HC Deb 29 January 1974 vol 868 cc235-6
16. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will introduce an element of flexibility into the school leaving regulations so that, where a head teacher is satisfied that a pupil's continued attendance at school is prejudicial to discipline, such pupil shall be allowed to leave school prior to attending the age of 16 years.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir, but I am consulting teachers and local authority interests to see what support there is for introducing an earlier leaving date for pupils who would reach the upper limit of compulsory schooling at the end of the summer term.

Mr. Hunt

Whatever our views may be about the raising of the school leaving age, is it not clear that this decision has led to the creation of a small but disruptive minority in many of our secondary schools, with the result that teaching resources, already strained to the limit, have to be diverted from those who genuinely want to learn to deal with those groups of troublemakers? While my right hon. Friend's suggestion will go some way to meet this difficulty, would not the suggestion contained in my Question help much more substantially?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that raising the school leaving age has led to this problem because, on the whole, children do not suddenly become difficult at the age of 15. It may have aggravated it in some schools, and the teachers are no doubt having difficulty in dealing with the problem. My hon. Friend will appreciate that if we say to a young person, "Look, if you are really difficult you can leave school," we might have even more difficult children being sent out into society. Different local education authorities are finding different ways of tackling this problem, and I would rather pursue those ways before considering any alternative.

Mr. Marks

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the suggestion by her hon. Friend would be a recipe for ill-discipline in the schools and crime outside it? Does she agree that this problem is a social one, not only for those in the fifth forms but throughout secondary schools, which ought to be tackled by giving additional help to the local authorities?

Mrs. Thatcher

It is a problem. We shall tackle it in time by several different methods, but I believe that the general policy is right.