HL Deb 09 April 1964 vol 257 cc261-72

4.12 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is a short Bill; it deals with two unrelated matters but they are both of potential importance. The first matter, which is covered by Clause 1, provides that local education authorities may sub mit proposals for new schools having an age-range which straddles what I may call the 11-plus gulf, and provides that the Secretary of State may approve them, with or without modification. This latter provision is in accordance with nor mal practice. These two provisions are not an attempt to recast the national system of education. This is simply an operation intended to enable to take place a strictly limited number of educational experiments which are not at present permissible under the existing law. My right honourable friend proposes to use his powers to that end and no more, if the Bill is enacted.

The present law in the Education Act, 1944, lays down as a major principle of school organisation that primary and secondary education are to be provided in separate schools. The Act defines primary education as education suitable for children under 10½ and secondary education as education suitable for children over 12. Education of either type may be suitable for children between those ages. There are historical reasons behind these provisions, which follow the pattern contemplated by the Hadow Report of 1926 on the Education of the Adolescent, one of the educational milestones of the inter-war years which paved the way for secondary education in separate schools for all, and not just for pupils at selective schools.

A change is needed now because the basic reasoning of the Hadow Report and of the Act of 1944 about educational I organisation are now being questioned. In this country, and abroad too, all sorts of questions, some old—but not yet finally answered—and some new, are being asked. The answers will affect, perhaps radically, the organisation of the public system of education. Many people have their own answers, often held with passion. Others are awaiting the results of the increasing amounts of educational research and experiment now being mounted, in both primary and secondary education. Up to now, however, existing legislation has pre vented any actual experiments with schools which bridge the 11-plus gulf. Within the primary or within the secondary age-range there is no difficulty over the law. It is only the 11-plus gulf which is imposed by legislation. The Bill will allow experimental bridges to be thrown across the gulf.

Clause 1(2) requires the Secretary of State to give a direction that any pro posed school with an age-range which brings it within the scope of the Bill shall be either a primary or a secondary school. My right honourable friend has no intention of using the power to give these directions in such a way as to control the course of any experimental proposals submitted to him. The approach will be entirely pragmatic and flexible, and we shall judge every case on its merits. But there is a strictly practical point. Although a school established under the Bill may well have some qualities of a primary school and some of a secondary, the fact is that existing legislation provides for two, and only two, categories of school, namely, primary and secondary. In law a school must be one or the other. The device of a direction by the Secretary of State enables a new school to be assimilated to one category or the other. The various practical consequences, for such things as the management or government of the school—not all of which can be clearly foreseen at this stage—will then flow naturally from the direction of the Secretary of State, in accordance with existing legislation. The alternative, to introduce now a new category of hybrid or middle school, would be impossibly complicated. I would add, though perhaps it is hardly necessary, that the provision for a direction by the Secretary of State does not mean that he will in practice seek in any way to control the education which is actually given in a new school under the Bill, any more than he does now in any other school.

The Bill as drafted permits only local education authorities, and not voluntary bodies—promoters as they are traditionally called—to submit proposals. The explanation of this omission is purely practical. The system of partial Exchequer grants towards the capital expenses of the provision of new voluntary schools has developed over the years and is now highly complex. On the other hand, we were anxious that the Bill should be as short and simple as possible, since it is only an enabling Bill. Moreover, it seemed—though wrongly in the event—that it was un likely that voluntary bodies would in practice wish to submit proposals under the Bill. However, consultations which have been held since I introduced the Bill before Easter have shown clearly that the denominations—and I am speaking mainly of the Church of England and the Roman Catholics—feel strongly that the opportunity to submit proposals should not be denied to promoters from the voluntary bodies. They accept that there are not likely to be at most more than a very few such proposals, but they have represented to me the great importance they attach to the principle of voluntary school participation, and have strongly urged the amendment of Clause 1 so as to permit the denominations to participate. They have said that, if this is done, they will be content that no detailed and specific provision shall be made in the Bill for the payment of Exchequer grants, with the consequence that any new voluntary school established under it will have to rely for the possibility of Exchequer capital grant on the existing grant provisions in the Education Acts, 1944 and 1959.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has much sympathy with the attitude of the denominations and he has accepted it. I am happy to tell the House that, if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading, I propose to move an Amendment at a later stage which will provide that promoters as well as local education authorities may submit proposals to the Secretary of State. There will have to be a consequential Amendment of a formal kind to the financial provisions of Clause 4. It will still, of course, be for my right honourable friend to consider whether he can approve voluntary proposals. In addition, the position of the local education authorities will be safeguarded, just as it is in the case of proposals for new voluntary schools submitted under existing legislation.

I must also make one minor reservation. Circumstances might arise under the Bill when it would not be right for us to follow the normal practice of using any discretionary powers in such a way as to give the voluntary bodies all the reasonable financial and other help possible under the law. For example, if a voluntary body wished to establish a new school with an age-range of, say, 9–13, and the Secretary of State thought it appropriate for educational reasons to direct that such a school should be deemed to be a secondary school, then in certain circumstances that school would be eligible for what is called matching grant under Section 1 (2) of the Education Act, 1959. In such circum stances, however, it would probably not accord with the principle underlying this Act that matching grant at the maximum rate should be paid on the whole cost of the school.

In such a case—assuming that a substantial proportion of the pupils were of the normal primary school age—full matching grant would not be equitable and it might be necessary for my right honourable friend to use his power under Section 1(2) of the 1959 Act to pay less than the maximum grant of 75 per cent. on the whole cost of the school. I think it is right that I should make this reservation now at the outset and get it on the Record. I hope that it will be accepted by the voluntary bodies and that they will not feel inhibited by it. It really springs from the fact that this Bill does not cover the grant position at all.

The second matter with which the Bill deals is covered by Clauses 2 and 3. Their object is to remove an anomaly in the law relating to the payment of maintenance allowances as it affects handicapped children in special schools in Great Britain. The Education Act, 1944, and the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946, as well as the Education (Scot land) Act, 1962, which superseded it, gave power to education authorities to pay maintenance allowances, in case of need, to the parents of children attending school if the children were over compulsory school age. These allowances are not calculated to compensate in full for the loss of the earnings which parents may forgo by keeping a child at school when he could leave and go to work, but they do alleviate hardship which might otherwise fall on families of slender means by making a worth while contribution towards the cost of maintaining the child. They also afford a useful incentive to parents to keep their children at school. These allowances are payable in respect of ordinary children after they have passed the compulsory school age of fifteen; but children who, because of a handicap of mind or body, cannot attend ordinary schools and must go to special schools, remain of compulsory school age under the Acts until they reach the age of six teen. Accordingly they do not at present qualify for maintenance allowances until after they have reached that age, sixteen.

Ministers have received representations about this anomaly on a number of occasions down the years and have promised that, if there were a suitable opportunity, they would consider amending legislation. This Bill provides such an opportunity, and I hope that your Lordships will welcome the Government's decision to use it. It is a great misfortune—a misfortune which the parents must share—if a child suffers from a handicap which prevents him or her from attending an ordinary school where he or she can share the normal life of contemporaries. I am sure it is right to end a situation in which financial disadvantage is added to misfortune. The remaining clauses of the Bill are formal.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Lord Newton.)

4.26 p.m.


My Lords, may I in the first place congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Newton, on his excellent speech and on the way in which he has conducted himself on the first occasion on which he has represented education. I have not observed any sign of nerves, and I am sure that he does not feel any different from the way he felt when he answered for the Government in our health debates. No doubt the noble Lord thought that on this occasion the bowling might be changed on this side, as I have faced him so often before when he was in charge of health—I hope that it is bowling I mean, and not batting, and that, as a woman, I am not getting mixed up. I am not sure who keeps the wicket in this debate—but I see the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, sitting there. Anyway, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Newton, on his lucid exposition of the Bill.

This is a short Bill, but a very import ant one, and we on this side of the House certainly welcome it. We welcome it as an amending measure dealing, as the noble Lord said, with matters which have been pressed for many years by all those progressive authorities who have been wanting to experiment in new forms of education. As I see it, it will enable them to adopt a more flexible approach than that permitted by the 1944 Act. There are many authorities (I have had one, the West Riding Education Authority, brought to my attention) who are anxious to establish schools which cater for children divided into three age-groups—the 5 to 9, the 9 to 13 and the over-l3—which, of course, would not conform with the letter of the 1944 Act.

More and more local authorities are anxious to introduce comprehensive schools, and this amending legislation will enable them to do so within the framework of existing schools. The comprehensive school has already proved highly successful, notably in the L.C.C. area—and I do not say this because we are to-day having an election in London. Other counties are anxious to proceed along the same lines.

In the world of politics, it is easy to have hindsight, but on reflection it is not surprising that the 11-plus conception of education should not be universally popular. A child, irrespective of his intelligence, can be subject to a variety of stresses. There may be illness in the home, parents may be separated or divorced, or there may be constant friction between the parents. The child may even live in one of these homes where there may be what is known as a "mod" or a "rocker". The child may he a younger sister or brother of one of these rather pathetic adolescents, who are passing through a difficult phase, and the younger sister or brother may, as a result, be distracted. Nevertheless, whatever the conditions are at home, and whether or not the child may be a late developer, he is subjected at the age of 11 to a test which may determine his whole future. The argument, therefore, for the com prehensive school is overwhelming, and I hope that this Bill will facilitate the establishment of more of these. I attach tremendous importance to this amending measure, because it will give local authorities the opportunity to establish schools which they, in their wisdom, think are the best for their particular communities.

The second part of the Bill deals with an entirely different aspect of education. Many educational organisations, supported by the Opposition, have made repeated representations to successive Ministers asking that children in special schools should receive maintenance allowances after the age of 15, as other children do, and, as the noble Lord has said, this Bill remedies an existing anomaly. It should not be forgotten that the parents of an adolescent handicapped child carry a double burden: they are compelled to keep the child at school until 16, and although he may have the mind of a small child, he may well have the body and appetite of a man. The maintenance grant, therefore, for the year 15 to 16 will serve to help some of our most harassed parents.

It has taken the Government a long time to grant this small concession—and the Minister has not sought to hide the fact that representations have been made for it over the years—to a family which contains a sub-normal child; indeed, there may even be two sub-normal children: that is certainly not unknown. I would ask the Minister, on his first appearance at that Box as the representative of the Department of Education, and Science, not to allow this concession to be used as a reason for postponing action in regard to the even more pressing needs of these children. There is a tendency in the world of politics to say: "Well, we gave them this a little while ago. We can now mark time: there is no need for us to hurry about these other matters for which Back Benchers are pressing." I regret that the Government have not taken this opportunity to tackle the problem in a more robust fashion.

Perhaps I may mention, in this Second Reading debate, some omissions that I feel ought to be brought to the Minister's notice. There is a long list of children waiting for accommodation in these schools, and an accute shortage of teachers. It happens that in the road in which I live the London County Council, in their wisdom, have built a wonderful school for these children. I therefore have the opportunity of seeing them pass my house every day, and I realise what important work there is still to do. We do not fully appreciate the strain to which the teachers of these children are subjected. There is a strong emotional attachment between the children and the teacher which can be very wearing.

Another aspect of the case of mentally subnormal children is rarely ventilated. Although these children are carefully protected and guided at school (and, to-day, in this Bill, we have given them some more protection from the age of 15 to 16, in the way of a monetary grant), and although in many cases they are provided with transport to school, and after school the authority helps them to obtain some suitable occupation, it seems that the community's responsibility then ends. We recognise that here is a subnormal individual greatly in need of our protection; but once we have accepted that, we seem to feel that our responsibility ends. Surely pro vision should be made for some kind of follow-up and after-care for these children.

Then there is the need to provide more help for the subnormal child at home. I would point out that here is another case where the Government have set up a Committee of eminent people and then failed to take full action following publication of their Report. I refer to the Report of 1961 on the Training of Staff of Training Centres for the Mentally Subnormal Children of which Committee the Chairman was Dr. J. A. Scott. Let me just remind the noble Lord of what the Committee said. They reported: Many low grade and physically handicapped children remain at home at the parents' wish, and it is important that some attempt should be made to provide help and relief for them, as well as for their children. The special care unit is one way of solving the problem, especially if it can be operated as part of a general plan which provides help and advice from welfare officers, short-term residential case hostel accommodation and appropriate treatment facilities. It is evident that there are wide gaps in the provision for the mentally sub normal child. This debate has enabled us to focus some attention not only on the comparatively small concession which the Government have made, but on some other aspects of the lives of this little tragic community. While this Bill deals with one aspect of the case of the subnormal child, we should have welcomed a more comprehensive measure. Nevertheless, we are grateful for what the Minister has given us.

4.36 p.m.


My Lords, having spoken for nearly 25 minutes in yesterday's debate, I do not propose to detain your Lordships for long to-day. Nevertheless, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Newton, on his clear and lucid presentation of this short but important Bill. I should like to say that the Church of England very much welcomes this move to grant authoritative permission for the setting up of more flexible forms of school organisation than is possible under the existing legislation. Surely, educationally, there is much to be said for some experiments along the lines indicated in the Bill now before the House. It might interest the noble Baroness who spoke last if I inform her that we are at the moment building a Church comprehensive school in the city of Coventry.




We are grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, assures us that the Bill will be amended to include provision for Church schools to share in these experiments. It would indeed be a serious blow to the dual system if this were not so. It is to be highly commended that county and voluntary schools should be seen to he partners in the whole enterprise of education.

However, experiments in educational organisation are valuable only so long as they are dealing with flesh and blood boys and girls, and are not just bright ideas emanating from a State Department. To this end, therefore, they must be controlled, carefully controlled, so that undue confusion is avoided, particularly at a time when, not least through the process of automation, the progress of widespread mobility is maintained in this country. I was therefore glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, pro poses not to approve more than a limited number of these experiments under the terms of this Bill.

It would, I think, be unwise to anticipate any recommendations which may be made by the Plowden Committee when it has completed its inquiry into primary education and the transfer to secondary education. While I recognise that the experiments authorised in this Bill may well be of great value to the Plowden Committee in their deliberations, it would obviously be undesirable to allow a situation to develop in which any positive recommendations of that Committee would be made more difficult to implement.

Although we are anxious that the happy and, as I am sure it will be agreed, valuable partnership between county and voluntary schools shall continue to flourish for the well-being of the nation's children, we are also obviously particularly concerned for the special interests of Church schools, and we shall welcome assurances that in any proposals made due regard will be had for the interests of nearby Church schools. With these provisos, we welcome this Bill, believing that it will help to provide information and experience which will be valuable for the education service in the years which lie ahead.

One last and important point, which was strongly and sympathetically brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. While we are concerning ourselves with arrangements for the education of normal children, it is in deed a cause of satisfaction to the Church that an opportunity has been found by which local education authorities will be empowered to give maintenance allowances to children who are in special schools after the age of fifteen. In these days of advance and growth in the whole educational field, it is good to know that the needs of the less competent children are not being overlooked. With those provisos, I am indeed happy to support this Bill.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, those of your Lordships who are familiar with the nursery life of large families will know only too well the plaintive and sometimes tearful cry of "Me too, me too, Mummie!" When I first read this Bill I anticipated that some such cry would be raised on behalf of the voluntary bodies. I was not mistaken. They have expressed their desire to enter as fully as they can, allowing for the difficulties of the grant situation, into this valuable experiment. I have been asked to express the gratitude of the Roman Catholic authorities for the concession that has been promised to them in the form of an Amendment to this Bill.

For my part, I am extremely glad to hear of this experiment, on purely educational grounds. I am aware that child psychologists now attach a peculiar significance to the age between twelve and thirteen. They consider it an age of important development in the up-growing of a child, and many of them hold that it is a much more suitable age for transfer to a larger school. I am also very glad to hear of the concession to the handicapped children. My Church takes some part in the work for these children, and will be glad of the financial relief that has been afforded. So I join in the thanks that have been offered by the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate, and in this matter add an appreciative, "Me too".

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I was most grateful to hear from everyone who has spoken in this debate that they support the Bill whose Second Reading I had the honour to move this afternoon. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, very much indeed for the kind words which she said, not only about the Bill, but about me personally in my new Department. She said that I appeared not to display any nerves, but I suppose all of us try to conceal feelings of nervousness. The noble Baroness also referred to the fact that we have faced each other for several years from opposite Front Benches of your Lordships' House, when I had responsibility for another Department. I was slightly sur- prised to find that there was no change in the bowling and batting, but I was agreeably surprised. I thought to myself, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"

The noble Lady said, quite rightly, that it has taken a long time to remedy the anomaly of the system of paying maintenance allowances to parents of handicapped children. I suppose a good thing is worth waiting for. The noble Lady also asked for more action to give support to handicapped children and their parents. It was a great temptation to me to see myself back in my former office. Although I have no authority to speak for my right honourable friend the Minister of Health, except in so far as I suppose I speak for any Minister in your Lordships' House, I might say that the noble Lady might like to refresh her memory by looking again at the Blue Book which we published a year ago entitled Health and Welfare, setting out the plans of the local health and welfare authorities on the development of their services for handicapped children, among others.

I should also like to remind the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the Minister of Health not so long ago set up an Advisory Council under Lady Adrian to promote the training of the staffs of training centres. I recall making quite a number of speeches about that in your Lordships' House. I can assure the noble Lady that I will not cease to take the interest which I took when I was in the Ministry of Health in the problems of handicapped children and their care.

I should also like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Coventry for expressing the welcome of the Church of England to this Bill, and I am equally grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, for expressing the support of the Roman Catholic Church. I feel very gratified that the first time I have chanced my hand on behalf of the Department of Education and Science I have had such a successful afternoon.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.