HC Deb 01 May 1974 vol 872 cc1166-232
Mr. Speaker

I would point out to the House that a considerable number of hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. We have already taken up a good deal of the time of the business of the day—three-quarters of an hour. I hope that speeches will be reasonably short.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Because of your request, Mr. Speaker, and also because—as survivors, such as myself, of many education debates in this House know—our discussions on such a wide-ranging subject as education can, if we are not careful, become discursive, I shall attempt to be short—I understand that the Secretary of State for Education intends also to be brief, so that we shall not take up too much time of the House—and will concentrate my remarks on Circular 4/74. That document was recently issued by the Department of Education and Science and is headed "The Organisation of Secondary Education".

I begin by saying what this debate is not—at least as launched by the Conservative side of the House. This debate is not one of hostility or criticism in regard to the comprehensive system of education as such. I shall have certain things to say about that system, but I believe—I have long been on record as taking this view—that where a scheme is properly prepared and where, as it often does, it meets with widespread approval from administrators, teachers and parents alike there is much that is attractive in the comprehensive system of education. I believe—and this is not sufficiently said—that it can allow the able child access to a wider range of course and gives the late developer the opportunity to move from one type of course to another, If I had to identify the principal, though unintended, failure of the 1944 Education Act it would be that the rigidity of the system—this was not what its authors intended—permitted insufficient movement between one system and another. The comprehensive system permits such movement. There is an argument for showing that the less able child is given the opportunity to take advantage of the pull of the more able child, although in some cases I am a little anxious about the effects of the size on the less able child.

We know as a fact that under Conservative Governments and with Conservative local education authorities, in various parts of the country there are well-planned, effective and good comprehensive schools. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) when Secretary of State for Education and Science approved by far the greater number of schemes that came before her. She rejected only 9 per cent. of the schemes that came before her.—although one might not take this view if one reads many of the organs of opinion—and always because she rightly applied a highly critical faculty to each scheme.

I should like to make quite clear in opening that this is not a debate that is intended to be critical of the system which we generally call comprehensive. But it is one thing to be receptive to schemes that come forward from local education authorities and to welcome innovations, particularly where they are the product of careful local consultation, not least with the parent, but it is quite another matter to seek to impose by circular throughout the country a universal system of comprehensive schools and, in the process, to destroy—for this must be the intention—schools of every other type. That is the point of difference between Government and Opposition. I shall develop this point in the few minutes that I shall seek to detain the House.

I should like to give two examples of occasions where in the past we—and I refer to a corporate "we", that is to say, all of us who are interested in education—have got it wrong in this interesting experiment. First, I believe that when dealing with young people and with an evolving subject like education hon. Members on both sides of the House, and people throughout the educational world, should be prepared to show, and to retain, a certain humility. When I hear educationists of any kind, particularly party political educationists, say that they know it all, I begin to wince—and, refreshingly, the Secretary of State's own circular contains a certain admission of humility. When referring in his circular to local authorities—and no doubt he includes himself in his comment he speaks of the growing experience of the comprehensive schools. The right hon. Gentleman does not claim to know it all, and I think that he is right to take that view.

Let me illustrate two mistakes which we have made in the past. We made a mistake—I have said this before, and I say it again—when we took the view that a comprehensive school had to be large in size. Many people made this mistake, although at least I can claim not to have made it personally. A few years ago a statement such as that contained in Circular 4/74, namely It is not essential for a comprehensive school to be of very great size ", would have been a pretty controversial statement to make in debates in this House. We all know that when the Secretary of State issued the circular—and he knows as well as we do that we have access to draft circulars—he would have preferred to see something a little stronger in terms of size. I have never been clear why my good friends in the National Union of Teachers feel so defensive on the question of size.

The fact is that we have been proved wrong. Local authorities—I have London particularly in mind—which firmly believed that a comprehensive school had to be great in size no longer set out to build very large comprehensive schools. In general—and I shall not identify any school, for it would be unreasonable to do so in public—such large schools are susceptible to real social pressures which are causing great anxiety to people of all political persuasions and of none.

This tendency towards dogmatism is not confined to one side of the House. For example, there is a reference in paragraph 4 of the circular to schools with an age range of 11 to 16 which in a few cases have had their sixth form work combined with further education establishments. We can all think of some interesting examples.

I can well remember my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Education being strongly pressed to take the view that this was the new way forward. There was a fascinating experiment in Exeter—and I take that as an example without comment one way or the other—where the sixth form have been working in a college of further education. The fact is that until several school generations have gone through we do not know what will be the effect on the school from which the sixth form work is taken. My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley, when Secretary of State, firmly said that she would authorise up to a certain number but no more of such experiments until we had all had the opportunity of weighing up and testing the proposition before we started to impose it widely on a large number of people.

Let me take a second example. The Secretary of State includes in his possible methods of organisation of comprehensive schools an all-through system with an age range of 11 to 18. I do not think many local education authorities are keen on that type of organisation at present. I accept that a number adopt such a system, but if the right hon. Gentleman looks at proposals that are coming before him now he will see that there are a considerable number of people right across the political spectrum who have considerable doubts about the efficacy of an all-through 11 to 18 comprehensive school as opposed to some of those set out lower down in the circular. Therefore, in seeking to impose by circular and to destroy all other types of schools in the process the Secretary of State could be wrong. If he is wrong he will find that we cannot re-create the system which he has then destroyed.

Next, I meet head on the assumption underlying the circular that to be successful a comprehensive system must be a monopoly. Doubtless we shall argue this at length, and I trust that there will be contributions on it from back-bench Members on both sides of the House. But in a district which consists of a large catchment area and where there are good communications, I believe that it is educationally sound for the co-existence of two systems. That statement is not a defence of every grammar school, in every circumstance, of whatever standard it may be. But it is a rejection of the assertion, in the circumstances that I have set out, that it is necessary for there to be one system only for the success of the comprehensive principle. I draw attention to the way in which, in a number of areas that I have in mind, sixth-form work is being shared increasingly and the grammar school element is playing a very vital part in that sixth-form work.

Now I ask the Secretary of State a number of questions. He has more than once since taking office expressed his concern for the less able child. I share that concern. I think that probably for both of us—certainly for me—it is because we are both the product of the less able child. I should dearly like to have been a really fine academic brain. No doubt the Secretary of State would have, too. But the fact is that we are both pretty ordinary blokes. I was a late developer. Some of my hon. Friends think that the process has not yet gone very far. So I, too, have this inbuilt feeling towards the less able child, although I should love to have had a very fine academic mind.

Granted the concern of the Secretary of State, which I share, and granted his concern that we should not waste good, useful brains which possibly under the other system sometimes were not fully stretched and used, will not he agree with me that it is still vitally necessary that our education system should really stretch our brainy children?

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

Of course.

Mr. van Straubenzee

We need this. The hon. Gentleman will forgive my taking him up on this. I can recall fairly recently going round a school of the type that we are discussing and being shown everything that was excellent by way of ability of the hand. It was only when I pointed out that I had seen no book, no good physics, no geographers or historians, and that only someone as square and as old as I was would expect to see classicists that I was told that they did not think that I would be interested. I said that I was vitally interested in this aspect of education as well. One of the faults of the comprehensive system is that too often it appears to concentrate on the less able child when the essence of the scheme is that it should stretch the able child.

What research is there on the academic achievement of the comprehensive system? What are we able to deduce at this stage of our knowledge of the academic achievement of the able child in the comprehensive system? I believe that this would be a very helpful contribution to our discussions, especially when the Secretary of State is seeking to impose this system on all, regardless.

I come to my next question. What does the Secretary of State mean in paragraph 8 of the circular by "expediting the process" for examining, and so on, Section 13 proposals? Parliament has given the right hon. Gentleman a duty. I think of my former colleagues in the Department of Education and I think of the massive reading which no doubt the Under-Secretary of State is undertaking at present. I have no doubt that the same goes for Wales. But there is a statutory duty upon the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. People have rights. What does the Secretary of State mean in paragraph 8? What is the process of "expediting" that he has in mind?

Then I come to what is perhaps the most central question. There are some very ominous sounds in this circular about the voluntary-aided schools. It is said: In the case of voluntary-aided schools the governors cannot expect to continue to receive the substantial financial aid which their schools enjoy through being maintained by the local education authority, if they are not prepared to co-operate with that authority in settling the general educational character of the school and its place in a local comprehensive system. I ask the Secretary of State a direct question. If he is not in a position to give me the direct answer, I trust that he will arrange for his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales to do so. Precisely upon what power is the right hon. Gentleman relying for that assertion? What is his authority in the Education Act, as amended, for his assertion in paragraph 11 of the circular? Clearly, it does not refer to capital. The capital programme is in his hands. What is the power upon which he relies in relation to the recurrent expenditure of a voluntary aided school that puts him in a position to threaten, as he does in the circular, that if it does not conform he will turn off the financial tap?

In the view of a great many people there is here an important point of principle. The voluntary aided schools, whatever one's view of them, were a vital part of the 1944 settlement because a very large number of people considered that the religious ethos of those schools went far wider than the mere teaching of religion. It was part of the settlement of 1944, which is widely regarded as being one of the most successful achievements of this House and of a coalition Government. Coming recently from a part of the United Kingdom where this was a far more debated matter, I appreciate even more than before how important that settlement was.

It is arguable that the settlement should be changed. But it is unacceptable to seek to change the basis of the settlement by a circular and not by legislation.

I ask the Secretary of State to spell out with care and precision how it will be done. Let us assume that he has a local education authority compliant to his wishes. What precisely will the step be to remove from the erring voluntary aided school its recurrent expenditure? On what power does the right hon. Gentleman rely? What power has he to force a local education authority which does not wish to do so to proceed to act in that way in relation to voluntary aided schools in its own area?

Next, what precisely does the right hon. Gentleman intend shall be included in his statement in paragraph 13 that he does not propose to include in future building programmes any project which is not necessary to enable the school to become comprehensive? Does that ban in his mind include minor works?

Let me illustrate what I mean. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, without additional money, there are substantial numbers of grammar schools and secondary modern schools which will continue for as long as we can foresee, because we have not the cash. We know it. We know that the Lord President of the Council told us that the cost of going fully comprehensive was "astronomical", and he was right. Therefore, he knows that for as long as he can reasonably foresee he must continue with them if such a school—a secondary modern or a grammar school—seeks an addition in some of the new areas where so much has been done in teaching.

Let us consider the example of a language laboratory, or, increasingly common—in the language of the computer—the terminal that so many secondary modern schools are using successfully, linked to the local technical college, for instance, and for which an addition may be necessary. Other examples are some of the very much more rarefied manual skills—silversmithing and so on—that are such a feature of much of our educational work today.

Is all that to fall by the wayside? Is the secondary modern or the grammar school to do so? I realise that at the moment minor works stand at £50,000 maximum per school, but that figure will not always necessarily be sufficient. Is the Minister saying that if in the foreseeable future it is not possible for a school—for example, the small secondary modern schools in Manchester—to build on the site in order automatically to go comprehensive, or to work towards being comprehensive, it is to be penalised? We need careful analysis of precisely what he has in mind.

I referred on a previous occasion to this circular as one without teeth. The Secretary of State did me the credit and kindness of having apparently read my speech, because he referred to it. I said that it had no teeth first because it has no cash. The right hon. Gentleman is a Secretary of State without cash. Let him consider what one could do on May Day with the £10 million being given back to the trade unions, which were not expecting to receive it, and which, with a little legal expertise, could easily have avoided paying tax on their provident funds. We could have improved or replaced 80 primary schools with that cash, and I can see the previous Secretary of State being firmly in the demanding queue when there is some cash.

Secondly, the power under which the Secretary of State is seeking to operate in connection with voluntary aided schools is suspect. I believe that it is suspect because he does not have the power to do that which he is threatening to do to the voluntary aided schools. I object strongly to the Government threatening when Parliament has not given them the power so to act.

Therefore, my message to local education authorities and to the governors of voluntary aided schools is "Do not allow yourselves to be bullied; you still have your rights given to you by Parliament, and if no one else will ensure that you still have them, the Opposition will do so by constant and careful watchfulness from this side of the House".

That is the division between the Government and the Opposition. It is the division of the imposition by circular of a comprehensive system which by definition destroys all else. That is why we have raised the subject and why we shall continue to press it with vigour.

4.38 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reg Prentice)

I welcome the Opposition's choice to debate education on this Supply Day, and I give them the assurance that they will always be supported by the Government when they choose to do so. I especially welcome the opportunity to have a debate concentrated on Circular 4/47. However, when the Opposition initiate a debate of this kind they underline their own weakness on this subject. They underline the fact that the Conservative Party, over the past 10 to 20 years, has had no official policy on comprehensive secondary education.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) said at the beginning of his speech—when the tone was a little more reasonable than at the end, a little less militant—that he was not advancing criticism or hostility towards the comprehensive principle. However, as soon as a Labour Government begin to do something to implement the comprehensive principle the Conservative Opposition say, "Do not do it". We had almost precisely the same debate in 1965. The only way in which the Conservative Opposition have moved on since 1965 is that then they divided the House on the issue but today they do not intend to do so. Otherwise, the Opposition Front Bench is adopting exactly the same posture.

Throughout the country many Conservatives involved in education have become advocates of comprehensive principles, and many Conservative-led authorities have been going comprehensive. They have done so without any encouragement or leadership from the Conservative Government recently in office, with a neutral posture being struck by the Conservative Party nationally, in or out of office—neutral in the sense that it said it had nothing against going comprehensive but that it will never encourage any positive steps from the central Government towards going comprehensive.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

Would my right hon. Friend say that the Tory Government had definitely discouraged councils from going comprehensive?

Mr. Prentice

My hon. Friend says "discouraged". It depends whom we listen to. The hon. Member for Wokingham struck a very different note from that of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) when she spoke in the debate on London affairs two days ago. She then made a speech much more hostile to the concept of comprehensive reorganisation.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

There is nothing neutral in members of the Opposition saying that they will not be a party to destroying schools of proven worth which have stood the test of time, as my grammar school has, for over 500 years.

Mr. Prentice

The hon. Lady has lined up clearly against comprehensive secondary organisation, and in that she speaks for some members of the Conservative Party who take that view. But she will find many Conservatives in local education authorities with great experience of education taking a different view. It is a simple political fact that, because the Conservative Party is so divided on this issue, the leadership fudges it, as it has consistently done over the years, and in the debate this afternoon.

In her attack on the circular two days ago, the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley used the following sentence: Education is about opportunity, and opportunity is the opportunity to be unequal."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th April 1974 ; Vol. 872, c. 809.] I wish to discuss that for a moment. Because of that speech and the comments of the hon. Member a moment ago, it is necessary for the Government to reassert their commitment to secondary reorganisation.

The phrase "the opportunity to be unequal", to me, includes the opportunity for boys or girls who are good at one subject but poor at other subjects to be in a school where they can do advanced work in their good subject and work with pupils who proceed more slowly on other subjects, and such boys or girls not to be shut off from that opportunity by an artificial test at 10 or 11 years of age. The opportunities we are talking about are the opportunities for late developers—as the hon. Gentleman said, for the ordinary "blokes" who, very often, have failed tests of that kind at the age of 10 or 11, but by the age of 13 or 14 are able to achieve in education results that were not thought possible at the earlier age.

We should be concerned also with the opportunity of those boys and girls whose talents cross the normal boundaries between grammar school and modern school education. We should be concerned, for example, with the boy who is good at mathematics and good at metal work, the kind of boy who will be the technician or technologist of the next generation. One of the reasons why British industry has been so short of people with these skills, and is still short of them, is that the education system has tended to divide people into those who do academic work and those who do practical work. I want the bright boy or the bright girl, as well as the slower ones to have the opportunity to combine practical subjects with academic subjects when it is appropriate.

To come to another category—this touches directly on the point made by the hon. Gentleman about the need for stretching people of ability—I shall refer to a conversation I had at a comprehensive school in London about eight or nine years ago when I was a junior Minister at the Department of Education and Science.

The head boy of that school was deputed to show me round, without any staff present. Walking across the playground, he told me what a wonderful thing comprehensive secondary education was. I tried to act the part of devil's advocate. I was speaking to a boy who—I put it in inverted commas—had "failed" the 11-plus but by the age of 18 had passed a number of A-levels and had obtained a scholarship to Cambridge. I said to him "You have obviously worked hard, but in this school have you found it discouraging to be among people who did not want to work, who were anxious to leave school? Did you find it distracting? Would you have rather been in a school where most of the pupils were academically inclined? ". He said "No. I want to go into industry. I hope to be a manager, and I am glad to have had the chance to be brought up among a cross-section of my generation. I am sorry for my friends in grammar school because they have not had as rich an experience in school as I have had in the past few years."

That boy and boys and girls like him have not been discouraged from excellent academic work. When the hon. Member for Wokingham talks about academic achievement, I ask him to look at the growth in O-level and A-level results in recent years. This is a crude test, of course, but if he wants to talk about academic attainment, it is one rough and ready way of recognising the growth in the number of boys and girls staying on at school to do more advanced academic work and achieving satisfactory results.

The results in comprehensive schools have been at least as good as, if not better than, those in grammar schools. It has been happening in those local education areas which have gone completely comprehensive as it has been happening in those areas which have not. It has been happening in Scotland, which is more than 90 per cent. comprehensive, and in Wales, which is more than 80 per cent. comprehensive, at least as well as in England, which is less than 50 per cent. comprehensive.

There is no evidence to bring to the House to suggest that in the comprehensive secondary school there are not academic achievements which stand comparison with any other part of the system.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

The Secretary of State has been confining his remarks to selection at 11-plus, but is he not on record as saying that he is not in favour of selection at any age, either 16-plus or more? Will he explain—this is a vital point—what implications that has for our university and college system? Does he intend to change the system of entry to non-selective entry into higher education?

Mr. Prentice

No, I do not. What I was saying at that time was that I believe that to abolish selection at 11-plus is just the first step. We should take further steps, as many parts of the country have already done, to abolish any form of selection, at 12-plus or 13-plus. As the hon. Member knows from his experience, some systems have moved a step along the comprehensive road by introducing some kind of selection, semi-selection, or guided parental choice at the age of 13 and so on.

I should like to see the sixth form, as it is in so many places already, a community into which boys and girls can go to take a variety of courses—not necessarily A-level courses—for which they have to compete for a place by taking a certain number of O-levels. That is what I meant, and I think that that view would be shared by the majority of people who have taken a close interest in this subject.

The circular was issued after a period of consultation with the local education authorities, the teachers' organisations and the churches. It should be recognised by the Opposition that the policy presented in the circular represents the broad stream of opinion among all groups concerned with education. I do not mean that everybody we consulted agreed with every detail—of course not—but the broad agreement with the policy was clear. In issuing the circular, we took account of their criticism and suggestions, and altered several points to meet criticism which seemed to us valid. It is a joint circular from the DES and the Welsh Office, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales will speak later for Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland issued a circular at the same time.

I concede the point, as I said in reply to an earlier intervention, that England has a long way to catch up with both Wales and Scotland in the extent to which those countries have already reorganised on comprehensive lines.

To deal with some specific points, I take, first, the size of the schools. In the circular, we say that we cannot be dogmatic about the right size for a secondary school. I thought that the hon. Member for Wokingham was not being fair to large schools. I believe that there are many large comprehensive schools which have attained a considerable degree of success. Size presents extra problems—problems of management and problems of keeping contact with pupils. There is a need for a devolution of authority so that there is some senior master or mistress whose relationship with the individual pupil can be parallel to that of the head teacher in a smaller school.

Many schools have managed to cope with those problems. Some of the schools most admired on the Conservative benches are very large schools. Winchester and Eton and Manchester Grammar School are very large schools. Hon. Members should not suggest that a large school is necessarily bad because it is large. We are saying that in order to have an all-through comprehensive school it need not be as large as it was assumed it had to be when these matters were discussed some years ago. Because of the larger proportion of pupils staying on to the sixth form, a school of smaller size than previously can maintain a viable sixth form. There is a greater element of choice here than once appeared to be the case.

As for the main types of the organisation, what was identified in the circular is that three patterns have emerged as those which are considered most successful and which are chosen by the largest number of authorities. They are the all-through 11 to 18 pattern, the 11 to 16 school, with a separate sixth-form college, or a pattern which includes a middle school, from the age of 8 to 12 or 9 to 13, with an upper school for senior pupils. We are not specifying which of these should be preferred. There are also other alternatives, and we are prepared to look at all of them.

It seemed to us that this is the right relationship between national and local government in this matter. We have reiterated that education is a partnership between the two. It seems to us correct that national policy should be identified —in the way in which we have identified it in the circular—with the determination to move as quickly as possible away from selection and towards a fully comprehensive system. But the pattern of doing it and the types of schools in which it is done are properly a matter for choice by the local education authority in thorough consultation with the teachers' organisations and with parents and other groups in the local community.

The hon. Member for Wokingham said there was a humility in approaching these matters. I will compete with him in humility any time. But I will not have so much humility that we never have a national policy of any kind. The Government have defined in the circular what they believe to be the right national policy—and progress must be made by one or other method towards a comprehensive system.

No Government of this country hither-to, either Labour or Conservative, have been able to allocate special resources for secondary reorganisation. It would be much better if we could do so, but we have not done so. But despite the fact that it has not been done, local education authorities throughout the country have made considerable progress and have used their existing building programmes, adapting their schools in the process of change so as to go comprehensive as quickly as possible. This is one reason why there is an uneven progress, but, nevertheless, progress has been made, and I believe that progress can be made in the future without the allocation of special resources. If special resources were available, no one would be happier than I, but I do not see them being available in the near future.

Turning to future building programmes, the hon. Member asked whether the paragraph in the circular about not permitting building programmes for selective schools covered minor works. That is not so. Minor works are in the control of the local education authorities. The Government would not agree to building projects to build new schools that would be selective, or building projects for an existing selective school that would perpetuate it being selective. It would agree only to building projects in existing schools that were consistent with going towards a comprehensive pattern. This is not a new power, for it has been used before. It is a valid power and is certainly within our authority. Our policy would not be meaningful unless we were prepared to use the building programme in that way.

May I say a word about the problem of voluntary schools, beginning by agreeing with the hon. Member when he said that he thought that the 1944 settlement was a good settlement and one that should be preserved. I completely agree with that. One basic reason why this country has been free from religious strife as it affects education is that we have had that settlement and that, in so far as the details of it have been amended over the years, those details have generally been amended by agreement between the political parties, and this has not been a matter of controversy.

What am I saying in the circular about the voluntary sector? First, I pay tribute to the extent of progress towards comprehensive reorganisation within the voluntary sector. I also acknowledge that in many cases the governors of voluntary schools have wanted to go comprehensive and have been prevented from doing so by the hostile policy of certain local education authorities. I am therefore speaking on the side of the voluntary sector against some local education authorities in this matter. But if the boot is on the other foot, if there is a situation in which a local education authority has a programme for going comprehensive and if the voluntary schools in that area want to stand out against it, two points emerge. If it is a controlled school in which the local authority has the majority on the governing body, we are simply pointing out what is perhaps a fairly obvious point—that the council members sitting on that governing body can reasonably be expected to represent the views of the local education authority and to see that a comprehensive pattern is accepted by that particular school.

But if it is an aided school in which the local government representatives are not in the majority, we are saying that the LEA cannot be expected to maintain that school indefinitely if it is trying to stand out against a policy approved by the elected representatives of the people of that area. Those elected representatives cannot be expected to impose upon the people of that area rates which will be used to oppose the policy which has been agreed.

As to the procedures, it would be up to a local education authority in that situation, under Section 13 of the 1944 Act, to propose to cease to maintain that school. That is the answer to the question raised by the hon. Member. I would envisage this happening occasionally in situations particularly where a declining population in the area made it possible for the local education authority to think in terms of providing alternative school places for the pupils in such a school if it sought to close the school. I hope that this will not happen often, but I think it is right to draw attention to the possibility that it would happen. I believe that the fact that I have done it in this circular may be of some help to some LEAs which feel that their plans have been obstructed by the voluntary sector.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Is the Secretary of State saying that he would regard it as an essential requisite of his agreement—and his agreement is necessary, is it not, to a Section 13 procedure?—that the local authority should be able to show that it has alternative places of educating the children from the voluntary school that it is proposed to close?

Mr. Prentice

It is extremely unlikely in any case that any responsible local education authority would propose to close a school without making alternative plans for the pupils concerned. Indeed, authorities have a statutory duty in these matters. Therefore, I think that the question would be answered before it ever reached my desk. But certainly I would regard it as essential that there were alternative places available for the children. That has to be so.

May I comment on the powers that we are operating in the circular? The hon. Member seemed to be suggesting at one time—and a good deal of comment from Conservative sources seemed to suggest—that somehow or other we are acting improperly and in excess of the authority that we have under the statutes. That is not so. The circular was prepared with expert legal advice. Everything we propose to do in this connection is within the framework of the existing law. I have also made clear, and I underline it again, that we keep open the option of asking Parliament for further powers if and when they are necessary. Whether they will be necessary remains to be seen.

This debate takes place against the background in which the pattern of local government in this country has just been changed. The majority of local education authorities in England and Wales have just taken over their functions. Nearly all of them now cover areas which have begun the process of comprehensive reorganisation to a greater or lesser extent. There is a tremendous variation, and I am worried about those authorities which have shown no signs in the recent past of making further progress. But at least the process has begun.

In reply to those who urge me to legislate—and many have done so—I ask them to wait a little while to see how things work out. This is a firm statement of national policy. Therefore, the Government keep open the option of coming to Parliament to ask for further legislative powers if necessary.

Meanwhile, every local education authority received the circular about two weeks ago. It will be followed in the next few days by a letter from the Department asking them to let us have their plans for progress as soon as possible, certainly not later than the end of this year.

Some local authorities whose plans were rejected by the previous administration are resubmitting those proposals or are actively considering new proposals which they will put before us. When we came to office a number of plans had been in the pipeline. I am bound to say that some of them had been in the pipeline for a very long time, and in some cases there were quite extraordinary delays in deciding these matters by the last administration.

Since the Government have been in office, in the past two months, we have approved plans for 18 local education authorities, which will lead to the reorganisation on comprehensive lines of 48 schools in different parts of the country. In two cases we have rejected plans from Westmorland and Buckinghamshire, where the local proposals would have perpetuated selection. In one case we have rejected comprehensive plans we thought were unsound. I mention that because we keep that option open, too. We do not automatically approve every plan. We judge each plan on its merits, considering carefully the objections. We get the observations of the local education authority on those objections, and in every case we give the plans the careful consideration that they deserve.

We seek as rapid as possible constructive change towards a fully comprehensive system. The arguments for it are overwhelmingly educational arguments. However, speaking as a social democrat. I believe that they are social arguments, too. I believe that the inequalities in our society and the degree of class consciousness that remains in our society are due in part at least to the pecking order of our education system. This is not to say that the Government should put social engineering ahead of educational arguments. It is to say that the powerful educational arguments are reinforced for those of us on this side of the House by our desire to create a more just and egalitarian society. Those arguments, as well as the educational arguments, should and must be used in favour of our policy.

The background is that in our country at present thousands of pupils in secondary schools have benefited from progress towards secondary reorganisation in recent years. What worries me, and should worry everybody in this House, is that thousands of other boys and girls of the same age and of similar abilities are still denied those opportunities. The House should think of those thousands of boys and girls when we debate these matters.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

This is my first Parliament, and I hope that it will not be my last. I have no reason to think that it will be—now ; but, if it is, I should like to know that I had at least spoken in a debate in this House on the subject of education, because the future of Britain depends in every sense upon the plans that we make now for the education of our children.

As this is my first speech, it is also my first opportunity to talk about my division —Burton. Burton lies, as some hon. Members may know, in the very heart of England. It comprises about 300 square miles of half town, half country, and is a generous mix of all that is best in Britain. At present it is representative, too, of much of the suffering in Britain. There is the stout farmer, taking his underpriced beef, milk and pigs to Uttoxeter market. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have suffered from or praised the stout jockey who has cleared, or fallen at, the sticks at Uttoxeter racecourse. There is the stout country ratepayer, who is now paying inflated town rates for country services, and there is the stout—ah! yes, the stout—and the ale of Burton town.

As the poet A. E. Housman wrote: Say, for what were hop-yards meant: Or why was Burton built on Trent? Oh many a peer of England brews livelier liquor than the Muse, And malt does more than Milton can To justify God's ways to man. Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink For fellows whom it hurts to think: Look into the pewter pot To see the world as the world's not. And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past: The mischief is that 'twill not last. But the Burton constituency is famous not only for its beer, markets, racecourse, Tutbury glass, Branston pickle—though I think that that has gone somewhere else—Marmite, Bovril, Pirelli tyres, its JCB factory but also for its three grammar schools—Burton Grammar School for Boys, Burton High School for girls and the Dovecliffe Grammar School.

Hon. Members will have already heard of the record of academic success and achievement of these three schools from my revered predecessor, John Jennings. I doubt whether, in recent years, the House has had a more tenacious fighter for the cause of grammar schools. I doubt whether it has had a more staunch or valiant fighter for the causes that he believes to be right. It certainly brought him no wealth, nor patronage here—though he did credit to the position of Chairman of Committees, about which I have heard so much praise—but it brought him honour and great respect in Burton, which he served so selflessly for nearly 20 years before his retirement. It is largely out of respect for all that he did for education in Burton, for his ceaseless fight to maintain not only the grammar schools but the independent schools and the village schools, that I have thought it proper to make my maiden speech on this subject.

I should perhaps declare an interest. I am a little hesitant about it. Since entering the House all I have heard has been talk of the disclosing of interests. I do not know whether it is of interest to hon. Members that I am the product of a grammar school and, therefore, I suppose, yet another "ordinary bloke", although recently I have also been the governor of a comprehensive school.

In case hon. Members opposite fear that in speaking about grammar schools as I take my first poor fledgling steps in oratory in the House I shall commit the cardinal sin of party controversy and launch into an attack upon a Labour Government whose declared aim is to abolish the grammar schools and substitute a completely comprehensive system of education throughout the country, I shall try to allay that fear. I seek to make no party points. I seek only to make an educational point, that it is in neither the long-term nor the short-term interests of this country to destroy grammar schools, or indeed, any other schools, that are presently providing high quality education. We cannot afford the money necessary to create new schemes of quality and we cannot afford the academic disruption that would be caused.

If I should fall into the error of any controversy, let me assure Labour Members that my criticisms would be equally strongly levelled against those of my hon. Friends who would seek to hurry or provoke the demise of quality grammar schools in the name of the sacred but quite barren cow of egalitarian progress.

I wish to make three short points in favour of the retention of the grammar school system. I am conscious that some other points have been raised by the Secretary of State, and I can leave those to my hon. Friends to deal with.

The first point is about quality. Surely educational progress without at the same time educational quality is a contradiction in terms. If standards are to fall, what on earth is the point of progress? We know that we all want wider opportunities for more children. We know that we all want wider curricula, but never at the cost of quality. Do we get quality from comprehensive schools? Of course we do, from time to time, but we get it more often from grammar schools. We get it from those grammar schools that remain, otherwise they would not remain. It is because quality comes from something which my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) has frequently spoken about—that is, evolutionary growth. It is the result of a closer relationship that appears in those schools between pupil and master. It is a result of the traditions of the schools. It comes from the roots. Quality is so much more often the product of evolutionary change. It is far less often a product of revolutionary change.

I could, I am sure, prove the point by comparing the examination results of the grammar schools in my division, the discipline of the grammar schools, the truancy level at the grammar schools, and the social behaviour of the grammar school children in my division, with some of the same aspects of the comprehensive schools. But that might bore the House, so I will not risk it. That is my first point—quality.

My second is about facilities. In a perfect society, with unlimited money, perfect facilities for study could be produced, but they seldom are in our society as it exists at present. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) rejected the local authorities' proposals to abolish Burton's grammar schools she observed that three out of four of the proposed new comprehensive schools would have to function on split sites. One of the schools would have to function on three split sites. Even the local authority's reply conceded that two out of five would have to operate on split sites. How on earth is that conducive to learning?

In one of the Burton comprehensive schools, the daughter of a constituent of mine had to study metalwork, while her brother in another form in the comprehensive school had to study needlework. That arises from the exigencies of the present economic situation. With the best will in the world, it is no use laying out plans for comprehensive education if a boy of academic ability is forced to study needlework.

Also, this is a time when we are rightly complaining about over-full classes and of inadequate opportunities for schooling. My three Burton grammar schools have reduced their intake, leaving staff underemployed and their facilities under-used. At this time, what on earth is the use of that?

So my second point is that the grammar school system at present offers facilities which the comprehensive system as envisaged does not—in the short term, at any rate.

My third point concerns choice. We are concerned always—and rightly concerned—about the will of the people. I have heard about practically nothing else since I came into this House. In Burton town, with an electorate of 36,500 people, 14,000 signed petitions to retain the grammar schools, and those 14,000 signatures were collected in August and September when probably nearly half of the population were away on holiday. Over 80 per cent. of those who were asked whether they were interested in signing a petition to keep the grammar school said "Yes". They chose to retain, not only the grammar schools, but the choice of single-sex education which was to be taken from them by comprehensive schools. When it is within the law to do so, is not the production of such a petition and the giving effect to it the best example of democracy at work? Should not the will of the people be respected more? Does not such a test of the will of the people merit the support of all hon. Members?

I know the argument that says, "Where is the choice for those who are not privileged to send their children to a grammar school?" But it is a feeble argument. Choice for the under-privileged is not bought by destroying the choice of the privileged, any more than the fatuous argument for redistributing the wealth of the rich, that it is likely to increase the wealth of the mass of the people. I do not want anybody to make a class point here. The Secretary of State spoke about the inequalities of the system which, he said, was one of the reasons he was advancing comprehensive education. In Burton town it is more often the children of the working class families who are at present enjoying the privilege of grammar school education.

The Secretary of State gave an example—remember, I am speaking about choice—of the comprehensive school boy who said that he felt sorry for the grammar school boy, because the grammar school boy did not get the opportunities that he got. That is good. Nobody on this side of the House, surely, says that that is a bad thing. What we are asking for is the choice of a parent to choose to send a child to a comprehensive or technical school, or to a grammar school, if one exists and is functioning well in the area. It is that choice which is being removed by the comprehensive proposals of the Government.

Those are my three points, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the poet that I quoted earlier said: Look into the pewter pot To see the world as the world's not. And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past: The mischief is that 'twill not last. Just as the drinker—I do not suppose that anybody in the House knows what I mean—knows that the alcoholic haze will not last, so it is my fervent hope that the educational haze will not last and that the time will come soon when the only question that politicians will ask in deciding whether to destroy a school that is good in order to build another one consistent with some ideological scheme for the long-term future is, "Which school will provide a better education for our children?"

5.19 p.m.

Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar (Belper)

It is my agreeable duty to compliment the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on his thoughtful and, indeed, literate maiden speech. It is a particular pleasure since the hon. Member is a constituent of mine and represents the constituency just across the River Trent from my own. I take this opportunity of undertaking that if he has any problems with this Government and comes and sees me, I shall do my very best on his behalf. I am sure that the House will listen with interest to his future contributions on this subject.

I have often wondered why a maiden speech is regarded as such a daunting venture, when even the greenest Member of this House, before entering it, must have made dozens, perhaps hundreds of speeches. Now that I rise to undergo this initiation ceremony myself, I understand what the problem is. There is not here the friendly table of the political platform behind which one can shelter. There is not the lectern of the lecture room on which one can lean. One is subjected to full frontal exposure to hon. Gentlemen opposite, and every twitch and mannerism is closely observed. I notice that some hon. Members take the precaution of adopting a certain protective stance towards the other side of the House so as to expose less of their frame to the Opposition.

We maiden speakers have a stronger protection. We have the indulgence of this House if we undertake to be uncontroversial. Yet, on scanning the pages of HANSARD, I find that neither of my two predecessors—the two Members who have represented Belper since the last war—observed this convention. If I, too, seem to be following the Belper tradition I hope that hon. Members opposite will not think that I am presuming on their good nature. Though they may disagree with some of the things I shall say, I assure them that my arguments are directed mainly to my right hon. Friends and are, I regret, unlikely to have relevance in the present Parliament.

For the moment let me abide by that other very civilised House of Commons tradition—that of complimenting one's predecessors—a tradition which I suppose grew out of the realisation that it is sweet indeed to both praise and bury one's opponent at the same time. Geoffrey Stewart-Smith was an independent-minded Member who was not afraid to flout his party line, be it on miners' pay or foreign affairs. In fact, in one exchange which we had in the columns of the local newspaper on the subject of the then Conservative Foreign Secretary's trip to China, it became apparent that my views were closer than Geoffrey Stewart-Smith's to the then Conservative Foreign Secretary's views. In case the right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir A. Douglas-Home) derives comfort from this revelation when he reads my speech in HANSARD, let me warn him that the only conclusion that readers of that newspaper could have drawn from the controversy was that the aforesaid right hon. Member for Kinross and West Perthshire was, in fact, a Left-wing intellectual.

Geoffrey Stewart-Smith has a considerable knowledge of foreign affairs and I hope that he will again have a chance to display it in this House, but based in some safe Conservative seat and not in Belper. Belper—as my predecessor's predecessor stated in 1970—was "on loan" and, having proved Lord George-Brown right, may I extend the normal tradition and pay a tribute to him also because in Belper his name and his works are still fondly remembered.

Only a month ago I was present at the formal opening of the Belper High School, and a Conservative councillor who played a major part in founding the school paid tribute to Lord George-Brown's rôle. He said that he had been informed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, then the Secretary of State for Education and Science, that George had come into his room, pounded his desk demanding cash for the Belper High School at a time when cash was virtually unavailable, and my right hon. Friend finally gave in for fear that his desk would be shattered.

All of this brings me, in the carefully contrived manner beloved of maiden speakers, to the subject of this debate. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will pay a visit to my constituency to see the Belper High School which marks, incidentally, the ending of the 11-plus in that part of Derbyshire, because it is not only impressive academically, but also is designed as an integral part of the life of the town of Belper. It has a sports centre that will serve swimmers and games players of all ages.

On that visit I would take him also to some of the other fine schools in the constituency, including the Pingle school in Swadlincote, which, I believe, is the first in the country to have a special unit for mentally retarded children as an integral part of the school. Next September when a sixth-form unit is also added to that school—the first sixth-form unit in the deep south of Derbyshire—the Pingle school will then cater for the fullest possible range of talent amongst children.

On that visit I should also want to show my right hon. Friend the village school at Walton which I visited last weekend. For years a new school has been promised to that village, but it has never been built. For economic reasons the building has been postponed yet again. It is now virtually impossible to get into the classrooms once the children have been crowded in.

In my constituency there is in addition one of the great public schools of this country, which I visited last weekend as well. It is a school similar to an establishment that I attended. Since becoming a Member of this House I have been struck by how much the atmosphere sometimes resembles that of a public school. I was astonished, when walking in procession to the other place, to be greeted with shouts of. "Take your hands out of your pockets." There is, too, the quaint emphasis on marks of status and rank. Let us take the Front Bench. In big debates there is not room for all of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are Ministers to sit upon it. A few modestly retire comfortably to the second bench. But far more are to be seen lurking behind, squatting beside, indeed leaning upon your seat, Mr. Deputy Speaker, presumably in order to avoid any suspicion that they belong to any bench other than the Front Bench.

I have a modest suggestion to make, the origins of which Mr. Speaker himself would recognise, namely, that it should be reckoned a privilege for Front Bench Members, on entering the Chamber, to be allowed to turn up the collars of their jackets. Thus attired they could sit comfortably anywhere in the Chamber without losing caste in the sight of their fellow Members. However, as the House will realise, that is not the main issue I wish to raise. Nor do I wish to go into all the arguments against the public schools.

As I said earlier, my purpose is not to debate with hon. Members opposite but to make comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science who, I am sure, is persuaded of the arguments against the public school system. I remind my right hon. Friend, however, of the judgment of the Newsom Commission set up under the previous Labour Government to examine the public school system. It said: The public schools are not divisive simply because they are exclusive. An exclusive institution becomes divisive when it arbitrarily confers upon its members advantages and powers over the rest of society. It was the statistics of the Newsom Commission that demonstrated that the public schools do confer such advantages upon their pupils. If that is so, and if my right hon. Friend accepts the findings of the Newsom Commission, why is it that successive Labour Governments have proved so dilatory about doing anything to implement our stated desire—and I quote? …to abolish fee-paying schools and to bring all children of compulsory school age into the national education system"? I applaud my right hon. Friend's determination, re-stated this afternoon, to introduce comprehensive schools throughout the country. But I hope for signs of action in respect of the private sector. In his speech during the Budget debate, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) warned that the Budget heralded the twilight of the middle class."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st April 1974, Vol. 871, c. 1000.] What was interesting about that Spenglerian phrase was its Marxist underpinning—if the economic basis of the middle class is destroyed, the middle class will cease to exist. Whatever the economic impact of the Budget, I believe this premise to be false but, unfortunately, I am not sure that all my right hon. and hon. Friends are sure that it is false. The fact is that class divisions in this country are perpetuated not just by income differentials, though of course those are great and ought to be reduced, but by social differentials which derive from the two-nation idea which the public school system has fostered and which now permeates British society.

Recently in Hamburg I asked a group of leading German businessmen what reasons they gave for Britain's failure to develop her economy. Their immediate answer, agreed by all members of the group, had nothing to do with those hardy perennials, trade union militancy and the inefficiencies of British salesmen abroad. The immediate answer was that Britain is too widely split by the class harrier, that the class differences in Britain could be spotted immediately one got off the plane at Heathrow. Those Germans pointed out that the exigencies of defeat in two world wars had resulted in the virtual extinction of the old social class differences in Germany and that had made it easier for people to unite and rebuild the shattered German economy. Such, unfortunately, is not the case in Britain.

Today, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House call for national unity to enable Britain to tackle its economic problems—a call that is echoed throughout the country. But we shall never get national unity while we retain an educational system that perpetuates archaic social divisions. It is no good my right hon. Friend saying that the integration of public schools into the private sector will be very costly and that it will starve other educational sectors of funds. I am as concerned as the next hon. Member to have money for education in my constituency so that that long-postponed village school in Walton can finally be built. But the problem of the public schools system is not fundamentally an educational one; it is a social problem and the cost of the integration process should not be borne out of educational funds.

The integration of the private sector into the State system should be seen as an essential part of our social strategy for a more equal nation and should, therefore, receive a priority that no Labour Government have yet accorded it. I am convinced that however successful my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in redistributing wealth, the truly dangerous divisions within our society today will remain so long as the social barrier to national unity, fostered by the public school system, remains.

5.33 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

It gives me enormous pleasure to congratulate two maiden speakers who, I understand, are neighbours. Their constituencies march side by side. I had the opportunity of looking in The Times book a moment ago and read that the hon. Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) was educated at Fettes, Oxford and Harvard, while my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) was educated, he tells us, at a grammar school. To be political for a moment, that is the best argument for abolishing public schools I have heard in a long time.

But I am told by my hon. Friend that they had a joint deputation about a bridge and our two colleagues met in the centre of the bridge, both armed with petitions but, as the bridge was unsafe and started to sway, they had to move off quickly to avoid two by-elections. We are fortunate that those by-elections were avoided and I hope that we shall hear a lot more from both of them as the Session advances.

I shall be brief, because we have a half-day debate on education and many Members wish to speak. First, I was glad to hear from the Secretary of State—he is not in his place at present, but perhaps he will read HANSARD to find out what the Opposition have to say—that he puts education before social engineering and equality. In his speech on Monday night, he mentioned the remarks by Mr. Ronald Butt in the Sunday Times, and perhaps they struck home.

As he is putting education before equality and social engineering, he will possibly pay attention to the dilemma that I believe faces 11 to 18 all-through comprehensive schools in London and, indeed, in other urban centres. But I can speak with conviction of London, especially South London. It is of this dilemma that I wish to speak.

The dimension of the difficulties facing both discipline and the standard of education in our big comprehensive schools is only now starting to be realised. For some years the Inner London Education Authority has, rightly or wrongly, paid little attention to, or has disregarded, the problem of discipline.

I should like to draw attention to an interesting booklet that I received recently, "Violence in Schools", a survey published by our friends in the National Association of Schoolmasters, a reputable body. The booklet refers to the conclusions drawn from a survey of 1,300 or 1,400 schools throughout the country. In the foreword, the Secretary, Mr. Casey, states: If the lurid fantasies of imminent blackboard jungles are dispelled, solid facts support the view that violence and indiscipline have already reached intolerable levels in more than a few schools. If the laudatory remarks made by the Secretary of State about his visit to Newham last week are right, then I can only ask him to visit some of the schools in areas with which I am well acquainted. Indeed, I will mention one school which was referred to on Monday and has been named in the Press. Many of us are aware of the problems at Tulse Hill. Indeed, the headmaster of a neighbouring school recently told me that one of his masters saw a stranger in his class. He upbraided the pupil and asked, "Where do you come from?" The pupil replied, "I come from Tulse Hill, Sir. Oh, do let me stay. The classes are so nice and quiet here." This is a grave difficulty.

I turn now to educational standards. I understand that we shall soon be re- ceiving the report on literacy. Perhaps we shall then have some firm information on which to base our judgments. However, the parents to whom I have spoken—and this may be an issue in the elections which are to take place tomorrow—are becoming seriously concerned about the standard of education of many pupils in the large 11 to 18 all-through comprehensive schools.

This brings me to the dilemma that I want to spell out. The educational idea behind the large comprehensive school was theoretically sound: that in order to have sufficient sixth-form teaching options—say, 15 to 20 options for the sixth-form—we need a sixth-form of between 100 and 120 more-or-less academic students. To generate a sixth form of that size in London we need a school of least 1,200 students, preferably 1,500 or 2,000, to support the number of teachers required to cover all the options. That is why the country moved to this system of large schools. My friends and I—I am speaking of the Conservatives on the Inner London Education Authority—again and again said: "We may have problems that we do not expect from this type of school. So let us go slowly."

Children in deprived areas of big cities need to he well taught. They need to feel that they belong to a school. Therefore, they need a disciplined structure in their school. But we know what is happening, for instance, to the teachers in London schools. On Monday night a figure of 30 per cent. turnover of teachers was mentioned in Inner London. How can we have a disciplined structure and integration with that kind of turnover of teachers? It is extremely difficult. That is why I believe that within a decade we may be looking back at these vast comprehensive schools with the same distaste as today we look back at the tower blocks that were built with such pride by so many councils 10 or 15 years ago.

I was interested to read in a Press notice issued by the Inner London Education Authority in April that ILEA is now changing its view. Dr. Briault, whom we all know, wrote that a major point to emerge from consultations that are taking place was that the size of comprehensive schools should be reduced. At last that has been accepted by Left-wing educational opinion, but too late for some generations of school children!

We have a dilemma here. If the size is reduced we shall be left with a sixth form that is too small to give the options that we need. I will illustrate the point by referring to Battersea Grammar School, which is an excellent three-form entry school. For the 90 places that it offers each year. it has about 150 applications. So it is a popular school. ILEA wishes to turn this school into a six-form-entry mixed comprehensive which will have a sixth form of perhaps 100 to 120 students. Of those, only 30 or 40 will be academic. The rest will be re-taking exams—CSE, or whatever it may be. We cannot justify the number of teachers required to give the range of options we need with such a small sixth form.

That is the dilemma that I see with the all-through comprehensive school, and it worries me. It is either so large —I refer specially to urban areas—that we cannot maintain discipline in education or it is so small that we cannot have the range of choice required for the sixth form.

What is the answer? I do not think that on educational grounds one can defend grammar schools. The long-term answer may be the middle school. I understand that Mitcham has just started with a middle school system. It may be that the middle school or six-form college is the answer. I understand that Hove has started on that system. It may be that the "campus system" is the answer. I understand that that has been tried in Norfolk.

I do not know the answer. I do not believe that the Secretary of State knows the answer. Indeed, I do not think that educationists know the answer. If they say that they do, I would remind them that 10 years ago they said that the answer was the all-through, 1,500-pupil comprehensive school. Clearly that now is not the answer. They were wrong then and they may be wrong again. On educational grounds, I ask ILEA to proceed slowly.

I ask the Secretary of State, when the Battersea Grammar school proposal comes to him, to consider it very carefully. It is a good school. It is a grammar school; it has selection, but it is a good school. If it is turned into a six-form- entry mixed comprehensive, what will happen to the academic level of the sixth form? It might be better to wait five years, 10 years or, if necessary, 15 years to see what happens with middle schools and sixth-form colleges. We do not yet know the answer. I ask the Secretary of State on educational grounds to reflect that perhaps he is wrong.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

May I make an appeal to the House. This is a shortened debate. If hon. Members limit themselves to just over five minutes, every hon. Member who wishes to speak will be able to do so. Otherwise I fear that many hon. Members will be unable to catch my eye.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

Contributions to the debate have concentrated on the circular on the organisation of secondary education and the need to carry through effective plans for comprehensive education at secondary level. As the Secretary of State for Education and Science reminded the House at the beginning of the debate, Wales is already 80 per cent. comprehensive.

One of the outstanding problems in the future development of comprehensive schooling in Wales concerns the way in which the structure should be organised to provide for teaching through the medium of Welsh as well as English. I welcome the reference in the circular to bi-lingual schools. What consultations have taken place with the local education authorities in Wales on the provision of such schools in the various regions throughout Wales?

Although I endorse the circular and the priority to be given to the completion of the reorganisation of secondary schooling, I should like to take advantage of the debate briefly to speak about the tertiary sector as well, partly because it is the sector in which I was involved before I came here, but mainly because there are important strategic decisions which must be taken about the future planning of the sector if we are to ensure a broadly-based system of continuing education.

Our aim must be to extend the comprehensive principle to the whole of our education service. I urge the Secretary of State to say at some stage whether that is a longer-term aim of the Government.

At present we have a multiple structure of tertiary education in a variety of institutions under the direct and indirect control of both local and central government. The sector is dominated in terms of both per capita resource allocation and status by the universities, although in reality they cater for a very small percentage of the potential clients of the pre-school education service.

I urge the Secretary of State to approach the Committee of Vice-Chancellors in the near future to initiate discussions with the universities on their rôle within a comprehensive tertiary structure. I also ask him to stress to the universities the need to extend the work of their extramural departments and to allocate places for students to transfer directly from part-time extra-mural study to full-time continuing education. That would clearly require the co-operation of both the TUC and the CBI in ensuring the expansion of day release opportunities for both vocational and non-vocational education.

The longer-term aim must be the recognition of a right to an educational course in the form of a right to day release for educational purposes, a right which is supported by legislation in some Western European countries, as the Russell Committee on Adult Education observed.

In addition to expanded provision for students without formal entry requirements, the universities must now be requested to re-examine their relationships to other institutions of tertiary education in their areas. For that to happen effectively there must be leadership from the Department of Education and Science.

Certain current developments are holding back adequate discussion between the universities and other institutions in the tertiary sector. I am referring specifically to the developments after the publication of Circular 7/73 on the development of higher education in the non-university sector. The circular followed on the recommendation of the James Committee on Teacher Education and Training. It is important that the relationship between the university sector and the other institutions within the tertiary sector should be reappraised now.

The danger of Circular 7/73 is that it will lead to the creation of a public sector second-tier type of tertiary institution based on the polytechnics, colleges of education and colleges of further education. This will continue to be a poor relation of the universities in terms of manpower and resources. In effect, we shall be creating the tertiary equivalent of the secondary modern school.

I strongly urge the Secretary of State to withdraw the circular and replace it with a circular for tertiary education on lines similar to those of Circular 4/74 on secondary education. Otherwise all the Government will do will be to perpetuate at tertiary level all the inequalities of opportunity and provision which they have sought to remove at secondary level.

There is a particularly pressing need for Circular 7/73 to be withdrawn as it affects Wales. Professor Webster recognised in the James Report that there is already the higher level of integration within the tertiary sector in Wales than in the regions of England. I hope that we shall have the assurance from the Under-Secretary that teacher education and training in Wales will continue to develop along the lines indicated in the James Report, and that the on-going integration of colleges of education with the university colleges in the various Welsh regions will be allowed to maintain its present momentum. This integration must gradually take in the polytechnics, colleges of further education and other institutions, such as adult education colleges, so that we can produce a genuinely comprehensive tertiary education service.

We already have such a service in embryo in the various regions of Wales. I do not want to see Welsh educational egalitarianism held back by the regressive bias of Circular 7/73. The circular should be withdrawn in England and Wales, but if the Government are not disposed to withdraw it immediately in England, because 130 local education authorities in the various English regions have prepared reorganisation plans for their institutions, I must press the logic of the Welsh situation, as the James Report did.

As far as I am aware, the Welsh Joint Education Committee has not yet prepared or finalised plans for reorganising colleges of education in Wales. Already the colleges of education and the university have objected to draft schemes.

I hope that we do not look in vain to the Labour Government to allow us in Wales to continue working at creating a broad-based tertiary education system. From the embryo of integration between the colleges of education and the university colleges many of us hope to see developing an integrated comprehensive structure of tertiary education, when the artificial distinctions between further, higher, advanced and adult education will be dissolved and replaced by centres of continuing education open to all members of the community.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. Frank Hatton (Manchester, Moss Side)

I very much welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on issuing the circular underlining the commitment to nonselective secondary education. I am not surprised that Tory Members have found themselves in some difficulty. They have faced both ways on the issue of the future of secondary education. The nonselective development we have seen is one of the success stories of the late 1960s. I can recall, when we began to question the wisdom of selecting children at the age of 11, just how much support was given to us by the Tory Party.

In my city of Manchester, when what was called the great battle to change our system of secondary education was taking place, I can recall the opposition which was stirred up by members of the Tory Party. Today no one is demanding that we should re-introduce the 11-plus. I receive no letters from parents demanding that we should re-open our secondary modern schools. Parents are most concerned about many problems in the education service. There is, however, no demand to go back to the days of selecting children at the age of 11 and putting them into secondary modern or grammar schools.

The Conservative Government showed little enthusiasm for assisting local authorities which wanted to help voluntary schools in their area to prepare reorganisation schemes. I believe there is a genuine desire on the part of voluntary schools to have an education system similar to that of their own education authority. The parents of children in voluntary primary schools in my city are now asking, "Why have our children still to take the 11-plus?"

Given good will, I do not believe that there will be the difficulties envisaged when we look at some of the schemes which the voluntary schools are prepared to put forward to end the 11-plus examination and to introduce a non-selective system of secondary education.

I have found myself in some difficulty in trying to understand what is meant by talk of the destruction of schools such as we have heard this afternoon. We have destroyed no schools in Manchester. They are all used—in a new form. They have different types of pupils going through their doors. There is great anxiety on the part of many parents lest their children should enter some of the schools which were formerly grammar schools. One of the most highly favoured schools is a purpose-built comprehensive school. It has as many applications from parents as had the former grammar schools. There are heads of schools who, openly defend the advantages of a school on split sites. I hope that in considering the schemes the Minister will take these matters into consideration.

Many misleading comments are being made about two aspects of life in our schools—violence and truancy. They are doing great damage to the education system. There has already been a reference to surveys, if that is the right word, carried out by the National Association of Schoolmasters. Hon. Members have spoken of a survey said to have been undertaken in the city of Manchester dealing with violence in schools. Neither the Chief Education Officer of Manchester nor the Chairman of the Education Committee has seen this document.

I understand that it is nothing more than a document which has not been published. I believe that it comprises subjective impressions. It is clear that its authors do not claim that it has any validity statistically. All that they have said to heads is, "Have you been having trouble?" My education authority has taken the trouble to look into some of the aspects of the so-called violence in our schools.

The education committee's investigations do not tie up with the statements made by the NAS. An idea is being spread abroad about truancy which is totally unsatisfactory. The Department of Education and Science has undertaken an exercise dealing with this. I hope that the Minister will speed the publication of the document revealing the results of this exercise. Most authorities take the view that this is a rather suspect operation statistically, particularly in view of the total lack of guidance from the Department about what should be regarded as justified and unjustified absences.

Many authorities would have preferred such an exercise to be carried out by the education welfare service. I believe that the education welfare officers are the poor relations in our education service. There is inadequate recognition of their vital importance. If we are to improve certain aspects of life in our schools we must strengthen their rôle . This will be possible only when they are treated in accordance with other sectors of the education service as regards pay and are given a proper salary structure. I hope that the Minister will give a good deal of thought to these matters.

6.3 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

We on the Liberal Bench recognise that seven weeks may not be long enough for sweeping reforms in education. But we do feel that it is long enough to show intent. Labour in opposition, I thought, well represented by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), gave all of us who were on these benches during the period of the last Government high hopes of radical policies. We on the Liberal Bench supported the hon. Member, particularly in his violent opposition to the cuts in education expenditure.

I am sorry about the conspiracy of silence which we have had in this Parliament on the subject. I well realise that there is little money available for education. We feel that there is money available for what are, in our opinion, quite pointless things—such as milk subsidies. If we can take 1p off a pint of milk, which helps Mr. Harry Hyams to live more economically, we have no reason for withholding money from the school building programme.

This is money withheld at a price. Teachers are a deeply upset group of people, and they have every right to be. Not only do they face violence—they are steadily apprehensive about this—but the only way they can move on to a position of commercial viability is by doing all that they are asked to do by their headmasters and their seniors in schools. If any young teacher wants to get on, he has got to be dishonest, because if he speaks up and tells them what he really feels he is finished as far as headmaster-ships or promotion are concerned. This is a deplorable state of affairs. A teacher deserves a decent amount of money so that he can speak his mind from a position of honour.

We recognise that there is little money available for student grants, but there has been plenty of time to show intent. There are desperate anomalies in student grants. The worst is that of parental contributions which are not paid because parents do not or cannot contribute or are sufficiently bloody-minded simply not to do so. This is something which would have cost no money but needed a little sensitivity, and students would have felt that the Government were on their side. I hope very much that the Minister of State will mention this matter when he replies.

In the case of school buildings, the Government are aware that for every £1 spent per nursery student. £14 is spent on a student in higher education. In view of this disparity, we deplore the cuts that have even been made in nursery education.

I have in my constituency a village school, in Murrow, in the north of Cambridgeshire. Twelve years ago, this school was found to be uneconomic and was condemned. There was a protest and the school was kept. The school flourished. Some years ago, the local council bought a new plot of land to build a bigger school. It still retains this plot, but the bigger school has not been built. Yet today, talking to the headmaster of the school in Murrow, I was told that one of the Department's inspectors had been to see him and had reprimanded him for allowing his pupils to eat at their desks. There is no dining hall. I should like to know where the hell they can eat if they cannot eat at their desks. The job of the Department of Education and Science has got to be to support those who suffer from the injustices of the cut-back in expenditure, and not to blame them and make their life more difficult.

The raising of the school leaving age clearly needed much more attention than was given to it. By law the children at school have to stay until the age of 16. We feel that if they want to leave at 16—and I mean if they really want to leave—they should be allowed to do so, without having these in-built dates whereby they can leave only if they were born on a certain day or the term ends by a certain date. Not enough thought has been given to this matter.

All of us, on both sides of the House, would like a little more information about truancy. It is pathetic that no local education authority has ever admitted that it has a had school. It is only everyone else who admits that "those schools over there" are bad. Surely, it is up to the Department to let people admit that they have had schools and to see that they do something about it. That would cost no money. It is the job of the Department to announce the level of truancy. In France there is virtually no truancy because the school attendance record is computerised and runs in concert with the family allowance. If a child is a truant, the parents of that child receive no family allowance—although there is a clawback.[Interruption.] They can get their money back if the computer goes wrong, but there is another clawback; they have to have a doctor's certificate, and they can then claim. This sort of legislation would have done no harm and would have made people involved in education feel that the new Government were on their side.

We have heard a lot about the private sector. We feel that it is important for the Government to get the rest of the school system into order before they start thinking of abolition of the private sector. We on the Liberal Bench—of 50 per cent. of us—are not abolitionists.

The youth and community programme is vitally important. There are at present under 190 places for training youth and community workers. There are annually 270 jobs. While schools are overcrowded, church halls and youth clubs are empty because there are no qualified staff to take them over. Here again, we have a section which the Department could have seen to. It would have cost virtually nothing. It would have meant a recycling of a few of these places in colleges of education which, as far as I can see, are being run in the hope that the instances of birth will go down in the next few years and save the faces of consecutive Governments.

I have campaigned about and tabled Questions on the subject of illiteracy, and I am very pleased to see that there is to be an investigation into "educational under-achievement". But if that is the Government's description of illiteracy, it is a very conservative way to talk about it—" educational under-achievement"— because illiteracy is failure. Unless we can come to terms with it, and can show open government and say, "We are concerned about educational failure", the credibility of this new Government's Department of Education and Science will be highly suspect.

6.12 p.m.

Dr. Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

It is a tragedy that the comprehensive school in this country became, at a certain point in time, a political issue. It does not naturally belong to either the Left or the Right. Russia and Eastern Europe went over to the comprehensive school under the Communist régimes there. Both are leaving the common school, as they call it in translation, to go to highly specialised schools and highly selective schools, some in Czechoslovakia and Hungary selecting children at the age of eight. Similarly, in America, where the economic system, I am told and I see, is different from that of Russia, they tried the common school. In New York, Los Angeles and other cities they are moving back rapidly to a highly selective subject system.

But the comprehensive school has been accepted by one side and has become almost a dogma, a doctrinist or millennialist system. I cannot accept after 2,000 years of education that a new method for the education of children has been discovered which is far different from and better than the previous methods. This millennialist view is particularly dangerous, because people expect too much and the whole thing becomes unstuck, as it has at present.

Thirteen years ago when I came to my first comprehensive headship in London —I have been the head of two not undistinguished comprehensive schools, and a grammar school and a secondary modern school—an almost unique service—I would have supported the Secretary of State for Education and Science, not with compulsion but by verbal encouragement, for the extension of comprehensive education. Six or seven years ago I would have done the same more half-heartedly. But at present I cannot, because much water has flowed under the bridge in the last few years. What I thought the comprehensive school would be, certainly in many areas, is not what it has become. A very distinguished member of the Labour Party, who still holds office, once said that the grammar schools would be destroyed over his dead body and that comprehensive schools were offering a grammar school education to all. I do not say that cheaply, because that is what I thought. Many of the pioneers of the comprehensive movement thought that what was being offered was more academic education and, in addition, grammar school values of academic and intellectual education for children. I do not think that is now the case. From what I have seen of comprehensive schools in various cities and in London—and Manchester has been mentioned in this debate—they are, for a variety of reasons, becoming nonacademic schools.

The Secretary of State said this afternoon that the evidence was that these schools were doing better academically. I do not know where that evidence is and I should like to see it tabled. If the right hon. Gentleman is referring to Robin Pedley's book, we know that only 30 per cent. of schools answered the letters he sent out. Furthermore, 30 per cent. of the children concerned came from Wales, and only 6 per cent. of the country's children come from that area. That sort of mathematical method is worth only a grade 6 CSE. If that is the best evidence we can get, then we had better start again.

Between 1970 and 1972 the number of children in comprehensive schools increased by 30 per cent., but the number of Oxbridge scholars from comprehensives fell. Perhaps hon. Members oppo- site do not worry about Oxbridge scholarships, and if so let them say so. The headmaster of Holland Park comprehensive, Dr. Rushworth, said last year that the standard of a pupil in his school at 14 was behind that which he would have achieved in a grammar school. These are serious matters and they certainly would have alarmed me 13 years ago when I gave my support to a system which obviously has gone wrong somewhere along the line.

In his book, "All Our Futures", J. W. B. Douglas pointed out that in the differing ethos of schools 60 per cent. of the very bright children in grammar schools entered sixth forms, whereas only 29 per cent. of the children in comprehensives were in sixth forms.

Let me give four factors in explaining why these problems have arisen. The first is the question of size, which has already been mentioned. One can run a big school if the ethos is the same for all pupils. This is why Eton or Manchester Grammar School is easy to run. It is more difficult to run a large school where there are a variety of courses. In London the large comprehensive schools—or half of them at any rate—are falling apart, although I could mention one or two honourable exceptions. I do not believe, however, that smaller comprehensive schools will work. I think that we are perhaps in danger of embarking on a further fallacy. I do not believe that in the smaller comprehensive schools there will be enough pupils of similar interests and abilities to retain the highly qualified staff necessary and to reach a stage where one pupil inspires another. I believe that although the larger comprehensive school falls apart in terms of discipline, the smaller comprehensive will fall apart academically.

The only alternative to the large comprehensive school is to go back to the village comprehensive school with one teacher dealing with children from five to 14, seeing them through and knowing them in depth. That is the only "comprehensive school" that I know to be working at the moment.

I turn to the second reason why the comprehensive schools are falling apart, and again it is something that we did not foresee. With no philosophy in previous years of this system of education, those who came from colleges and universities who were not academically inclined saw these schools as channels of social revolution. When I came to London there was a Communist cell in practically every school I knew. There are now Mao-Trotskyist cells seeking to destroy our system whether it comes from the Conservative Government or from the Labour Government. These are vicious organisations. Woe betide any teacher, not backed by a strong headmaster, who tries to hold out against Mao-Trotskyist groups in his school.

The third reason for failure in the comprehensive system is that we have moved from the comprehensive school to a non-streaming system as part of the dogma. I do not believe that all children are born equal. I believe that children are different in the way they learn, in terms of size, height, colour of eyes and brainpower. This is all governed by the dance of the chromosomes that is set at birth. Therefore, to treat children all in the same way is cruel. Bertrand Russell, who was not a Conservative and would never have sat on these benches, said that to educate together dull pupils and bright pupils would be the height of cruelty, and that is quite true. There is one school in London—Eltham Green—where discipline is among the best in any London school. but the teachers from there who visited other schools discovered that, where there had been non-streaming, disciplinary problems increased because the bright pupils got bored and those at the bottom of the scale became desperate because they could not keep up.

The Secretary of State was quoted in The Times Educational Supplement as saying that selection at 11-plus must Etc, and he went on to say So must selection at 12-plus, 16-plus and any other age… I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman meant by "any other age". Does this mean that anybody can start a classics degree without being able to write English, an engineering degree without any mathematics? If so, this would certainly be the end of restrictive practices in the trade unions and professional organisations and in the middle classes. That statement was surely a nonsense similar to the sort sort of graffiti one sees in "PHS" of The Times, like the lines of "Down with gravity: an end to reality". This would inevitably mean the end of schooling, and deschooling, as advocated by Dr. Illitch.

Mr. Prentice

The hon. Gentleman is having his bit of fun. I do not know whether he expects the House to take him seriously.

Dr. Boyson

Yes I do.

Mr. Prentice

I dealt with this problem and said that the reference to selection at 12 and 16 and other ages was within the context of the school situation and did not apply to the post school situation.

Dr. Boyson

I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's statement but that was my understanding of The Times Educational Supplement. If I was wrong, at least I have had some delight out of this debate.

The fourth and final reason why the comprehensives are going wrong is connected with the situation of the working class child. The neighbourhood ghetto school will deprive the working class child much more than he has been deprived since State education came in in 1870. This is extremely dangerous, and I sometimes wonder whether the Labour Party, by bringing in the neighbourhood comprehensive school, knows what it is doing. It will create a feudal static class system with no social or intellectual mobility. Perhaps it believes that it can by this retain its pocket boroughs in the centres of cities, although perhaps that is an unworthy thought. However, that may well be the result of what is happening.

It must be said that the voluntary schools in London are the only schools for which parents are queueing up to send their children to, and in which teachers are vying with each other to teach. I would say that we need more of these schools rather than less. If they are wiped out I believe that the working class child will be more deprived. The middle class will move out of London and transfer their children to other schools and consequently the centre of London will become a ghetto. The poor working class child in the centre of the city will be held back. This is a very serious situation.

I should like to make one more point before I refer to Conservative policy [Interruption.] Yes, I am quite prepared to do that. You did not win with yours yesterday, did you?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must address the Chair. He has already been going on for a long time.

Mr. Boyson

Let me take two minutes to sum up. It seems to me, first, that we should concentrate on clearing up the problems of education instead of going on as we are. There are 700,000 children who each day play truant. There are schools in London with half the fifth year absent. Furthermore, there is a decline in literacy and numeracy. There are problems about recruitment to schools and these problems must be dealt with. Tulse Hill had only eight applicants for headship on the first occasion and only 11 when it readvertised.

Finally, I think it must be said on the Conservative side that we have never had a policy for comprehensive schools. It really seemed that they were all right if they happened slowly. We must look at the situation as it is. I should like the Labour Party to join with us in moving over to a system involving more parental control of schools. I think that we should concentrate on this important aspect of education.

I add only that I am all in favour of getting more parental choice of schools. Given that, we would find ourselves with more academic, single sex disciplined schools, which is what I believe 95 per cent. of parents and children want. Meanwhile, the destruction of any more good schools at the present time is to be compared with destroying stained glass at the time of the Reformation—and I say that as a Protestant. They cannot be replaced. If they are destroyed, we may find in 100 years that we have done untold harm.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, East)

In making my maiden speech, I begin by conforming with tradition and paying tribute to my predecessor. He was a Member of independent mind, and he achieved a deserved reputation inside this House for his specialised knowledge of oceanography. He practised that speciality before entering the House. I trust that right hon. and hon. Members will not think me discourteous if I do not decry the electoral decision which has made it possible for him to return full-time to his study of the subject.

I pay tribute to the Boltonians whom I represent. Perhaps the greatest compliment that I can pay them is in respect of their kindness of heart and their warmth towards people who are deprived and in some way in need. This has found expression for many years in the policy of the former county borough education committee of providing school meals during holiday periods. This is a discretionary power, and 700 children in the former county borough availed themselves of it last year. It is unfortunate that, with the reorganisation of local government, this facility in its present form is now to be denied to the children of my constituents, and I appeal to my right hon. Friend to consider seriously whether this discretionary power should now be made compulsory. Many of the children concerned are deprived in one way or another. As a former teacher, I am aware that very many of them have this one cooked meal as their only regular form of balanced diet. If the Labour Party stands for positive discrimination in favour of the underprivileged, I feel that this is one way in which it can be made apparent.

During this debate, I have on several occasions viewed with concern what has appeared to be the playing-off of the comprehensive school against the grammar school. I feel that that is not the issue at stake. What is at stake is the question 'whether we are in favour of selection or against it. That is the cardinal issue that we face. In mixed districts such as my own, which have some very good grammar schools and in other parts some very good comprehensive schools, if we agree in principle that we cannot mix the two, how is a choice to he made? Are we to call our former secondary modern schools "comprehensive" and simply adopt the palliative of a change of name?

The Labour Party stands for a positive approach. It is one of non-discrimination. That is the issue before the House. Let us not cloud it. I sometimes wonder how many of us would be in this Chamber today if a form of selection had been applied to us similar to that which is applied to children in our education system in many authorities.

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Robert Redmond (Bolton, West)

I am extremely grateful to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young). I congratulate him on his maiden speech and I wish him every success in the short time that he is in this House. We all hope that we shall hear from him again.

In view of the pleas from the Chair for brief speeches, I shall not deal with all the aspects of education in Bolton which give rise to concern among my constituents. My particular interest is the welfare of deaf children, and I should like to have talked about that. I make only one point. During the last Parliament the Secretary of State and I exchanged a number of arguments on the subject of industrial relations and employment. We disagreed, but our disagreements were always friendly. I regard the right hon. Gentleman as a reasonable man and rather a nice chap. In the light of that, I ask him not to follow the disastrous policy of the previous Labour administration in trying to legislate by circular. If he wants to see the policy of his party carried into effect, I hope that he will introduce legislation so that people may understand the law.

As a result of attempts by Labour Governments to legislate by circular, the children of Bolton have suffered from what might be called political dogma, and their futures have been sacrificed on the altar of that dogma. I have no truck with those who say that this or that subject should be taken out of the realm of politics. I do not believe that education can be taken out of politics, and anyone who attempts to do so is saying that education should be taken out of the realm of democracy. I do not believe that we can do that.

I have never condemned comprehensive education in principle. If one has a green field site, obviously the best course is to build a comprehensive school rather than grammar and secondary modem schools. But places like Bolton have no green field sites. They have existing situations peculiar to their districts.

The old county borough of Bolton has five direct grant schools, which obviously complicate any plans for the reorganisation of secondary education. In addition, we have the original ideas for comprehensive education in what are called "bases". A base is what might be called a campus of three schools—a grammar school, a secondary modern school and what is nowadays called a high school or secondary technical school. With the bases operating in partnership with technical schools, we have a very high level of education in Bolton.

I hope that the Secretary of State will come to Bolton and discuss the situation there. He is a reasonable man, and I believe that a compromise could be found to bring to an end this yo-yo of politics and education in politics, where a Labour Government and a Conservative-controlled corporation argue with each other and then a Conservative Government argue with a Labour-controlled corporation. I should like to see the subject taken out of the realm of political dogma. though, as I say, it cannot be taken out of the realm of politics.

If the Secretary of State heeds my plea, I am sure that he will find the Conservative leaders of the metropolitan borough council to be reasonable men. I believe that a compromise is possible which will achieve what the Conservative leaders and the people want. We want to go on increasing the quality of education, recognising that what we have is good, although it is not perfect, recognising that there is room for improvement, and recognising, too, that there should be more opportunity for a greater number of children to receive the kind of education given by grammar schools and such great institutions as the Bolton School, the Canon Slade School and other direct grant schools in the borough.

I hope that my words will not have fallen on deaf ears. I am very glad that the Secretary of State came back into the Chamber in time to hear my speach.

6.35 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I begin this brief speech by apologising to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). In the last debate on education, which arose on the Gracious Speech, I read in HANSARD the following day that he gently and wittily took me to task for not being present when he made his concluding speech. I hope that he will read my apology in HANSARD tomorrow.

The hon. Gentleman spoke earlier about the friends of the National Union of Teachers, of which I am a member and of which I was an executive member, and he mentioned the size of schools. After a great development such as comprehensive reorganisation there is bound to be a learning process taking place everywhere. Many of us are in the process of discussing this matter, and we are undogmatic about it. One has to be cautious, because some Opposition Members seem to be exalting lack of dogmatism into a dogma. However, we are undogmatic about it. We shall discuss it and see what size of school we think best. It is an on-going process.

I am happy that the hon. Member for Wokingham stressed that differences had narrowed. Indeed, differences have narrowed. However, one would not think so from some of the speeches, for instance, the speech of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who spoke after me on the Gracious Speech. One would think from the pessimistic attitude he showed to comprehensive education and to education generally that everything was wrong. The series of statements he made, which I have no time to refute, would almost bear putting on the shelves at the side of The Times Educational Supplement, as the ex-president of the National Union of Teachers said, with Edgar Allan Poe's "Tales of Mystery and Imagination". The reality is far different.

The outstanding feature of the debate so far has been the profound differences among Opposition Members. For instance, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), to whom I went with deputations on numerous occasions, was a firm adherent to the 11-plus and would not budge one inch from it. It is clear that a large number of Conservative councils now embrace comprehensive education and would like to take it a step further. So, between those councils, the right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Wokingham there is a great deal of difference about comprehensive education.

On the Government side, we realise that the on-going process is bearing more and more fruit from year to year. I should like to make one or two comments as an ex-head teacher of a primary school and of a middle school about the effect that comprehensive reorganisation and the abolition of the 11-plus in many areas has had so far and will have. We had to put our children through this examination—a narrow examination on the three Rs—for their future lives. That hung over the primary schools as a great cloud. It meant, for instance, that we narrowed what we were teaching them, rather than the tremendous experiments that have gone on in primary schools.

The British primary school is the most exciting aspect of education in the world today. It is absolutely beautiful compared with what it was in previous decades. It is getting better and better, precisely because that cloud has been raised. The 11-plus has disappeared in many places and will disappear everywhere in the future. The vast majority of the teaching profession welcome Circular 4/74 and condemn and abhor the Tory Circular 10/70, which tried to inhibit education.

I intend to make a brief speech, Mr. Speaker, but I cannot finish without making a couple of comments which, I think, are non-controversial. One of them—I said this in my maiden speech—is that we want smaller classes. Those who send their children to them, therefore agree with small classes, and should help the rest of us to get small classes.

My final observation concerns something about which we can all agree. As a head teacher of a school with a large number of coloured children, I was always appalled that these children had to read books in which all the heroes and heroines were white. I appeal to publishers and to everyone else to ensure that we cater for these children in another way, by seeing that they read about themselves and not only about us, and that they read books in which many of the heroes and heroines, children and so on, are coloured, so that they feel more identity with them. I am sure that my Liberal friends would agree with that.

6.40 p.m.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

To be quick, Mr. Speaker, may I go to the nub of my concern, which is not the comprehensive principle enshrined in Circular 4/74, but the uniformity that it trumpets. Having been in education until I came into the House, I do not know of a comprehensive system. I do not believe that there is an ideal comprehensive school as such. Rather, comprehensive schools are noted for their distinctive characteristics. Some do a very good job for the average or under-average child. Others deliberately imitate grammar schools and have a particularly academic orientation. If hon. Members on the Government side acknowledge that, why can they not acknowledge a rôle for voluntary-aided schools and direct grant schools?

What are we all aiming for in our concern for education? I was glad that the Minister did not emphasise social engineering when talking of objectives. He mentioned it, but, thankfully, it did not figure prominently. He knows, as we all know, that there is a limit to what can be done in social engineering through schools. Very often, the way in which a child will perform is determined before it is born—by the environment or the poverty it is born into. There is certainly a limit to what can be done in the secondary school and we need more resources in the nursery sector.

Acknowledging that we are concerned with the individual potential of children rather than with social engineering, we have to design a system of schools which can develop that potential. So what about academic potential? There are academically-geared children. By the time a child is 15, it is surely possible to say whether he will be academically oriented, whether he is able or wants to go on to higher advanced work of an academic kind. We need schools for different potentialities. I should not say that grammar schools are perfect, but the academic education at the sixth-form level is very good. It is, of course, not true that comprehensives do not give good academic training, but, equally, they may not. So how do we ensure that good academic training is preserved?

The right hon. Gentleman talks in his circular of eliminating selection at all stages. but I hope that he will not close his mind to selection of some kind, say at 15—for example, into sixth-form colleges, which offer enormous benefits both in towns and in rural areas. In my rural constituency there is a comprehensive school with 700 pupils in which it is not possible to give a full range of courses in the sixth form.

A sixth-form college is an excellent idea. In a town where children come from poor neighbourhoods, they may find themselves, able though they may be academically, in an academically poor comprehensive school, so there should be some form of escape valve, a means of countering that. A sixth-form college is a form of secondary education offering enormous potential.

I would argue also, as did the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), that those who do not go on at 15 or 16 into an academically-geared system should have some way of going outside the classroom to which many now feel condemned since we raised the school leaving age. It would be wrong to imprison such people, and often they feel they are imprisoned. Some sandwich schemes, or a means of the school being responsible for them without having to contain them within a classroom, could surely be devised—say, day release to a technical college. Let us have flexibility and options kept open.

Given individual differences, it is not possible to avoid selection, and I am disturbed at the way the circular seems to dismiss it. Another item in the circular that concerns me is the phrase— Authorities will no doubt continue to have due regard to parents' wishes. I and all my hon. Friends wish to see parental control more effective than it has been so far, particularly if we are to have comprehensive schemes spread throughout the country, as the Secretary of State says, in an accelerated fashion. I have had a case in my constituency of a child who is particularly gifted in music, and we have had a tremendous difficulty in persuading one of the local authorities to take that child into its school rather than the comprehensive school to which the child would be entitled to go.

With the reorganisation of local government in the turmoil it is, the right hon. Gentleman should give us an assurance that he will urge local authorities to pay particular regard to parental wishes in the schemes he is now producing.

Parents are concerned also about the emphasis on accelerating schemes and the way in which the circular says that in future major projects of expenditure must make a contribution to reorganisation. I hope that this emphasis on spending money for reorganisation will not prejudice other schemes such as that in my constituency at Menston, where an upper school has now been delayed to such an extent that it will probably not be completed until 1985, and where there is still a nineteenth-century primary school. These conditions of overcrowding call for resources. Not only my constituents but parents generally are concerned and anxious at the tone of the Labour Party on education. They look for some guidance. help and reassurance from the right hon. Gentleman.

6.46 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to make a brief contribution to an interesting debate.

It is clear that the Labour Party is not against selection, but is against the type of selection now in use, namely, social selection. The 11-plus issue clearly revolves around the widely-documented data which establish the extent to which selection at that early age is a form of social discrimination. No one doubts the need for boarding education, for example, but our criticism is that this type of education is supplied on the basis not of need but of social privilege.

I have taught in a voluntary aided school. It was voluntary aided not on the basis of religion but by chance of history and an ancient foundation. I have nothing against history. I taught history at school with that degree of impartiality for which I am known in all my public utterances. However, this school played its rôle alongside other selective schools within a grammar and secondary modern school structure. When the London borough of Enfield finally completed its tortuous deliberations and adopted a comprehensive system, the one school which, representing 7 per cent. of the pupils at secondary schools, remained outside the system was the voluntary aided school to which I have referred. The result is that the school has the greatly exalted status which the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) has already identified. There is a vast queue waiting to enter the school. Does anyone think that parental choice is a determinant on which children are accepted into the school? Does anyone think that it is the children's choice? Of course not. What are being applied are arbitrary academic criteria at a time when, at the age of 11, the pupils are reflecting much more their social background than their academic abilities and potentialities.

We welcome the commitment to the extension of comprehensive education represented in Circular 4/74 but we must go beyond it. Selection in our society and in our educational structure must be tackled beyond the bulwarks represented by the voluntary aided schools, and so on to the direct grant and public schools. The Opposition are defending the situation now from the outworks of privilege. It is our task to move on to the inner citadels.

Finally, one would have wished that the further introduction of comprehensive education would be reinforced by the necessary resources. It is clear that comprehensive schools are suffering not only from the difficulty of still being in competition with the selective system but from the inadequacy of resources, and that is gravely affecting the recruitment of teachers and the education provision which those schools can offer. We shall not rest till sufficient resources are made available in our schools so that true equality of opportunity, which is essential to modern social democracy, is provided.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

I shall be brief in making two points.

Many hon. Members must be aware of the disquiet that parents throughout the country are voicing about secondary education. Many of them feel, particularly in relation to education officers, that they are being treated little differently from doormats. They feel that they are not consulted and that there is little understanding of what parents today are looking for. I accept that not all parents feel this, but a great many do.

Against that background, it is worrying that the number of grammar schools has declined from just over 1,000 to over 300. We therefore view Circular 4/74 with disquiet.

We note in the circular the directive that all schools should be comprehensive, and yet the Secretary of State knows as well as I do that there is no Act on the statute book to force local authorities to go comprehensive. I submit that this is no more than political blackmail, and none the better for that.

The other aspect I wish to raise is that of consultation. My local authority is at the moment championing the cause of comprehensive education. It is trying to destroy the grammar school of Northampton Town and County, a school which is 433 years old, of 800 boys and thus obviously single sex. This school has served our community over many years, providing the backbone of Northampton and, indeed, providing a member of the Front Bench who serves in the Department.

Section 13 notices have been issued—indeed, some would say nailed to the door. They certainly could not be ripped off, so firmly were they put on this time. The reaction has been that over 13,000 electors have signed a petition, and that figure was at the last count yesterday. Are we to say that these people are ignorant, that they have no knowledge of what is best for their children and grandchildren? Have we the arrogance to suggest that they are wrong and misguided? In my submission, we have not.

People in Northampton are placid on the whole, but they are incensed. They look to the Minister to stand by his commitment to consultation. His circular states, on page 3: … parents in particular should be informed and have the opportunity of making their views known while proposals are being formulated and before they are submitted. Is the Secretary of State aware that the Section 13 notice went out during the middle of April and that it was on 3rd April that the parents of boys at the school that I have mentioned were consulted for the first time? A few days later the Section 13 notice went out. Is that the form of consultation that the Secretary of State is looking for? I do not believe it can be, or that it is the form of consultation that anyone can honestly say we look to.

I respectfully request the Secretary of State to have a very close look at this matter. I shall be writing formally to him to receive a petition on behalf of the parents, the villages and the old boys within the 60 days, but I shall be grateful if, before we come, he will look particularly at this point of consultation in relation to his circular.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)

I add my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and the hon. Members for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) and for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) on their contributions to this debate. I know that the whole House looks forward to hearing them speak on education and many other subjects in future.

I welcome the Secretary of State's assurance that he puts education before social engineering, but I find it difficult to reconcile with the assumption in Circular 4/74 that fully comprehensive education is the only acceptable solution. We do not accept that. The fact that we do not accept this inflexible and doctrinaire attitude does not mean that we have a root and branch opposition to comprehensive education. We do not say, and have never said, that all grammar schools should be maintained. We say that some of those grammar schools and direct grant schools, and schools which have a very high academic standard. can —indeed, should—be maintained, and can be maintained without any detriment to the extension of comprehensive education throughout a local authority area.

The policy of the Secretary of State demands the destruction of all grammar schools. It demands the destruction of direct grant schools, to fulfil a policy based on ideology and social engineering. But I ask him to consider this. When such a school is reorganised, one school in a large city, and the pupils are distributed to the neighbouring comprehensive schools, it could be argued that the intake of those comprehensive schools is marginally improved. But when such a school is destroyed, great wrong is done to achieve precious little good. In any fair, unprejudiced analysis based on education and not on social engineering, such schools would be allowed to retain their identity and carry on with the good work that they have achieved over a long period.

A number of hon. Members have referred to the size of schools. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman referred to the size of schools and said that his circular was not dogmatic. In fact, the circular devotes four lines to the question of size, but tells us no more than that some large schools work well but that some people prefer small schools.

That is not a very satisfactory statement. It does not rule out the possibility of the introduction of very small, non-viable comprehensive schools in underprivileged areas simply because the buildings are there. People might think, "We have a small building; it is a nice suitable solution to say that we have a comprehensive scheme and call this comprehensive education". What happens to the people of academic ability in that underprivileged area—perhaps 5 per cent. of the total population of the school? They are brought up in a climate which is not congenial to academic study. I should have liked the circular to make reference to that type of situation and suggest that that type of school was not viable and should not be accepted.

Nor does the circular endorse the idea, which has been developed over the last few years, of smaller yet viable comprehensive schools. The hon. Members for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) and Streatham (Mr. Shelton), with their particular knowledge of the situation in London, referred to the problems of very large comprehensive schools. Many parents and teachers have become increasingly alarmed at the problems particularly associated with very large comprehensive schools.

There is a widespread belief that very large schools have become unmanageable. We had some evidence of that today from the hon. Member for Brent, North. There has been, it is widely believed, a breakdown of discipline, because teachers cannot know all their pupils and do not even know each other. There is the growth of truancy, which has reached alarming levels but on which there are no detailed statistics.

Much has been made of the fact that a headmaster does not know his own staff, let alone the pupils, and the staff and pupils know him only by sight. But this can be overcome, and, of course, it is overcome. It is overcome by the organisation within a large comprehensive school. I am aware of how this is done, as other hon. Members are on both sides. But the result of that organisation is that a very large number of the best qualified and the most experienced teachers are not in the classrooms teaching; they are swallowed up in tasks of administration to compensate for size.

I believe that the real battle of education is conducted in the classroom, in the laboratory and in the workshop. The best use of resources is to have the experienced teachers there. That is another disadvantage of the large comprehensive school.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made an enormous contribution to the possible success of the comprehensive system of education by giving an impetus towards smaller comprehensive schools. I wish that this Government's circular had had the courage to carry on the move which she initiated, because it would have been supported by many teachers and parents. The move towards smaller schools allayed the fears of many teachers and parents. Circular 4/74 fails to endorse the movement to smaller schools, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give that matter further consideration.

My third criticism of the circular is that it is unquestionably an attempt to get comprehensive education on the cheap. Behind the reference to the maximum use of existing buildings and available resources is not only a commendable desire for sound economy but a determination to rush into comprehensive education, however half-baked the scheme. It reveals a passionate conviction that the pattern of organisation is more important than the children it is supposed to serve. It opens the way for the merging of schools, often on split sites, and calling them a viable comprehensive system. In such circumstances, it is difficult to believe that the children will be the beneficiaries.

There is a disillusionment among parents who, when they saw the comprehensive ideal five or 10 years ago, and saw it as something of a crusade to get rid of selection, thought that the benefits to their children would be enormous. I was one of those who thought that it would be of enormous benefit to my children and to education generally. I am not completely disillusioned. I still see great advantages in the system of comprehensive education when it works effectively. But it would be a rash proponent of comprehensive education who said that we had throughout the land satisfied customers where it had been introduced.

The truth is quite the reverse. The truth is that in many areas there is disillusionment. I am sorry to see any rush towards further comprehensivisation when the priority, in my view and in the view of many teachers with whom I confer, should be the consolidation of what has already been started rather than further schemes which in some instances are bound to be second-rate because the better ones have already been put forward and accepted by the Department.

We have heard a certain amount today about parental choice, notably from my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, West (Mr. Redmond) and for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris). Circular 4/74 pays mere lip-service to parental choice. It says that, no doubt, authorities will continue to have due regard to parents' wishes in respect of their children's education. The truth is that local authorities will be able to have such regard only so long as parents choose what the right hon. Gentleman considers to be socially acceptable. The implementation of the circular will either severely restrict or completely eliminate choice. For parents it will be a case of "Choose any school you like so long as it is the neighbourhood comprehensive school". The only choice open to a parent—and there will be some choice—will be to buy a home in a catchment area of the school which he judges the most desirable for his children.

One can easily envisage the situation in which parents would choose to move to the catchment area of a school which stands for academic standards, traditional values and discipline. No doubt, when parents exercise that right and make that decision, they will be condemned for using their money to buy a privileged education. But, with the erosion of the area of choice, it will be the only way in which they can influence their children's education, and I am sure that that is not what the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Members opposite really desire.

I turn next to the position of the voluntary schools. They are our partners in education. They are full partners in the education service of the United Kingdom, and now they are told in a circular that if they do not conform to the local comprehensive system they will be denied substantial financial aid. Dictatorial bullying of one's partners in education is bound to cause harm and great distress in the voluntary and aided schools.

Clearly, the circular misunderstands the concept of denominational schools. As one of my hon. Friends said, the denominational school was not designed merely to offer religious instruction; it has something special to offer from its Roman Catholic or Anglican community. To be one stage in a comprehensive system —the 11 to 13 section or the 13 to 15 section—is no substitute for a school that has prided itself on being a community in itself embracing the whole of a child's secondary school life from 11 to 16. Yet that will be the future for some of these schools. They will be brought into a pattern if they are to survive financially. They will be brought into a pattern where their rôle will be that of the transit camp and not the full community life that they exercised under the previous system. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give them close and careful consideration.

The right hon. Gentleman has his priorities wrong in Circular 4/74. No comprehensive reorganisation on the cheap is likely to be effective. It will only discredit those who believe that comprehensive education can be something worth while for the children of the United Kingdom. Nothing but distrust and harm can come from a dictatorial and bullying approach to the voluntary schools, and the destruction of excellent schools in pursuit of dogmatic objectives is educationally unsound. Circular 4/74 may advance the cause of social engineering, but it will do nothing to improve educational opportunities for the children of the United Kingdom.

7.9 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Barry Jones)

There have been a number of maiden speeches today, not least the first speech by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) from the Opposition Front Bench. I congratulate the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence). He made a loyal speech about his predecessor, John Jennings, whom I knew and who was a fellow member of the National Union of Teachers. It was not, perhaps, a speech for nonconformists, but it was a stout speech for all that. My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mr. MacFarquhar) made a succinct, elegant and most persuasive speech. I thought that he put Front Benchers in their place in a most effective way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) made a maiden speech which, for a Scotsman, was, I thought, very patriotic. He was most telling in his remarks about the educational needs of the under-privileged children in his constituency.

One of the memorable phrases of this debate was that of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). who described my right hon. Friend and himself as being "ordinary blokes". I consulted an authority on the "ordinary blokes of this House and have some statistics. I note that 40 per cent. of us are from Oxbridge and 164 went to public schools. Among the "ordinary blokes" in Opposition, 204 went to grammar schools. Out of the total membership of the House, I understand that 70 per cent. went to university, which proves that sometimes even the universities do not do their job well enough.

In the time available, I cannot hope to reply to all the points that have been raised in this far-ranging debate, but will attempt to cover some of the salient points.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, in opening the debate, declared our opposition to selection, which is unjust both in principle and in operation and which has caused so much talent to be wasted and so many hopes to be stifled. That the public at large have themselves come to see the unfairness of selection has been evident in the general welcome accorded to the advent of secondary school reorganisation. It is clear that Circular 10/65 made articulate a groundswell of opinion, and it is significant that in England and Wales the large majority of authorities have declared in favour of reorganising.

I turn now to the question of the variety of schools and parental choice. Remarks were made on this subject by the hon. Member for Burton, the hon. Member for Brent. North (Dr. Boyson)— in a despairing and breathless speech—the hon. Member for Wokingham, and the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman).

Opponents of comprehensive education claim that a fully comprehensive system eliminates variety and removes parental choice. This overlooks the realities of the selective system. Choice in such a divisive system is the prerogative of the few—those who successfully negotiate the 11-plus. Since they are unlikely to opt for other than the grammar school, I should have thought that the choice was purely a paper choice. The argument also overlooks the variety and range of courses within a comprehensive school. The choice in these schools remains available to the child, all along the line, without the arbitrary and unjust restraints imposed by the now out-dated system.

The Government have been concerned to emphasise to the authorities the importance of early and full consultation at a stage when account can be taken of the views of teachers and parents in the formulation of schools. This in itself should result in a variety of schemes.

The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), in welcoming the circular's reference to bilingual schools, inquired about the consultations with local education authorities. The authorities and teacher associations in Wales were consulted before the circular was issued. My Department is always ready to discuss proposals with any authority. Indeed, discussions have already taken place with officials of the Clwyd and Gwynedd authorities about bilingual education in their areas. I hope that that answer at this stage is satisfactory to the hon. Member.

There has been reference to the size of schools. The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) worriedly referred to dilemmas at the top end of the comprehensive school and rather winningly admitted to the indefensibility of the grammar schools.

I think that we have learnt from experience in the last seven or eight years. The concept of a comprehensive school has changed over the years, and as a result we no longer regard large schools as an indispensable prerequisite for the success of comprehensive schools. The ingrained tradition of the old separatist system was responsible for those preconceptions that a comprehensive school must be an aggregate of secondary modern and grammar schools rather than a new and different institution. We do not reject large schools —some have operated in recent years with signal success—but it has become clear that a wide range of courses can be made available in schools rather smaller than was once thought likely.

So I say, I hope not too provocatively, that Conservative Members show a lack of understanding of the ways in which experience has shown that schools of six-form entry, and, indeed, smaller schools, are perfectly capable of offering a wide range of subjects to children of all ages and abilities.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Peterborough is in the process of having this great change thrust upon it. Since the hon. Gentleman has just admitted that the Government have changed their minds on the important aspect of size, does he not think that they are being a little precipitate in wanting to push through at the present speed the permanency of something which may, in a few months or years, show that they ought to change their minds on that, too?

Mr. Jones

I did not welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I must say that it was felicitously phrased, as usual. I shall stick to my guns and say that we shall go by experience. We have indicated that we are not in any way dogmatic.

Another thread of the debate was indiscipline and truancy. The hon. Members for Streatham, Manchester, Moss Side (Mr. Hatton), the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) and Brent, North referred to it in discussing the behaviour problems which have emerged in some of our schools. It is too facile, I think, to attribute these difficulties to the sizes of the schools concerned, or to the raising of the school leaving age.

The causes of indiscipline are complex and cannot be divorced from more general social problems. Schools have to contend with changing and conflicting values. It is our belief that the rejection implicit in selective systems of education is in itself conducive to adverse attitudes and indiscipline. We think that the comprehensive schools now are finding their way to new systems of pastoral or personal care.

Trunacy is another phenomenon which is attracting much publicity. A survey is being conducted, and it would be premature to state conclusions, but I do not think that there are any grounds for supposing that a high incidence of truancy as such is associated with the comprehensive school. The remarks of the hon. Member for Manchester, Moss Side, made in a most authoritative and experienced manner, bear out my views on this matter of discipline and truancy.

The hon. Member for Burton, in his maiden speech, also referred to academic standards. The suggestion has been made that comprehensive education gives rise to a levelling down process. I think that this attitude shows a failure to understand the comprehensive system. In the comprehensive school the ablest child has available to him, not only the traditional range of academic courses, but a wider range which can offer a better balance.

The grammar schools, however, cater for the able minority and yet, in the grammar school, there is much waste of ability, where a proportion of the intake finds the course too heavily academic in character and inappropriate for its needs. At the same time, the inefficiency of any selection that is carried out at the arbitrary age of 11 results, as many of us would agree, in a large overlap of ability between grammar and modern schools.

I refer briefly to our experience in Wales. Some areas in Wales have had a fully comprehensive system for more than 20 years, and there is no evidence that academic standards have suffered—quite the reverse. The proportions of school leavers going on to further and higher education from those very areas are among the highest in the United Kingdom.

I do not think it would be right in a debate about education, and in particular about comprehensive schools, if we were to omit a reference to teachers. I think that the major changes in the education system, be they reorganisation or the raising of the school leaving age, give rise to some teething problems, and, although a number of our comprehensive schools are working under difficulties, there is a growing realisation that the interests of most of the children concerned are being met more effectively than was the case under previous arrangements. It is to the credit of the teachers, and it says much for their dedication that in the best interests of the children they are surmounting the difficulties with which they are confronted.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West made references to neighbourhood schools. I think the comprehensive school is a community school—I would put it as bluntly as that. The Opposition have claimed that neighbourhood arrangements condemn some children to an inferior education. But under the selective system the majority of the children continue to receive their education in their own area while deprived of the leavening of the ablest groups. What I think is required is the improvement of provisions in their neighbourhood.

Home support is increasingly recognised as indispensable to the work of the school. The community school then, given parity of treatment—if need be, preferential treatment—can contribute to the quality of life in the community and also, as an important bonus for the community, win the support of parents. It may well be that in some areas which lack community facilities local authorities will have to look increasingly to the amenities of the schools which can be supplemented to the advantage of both pupils and the general public.

To sum up our attitude on this topic, we most emphatically wish to encourage participation by the community. and we think that comprehensive schools in any neighbourhood would thereby be better served.

We do not accept that that implies a removal of responsibility from the head or from the staff. We say, rather, that it gives them an opportunity to win parents' support for the more effective education of children. Therefore, the Government's policy on this issue, on which hon. Members have dwelt at length in this and other debates, displays a positive aspect.

In conclusion, where comprehensive schools have been given a fair chance to develop, where they are comprehensive in more than name alone, we know that they are establishing themselves as institutions that offer a wide range of opportunity to far larger numbers of pupils than do those institutions for which selection is still enforced.

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