§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Consolidated Fund Bill and to draw attention to the freeze as it relates to the grant-aided schools. I congratulate warmly my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) for having made the Government aware of the present serious predicament of these schools in Scotland.
If the freeze is continued at the same level, it is possible that 25 per cent. of the children at these schools will be withdrawn from them because their parents are unable to keep them there. If that happens, there will be no alternative form of education available for them, especially in Edinburgh. There are approximately 7,000 children at these schools in Edinburgh, and already Edinburgh's comprehensive schools are packed to capacity. If no increased grant is made to the grant-aided schools it is likely that many children will not be able to have a reasonable education in Edinburgh.
Last week I met some parents who were seriously considering, if the grants were not increased, withdrawing their children from school and sending them to their grandparents in Darlington in Yorkshire. However great a regard I may have for Yorkshire and the comprehensive system of education there, it is a tragic situation when parents in Edinburgh are so afraid about their children's future that they consider sending them to the State system of education in England.
There are at present 25 grant-aided schools in Scotland, and 21,000 pupils go to them, of whom about 7,000 are in Edinburgh. Until 10 years ago the grants covered 60 per cent. of the running costs of these schools. The proportion has been gradually reduced over the years and is now in the region of 33⅓ per cent., the remaining two thirds of the running costs being met from fees. The result of the 1973 freeze and the recent implementation of the Houghton Report means that the grant covers only 25 per cent. of running costs, with the result that fees will be increased enormously, by 50 per 1878 cent. and in some cases by as much as 100 per cent. In the case of the merchant company schools—George Watson's Daniel Stewarts and Melville College and Mary Erskine—there will be a 100 per cent. increase in fees.
We feel that Scottish pupils in grant-aided schools are being treated most unfairly and far more unjustly than pupils in direct-grant schools in England and Wales. In England and Wales, in a freeze situation, 72 per cent. of pupils benefit either from rate support grant or from a national free remission scheme wholly financed by the Exchequer. This means that 72 per cent. of pupils in direct-grant schools are protected by the Exchequer against the full impact of rising fees and costs.
When the Scottish Education Department grant is frozen, no fresh Government aid is made available, directly or indirectly, to the pupils themselves. In all, 98 per cent. of the pupils at grant-aided schools in Scotland are affected, which means that only 2 per cent. of pupils at grant-aided schools enjoy benefit from foundations.
This is a critical situation. The example which I have given of the parents who are thinking of sending their children to Yorkshire is particularly tragic. But they are only one case, and in Edinburgh there are several thousand families in the same situation.
The parents whom I met last week made it clear to me that if the grants covered only 25 per cent. of running costs, with the effect of the present rate of inflation, they would be unable to keep their children at their respective schools. Their son is at George Watson's. Their daughter is at Mary Erskine. While they can afford fees of £270 a year, they cannot afford £540, so one child will have to leave; for the son this would be shortly before taking his O-level examinations.
Whatever the Government's view of the justification or otherwise of grant-aided schools, it is grossly unfair that children now at these schools should have their future careers threatened by an insensitive Government. A refusal to increase the grant will mean an inevitable massive increase in fees, which has come as a huge financial shock to parents. Many parents send their children to these schools 1879 on the basis of a substantial grant. Now, a large number of families will not be able to afford the fees.
I have mentioned to Ministers the disruption in the lives of many children which would result. I hope that the Government will consider the interests of the thousands of children in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland and take immediate action to increase the grant. First, this might be cheaper to the Exchequer than the additional burden of far more pupils in the comprehensive schools. Second, the corporation schools in Edinburgh would in any case be quite unable to cope with the numbers involved. Third, the grant-aided schools in Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland have a high reputation within the capital, within Scotland and elsewhere in Britain. They have proved themselves excellent, and there can be no advantage in refusing to take this necessary action, thereby causing a serious educational crisis when it could so easily be averted.
Fourth, a refusal to increase the grant will be unsettling for the children, worrying for the parents and depressing for the teachers who are trying to give them the help they deserve. I beg the Government to remember that irreparable damage can be done to children's future lives by forcing parents to take them from school at a crucial moment. Since it is families with relatively modest means who will be suffering—the more wealthy can afford the increased fees—I ask the Government to think again and to act not through dogmatism or ideology but from a sense of humanity.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)
Of all the shabbier aspects of the Government's educational policy, there can be nothing more deplorable than the way in which they have treated the grant-aided schools in Scotland and their sister schools—the direct grant schools—in England and Wales. Over the last few months, having stood by while the local authority education system descended into a shambles throughout Scotland, they have now moved from a negative position and are positively wrecking some of Scotland's finest schools without any care for the hardship they cause and the disruption which is involved for parents, children and teachers.
1880 I oppose these measures for two reasons. First, I oppose the Government's longterm objective of phasing these schools out. Second, and equally important, irrespective of that objective I utterly condemn the way in which they are treating the schools at present. On the general question, let us consider the Government's objection to the existence of these schools. It is undisputed that they have provided first-class education for many generations for thousands of Scottish schoolchildren from all backgrounds.
So what, then, is the Government's objection? First, it is sometimes suggested that it is wrong in principle that the State, the Exchequer or the public, should give grants towards schools which are not themselves State schools but which are at least partly independent. Let us examine that suggestion, because it is clearly an important point of principle.
The first thing I suggest to the House is that it is in no way unique for the Government, the State or the taxpayer to provide financial help to institutions or bodies which are not fully controlled by the State. The very existence of regional development and the regional employment premium shows that. That goes not to nationalised industries but to independent firms acting privately, because it is clearly in the public interest that they should receive such help—likewise through virtually every aspect of Government policy.
Equally, there can be no moral objection to the mere fact that schools which are partially independent, and which accept Government standards throughout every aspect of their structure, should receive financial help. These schools are not independent, in the public school sense. They have to conform to national regulations on the payment of teachers. They may not employ any teachers they wish; they may employ only recognised teachers, in the same way as local authority schools. They have to conform to standards of educational examinations. Throughout the whole administration they come under considerable Government control. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that they should receive a financial contribution.
I accept that if it could be argued that it was somehow against the financial interest of the taxpayer that these grants should be made, there might be a good 1881 reason for withdrawing the grants altogether from these schools. But let us examine what the situation is and whether it is in the interests of taxpayers as a whole that these grants should be withdrawn.
I refer the Minister and the House to the figures which have been produced on this matter. I refer to the latest figures in the Scottish Educational Statistics for 1971–72. These figures show that the cost per child at a State primary school is £130, but for a child in a grant-aided primary school it is £53.75. If we go to the secondary level, the figures are just as revealing. A child in a State secondary school costs £282. The same child, if attending a grant-aided school, costs the taxpayer £116.
Let us work out what that means in total. It means that if grants were to be withdrawn from all the Scottish grant-aided schools the extra burden on the taxpayer would be an annual sum of at least £4½ million. So we can say, quite specifically and without fear of contradiction, that far from the grant-aided schools being a burden on the public they actually save the public a tax burden of £4½ million at today's prices. It would be interesting to find out whether the Government disagree with those figures, which have been culled from their own statistics.
It is equally possible to argue, "Despite that, the children at these schools get a better deal and have more money spent on their education." Let us examine the figures on this matter, which are also available. We find that if we add to the grant which the schools receive the income they receive from fees and other sources, the total amount spent on children at grant-aided schools amounts, in the case of a primary school, to £115.85, as compared with the £130 spent on a child at a State primary school. In the secondary schools the figures are £251 as compared with £282, including fees and all other forms of revenue which these schools obtain.
Therefore, at the end of the day we find that not only do these schools save the public £4½ million but that at these schools much less is spent, per child, than is spent in the State system.
If, as is argued—I would not for a moment wish to deny this—these schools 1882 have managed to produce a first-class education, the fact remains, from the Government's statistics, that they have done that while spending less per child than does the State system. If they are to be condemned for that, it is a very remarkable example of the Government's lack of concern and insensitivity to the problems of education in Scotland and throughout the country.
If the financial objection cannot be maintained there is always, of course, the suggestion that, somehow, these schools are exclusive and must be condemned for that—that they are restricted to a certain social sector of the population.
Let us examine the facts. I am particularly concerned with the schools in Edinburgh. I am sure that the Minister is aware that schools such as the George Heriot School or the Merchant Company schools and the other grant-aided schools draw their children from practically every walk of life. Like every other Edinburgh Member I have received many representations not just from parents who live in grand houses but from those who live in council houses, from active trade unionists and such people who have allocated part of their income to sending their children to these schools because they believe they provide a first-class education.
I do not believe that these schools are in any way socially exclusive. Let us for the purposes of the debate, however, assume that they are, and let us examine the effect of Government policy. The Government have stated that their long-term objectives for grant-aided schools are to force them either to go into the State system or to become completely independent. Clearly, one or two of those schools might opt to be merged into the local authority system. It is equally obvious that a large number of them will move, however reluctantly, towards complete independence. The result of that will clearly be a necessary and substantial increase in fees, and the long-term result will be the one that the Government wish to avoid. The schools will become socially exclusive. Without the grant they will have to charge higher fees. If that is the Government's objective it demonstrates their lack of sensitivity and their lack of any appreciation of the educational needs of Scotland.
1883 The reasons that the Government have put forward in the past do not, therefore, bear close examination. The Scotsman said this morning that these schools deserved to continue to exist in their present form because they had been proved to be good schools. It is vital that we maintain some variety in our education system. It would be wrong for education to become a State monopoly so that, ultimately, it would be forbidden for a parent to have his child educated other than in the way the State determines.
We know that there are fashions in education. Just after the war the grammer school was seen to be the great liberator for working-class children. That is now unfashionable, and the current craze is for the comprehensive system. It would be a pity if, when this system becomes unfashionable—as it will sooner or later—there is no alternative in our educational system. Let us assume that the Government insist upon carrying out their long-term policy of phasing out these schools. The Government will stand to be condemned for the way they have treated the present situation.
Even compared with the attitude of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who is responsible for England and Wales, the attitude of the Scottish Office has been particularly deplorable. Unlike their English counterparts, Scottish Ministers have refused to give any timetable to the House, the parents, or the local authorities, who are equally involved in the future of these schools. I shall be interested to hear the Minister explain why his English counterpart has been able to state a timetable for Government policy while the Scottish Minister has manifestly refused to do so and has evaded answering questions when they are put.
We deserve to know what the position is. No only the schools and the parents are in difficulties; if the schools are to be phased out the local authorities must be able to plan ahead and, so far, they have no timetable or indication what they must plan for—the type of influx they can expect and when it will arrive.
On the immediate problem of freezing the grant the Government have acted with an alarming and incredible lack of concern for the feelings of parents and children involved. No one can suggest 1884 that the parents are responsible for the rate of inflation or for the Houghton recommendations, which recommended large increases for the teaching profession. Every grant-aided school had to make these payments to the teachers, and it was quite happy to do so. The payments were backdated to March.
On what basis do the Government refuse not to increase the percentage of grant but to maintain the grant at the level at which it has always been—to increase it in actual money terms but to maintain it in real terms?
The Government know perfectly well that their long-term objectives can be achieved equally well without punishing parents and their children. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) that considerable hardship is being created for many parents and children. I have letters from one parent with five children at Merchant Company schools, and numerous letters from those with one or two children who cannot afford to pay. It is not only those people who will suffer. The local authorities are concerned about the influx they can expect.
It is not just a question of children now at those schools being withdrawn. There is the equally dangerous problem that children who might have been expected to begin next session will not do so, because their parents, seeing the sort of fees they will be expected to pay, will change their minds and send the children into the local authority system. They are free to do so.
The local authorities know that it is their duty to accept those children, but they do not have the means. If only a quarter of the children were withdrawn in Edinburgh it would mean a burden of more than 1,500 children. In my constituency, which has George Watson's school, the two local authority schools are grossly overcrowded. They cannot take the present influx, never mind the new influx. But the Government seem determined, for ideological reasons, to ignore the effects of their actions.
I hope that the Government and those who support them will not underestimate the strength of feeling not just in Edinburgh but throughout Scotland—not just among the parents of children presently 1885 at the schools, not just among parents who themselves went to the schools, and not just among people who have a direct interest in them. Many people who have never been to them and have no direct concern with them believe strongly that they have made a valuable contribution to Scottish education, and that they could continue to make a magnificent contribution if they were allowed to do so.
The Government must realise that this is not a policy that they will be able to implement by stealth. They will not be able to get the local authorities to do 1886 their dirty work for them. I hope that they will not expect that the parents and the public as a whole will stand by and watch fine schools destroyed, with no concern for the effect on the schools or the general local authority structure.
If the Government are determined to go ahead not just with their long-term policy but with their thoughtless short-term application of it, they will have a long, bitter struggle, which will not be in their interests, or anybody's interests. I hope that they will carefully consider not only the feelings but the true interests of all those who believe in Scottish education.
§ 10.8 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
I welcome this opportunity to speak about grant-aided schools in Scotland. There is no doubt that the matter is becoming the dominant issue in Scotland. Last Session it was the teachers' salaries dispute, which has created a substantial part of the dispute of this Session.
The Scottish National Party has a different attitude toward the problem than that of the two hon. Members who have just spoken. We are totally committed to the comprehensive ideal of education, because we believe in equality of opportunity. It is an ancient Scottish tradition to believe in that, and it is something that we wish to see continued.
I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) that there are reasons why parents have been opting out of the State system. I am sure that the Under-Secretary is very much aware of them. We need only to look at the statistics of designations for schools in Scotland, the number of mobile classrooms, which have been increasing almost day by day, and the fact that many children in Scotland are on part-time education.
When we look at the State system, we can understand what is behind the parents' anxieties. It is a terrifying situation for many people in Scotland. We would like to see a phasing-out take place over five years. There have been arguments about the time that should be involved but we prefer five years. It is the shortest possible period which would give the State system the opportunity to readjust, expand and provide the facilities and resources which the parents concerned are looking for in terms of their children's education. Five years will also give the parents the guarantee that there will not be the disruption of education that they fear, since children currently in grant-aided schools could finish their course; and there should be no further intake of pupils into the grant-aided schools. Five years seems a logical period and I ask the Minister in the Scottish Office who is responsible for education to consider that period.
I should also like to know whether the Minister, like myself, is committed to the ideal of comprehensive education. I am 1888 sure that he is. The Labour Government should be considering the future of the ultimate bastion of privilege in educational terms, namely, the so-called public system of education. That is the system that we in Scotland would call the private system.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)
I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in this debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) have highlighted the most important situation that is developing rapidly in Edinburgh in particular and throughout many areas of Scotland in general. My hon. Friends have explained the statistics to the House clearly and accurately. I do not propose to go over that ground again, save to remind the Minister that the Government have forced the grant-aided schools into imposing swingeing increases in fees, of the order of 100 per cent. That means an increase of about £300 per annum. For many parents that is an impossible increase.
We want to know what alternative the Minister considers is available to the parents concerned. As my hon. Friends have indicated, there is nowhere else for their children to go. For many children this situation has developed at a critical time in their educational lives, when examinations are imminent. When I was the Minister concerned—that was my position until 12 months ago—I not infrequently had representations from Edinburgh Corporation and received deputations from the corporation's education committee. It was rammed home to the Government that there was a desperate shortage of accommodation. The Government of the day were asked to increase the building programme by X hundreds of thousands of pounds because of the acute shortage. Yet here the Government of 1975 are making it inevitable that 1,500 or 2,000 additional pupils will have to be taken into the State sector.
1889 The Minister must explain tonight where the places will be and where the money and resources are to come from to provide the places. From 1970 onwards the Conservative Government gave a percentage increase of grant to the grant-aided schools each year. They updated the grant that had been frozen by the Labour Government during 1964–70.
It is so wrong that whenever a Labour Government are in power they should seek to impose their will on education instead of leaving the matter to those most involved. We made it clear in our election manifesto in October that we would continue wholeheartedly to support the grant-aided schools and to increase the percentage grant in line with the rapid rise in costs. Indeed, on 4th October, I published a detailed plan in an educational journal. We made it clear that we would reopen the possibility of increasing the number of grant-aided schools and make further provision for assisting the parents having difficulty in meeting the fees.
There was a working party looking into all these matters with the grant-aided schools. What progress is it making? Or has it been snuffed out? In the EIS Journal of October the Minister made absolutely clear where his party stood. I cannot prevent a wry smile at the Scottish National Party. There was no mention of grant-aided schools in its manifesto. Not a squeak. It seems to have a different policy for every constituency. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) said that her party would carry out its policy in five years. In its manifesto expenditure on education is doubled, to £900 million, and takes 10 per cent. of the GNP. I doubt whether the resources of this country could stand that.
§ Mrs. Bain
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Scottish National Party has had a long-standing policy to the effect that direct-grant and independent schools will be phased out in an independent Scotland. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the basic philosophy behind the idea of spending 10 per cent. of GNP on education is a good one? It would eradicate problems in the State system and would give us the oppor- 1890 tunity to build up a good system with an element of choice within it, which was not based on ability to pay.
§ Mr. Monro
It is interesting to have a policy that is not written down. Then it can mean all things to all people. If the hon. Lady thinks that this country can spend 10 per cent. of its GNP she must tell us what other expenditure will be cut. It is no good saying that defence expenditure must be cut, because that is vital.
I remind the Minister that we are talking about 1.9 per cent. of the children in our schools, and a cost of £2.2 million. These figures should not be ignored just because they are thought to be insignificant. What will be done about specialist schools, such as St. Mary's Cathedral Choir School? There is no other school in Scotland that can provide extremely high-quality musical education for particularly gifted children. The Minister ought to know that the Department has been trying to find ways and means of extending this type of education with courses supported by Yehudi Menuhin and many other important people in the musical world. Does the Minister intend to phase out the grants to such a unique school?
What about the Morrison Academy at Crieff, or even the Robert Gordon School in Aberdeen—part of which the Minister represents? Why should he attack the Merchant Company schools, which boast exceptional administration and an extremely high standard of education? We can give particular reasons why these schools should be supported in their areas as alternatives to the State system.
All of these schools have had to bear the increase in the cost of living, which the Government have now admitted to be 25 per cent. There has been the Houghton award, giving a deserved increase to teachers. It is essential that we have an increase in the grant for these schools and an updating of the increase in current grant—which they did not receive last year. It is up to the Government to respond to the wishes of the parents who give up many little luxuries to send their children to these schools.
The individual has a right to spend his money as he wishes, despite what the Chancellor of the Exchequer may wish 1891 to do. It is right that people should have the opportunity to send their children, at a reasonable fee, to these secondary schools. I make the pledge tonight that the Conservatives will return to this scene time and again until the Government give an increased grant to the grant-aided schools and assure the House that those schools will continue for as long as they wish.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead)
I do not know for how long the debate will go tonight, but some of us have trains to catch, and if I do not manage to hear the whole of the Minister's speech I hope that he will not think that it is because of any lack of courtesy or interest on my part.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) and Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) on their good luck in securing this important subject in the Ballot, because the future of the grant-aided schools is vitally important for the well-being of Scotland. The Government's policy puts the continued existence of these schools in jeopardy. The Government only put them in jeopardy, but the Scottish National Party, to which the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) belongs, intends to cut their throats. I was glad to hear what the hon. Lady said tonight. The people in my constituency who voted for her party will have their eyes opened and will realise that what I said during the General Election campaign was true. Far from expressing the proper Scots attitude towards education, the SNP has it wrong, as it has everything else wrong. Opportunity, yes, but not drab uniformity. That is what is betraying the proper heritage of Scotland, and I am thoroughly ashamed to belong to the same race and nation as these people.
After that parenthesis, I should like to ask the Minister one or two questions to find out the reasons for the Government's attack upon grant-aided schools. In his reply, will the Minister say whether he thinks the education provided in these schools is a good education or a bad education? Surely, the answer cannot be that it is a bad education. If it is not a bad education, why do anything to limit its extent?
1892 My two hon. Friends have referred to cost. Is that the reason? If the number of grant-aided schools declines, the cost to the Exchequer will be more, not less. Will the Minister tell us what figure is at stake? I am afraid that he is being penny-wise and pound-foolish.
I have often heard speeches made by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), which have wrung our hearts with pity. Tonight he appears to have no pity, and no feeling, either for the parents or the children who attend these schools. That makes me think that his assumed pity is humbug and hypocrisy. Otherwise, he would take a different attitude.
This is a concentrated form of attack upon individuality in schools and excellence in education. Only a few years ago we saw the abolition of the fee-paying schools—
§ Mr. Galbraith
The Under-Secretary of State says "Hear, hear", but he has not any of these schools in his constituency, otherwise he would not be grinning as he is.
§ Mr. Galbraith
No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman has plenty of opportunity to make a speech.
Not long ago the selective schools—schools that cater for and give a good education to children from the poorest classes in our community—were the subject of attention. In my constituency the Girl's High School has gone. These schools cannot be recreated. Now the attack is being directed at the grant-aided schools—schools such as the Kelvinside Academy, the Westbourne Gardens School and Hutchison School. Some may continue, but others will go to the wall. Many of those that continue will go if the Scottish National Party has its way—and if the Labour Party has its way it will get rid of the independent schools. I see the Under-Secretary of State indicating his agreement.
Why does it want uniformity? Does it not know what uniformity means? It 1893 means dictatorship. Variety is not only the spice of life; it is the essense of good education. It is a good thing to be able to experiment, to have competition between one form and another and not have to be dominated by the power-hungry figure in the form of the hon. Gentleman from St. Andrew's House. It is no good the Minister's putting that look on his face. He knows what it would mean. If he gets rid of fee-paying schools, grant-aided schools, and, eventually, the independent schools, we shall end up with no variety in education at all.
I am not necessarily against the experiment of trying out comprehensive schools because we should try a bit of everything. What I am opposed to is the tendency towards uniformity.
The present decision does not appear to be required through financial necessity, and it cannot be said to be required by educational wisdom. The decision seems to be taken on what are called grounds of social engineering. It is inspired by envy. Because everybody cannot have something, nobody should have it. Taken to its logical conclusion, we are saying that because selective schools are to go, grant-aided schools must go and the next will be independent schools. What is left then? Only the parent is left. The next aim of the Labour Party will be to remove children from good parents, in the interests of fairness, because some are good and some are bad. That is the logical extension of what the Minister proposes.
It is utterly wrong to try to fix a straitjacket on education. What we should be doing is to encourage each parent to choose for himself his own school according to his means and to try to lead more people towards self-help, instead of abolishing the lot and going in for drab uniformity.
Despite some of the things I have said to the Minister, I should like to ask him to reconsider this matter. We have a mixed economy in this country, and time and again the Labour Party has expressed its belief in that philosophy. It does not yet believe in a Communist State. If we have a mixed economy, surely we should have a mixed educational system, too. If there is to be a move towards 1894 comprehensiveness—which I am not necessarily against as to some of it—let us hasten in that direction slowly, otherwise the Minister may throw out the good with the bad.
My last appeal to the Minister—because I believe that despite his stern exterior he has a soft heart—is that he should have some compassion for the children who attend these schools now. Do not force them out, for it will affect their future. Scottish education is being needlessly jeopardised by what I can only describe as a shabby example of parsimony and social dogma.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Robert Hughes)
Speakers in this debate have raised what is obviously a matter of some public concern. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) raised the matter with great passion. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) referred to education as the dominant issue in Scotland today, while the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who initiated the debate, made a passionate—although in a sense it was dispassionate—plea on the facts of the case.
I acquit hon. Members of any blame if they have to leave the Chamber to catch a train. I understand the difficulties of parliamentary life. However, I shall be disappointed if they are unable to listen to the whole of my speech. That is something which I may well have to bear.
I am very glad that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) acquitted the Government of trying to deal with the question of grant-aided schools by stealth, since it was made very clear in the Labour Party manifesto for Scotland in the last election and in my piece in the E.I.S. Journal that the Labour Government had frozen grants to grant-aided schools as a first step to the longer-term aim of phasing out grants. We do not believe that such schools should continue to enjoy a specially privileged place in Scottish education. Indeed, that has been our policy for a number of years. The previous Labour Government also froze the grants to grant-aided schools. The Labour Party manifesto, on the basis of which we 1895 fought and won the election, said that the Government would stop the present system of direct grants to schools—although that referred mainly to England—and would abolish tax relief for public schools as a step towards our long-term aim of phasing out fee-paying schools. Our policy has been perfectly clear from the beginning. There was no question of doing this by stealth.
A number of hon. Members said that some parents make sacrifices to send their children to grant-aided schools. We read from time to time in the Press what those sacrifices are—such as doing without a car or a holiday. I understand why parents make sacrifices to obtain what they think is the best education for their children. For example, my parents made sacrifices for what they thought was the best education for me, as a bursar of Robert Gordons.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East said that there were difficulties in some State schools, which was one reason why people opted out of the State system and sent their children to grant-aided schools. The system of grant-aided and private schools has existed for a long time.
Difficulties arose during the last term over the Houghton Report. I am glad that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) recognised that the Houghton Committee awarded large increases to teachers. It is the first time that the Opposition have conceded that fact. Although nothing more was made of the point, I am glad that they recognise the amount of money going to Scottish education for teachers' salaries as a result of the Houghton Committee recommendations.
Dealing with Scotland as a whole, we should ask ourselves why 8 per cent. of the pupils in Edinburgh and 3 per cent. of the pupils in Glasgow should go out of the State system. Paragraph 6.8 of Part Two of the Public Schools' Commission Report says:It was put to us that: There is a first and second class education service in Edinburgh. The removal of so many able children (many from the age of 5) to fee-paying schools and the great gulf between the esteem and support enjoyed by these schools and the lack of interest in non-fee-paying schools seems impossible to bridge. This militates against the 1896 success of comprehensive education in Edinburgh.The Public Schools Commission, in effect, agreed with that assessment. In its main recommendations it said that it believed in comprehensive education and that the grant-aided schools should become comprehensive.
§ Mr. Galbraith
That was an examination of the independent schools—the public schools and the grant-aided schools. But surely there was something in between. I refer to the selective fee-paying schools, which are at a lower level of parental contribution but not of scholastic excellence.
§ Mr. Hughes
This report goes into a number of matters—fee-paying schools, grant-aided schools and independent schools.
The fact that there was such a gulf between the State system in Edinburgh and the fee-paying, grant-aided and independent schools is a savage condemnation of the Conservative Party, which controlled education in Edinburgh for many years and did not take care to see that the children of ordinary people had the opportunity to obtain a proper education.
Reference has been made to the types of parent who send their children to the schools that we are discussing. In this connection, I tried to discover the social backgrounds of children who go to grant-aided schools in Scotland. According to paragraph 435 of the Report of the Public Schools Commission, an overwhelming proportion of the children in grant-aided schools—about 80 per cent.—came from social classes 1 and 2. Fewer than 20 per cent. were from class 3, a very small group from class 4, and a negligible number from class 5.
There were variations, of course, because some grant-aided schools are really the local schools. There, between 65 per cent. and 80 per cent. of the children were from classes 1 and 2, whereas in all the other schools of the 26 or 27 which exist, more than 85 per cent. of the pupils were from social classes 1 and 2, and in some there were more than 90 per cent.
It may be argued that a report published in 1970 on the basis of information 1897 collected in 1968 and 1969 is out of date, but there is no reason to believe that it is. Some of the people interested in financial matters in Edinburgh are in no doubt about the social classes from which the children come.
It is purely fortuitous that the Scotsman on 22nd January carried a two-page advertising feature and a large advertisement saying "Education or State School?" put in by a company named Education and School Fees Planning (Scotland) Limited. The advertising feature is headed,Painless way of paying school fees.It says:Parents who have decided on a private education for their children despite the financial sacrifice involved—are faced with constant increases in school fees caused by inflation. Many fear that they will be unable to afford to pay school fees, yet the prospect of state education does not appeal. What can be done?The answer lies in early financial planning. Last year a specialist company was launched in Edinburgh to advise parents on financial provision for private education. A subsidiary of Kirton Webster Financial Services Limited, this new company, Education and School Fees Planning (Scotland) Limited, met with an immediate and overwhelming response.It says that people who look after their money reasonably well may have to invest only 10 per cent. of their income, although fees at senior school can cost 40 per cent. It says that they must start planning early.
Beside the advertisement is an article by the financial editor, headed, "A philosophy for investors", which says of this educational planning serviceThey can also devise applications of their philosophy to meet the needs of parents who are finding school fees a very heavy and always increasing burden.I do not know the connection here in terms of research, but it saysIt has been possible for a couple with four children, ranging in age from two to eight, to settle £20,000 on the children which has the prospect of growing to £85,000 when they have all reached 21. To get the exemption, the father settles £5,000 on each of two children and the mother settles £5,000 on each of the other two.There are two ends of the spectrum, and hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They say that many of the parents affected cannot meet the school fees and that Labour policy means that children 1898 whose parents are in more difficult circumstances will have to leave school. But the schools can determine their own fees, and can operate their own remission schemes if they wish.
As always, we have heard that schools should not be exclusive to children from only one class. The figures I quoted show that the social mix is very limited. On this matter, this useful document from the Public Schools Commission says:Moreover, social segregation of young people in their formative years is likely to impoverish their education in some fundamental ways. They will grow up lacking understanding of and respect for large groups of their fellow countrymen.
§ Mr. Hughes
Let us leave Tory candidates out of it for a moment.
I agree with social mix. It is important that people from different walks of life should mix, but the trouble is that, when Conservative Members are talking of social mix, nine times out of 10 they are really thinking of giving working class children of ability the opportunity to mix with their betters, in socially desirable grant-aided or independent schools. They may not mean to, but they denigrate the working class way of life. Children from privileged and wealthy backgrounds—children of doctors, lawyers, academics and so on—would benefit from going to the ordinary neighbourhood comprehensive school with the children of the whole catchment area.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)
Does not the Minister agree that if there is a large exodus from these schools the comprehensive schools in Edinburgh will not be able to cope, as they are at present crowded to capacity, and he already has a crisis on his hands?
§ Mr. Hughes
I am coming to the points about timing and a large exodus, but since at least one hon. Member suggested that the Government's policy was built on envy and greed, that we were seeking to destroy and not to build, the philosophy behind the policy is important. This is not being done because of 1899 cost, or because we object to the amount of money being spent; It is an argument about education and social philosophy.
I turn to the question of the timetable. First, it is speculative, at present, certainly, to try to say how many children will come out of the grant-aided schools next term. We just do not know. We shall have to look at questions about the timing details. There is again no question of this being done by stealth or behind anyone's back. For the policy of phasing out grants to continue, the Government will require legislation. That legislation will be open to discussion on the Floor of the House and in Committee. It will go through the normal processes of Parliament and we shall be able to discuss this matter. Before we reach that stage there will have to be discussions with the local authorities and the schools about the timing with regard to the phasing out of grants and on the question of the integration of the schools in the system.
It is certainly not our intention to compel grant-aided schools to become part of the State system by legislation. They will certainly have the right to choose which is the best course for them. I should very much like to see them becoming simply part of the comprehensive system of education. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West is making a great mistake if he thinks that anyone in the Labour Party is trying to drive people into a common mould and make them all the same. We shall never get the real variety of education or real improvements in State education if we insist on creaming off people of ability and interest. That is a sad fact, with which it is very difficult to come to terms.
Very often people from socially deprived backgrounds find it difficult to make their impact on the education system and to understand what it is about. They have been tied down in this cycle for so long. They see their children rejected, in the way they have been rejected by the selective system, and they see them rejected by teachers and those who say "Let us solve the education problem by letting them leave school as quickly as they can". If children are rejected by society, one cannot be surprised if the children themselves reject society. That rejection on the part of children may take different forms, such 1900 as vandalism or children simply becoming apathetic towards what goes on around them.
It is very important that we should have an education system which is of great value to all the children in our schools. I certainly hope that within the different schools in different parts of Scotland we shall have educational variety and educational experiment—as long as at all times we have the interests of the children at heart.
I have made it perfectly clear that my party is fully committed to the comprehensive system. I cannot tell hon. Members tonight the exact timetable for the phasing out of grants, but I do not think that they are right to draw the conclusion that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science—in England—has made any more specific pronouncements than we have in Scotland. Nor are we treating grant-aided schools in Scotland any more harshly than they are being treated in England and Wales.
Our Scottish system—even the grant-aided system—has grown up in different ways, with different legislation. The fact that there is a fees remission scheme in England and Wales results from the way in which their system has developed—by education authorities having nominated places at schools and the schools taking the children nominated. We have not developed in that way. It is not a question of being especially harsh. There are two different systems.
I cannot say what the timing will be. I can only say that the Government do not intend to increase the grant for 1975–76. There is plenty of time to discuss what will happen after that.
I have one last quotation from the Public Schools Commission. That was an excellent report—not that I agree with all its conclusions. I agree with a lot of the evidence and with some of its conclusions. Paragraph 7.2 saysAn educational system which enables a fortunate minority of children to take their education a long way while permitting the rest to leave school for the labour market at the minimum leaving age is obsolete.I agree that it is obsolete. We have made a great start by moving over mainly to a comprehensive system. I believe 1901 that a lot of the barriers to a proper education have been removed. I believe, too, that the individuality and personal freedom that Conservative Members speak about so much would be far better achieved by having a Socialist system of education, where people are more important than anything else.
We have made a very good start by pursuing a policy of integrating the grant-aided schools and, eventually, the independent schools, into the State system. That will help us to remove most, if not all, of the barriers which exist. The Government are operating a policy of compassion. We care very much for the children who are never mentioned and who face difficult circumstances. They need more of our care and compassion than those who are able to look after themselves. As the Government's policy unfolds and is seen to work I believe that it will be agreed on all sides that it is both socially and educationally desirable.