HC Deb 21 July 1976 vol 915 cc1814-76

The Schools Council shall be discontinued from the date of the passing of this Act.—[Mr. Macfarlane.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am moving the clause to give the House an opportunity to consider the work of the Schools Council, its terms of reference and composition. I contend, as do others on this side of the House, that the Schools Council is unwieldy and totally unrepresentative of a large body of educational opinion in the country. The abolition of the council would give the Secretary of State and the House the opportunity to replace it with an advisory body in which all educational interests could be adequately and equally represented.

It is essential that the House should debate the clause, consider the terms of reference of the council and, particularly at this critical time, its work, because its recent pronouncement about combining the CSE and GCE examinations is yet another attack on our standards of education.

I shall first deal with the composition of the council and show the House how, by its nature, it can be nothing but unwieldy. A study of the council's actions shows that it makes decisions piecemeal, presumably because of its size. What other reason can there be for a group of responsible people with a deep interest in education doing several undesirable things in the last 12 months? They have suggested changing the form of the 16-plus school-leaving examinations before decisions have been taken about the sixth-form examination to which the proposed 16-plus examinations are, in many cases, leading. Second, they rushed out proposals for changing the present 16-plus school-leaving examinations and organised it so badly that teachers had insufficient time to discuss those proposals and to comment on them much in advance of the meeting held on 8th July.

Among the quotations and comments by many of the large unions involving teachers, schoolmasters, school mistresses include those of the Association of Assistant Mistresses—an organisation of over 37,000 women teachers mainly working in the secondary school sector and who prepare candidates for the CSE and GCE examinations. It said in its comments on the report of the Schools Council's Joint Examination Sub-Committee: We are, however, concerned that the problems of distribution of the report were such as to curtail seriously the opportunity for teachers to read thoroughly and discuss knowledgeably the issues involved. We also regret that Examining Boards who had made syllabuses, examination schemes and reports of feasibility studies available did not give them sufficient publicity to interested teachers who would have wished to see them. The Assistant Masters' Association says in its comments: The Association has been severely handicapped in this consultative process by the long interval of time between the publication of the report in September and the arrival of copies in schools—many schools had not received their copy by the end of November, many members did not have the opportunity to study the full report until January. The Association reiterates the view expressed to the Governing Council at its meeting in January that insufficient time has been allowed for a detailed consideration of the full report, as distinct from the simple statement of the Sub-Committee's recommendations. The National Association of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers say: The timetable for the introduction of the system in 1981 is regarded as unrealistic. Setting up the machinery will take several years and then the schools will need to have the syllabuses for the new examinations at least three years before the first examinations can be taken. What an indictment that is of the organising ability and powers of forethought of the council which is responsible for the co-ordination of the GCE and CSE examinations and which in the words of the Secretary of State for Education: keeps the monitoring and maintenance of standards under review". The third extraordinary action by the Joint Examinations Sub-Committee was to suggest 1981 as the proposed date for starting this new examination when its own working party on administration was not able to make a recommendation about the administrative structure.

The Association of Assistant Masters says that: an administrative structure which will be acceptable to teachers and the Secretary of State must be formulated well in advance of any decision to introduce a common system of examining. The National Association of Schoolmasters and the Union of Women Teachers say: We do not see how the Secretary of State can be expected to make a reasoned decision about the proposed single system in the absence of a firm recommendation from the Schools Council about the administrative structure of the new system. How can the Council expect anyone to take its recommendations seriously when it is so obviously incapable of organising its own thoughts and priorities on these vital issues? The Association of Assistant Masters, for instance, makes it clear that it considers that much more experimental work needs to be done on the whole question before it can be considered. Surely, the Schools Council should have realised that.

One of the disturbing thoughts about the entire backcloth is that the council seems to be under the impression that it will be doing a great service to the nation if it rushes us all into change. I shall deal later with the amounts of public money it has spent in the past year.

4.30 p.m.

The council has rushed out a report by the Examinations Sub-Committee suggesting a fundamental change in the school-leaving examinations, a report so ill prepared that all the following organisations have opposed it or expressed grave reservations about its implementation in the next five or six years: the Assistant Masters Association, the Society of Education Officers, the Association for Science Education, the Oxford Local Examinations Board, the Joint Matriculation Board, the London Universities Joint Examination Board, the Association of Colleges of Further and Higher Education, the Association of Principals of Colleges, the London University Examining Board, the CBI and—of all things —the Headmasters Association.

I bring to the attention of the House with some concern the comment of a spokesman for the council to the Daily Telegraph's education correspondent, reported on 9th April last year. Having said that all comments for and against the examinations were being carefully analysed, he said: Not all comments carry equal weight and not all are based on a true reading of the report. The decision on what submission, if any, to make to the Secretary of State for Education is that of the governing council on July 8th. Why do not all comments carry equal weight? Who has instructed the council to take more notice of one body than another? Which ones does the schools council consider unimportant—the Headmasters Association, the Association of Colleges of Further and Higher Education, the CBI, or perhaps the existing examining boards? Which bodies will be held to have the greatest influence—the National Union of Teachers or the TUC?

So far I have demonstrated that when it has the bit between its teeth the Schools Council has a tendency to gallop away unchecked, with the Secretary of State an uneasy rider. I shall take a few minutes to show how this came about, because it is one of the basic weaknesses in the Schools Council's composition. The Governing Council is composed of a chairman, appointed by the Secretary of State, and 77 members, of whom a majorrity must be teachers. In fact, 41 are teachers. No fewer than 17 of them are representatives of one teachers' union, the NUT. They can outvote all the other teacher unions put together. Six other teachers' unions can muster only 16 votes between them. The nearest in number to the NUT is the National Association of Schoolmasters, which has four.

I am certain that the Secretary of State, with his predictable diligence in reading The Times Educational Supplement, will recognise the statement which that excellent journal produced in May: Yet the NUT's dominance could be questioned. They are by far the largest of the teachers' unions, but a good two-thirds of their 220,000 members are in the primary schools and can have little more than a general interest in the secondary exams. Four of the National Union of Teachers' 17 Schools Council governors are primary teachers or heads, and the reason they are there is that the Council is responsible for curriculum developments in all schools, Mr. Sam Fisher, an NUT Executive member and a Council governor, was quick to point out earlier this week. He added that the bulk of the Council's work normally concerned the curriculum. It just happened to be that exams would be the centre of attention this year. The main consideration of the School Council in its deliberations over the past 12 months has been secondary examination investigation. Why is it that the NUT has 17 members, of which four come from the primary sector, while the headmasters' unions together have only eight representatives?

What is even more significant is that all the O-level examining boards have only one representative between them, as do all the CSE boards. The combined voices of the TUC and CBI carry equal weight with the examining boards. They, too, have only one representative each. How can that be justified compared with the 17 votes of the NUT and the 33 votes of all the teachers' associations combined? Yet that is the composition of the Governing Council, which is currently examining the 16-plus leaving examinations and which has made recommendations to the Secretary of State. It has made two recommendations since 1972, both of which have been accepted and implemented.

Is it a foregone conclusion, then, that the Secretary of State is bound to accept the council's recommendations automatically? It would appear that that is how it seems to the chairman of the council. Shortly after that infamous meeting on 8th July, the chairman, Sir Alex Smith, said that at least five years' preparatory work would have to be undertaken after Mr. Mulley gave his consent to the new examination. That seems to confirm that he considers the Secretary of State to be totally malleable and that any recommendation his council may make will automatically be accepted.

We on this side of the House want to be reassured that the Secretary of State will not automatically accept the council's recommendations. The worst aspect of a single examination at 16-plus is that we shall have teacher-controlled examinations and an inevitable disparity of standards. The proposal is a body blow to education, made even more alarming by the fact that Sir Alex evidently arrogantly considers that the Secretary of State is his council's lackey.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that teacher control over examinations is to be greatly feared, I take it that he intends to translate that principle into the university sector. Has he taken soundings on the extent to which university teachers would welcome the intrusion of non-academics into the control and development of their examination system?

Mr. Macfarlane

I shall come on to that, because it is an important and valid point which goes to the heart of the balance of this argument.

When I asked the Secretary of State in May whether he was satisfied that the examining boards were adequately represented on the Schools Council, he replied through the Under-Secretary that: All the boards are represented individually on the GCE O-level and CSE sub-committees."—[Official Report, 5th May 1976; Vol. 910, c. 389.] But let us look at the composition of the important Curriculum Steering Committee B, which deals with curricula and examinations for pupils in the age range from 11 to 16. One of its functions is to act as central co-ordination authority for the administration of examinations normally taken by pupils on attaining the age of 16. It also makes recommendations to the Governing Council on matters of examinations policy. The committee has 31 members, of which the NUT has six. The other assistant teachers' associations have six between them, and the examining boards have only two. That means that the NUT has 19 per cent. representation and the O-level boards together have only 6 per cent. The CSE boards together also have only 6 per cent. The balance of the committee cannot be in the best interests of education.

Curriculum Steering Committee C broadly similar in its terms of reference to Committee B, except that its responsibility is to pupils of 14 and upwards. On that committee the NUT has six members, a 16 per cent. representation, compared with one for the GCE boards, which is a 3 per cent. representation. The CSE boards also have only one member. It is interesting to note that the CSE boards, which are not responsible for the very important university entrance examinations, have equal representation with the GCE boards, which are. But both together carry little weight in comparison with the one teachers' union, the NUT.

How can this excessive representation be justified? Surely numerical considerations alone are insufficient criteria for determining the representation of various areas of education. The NUT is always grossly over-represented in the Schools Council at the expense of headmasters and examining boards.

I turn now to the financing arrangements for the Schools Council. I am sure that the House will understand that it is jointly financed by the local education authorities and the Secretary of State, with a certain modicum of income from its own commercial activities. But the cost to our constituents is approaching £3 million. Almost £1½ million of that is paid by the Department of the Environment on behalf of local authorities out of their rate support grant which would otherwise have been received by them for education within their own area. This does not amount to a great deal of money for each individual local education authority, but even so I wonder whether all these LEAs which have to support the Schools Council, whether they like it or not, think that the money is well spent or would not rather have it to spend on their own schools. Interestingly enough, support for the present financial year has not yet been agreed to, and this may mean that our new clause is being more than understood by the Government.

The Schools Council is a mammoth. It is too big and has too little common sense to survive in the 1970s. It rushes into action in situations where forethought and prudence would have counselled caution. It is overburdened with representatives from one area of education and grossly deficient in representatives from others. It has now begun to undermine our educational standards, as can be seen by the ill-considered decision of 8th July. The marriage of Romeo and Juliet was described as too rash, too ill-advised, too sudden. I think that that would be an adequate description of this proposed shotgun alliance between the 16-plus leaving examinations.

Another cause for concern was highlighted by Mr. Hugh Sykes Davies, of St. John's College, Cambridge, in a letter to The Times in October 1975. He drew attention to the unhappy problem of school leavers being unemployable because their education had not fitted them for employment. He also pointed out that The Times had reported earlier that week that Britain's professional bodies were calling for measures to improve literacy in school. He said: For these complaints, and for the unemployment they represent, there can be no hope of remedy so long as no recognised channel exists through which they might be presented to the body responsible for the aims and methods of education, the Schools Council. This body was set up with the declared principle that on the council itself, and on its myriad committees, sub-committees, 'steering' committees, 'working' parties, conferences and seminars, school teachers must always command a clear majority. For more than a decade they have enjoyed to the full an educational monopoly. But unlike most officially constituted monopolies, this one has never been made in any way accountable to the needs and opinions of those who consume its products. I think that that letter highlights an area of widespread concern—and the Schools Council has in recent years done nothing to allay the fears of a large body of opinion, especially those most concerned with employing school leavers.

It is fair to say that the council has done useful work on the curriculum over the years, but there is little doubt that its reputation at this moment is somewhat tarnished. The only course left is for this Government or a future Conservative Government to discontinue it. It could then be replaced by a body which would effectively and equally represent all the bodies involved and not be dependent on built-in teacher control all the time.

We shall listen with interest and apprehension to the observations of the Under-Secretary of State. I hope that we shall hear her say that the Secretary of State is not Sir Alex Smith's man but the custodian of the nation's educational standards, that his judgment on the recommendations and excessive influence of the Schools Council is far-seeing, and that he will therefore reject its current proposals for a single examination at 16-plus.

4.45 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Margaret Jackson)

I am happy to give the House some part of the assurance for which the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) has asked. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is no man's puppet, and he will take his own decision on the proposals of the Schools Council after he has studied them with the greatest attention. I wish that I could be sure that the same could be said for everyone who will contribute to this debate and to those we shall have on the subject in the future.

The hon. Gentleman has been a little unfair to the Schools Council. He seems to be laying all the faults of our education system at its door. Indeed, anyone who was not as well-informed as he clearly is about the composition and setup of the Schools Council might upon reading his speech conclude that the function of running our education service rested with the Schools Council rather than with my Department and the local authorities. Perhaps he has laid too much emphasis on that sort of comment.

The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he wanted to examine the terms of reference of the Schools Council, but it seemed to me that he did not do so. It occurs to me, perhaps unkindly, that if one reads those terms of reference one finds that they justify the work that has been carried out. Its object is … the promotion of education by carrying out research into and keeping under review the curricula, teaching methods and examinations in schools, including the organisation of schools so far as it affects their curricula". In other words, whatever the merits of proposals which the Schools Council puts forward, it is very much its purpose to examine our education system and to put forwards proposals to the Secretary of State if it feels that it is in some way lacking. That is why it exists.

The hon. Gentleman concentrated almost totally on this one aspect of the Schools Council's work—indeed, not only on one aspect but almost on one proposal alone. He was a little hard on the Schools Council, which has been in existence for 10 years.

Mr. St. John-Stelas

It was set up in 1964.

Miss Jackson

Then it has been in existence for over 10 years. To conclude suddenly that it should be abolished because one has reservations, as the hon. Gentleman has, about a proposal that it has recently submitted to the Secretary of State is going a little far. The tenor of the hon. Gentleman's argument seemed to be, "We dislike this proposal; we do not merely have reservations but are completely opposed to it and therefore we should abolish the body that has put it forward." The hon. Gentleman seemed to find nothing in the proposal of which he could speak with approval. But that attitude involves drawing a rather large and sweeping conclusion from a fairly small basis of argument.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

It would be unfair to my hon. Friend if what the hon. Lady has said were left on the record uncontradicted. My hon. Friend made it clear that he was objecting to the size and nature of the Schools Council, which has resulted in the mishandling of the question of the school-leaving examination.

Miss Jackson

That did not seem to be the argument which the hon. Gentleman was putting forward. It seemed to me that he was arguing that the proposal was defective, that it had been mishandled, and that therefore there was something wrong with the Schools Council.

Mr. Macfarlane

Minor conversations were going on around the hon. Lady between the Secretary of State and the Minister of State at the outset of my speech. I quoted from a series of associations of school teachers, and I highlighted the arguments they had presented which proved unfailingly that they were very concerned and had grave reservations about the proposal and the time they had had to consider the arrangements suggested by the Schools Council. Those are not my words. I quoted freely from half a dozen different teacher journals.

Miss Jackson

I accept that it is not only the hon. Gentleman who has put forward an argument of reservation about the proposals. Nevertheless, it has not come to my cars that these bodies are proposing the abolition of the Schools Council as part of their opposition to these examination proposals. If, however, I am incorrect, I am sure that someone will inform me during the course of the debate.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam dwelt at some length on the composition of the Schools Council. Of course, that is not something which is preserved in aspic to stay for ever. The composition of the council can be flexible. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] I am surprised to hear hon. Gentlemen saying "Ah! "in that astonishing way since on the 8th July at the meeting to which the hon. Gentleman has already referred, the Schools Council itself decided, as is its right, to review its own composition and to consider whether its composition was entirely satisfactory. I am sorry that that has not reached the ears of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but perhaps it will cause them to have some concern about strength of their own comments.

Mr. Macfarlane

Before the hon. Lady leaves that point, may I say that we are all aware of what took place on 8th July when the vote was 57 to 6—

Miss Jackson

Not all your hon. Friends.

Mr. Macfarlane

We are all aware of what took place, but the majority of that 57 had grave reservations over the plan for the next five years. I would draw the hon. Lady's attention to the remark made by a spokesman of the Schools Council who said: Not all comments carry equal weight". Why do they not carry equal weight?

Miss Jackson

I am happy to proceed through the hon. Gentleman's argument. The point he makes is a separate issue. I merely observe that some of his colleagues did not seem to be aware that the Schools Council itself, at the same meeting, decided that it ought to review its own composition and to reconsider whether it was entirely satisfactory. Equally, at that meeting, it considered the proposals which have now been put forward to my right hon. Friend.

I ought to point out that it is the contention of the Schools Council that although bodies have expressed a variety of reservations about the timing and contents of the examination proposals, a very small number indeed submitted observations which indicated that they are opposed root and branch to such a change in the examination system. Rather genuine criticisms, as is inevitable, about the details of the proposals were put forward. I am not sure that is either understood or accepted by hon. Members opposite.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Before the hon. Lady sweeps on, I would point out that the expression of amazement from this side of the House was not due to any lack of knowledge of what the Schools Council had proposed. The amazement was because the Government have apparently indicated at last a willingness to do something about it. We were so astonished because, in the educational field, all that we have seen is the obsession, the King Charles's head, of imposing comprehensive schools everywhere. We were not only astonished but we were delighted to find that the hon. Lady, who is less at fault than her colleagues because she has been a shorter time at the Ministry, is blazing away and trying to get to grips with these other problems of education and is getting away from the obsession in respect of imposing comprehensive schools irrespective of the local conditions, the financial resources, or parental wishes.

Miss Jackson

I will not bother to go over the ground which the hon. Gentleman invariably manages to drag into every question and response in these debates. I would merely observe that I thought that I had made it clear that the Schools Council, within its own remit, is reviewing its composition. It is not for me or my right hon. Friend to seek to impose such a review on it.

I was asked why I thought the spokesman for the Schools Council said, to the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph I think it was, that not all comments would carry equal weight. Why he made such an observation I would not know. As to what he may have meant by it, it seems to me that it is not such an outrageously new proposition that not every comment on a single proposal carries equal weight. I have had, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam has had, in my capacity as an ordinary Member of Parliament, as well as a Minister at the Department, comments about these proposals, and indeed about other matters, along the lines, "I have read such-and-such an article in a national newspaper, which says that the Government will do so-and-so. I am violently opposed to that." Sometimes such letters show a total unfamiliarity with the actual content of the proposals. I have to admit —perhaps it comes as a revelation to the hon. Gentleman—that I have from time to time given greater weight to letters whose authors appear to have read the documents involved and seriously considered the arguments. If that is a new concept, then I am afraid there is no hope for us.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam also dwelt at very great length on all the reservations that people have about the proposals put forward. He did not, apart from a cursory acknowledging sentence, touch at all on the other aspects of the work of the Schools Council. He did not mention its work with the GCE and CSE boards on examinations in general or its co-ordinating rôle between the boards. No mention was made of the role of monitoring national standards which may exist between the boards.

The hon. Gentleman made a comment about teacher control of examinations, suggesting that there was a wide disparity of standards. I think that in any examination there are different syllabuses and different methods perhaps, in different parts of the country. There are bound to be some disparities of standards in the system that we have now.

I do not seek to argue that it follows that something else would be better than this system that we have now, or that what we have now is totally satisfactory. What disturbed me most of all was that the tremendous amount of work that the Schools Council has done in curricula research and development has been ignored in this part of the debate, and I would be very distressed if it were to be ignored totally throughout the rest of the debate, as I fear it may be.

The Schools Council has been working in an advisory capacity to schools just as it has produced work in an advisory capacity for the Secretary of State on many aspects of the curricula and many different subjects for some years now. That has been very valuable. It has now turned its attention even more strongly not merely to the production of this work but to its dissemination in schools and to getting feedback from schools about what material is of most help and how effective and helpful it is for teachers. That is a very high proportion, perhaps a major proportion, of the Schools Council's work.

It seems to me to be quite extraordinary, because a particular proposal is disliked in total, or because one has reservations about the details of a particular proposal, that it should be argued, even if only as a way of raising the subject on the Order Paper, that we should abolish a body which has, in the last 12 years, contributed a great deal to education in this country and which, I think, can contribute a great deal more in the future.

I do not doubt that we shall have some application of all these various arguments during the course of this debate. I would merely say that I find it an extraordinary proposition that because one is not 100 per cent. satisfied with the work of the body it should therefore be abolished. I find it even more strange that this argument is put forward on one side of one aspect of the work of this body and the rest of its work has not been men- tioned at all. I hope that that will not be the case during the rest of the debate because I am sure that a thorough examination of the work of the Schools Council would lead this House to reject the new clause.

5.0 p.m.

Dr. Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane). The Minister tried to chastise him by referring to the examination side. That is the aspect that is most in the news, and certain recommendations made this year have caused some disturbance. So my hon. Friend's emphasis on examinations is justified.

My hon. Friend also referred to the curriculum. Within a shared dislike of the work of the Schools Council I must demur a little from his welcome for some of the work done on the curriculum. My objection is root-and-branch. It includes the humanities programme at Stenhouse. Not many people are neutral about that programme, although the teacher in charge of it was supposed to be neutral. In fact, I have never met a neutral teacher, nor would I want one to teach in any school with which I was connected. I would rather have someone with real blood in his veins, who knew what side he was on.

In education there is a great need for stability and continuity. The Schools Council should do its job in monitoring what should be preserved and what may have to be challenged. My main criticism relates to the way in which it was set up. Rightly or wrongly, it seems that its job was constantly to disturb the examination system and the curriculum, as if it had to justify its existence with continual suggestions, not for improvement and progress but simply for the sake of change.

Of course, the council is not alone, in education or in our society, in having such an aim. One of the evils of our society—not confined to one side of the House—is the constant desire for change without purpose, change that is not wanted.

Following the many religous quotations made in our debates, which have helped to improve our education, I should like to remind the House that St. Paul said of the Athenians that they worshipped all things new. That is my criticism of the Schools Council.

Sir G. Sinclair

All these general judgments about the Greeks have to be read in their historical context. I believe that it was because he was teaching the young men new things that the Athenians gave hemlock to Socrates. So it is not true that they were always seeking something new; sometimes they punished people for seeking and teaching new ideas. The other proverb relating to the Greeks was "Nothing in excess." It was because they did things to such excess that they needed such a proverb. I warn my hon. Friend against too many references out of context.

Dr. Boyson

I welcome warnings, particularly if I am rushing headlong in any direction, and I am glad to know that the Athenians were not in all respects like the Schools Council. If they had been, Athens would have fallen much earlier.

Because of the way in which it has been set up, the Schools Council seems to believe that its job is to make suggestions for ways of employing new staff and spending more money. That is the way with all empires, and it is a constant concern when education needs stability.

In this context, one has only to consider the recommendations for sixth form examinations. In 1970, we had the Q and F, in 1973 the N and F, and this year the suggestion is that we have the CEE—the Certificate of Extended Education. This area might now be called "longer education". This new certificate has been proposed despite the fact that the National Foundation for Educational Research found little need for it. The retaking of O-levels seemed to meet the needs of pupils who had from one to four grades at CSE in the fifth form. The CEE will probably do no harm, but it will confuse employers about what examinations are taken and what they mean.

Inevitably, and rightly, there has been reference to the recommendations of 8th July—that fateful day. Unless they are reversed by the Secretary of State—we have heard of his unmalleability and we hope that he will be prodded from behind —they will lead to a further decline in educational standards, caused by confusion.

One asks how the papers will be set, whether there will be two papers, or a joint paper, and so on. Can children be examined fairly at 16 when some might get eight or 10 A levels while other CSE candidates are desperately holding on to standards of literacy? A single examination at 16 will be the despair of the dull, will bore the bright, and will do little to unite society or measure achievement. I realise that there are genuine differences of opinion about the difficulties of sorting pupils into GCE or CSE material at 13 or 14. That is not something that anyone likes to do, and mistakes are often made.

A simpler answer would have been to have more overlapping grades. The whole thing could have been sorted out with more joint meetings and agreed syllabuses, without one examination having to be set to replace four or six grades of GCE or CSE. There is no ultimate law about how many grades there should be. We have had 20, and we have worked by means of a percentage. There is always change.

If we had 12 grades of GCE and 12 of CSE, the bottom four of the GCE could overlap with the top four of the CSE. The boards could meet to decide on overlapping syllabuses and we could gain the advantages of a joint examination with none of the disadvantages. But when things are imposed from outside, and certainly when they are done centrally, there is nearly always disaster. When the social history of the last 20 years is written, that will be found to be the case.

When people come together determined to make something work, it generally will work. But when it is imposed from the centre, there is a resentment on the fringes. There is considerable resentment here.

It has been said that the National Union of Teachers is the largest teacher union. That is true. It includes within its membership many primary and secondary modern school heads, some comprehensive school heads, and one or two grammar school heads. When a decision is made that largely affects the teachers of 16-year-olds, there should be some weighting. I accept that the Under-Secretary has had letters expressing a different opinion, but the teachers who will be training children for the GCE and the CSE, together with representatives of industry and the universities, should have the decisive voice.

I have great respect for infant and junior school teachers. Almost always they do a sound job, but they know little of the position of the 16-year-old. If a decision had to be made on the standard that children should attain by the age of seven, I would expect the decisive word to be given not by teachers at GCE level, at sixth-form level, or at Oxbridge scholarship level, but by infant school teachers.

What happens is that union members vote in blocks. They decide how to vote before they go to a meeting. The danger is that decisions are made by the majority vote of those who know least about the problem. That is the weakness of the Schools Council. The criticism would apply equally if the secondary school unions combined with the universities to lay down the structure of education for children aged seven. Problems always arise when people vote on what should be done about other people. A better arrangement is for bodies to make decisions by general agreement among the people who are highly specialised in the subject in respect of which the decision is being made.

Miss Margaret Jackson

I am following the hon. Gentleman with great attention, but it seems to me, perhaps incorrectly, that the logic of his argument is that the people who are most experienced in and have most knowledge of primary school teaching, for example, should take decisions on the syllabus and the level of attainment of a child aged seven. It follows from that that people who are experienced in and deal constantly with pupils aged 16 should take decisions about the standard of attainment in schools, and that universities, for example, should have little or nothing to say about it. The hon. Gentleman is arguing for precisely the kind of teacher-determined standard about which his hon. Friend was so worried.

Dr. Boyson

I am glad that the hon. Lady raised that point. I have not made my meaning completely clear. At any stage, two groups are concerned. There are two groups of people who are concerned with children of 7 years of age— those who have taught the children up to that age and those who will be taking them into junior schools. At that stage the decision should be made by the infant school teachers and the lower junior teachers who will be absorbing the children. Similarly, for the 11- or 13-year-old children, the decision should be taken by either middle school or middle junior school teachers and teachers at the secondary school to which the children are going.

The GCE examination was set up by a body on which the universities and professions were represented. I hope I am on middle ground when I say that decisions about the 16-plus examination should be made by the teachers who teach the children from the age of 14 to 16 and the sixth form teachers to whom the children will be going. Some children will go into industry, so industry should have a word to say. Some will go on to higher education and the professions, and those should be represented.

5.15 p.m.

This is one area in which infant school teachers do not seem to have the expertise that they have in other areas. The danger of teacher unions voting in blocks is that the decision can be made by the majority of infant and junior school teachers who are not experienced in the subject on which they make the decision.

When students leave universities they go either into research or to outside work. If a student goes into research the university knows about him. Some students go to outside work. In the courses they are running the universities had better respond not to Crowther-Hunt planning but to the sort of graduate that the world wants. If they do not do that there will be unemployed graduates.

My hon. Friends are not the only ones who have from time to time criticised the Schools Council. Nor are the people outside, who naturally tend to Right-wing political and educational views. On 19th June Sue Cameron wrote an article on the subject of the Schools Council. She used to write in all the educational journals, and she is universally respected. She said: Since its inception 12 years ago it has spent approximately £9 million with remarkably little result.… The union's representatives make up their minds on various issues long before they arrive at council meetings and they then vote in blocks. So the discussion is purposeless and useless. They are whipped through the lobbies even before they arrive at the Schools Council. The result is that any disagreements among union members are not reflected at top level which is where it matters. Dr. Brian Thwaites has done a great deal for the reform of the curriculum and was at the beginning heavily involved with the schools maths programme—

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

That is the worst thing he ever did.

Dr. Boyson

I see that we have other reactionaries. Dr. Thwaites is Principal of Westfield College. He attacked the humanities curriculum project of the Schools Council. I am glad that the Stenhouse project is on the retreat and that very few schools are doing it. That in itself is a lesson. If a body suggests a project to a group of people with the power of decision, and that project is tried by other people and found to be unsuccessful, the implication is that the suggestions of that body are not likely to be successful in other areas.

The trouble with the 16-plus examination is that there will be no choice unless the GCE boards remain in existence. I hope that they will remain in existence and that parents will be able to discuss matters with them on Saturday mornings.

I do not know what will happen in 1981, when the two examinations are brought together, if the present climate lasts. It is the height of folly to believe that the climate will last until 1981. The cost of the Schools Council is £2½ million a year, and I am advised that it is going up even while we are speaking here.

If we want something done, I suggest that the Schools Council should be discontinued. Let it be recognised that it is not only Opposition Members who are saying that. There is a crisis of confidence in the council. If it is discontinued, other bodies could begin to do its job. When a new body is created it usually happens that an existing body goes to sleep or that the process of buck-passing begins. We have so many bodies taking responsibility that it is so easy for everyone to say that responsibility lies else- where. The William Tyndale situation is a classic example.

I believe that Her Majesty's Inspectors once fulfilled a splendid function. It was their job to see whether something that was working well in one school could be transferred to another. They used to suggest that the head and staff of one school might visit another to examine the operation of an idea or scheme that might be transferable. That would be done instead of everyone going on a course and listening to somebody talking about something that they had probably never done. The best course is to ascertain why something is working in a particular school and to consider whether it is transferable. That is what the HMIs used to do.

The HMIs used to print their quinquennium and it was available to be read by all staff and governors. That produced a monitoring effect. I should like to think that the review and assessment of the Performance Unit is a sign—it may be no more than a cloud on the horizon —of the return of the HMIs, a return to the primary function of inspection in our schools. That would allow new and spontaneous movements in the schools to be considered on the basis whether they were worthy of transferring elsewhere.

I see no reason for the National Foundation for Educational Research not carrying out a research function. It is rarely that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, and I listened to his wise words with care, but I do not see why another body need be established. We are littered with committees and groupings with blanket representation. It seems that all must have their say before anythting is done.

I believe that people must have responsibility and that there must be a way of checking what they are attaining. The National Foundation for Educational Research was set up for that purpose. It is an independent body, whereas the Schools Council is a cross-hybrid. We have talked about hybrid Bills before and I must not refer to them this evening, but the council is a strange hybrid that seems to represent all sectors, including the Department. Let the HMIs be the people who carry the fertilisation of ideas and let the National Foundation for Educational Research do its job. If that is done, and if things go wrong, the foundation will be able to let us know who is responsible.

If we had the HMIs performing their old function along with the foundation, without having some strange body in the middle that seems to perform no underpinning function, we should have a system that would have the approval of a significant part of the educational world. Despite the fact that recommendation after recommendation has been made to that effect, they have been turned down by the Secretary of State.

Miss Margaret Jackson

I have been looking for a place in the hon. Gentleman's speech in which to intervene. I am quite shocked to hear him say that the educational world is littered with people and bodies that must be consulted. He seems to be suggesting that we have far too much consultation. If I have understood anything of the hon. Gentleman's education philosophy over the past few months, I thought it was founded on the basis that parents are the primary people to be consulted at all times. I am not sure how he reconciles that philosophy with the suggestion that we consult too many people.

Dr. Boyson

I am delighted that I have brought the hon. Lady to the view that parents matter. How many parents are there on the Schools Council? If there are parents on that body, it is incidental. I suppose that some of its representatives are parents. I hope that there are normal people on it. There would be an advantage if part of the council were composed specifically of parents.

I agree with consultation, but I like consultation linked with responsibility. A famous speech was made in the 1930s about the Press Lords and power without responsibility. I do not like committees that cannot be pinned down afterwards for what they have done. A parent is responsible for his child, the head has his responsibility and the teacher has responsibility in the classroom.

At present, we have much useless consultation. William Tyndale is a classic example. The managers considered it necessary to circulate a petition, for which they have beeen attacked. They were Labour managers who were doing their best in a difficult situation, but they were attacked for circulating their petition. However, the conclusion was reached in the old report that what they said was right. They did not know where to go and no one wanted to listen to them. They were passed from one person to another. A Right-wing reactionary woman—obviously very dangerous—put her little black paper on the wall. She was rebuked for doing so, but what she said was right. Are those not signs that nobody knew where power rested?

I have raised issues of great import that can be followed through on another occasion, but I conclude by arguing for the abolition of the Schools Council. Many of its recommendations have been turned down, and when its recommendations have been accepted they have usually been a disaster. It should be discontinued before it does further harm and before we waste more public money. The money that we should save could be used to employ 2,000 or 3,000 of the teachers who are now unemployed.

Let Her Majesty's Inspectors undertake the cross-fertilisation and let the Department of Education and Science place research responsibility with the NFER. Let us have some degree of stability in education. Let us leave teachers to do their job without, like plants, always digging them up to see whether they are growing roots. If we had five or 10 years of peace, a cheer would be raised the length and breadth of the country. I believe a similar cheer would be raised if the excellent suggestion embodied in the new clause were adopted by the Government. As an optimist, I am still hopeful.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson). He epitomises reaction in education with such a nakedness and clarity that he inevitably produces just the opposite of what the Bill epitomises—namely, progress.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about a cheer going up tonight, I can assure him that a loud cheer will be raised by the majority of parents when one of the greatest education Bills ever introduced becomes an Act. The attitude of the Conservative Party demonstrates the correctness of what I have just said. It strikes home that it is the party of privilege, the party of pomp and patriotism. Sir Winston Churchill once spoke of imperialism by the imperial pint. It loves elitism and reaction, and my hon. Friends and I do not. We want to change all that, and we shall do so. Conservative Members can shout for as long as they want, but the people outside the House want us to change the education system for the better. In the process there will be many growing pains.

I have the general impression that the hon. Member for Brent, North wants to go on endlessly discussing new clauses. It seems that he does not want to discuss the Bill. He wants to add to the 1944 Act, but he does not want to talk about progress as represented by the Bill. It seems that we are liable to be "new-clausing" until midnight because of the attitude of the education pessimists who are against all advances in education.

It is characteristic of those who are against advances in education that every time a document is produced that is critical of the education system they praise it to high heaven, using the national Press and the sections of the media that are at their disposal to do so. My imagination boggles at what would happen if a report were published that praised the system. I often wonder what Opposition Members would do in that event.

Last night was an instructive occasion when my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who is an old friend of mine from Sheffield and an ex-Chairman of the Sheffield Education Committee, read some of what went on in Committee. When the interventions took place, I thought we were back in Committee and that the filibustering was to take over once again. It seemed that Opposition Members, not knowing what the next sentence was to be, were prepared to say absolutely anything. It was a most instructive occasion. We all heard the anecdote about the donkey. That was most instructive and highly educational. I have not that passage with me or I should read it aloud. It was even better than Tony Hancock's classic "The Blood Donor."

The hon. Member for Brent, North regaled us with a long story about his own school having been a truancy school. He went into a long dissertation about having sent out Christmas cards showing children wearing long grey socks. One could feel the hon. Gentleman happy at being able to hark back to days of yesteryear. Despite the efforts of teachers and parents to hold sway in education and to move forward rather than the reverse, the hon. Gentleman wanted to go back to the old days.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are always most entertained by the remarks of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), but is he in order in his remarks and do they relate to the clause?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We are talking about New Clause 45.

Mr. Flannery

I know that everybody loves a Lord, but I must tell the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) that I have been a teacher all my life. I served on the Schools Council and was a member of the Steering Committee A. I was also on the Governing Council of the Schools Council.

Let me get to the essence of what the Conservatives have been claiming. The Tory Party is now characterised in its educational backwardness by a search for popular causes. Its members are now set on a course of attacking teachers who are trying to grapple with all the difficulties that are endemic in a capitalist society. The reality is that teachers throughout the country are grappling with problems in schools—problems imported into those establishments by the society in which we live. It is a fact that schools are not organisations aimed at rectifying the many ills in the kind of society in which Conservatives rejoice. I refer to a society of elitism and a society that produces drop-outs, with all the attendant violence that occurs at football matches and elsewhere—a violence that is deep within our society because few people own the wealth of our country and many people have no stake in it. It is that conflict in our society that is causing problems in our schools with which the teachers are grappling to the best of their ability.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Does all this occur in New Clause 45?

Mr. Flannery

Yes, indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The clause seeks to strike a blow at an important organisation that is trying to help teachers, parents and children to advance the cause of education. Conservative Members do not like the situation, and that is the reality of what I am saying.

The teachers will take note of the fact that the attack upon them is being made by Members of the Conservative Party. It is also an attack upon the most powerful organisation within the industry, namely the National Union of Teachers, of which I am a member and which represents the democratic view of teachers in general. Everything that happens in that union goes through the democratic process. The union has a committee known as the Primary Advisory Committee, which has its representatives on the Schools Council and Steering Committee A. The teachers' viewpoint is filtered through to the Schools Council. The council itself does not lay down policy, but this happens as a result of discussions which are carried out at great length within the teaching organisation. That is good for parents, teachers and children and certainly for education. Advice is available to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, whoever he or she may be.

It is idle nonsense to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education is malleable and easily accepts advice from that extremely democratic body. My right hon. Friend and his Department go through a process of democracy and decide whether to reject or accept advice. The fact that that excellent advice, having been filtered through democratic organisations of teachers, parents and managing bodies, is available is all to the good. The National Union of Teachers is a dominant group in the Burnham Committee. No doubt we shall soon be hearing an attack on that committee, which negotiates wages. Teachers throughout the country will take note of the area of the House from which that attack will come.

The Conservative Party launches these reactionary attacks on teachers because it is only interested in the blue-blooded, elitish type of person who wants private education. Because the clause is reactionary, backward looking and epitomises the views of the Tory Party, we should reject it.

Sir G. Sinclair

It is extremely difficult to follow the torrent of abuse which has been directed at us by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). However, we should try to examine how the Schools Council, an advisory body, established 12 years ago, is now forfeiting the confidence of educational opinion.

The first reason is that it is now regarded as a narrowly-based pressure group, and those who listened to the remarks of the hon. Member for Hillsborough will understand why.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) explained, with a wealth of references to a wide range of educational opinion, why educational circles had reached the assessment that this was too narrow a body any longer to hold confidence.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), speaking from deep experience as an ex-headmaster of a comprehensive school in an area which has deep social and other problems, also claimed that this body had become a narrowly-based pressure group. He mentioned other bodies, such as the National Foundation for Educational Research, which were now undertaking more creative work in this sphere. He referred also to what he hoped would be a renaissance of the influence of HMIs, which, in the past when educational standards in schools were disciplined and high, made a great contribution to the maintenance of those standards and to a cross-pollination of ideas from one school to another, especially where practices were good and often exploratory but successfully designed to bring out the best in the children of a school.

Those two speeches have shown one of the reasons why confidence has gradually been withdrawn from the advisory body of the Schools Council.

The second reason why the Schools Council has now lost respect among members of the educational profession lies in the proposals it has made about a single examination for all at the age of 16. The fierce educational criticism of this proposal is that it is educationally inept. It does not meet, and cannot meet, the wide range of capabilities of children at the age of 16 within the compass of one single examination.

Another criticism is that this proposal has been made by a body which is largely ill equipped to tackle the very specialised task of examining children at this very crucial age. The third criticism is that it will lower standards. It will take away the incentive and lower the focus point towards which young people are working.

Many recent reports have shown evidence of the falling standards of numeracy and literacy in many parts of this country. These shortcomings are unevenly distributed but are a great handicap to the children who happen to attend the schools which are failing. In the face of these reports, we must maintain our power to keep up standards and tests of standards and incentives for hard work that many well-established examinations provide.

Another fear over this single examination is that it will lower standards at a time when universities are desperately worried about the standard of people seeking entry. They are not worried about the entrants' mental capacity; they are worried about the academic equipment which they are bringing from some schools to their university careers, thus handicapping themselves in the hard discipline of university work. Some universities are already talking about introducing a remedial year while others are talking—and this makes a terribly expensive noise—about making a three-year degree course into a four-year degree course in order to maintain the standards set by British universities over many years.

This is a situation which we should not allow to develop further. If the Schools Council has lost—as I maintain it has—the confidence of the educational profession, who suspect its inept proposal for a single examination at 16, the time has come for us to transfer its functions to other bodies which still retain the respect of the education profession and most of those who work in the schools.

I am strongly in favour of the new clause, sadly because the Schools Council, which started out under good auspices and with high hopes, has failed the country, the teaching profession and, most important of all, the children and the parents. In the end the council will debilitate the educational discipline of this country if it is allowed its head.

I hope that, in summing up tonight, the Minister will give some reassurance that the Government will take a very careful look at the council's proposals. If they accept them they will do so in the teeth of the assessment of the most informed educational opinion in the country, including the best of the educational Press.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I find it difficult to resist the temptation to speak in this debate because I fear that we shall have no further opportunity for many years to have a debate on school examinations and the Schools Council. In that respect I welcome this debate, but I do not welcome the attitude of many hon. Members opposite.

The Schools Council was formed not only to overcome the shortcomings of the education system but to rectify some of the shortcomings of examination itself, some of which are based on an assumption that is no longer tenable, although Conservatives continually harp back to it.

Let us look at the history of examinations in secondary schools. Originally they were regarded as some form of qualification for entry to university. We have all heard the story of a man who was going for an Army interview and was asked his educational qualifications. He replied that he had a PhD and a BA, but the interviewer brushed this aside with "Never mind about them. Have you got matric?". Matriculation was the qualification for entry to university, but most people did not go on to university. This so-called educational standard, and the old school certificate examination, were related, to some extent, to the standards required for university entrance. Whether they provided educational standards in a broad sense is quite a different matter.

In the post-war expansion of secondary school examinations we have seen these standards carried on. Employers look on the grades a person has obtained in school as a quick shorthand to his potential worth as an employee. Examinations are being used for very wrong purposes.

This belief that specialised examination results have some thing to do with the worth of a person as such fits in perfectly with the heirarchical and class attitude which Conservatives had, and which some still hold today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] This is true. People at an early age of either 11 or 16 are often pocketed for life by their ability to perform a series of specified tasks in narrow examinations. Take the example of hon. Members, who come from very different backgrounds. The number of "A" levels they achieved at 16 bears little relation to their general level of competence, imagination, or worth to society as a whole. If that is true in our occupation, it is true in most.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

I take it that the hon. Member is saying that the old pre-war school certificate was equivalent to university entrance requirements. That is not so. It was an examination in eight or nine subjects which allowed a very wide variety of standards, and those people who did especially well in that examination were, in some cases, excused from taking matric if they wished to go to university.

Today I understand that it is necessary to do well not in a general examination but in two "A" levels in the subject one intends to read at university before having any hope of being considered for entrance. It seems that the old system was far broader. The present system is narrow and is being narowed still further.

Mr. Spearing

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for that intervention because he has emphasised my point. In the prewar period from which many of us here come, psychologically, if in no other way, the matriculation examination was the determining factor for selecting university material. Most people taking school certificate aimed at least at some form of matriculation exemption. The big superstructure of post-war secondary school examinations was rooted in this earlier and rather narrower conception. I would be the last to decry the importance of examinations for specific tasks, but to say that the fact that people are not capable of taking certain examinations means that they are not suited to particular tasks or institutions, or to make particular contributions to society, is wrong. Nevertheless, that is what happened.

I remember, when the numbers of pupils in schools who were not capable of taking the GCE was increasing, a Mr. Beloe, director of education for Surrey, invented a new examination. It was a joke in my school to ask what was this new examination called Beloe. The reply was "Ah, it is Beloe 'O'-level". That assumption, which still persists as the CSE, is the basis for grading not only examinations but people too.

Hon. Members may dislike putting two examinations together, and they may be right. I dislike it, but possibly for a different reason. Putting the two together might reinforce the tendency of many people to label pupils at the age of 16 more or less for the rest of their lives, and that is wrong. If there is to be a series of tests, they should include a variety, and the onus should be on the prospective employer or on the person who is admitting the applicant to further education to be satisfied as to the nature of the examination and the ability of the person concerned.

I turn to the Schools Council. Hon. Members seem to have forgotten why it was founded. It was founded in the early 1960s—Lord Boyle had something to do with it—because there was no mechanism in the educational system to bring about development in the curriculum and innovation in secondary education, both of which were so badly needed. The innovations could not come for two reasons. First, the schools—even the comprehensive schools of the day—were trapped with their pre-war assumptions about secondary education which meant that those of us in the schools who were trying to innovate found it difficult to do so.

Secondly, teaching was not a profession—and it still is not. Education for teachers was dominated by colleges of education and departments of education in universities, and they were mainly concerned with the prestige end of the market. It was difficult for any teachers in any schools to introduce courses of lasting worth for those people who were not taking public examinations, whether the RSA, O-level, or the newly-introduced CSE. From the evidence I remember at the time, and the correspondence then in the educational Press, one could see that pressure was coming from commerce and business, from the CBI and other institutions for the Department of Education to do something about it.

I think that the Schools Council structure was not the best. At the time I tried to suggest to the then Ministry of Education that a series of different centres all over the country was needed, not one which was centralised in London. The structure had to be in touch with classroom reality, and not go the way of all educational flesh by becoming obsessed with intellectual exercises without practical application.

That is what has happened to the Schools Council. It has taken the wrong step in many directions. There have been innovations. Innovations at classroom level, however, depend not on reading reports but very largely on the availability of materials, of space and of the right personalities. All these must be put together in one place, and that is very difficult. As a teacher with 10 years' experience of the Schools Council, I can say that it was not highly regarded by teachers.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) referred to the Stenhouse Humanities Project for the young school leaver. I did not like that project. It was badly founded and badly produced. Many schools produced materials of that kind in their own departments. One of the important criticisms was that the disciplines were mixed together, and particularly that my discipline, geography, was omitted. No one would claim that geography was not a humanity. It is one of the major studies which gives people some idea of the problems not only of their country but of the rest of the world.

The Nuffield Project was developed almost in parallel with the Stenhouse study. The Schools Council followed to some extent the Nuffield series of charitable bequests, which produced the Nuffield researches and the Nuffield science syllabus. But that syllabus went off on the wrong track because it started at the top end of the market in dealing with "O"-levels. The amount of resources devoted to any one school to get the Nuffield project off the ground used up space, teaching time and talent, which the other pupils could ill afford to lose.

The Schools Council has been disappointing. It may not have performed as well as some would have liked, but that does not mean that it cannot be better in the future. It does not mean that we do not need measures in our system to remedy deficiencies arising largely from history and past out-dated attitudes. Perhaps I may conclude with a characteristic comment by many teachers at the end of the school year by saying of the Schools Council, "Could do a lot better. Intellectual activity considerable. Field work and practical work poor."

6.0 p.m.

Dr. Hampson

The final remarks of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) summed up my attitude to the Schools Council, but my conclusion is that since it has existed for 12 years, with its present form, its present structure, and its present objectives, it has possibly done all it can and that therefore it needs to be fundamentally revised or redrawn.

It is a great shame that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has left the Chamber. He always adds so much to our debates. We received a great quantity of the flannel that is so similar to his name. He always sings two songs—one about the 11-plus and how the Conservative Party is so committed to it, and the other which involves rushing to the defence of the NUT. We had the latter today. No doubt the hon. Member will sing the former on Third Reading.

The hon. Member was wrong to suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) was attacking teachers. No one on the Opposition side is trying to undermine the teaching profession or the NUT, and no one is saying that teachers are not having to deal with a difficult situation. Overall, they are doing quite a good job.

That is not the issue in this debate. We are talking about a body whose size, cost and complexity are causing my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam to question whether it has the efficiency now required by our system. The council is like a labyrinth and its productions get swallowed up.

I came into direct confrontation with the Schools Council over the Willmott Report, which it commissioned. The reason why I released details of that report was that there was no way in which it would have seen the light of day for at least a year. Nobody on the council has repudiated that. By the very nature of the council, there would have been internal debates and discussions, with the NUT lobby requiring the author of that serious research project to redraft his conclusions.

The conclusions of the report may be wrong. Dr. Willmott has expressed them starkly, and he tends to dismiss the alternative reasons for his findings. But if there are alternative explanations, they should be debated in public and not through the machinations of the council and the NUT.

The report was a valuable piece of work. It was precisely the sort of function that the council was envisaged as undertaking but which it has seldom managed to undertake in the past. It should keep under review the school system and check the effect of reorganisations on curricula. With the Willmott Report, the council got away for the first time from the nebulous world of teaching methods and the theory behind them and got down to basics—the standards in schools and the question of which methods produce which results.

The report was aimed at finding out what had been happening within the examination system between 1968 and 1973 and was the first stage in an expensive and long-term project. All credit to the council for getting on with something basic, but we must question whether it is the right body to be operating at that sort of level.

The research for that work was being done by the National Foundation for Educational Research. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) asked whether the foundation was not the best body for research. I think that it is. But the council may tend to muck up the findings of its research or have pressures brought to bear on it. One can imagine the headlines, if the Willmott Report had been released next year, saying not that standards in examinations had slipped but that teaching methods had improved. The whole climate of the debate would have been changed. The hon. Member for Hills- borough and the NUT would have clapped and cheered, saying that they had always claimed this to be the case, but it would not have improved our education or achieved anything of value.

The Schools Council has a dual function—curriculum work and examinations. It is vital that more work is done in examining and assessing in our schools.

Examinations can do many things, but they cannot do what they are not devised to do. They can test the abilities of pupils, and how far they have got into a subject, attempt—through IQ tests—to gauge future capacity, test the capacity of a school and compare schools, or assess and monitor the whole system or sectors of it. These are different functions. Different examinations are needed for different functions, and the Schools Council has not yet sorted out the problem of how to get the exam system to do what we want it to do.

All of us, whether parents, teachers or politicians, and whether in the child's, our individual or the national interest, need to know whether our investment in education is producing a good return. It is understandable that teachers worry when we talk in these terms, but it is essential, for their own function, that we know whether they are efficient and doing a good job.

Mr. Spearing

Is the hon. Gentleman not making a fundamental error by regarding academic or scholastic standards, about which we might agree, as a good return to the education system. Are they not only one part of the story?

Dr. Hampson

I was going to say that efficiency in teaching is something that cannot be considered solely by reference to straightforward examinations like the GCE. Monitoring and assessing would do this job much more effectively. A section in the Bullock Report shows how such an assessment could operate, and it is vital that action on this matter should be initiated soon.

Another key priority for any Government is to establish national standards for pupils, particularly in the basics—literacy, numeracy, basic understanding of language, ability to communicate and read and write. We need a national goal, and we need to ensure that all pupils achieve it. This is an area into which the Schools Council has not yet moved. It is vital to our education service that some agency should initiate curriculum change, monitor what is going on and spread effective ideas through the system in order to keep it dynamic.

On balance, the Schools Council has not done a bad job in this area. It has certainly done better here than on the assessment and examination side. But it has been overweighted in one direction and has spent too much time and money on things like the humanities project. The new chairman of the council, Sir Alex Smith, wants to move it another way, but it is a cumbersome body, with great pressure groups within it.

It has not yet moved into the key area dealing with the question of how much we involve children in skill acquisition—whether on the basic ability to learn to read and write or on the nature of job-related experiences which are relevant to the 300,000 pupils who leave school every year without any real qualifications and in a potentially hostile mood towards school and work. The Schools Council ought to have been considering work experience and vocational courses for pupils in their final years at school. It has not yet moved into this area, in which important advances have been made in Australia, Scandinavia and other countries in recent years. We have lagged behind. The charge to be laid at the door of the Schools Council is that it has failed here. But some body is necessary to move us into that type of area.

The proof has emered from the DES today in a reply to yet another planted Written Question, which denies us the means of questioning the Minister and making the pertinent points that flow from this kind of decision. It has been announced that pilot schemes are being set up, which arise from that feeble conference not long ago, for young people leaving school. Its purpose Hill he to establish what forms of vocational preparation will attract young people. That is the kind of examination that bodies such as the Schools Council should have been doing for years. Now we have another expensive, and slow, way of doing it—pilot ventures to find out what it is all about. We agree with the objective, but the Schools Council should have got moving earlier. There has been a failure in the system.

Because of the failure of the Schools Council, such curricula developments are flowing from the Department of Education and Science. It looks as though the desire of both the new Permanent Under-Secretary and the Department is to move central Government into curriculum initiative and change. Some may say that is a good development. It is an important matter, which must be argued about. We should consider how far it should go and how far the Government should determine a common core of knowledge which all pupils should have before they leave school. It is vital that that argument be thrashed out. But if we do not have an effective Schools Council type of body, that will inevitably happen.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, I do not think that the National Foundation for Educational Research can be relied on to initiate curriculum work and innovation. Some body must tell it into what area to move. It is important for both assessment and curriculum work. But which body will direct it? Its control is very narrow. In a few years we should no doubt be complaining about its having been in the control of a handful of people, and so on. It will be the DES, or, I hope, some helpful, more objective lay body that commissions the NFER to do things. That was the idea of the Schools Council which Lord Boyle had in mind. It was as valid then as it is now.

However, the structure of the council is no longer valid. That goal is essential, but the composition of a new body, whatever it is called, must be different from what it is today. The proportion of teacher representation must be different. There must be a greater say by the consumers of education—business, the professions, and commerce. We must move curriculum development into skill acquisition and induction work courses of some kind. That has been lacking in the Schools Council. It has spent a disproportionate amount of time on art and humanity subjects rather than on engineering and more scientific courses. So there is a case for some body on the curriculum that uses instruments, such as the National Foundation for Educational Research, to do its work.

On the examination side, I argue that there is a case for using, instead of the Council that, as yet, sleepy instrument, the Assessment of Performance Unit, to monitor and assess techniques and examination structures. There is, I suggest a mess in our present examination system for school leavers—a wasteful overlap between the CSE and the GCE. The relationship between different subjects has such a degree of variation in marking that it is unhealthy.

Many CSE boards, because they are linked to the GCE bottom grade, are over-marking some subjects—I cannot recall them offhand—and are marking far too leniently in others. For example, I think that chemistry is marked too high by CSE boards in many areas, and English is overmarked. There is too wide a variation between regional CSE boards. Therefore, as in the 11-plus examination, which has been so condemned by hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches, it often depends on which part of the country a pupil lives in whether he has any prospect of getting good grades and, hence, his future prospects. There seems to be some academic drift in GCE boards as well, according to Willmott.

A whole battery of examinations faces teachers. Because of the project work for 16-plus, there are three different examinations running in some areas, three different sets of regulations and three bodies of people with which the teachers have to deal. That is wasteful, chaotic and unproductive of good education. Therefore, the system must be sorted out.

I suggest, however, that before any decision is taken about the Schools Council recommendation regarding a new 16-plus examination, which was a pure dog's breakfast and was in no way based on the project work and research—it was a botched-up compromise—the Secretary of State should order an immediate inquiry by the Assessment of Performance Unit. Let us give it something to do. Let us get it to inquire into the entire examination system at the school leaving stage. On the basis of that inquiry, when it highlights the weaknesses and the need for change, we can talk about an alternative system or, rather, a new approach rather than system. We might be able to evolve the dual system into something that will work well, rather than scrap the whole lot and set up something entirely different for whose credibility no one would have very much regard for a long time.

I ask the Minister to act. I hope that we shall have an indication that that is the way in which departmental minds are working. We must always be careful before any big, costly central body is set up. The present body has served its purposes but outgrown its time. We need something else. It is now inadequate, and it is inappropriate for the future. It is time for a change.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

I should declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to the National Union of Teachers. That does not necessarily mean that I agree with the NUT on everything, as will become obvious from what I have to say.

I hope that the House will reject this new clause. As usual, the Opposition have completely overstated the case. In the past we have all been critical of the Schools Council. However, I have not heard from the Opposition one word of praise of, or any description of the valuable work done in the past by, the Schools Council, except by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane). There has been blanket condemnation of the Schools Council by the hon. Members for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) and Ripon (Dr. Hampson).

Over the years the Schools Council has done a good job and produced many valuable reports. One of my criticisms used to be that the reports took a long time finding their way into the classrooms. For a teacher, it was difficult to get hold of a report from the Schools Council. On many occasions I have had to ask or to send for such reports. I suggest that they should have been distributed automatically to the schools.

The Schools Council has done a good job on the curriculum side. It is not surprising, when the council is dealing with the curriculum and examinations, that it should have a strong teacher representation. That does not seem wrong in any way. After all, the teachers have to deal with the curriculum. They have to conduct the examinations and prepare the children for them. However, in view of the recent William Tyndale School inquiry, we cannot leave the curriculum exclusively to teachers. There must be some form of check.

I agree with the hon. Member for Brent, North that it might be a good idea to have inspectors doing what they did in the past—going round inspecting what is going on in individual schools and transporting their knowledge to other schools. That is what they did in the past. I wish that they would do it more today. It is a valuable way of getting good ideas from one school to another. Instead of calling meetings of teachers or setting up boards we should have people going round inspecting schools and putting ideas into the heads of teachers at different schools.

If it is right that there should be good teacher representation on the Schools Council, it is not surprising that there should be a majority of NUT members among those teachers. The membership of the NUT is larger than the total membership of all the other teachers' organisations put together. Therefore it would be surprising if it did not provide a majority of members.

I might make a criticism and say that 77, which is a rather unwieldy number, is too large. The difficulty is that there have been demands from the Opposition, with some of which I agree, to extend the number of people on the Schools Council to include more representation from industry, business and parents. I do not disagree. It would be valuable if there were more parents' representatives on the Schools Council, but that would make the council even larger. Alternatively, the proportion of teachers might be substantially reduced. I do not think that we should substantially reduce the proportion of teachers, as the present number is just right. Therefore, we have the choice of whether to make the council larger. The Minister should look at that difficulty. No one pretends that the Schools Council is perfect in its structure or what it does.

Those few words in favour of the Schools Council do not mean that its recommendations are necessarily good. I am critical of its recent recommendation about the school-leaving examination system. I am old-fashioned enough to have a slight affection for the O-level examination. During my teaching career I taught 11 different subjects to O-level. That is not good teaching practice, but it happens to the only graduate on the staff of a secondary modern school under the selective system.

I have a great deal of criticism for the O-level examination. There are too many boards. The boards are not sufficiently co-ordinated. Different boards have different standards. If a child is transferred from one part of the country to another he experiences difficulties when he finds that the examination at his new school is conducted by a different board with a different syllabus. There is a case for an examination like the O-level examination, with an objective test set from outside. I am not completely convinced that we should change absolutely to the CSE type of schoolteacher-based examination.

I ask the Minister to look carefully at the proposals made by the Schools Council. He should not assume that, just because a recommendation was passed by a substantial majority of the Schools Council, he must automatically accept it, and put it into operation. A little caution is due here, and, perhaps, a little more research.

I doubt whether we shall be able to make the change over by 1981, as is proposed.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend made a distinction between the GCE and CSE in that one is inside-based and the other outside based. Does he agree that one of the biggest differences occurs in terms of curricula and education opportunities when we consider the curricula of both examinations?

Mr. Mitchell

There is a big difference in curricula. There is a difference in standards. I have never yet been convinced that Grade 1 CSE was equivalent to an O-level examination. That may be heresay to my profession. Everyone tells me that that is so. However, I have never yet been convinced. There are different curricula, syllabuses and standards. The O-level is a higher standard.

Therefore, I urge the Minister to take a careful look at this matter before coming to a conclusion, and not rush into a hasty judgment.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

I have followed the debate with great interest. I am always interested to see the way in which the Conservative Party turns away from its more liberal policies in the former days of its more enlightened leadership. The Schools Council was one of the brainchildren of Lord Boyle. I was amazed to hear the expression of a negative attitude towards the programme of the Schools Council.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I believe that the Schools Council was the brainchild of Viscount Eccles.

Mr. Thomas

The Schools Council was created in the period of office of Lord Boyle, as Minister of Education. However, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The council came into existence in October 1964.

I was surprised at the way in which the debate was dominated by the discussion of the 16-plus project, which was put forward by the Schools Council, to the neglect of the discussion of the other work of the council.

I am interested in the pioneering work done by the Schools Council in Wales, much of which may not be known to the Opposition. That is why I urge the House to resist the new clause, if only on account of the valuable work undertaken in curriculum development by the Schools Council in Wales. When the council was set up and drew up its programme of work it decided to look at the primary school curriculum, and that for the early leaver, and the GCE and the CSE position, and also undertook to study the special needs of Wales.

I should like to highlight the work done by the council on curriculum development in Wales. This is not to deny the importance of the overall projects to children in school in Wales. Obviously, the work on the primary programme related to the Plowden and the Gittins Reports is relevant to all children in primary schools in Wales, as is the programme for the early leaver, which is related to Newsom.

Indeed, I have followed with interest the parallel development in the English programme, especially the work done on English for immigrant children, which may benefit from the work on bilingual education in Wales by the Schools Council and other organisations.

I should like the Department and the Opposition to see what aspects of the lessons we have learned from the bilingual experiments within Wales may be extended to tackle many of the linguistic problems now met in the inner city areas in England. This contribution in bilingual education has been made by the Department of Education, the universities and colleges of education and the Schools Council. This is an area where we might be able to assist with many of the problems of English for immigrants now being faced by education authorities in England.

For three years I taught in an institution which took no notice of entry qualifications. I have always been sceptical of the operation of the O-level and A-level system. I have always been sceptical of formal assessment techniques. My brief study of what had so far emerged from the Schools Council discussion on the 16-plus leads me to endorse many of the major criticisms made by the Schools Council of the two-tier examination system and the effect it has on the relative attainment of children at various levels. I taught in a college of adult education which had no formal entry requirement. We found that many of the disadvantaged pupils who had been brought up in socially deprived areas and who had not attained formal qualifications were able, after a short period of induction into educational techniques, to perform as well, if not better, than pupils who had obtained a qualification, even at O-level standard. It is clear that the assessment system at 16-plus requires revision.

I am surprised at the indignant tone of the Opposition towards the work of the Schools Council. I should have thought that if they were convinced of the virtues of the examination system at 16-plus, as is now stands, they would have been happy to see an objective study which amounts to a reassessment of that system.

6.30 p.m.

I am certain that, in looking at the work of the Schools Council, the Department will take into account the lessons which have been learned by adult education colleges and by the Open University about the work which can be done in the induction into education techniques of people who have not been able to reach a certain level in paper qualifications.

I turn now to the work undertaken by the Committee for Wales of the Schools Council, and it may be that I shall be able to educate some of those hon. Members who have been so critical of the Schools Council work in England by highlighting the positive work which it has done in Wales.

Much of the criticism which we have heard about the theoretical nature and the over-intellectualised nature of the Schools Council's work in no way applies to the work which has been done in Wales. Here, we have research which is oriented to basic field work, research which is linked very closely with curriculum development in the schools, and research which is linked very closely to the linguistic problems of individual communities.

The work of the Schools Council in Wales can be divided into two aspects. There is the work done for first-language children to parallel the work done through the medium of English in England. Such is the work on science and mathematics projects in Welsh-medium schools. The intention of this is to ensure that Welsh-speaking children have the same kind of child-centred investigatory approach to the learning of science and mathematics as has been made available to English children through Nuffield Primary Mathematics and Nuffield Junior Science in English. So the Schools Council has been able, through testing this project in some 65 schools, to offer to the minority of the population in Wales who have Welsh as their first language a similar kind of investigatory approach and innovative approach to educational methods as has been available to the mass of the population in England.

The same can be said for the work on the project which I know best, which is that which is based in the Department of Linguistics at the University of North Wales, Bangor, headed by Dr. Emrys Parry, on Welsh as a first language within secondary schools. This work is based on research work into the grammatical structures of contemporary Welsh and has been able to produce standardised forms of teaching of that language. To produce teaching material to teach Welsh as a first language is immensely valuable because, though hon. Members may not realise it, for anyone living within a minority culture of some half a million people where most people within that culture are bilingual there is severe pressure on Welsh, the minority language, both from the grammatical forms of the major language, English, and from the fact that most of the knowledge gained by a child outside formal education is to be obtained from the media and is in English.

The work which has been done on this project has enabled the first-language child—the Welsh-speaking child—to have a similar level of teaching and a similar type of teaching programme as that available through the English language in the first-language teaching programme in England. Here again the Schools Council has been able to provide a very valuable service to those children within a minority culture in Wales.

The equally important work has been the pioneering work on bilingual education, bringing Welsh to families, to children and to schools where Welsh was not available. Here, the work of the Schools Council is overturning the tendency of the education system in Wales since 1870 to be through the medium of English and to deprive so many of our people of Welsh who are anxious to have both languages.

There are two important projects which I highlight. The first is the project on bilingual education in anglicised areas of Wales. It attempts to enable children whose first language is English to become bilingual at a very early age and to acquire competence in the second language early on. This project has already cost the Welsh Office, the Department of Education and Science and local authorities in Wales more than £100,000, and the material prepared in this project has been used extensively throughout both the Welsh-medium primary schools and by the voluntary sector.

The same is true of the interesting and important social research which has been undertaken into the problem of bilingualism and the motivation for learning Welsh and English based at the Department of Education at University College, Swansea. This is the project work on attitudes to motivation and learning of Welsh and English. This, perhaps, is one of the most heartening from the point of view of those of us who have Welsh and want to see people given the opportunity to learn the language. It is very gratifying to see the high degree of motivation in towns like Swansea, which have been anglicised for a long period, with parents and children wanting to learn Welsh, provided that they were given the opportunity and given it through modern teaching methods by which Welsh was introduced as part of the curriculum and not seen as a separate subject—introduced as a medium of teaching, as opposed to being seen as a subject taking up additional time. The work done here on the attitudes of 10, 12 and 14-year-olds and of parents has been extremely valuable, and the report published in 1970 had a substantial effect on the education policies of the various local education authorities in Wales. It was especially influential in mid-Glamorgan and Clwyd.

I have gone into these projects in some detail because they indicate the valuable work which the Schools Council has been doing in Wales, the way that the council and its committee for Wales have taken upon themselves a commitment to defend and to develop Welsh language teaching in Wales and, in doing it, the way that they have been able to reverse the trend of decline both in the language itself and in the status of the language in the education system.

I strongly urge the House to reject New Clause 45 as being an ill-informed proposal. It seems that it is the view of the official Opposition that the Schools Council should be destroyed in order to create a similar body. That was the impression which I gained from the speech of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane). He said that a destroyed Schools Council would somehow have to be resurrected.

I am anxious to see the work undertaken in Wales, both on the bilingual education side and on the first-language side for the Welsh speaker, continued and expanded. Therefore, I urge the House to reject the clause.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)

The debate began with the Minister and others holding up their hands in horror when they discovered that this subject had been raised in this form. In fact, the debate has been a very useful and constructive one. It has been a lot more relevant to what is happening in education at the moment than the original Bill.

The Minister was perhaps a little harsh on my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane), whose advocacy of the new clause was extremely moderate. It is a matter of interesting semantics, really, when we talk about abolition, whether we are speaking of the total disappearance of such a body or about its abolition in its present form, so that a reformed structure can be put in its place.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) about the need for a body to perform the functions that the Schools Council at present performs, especially in curriculum research, though perhaps not so much in research into teaching methods, which could probably be done as well through the medium of the National Federation for Educational Research. Nevertheless, there are necessary functions for a body of this kind to perform, and in lending my support to the general purpose of my hon. Friend's speech I should not like it to be thought that we wanted to dismiss this body altogether from the education scene.

We have heard with what hope this body was set up about 12 years ago, though my hon. Friends have demonstrated admirably the general disillusionment that has now come into being. Even The Times Educational Supplement, which is in many ways a reflection of establishment opinion throughout the teaching profession, headlined a recent leader: Another nail in the Schools Council's coffin. That is how a growing number of people in the teaching profession and outside it are coming to see that body.

When one looks at the meeting of 8th July, which endorsed the general proposition for a new 16-plus examination, one sees many of the weaknesses of that body revealed only too clearly. It agreed in principle and reached a majority conclusion on the broad recommendation, but it had little to offer in terms of the necessary administrative structure. That tells us much about the state of the Schools Council. It is preoccupied with the big issues of principle, which are often highly coloured with a particular view of educational ideology, but it is weak on educational application. When one considers the conduct at that meeting one find further grounds for criticism. The Times Educational Supplement published a lengthly report of that meeting, part of which said: The proceedings were frequently punctuated with music-hall barracking, ribald comments and invective from the largest group of governors, the National Union of Teachers, towards any attempt to modify the proposals. "Punctuated by ribald comments", and the rest, does not inspire one's faith in that body as being representative of academic responsibility as one understands it.

Why does this growing dissolution and criticism exist? It is important that we try to analyse that. A debate of this kind is valuable because constructive contributions have been made not only by hon. Members of the Opposition but by one or two hon. Members on the Government Benches. I refer in particular to the contribution by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell). We should analyse the problem and ask how this state of affairs has come about.

I ask the Minister to accept that this is not just a question of seizing on one proposal that we do not like and thereby branding the whole institution as useless. That is not our argument. The situation that the council has created over the 16-plus examination serves to undermine the faith that we might have had in the other work that the council undertakes. Dissolution with the Schools Council has come about because it no longer carries conviction, even within the education profession.

The second reason for that dissillusion is linked to the first—as an advisory body, it has a far too narrow base. The undesirability of the total preponderance of teachers within it has been demonstrated by my hon. Friends. The result is that it is regarded largely as a pressure group. My quote from The Times Educational Supplement increases the overall impression that it is working as a pressure group.

Miss Margaret Jackson

For hon. Members to comment on the behaviour of others at meetings is equivalent to the pot calling the kettle black.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Gardiner

I agree that our debates have a lively quality, but the public, and the teaching profession in particular, expect a more responsible attitude to be taken by a body that should not be divided in the way in which this House is divided; it should be motivated by the overall wish to serve its own profession and to fulfil the function for which it was established.

The root of the difficulty is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) said, that the whole way in which the council works is wrong. An institutionalised teacher-union representation is not conducive to the council's fulfilling its task, nor is voting by union blocks.

It is destructive, because the present scene in education is that discussion, involvement and interest are broadening immensely. Far more people expect and demand to be involved in discussions about what happens in schools. Parents put on pressure to have more to say—a development for which we have tried to allow in the various new clauses that we have tabled. The discussion about change and about the way in which institutions should be changed and evolved now involves more people than in years gone by. In that situation it is particularly destructive for the Schools Council to have such a narrow base.

I am convinced that we must bring more lay opinion into the Schools Council, or into any body that seeks to fulfil the function of the present council. There must be more representatives from industry and those who will employ school leavers. Education should no longer be regarded as a secret garden for which the teacher unions have the only or major key. It must be opened out more, and there must be more participation at every level. That process can start here.

Teacher groups on the council are falling out among themselves over their own representation on it. That is another sign of the disintegration of purpose—

Mr. Flannery

I have the impression that the hon. Gentleman is arguing for the reorganisation of the Schools Council rather than its abolition, which is what the clause proposes. So far, he seems to have said that the shape of the council should be changed and that different people should sit on it. Is that his point, or does he want the council abolished?

Mr. Gardiner

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not in the Chamber for the start of my remarks. I do not like the Schools Council as it is at the moment. I should like to abolish it, but I recognise that there is an important function to be performed by an advisory body. I should like to see that advisory body constituted differently from the Schools Council.

The lesson that I draw from all this is that the council was splendid in conception, it was founded in great hope, but, due to its narrow composition, it cannot properly and responsibly carry out all its functions. It certainly cannot carry them out in the more open climate of discussion on educational matters that obtains today.

I call on the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend not to spend too much time worrying about the report that has just been presented on the 16-plus examination, but to initiate a much broader discussion with all interested parties on the future of the Schools Council—on whether it should be reformed, or abolished and replaced by a different body. I urge them to start consultations about setting up a body including not only the professional talent available but the lay talent, with a view to producing a smaller, probably less ambitious, cheaper but more representative and more effective body.

I acknowledge that the Schools Council has done considerable good in certain areas, but it is failing in its task now. The time has come to abolish it and create a reformed institution to perform this valuable function.

Mr. Stokes

Having failed last night, on the guillotine motion, to catch the eye of the Chair, I rise happily to support my hon. Friends who have spoken so ably to this most important new clause.

I think I attended the whole of the previous sittings on Report. One of my speeches then had a little publicity, when I spoke about the importance of cricket and Latin.

Dr. Boyson

Do not let the Schools Council get at them.

Mr. Stokes

I hope that my remarks today will be received as being in the same authoritative vein and that they will be widely reported throughout the world.

I have listened to the whole debate over the past three hours. It has become apparent from the, on the whole, serious and excellent speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House—with one or two exceptions—that the Schools Council is not exactly the most popular body in England today. As a result of my own experience of life—first, as a schoolmaster, shortly, and, secondly, for the past 30 years, as someone who has been in personnel management and has seen the products of schools and colleges—I differ in my philosophy of education from the Schools Council.

I believe that children must be taught to learn, and made to learn, that they are born little brutes and must be disciplined. That does not mean that I do not love children. Fortunately, I am the father of three children, who appear to have some affection for me.

I am trying to give the views of most ordinary people—certainly of my constituents. What most people want—and most of them have never heard of the Schools Council—is to see that their children are brought up decently. Most of them want their children to be brought up as Christians and to have inculcated into them a basic knowledge of the English language and a reasonable standard of numeracy.

In spite of the millions of pounds spent on education, many people believe, as I do, that young people are leaving school less well educated than a generation ago. I do not blame the Schools Council for that, but we must ask ourselves what it has achieved and what it is trying to do.

On the question of standards and examinations, I have a somewhat ambivalent attitude. On the one hand, I believe in the most rigorous standards of learning and in people having to pass stiff tests. On the other, I have enormous sympathy for those who have tried very hard and have failed to pass their examinations. At the beginning of the war I was sent to Sandhurst to be trained to be an officer. I was asked to pass an examination on the principles of the motor bicycle. I found it an extremely difficult subject, and received 15 per cent. in the examination and failed. Fortunately, that did not stop my becoming an officer. I rode a motor bicycle a great deal, and luckily it never broke down and I never had to mend it.

I have been concerned with business, industry and commerce for many years. Most business men will say that intellectual skills alone are not sufficient for success. Many other qualities are required —pre-eminently the ability to get on with others and, for those who aspire to management, the capacity for leadership. I suppose that today we see that best exemplified in the Armed Forces.

Whatever it has done in the past, I look upon the Schools Council now with grave suspicion. In spite of the theories and practice of the council, I believe that education is much more than schools, colleges and text books; it is a process of self-development from the cradle to the grave, which involves—apart from study and learning, important as they are—experience of life, appreciation of the arts, personal contacts and friendship, wide travel, and a sight of other civilisations.

I also believe that, in the end, character is usually more important than brains. There is much to be said for the custom in modern China, where not only do young people have to undertake some form of national service but older people are liable to be sent to work in the fields. For example, a professor of psychology may be told "You are a very good professor of psychology, but you are not very good at digging potatoes". Perhaps in this country we should have an interchange between the intellectual life and other ways of life, particularly for journalists. Above all, I would send some of the journalists into the fields. We should have a variety of mental and physical work.

Not all young people will be intellectuals. The main demand of British industry today is for skilled craftsmen. Even with our present unemployment, there is still a great shortage of them. More must be done in education to make sure that enough men are available for those jobs.

For certain non-intellectual boys who show many other good qualities, the Outward Bound course and other adventure training can give self-confidence and self-control, and do them a great deal of good, as we know from experience, when they return from those fairly tough experiences.

7.0 p.m.

We have to ask ourselves, and the Minister must ask herself, in spite of her Department, in spite of the great apparatus we have in this country, and even in spite of the Schools Council, why it is that, although we are still ahead of America, thank goodness, in education we are falling behind France most certainly, with her more strict and rigorous curriculum and examinations.

I feel that the danger now is that with all this so-called progressive thinking in the Schools Council and elsewhere, as a nation we are becoming sloppy in learning, sloppy in discipline and sloppy in respect for authority. The increasing crime figures, unfortunately, bear that out. I find that our young people today are still absolutely first-class but they need leadership and inspiration. They do not just need research people and blue books; they want people who are prepared to go out and help either full-time or part-time. I do not know why hon. Gentlemen laugh. It seems quite worth while to assist these young men and women, and to show them the way.

To stop hon. Gentlemen laughing, I would tell them that I was talking to a young man of about 20, who took 20 youths off the streets of Birmingham, where they were smashing up telephone kiosks, and brought them into a camp for a fortnight. At the end of that fortnight those boys were completely changed young men. That is surely worth while, and it is the sort of thing that the Schools Council might give thought to.

We have overdone the universities and have not done enough for the technical colleges. We have become obsessed with full-time courses and do not have enough respect for the sandwich course and the part-time course. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) said, the policy today is "change for change's sake". What people want, particularly young people, is stability. If I were asked to find a chairman for a new Schools Council I would have to go back into history, and the best man I could find would be Dr. Johnson.

I believe that the Schools Council should be abolished. I do not believe that we need to proliferate bodies of this kind. In this country, there are too many people researching, monitoring, clerking, examining, and doing everything except a worthwhile practical job. We have to have more people helping practically instead of gassing about it day and night. When I hear people gassing about it I ask what they do. I ask them if they go to their boys' club on Saturday nights, or whether they take the Scouts out. The answer is, normally, that they just read some wretched book written by an American professor.

If we are to have a resuscitated Schools Council—and I very much hope that we shall not—surely at least the teachers must form a minority on it and it must be composed of parents and ordinary people, with as broad a base and background and experience as possible.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) said, but I am a reformer in this matter and' not an abolitionist. I must apologise to the House for the fact that, for a respectable reason, I was not present to hear the earlier part of the debate. I am particularly sorry to have missed the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane).

My judgment of the Schools Council so far is that it has certainly done some very useful work but that other work has been of much more doubtful value. I shall confine my brief remarks to one example of the latter, in which there is a special Cambridge constituency interest as well as a national interest. I refer to the proposal, which has been mentioned in a number of earlier speeches, to replace the GCE and CSE by a single new examination.

The Local Examinations Syndicate of the University of Cambridge is greatly disturbed by this proposal, on two main grounds. First, educationally, it fears that the new single examination will be pitched below the low point of GCE. It is afraid that the brightest pupils will not be sufficiently stretched and that academic standards are seriously at risk. The second ground concerns administration, which has not been mentioned so much in the debate. There are serious doubts in my constituency about the costings of this proposal. The Schools Council, I understand, was unwilling to join some of the GCE boards in an independent inquiry, and so the Local Examinations Syndicate in my constituency has produced its own comments on this aspect of the proposal. I quote its two principal conclusions:

  1. "(a) that any common 16+ examination will be more expensive than the present system in examiner's fees and that the increase will be significant, and
  2. (b) that any administrative system set up on C.S.E. lines will have other costs' which are considerably higher than those of the G.C.E. Boards in 1974, and hence higher overall administrative costs than the present system."
I stress, above all, that the academic effectiveness of the new system, quite apart from the important aspect of cost, has not been established. I have quoted opinions from my constituency, and other universities take the same view. Many employers are equally anxious, and so are a large number of parents. I hope that hon. Gentlemen read the comment in The Times on 9th July, when it finished its leading article by stating that: There is no reason to believe that a single system can ever be devised which will not be too easy for the top ten per cent. of candidates and too hard for the bottom ten per cent. The Secretary of State would be wise not to approve yesterday's proposal. I appeal, as others have done, to the Secretary of State and to the hon. Lady to go very slowly indeed. In recent years the country has had to digest too much change, too hastily introduced. In respect of this proposal of the Schools Council, whatever the value of much of its other work, which I acknowledge, I believe there is an overwhelming case for sensible scepticism and for a pause, so that all of us can give much more thought and discussion to what is being proposed.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We have had a most interesting and constructive debate, which has really established the case against the guillotine, because it is precisely such debates as this that are excluded by the use of that device. By tabling these new clauses we have, up to a point, been able to do the Government's job for them and to bring before the House these questions of intense educational interest to people who are not permanently obsessed with seeking to impose comprehensive schools all over the country.

I would congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane) on the succinct and robust way in which he introduced this important new clause. The contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) and others have been of an equally high quality. The contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) was not only of a high but of an arresting quality.

I was sorry that we only had a brief reference to cricket and Latin. At least my hon. Friend put them in the right order, cricket first and Latin second. I was reminded, as he was referring to the international attention that his remarks aroused on the last time round, of that line of Robert Hitchen's from his novel "The Green Carnation": They are good at cricket and despise poetry, and that is what the English consider virtue in boys. I do not know what headlines he will obtain tomorrow, but I think that we must look to Mars, if there be a Press there, to do him justice.

One has some symapthy with the new clause—it gives a useful opportunity to discuss this problem—although I am afraid that I cannot, from the Front Bench, support it, as it stands.

Mr. Flannery


Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sorry to disappoint Labour Members, but my own position remains what it has always been, that of the extreme centre. I would draw the hon. Member's attention to Chester-ton's reference to the dull heresies sprawling to left and to right, The wild truth reeling but erect. That is not a cryptic reference to the Minister of State. There are, of course, different views on this side, and I have to try to keep a balance between them, and to retain my own balance at the same time. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North the other day, you cannot have two Dervishes on one rug. I might remind my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) that one certainly cannot have three, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that it is highly undesirable to have four. So one must be careful what one says on this subject.

I subscribe to the thesis that the power of the Schools Council has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished, but I think that its abolition would be going too far. The one principle which I thought had escaped the onslaught of the Secretary of State is that the control of the curriculum should be vested not in the Government but in the local education authorities, the governors or the heads: in other words, that it should be decentralised.

We have yet to have an explanation of the speech of the Permanent Secretary to the Department in which he said that the curriculum should no longer be treated as a secret garden. It is a dangerous doctrine to centralise the curriculum. If one decentralises it, however, it is inevitable that bodies like the Schools Council will have a considerable influence.

The Schools Council has come into prominence because of its recent recommendations about examinations—and quite right, too. Those recommendations may have been among the factors which led my hon. Friends to put down a new clause to abolish it, although evidently they were not the only reasons. Certainly we are deeply anxious about these proposals.

If they were implemented they would weaken the two bases of the education policy which the Opposition has consistently put forward. The first is that we should stand for high standards in education. The second is that we stand for the extension of parental influence and choice. The struggle for the preservation of a certain number of selective schools, the struggle for a variety of schools, has been subsumed—if I may borrow that word from the Minister of State—into our general campaign for high standards.

7.15 p.m.

I am glad to see that the Minister of State is back with us and is not taking one of his progresses around the Kingdom. Since a remark that I made last night seems to have been rather misunderstood, when I referred to his visit to an obscure college in the North of England, I have now learned the name of the college to which he went. I am glad to say that I have been told that it is the Nelson and Colne College, a college which certainly has an international reputation. The point that I was making was not about the obscurity of any college, nor indeed about the North of England, for which I have a great regard. I share Byron's view on the "passionate North". It was, after all, always the last stronghold of the old religion, scene of the Pilgrimage of Grace and other manifestations of tradition and loyalty. My only concern is that it seems to be so indifferently represented here. My concern was that the Minister of State had in this respect neglected his parliamentary duties and had put an extra-curricular activity first.

High standards will not occur of their own accord.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

Since the hon. Gentleman has returned for the ninety-fifth time to this topic he must allow me to say what I have said so frequently, that I had on that occasion, and still have, every confidence in my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales. The hon. Gentleman neglects not simply the North of England but the interests of Wales. He must get away from his South-Eastern bias.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful for that helpful intervention. I assure the Minister of State that I was not attacking him. I was merely defending myself, which is a much more important occupation.

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)

And more necessary.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should like to express my gratitude to the Minister of State for drawing my attention to Wales. I agree with so much of what was said by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), who, unfortunately, has temporarily vanished, on the importance of the use of the Welsh language and the work done by the Schools Council in that respect.

The Schools Council has done a number of good things and a number of bad things, and one has to balance one against the other. We have put forward consistently an argument for the monitoring of achievements and efficiency in schools as an essential weapon in promoting high standards. We believe equally strongly, that, if there are to be high standards, we must have examinations which are real tests of ability and objective, both in their conception and in the marking of the papers.

I welcome the opportunity to make plain the Opposition's position on these proposals of the Schools Council. First, we judge them not on doctrinal but on educational grounds. There is an impressive list of doubters and opposers who were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) has spoken with great authority on the doubts of the Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.

When one raises the school leaving age from 15 to 16 one has to make certain changes and adaptations in the examination system, but it is in no way necessary, because of the raising of the age, to have a common examination and abolish the well-tried distinction between the CSE and the GCE. Indeed, there are almost insuperable obstacles, we think, to establishing a common examination at any age. Either the questions will be too difficult for the less able, so that they will not have a fair test of their ability, or they will be not difficult enough for the able and they will not face the necessary challenge.

It is these difficulties which have not been faced and have not been researched by the Schools Council. I hope that the Schools Council will go back and think again. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) said, the Schools Council has been deficient in the field work it has done.

We strongly resist the suggestion that a subjective assessment by teachers at the particular schools should be substituted for the objective assessment of the board. Before the hon. Member who is such a distinguished member of the NUT attacks me and says that I am attacking teachers, I will tell him that this is not an attack on teachers, because teachers will be involved elsewhere. This is a plea for a standard of objectivity, so that the confidence of those who look to the examination system as providing a test of its products, and of the standards they are likely to expect, will be retained It is no service to the teaching profession if the confidence of industry—we are, after all, an industrial country—in our examination system is undermined.

We can certainly consider ways of improving the system. For example, we should consider a common curriculum. Why not? We could have a common curriculum and different methods of assessment. No doubt we need better methods of assessment. That is a job for the Assessment of Performance Unit.

What has happened to that unit? It seems to have passed from a period of innovation to atrophy, with no constructive period of activity in between. It was launched with a great fanfare of trumpets and has vanished entirely from sight. It reminds me of the review of a book called "The Secret" by Hegel, in which the reviewer commented that the secret was only too well kept by its author. May we hear exactly what the Assessment of Performance Unit is doing? What is happening within the bowels of Elizabeth House? That was the most important single innovation of the Government's régime.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Is it not similar to another concept, the Parent's Charter, which is often advocated at national level, not least by the hon. Gentleman, but is all too rarely implemented at local level by Conservative Party politicians when they are in control?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That is a very fair criticism. There are certain councils, such as mine in Essex, which are bright exceptions to that rule, but councils of all hues are at fault in this respect. Let me set the hon. Gentleman's anxieties at rest. Thanks to the unremitting labours of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair), Parents' Charter Mark 2 is about to be launched upon an eagerly awaiting public. We hope, when that is done, that we shall see an even more positive response from councils throughout the country.

We must ask ourselves what is the real reason behind this suggestion from the Schools Council. I am afraid that it has nothing to do with the educational arguments or with the educational considerations which I have put forward. It is because of the educational disadvantages that we are against the proposals. It has to do, I am afraid, with yet another form of social engineering. The same impulse lies behind the desire to impose comprehensive schools everywhere—the notion that it is discreditable to recognise that there are different levels of ability and aptitude in different children. That is the impulse that lies behind this drive for a single examination. We do not take that view. If we are to have high standards, we must recognise that there are different levels of ability.

We say that there must be an improvement in our comprehensive schools, and that is just as important as is the preservation of variety in schools. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham recognised in his excellent speech yesterday that that has always been our policy, and I am grateful for the ecumenical tone which I detected in his remarks. We must look to standards throughout the educational system, and we must use the tool of examinations to do it.

We have also discussed the question of the composition of the Schools Council. It should be reformed, as was advocated in the remarkable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner). There are too many representatives of teachers upon it, and not enough representation of other interests; 44 teachers out of a total representation of 77 is an unbalancing factor. We should like to see more representation of outside interests, such as industry.

We should also like to see the functions of the Schools Council extended to the important task of monitoring standards within the system. That needs to be done. The Schools Council could join forces with the National Foundation for Educational Research and the Assessment of Performance Unit to do that.

The next Conservative Government will certainly not implement these proposals of the Schools Council. I would welcome a clear statement from the Under-Secretary of State that the Secretary of State will not do so either. It has been presumed in the Press that he is in favour of the proposals. I do not know why. I thought that the Under-Secretary of State, in her own discreet way, gave us a strong hint today that there is no unanimity in Elizabeth House in favour of these proposals, and that there is a great deal of caution there. That would be a wise course to follow. Let those proposals be thoroughly examined and assessed before any rash and precipitate decision is reached. If we have managed to convince the Under-Secretary of State, the Minister of State and the Secretary of State of that point, the debate today will have been fully justified.

Miss Margaret Jackson

We have already gone over the same ground so many times that I shall seek to make only one or two points. What has come through very clearly is that although many hon. Members who have spoken felt the need to direct their remarks to the abolition of the Schools Council, because that is the way the new clause is couched, they have been calling for the reform of the Schools Council rather than its abolition, and for a different emphasis on various aspects of its work.

Similarly, hon. Members have asked for assurances about the way in which the Secretary of State regards the proposals put forward by the Schools Council. Here I repeat what I said in my opening remarks, when I sought to make plain to the House that it is the intention in the Department of Education and Science that these proposals shall be examined with great care. We are in no less doubt than are hon. Members on both sides of the House that these proposals are of considerable significance. We wish to look at them carefully, and to examine how they may be implemented, if that is thought to be desirable. Given that we wish to give careful consideration to the details of the proposals, I must avoid being drawn by the many comments made by hon. Members about their own reservations. It would be wrong for me to seek to encourage a detailed discussion of the proposals at this stage.

I was interested to hear that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) regarded the proposals made by the Schools Council as a form of social engineering. I have always believed that education was to some extent a process of social engineering. That belief was confirmed by the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), who said that children were brutes and had to be trained to be civilised human beings. It is a little invidious to condemn a proposal by labelling it as social engineering, as if that were automatically undesirable, when many of the civilising processes in our society are themselves social engineering.

Throughout the debate it has been clear that there is concern about many aspects of the work of the Schools Council. Equally, there is a great deal of interest in many aspects of its work. Many are dissatisfied with the details of its proposals and the operation of the council itself, and seek to have them improved. But the matter that has emerged most clearly is that there is still a need for the work of the council. The hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) said that he did not want the council, but he did want a body that would do this, that, or the other, and that turned out to be the work of the council.

The interest expressed in the hon. Gentleman's clause has been great, but support for it has not been uniform in terms of the way in which it has been couched. I suggest that it would be for the benefit of the House if the hon. Gentleman were to withdraw the clause.

Mr. Macfarlane

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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