HC Deb 19 November 1974 vol 881 cc1086-8
9. Sir G. Sinclair

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what reports he has received from Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools about violence, truancy and absenteeism in schools; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Armstrong

In the course of their ordinary work Her Majesty's inspectors gather views and information about behavioural questions. This will provide a helpful basis for the further consultations I propose to have with those concerned about these problems.

Sir G. Sinclair

Does the Minister accept that local authorities which allow a minority of pupils to disrupt the efficiency of their schools are in breach of their statutory educational obligations?

Mr. Armstrong

I do not know of any local authority that allows that to happen. This is a serious problem with which we are doing our best to cope. There is considerable variation in the extent of behavioural problems, and generalisations do not help the majority of schools and teachers who do a first-class job even with reluctant learners.

Mr. Crawshaw

Is my hon. Friend aware that since the raising of the school leaving age absenteeism has been aggravated in many parts of the country? Has he considered the possibility of diverting some of the children who obviously will not benefit by the extra year into something that will give them a better opportunity later in life?

Mr. Armstrong

I accept what my hon. Friend says about the growing concern that is being expressed. In fact, just after the first year of the raising of the school leaving age is much too early a time to come to any general conclusions. We have initiated surveys on absenteeism and on truancy. They have not borne out the alarming generalisations that my hon. Friend makes. We are in touch with the inspectorate and with people who are doing the job in the schools. I do not deny for a moment that there is a problem, but there were problems of discipline long before the school leaving age was raised.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is that not an extraordinarily complacent reply? Is it not possible to retain the principle of the school leaving age being 16 but to make it more flexible in practice—for example, to allow pupils to leave and take up apprenticeships, to leave immediately after they have taken their examinations or to leave to join the Forces provided further educational facilities are available?

Mr. Armstrong

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman prepared his supplementary question before he heard my reply. There was no complacency in what I said. I acknowledge the serious problem that exists in certain schools, but to retreat from the principle of raising the school leaving age would be to deny to the children who most need education the opportunity that we are determined to give to them.

Mr. Kinnock

Will my hon. Friend undertake on behalf of his Department to provide a handbook for distribution throughout the country that will set out the history of British educational development so that the citizenry generally can see how barbarian and outdated are some of the ideas that we have heard from the Opposition?

Mr. Armstrong

I welcome my hon. Friend's suggestion but I hardly think that a handbook is necessary. If hon. Members were to see the great advantages accruing to my part of the country because of the raising of the school leaving age, they would not be so complacent about the extra opportunities that have been offered to the children.