HC Deb 17 December 1974 vol 883 cc1358-68

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the school-leaving age to enable certain students to terminate their formal secondary education before the age of 16 years. Five months ago I was fortunate enough to introduce a Ten-Minute Bill in which I sought to amend the raising of the school leaving age. I asked that leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable certain students to terminate their formal secondary education before the age of 16. As a result of that Bill, I received more than 300 letters from headmasters and teachers, every one of which was in favour of my Bill. I did not have one letter against it. Therefore, I seek to bring in the Bill once more.

I begin by stressing not only my own but my party's support for comprehensive education and for the raising of the school-leaving age. We feel that the great strength of comprehensive education is that it is flexible. Since 1870, when schooling became compulsory, it is without doubt the best and the most flexible legislation on education to appear on the statute book. Where I oppose the raising of the school leaving age is that it is the most inflexible legislation tied to a flexible education system.

If a child was born one or two days on the wrong side of the dividing line, it is possible for the local education authority to bend the rules and to allow the child to begin primary education just before he is five years old. But there is no means whereby this can be done at the end of a pupil's education. If someone is born at five minutes to midnight on 31st August and is unfortunate enough to have a midwife or doctor with an accurate watch, it is quite simply a matter of an additional six months of formal schooling, whether he likes it or not.

I accept this. I think that we have to have quite rigid guidelines, and I do not want a single pupil to leave the care of his or her local education authority before the raising of the school leaving age legislation has run its full course—with one exception to which I shall come in a moment. My contention is that there are non-academic and non-examinable children. This Bill is for their benefit, for that of their parents and for that of their teachers.

After my first attempt to bring in this Bill, one of the letters which I received came from an Essex headmistress. She wrote: The custodial aspect of ROSLA introduces a deep sense of hostile resentment amongst a minority. This small group can be alarmingly disruptive. Clause 1 of my Bill deals with the post-examination period. Education in comprehensive schools is oriented to examinations. It culminates in examinations— either CSE or O-level. My point is simply that when a 16-year-old has taken the CSE or the O-level examination what is the point of keeping him or her on at school?

This can take up to two months, and it is two months in which there is no syllabus. It is two months in which the education has terminated following the taking of the examination. Those two months are the beginning of the layabout life which no teacher and no pupil wants.

Last week, I met a careers officer who spoke to me about girls in East Anglia who went into nursing. She told me that in February and March of last year she had spoken to a number of girls who were keen, willing and suitable to become nurses. When they became nurses, not in June when they finished their examinations but at the end of August when school was over and they had had a few weeks' holiday, their experience of having spent two months under the LEA without a syllabus and without a curriculum made them, by and large, far less suitable for the career which they had chosen. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I regret that what I am saying is receiving this kind of reception from Government supporters. If they cared to speak to teachers or headmasters, they would find among them a very wide degree of agreement that those last weeks or months are never properly accounted for. We must remember that £125 million was spent on building school rooms for fifth-year secondary education but that only a very small part of that sum was ever spent—

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

How much are they paying the hon. Gentleman for this?

Mr. Freud

Clause 2 concerns non-academic children. It has to be agreed that there are many children who have made up their minds what they are to do in life at a considerably earlier age than 16 and, after all, education is a preparation for life. In my constituency there are children who know that they will go on to the farms which their parents, grandparents and past generations have farmed. There are others who will go into the brickyards and others who will go down the mines. If education is to be a preparation for life, it has to be just that.

What my Bill asks for is that the fifth year of presently compulsory education is spent under the umbrella of the education authority but possibly with work experience and day release into colleges of further education. There are many apprenticeships at the moment demanding four years. As often as not, the first of those four years is spent at a college of further education.

Many people who take on apprentices are perturbed about the fact that a boy starting an apprenticeship at the age of 16½ will receive no realistic payment for his work until he is 20½. If he were allowed to leave school and to go into a college of further education for that year and perhaps do one term at a college of further education and two terms in the job for which he was preparing himself as the way of life that he had chosen, it would be widely appreciated not only by the children but. again, by the parents and the schoolmasters.

No doubt when I sit down someone from the Government side of the House will oppose the motion, but what I am suggesting is generally appreciated in this country. I am not trying to let children leave education but only to let them get away from school and pursue a looser form of education under their local education authority. My Bill simply seeks to enable students to leave after their examinations, to provide a means of egress from formal, and entry into informal, education. One enlightened headmaster in my constituency takes his post-examination students on a 12-bore shooting course. This is a totally admirable way—[HON. MEMBERS: "No".]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We shall get on more quickly if the House is quieter.

Mr. Freud

Finally, I would seek the introduction of a new final examination which would be not external but orientated to the ability of the pupil. There is no joy and only a limited ego trip in aiming a non-examinable child at an examination in which his brightest hope is one single Grade 5 pass.

3.52 p.m.

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

I rise to oppose the motion. This is the second time in six months that the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) has tried to introduce this Bill. On the previous occasion, his arguments were adequately rebutted in an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks). The House decided that he should not have permission.

I had hoped that the hon. Member would introduce some new content today, but although there were one or two extra funnies, there was no new basic content in his speech. What he is trying to do is sell us the same brand of goods as he tried to sell on 2nd July, when he did not succeed.

It was in the 1944 Education Act that the decision was taken to raise the school leaving age to 15. Section 35 provided that as soon as the Secretary of State … is satisfied that it has become practicable to raise to sixteen the upper limit of the compulsory school age, he shall lay before Parliament the draft of an Order in Council". So long ago as 1944 it was assumed that the age would rise to 16.

Implementing that decision has taken far too long. It was first announced in 1964 and my own Government, to their eternal shame, postponed implementation during one of the economic crises that occurred between 1966 and 1970. In 1971, the then Conservative Government announced that they would give effect to the decision in 1972–73. I give all credit to the then Minister, who, despite considerable opposition from her own back benches and presumably from the Liberal benches, pursued that policy and in speech after speech declared her intention to carry it out. It was carried out. It is impossible, and it would be wrong, to put the clock back now.

I used to teach in a secondary modern school, and before I came here the raising of the school leaving age was not the top of my priorities, because in my area more than 70 per cent. of the children stayed on voluntarily after 15. It was only when I talked to some of my colleagues from the northern region, such as the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science who is on the Front Bench at the moment, that I found that the figure for some northern towns was 8, 10 or 12 per cent. That convinced me that the only way to act was by legislation.

We have talked for a long time about setting a single school leaving date. The Government should now get a move on and set such a date, for which I would favour 1st June, to operate at the latest in the summer of 1976.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Ely kept talking about "non-academic" children. I wish he would define what he means. I taught in a secondary modern school under a selective system with an examination at 11-plus which was supposed to divide children into the academic, who went to the grammar school, and the non-academic who went to the secondary modern. In my second-dary modern, supposedly non-academic children were leaving with six, seven or eight O-level passes.

Of course there are some children who will not take O-levels or CSEs. One of the results of raising the age, however, is that more children are doing so. There will still be a residue who will not, and of course I do not want them cooped up in school all day. It is not a good idea for them to be stuck in a class room.

But the hon. Member is out of date. A Bill is not needed here. Circular 7/74 of 30th June deals with work experience. Of course more children should be able to get out of the classroom into the workshop during that last year, but provision already exists for that.

I accept that some teachers in my constituency and some hon. Members tend to blame all their troubles on the raising of the school leaving age, but the basic trouble is that successive Governments have not been prepared to put as much money into education as we should have wished. One of the most serious causes of frustration today is the package of Barber cuts of last December. I regret that my Government have not yet restored all of them, and I hope that they will restore a few more.

One improvement in the hon. Member's speech today is that last time he talked a good deal about juvenile delinquency and tended to blame that on the raising of the age. There is a problem of more difficult children in the 14-16 age group that I taught and a study is needed of this. But that has nothing to do with the education system. It goes much deeper.

I believe that much of the problem can be attributed to the breakdown in family life. Perhaps I could tell the House a little story to illustrate this. There was recently a football match in my town between the two rivals of Southampton and Portsmouth. A trainload of 350 youngsters, many in the age group 11–14, came up from Portsmouth. They wrecked the train. They were taken off by the police in Southampton, put into the police yard and sent home after the match was over. Next day several police officers from Southampton went to the homes of these children of 11 to 14 years and interviewed their parents. What did they find? Parent after parent said, "We did not know our youngster had gone to Southampton to a football match."

Today many parents do not know what their children are doing. Parents take less interest in their children than parents did previously. I would argue that much of the difficulty that we have today, which is reflected in the schools and elsewhere, is due to this breakdown in family life and family concern.

Finally, we have as yet had only one year's experience of the raising of the school leaving age. None of us can

make a firm and conclusive judgment in one year. I believe that the measure suggested by the hon. Gentleman will make the situation worse. What I believe he is trying to say is that if parents and teachers can get together and agree, some children may be allowed to leave early. Let me tell him in practical terms, speaking as an ex-teacher, what it means, what happens where parents tell the teacher that they want the child to leave school, and the teacher says that the child ought to stay on.

It was part of my job to try to persuade parents to allow children to stay on for an extra year to take O levels or GCE, which I did with varying degrees of success. This can cause tension between parents and teacher which is reflected in the child. I can tell Lady Members that one of my biggest difficulties was that while I could usually persuade parents to allow a boy to stay on at school, many parents of girls said to me, "My daughter will get married by the time she is 19, so what is the point of her staying on and having an extra year's education?" That is representative of the views taken by many parents of girls. The Bill proposed by the hon. Member would only make a difficult situation worse than it is at present, and I hope the House will decisively reject it.

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

The House divided: Ayes 130, Noes 228.

Division No. 37.] AYES [4.2 p.m.
Adley, Robert Corrie, John Grieve, Percy
Bain, Mrs Margaret Costain, A. P. Grimond, Rt Hon J.
Baker, Kenneth Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast) Grist, Ian
Beith, A. J. Crawford, Douglas Harrison, Sir Harwood (Eye)
Bell, Ronald Dodsworth, Geoffrey Hawkins, Paul
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Henderson, Douglas
Benyon W. R. Dunlop, J. Hooson, Emlyn
Biffen, John Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Hordern, Peter
Biggs-Davison, John Elliott, Sir William Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Emery, Peter Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)
Bradford, Rev Robert Fairgrieve, Russell Jones, Arthur (Daventry)
Braine Sir Bernard Farr, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Brotherton, Michael Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Kershaw, Anthony
Bulmer, Esmond Fox, Marcus King, Tom (Bridgwater)
Butler Adam (Bosworth) Freud, Clement Kirk, Peter
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Gardiner, George (Reigate) Kitson, Sir Timothy
Clark, William (Croydon, S.) Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Knight, Mrs Jill
Cockcroft, John Glyn, Df Alan Langford-Holt, Sir John
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Goodhew, Victor Lawson, Nigel
CopeJ, ohn Gow, I. (Eastbourne) Le Marchant, Spencer
Cormack, Patrick Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Lewis, Arthur (Newham N.)
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Pattie, Geoffrey Stanbrook, Ivor
Luce, Richard Penhaligon, David Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
MacCormick, Iain Peyton, Rt Hon John Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
McCrindle, Robert Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch Stradling Thomas, J.
Macfarlane, Neil Pym, Rt Hon Francis Tebbit, Norman
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Rathbone, Tim Thompson, George
Mather, Carol Reid, George Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (Devon)
Maude, Angus Renton, Rt Hn Sir D. (Hunts.) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Mawby, Ray Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Ridley, Hon Nicholas Wakeham, John
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Rifkind, Malcolm Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Mills, Peter Roes, Stephen (Isle of Wight) wall, Patrick
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Walters, Dennis
Molyneaux, James Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire) Warren, Kenneth
Montgomery, Fergus Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Watt, Hamish
Morgan-Giles, Rear-Admiral Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Welsh, Andrew
Morrison, Peter (Chester) Shepherd, Colin Winterton, Nicholas
Mudd, David Silvester, Fred Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Neubert, Michael Sims, Roger
Newton, Tony Speed, Keith TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Nott, John Spicer, James (W. Dorset)
Onslow, Cranley Spicer, Michael (S. Worcester) Mr. John Pardoe and
Page, John (Harrow West) Stainton, Keith Mr. David Steel.
Allaun, Frank Evans, loan L. (Aberdare) Lomas, Kenneth
Archer, Peter Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Loyden, Eddie
Armstrong, Ernest Faulds, Andrew Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Ashley, Jack Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Mabon, Dr J. Dickson
Ashton, Joe Fitch, Alan (Wigan) McCartney, Hugh
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Flannery, Martin McElhone, Frank
Atkinson, Norman Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mackenzie, Gregor
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Foot, Rt Hon Michael Mackintosh, John P.
Barnett, Joel (Heywood) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Maclennan, Robert
Bates, Alf Freeson, Reginald McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C.)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Garrett, John (Norwich S.) Madden, Max
Bidwell, Sydney Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Magee, Bryan
Bishop, Edward Gilbert, Dr John Mahon, Simon
Blenkinsop, Arthur Ginsburg, David Mallalieu, J. P. W.
Booth, Albert Golding, John Marquand, David
Boothroy J, Miss Betty Gould, Bryan Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Gourlay, Harry Maynard, Miss Joan
Boyden, James (Bish Auck.) Graham, Ted Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Bradley, Tom Grant, George (Morpeth) Mikardo, Ian
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grant, John (Islington C.) Millan, Bruce
Broughton, Sir Alfred Grocott, Bruce Miller, Dr M. (E. Kilbride)
Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow Pr.) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Miller, Mrs Millie (Redbridge)
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P.) Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Campbell, Ian Hamling, William Molloy, William
Canavan, Dennis Harper, Joseph Moonman, Eric
Carmichael, Neil Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Moore, John (Croydon C)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hatton, Frank Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Cartwright, John Hayman, Mrs Helene Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Churchill, W. S. Healey, Rt Hon Denis Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Heffer, Eric S. Murray, Ronald King
Clemitson, I. M. Hooley, Frank Newens, Stanley
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S.) Horam, John Ogden, Eric
Cohen, Stanley Hoyle, Douglas (Nelson) O'Halloran, Michael
Coleman, Donald Huckfield, Leslie Orbach, Maurice
Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Hughes, Mark (Durham) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Conlan, Bernard Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N.) Ovenden, John
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Palmer, Arthur
Corbett, Robin Hunter, Adam Park, George
Cox, Thomas (Wands, Toot) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Parry, Robert
Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Pavitt, Laurie
Cryer, Bob Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Peart, Rt Hon Fred
Cunningham, G. (Islington S.) Jenkins, Hugh (Wandsworth) Perry, Ernest
Dalyell, Tam Jessel, Toby Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N.) Johnson, James (Kingston, W.) Prescott, John
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Price, William (Rugby)
Doig, Peter Jones, Barry (East Flint) Radice, Giles
Dormand, Jack Judd, Frank Richardson, Miss Jo
Duffy, A. E. P. Kaufman, Gerald Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Dunn, James A. Kerr, Russell Robertson, John (Paisley)
Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Kilroy-Silk, Robert Roderick, Caerwyn
Eadie, Alex Lambie, David Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Edelman, Maurice Lamborn, Harry Rodgers, William (Teesside)
Edge, Geoffrey Lamond, James Rcoker, J. W.
Edwards, Robert (Wolv. S.E.) Leadbitter, Ted Roper, John
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Lee, John Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Rowlands, Ted
Englisn, Michael Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Sandelson, Neville
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Lipton, Marcus Sedgemore, B.
Selby, Harry Thomas, Mike (Newcastle) Whitlock, William
Shaw, Arnold (Redbridge, Ilf.) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Wigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)
Sheldon, Robert (Ashlon-u-Lyne) Thorne, Stan (Preston) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Short, Rt Hon Edward (Newcastle C) Tinn, James Williams, Alan (Swansea)
Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE) Tomlinson, John Williams, Alan, Lee (Haver'g)
Silkin, Rt Hn S. C. (Southwk.) Torney, Tom Williams, Rt Hn Shirley (Hertford)
Silverman, Julius Townsend, Cyril D Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Small, William Tuck, Raphael Wise, Mrs Audrey
Snape, Peter Urwin, T. W. Woodall, Alec
Spearing, Nigel Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V.) Woof, Robert
Spriggs, Leslie Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Stallard, A. W. Watkins, David Young, David (Bolton E.)
Stewart, Rt Hn Michael (H'smith, F) Watkinson, John Young, Sir George (Ealing)
Stoddart, David Weitzman, David
Stott, Roger Wellbeloved, James TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Strang, Gavin White, Frank R. (Bury) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Strauss, Rt Hon G. R. White, James (Glasgow, P) Mr. Peter Hardy and
Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Whitehead, Phillip Mr. Kenneth Marks.

Question accordingly negatived.