefully at the question of student residence. On the one hand, there are the advantages which are thought by many to arise from living away from home and moving in some sense towards greater independence. On the other hand, it is a very expensive element in the higher education budget. This is one of those subjects which the House is particularly good at discussing, and I should very much welcome its views. Student accommodation will certainly be an important factor when we settle the rate of expansion of higher education over the next 10 years.

Before the war over 40 per cent. of university students lived at home. Despite the cost of providing residence, despite the shortage of lodgings and despite the increase in the number of institutions— which means that far more people are now within easy reach of a university— the percentage of day students has fallen steadily. In 1969–70 it was down well below 17 per cent. This is quite a remarkable change, and I suggest that it puts a rather different complexion on the problem of student accommodation.

Students naturally want to be independent of their parents and to have the experience of living and working in new surroundings. Nevertheless, it is open to question whether the general public, which has to foot the bill, would accept that all, or almost all, students have a right to accommodation in a distant university even though there is one offering similar courses within travelling distance of their homes. Equally, students might ask themselves whether by remaining at home for their higher educa- tion studies they could not have avoided the difficulties in which some now find themselves.

The House will already have taken note that I have this week issued, as a basis for consultation, a document setting out some possible changes in the methods of financing student unions. I would emphasise that this is a consultative document. That is to say, it does not announce decisions but it sets out proposals for consideration by the various interests concerned—notably the local authority associations, the University Grants Committee, the Vice-Chancellors' Committee, the various student bodies, and others. The aim is to establish the financing of student unions on a new basis with effect from the academic year 1972–73.

The proposals are certainly not intended to weaken the position of student unions as bodies representative of student opinion and as centres of student activity within the academic community. But I share the concern which has been expressed in the House and in public about the way in which some, though only some, unions run their affairs. Certain other proposals have been canvassed, but first I want to consider fully with those who would have to administer it, all the implications of the scheme put forward in the document. I am sure that it would work best if there were close consultation between governing bodies and student representatives in individual institutions and, as the consultative document makes clear, once the institutions have taken decisions on the resources to be made available for student union facilities, students could still have full responsibility for managing these facilities.

While I am on the subject of higher education I should like to refer briefly to the speculation and comment which is being freely offered about the possible recommendations which are to be made to me by Lord James and his colleagues on the future of teacher training. I am sure the House will readily appreciate that it would be quite wrong for me to comment at this stage. We must await the report of the Committee, which is expected at about the end of this year, and I can assure the House that I will publish it as soon as possible after its receipt, and that I will consult interested bodies about its recommendations before taking any decisions on them.

I turn now to further education. I know that the House and the local education authorities and governing bodies are anxious to be informed of our plans for future of these institutions as part of the wider consideration we are giving to higher education. Although I cannot cover all this ground today, I am glad to be able to announce some significant steps forward.

First, the Department is notifying authorities of about £25 million worth of projects on which building is to start in the financial year 1972–73. Eight million pounds of this will be for major projects at polytechnics.

Second, starts worth £37 million are to be authorised for further education building in 1973–74. Of this, £16 million is intended for major projects at polytechnics, and the Department is getting in touch with individual authorities about specific projects on which planning and design work can proceed in expectation of a building start in 1973–74.

Third, starts in the two following years will be even larger to match the continuing rise in student numbers. We are aiming at a total of about £140 million for the three years starting with 1973– 74, and this compares with £80 million for the three preceding years.

Fourth, authorities are being notified of new standards for use in the planning of polytechnics and for fixing expenditure limits and at the same time existing standards for other further education colleges are being improved in many ways. In particular, the new standards will enable libraries to be planned on a more appropriate scale than hitherto, and provision will be made for adequate working spaces for academic staff and communal facilities. These changes will come into effect in 1973–74, and are taken into account in capital allocations from that year onwards.

There is one further general point I should like to mention on which I know concern has been expressed. It has a particular bearing on the ability of the education service to carry out these immensely important tasks. I refer to the statutory requirement on local education authorities to establish an education committee for the discharge of their functions. Concern has rightly been expressed at the prospect that this requirement might be abandoned. I am happy to end my speech by drawing attention to the relevant provisions of the Local Government Bill published yesterday, from which it will be seen that the requirement is to continue indefinitely after reorganisation in 1974.

The main priorities, therefore, to which the Government are allocating resources and effort in education at this time are improving primary school building, raising the school-leaving age and strengthening further and higher education. These policies represent a vigorous programme for the expansion of education—a far more vigorous programme than ever achieved previously.

Mr. Kaufman


Mrs. Thatcher

If the hon. Gentleman ever looks at the facts, which is doubtful, he will find that to be so.

11.39 a.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

The Opposition have chosen education as one of the subjects in the six-day debate on the Address for two reasons: first of all, because we believe, even if the Government do not, that education is one of the most important public services; and, second, because there is growing disquiet—indeed, dismay —throughout the country about the Government's education policy or, in some cases, utter lack of policy, as I will show in a moment.

I want first to draw attention to one issue in the small print in the Government's programme for this year. I myself believe, and we on this side believe, that it is a monumental error to have education as a function of the lower tier in the metropolitan counties.

We are all acquainted with the growing and rather daunting task of finding the resources for education. There can never be, in the nature of the service, a plateau of expenditure. It is self-generating—the more provided the more demanded, and rightly so.

At present, educational expenditure amounts to roughly £50 per head of the total population, and this will continue to increase. Provision for higher education alone—I shall talk about this later—must be doubled in the 1970s. It will increaseingly be the case that only the larger local authority units will be able to develop the service as it ought to be developed.

The Department of Education and Science gave evidence to the Royal Commission on Local Government, and said —this figure was not prompted by any ministerial intervention; it emerged from the Department itself, and I assure the right hon. Lady about that—that the population base for a viable local education authority was ½ million. In the White Paper on Local Government, the Government said that it was desirable to think in terms of ¼ million, and only in special circumstances should a local education authority have a smaller population than ¼ million. That was the Government's view in the White Paper.

In the Tyne-Wear metropolitan county there are to be five metropolitan districts, of which three will have a population of fewer than ¼ million, the Government's figure, let alone being anywhere near the D.E.S. figure of ½ million. In the No. 7 metropolitan county area in Yorkshire— and what a tragedy it is to break up the West Riding Education Authority—two out of four district authorities will have fewer than ¼ million. Of the 34 metropolitan districts throughout the country, 11 will have a smaller population than the figure which the Government said was the absolute minimum.

Most of the decisions about the layout of the education system are taken locally, or they were until the right hon. Lady came along, as we know in the case of school milk and a number of other matters that I shall talk about shortly. Our system, as a result, is developing in a number of rather diverse patterns. No one wants uniformity in a service of this kind, but in this age of high mobility of labour it places a considerable difficulty on parents who move from one area to another, and the fewer local education authorities there are the better. I have been in local government and I understand the pressures to which any Government setting out to reorganise local government are subjected. But they really must be resisted.

This pandering to parochialism can only harm education in the decade ahead. The small population metropolitan district authorities will have increasing difficulty in finding the resources to develop their service unless there is a radical change in the financing of education, unless a very much bigger share of the cost is borne by the central Government—which is hardly likely under a Government whose whole existence depends on the three card trick of reducing taxation by increasing rates, fares, rents and prices.

This is one example, and there are many others, of the downgrading of the education service under this Government. I was about to refer to a second example, but I am very pleased that the right hon. Lady has removed it by what she said at the end of her speech about the statutory education authority.

I want to refer to one aspect of this matter. I must protest on behalf of the education service—someone has to speak for it if the right hon. Lady will not— at the composition of the working party. There are four clerks and two treasurers, but why no director of education of the working party? Education is the biggest service administered by local authorities and by far the biggest spender. Why does not the right hon. Lady defend it in the Government? Why did she not see to it that there is a director of education on this working party?

Secondly, I must protest at the gross discourtesy with which the associations which have submitted their views have been treated. I think that the right hon. Lady knows about this. The Department of the Environment wrote on 12th August to the T.U.C. and a number of other bodies inviting written evidence on local authority management structures— I repeat, the Department wrote on 12th August—asking for comments by 8th October. We have become used to attenuated consultation periods under this Government. This one was extremely short, but I understand that most of the associations and the T.U.C. sent in their views by that date. In spite of that, we now know that the working group completed a report by 16th September although it had asked for comments by 8th October. To add to this discourtesy, it had the cheek to say. in an addendum to the Report, in terms, that it had reached agreement on all the main points three weeks before that date, on 26th August. What an amazing way to consult anyone, to ask for their views and not only to ignore them but to have the brazen effrontery to tell them that one has ignored them and has not bothered to wait. Only a Tory Government could be guilty of behaviour of that kind. Here is something in the small print of the Government's programme for this year which indicates clearly the way in which they evaluate the education service.

I turn to the two parts of the Gracious Speech which mention education. It is typical of life under a Tory Government that we should read in the same week that the central Government aid to direct-grant schools is to be increased and that the children at a Birmingham primary school have been scavenging for crusts in the pig-swill bins. I read that in the papers the same day. I note that the Tory chairman of the Birmingham Education Committee has said that the headmistress who revealed this is unfit to hold her job because she has made this fact public. This is another example at local level of Tory philosophy. May I say, in the House of Commons, that Miss Violet Legge, who is known to many of us, is an excellent, compassionate headmistress, who has not only the right but the duty to comment publicly on the social background to her school?

Is it not typical that the Government should cut out primary school milk in order to save £9 million and should now give a quarter of that money, roughly, to the direct-grant schools? The country can now see why primary school milk has been stopped. It was to increase the Government's grant to the semi-independent sector. subsidising education for better-off people at the expense of the poor. What a miserable, shabby redistribution of income! How can the right hon. Lady ever hold up her head again in educational circles?

The right hon. Lady was proud of it today. I am afraid that she is really beyond redemption. The £2 million is about a quarter of the £9 million the Government save by cutting out primary school milk. There are four age groups in the primary schools, and, therefore, they could, with that money, have kept milk for the 8-year-olds. They could have raised the age from 7 to 8. Why did she not do that if she had £2 million to throw away?

Mrs. Thatcher

Would the right hon. Gentleman say how much he saved by cutting out secondary school milk?

Mr. Short

The right hon. Lady knows and has paid tribute today to what I spent it on—getting more teachers for the schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

The primary schools?

Mr. Short

The right hon. Lady has paid tribute to it. She said that it was the one thing for which she would pay tribute to me.

Hon Members

How much?

Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)


Mr. Short

We all understand the right hon. Lady's haste. She knows well that one local authority after another will become Labour-controlled in May 1972 and that if they have their secondary schools reorganised they will stop taking places in the direct-grant schools. She is simply going over the heads of the local authorities, as she said she would at the Tory Party Conference in 1970 when she said that if they would not finance schools in their towns, she would. That is all that this is about.

Why should the taxpayer be lumbered with this potentially large financial commitment when he as a ratepayer in many towns has decided that it is no longer necessary? This is the Government which was to set the local authorities free. Here the right hon. Lady is simply going over the heads of the local authorities and saying that if local authorities—Labour councils—will not support direct grant support schools, she will. That is all she is doing.

Mrs. Thatcher

This is absurd.

Mr. Short

It is not absurd. This is precisely what the right hon. Lady is doing.

The second mention of education in the Gracious Speech is about primary school building—the right hon. Lady's only fig leaf. She came into office in June 1970 at a time when the basic need element in the building programme—that is, roofs over heads—had reached its peak and had started to turn down. It had risen from £70 million in 1964–65—I am using the right hon. Lady's own figures—to £117 million in 1970–71. That is the roofs over heads part of the building programme.

The right hon. Lady's programme estimates that it will fall to £90 million in 1973–74. She has decided to use this element of the programme no longer required for roofs over heads to replace nineteenth century primary schools. I have told her, and I tell her again, that I believe this is the wrong priority. This is not only my view. It is the view of the Plowden Report. It is the view of most educationists.

If the right hon. Lady wants a completely independent view, she will recollect that the Brookings Report on Britain's Economy of 1968 said this: Disparity in local educational provisions which Britain shares with other countries is the second major area requiring attention. Substantial regional differentials generally favour the faster growing regions, partly because new school building has been focussed there. As elsewhere, these differentials broadly reinforce disparities in students' backgrounds, because local resources for education vary enormously with local incomes. The most obvious disparities are in building sites and equipments. It"— that is, this problem— will take a large rise in expenditure, properly allocated, to make the poor schools adequate. The Plowden Report calls for positive discrimination in favour of deprived or problem areas, especially in industrial cities, a recommendation familiar in a similar context in the United States. Even if the objective were only to level up to adequate provisions, the resource requirements go beyond the previous recommendations and beyond official expectation.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will the right hon. Gentleman join me in welcoming my right hon. Friend's emphasis on the replacement of bad schools in rural areas, which in some cases are very bad indeed, and also welcome the inquiry which my right hon. Friend has set up into this question? I am sure that the right hon. Member will join me in hoping that when my right hon. Friend is considering this question she will not overlook the vital importance, both educationally and as regards travel, to young children of maintaining schools in villages. Such schools provide a vital focal point for a scattered rural community.

Mr. Short

That is an abuse of the right to intervene. I usually give way to hon. Members, but if hon. Members intervene in that way I shall stop doing so.

In my view and, as I have said, in the view of many others, the first priority is to replace schools, whether they are primary or secondary, in areas of depri- vation. That is the first priority if there is any money to spare. A quite disproportionate part of the right hon. Lady's programme on replacements has gone to better-off areas where an old school building may be undesirable but is much less harmful than an out-of-date school— primary or secondary—in a slum, where the school building adds one more deprivation to an already multiply-deprived child population. To give an absolute priority to primary schools to the exclusion of secondary replacements, as the right hon. Lady proposes in 1972–73 and 1973–74—with no secondary building at all—cannot be justified on educational grounds, and it certainly cannot be justified on social grounds.

Indeed, for 1970–71 and for 1971–72 the secondary school replacement programme has been run down to £4.5 million. So in a four-year period all that the right hon. Lady is devoting to the building of secondary schools is £4.5 million. [Interruption.] I am not talking about the money for the raising of the school-leaving age. That is different. I know about that. I was the person who allocated it. It started under me. Just what is the right hon. Lady up to in messing about the school building programme in this way?

We have a pretty good idea. The right hon. Lady gave two reasons. I will give a third. I am not the only person who gives this third reason. In a letter to the right hon. Lady written in September —this letter was quoted in the Teacher—the National Union of Teachers, talking about running down the secondary replacement programme to almost nothing, and indeed to nothing in two years, said this: … the Executive believes this "— that is, the running down of secondary replacement will have a serious effect on the reorganisation plans of many local education authorities and will lead to the continuation of very unsatisfactory working conditions in a substantial number of secondary schools. This running down of the secondary replacement programme is in furtherance of the right hon. Lady's Circular 10/70 policy. The right hon. Lady gave two reasons for it, but she did not give the real one.

I want to make two important points on this. Authority after authority, including, to their credit, some Tory authorities, including even the right hon. Lady's own authority, have defied her and her Circular 10/70 and gone ahead with their secondary reorganisation. This is one of the right hon. Lady's methods of stopping them. There is another which I will mention later.

The right hon. Lady knows that building is essential for a good many schemes to be carried out, but she refuses to permit it. She is making a mockery of secondary education for tens of thousands of children for purely ideological, Élitist, reasons.

Perhaps the most striking example of a great many which I could produce—I have had letters from all over the country about this—of the effects of this policy is the right hon. Lady's refusal to allow the I.L.E.A. to proceed with the building of the Thomas Calton School. As the right hon. Lady knows, I am sure —she will have heard a great deal about this school—the school is now trying to function with no fewer than five separate buildings, shortly I understand to be increased to six or seven separate buildings, on separate sites. The two main ones are now over 80 years old, having been built in the I880s. The right hon. Lady has refused to allow the school to be replaced.

In this case, the new school was to house a very imaginative major experiment on the integration of the school with the community. This is one example— there are many others—of the effect of the right hon. Lady's policy. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) is much more conversant with the plight of this school than I am. I mention it as an example—not a rare one by any means—of the consequences of this policy.

Mrs. Thatcher

I thought that this question might be raised. I have with me the latest Inner London Education Authority handbook entitled "Secondary Schools in Southwark in 1970". which describes this school in the following terms: After extensive adaptation, re-equipment and reorganisation the school now has good facilities and provides for academic studies in the arts and sciences, as well as special studies in engineering and commerce. The I.L.E.A. is there saying that the school has good facilities after extensive adaptation.

Mr. Short

I take that to refer to the quality of the teaching. Does the right hon. Lady disagree that this school is on five separate sites at the moment, shortly to be increased to six or seven? Does she disagree that the two major buildings were built in the 1880s? Does she want to intervene now?

Mrs. Thatcher

I quoted the Inner London Education Authority's own description of the school, which was that After extensive adaptation, re-equipment and reorganisation, the school now has good facilities". The right hon. Gentleman left me with so many schools with bad facilities that the schools with good facilities must wait a little longer.

Mr. Short

Mr. Gladstone left the right hon. Lady with these. The right hon. Lady has not answered my question. She knows that this school is impossible to work in. However, if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will pursue this particular example. There are many other examples, too.

The right hon. Lady has talked a great deal of nonsense on the subject of educational building. Her Department, with the skill which I know it possesses, has, by issuing disconnected dribs and drabs of it, has made the fog so dense that it is extremely difficult to see through it all and find what the total picture is. However, some of us have recently been looking at this and we find the amazing fact that the actual amount of school building going on has dropped this year if the steep rise in building costs is taken into account. I wish the right hon. Lady would stop talking such nonsense about the size of the building programme.

I turn to the right hon. Lady's second device. a much more serious one, for defeating the authorities which have defined Circular 10/70—the use and, in fact, the abuse of her powers under the 1944 Education Act. First of all, I remind her of what "A Better Tomorrow" said about local government freedom from Whitehall dictation: We think it wrong that the balance of power between central and local government should have been distorted, and we will re- dress the balance and increase the independence of local authorities. Under our new style of Government"— that is a good one !

we will devolve Government power so that more decisions are made locally…". I repeat the right hon. Lady's comment in the House on 8th July, 1970. She said: '… authorities will now be freer…they must have freedom."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1970; Vol. 803, cc. 686–7.] On that occasion she was devoting most of her speech to the theme of local authority freedom. Her theme was that Circular 10/70 was an eminently reasonable little document: it would set them free and end the wicked Labour dictatorship on secondary reorganisation.

But what has happened since then is not like that at all. Something quite different has happened. Authorities, much to the annoyance of the right hon. Lady, continued to submit sensible, viable schemes for approval. Authorities such as Barnet, in her own constituency, which, as we now see, were expected to withdraw their schemes altogether, did no such thing.

Mrs. Thatcher indicated dissent.

Mr. Short

Of course the right hon. Lady expected them to withdraw the schemes. Why is she shaking her head? They did not withdraw them. They did something more sensible. They had a referendum in which 28,000 parents voted, and of those 28,000 parents 80 per cent. were in favour of going ahead with the scheme for secondary reorganisation. But 24,000 parents in her own constituency were not to deter the right hon. Lady in her ideological war. She used her powers under Section 13 of the Act to prevent the local authority from proceeding with very important parts of the scheme. So much for local authority freedom. Perhaps I could remind her once more of what she said on 8th July: …authorities will now be freer …they must have freedom. They had a referendum and 80 per cent. of 28,000 said "Go ahead." When they went ahead the right hon. Lady said "No."

To make matters worse, as the right hon. Lady knows, last year she delayed her decision quite disgracefully. She delayed it until parental decisions and choices of school had been made, and as a result there was utter confusion in her own constituency. This is an example of what she is doing. I hope she will tell:he country—

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

Get up.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am being urged to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman on the question of Section 13 notices.

Mr. Hamilton


Mrs. Thatcher

The decision about Barnet came through more rapidly than some decisions in other areas. I should like to give the right hon. Gentleman the figures. Between 1st July, 1970, and 30th September, 1971, a total of 2,862 statutory proposals have received my approval. Some which have not yet been dealt with still stem from December, 1970. [Interruption.] Barnet, which stems from that date, has been dealt with. There are still some outstanding. As I said, 2,862 statutory proposals have been received. This compares with only 27 proposals which have been rejected. [Interruption.] There are—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interruptions from a sedentary position are intolerable. Mrs. Thatcher.

Mrs. Thatcher

There are at present 350 cases under consideration. This takes a great deal of time if they are to be dealt with properly.

Mr. Short

I do not want to be unfair to the right hon. Lady, but she must agree that in the case of Barnet parents were required to make a choice of the comprehensive schools. They made a choice, and then she rejected the Section 13 proposals. This created utter confusion.

Mrs. Thatcher

Local authority confusion.

Mr. Short

Local authority confusion?

Mrs. Thatcher

Caused by the local authorities.

Mr. Short

The right hon. Lady is accusing the Barnet local authority of causing confusion.

Mrs. Thatcher

I wrote to them in December.

Mr. Short

I will not pursue this matter. This is obviously a row between the right hon. Lady and one of her local authorities.

Perhaps the right hon. Lady can tell us where any authority in the country has taken more trouble to consult the public or where a scheme had such massive all-party support as the one in Barnet, and yet she rejected major parts of it. Whose advice did she follow? She followed the advice of a tiny Rightwing minority in her own constituency in turning down the Section 13 proposals. As I said before on local government reorganisation, the trouble with the right hon. Lady is that she has never been prepared to stand up to the Tory backwoods- men, whether on local government reform, the direct grant schools, student unions—- about which I will speak in a minute— or anything else.

However, the right hon. Lady has gone very much further than rejecting Section 13 notices. She has also, I believe, in another case abused her powers and acted unlawfully. I say this after taking very careful and sound legal advice. She has acted unlawfully. Surrey is a Conservative-controlled county which, to its credit, is going ahead with secondary reorganisation. One of its proposals was to establish the Rydens County Secondary School as a comprehensive school and abolish selection in its catchment area, a very sensible proposal. When the proposal came to her, she, or one of her officials, wrote to the Surrey County Council and said that the right hon. Lady was using her powers of direction under Section 68 of the 1944 Act to direct the authority to retain selection for grammar schools outside the area where this school was established.

The educational consequences of this decision for the Rydens School are bad enough because it will not be a comprehensive school. But the right hon. Lady's decision is even more serious than that. What it means is that the right hon. Lady substituted her opinion for the local authority's opinion on a purely educational issue. For a local authority to act unreasonably—it must be shown that it has acted unreasonably before she can exercise her powers of direction—there must he an element of perversity.

Mrs. Thatcher indicated assent.

Mr. Short

The right hon. Lady agrees with me?

Mrs. Thatcher indicated assent.

Mr. Short

I am astounded. There must be this essential element of perversity in the decision taken by the local authority. The right hon. Lady is nodding her head, so I assume that means that in her view the Surrey County Council was acting perversely. [Interruption.] When the right hon. Lady nodded her head I said that it had been assumed that for a local authority to act unreasonably there must be an element of perversity. What she is admitting is that the Tory County Council in Surrey acted perversely, that there was an element of perversity in their decision about the Rydens County Secondary School.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough) rose——

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman has not been here throughout my speech and I do not see why I should give way to him.

Does the right hon. Lady accuse the Surrey County Council and all the Surrey teachers and members of the public who supported it—in no county in England has there been more support for secondary reorganisation than in Surrey—of acting perversely? I tell the right hon. Lady plainly that if she does that with any Labour-controlled council in Britain, her decision will certainly be challenged in court. My advice is that in this case her decision would have been reversed had it been taken to court. It may still go to court, of course.

It really is the limit when a Minister plays fast and loose with her statutory powers for ideological ends. Here, once more, as in Barnet, at whose behest did she do it? She did it at the request of a small Right-wing group of Surrey county councillors. I can tell her when it was. They approached her on 3rd February in St. George's Hill Tennis Club at Weybridge—that was where it happened—and the group was led by Mrs. Habershon, a lady not unknown to hon. Members.

Mrs. Thatcher

Absolute nonsense.

Mr. Short

It is not absolute nonsense. I have the news cutting here, if the right hon. Lady wishes to see it. Once again, she has ignored public opinion. She has ignored the teachers. She has ignored the Tory local authority, and she ignored even the Tory group on the council. She followed the advice of a small Right-wing group in that authority.

I turn now to another subject, and I call attention once more to the Government's utter failure to give any indication whatever of their thinking on the expansion of higher education. The right hon. Lady cannot get away with what she said today. She talked for five or six minutes about higher education but said nothing at all. She cannot get away with that—saying nothing at all, except to raise our alarm at her inaction even more.

Here are the simple facts. We know from the Department's own projections— I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State is here, as he deals with these matters—that the number of students qualified to go to higher education will double by the beginning of the 1980s, by about 1981. As I said in one of our previous debates, I believe that the assumptions on which that estimate was based were far too modest and that, in the event, it will more than double— that is, that there will be more than twice as many young people qualified to go into higher education in 1981.

Children who are now eight years of age—there are a lot of them—will want to enter higher education in 1981, and there will be more than twice as many of them as there are in 1971. Will there be places in 1980, 1981 and 1982 for those children who are now seven, eight, nine or 10 years of age? Unless arrangements are made now, at the beginning of the 1970s, there will not be places for those primary school children of today.

As regards the global figure, it is fatuous of the Government to keep saying that they are waiting for the James Report —we know already what the James Report will have in it—and we know from what the right hon. Lady has said previously that she does not intend to expand the colleges of education, whatever they may be called and however they may be organised in the future. It follows, therefore, that the other sectors, the universities, the polytechnics and the regional colleges will have to more than double in capacity before the end of this decade—and one year of the decade has nearly passed already—if today's eight-year-old is to have the same chance of getting in as his predecessor has in 1971.

I am not inactive in these matters. Having made some inquiries, I understand that the quinquennial settlement, which begins next year, will cater broadly for an increase of one-third in student numbers by 1977. This is quite inadequate. It does not meet the size of the problem at all, if that be correct. But is becomes alarmingly inadequate when we learn that even this expansion is conditional upon living accommodation being available and, by and large, upon using existing teaching capacity. For all the universities I know, and I know a lot of them, it will mean that the 33 per cent. expansion in five years cannot be achieved.

The right hon. Lady and her hon. Friend cannot go on saying nothing on this matter. Parents of young children want to know what the chances will be of their children getting into university or polytechnic in eight or nine years' time. We have waited long enough for a policy. The right hon. Lady has been in office for 17 months but she has not given us even a glimmer of her thinking, except one miserable hint today about home-based students. The parents of these young children now demand to know.

I come now to one other specific point with reference to higher education, a point raised by the right hon. Lady herself in her consultative document on student unions, sent out on Wednesday. We had a debate on the subject recently in the House. I hope that there will be an opportunity to debate this document, because it is an extremely serious document, as I shall show. At this stage, I have one comment to make.

The theme of my speech today could almost have been to call attention to the way in which the Secretary of State, throughout the past 17 months, has over and over again given way to the back-woodsmen, the reactionary elements, in her party. That has been and will be the mark of her tenure of office at the Department of Education and Science. Of course it was not unexpected, as she is one of them, but she might have stood out here and there against them.

The right hon. Lady's document about student unions shows exactly the same pattern. She has given way to her reactionary back-benchers, who have been harrying her and putting pressure on her hon. Friend for months. I appealed to her hon. Friend that when we had a debate, he would not take tasty action on the basis of a few quite untypical incidents here and there in the country. I remind the House again, as I did the other day, that there are 700 student unions, and the occasions when they do foolish things are few and far between compared with the number of unions.

I have read carefully the whole consultative document, not just the Press hand-out. Plainly, it is inherently hostile to the student unions. It says nothing about their invaluable role in the universities and in college life. As I said the other day, college life and university life would be fairly miserable in many of our provincial universities, with students living in lodgings miles from the university, if it were not for the unions. No tribute is paid to that. The document contains no commitment about their continued existence. If it is implemented, a great many of the smaller unions will, I believe, pass out of existence. The document contains not a word aimed at improving the student unions. They will have to compete for funds in the universities with other requirements, and it is more than likely that some will cease to exist.

Membership of societies will depend upon each student making a voluntary subscription.

Mr. Rost

Hear, hear.

Mr. Short

The hon. Gentleman says "Hear, hear." Does he realise what will happen if it is made voluntary? Most of the societies will cease to exist. I suppose he says "Hear hear" to that too. [Interruption.] Of course they will.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames) indicated dissent.

Mr. Short

Of course they will. If the right hon. Gentleman knows anything about our colleges and universities, he will know that a great deal of the richness of university life derives from the pattern of societies in the union. Perhaps the right hon. Lady and her hon. Friends know about the book allowance which students receive—about £5, I think it is. Do they know what happens to it? Impoverished students spend it not on books but on other things. If a small allowance is made in the grant for this purpose, as proposed in the document, it will be spent not on joining societies but on food.

Central to the whole exercise—this is the point which I hope hon. Members will appreciate—is a massive attack on the National Union of Students. This is what the exercise is about. If union membership is to be voluntary, as is proposed in the right hon. Lady's document, but if non-members can still use all the union facilities, what does opting out mean? It can mean only one thing: that the opted-out students will not be affiliated to the N.U.S. It means that in future if a university has X students and Y opt out, the number affiliated to the N.U.S. will be Xminus Y.So a student, simply by signing a document, can refuse to be affiliated to the N.U.S. in future.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Why not?

Mr. Short

That is the object of the whole exercise. The document is in exactly the same mould as the Industrial Relations Act. It is a blatant attack on the organised students and is dressed up in spurious garments of reform.

The right hon. Lady will have seen the reaction of the Vice-Chancellors. It is quite something if they react to anything, but they reacted yesterday. Even the President of the Conservative Students reacted against the document and called it authoritarian. I hope that every university, every polytechnic, every college, every trade union and every trades council will oppose it for the reactionary proposal it is. I remind the right hon. Lady of the promise she made to one of her hon. Friends—she did not repeat it today—that she would proceed in the matter by agreement.

These are some of the items on the growing list of education issues on which the country is getting thoroughly fed up with the Government. There are many others. For example, what is the right hon. Lady's policy on class size? Why will she not accept the target I set at Swansea in March 1970 of a maximum of 30 in a class for all schools? What has happened to the proposal she made at the N.U.T. conference for help for the slow learners? We have heard no more about it.

Mrs. Thatcher


Mr. Short

No, we have heard nothing at all about it.

What will the right hon. Lady do about poor working conditions in schools? She received an excellent memorandum from the N.U.T. in July, I understand. Many of us received it. What will she do about that?

I received the Teacher by this morning's post. Under the headline

Minister refuses to outlaw slum schools", it says: Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the Education Secretary, told the National Union of Teachers this week that she would not enforce the regulations on school working conditions. Why not? That is another problem causing disquiet throughout the country, as is the question why the right hon. Lady has halved the previous Government's rate of expansion of nursery places. There are many other such questions.

Today the right hon. Lady made a long speech, but she said nothing at all to allay the disquiet or remove the dismay felt throughout the country on education. The truth is that the country has had enough of the present Government in education and in everything else.

12.23 p.m.

Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) made a very disappointing speech. It contained an inessential but large element of perversity, and was very legalistic.

We must recognise that there are differences between us on priorities, but I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman should tend to reduce the area of consensus between the two sides of the House on education matters. The one over-riding thing that those of us who are interested in education all need to work for, is a greater allocation of national resources for educational purposes. The right hon. Gentleman's strictures did not help that purpose.

It is a pity that we continually have to cover such a wide area on such days as education is chosen as the subject for debate. More is now spent on it than on defence. I wish that we could have regular days devoted to it so that we could consider schools on one day, higher education on another, and so on.

I welcome many of the things that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said, particularly on the further building programme for the improvement of primary schools, and the help now proposed for rural areas, where there is often great deprivation.

I want to speak about several points that are comparatively minor, though important in themselves. Each seems to overlap the responsibilities of any one Department, and, therefore, they are perhaps not inappropriate for a debate on the Gracious Speech.

First, I was very glad that my right hon. Friend said that an extra £1½ million would be available for the urban programme for nursery provision over and above that announced at the beginning of the year. Provision for the under-5s is a critical factor in dealing with the difficulties of children in deprived areas. I am always concerned with those who for one reason or another cannot be in a nursery school or class.

I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had paid a rather less selective attention to yesterday's Press instead of making a rather unworthy juxtaposition of items. Surely, the children in Birmingham whom he mentioned must by definition, on his own showing, be eligible for both free milk and free meals—unless, as children often do, they just love to go over rubbish heaps. What was significant in yesterday's Press was a review of the report by a body called Priority Area Children to the effect that there is a great deal of unsatisfactory, probably illegal, child-minding going on. That is not within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend's Department, but it is very much a problem, particularly in the deprived areas. I hope that her Department and the Department of Health and Social Security will consider the problem jointly, because there is an educational content in all the other provisions that may be made, whether by day nurseries or child-minding. I should like to see guidance given on educational standards in that sector. The only frameworks that exist now are the charitable organisations, such as the Save the Children Fund, and the voluntary play group organisations, helped in many cases by the local authorities. That is where we have a need for more help. It requires inter-departmental action, which I hope developments in policy will cover.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman on the point he has just made, which is very relevant. I read the report to which he referred, and was greatly shocked by it, as were other hon. Members, I am sure. Does he agree that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would deserve more credit if she allocated the moneys now going to direct-grant schools to meet the need of which he has spoken?

Mr. Hill

I do not agree, because there is a commitment to restore the cuts to direct-grant schools. We have different views about the educational pattern we support. I think that it is fair to say that the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central and his hon. Friend want a fairly uniform and progressively egalitarian pattern, whereas we on this side would rather have a more varied education system. I say that as someone who believes that the comprehensive system will spread progressively. I want to retain a variety because I do not like a monopolistic or monolithic education system. Therefore, I have always wanted to see a flourishing, small, independent sector and a direct-grant system. I accept that Labour hon. Members do not like it. That is a difference between us, but basically it is subsidiary to our over-riding interest in education as a whole.

I move on to the raising of the school-leaving age, which I am sure was right. The pessimists could think of all sorts of reasons why it should not be done. The one big reason they seemed to produce at a conference addressed by my right hon. Friend earlier in the year was the problem of the very small minority of unwilling children who might disrupt the education of others. This represents a special problem, small but obviously important, and I wonder what thinking is going on about how it should be met.

I want now to discuss a different type of child—a rather more adventurous one, who would like a change of scene and perhaps a more challenging experience than he might get in the environment to which he has been accustomed for most of his life. I wonder whether we can allow more children to volunteer for the Armed Forces at the age of 15 and continue their education in Navy, Army or Air Force establishments. The old objection about children committing them- selves prematurely to a Service career no longer holds good because under the Donaldson scheme young entrants have the option of coming out at the age of 18.

The Services would have to expand their educational facilities. They would gain by having, at the end, well-motivated recruits from those who decided at 18 that they wished to continue with a Service career. On the other hand, most of those who opted to return to civil life, or who might not have been selected for adult service, would have gained greatly from the training and experience that they had received, in the same way as many adults now acknowledge the great benefits that they derived from National Service. We cannot foretell the future defence manpower needs, but all recent developments, whether in Ulster, Europe or elsewhere, point to the need for increased rather than fewer numbers. A considerable national gain would follow, but, once more, this needs development of policy spanning two Departments.

I turn now to the question of higher education. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the rising trend in qualified school leavers is likely to accelerate. I am sure that the quality is there. What sometimes worries me is whether the motivation is sufficiently strong. Students sometimes seem to arrive at a university almost as on a conveyor belt. They have hardly had time to think exactly what and why they want to study to degree standards.

One factor in poor motivation is, clearly, the difficulty in getting satisfactory student housing and accommodation. That factor will, clearly, also hinder the expansion of higher education as a whole. It seems to be bad everywhere—worst of all in our crowded cities, where students at university and polytechnic are competing with each other and with the general public for lodgings, houses, building sites and whatever capital is available. It is not a new problem. It was foreseen by Robbins and was growing throughout the right hon. Gentleman's term of office. It is especially aggravated by the growth in numbers and by financial stringency. Various inquiries have illustrated the problem, including the working party under Lord Annan, set up by the Vice-Chancellors' Committee. The difficulties are real—too high capital costs and interest rates for low-finance residences to remain economically viable on the rents which students can afford.

There is also a gap in policy. Should the problem of student housing be dealt with only by the Department of Education and Science, or does it extend beyond the campus and warrant recognition as an aspect of national housing policy for the mobile single young? Others— nurses, secretaries, apprentices, and so on —with similar needs and equally modest resources—are urgently looking for some-where to live for a time. In total, they add to the problems of the housing authorities, and a development of policy is needed to lay down the type of provision to be made, and by whom.

Are student housing associations to be encouraged? If so, should they not come under the wing and within the subsidies and rebates of the Department of the Environment? But it is for the Department of Education and Science and the University Grants Committee to decide whether the new policy should seek to halt or reverse the post-war trend for more and more students to live away from home. Home-based students totalled 42 per cent. before the war; now the proportion is below 18 per cent. and still falling.

All these questions are facets of one over-riding problem—how to select and plan educational priorities so as to get the best value from the huge but nonetheless limited national budget. It is because I think that my right hon. Friend has a much better sense of priorities and values than the right hon. Gentleman has that I am pleased to support the Motion.

12.37 p.m.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

This is the first time for seven years in this House that I have taken part in a debate on education. As a simple lawyer I might have felt somewhat diffident in doing so if I had not first looked at the Front Bench opposite. Although there are a certain number of black legal sheep in my family, there are many more members and former members of the teaching profession, so perhaps I may pray that in aid. Nevertheless, I do not think that I would have sought to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, but for a matter to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) referred—the effect of the right hon. Lady's policies on a school in my constituency. I shall develop that point later.

Before doing so I want to make some general comments. I have always believed that education must take the very highest priority—I mean that literally—of all the social services; the highest priority financially, in imaginative thought and in every other way. That means that those people in Government who control it must be prepared to resist pressures— political and other—and to go for what is required.

Like my right hon. Friend, I can only express regret that that is not what I have seen during the right hon. Lady's rÉgime. It has always seemed to me to be a matter of regret—here I follow the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill)—that those periods in the life of the child to which the least priority seems to be given are the most formative periods. I speak about the pre-school period and when the child is reaching and passing the age of maturity. I regret that I see nothing in the Gracious Speech about the first of these periods and very little about the second.

I wholly fail to understand the complete omission from the Gracious Speech of any proposal for the replacement and improvement of secondary schools. The bewilderment that I feel about that is reinforced by what we have heard from the right hon. Lady and from my right hon. Friend about the complete absence of any provision in two forthcoming years and the general rundown of the provision in the intervening period.

One is bound to ask oneself why that is so. I accept that the right hon. Lady has a commitment deriving from the Conservative Party's election promise to give priority to primary schools, but that does not convince me that it is necessary to rule out any expenditure in two successive years on secondary school replacement. Analysing the matter as best I can, I can only agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) that the pathological obsession of the Secretary of State with preventing the expansion of the comprehensive system can be the only reason why she has adopted this policy, and that it would have been an expansion which would have taken place in future even under Tory authorities, but for the method which she has employed of cutting out secondary school replacement altogether.

This seems to be fully in line with the whole of her policy—for example, the policy of increasing provision for the direct grant schools, which inevitably will cream off some if not all of the talent which would otherwise be forming the right sort of balance in the comprehensive schools in the areas concerned. I there- fore want to give the House a concrete example of what this policy is leading to in my constituency.

My constituency contains many varied schools—it is particularly well provided —independent schools, grammar schools, and comprehensives. For many years I have been a governor of one comprehensive school which I have seen move out of obsolete buildings into new buildings. I have seen at the same time, as one would expect, a movement from obsolete methods to new methods and the great success which has resulted.

Of all the schools in my constituency, by far the worst housed is the school that my right hon. Friend mentioned—the Thomas Calton School—which is in the very heart of my constituency and which is the secondary school for about 970 children who, as my right hon. Friend told the House, are housed in five separate buildings. The two main buildings house the upper and lower schools in what were formerly infant schools, built respectively in 1883 and 1893, and half a mile apart. The three other buildings are prefabricated huts. It is part of the irony of the situation that these huts occupy much-needed playground space in adjacent primary schools to which the right hon. Lady is giving priority. When the school has to cater for the raising of the school-leaving age there will have to be a fourth prefabricated building on yet another site, so that there will be six separate sites for this secondary school. The problem of any sort of co-ordinated teaching system in these conditions hardly needs to be expressed.

The right hon. Lady quoted a document produced by the Inner London Education Authority—the authority which, when under the control of the Conservative Party, initiated the scheme for replacing the school. Let the right hon. Lady listen to what the school's parent teacher association says: The conditions are totally inadequate for the purpose of modern education. The educational squalor which characterises the area has become intolerable and a burden upon the efforts of pupils, parents and teachers to maintain educational standards. The headmaster says: Our facilities are inadequate and cramped, our playgrounds minute, the opportunities for educational development limited. The I.L.E.A. itself is sending a deputation to the right hon. Lady's Department. Unfortunately, for some reason, the right hon. Lady is not able to see it herself. I gather that one of her Ministers is to do so. The deputation is to press the claim of this school. In case the right hon. Lady still doubts what I am saying about the inadequacies of the school, I have put a Question to her asking her whether she will visit it for herself. Let her do so and let her see the conditions in which children and teachers have to perform their functions.

What is the result of all this? The result is that in the past there has been no incentive to parents to send their children to this school, notwithstanding that the governors, the head and the staff have enthusiasm and a deep sense of vocation. Inevitably over the years the school has almost invariably been the last in the queue of parental choice, and so there is the inevitable vicious circle. Most of the pupils come from a deprived area, where there are poor housing conditions. They start their lives in obsolete primary schools. some of which will no doubt, be rebuilt, and they end up in an obsolete secondary school. The impression in the minds of these children of what our education system consists of can be imagined. Its power to influence their development must be minimal.

A few years ago, under the imaginative influence of—I accept—a Tory-controlled I.L.E.A., proposals were put forward to use the replacement of this school for new teaching methods in secondary education—methods which would seek to escape from the rut of the 40-minute period, the classroom system, the fragmentation of school life into stereotyped subjects, and the straitjacket of the examination system. A report recommended exciting innovations—I hope that the right hon. Lady has read it and, if she has not, I recommend her to do so— a two-year transition period from the primary school, with its own new teaching methods, the study of broad topics involving several disciplines, the postponement of specialisation, and a high degree of flexibility of teaching methods and pace of development.

Above all, there was to be a greater involvement of the pupils themselves in determining their own interest within the broad framework of a course of study. This school would have been based on what has been described as a community-based approach to the objectives of education, and it was hoped that it would be matched by making the school a focal point in the surrounding community.

These were the new concepts, and to implement them a wholly new architectural concept had to be devised. In addition, wholly new ideas of teacher-training had to evolve, and when the I.L.E.A. changed hands and came under the control of the present Labour majority that majority took up the experiment. It could find no more suitable opportunity for implementing it than by replacing the obsolete buildings and concepts of the Thomas Calton School by new school buildings to meet this exciting experiment for the future of education.

The replacement was approved by the I.L.E.A. for its 1973–74 programme. Two possible sites are available for the school. In preparation for this change, the staff of the school, imbued with a new enthusiasm, has already commenced intraining in the new system. The news of this great change quickly reached my constituents, parents and prospective parents. The result was that parents who were previously reluctant to send their children to the school, or who resisted doing so, began so to do, well in advance of the commencement of the building.

The headmaster tells me that one parent in the locality applied to him to put his four-year old daughter on a waiting-list for the new school—something that we normally hear about only in connection with certain independent schools.

Then what happened?— came the blind Fury with th' abhorred shears in the shape of the right hon. Lady. Nothing satisfied her but to leave a complete blank in the 1973–74 secondary school programme. It is often said by those who defend the independent system of education that it provides scope for experiment. Here was the occasion for what would have been a bipartisan experiment within the State system. The right hon. Lady has turned it down; her sacred priorities will not permit it. One of the two possible sites of this new development is in the heart of working-class Peckham, within my constituency— that part formerly represented by my noble Friend whose name I bear. This is an area where redevelopment has begun, and the site cannot be held in suspense indefinitely. Unless priority is given to this new school the site will be put to other purposes and a great opportunity will have been lost.

Meanwhile, one of the two main buildings of the existing school is impeding the essential redevelopment of an obsolescent area. I can hardly imagine a stronger case for this project. I can hardly imagine greater anomalies caused by the rigidity of the right hon. Lady's policy. Primary school replacement is to have top priority, and yet we have two ancient, obsolete primary schools forming part of a secondary school. They are to remain because they are in use as secondary schools. Meanwhile primary school playgrounds remain attenuated because prefabricated buildings for secondary schools must occupy them.

Above all, the devotion, imagination and inspiration of councillors of both parties—supported, incidentally, by the young members of the right hon. Lady's party, educationists, teachers, governors, parents and staff—must not be allowed to run to waste. It is an experiment in the highest tradition of the great Inner London Education Service which could well open the way to the secondary education system of the future. It is to be axed because the right hon. Lady, whose first Ministerial act was to declare for local initiative in place of Central Government abandoned that principle before the ink on his circular was dry.

She is determined to go down in history as the most inflexible Minister in the most dogma-ridden Administration of the century. That in itself would not matter; what does matter is that the victims of her rigidity are the children in my constituency and—it may be by example— many thousands of other children who would have profited. Unless she thinks again—and perhaps there is some hope here—the right hon. Lady is well placed to go down in history as the Minister for Lost Opportunities.

12.55 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

In listening to the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) describing outdated buildings and over-crowded classes we might have imagined that he was describing many other famous education establishments in which not many of us have suffered through having to endure those conditions. The hon. and learned Member went on to complain about the lack of money being spent on secondary education but I want to thank my right hon. Friend for the fantastic progress that has been made since July, 1970, in expenditure on primary education. In the debate on the Gracious Speech at the beginning of last Session we talked about the Government's pledge to improve primary schools throughout the United Kingdom. This is really happening in the part of Lincolnshire that I represent. Government money, promised just over a year ago, is beginning to flow. The schemes are coming about.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the great deal of expenditure and grant money that has come the way of the Lindsey Education Authority. In the past we suffered from the expansion of Humber Bank. All our education resources had to be diverted to the north of the county, and my constituency, in the centre, suffered badly. During a General Election one sees the state of primary schools in most of the villages. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the way in which she has dealt with this project. The new primary schools are usually being erected in the form of one new school for three or four Villages. This means a certain amount of grouping, which involves travelling for very young children and naturally worries and alarms parents.

It also means an argument about which primary school should be kept. Each village thinks that its primary school should be kept. In small closely-knit country communities there is always a worry about the future of those teachers —often single women—who have devoted their lives to the small primary schools. The Department's handling of this matter has been most sympathetic throughout. If there has been a contest about which site should be preserved, the Department's inspectors have been sent down. A strange motor car or a strange person in a country area is soon noticed. The inspectors have been seen looking at sites, and it has been felt by the local people that the merits of the sites have been weighed before a final decision has been reached. The whole operation has been extremely well conducted and reflects very highly on my right hon. Friend's handling of a delicate situation.

I only wish that other measures of local government reform, also outlined in the Gracious Speech, could have been handled in the same sympathetic way. I refer particularly to the reorganisation of local government, particularly within county area No. 22—

Mr. Edward Short

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us what he means by saying that Government money is being used to replace these schools? Do I understand that the ratepayers of Lincolnshire will not have to repay this money?

Mr. Kimball

The Government are giving the local education authority permission to spend money in this priority category.

Mr. Short

The Government are giving the local authority permission to spend its own money.

Mr. Kimball

Yes, but we have the priorities right now. We have suffered from the vast expansion in the secondary school sector because of the population increase in the north of the county. The priorities are now right. The development of Humberside has been a great strain. What is happening is that all the money having been spent on Humberside is to be taken away from Lincolnshire. This is very serious. Most people in Lincolnshire have believed, since publication of the Government's circular on the reform of local government, that Lincolnshire as a whole was to remain and that the idea of a separate Humberside area was dead. I was waiting to table a Parliamentary Question asking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment when the idea of the Humberside would die and the north of Lincolnshire would be put back into the development area of the East Midlands. What is depressing about what we have heard in the last couple of days is that, without consultation or prior warning, there has been a change in the original county of Lincolnshire.

What is consultation on a local level? A Minister may say that some consultation has taken place. But surely no consultation can occur in a county which is not within the knowledge of the clerk and the chairman of the county council and the chairman of the county council's finance and general purposes committee. What is consultation if these people are not consulted about a significant change in a Government plan published last February?

One matter needs to be cleared up, and it is the theory in Lincolnshire that the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) has had some obscure influence in the decision which has been finally reached. As I understand it the final solution now proposed for the county does not please the right hon. Gentleman; indeed, it pleases him even less than it pleases me. In the words of Handley Cross, there may be a tendency to regard all political matters as happening in a "tainted atmosphere". Certainly there has been no tainted atmosphere about this decision. The right hon. Gentleman may have lost his consequence as a result of listening to the scoldings of his constituents on other matters, but on this one I am sure that he is as dissatisfied as I am.

In a leading article today the Daily Telegraph criticises the Government's decision to form one authority on the Humberside by pointing out that there is no proved economic argument for the need to have one authority to develop an estuary. After all, the other great estuaries of the United Kingdom have been developed with separate authorities on each of their sides. The argument that one authority is required to develop the Humber estuary is not valid and has not been proved.

The harm that this decision is doing to the County of Lindsey and the new County of Lincolnshire as a whole is enormous. What will be the state of the marriage that is to take place between the three counties in Lincolnshire? Lindsey, the most powerful of the local authorities in Lincolnshire, comes to the wedding without a dowry, with only half its population, and minus two-thirds of its rateable value. I am convinced that one of the reasons why we have such good local officers in Lindsey at the moment, especially in education, is that, because of the Humberside, Lindsey has been a thriving and prosperous local authority. Things have been happening. Things have been done. Resources have been developed. All that is to be taken away. As a result, I doubt that we shall hold the quality of officers that we have at the moment.

Comment in Lincolnshire local papers last night on the Government's decision about the new county to be created on Humberside suggested that the present Conservative Government regarded Lincolnshire as a land of cows and cabbages and not a land which we should be allowed to expand. I hope that the decision will he looked at carefully, and I am grateful for the assurance of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he looks forward to consultations next week and that they will be carried on against the background of the proposals published in the Bill yesterday, which will be subject to amendment, alteration and even cancellation.

Another matter in the Gracious Speech to which I wish to refer is the commitment with regard to a Criminal Justice Bill. I hope that it will not be used, as happened under right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, as a vehicle for tightening up the firearms procedure and the regulations covering shotguns. It was a wrong use of criminal justice legislation to introduce this complication.

The rumour is circulating freely among police authorities that the Government intend to extend to all shotguns the same procedures as those applied at present to firearms.

Mr. Thomas Cox

Quite right, too.

Mr. Kimball

A recent report from the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge makes it clear that legitimately-owned private weapons are not a major cause of crime in this country and are not used in major crimes.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that, while legitimately-owned private firearms may not be used often on raids, the fact that gunsmiths and armouries can be raided provides a source of illegal arms, and that we should have regard to that possibility.

Mr. Kimball

I quite agree, but I am not arguing about regulations covering the supply, storage and sale of shotguns. My point is that the last Criminal Justice Bill went wrong in setting up two kinds of regulations for the ownership of firearms and shotguns. At the moment, the regulations are being interpreted quite differently in different areas. Great unfairness arises in territorial restrictions on the use of privately-owned weapons which are now being placed on firearms certificates by certain chief constables. The practice varies from one region to another, and there are enormous variations between different areas with regard to weapons which people are allowed to have in their possession. This must be cleared up if the firearms procedure is to be applied to the ownership of shotguns. The territorial restrictions cannot be made to apply in this case.

Before Parliament rushes into some ill-conceived further regulations on this subject, as happened in the last Criminal Justice Bill, I hope that consideration will he given to setting up a Government Committee to look coolly and calmly at the regulations covering both shotguns and firearms to see whether we cannot arrive at some fairer and properly thought-out regulations for the future.

Mr. Miscampbell

This is a matter which interests me greatly. Surely my hon. Friend agrees that there is no possible reason why pistols should be in private ownership in any circumstances— for sport or for any other purpose.

Mr. Kimball

A large number of people, members of the National Rifle Association and of rifle clubs, gain enormous pleasure from shooting with pistols. It is a valuable art which people should be allowed to continue to practise. It is the art of self-defence. Surely it cannot be said that no one should never learn to use a pistol.

Mr. Thomas Cox

That is what a lot of criminals say.

Mr. Kimball

Very few crimes are committed with weapons owned by members of the National Rifle Association and rifle clubs.

Mr. Buchan

What is worrying some of us is not that there are those who get pleasure out of pistol shooting—though I must confess that I do not share it—but the hon. Gentleman's remark that it is a valuable art because of the element of self-defence.

Mr. Kimball

I express my personal point of view when I say that it is a valuable art that some people have to learn. It has to be kept alive. Rifle clubs do a useful service by keeping it alive.

I come now to what I believe to be an important omission from the Gracious Speech. It refers to the countryside and to agriculure, but it makes no mention of the reform of forest policy and the Forestry Commission. In the event of our joining the E.E.C., we in the United Kingdom will face a completely new conception of the use of marginal land and livestock rearing land. We are about to come to the end of the present 10-year programme for the Forestry Commission. The last programme went from 1964 to 1973. It was a 10-year programme which envisaged further planting of just under 500,000 acres in this country.

To justify that the Government of the day—of first one and then the other of the parties—have used three very dubious arguments. The first was the strategic argument of having in this country a reserve of timber. Then we had the import-saving argument. More recently and under the last Administration we had the recreational and amenities argument to which so much attention is paid.

I must say that I cannot see in the recent publication of the Ramblers' Association that the recreational amenity argument still stands up. A publication by the Ramblers' Association says: Thus the much vaunted provision of recreational facilities by the Government conceals in many cases irretrievable loss to the general public. The Chairman of the Forestry Commission in another place may well argue how well used his present recreational facilities are. I would suggest that the reason why they are well used at the moment is quite simply that there are no other facilities as yet in this country. The facilities for people to use their motor cars, to go out into the countryside for picnics, are extremely sparse. If a parking place is made in a shelter belt of spruce trees or even on the edge of a sewage farm people will still go there since that will be one of the few places where they can go to make a picnic. It is for that reason that the Chairman of the Forestry Commission is able to claim that his recreational facilities make a valuable contribution at the moment.

I should like the Government to say quite clearly that they are not prepared to make any more loan sanctions for the purchase of land by the Forestry Commission till there has been a full and independent review of forest policy. I should like the Government to go further and say that they propose to have an absolute check on private dedication schemes, because I cannot see any case for giving tax concessions, using the taxpayers' money, to private individuals for a policy which is very dubious indeed today in terms of what will come about in our countryside if we join the E.E.C.

Perhaps I have strayed a bit far from education, but in this debate we have the prerogative to mention matters which worry our constituents. One comes back from the long recess having been in touch with one's constituents and knowing the things which are worrying them, and I find that my constituents, particularly the young, are very worried about the environment. The Government's forestry policy has a great bearing on the environment. I find that the greatest distress in Lincolnshire at the moment is caused not by the Secretary of State for Education and her policies, as hon. Gentlemen opposite may say and think it to be, but by the proposal by her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to create a so-called county on the Humberside.

1.14 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Acton)

I cannot follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) in many of the points which he made, but I thought it rather interesting that he linked knowledge of primary schools which he had in his constituency to the General Election. Those who visit polling stations know the reason for this. I am not sure whether his observations told us more about schools in Gainsborough or the hon. Gentleman who represents the area.

The only other point which I thought had any relevance to the main subject that we are debating today was his mention of the Criminal Justice Bill. We too often forget that failures which are the responsibility of teachers or the education system become the responsibility of the Home Office. Certainly I am only too well aware of that factor in my own professional experience.

I wish to speak to what I understand to be the coherent philosophy of the present Government in regard to education. I do see a coherent philosophy, strange as it may seem, but it is certainly not one that I share. I wish to show it this morning by a number of examples, which may appeal to some hon. Members and the right hon. Lady opposite. In a recent Adjournment debate I told the right hon. Lady—who, I am glad to see, is here—that so often party politics occur in education where they are best kept out.

I hope that what I am going to say this morning is based on sound educational criteria. This House has responsibility for the education system of the country as a whole, and for the people as a whole. I know that the right hon. Lady shares that view, as does one of her hon. Friends who may catch the eye of the Chair later on.

The Gracious Speech has shown that the Government intend not only to maintain privilege in the education sector but, indeed, to extend it. Those who are already under-privileged in one way or another will become more under- privileged. That is the keynote of the exchanges that we have had so far in this debate. I am not against privilege, as such. Nobody in a democracy can really claim to be. No hon. Member can say that he is against privilege, because it is talked of here—sometimes a bit too often. We are in a very privileged position. But we also have responsibility. What I am against is privilege which is used without corresponding responsibility. I think that in the actions which she has taken in the last year the right hon. Lady has used her privileged position in what I, at least, would judge to be an irresponsible way.

I want to talk a little about direct grant schools and the announcement that we have heard this morning. I suggest that in the past the ethos of this system has somewhat distorted the whole of our educational perspective, and may continue to do so for some time in the future. I want to say a word about the controversy over the school-leaving age, the controversy over teacher training, the controversy over secondary and primary school replacement, and, indeed, on the question of the freedom of local education authorities themselves. I believe that this reflects the present trend by the Government towards authoritarian decision-making, as distinct from democratic decision-making, as I understand it. I believe that this dichotomy will become plainer and plainer to the country as time goes on, not least in respect of the issues that we were debating last week.

On the subject of direct grants, I wish first to have a few facts confirmed by the right hon. Lady. I put down a number of Questions for answer yesterday, but unfortunately, the right hon. Lady could not answer them. That was a pity, because I think that she had some information readily available. As I understand it, about 60 per cent. of direct-grant pupils are supported by fees paid by local education authorities, and about 40 per cent. of pupils are fee payers.

The right hon. Lady said that a sum of £2 million was being devoted to this scheme. Are we to understand that all this money is going to relieve the 40 per cent. of fee-paying pupils—those whose fees are paid by their parents? Or will some of that £2 million go towards reducing the fees paid by education authorities to direct-grant schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

The answer is that the increase in capitation fees goes across the board and makes free places cheaper for education authorities as well as fee-paying parents.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for making that an- nouncement. She said something about an increase going towards a reduction in fees. I therefore assume that schools would not have more financial resources to devote to education purposes which, of course, include the raising of salaries for teachers.

Mrs. Thatcher

One of the main reasons why capitation grant was raised was that the last Government did not give any increase to direct-grant schools when teachers' salaries were increased.

Mr. Spearing

I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for that information, because it is important to clarify the point.

The right hon. Lady mentioned a sliding scale for parents earning £1,500. One of the questions which I hoped she might have answered yesterday was whether she would publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the sliding scale to which she referred. We are not clear how this will change. Hon. Members may not realise that the fee-paying element in direct-grant schools is subsidised, or gets some support from the right hon. Lady's Department, on top of the capitation grant, according to an income test.

One of the significant points rightly brought out in the right hon. Lady's announcement was that, where parents defray fees, or part of the fees, of their children—if they have two or three children at the school—they do not have to pay twice or thrice the nominal amount; they get additional help for every additional dependent child in the school. Therefore, I hope that at some stage we shall he able to calculate the extent to which parents will be helped with school fees, because I understand that it is a deliberate direct subsidy to fee-paying pupils.

Mrs. Thatcher

I should like to clarify the point about income scales. The old income scale will appear in the Written Answer to the hon. Gentleman's Question. It is on its way to him. I am sorry if it has not already arrived. The new income scale is being placed in the Library. I agree that it is complicated, but the basis is that parents pay according to their income and family commitments.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for clarifying the issue. I am afraid that the action which she has taken will throw these schools back into the political arena. I agree that that is almost inevitable because of the history of our schools, to which I shall refer later.

We have a historical problem, the significance of which has not been properly grasped by the right hon. Lady. I think that she would agree that no governor or head of any school can operate the policy of the school, particularly concerning admissions, without having regard to the effects of that policy on the rest of the educational system.

The sine qua nonof the direct-grant system, although many types of schools come within that heading, is selection. Only two out of over 100 direct-grant schools are not scholastically selective in the sense of 11-plus section. Indeed, it is sometimes claimed that whilst maintaining scholastic selectivity they can have great influence upon society because they encompass a wider social mix.

Some people say that direct-grant schools are a bridge between the independent and the maintained systems. I suggest that far from being a bridge, in the usual sense of that word, they are a drawbridge. One normally thinks of a bridge as carrying two-way traffic. A bridge allows the exchange of information and views, and trade and commerce which would not otherwise take place. But the direct-grant system at the moment—particularly in respect of the 25 per cent. which are prestigious schools—operates over a drawbridge. There is a competition every year, marshalled and organised by those in command of the schools. They let down the drawbridge every September. a chosen few are let into the fastness of the keep, and up goes the drawbridge again.

If that is not an exact parallel it is a psychological analogy of some weight, because the demand for entry far exceeds those who can be accepted. I question the statements of those who say that these schools have a desirable effect in the educational system because of their deliberate selective policy. Of course, the more prestigious they are the more they pursue selectivity.

I said that I wanted to go back in history. This House has a significant rÔle to play in future as it has played in the past in the development of secondary education. We are often told by right hon. and hon. Members opposite of the great 1902 Balfour Education Act— the foundation of secondary education— but if they look back in history, particularly if they find out about a gentle- man by the name of Robert Morant, whose spirit still seems to haunt Curzon Street, they will find that the Act was in many ways reactionary, because far from creating secondary education for all it cut off some of the promising developments at the end of the last century which were providing secondary education for large numbers of pupils. Instead, it introduced by law a limited elementary system.

That situation continued up to 1944. At that stage the direct-grant schools, which are now being brought back into the political arena, were fulfilling a valuable function. In many areas they were an important part of the secondary system. After that, super-selection began to intensify. I know that not all direct-grant schools operate this system intensively, but the leaders of the so-called direct-grant movement do.

The report of the Public Schools Commission which we had two years ago suggested that a quarter of these schools make super-selectivity their business. They scour the area for talented pupils and produce a school which, we are told, attains very high educational standards. I suggest that that is wrong. The scholastic standards may be of an extremely high order, but it does not necessarily mean that the educational standards are equally high. There is a distinction between educational and scholastic standards. Failure to understand this distinction has bedevilled secondary education ever since 1902, and particularly in the last few years.

A good educational standard means that the school meets the needs of the pupil, whatever his scholastic ability and other attributes. The effectiveness of the school, educationally, is in meeting those needs. Scholastic standards are part of that need, although I do not go along with some of the fashionable jargon which we hear in education today. To suggest that because a school gets so many open scholarships to Oxbridge, or so many "A" levels, it is of an educationally high standard, is utter nonsense. It is not true. But it has seeped so far into the educational psychology of this country that it is even affecting our attempts to create a viable system of secondary education, particularly at this time of raising the school-leaving age.

I wish to give some examples, because this idea has gone so deep into our thinking. Some years ago I was speaking to a pupil from a very prestigious direct-grant school in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufmann). He was being asked about the subject of geography—a very important subject today. It is the study of man in relation to his environment. When asked about it he said: "Let me see. Geography? Oh yes. We all took it in the first two years, but then only the duds did it". That is, only the duds at Manchester Grammar School. That was his unconscious, unspoken attitude. I recall that two days ago the Evening News contained an article about a school in London which was having difficulty with its pupils. It implied that the teachers thought that if only they could get some of the more able pupils into the school all would be well. That is nonsense. The idea that by getting able pupils into a school all will be well just does not work. It is basically unsound.

The vice of our secondary education over the last 20 to 30 years has been orientating the internal priorities of school administration round the third scholastically most able in the school, the others often being placed at a disadvantage. That happens in some of the best educational direct-grant establishments today.

I will not go into personal details, but I know this very well. When we talk about educational standards, we do not merely mean scholastic attainment— which is a questionable matter anyway; we are talking about how well the whole system for which the right hon. Lady is generally responsible meet the needs of the pupils. That is the touchstone by which we can judge.

In the past we have gone off beam on this matter. Two or three days ago I was criticising the right hon. Lady for not keeping going the Central Advisory Councils. I pointed out that the Newsom Committee continued inside this psycho-logical straitjacket when it was asked to review the education of those of "average and below average ability". Since that debate I have spoken to a member of the Committee. He told me, "We had a lot of trouble with the terms of reference, because they were scholastic and not educational". When I asked, "Did you not realise that under the Act you had powers to put in a supplementary report rejecting those terms of reference?" he said that he had not realised that, and did not think that the other members of the Committee had realised it.

The Newsom Report, which could have produced a really sound basis for the future of our secondary education, failed to meet the challenge because the whole system was twisted to get scholastic results. That is why, when we are facing the raising of the school-leaving age. many teachers do not know quite what to do. Ten years or more ago there were teachers who worked hard to try to present the alternative concept, but they were not listened to because education officials at every level—and even some heads—were so wedded and so brought up to the idea that educational standards meant the same as scholastic standards that they could not understand that view.

I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) murmuring agreement. I am sure that he will agree that our problem is now one of motivation, and not selection. If educational research during the last 10 years had paid one-tenth as much attention to motivation as to selection we might be getting somewhere.

I have mentioned the general Élite approach to education. I do not discount scholastic standards; they are very important. But the fact that they have been a fulcrum around which all has gone has distorted our judgment. When the right hon. Lady decided to appoint a commission to consider teacher training she chose as chairman a noble Lord well known in the education world. I have never had an opportunity to meet the noble Lord but I should relish the chance to tell him what I understand by education.

The noble Lord's experience of education has been rooted in the Élite attitude, and I therefore do not think that his presiding over the investigation into teacher training for schools of which he has had no very great experience can get us very far. Some of the difficulties ahead are rooted in the fact that the right hon. Lady has made some assumptions from the past and the noble Lord also has some inbuilt assumptions. We have here the concept of an Élitewhich is not a chosen Élite,as we in this House are, but an Élitewhich is self-perpetuating. That is at the root of some of our difficulties.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) has shown that an imposed policy can bring anomalies. I am the first to agree that primary schools are very important, but we are talking not about the placement of new primary and secondary schools but the renewal and replacement of existing buildings by local education authorities, with their own money. It is not generally realised that the Minister's restriction is not one of largesse. It is often assumed by the public that the Department of Education and Science is paying for all this viathe Exchequer. That is not so. It is a matter of the Minister's properly exercising some control over what local education authorities can do. There must be that sort of control: the question is, how is it exercised?

I should have thought that in looking at the way in which national resources had to be allocated, and finding out that she could devote £X million to renewal and replacement of schools, the right hon. Lady would have tried to find out the priorities. The money is to be spent, whether it is spent on primary or on secondary schools, and she could have tried to ration that money among local authorities so that one did not get ahead of the others, which is one of the functions she must have.

If the Minister decides that a local education authority can spend up to £X on replacement or renewal of schools, it is reasonable to say that she should allow that authority to choose, inside its own area, what it spends on secondary schools. Quite clearly, because of the need to replace many of the old primary schools, a great deal of the £40 million a year, or whatever the sum is, will be devoted to that purpose, and it is cer- tainly right that it should. But for the right hon. Lady to say that not one pound can be spent on any secondary school replacement anywhere by any authority seems to be utterly illogical and indefensible.

It would be illogical and indefensible in any case, but not long ago the Minister told the House that one of the keynotes of her regime would be to give freedom to local authorities. To take away that freedom where that freedom is obviously right and can have no disadvantage does not tie up at all with her statement. I too, am driven reluctantly to the conclusion that what she is doing can only be for motives other than those which she professes. That is a great pity, because a great deal can be done locally by local authorities using their initiative.

I wish to conclude by showing how Government policy has produced terrible anomalies in my constituency. The right hon. Lady is handing out £2 million for the support of schools in a very small educational sector which is characterised by a certain amount of privilege and some scholastic and social selectivity. I do not think that she will say that these schools are doing badly in respect of resources, space or playing fields, or that the money is not sufficient for their needs, though obviously they may want more.

In the north of my constituency we have one of these schools. It has served the area well for a long time, and particularly before 1944. It is run by the Haberdashers Company, a charity, which would like to move the school many miles away for reasons which my local parents find rather difficult to understand. Negotiations to this end have caused local concern, particularly, as I say, as this organisation is a charity.

In the south of my constituency we have the Cardinal Newman Roman Catholic Secondary School, which is occupying premises built for elementary education in 1888 by the Acton School Board. It would like a new building. When I asked the borough education officer whether he had applied to the Ministry for a new building, he replied: "Yes, we applied, but we were told that it was not worth it because the political decision had been made."

So within my own constituency the right hon. Lady is giving an already-privileged school—and no one will deny that the Haberdashers Girls School is privileged—a greater privilege, while by her administrative fiat she is keeping even further down this already under-privileged school, housed in an 1888 building, which is trying to provide comprehensive education.

I have tried to be objective and to keep away from the higher reaches of party political polemic, but I am afraid that in most of what she has done in the last few years the right hon. Lady has brought politics into education as never before. In view of her action, many who are not of any political persuasion will agree with me that my speech could have been made by someone not a sup- porter of my party—

Mrs. Thatcher

Not really.

Mr. Spearing

When the right hon. Lady says "Not really" I am most interested, because I can tell her that she is in for a terrific surprise. Many people in Britain, especially those concerned with education, would say, if they happen to read what I have said in HANSARD, that there is very little with which they would disagree. One of the greatest dangers to education in Britain is the right hon. Lady's idea that she knows about it. I can tell her that thousands upon thousands of teachers up and down the country, not only of my party but also of hers, are saying that she does not know. That is why we hope that this Government will go very soon and that she will go with it.

1.40 p.m.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South)

I shall be able to follow only part of what was said by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing).

I warmly welcome, as many both inside and outside the House have welcomed, the statement in the Gracious Speech that Steps will be taken to raise the school- leaving age to 16. Although this topic has been proposed, opposed, intensively discussed, postponed, and finally given a firm date for implementation, it is supremely important that all concerned make a real success of this major alteration in the education service.

We are getting plenty of evidence, from both Britain and our major industrial competitors, of the rapidly changing pattern of industrial needs, industrial training and employment generally. We now know for certain that men and women in employment will be called upon to learn new skills and grasp new processes many times during their working lives. Such adaptability presupposes the literary, numerary and trained intelligence which only a sound education can make general. Our increasingly sophisticated economy will show that people who lack the capacity of adaptability will become almost permanently unemployable. One has only to look at the United States to see the serious social effects of such a situation. We should further remember that the secondary school is trying to prepare the child for some of the complexities of the many impersonal relation-ships in modern society, such as between parents and education officer, taxpayer and tax collector, and the homeless and the town hall.

The extra year at school will require considerable ingenuity by teachers and local authorities in accommodating and interesting those who would not normally stay on. As the date for raising the age has come nearer, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be aware that some local authorities have been giving extra attention and priority to secondary school rebuilding projects. Faced with the need to adapt the secondary school both to the raising of the leaving age and to the needs of the 1970s and early 1980s, we have seen authorities preparing for new experiments in education, such as team-teaching, learning by discovery and integrated courses, and they have been preparing to make fully effective use of the latest developments in educational aids and technology. In addition, and more important, some authorities have seen their secondary rebuilding projects as a chance to build a community school which would form the nucleus of community life, which is so obviously absent in densely populated and under-privileged industrial areas of the country.

With the tremendous emphasis on primary school building, some secondary school rebuilding programmes may have to be postponed. If such postponements last for any length of time, there is a danger of an unsatisfactory beginning to the new age limit for staying in schools.

My right hon. Friend knows that this problem is absolutely enormous. There have been some useful suggestions made about 15 to 16-year olds. One is that they should have some outside work experience while still at school, a sort of day-release pattern in reverse. I was glad that my right hon. Friend touched on this in her speech.

Second, I hope that my right hon. Friend will do all that she can to encourage local technical colleges to take classes for which the secondary schools lack the necessary equipment. A 15 to 16-year old still at school might enrol for vocational courses run at the local technical college or gain industrial experience at a Government training centre or local firm.

We are just at the beginning of an era of great challenge to the secondary schools. We have to face the fact that with the numbers of children coming from broken or disturbed homes a much greater responsibility falls on the school to prepare them for outside life. Secondary schools, now more than ever, will have to find the right balance between normal classroom lectures, group discussion and more practical forms of teaching. I believe that at last we are beginning a meaningful discussion as to what is taught and how it is taught rather than about what particular type of secondary school we should have.

To make the raising of the school-leaving age the success it deserves, the Government must do three things. First, they must redouble their efforts to attract more mathematics and science graduates from Government Departments and industry into the secondary schools. Second, they must try to ensure that the emphasis on primary school building will not long defer secondary school rebuilding and innovation. Third, they must continue, by research and discussion with those concerned, the vital task of improving the secondary school curriculum to meet the needs of the rest of this decade and the beginning of the 1980s.

1.45 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central):

I am sure that the House listened with interest to the comments of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel), who made three points. Pos- sibly he could also have included another one; namely, that his Government will see that there is an extension of employment for young people now leaving school so that they will not be in the position in which so many throughout the country now find themselves. He has touched on a very important point. I hope he will excuse me if I do not take up all that he said, because I want to be brief.

We have heard many comments today about the problems which still exist in many local authorities about the changing policy of the Government on primary school milk. But we have heard no comments about the next stages of charges. Next April school meals are to be increased by another 10p per week.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, that is nonsense. The hon. Member must have got it wrong. He may be referring to 1973.

Mr. Cox

Sorry—1973. But as the number of school children who stopped taking school meals when the charges were increased was about 13 per cent., I hope that we shall hear from the right hon. Lady and her Department in the coming months the kind of thinking that has to occur about these proposed charges and the possible effects that they may well have on other children.

I think that the right hon. Lady agrees that for many youngsters the school dinner is very often the most important meal that they have. If we are going to get into the kind of confusion in which many authorities have been because of the policies dictated to them by the Government over school milk, this will be a very retrograde step, not only for education but for the welfare and benefit of young children.

There is a continual lack on the part of the Government of an extension of provision for nursery school education. We have heard of the difference between the moneys that are to be allocated firstly to nursery provision as against improvements to be made in the moneys for direct-grant schools. It is scandalous that the Government should regard the needs of direct-grant schools as being of greater priority than provision for nursery schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), who has long campaigned on this subject, will be equally disgusted at

the announcement of the right hon. Lady today.

In spite of all the talk we hear from the Government about their great concern for improving primary school education—and I am sure that the whole House welcomes this; no one denies that there is an urgent need for improvement in primary school education—I do not see how the Government can say that that is a priority and, at the same time, ignore the fact that in the very areas where they are seeking to improve primary school education there is a need, and in some cases a greater need, for an introduction or extension of nursery school provision. It will not come. The right hon. Lady must know from her contacts with the teaching profession, especially teachers in priority areas, of the difficulties they face when youngsters start school, difficulties caused by home environments. This opportunity, if taken, would be of great benefit to youngsters and to the profession, and much greater use would be made of the priority she is giving to the primary schools. Yet she ignores this vital link in the education of children.

Mention has been made of the reports which appeared in yesterday's Press of conditions under which many youngsters not at school are being looked after by unlicensed child minders. That report, as reported in the Daily Telegraph, says this: Mothers, forced to work to make ends meet, ship their toddlers to unregistered minders, paid to keep an eye on them in cramped roams, with no toys' or other things of interest by which these youngsters could be encouraged to take an interest in their surroundings. The minders were unsure of the children's names and addresses. Nine unofficial minders and five who were registered had no idea where to contact the mother during the day in case of emergency. Heating was chiefly by oil stoves. Hardly any of the women concerned had taken any safety precautions. One-third said they left the children alone if they wanted to go out shopping. That we can allow such conditions to exist in 1971 is an appalling indictment. This should have been the right hon. Lady's priority. She should not have given £2 million to an already privileged section of society.

In my constituency I face pressures from parent-teacher organisations which

have asked for nursery school accommodation to be provided. These are not the type of people who are content to sit back and complain and say that it is time that the Government or the local education authority did something. They have organised fÊtes and gone on a sponsored walk to raise money to clear a site as an indication of their anxiety to have this accommodation provided for their children. After much pressure they were successful. They have now been promised that nursery accommodation will be provided.

Another area of my constituency, which possibly has greater social problems than that which has received nursery provision. has been told that it cannot be granted the money; and, therefore, there is to he no nursery provision in an area where it is urgently needed. The request for it in this area is supported by the local education authority.

These disappointed people will be up in arms at the right hon. Lady's announcement today that more moneys are to be allocated by the Government to direct-grant schools instead of providing nursery accommodation. These people will say, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) has said, that the right hon. Lady unfortunately is not the most popular of Education Ministers. The action she has taken today will heighten the point which has been made, not only by the profession but by the vast majority of mothers, that she does not understand the problems of the vast majority of mothers who want better education facilities for their children.

The right hon. Lady's action today will support the view now held that the only knowledge that she has is of the privileged sector of education and that the only sector to which she wishes to give her attention and the Government's financial priorities is that privileged sector. I agree that the sooner the right hon. Lady and the Government depart the better it will be for the country generally and for youngsters at school.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North)

The hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox) allocated more than the £2 million for direct-grant schools to the cost of providing nursery education. The right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) allocated it to the provision of school milk for one year. Other hon. Members will doubtless allocate the money to various good causes and priorities so that in the end people will believe that if only the direct-grant schools had been neglected all these good things could have been provided.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central that there is a provision in direct-grant schools for the middle class or the privileged. I have known children to be moved from all quarters of the city in which I live to a first-class educational environment in direct-grant schools, irrespective of social class and parental income. Therefore, direct-grant schools serve the whole community. If the hon. Gentleman investigates the matter, he will find that many people from humble circumstances welcome the opportunity to go to direct-grant schools.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is not the basic difference between the proposals put forward by my hon. Friends and those put forward by the right hon. Lady that my hon. Friends put forward proposals that have an educational intention and the money involved would be spent to improve educational facilities or nutritional facilities, whereas the right hon. Lady's proposal is simply one to reduce fees?

Mr. Roberts

My right hon. Friend's proposal will greatly support the direct-grant schools and the work they are doing.

Mr. Spearing

I should not like the point I was seeking to make to be misunderstood. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman believes that there is a step ladder, as it was in 1902, for pupils with high scholastic achievements but from relatively humble backgrounds to attend these schools. I agree that that might have been good up till 1944. Does he agree that from 1944 secondary education went off ration? Does he agree with the statement in paragraph 115 of the Second Report of the Public Schools Commission on Direct Grant Schools that— The direct grant schools arc predominantly middle-class institutions "?

Mr. Roberts

I was referring to the remark by the hon. Member for Wands- worth, Central, that parents would be up in arms. I say that many parents from all sections of the community will welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement.

The references in the Gracious Speech to the improvement of primary school buildings and to raising the school-leaving age to 16 promise a great and substantial forward stride in education. There is much more support for the primary school building programme than there is for the raising of the leaving age. I make it clear that I support both.

There are many objections to the raising of the leaving age. It is as well that we try to understand some of the objections of teachers. Many experienced school teachers who feel that they cannot at present cope effectively with classes of young men and women totally uninterested in school work, classes usually of low ability which may have an appalling effect on the general discipline of the school, take the view that the raising of the leaving age could be detrimental to the interests of education. These are experienced professional people. Their views should not be dismissed lightly. There are problems in our schools today. There are occasions when four-letter words are flung at teachers. As a result, these teachers are pessimistic. We must take their views into consideration. We who are the proponents of the raising of the school-leaving age must give these people reassurance.

There is, I suppose, never a perfect moment for raising the school-leaving age. and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her courage in insisting on doing so. To those who have their doubts about this course, I must say that I have never yet met a Member of Parliament or a member of the teaching profession who would want his son or daughter to leave school at the age of 15. It is a little unfortunate that the decision to raise the school-leaving age comes just after a rapid development of comprehensive education —a development that I support and have always supported. But it has caused, as any change is bound to cause, a certain amount of upheaval. There have been inadequate buildings. I do not wish to exaggerate the problem, but we have had a situation in comprehensive education

where a grammar school teacher with perhaps 25 years' experience of sound methods which have produced good academic results has suddenly been called upon to teach mixed-ability classes and has found the transition difficult.

There is one type of school where this is a particularly difficult problem; namely, the 11-16 school. This type of school is usually to be found in an area of under-privilege, an area where frequently there are large numbers of school leavers at the age of 15. It is in these schools that teachers particularly dread the prospect of the raising of the school-leaving age because there is no cadre of prefects and older pupils to support the teachers in matters of discipline such as exists in the 11-18 schools.

However, when one bears in mind the problems which are created in this respect, it is fair to say that a great deal has already been done. Over the last five or six years there have been new approaches to the problem of curricula. It is not a matter of merely tagging on an extra year to the present period. The studies that have been made by teacher groups throughout the country and by local authorities have ensured that for these children there will be a restructuring of the whole education programme from 13 to 16 plus. There is no doubt that a great deal of preparation has gone into this work.

One aspect—and an important one—is the question of work experience, and I hope my right hon. Friend is able to solve that problem satisfactorily; otherwise those who now voluntarily stay on will be denied the opportunities which will accrue from the raising of the school-leaving age.

There are problems which I should like to bring to the attention of the House because this matter can only be tackled satisfactorily if adequate resources are brought to the aid of those in the front of the battle—the teachers. There will be demands for additional staff, in terms not only of quantity but of quality. My right hon. Friend assured us—I was very glad to hear the assurance—that the pupil-teacher ratio was not likely to deteriorate, or only slightly, in the first year and that in the following year it would greatly improve, but I must point

out that that only partly answers the question. It will not be sufficient to say of a secondary school taking on another 100 pupils "The pupil-teacher ratio is 20 to 1, so we will appoint an additional five teachers to the staff." This problem demands extra specialist staff, because it is essential that the pupils should be taught in smaller groups by specialists

I will give one or two examples of the specialist expertise which will be needed if this change is to become effective. There will be a great need for guidance and counselling, and specially trained staff will have to be provided for these purposes. I am not certain that these people are available. If they are not available now, steps must be taken to ensure that there is a crash course to provide more of the expert counsellors who are so essential.

There is the question of careers education. It is not possible to create a careers teacher merely by making an appointment. There is the matter of in-service training. Then there is the question of administration. If we are thinking in terms of working situations, of environmental studies and of broad education, this is very time-consuming, and I suggest that it is not just a question of sticking to the pupil-teacher ratio and increasing the number of staff; it will, as I have said, be essential to introduce not only more staff but more specially skilled staff.

It is also important to recognise, particularly in the context of the 11-16 school, that such a school is not so attractive to schoolteachers as the 11-18 school. There must be special inducements, special heads of department allowances and so on, to make that type of school, of which there are many, attractive to the best teachers.

We shall obviously need substantial additions to the cost-per-head to ensure that these teachers have the right equipment to deal with the problems with which they will be confronted. I am certain also that we shall have to look at the question of buildings, to see that proper innovations arc made in secondary school building so that they are tailor- made for those pupils who will be staying on until the age of 16.

I welcome the raising of the school- leaving age. I think this move has the chance of being one of the very great steps forward made in the history of education in this country, but it will be truly effective only if we now make certain that all the resources are available for the schools.

2.9 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

I had not come to the House with the intention of making a speech until I heard the opening remarks of the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Education and Science.

A few weeks ago I had occasion to describe the right hon. Lady—and I am sorry that she is not now in her place— as Mrs. Scrooge with the painted face. She has now dispensed with the disguise of the painted face. She has now revealed herself unashamedly and unapologetically as a reactionary cavewoman whose approach to a service on which depends the whole future of our nation was described in another context as that of a desiccated calculating machine with a head full of figures but, as someone once said, no bloody vision.

In a recent interview with a representative from The Guardian,reported on Tuesday this week, I think, the right hon. Lady said that she was a greatly misunderstood Minister. In fact, she is only too well understood. That is why almost every education body in the country deplores the policies which she was deliberately appointed to implement. They are not her policies; they are the policies of the Government as a whole. The right hon. Lady was appointed as a legal expert on taxation matters—sending her own children to private fee-paying schools—a woman who cannot begin to understand the problems, the fears, the hopes and the aspirations of working-class parents and children.

A typical example this morning was the great glee with which the right hon. Lady announced her magnanimity in giving an extra £2 million to direct-grant schools, not to improve the educational content of what those schools provide—however good that might be—but to give a tax concession to the predominantly middle-class parents who send their children to those schools. Despite what hon. Members opposite have said, it is an un-

doubted fact that the kind of parents who can afford to send their children to that sort of school are not the parents whom I represent in Fife, or those who are represented by the great mass of Members on this side of the House. It is yet another indication of the devisive nature of the education policies being deliberately pursued by the Government.

I want to give an example from South-East London, where I live. In the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), who spoke a few minutes ago, there is a fee-paying school. It is surrounded by acres and acres of magnificent playing fields. Directly over the road—in the same road—is a comprehen-sive school. The private fee-paying kids come out of their building straight on to their own playing field. The kids from the comprehensive school have to take a bus and travel for three-quarters of an hour to Ewell, in Surrey. They spend half an hour or so on the playing fields, and then another three-quarters of an hour coming back on the bus. There is no more obscene example of educational apartheidin this country than is to be found in Dulwich today—and the present Government are seeking to perpetuate it. We condemn apartheidin South Africa. We have it on our own doorstep, particularly in the education service.

In his magnificent speech this morning—if I may say so without being thought in the least patronising—my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) compared the right hon. Lady's remark about the financial help which she would give the parents of children at direct grant schools with what she had to say about school milk and school meals— a comparison which serves only to emphasise the divisive nature of the policies now being pursued. But that is why the right hon. Lady was appointed, and why Lord Boyle left. He was driven out because in his approach to education matters he was far too liberal for the Tory Party.

The right hon. Lady sought to make a bit of party capital by remarking that my right hon. Friend withdrew secondary school milk. I did not approve of that, although I understood the reasons. I knew the reluctance with which my right hon. Friend did it. Economic circumstances forced it on him, and he did it with extreme reluctance and unhappiness. He did not do it with the obvious glee and deliberation with which the present Government have acted. It was included in their White Paper, produced in October—soon after the election —as a deliberate part of their policy to reduce public expenditure in order to reduce taxation on the better off.

As a deliberate act of policy the Tory Government are filching milk from children of 7 to 11 years of age in order to save £9 million a year. The freedom of those local authorities which want to continue providing the milk has gone, despite the Government's promises to free local government from the shackles of Central Government. Whether or not the local people want it, whether or not they regard it as in the interests of the children they represent, and whether or not they think it a safeguard to their health which should be paid for out of the rates, they are told, "We in Whitehall know best. We will tell you what you can and cannot spend your ratepayers' money on".

What will the Departments do about those Labour-controlled education authorities which say, "Despite your legislation, we shall provide milk free"? Will they take legal action? In her interview with The Guardianthe right hon. Lady said that that depended on the district auditor. It depends on the Departments, too—and here I refer to the Scottish Education Department as well as the English Department. The Secretary of State for Wales has already said that he does not propose to take legal action against Merthyr Tydvil, although Merthyr Tydvil says that it will continue to provide free school milk.

We should like to know what the English Minister and the Scottish Minister will do. I wonder, in particular, about the Scottish Minister. I do not know whether he is a dairy farmer or whether he supplied milk.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Hector Monro)


Mr. Hamilton

I thought that one of his qualifications for being appointed Education Minister in Scotland was that he was a farmer. He must know the implication of withdrawing this milk. for the dairy farmers of Scotland.

The right hon. Lady spoke of the freedom of medical officers of health to recommend free school milk, and my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan), the former Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, intervened to refer to a letter which she had sent to him indicating that medical officers of health could prescribe free school milk on preventive grounds. All the nutrition experts throughout the country, and throughout the world, say that the best preventive health food is milk. Therefore, if medical officers of health throughout the country take notice of all the world's nutrition experts they will say that every child in every school should have free milk.

I hope that the locally-elected members of education authorities—certainly of the Labour-controlled authorities, which will mean virtually all of them before the end of next year—will tell their medical officers of health, "We have it on record officially from Ministers that you may prescribe free school milk on preventive health grounds", in which case we shall be back to free school milk, despite the Government's legislation.

I come now to the ominous threat, as I saw it, to the school meals service in the right hon. Lady's speech. Is this to be another lame duck? Is it to be abolished? I would not put it past the Government to do just that. Or will a pre-packed school lunch be provided in bulk by Messrs. Forte, or some other outside organisation? We should like more details of what the Government have in mind, and what savings in public expenditure they expect. I should like to know from the Minister who is to reply on the particularly Scottish points the latest figures of take-up of school meals, consequent on the increase in prices.

I have already referred to the divisive character of the Government's education policies, which are being effected most glaringly and obscenely in the education service. We who represent Scottish constituencies recollect that this Government's first major Measure on Scottish education was to give the right, to Tory- controlled cities, principally Glasgow and Edinburgh, to bring back their fee-paying schools. The fee-paying schools in Scotland are not the same as those in England. The fees are fairly derisory compared with those paid in England, but the paying of those relatively small fees gives an educational privilege out of all proportion to the fees paid. Since that legislation was passed Glasgow has again become Labour-controlled, so that position no longer applies. The Labour-controlled education authority will get rid not of the schools but of the fees and the privilege that goes with them. But in Edinburgh, which is still Tory- controlled, they are going ahead with the retention of their fee-paying schools.

A letter in the Edinburgh Evening Newslast night said: It has been reported that the Merchant Company are keeping the fees at their schools as low as possible. The reason is that the taxpayer subsidisies these privileged schools by over £350,000 per annum. They do not pay SET, can receive income tax covenants, and are subsidised by the ratepayer as they pay only 50 per cent. rates, being classed as 'charitable institutions', when in fact they ceased to have this function 100 years ago. If the full fees were charged for these schools, the amount paid by parents would be more than double. Why should these schools be heavily subsidised when other children are being educated in overcrowded, inadequate buildings with a shortage of good teachers, overlarge classes, and lack of facilities? The letter then referred to the benefactors who bequeathed their money for the foundation of what were then called hospital schools for the education and welfare of very poor children. It concluded: Surely it is an insult to these beneficent people's memories that these schools are now run for the better-off while poorer children are neglected educationally in many areas. I quote that simply to emphasise the divisive nature of the Government's policy.

I now turn to another matter mentioned by several hon. Members on both sides—the continued neglect of nursery school education. Yesterday the Scottish Education Deparatment published a report by a working party set up by the previous Government to study education facilities for the under-fives. My firm belief is that for far too long—and all Governments are responsible—this sector of the education service has been the most neglected. The report recog- nises—as do all educational authorities— that the first few years of a child's life are a period of the most significant growth, yet all Governments have persisted in regarding that sector of education as the Cinderella sector. I repeat that it is not a party matter. Today's Glasgow Daily Recordrefers to the report under the headline: A plan that means hope for unhappy children". It says: Doomed to failure in Scotland's present educational system are the children from bad home backgrounds. These 'predestined failures' can be recognised very early. It quotes the report as saying: Efforts must be made to identify children at risk as early as possible. It continues: They"— the working party— list children at greatest risk of emotional deprivation—orphans, illegitimate children, children of broken marriages and children from unstable, overcrowded or insecure home back-grounds. They want an expansion of nursery education—only about 12,500 of Scotland's two to five-year-olds benefit from it at present. They want educational and social service units set up for the day care of children from homes of 'social need'. They also want safe indoor and outdoor play areas for young children in new housing schemes and redevelopments. The reaction of the Secretary of State for Scotland was immediate. He said: "No", except for the urban under-privileged areas, with no indication of any upper financial limits.

I have quoted at some length, but I must quote finally the editorial of the Glasgow Herald,a notorious and very unfair Tory paper. It said: The Secretary of State for Scotland's latest pronouncement on nursery education,… indicates that the under-five sector is to remain the poor relation in the education family. Then, referring to the fact that the Secretary of State said that the urban under- privileged areas could submit schemes, which would be considered, it commented: This is progress of a sort but does give pre-school education the aura of the soup kitchen. That is the accolade for the hon. Gentleman's response to the report. Then the paper makes a pertinent point which I want to develop: Economic pressures may prevent Mr. Campbell giving greater encouragement at this stage but the subject deserves the constant attention of the Scottish Office—which has been largely silent on it for the last two decades. It is to be hoped that there will be no such wait for their next, and hopefully more generous, announcement. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us something more positive than the immediate response of the Secretary of State.

There can be no doubt that the need to provide nursery school education and accommodation is particularly acute in new towns. I hope that it has come to the hon. Gentleman's attention already that I made representations on the matter to his hon. Friend the junior Minister responsible for industry when he visited Glenrothes the other day. We have there increasing unemployment, especially among building workers, and the woman of the family is the breadwinner in many cases. The birthrate is considerably higher than the national average. That is in the nature of things in new towns, which have so many young people. So, by providing additional and immediate extra nursery school accommodation, the Government could help solve the unemployment problem, the education problem of these children, and the economic problem of the families whose breadwinners have been declared redundant.

I want to refer briefly to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for Health and Education himself. He is a bluff and likeable character, and I hope that he will not take it as personal criticism when I say that his appointment is due largely to the fact that the choice open to the Prime Minister amongst Scottish Ministers is extremely limited—and will be even more limited after the next election. But I wish the hon Gentleman well in his job, which is a very difficult one. It is clear that the Government regard education as a low priority.

I accept that the raising of the school leaving age is necessary, but I am not sure that it is the right priority at this time. The fixing of priorities is a matter of judgment and prejudice. If £100 million extra were available for education and I had to choose whether it should be spent on raising the school-leaving age or on educational facilities for the under-fives, I would opt for the latter. This is where the House suffers from some degree of impotence. We do not know, and we have no facilities for knowing, how these priorities are determined. But we have our Select Committees, where we try to assess who has decided, and on what criteria, to spend this money on the 15-and 16-year olds rather than on the under-fives. We have a right to know the facts and the figures, and the judgments on which these policy matters are based.

I also want to say something about student union funds, and to show that the Government are clearly the enemies of the National Union of Students. They do not want the student unions to use their money in the ways they are doing. The cavemen have been at it again. The Government have responded to the Monday Club and all the near-Fascists on the benches opposite. We have seen it in Barnet, in Surrey, and in other parts of the country. I was interested to note that the second biggest cheer at the Tory Party conference came when Lord Carrington announced that an extra £70 million would be provided for building naval vessels. The biggest cheer of all was for those who were advocating flogging, hanging, and the rest.

The difference betwen the two parties arises basically on the question of priorities. I do not believe that at this moment in our history, when so much depends on our education service to provide us with the wherewithal to improve the standard of living, we should spend another £70 million on naval vessels while we have so much deprivation in our education service. That is the kind of charge that we make against the Government.

I could speak at great length on these matters. I deeply deplore the fact that this debate on education is taking place on a Friday, in such a thinly-attended House. The House should have been crowded, because on education more than any other service the future of this country depends.

2.35 p.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

I do not intend to follow most of the remarks of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). He reduced the debate to the personally offensive and narrowly partisan level adopted by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short). That is a great pity, especially in view of his concluding remarks. He himself took up nearly half an hour and has thus deprived some other hon. Members of the opportunity to make their contributions.

In the comparatively short time I have set myself, I want to draw attention to an aspect of education which receives in- sufficient attention. I venture to ask, with some diffidence, whether we are sufficiently conscious of the moral implications of what we are doing, not least in education. It is traditional for Governments to stand aside from moral questions. They regard them as matters for the individual conscience, and legislation is left to the initiative of individual hon. Members through Private Members' Bills. The worst that could happen would be for questions of private morality to be the subject of party controversy. But in modern conditions I suggest that this is a dangerous tendency because the Government of a Christian country have a responsibility for the moral condition of its people.

This Government and all British Governments already take responsibility for immoral conduct which is so damaging to society as to be prohibited and designated as crime. They exercise an intermittent, although perhaps only indirect, responsibility for the influence which agencies such as television exercise on moral standards. But in the main Governments abstain from making or enforcing any judgments on moral questions. This leads to two results. The first is the adoption of privately-sponsored legislative Measures which, in the interests of a minority, have had the effect of relaxing traditional restraints on immoral behaviour. Thus, divorce and abortion have been made easier and homosexuality has been condoned in recent years. Secondly, we have failed adequately to examine the moral aspects of Government measures within a Christian context.

There arc many subjects of immense moral significance whose importance has been measured only by material considerations. I could give many examples of this aspect from other subjects apart from education, but I will concentrate on three which apply to education. First, modern teaching methods accept the principle of discovery or self-expression in primary education. Children are left to find their own way about, at their own pace, without the benefit of a frame-work of formal instruction and discipline. Most of the experts are delighted by this system. But education is too important a matter to be left to educationists.

Are we parents content with the result? Is it not the cause of much of the indiscipline, lack of self-restraint and illiteracy about which some of my hon. Friends have been speaking? Is it not one of the causes of the malaise in our society today? We talk everlastingly about comprehensive education, the school-leaving age, the replacement of old school buildings and of programmes, like that outlined in the Gracious Speech, costing hundreds of millions of £s. We are absorbed in the "when" and "where" our children are taught. How rarely do we discuss the infinitely cheaper and much more important subject of "what" and "how" they are taught.

That brings me to sex education. The only subject which must by law be included in school curricula is religious knowledge. As a corollary, parents of other denominations or faiths have the right to withdraw their children from classes where religious knowledge is taught. They have no such right when sex education courses and films, which are usually tasteless and devoid of any moral or Christian content, are provided. Yet sex education, which has become more important progressively as parental responsibility has been eroded, involves moral considerations as important as any subject dealt with by my right hon. Friend. Either parents should have the right to withdraw a child from such tuition, or the Secretary of State should take the responsibility for ensuring that in a predominantly Christian country only the Christian view of sex should be given: let the others withdraw.

I come lastly to a subject which has been touched on by previous speakers, and I confess that it is one about which I vehemently disagree with them. It concerns nursery schools. I wonder whether anyone responsible for pushing nursery education has considered whether by providing and encouraging it we are helping to destroy family life, the central unity around which all our Christian values are built. If, as I believe, the proper place for the mother of young children is in the home, what are we doing encouraging such mothers to leave their children with strangers?

Mr. Miscampbell

Is my hon. Friend seriously telling the House that deprived mothers and deprived children do not deserve nursery education? Is he seriously telling the House that it is undermining family well-being?

Mr. Stanbrook

If my hon. Friend will allow me, I will continue my speech and he may listen to my observations on that very point.

I was about to say that going out to work may be an inescapable economic necessity for some mothers of young children, but they are, or should be, in a minority and dealt with as such. Do not let us assume that all mothers should be so encouraged, not if we wish to preserve family life.

I have heard many hon. Members comment on the importance of the formative years before seven; that is just the point. If the most formative years of a child's life are those under the age of seven, we should strive to make it possible for all of them to be spent in the closest possible contact with the child's parents in his home, where he may enjoy in a family atmosphere the love and security he needs and requires. We should be directing our policy in this respect towards making it possible—I repeat, making it possible—for the mothers of young children to stay at home rather than encouraging them to pass on to others the responsibility for bringing up their children.

The Secretary of State and the Government have an immense responsibility for the moral training of children and the moral condition of the country. Their practical, tangible proposals are necessary and excellent, but at the end of the day they will be judged not by the number of new schools or the size of the surplus of the balance of payments but by the quality of life and happiness of the people. By that standard, I hope and pray that they will be successful.

2.43 p.m.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

It is always a little difficult for an hon. Member to speak on the Gracious Speech if he wants, as I do, to raise issues of foreign affairs, unemployment, education and the environment. He cannot do it one each day, and so he has to do it in one lump, which is what I wish to do today in a short speech.

I want first to deal with the Government's hope that following successful negotiations, they will shortly sign an instrument of accession to the European Economic Community. I should like the Prime Minister to consider what I have to say about this. To drag the country willy nilly into accession to the European Communities under the Treaty of Rome just because of a vote of a transitory majority in Parliament is utterly inexcusable, and posterity will never forgive the Prime Minister for so doing. Of course it is a transitory majority. This Parliament might vote in favour of accession to the Treaty of Rome, as it has; the last Parliament might have voted against it; but neither Parliament would have had any authority to decide one way or the other.

There are subjects upon which a Government may drag their supporters into a vote which may not have been mentioned during a General Election and upon which the electorate may not have given a decision, but such actions may always be reversed by the next Parliament if the electorate does not like them. I emphasise. however, that this decison cannot be reversed once we are legally in.

In acting without the authority of the people the Prime Minister will go down in history as the Prime Minister with the greatest nerve in history, the greatest nerve the country has ever experienced, because this is the greatest constitutional issue the country has ever faced. This is a question of changing the whole mode of living of our people, and when it is such a question the people alone should be able to decide their destiny.

The Gracious Speech said: At home my Government's first care will be to increase employment by strengthening the economy and promoting the sound growth of output. Hon. Members on either side of the House would regard those as lofty sentiments, but perhaps the Prime Minister does not appreciate how far unemployment has grown. Does he realise, for example, that a German, American and Englishman were recently talking when the German said, "It is extraordinary. We transplanted a man's kidney and a month later he was walking about"; the American said, "That is nothing. We transplanted a man's heart and in one week he was out looking for a job"; the Englishman said "That is nothing. In June, 1970, we transplanted a man from Bexley to Westminster and now we have nearly a million people out looking for jobs."

The Government have not given any indication of how they hope to strengthen the economy and promote sound growth of output to reduce unemployment. Before the General Election, the Prime Minister said that he would do it at a stroke, as he would decrease prices at a stroke. It is about time he told us what period he intended the British people to understand by the phrase "at a stroke". If he meant four or five years, I apologise to him for misunderstanding his meaning, but if "at a stroke "means what it says, the Prime Minister will have a great deal of explaining to do. Unemployment has now reached almost the million mark.

I am sure that we would all approve the hope of the Government to replace and improve primary school buildings, but if the Secretary of State does that at the expense of the health of the children, she will find a sorry state of affairs. I wonder whether her children were deprived of milk when they were at the age of children now to be deprived of milk. I often wish that one could wave a wand and transport her temporarily into a society where she was one of the poorer and where she had children who needed milk, not to the point of medical necessity but in order to grow up into healthy children, and where she could not afford it. I wonder how she would feel about a Secretary of State for Education who said that there was to be no more milk for her children. These school buildings are greatly to be praised but if they are obtained at the expense of healthy children I warn the Secretary of State that they will be turned from schools into vaults.

I regret that the Government have not dealt with the environment as it affects safety on the motorways. I refer specifically to the so-called "killer stretch" of the Ml between Watford and Hemel Hempstead. Hon. and right hon. Members may feel that this is a local matter but it is not. Everyone from all parts of this country uses the M1, and it is vital that we should widen it to six lanes instead of four. I admit that crash barriers have been introduced as the result of pressure on the Government, and I plead guilty to having applied some of that pressure. This is not enough, however, for although accidents have decreased, they have not stopped. On one evening last week 23 vehicles were involved in one pile-up on that stretch of motorway.

The Secretary of State for the Environment promised an inquiry into this last July. So far we have heard nothing whatever from him. In the meantime accidents are continuing. I urge him to do something now. Why must we English be regarded as those people who close the stable door after the horse has gone? I call on the right hon. Gentleman to act not "at a stroke" but now.

2.52 p.m.

Miss Janet Fookes (Merton and Morden)

Unlike the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck), I want to give my undivided attention to education and to one particular aspect of it; namely, student unions. Earlier I was astounded at the indignation of the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short). It seemed worthy of an Old Testament prophet at his most fiery. I hastened away to reread the document and to see what I had missed. I found, on the contrary, that it was as I thought; it is a modern document which by no means gives way to the Tory backwoodsmen.

I am glad that it is in consultative form, and I hope that consultation with all concerned will be genuine. My first recollection of Government consultation was a cynical definition given to me by my father, who said that it was calling people together to say what the Government intended to do, then issuing a statement afterwards saying that all had agreed to it. I am sure that will not be the case in this instance.

I want to take a closer look at the suggestions made in the document. I approve the suggestion that membership of student unions should be automatic. There has been a suggestion that it should be voluntary. I take it that automatic membership is a kindly way of saying that it is compulsory, with this saving clause for those who have a conscience about it. My only reservation is that I do not think there is any justification for allowing those who opt out to use the facilities offered. I appreciate that there are practical difficulties but there is no justification for it in principle.

I turn to the more controversial matter of the academic institutions concerned being responsible for providing and maintaining facilities and doing away with the union fee. It is true that then union facilities will be in competition with other aspects of university life but it will not do any harm to students to come to grips with the painful realisation we all find in public life, whether in local or central Government, that there are certain priorities and people have to fight for what they want. I hope that academic institutions will not be so foolish as to try to squeeze out the legitimate rights of unions. They have a very valuable role to play, and I believe that the misuse of funds is very small. It is worrying but small. I hope all of this can be removed so that the unions may enjoy a completely unsullied reputation.

In this connection making students accountable for the funds they spend is important. If people spend money which is not their own it should be accounted for, and this is doubly or trebly so with public funds. It is in the interest of students that this should be seen to be done. I can recall in my own school-days headmistresses solemnly warning the school about the activities of a minority —bad behaviour on buses and so forth— bringing the whole school into disrepute. Unfortunately, the highly-publicised cases we have had tend to make members of the public feel that there must be a great deal more going on that is wrong than is the case. If there is accountability to the district auditor or some other independent person the point is effectively dealt with. A crucial point is how much should be financed from individual contributions by students. The document can be criticised as being somewhat woolly at this point but it is a genuine attempt to seek the views of those who will be concerned. Obvious candidates would be political societies. I see no reason why they should have automatic support whether they are from the Left, Right or Centre. Certainly the good causes to which students like to contribute should be aided voluntarily, not from public funds.

I note with approval that the idea of a registrar-general, canvassed fairly widely, is not being accepted at the moment. This is a cumbersome way of dealing with a situation which would be far better handled by the present academic authorities and student unions working together. Those who most like this idea are also those who object to swelling the ranks of civil servants. We need a good reason for adding further to the number of institutions and bodies, of which we already have such a profusion. This method can be desirable only if the present system, as amended after consultation, is proved not to work after a few years. It could be a kind of longstop, as I think it is called in cricket, although that is probably a bad term because I know very little about cricket. This consultative document has a valuable rÔle to play in as much as it will force everyone to consider what is the up-to- date rÔle of the student unions. They have grown up in a variety of ways for different reasons, and this will give us the possibility of deciding what their rÔle is today. In any advice which is sent out by circular, I hope that my right hon. Friend will stress the importance of student unions and give guidance on the kind of treatment that they are to receive.

As for the constitutions of unions, there again I hope that models or guidelines can be given when these are being considered or revised. For my sins, I was once a member of the governing body of a college of education. The student union's rules came before us, and I was astonished to find amongst the aims and objects in the draft put forward by the students that there was no reference to the representative function of student unions with academic bodies. This would seem to be fairly elementary. What is more, some of the arrangements made were of a complexity which makes Erskine May's guidance to procedure look like child's play. Clearly, that kind of complexity makes a field day for militants who want to employ their talents in using student union rules for their own ends. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look at this point when she is considering the future rÔle of student unions.

I welcome this document as a moderate one which by no means gives way to Tory backwoodsmen, as some hon. Members will be pleased to call them. I hope that action will be taken in the very near future.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

In what will be a short intervention, I wish to concentrate on what I believe is the need for an effective and universal pre-school policy. I make no excuse for concentrating on a narrow subject in a broad debate of this kind, since that is the purpose of back-bench speakers.

I recognise what the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Central (Mr. Edward Short) described as the daunting financial implications of any departure in education. That must be recognised with a pre-school policy. I welcome the £1½ million which has been added today. I believe, however, that the importance of this demands that both parties should recognise as a start that we should accept the commitment which is now nearly 30 years old and was contained in the 1944 Act. I hope also to convince my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) of the error of his ways, since I do not believe that nursery school education has anything to do with the viability of the family whereas it has a great deal to do with the chances of many under-privileged children.

We should recognise the enormous amount of money which any Government spend and which the present Government are spending on education. However. while we spend £2,500 million or more on education, we are failing to start off our children so that they can take full advantage of the enormously complex facilities now available. How much is lost can be seen from some generally accepted estimates. A child from a deprived background will have an I.Q. of 80 in a poor environment. In a good environment, the child can have an I.Q. of 120. The difference is due simply to the environmental change.

Mr. Edward Short

The hon. Gentleman should tell that to his right hon. and hon. Friends.

Mr. Miscampbell

That can represent as much as a 20 per cent. better chance in life. Everyone knows about the advantages of a child who talks well, who is energetic and curious. I describe such a child as educationally self- propelled, since he will do half his teacher's work for him. The child who is not so advantaged when he goes to school at five will be under-powered. He will be under-fulfilled probably for the whole of his educational life, and all of us who go anywhere near the courts know that such children are the basis of some of the great problems with which we have to deal. What is the provision at the moment? The best and most hopeful view is that 25 per cent. of children get some form of pre-nursery treatment. In certain cases it is education, in other cases it is simple care. That 25 per cent. is an optimistic estimate. We are faced in the remaining 75 per cent. with a growing problem of child minders, untrained and unequipped to deal with the children in their care. It is not a problem which is confined to the so-called working classes. In many cases child-minding by foreign-speaking au-pair girls provides no better start in life for middle-class children than that provided by child-minders in our worst industrial areas.

While I accept that the policy must be begun slowly, I am asking now that, in the next Gracious Speech or the one after, we should have a commitment— and it may be a long one—towards the policies which were laid down in the 1944 Act.

Then we should build on the Plowden recommendations. We should put our nursery school facilities in the educationally deprived areas, as we are at the moment. I dare say that the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central will agree that it would have been a mistake simply to have given such facilities to those areas which asked for them, because those who ask can often help themselves.

Nursery education is not sufficient, however. More help must be given to play groups, and they must be integrated into nursery schemes. They need to have injected into them the expertise which can help a child to learn rather than simply leaving him in the care of a super child-minding organisation. They have in many cases varying standards. The best are excellent; the worst are questionable.

I conclude by saying simply this. It is time that both parties now took up the challenge which was there in the 1944 Act. Let us get a timetable. We all know it is going to be a long one, but if the hope were there we should get the kind of schools which, at their best, are absolutely superb.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

I start, rather unexpectedly in view of some of the things which have been said this morning, with two pleasant tasks. One is to thank the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell). He is right to pose directly to both Front Benches the question of free school education. I shall have something to say about that. I very much agree with what the hon. Member had to say.

My other pleasant task is to welcome the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro)—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education in Scotland— to the Front Bench. It has been a favourite saying of my right hon. Friend the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries appears as the "silent senator ". That is because he has for so many years been a Whip. It is almost a red letter day that now, after long silence on behalf of his party, he is coming here to speak. I welcome him, and I only hope that he gives us a few better answers than—south of the Border —the right hon. Lady has been giving us, because I have been appalled at some of the things that she has said and appears to accept as given assumptions in education field—when, for example, she told my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing), from, I think, a sedentary position, that he was speaking very much from a Labour Party viewpoint. I think that my hon. Friend said that he was not giving a specific Labour Party viewpoint, but the right hon. Lady felt that he was.

Mr. William Hamilton

There is nothing wrong with that.

Mr. Buchan

What my hon. Friend said was in the mainstream of educational research and thinking during the past two decades. I must tell the right hon. Lady that she has only two really authoritative sources for her beliefs—one Sir Cyril Burt and the other the Black Papers on which her case largely rests. because she has never yet understood the simple point put forward by her hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North that with a change in the environment, with a change in education, and with a change of mental attitudes, jobs availability change, too.

That is the one supreme, fundamental fact in education that the right hon. Lady must learn. I do not think that she has understood it yet.

It is no use the right hon. Lady's smiling. She always thinks that she is misjudged. The main burden of the article in The Guardian on Tuesday, is that she thinks she is misjudged, and it is no help to the education world to judge her any more kindly when she makes the sort of statements that she made this morning.

I recommend the right hon. Lady particularly to look at a piece of research done in America and entitled "Prometheus in the Classroom", which shows quite clearly that the expectations of teachers were aroused when it was predicted, supposedly falsely, that a group of pupils was about to bloom, to flower. The pupils did bloom, and they did develop—and more than other children there. The assumption of the teachers was that they would move forward; so they did. It is a very curious thing that when children are told that they are doing badly, and will do badly, they do badly, and that when they are told that they are doing well, they do well. We do not want what my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) called an educational apartheid. Whatever the structure, one does not need to say to children, "You are doing badly", when they are on one side of the road, and are then sent across the road to the comprehensive school because "You are not doing so well", because still they will not do so well. One of the great fundamental social tasks in education—if we are to get the right kind of response from our children in a society which is cruelly divided and which the Government are daily trying to make more divided—is at least to enable our children to try to over-come this division.

I am relieved that, in a sense, Scotland figures so little in the Gracious Speech, because it figured largely in the last Speech. One education Measure relating to Scotland was concerned with division, and it was most extraordinary. It gave the right to local authorities to charge fees for local authority schools. We spent five months in Committee on that piece of legislation. It started in November and did not finish until the end of July. How many local authorities have decided to take up the option which they were offered—is it one, or is it none?—yet the concept of division was given.

I find this a curious situation, because the argument in favour of the introduction of fee-paying schools is relevant to the argument about milk. The argument in favour of introducing fee-paying schools in Scotland was precisely to give freedom to local authorities. Indeed, right hon. and hon. Members opposite, from the Minister downwards, argued that it was nothing to do with fee-paying in schools. Far he it from them to argue whether fee-paying was better or worse: it was only to give freedom to local authorities.

That was said by the Conservative Party before the election. The then Leader of the Opposition, for example, said: The most urgent reform of local government is to get the Government spanner out of the works. Under Labour there can never be real reform of local government for they will always seek to use their powers to bend the local authorities to their will. It will be for a Conservative Government to restore to the local elector and the local councillor the freedom of action he needs to make life better for himself and his fellow-citizens and to control his own destiny and that of his community. No wonder The Guardian, in requoting this in June, ended by commenting: Who is bending whom to whose will now? Both on the organisation of secondary education in England and on the subject of milk, how a member of the Cabinet like the Secretary of State for Scotland can have the nerve to refuse discretion to local authorities concerning milk after his educational argument for five months had been to give freedom to local authorities, I cannot understand. I do not understand how he can now send out a letter threatening local authorities in Scotland who are seeking no more than the right to feed their children. They are not even saying that the Government should provide the milk; they are saying, "Please let us give the milk." The threatening letters are coming out.

When the right hon. Gentleman came forward with that fee-paying proposal last year, I do not know whether the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Secretary of State for Education and Science warned that they were going to clobber the local authorities regarding milk. Perhaps he walked into it blindfold. Whatever can be said south of the Border about refusing discretion to local authorities, clearly there is no case in morality—the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) was worried about morality; it may be that they have been seeing too many bad films in the Scottish Office—for refusing discretion to local authorities north of the Border to issue milk. The whole population of Scotland knows this, and will react accordingly if the Government carry on with the kind of hypocritical threats they have made in the last few months. I can speak more confidently about Scotland. but I have no doubt that there will be the same reaction south of the Border as well. So much for Tory freedom—it works only until it come up against the Tories' own class interests and privilege.

The right hon. Lady wrote to me on the subject of milk and its preventive aspects, saying: There is nothing in the Act which requires a medical officer to wait until there is overt sign of malnutrition before giving a certificate ..". In the sense of milk being a preventive medicine, am I not right in saying that it is open to any medical officer of health to look at every child, unhealthy or healthy, and say: "In my opinion, for preventive reasons, this child requires free milk"? Is it not the case that under the right hon. Lady's own legislation 100 per cent. of our children could receive free milk?

Mrs. Thatcher

I spelt out the attitude when I spoke earlier today. I take the view that doctors are quite capable of carrying out their own professional duties without the hon. Gentleman's advice or mine.

Mr. Buchan

I am not asking the Minister to give advice; I am asking her to admit that in the light of her letter to me —not a circular—it is open to a medical officer of health to say that even a healthy child should get milk, because that is what "preventive" means. I believe that it is possible—I think that the right hon. Lady has confirmed it by her letter—for every child in England, Wales and Scotland to be given milk if the medical officer of health says so. Why are they not saying so? They tell me: "We quite appreciate that, but clearly the Government could not have meant that, otherwise they would not have passed a law saying that these children should not get milk unless they are ill-nourished" Therefore, the medical officers of health are trying to interpret the Government's meaning, because the Measure put it so badly, but I say that the Act allows them to do this and that the right hon. Lady has confirmed me in my opinion. I hope that the message goes out from the House.

What does the right hon. Lady mean when she talks of an examination of the school meals service? These are to be economic meals, of course. She wants them charged at the cost of production. That is exactly in line with Tory philosophy. I am surprised that she does not bring together an organisation called, perhaps, The Finchley Company Limited. What are the Government's intentions? Does the right hon. Lady want to turn over the school meals service to private caterers? Will she confirm that she does not intend to turn over the service to private caterers under contract?

Mrs. Thatcher

Until the hon. Gentleman mentioned it I had not even thought of it.

Mr. Buchan

One of my hon. Friends says that someone probably has the concession already, but we shall see whether that is what she has in mind. We will remember that she has just said that it was not in her mind until I mentioned it. It is an awful thought that I may be having even more reactionary ideas than the Government have.

With regard to direct grant schools. I can only say that the Department, whose responsibility and function is to deal with all our children, spends a very great deal of time dealing with a very minute group. Five months was spent on educational legislation in Scotland last year, and now again virtually the only mention in the Gracious Speech is the direct-grant schools. It will cost £2 million extra for a privileged sector— a sector which is already privileged—not to improve the quality of education but to give what amounts to yet another tax cut.

This is in the situation in which the school meal charges were introduced. They have been introduced before, but bitterly regretted by the people who introduced them and by their supporters on this side of the House. They were brought in for economic exigencies, but no one in their senses ever attempted to introduce them as an ideological piece of dogma. By saving the money—this curious dogma—the Government have been able to release money from the general sector to go towards relief for the private Élite sector.

Just as in the Budget proposals and the social welfare measures, so, too, in education, we are seeing this redistribution of actual money, with the increased cost of school meals, the cutting of free milk, and so on, and the saving, on the other side, of the privileged group, so that even within education redistribution of cash takes place from this most reactionary of all Governments.

In the same way, and following that, comes redistribution in educational rights. That is what is happening to all our children.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I will try not to interrupt him again. I take it from his argument that he would not dream of advocating that his party should either take over the direct-grant schools or the independent sector because it would cost such an enormous amount of money to do so.

Mr. Buchan

I have already made clear my view. I am glad that I was asked that question. We in Scotland— I have not yet discussed this with my right hon. Friend, but he has made his views pretty clear—accept completely the arguments of the Public Schools Commission on Scottish schools. They say: We believe that public feeling and educational opinion is now clearly opposed to selection for secondary education …"— this is dealing with the selection part; they go on to discuss fees later— … and few would wish a return to the old selective system. The "few" includes the members of Her Majesty's Cabinet. Those are the few left in Britain who believe in selection. I have already said that we will accept the recommendations for the grant-aided schools north of the Border, and will no longer increase their grant, but that it will be progressively reduced. We have said that they will have the option of going totally independent or being absorbed into the State structure.

But one thing at a time—as our former colleague, Sir Cyril Osborne, once said. I am concerned with the direct-grant sector, because that is what it means to the others. It is no use saying that they, too, deserve an education. What a thing to say ! All children deserve an education. I am not so sure whether some children deserve an education at the expense of other children, but that is what happens.

A perfect case in point concerns the City of Edinburgh, which happens to be bedevilled with a rather large number of fee-paying schools, some of which are completely independent—Fettes, the Merchant Company School, and so on. Some are direct-grant schools and some are local authority fee-paying schools. Let us see what happens.

In all the secondary schools in Edinburgh in the first-year intake—the English call it a form; we call it first year— about 23 per cent. of all the children are in fee-paying schools. But by the time they reach the fourth year—taking the fourth year of all the secondary schools— the percentage in fee-paying schools is 40 per cent. In other words, unless they go over the compulsory leaving age 40 per cent. are in fee-paying schools. That is the year when they start doing their O grades in Scotland. When they reach the fifth year—taking the fifth year of all secondary schools in Edinburgh—the year when they begin studying for qualifications in higher education, university entrance, and so on, 60 per cent. of Edinburgh's children are in fee-paying schools. Seventy-five per cent. of all Edinburgh sixth-year pupils are in fee-paying schools, so 23 per cent. rises to 75 per cent.

This not only illustrates dramatically the existing unfairness that comes from the social divisions in our society but it has another consequence in that it narrows the size of the top in these schools. In other words, with only 25 per cent. of all sixth-year pupils spread amongst all the State schools in Edinburgh, there is perhaps only one pupil taking Russian or Spanish, for instance, and no teacher. It has a direct effect in drawing off staff and resources, of removing some of the better positions and limiting the possibilities of the pupils.

The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) repeated the myth that has got around that milk will be provided free for hardship cases. That is not so. Milk will not be provided free for hardship cases. Milk will be provided free only on considerations of health.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Surely the fact that a higher proportion of pupils stay on longer in fee-paying schools is an index of the parental determination that their children should continue at school. The hon. Gentleman's picture would be fairer if we were told something about the number of children who have left the maintained sector in Scotland and gone into further education. Many of those who have left will be doing post-school education.

Mr. Buchan

I am not altogether sure of the significance of that point. That statistic would certainly be useful, but I have not got it. It would be useful to know the percentage leaving the fee-paying schools and going into higher education and the percentage of children leaving State schools and going into higher education. On the face of it, that statistic would underline my point. I accept that some of those who leave school at 15 will be going to one or other form of higher education.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I have received the Answer to the Question to which I referred earlier. The right hon. Lady tells me that in the present year the grant to direct-grant schools is £5.4 million, so her increase of £2 million on that represents nearly 37 per cent. In addition to the direct grant, another £1 million this year goes towards remitted fees. So this is a substantial increase proportionately.

Mr. Buchan

I thank my hon. Friend for that information. I have not added it all up, but it is clearly a substantial whack of available money on top of the present amount going to this section.

I have spent a rather long time on this question. I had intended to ruminate like an old Scots dominie on the important things about education but I have been forced by the divisive nature of the policies put forward by the right hon. Lady to make a rather more polemical speech than I had intended.

The hon. Lady the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) presented a reasoned and reasonable case on the question now facing the students, but I do not altogether agree with the hon. Lady. The students certainly will not agree with her. This action will be seen by students, and they will be right so to see it, as an attack upon the National Union of Students and the effectiveness of that union.

The real worry is that allowing this so-called conscience right, or whatever it is, to withdraw from the union while recommending that the student still gets the facilities—we used to talk about power without responsibility; this is giving comforts without responsibility—is an attempt, as the Government have done with their Industrial Relations Act, to weaken the strength of the union, which will no longer be able to claim to bargain on behalf of all students. I am not sure that the Tory Party have been pushed into this by their backwoodsmen. I think that the backwoodsmen are on the Front Bench.

Mr. Kaufman

Surely what they have been pushed into doing is against the con- sciences of many Conservative university students. The Manchester University Conservative Associaton, for example, is totally against what the Government are doing.

Mr. Buchan

That is absolutely true. They know the situation better than either the Conservative Party conference or some of the hon. Members from whom we have heard on the back benches. The fact is that they have never really forgiven the working class for entering the universities, preventing them from continuing as gentlemen's clubs, and giving money to the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

The students have another point. They feel very strongly that something analogous to the James Committee should be established in Scotland. They feel that the statutory body which exists to review the future of teacher training, the General Teaching Council—of which I was not a member but for which I agitated—is rather sectional in its composition. Therefore, the students argue that there is a case for an independent review of teaching training within Scotland. I must say that I have now reluctantly come round to agreeing with the Scottish Union of Students. I believe it is right in saying that the G.T.C. is not of itself yet the powerhouse of education that some of us had hoped for and that an independent committee is necessary.

One reason for that is this. Apart from the students who are already in the colleges, we must recognise that this year something like 300 students, including many girls, who had sufficient qualifications to enter college were turned away. The Government are now talking in terms of a sufficiency of primary teachers. How many may be turned away next year— 500, 800, 1,000? That is what is worrying me.

The students argue, with justification. that the training colleges should be seen much more properly as a sector of higher education and not merely as the vocational training centres that they are at the present time. We must consider this very carefully to see whether the colleges in Scotland, with the beginnings of a degree course, could not be expanded in a slightly more imaginative and useful direction in the future. This point I shall follow up in due course. I have a lot more to say but I will not say it. It is a habit to begin speeches with a text, especially in Scotland, where education came from John Knox and such people. I will reverse the position and end with a text. My text will come from the New Statesman and Nation. In view of the nature of some of the things which have been said on the benches opposite, my text will come from the "This England" column. It is a quotation from the Coventry Evening Telegraph, and I should like to know whether the right hon. Lady approves of the structure of secondary education in Scotland. The quotation is: The new scheme, which has taken months to prepare, will mean a completely comprehensive system of education in Coventry, except for the grammar schools.

3.34 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Hector Monro)

I am grateful for the generous welcome which I received from the hon. Member for Renfrew. West (Mr. Buchan). I cannot help but recall that it was almost seven years ago to the day that I made my maiden speech, from a position very close to that now occupied on the benches opposite by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton).

Mr. William Hamilton

But a different speech.

Mr. Monro

Indeed it was, thank goodness. Little did I think at that time that I should stand here at the Dispatch Box, for in those days one viewed the Front Bench with awe, and Whips were intolerant people whom one viewed with the greatest of fear. However, I have since spent some time on the Front Bench as a Whip, and today, as the hon. Gentleman said, I make my first speech at the Box on Scottish education.

We welcome the debate. As the hon. Member for Fife, West said, this is a subject which should have the highest priority. One is a little sad on that account to see how thinly the debate has been attended, but I understand and accept, especially as regards our Scottish colleagues, that travelling difficulties, accentuated by an airport strike this week, have made it difficult for them to participate in our discussion of the Scottish aspects of education. It is a little unfortunate, also, that the Opposition put Scotland and England together in an education debate, as we have very different rÔles to play towards the same end. It would not be right to expect me, therefore, to reply to the detailed speeches made today by hon. Members from English constituencies.

I appreciated the point of the observation of the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing), that these debates should always express sound educational sense. I went along with that sentiment, and I hope to follow his intention, if not his example.

I have several important points to make with reference to the building programme, the school-leaving age and staffing standards in Scottish schools. It is important to realise that great strides have been made in the school building programme in recent years. For this financial year and the next, it has been increased by about two-thirds. Last October an extra £4½ million of capital investment for 1972-73 was announced, to enable education authorities to make faster progress with the replacement and improvement of primary schools. In December about £4 million more was made available to enable authorities to cope with such essential needs as the provision of accommodation for the raising of the school-leaving age.

As a result of those increases, the total programme in terms of value of work to be started, taking the two years 1971-72 and 1972-73 together, rose from £50 million to £58½ million, or about £29 million in each year. Finally, under the public works programme announced by my right hon. Friend in July, a further £25 million to £27 million of school building work is expected to start in the same two-year programme. This very large increase will add the equivalent of about an extra year's school building programme at the current rate to the programme for the two years as it stood in July.

The total of at least £83 million for these two years is the largest we have ever had in Scotland. The largest amount of school building started in any previous two-year period was £60 million in 1967-69—it was £50 million in 1969-71 —so even at current costs hon. Members will realise that there has been a truly significant increase.

Although I cannot give exactly corresponding figures, as in Scotland we include fees, equipment and furniture, the corresponding figure as near as possible for England and Wales is a total increase from £242 million to £357 million. This should allay the fear expressed by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) that we are not going ahead rapidly with the building programme. The Scottish figures I have given include the normal programme of £50 million for the two years, increased by the £4 million in December. This will provide additional primary and secondary school buildings to meet "roofs over heads" needs. Of this total, about £34 million is earmarked for secondary school building, with particular emphasis on the extensions for the extra numbers of children who will be in the schools when the leaving age is raised next year.

With secondary school building on that scale, added to the considerable amount started in the preceding two or three years—and I accept that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) was making a determined effort in this field—we are confident that there will be sufficient accommodation overall for the additional pupils in secondary schools when the age is raised.

Now I should like to say something about the primary school improvement programme. In recent years school building resources have been used mainly to provide new schools or extensions to existing schools in areas where the school population is increasing and to prepare for the raising of the school-leaving age. Relatively little has been done to replace or improve old and unsatisfactory primary schools, and, therefore, relatively more primary than secondary pupils are still in buildings that ought to be improved. To this end we have put the emphasis on extra expenditure on primary schools in the coming years. The programme was increased by about £5 million from the additional works programme, and thus £9½ million has been made available for primary school improvements. This sum will allow 90 projects in Scotland to be undertaken to improve or replace unsatisfactory primary schools or to provide extra accommodation for the reduction of class sizes. At the same time, the programme has been accelerated by allowing authorities to start work in the current financial year on any projects that could be brought forward to this year. A further £7 million for the purpose of improving our primary schools will be made available each year in the school building starts programme for the three years 1973–74 to 1975–76.

In July the education authorities were asked what building projects they could start in 1971–72 and next year and substantially complete by March 1973. This is under the special works programme that has been developed in Scotland to help with the present high level of unemployment.

Mr. Buchan

There has been quite a problem over nursery schools. For example, Renfrewshire County Council has asked for permission for about nine nursery schools to be started. In view of the unemployment situation, could not the winter works programme concept be used to go ahead with those things that the county and other counties already want to do, especially in view of what the hon. Gentleman's own backbenchers have said about pre-school education today?

Mr. Monro

I shall come later to nursery education in some detail. We feel that the priorities are still primary and secondary schools, although I do not under-estimate the importance we must attach to nursery education in the future.

The response to the special works programme has been even greater than we expected. The authorities will start further school-building projects in the period to a total value between £25 million and £27 million, which must be completed by about April 1973.

Having demonstrated that there is a substantial increase in the money available for school building, I want to move on to the immediate implications of raising the school-leaving age. As in England and Wales, it will be raised to 16 on 1st September next year. The necessary regulations will be made under Section 32 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1962, by the Secretary of State at an appropriate time next year.

My Department is sending out to education authorities next Monday a circular about the implications of the Government's decision to raise the school-leaving age. The circular will set out in detail the legal consequences of the change from 15 to 16 and will give useful information about the staffing position and developments in the curriculum. The circular will also suggest to authorities that they should explain in as great detail as possible to parents and pupils affected what the changes will mean to the children.

There has never been any doubt in my mind that we should raise the school-leaving age at the earliest possible moment, and in the debates we had in the Scottish Grand Committee the hon. Member for Craigton and I were always of opinion that it should have been done at the original date. I accept and believe that he was disappointed that it had had to be postponed. This is a most important reform and will allow many of our young people to obtain further education at their present schools which will be of immense value to them in the years to come. I hope that we will think of this not just in terms of learning by books and so on, because I believe that there is so much in the development of character and responsibility that we should try to instill into our children between the ages of 14 and 16. I hope that the chance will not be missed when the leaving age is raised.

There has been criticism in Scotland that we shall face immense problems by raising the school-leaving age. I believe that we must get this into perspective. In the first year, the session 1972-73, it will mean only an increase of 7,500 pupils at school, and in the subsequent year, when there will be much greater impact, there will be 30,000 more. But we should keep even this latter figure in perspective, because it will be 10 per cent. of the total number of children at school in Scotland.

The encouraging point which I want to put to the House is the one that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland developed in the Scottish Grand Committee earlier this year about the increasing supply of secondary teachers. The House will be glad to know that in our secondary schools there are now 1,300 more teachers than there were at the beginning of this year, while 700 graduates and specialist diploma holders have entered the colleges of education. This is a dramatic change from what was expected some years ago.

Mr. Buchan

Could the hon. Gentleman repeat that figure? I think he gave the figure of 700 graduates entering the colleges. I understood the figure to be rather higher than that.

Mr. Monro

The figure I gave, I thought, was of 700 more graduates and specialist diploma holders entering the colleges this session. Of course, many more non-graduates have entered as well.

On the present estimates, we should still have by January, 1974, when the raising of the school-leaving age will take full effect, a staffing ratio in secondary schools not greatly different from the good ratio which we expect in January, 1972. I remind hon. Members opposite that the ratio was 17 to 1 in January, 1970, and 16.5 to 1 in January, 1971, and that we are hoping for a further modest reduction in the figure in January, 1972. It now seems very unlikely that we shall have the deterioration in staffing standards which so many people have feared in recent years. It may well be that there will be no significant deterioration at all.

Many hon. Members have expressed concern about the curriculum. I remind them that the present and the previous Government took definite and practical steps through the Department to bring new ideas and publications before Scottish education authorities.

I turn to staffing standards and the position in primary schools in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in a Written Answer on 27th October that he was consulting teachers and local authority associations about proposals for the introduction of improved staffing standards in the 1974-75 session. These standards would produce in a traditional organised primary school an average class size of, at the most, 30. The standards compare with an average class size of 35 under standards the adoption of which was announced in December last year and with a present maximum size of 45 under the Schools Code, 1956.

The pupil-teacher ratio in the primary schools of education authorities at January 1971 was 28.8 to 1. The new standards are designed to enable schools to be organised with the flexibility necessary if new teaching methods are to be employed most effectively, and my right hon. Friend hopes that the additional teachers whom the standards require will be used in this way.

We are at present consulting the teachers and the local authority associations on two draft circulars. The first contains proposals for amendments to the Schools (Scotland) Code, 1956, to bring into force the primary staffing standards the adoption of which was announced in the circular of December, 1970. These standards will imply an average class size of 35. The draft circular indicates that the prescription of a maximum class size has been abandoned because standards based on this concept did not give enough flexibility. This is a concept which the hon. Member for Renfrew, West, with his practical experience in schools, will endorse.

The second draft circular on which views are being obtained is on the introduction of improved staffing standards in primary schools in 1974-75. These standards, as I said earlier, imply in a traditionally organised school an average class size of at the most 30. It is our view that the proposed standard for 1974-75 will be the most generous level of staffing at which education authorities should be required to staff their schools and that when it has been achieved education authorities need not commit additional resources to the employment of further teaching staff.

The second draft circular on which we are consulting the associations says that for some years to come any additional resources available for education should, in the Secretary of State's view, be used either to provide additional auxiliary assistance, books and aids to teaching, which will enable the present teaching staff in primary schools to work more effectively, or to meet emerging needs in their sectors. This means that if we take into account the number of students who are already in courses leading to primary qualifications, we may expect that by the 1974-75 session there will be enough primary teachers in Scotland as a whole to staff the schools to our new standards. In round terms, this will mean 3,000 more primary teachers, and we have every expectation of achieving this number.

Mr. Buchan

This raises an important question. Much of the discussion has been about whether next year there will be a surplus of primary teachers. I shall have to read the hon. Gentleman's speech carefully. Is he saying that with the reduction in class size which it is hoped to make that the so-called surplus will be absorbed, or is there to be a situation in which colleges may be turning away potential primary teachers? In other words, because of this new code, can it be said that there will no longer be a so-called surplus of teachers, or will applicants be turned away, and, if so, what does the hon. Gentleman intend to do about it?

Mr. Munro

When the hon. Gentleman studies what I have said he will see that we shall have reached by 1974–75 a situation in which we shall have sufficient primary school teachers to staff schools of the improved standard. It would be quite wrong to increase the intake of students to the colleges of education if there was no reasonable prospect of their obtaining employment. It is better to say this now rather than in two years' time when the situation might be more critical in terms of future careers. We are having close consultations with the teaching professions and colleges.

Hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Fife, West, raised the question of nursery education. We are pleased that this important document "Before Five" has been published by the Scottish Education Department. The hon. Gentleman's Government set up the Committee, and we are grateful to Miss McHaffie for the work that she has done. It is indicative of the importance we all attach to the value of nursery education. Everyone should realise that there is a significant difference between nursery education as it is meant in this report and the pre-school play groups and day nurseries looked after by social workers. The importance of the report is that it sets out the facts for the Government to study. We will do this carefully, paying particular regard to what hon. Members have said.

Mr. Buchan

The hon. Gentleman must accept the report.

Mr. Monro

Of course we accept the report. We will give it full consideration. We will see what we can do within our limited resources to help children under 5. This is the responsible way of dealing with this.

The hon. Member for Fife, West was critical of grant-aided schools, but we in Scotland went ahead with our decision and increased the grant this summer by about 20 per cent.

The hon. Member also criticised the school meals policy. He might like to have the figures. In April last year they fell by 57,000 compared with January. In September they had increased by 42,000 and this trend seems to be continuing. What is so important, and no doubt the hon. Member will put this in his article for the Sunday Mail, isthat the response to free meals has increased from 91,000 in January of this year to 112,000 in May and 122,000 in September, which indicates that we are getting our priorities right.

This has been an important debate reflecting the importance that the House attaches to education, so properly referred to in the Gracious Speech. It is often said that education is the foundation of our future prosperity. My hon. and right hon. Friends responsible for education in England and Wales and Scotland are showing their intentions of providing the schools and the teachers to bring education to the highest standards. It is our duty to see that we lead the way in education, and I can assure the House that we will do no less than that.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Debate to be resumed on Monday next.