HC Deb 09 July 1975 vol 895 cc523-5
16. Mr. Lambie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is now able to announce his decision on the representations made to him on the question of allowing pupils to leave school on their sixteenth birthday in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The review of school leaving date arrangements which my right hon. Friend announced on 14th January is not confined to the question of allowing pupils to leave school on their sixteenth birthday. The implications of different courses of action suggested to me are at present under consideration.

Mr. Lambie

Is my hon. Friend aware that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education stated on 24th June and confirmed yesterday that it is the Government's intention to introduce a mini-Education Bill in the autumn which will include a clause to allow pupils to leave school on their sixteenth birthday? Will my hon. Friend confirm that this policy will apply to Scotland?

Mr. Hughes

I am aware of my right hon. Friend's decision about a mini Education Bill. I understand that the summer leaving date will be brought forward to Easter. This does not affect the question of allowing children to leave school on their sixteenth birthday. The policy of bringing forward the summer leaving date does not apply to Scotland because we are having a much more fundamental review. A number of different options have been canvassed. We shall study those options and come to a conclusion as soon as possible.

Mr. David Steel

Is the Minister aware that there is great disappointment that consideration of allowing pupils to leave school on their sixteenth birthday was not completed in time for the summer holidays, when a large number of pupils will be affected? Is he aware that parents in my constituency have pointed out to me that if they register their sons and daughters with relatives on the other side of the border for a week in June, some of these children can leave school because of the discrepancy over the autumn starting date between the two areas? Is it not time this nonsense was ended?

Mr. Hughes

It does not only apply if people register their children on the other side of the border. If children are registered in schools in different education authorities, there are different dates. The position in Scotland is different from that in England. At present the local authorities also set the leaving date. There is a lot of controversy about whether children should be allowed to leave at 16. When I say 16 I mean their sixteenth birthday. Among the things that have been suggested is that there should be more than two leaving dates to spread the anomalies. I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands that the anomalies existed when the school leaving age was 15. The fact that it is 16 has made it no worse, except, of course, that some children want to leave early because it is the school leaving age.

Mr. Selby

Is the Minister aware that an anomaly arose in my constituency last year? A constituent of mine informed me that his son's birthday fell the day after the school recommenced. The boy had a job but could not take it because his birthday was one day late. Why should people have to wait? Why cannot we say that when someone is 16 years of age and if he has a job he can go ahead and take it?

Mr. Hughes

Because we believe that there is educational advantage in rounding off children's education. There will always be anomalies with a fixed leaving age whether it is 15 years of age or 16. There is a tendency to get this matter out of perspective. It leads to the suggestion that the school leaving age should be lowered to 15, because children can get a job at 15. If we reduce it to 15 we shall have the same anomalies and people will ask "Why bother with the school leaving age at all?" There are very great educational advantages in children staying at school. To solve the problem by saying "Let them leave whenever they can" would simply not be facing up to the realities of the situation.