HC Deb 26 June 1984 vol 62 cc928-44 11.47 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

I beg to move, That the draft Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 7 June, be approved. The draft order before the House is long and complex, but I shall attempt to deal with it briefly. It amends the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, and it incorporates in that order the procedures, contained in the Education (Northern Ireland) Act 1978, whereby certain grant-aided schools may become controlled integrated schools.

The main provisions of the order derive from the Astin report on the management of schools in Northern Ireland, the Benn report on voluntary schools in Northern Ireland and indirectly the Warnock report on the education of handicapped children and young people in Great Britain.

The order has been the subject of wide-ranging consultation with educational interests in Northern Ireland. I also met deputations from two of the Northern Ireland political parties. And I know from the report of the Northern Ireland Assembly which was laid before this House on 23 November 1983 that the draft order was carefully examined by the Assembly education committee. I would like to record my appreciation of the interest shown by the Assembly and by some 150 other bodies and individuals who submitted comments on the order.

Arising from the recommendations of the Assembly and the other comments, 10 changes of substance have been made to the order. Copies of the Government's response to the Assembly report have been placed in the Library. Hon. Members will be interested to know that the Government's response was generally welcomed by the Assembly. I have also written separately to hon. Members advising them of the main changes that have been made to the proposal for the draft order. I hope that that will have assisted them in their study of this particular piece of legislation.

I have painted the backdrop in some detail to illustrate not only the scope of the consultation but the volume of critical scrutiny to which the order has been subjected.

Of course, inevitably, some people, perhaps including some hon. Members, may be disappointed that we could not adopt their particular suggestions, or that we could meet only some of them. However, I hope that, upon reflection, they will be able to accept that in an area as wide as education, where there are many-sided interests, there has to be some give and take. The Government have had to weigh all views and interests, however diverse, and we have done our best to ensure that the decisions we have taken are in the best interests of the education service for Northern Ireland. That sets the scene. I now refer to the draft order itself.

Perhaps the most significant provisions are those concerning changes in the management structures of schools. Historically in Northern Ireland, considerable attention has been paid to school management, but the position has remained static for a substantial number of years. The management structures for local authority schools, now called controlled schools, have been laid down in law since 1923 and the present provisions have remained unaltered since 1947. The present management arrangements for all but a handful of voluntary schools have been in operation since 1968. It was appropriate and timely that there should be fresh consideration of school management structures.

A working party chaired by Professor Astin, former pro vice-chancellor of Queen's university, Belfast, reported in 1979, and the Government announced in March 1981 that they accepted most of the recommendations of his report. The most significant were that parents and assistant teachers should be represented, as of right, on the boards of governors of all grant-aided schools. Those recommendations were given a general welcome although views differed as to the proportions in which the various categories of membership should be represented on the boards of different schools.

Following consultation with the major interests involved in school management, the Government announced their proposals for the future composition of boards of governors in September 1981. A more recent round of consultations on the draft order has led to numerical changes in the composition of some of the smaller boards of governors. The transferor representation on the smallest board of governors of controlled primary and intermediate schools has been increased from three to four, thereby increasing the voting membership of those boards to nine. In the case of the smallest board of governors of a maintained school, and of a voluntary grammar school, which has entered into an agreement with the Department or an education and library board, the number of members representative of the trustees or foundation governors has been increased from five to six, thereby increasing their voting membership to 10.

There has been no change in the required numbers of parent and teacher governors. The Government decided against the recommendations made by the Northern Ireland Assembly, the three main Protestant Churches and others, that the additional transferor should be a parent because that would upset the balance of statutory parental representation between controlled and voluntary schools. However, there is nothing to prevent transferors from nominating one or more parents as their representatives if they so wish—the increase in transferor representation should facilitate such flexibility.

Parents and teachers will be given a responsible role on the boards of governors. They will be elected by fellow parents and fellow teachers, rather than nominated by some other body, as was suggested by some of the interests with which consultations took place. The Government believe that it is right that they should be able to determine by democratic means who will represent them. That fundamental principle is already enshrined in legislation in England and Wales.

I appreciate that the holding of elections, particularly in large schools, could pose logistical problems. For that reason, the order does not set down rigid procedures that must be adhered to when such elections are being held. The education and library board, in the case of a controlled school, and the board of governors, in the case of a voluntary school, will determine the best and most appropriate arrangements for elections, although such arrangements will be subject to my Department's approval. The only statutory requirement is that any vote taken in an election is to be by secret ballot. That is a fundamental prerequisite for any democratic election, and I believe that it is right to enshrine it in legislation.

The order also provides for the implementation of a number of other Astin recommendations. I draw attention in particular to article 25, which requires school authorities to prepare schemes setting out the procedures to be followed in regard to the suspension and expulsion of pupils. I share the views expressed in the Astin report that, in this controversial area, it is essential that there should be clear and readily understood procedures laid down. Many of the difficulties in regard to suspensions and expulsions arise because such procedures do not exist or, where they do exist, they are sometimes not clearly defined, understood, or, in some cases, followed. Article 25 will empower my Department to prescribe by regulation certain fundamental matters that must be common to all schemes.

Article 34 of the published proposal—now article 33 of the draft order—contained a provision which would have given an education and library board the power to appeal to the Department, if it considered the board of governors of a controlled school was acting unreasonably in not giving consent to the redeployment of a teacher. The provision was based on an Astin recommendation, but it was strenuously opposed by controlled school interests on the grounds that it was unacceptable that there should be a statutory provision, whereby controlled schools could be required to accept teachers from voluntary schools, while voluntary schools retained absolute control over their own teaching appointments. In the light of these views I concluded that the provision should be removed from the order.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The Minister did not deal with article 33. It provides for a teacher to go to a school without advertisement for the post if, the teacher is a teacher in the school to which the appointment is to be made and the Board of Governors of the school has given to the board its prior consent to the appointment". That appears to be parochial, because instead of cross-fertilisation, and teachers with outside experience coming to a school, promotion will occur within the school without an advertisement.

That would be difficult to do on the mainland because teachers, governing bodies and education authorities prefer to have experienced teachers from many places, rather than promotion within the school. Will the Minister comment on that?

Mr. Scott

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point, but it is too late to amend the order. We are anxious to have the best teachers for our schools, and to have a sensible scheme for the redeployment of teachers at a time of falling rolls. The change that I announced may in a minimal way make it less easy to redeploy teachers, but the feelings in Northern Ireland were so strong that I was right to make this alteration before the order was laid.

The Benn report on voluntary schools recommended that voluntary grammar schools which become nonselective secondary schools should have the choice of either adopting the maintained school system of financing their revenue expenditure or continuing to receive their recurrent grant from my Department. Articles 7 to 11 enable such a school to exercise that choice and, if it wishes after experience of one system, to change its initial option.

If the school decides to become a maintained school, that is, a voluntary school which includes education and library board representatives on its board of governors, the financial arrangements, with one exception, would be the same as for existing maintained schools. Its recurrent expenditure and expenditure on equipment would be the responsibility of the education and library board. Grant would be payable at the rate of 85 per cent. towards capital expenditure on premises but, unlike existing maintained schools, the school authorities would be able to charge a fee, within a prescribed maximum, for the purpose of meeting capital expenditure not met by grant.

If the school opted to continue to receive recurrent grant from my Department it would be a direct grant voluntary intermediate school. Articles 12 to 14 govern the financial and other arrangements, which would apply to such a school. In particular, grant would be payable at a rate of 85 per cent. towards capital expenditure and the school authorities would be able to charge a fee, again within a prescribed maximum, for the purpose of meeting capital expenditure not net by grant. I would also draw attention to article 13(3), which applies article 95(2) of the 1972 order to direct grant voluntary intermediate schools. Under article 95(2) an education and library board may apply to my Department for a vesting order if it wishes to acquire, compulsorily, Iand which it considers necessary for the purposes of a maintained school or a voluntary grammar school which has entered into an agreement conferring on the head of a department or a board or both the right to appoint members to the board of governors. Under articles 7 to 11 a school cannot become a direct grant voluntary intermediate school unless such an agreement exists between the school and the Department. It is therefore reasonable that article 95(2) should apply to a direct grant voluntary intermediate school as it applies to an "agreement" grammar school and to a maintained school. I should add that although compulsory acquisition powers have been available since 1978 in respect of most voluntary schools, no applications for vesting orders have been received, nor is it expected that it will be necessary to exercise the powers frequently in the future. Of course these powers are subject to the usual safeguards for the owner of the land both at the initial stage of vesting and in the event of disposal.

As hon. Members already know, the Northern Ireland assembly recommended that articles 7 to 14 should be removed from the order. The Government accept that these provisions are unlikely to be used to any great extent. Nevertheless with declining enrolments, some voluntary grammar schools may see their future role, or indeed their continued existence, in secondary education as nonselective schools. As articles 7–14 would enable such schools, despite ceasing to be grammar schools, to retain their direct grant relationship with my Department, they could promote and encourage positive moves towards rationalisation of secondary school provision. For this reason the Government decided against the Assembly recommendation that the provisions should be removed.

Further changes arising from the Government's acceptance of certain recommendations of the Benn report relate to the method of financing recurrent expenditure for voluntary grammar schools. The present system of recurrent grant distribution involving a large number of specific grants which has been in operation for over 30 years is cumbersome, complex and difficult to administer. Article 30 provides for its replacement by a simplified and streamlined block grant system. The grant which now meets the tuition fees for non-fee-paying pupils in voluntary grammar schools will be subsumed in the block grant. In future the only fees chargeable by grammar schools will be those to meet expenditure not met out of public funds, for example, tuition fees for pupils who do not obtain non-fee-paying places, capital fees, preparatory and boarding department fees. The maximum capital fee chargeable by a group A voluntary grammar school, that is one which is required to reserve places for non-fee-paying pupils, will continue to be prescribed by my Department but in other respects the determination of these fees will be left to the school authority rather than, as at present being subject to my Department's approval.

I would now like to deal with the revision of the law on special education. These provisions are very much in line with legislation in Great Britain which was based broadly on recommendations of the Warnock committee on the education of handicapped children and young people.

Although Northern Ireland was not included in the Warnock committee's terms of reference there is much in the report which is relevant to special education in Northern Ireland. It is therefore proper that the Northern Ireland law should also be updated. This order takes account of the revisions made in the law in Great Britain so far as they are relevant to Northern Ireland. I would like to highlight three main features.

First and foremost, the order replaces the concept of special educational treatment for children categorised according to one of 10 particular types of handicap, with a new wider concept of special educational provision based on the special educational needs of individual children. The Warnock report presented strong arguments for this change of emphasis and I am sure hon. Members would not disagree with the view that we need to look at the child rather than the handicap, and that a single handicap is less common than a multiplicity of problems. The real need is that, for every child with serious learning difficulties, the teacher should have a clear and detailed account of the nature of those difficulties together with recommendations about what is needed to meet the child's needs.

The term "special educational needs" is defined in such a way as to recognise that, as the Warnock report said, up to 20 per cent. of children may have special needs which require special help at some time in their school careers. As at present, of course, in many cases such help will be provided in the ordinary school. It is expected that only a small percentage of those children will have such special educational needs as to require assessment by a team of professionals so that their special educational provision can be determined by an education and library board. The order provides a detailed framework of the procedures for assessments and statements of special educational needs of such children.

The second main feature is the emphasis on the importance of involving parents at all stages in the making of decisions about the special educational provision for their children. This is not new in practice, of course, but the legislation makes specific provision for parents to have the opportunity of making their views known and of talking to the professionals involved in the assessment of their children's needs.

Thirdly, the order includes the statement of principle that, wherever possible, children with special educational needs should be educated in ordinary schools. This will, of course, be subject to certain safeguards, including that the school should be able to provide for the child's special needs and that his presence there should not prejudice the provision of efficient education for other pupils or the efficient use of resources. Clearly not all children with learning difficulties can be educated in ordinary schools, but the Government hope that this formal statement of principle in legislation will provide a further stimulus to the integration of such children in ordinary schools wherever it is possible.

These changes make up the bulk of the order. There are also a large number of less detailed, but none the less important, amendments. Those of most interest are perhaps contained in articles 20, 22, 27, 28 and 34.

I turn first to article 20. Unlike England and Wales, in Northern Ireland pupils can transfer at the age of 15 from secondary to further education. That policy of transferring at age 15 was reviewed in 1982 and it was concluded that there would be both educational and administrative advantages in retaining all 15-year-olds in schools.

There are several advantages. Pupils who transfer at present at 15-plus are often those who can least afford to lose the continuity of care and teaching and the kind of individual attention which the school can be expected to provide. A small number of final year pupils, because of the date of their birthday, are able to transfer to further education after only three years of secondary education. The removal of a number of these pupils can adversely affect school organisation in certain circumstances. Since, today full-time training or education is to be offered to all 16-year-olds under the youth training programme, there is less justification for beginning vocational courses at 15-plus. The absence of 15-year-olds would free college resources in further education for the development of appropriate link courses and courses under the youth training programme.

The new policy, ending the transfer of pupils to further education at 15, has been implemented voluntarily. Article 20 gives it a statutory base by changing the law to ensure that, in future, further education may be provided only for persons over compulsory school age.

Article 22 clarifies and amends the present legislation concerning school development proposals. It makes it clear that my Department may give directions that development proposals should be submitted in respect of voluntary schools as well as controlled schools. It also extends the circumstances in which development proposals are needed to include cases where proposed changes in one school would have a significant effect on another.

Article 27 re-enacts existing legislative provision in that it requires milk, meals or other refreshment to be provided for pupils at grant-aided schools and enables a similar service to be made available to pupils at institutions of further education. The provision of the service will be governed by arrangements approved by my Department, instead of by regulations. This is in line with Great Britain, where the school meals service has not been subject to regulations since the Education Act 1980 came into operation. However, while local education authorities in Great Britain have discretion about the provision that they may make, for example, in relation to the standard of school meals, the same level of discretion will not be extended to Education and Library Boards. The arrangements approved by my Department will lay down requirements relating to the standard of school meals to be provided in Northern Ireland.

The article also introduces a new requirement for facilities to be provided for pupils to eat food which they have brought to school. Similar provision was made for the rest of the United Kingdom in the Education Act 1980.

Article 28 re-enacts, with amendments, existing provisions relating to the training of teachers and makes new provision for account to be taken of the current value of redundant facilities in the payment or repayment of capital grant in respect of a voluntary college of education. The new recovery provision is intended to ensure that where grant-aided sites or premises cease to be required for the purposes of a college of education, an equitable share of their value will accrue to public funds. Under existing regulations, my Department may recover an amount not exceeding the actual grant paid. This does not take account of the effect of inflation on the value of property. It is therefore proposed that in any future cases—grants paid after 1 August 1984—public funds should receive an equitable proportion of the enhanced value of any grant-aided facilities which are no longer required for the purposes of a college of education. In other words, both the Department and the voluntary authorities would receive their proper share of the inflated value of the redundant college facilities.

Similarly, where grant is sought on the replacement of college premises, the grant may be reduced by an equitable share of the value of the redundant premises. It is intended that this latter provision should apply to any new grants being paid, irrespective of when or whether grant was paid on the old premises.

While on the subject of colleges of education, I should draw hon. Members' attention to paragraph 30 of schedule 8, which requires colleges of education to be open at all reasonable times to inspection by my Department. This requirement is a grant condition in existing regulations but under this order regulations will apply only to capital grants, so the general rule in schedule 8 becomes necessary. Article 91 of the 1972 order, which requires a variety of educational establishments to be open at all reasonable times to inspection by inspectors and other officers of the Department, is therefore being extended to include colleges of education.

Article 34 and schedule 7 amend the law relating to the Northern Ireland Schools Examinations Council. The Northern Ireland General Certificate of Education examinations board and the Northern Ireland Certificate of Secondary Education examinations board will be abolished, their functions will be transferred to the council and the constitution of the council will be changed to take account of the transfer. These changes originated in the consideration which led to the decision, announced last week, to introduce a common system of examinations at 16-plus. The examinations council proposed, and the Government accepted that, irrespective of any change in the examinations system, there would be advantages in moving from the existing administrative structure to a single examining body, as in Scotland and Wales. This will offer advantages in the operation of the existing system and will give greater flexibility in responding to the proposed changes.

The remaining provisions are largely technical or administrative. If hon. Members wish to raise any points I shall do my best to respond later. Most of the order will come into operation on 1 August 1984. Article 34, which deals with the examinations council, will come into operation on 1 December 1984.

I commend the order to the House.

12.11 am
Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

The Minister said that this was a long and complex order. This is not the hour to embark on a long and complex debate, and I do not propose to do so, but it is a measure of the disadvantages of direct rule that important matters are discussed by way of unamendable orders late at night and in a thin House. While we have a direct rule, it is wrong for the Government so to overload the Order Paper for one day.

I endorse the value of the consideration given to the order by the Assembly committee to which the Minister referred, and the evidence given to it by those who took so much trouble to submit their evidence.

The most disappointing feature of this order is article 16, which gives effect to the new article 25E. It is the law relating to children who are perhaps somewhat dismissively referred to as children unsuitable for education at school". It appears that provision for them is to be unchanged. The Minister said that the purpose of the order was to bring the subject into line—I know that I am paraphrasing him somewhat loosely—with post-Warnock thinking, but such children will continue to be seen entirely as the concern of the health boards, and not of the education authorities. That philosophy has been left behind by contemporary thinking and experience.

There have for many years been people who argued that all children are educable. If there remained any doubt about that, I should have thought that the Warnock report settled the argument. Those of us who have seen in our constituencies what can be done to realise and develop the potential of the severely mentally handicapped know that, in any meaningful sense of the word "educable", they are educable. There is now virtually a sub-profession in teaching of teachers who have developed high expertise. On this side of the water, the House recognised all this in 1970. It recognised that that activity was essentially an educational activity and that responsibility for it should fall to the Department of Education. Indeed, the House went further and recognised the principle that, where possible, children with special needs should be integrated into the regular schools system but that where that was not possible they should at least be within the education system and should have access to the wide range of advice and professional opinion to be found there.

In fact, in 1971 the right to full-time education, not just to care and health provision, was extended specifically to the severely mentally handicapped in England and Wales.

All that is not to deny that those in Northern Ireland who care for severely mentally handicapped children are doing so magnificently. What is at issue is our assertion that children in that category in Northern Ireland should have the same opportunities as children elsewhere.

As I understand the consultative document, the Government's argument is that the transfer of responsibilities to the Department of Education could interrupt the smooth transition from special care schools to adult training centres. In other parts of the United Kingdom any doubts on that issue have been resolved by reversing the argument. The ATCs, now social education centres, have been integrated into the education service. I have written to the Minister expressing my anxieties on this, and I am fortified by the knowledge that they are shared by the Ulster Teachers Union, the Presbyterian Church, the Western Education and Library Board and, I believe, the great majority of teachers in Northern Ireland. I have heard that last week the Belfast Action Group voted overwhelmingly in support of that suggestion.

The Children's Legal Centre is canvassing whether, if the proposal proceeds, it ought not to be challenged before the European Commission on Human Rights. I have not considered that matter at all carefully, and I do not essay any view on that subject. But I do not believe that the order seeks to maintain arrangements which were appropriate to an earlier age.

As I understand it, the Government say that all these matters must be considered within the framework of limited resources. The transfer would, of course, entail additional resources to the Department of Education. I suspect that that is the real issue. It goes to the root of all the provisions in this order relating to children with special educational problems.

In the explanatory paper originally published, the Government volunteered the assurance that the order will not lead to any increase in public expenditure or to any increase in staff in the public sector. I do not know whose minds they were seeking to set at rest, but I suspect that that reassurance was directed at their colleagues in the Government, particularly in the Treasury. It certainly gave no joy to educationists, who find it profoundly depressing.

At first sight the order appears to introduce imaginative provision for children with special needs, but that must entail resources. Imposing duties on boards and then announcing that they will not be provided with additional resources can only mean that they will have to find those resources from elsewhere in their budgets, and the more seriously thay take their new responsibilities, the more seriously they will have to cut their other services.

Again and again, when the education committee of the Assembly was taking evidence about this, it was told, in effect, by one witness after another that to introduce the provision without providing the resources was like providing a motor vehicle and then withholding the petrol.

The Warnock committee pointed out that its proposals entailed additional resources. It said: The quality of special education, however, cannot be guaranteed merely by legislation and structural change. The framework provides the setting within which people work together in the interests of children, and the quality of education depends essentially upon their skill and insight, backed by adequate resources—not solely educational resources—efficiently deployed". A moment's thought confirms that if teachers are to detect the child with special needs they require training, possibly in-service training. They need to be relieved of some of their existing burdens that are additional to teaching. The school receiving a handicapped child may need to make special physical adaptations relating to access, and provide special equipment.

Someone must have the time to go through the exercises that the Minister mentioned in discussing this matter with parents, because for parents it can be a traumatic experience to learn that their child has a problem. Whoever deals with them will require a great deal of time and patience. That is bound to entail additional provision of staff. I fear that this might be another example where, if teachers, by their dedication and submission to longer working hours, manage to make bricks without straw, the Government will be content to announce that the straw has been shown not to be needed.

This inconsistency shows through also in the provision for expulsion and suspension. Article 25 requires boards to establish procedures to be followed for suspension and expulsion. Full marks for that—it has received general approval. But, if a child has been expelled, what is to become of him? Is he to become a problem in another school, or is he to be left to mark time aimlessly and perhaps finally to drift into the clutches of those who thrive on frustrated and aimless young people? Even at this time of cuts, the north eastern board has recently opened a guidance centre in Coleraine, referred to in evidence to the Assembly by Mr. McKee of the National Association of Schoolmasters. I understand, although I have not yet had the opportunity to visit it, that the Jaffe centre in Belfast is providing similar promising experiments. However, it is asking a great deal of boards to provide such centres without the additional resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) referred to the redeployment of teachers. Article 33 recognises the tragic problem of redundancy among teachers, as indeed the Minister said. It is a problem which exists all too evidently on this side of the water, but here it relates to newly qualified teachers who are waiting for an opportunity to use their training constructively. Teachers who are already established have, for the most part, been redployed. In Northern Ireland, the combination of demographic trends and what has come, not always accurately, to be called "rationalisation" has led to more than 1,000 redundancies. The difference is that in England and Wales there is a system of central appointments.

The original proposal, for a right of appeal to the Department if the management committee of a controlled school vetoed a transfer, was not regarded by teachers as a complete answer to their problems—they did not think of the whole arrangement as a particularly happy one—but they felt that it went some way to meet their problems. That appeal has disappeared from the order. We know why. It is a further example of how sensible arrangements can become distorted, for reasons not directly related to how best to administer education. I hope that the Minister will give us some hope that this problem, if not that specific solution, will be looked at again.

Direct rule is a frustrating arrangement at best, but as it entails that arrangements in Northern Ireland usually follow what has been done in Great Britain at an interval of some years, it does at least provide an opportunity to benefit from experience on this side of the water, to adopt what has been shown to work well, and to make adjustments where they appear to be necessary. Here the Government do not seem to have turned their mind to what has happened in England, Scotland and Wales. A great opportunity has been missed, and the concern has been less to benefit children than to benefit the Treasury.

I have some sympathy with the Minister. I suspect that he has scarcely more sympathy for that approach than I have. But that is typical of the Government in which he serves, and for better treatment in their social services the people of Northern Ireland must await a Government with a different philosophy.

12.24 am
Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)

The House will be pleased to know that I do not intend to extend the debate unnecessarily. I find myself in the rather strange, albeit welcome, position—one that I should relish, perhaps even cherish—of welcoming what the Minister has said. I am sure that that position will not last for too long, so I may as well enjoy it while it does.

I agree with the criticism expressed by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) about our inability to amend the order, but our experience shows that the proposals for a draft order system that enables representations to be made to Ministers and others—I hope that they take account of them—has paid off. I well recall the meeting that my colleagues and I had on 10 February when we had what I thought was a positive exchange of ideas. I made a reasonable, albeit positive contribution, which the Minister described as a harangue. If harangues are usually as successful as that was, perhaps I should use them more often.

On that occasion I referred to the three matters that the Minister has said he is prepared to change in the order. They go to the heart of education in Northern Ireland and across the political divide, The right hon. and learned Member may regret that division, as I certainly do. For many years, especially when I was in the teaching profession, I harboured aspirations towards the eventual integration of education in Northern Ireland. I reached the conclusion that that was an impossibility. It will not happen because the Roman Catholic hierarchy has a system of education that it controls, which is financed from public funds and which is probably as good a system as it is ever likely to get, and at no time is it likely to relinquish its hold.

The Minister discovered that early in his career in education in Northern Ireland. He was 'told bluntly in a headline in the Belfast Telegraph, "Hands off our schools." The hierarchy was telling the Minister what it would have told a Northern Ireland Government in the same circumstances—except that that would not have been necessary because successive Unionist Governments have backed away from any possible confrontation on the issue. In many respects, in trying to meet the Roman Catholic community's desire for its own education system, and to avoid the possibility of allegations of discrimination, successive Unionist Governments probably entrenched their position to the extent that there is no way in which the Roman Catholic hierachy will ever give up its hold.

The three issues included the representation of the transferors in the management committees of controlled schools. I am sure that the Minister will accept the historic contribution that the main Protestant churches have made to the establishment of education in Northern Ireland, and their continued contribution. He knows how jealously they want to preserve what little influence they have left in that sector of education. We do not have what was once described from the Government Front Bench as a Roman Catholic system of education and a non-Roman Catholic system—which I found highly offensive. We have a Roman Catholic system and a non-denominational system that is in essence, Protestant education concerned with the education of Protestant children. The tranferors were concerned that what influence they had left should be maintained.

I am pleased that the Minister has reacted positively to our representations and those from the churches, the Assembly and others who said that the transferors were entitled to more than what the draft order gave them. I am also pleased that the Minister has accepted that the management committees of the controlled schools have some contribution to make towards the selection of staff for those schools. He has now ensured that it will be a requirement that representatives from those management committees are able to attend meetings of teacher appointments committees and make a contribution. They will thus be able to ensure that not only those making the appointments know what the school requires but will, I hope, be able to make an assessment of the candidates to see that the best decision is made for all concerned.

The third issue to which the Minister was sensitive enough to respond—it goes to the heart of this discussion, and I accept the criticism of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West—was that of the redeployment of teachers from controlled schools. The Minister knows that there would have been no justification for saying to the controlled sector of education, which has suffered greatly from a reduction in intakes into schools, "We shall, if necessary, deploy teachers from the voluntary sector of education into the controlled sector, and if we feel that management committees are acting unreasonably we will appeal to the Department of Education to enforce what we want," if, at the same time, he intended to say, "But there is no way in which redundant teachers from the controlled sector will ever be redeployed into the voluntary sector." Irrespective of what any of us might feel about that issue, it is only sensible to accept that there cannot be one-way traffic in that situation. As those who have to live with the position in Northern Ireland appreciate, that was the only decision that could be made.

Like the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, I am concerned about disruptive pupils and the fact that children can be expelled from voluntary schools and, in essence, be dumped on the controlled sector of educaton. I have experienced this from the other end. When I was teaching, frequently Catholic parents would come to the school at which I worked asking us to take their children into our school. We welcomed that, and they were brought in. Normally it was not a dispute between the clergy and the child that had caused that to happen. It was a dispute between the clergy and the parents. As a consequence, parents took their children from the local voluntary school and placed them in the local controlled school.

What was the reaction of the clergy? They used every coercive method available to them, including the possible refusal to grant the children confirmation, to force those Roman Catholic parents to take their children out of our school and into the parochial school. Now they have it both ways. They can use that coercive pressure to ensure that Roman Catholic children whom they want to attend their schools attend them. But when they have a troublemaker, out he goes, and the responsibility lies with the controlled sector.

Mr. Flannery

We in this country have managed for a long time to live with the situation that the hon. Gentleman is describing, and the system works reasonably well. Concessions must, of course, be made, but there is no deep trouble. I am not claiming that the situation here is parallel with that in Northern Ireland, but I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman is making such an issue of it when it works well here.

Mr. McCusker

It works here because there is not the same degree of separation between the two systems. The divide in Northern Ireland in education is so clear that both sides are watching to see who is getting the greater advantage. I am not saying that the separation of systems is ideal—I wish that it did not exist, but that is reality.

There are one or two Protestant voluntary schools in Northern Ireland. A manager of one of those schools said to me, "This is the business to be in. I should know, because I am at it every day." He played the local Catholic voluntary primary school up the road to his advantage. If the Catholic school got a new piano, he got a new piano; if it got a new boiler, he got a new boiler. If there was any dispute, he could say, "What is good enough for St. Pat's is good enough for us." Unfortunately, that is the nature of education in the Province.

Managers of schools will use every possible coercive pressure when it suits them to force parents to send their children to the denominational school away from the controlled sector of education.

Mr. Flannery

That happens in Britain.

Mr. McCusker

Unfortunately, that does not happen in both instances.

When it comes to a disruptive pupil, however, the local parish priest says, "Out you go. You can go along and be educated with those heathens if you want. You will not cause trouble for us here." That poor boy or girl must be absorbed into an environment that may be hostile to him or her. He or she may create disruption in the next school. That is why I support the statements of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West. Whatever the sector, if there are chronic problems with disruptive pupils, something must be done about their treatment.

The Under-Secretary of State referred to his responsibility in Northern Ireland in a difficult time. Decisions were deferred for years before the hon. Gentleman arrived on the scene. Those decisions involved falling enrolments and the consequences on teacher training and school closures. The hon. Gentleman has shown himself to both sides of the community to be sensitive to their wishes and demands. He has shown that sensitivity to the controlled sector of education by his behaviour on these issues tonight. On behalf of the people who asked my party to raise these issues, I express our gratitude to him.

12.36 am
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) that this is a long and complex order to be discussing at this hour. It is now 12.36 am. This order was discussed extensively in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly's education committee investigated the matter in depth. I must agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that debating this order at this time in the morning illustrates one of the problems caused by direct rule in Northern Ireland. I do not see hon. Members full of beans at this time.

This extensive and important piece of legislation could not and will not be properly discussed in the House. Many of the points that have been raised, and which the Government later accepted, were taken into consideration because of the legislation's exposure to the scrutiny of the Northern Ireland Assembly. This legislation well illustrates the value of that Assembly and the improvement in legislation affecting the Province. Hon. Members who know me understand that I and my collegues believe that Ulster can best be served by a full-blooded devolved Government and Parliament with executive and legislative powers. It must be pointed out that several months of painstaking inquiry was involved in the Assembly's examination of the legislation, and that must be in the best interests of the Northern Ireland people.

Many aspects of the legislation concern my party. I am pleased to say that many of the Assembly's representations to the Government have been accepted. Having said that, and it is proper that I do, I take issue with some aspects of the order. Like the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) I must point out that it is appreciated that many recommendations made by the Assembly, political parties and others in Northern Ireland for legislative change have been accepted by the Minister. While I disagree with some points I deeply appreciate the fact that the Minister accepted many recommendations either wholly or in part.

The three aspects with which I wish to deal tonight will not come as any surprise to the Minister. First, I am unhappy that the Government are not prepared to include in the draft order the recommendations regarding the composition of school management committees. The order provides for an increase in the transferors' representation on the board of governors of controlled schools. That is an increase of one in the number of Church-based or nominated representatives on the board of governors.

The view of my party and the Assembly committee was that the legislation should stipulate that at least one of the transferors' representatives should be a parent of a child currently at the school but nominated by the transferors. The effect of that would have been to give more parental representation than there is on the board of governors at present. It would have gone a long way to meet the demands of many parents to have a greater say in the education of their children. It is only to be welcomed that parents today increasingly have a greater desire to participate and to take an interest in their children's education. Therefore, I appeal to transferors to use that extra position wisely. While not required by law to give the extra place to a parent of children at the school, albeit a parent nominated by them, I hope that they will recognise the rightful case of parents for a greater say in what is going on in schools which their children attend and that they will make a generous gesture and allocate a place on the board of governors to a parent's representative.

One aspect to the draft order which caused great concern, especially among the Protestant community in Northern Ireland, has already been touched upon.

The offending article allowed for the redeployment of teachers within schools and was designed to help deal with teachers who may have been made redundant because of falling numbers. Many feared that the effect of that original article would be to allow a movement of teachers from the maintained sector—the Roman Catholic sector—into the controlled sector, which, for various reasons, not least the desire of the Roman Catholic Church to maintain a separate system of education, is staffed by a vast majority of Protestant teachers. The main concern is that while a movement from the Roman Catholic sector into the controlled sector would have been possible, there would have been no movement in the opposite direction because of the tight hold which the Roman Catholic Church keeps on its system of education in an attempt to maintain what it calls the Catholic ethos.

Originally the order recommended that education and library boards could appeal to the Department of Education to go over the head of the board of governors of a controlled school if it were felt that it was unreasonably withholding its consent to the redeployment of teachers. Fears have been expressed that that in effect allowed the maintained and voluntary sector to offload redundancies to the controlled sector while the controlled sector would not have the same flexibility and right in redeploying teachers in the other directions. That would have been the effect of the legislation. Roman Catholic teachers would have had more access to state schools, but the agreement would not have been reciprocated. For that reason, the Assembly recommended that the article should be amended to provide for limited redeployment only in the controlled sector.

The Assembly also asked that redeployment should be extended to further education. After representations from the Assembly, the Minister went some way towards meeting its recommendations, and he said that educaition and library boards could appeal to the Department if the board of governors of a controlled school withheld its consent to the redeployment of a teacher. The Minister should have gone all the way and kept the flexibility limited to the controlled sector of education, but I suppose that half a loaf is better than no bread.

I am also concerned that the Minister ignored the recommendation that the powers of direction of the Department of Education to close schools in one Board's area should be deleted from the order. That view was held strongly by many in the Province. The issue of what is now known as the rationalisation of schools has generated much anger and resentment in the Province, not only among teachers but among parents. In this so-called rationalisation, there has been unanimity in the desire to keep many of those schools open, for many different reasons. Many people believe that the Department, by openly wielding the big stick or by gently nudging the various education and library boards in a more covert way, has been able to enforce its wishes to close schools, although the communities and their representatives could show that it was in the best interests of the communities for the schools to remain open.

Two and a half years ago the Department of Education drew up a list of about 600 schools in the Province which, it informed the boards and education authorities, were causing concern simply on the basis of numbers attending. There was no reference to the quality of education in the schools, the results obtained by the schools or to the inspectors' reports of the standard of education in the schools. The Department simply examined the number of children attending those schools, and decided to axe them on that basis. Unfortunately, because of a tightening of financial purse strings and other factors, the Department could force through the rationalisation programme in some board areas. Some boards were more willing to accept the gentle nudge than were some others.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) has explained to the House many times the difficulties in Ms constituency, and many other elected representatives have discovered increasing problems in their constituencies. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) could tell us about similar problems. The Assembly's report on the draft education and library order recommended the deletion of this power from the order, which would have placed the responsibility for closing schools upon the boards alone.

Democracy in Northern Ireland is not the same as it is here, because even if the decision to close schools is taken by the boards the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland are in a minority on the boards so the majority nominated by the Minister can close the schools even when the communities involved wish them to remain open.

I join the hon. Member for Upper Bann in condemning the practice whereby disruptive pupils from the maintained sector are dumped in the controlled sector. For example, when a young girl in east Londonderry got into trouble of a kind that made her church very angry she was expelled from her school despite her mother's pleas to the parish priest and the school governors, which made headlines in the newspapers. She was then sent to a controlled school in my constituency. Indeed, a number of disruptive pupils have been dumped in that same school in the heart of my constituency.

I agree entirely that disruptive pupils must be looked after properly and not left to other disruptive elements, which may encourage them to get into crime, but it is wrong that it is always a one-way street whereby disruptive pupils are moved from the maintained sector to the controlled sector but never in the opposite direction. I hope that further consideration will be given to that problem.

In conclusion, although I have dealt with certain aspects of the order with which I do not agree, I accept that the Minister has sought to respond to the representations of elected representatives in the Province and that the draft legislation has been changed as a result. I wish to put on record my deep appreciation of that.

12.52 am
Mr. Scott

With leave of the House, I shall reply briefly.

I shall not enter into a long debate with the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. W. McCrea) about the basis of rationalisation of schools in Northern Ireland, save to say that, grateful though I am for his closing comments, his description of both the procedure and execution of the rationalisation process was a caricature of reality. We are trying to rationalise schools in the interests of the education of today's and tomorrow's children in Northern Ireland. I also wondered what I had done to deserve the praise lavished on me by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), although I hope that heaping praises on my head will become a regular habit with the hon. Gentleman.

I wish to answer three specific points. If I miss any matter that has been raised, I shall be happy to write to hon. Members. I make that point especially to the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) who has written to me about the needs of mentally handicapped children. I shall certainly write to him about that. Briefly, discussions are still going on in relation to the responses that we received to the consultative document issued by the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Services. The Assembly considered the matter—recommending, incidentally, that responsibility should remain with the Department of Health and Social Services—and we are now considering the Assembly's views and the other responses that we have received. I did not think it right to hold up the other very important aspects of the order until a conclusion was reached on that matter, although I appreciate its importance. There will, of course, be other opportunities to discuss the matter.

Despite the changes that have been made in the provision for redeployment of teachers in response to representations, there is still scope for increased flexibility. Boards will have the power to cover redeployment of teachers within their own areas and also within areas covered by other boards across Northern Ireland. Discussions are still going on between unions and employers about an agreed scheme for the redeployment of teachers, which will include more flexibility.

I hope that the new arrangements that I have outlined and the powers that the Department will have under the order to set down recognised procedures when dealing with disruptive pupils will mean that many fewer will be expelled or suspended. I do not believe that anyone would quarrel with the fact that the education and library boards have the ultimate responsibility for the education of any children who slip through the net.

The order is important, and the comments made upon it reflect that importance, as did the admirable way in which the Assembly tackled criticisms and amendments. It will be for the good both of the education system and of the children of Northern Ireland. I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 7 June, be approved.