HC Deb 02 July 1974 vol 876 cc220-30

3.49 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. I crave the indulgence of the House as a maiden Ten Minutes Rule speaker. I have never been fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and to see the right person to bring in a Ten-Minute Bill. I am also grateful for the Private Notice Questions of hon. Members because I understand that Ten-Minute Bills, after the National Anthem, are the fastest way of clearing a public building.

Today and every other day, more than half a million children play truant from school. Today and every other day, a member of the National Association of Schoolmasters reports an assault. This does not take into account the assaults which are not reported, or the many members of other unions who are assaulted—and it is generally recognised that there are many, perhaps too many, unions representing the teachers. Today and every other day, some 5,000 teachers are not at school because of illness, which illness may not be real illness but is probably fear or apprehension about what would happen if they went to school.

My contention is that much of this is the result of the raising of the school-leaving age, and my Bill seeks as a temporary measure to permit young people to leave school before the age of 16 while remaining under the umbrella of the Department of Education and Science. I am not trying to send 11-year-olds down the pits—[Interruption.] I am glad to hear that Government supporters finally appreciate one point.

Raising the school-leaving age to 16 has occupied educationists and parliamentarians since the Spens Report in 1938. It featured in the 1944 Education Act, and it was finally implemented in September 1973. Despite all those years, many of us feel that little real thought was given to the educational benefits which would flow from it. It was generally thought that simply by raising the school-leaving age there would be benefits. Although £125 million was spent on providing additional school rooms and additional buildings, not nearly enough time or thought was devoted to trying to make the syllabus for fifth-year students attractive.

I have received many letters from teachers in my own constituency who are bewildered as to what they should do with these fifth-year students. I had a letter the other day from one teacher who wrote: I took my 15-year-olds fishing, and it was a very rewarding exercise. We got on very well. But is this what was intended by the raising of the school-leaving age?

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Why not? They may not have been fishing before.

Mr. Freud

I shall come to that in a moment. I am glad that the hon. Lady, from her prone position, has spoken.

In addition, nothing was done to reprogramme, for want of a better word. the approach of the teaching professions in order to change them from a paternalistic attitude to one of mutual respect and understanding.

My Bill proposes to let youths under 16 leave school, subject to certain and very definite controls. I remind the House that the raising of the school-leaving age was never intended to be a sentence without remission. It was a move by an affluent society to share its wealth and its teaching excellence among the youth of the country.

My Bill would allow those who would not benefit from that additional year to go into employment, with day release or some other form of further educational facility, to join the Army, to join a voluntary organisation, or to take up an apprenticeship. I am aware that many apprenticeships do not start until the age of 16. However, there are some which start at 15.

This would be subject to the permission of the local Department of Education and to the express wishes of the youth and his parents, with no complaint from any of the teachers. It would significantly benefit education in a number of ways. It would benefit education by demanding an element of responsibility from a student who, in order to qualify for a younger leaving of school while remaining under the umbrella of the Department, would have to pass a basic school leaving examination. It would benefit by making more room for pupils who wanted to learn—[Interruption.] There are at the moment some 20 to 30 per cent. truants. All that I am doing in seeking to introduce this Bill is in some way to legalise truancy. There is no point in people who have left school trying to get illicit jobs and to get work without a work card, which they are doing at the moment—[Interruption.]

In 1863, before many Government supporters even began to learn manners, an educationist named Shuttleworth said: The difficulty is getting people to realise that education and schooling are different things. That is the crux of my argument.

There are 15-year-olds who are admirably suited to school. But there are many for whom school can do nothing. It is with the latter that my Bill seeks to deal. If a youth of 15 desires to leave school, if his parents want him to leave, if his teachers have no objection, and if the local Department of Employment sees no reason why a few more youths should not be released on to the market, provided that the youth passes an elementary certificate of education he should be allowed to leave his formal schooling.

The purpose of my Bill is not only to remove from the hard-pressed comprehensive school system the truculent and disinterested 15 to 16-year-olds whose boredom leaves to truancy and to violence resulting in fear on the part of the teachers. It is also to give them a chance to find employment and to provide them with a welcome element of responsibility.

I remind the House that the raising of the school-leaving age was never intended to be a punishment. It is very easy for those hon. Members who will oppose my Bill to say that it is a retrogressive step to suggest that the 15-year-olds who will leave school are those who would most benefit from it, and that since no public school boy leaves school before the age of 16, it is wrong of me to be making this proposal.

My Bill may not be welcomed by the Government. Probably it will not be welcomed by the National Union of Teachers, which seems to welcome hardly anything these days. However, it has overwhelming support from teachers, parents and the youths for whom it is intended. I have received a great many letters from responsible teachers and headmasters to that effect.

I hope, therefore, that the House will give me leave to bring in this Bill.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)


Mr. Speaker

Order. Does the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) wish to oppose the Bill?

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

The new battle cry for the Liberals is "One step forward, two steps back", or, since the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) wishes to take us back to 1918, perhaps more than two steps back. Perhaps this is the first fruit of the new coalition, the right-wing Conservative and the retarded Liberal, the black paper Tory and the white napkin Whig. The hon. Gentleman is the official Liberal spokesman on education. It is significant that his predecessor, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), who had considerable experience as chairman of an education committee, a progressive education committee, is not in his place today.

I understand that the Leader of the Liberal Party is to speak to his candidates on Friday. According to Miss Beloff in The Observer of 30th June 1974, he intends to emphasise the socially pro- gressive conditions on which the party would insist before joining any coalition? Is this part of his socially progressive package? If it is, it will gain support from that group of the Conservative Party which is to the right of the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).

This Bill is similar to the Fisher Act of 56 years ago, in its day a progressive measure. It made education compulsory up to the age of 14 despite objections from employers, some parents and some Members of Parliament. It made provision for day release and other educational opportunities such as the hon. Gentleman has been talking about. But day release and the other opportunities were never implemented because, it was argued, "of the economic situation".

Has the sponsor of this Bill seriously considered what would happen if his Bill were approved? One thing is certain: no son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter of any Member of this House would be leaving school as a result of it. I doubt whether Eton will be arranging a special one-year course for those who want to leave at the age of 14.

Who will leave school? Will it be the toughs, the vandals, the truants, the football rowdies, the break-time smokers, and so on? It might, although the provisions which the hon. Gentleman outlined suggest that they would not be allowed to do so. The fact that these youngsters are most in need of real education, academic, social, and moral, seems not to concern the sponsor. It is another group which will suffer. It will be the group which suffers now from the deficiencies of our educational and social systems—the economically deprived, those with poor home backgrounds, those under pressure to earn money, who are often not the rowdies but the quiet and the subdued, the slow-learning, the children of the single-parent families, the children of uninterested parents. If hon. Members wish to see the people who will be leaving school as a result of this they should go to a streamed secondary school, ask to see the bottom stream of the third form and then look at the children who would be leaving school and entering industry.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not declare an interest when we consider who will employ these children of 14 and 15 years of age.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

Who mentioned 14?

Mr. Marks

If the hon. Gentleman is now talking about 15, then he has changed his tune in the past couple of days. In the debate on social problems on 1st November he said, The position in the hotel industry is that, due to the virtual non-existence of menial staff, hotels are closing down and restaurants are ceasing to function. The words were "menial jobs". How well that sounds to these young people. I realise that on that occasion the hon. Gentleman was urging the importation of more unskilled foreign labour. As he said, it does not matter where the labour comes from."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1973, Vol. 863, c. 375.] Perhaps in their nostalgia for the Liberal heyday of the 1900s, the 14-year-old boy or girl could be coaxed to enter service and to become the downstairs part of a new "Upstairs, Downstairs" situation.

We are nearing the end of the first full year of the raising of the school-leaving age. Some pupils are restless. Perhaps the most restless now are not those who would be leaving at 14 but those who have taken examinations and who would like to leave school and take a job before the end of July.

There is a strong case for a single school-leaving date, perhaps making it 1st June, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett). There is no case at this early date for abandoning the 1972 decision by the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley, which I supported, because of difficulties in the first year. There is truancy and ill-discipline in the schools. This is nothing new in the past twelve months. It is 30 years since an education Act specifically provided for a leaving age of 16. It is 10 years since notice was given to the teachers and the local education authorities that this would be carried out in 1970. Later it was—admittedly by a Labour Government—postponed for two years. There has been ample time for consideration and preparation.

Some authorities, head teachers and teachers have used that time well. Their efforts have been well publicised, encouraged by the schools councils and other bodies. Others have preferred not to think about it, not to work at it, to carry on as if this "evil" day would never arise.

It is seven years since I entered the House from the teaching profession. I know from frequent visits, and from the fact that I am reminded of it by my wife and other colleagues, that teaching has become more difficult in those seven years. I agree that, because of changed attitudes of parents, teachers and pupils, that may well be true.

There have been some improvements, particularly in secondary schools, particularly in facilities and in staffing ratios. We and the Department of Education and Science and the local authorities must ask why some schools in apparently bad conditions continue to maintain good relationships, good standards and reasonable order while taking children of all shades of ability and income, yet others—some of the selective schools among them—do not.

The Bill may have popular support. There has always been strong opposition to educational progress. Support will come from part of industry—not the best part—from those teachers who would prefer to have an easier time, and from some parents, those parents who lack interest in or knowledge of the education of their own children and those who are interested only in the education of their own children and not that of any other children.

But the problems cannot be solved by sweeping them under the carpet of dead-end jobs and spurious arrangements for part-time schools. The answer lies in the schools and with our giving them the support to do the job. I urge the House to reject the Bill.

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 93, Noes 179.

Division No. 63.] AYES [4.08 p.m.
Aitken, Jonathan Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Newton, Tony (Braintree)
Ancram, M. Freud, Clement Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Awdry, Daniel Fry, Peter Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord Glyn, Dr. Alan Pardoe, John
Banks, Robert Goodhew, Victor Pattie, Geoffrey
Berry, Hon. Anthony Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Peyton, Rt. Hn. John
Biffen, John Gray, Hamish Prior, Rt. Hn. James
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.) Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Redmond, Robert
Bowden, Andrew(Brighton, Kemptown) Hall, Sir John Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David (H't' gd' ns' re)
Boyson, Dr. Rhodes (Brent, N.) Hampson, Dr. Keith Renton, R. T. (Mid-Sussex)
Hawkins, Paul Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Heyhoe, Barney Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North) Rost, Peter (Derbyshire, S.-E.)
Buck, Antony Hunt, John Sims, Roger
Burden, F. A. James, David Skeet, T. H. H.
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Spence, John
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Stanbrook, Ivor
Clark, A. K. M. (Plymouth, Sutton) Knight, Mrs. Jill Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Clark, William (Croydon, S.) Lawrence, Ivan Taylor, Edward M. (Gigow, C'cart)
Cooke, Robert (Bristol, W.) Lawson, Nigel (Blaby) Temple-Morris, Peter
Cormack, Patrick Le Marchant, Spencer Trotter, Neville
Costain, A. P. Lewis, Kenneth (Rtland & Stmford) Tyler, Paul
Crawshaw, Richard McCrindle, R. A. Waddington, David
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Macfarlane, Neil Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Maj-Gen. James MacGregor, John Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Wall, Patrick
Dixon, Piers Mather, Carol Wiggin, Jerry
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Mawby, Ray Winterton, Nicholas
Drayson, Burnaby Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Ewing, Mrs. Winifred (Moray & Nairn) Mills, Peter
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fidler, Michael Morris, Michael (Northampton, S.) Mr. David Steel and
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Mudd, David Dr. Michael Winstanley.
Abse, Leo Duffy, A. E. P. Johnson, James (K'ston upon Hull, W)
Allaun, Frank Dunn, James A. Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)
Armstrong, Ernest Dunnett, Jack Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Edge, Geoff Judd, Frank
Barnett, Joel (Heywood & Royton) Edwards, Robert (W'hampton, S.E.) Kaufman, Gerald
Bates, Alf Ellis, John (Brigg & Scunthorpe) Kelley, Richard
Blenkinsop, Arthur Ellis, Tom Knox, David
Booth, Albert English, Michael Lambie, David
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Evans, Fred Lamond, James
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Latham, Arthur(City of W'minster P'ton)
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Evans, John (Newton) Lawson, George (Motherwell & Wishaw)
Bradley, Tom Ewing, Harry (St'ling, F'kirk&G[...] th) Lee, John
Brown, Hugh D. (Glasgow, Provan) Faulds, Andrew Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Springb'rn) Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Lipton, Marcus
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James (Cardiff, S.E.) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lomas, Kenneth
Callaghan, Jim (M'dd'ton & Pr'wich) Flannery, Martin Loyden, Eddie
Campbell, Ian Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lyons, Edward (Bradford, W.)
Cant, R. B. Foot, Rt. Hn. Michael McCartney, Hugh
Carmichael, Neil Forrester, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Garrett, John (Norwich, S.) McNamara, Kevin
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Madden, M. O. F.
Churchill, W. S. George, Bruce Magee, Bryan
Clemitson, Ivor Gilbert, Dr. John Mahon, Simon
Cocks, Michael Ginsburg, David Marks, Kenneth
Cohen, Stanley Graham, Ted Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Coleman, Donald Grant, George (Morpeth) Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Colquhoun, Mrs. M. N. Grant, John (Islington, C.) Millan, Bruce
Conlan, Bernard Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Miller, Dr. M. S. (E. Kilbride)
Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, C.) Hamilton, William (Fife, C.) Milne, Edward
Cox, Thomas Hamling, William Moonman, Eric
Cronin, John Hardy, Peter Newens, Stanley (Harlow)
Cryer, G. R. Harper, Joseph O'Halloran, Michael
Cunningham, G.(Isl'ngt'n, S & F'sb'ry) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Ovenden, John
Dalyell, Tam Hattersley, Roy Park, George (Coventry, N.E.)
Davidson, Arthur Hatton, Frank Parker, John (Dagenham)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.) Horam, John Pavitt, Laurie
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Perry, Ernest G
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hughes, Roy (Newport) Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.) Hunter, Adam Prescott, John
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (L'p'I, EdgeHI) Price, Christopher (Lewisham, W.)
Dempsey, James Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Richardson, Miss Jo
Doig, Peter Jessel, Toby Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Dormand, J. D. John, Brynmor Robertson, John (Paisley)
Roderick, Caerwyn E. Snape, Peter Wellbeloved, James
Rodgers, George (Chorley) Spriggs, Leslie Whitehead, Phillip
Rodgers, William (Teesside, St'ckton) Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth, Fulh'm) Whitlock, William
Rooker, J. W. Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Roper, John Thorne, Stan (Preston, S.) Williams, Alan Lee (Hvrng, Hchurch)
Ross, Wm. (Londonderry) Tierney, Sydney Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Rowlands, Edward Tinn, James Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Sandelson, Neville Tomlinson, John Wilson, William (Coventry, S.E.)
Sedgemore, Bryan Torney, Tom Wise, Mrs. Audrey
Selby, Harry Townsend, C. D. Woodall, Alec
Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne) Tuck, Raphael Wrigglesworth, Ian
Short, Rt. Hn. E. (N'ctle-u-Tyne) Urwin, T. W. Young, David (Bolton, E.)
Short, Mrs. Renee (W'hampton, N.E.) van Straubenzee, W. R. Young, Sir George (Ealing, Acton)
Sillars, James Viggers, Peter
Silverman, Julius Walker, Harold (Doncaster) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Skinner, Dennis Walker, Terry (Kingswood) Mr. R. C. Mitchell and
Small, William Weltzman, David Mr. Arnold Shaw.

Question accordingly negatived.