HC Deb 08 July 1974 vol 876 cc955-1024

3.42 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Lawson (Blaby)

I beg to move, That this House notes with concern the problems that have arisen as a result of the raising of the school leaving age to 16 years; and calls upon the Government, as a matter of urgency, to provide that those children whose best interests would be served by leaving at 15 be permitted to do so. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for your protection of Private Members' time. Perhaps I should begin, as seems to be the rage these days, by declaring an interest. It is that 75 per cent. of my children are under the age of 15, and I should not wish any of them, when they reach that age, to be compelled to stay at school against their will.

I have been a Member of the House for four months now, and this is the first time that I have drawn first place in the Ballot for Private Members' motions. I have chosen this subject for debate with considerable care. I have chosen it partly because I believe that it is an issue of the first importance, both in itself and in the principles which, as I shall try to show, it exemplifies, and also because it cuts right across the party political divide.

The raising of the school leaving age to 16 has, for more than a decade, been a bipartisan cause. It was the Conservatime Party which, when last in office, eventually implemented this consensus policy. I very much hope that during the debate today, as we re-examine this issue in the light of the experience of the extra year at school, hon. Members on both sides of the House will not feel obliged to speak in terms of party political prejudice, but instead will follow the path, as I shall try to do, of open-mindedness and objectivity and, above all, reason. I do not believe that there can be any serious dissent from the first part of the motion, expressing as it does the concern at the problems that have arisen following the raising of the school leaving age to 16.

The first year of this new compulsory extra year at school is now virtually over, and we see that truancy, which before the change was running at the appalling level of 500,000 children every day, has this year increased, on the best available esti mates, by at least 40 per cent., and the bulk of that rise has been among 15-yearolds.

A recent survey by the Manchester social services department has even concluded that the extra year at school may be driving some of these adolescent rebels against compulsory education to crime. If that is so—and that has arisen out of the survey; I have no independent evidence—it is hardly surprising, since one effect of the raising of the school leaving age has been to make it illegal for 15-year-olds to take up honest employment.

Within the schools themselves, which, let us remember, had ample time to prepare for this measure—I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has come into the Chamber because I know of his concern with this issue, partly because of the Labour Government's postponement of the raising of the school leaving age—teachers throughout the country are at their wits' end as they report huge rises in vandalism and disruption from a minority of 15-year-olds who see school almost as a kind of prison camp. This behaviour is not merely a further burden on the hard-pressed teachers themselves. By damaging schools and taking up an inordinate share of teachers' time in trying to contain it, it is directly lowering the quality of education available to the majority of the age group.

No one would say—and I am not saying—that these trends in our schools are due solely to the raising of the school leaving age, but what I do say, and what I do not think can be denied, is that the raising of the school leaving age has greatly exacerbated this situation.

Within the last three months, the annual conferences of the National Association of Schoolmasters and the National Association of Head Teachers have passed motions calling on the Government to reconsider the raising of the school leaving age, and my spies inform me that even within the serried ranks of the National Union of Teachers there are growing signs of scepticism among those who have to teach 15-year-olds.

It is true that a number of teachers—in my view rightly—were against ROSLA—I am sorry to use that dread-full term of shorthand—right from the beginning. But what is particularly striking is the growing number of teachers originally in favour and who now, in the light of experience, are openly coming out and declaring that the step, however well-intentioned—and I accept that it was well-intentioned—was a great mistake.

Only recently, for example, 41 headmasters from the Bristol area, all originally pro-ROSLA, wrote to The Times Educational Supplement deploring the change. Only three days ago, Miss M. Proctor, the Chief Educational Psychologist for the Greater London Council, told the Daily Mirror: Withdrawn children who find school a burden become more withdrawn, the aggressive increasingly aggressive, and the child who tends to run away will do so more frequently. My view is that if children are mature and have a job they could be released before 16. Finally, let me quote Dr. Harry Judge, the Director of the Oxford University Department of Educational Studies and a man greatly thought of in the educational world. He publicly declared a few months ago: It is now abundantly clear that the raising of the school leaving age was a mindless error, which should be reversed at the earliest practicable date. Before any hon. Members opposite sneer at that as a typical élitist comment from the home of lost causes, let me point out that before his recent appointment to that post, Harry Judge was headmaster of Banbury Comprehensive School, the school eulogised in The Times by the late Dick Crossman as the practical proof of the success of the comprehensive system.

If I have concentrated so far on the views of teachers, it is because it is here that the most dramatic swing in opinion has occurred. But of course the views of parents and children themselves are also of the utmost importance. There, whether we look at the reluctant and recalcitrant minority of pupils or the majority whose education often suffers because of that minority, we see that there was never any great enthusiasm or support for ROSLA in the first place and certainly is not today.

Harry Judge, in the passage I quoted, referred to the ROSLA decision as "mindless". I think he meant that it was taken on the basis of blind faith rather than any rational argument. None the less, ostensible arguments were put forward and still are put forward, and they need to be met and examined.

First, it is held that the objections to raising the compulsory minimum leaving age to 16 today are precisely the same as those made when it was raised to 15 a quarter of a century ago and to 14 roughly half a century ago, and that they are as invalid now as they were then.

That is a curious argument. If it is accepted at face value, there must logically be an equally strong case for compelling youths to stay at school until 17 or then 18. A line has to be drawn somewhere. I concede that it is difficult to say dogmatically precisely where that line should be. Perhaps that is why the sort of flexibility urged in the motion is rather more realistic—I would suggest much more realistic—than the rigidity of the present system.

The second of the three main arguments for ROSLA is that the State should provide for all children what the best parents would want for their own children. But do the best parents want to coerce their own children? I find that hard to believe. This is linked with one of the biggest changes which has occurred since the Crowther Report of 1959, which was the last occasion on which the subject of the school leaving age was thoroughly aired and from which the bipartisan commitment to raise it directly sprang.

At that time, only a small minority of children were staying on after 15, and raising the age then was seen as a means of preventing most parents from removing children who, if left to themselves, would probably have wished to stay. In other words, parents were to be prevented from coercing their children into leaving too soon, whether to earn more money or for any other reason.

But today, with the majority of pupils, even pre-ROSLA, voluntarily staying on beyond 15, with the increased maturity of 15-year-olds and with the decline in parental authority which we may regret but which is still a fact, the step has become not the prevention of coercion but the reverse, the coercion of 15-year-olds to stay at school against their will. These, incidentally, are people who, if this Parliament were of normal duration, would be voting on the destiny of their nation at the next General Election.

Not only is coercion objectionable in principle wherever it can reasonably be avoided; it also brings up directly the question of motivation. The benefit of a further year at school depends more than anything else on the motivation being right, on the 15-year-olds actually wanting to be there and wanting to get the benefits which are to be got from a good school. Coercion not only tends to destroy any motivation on the part of those who otherwise would have left; by making the extra year obligatory, it also weakens the motivation of many who would otherwise have stayed on of their own accord. The old saying that one volunteer is worth 10 pressed men applies just as fully in education as in any other field.

But the third and most deeply felt argument for ROSLA is the conviction among many Labour Members, including the Under-Secretary who I hope will state the Government's view tonight, that raising the age to 16 was a profoundly egalitarian measure. This House debated last week whether egalitarianism should have overriding pride of place as the objective of education policy. I do not wish to go over that ground again but there is obviously a difference between the two sides of the House on it and I respect that difference.

But even those who go nap on egalitarianism must concede that there is no evidence to suggest that raising the age to 16 was an equalising device. Studies done in considerable depth in America—notably those by Coleman and Jencks—show no connection between spending on education and progress towards equality. Other studies have shown, not surprisingly, that if education has any important bearing at least on equality of opportunity, the key lies not at 15 or 16 but in the preschool years, in greater nursery school provision.

But there is no need to rely on academic or other studies, however thorough, to pour doubt on the notion of ROSLA as an egalitarian measure. It stands to reason that if, as is all too evident, ROSLA is producing problems, those problems will be and are at their most acute in schools in deprived areas in the inner cities—just the schools which can least afford additional problems—resulting, if anything, in even greater inequality. For there is already evidence that now that the compulsory minimum school leaving age has been raised to 16, children who are in what are known as the advantaged areas, notably the South-East of England, are simply staying on until the age of 17 in order to maintain their edge when it comes to applying for jobs. So the argument that ROSLA is an egalitarian measure, a great equaliser, is seen to be wholly without foundation. It is very striking that in the lower sixth forms, already fewer than one pupil in four is there because he or she is going on to higher or further education.

I would not, of course, wish to maintain that there is not one 15-year-old throughout the length and breadth of the country who may not be benefiting from a year's additional schooling under duress. What is clear is that, as things stand, the overall balance is unfavourable, and more harm than good is being done. But even if the overall balance were marginally favourable, there is still the question of costs and priorities. The monetary and resource cost of keeping a minority of 15-year-olds at school against their will, the cost of keeping children in Surrey and elsewhere voluntarily at school until the age of 17 in order that they can maintain their competitive edge in the employment market, and the loss of national output from those 15-year-olds who would be happier, perhaps, working on a farm—all this adds up to a very considerable sum, quite apart from the cost in terms of wear and tear on the teachers concerned.

It is impossible to believe, looking at educational needs as a whole or, even wider, at the needs for public spending in social matters, that this can possibly be the wisest use of scarce resources, particularly at a time of considerable economic stringency. I find it quite impossible to believe that if we were starting now with that amount of resources to play with and asking what was the best use to which this could be put, we would say that the best use was to raise the school leaving age to 16.

What, then, should be done to remedy the situation as I have outlined it? I trust that there will be many fertile suggestions from hon. Members on both sides of the House during the debate. One or two possibilities, however, have already been mentioned and put into practice in some cases. In the seminal Crowther Report, to which I have already referred, there was a note of reservation to the main ROSLA recommendation, signed by nine members of the committee headed by Lord Crowther himself, which recognised that school would be inappropriate for a minority of 15-year-olds and recommended that local education authorities should have the power to permit such boys and girls to leave school at the age of 15 and to take up hard work in an adult but understanding environment. That was a very substantial minority, even at that time.

In New Zealand—a country governed by a Labour Government and with a very good record of social and welfare care—the school leaving age used to be 15, but a law has very recently been passed to provide for a flexible system which would allow the more mature children to leave school earlier, under specified conditions.

Lastly, let me quote the example of France. There the school leaving age was raised to 16 as far back as 1967. But, in the light of experience, a new law was passed in 1971 to allow any 15-year-old who had reached a specified educational standard to leave school to enter into proper industrial apprenticeship. Last autumn a further law, the loi royer, was passed which amended the earlier law and provided for pre-apprenticeship courses to begin at 14.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Is the reaching of a specified educational standard, as the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, what is meant by the "best interests" of the children who should be allowed to leave? The hon. Gentleman has not yet covered what he means by the "best interests." Is that what is meant by that phrase in the motion?

Mr. Lawson

It is, indeed, part of what I mean by the "best interests". That phrase is deliberately widely drawn because many other factors have to be taken into account, such as the maturity of the child and other factors which, I am sure, are well known to the hon. Gentleman.

There may be more radical policies than even this one which we should be looking at—I do not want to close any options—and more radical proposals which would have to be looked at in conjunction with opportunities to return voluntarily to part-time education at a later date when the motivation clearly exists.

If the people of this country have two major complaints about Governments and politicians, they are probably these: first, that we are never prepared—certainly Governments of any party are never prepared—to admit that we are wrong; secondly, that we pay no attention to public opinion. The school leaving age is an issue on which public opinion is becoming increasingly clear and evident. It deserves to be heeded. Here, too, is a case in which any Government who have the courage and humility to say so would gain credit not merely for doing what is right but for manifestly being influenced by public opinion and, above all, for having the guts to say "We were wrong. We did it with the best of intentions, but we made a mistake and we shall change it."

4.6 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I want to declare a couple of interests. The first, I suspect, is very untypical, so I do not want to press it. I have a 15-year-old son who is determined to leave school at the earliest possible age and would very much like to have left as soon as he was 15. I also have a wife who has just finished teaching in what the Inner London Education Authority now calls a "sanctuary" in a London comprehensive school. It may be that my views on this question, which do not correspond with those of the majority of my hon. Friends, have influenced me, but it is worth stating them.

My blood chills at the sort of reasons put forward by some hon. Members of the Opposition in their desire to put the school leaving age down. I am glad that the Liberal Party has changed its spokesman for this debate. That expresses a great wisdom in a party which one had thought to be somewhat short on that quality. However, when the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) uses phrases such as "perhaps working on a farm" and that sort of thing, it brings out in stark detail the profoundly élitist view of society of hon. Members of the Opposition, which is completely opposite to my view of society. When in argument for lowering the school leaving age they use phrases such as "scarce resources", that shows what a cold economic attitude they have to education. When they quote with approval phrases from the Crowther Report, such as hard work in an adult but understanding environment one can imagine oneself back in the workhouses of the nineteenth century. That is their sort of view of society.

It is my thesis, from the Government side of the House, that just as we have lowered the age of majority from 21 to 18, one day we shall have to lower the school leaving age from 16 to 14 and even lower—but we shall have to wait until we have a profoundly different, a fairer and a more equal society than we have at present. I think that needs saying because I do not want my hon. Friends to get hooked on schooling as the only road to equality and progress.

Having met and talked to some of the people from America whom the hon. Member for Blaby mentioned—Coleman and Jencks—and having read their books, I am profoundly impressed by their argument that over the past 100 years the institution of compulsory education, although it has had the reputation of being a catalyst for equality, has not been so, and that there is little evidence that the road to equality lies through more and more compulsory schooling. I say this also because I feel that we must not underestimate in the House the strain put upon teachers at the moment. I do believe that that strain is related substantially to the raising of the school leaving age, but rather that it has to do with a whole range of factors which quite accidentally happen to come together in 1974.

The effect of lowering the age of majority from 21 to 18 has been to make 13, 14, 15 and 16-year-olds far more conscious of their rights and less amenable to authority of all kinds. I for one welcome that. I want a nation of citizens and of young people of 14, 15 and 16—I have treated my own children of that age in this way—who like to take decisions for themselves without people all the time telling them what to do.

To an extent I welcome that, but for the teachers who have to operate a compulsory education system, based on compulsory attendance, it has added to the strain unduly. We on this side of the House—if I may mention my colleagues for a moment—do a disservice to them if we do not recognise the strain under which they are working. I did not realise to any extent the strain under which they are working—I have not taught in these circumstances for a decade, and school has changed very much in that time—until my wife went back to teach in a local comprehensive school. It was brought home to me how different teaching is in 1974 from teaching in 1964 or 1954—and that ought to be recognised.

Another point about the raising of the school leaving age which we on this side of the House neglect and underestimate at our peril is the extent to which it is a tax on the poor. The evidence of the Child Poverty Action Group to the Education Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee the other day brought home very well the fact that educational maintenance allowances, which before the school-leaving age was put up were available for 15-to-16-year-olds, are now cut out for 15-to-16-year-olds, and the fact of how large families have tended in the past to rely on the income of their 15-year-olds to supplement the family income.

It is an absolute disgrace that that should be so. If a Government take it upon themselves to raise the school leaving age to 16, they should at the same time make provision for those families who would be the most severely hit by this decision. I do not believe that when we raised the school leaving age to 16 we made sufficient provision in that way. In fact, we did not make provision at all. When I say "we" I mean the British nation, because I think it was a consensus policy which would have been adopted by both sides.

This matter is brought out by notes which the Inner London Education Authority has sent to some London hon. Members on this problem. We must not believe that the difficulties being experienced in our schools—which are the result of a number of factors—will go away, or that they are a temporary phenomenon for only a year or two and that they will then disappear. These difficulties are with us for good. I quote one paragraph of the ILEA attitude, which is a wise, sane and balanced attitude, on this matter: The major problem associated with ROSLA has been a small, hard core of resentful pupils who have seen the extra year as an infringement of their personal liberty. Previously, these same pupils presented similar problems in their fourth year. The problem is now exacerbated by their increased size, desire for financial independence and the status of young adulthood. Families who are in difficult financial straits often support such youngsters in their resentment at the enforced delay before they can make some contribution to family resources. This is a problem which we should not ignore.

I cannot support the motion because of the reasons for which it was moved, but I believe that one day we must seriously think about bringing the school leaving age down. Why do I say this? The first reason is that which has been occurring to the New Zealand Labour Government over the past two years, and which that Government have been discussing seriously. It is a straight, pure, civil libertarian reason. If my hon. Friends believe in civil liberties, why should these liberties suddenly start at age 16?

I disagree with the ILEA evidence in one respect, in that I do not think that all of the group referred to are what might be called the most deprived of youngsters—

Mr. Nigel Lawson

The hon. Gentleman says that he cannot support the motion for reasons which have been set out. Is he not aware that I went to great lengths to give the civil libertarian and anti-coercion reasons involved in this matter? Is he not agreeing that these are among the most important reasons involved?

Mr. Price

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me and hear me out he will get a better indication of why I cannot support him in the Lobby. I do not believe that all the young people who see the raising of the school leaving age as an infringement of their civil liberties are necessarily chip-on-the-shoulder types, as many people think of them—indeed, ILEA speaks of them as being of these types. I think that more and more of them—it is only a subjective judgment because there are no figures or evidence on this yet—are perfectly normal, average, or above-average, intelligent youngsters—this may not be as true of the North-East as it is of London; I would like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to listen to this—who see the whole educational system, with its O-levels and A-levels and credential network right up to degrees, as an élitist structure which we must get rid of one day if we are to have a proper Socialist society. Where there are two groups coming together—those who simply resent school and those who think about the education system and can see it far more clearly, from inside the school, for the unequal thing that it is at the moment—many schools have a difficult problem.

The second reason why I believe that we must one day think very carefully about ceasing to want to corral all 15- and 16-year-olds—I emphasise "one day", because I believe this is very important—is that I hope that one day we shall cease to equate education and schooling and will realise how totally different they are.

The Education Act 1944 wisely took this into account when it provided that it was the duty of a parent to cause his child to receive education either by full-time attendance at school or otherwise. The "otherwise" section of the 1944 Act was the acceptance by that Act that education can take place in places other than a school; and with certain youngsters it takes place far more efficiently in places other than schools. When we understand that, we shall not be so keen on the corralling nature of compulsory education, which it is as well for my hon Friends to remember was, in essence, a device in the nineteenth century to try to raise Britain's economic efficiency so that we could not get beaten into the ground by the Germans. That was the most powerful motive behind the introduction of compulsory education.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was due to the activities of the then Conservative Government in about 1902 that there was not compulsory secondary education for all but a reduced elementary education which lasted until 1944?

Mr. Price

I agree that not only in that way in 1902 but in all sorts of other ways the Conservatives fatally distorted the beginnings that had been made of an education system. All the problems that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) talked about in his campaign to divide the country once more against comprehensive education stem from certain decisions taken by the Conservative Party in 1902—before he was born, I admit.

The danger that politicians face in so harnessing children to the school bandwagon is that they fail to examine the type of animal that schooling has become over the last 30 or 40 years. To some youngsters schooling appears to have two functions which override all the other functions, however much the teachers within the schools want to get down to genuine education.

The first function is one of gaoling. It is a function of saying to the children "You arrive at 9 a.m. and you leave at 4 p.m." An increasing amount of administration in a school inevitably, as the years pass, gets devoted to this registration function.

It is not just the gaoling function. It is the function of keeping the kids out of the way so that the wives can go out to work and the country's economic network can grind ahead. I do not want to push wives out to work or insist that they should not go out to work. I believe in a civil libertarian attitude to this—women should be allowed to choose. To those within them—the youngsters—schools appear to be concerned far more with the corralling or gaoling function.

The second function, which to me as a Socialist is much more serious, is one of credentialing, a function which places the passing of examinations—O-levels, CSEs, A-levels, marks, testing—far above the other functions of genuine education with which schools should be concerned. The money spent on credentialing far exceeds the money spent on educating a child. It far exceeds the cost, for instance, of buying the books for a year's course.

If we are to save our schools from being more and more looked down upon by a proportion of the youngsters who go through them, we need to ensure that far more education goes on in them and far less credentialing.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for interrupting him, but he has now been speaking for 20 minutes. We have very limited time.

Mr. Price

I will go on for no more than 60 seconds longer, Mr. Speaker.

I cannot support the motion. I do not want to lower the age until there is genuine fairness in Britain and a system whereby the credentials people get at school do not override everything else. Where we have such a system, I hope that we on this side will have the courage not to believe that we need to corral children quite as much as we have done in the past.

4.26 p.m.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

As I was trained for the Certificate of Education and have been in a university, I am very conscious of the fads and fashionable notions to which education is all too prone. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) was probably correct in saying that too often there is too much blind faith behind such notions. The raising of the school leaving age was possibly one example of this, but it certainly was not "mindless" in the sense that it was given no thought. It had been pressed for since the Spens Report before the war.

There were, and I believe that there still are, very good reasons for maintaining the raised leaving age. Therefore, I would not support any move to reduce it, partly also because I do not believe that we should keep tinkering with bits of the education system. We need, but have not done it since 1944, a new oversight, a totally new look at the whole system and the way that the various parts—the primary, the secondary, and the tertiary—fit together, and at what the consequences of dealing with one sector in a certain way are for other sectors.

Further, the whole idea always was that raising the leaving age was an opportunity for children to raise their sights, to take on new interests, to look to new horizons, particularly children from backgrounds and homes that are constrained and are of a certain social character where they have not been encouraged to look ahead, to have the opportunities to read, and to have the advantages that many other children who do well in the system have had.

Although growing numbers stay on voluntarily, nevertheless since the war there have been children who have not stayed on because of their home backgrounds or other social pressures but who could have benefited from staying on.

I believe that Britain has fallen behind in this respect compared with other countries. The 1970 figures showed that of the age group 15 to 18 only 40 per cent. in Britain were in full-time education, whereas in the United States the figure was 84 per cent. and of all the OECD countries there are 16 that have a higher percentage staying on at school than we have. But we cannot escape the fact that there are problems. Clearly there are growing discipline and truancy problems as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby said in a well-argued and level-headed speech. There is tremendous strain and pressure on teachers in certain inner city areas, and notably London.

The Metropolitan Police have themselves come to the conclusion—and it is a terribly sad conclusion—that the growing problem of juvenile crime is related to the frustration of children who have to stay on, who feel "corralled", to use that excellent word of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), and who have truanted as a result. The Metropolitan Police estimate that half of the burglaries, one-third of the shopliftings and 40 per cent. of robberies are now committed by juveniles, and they believe that there is some correlation between the frustration of children and crime statistics which needs to be considered.

We knew even before the raising of the school leaving age there were certain rigidities within the system. I suggest that certain improvements could be made. In their last year a number of students—"pupils" is the wrong term at that age—have written to tell me that they had taken their O-levels and that they would like to take up the opportunity of a job or an apprenticeship scheme. They have asked me to help as the school had said "No, you cannot." I had to reply that I could not do anything and that they were obliged to stay on or to go back the following autumn.

I was written to the other day by a small engineering firm in Ilkley. The letter says that Ilkley Comprehensive School had told some boys who had taken their O-levels that it would be "releasing them straight away" as it did not require them for any other courses. The letter then reads: We took several of these boys on as apprentices particularly to enable them to obtain some practical experience in our works before they go on their first year full-time course at Keighley Technical College. We applied in the normal way to the Ministry of Social Security for their insurance cards to be told that we were illegally employing them. We therefore, after having had them with us for about two weeks, had to send them all home and cannot re-engage them until the school term ends officially. Is there not some commonsense position which we can take? Cannot we produce more flexibility in the system? Why is it that we get so hidebound? Why do we take such rigid views on a matter which should be so flexible? Flexibility should be the essence of education. It is human experience. It needs sensitivity and understanding. The examples which I have just referred to are clearly cases in which the young people concerned have their qualifications. Clearly they should not be kept at school, in the classroom.

Equally, there are exceedingly difficult boys and those who are determined in their own minds that they will not derive further benefit from school. They know that they have reached the school leaving age but yet again they must stay at school until the school term officially ends. Can they not be released? After all, they are 16. I agree that there may be classroom and course planning problems in adopting this procedure but I urge most strongly that there should be common sense and flexibility of approach. Certainly I cannot do better than support what the hon. Member for Lewisham, West said when he urged that education was more than schooling. Why have we reached the state in which we believe that education must be done in something called a school? That attitude has been prevailing not for generations but for hundreds of years. Is it not time that we started to think in broader terms? There are experiences outside the school, and institutions outside the classrooms, from which students could derive enormous benefit if only they were allowed to be released.

Obviously certain schools have been flexible in the way in which they have dealt with the raising of the school leaving age, but many have not adopted that approach. There is, of course, the problem of the attitude of some teachers. We all know—and I say this with no disrespect to the profession—that teachers can be highly conservative in approach. We all know that sixth forms and sixth-form courses tend to be rather traditional and overwhelmingly academically oriented. I support—many of my hon. Friends frequently point out this need—the need to maintain academic standards, but it is true that the vast majority of students in the sixth forms go not into higher education but straight into full-time employment. The nature of the traditional sixth form tends to be carried over elsewhere in the school so that often the education that is provided is not entirely appropriate for the majority of students passing through the schools.

There should be total flexibility in the last years at school, the 15-to-18 range. There should be flexibility for the academically gifted. We should set as our aim the establishment in as many areas as possible of a complex of specialist schools, so that there is available a much wider range of special courses, in music and languages, for example. In almost every country in Europe, and particularly those east of the Iron Curtain, there is a new emphasis on specialist schools which concentrate on, for example, French, German or Russian. Why not allow a child who is not at one of those schools to go there from his own school to take a special course? Why not allow him to go to a technical college or some other institution of further education while staying under the auspices of his school? Why has a pupil to be in a classroom, in a certain school, just because that school happens to be in his catchment area?

If specialisation is possible for the academically gifted, why should it not be equally possible for others? Why should they not, with close counselling and with the schools' guidance, with pupils going back at certain times each week to their school, be allowed to take up other courses elsewhere or to take up apprenticeship schemes or sandwich courses? The variety is almost infinite. Why can we not accept the principle of this, and seek to make is possible?

I thought it was unfortunate that certain feelings built up when the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) introduced his Ten Minute Rule Bill. At least, there was some flexibility in the scheme that he put forward, despite the way in which he presented it. It was unfortunate that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) opted for the final phrase of his speech—namely "the answer lies in the schools". That is not the principle that I believe should be accepted in education And that is the only reason why I argue that we must look again at the raising of the school leaving age—so as to get flexibility and differentiation in education.

I hope that we can bring more people into education. I hope that parents, for example, can be involved in more ways, possibly through governing boards or in other respects, as a means of getting into the schools new ideas and attitudes, as a pressure on teachers to break down old barriers and enabling us to widen the horizon for all children, both for those who are academic and for those who at the moment feel imprisoned or corralled. We must remember, though, that many children feel that in staying on they are gaining nothing of value, so this motion has a point. But it talks about "in their own interests". Who will determine whether they are gaining any benefit? They may benefit, but it is hard for us outside to tell. I have a horrible suspicion that if we do not take a careful oversight of the whole matter we may, to use the phrase of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely, merely "legalise truancy". That is not what I wish to do. However, that is what may happen if we are not careful in proposing changes in the leaving age, and if we are not careful we shall find that what we are proposing will be an incentive to some pupils to cause more trouble, to be awkward in school and to be destructive, because they will know that such conduct is the way out, an escape route. Apart from that proviso I go along with my hon. Friend in so far as he is urging flexibility for the final years at school.

4.38 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I want t o intervene, briefly, because I was active in the campaign that led to the raising of the school leaving age. I agree thoroughly with what the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) has said.

The Crowther Committee believed that there was sufficient elasticity in the present provisions to deal sensibly with most of the problems. That is a matter to which we should call the attention of the local education authorities. I wish to go back to the Crowther Committee because of the reasons which have been given for raising the school leaving age. Crowther gave two overriding reasons. The first reason, which is always quoted, is that we must consider the raising of the school leaving age as: … an investment in national efficiency. In pursuit of that, the Crowther Committee put forward the arguments which are well known to the House. It demonstrated that one result of having the school leaving age fixed at 15 was that a lot of talent was undeveloped. The committee found that many talented young people left school who should have stayed. In broader terms, the argument is much more difficult to prove, so I shall give two illustrations.

A year or so ago, when our shipbuilders decided to build the new covered yard on the Wear, one of their experts went to Japan. When he came back I asked him "What is the advantage which the Japanese have over us in shipbuilding?" and his reply, without hesitation, was "Education".

The other important illustration is the disparity between the regions. This is why I argued years ago, when the question of raising the school leaving age was being much discussed, that it might have been done by regions. It is demonstrably true that there is a correlation between the difficulties of the Northern Region and the fact that we have there the lowest percentage of pupils staying on beyond the statutory school leaving age. I am sure that this affected adaptation to new techniques and adaptation to the problems attendant upon the bringing in of new industry. It applied to questions of training and retraining and the rest. I am sure that there is a close relevance here.

I am convinced, therefore, that the major argument of Crowther is borne out: in short, if we are concerned about capital investment, this is probably the top priority. But what people fail to recognise time and again is that this was not the major argument of Crowther. Crowther's major argument was simply that it is a crying disgrace in our society that we allow young people to go out into industry and to face the rigours of our society so ill equipped. The important sentence in Crowther was this—at the end of Chanter 6: If it be regarded as a social service, as part of the condition of the people, there seems to us to be no social injustice in our community at the present time more loudly crying out for reform than the condition in which scores of thousands of our children are released into the labour market. This is why I quarrel with the rather mean motion before us. Those to whom the motion refers are typical of the very people who must be better equipped by our education system. I want to emphasise the questions which still remain for urgent consideration. Many of them ought to have been considered before we raised the school leaving age. First, what about maintenance allowances? I am glad that the Expenditure Committee is looking at this question. If we accept the Crowther argument, there is an overwhelming case for maintenance allowances to ensure that the children who show their ability by the age of 16 remain in full-time education.

The second and crucial issue is that, with five-year full-time secondary education, the objective, the concentration of the system, must be on the school leaver. We have inherited an education system which does not do that. It is geared to, is dependent upon and is shaped by the idea that children stay on at school and go into other forms of full-time education. But these are the children who can cope by themselves. If we are to do what is needed—nearly every other country has done so—we must take an entirely different view of secondary education. Our purpose must be to accept the Crowther objectives and act on the principle that the major purpose of secondary education is to equip school leavers to face society and become happy citizens and efficient workers.

As I want to be brief, I shall say no more about that, though I recognise that it carries with it all sorts of problems. When, for example, we held our Select Committee inquiry into teacher training, I was shocked at the lack of preparation for the raising of the school leaving age. Even now, these concerns are not properly taken into account in teacher training we have had a recent report pleading that teachers should be trained more with a sociological background so as to recognise the difficulties and special circumstances of children, and we have had the recommendation that teachers should have training to make them better able to appreciate the needs of a multiracial society, and so on. But all these questions should have been taken into account and decided earlier. I recognise that it is easy to say that, and the difficulty—these will be my last words—is that in this country we do not have the machinery to tackle problems like these. I see that the hon. Gentleman is amused by that, but he should not be.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

The right hon. Gentleman said that these would be his last words, and I said to myself "I hope not".

Mr. Willey

I am sorry: I must resist the temptation to make assumptions adverse to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he does appreciate that we do not have the manner and means to tackle the problem. I should like the Department to think seriously about it and see how we might get together the people who could take formative decisions in these most important spheres for educational decision.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Tony Durant (Reading, North)

Having sat through two previous debates on this subject and not had an opportunity to speak, I am glad to be able to take part today. I spent five years as chairman of an education committee in an excepted district, so I have some practical experience, even if only in administration.

It needs to be said at the outset, I believe, that the position is not as dramatic or chaotic as a good many would have us believe. I am sure that the vast majority of schools are coping with the situation very well, and we are talking about only a small percentage and their particular problems.

Also, because we, as politicians, have spent so much time talking about secondary reorganisation, those of us who had to consider the implementation of the decision to raise the school leaving age were too often inclined to put it on one side while we spent our time preparing new plans for secondary reorganisation. If we had not had to do that, we might have given more time and attention to the ROSLA situation, which was an important step in the development of education.

One of the principal problems is the earlier maturity of young people. We are dealing here with young adults, not with children. It is the use of the word "school" and the fact that they are still at school which many of them resent. In addition, it is a regrettable circumstance that teachers are not experienced enough in dealing with the non-academic child who stays on at school. The whole of their gearing, as it were, is towards the academic child, not to the other children.

In my view, it was probably the wrong time to do it, but the school leaving age is now raised it has happened and it is now a fact of life. No doubt, the money could have been spent on more nursery provision—for which I have campaigned vigorously throughout most of the time I have been concerned in education—and more could have been spent on primary education. But, as I say, ROSLA is now a fact, and we have it with us. In passing, I must say that it is an odd society which spends its effort keeping people in school when they want to leave but will not let in at the other end those who want to come in. Yet that has been our situation in recent times.

In spite of the comments by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) about approaching this matter in economic terms, I believe that we must consider economics in relation to education, for both the nation and the individual. If the individual has a good background, he will get a better deal economically. It is, therefore, an economic question at the same time.

I urge caution in thinking about going back. I do not subscribe to all the views of the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who, I thought, got rather carried away on this subject and exaggerated the present problems. After all, we have had only one year of experience. Indeed, we are only just finishing that year now. It would be wrong and extremely dangerous to make hasty judgments.

I agree with those who speak of our schools as being too university-oriented. This is another aspect of the matter to be considered. Our whole system tends to look towards the university and then we have the rest. We must do some fresh thinking about that. I do not like talk about the academic stream and the rest. After all, the rest are the largest part. We ought to think more about the rest and not quite so much sometimes about the academic.

If we go back, we shall, I believe, have fewer people completing their O-levels and their CSE exams, and this will give us fewer people with qualifications. It is difficult enough now for an employer to ask young people what educational qualifications they have. The CSE results are pretty difficult to sort out. I tend to ask what subjects they have, because this gives the only way by which one can analyse their qualifications. I am inclined now not to ask whether they have their O-levels. It does not mean so much now as the old examination results did, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Is not insistence by an interviewing employer on asking young people what their qualifications are only an indication of the indolence of the employer in asking such questions, which are generally utterly irrelevant to the work which the young people will undertake?

Mr. Durant

There is an element of truth in that. On the other hand, one wants to know whether they can read and write. That is helpful if one is running a business. It also shows the interests of the person and his outlook. We have to look more carefully at the syllabus in relation to the raising of the school leaving age. A great deal more work has to be done on the general subjects which people are to take.

There must be much more research into facilities. Here I must declare an interest in that I am involved in a company which makes audio-visual aids. Having declared my interest I would like to challenge my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) who made some disparaging remarks the other day about closed-circuit television and so on. He is getting a little out of touch with reality in a society where the visual factor is something that people live with all the time. If education does not take account of it we shall get nowhere.

As society changes so must teaching methods. There must be more self-teaching aids among young people. I am very keen to see this. I recently carried out a survey into the careers guidance given in schools. Frankly it is a pretty lamentable story. I went to the youth employment office. I noticed that the banks and the Armed Services were keen on getting people. That was about it as far as the literature went. There was a trade union leaflet which told people to hurry up and join their union but it did not tell them what job to get first.

That was all the literature there was in the youth employment bureau. A great deal more work must be done in this area, and not only in the bureaux but in the schools, too. Careers guidance of varying sorts must be developed. Such work tends to be done by a teacher who has the spare time. We must encourage close liaison with local industries. Young people want to know what a job is like, whom they will be meeting and dealing with. It is not just pay and time off. They are much more interested in what sort of chaps they will be working with.

I support the motion to this extent: I would not like to see the school leaving age reduced, but I would like to see a far more flexible approach during the final year with more day release and more opportunities given to take courses and to get involved with the outside world so that there is a transition. If we leave things as they are and improve the syllabus, much of this criticism will fall away.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

We have had some thoughtful speeches from Conservative Members. It is interesting to note that they differed a good deal one from the other. There are some differences of opinion on the Labour side, too. I shall vote against this motion, Although it is rather subtly worded it has within it the old reaction against which I want to argue.

The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr Lawson) mentioned the various teachers' organisations which agreed with him. For instance he mentioned, rather affectionately I thought, the National Association of Schoolmasters and the National Association of Head Teachers. I think that his tenderness towards them was precisely because they have come out more or less in agreement with his motion. Then he spoke about an organisation which is much bigger than all the others put together—and suddenly it had serried ranks. Apparently the others had not, but this one had. It has within it head teachers, class teachers and all the others.

There is a very great difference of opinion among us in this House and among teachers on this subject, which we debated last week, when I was not fortunate enough to be called to speak. We should not jump to hasty conclusions after less than a year of operating this scheme. To do so would be to formulate methods of approach with a precipitation which is not justified one iota by the realities.

In our earlier debate last week one hon. Member referred to a 60 per cent. truancy rate. I have raised this question in many places, and I cannot think where he got it from. I spent last Friday morning with the fifth form of a school talking about us in this Chamber. I hope that none of us ever plays truant. At this time of the year many hon. Members never seem to go into a school. They read the more exciting parts of the media and accept as gospel truth practically anything which is in accord with their own wishes.

If they were to go into a fifth or sixth form at this time they would find that there is a very civilised approach towards the young people there. If they have taken their examinations, many are allowed—they are not truanting—to stay away until they are needed for something. This kind of flexible arrangement is taking place on quite a grand scale. By no means can it be described as some kind of wilful absence from school.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) who says that this is a serious problem. But it is not nearly as big as it is said to be. There are forces which will always try to hold back education. In 1870 and at various other times words such as "coercion" and so on were used about sending five-year-olds to school. An hon. Member said that his mother had left school at the age of 12. So did mine. There have been voices raised against increasing the school leaving age throughout.

When it went up from 14, I was teaching secondary children, and the same voices pointed out how dreadful this was, how teachers would never be able to cope and how there would be a terrible situation. These same people always seem to send their own children to school—to mitigate the difficulties—after the ages of 17, 18, 19, 20 and even 21. They do not seem to suffer very much. Conservative Members should ask themselves at what age they left school and at what age their children are leaving school. By how much did they mitigate the difficulties of large classes? They mitigated them as they have done with private beds, by paying for their children to go into classes of 12, by having more teachers in the schools.

One of the solutions to this problem is not to pay more money privately but to have more money for State education, to have more teachers in the schools and to provide more interesting courses. It is not possible to teach the assembly of a motor car to unacademic children if one teacher has to take 25 children. There should be fewer children per teacher. That requires more money.

Often it is other people's children about whom many of these voices are talking rather than their own. I do not necessarily mean the voices we have heard today. Every educational advance has had voices raised against it. More and more difficulties are pointed out and accentuated instead of being grappled with. By accentuating the problems and giving the media more grist to the mill instead of dealing with the realities, we deepen and intensify the social problem rather than solve it.

Education reformers have campaigned for 35 years for raising the school leaving age to 16. It gives me great joy to hear hon. Members opposite say that, although they want flexibility, they are unwilling to revert to the age of 15. When we have grappled with the problem of raising the age for the next two, three, four or five years it will disappear into antiquity. If we give teachers the necessary help to grapple with the problem, we shall not be discussing it in another five years, as happened when we raised the age from 14 to 15.

I do not say that the two things are entirely synonymous. There will be new difficulties. There have been difficulties at every stage when the age has been raised. Many of the difficulties now are due to the media which are trying to get children to buy things for which they need more money and which are virtually corrupting them. More allowances are needed, together with other things, to help young people stay on at school. In London 76 per cent. of children were staying on voluntarily without a law stating that they had to do so.

We must give the minority of children who wish to stay on at school more inducements to do so in order that they may have a better education. The age has been raised to 16 for only a year. How can we formulate conclusions after such a short time? I hope that hon. Members who have yet to speak will agree with the points which most hon. Members have raised. It is hopeless to try to go back. We shall not go back, although there should be flexibility for the children.

I am against the view that going down the pit or into the mill at 15 years of age is further education for children. These are educational processes in the sense that the children are learning, but it young people stay at school longer and there is flexibility inside and outside the school we shall make a complete success of the extra year and I venture to say that one day, not so far distant, we shall seriously think of raising the age above 16 years.

5.3 p.m.

Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)

I could not disagree more with the speech just made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). With all respect, it was the speech of a pedagogue setting out to estabish a monopoly of educational benefit. That is what far too many of us have argued for in education debates in the past.

This is not the first occasion, and it will not be the last, on which the House has debated the question of the compulsory period of education. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) introduced a Ten-Minute Bill, the purposes of which I totally agreed with, although I might, as the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) indicated, put it in a slightly different way.

Last week's debate on education also raised the question of the compulsory period of education. Between 1966 and 1970 I spoke in almost every major, and indeed some of the minor, education debates in the House as education spokesman for my party. With my party, I took the view that raising the school leaving age eventually must be right. I do not want to say "I told you so", but I asked a large number of questions, and was almost alone in doing so, about whether, through our curriculum, teacher supply and buildings supply, we would be ready in time for the raising of the school leaving age.

Secondly, I suggested that raising the leaving age had become a kind of radical flag among educationists and politicians. One had to wave it, whether one believed in it or not, because otherwise one would be thought to be—

Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)


Mr. Pardoe

—reactionary or regressive. I remember having an argument about this question with the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, who was then the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth. I questioned whether the Conservative Party was doing a good service to the country by advocating this piece of so-called progress.

The trouble with Secretaries of State for Education—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will admit this—is that they all want to be remembered for something which they have done in education, and the only thing which history can recall is not an advance in the quality of education but some statistical device by which they can measure the quantity of it. Therefore, if they can create or improve primary schools, or get rid of the pre-1903—why 1903 I know not—primary schools and develop pre-primary education, or add a year to the compulsory period of education, their names will be written in the history books. It is utter nonsense, because none of this ever adds, or has ever added, to the quality of education.

Thirdly, I wondered whether the teachers could cope. We have had many illustrations today showing that teachers are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the problems which raising the leaving age has imposed on them.

Fourthly, I argued—I make no point about this now—that we were spreading our educational resources too thin. If we could find all the money needed for primary and nursery schools and the splendid reorganisation of secondary organisation which I was pressing the Labour Government to speed up, all would be well. But I knew that we could not, and therefore raising the school leaving age was very near the bottom of my first league of educational priorities.

I must admit, however, that I hesitated even then to follow the logic of those arguments. partly because I thought that my own education might have warped my judgment. I was educated from just over five years of age to 19 years of age—a very long compulsory period of education—and then went to university for three years. As I hated almost every minute at school, with the exception of one term, I supposed that it must have had a warping effect on my judgment. I therefore hesitated to argue full-scale the case for cutting the period of compulsory education for the reasons we have heard advanced today.

I regarded more and more of education as a weapon of social engineering. I wanted equality of opportunity. I still do. If we could add one jot or tittle to the average education of the average child, we should be doing something far better than adding an extra cubit to the education of the high flyer or the élite. I expressed those views in the House at the time. I settled inevitably for what was the consensus wisdom of the educational establishment. I did not [...]ease to be a sceptic about the benevolent influence of long-term education—compulsory, caged education—but I was a benevolent sceptic. I believed that it was a good thing. I also believed, however, that we should perhaps postpone raising the age until we had enough money to do it properly.

Since then, two things basically have happened, apart from the fact that the age has been raised. First, I have witnessed my children's educational progress, and I am convinced by their experience that my experience was not unique and was not entirely irrelevant to the problem. As a pupil, I was very sceptical about the benefits of school. As a parent, I am a darned sight more sceptical of the benefits of school, and so, I trust, are my children; indeed, I believe that they are.

The second thing that happened—as occasionally happens to open-minded hon. Members—was that I read one of those books which change the course of civilisation. The book I read was by Ivan Illich. I am amazed that his name and that of Reimer have not been mentioned in the debate. The book is a furiously subversive one—a point confirmed by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) when he reviewed the book for that respectable Left-wing journal the New Statesman.

That brings me to the irrelevance of the Left-Right argument which has been brought out in the debate. There are on the Government benches hon. Gentlemen who are sceptical about the benefits of more and more schooling, and there are hon. Members on the Opposition benches with some scepticism about the full-blown benefits of accepting the motion. Where do Illich and Reimer stand in the Left-Right argument? Where does Karl Marx stand when one discovers, for instance, that he opposed the Gotha programme for the discontinuance of the employment of child workers in factories because it would have a deleterious effect on the education which they received at work and which was better than the education they would receive at school?

Certain other questions arise. I did National Service and hated having to do it. I detested the idea that society should force me to do two years' compulsory military service. Yet the hon. Members who would oppose with their dying breath the introduction of conscription at 18, or even a social service type of conscription, seem to think that by forcing boys and girls of 16 into school they are benefiting both the pupils and society.

What about other countries? Our period of compulsory education is way ahead of that in most of the major industrialised countries. Most of them extend the compulsory period to nine years, and some of the poorer nations cut it short well below that. Why do we in this country insist on children going to school from between the ages of five and 16 when the USSR, New Zealand, Sweden and a host of other countries do not find it necessary?

What about public opinion? My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Ely last week introduced a Private Member's Bill. Since then he has received a large postbag on the subject. Of the 300 or more letters he has received since the debate was reported in the Press, not one was opposed to my hon. Friend's viewpoint. I do not find that surprising. I do not necessarily accept it as an argument in its favour, but if we are to argue against the consensus of public opinion which is against raising the school leaving age, it might be helpful if we were to advance certain reasons for doing so. I doubt whether we have such reasons.

As I said, Illich's book is a furiously subversive one. It challenges all our received notions and most of the traditions for which we have stood in education over a long period. In that book Illich makes the case against compulsory schooling. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West in his review of Reimer's "School is Dead" said that The case against universal compulsory schooling is a substantial one". The words of his book indicate Illich's views better than I can. Referring to himself and Reimer he said: Together we have come to realise that for most men the right to learn is curtailed by the obligation to attend school. Marvellous! That is exactly what I felt at 16, 15, 14, 13 and backwards through the whole of my school career. Was I wrong? I do not believe that I was.

Again, from the book: Universal education through schooling is not feasible. do not believe that it is. The mere existence of school discourages and disables the poor from taking control of their own learning. All over the world the school has an anti-educational effect on society. Hear, hear, again. There is no need to go on.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

What is the hon. Gentleman's policy?

Mr. Pardoe

Here is a man of stupendous intellect, of deep learning and insight who operates probably from the Left of the political spectrum. These are infinitely wise words. What do we do about it?

Miss Fookes

May I ask what is the hon. Gentleman's practical alternative to schooling and whether what he is saying represents official Liberal policy?

Mr. Pardoe

I must come back to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West who said that he was glad that the Liberal Party had a new spokesman on education. I hastily say that I am not the spokesman on education. It would be incredible if, every time an hon. Member introduced a new idea into the House, he was howled down by hon. Members who said "Either you speak for your party or you do not speak at all". That would be an idiocy. What a damn-fool place this would become if that were so.

I will come to the proposals for dealing with this critique. Where do we go from here? What has been said about grants for parents whose children stay on at school is immensely important. I argued in favour of this between 1966 and 1970 as part of Liberal policy. Some 12 years ago the Liberal Party came out in favour of bribing parents as a means of encouraging children to stay on at school voluntarily. That would make it financially possible for parents to encourage their children to stay on and would involve the paying of enhanced family allowances to parents who allowed their children to stay on in full-time education.

According to a pamphlet which has recently been written by Alec Peterson, we should consider the possibility of paying the mothers of younger children for looking after their children rather than sending them to school. I see no reason why that should not be done.

We must have a commitment to lifetime education by means of what Illich calls "edu-credit". We should all of us when we are born be entitled to a period of schooling which we should be able to take at any time in our lives. We should not have to take it in the academies of the pedagogues. I am not here to support the monopoly of the teaching profession, which has done badly enough over the years. If we moved to that kind of system and allowed the child to opt for a full-time or part-time period of education we could give him a credit for the money required and say "You can spend it at any time in your lifetime". By doing that we should be doing something immeasurably important for the enhancement of the real quality of education in our society. I shall support the motion. I do not accept all that has been said on behalf of the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) but I am convinced that school is dead and I am delighted to say "To hell with school".

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind that the debate finishes at seven o'clock and that they will be reasonably brief.

5.20 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

I have been interested in the contributions to this debate and particularly in the speech made by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). I was under the impression that the person who contributed most to the rather tenuous and limited philosophy of liberalism was John Stuart Mill and that he accepted education as one of the features of society which should be imposed on children. I thought that Mill would have argued strongly in favour of the point made by the hon. Gentleman that "edu-credits" should be given to children, but that he would have taken the view that the first priority should be to ensure that students should be in a position to be able to put a value on such credits. There is an implication of a compulsory nature which Mill recognised and which many Labour Members would appreciate, although now apparently members of the Liberal Party believe that school is dead.

I do not think school is dead. What school needs is radical change. We have heard today about the necessity for flexibility in educational institutions. I am prepared to take at face value the words of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North stressing his great concern for equality and for fairness in society in the treatment of individuals. How does the hon. Gentleman face up to the present situation? Where we have taken responsibility away from school for the education of our young people, that responsibility has been reneged upon. If leaders of industry and major organisations which employ young people and if a whole range of social institutions were eager and willing to support a flexible arrangement in education, if we had seen a mass drive towards the concept of day release for students so that they could enjoy the twin benefits of work and education, then we might be able to accept the argument a little more readily. But we have seen such concepts reneged upon. Instead of day release having been increased, it has decreased over the last decade.

We are facing a situation in which the criticism of the school as an institution has been expressed in a negative way, as we have seen from this debate this afternoon. We have the right to ask whether what is being posed is the stark alternative of school or nothing or whether, sooner or later, measures must be propounded further to extend education beyond the present compulsory framework. Unless this argument is pursued and established, nobody in the House should support the motion moved by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). We must ask whether anything is gained by the motion or whether its supporters seek to jump on the bandwagon of the difficulties posed by substantial reform in terms of the school leaving age in its first year of operation.

We must recognise that many hon. Members who are taking part in this debate have enjoyed the benefits of extensive education. However much hon. Members may cast aspersions on the situation, I maintain that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) is in a small minority when he argues that he feels few reservations about a situation in which his own children are leaving school at the age of 15. It may be that my hon. Friend has exceptional children who, despite that educational disadvantage, will be fully capable of enjoying a substantial position in society and a high standard of living. It may be that my hon. Friend is right to say that schools do more harm than good, but I maintain that for the vast majority of us the case is not proven. The majority of people are concerned to see that our children enjoy the benefits of further and higher education.

No doubt on another occasion many hon. Members will take the opportunity to argue for an extension of resources in educational terms. Indeed, the hon. Member for Cornwall, North said that he was in favour of the extension of grants to children who stay on at school. That is a fair point, but the problem is that we are in the process of saying that the nation should provide resources for those who have successfully been through the educational hoops. Once more the channelling of resources will go to the best intellects and those who have succeeded on the basis of the necessary examinations within the compulsory framework of education.

Education is not merely a question of adequately fitting people into society. If it were said that the best system was that which ensured that those who should benefit from education were those who had the right to do so by their intellectual pre-eminence, I know that many Labour Members would reject that proposition. Our concept of education ranges rather more widely in terms of the individuals than merely slotting somebody into his or her rôle in society.

We also know that the system is inefficient. We know that the real criterion for enjoying the substantial benefits of State provision beyond the compulsory school leaving age is that which accrues to those who are at a social advantage, and therefore we have a situation in which we increase the discrepancies and inequalities in the society which we have inherited. It has been denied in the debate that the extension of the school leaving age contains an egalitarian element. But the fact is that more than 60 per cent. of students who stay on beyond the age of 15 live in the South. East of England, whereas only 40 per cent. live in the North-East. This is support for my argument that we face a socially divisive situation.

The definition of resources necessary to introduce ROSLA has meant that the beneficiaries of the situation have been proportionately more in our socially deprived areas than in the more advanced areas. In that sense it has been an egalitarian measure. It could be argued that other measures would be better suited to the objective of seeking to ensure that society provided resources on a better basis for the education of our schoolchildren. I do not know of a single reform proposal by either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party which more clearly channels the increase in resources to the socially educationally deprived than does ROSLA.

The fact that schools are under strain is well recognised in all parts of the House. It is also recognised that we have to think of compulsory education as lying within a more flexible framework than has been the situation in the past. Educacational needs are not necessarily met in orthodox schools which involve classes of 30 to 40 sitting in serried ranks. Perhaps our schools do not present the right pattern at the moment. In the educational authorities which have produced the most advanced educational reforms and initiatives there are no ROSLA children. The curriculum is structured on a basis of educational experience which does not take into account merely the last-year situation. Many have argued that the educational system must become much more aware of what is going on in the outside world and be more responsive to that situation. Even better, during the last year in a school we should seek in the curriculum to break down the rigidities of school education. But it is a very different matter to argue that we should seek to destroy school and thus stop providing children with the very best that can he given to them in educational terms in our society.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I intervene briefly at this point on this Private Members' day. The fact that there are so many hon. Members anxious to speak in this debate shows the very great interest that there is in education, since there are no Whips on today and we have a heavy week ahead of us.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) on choosing education for discussion today, and this subject in particular. It is a difficult and thorny subject which is better raised from the back benches because hon. Members on the back benches can speak much more freely without the limitations imposed on those who speak from the Front Benches and who must be careful lest they inadvertently commit their parties to policies which those parties may not have espoused.

I want also to congratulate my hon. Friend on the skill with which he presented his case, the moderate and well-informed way he argued it, and on how he picked his way carefully through a minefield which might have exploded at any moment. The nearest that it came to an explosion was when the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) took exception to my hon. Friend's reference to working on a farm. That was too graphic for the hon. Gentleman, apparently. However, when my hon. Friend referred to the scale and use of resources, that was too abstract for the hon. Member for Lewisham, West. Perhaps I might say to the hon. Gentleman that one can in fact learn things on a farm and that, although I may now look a regrettably urban figure, I have learned more things on farms in the past than anywhere else in my prolonged education.

I welcome the opportunity to make my own position and that of the official Opposition clear. Last week I spoke about the need to preserve good schools, and it was the Secretary of State himself who described me on that occasion as "a Right-wing reactionary". I am more used to being denounced by some of my own colleagues as "a Left-wing deviationist". But, before I succumb to an identity crisis, let me make my own position clear on education matters. I stand in the extreme centre, and that is always a good place to stand in order to see best what is going on. I think that that is the atmosphere of educational discussion today. I hope that we have moved away from dogmatic, doctrinaire positions and want to see what is happening in our schools.

That at any rate is the posture of the Opposition. We want to take a close, hard look at the facts, to see the shortcomings of our education system as well as the achievements, and to shape our policies accordingly.

As all of us must be aware, the dissatisfaction amongst parents and teachers about many effects of raising the school leaving age is strong. I am not saying that these complaints are always right. But they are there. The concern and the anxiety is very real.

There is the further underlying difficulty which we must face that the school leaving age has been raised just at the time when the age of maturity everywhere else is being lowered. We have a younger marriage age and a younger age of general maturity. We are asking this generation to do something which is very difficult—to stay at school longer when the whole movement of society is in the opposite direction. We must be prepared to see that this will cause difficulties, and we must also be prepared to see how we can solve them.

I hope that we can respond to this challenge by getting away from the extremes of complacency which some Government supporters have shown and away also from the insensitivity which has been shown in particular by the former Liberal spokesman on education, the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), in that very unfortunate speech the other day. It contained a passage which I am sure that we all remember about youth being let out on to the labour market as though they were cattle being let out of a pen. We cannot discuss this, very sensitive and important subject in that tone of voice, and I hope that we all appreciate the genuine feeling which exists in every part of the House, especially on the Government benches, about the disadvantaged child from the poor area who should not be deprived of a benefit which has only been obtained after many years of struggle.

There are different views in the Conservative Party on this subject, of course. That is to be expected. Like the Church of England, the Conservative Party is a comprehensive institution. That is the reason why it has survived for so long. We can comprehend different views in it. But the official party position is, first, that we accept the principle that the school leaving age should be 16, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who can lay some claim to rank among the great post-war Secretaries of State for Education, brought it about. It had been talked about since 1938. It fell to her to translate it into reality. We shall not go back upon that.

Second, we believe that the application of the 16-year rule should be made more flexible to take into account the changed conditions and the original purpose of the reform. That was a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson). We must ask ourselves what this reform was intended to do. It was intended to create new opportunities, and the question we must ask ourselves today is whether the right opportunities are being created.

We have heard a number of suggestions made in the debate, and I want to consider them constructively. First, we had the suggestion in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby about what I may call the dispensing power—that the local education authority or the head teacher should have power to dispense a child so that he may leave school after his fifteenth birthday. As my hon. Friend pointed out, that suggestion was put forward by no less a person than Lord Crowther, supported by eight members of his advisory committee. Linked with that suggestion is that, subject to day release or evening classes, there should be release from school.

Although that, too, merits serious consideration, I think that it goes rather too far. It has been put forward by a number of people. It was put forward in this debate. It was put forward earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson). It has also been espoused by Mr. Peter Wilby in The Observer. That very distinguished education correspondent lent it his support last week. Nevertheless I do not think that it is right. I believe that it would obliterate the line between education and employment. We should have to discuss it very much further before it could be accepted.

I put forward three suggestions to the Under-Secretary, and I hope that he will deal with them. The first concerns the creation of educational and vocational alternatives to formal school, and it links with what the hon. Member for Lewisham, West said in his thoughtful speech about the difference between education and attendance at school.

At the moment, it is not possible for any child under the age of 16 to leave school to take up an apprenticeship or any kind of technical education in a college of further education. I remember very well Circular 7/74 on work experience. It was issued when I was a Minister. That makes it possible for children to take part in work experience schemes while they are still at school. These provide the opportunity to sample a variety of types of work rather than starting those concerned on any definite sub-apprenticeship course. Those concerned do not receive any pay, although they may receive the cost of fares and meals from their employers. I think that this was the point being made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who talked about activities within the school. The same point was also made by the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies).

With respect to those hon. Members, they do not go far enough. We want to extend the principle. We believe that it should be made possible for children who wish to do so to take up apprenticeships or some kind of technical training after they are 15 years old. This might encounter some initial resistance from colleges of further education. But they will not be gaining something entirely new; they will merely be regaining an age group which they have only recently lost. During their first year at such a college pupils would have the option of returning to school, if they wish, at any time.

Experience in France, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby, is relevant. The school leaving age there is 16. Children in France have the option of leaving school at 14 to go to a College technique where they may have a full-time technical training for two years. Children between the ages of 14 and 16 may leave school to take up apprenticeships, subject to attending school for 360 hours a year during that time. The contract for such apprenticeships is three-way, being drawn up between parents, employers and education officers. I recommend that idea to the Under-Secretary.

Secondly, let us have a more flexible leaving date. At the moment children may leave school, according to their age, on one of two dates. Those whose 16th birthday falls between 1st September and 31st January can leave at the end of the Easter term. Those whose 16th birthday falls between 1st February and 31st August may leave at the end of the summer term. The date for the end of the school term varies throughout the country from the end of June to the end of July.

There are two main possibilities of increasing flexibility here. First, we could make it possible for those whose 16th birthday falls between 1st February and the end of the Easter term to leave at the end of that term rather than to stay at school possibly through to the end of July.

The argument against that proposal is that it would possibly reduce the incentive to take the CSE examinations. Therefore, I recommend rather more strongly the alternative of making it possible for children to leave school after the CSE or the particular examinations that they are taking are over. The period of examinations may spread over several weeks.

The date of the CSE examinations varies between different examining bodies. However, I am informed by the Department of Education and Science—so it must be true—that two-thirds have CSE examinations arranged for May and one-third for June. Therefore, it may be possible that in some areas children take their examinations in May and in theory cannot leave for another two months.

Neither Section 35 of the Education Act 1944 nor the order raising the school leaving age appears to give the Secretary of State any powers to make the leaving age more flexible. I suggest that if those powers were sought from the House they would be granted.

The third possibility that I recommend is employment in the Services. The position of those in the Services was the one area where flexibility about the leaving age used to exist, since Section 115 of the Education Act 1944 specifically excluded them from the provisions of the Act.

Administrative memoranda issued in 1948 and 1952 described the conditions in which a certificate could be issued under Section 115 to permit young persons below the then compulsory school age of 15 to be employed by the Crown. This last memorandum was withdrawn on 22nd May 1972 in conjunction with the raising of the school leaving age. Therefore, the Armed Forces can no longer recruit young persons under 16 years of age. The ending of what was known as the junior "U" entry scheme, which was formerly for those under 15¾ years of age, has inevitably meant a drop in Service recruiting. In 1972–73 there were 2,182 in this category, which no longer exists. I am sure that the Ministry of Defence would be glad to see the restoration of under-16 entrants and would make arrangements for their continuing a formal education in the Services.

Mr. Peter Rees (Dover and Deal)

Does my hon. Friend agree—perhaps he could transmit this to the Government—that the standard of education provided by the Junior Leaders Training Regiment is comparable to that provided in many schools so that, in effect, young people are not giving up any educational opportunities if they join the Services through that route?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Facilities can also be made available for taking O-levels. That is apart from other military colleges which provide a higher form of education.

I believe that if the Under-Secretary of State could prevail upon his right hon. Friend to bring about these three changes the situation would be materially improved. He would not only keep intact the principle of education up to the age of 16, which is the general will of the House, and make it more flexible and reasonable in practice, but do much to meet the anxieties of parents and teachers and at the same time protect the educational opportunities which have rightly been opened up for the disadvantaged child and the child who may be exposed to pressures, whether from parents or society, to discontinue his schooling.

This is not an easy problem to solve, but I am sure that there is room for constructive action by the Government in this sphere. I believe that the debate has had a useful clarifying effect on the minds of those of us who are considering the issues. I hope that it will also have the effect of clarifying the mind and opinion of the nation.

5.46 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

I hope that the House will feel that this is an opportune time for me to put forward some of the Government's reactions to the comments that we have heard this afternoon about this subject, which is of first importance.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) on his good fortune in coming first in the Ballot and on the way in which he has introduced this vital topic.

There is great uncertainty and unrest in various circles throughout the country about the effects of raising the school leaving age, and I am glad of this opportunity to make known the Government's reactions to some of the constructive suggestions that have been put forward.

The debate has been wide-ranging. My sympathies went out to the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) who seems to have had a most unhappy childhood. He was miserable at school, had a terrible time at university, and then had two years of bitterness in his National Service. However, I hope that he is now enjoying himself in the House.

I felt that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) was going to launch some in-Service training. a new back-to-nature series on the farm. and so on, but the House was denied that kind of introduction.

There are those of us who have always supported the raising of the school leaving age and the lengthening of the school life. I suppose that I should declare an interest. I have been in the education service all my working life. I have been a teacher, a headmaster, the chairman of an education authority, and now I am at the Department of Education and Science.

I have always regarded the lengthening of the school life as a step towards providing equality of opportunity for all our children. That is an essential part of our educational philosophy. I assure the House that there is no question of complacency or of trying to brush problems under the carpet. All the constructive suggestions that have been made today will be carefully considered.

I will deal with some of the proposals that have been put forward, including the three suggestions by the hon. Member for Chelmsford.

We are now drawing near to the end of the first full year of the raising of the school leaving age to 16 years. I was interested in the article referred to by the hon. Gentleman in which Mr. Peter Wilby came to the conclusion that the school leaving age should be lowered. He suggested that nobody could guarantee that the proposals he was making would be the answer, so he proposed a five-year trial period. I suggest that, rather than amending something and having a five-year trial period to try out the new proposal, we should give the thing that we are amending a little longer than two terms before either approving or condemning it. This is the first year. Children who would have stayed at school until Easter 1973 stayed until Easter 1974, and those who might have left last summer will stay at school until this summer. I suggest to the House that it is too early to come to any firm conclusions.

There are two problems to which reference has been made. The hon. Member for Blaby referred to the need for flexibility in the leaving date, and it was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Chelmsford. The second problem is the imposition of an extra year at school on reluctant pupils.

It is true that legislation would be needed to make any change in the school leaving date, but we have consulted local authorities and teachers' organisations and we are now considering the replies that we have received. There seems to be some support for the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Chelmsford that once the examination period is over it might be better to allow children to leave school rather than continue with the present arrangement. That would mean a leaving date of, say, 15th June, but I assure the House that we have an open mind on the matter and that once we have received all the replies we shall consider whether legislation ought to be brought forward to deal with this issue.

Reference has been made to the possibility of allowing children to leave school at 15 to enter a Forces training establishment. In reply to a Question I said what I think sums up our attitude to this important matter. My answer was: The Service training establishments do not and are not intended to provide a basic education. While the Government are concerned about recruitment, we think that 15 is too early an age to choose a career with the marked degree of commitment required by the Armed Services. We stand very much by the idea that every child has a right to five years of secondary education."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd April 1974; Vol. 871, c. 1084.] Those is not closing all the doors. We are willing to review those statements, but, having read them again. I am of the opinion that they show how wise I was when I gave that reply.

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

My hon. Friend says that he stands by his statement that every child should have a right to five years of secondary education, but not all children are getting that. Some children are receiving only 4½or 4⅔ years of secondary education and leaving school at Easter. Does my hon. Friend not agree that there should be one leaving date? If the school leaving date were 1st June, that would do what my hon. Friend says the Government want to do.

Mr. Armstrong

There is strong educational opinion in support of my hon. Friend's view that if we are to have secondary education for all and a full secondary education course we must move towards having one leaving date, but, as my hon. Friend and the House will realise, there are problems connected with that step.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles (Winchester)

On the question of the Forces recruiting young people aged 15—a matter on which I have pressed successive Governments—may I ask the hon. Gentleman to take on board the fact that the degree of commitment is limited, because a boy who went into the Forces at 15 could, under the Donovan arrangements, be released at 18 if he found that he did not like the life?

Mr. Armstrong

I realise that. Our approach is more the educational one, although we are, of course, concerned about youngsters having to make a choice too early in their lives. I take on board what was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman.

Mr. Peter Rees


Mr. Armstrong

I am sorry, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has not been here all afternoon and I do not want to take up too much time of a Private Members' debate by giving way.

Mr. Nigel Lawson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way to a Private Member whose day it is?

Mr. Armstrong

Yes, if the hon. Gentleman wants to make his fourth speech.

Mr. Lawson

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about the age at which people should be able to make a choice, whether it is for a career or for anything else, may I ask whether he is satisfied with the arrangement that someone is able to choose to get married at a lower age than that at which he can leave school?

Mr. Armstrong

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, he will find that I shall deal with all these problems as I make my way through my speech.

Provision to raise the school leaving age was made in the 1944 Act. The decision to do so was announced in 1964, and the intention to raise the age was stated firmly in 1971. Ample time was provided for the necessary preparations to be carried out, in contradistinction to what happened when the leaving age was raised in 1947. I am told that when the late Ellen Wilkinson announced the raising of the leaving age in 1947 the preparation consisted of the requisitioning, through the Ministry of Works, of 6,000 hutted classrooms. Nevertheless, despite the problems, the education service of that day coped, and in time the new arrangement became part of the normal practice.

I am not suggesting that the decision to raise the leaving age and what has happened during the last nine months have not presented great problems, but I must remind the House that £100 million of capital investment was allocated in 1969. The Schools Council has sponsored and stimulated curricula development with the needs of the school leaving age in mind, and linked courses—this is taking place in many authorities—involving attendance at further education colleges on one or two days a week are in operation.

Teachers must be given time to acquire experience in the building up of courses of interest and relevance to young people, and the media, aided and abetted by those who should know better, have highlighted and exaggerated isolated incidents. For every example of school breakdown I could produce evidence to show that, even in inadequate buildings, teachers are succeeding because the curriculum, the methods of teaching and learning, the corporate life of the school and school contact with outside communities have been adjusted and made relevant to young people compelled to stay an extra year in school.

I refuse to beat a hasty retreat from the principles so widely espoused by teachers, parents, politicians, church leaders and everybody who is concerned about our young folk and wants to give them a proper opportunity. Of course there are anxieties and real difficulties, but I want to place on record this afternoon something that we are far too hesitant to do. I pay tribute to teachers and their schools who are quietly accepting the challenge and bringing great benefit to the whole range of pupils within their care.

The hon. Member for Blaby says that the legislation has done more harm than good. All I can say is that he knows nothing about the North-East of England. I know boys and girls who would now be out in the adult world, some earning their living but some unable to find employment, but who, because of the change, are still at school and are profiting and developing their intellect and personality. To talk about the change doing more harm than good is to show an ignorance of the real situation.

We do not hear or read as much about the schools that are successful, but their invaluable contribution should not go unregarded. My anxiety is that, because of the economic situation that we inherited, we are not able to provide all the resources which those schools need and deserve.

We have heard a lot about Crowther, but Newsom dealt with most of the children of whom we are talking, the reluctant learners. It is interesting that the Newsom Report recommended that there was no doubt about the school leaving age having to be raised to cater for those children who were reluctant learners; but, said the report, education ought to be school-based. The report said that these children should get work experience and that we should be flexible in our approach, but it came down heavily on the side of education being school-based.

I want to be flexible in my approach, but I am not anxious to follow the hon. Member for Blaby into saying that when somebody wants to take up an apprenticeship he should be allowed to leave the education service. I would change the emphasis in Newsom from "school-based" to "education service-based". We are much more likely to get the result we want if the education service is given the responsibility, and if children can be released either for a number of days in a week or for weeks at a time, but released from industry to education rather than putting the onus on industry.

There are many of us in this House who believed that the Industrial Training Act and the great advances that were made in that direction would mean that more and more of our youngsters would get an opportunity for day release and the like. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) reminded the House, almost the reverse has been the case. I accept that there are some children who would do better in another kind of institution—in colleges of further education and so on—and, therefore, I am not wedded to the normal school organisation, but I believe that it is in the interests of our children that they should be under the umbrella of the education service.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the 1973 Act which enables authorities to arrange or approve work experience schemes for this age group which we are discussing. We sometimes underestimate the amount of exciting work that is being done. I was reading the other day about the Birmingham Education Development Centre, which has produced a document called "Challenge and Change". This document gives an account of the work of 150 teachers who have produced a complete course of secondary education for children up to the age of 16.

We talk far too much about the extra year. I could take hon. Members to a school in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It is a big comprehensive school, and children at the age of 13-plus attend a careers convention. There, a great range of industries, including public services, display their wares. The object is to interest children and parents in a broad educational course leading to some kind of employment, and the children are attracted to a three-year course. It is not something which is tacked on for the 15 years-of-age group; it is a three-year course, and up to 80 per cent. of the children take advantage of it. Indeed, they did so even before the raising of the school leaving age. That is the kind of exciting approach which one sees throughout the country.

I admit that there are problems of truancy, indiscipline and, indeed, violence. I was interested to read in The Times Educational Supplement an account of an iterview with eight headmasters in London who said that there was not the violence in schools such as existed in the "Teddy boy" age. Nevertheless there are incidents which worry us all, although this has not suddenly arisen. Nor is it likely to be solved overnight.

I was reading yesterday in a newspaper that according to a report for 1971–72 the number of 10 to 14 year-olds convicted for malicious damage rose from 4,552 to 5,253, an increase of 15 per cent. Nobody could blame that on the raising of the school leaving age last year. This reflects the society in which we live. We live in a society in which indiscipline, mass emotion, aggression, violence and intolerance are all too evident. These elements are not confined to school pupils. It is hardly surprising that some reflections of attitudes and behaviour in adult society are also found in schools.

The truth is that teaching is becoming more and more demanding. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) in wanting to see the spread of democracy. But democracy brings extra responsibility. It is much more difficult to organise. I can remember that when the miners were having a dispute in my county of Durham, Sam Watson, the miners' agent, would ring up the local secretary and say "Get them back to work and I will talk to them." He would do the negotiating and he would say "There you are, lads; that's it." But today people say "I am not going to have other people making decisions for me." In the whole area of social democracy that is what we are trying to do. We have got to try to inculcate those attitudes in our schools, and this is what is making teaching much more demanding.

Sometimes I think it would be great to go back to the old authority. But authority has now been supplemented or even succeeded by persuasion, and it is much more difficult to persuade than to compel. We must decide how we are to deal with the problems which such changes have created. The Department is monitoring the effect of ROSLA on behaviour and absence from schools, and we shall discuss the findings with local education authorities and teachers. We have to recognise that the way in which we have organised our schools has made a direct contribution to some of the problems which now confront our teachers.

Which children would come into the category defined by the hon. Member for Blaby—those pupils whose best interests would be served by leaving at 15? They are those whom we identify in the main as having limited ability and aptitude and who are able to make very little progress in a limited field. Newsom in 1963 came to the conclusion, from research, that the less able pupils were likely to be away from schools for longer periods and more often without adequate excuse. That was 11 years ago. The truth is that their whole education background is not conducive to success. Most of these children have been labelled failures from their infant school stage. When the time comes for transfer to secondary school, they are allocated to schools, or even in so-called comprehensive schools to courses, which do not lead to any kind of examination. So they are labelled failures again. It is no wonder they are antagonistic and rebellious about the discipline and work at schools. They are misfits in a school community which is geared to meet the needs of examinations. Some of them become drop-outs.

The truth is that we have many children in our schools who have never dropped in. They have been deprived and underprivileged since they started school. I would be surprised if they did not want to escape from the ordered and disciplined community into the exciting adult world outside where they can be people in their own right. We have offered little in school to excite and interest them.

However, when my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West says that they regard school as gaol where they are imprisoned from 9 till 4 o'clock, I ask my hon. Friend "Where do they go when they leave school?" They go into a job starting at 8 a.m. and finishing at 5 p.m., in far less congenial circumstances than in the worst of our schools. If they do not do that, they go to dead-end jobs and drift from place to place. This is the real problem and there is no easy answer.

It is a sad comment that the best of our secondary modern schools—whenever Conservative Members praise them it is always as good places for other people's children—are those which have most successfully aped the grammar schools. In 1945, we believed that a school should provide a challenging and exciting background for those who did not want to pursue and were not adopted to pursuing an academic course.

Supposing we accepted the motion on the ground that those children are such a nuisance that they are preventing others who might do so from benefiting from their education. Once one concedes that the age should be 15, imagine the pressures on head teachers, staff, society and those children who for many reasons want to get away from school but are persuaded by their parents to stay on. As a headmaster, when I talked to parents, I discovered another change in society. When I was at school, no parent would have said "My 14-year-old must make up his own mind." Now, of course, it often is the child's decision.

Knowing the harsh world into which these children are turned out, is it to be said that a 14-year-old is mature enough to make that decision? Such children leave in a rebellious and antagonistic mood and are plunged into a harsh, competitive and unfriendly world. We are not talking about the good apprentices, those who will eagerly take up further education or even vocational training. The children we are concerned about have escaped from compulsion, order and discipline and so they drift and will not touch any formal education or training with a barge pole. Hon. Members talk glibly of vouchers with which they can come back to education, but there are many children who are headlined in the newspapers now who will never come back to the system of their own accord.

Somehow we have to provide the right atmosphere in education while they are there and while they are young. If we cannot do it when they are 13, 14 and 15, we have precious little chance when they are 19, 20 and 21. Does the House believe that what schools fail to do modern industry and further education can accomplish?

No one claims that the recalcitrant and reluctant minority referred to by the hon. Member for Blaby are equipped to be pushed into adult society before the majority of their colleagues. I share the proper anxiety about the standards of literacy today and the attitude of some of the more troublesome young people, but I ask whether those young people, with the right educational help, can achieve more than they are achieving now. I believe that the answer is "Yes" and it is the Government's job and the job of the education service to provide that help.

We take it for granted as a nation that the very gifted children and those who are most handicapped must stay at school to 16. We owe it to our young citizens to make sure that all of them, but especially those who are underprivileged—yes, those who are misfits, often through no fault of their own—should have access to well-qualified, skilled teachers in schools with good facilities, so that personal development can go ahead. I cannot contemplate throwing those children into a world which is uncertain, complex and often frightening in the choices that it offers young people.

Education cannot perform all the miracles, it cannot achieve maturity for all our children on its own, but it has a vital contribution to make. To be a partner in that process is one of the most worthwhile pursuits. There are thousands of teachers meeting this challenge and I call upon the House to give full support to those who are determined to overcome the real problems facing the education service, so that every child can develop his full potential. The Government are determined to find the resources to enable professional teachers to do the job of bringing our children to maturity.

6.15 p.m.

Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth Drake)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) on his choice of subject, which has provided us with an invaluable opportunity for a preliminary stocktaking. I would not put it higher than that after one year's experience of the higher school leaving age.

When the age was raised, and in the discussions which took place beforehand, I took the view that it was right in principle because an adequate education for young people was not possible without that extra year. I felt particularly strongly about the situation with respect to girls in education. In the past pressures have often been brought to bear on girls to leave school early, on the grounds that education did not matter so much, as they would get married—I need not go on; I think the argument is well known.

It is all very well for the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) to talk about "corralling" children—quite a Wild West allusion. There was also the great difficulty of children who were under parental pressure to leave. I did not come across that problem much in my own area in the South, but I know that in the North it was a far greater problem and had to be tackled. I felt that the pressures were too great for children to stay on voluntarily.

The only practical consideration which tempered my enthusiasm for this proposal was the feeling that resources were limited, that we were failing to tackle the problem at source and that we needed to give far greater care and attention to children in primary schools and even before they went to school. That is where the problems often start and where the children fall behind, so that, when they reach secondary school, they have fallen too far behind to take a great interest in that level of education.

I have to some extent modified my position now, but I would not go all the way with my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby in seeking simply to reduce the age and leave it at that. But it is no use shrugging off the difficulties produced by this first year. The raising of the age to 15 all those years ago was less difficult than the latest operation. One important reason is that the wages that teenagers can earn are vastly greater now, so the pressure to leave school is also greater. Teenagers have far more ambitious ideas about what to spend their money on, which also makes the desire to leave much greater.

It has also been pointed out that young people mature more quickly. This is certainly true of their physical and emotional development. The general feeling in the country and the emphasis in the television they watch all help to make them mature more quickly—some of us would feel, perhaps too quickly. We cannot shrug off these difficulties.

I am glad that the Government are doing some research into truancy. At the moment, some hon. Members will not admit that there is a problem at all, while others tell hair-raising stories about the amount of truancy. I suspect that thorough research will reveal that this is very much a patchy business, and that there are great difficulties in some areas and practically none elsewhere. We shall not know until we have proper statistics. I hope that those who are responsible for making these investigations will not look simply at the numbers on roll when the register is taken early in the day, because it is easy enough—some youngsters are pretty shrewd—for youngsters to have themselves marked "in" at the beginning of the day and then quietly to slink away. Large schools provide better opportunities for that, if only because there are more doors out of which children can slip, and they can lose themselves in the general mêlée. I hope, therefore, that the arrangements made will take account of these practical difficulties.

There is also the question of the disruption of classes. I know from my teaching experience that if one has people in a class who do not want to be there they can cause a great deal of disruption. It has never been my misfortune to teach really unruly classes, but I assure hon. Members who have not taught that those who really do not want to learn make one feel like a rower doing his best against a very, very strong tide. I can well imagine that in the problem districts this is magnified to an extent that must make teachers want to shriek. I hope, therefore, that that aspect of teaching will not be underestimated.

Although I accept that all these difficulties exist, I still do not believe that all compulsory education should come to an end at the age of 15. That is where I part company from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby. I believe that it may well be necessary for children to continue with their education otherwise than at school. I thoroughly endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) in his contribution from the Opposition Front Bench. It is not often that I find myself so agreeably in agreement with my Front Bench, but some very important points were made by my hon. Friend.

I should particularly like to see children given the alternative of going to colleges of further education or technical colleges. When I was the chairman of an education committee, from time to time we had to deal, even at the age of 15, with children who simply were not fitting in at school and were making a thorough nuisance of themselves. It would have been an invaluable blessing if they could have gone to a different type of educational establishment. Technical colleges or colleges of further education are especially helpful because their atmosphere is so much more adult. The pupils are treated as students. That may well be what the youngsters are looking for. Perhaps they would not be pleased, but they would accept that they would not be earning if only they could be treated in a more adult atmosphere. I very much hope that the Under-Secretary will seriously examine this possibility as an alternative during the last year at school.

The point about entry into the Armed Forces is well worth pursuing. There are difficulties, but I would imagine that the Armed Services could modify their training, and so on, if they knew that they would get children in at a slightly earlier age. I should have thought that the commitment aspect could be modified to take account of that. I am sure that it is not like the law of the Medes and Persians; I am sure it can be altered. It is a solution well worthy of attention. Although the Under-Secretary said that he would look at the matter, I got the impression that he would not look at it very seriously. I ask him to reconsider that.

Finally, it would be well worth while to have a more flexible leaving date. I had this point suggested to me from two entirely different sources. The first suggestion came from the head and the staff of the upper echelon of a comprehensive school which had been a grammar school. There was and is in that school a strong academic tradition, but the staff felt that it was quite pointless to keep youngsters at school after they had taken their examinations. I see no point in dragooning youngsters at that stage in their careers. Anyone who has gone through the examination stage will know the extraordinary feeling of relaxation that comes over one when examinations are finished. It is really flogging a dead horse to expect youngsters to remain at school after that point.

Another suggestion came from a totally different source—from motor traders in my constituency of Plymouth, Drake, and from the city of Plymouth and outside it. They pointed out that after the examinations it would be very useful for them to be able to take on school leavers on a pre-apprenticeship course. They felt that it would give youngsters the opportunity to do something useful and to find out whether they liked the motor trade and whether they wished to remain in it. If they did not wish to remain, they could then leave without wasting much time, but if they wished to remain in that trade they would be well on their way. I imagine that that point would be appropriate to a number of other trades and occupations. I hope that the Under-Secretary will seriously consider the question of a more flexible leaving date.

I hope that I have made it clear that in no way would I wish to see a lowering of the school leaving age take place in itself. All that I ask for is that we should use our imagination and enable those youngsters who do not wish to remain in school for the final year to have the opportunity of further training and education outside school. That does not mean that I would wish them simply to go into dead-end jobs. I still retain sufficient of the teaching instinct to deplore that idea, and I wish to dissociate myself entirely from hon. Members who wish to see that state of affairs return. But I hope and trust that the Under-Secretary will take on board some of the ideas that have been put to him so that we can improve educational standards and work for higher standards in the future.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The suggestion of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) that the motor traders of Plymouth might be in a good position to take some pupils at the end of June may be a good one, but I would hesitate to support such a suggestion because it may give them first pick, or it may give first pick to the employers who may be able to do that—which would mean that others who could not do that might not be able to benefit. I shall not, therefore, follow the hon. Lady's argument in that respect.

However, I suspect that I have the support of the hon. Lady in not agreeing with the motion. While there are many things which are wrong, putting back the clock at this stage is not the best way to deal with them. I, too, like the hon. Lady, have some teaching instinct left. For 13 years, dealing with school leavers was my main concern, and but for the chances of selection as a parliamentary candidate it might still be. It is a coincidence that on 8th July 1970, at about this same date, this is what I said in the House: There are indications that the difficulties which are caused by socially deprived, unhappy and maladjusted pupils are on the increase. One of the most frustrating and tragic aspects of the job which I am in the process of relinquishing is represented by the difficulties experienced by teachers through being faced by unhappy, sullen and inarticulate young people and the fact that, in the present structure, many teachers are not able to produce an educational response suited to their deepest needs. The result is that a significant number of adolescents are leaving school today inadequately prepared for learning for themselves, which is one of the objects of the exercise. Indeed, it is the main purpose of it. They are leaving with bitterness and with a grudge against adult society."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July 1970; Vol. 803, c. 735.] I then went on to talk about the emotional drain on teachers in the situation to which the hon. Lady referred.

I appreciate that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak, and so I shall go quickly through some suggestions which could help us to meet a situation which is acute in some inner city schools. It was bad in 1970 and may well be worse in certain schools today. We have got many of our educational priorities back to front because of our psychological inheritance. Secondary education before the war was, by and large, grammar school education. With the watershed of 1944 we have secondary education which is as good as grammar school education. To the Opposition good schools usually mean direct grant schools or selective schools, purely because the scholastic attainments of those schools are visibly better than others. But good schools, good education—which the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) ought to consider—and the right to learn are to be found in a good educational institution, and that does not mean an educational institution of high scholastic attainments. The two are not the same.

In the past 10 or 15 years in the development of secondary education, the emphasis, in the head's study, in education offices, and in the Department of Education and Science, has been psychologically oriented to scholastic and academic matters. The result has been that the needs of the "ordinary" schoolchild have not been met because the orientation has been built around those who are capable of dealing with academic work. There is proof of that fact in the allowance given for examination work. For over 13 years I tried to fight professionally against this trend, and because I was qualified to teach at university entrance I lost in the end. The whole of the psychological structure of the inspectorate and of the education authorities was that I could not discharge a responsibility to ordinary pupils because there was no promotional ladder which enabled me to do so. I fear that that attitude still exists in education, and it may be one reason why the raising of the school leaving age exercise is not going as well as it might.

Mention has been made of Newsom and what it dealt with, as well as Crowther, and in the end we have a number of values and priorities in education administration.

There is also a problem concerning school buildings. In my first year as a graduate teacher—1956—I taught in 19 rooms a week in a purpose-built comprehensive school. That went on for four or five years, until I got a room of my own. The Department of Education and Science lays down rules regarding school buildings. Those rules are supposed to be right, but I have argued with the Department's architects about this. They think they are right; I know they are wrong. We have not got proper place arrangements in secondary schools today to enable proper secondary education to be carried out. I do not know why the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is laughing. Does he think I am being too pessimistic? People at the Department of Education and Science regarded themselves as experts and considered that they had consulted everybody on this matter, but if the hon. Gentleman goes to any secondary school head in this country he will get confirmation of the views that I am putting forward.

Another difficulty is that training has become divorced from the main stream of practical life inside schools. The inexperienced rather than the experienced teachers go into colleges of education, with the result that there has been a divorce of the two professions, and this has not been brought together despite the efforts made in that direction. Since then the whole educational world has been under assault from the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), and the ranks have closed. This is one of the difficulties in education today.

Many teachers are getting out because they cannot cope. This is not because they are not well-trained—although that might be part of the trouble—but because of problems associated with getting young people into classrooms, and the matter of teaching practice, which has been falling down because it has not been oriented on what is the practical position and the reality of life in school.

Social trends have been mentioned in the debate. There have also been fashions in education. Ideas have been promoted from outside the profession. People have had good ideas, but they have not been able to put them into effect or see the results over a long period. It is no good people putting forward educational ideas unless they can be tried out for three or four years in appropriate conditions.

Many of the new ideas have worked because there has been enthusiasm. When the teacher is enthusiastic and there is a good rapport between pupils and teachers, education takes place. It can happen in the most reactionary circumstances, but the important thing is the relationship between the teacher and pupils, provided they work with enthusiasm.

I shall not weary the House by detailing all the gimmicks that have been introduced. There is the question of research in education and the position of the Schools Council. This has been mentioned in a positive way. Many people in schools question whether more educational research should be superimposed upon them. Many of the things which have been suggested from this research would be impracticable in schools today. That is a basic as well as a difficult fact in schools today. What some people want to do in regard to basic education and learning criteria is administratively impossible for one reason or another.

There has also been a reference to primary schools. I challenge any Member of the House to say what he would do if he were teaching in a primary school with 35 pupils, or fewer, and two of the pupils decided to walk out. That is happening in many primary schools today. Many primary schoolchildren—we cannot always blame parents for this—are watching television until midnight. Through watching television six and seven-year-olds get a particular view of the world. Television forms the basis of certain principles. Some of us on this side of the House spoke against this matter when commercial television was introduced. Television programmes have changed during the past 10 years and some programmes give a view of the world which includes violence. Perhaps Members of the Opposition do not see commercial television, or any other television, as often as I do, but standards are now such that often there is violence first and discussion afterwards.

When Members of the Opposition say in the House that they are worried about various aspects of society today, perhaps they do not realise what young children of six and seven are seeing on television day after day, with the result that in primary school they will hit Johnny or Jane first and not worry about what the teacher may do, because they see so much violence on the television screen. What is shown on television may well contribute to problems in schools. If there is such a risk then I hope that the number of programmes of the type I have mentioned are reduced. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) would be serving the nation far better if he had a motion to that effect rather than that which we are discussing.

In introducing the motion, the hon. Member talked about what wise parents would wish for their children and said that the whole nation should choose for all our children. I said at that time "Hear, hear"—which may have surprised hon. Members—because he was quoting R. H. Tawney, a man of great width of wisdom, a man perhaps above all responsible for secondary education today. I pointed out earlier in an intervention that we did not have secondary education in this country until 1944. In 1902 there was a political decision to deny universal secondary education. That caused trouble, the aftermath of which we are still clearing up.

We must orient to the classroom experience and a right to learn, which is an important objective—which the hon. Member for Cornwall, North should accept must be laid down. We must have this right to learn, as well as resources and qualified people. That is what school is. It is not the sort of social institution which members of the Opposition defend. There must be a proper educational standard of which scholastic standards are only a part—not necessarily the first priority. We have to safeguard standards of excellence, particularly in regard to literacy and the ability to be articulate and to communicate. That is what education is about. If we orient the classroom in this way and incorporate experience in proper circumstances, we can co-ordinate a secondary education course which lasts for about five years.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) for the moderate terms in which he moved the motion. I am also grateful for the response it evoked from the Opposition Front Bench and for the reasoned speeches which have been made by Labour Members, too.

It should be clear by now that what we on the Opposition side are arguing is not that we should put the clock back in regard to the raising of the leaving age but that we should introduce a little more flexibility into its application. I subscribed to the principle of the raising of the leaving age, and I still broadly subscribe to it.

However, I recognise the sincerity of Ministers who do not wish to see that ideal compromised. My only regret is that tonight the Under-Secretary did not go far enough in recognising that the application of the principle would be strengthened if only we could bring a little more flexibility into it to deal with rather more of the problem cases and areas. Our point is that it is the rigid application of the principle, and not the legislation itself, which in certain areas, for certain pupils and in certain schools, has done more harm than good.

I maintain that in assessing the question we must look at the totality of the crisis which is now looming in many schools. I accept the Under-Secretary's point that there is a danger in exaggerating. Therefore, I shall choose my words with care.

Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), I spent Friday in schools in my constituency discussing the whole spread of problems which are facing teachers today—not lust this one. I am in no doubt that in areas such as mine a crisis is approaching in our schools, arising from a dire shortage of suitably qualified teachers. This will affect the tuition of English and mathematics in a number of our schools this autumn. I also heard from one headmaster that he has spent so much time this summer seeking—unsuccessfully—replacements for the vacancies which are coming up in his school that he has not been able to devote anything like the amount of time that he should to his normal duties as headmaster.

There are many causes of this problem. Part of the problem lies in salaries. This is felt acutely in an area such as mine, which lies just outside the London weighting area. Part of the problem is the very high cost of housing in the South-East. These are problems which do not fall within the spread of the debate.

But there is also the problem of the conditions under which teachers must work. It is here that the difficulties arising from the raising of the leaving age are particularly relevant. We have already witnessed in some areas the growth of a stress syndrome on the teaching profession. I believe that this is spreading in its application. It is made up of many factors—teaching incomes, the staff shortage in itself, the burden which this places on other teachers, and various outside social factors, but also the problems which teachers encounter over teaching these unwilling ROSLAs, as the teachers rather unfortunately call them. I do not believe that this stress is found just in the inner city areas. I fear that it is spreading, certainly to the areas around London, and for all I know it may be felt increasingly in other cities as well.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hillsborough sought to blame the media for exaggerating this problem. I know that there are those who will rush to any area where there appears to be a newsworthy or a sensational situation developing. However, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the media do not need to rush to propagandists in this case. They need only come to schools such as those in my constituency, and no doubt many others, to get the material which gives the substance to the programmes and the reportage that they have been presenting.

It is not much help to us to hear—though I am glad to hear it—that these problems are not general. We are very pleased that they are not general, and that other areas are not experiencing them, but that is not a reason for the media not concentrating our attention on the roots of the problem where it exists.

Mr. Flannery

I did not for one moment say that these problems did not exist. I said that not only the media but also hon. Members have grossly exaggerated the problems—that the problems are being faced up to by the teaching profession as best the profession can tackle them, and that we in the House should do everything to help the profession to grapple with the problems without exaggerating them and equipping certain sections of the media to make them worse still.

Mr. Gardiner

I take the broad point that the hon. Gentleman has made. I still think that it is unwise for him to appear at least to be criticising the media for concentrating some public attention on these problems where they exist. I hope that the hon. Member will not accuse hon. Members such as myself of exaggerating, when we have the evidence for it in our constituencies and, indeed, when teachers in our constituencies are the strongest advocates of bringing some flexibility into the application of the ROSLA principle.

I shall not cover a number of other points, as they have been very well covered already, except that I wish to underline the problem which arises over the time at which the CSE examinations are held, and the fact that when the examinations are finished half the pupils who have taken them are able to leave school although the other half must return for seven more weeks of reluctant schooling. Every teacher I have spoken to who handles these pupils thinks that this is quite unrealistic. I welcome the pledge that the Under-Secretary gave today that he will take a very close look at the problem.

In one respect I am sorry that I did not speak before the Under-Secretary made his speech, because I want to raise another difficulty over a specific type of school which arises from the application of the present leaving age provisions. I have sought to do this for a little while in an Adjournment debate, so I make no excuse for raising the matter under cover of this debate.

I refer to the problem which is caused by the application of the leaving age provisions in special schools which cater for the educationally backward child—the ESN pupil. ESN pupils are in difficulty over leaving school and getting a job, anyway. To force them, in effect, to leave school on one of two set dates and to enter into immediate competition with more able school leavers increases the disadvantages which they immediately feel. I have had this point pressed on me strongly by teachers concerned with such pupils in my area.

If such pupils were able to leave school at any time, they would be more likely to find helpful employers who would be able to slot them in and give them a trial run at a time when the whole weight of the school leaving population is not descending upon the labour market.

The problem which these pupils face is greater, because educationally subnormal school leavers do not often stay in their first job. In fact, they have great difficulty in adjusting to employment outside. It will not surprise hon. Members to know that in my constituency one boy has tried 11 or 12 jobs in the course of a year. He has stayed at each job for just a few days. After that he has retreated to the comparative security which his home appears to offer to him. I suggest that in the last year special schools should be allowed to let boys and girls leave at any time to make a start in work. But a school place should be kept open for them if they fail in their first stab at holding down a job. I understand from the teachers in these institutions that at present this is impossible. I ask the Minister to undertake to consult the specialist teachers and to consider whether more flexibility cannot be built into the system for this kind of school leaver. For the effect of ROSLA is to make the break with school far more final than it need be or should be.

I reiterate the point that has emerged from the debate, and particularly from my hon. Friends, that we are not advocating any great break with the principle which we adopted when we sought to raise the school leaving age. Of course, we accept that it is desirable for as many pupils as possible to stay on at school for a fifth year. All we are seeking is to introduce a little flexibility, and a greater understanding of the problems of the teaching profession. I believe that if we can relieve the stress syndrome that I described at just one point we shall at least be taking a step in the right direction.

6.52 p.m.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

I thought that the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) was going to continue the tradition of this debate, which has been conciliatory in tone. I was shocked by his suggestion that the option should be open to children at special schools to leave before the age of 16. I thought that it was generally accepted that education up to 16 was vitally important for children attending special schools. In my constituency, there is a good special school which I visit. I cannot see any argument for altering that principle.

In general the debate has been characterised by a conciliatory tone. We have agreement across the Dispatch Box on many points. Certainly a difference of emphasis has been expressed from both sides of the House. I would not have wanted to enter the debate except for two reasons. The first is that on looking through some old newspaper cuttings the other day I came across an article written by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) on this very subject. It is clear that over the past three years the hon. Gentleman has become more mellow in his views. The article is entitled "Unwilling Pupils and the Class". Admittedly it was written before ROSLA became a fact. In his article the hon. Gentleman said …and the total breakdown of parental authority by the age of 15… was a fact. The article went on to say that adolescents who do not stay on at school leave because they, not their parents, wish it… The hon. Gentleman was arguing that the reason for not raising the school leaving age was that the views of the pupils should be considered.

I thought, when I read the article originally, and certainly when I reread it, that it was a most extraordinary reply for a Conservative to make. Presumably, as a member of the Conservative Party he is a great believer in law and order. I think that it is an extraordinary reply to truancy and disruptiveness in the classroom. I would have thought that a Conservative would be the last person to want to react to that sort of behaviour in the classroom by giving in to it or by giving way to it.

The second reason for my wishing to take part in the debate is that there is a side to this subject which I do not think has so far been covered. I have listened to most of the debate and I believe that the matter needs some reference. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was right to refer to the academic or the scholastic bias of our educational system which has an unfortunate effect on those who happen to find themselves at the bottom end of the system.

One of the consequences of that bias is that we are apt all too often to neglect the social impact of education. We have talked a good deal about the cycle of deprivation and the problems which are faced by young people. We have been talking about many of those young people whilst discussing the need to have the school leaving age at 16 years.

In the cycle of deprivation there is one factor which has not had the emphasis which it should have been given. We are talking about many youngsters who within a relatively short time will themselves become parents. We have said that youngsters are maturing younger. Some hon. Members have seen some kind of contradiction in a situation in which maturity is reached younger and in which education continues higher up the age scale. I regard that as an enormously valuable opportunity that we should grasp.

One of the vital jobs that can be undertaken during the school year from 15 to 16 is in trying to educate youngsters for the complicated variety of responsibilities that they will have to undertake within a short time of leaving school. If we are anxious, as we should be, about the consequences of inadequate parenthood, one of the jobs which we must face is to try to educate boys and girls during their final year at school in how to run a home successfully and in the various problems involved in looking after children.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a great deal of the problem concerned with the raising of the school leaving age has been created by the environment in which children are living and that the environment has been our

problem? We have built soulless towns which have created the problems we now see in the schools.

Mr. Barnett

The hon. Gentleman is right, but I think that he is going a little wider than the immediate subject of the debate. However, he is right in suggesting that the great pressure of the environment on boys and girls makes the job of parenthood all the more difficult than it was a few decades ago. For that reason the social rôle of education—

Mr. Nigel Lawson


Mr. Barnett

—in the final year is enormously important in educating youngsters in the responsibilities which they will shortly have to assume.

A certain amount of emphasis has been laid on expanding nursery education—

Mr. Nigel Lawson

rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House divided: Ayes 88, Noes 1.

Division No. 67.] AYES [6.59 p.m.
Adley, Robert Grist, Ian Percival, Ian
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Ancram, M. Hawkins, Paul Rees-Davies, W. R.
Archer, Jeffrey Heyhoe, Barney Renton, Rt.Hn. S [...]David(H't'gd'ns're)
Atkins, Rt.Hn. Humphrey (Spelthorne) Heseltine, Michael Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bell, Ronald Hooson, Emlyn Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.-W.)
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Fareham) Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, North) Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Berry, Hon. Anthony James, David Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Biggs-Davison, John Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Bowden, Andrew (Brighton, Kemptown) King, Tom (Bridgwater) Sainsbury, Tim
Brittan, Leon Knight, Mrs. Jill Shelton, William (L'mb'th.Streath'm)
Buck, Antony Knox, David Shersby, Michael
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Lawrence, Ivan Silvester, Fred
Carlisle, Mark Le Marchant, Spencer Sims, Roger
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda McCrindle, R. A. Sinclair, Sir George
Cope, John Macfarlane, Neil Skeet, T. H. H.
Cordle, John McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury) Steel, David
Dixon, Piers McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Steen, Anthony (L'pool, Wavertree)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Stradling Thomas, John
Durant, Tony Mawby, Ray Tugendhat, Christopher
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John Miller, Hal (B'grove & R'ditch) Tyler, Paul
Emery, Peter Mills, Peter Viggers, Peter
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Moate, Roger Weatherill, Bernard
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Molyneaux, James Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Fookes, Miss Janet Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Winterton, Nicholas
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'field) Neubert, Michael Worsley, Sir Marcus
Fox, Marcus Newton, Tony (Braintree)
Gardiner, George (Reigate&Banstead) Nott, John
Cardner, Edward (S Fylde) Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Glyn, Dr. Alan Page, John (Harrow, W.) Mr. Nigel Lawson and Mr. Peter Rees.
Gray, Hamish Pardoe, John
Skinner, Dennis
Mr. Martin Flannery and
Mr. Kenneth Marks.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 31 (Majority for Closure).

It being after Seven o'clock proceedings on the motion lapsed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 6 (Precedence of Government Business).