HC Deb 25 June 1974 vol 875 cc1189-92
Mr. Greville Janner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has had on the effects of raising the school leaving age.

Mr. Armstrong

My right hon. Friend has received a number of requests, to which he has not been able to accede, to exempt individual pupils in one way or another from the requirements of the existing legislation. Some teachers have expressed anxiety about the possibility of truancy or indiscipline resulting from the obligation of attendance, in some cases after examinations, on pupils who are not free to leave until the end of the summer term.

Mr. Janner

Is my hon. Friend aware that the anxiety to which he refers is widespread throughout the country and in all branches of the teaching profession? Does he feel that the time has come for a review to determine how schools can be helped to enable the pupils to make the best use of the valuable extra year? Perhaps that can be done through better work-related schemes and through the provision of more money to enable the schools to cope with the great problems that the extra year has created for them.

Mr. Armstrong

This is the first year of the increase in the school leaving age. I remind my hon. and learned Friend that before the leaving age was raised many suggestions were made about how to use the extra year. We are anxious to allocate extra resources so that all children may profit from the extra year. My hon. and learned Friend will not need to be reminded about the economic situation that we inherited from the previous administration. I remind the House that the Government are firmly committed to providing for every child, whatever label we may place upon him or her, a full secondary education course. That is the entitlement of every child. We are determined to give the resources to enable the teachers to make full use of that course.

Dr. Boyson

Is the Minister aware that the full secondary course has usually meant that pupils have taken their examinations, either GCE or CSE, and have left at the end of May? There is an acute problem now because the staff at many schools do not want children not sitting GCE or CSE examinations to be at school. In many schools they have been more or less told to leave. At the same time they cannot get an employment card, which means that for two months they are wandering loose, which seems a dangerous way of occupying their time.

Mr. Armstrong

Yes, we are aware of of those difficulties, and the House will recognise that we are now consulting teachers' associations, local authorities and other bodies on difficulties that have arisen. The Government are anxious to do nothing to cause a greater distinction between those who are examination pupils and those who are not. There is enough segregation and labelling already. We shall review the replies that we receive. I suggest to the House that it is too early, the first year not yet having been completed, to make decisions about fresh legislation regarding the school leaving age.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend agree that some Opposition Members who are so deeply critical of the raising of the school leaving age would no more dream of taking their own children away from school at 15 than of flying?

Mr. Armstrong

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I would say to some Opposition hon. Members, particularly those who have a distinguished record in the education service, that there are thousands of children who are benefiting from the higher school leaving age. They are benefiting because of the dedicated and able service of teachers throughout the country. The House should be backing those who are doing such a good job for our young folk instead of continually suggesting that the education service is breaking down.

Mr. Michael Roberts

Does the Minister agree that there is evidence of disillusionment with the raising of the school leaving age in the staff rooms of secondary schools? Does he think that consideration should be given to the suggestion that more pupils should complete their fifth year of secondary education in technical colleges or in the schools of the Armed Services? Does he agree that it would be better if all the proponents of the raising of the school leaving age recognised the real problems of pupil indifference and resentment and did not seek to sweep them complacently under the table?

Mr. Armstrong

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no desire on this Front Bench to sweep the very real problems under the carpet. The hon. Gentleman has been in the service long enough to realise that indiscipline and truancy did not begin with the raising of the school leaving age. There was indiscipline and truancy long before that. I wish that he would pay more attention to the facts or at least get a balanced view instead of knocking the raising of the school leaving age.

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