HL Deb 10 February 1965 vol 263 cc129-266

3.20 p.m.

LORD NEWTON rose to call attention to Her Majesty's Government's policy for secondary education; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion for Papers standing in my name, The terms of the Motion are widely drawn, and I hope that this will be for the convenience of subsequent speakers, of whom I am happy to see that there is an appreciable number. For my part, I propose to confine myself to a discussion of the organisation of secondary education. To select or not select? That is the question. But I do not consider it to be the most important or the most urgent aspect of secondary education to-day. Far more important are proper staffing and adequate school buildings with sufficient places in them. But I am not going to talk about those problems this afternoon, because I have nothing new to add to what I have often said about them from the Dispatch Box opposite.

I recognise that one can get rather tired of the big debate, endless and nearly always inconclusive, about selection. I certainly did, during my travels about the country, as Minister of State, to local education authorities and educational conferences and so on, when I wanted to hear about ideas and plans for coping with the "Newsom" children, for instance, when the leaving age is raised, and other essential matters. But it is no good trying to occupy a position of Olympian detachment. In a free democracy, thank Heaven! people discuss what they want to discuss and the powers-that-be, including Parliament, have to take notice.

The big debate about selection has been hotted up recently—and I am not complaining about this—because the Government have decided that the time has come for a declaration of national policy. I hope that we should have made the same decision, although I fancy that the actual terms of the declaration would have been somewhat different. In my experience, however, it is usually to be found that among those who have responsibility of any kind for the administration of our schools considerations of Party politics do not determine the stand which they take in the big debate about selection. After all, Conservative authorities are pressing ahead with experimental schemes of reorganisation, and some Labour authorities are digging in their toes. I am not in the least concerned this afternoon to try to secure any Party points. Indeed, I want to try to be as unprovocative generally as I possibly can.

My Lords, I went to the Department of Education and Science, as one of the Ministers of State with special responsibility for the schools, with a mild bias, other things being equal, in favour of comprehensive organisation. I left the Department with that same mild bias, subject to a considerable number of "ifs" and "buts" which will, I think, become apparent during the course of my speech. If I learnt nothing else during my time in the Department and the experience which that time afforded me, I learned these two things: first, that there is no pattern of secondary school education which is universally right or capable of universal application; and secondly, that the actual pattern of organisation in any area has little relevance to the real educational needs of that particular area.

For example, one of the most baffling problems to be faced is that presented by what perhaps I might call the tough educational areas. These are places where the schools contain a relatively high proportion of children who are allergic to education, probably because of their environment, their parents' attitude to education, their general background, and other social factors like that. I say "probably" because I do not wish to seem to be pre-judging the results of the current research projects which are taking place into these variables, some of which research projects have been set in hand in order to assist the Plowden Committee on Primary Education. But this is a problem which is becoming increasingly urgent.

This financial year, as your Lordships know, will see the end of the last all-age school, and all children are now receiving proper secondary education. They are compulsorily in the schools from 5 to 15, and soon it will be 16. They all have to be taught, and they all require to have their interest held, including those who are allergic to education. This problem worried me so much that I got the Chief Inspector of Secondary Schools to arrange a special conference of head teachers selected because they were making a conspicuous success of coping with this problem. I felt that the Department ought to know—and, indeed, that I myself ought to know—what their methods are. The head teachers came from all over the country, from every kind of secondary school, and it was a most fascinating conference. What was borne in on me, as a result of that conference, was that what really counts is the personality of the head and his or her ability to make that personality penetrate; and it matters not whether the school be grammar, secondary modern, comprehensive, mixed or single sex.

May I now for a moment, in parenthesis so to speak, publicly proclaim my admiration for Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools, an ancient corps, an élite; corps of wonderful men and women, whose praises are very seldom sung. They work in and with the Department but they are responsible to Her Majesty the Queen and not to Ministers. They are all former teachers, erudite, experienced, unprejudiced, tactful and immensely wise—and there is no subject upon which one cannot find an expert inspector. I spent one of the most enjoyable weekends ever at one of the teacher-training colleges at one of the periodic conferences of inspectors of primary schools. I think that very few members of the public realise how deeply the nation is indebted to Her Majesty's Inspectors.

My Lords, the burden of my theme this afternoon is that in my experience it is not sensible to be dogmatic in this controversy and to take up prepared positions, on either side, from which it is difficult to retreat without losing face. It would be helpful if we could all use rather less jargon, and I dare say that in the past I have been as guilty in this respect as anybody else. But the use of jargon, especially the emotive use, blurs issues and darkens counsel. May I give one or two instances of what I mean? When people talk about getting rid of or abolishing the 11-plus, one does not always know whether they are referring to an actual examination or to the process of selection by any means. But it is most desirable that we, and they, should be clear, because a great many people approve in principle of selection, so long as it is not done by way of examination.

Again, a new piece of jargon seems to be creeping in, unfortunately, with the use of the word "separatist" to describe somebody who believes in selective schools. In my opinion a prudent person is neither an all-out separatist nor an all-out anti-separatist, but I am a little apprehensive lest this new piece of jargon may come to be used as a term of abuse with which an opponent and his views, however sincerely held, may be dismissed without further ado. I am thinking, for instance, of the way in which one sometimes dismisses somebody else with the words, "Oh, well, he is just a Fascist" or, "He is just a racialist". I am quite sure that in this controversy, this big battle about selection, no good will come if the protagonists descend to calling each other names.

And, yet again, let us be crystal clear exactly what we mean by the words "grammar school education". Some of your Lordships may recall that a few weeks ago, just before Christmas, at Question Time I went for the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, rather intemperately, I am ashamed to say in retrospect. The reason was that such intellectual integrity as I possess had been affronted by the statement in the Labour Party Election Manifesto that, as a result of reorganising secondary education on comprehensive lines, grammar school educa- tion would be extended. I am doing my best not to tread on any corns, or at any rate to do so only lightly, but I cannot refrain from saying that that phrase was naughty. It was naughty because it is capable of suggesting to the ordinary man and woman that within a completely comprehensive system you can still have grammar schools. My Lords, you cannot. Grammar school education is education in one school of able children, who are in it because, and only because, they are demonstrably able.

On the other hand, it may be that in comprehensive schools it is possible for more children to receive more academic education than when only selective schools are available. I do not know any more than anybody else whether that is in fact so, and I would not want to rate the possibility too high, but I hope it is possible and I should like to believe it is possible; and that is one reason why I have the mild bias to which I referred earlier. Please do not let us muddy the waters of controversy by talking about grammar school education when we really mean academic education.

One of the hardest things to do is to disentangle the social case for comprehensive schools from the educational case. I do not believe one can do it completely, because the two are entangled together. But I want to have a shot at doing it for a moment so far as I can. The social case, as I understand it, is based on the desire, which I myself share, to see in this country less snobbery of all kinds, including intellectual snobbery, and greater mutual respect between different members of society. That is a noble goal, a noble ideal, and I would hope most people share it. It is argued by some people that one means towards that goal is to mix all children up in schools which are roughly similar one to the other. But, of course, it is not, and for this simple reason: however much you may compensate children for the inequalities bestowed by background, environment and similar social factors, the intellectual inequalities bestowed by nature will always remain, at least to some extent. That is why in our large orthodox comprehensive schools the children are streamed. And, in any event, in large towns and cities where there are only comprehensive schools children go to the schools which serve their area, and in consequence social classes are not mixed up as they would be if they went to selective schools.

I venture, if I may, to say again to your Lordships something which I said in an Education debate eighteen months ago, and it is this. One cannot for ever opt out of competition. Sooner or later one has to learn that one is stupider than one thought or one's parents thought. So although there are no social arguments against comprehensive schools, there is only one social argument in favour of them, and that is that little Tommy's parents have the satisfaction, perhaps very real to them, of knowing that, so far as the neighbours can tell, he is, at the age of 11 or 12, no better or no worse at his studies than little Willie next door.

I come on to the educational case; in other words, to this question of what is best for the children. I would, if I may, state the pros and cons as I see them, taking the pros first. First, although as I have just said I believe one cannot for ever opt out of competition, I do also believe that it is undesirable for young children to become hurdle-conscious too early in life. I do not say "examination conscious", because selection by examination is becoming increasingly rare and I personally do not see why it should be used at all. Secondly, I believe that when able and ambitious children rub shoulders with the less able and less ambitious they exert a beneficial influence upon them. I must, in honesty, confess that some teachers have told me that sometimes the influence is the other way round—a sort of educational Gresham's Law—but let us forget about that.

Thirdly, it should be easier, at least in theory, for a late developer to transfer from one stream to another in a comprehensive school than to transfer from a secondary modern to a grammar school. I do not know whether that is so in practice. I know that some people dispute it, but at any rate it ought to be so in theory; although there is some force in the argument that parents will press harder for transfer from secondary modern to grammar than from one stream to another in a comprehensive school. Fourthly, the larger a school is, obviously the easier it is to provide a wide range of courses for the sixth form.

Now the cons as I see them. First of all, the sheer size of most of our orthodox comprehensive schools makes it difficult for the headmaster or headmistress to make his or her influence permeate in the way I think everyone knows to be desirable. Secondly, will the ablest children enjoy facilities in every respect as good as those in grammar schools? This seems to me the most important con, and I believe that it is because parents are doubtful about this that there is the opposition which exists to tampering with the grammar schools. I hope I have made it plain that I care about the education of the average and below-average child. Indeed, I am one of those people who believe it is possible to teach intelligence to some point, and I accept the view that our contemporary civilisation in years to come will be judged by the level of attainment of the ordinary boy and girl. But I believe equally firmly that we must advance our gifted children as much as they can be advanced. It is only fair to them to do so, and only fair to the nation to do so. I do not forget the number of times that I have tried to explain in this House why there are shortages of skills which are greatly needed.

Thirdly, precisely because some comprehensive schools are conscious and fearful of this Achilles heel which I have just mentioned, there is the risk that they may concentrate too much upon their gifted children at the expense of the rest. And, fourthly, the chances are that in a comprehensive school the ordinary boy and girl will not achieve positions of responsibility and leadership which they might well have achieved in a secondary modern school.

I have a high regard for the successes which are being marked up to-day in many of our secondary modern schools. Although I am inclined to think that, on the whole, the primary schools are our most successful schools, it may well be that the secondary modern school comes next. When I was Minister of State I visited a large number of schools of all kinds all over the country, and I have a vivid recollection on one tour of being taken, because there was a little time to spare, on an unheralded and completely surprise visit to a secondary modern school for girls. We arrived there when the classes happened to be changing over, and we met the headmistress coming downstairs on her way to take a music class. We accompanied her to a room where quite a small class of girls were preparing to sing and play various musical instruments. The headmistress said to one girl, "Mary, come and sit here beside the Minister and explain what is happening". While the class got on with it that was precisely what that girl (she was about 13 or 14) did—with complete composure, complete lucidity; and, of course, without any preparation for what she was called upon to do. That experience made a deep and lasting impression upon me, and I do not think there can be much wrong with the organisation of a school like that.

As I say, those are the main pros and cons—no doubt there are others which will occur to your Lordships—of the educational case for comprehensive schools. They have to be weighed up, and are being weighed up, by a great many different people in this country—because, of course, the educational system is a partnership between the central Government, local government, the teachers, the religious denominations and a host of other public and voluntary bodies. There are real practical considerations, too. Local education authorities differ widely in size, geography and economic circumstances, and for that reason alone there can be no single formula by which it can be judged whether comprehensive organisation is or is not best fitted to the needs of any particular area.

It seems to me that before any local education authority decides to change its existing pattern of organisation it ought to be absolutely clear and happy about the answers to certain essentially common-sense questions. Will change produce an effective and efficient secondary education for all the children in the area, irrespective of their individual age and ability? Will it make the most efficient use of the teaching resources and the school premises available? Will it involve the loss of existing assets; and, if so, will the gains be at least sufficient to compensate for those losses? Is change supported by local opinion? And will it allow that reasonable measure of parental choice which the Education Act, 1944, says that parents shall have?

Where do the Government, any Government, come into this? I must, I think, in fairness to myself and to those who were Ministers earlier, correct something which the last Secretary of State, Mr. Stewart, said in another place on January 21, in answer to a supplementary question. He said this: It has not been the practice under the previous Government to respect the wishes of local authorities as to whether they wished to go comprehensive or not."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 705 (No. 43), col. 389, January 21, 1965.] That was not so in my time, and to the best of my knowledge it was not so in the time of those who went before me. When a local education authority wants to "go comprehensive" (to use Mr. Stewart's words) the Secretary of State comes into the picture only if the proposed scheme of reorganisation involves the closing of a school, the substantial enlargement of a school or the building of a new one. That is the law. In more instances than not, none of those three things is involved.

I recollect one scheme of reorganisation that came to me because a building operation was involved. I was most uneasy about the scheme—in fact, it seemed to me a pretty half-baked scheme. But the actual building project upon which I was called to decide was of itself a good one on its merits, and met the priorities of the school building programme. So I approved it, although with a heavy heart, and therefore, in effect, gave approval to a scheme for reorganisation which I did not think was a good one. How much further than that can one go in respecting the wishes of local authorities?


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, who is speaking with great moderation, whether he can give the quotation from Mr. Stewart that he has mentioned. The only Question I can find under that date is where Mr. Stewart said that he certainly could not rule out compulsion altogether … any more than the late Government over a period of years were prepared to take the view that they would allow local authorities to do what they liked in this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 705 (No. 43), col. 391, January 21, 1965.] Is that the passage?


My Lords, I quoted, from column 389, the exact words said on January 21, 1965. As I was saying, I do not believe that one can go further than I did, in the instance I mentioned, in respecting the wishes of local authorities as to whether they wish to go comprehensive.

On the other hand, the new Secretary of State, Mr. Crosland, whom I wish well, is reported as having said recently that he is not going to approve any old makeshift scheme. That is good, so far as it goes. But it does not go far, because, as I have just explained, the approval of the Secretary of State to a scheme of reorganisation is required only in quite narrowly defined circumstances, which can usually be got round; and this is a fact of which local education authorities are well aware. What then, I wonder, does Mr. Crosland propose to do? If he is thinking of asking Parliament to give him wider powers to stop ill-conceived schemes of reorganisation or to ensure that full and proper consultation is given to them, then he will have my personal support; for I came to the conclusion some time ago that the Secretary of State ought to have more powers than he does at the moment.

There is one other practical consideration which I must mention. I do not see how any Minister who is responsible for the school building programme, as I was, can fail to take the view that at the present time the chances of any particular project getting into the building programme should not be affected one way or the other by the fact that the school is destined to become a comprehensive school. The priorities, in my view, are—and will have to be for a number of years to come—the meeting of basic needs, the provision of roofs over heads in areas of new housing for expanding populations, and the replacement or substantial improvement of the worst old school buildings, particularly primary school buildings. I had to try to explain that to deputations from local education authorities who came to see me to ask me to include in the programme building projects which they needed because they could not "go comprehensive" without them. I had to say to them that, in my view, that reason was not sufficient.

I was therefore made very uneasy by something else which Mr. Stewart said on January 21 in another place, and I will again quote him. I quote this time from column 388. This is what he said: I shall shortly be inviting authorities to reconsider the form of any of their secondary building projects which they wish to bring into line with the policy for reorganisation on comprehensive lines. I shall announce in due course the basis on which future programmes are to be compiled. That announcement of policy is slightly ambiguous, but if it means what I fear it could mean I hope that Mr. Crosland will have second thoughts, because I defy any unprejudiced person to dispute the Tightness of the priorities so far as the building programme is concerned which I have enumerated. It would be very wrong, and quite contrary, in my judgment, to the real educational needs of this country, if local education authorities were allowed to jump the queue simply to enable them to "go comprehensive".

I should now like to sum up what I have tried to argue this afternoon. There is no social case, and at present no educational case, for being dogmatic either way in this controversy. There is far too little evidence even about the orthodox 11 to 18 comprehensive schools, and still less about the various two-tier arrangements, including the Leicestershire scheme. One may have a bias one way or the other, but bias is not enough. The local education authorities are, without any encouragement, pressing ahead with experiments almost certainly too fast. There is no case, and certainly no need, for the Government to try to force the pace, and it would be wrong to use the mechanism of the school building programme to do so. So I end with this plea: that all the many people in this country who are concerned in any way with the administration of our schools, from the school governors to the Secretary of State himself, should observe the injunction of the poet Horace and keep an equal mind.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, has attempted to disentangle the social from the educational policies as he sees them. I propose to follow him over exactly the same field which he has chosen, and to try to point out the ways in which we on the Liberal Benches disagree with his diagnosis and his analysis. May I, first of all, take the point which he mentioned quite early on, the question of national policy and central direction from the Government? He says, quite rightly, that the Conservative Party would have liked also to make some sort of central direction; but I feel very much that the sort of central direction which they have given over the past few years has been wrongly conceived, that it has been away from the comprehensive school. I believe that the comprehensive school idea is the right one, and, in spite of what the noble Lord says about the evidence not yet being available, I feel that it is gathering momentum and that for this reason it is high time for the Government to give central direction along these lines.

I feel this for three reasons. First, we are in danger, with so many different reports on education coming out, that all these ideas will be looked at in isolation and in an unco-ordinated way. Secondly, I believe that in the same way that the ideas will have to be co-ordinated by central direction, so the plans must be co-ordinated by central direction. A great many plans have been put into operation by many local authorities which again, as the noble Lord says, have been ill-considered and possibly precipitate. Thirdly, there is a very interesting article in the Guardian to-day on the question of mobility. It seems to me that the only way to achieve a mobility, not only of labour but of technicians and everything else in this country, is by having a scheme of comprehensive education.

Why I feel that the weight of opinion, in spite of what the noble Lord says, is moving towards a comprehensiveness is partly that it seems to be moving towards what has in fact been the system in the private sector for the last 100 years. Organically, this has grown up in a natural way. The private sector is in fact a two-tier system: private preparatory schools and public schools. It is partially selective, at any rate within the framework of the school, just the same as the kind of selection would be in a comprehensive school; and if this organic growth within the private sector has been something which people are prepared to accept, I cannot see why the same idea in a State system should be wrong. I am not saying that the private sector has no faults. Of course it has many and gross faults, but it seems to me that the structural pattern of the private sector scheme is a good one. This same structural pattern is what the comprehensive school is designed to try to reproduce.

The noble Lord said that he was upset that the pejorative word "separatist" was being used about the bipartite or tripartite system of schooling. It seems to me that whereas the private system has grown up organically in quite a good way, the bipartite or separatist—if you want to use that word—system has somehow or other developed along lines which, I feel, are unsound. It was devised—I am not quite sure exactly when it was—just about the beginning of the war and superimposed on what was, after all, basically a comprehensive system before 1944.

Looking back at this decision to superimpose this bipartite arrangement, one wonders how far it was a tidy administrative idea which just went wrong, or, at any rate so far as I can see, which has not gone in the right direction or the direction which was hoped. It has quite definitely produced a system which we all agree is too rigid, and I feel very much that it is producing a system which is in grave danger of making first-class citizens and second-class citizens. This, again, is where I disagree so profoundly with the noble Lord who went before, who spoke about the fact that we must not forget that this is a competitive life, and that there is some element of competition in education.

I quite agree that there is some element of competition in education and that we are all different, but this seems to me to be putting a gloss upon education which, to my mind, is totally wrong. What I mean by that is what I see growing up in the grammar schools. It is true that they are becoming the preserve of the highly intelligent; it is true that they are tending to attract all the abler teachers, and I cannot help feeling that this is not good either for the highly intelligent, or, indeed, for the best teachers, and it is in danger of producing a meritocracy.

I cannot help feeling that a meritocracy is a much more dangerous thing than a plutocracy. A plutocracy has a certain fluidity, where it is possible for people to move from one class to another, which a meritocracy does not have. A meritocracy is a thing which grammar schools are in danger of producing, and it is to be deplored. I am not saying that I want to scrap the grammar schools—I certainly do not—and I disagree with the noble Lord who feels that if you have a comprehensive scheme you cannot have a grammar school. I cannot see this at all, but he did say this categorically. As I understand it, the L.C.C. plan embraces the comprehensive and the grammar school, and I cannot see why it cannot go on doing so under any new comprehensive scheme. I think there is a danger that we might turn the idea of the grammar school into a sacred cow, and say that it must not be touched in any circumstances. Of course, I think this would be nonsense. Grammar schools are like everything else—some are good and some are bad; and if they do not develop along the right lines then, like any other dying institution, they should go.

But there are other failings in the bipartite system, in addition to this one about creating first-class and second-class citizens, and the danger of producing a meritocracy; and one is that the system itself is not working properly. The fluidity between secondary modern schools and grammar schools just is not there. It is very difficult to transfer from one to another. It can be done, but it is not done nearly enough. Again, geographically you get a totally unbalanced state of affairs in which one local authority gives something like a five-to-one better chance than another. It is the same with girls and boys. In some places it is impossibly difficult for a girl to get a place, although it is quite easy for a boy. I think this geographical difference is a great weakness.

Lastly, one of the central weaknesses of the bipartite system is the fact that public opinion is against it and dislikes it very much. There is alarm and despondency at the idea of one's child being relegated, even if fairly, at an early age to being a second-class citizen. This idea may be totally illusory; nevertheless, in so far as people believe an idea to be true, it makes it to some extent true, and I think that this is a great weakness in the scheme. To me the argument is not really that under the present scheme the clever child gets left out; I do not think it does, in spite of the fact that this fluidity is not there, and in spite of geographical and sex differences in getting places.

In spite of those things, this is not, to me, the central argument. The central argument, to me, is the sort of feeling that education under the grammar school system is a device for turning out highly trained top people for a meritocracy. Education is nothing of the sort. Education, I think, apart from those things which make the human soul spring, has to produce a great pool of ordinary middle-ranging people of intelligence from which to draw clever men and ideas. Sir William Alexander, it seems to me, made a good point, which I believe I mentioned in a speech I made on education about a year ago. After a long period of study of all the effects of educational systems he came to the conclusion that there was a very close correlation between the health and wealth of a society and the amount of education given to the ordinary people at the general standards, and very little correlation between the health and wealth of the society and the education that it gave to its top people. To some extent the top people will always take care of themselves, but if the general mass are not kept with as good conditions as possible, we shall end up in trouble.

I cannot believe—and this, again, is where I disagree with so many of the Conservative Party—that comprehensive schools are going to diminish these standards; that they are, in fact, sacrificing standards, as someone in another place said, "on the altar of egalitarian-ism". I think this is nonsense. So far from diminishing the standards, I suspect, in so far as I can read them, that the arguments are all the other way. Not only can the comprehensive school produce better results for the cleverest children, but it also produces by mere weight of numbers—and this is clear even from the small number we have now—a great many more people who obtain their G.C.E. than is the case under the present system. I think that that in itself is a very good point in its favour.

A great many people are coming on to speak in this debate, and I do not want to be too long, but there are one or two other points which the noble Lord raised on which I should just like to touch. First of all, on this question of size I do not see that mere size can have any bad effect. What is the difference between a school with 1,000 boys—the noble Lord and I went to a comprehensive school, as I pointed out before; and although this joke has been made too often it is something which is true—and a school with 2,000? I do not believe it is the size of the school that is important. This is a matter for administration and organisation, and so far as teaching is concerned it is the size of the class that matters.

Again, I do not believe that this question of boys not getting experience as prefects in the very large school, and things of that sort, really matters. There are some advantages in being a large frog in a small pool, and some advantages in being the other way round—a small frog in a large pool. But so far as designing the size of our schools is concerned, I do not think that this really matters very much.

On this question of selectivity and streaming, it is said that the "comprehensive" school is merely another term for the same thing. I do not believe this is true; it is a different kind of streaming. The kind of streaming that we are getting under the present system is the wrong sort of streaming; it is the streaming which is working a sort of backlash down to the children of eight in primary schools, specially designing the clever ones to go on to a separatist grammar school. This is a bad kind of selectivity. The good kind of selectivity is what you will have in any comprehensive school. The right kind of streaming is what you have in the private sector, with the different A, B and C streams in one school, and the system as fluid as possible. It is not selectivity under another name.

There seemed to be some feeling in the noble Lord's mind that the schools in very bad areas might get very low down in the "pecking order". I do not believe this matters. There will be a "pecking order" in comprehensive schools, as there is in public schools. Some will be considered better than others. This is inevitable: we cannot help it. But this does not matter. What does matter is having a whole class of schools, grammar schools, which are regarded as good, and a whole class of schools, secondary moderns, which are regarded as bad.

I think the noble Lord said something about what is called overlap—that is to say, that we already have in the present system sufficient overlap, or could devise better, between grammar schools and secondary moderns, so that at the higher levels there could be interchange at those levels between different children. My answer is: that may be so, but it is not working out that way; and, if it is so, then the logical conclusion is undoubtedly a comprehensive school.

Then the noble Lord spoke about buildings. For myself, I cannot see that it is vitally necessary to have a purpose-built building. It seems to me that to talk about makeshift buildings as being unsuitable for this job is not a fair criticism. Again, I can think of large schools of 1,000 boys where the buildings are separated by as much as a mile, and where they have to walk from one end of a small town, as it were, to the other for a different lesson. Does this matter? Leicestershire, it seems to me, is getting over this problem quite well. In fact, I would say that in a way it helps, rather than hinders, the move towards comprehensive schools, at any rate specially with regard to the two-tier aspect of the thing, which I think is very important. Obviously, children from 11 to 19 is too much for one school, and we must have them from 8 to 13 and 13 to 19. If this is to be done, then different buildings are better for it.

The noble Lord also mentioned time. I think this can be left to local authorities. As to direct-grant schools, again I see no reason why this should not be left to local authorities to work out in their own way, in the same way as independent schools can be left to work out their own salvation within the scheme. As I say, the whole weight of educational opinion—again, in so far as I can read it, because it varies a good deal—seems to be tending towards comprehensive schools, and that is why I feel so strongly that the Government should make a statement of central policy in this direction. It seems to me that, even in Conservative circles, it is being accepted to some extent that comprehensive schools have their uses. I think it is official Conservative policy to suggest that they are all right in new housing estates or in rural areas. If they are all right there, it seems to me that they can only be not all right in some other place because of these difficulties of transition, and that the solving of those difficulties of transition—of integrating the old and the new, and of integrating the grant-aided and the independent, into the new scheme—is merely a matter of time. It seems to me that if it is accepted that they are all right in a new housing estate, this is tantamount to accepting that in principle the system is a good one.

So I hope—and I think we on these Liberal Benches all hope—that the Government will declare a central policy which will give at any rate a very strong trend in this direction of allowing local authorities to work the things out themselves. As I said before, I know that some of the local authorities have not been exactly wise in the way they have carried out their schemes; nevertheless, I think they should be left to devise their own schemes according to their own needs and their own problems, which are geographical problems, population problems, problems of their own particular traditions and, indeed, as someone in another place said, problems of their own prejudices, if they will. So, while trying to cover the same area as the noble Lord has covered in this discussion—and I can see that, throughout this debate, discussion is going to be on whether to select or not to select—I would say that, from my point of view, he has got his priorities wrong in this disentanglement of the social side of education from the educational side of policy, and that the right aspect is quite definitely to try to swing over to a comprehensive policy. I urge the Government, who seem to be willing to make some central policy declaration on this matter, to go ahead and do so.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for introducing this debate this afternoon, and we are specially grateful for the tone in which he introduced it. Education is a topic which is charged with emotion. When we approach it, each of us is tied to his own past and probably to the future of those who are coming after him. It is a subject full of feeling, and if we are to get any good sense into our deliberations we have to control that feeling. We are, as I say, especially grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for introducing what we know touches many people deeply, in a manner which makes it possible to have a debate on the plane of reason. This is not always so on educational issues. I had taken the same resolve before I spoke this afternoon, or before I heard the noble Lord on the line he was proposing to take. I had even taken a self-denying ordinance that I would not, in the old Latin statutes of my college, attempt to make honest jokes, because I feel that honest jokes are, on the whole, rather liable to be dangerous if you are dealing with discussions on education.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Newton, if this debate had been mine I should not have concentrated it on this particular, narrow theme of selection. I believe that many other parts of our educational dilemmas are in practice, though perhaps not in theory, more important. I believe the esteem we give our teachers, the way we recruit them and the way we pay them are more important, probably, than any conceivable change we could make in organisation. I further believe that the provision of adequate buildings is more important than anything that we can do in this abstract sense. I also believe that what we actually teach is of some importance. I should have liked to pose such questions as, "Is the English tendency to excessive specialisation a good thing?"—and I am sure it is not; and, "Is our passion for competitive examinations a restrictive influence?"—and I am fairly sure it is. These are in fact the topics which, if the ground of this debate had been mine, I should have chosen as the first priorities. However, the whole national debate has got out of our hands, either on the Opposition Front Bench or on ours, and we must devote ourselves to the problem which is now presented in constant newspaper and Parliamentary debate.

I shall try to be at least as reasonable as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, but I have to begin with one point from which neither I nor my friends on this side of the House can budge. After this, I can promise the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that there will be no stereotypes and no jargons so far as I can keep them out. But we have to say this.

We regard it as intolerable to determine a child's future at eleven, and we regard it as intolerable however it is done. The 11-plus is obviously indefensible; experienced persons like the noble Lord would not try to defend it, and it was only defended, as I remember it, once in very full debate in another place.

It is flogging a dead horse to attack this curious instrument, but I will perhaps flog this dead horse for the last time. To select anybody by competitive examination at 11 means a faith in examinational procedures which even the English or the Imperial Chinese would find very hard to accept in their more lucid moments. It was based on a delightful piece of optimism: that a method called the I.Q., or Intelligence Quotient, could be really helpful. This was perfectly sensible; everybody was trying to find some device which would eliminate environment, eliminate what the child was taught, and was trying to get nearer to a representation of the actual mental machinery. It was not a stupid concept; in some ways it is still quite valuable. But it has the faint disadvantage that it does not work.

After the war, in the Civil Service Commission we experimented tentatively, but quite deeply, with I.Qs, directed this time, of course, to candidates of mature years and usually highly intelligent; and we got very curious results. We found that most of us were rather stupid—which was no surprise to anyone. And we found the perfect man, someone whose I.Q. might possibly have been equalled by Maynard Keynes at his best but could not be excelled. He was absolutely perfect. He did everything at a speed greater than anyone had known I.Q. papers could be done. And he did it with complete accuracy. Unfortunately, that was his only gift.

Therefore, my Lords, I really think that this 11-plus examination must be taken off the shoulders of our children. It has created great strain and has produced immense bitterness and a sense of injustice, often where injustice has not in fact happened, but also created a sense of injustice where it has been happening. For any such 11-plus examination probably can be trusted to select the 10 per cent. or so best academic children; that is, it is probably accurate to that extent. I would guess it would eliminate—and it is always easier for these devices to eliminate—the 20 per cent. less fitted for academic training. But between those two there is an enormous area where often you might as well spin a coin. Luck plays an important part in life, as we all know. It is lucky to be born healthy and fairly bright and in a home where there are books—I deliberately do not say "in rich homes"; I say in homes where there are books. I was born poor, but in fact we were a bookish family. We were all playing intellectual games from an early age; so in that respect, though not in others, I never felt any sense of deprivation compared with people with much more money. But many homes are without books. Many people are born without this advantage.

We cannot possibly, as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, rightly said, eliminate all these inequalities in the human condition; but it is the task of good government at least not to add to the inequalities of the human condition. In fact, this method of selection undoubtedly has helped to add to these inequalities. I would go further: I would say that any of the methods I have seen devised, not by examination but by taking account of course teaching, of parents' intentions or of interviews, although they detract from the strain either on the parent or the child and are so far good, are in some respects likely to be more socially unjust, rather than less. I suspect that children selected by careful choice with the best of intentions by local authorities, on the basis of anything but an examination, are often those children who have a slight natural advantage in environment. It would seem to be very unlikely if this were not so. This method, again, I personally think would be both unjust, inefficient and socially very dangerous.

It is an extremely difficult thing, in fact, to judge general intellectual ability at the age of 11 or much later. By "general intellectual ability" I mean nothing more exalted than the ability to go through the academic hoop—to pass examinations, in fact. It depends on something obviously much more complex than the intellectual machine. It depends partly on temperament. Almost all successful academics have a streak of what the psychologists call the obsessive. Fortunately for the poor little devils, you cannot detect obsessive tendencies easily in a child of 11. It depends partly on physique, partly on all sorts of things not strictly intellectual, but which anyone who has lived in the academic world knows to be vital for the successful performance of this long-sustained obstacle race. I think a man can have seen very little of the fates and life patterns of his fellow-men, the rate at which they develop, the rate at which they become interesting, if he has the faintest belief, as an honest person, that he could judge one person at 11 and say, "I know he is, or is not, going to make a 'go' of some sort of academic progress." It is a responsibility I should not care to take myself. I doubt whether many noble Lords here, crossing their hearts, would like to do so.

My Lords, if this is so, if we cannot select without inefficiency and injustice at this age, then we are automatically forced into another form of education. There is no possible way of getting out of this new course of action. Once you believe selection is unjust at 11, then you must have a non-selective education, for a time at least. There is no other way. It is as simple as this. Noble Lords opposite, with the best intentions, I think have often tried to introduce here an element of over-complication. There is no complication possible. If you cannot select decently at a very early age, then you are forced, until you can select, to have a different form of education. That form—and here I shall offend the noble Lord, Lord Newton—has this rather absurd portmanteau title of "comprehensive". It is a term I should never have invented myself, but we have to live with it. I am afraid that just as many terms in discussion begin to become terms of abuse, it has become a term at least charged with feeling on both sides: on the one side that this is the answer to all human prayers; on the other side that it is some deep attack on prized traditions.

It is nothing so terrible. I look round this House. I suspect that at least 95 per cent. of us, when being educated, went to what, in the sense I am using it, was a comprehensive school; because comprehensive just means that you are not selecting entirely for intellectual ability at an early age. I see young Lords opposite who are quite young and possibly their fortunes were different; but, in fact, except for the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and fellow-Wykehamists, and except for any noble Lords who were at Manchester Grammar School, before 1939 the concept of selection seriously did not exist. This is a completely postwar invention.

I remember very well the kind of selection process which took place at the grammar school which I attended—quite a good one. At the age of 11-plus—that vital age—I was taken down to see the headmaster. He asked me to write a few lines. I could do that quite well. Then he asked me to do a few simple sums; and I could do that, too, quite well. Then he said, "You will now pay £5 a term and come in in three weeks' time". This is what selection meant in an English grammar school in the period before 1917. This was the process in English grammar schools until 1939, with one or two most distinguished exceptions.

There was none of this element of elaborate academic selection in the experience of almost every noble Lord here. I remember my school fellows, many of whom would not get into a grammar school in modern conditions; yet they became very valuable citizens. I do not necessarily say that our present performance in your Lordships' House makes us models but at least we survived being educated in comprehensive schools. Do noble Lords really think that it is impossible for others to do the same?

While we are about it, I would remind your Lordships that in fact we all went to what we might call comprehensive universities. Cambridge, in the '20s and '30s, was a pretty good university, with some of the best research ever done in England. But there was no selection, in the narrow academic sense. I used to be rather interested in cricket and had a number of cricketing friends. I could not say that they represented the top 5 per cent. of the national ability. It was a bit of a shock, even to me, when I visited one of their rooms and found no book of any kind whatever. Yet they, too, have become good citizens.

I know that there is an argument—and some people feel passionately upon it—that there is a great virtue in selection for its own sake. I am very doubtful about this. It is an argument that I should be prepared to listen to, though I am not prepared to listen to selection at age 11. I should have thought that most of us would benefit by contact with persons of very different brains and ability, of different temperament. In fact, for me this is the real desideratum of a good education.

The concept that extreme selection was necessary came upon us after the 1944 Education Act. That Act was a good and benevolent Act, and we are grateful to the Master of Trinity designate for this great contribution. Naturally, when we had to administer it we took the ordinary English way—it would not have been the Scottish way—of immediately introducing comprehensive examinations. This was the responsibility of the Labour Government at the time. It took us some time to know that we were wrong. We decided that if children were to be going to different schools, we must examine them. All Englishmen would have taken roughly the same line. Nobody else in the world would have thought it so sensible.

It was assumed that in England everybody wanted to go to a grammar school. Here again a gross disparity of result ensued—which still exists; and this is something that no-one can wipe off. Whether a boy could go to a grammar school or not, depended very much on where he was born. Of two boys of exactly the same ability, a boy in a North-Western town of historical repute had exactly one-sixth the chance of getting into a grammar school that he would have had if he had been born in North Wales: his chances there would have literally been six times as great. This same condition exists to the present day.

There is a gross disparity scattered through this island. As a result, in certain unfortunate English towns—they are the great villains of this piece—only 7 per cent. of the children can be accommodated in places where their parents wish them to go, while in Welsh towns—who are the heroes of the piece—40 per cent. are able to be accommodated. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, was extremely anxious to avoid controversy and keep us on an even keel, but when he talked of choice, I think he was going too far. Choice means nothing, if this disparity exists. Parents who are largely concentrated over most of England (the situation is a little better in Wales and Scotland) and who wish their children to go to a grammar school, find that they are not able so to do.

This problem has been complicated by what seems to me to be, a specifically English obsession—the obsession with the academic obstacle race as the one true end of man. For too long we have thought that getting a First-Class Honours Degree at Oxford or Cambridge, or a First in Schools or in Tripos is the only thing that makes a man respectable. Too much of our whole intellectual life has been influenced by the scholarship examinations and by the specialised training which leads to this singular consummation. I am not going to disparage the academic skills. I have a little of them myself, otherwise my life would have been more uncomfortable than it has been. But it has been a serious loss to our country that we have estimated them, all too wildly, above all else. It has had the gravest social results and I suspect that it has had moral results, too.

It is interesting to consider the experience of a country faced with a situation not unlike our own—I refer to Sweden. The Swedes have a more acute sense of social justice, of equality and inequality, than we have. They also have practical problems very like our own—that is, too many children have too long been going into what they call pure or theoretical subjects, meaning the humanities and pure sciences. So, very slowly and tenderly, over the last ten years, and more strongly over the last seven years, they have gone in for elaborate comprehensive education. They started in South Stockholm and compared the results with those in North Stockholm, and then extended comprehensive education to about two-thirds of the country.

I suspect that we all ought to go and have a look at the result. We get many different impressions—some in favour, some against. I have an intimate friend who is a Swede and who has been, like nearly all Swedes in education, an inspector of schools, a schoolmaster and an academic. When I knew that I was going to speak in this debate, I asked him to give me his considered view, and the views of his friends, on how it worked. He has given me a very long letter, of which I propose to make copies for your Lordships. It is wise and instructive.

Broadly, his conclusion is that it would work admirably. It had achieved at least the results it had set out to achieve. Academically, your Lordships will be interested to know, the results were almost the exact opposite to the fears expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Newton. There has been a strong move in the direction of the academic component. These schools stream at 13, rather like the streaming we give to our privileged children. At 13 an abnormal number of the brighter boys and girls—these are, of course, co-educational—elect for the academic stream and then seem to do better than they did in the old gymnasia simply because the pressure is so intense. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, in his view of what would happen was very close to this particular version of what is happening in Sweden. In fact, I suspect that whatever we do in education the fate of the really bright is not a thing to worry about. I myself should never worry about it. There are other things that I should worry about regarding comprehensive schools more than the noble Lord, Lord Henley, does, but not this one.

The noble Lord, Lord Newton, hit one nail right on the head when he talked about the difficulties of headmasters. The Swedes can afford to build really big schools, very well equipped, and pay teachers handsomely. But one result of the comprehensive system is that it does need extraordinarily gifted men to be headmasters; and then you work them to death. That I think one would expect. We have to find our own way, of course. We can look at other experiences and find out what is useful, and then take it or leave it. There is something to be learned from American high schools, although I have not the same admiration for them that I have for American colleges or universities. There is something to be learned from Russian comprehensive education, which is really comprehensive, because there there are no concessions whatever. In a Russian school you remain in the same form with people of ability selected by chance, and there you stay until you leave and go to the university, if you are clever enough.

It is true that the products of both American and Russian high schools seems to me to be at least a year behind ours when they leave for the university. On the other hand, within three or four years they are at least as good as anything we can show. Often I think that our extremely intensive system tires people out a bit by their early twenties, and I think these young Americans and young Russians often have a more intellectual resilience just when they need it, But that is a passing impression.

One curious thing is that you cannot specialise in Russia at all except for a tiny area of ability. I want to bring this in here just to show that I am not doctrinaire about selection; none of us is if you can really select. The things you can select for are mathematics, music, ballet dancing and one or two others of the visual arts. Some of these things you can select quite easily at the age of four. Most really gifted mathematicians are identifiable by that age. The only way to get specialist training in Russia is to be a gifted mathematician or a gifted musician, and then you have a highly intensive education in your own art. Whether this is right or not, I do not know. As your Lordships can guess from the tone of my discourse, I am rather against people being so strictly confined at such an early age, whatever they are like. But if I were going in for early selection in this country, I should go in for early selection for people possessing these easily identifiable gifts and very specific gifts. This seems to me to present no social problems. Everyone will admit that these are exceptional, and the problems of organisation are trivial; the numbers are so small.

But we have to find our own way. We have to do it slowly and carefully. Education is a tender growth. The Leicestershire plan has some advantages. Probably, since we are going to be confined in building space for years and years, something like the Leicestershire plan is likely to be adopted fairly generally. The only criticism of it I have heard that is seriously made is that, since it is left to parental choice, when the child is 14, who goes on to a final grammar school, it is liable to mean that the middle class have rather the better of the draw. That seems to be a just criticism made by a very wise educator, the present chief education officer of the West Riding. But we shall have to experiment with all these matters. In fact, building will make it necessary for us to do so; the state of our buildings makes it necessary for us to try everything which falls within reason. If we are going to do so we must carry with us men of good will. There will be some who are opposed, in any event. A lot of men and women of good will have got to be familiar with the kind of considerations that are guiding us. It will need a good deal of administrative tact. But granted that we cannot select early; granted that it makes no sense and makes no kind of justice to select early, then slowly and carefully, with consideration, we shall have to move upon some such course, trying everything, being experimental, being careful.

My Lords, I have tried to be open. None of my colleagues thinks that this is easy. I have said that I also think that the major dilemmas of our education are not touched by these forms of organisation. But they are important. We believe that it is going to take a long time, and it will be very delicate. I am prepared to say that I believe that in most educational changes there are losses as well as gains—and there I speak personally, not for my colleagues. Nevertheless, there is no choice. This is something which, where you see that you are perpetrating a gross injustice, if you do not begin to change, then you must go forward. We cannot continue with a system of early selection which offends both human sympathy and good sense. And the path of progress is going to be long and arduous.

But within that progress it seems to me that we have to keep hold of the vision of a desirable education, and that desirable education must hold, among other things, a sense of respect for persons of qualities and abilities different from one's own. I am sure this is a major problem of real education. Unless we do that we shall not make our society or our country survive in health. And something even more important: unless we have human respect for people who may not be as good at passing examinations but can do other things in the way we cannot, then we shall have lost the ability to approach our fellow human beings. We must have this respect if we wish either ourselves or our children, in the old Pauline phrase, to be "members one of another".

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Newton puts us in his debt by opening a debate on what I consider the most controversial issue in education to-day, in a non-controversial speech; and the two noble Lords who have followed him have also, if I may say so, kept the temperature as low as they could. I do not propose to follow them in this respect, because we cannot take education out of politics. Education is about people, and politics is about people; and the heart of politics is what kind of people we should like to see come after us to maintain the honour and vigour of our country and to help their neighbours and people in other lands. Therefore, I will say very little about the educational arguments which I think are better left to the teachers.

One hears from teachers, especially head teachers, whose opinion one has learned to respect, that if all our secondary schools become comprehensive, the likelihood is that fewer children will receive an education which really suits them as individuals. They give me (heir opinion that the clever child, at one end, and the backward child at the other, are better taught in selective schools where the teaching can be effectively matched to the needs of the individual boy and girl. If that is true, it is a serious matter. It would be extremely serious if we adopted a new form of secondary organisation which weakened the sixth forms, because it is no good talking about a modern Britain and an efficient scientific and technological society unless we realise that most of our hopes for this kind of economy are channelled through the sixth forms of the schools. If anything should happen to weaken those sixth forms, there would be a great loss to the nation as a whole. I leave this question to my noble friend Lord James of Rusholme, who is a far greater expert upon it than I am.

The noble Lord, Lord Snow, mentioned the comprehensive system in the United States. I had a look at that, and I found that the Americans were becoming more critical of their system and pointing to a number of serious defects, principally the defect in the sixth form, which is the reason, as the noble Lord has just said, that their children emerge, when they go to the university, about a year behind ours. But there was one fact which worried the Americans, of a social rather than an educational nature, and therefore it should appeal to noble Lords on the Benches opposite.

The inevitable result of their system has been to create a hierarchy of neighbourhood schools—that is to say, the comprehensive school in the good area has been always a good school, but the school in the poor and unattractive area has remained weak and unsatisfactory. It is precisely the children who live in the depressing areas who are most in need of help, and they have found in America that the system itself ties those children to their unhelpful conditions.

We can see in this country this process in reverse. Often I have heard of a clever boy coming from a bad home or a bad district, who has been fortified by-working alongside children of his own intellectual ability in a grammar school; and I have been told that if that boy had remained in a neighbourhood school it is very doubtful whether his talents would have been developed so easily. These are educational arguments, and it is a valid criticism of a complete comprehensive system of neighbourhood schools that it does not allow sufficient cross fertilisation between areas of different social conditions.

I do not think that educational arguments are really uppermost in the minds of the Labour Party. Their chief concern—and I do not blame them for it—is not for the education of the individual child, but to produce a classless society. I do not like the phrase "classless society", but let us say a society in which there are far fewer social differences, and where people appreciate each other, whether they come from one part of the country or another, rich or poor, and so on—the kind of society which I should like to see myself. Really, the question is: will the comprehensive system do the trick? This is the political question behind the policy that is now put forward by the Party opposite. Of course, an educational system shapes society, and is shaped by society. But at any given moment society, so far as it is the product of the educational system, is the result of what the schools did or failed to do a generation ago. People very often forget that. When they do not like the shape of society to-day, they are inclined to blame the schools as they are to-day. This is extremely unfair. Still less are they willing to think what the schools they have to-day are likely to be after another generation of improvement.

In the last thirty years, thanks to work by all Parties (and I should like to pay a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Chuter-Ede, who was one of the architects of the 1944 Act, to which the noble Lord, Lord Snow, referred in generous terms), the local authorities and the teachers, big advances have been made towards the provision of a good and suitable education for all children. The whole system is incomparably better and fairer than it was before the war, but we have a long way further to go. One looks round and sees that the teaching is good in some schools and not so good in others. One sees that parents are more aware of these differences in quality between schools, so that the competition is intense to get their children into the best schools. That is in itself a good thing, but it can be politically embarrassing. One sees also that those who get the better education in the better schools, whether they are maintained or whether they are fee paying, have a superior look about them. The Labour Party believe that the selective schools manufacture superior and snobbish children and parents, and therefore they want to get rid of these schools.

The question is: are they wise? Will their policy do the trick? This is the situation which faces us to-day. But it cannot be the situation in twenty or thirty years' time. We are going to spend hundreds of millions of pounds of public money on these schools over this period. We are going to have many thousands more three-year trained teachers and, I hope, many thousands more graduate teachers. The vital question is whether we should use all these splendid resources in an attempt to get rid of all the superior children and their superior parents by "going comprehensive", or whether we should use these resources to make the vast majority of parents and children equal in superiority by greatly improving the existing secondary system.

Here we have the old political conflict between levelling down and levelling up; between a policy based on uniformity, and a policy based on variety. I submit to your Lordships that levelling up is not only sounder educationally—more children will receive education that suits their individual needs—but will also meet and strengthen one of the best desires in human nature, the care and love of parents for their own children.

We can learn a lot from parents who to-day are able to express their wishes in regard to their children's secondary education. When these parents have enough money to pay the fees, and they cannot find a maintained school that meets their desires, they choose a fee-paying school with the greatest care. Is this freedom of choice something which, in the hope of creating the classless society, we ought to get rid of? Are parents wrong who want the opportunity to send their child to a boarding-school rather than a day school, or their daughter to a girls' school rather than to a mixed school? Are they justified in spending their savings to find a school for a delicate child? Supposing, as must often happen if all secondary schools are organised into efficient and, therefore, rather large comprehensive schools, that there is no school near at hand where the religion in which they believe is taught openly, and with conviction, are we to restrict their freedom of choice?

To my mind this freedom of choice, responsibly exercised for the benefits of one's children, is the mark of an advancing civilisation. If the Labour Party have their way, and all secondary schools become comprehensive, then the freedom of choice in respect of secondary education will be confined to parents rich enough to have their children educated abroad. And I do not think that the policy would work at home. Supposing that all secondary schools have become comprehensive, will the desires of the parents to do the best for their children be suppressed? Not at all. These desires may very well break out in less respectable ways. Let me give your Lordships a possible example. If all the schools are comprehensive, more children will go to a school where there is a tension between the home background and the school; and the doctors tell us that where such a tension exists it can do serious and permanent damage to the child. The child goes out of school with either a grudge against the school or a grudge against his home.

Noble Lords opposite realise this danger very well when they are deciding on the schools for their own children. I think I am right—and anyhow, I applaud him, if I am—in saying that the noble Lord, Lord Snow, is sending his young son to a comprehensive school?

No. To a secondary modern? No? To a grammar school (where he went himself)? No? But to Eton. The decision to send the boy to Eton is, in my humble opinion, right, because there the tension between the noble Lord's home background and the school will not exist, and the chance of the boy's emerging with what they call an "integrated personality" is greater.


My Lords, may I reply to the noble Viscount's somewhat personal remarks? It is perfectly simple. It seems to me that if you are living in a fairly prosperous home it is a mistake to educate your child differently from most of the people he knows socially. I should not think it right to impose whatever ideologies I have upon someone who may not have those ideologies.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord is absolutely right, and I would go on and say to him that this is the reason why it really is not fair to call a selective school like Eton or Winchester comprehensive, because, as a matter of fact, it is selective by home background. I am not a teacher myself, but I think all teachers would say that the home background is at least as important as what happens in the school; and therefore these public schools are selective because the home background is of a similar character for the great majority of their population.


May I interrupt the noble Viscount, because I know that he has to go before I reply? Certainly one would not argue, and I am sure that the noble Lord would not argue, that public schools are selective by ability. They are selective by purse.


I do not know. The noble Lord perhaps has not had the advantage of being a member of another place. If he had, he would have had a lot of constituents come to him and say: "Can you help me get my boy into a public school? I cannot get him in; the waiting list is so long." I do not know on what basis some public schools select but I am perfectly willing to agree that many of the best grammar schools give a better education than many of the bottom half of the public schools.

But I was talking about parents' choice, and whether it is right or wrong to limit it. Perhaps the reason why noble Lords and I myself exercise the choice for our children is precisely because we have obtained through our education a knowledge of what is best for our child. I want to get that knowledge for all parents. But the Labour Party do not want to see parents' choice enlarged, and I wonder why. I wonder whether, perhaps, it is because, in their heart of hearts, they do not believe that the standards of living now enjoyed by the middle class can ever be enjoyed by everybody. That, in my opinion, is to take a very pessimistic outlook of our affairs.

The question to ask ourselves is, what kind of secondary schools can we have in this country when real income per head is doubled in 25 years, and, we must assume, will be doubled again in another 25 years. What is the country going to look like then? What will housing look like, which is now such a drag on some schools? All the slums will have gone, and millions of houses will have been built, to let and for sale. What about the arts at home and holidays abroad? Can anyone see the limit by which we can raise the cultural standards of the whole British people?

If all this is within our grasp, why do we single out the secondary schools and level down the excellence in the best of them simply in order to hide the growing pains of selection under a blanket of uniformity? I have an uneasy feeling that the thoroughgoing Socialist would reply to me that faith in the ability of parents to choose wisely the school for their children is unjustified. Parents, he would say, are too ignorant and too besotted about their children ever to know what is best for them. Never will they accept anything but a grammar school, and therefore the political trick is to pretend that comprehensive schools are grammar schools.

My noble friend Lord Newton rightly referred to what the Socialist Party said about this question at the time of the Election. I heard them say it. I heard them offering a grammar education for all as part of the comprehensive system; and I thought, when I heard that, that behind it lay a contempt for the intelligence of the British people, because as our standards of living rise—and they will—boys and girls will come out of school knowing more about education, as parents they will make wiser decisions, and as wiser parents will demand, and will get, better secondary schools, The one reacting on the other, the quality of parents' choice will improve and so also will the means of satisfying that choice, if we do the right thing, My Lords, there is no reason whatever, except political prejudice, why by the end of this century we should not have a network of secondary schools which will offer the vast majority of parents as wide a range of choice as is now enjoyed by fee-paying parents.

Just think what we could do in that time. We should have comprehensives where it is sensible to have comprehensives. I have always believed there are certain places where it is sensible to have them. We should have many more direct-grant schools, many more schools to care for children who have some special disability, schools with an agricultural bias or a bias in some other practical direction, and, of course, many more boarding places, which you must have if you are to collect children from a certain distance to the school where the parents really wish the child to go. And this is very much the case with denominational schools. If we put our minds to it we could have as many denominational schools as parents desire.

This, I venture to say to noble Lords sitting on these Benches, is the true Conservative policy. This is levelling up, which is the proper objective of a country which believes in freedom of choice and a variety of schools between which parents can exercise responsible decision on behalf of their children. We can make this choice available for the parent of the future if we put our resources behind variety instead of behind uniformity. On the other hand, the doctrine of uniformity, expressed here in a demand for a complete system of comprehensive schools, affronts our ideals, affronts both Christian and humanist ideals. The individual is sacrificed to society. The parent is silenced by the politician, and the doctrine itself is put forward by men whose educational arguments are unsound and whose private conduct labels them as humbugs. If legislation were proposed to force through Parliament the wholesale comprehensive system, I hope that your Lordships, knowing that the great majority of teachers and parents would be behind you, would throw it out.


My Lords, I am not quite sure who is in charge of the Opposition—I think it must be the noble Lord, Lord Newton, on the other side—but I would ask him to repudiate at once the contemptible slur on my noble friend Lord Snow and no doubt other noble Lords. It is unlike anything I have heard in this House, and I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Newton, to repudiate it.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I am newly come to your Lordships' House—certainly it is not 100 days since I came here first—but I have had time to see the remarkable courtesy which is always extended to those who make their first contribution to debates, and therefore I crave your indulgence, particularly as I follow some very distinguished speakers. In fact, I am rather reminded of an occasion when I spoke once in Israel, when I followed the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary and prefaced my remarks by saying that in Britain we have an expression "After the Lord Mayor's Show comes the dust cart"; and I am bound to say that, when translated into Hebrew, it sounded quite poetic.

I can only say that I can have no feeling other than a passionate one in contributing to this debate. Not only am I currently engaged in adult education, but I was a teacher in a primary school, and I am delighted to hear so many compliments paid to at any rate that section of our education. I have also had the opportunity of serving as a member of a working party of the women's group on public welfare, where we discussed the education of girls, and currently I am indulging in discussions with many young mothers and young wives on evidence for the Plowden Committee concerned with primary education. So I am very grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate this afternoon.

Who are the villains of the piece in the story of secondary education? I would say, first of all, if I may use a rather ambiguous term, the English people. There is a very cynical little story, attributed to a celebrated politician now dead, in which he said that the Scots have a respect for education, the Welsh have a passion for it and the English have no particular objection to it. The older I grow, the more I have a feeling that if the people of this country really cared about education we should not have to teach in the schools that many of us have had to teach in for the past 30 or 40 years.

The second group, I would say, are the educationists. Why is it that when the ordinary girl and boy leave school they close the door on the school with a sigh of relief and an expression of "I do not want to go near that place again"? We have a great sense of failure, and this is something for which I too must accept responsibility. Thirdly—and here I must say I am rather horrified to see I come into this group also—we have the Government, who play a very serious part in the concern of secondary education. It is a popular ploy, seemingly, of Governments to set up very elaborate Committees under distinguished chairmanship and composed of brilliant and hardworking people. Presumably these Committees are costly, and when the findings are eventually brought before the notice of the other place it is rather sad to find that so few of the suggestions contained in them are acted upon with any speed. I refer, of course, to the Albemarle Committee, the Crowther Committee and the Newsom Committee, and no doubt we shall soon have the Plowden Committee's Report also.

We cannot be complacent about our secondary education. A quarter of the pupils who leave the primary schools go to secondary grammar or secondary technical, and three-quarters go to the secondary modern school. I can remember when the secondary modern was called something a little different, and I recall the excitement when there was a change of title. But, you know, my Lords, a rose by any other name smells as sweet. I remember teaching a dull and backward class in a primary school which enjoyed the name of "the Remove", but the children referred to it as "the daft class". I hope they did not include the teacher in this grouping.

It is not my intention to give your Lordships any more figures—figures can in fact reveal or conceal, or be made to make any argument a valid one—but I well remember when I was teaching 52 children in a primary school being rather startled to read in a pamphlet that there was an average of 33-8 children in every class in Great Britain, which set me wondering why I had so many of somebody else's.

I would suggest to your Lordships this evening that Her Majesty's Government are not doing anything which is revolutionary in suggesting that secondary education needs a rapid kind of change. The Butler Education Act of 1944 says precisely this: Secondary education is the right of all instead of the privilege of the few. The Act seeks to provide secondary education which corresponds to the age in which we live. As I see it, Her Majesty's Government are seeking to carry out the terms of that Act. Where do we get the description "secondary"? I took my description from the Newsom Report, which says that it is a rough administrative definition; that below the age of 11 is primary, and that what follows 11 is secondary.

I think this is typical of our obsession in this country for chronological age. We all are asked to retire at 65, or 60 in the case of a woman. This always puzzles me, since women seem to be tougher and live longer. We start school at 5, though some of us may have been ready to start school at 3 or 4. We leave school at a given age, and we enter university, again at a given age. So far, the only thing for which we have not been able to legislate effectively is the age at which you commence being an adult in the sense that you can have children.

First of all, I would say that "11-plus" is a misnomer. The child has to be ready to move on by the time it is 11, and it would be more precise to refer to this as "10-plus". In fact, as any teacher will tell you, to take an arbitrary line of chronological age is not only harsh and unjust, but completely incorrect. We have always had those who are known as late developers. If you think these are a small proportion of the population you are wrong. There will always be those who, because of background, temperament, and certainly not always intelligence, will in fact come to the forefront of their powers much later than others. At present these children do not get the fair opportunity they deserve.

I was relieved to hear the noble Lord, Lord Snow, ask us what education is about, because I began to wonder at certain stages in the debate whether we were wholly concerned with educating for earning a living rather than educating for being people. The campaign for education which was initiated in 1963 gave an excellent definition of "education". This I quote: Upon education"— in Britain— depends the growth, freedom and happiness of every human being, the quality of our society, and the wealth of the nation. We all want a better chance for our own children; young people want a better chance for themselves. The nation's economic future depends upon education. We are not rich in material resources so we have to cultivate our brains and skill. Are we doing precisely that in current secondary education?

I have quoted the words: Upon education depends … the quality of our society. We live in a Christian democracy, and I am certainly one of those—I am sure there are many other noble Lords here too—who thank God that we have been born into, and are privileged to take part in the running of the affairs of, this democracy. But history shows us that the survival of a democracy depends upon men and women appreciating their responsibilities to each other. They must respect personalities, and they must recognise that freedom to decide their own destiny carries with it an obligation to play a part in the affairs of the community. If the schools were doing that, I would say that it is strange that to-day so many people opt out and say that they do not wish to be bothered, and that they are quite happy to leave it to the powers that be.

How does secondary education measure up to the growth, freedom and happiness of every human being"? Let us look at the little children of 10-plus and consider their feelings when they are confronted with the movement to the secondary education group. At present in many places there will be the examination, there will be the interview with the headmaster or headmistress. If they are fortunate enough to get through the examination, they will again be interviewed for the grammar school place. If there are not enough places in the county, they will go to another kind of school. This does not reveal their ability in any capacity, but rather the limitation of the particular place in which they are unfortunate enough to live. No teacher will defend the disparity which at the moment exists between one place and another in the country.

With the noble Lord opposite, I should like to see freedom of choice. Can he really tell me that at the moment we have this? I remember teaching a class in London in which there were as many as 20 children moving over to grammar schools, and in another county, which shall be nameless, we had only two children of the same age group doing so. These children were not different in intelligence or even in background; they were only different because of the fact that they lived in a different part of Great Britain. Nobody can defend this as freedom of choice.

We see here, too, that the great joy and privilege of going to the academic school, the grammar school, has become something more than an opportunity to get the kind of education from which the children will benefit. It has become a status symbol, and parents will go to great lengths in order to give this opportunity to their children. A headmaster is reported as saying that there have even been suggestions of bribery—that headmasters were approached in this way. I am happy to say that these offers we not accepted. It is significant that when I have talked to the mothers of young children in the primary schools they nearly all say—and this is borne out by the evidence before the Plowden Committee—that the 10-plus examination lays far too great a strain both on the children and on the parents, and where it has been abolished there is immediately a much better teacher, parent and children relationship. It is significant, too, that the evidence we have had from health visitors indicates that they have noticed how the strain on the whole family is lessened when there is not this terrific emphasis on the need for the child to get through this wretched examination.

There has always been this undue emphasis on the formal work, and if you have tried to teach in a primary school you will know what this means: the heavy concentration on a limited number of subjects in order that the children can go through at a given time. I cannot emphasise too strongly that different people cross from childhood into adult life at different ages. I would say that our whole educational system is at present bedevilled by examination. It is rather significant that when defending the comprehensive school, so many people use as a measuring stick the number of "O" level or "A" level passes gained by the top pupils.

What are we educating for? Is it merely to produce the narrow academic, or is it to produce a full person, a real tolerant individual and a member of a great democracy? If there were more university places, more colleges of technology, there would not be this need for the overriding consideration of academic examination. There have been several references to the fact that we are unequal, and we certainly are unequal. The older we grow the more we realise how much cleverer other people are than ourselves, how much more attractive, how much wittier, and so on. But, nevertheless, my teaching of the dull and backward showed me that every human being has a capacity for something, but many people now go right through their life without their own particular talent ever being given the opportunity to be developed.

I have studied the changeover from primary to secondary very carefully. When I tell your Lordships that I am a product of a private school, and a denominational one at that, you will know that my bias is, if anything, towards the retention of that type of school. It is necessary and desirable that some kind of selectivity should be continued, but this must not be something which decides the child's future at such an early age. I am forced to the conclusion that, whichever way one approaches the matter, one comes back to a system of comprehensive education. In such a system the pupils can change from one stream to another with complete ease, and there will be the opportunity to meet people of differing backgrounds and differing kinds of ability. I well remember that in the training college—I was not fortunate enough to go to a university—although one was allocated to a group to study a particular subject, one met other people at different levels who were studying other subjects. While one might be with somebody who was brilliant at English, one would equally meet someone who was brilliant in music or art. There was therefore the give-and-take of the different placing of one's own position within the structure of the college. I can see no great difficulty about this system if it is utilised for our secondary schools now.

No child should ever be considered a failure. The present system gives many children a sense of failure at the age of 11. I cannot feel that it is justified by any kind of argument. The community is composed of people of all kinds, and therefore the school should be a reflection of the community. I would put in a plea for co-education. Since it works so well at an earlier age, there appears to be no real reason why it is necessary to segregate the males from the females when they reach secondary level, since they will, one hopes, revert again to be considered together when they reach university level.

Finally, I would put in a special plea for the consideration of secondary education for girls. Social changes are taking place which, from the female angle, will affect their whole life. Girls are marrying earlier, there is a change, happily, in the balance of the sexes, and it makes me wish I were young now, since we are moving into a stage where there are more men than women. There is a desperate shortage of men and women in both professions and industry, and it will be necessary for the young woman of to-day to return to her chosen career when her children have reached an age when she can reasonably do so. She will still be young enough to take full advantage of many years of service to the community.

When the educational curricula are being considered, I would put in a plea that the secondary education of girls should receive special consideration. Let us have genuine equal opportunities for men and women at university level also. I am intrigued to see that one university college is considering, very magnanimously, the admission of women. I hope this will be both speedy and successful. Teaching both boys and girls has shown me very clearly that there is no difference between the mental capacity of the male and of the female. Happily, there are other differences which your Lordships will know about. At present there is still the unbalance that if a girl is clever at secondary level, she is not given the opportunities to move to the heights to which a boy can move. Why do we not hear of more women engineers? Women have a great skill of this kind. Very frequently they are employed in the lower levels of such professions. Schooling is still designed so that the girl must go to domestic science at the same time as the boy goes to something of a different character.

I would leave this thought with your Lordships. As a nation we need to use to the maximum the brains and talents of all our citizens, the three-quarters as well as the one-quarter. There must be no discrimination of colour, class or sex. I believe that immediate action is necessary in secondary education. Our society at the moment puts great pressures on us all, and if boys or girls are to emerge from school enabled to withstand them and to play their full part, we must see to it that they are given the maximum opportunity to do so. It seems a small thing to ask at this juncture that the school leaving age should be raised immediately to 16. I have great faith that Her Majesty's Government will do this. I wonder how history is going to see us. One remembers T. S. Eliot's words: Here were a decent. godless people; Their only monument the asphalt road; And a thousand lost golf balls. If we do not look to our secondary education, our monument to posterity will be broken cars, juke boxes, bingo halls and betting shops.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, this debate, for which we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Newton, takes its place in a series of important debates on education in your Lordships' House, debates marked in every case by wealth of experience that has contributed sound sense. This afternoon we have been conscious of an enrichment of our strength in the noble Lady who has just sat down, for she has brought to our educational discussions a knowledge based upon experience of doing the job, than which there is no better experience. We have appreciated greatly the skill with which she has argued her case and I, for my part, hope that we shall hear her on many further occasions, not least defending and proclaiming the right of women and girls to an equal share in education and in the professions which the men so often deny them.

In this debate, or in a series of debates, there is a danger always that we take one part of education and try to consider it in isolation from another. There are urgent problems indeed in what we call the "secondary stage" of education. But it is unfortunate, for instance, that we should be discussing the organisation of secondary education before we know quite clearly at what age it begins. The noble Lady was quite right in pointing out that we have a passion for carving up the lives of people into neat age groups, sometimes not always easy to understand. I can never understand why for one purpose people are young until the age of 25, and adult thereafter.

The noble Lady, if I may say so, was right in emphasising that it is not only the age, in the sense of the number of years from birth, but also the age in the sense of mental capacity which should determine the movement from one type of education to another; if, indeed, we need do more than divide education—which should be a continuous process—into groups for administrative purposes only. If we are to transfer from one of these stages to another at the age of 10 or 11 or 12 or 13, it makes a considerable difference to the organisation of the secondary stage which follows, and there is a danger that we shall be rushing into an organisation without having decided first at what point it begins.

In this debate we have to deal with the situation as it is now, and may I again echo what has been said by other speakers: that the first consideration—indeed, almost the only consideration—is what is best for the individual child himself. We must always be trying to discover how our schools can best help the millions of individual children, remembering that each of them is a unique personality, and how we can provide for them the most suitable conditions in which they can grow and develop as individuals.

Every schoolmaster (and I speak as one who has been a schoolmaster) is rapidly taught by his pupils—if he did not know it already—that he cannot generalise, even about 30 boys in a class. Each one is a person, and each one requires a personal approach; and woe betide the teacher who thinks that they can be run as if they were a platoon of the Guards! It does not work that way. But it is one of the continuing tragedies of Engilsh education that shortage of teachers and continuing over-large classes make this personal treatment and personal approach far more difficult than it should be for the vast majority of our teachers. It would be an over-simplification, but one which I believe goes to the heart of the problem, to say that if we had all the teachers we wanted of the kind we needed, we should not be bothering very much to talk about the organisation of secondary or primary education, because the teachers themselves would be dealing with a great many of these problems.

As we consider the needs of the children as individuals, we must keep in mind the evidence, so cogently and movingly presented in the Newsom Report, that the difference between the tasks of schools in various social areas is so great as to constitute a difference in kind". In schools in slums, to quote from that Report, inevitably their pupils are not as good at school work as those from more fortunately placed homes. Inevitably, too, their general level of manners is lower and the risk of their falling into delinquency is greater than average". Nor dare we forget the conclusions in the Crowther Report, that the social background of children is an important factor in determining whether they continue in full-time education beyond the minimum age. We can have no doubt from the evidence in the Reports of these two Committees, that there is at the present time an almost incalculable loss to the community of potential ability, and that, as things are, all our children just do not have an equal opportunity of acquiring intelligence and developing their individual capacities.

None of us can possibly be satisfied that all is well with the existing situation; and to say that is not to forget the gratitude we owe to the splendid work which is being done by the teachers in so many schools. In grammar schools, secondary modern schools and comprehensive schools there is a professional devotion and skill. No one type of school has a monopoly of that devotion and skill, and in all the types there is a willingness to reach out to new ideas and techniques for which the nation as a whole, and parents in particular, should be very grateful.

But the question which I believe we are asking is not whether what is being done is wrong or bad, so much as whether we could not do it better, in a better way for the children, and a better way for society. Is the principle, which I notice we are beginning to call the "separatist principle", out of keeping with our understanding of the nature of our society? Certainly, it would be difficult to find many people who would argue now that a final selection can be made, or should be made, at the age of eleven which would determine the category of school to which a child must go and in which the child must, except in very exceptional circumstances, remain. Whatever else can be concluded, the 11-plus examination, as we used to know it, is so dead or dying as not really to be worth discussing any more.

Nor are we entirely happy with the various experiments which are being made—in making a selection at about that age by some other means than that of examinations. Even if we do away with the written examination, we have now seen that one cannot be quite certain of the I.Q. of children at the age of eleven or even at much later ages. I found myself very greatly in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Snow, on this point. I recollect that on one occasion, when a team of psychologists wished to try out in a school of which I was the head a new system of determining the I.Q., I insisted first that it should be tried on the staff. Most of them had a mental age of ten, but I had not sufficient confidence in the test to sack the lot of them—and I refrained from taking the examination myself.

At any age selection is difficult, Whether we do it on interview, which introduces a subjective element, whether we do it in the most objective way we can by written papers, success in which sometimes reflects not so much the ability of the children as the skill of the teacher to cram for that particular kind of paper, we are going to make an enormous number of mistakes; and those mistakes are going to remain with the children for far too long. As I said, that is so much a dead subject as almost not to be worth discussing.

At this point, my Lords, I should make it clear that anything I say in this debate I say in a personal capacity. Although I happen to be Chairman of the Church of England Board of Education, there is no Church policy on the principles which should govern the organisation of secondary education. The educational leaders of the Churches are in close and friendly touch with each other all the time, and I believe that I can speak for them all when I say that our purpose now is what it has been historically; to co-operate with the evolving national pattern of education. We believe that we may have something to contribute to the thinking on which that evolution is based, and we welcome the many opportunities which the Churches have for consultation, both with the Secretary of State for Education and Science and his advisers, and with the local education authorities.

The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have, through their aided-schools, a real partnership which we desire to keep as effective as we can. And here, we have no secrets from our friends in the Free Churches, with whom we are in constant communication. I would repeat: there is no Church or Christian "Party line". Christians may rightly differ in their attitudes to comprehensive education. The Churches as such can take no side in any aspect of educational controversy which is of a political nature. Their desire is to co-operate within what form of organisation is decided by the nation. We are grateful to the right honourable gentleman who has just ceased to be Secretary of State for Education for his clear recognition of this in his speech in another place. If I may quote his words, he said: … I welcome the fact that the denominations have made it clear that, where there are schemes of reorganisation, they would certainly rather take part in them than be left out in a sort of enclave of their own. I further recognise that if they are to take part in those schemes it will, in a great many cases but not in all, mean that if it is to be done properly there will be special financial problems to be met … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 750 (No. 43), col. 445, January 21, 1965.] May I emphasise one point? The Churches do not want voluntary schools to be outside the general pattern of secondary education, whatever that ultimately may be; indeed, I view with very grave concern the fact that one local education authority has recently excluded a Church secondary school from a comprehensive scheme of reorganisation. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church have spent, and are still spending, large sums of money on buildings for secondary schools designed to fit into the existing pattern. I opened one such school as recently as last week. It has fine spacious buildings; and I had hardly reached the opening ceremony before I was discussing the extension of the buildings to take double the number of children for whom they are already making provision. If we have to contemplate yet more work to comply with new ideas—and that for children for whom there is no grant entitlement under the existing regulations—perhaps we may have to ask that the grant structure be looked at again. But I will say no more on this point, because I know that the Secretary of State for Education and Science understands it very clearly.

If I may come back, in a personal capacity, to some of the general considerations which are important, if we desire our educational system to contribute to the integration of our society, and if getting rid of the separatist principle contributes to that end, then I myself should have no alternative but to support getting rid of the separatist principle. But I have certain anxieties because to my mind it is not clear which method of reorganisation is the right method.

I thought when I came into your Lordships' House that I knew what a comprehensive school was, but after listening to some of the speeches in this debate I am not quite sure. It seems now to be a term that we are using to refer not solely, as we tended to do until recently, to a very large school to which children were admitted without any selection, and where they remained for all their school life, but to include other forms of reorganisation as well—possibly a two-tier system and the like. But I would reiterate the point which has been made already: that many of the large grammar schools draw their pupils from a wide area and from diverse family backgrounds and that a comprehensive school serving a particular area may well draw its pupils from only one social group. This is a point which must be watched; and, as has already been said, this is partly the experience in the United States of America.

I believe we want to draw the children in our schools from differing backgrounds. I am not quite sure I go all the way with those noble Lords who have suggested that you do better if you draw all your children from one kind of family background, and can therefore teach them better whatever their separate abilities may be. I think I myself would rather tend to go in the opposite direction and say that they do very much better to meet in school some of those with whom, in working life, they will have to be on terms of understanding and real intimacy, rather than to have separation. This is only one of the very many factors which are involved in selection. We obviously want to enable the more able children to realise their full academic possibility. At the same time, we want to give to the less able children a form of education which will help their development and diminish their sense of rejection or inadequacy—a sense of rejection and inadequacy which can be very real, as I imagine most of your Lordships who have ever visited secondary modern schools will know.

Can this be done in one school? The evidence so far seems to be not conclusive, though we do know that a great many heads of comprehensive schools are very alive to the importance of this problem. Streaming within a comprehensive school may produce precisely the same kind of inadequacy and sense of inferiority as do separate schools. This is quite possible. Indeed, I have been in a comprehensive school in which the grammar stream (if one may call it that) was becoming a kind of élite and the rest of the school almost jealous of their privileges. The head and the staff did not want that: it was something which was happening almost automatically.

And what would happen in a comprehensive school of, say, 2,000 pupils if streaming were abolished? Should we have an automatic promotion year by year from grade to grade? Should we have some of the children held back because others could not quite cope with where the science or mathematics syllabus was taking them? We do not know the answers. If we were able, and were quite confident that we were able, within one school to give to each child the type of education suited to his temperament and ability, and at the same time integrate children of different abilities and backgrounds into one real community, and were quite sure that this was really happening, something like a major breakthrough in secondary education would be achieved.

My Lords, I do not think there is any very great difference between any of us who care for the children or for their education, as to the purpose that we are after. We differ about methods; and we differ, perhaps too much now, about methods of selection. Is this not a reason for proceeding cautiously, with still more experiment, before we settle upon a pattern? If we assume that selection at 11, which is to be rather of the nature of the Oxford Final Honours School (which, as Sir Walter Raleigh remarked once to a pupil, is a separate and distinct event from the Day of Judgment, but not very much), is on the way out, or is out, and if we then proceed to find which is the best way to organise, perhaps we shall be more effective than if we were to decide now that there is a single pattern which will work.

After all, my Lords, there are, I believe, only 180 comprehensive schools in the whole of England and Wales. Some of them are very young. We have not very much experience yet of all the problems which have to be tackled, though I have myself the greatest respect and admiration for the way in which the staffs of those schools are approaching their job, and I have found in those that I have visited an atmosphere, educationally and personally, of which any school would be proud. But so I have found it in many of the secondary modern schools, particularly those which have been developing recently with flexibility, with initiative and with far- sightedness until they are doing work which, in some respects, makes them more and more indistinguishable from grammar schools. Their experiences and the experiences of their staffs are all needed still in this asessment of what is the right pattern of secondary education just as the assessment of the contribution of the grammar schools depends on our bringing their staffs most fully into the picture.

There are very strong arguments for proceeding with some caution. On the material side (and reference has been made to this point) the scandalous state of thousands of our school buildings revealed in the Survey of School Buildings, the urgent need to provide new school places, the building schemes already in process for selective grammar and modern schools—all these make it inevitable that for some years to come, whatever type of comprehensive education we experiment with, it will have to be done by using existing buildings. In some areas a fully comprehensive system, it seems to me, cannot be achieved by using the existing buildings in any way that makes sense educationally. To build all the new buildings required for the new comprehensive schools, assuming we are following the pattern of a school of 2,000 every time, is just not possible, I imagine, for reasons both of national finance and of priorities in building. Here we have by the force of circumstances, I believe, a time imposed upon us for more inquiry and research; and I personally hope the local education authorities will still be given freedom to experiment with varying forms of reorganisation so that there will be still more evidence available and, above all, there will be much greater opportunity for full discussion among the local authorities and the teachers (who have not come very much into the discussion in some places) and also the voluntary bodies.

As a nation we rightly expect more and more from our educational system. Our present system, although we look at it very critically, is the envy of other nations, not least because of its flexibility and the freedom which teachers and local authorities have under it and, I might add, the partnership which exists between Church and State within it. As we seek to improve what we have now, so that it may both serve the children better and be a more effective instrument of social change, I hope we shall never sacrifice that flexibility and that freedom.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, may I add my congratulations, and a bouquet, to my noble friend Lady Phillips for her most graceful and accomplished maiden speech? I hope that we shall have many opportunities of hearing her here in this Chamber.

When I come to consider the Government policy for secondary education I should like to start with a short quotation about it. This is it: It is in fact a revolutionary situation, the sheer destructive nihilism by which our country is now threatened—let all who care for freedom close ranks or chaos will be upon us. This is not a quotation from Karl Marx; it is from a letter in The Times. I apologise for not being in the Chamber when the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was speaking. Coming in at the end of his remarks, I might have thought he had signed this letter; although he did not. The Times has been conducting its own private little war against comprehensive schools. Now I have an affection for The Times; it has, after all, a respect for the dignity of the English language; but we all like teasing The Times; and the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, had a nice "crack" yesterday about it. But in the words of the now familiar song, I have grown accustomed to its face.

In recent weeks, in a leader which took a steep dive into reaction, a series of letters were sparked off, a clarion call for the downtrodden middle classes, rousing them from their slumbers and telling them they had nothing to lose but their brains. These letters accuse the Government of a diehard egalitarianism, of risking excellence for equality, of gambling with the future of our children. Education, they cried, was not political, was not social, was just plain educational. Few letters pointed out that education had anything to do with opportunity or with economics. It was the citadel that was threatened, the grammar school.

Actually, my Lords, the debate on secondary education has been going on for years in the country, and there has been a certain amount of guerrilla warfare on comprehensive schools which had died down but has now flared up again. This universal debate on education has been gathering momentum because of the growing realisation that our competitiveness, even our national survival, depends on a big expansion of our system. There is a dearth of every kind of skill in this country; and first and foremost we want more and better education. The last Government, in response to the mounting pressures, positively spawned committees, inquiries, reviews and reports—Crowther, Newsom, Robbins and Plowden among them. In any emergency someone is bound to say: "Send for an inquiry". Now it is: "Let us have an inquiry into the comprehensive schools". And this is the only issue that I take up with the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London. I do not think an inquiry is necessary at this stage; we have had quite enough experience of the comprehensive schools. I find myself very much in agreement with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley.

My Lords, in the last few years a revolutionary concept has spread, and has been accepted by most of our educationists: that the differences in ability among our children are largely determined by their opportunities. By our process of early selection at 11 we waste and under-utilise great reserves of ability in our children. I notice that the eminence grise of noble Lords opposite is Sir John Newsom. Mr. Hogg, the Minister of Education in the Conservative Government, leaned heavily on him during the recent debate in another place. I myself am not so enthusiastic about the Newsom Report; and what enthusiasm I felt was rapidly cooled after I had read in the Observer Sir John Newsom's views on the education of girls. His views were so old-fashioned as to be antique: women ought to be taught special subjects, a little music, perhaps a little literature, a modicum of biology; cosy and functional.

Now I do not suggest that conversations between men and women consist exclusively of topics such as nuclear physics, or even the bank rate. But these atavistic views add insult to injury; insult to women's intelligence and injury to our economy. One-third of our labour force is female, and we are likely in the future to need more and more skilled and educated women. We have still to profit from great reserves of ability in women which have not been tapped.

The Government's policy of abolishing selection at 11 produces a completely new situation. A change in the pattern of our education becomes inevitable. The Labour Party have long felt the urgent need for a reform of the present system, and here we think that the comprehensive school can do more for educating most of our children than the secondary modern schools, although there are some very good secondary modern schools. I know that great fears have been expressed and stirred up about the grammar schools. Some of us on this side of the House share a feeling of anxiety about the best ones—not all of them are worth going to the stake for, or even to the polls. I went to a good one myself. I have never accepted the rather sombre cliché that schooldays are the happiest days of one's life, but this school bequeathed to me an intellectual curiosity which rarely dies and always enriches one's life.

The Government have said that the grammar schools will be extended and integrated in many ways. Reorganisation is a key to progress, but it is not always an open sesame. Largely, we can change as quickly as we can increase the number of teachers and buildings. Here, time is on our side. Speed, I think, is not the first priority. We can ignore the political arguments about grammar schools if, while extending and integrating them—and this is not beyond the ability of the local authorities—we maintain the high standard of the best of them. It is foolish to incur, as some local education authorities have done, the hostility of the grammar school teachers. They should be on our side. We wish only for more children to profit from their high standard of teaching. Some local authorities do not seem to realise the benefit of handling this delicate problem with tact.

We have heard much lately of Bristol and Liverpool. The Bristol plans have been passed because they have a strong case, though they have not finally elucidated the position of the direct grant schools. Bristol has built 17 good comprehensive schools and 60 per cent. of their children are in them. I think that, with greater regard for public relations, and if they had explained their position more carefully to the public, their plan would have been far better received. In Liverpool, the plans are under consideration. There the situation is more complex. The public are aggrieved because notice of the changes proposed was very short. The teachers are up in arms, and the headmaster of a famous grammar school has resigned.

Here I must express a personal anxiety. When selection at 11 has been abolished, the plans for reorganisation cannot be left entirely in the hands of local authorities. The Government have an increased responsibility (here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Newton) and must give guidance as well as direction. I see no merit in causing alarm and despondency among parents and teachers; because even those of us who are wholly committed to the comprehensive principle, and believe that it works towards a more harmonious society, as well as being necessary for the economic recovery of our country, know that the changes must take time. In this matter, as I have already said, time is on our side. As the changes proceed and the results can be judged, they will be far more potent persuasion and propaganda than all the words that tot up to idealistic thinking. There are dangers that we must try to avoid about comprehensive schools themselves. By creating neighbourhood schools we run the risk of substituting creaming by location for creaming by selection. The Leicestershire plan, so popular with many people, still seems to favour more middle-class children, because of parental choice.

Finally, I believe that comprehensive education is the pattern towards which we must work, with wisdom and without undue haste. My husband used to say that an ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory—or it might have been a hundredweight. The Government are not seeking to destroy the present educational system: they are seeking to reform it. We can no longer live in an ivory tower. We have to go out into the world, a world of change and competition.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that it is professional pride that makes me believe that there are few subjects this House can discuss that in the long run are more important than the organisation of secondary education. I hope that we are all increasingly agreed that the realisation of our plans for economic advance, for defence, for making our contribution to undeveloped countries, and for improving the quality of life of our own countrymen, all ultimately depend on an educational system that shall be efficient and shall be humane. That is why we have had a succession of Reports on various aspects of education—Crowther, Newsom, Robbins; and Plowden still to come.

Yet, as soon as we begin to discuss the actual organisation of secondary education in detail, we apparently find ourselves involved in an area characterised by prejudices and misconceptions, by inconsistencies and an enormous amount of sheer ignorance. It is also characterised, of course, by administrative complexity. For, in discussing this subject, we must never forget that this is now by far the most important field in which very considerable power rests with the local authorities. All this complexity makes it difficult for anyone with any first-hand experience of education and with, in addition, very strong beliefs about it, not to talk for far too long, and particularly difficult to avoid the temptation simply to make points against those who do not share his views. I want, if I can, to avoid these temptations, although, in view of some of the speeches that have been made, they are going to be very difficult to resist.

First, can we isolate what in fact we are arguing about in our present controversies? Reduced to its bare essentials, it is whether children above the age of 11 should be educated in common schools or in schools which differ in their curricula and methods according to the intelligence of the children in them, the type of school being determined by some kind of selection process. I will not go on and elaborate what we mean by intelligence. I will not take part in those rather old jokes that have been made about intelligence tests, because most competent psychologists are convinced that intelligence tests do in fact test the intelligence.

I need not say that the problem is a good deal more complex than this in practice because it is affected by individual circumstances. I personally have no doubt, for example, that in Anglesey the solution of having several common schools is the right one and has certainly been successful, because it would be difficult and wasteful to concentrate the comparatively small number of highly academic children in separate schools. What, then, we are arguing about is not so much whether in certain circumstances some kind of comprehensive system is right or wrong, but whether in all circumstances any kind of separation between schools on the basis of ability is to be deplored and the common schools are everywhere to be encouraged. That is really the crux of the argument.

In favour of that position let us admit at once that there are powerful arguments. The primary school curriculum may be distorted or impoverished by excessive preoccupation with the examination. It may be claimed, and has been claimed, that selection at 11-plus is inaccurate and therefore unjust, or is all too accurate and therefore divides people into classes too rigidly. It may be claimed that transfers between different schools, although they occur, must always be more difficult than between streams within a single school. Then, it is said—and this I believe to be very important indeed—that the process of selection, the very existence of different kinds of school, is a divisive element in society; that it perpetuates and creates divisions of class and leads to the emergence of a meritocracy that is sometimes held to be more harmful than other kinds of élite;, for reasons which are not always clear to me.

These are, frankly, weighty arguments. I think it is possible for a partisan—and I am partisan—to produce answers to them all. I myself go so far as to defend the 11-plus, because I have selected children at the age of 11 with a considerable measure of success judged by future career. I would defend the 11-plus in some form so long as it is not final. I would even say that it is no bad thing for children to be well grounded in English and arithmetic, and that if a school is so bad that it narrows its teaching unduly, mere abolition of the examination will not make it a good school. One can, and should, justify the limited range of the 11-plus and its use in these apparently comic objective tests, on the grounds that these represent a deliberate attempt to minimise the effects of social background and to bring about social justice. One could emphasise that it is no fault of selection as such that one L.E.A. may provide three or four times as many grammar school places as another.

But these are not the points I want to make. They are also not debating points. They are points of substance, but they are not the ones I am concerned with. Nor do I want to talk as an ex-grammar school boy or as an ex-grammar school master about the destruction of good schools, as we sometimes do, because I know that this is the last thing that most of my noble friends on my left would wish to do. What I must try to do is to raise quite frankly some of the misgivings that are felt about many of the proposals for a rapid and universal programme of comprehensive school education, because they are misgivings shared by a great number of knowledgeable men and women in the schools; and unless you are convinced, then no system will work.

First, we are anxious to be convinced that the individual child will really be more likely to find an education suited to his talents in speed and content, and in particular that the very able boy or girl will not be frustrated and held back, or the very dull bewildered and discouraged. I know that these points have been made before to-day, but I have got to make them because they arise from years of experience. So many schemes of reorganisation—and here I have to become a little technical—for example, assume a five-year course for "O" level, when one knows that the able child must have, or should have, the opportunity of a four-year course if it is at all possible. One's misgivings were not diminished when in the debate in another place one speaker talked about the education of clever children as being an easy business so that they could be taught in groups of a hundred or so. Such an attitude shows a failure to realise the particular needs and importance of such children. I have taught them, and I know.

The fact is that in this country we have a shorter educational span for the able than almost any other country in the world. This is a point of crucial importance, and it is seldom sufficiently appreciated. Our university courses are, rightly or wrongly, the shortest in the world. I would say, wrongly. But before we alter our school system we have to be prepared to find the money, the buildings and the time to lengthen our university courses. If we are to do justice to individuals, if we are ever to hold our economic position, we must organise our schools so that our pupils may be taught in groups as homogeneous as possible, so that they can move at their own pace, however fast or however slow it may be. Of course we know that this is an ideal. Of course it is not possible to have all that one would wish in this kind of way in a scattered rural area. But here we must make special arrangements by favourable staffing ratios or the provision of boarding accommodation, just as we do for the child who is specially gifted in music or ballet, where, curiously enough, we do admit selection—and the noble Lord, Lord Snow, would add mathematics, but not literature or languages.


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I think I made it clear that mathematics is easily identifiable at a very early age, and therefore I should regard it as at least tenable that those selected got justice in effect.


Yes; it is a tenable view, I agree. It is also tenable that you can select high general academic ability. However, this is, as I say, a very technical argument, and this is no place to go into it. That is the trouble.

Secondly, we may well have misgivings about staff. I am thinking of the critical shortage of those teachers with the special skills required to teach either the very slow or the very gifted. The rare man, or still more rare woman, who, for example, can teach sixth form physics very well must surely be ensured a full use of his or her abilities by concentrating, so far as we can, those who alone can profit from his or her unusual gifts. This is only possible if we aim at homogeneity rather than heterogeneity in intellectual standards. Thirdly, one must be afraid of patchwork solutions. A good school must normally be designed with its particular ends in view, as many of the best comprehensive schools have been. It is no substitute to take a group of existing schools, often separated by consider- able distances, and by simply giving them one head and one name to believe we are serving the cause of educational and social progress.

But my greatest misgivings are much deeper than these. Of course, the defenders of the comprehensive school are right when they emphasise that education has social ends, and that our schools will reflect our aims and hopes for society. It is naïve to speak, as I admit many of those opposed to comprehensive schools do speak, as if education could be conceived in a social or political vacuum. The most important object of the comprehensive school is to help in the removal of class barriers; and it is the one to which I personally am most sympathetic. And my greatest fear is lest the comprehensive school may accentuate the very evil it proposes to cure. In a rural area—and I have seen some splendid common schools in the United States—a common school may well cover a wide range of social backgrounds. But in the great towns and cities is this so? All too easily we may find ourselves in the situation which exists in American cities, where the neighbourhood school, simply because it serves a neighbourhood, embodies a social stratification reflected all to clearly in the performance and careers of its pupils.

I know that if the school I worked in for sixteen years became a neighbourhood school the social range of its pupils would be far less than it is to-day. Its greatest glory, in my eyes, was not its academic excellence. Its greatest glory was that it gave a boy from any home background the opportunity to share in that excellence. It was able to do so because it drew from a wide area, and because the only criterion for admission was ability. Of course the poor were under-represented compared with the middle class. Of course this is true of most grammar schools, and of all universities, for inevitably the child from the home which is poor culturally and socially is denied from his birth many of the opportunities that are given to the more fortunate.

But no system of education, unless it be of Platonic ruthlessness, can of itself change completely an inequality that arises from such deep social forces. It may, and should, alleviate it by providing opportunities that the home cannot give. But it may also accentuate it by driving more pupils and more staff into the private sector. It may do so still more by limiting by the accident of neighbourhood the opportunities of those who, by ability and character, manage to transcend the limitations of background and environment. For every school there must be selection. May I repeat that, so that it is absolutely clear, because so many noble Lords have talked about abolishing selection? As soon as you have a school, you have to decide who is going to it. There must in fact be selection. We delude ourselves—or, rather, we do not probably delude ourselves; we delude other people—when we talk about abolishing selection. What we have to decide, quite simply, is whether that selection shall be by birth or wealth, by ability and aptitude, or by neighbourhood, which is so often the same as wealth. It is because I believe that ability and aptitude are the right criteria that I view so many schemes of reorganisation with so much misgiving.

A society in which social class is unimportant is not to be achieved by educational means alone, and certainly not by schools drawing on one neighbourhood. But I know, because I have seen it happen, that a city grammar school can be as strong a solvent as exists for those divisions of wealth and birth, accent and environment, that should ultimately be irrelevant in the creation of ties of respect between man and man.

These, then, I have said frankly, are some of my misgivings as I contemplate the future of secondary education. You may say that they simply express the attitude of a professional defender of the grammar school, the prejudices of one who has always taught clever boys, three of whom were among the noble Lords I saw here this afternoon, and of whom only one now remains. If you say that, it may well be true. But they are fears that are shared by many people of wide experience and genuine concern, many of whom are, like myself, left of centre in politics; and therefore I believe that they must at any rate be taken into account.

At the week-end the Secretary of State, in what seemed to me an admirable speech, spoke of a period of five years during which he felt that we should be preparing for a more extensive growth of the common school. It seems to me vital that we should use those five years, during which it seemed from the tone of his speech that if he could help it he would not approve hasty and patchwork plans, in a constructive way. It will be fatal if we go on voicing the same prejudices and the same catchwords from either side; if we go on producing the same utterly futile statistics to prove that comprehensive schools are good because some such schools obtain a large number of "O" levels, or, conversely, that they are bad because they produce very few Oxbridge scholars; if we go on saying that education has nothing to do with politics or, conversely, that its primary aim is social engineering.

What, then, must we do? I believe—and I am sorry to find myself in disagreement over this with the noble Baroness who spoke last—that a strong, hardworking and expert committee should be set up to examine the specific questions of the organisation of secondary education in a profound, critical and comparative way. It must accumulate the facts on which something like a policy could be based which, although national in general direction, would allow local variations to flourish. It must concern itself with finance, for the financial implications of a policy that shall be genuinely comprehensive, and not simply a matter of names, are very important indeed, and may well prevent us from doing things of, perhaps, higher priority. It must listen to and evaluate the attitudes of teachers.

For example, one of the facts that I do not myself know, and should like to know, is how far the present system produces a genuine sense of failure among those who do not go to grammar schools. This is the sort of information that this committee can bring out and evaluate. It must attempt to assess educational and social results, and, because five years is too short a time for many conclusions in this field to be valid, it must be prepared to go abroad and learn from the way in which the common school has worked in countries with a longer experience of it, because a great deal of research has been done in the United States on this problem. Without such a study, I believe we are in danger of jeopardising much of value in the variety of provision that the last twenty years have seen created.

I believe that fundamentally this is a matter that should be much more a technical discussion of means rather than of ends. Some may well say: "Not another committee. What can it do to resolve differences of ideology when the two sides differ not only about the kind of education but about the kind of society they want?". Do we differ so much? Concerning the ends, there is an agreement that is often obscured by the controversy itself—the ends of national well-being and the quality of life of the individual person. The greatest danger to me is that in the heat of these arguments we may lose sight of urgent problems and reforms scarcely less important than those of secondary education; the priority that education as a whole should have in our national thought; the priority that we should give to slum primary schools or secondary schools with inadequate laboratories, for example. These are vital questions. Above all, we must recognise that the quality and quantity, and the continuity of teaching, rather than the label, is what makes a school, and that improvements in the training of teachers are, perhaps, of greater urgency than any other task we can set ourselves.

Over many of these issues, many of us who are concerned with education are united. But it is not enough to be united over ends; we must be knowledgeable before we can decide on means. In this particular controversy over the organisation of secondary education I believe, if I may say so, that many of us are simply not knowledgeable enough. It is for cool, constructive and rational appraisal that I ask, so that the legitimate fears of some of us may be examined and perhaps dispelled, and the legitimate hopes of others be based on a surer foundation.

6.40 p.m.


My Lords, I think many noble Lords will realise that I find myself speaking under great difficulty, having listened to the brilliant speech of my noble friend, Lord James of Rusholme. He has given us a picture so clear, so sensible and so filled in in detail that perhaps one might think, after that, why make a speech at all?

But there is a point that I want to make this evening and I assure your Lordships that I hope not to take up too much time.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Snow, tell us that we ought to be cautious and that the Government were determined to be cautious. Again, the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of London, said that we should not be in a hurry and that we should be more cautious. It is the question of hurry which is causing me very great anxiety; whether we shall stop and think; whether we can persuade the Government to stop and think; whether it will be realised that as we now have another Secretary of State for Education and Science we might say, in all sincerity, that he must be given time to stop and think before he can come to any definite conclusion on what should be done. I know quite well, and the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, has also said this, that in a controversy such as we have been having in the last few weeks we have to stop and think if we really hope to find out what is the best plan.

I would first say that there is a good deal of agreement between us; we are not entirely in disagreement about secondary education. We agree, I think, that we have in our sixth forms in this country a very high standard of ability. I do not believe anybody will dispute that. I think we should also agree that, though the quality is there, the quantity is not what we should like and the frontiers must be enlarged and brought more up to that high standard from what I might perhaps call the middle group of ability. After all, they are individual people, but one rather likes putting them into groups in that way, and I think your Lordships will understand.

I think we also agree that in this country we have good schools and not-so-good schools. Sometimes the not-so-good schools are what they are because of the buildings and the equipment and sometimes the teacher/pupil ratio. Above all, it may be the skill of this or that particular teacher which makes the good schools. But the good and the not-so-good schools cover grammar, modern, comprehensive schools and the rest. Therefore, how can we possibly test what is the success of one type of school against another?

Our comparisons are simply superficial. We may not be comparing like with like. There is good in them all. We say: "Does one particular school necessarily do very much better?". I would answer at the present moment, "No"; but we really cannot tell. I think that the aim of them all is the same and that it is very difficult actually to say how near they are getting to what they are aiming at.

There are, of course, defects and I would certainly say that we ought to keep our educational organisation under review and look at the defects and see if they can be remedied. But I believe that this is not the time to make a fundamentally different approach to the whole subject. We know the defects. The interesting thing is that those who are putting forward the idea that we should, what is called, "go comprehensive"—I wish they would go to a grammar school and learn better expressions—very often give certain reasons that are completely illogical.

We know, and we call it a defect, at least I do, that more children are eligible to go to grammar schools than there are grammar school places for them; that the places are not there. In many areas it is the case that there are very few places in grammar schools, and in other areas there are more. We are told that this is unjust. The question is asked: "where is social justice? The child is starting under an injustice and therefore we must have comprehensive schools". That does not seem to me a logical argument. If we really wanted them to go to grammar schools and thought them sufficiently able and eligible we should increase the number of grammar schools and the provision of grammar school places. There are those who say that because these children are not getting grammar school places and because everyone is not getting a grammar school education, we must smash the grammar schools up. That surely is illogical.

My Lords, regarding the present 11-plus examination about which we go on hearing, I would say, as one who thinks that at any rate for some schools there must and should be selection, that there should be some test or examination; and I would certainly not at this moment say what would be the right age. After all, we have the Plowden Committee sitting who will have suggestions to make, and I think that we ought to await them. I noticed in the newspapers, I think yesterday, that, with the support of the Ministry of Education, research projects are being started which will take three years. I read down the list of research projects and saw that one is to be carried out in Manchester, another in Leicester and others in different parts of the country, one on the study of methods of examining other than by written papers and another on the formulation of new English tests. It might help us, if we go in for selection, to hear the results of these three-year studies. Until now I have drawn your Lordships' attention to various points on which I think we are all agreed.


My Lords, not on the last point. I know that the noble Baroness, who is speaking in a very interesting fashion, will not mind my saying that the question of whether one has to wait for the end of every piece of social research is rather a large one.


I am going to ask for more waiting in a moment; and I have taken in the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Snow, and the right reverend Prelate, who said that we ought to go slow and be cautious.

Now I come to the part with which I thoroughly disagree. Mr. Michael Stewart, who was then Secretary of State for Education—I had to pull myself up and not say "Minister"—on November 27 in another place said: In the Government's view we ought now to accept that the re-organisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines should be national policy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 702 (No. 22), col. 1785.] That declaration of intent filled me with alarm and despondency. The decision is to be made now; but we have nothing like the information on which to make it. There is to be only one type of school. I would urge that we keep, to as great extent as we can, our diversity, our different schools and methods of teaching. The decision is to be taken now and there is to be only one type of school. The noble Lord opposite shakes his head. Perhaps I do not understand English but: In the Government's view we ought now to accept that the re-organisation … on comprehensive lines should be the national policy. The Government say, "We have now decided it is to be national policy". I am not saying the whole of the schools to-morrow are to be turned into comprehensive schools, but I am saying that in taking the decision now that is going to be national policy not only are you going to affect all the work and organisation of all the local authorities, but you are going to worry and upset a great many people, and I am sure many of the teaching profession.

Now I ask myself, Why this decision, and why now? The answer to the decision that national policy is to be on comprehensive lines is, as we know, to get rid of separatism; everything to do with separatism is bad. I could not help wondering why then were we paying a good deal of money— £12,000 for one project of research; we were helping to pay £43,000 for another—if we are never going to have any separatism. I thought it would not be particularly useful. But then, of course, I can see that even these doctrinaire anti-separatists must feel and must realise that you cannot do away with it altogether. You can do it more in private. You can select and separate inside the school instead of having children going to different schools. Whether it will make things any better, I do not know.

Some schools tell me it is easy to move the children from one stream to another; some say not. But in any event we shall have to separate them in order to teach them. I know it is also said that the great thing is that they are all together, the able and not so able, and therefore it will keep them mindful of "the common humanity which should unite them". If I may translate that into the sort of words I would use in the ordinary way, I would say that I presume the object is to prevent the more able ones from becoming superior and swollen headed and to prevent the less able from feeling they are second-class pupils. I am not saying anything about social standing.

Again, I have made a good many inquiries about these schools, and I find that very often the children who are not so academically minded—they may be very bright but they have not the same aptitude for what is called "book-learning"—are not necessarily going to love those who have the aptitude for book learning. In fact it is much more likely to cause the jealousy it is desired to abolish. I do not think it will cure it. It may be inside the school or outside, but some form of selection or separatism is inevitable.

I want to make it perfectly clear I am not opposed to comprehensive schools I am known not to be opposed. I remember that in the year I left the Ministry of Education I had seventeen comprehensive schools for which I approved the building. I remember also great excitement about Kidbrooke, the comprehensive school which is now very well known and which I am interested to be able to say started when I was at the Ministry. I had the great pleasure of going down, with the L.C.C. officer, and seeing over the school in detail once it had started.

At that time we had a great deal of difficulty in the House of Commons, and an Adjournment debate, because, while approving the opening of Kidbrooke as a comprehensive, I had not agreed, when appealed to by over 3,000 people, to close the Eltham Hill girls grammar school. At that time I was told that if Eltham Hill was not closed, and the teachers and pupils sent from there to Kidbrooke, Kidbrooke would never succeed; that I was killing it at the start; that I was trying to down the comprehensive school. I am delighted to know that Kidbrooke has been such a success and that Eltham Hill is still going on. Rumour has it that later some more grammar schools may go. But that policy I carried out and still believe in.

Let us see all types of school and find out which is best. We might want a mixture of them all. What I plead for is letting them all live together—no selection, no tests for comprehensive or for secondary modern; and, for the parents wanting them to go to grammar schools some form of selection, whatever may be thought best. As to the age at which selection should take place, I am not suggesting anything; because I do not know. But I do think that for the next few years we should try out schemes like that. In that way also the parents would have choice. I know that I shall be told if parents have too much choice they will probably choose the new beautiful buildings, and that it will not be from the educational point of view. But that we must risk.

It is because, in that declaration of intent by Mr. Stewart in another place, the word "now" is used for taking a decision that I feel so strongly on the subject; and I appeal to the Government to keep their minds open and take no decision for the time being. We are told that they are not thinking of doing it in a hurry, that it will take time, and all the rest of it, but that the decision should be made now. We are awaiting the Report of the Plowden Committee, which will probably tell us much more that we want to know about primary education; and it is on the primary education, of course, that we are going to build the secondary education. So it seems to me quite mad, before we hear more about that, to make the decision.

I wonder, also, whether noble Lords have considered, on this subject of the timing, what was said in the Crowther Report: The time has not yet come, if indeed it should ever come, when a single national pattern can be prescribed". And then there is the Newsom Report. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said that we had too many Committees and Reports, with a tremendous amount of interesting information. Perhaps she found that she did not find it easy to read and remember them all (and neither do I), or she might have noted these points about making the change now. The Newsom Report says: It is misleading to think they can test the success of the secondary modern school because there has not been time yet. It is of course even more premature to attempt a reasoned judgment of comprehensive or other types of secondary organisation. That comes from the people who have studied the subject.

My noble friend, Lord James of Rusholme, urged that there should be a much more thorough examination, not saying "Are we for comprehensive or against?", but getting down to the facts and finding out; and that would be my plea to-day, to go more slowly. And surely it would be possible for the Secretary of State for Education and Science to say that he wants some time to think about and study the subject; to say that the national policy for the time being is to allow the different forms of school to continue, to help them all, so far as possible, and in doing so find out more about what will be best for the future. We learned from the papers this morning that the Government are considering a comprehensive inquiry into the future of football. My Lords, my plea is for a comprehensive inquiry into the future of education.

7.0 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for putting down this Motion and giving us the opportunity of discussing this subject. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Phillips on what I thought was an outstanding maiden speech, based on long experience and, I thought, full of essential wisdom.

Last year when we debated education in your Lordships' House I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made one of the best speeches on educational policy that I have heard for a long time, particularly on the subject of teachers and teachers' auxiliaries. I greatly regret that I cannot say that to-day. I felt that it was unfair and wrong of him to suggest that there was less thought and care for the idea of education on this side of the House than on the other, that we were determined to push through a certain policy because of political dogma, and that we are not at all concerned with the interests of the child. This, of course, is quite false.

As for what I thought was rather a personal remark that he made, I think that Socialists, people who believe in a basic change in our society, often find themselves in this sort of dilemma. I can give an example of it from my own experience. Both of my children went to ordinary State primary schools and were lucky enough to win, in one case a free place at a small public school, and in the other a place at a grammar school. I am a humanist and I do not believe in religious education in schools; I think it is wrong. That is by the way. But I have never attempted to keep my children away from the religious services and so forth that take place in the school, because I do not want to separate them off from their fellows and because I want them to feel free to make up their own minds on this important subject. I think that we in this society often find ourselves in the dilemma where, to some extent, we have to move along with something that we do not agree with, in the interests of our children and because it happens to be the only thing available.

I do not want in this debate to go much into the question of the actual organisation of secondary education. I think it has been exhaustively covered this afternoon. Before coming to the main point of what I want to say, I should like to make a few comments on one or two of the remarks that have been made. We have heard from various people, first of all, the suggestion that the comprehensive school is a kind of straitjacket in which we are going to get rid of variety in education, and what we are going to do is to pass everybody through one particular channel. I do not think this is true. If one studies all the statements that have been made on comprehensive education, or if one looks at the present experiments and developments that have been made in comprehensive schools, one finds that there are comprehensive schools of various sizes and various kinds. Therefore it is not true to suggest that what we are suggesting is one big pattern which we are going to impose on the rest of the country.

It has also been suggested that we must have caution in this matter. I think this is advice we should all respect. But I would repectfully remind your Lordships' House that, away back in 1943, in a Government White Paper on educational reconstruction there was a firm statement which said that all the evidence showed that children could not be segregated, or divided, or channelled or whatever you call it, at the age of 10½. But, 22 years later, we still have in many parts of the country this same 11-plus system. That is caution for you, if you like! I should be inclined to call it "over-caution".

I think that most intelligent people have come to realise that you cannot defend the system, and I have noticed that in fact no noble Lords on either side have been able to defend the system which grades our children like so many sacks of coal. How can you tell whether a child at the age of 10½ is going to be bright burning, or slow burning, or simply nutty slack? You cannot. We are told that we are trying to impose a national plan and interfere too much nationally. Of course we want local education authorities to have the utmost freedom. But freedom can go too far, and there are occasions, I think, when some kind of national direction and national lead and national help is necessary. We have been told several times to-day of the discrepancy between various parts of the country, whereby a child, if he has the misfortune to be born within certain geographical boundaries, stands far less of a chance of getting to a grammar school than a child on the other side of the road in another county. We know that this is wrong, and nobody on the other side would support it. Surely this is a case for something to be done nationally.

Take the question of school books. In 1961 and 1962, according to official figures, Plymouth spent 20s. per head per school child in secondary modern schools for school books— £1 per head. But the County of Huntingdon in the same period spent 55s. 6d. on school books. Clearly, there is some kind of discrepancy there. In the same year, Grimsby spent 8s. per head on school books for primary children; but King-ston-upon-Hull spent nearly £1 per head. It seems to me that you are putting some children at a disadvantage purely because of the place where they were born, and therefore some kind of firm national leadership on that sort of question is obviously essential.

If you accept the principle that there must be no segregation of this sort—we all accept that there must be some kind of selection (that is clear), but if you accept the fact that it cannot be done at 10½—the selection must be a much more natural process. If you accept the fact that selection cannot only be done on the basis of rather narrow academic abilities which leave out of account questions of personality—in other words, you accept basically the principles of the comprehensive idea—you must do something about it. We are told to be cautious. But you cannot just be a Christian on Sundays, for that is not to be a Christian at all. If you accept a principle, if you agree that something is right, then you must be prepared to make the changes necessary to achieve it.

The point that strikes me most of all the opposition to the comprehensive system is that speaker after speaker gets up—and we heard this from another place—and says, "We are in favour of it. We like it. But please let us keep our grammar school, or keep this and that." They want their cake and they want to eat it. It seems to me that we shall get losses, as Lord Snow said, and we shall get gains. We have to weigh up—I agree, cautiously—whether we are going to get more gains than we are losses. I am convinced that we are. If you agree with that as a principle, then you just cannot sit back and appoint another Committee and wait another 22 years before you make changes. You have to work towards it.

The right honourable Member for Marylebone, Mr. Hogg, in another place, said that a democracy cannot afford to neglect its gifted children; that a democracy which despises the gifted as eggheads has abdicated to dictatorship. That is true. But my experience is that there is not much danger of the egg-head either being despised or neglected. Since I came to Westminster and to your Lordships' House I have noticed that the eggheads are pretty well dug-in in positions of influence and seem well able to look after their own. The trouble is that eggheads have a constitutional tendency to ally themselves with fatheads; and it does not really work out from the point of view of a good policy. The fact is that all children are gifted in some degree and we should not think in terms of an élite. Our problem is surely to devise a system which will give them all an opportunity to develop their gifts to the full.

I want to turn for a few moments to another aspect of secondary education. It seems to me that we are arguing so much about form and method and organisation that we tend to forget something which is just as important—namely, the content and quality of the secondary education that our children are getting. We should not only consider what kind of school we want to put the child into; we must also consider what the school is putting into the child. One of the worst features of the present selective system is its inflexibility, its concentration on what I call narrow academic policy, and its judgment of success on the number of "O" or "A" levels that it may achieve.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but he is the second speaker in this debate who has spoken about a "narrow" academic policy. I cannot think why academics are considered "narrow". One could have nobody more academic, for instance, than the noble Lord, Lord Snow, but there is certainly nobody less narrow than he.


Perhaps it is an unfortunate choice of term. I agree that Lord Snow could hardly be called "narrow". What I mean is that one tends to judge the success of a school or an individual by the number of "O" levels achieved, and leave out of account any qualities of personality and drive that a child may have. We have all, I am sure, at some stage in our lives seen a boy who is brilliant at examinations, or even brilliant at university, who to some extent has burned himself out; or the boy who has been marvellous at passing examination papers but who, when it comes to getting a job and fitting into a position to earn his living, has not the qualities of leadership or personality and the other things which go to make the people who matter in this world. Very often somebody with good academic qualifications is to be found in some small and rather narrow job, if your Lordships will forgive the word. That is what I mean by the kind of inflexibility which we have to face.

This, to some extent, is worse in grammar schools than in secondary moderns. The secondary moderns are to some extent, but not entirely, free from that sort of pressure. Teachers and pupils alike are victims of pressure-cooker education. Too many of our schools are like factory farms, where we train children like battery hens, fattening their minds with facts. And then we wonder why so many of them, at the end of it all, have No 1ndividual flavour; why they are unable to show a free-ranging intelligence.

To-day everybody is an expert on the so-called teenage problem, and I must take my share of blame for contributing to the discussion. But I am convinced that a tremendous part of this problem is being manufactured, unwittingly, in our schools to-day, first, by what has been called the separatist system, which creams off the natural leaders, which drives a wedge between young people who live in the same street, even in the same house, marking one as successful and the other as a failure. We are often shocked, quite rightly, by what appears to be the callousness and indifference of some young people, by their hatred of the adult world, and by their indifference to society. We cannot condone this, but we can surely understand it, and understand that we begin the process in many of our schools when we start streaming and classifying, when we mark children and group them as A's, B's and C's.

Secondly, the problem is created in part by the nature of the education they receive and by this tremendous pressure to achieve success in examinations and in "O" levels. We live in a tense, exciting world, a world full of dangers and opportunities, a world which is bubbling and steaming with change. This is the world some people see reflected in the newspapers and on television. But in many schools—and I would stress, not all schools—there is no reflection of the real world whatsoever in the curricula. The children step out of the real world into a cloistered and corridored monastery where the exciting journey into knowledge is reduced to the dull task of remembering and analysing known information. They do not learn, with all that implies; they are taught. And what they are taught often has little relation to the world outside and, above all, it does not involve them, it does not move them, and it contains no magic.

We have all known those unforgettable moments in life when we have stumbled on a new author, or when a piece of knowledge that has come fresh and new to us has illuminated for us a whole new corner which previously was dark. This is the adventure of knowledge. My grouse is that in so many of our schools it is no longer an adventure. Many of the textbooks in use are years out of date or follow old, well-worn paths. In some schools, children are still being asked to make a précis of Hamlet's soliloquy "To be, or not to be", or to re-write in their own words Henry V's speech before Agincourt. This is reversing the ancient alchemist process: it is turning gold into base metal.

One hundred years ago or more William Cobbett wrote a series of letters to his son James, in which he set out the principles of English grammar. It is the simplest and best book on grammar that I have ever read, and it contains in its 127 small pages all that anyone ever needs to know about English grammar. What is even more important, he conveys some of the excitement and magic and glory of words to his son. Yet our educators to-day seem determined to complicate grammar; the books get longer and longer. Children are forced to learn the "adverbial phrases of concession" and other things which have no meaning and have been robbed of all simplicity. Geography, which ought to be a tour of exploration of the world, is reduced to the same level. The mind is stuffed like a rag-bag with unnecessary and unrelated and practically useless bits of information.

I was talking the other day to a young lad of 14. I think he knew the height of the coastal ranges in British Columbia; he knew the average mean rainfall in New Guinea, and he certainly knew something about the "terminal moraine which forms the threshold of a fjord ". But he was uncertain about the location of Vietnam. He put it, correctly, somewhere in Asia, and confirmed that there was some fighting going on there; but that was the limit of his knowledge. The same lad could probably give your Lordships a complete run-down on the Hundred Years' War, even to such fine detail as the fact that the French found plate armour to be too cumbersome. It is all there in his textbook. But he would be less well-informed if you brought him up to date. How can you blame him, when you pick up some school books on modern history and find the world financial crisis of 1931 more or less dismissed in the following words: … in the summer of 1931 the financial difficulties aggravated by the world-wide slump in trade became acute—and even the Bank of England was in difficulties. End of crisis! Then the General Strike—a rather important event in recent history, whichever way one looks at it—dismissed in twenty words: In 1926 a General Strike occurred, but the Government took energetic measures and within a few days the strike collapsed. End of strike!

I mentioned Divinity in my opening remarks, but turning to Divinity you get the same picture. I happen to be a humanist, and I am opposed to religious instruction in schools. But that is another matter. I am certainly not one of those people who want to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". I happen also to think that social ethics and moral standards are important and should feature in every school curriculum. It is generally assumed by most people that ethics are taught with religious instruction. I would suggest that some people may find it well worth while to look at some of the Divinity textbooks. I know from personal experience that the greatest importance seems to be placed not on morals or ethics, or on the real meaning of the Christian teaching, but the child on knowing the identity and relationship of Ahab, Naboth, Ramoth and Naaman; who begat whom; Ur of the Chaldees, and so on.

There is another side of this. I should like to quote a great authority, the present Headmaster of Eton. He said: Many boys reject Christianity in their teens, and honestly so, because they do not believe in it. When they do this some are apt to do a package deal, rejecting social responsibility, too. Yet it must be, and ought to be, possible to teach fundamental basic principles of living in a democracy, unrelated to formal Christianity. He goes on to suggest that ethics should be separated from religious instruction, and this idea deserves some thought.

My Lords, this is not the main point of what I am trying to say. It may be that I have painted too gloomy a picture. The last thing I want to do is to denigrate our teachers or to deny the fine, imaginative work that is being done. There are schools which are alive to the excitement of learning, but they are too few. There are schools where pupils and teachers are in partnership in a fight for knowledge, and, above all, where the school is related to the community.

There is a school called Swakeleys, at Ickenham, a secondary modern school for girls, where social studies are, to my mind, an example to the rest of the country; where social studies are integrated with almost every branch of study. Recently the girls did a housing project; and they went out in groups and saw a New Town, a stately home, a slum street. They studied local housing estates, rents; the relationship of the council, or the landlord, to the tenant; the work of building societies, and so on. They came back and discussed it, they wrote about it and they really have found out something about the problem. That is the twin process—acquiring knowledge and social awareness at one and the same time.

The same school did a survey of social needs in the area. Speakers were invited from the welfare services, the pensioners, an orphanage, a hospital and so on. The girls then decided that they wanted to interview people about these problems, and they went out en masse and investigated them. In the end, they evolved practical means of helping the aged, the sick and the lonely. That is a secondary modern school.

Forest Hill, a comprehensive school, has a similar approach; and the Headmaster of Eton, when he was Headmaster of Bradfield, also did a great deal to break down the isolation between his boarding school and the community, and to help his students to learn social awareness. It can be done, and money need not be a limiting factor. Because one thing which young people have in common, and with which above all they are blessed, is the gift of improvisation. If we can inspire them to do something they will do it. There was an example at Hele's School, at Exeter, where the art master decided to start a class in sculpture which proved to be very popular. They begged a small room; they got together a minimum of tools, and the boys themselves collected twenty pieces of stone from an old fireplace, scrap from local junk yards, and a local business man provided off-cuts of steel. There is practically nothing that cannot be done in an improvised way, without waiting for the money, so long as the will is there.

One criticism made of young people is that they expect the welfare society to give them everything on a plate—and there is some truth in this, although possibly we have been largely responsible for creating it. But it is an attitude which can be changed. Young people have proved time and time again that they respond to a challenge, and they can so easily be shown the way to give, as well as take.

So, my Lords, I believe that there is an urgent need, not only to talk about the organisation of this secondary education, but to consider its content, to look again at our textbooks, to look again at our syllabuses, and generally to think in terms of bringing those schools much more into the local community life. Ethics, social studies, social responsibilities, the arts ought to be in the centre of the system, instead of being relegated to the sidelines because of the pressure of examinations. We have to help our children to learn more about the activities of living human beings, and less about the activities of those human beings who have been dead a thousand years, important though they may have been.

All this has tremendous implications for teachers, and the training of teachers. I do not have time to go into details now, but it is obvious that this matter will require thought and action; and I am quite sure that teachers will respond as they have in the past. I hope, therefore, that the Government, when considering the organisation of secondary modern education, will give consideration to some of these questions. If we need a Law Commission to modernise our laws, we urgently need an Education Commission to modernise our educational methods and to bring back into education, or to put in it, if it was never there before, the magic and adventure of education. I believe that this is an urgent problem.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, I plead for a bipartisan or, if the noble Lord on the Liberal Benches prefers, a tripartisan national educational policy. In that hope I was greatly encouraged by the most brilliant and practical speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Newton, and I was sorry that he was so severely taken to task by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. Surely such moderation, such practical common sense, as the noble Lord showed is a thing to be encouraged and not to be blamed.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, who again made a moderate, sensible, practical speech, much on the lines of the very sensible pronouncements of the present and previous Secretaries of State.

I believe that if it were left to us here at Westminster we should not find great difficulty at arriving at that national bipartisan policy for which I plead; and it is needed. We cannot go on putting our system of education into the melting pot every time there is a change of government in the town hall or in Westminster. And it must be a national system.

I commend to your Lordships an article that appeared in to-day's Guardian newspaper, on the mobility of parents, and dealing with parents who move, mainly, unfortunately, from the North of England to the South, and take their children with them. Our present fragmentary system means that each time a child moves its home it may go to a different type of school. A child who has been at a comprehensive school may suddenly be faced with a secondary modern or a grammar school, or some other variety, such as the two-year period of education. This is not fair to the children, and it is not practical. Therefore, I sympathise very much with the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that rather stronger powers should reside in the Secretary of State, and that the local authorities should sacrifice a certain degree of their independence.

The difficulty, of course, is that power lies not here at Westminster but with the Party men in the country, and particularly with the local authorities. I agreed strongly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said about their publicity methods, and the need to lead, rather than to drive, the parents and the ratepayers. I hope that the Party leaders, especially the noble Lord, Lord Newton, will make it their business to induce in their followers a certain degree of their own moderation and good sense.

I was interested in the pleas made by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, in his brilliant speech, and the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, for further inquiries and further delay. There is much to be said in theory for such a course, but in practice we shall not get it. We shall not get the Labour Party to accept anything slower than the five-year programme which the Secretary of State desires to see carried into effect; and even when the inquiry had been completed, I do not think there would be a sufficient degree of national unity about the results to make the inquiry worth while. It therefore seems to me necessary that the Conservatives should accept as a general aim of policy the movement towards comprehensive schools within the terms offered by the Labour Party, and taking into account the inevitable delays that circumstances and financial considerations will cause.

There seem to be two general objections of an educational character to the comprehensive schools. One is their large size: the fact that you cannot have an efficient comprehensive school of fewer than 900 pupils. I think that there are two factors that are going to reduce that compulsive size problem. In the first place, some of the more brilliant and older pupils will be "creamed off" into the sixth-form colleges which are, I believe, a very hopeful experiment. In the second place, I think it very likely that the Plowden Committee will accept the principle of a later age for entry into secondary education. I was deeply interested in the analysis of the situation given by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who is to be congratulated on her brilliant maiden speech; but I rather gathered that the noble Baroness felt that there was No 1deal age; and I daresay that she is right. But in practice, and as things are, there must be a general age, perhaps with some exceptions allowed, at which children pass to secondary education. Now I am very strongly of the opinion that that age should be 12 rather than 11. If that is recommended, if it is accepted and if we can face the task of rebuilding and enlarging our primary schools to fit that conclusion, then, of course, the size of the comprehensive school will be reduced by a factor of perhaps 15 per cent.

The other argument against comprehensive schools which is used by Conservatives is based upon the excellence for their purpose of comprehensive schools, and it runs as follows. If you are the kind of child that is going to leave school at 15, then you had better go to a secondary modern school so as to be at or near the top of the school by the time you leave it. But, my Lords, we have decided that the school-leaving age must be raised to 16, and I believe that many boys and girls will then consider staying on for an extra year, so that the "C" and "D" streamers will in many cases be 17 before they leave; and, again, if the sixth-form colleges draw off the top class of intellectuals, we shall see the less intellectual boys and girls at the top of the school. Much, of course, depends on the attitudes of employers to juvenile labour, to the certificates which the schools will issue, and to the training which these schools will provide. Much, too, depends on automation, and the degree to which we can make our curricula attractive to these pupils. But I myself hope very much that the less intellectually able pupils will stay on, and I believe that they will do a great deal of good to the school if they do.

My Lords, I was educated at a school in the Midlands which attached a very high value to games, and the members of the school rugger team, the school cricket team and the second teams were held in immense respect and veneration. Naturally, some of these athletes—by no means all, but some—were boys with more brawn than brain; and they constituted a respected class in the school. They were called the bucks, and they were allowed to turn up the ends of their trousers. Indeed, some were so great that they were allowed to wear grey flannel trousers. I mention this because the problem of adolescent eccentricities in dress and adornment is one that perpetually perplexes headmasters and head mistresses, and gets into the newspapers. By far the best way of checking these tendencies is to make these eccentricities the privilege of a small but muscular class. You may be certain that they will not then spread through the school.

The bucks, of whom I was not one, were, I think, a very pleasant class in the school, and they profited very considerably from their schooling. They were jovial and rowdy, but, on the whole, a good natured lot, and they were by no means kept under or subdued by the intellectual grandeur of the demi-gods of the upper sixth. They worked with the army class, and I am sure they became very good regimental officers. They were quite satisfied with their position, and they did a great deal of good to the school besides playing games for it with great success. They checked the intellectual arrogance of clever little boys. My Lords, that needs doing. I was speaking to a professor at an ancient university recently who said that the trouble with some of the freshmen coming up from grammar schools is that they think they have come up not to learn from the university but to reform the university. That is intellectual arrogance, and that is what the less bright but more sensible members of the "C" and "D" streams in a comprehensive school will surely correct.

I hope, then, for comprehensive schools, and I trust there will be bucks in them. With that, schoolboys and schoolgirls will learn that most important lesson: that in this world there are highbrows, middlebrows and lowbrows, and they have got to live together and respect each other.

From the Labour side we have had very moderate and sensible speeches, and I believe they are willing enough to meet Conservative views if they are the views of progressive and sensible Conservatives like the noble Lord, Lord Newton. The Labour Party realises perfectly well that, though they have set themselves the goal of five years before considerable progress is made, even that may be rather too short. It all depends on how much grant the Secretary of State can extract from the Treasury, on the availability of land and on the capacity of the building industry. I am very glad, incidentally, that the Secretary of State is going to take a firm line with sham comprehensive schools, where two buildings as much as two miles apart are nominally united in one school, because that, as everybody who has drawn up a school curriculum knows, is nonsense. I should have said that a mile was the very outside limit, and that even that might be too much in a city when children have to pass between one building and another through crowded and dangerous streets. We cannot support sham comprehensive schools of that kind, and it will be much better to adopt as a temporary expedient some variant of the two-tier system.

There are two other matters on which I hope for some reassurance. First, I have been asked to say a word on the denominational question. I speak as a Catholic, and your Lordships will realise that the authorities of my Church are always anxious to co-operate with the State so far as they possibly can. We are bound to do so. After the last war the State decided that there must be secondary modern and grammar schools, and we duly divided our schools into secondary modern and grammar schools; not because we particularly liked the system but because that was the system that the State wanted. Now the State is changing its mind and wants us to unite our schools into comprehensive bodies. Well, we are willing indeed to do so, but our ability to do so is handicapped in certain ways. There is a financial problem. I do not want to dwell on that; it will need negotiating and we hope for reasonable treatment. But there are also severe problems of organisation.

Your Lordships will understand that a minority school system must transcend the boundaries of a local authority. There are commonly not enough Catholics in one local authority to have our own self-contained system within that authority. You may have a grammar school in one area and you may have a Roman Catholic secondary modern school in a contiguous area and an unequal number of primary schools in the two areas. If one area "goes comprehensive" and the other does not, what is a poor puzzled Papist to do? We are up against a problem of organisation which will take a great deal of solving and we ask for patience, thought and care, to enable us to do what the State is now wanting us to do. But I stress that, if we can do it, we shall do it very willingly indeed. It is No 1nterest of ours to divide our community into clever Catholics and stupid Catholics or to have any other divisions that we can possibly avoid.

The noble Lord, Lord Snow, has quoted from St. Paul. I make his words my own: "We are members of one another". I am afraid that I was going to put it in a less dignified form and say, "The more we are together the happier we shall be." Therefore, I am sure that these factors will be considered in the Ministry and that we shall be given a reasonable opportunity to do what we are required to do.

The other matter is, frankly, a more difficult one. It is perhaps the most important thing I have to say. I beg Her Majesty's Government to be very cautious over the direct grant to grammar schools. When I was speaking before I intended to make it clear, but did not do so, that I was referring primarily to the maintained grammar schools which are the property of the local authority and with which the local authority may do what they like. When it comes to the direct grant grammar schools which feel menaced by such schemes as have been put forward in Bristol, we have a very difficult problem.

I would say three things about these schools. First, they are very good schools. For the most part they are pace-setters in education; and it should be with great reluctance that we menace the future of really efficient establishments. Secondly, they are schools in which class distinctions are being obliterated; the 25 per cent. of entries from local authority scholarships integrate very successfully with the 75 per cent. of fee-paying pupils. I have been at pains to inquire about this from as many teachers as possible, and they all agree that the integration is highly successful. As one of them put it to me: "We do not bother about accents here; we are all working too hard."

The third reason—and I think it is the one which most deserves attention—is that the direct grant grammar schools (with which I will class all those independent schools that take a certain number of scholarship pupils from the local authorities) represent the system of education preferred by professional classes in this country. It is no use arguing that they are wrong, that they should be willing to accept comprehensive schools as a substitute. It is what the professional classes want.

I would ask your Lordships to carry your minds back two or three years, to the time when we were exceedingly worried about the brain-drain, the exodus of professional men, and particularly scientists, to the United States and to Canada. The right honourable gentleman, then Lord Hailsham, tried his best to find reasons that would persuade the professional classes to stay in, or return to, this country. About the best reason he could find was that in this country people will get the kind of education they want for their children. He was not talking about public schools; he was talking about the professional class schools, the direct grant schools. For it is there that the university teachers, the scientists, the doctors, the valuers and the professional men, in general, send most of their sons and nearly all their daughters. If those schools are taken away in a hurry it will lead to a greater readiness on the part of the professional classes to emigrate. Let me remind your Lordships of the figures that appeared yesterday, to the effect that in the ten years preceding 1963, 4,900 qualified medical graduates left this country for Australia alone.

Secondly, if these professional classes are deprived of the schools they will accept, then I think we shall find a greater development of independent schools, schools of a much lower standard educationally. I speak of what I know. I know of country towns where there are no direct grant grammar schools, and though there are excellent maintained grammar schools, and excellent secondary modern schools, it is nevertheless a fact that small and, I should say, doubtedly efficient private schools are flourishing. It is simply because a great many people insist on paying for their children's education.

My Lords, I apologise for wearying you with too long a speech, but there are many matters which I was anxious to communicate on this problem. In another place when this question was debated, play was made with the names of some Shakespearian characters. May I hope that in this House it will be the case that my favourite Shakespearian characters, Beatrix and Benedict, after their stormy courtship and many misunderstandings, will end the play with a fruitful union?

7.50 p.m.


My Lords, the hour is late, and according to our list the debate is only half over. I feel, therefore, that it would be your Lordships' wish that I should not repeat the substance of speeches which have already been made and which have included points which I should otherwise have been interested to put before your Lordships. The length of our list of speakers is an evidence of the great interest which this topic excites in your Lordships' House and of the importance of the subject. Almost every speaker this afternoon has said that this is a subject of major importance, with which the whole future of the country is bound up.

I think it is important that I should remind your Lordships of what is at stake. We are considering the general question of the education of young people from the age of 11 onwards. It is at the age of 11 that the vast majority of them are taken out of the main stream of the educational process and to all intents and purposes deprived for the rest of their lives of any opportunity of completing a course in a university. Occasionally, and notoriously, there are exceptions to this rule and people who have been rejected at the 11-plus examination find themselves famous because they have ultimately graduated. Nevertheless, it is almost true to say that those who fail, as we put it, their 11-plus, are unlikely to achieve a standard of education which fits them for a proper place in the modern world.

This is an intolerable situation. It is not surprising that it was condemned as intolerable as long ago as 1943. Nor is it surprising that a change in the educational system has been urgently recommended by the teachers' associations and that already the local education authorities responsible for two-thirds of all the children in the country have begun to work on schemes for the reorganisation of the educational machine in a manner which will prevent this appalling waste.

I think it is true to say of our entire English educational system that it is much too rigid at all stages. I have already said that nearly 90 per cent. of the population is rejected from the educational world at the age of 11. We have to consider the fate of the selected 10 per cent. or 20 per cent., or even 40 per cent., as we have been told it is in some parts of Wales. At 16 they choose the subject they are going to study in the sixth form and so they have to reject the greater part of the total content of the common knowledge with which all educated people should be familiar—a selection which occurs in no other country in the world. At 19 they arrive at a university, if they are fortunate, and within the first hour of their arrival have to choose the subject to which they propose to devote themselves for the rest of their university careers—and a man who decides to be a chemist must usually decide what sort of chemist he is going to be in his very first hour at the university. So far as I know, in no other country in the world is this choice demanded of young men until the end of their first, and sometimes of their second, year of university studies.

Finally, when a man has graduated and takes up a job, he finds that he has to sign a contract of employment which enrols him in a pension scheme, designed deliberately to make it impossible for him to move. He finds himself immobilised by restrictions, which again are imposed uniquely in this country, which are quite unnecessary and which are a source of grave industrial inefficiency. It is also assumed in this country that a graduate has learned all he is going to need for the rest of his professional life, and proper facilities for study and revision in later life are not available to him. At all stages, our English educational system imposes restrictions on its students not to be found in any other country in the world.

This evening we are talking about the first and perhaps the most serious of these restrictions, but I should not like the evening to pass without emphasising to your Lordships that when we have solved this problem, other problems, almost as important and perhaps equally difficult to solve, will remain for discussion and, I hope, for solution. No other country in the world would be prepared to contemplate for one moment the idea that a large proportion of the young people of the country should be discarded from the whole educational process at such a tender age. It is a process which is indefensible and indescribably wasteful. Come what may, it must be changed. As my noble friend Lord Willis has told us, it was already admitted by the Government of the day in 1943 that the system was indefensible. The problem we have to solve is: what are we going to do about it now?


My Lords, I wonder whether, when the noble Lord talks about being discarded from the whole educational process, he means when at the age of 11 children are selected to go to secondary modern schools. Is he describing the secondary modern school as being "discarded from the whole educational process"?


My Lords, I expressed it more fully when I said that children were deprived of the opportunity of completing the entire educational process and of taking a university degree.


My Lords, I think very many teachers, devoted teachers, in secondary modern schools would regard the description of going to a secondary modern school as "being discarded from our educational process" as extraordinarily alien to their view of their function.


My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord has reminded me of this, because I realise that I expressed it rather unfortunately. The point I was trying to make is that the opportunities a man has of completing the educational process, of acquiring final qualifications and of learning all that the university has to teach him about modern science are often lost for ever at an absurdly early age. The fact that that is another variety of education (which is a point I am coming to next) is of great importance, and if I have inadvertently so phrased my remarks as to underestimate this, then I beg your Lordships' pardon.

The point I want to make now is that the educational system with which the fortunate few are confronted is of itself incomplete, and is incomplete because it is based upon assumptions about education which I myself find extremely hard to accept. It is based on the assumption that almost everything is to be justified by purely literary criteria and by a fluency in manipulating words and symbols. This particular ability is one of great importance, but it is by no means the only one. One of the most unfortunate of the consequences of this selection at the age of 11 is that skills of extreme importance in the world which are as rare and precious and very often far harder to assess than the fluency with words and symbols are entirely neglected. One of the most difficult problems with which a university is confronted is in assessing the criteria which make for skill in an engineer. If an engineer is to be a designer he must have an understanding of three dimensional shapes, a fluency in manipulating them, an understanding of the way in which they interact. This visual sense, this sense of shape, is entirely ignored by the process of choice at 11, yet when it it is allied with extreme mathematical ability the combination makes a great engineer.

Our own system seems almost wil-fully to discard from its highest manifestations those qualities which are not susceptible to the easy test provided by symbolism. It ignores some of the most important of all intellectual qualities, and makes it very improbable that some of the potentially most skilful of our young people will have an opportunity to learn those parts of the work which are uniquely reserved for people who study in universities.

We have discarded some of our best people from the academic world; and we have, furthermore, deprived that academic world of the opportunity of concerning itself with many important intellectual disciplines, although our future as a country depends on the way in which we are able to exploit all of the talents of our people. Any system which makes distinctions where none should exist, which rejects as uneducable people who have extremely important qualities, must not be perpetuated any longer.

I hesitate to repeat what has already been said so often, but we must remember that this selection process and this emphasis on symbolism is a very recent introduction into the educational world. When I was young almost all the schools and almost all universities accepted a large and representative cross-section of society. Our concentration on this very restricted type of skill has been introduced in the last few years. I do not believe it has any justification either educationally or in any other way. The attempts which have been made in the secondary modern schools to develop the talents which their students possess are, of course, extremely praiseworthy, and I myself, knowing them fairly well, have often been amazed at the skill shown by the teachers in exploiting the abilities of their pupils. But, none the less, the highest part of our educational system is debarred to them, and it is this which is of itself so serious.

The real argument should not be about the nature of the organisation with which we have to contend: it should be ultimately about the scale of the education which is available. If, for example, as in some parts of America, something like one half of the entire population goes to the university, I would not think it mattered by which route they ultimately got there. But if, as in this country, only one in twenty is able to go, and if as in this country two-thirds of the pupils leave school at the age of about 16, then it seems to me that the method by which the original selection is made is all important. I think that our own method of selection is wrong. I think, furthermore, that the only way in which the problem can be resolved is to abandon any attempt to separate children into sheep and goats at the age of 11, and to follow the pattern of education universal elsewhere in the world which allows people to mix on terms of equality so that each appreciates the virtues of the others throughout school life.

Two or three noble Lords have accused us of indecent haste in implementing the decision, and have suggested that we ought to study the matter in more detail before we finally make up our minds. The general idea that changes are necessary has been commonplace for twenty years or more. Also, despite the fact (as the noble Lord, Lord Newton, explained), that the Ministry have no powers of coercion in these matters, the Ministry have through their inspectors and their staff great influence on the local authorities which are choosing their new plans for organisation. I am confident that over the next few years all the plans which are going to be put forward by local education authorities will be discussed at length and in detail.


My Lords, perhaps I may ask a question? Am I to understand that the noble Lord is suggesting that the Secretary of State should somehow require Her Majesty's inspectors to get local educational authorities to accept their policy?


No. What I say is this. I think this matter is obviously exercising local authorities greatly, and I think it probable that the majority of them will consult with Her Majesty's inspectors and with the officers in Whitehall before they finally draw up their plans. It is open to them to ignore the Government almost entirely, as your Lordships will understand, but, in practice, we have found that most of them are only too anxious to be helped in any way open to us; and I think that in the course of the next year or two we shall accumulate an immense body of information and as much evidence as can be acquired by a committee. The important thing is that until the general proposal is made to organise the schools on new lines, and people think about the details, we shall have no evidence on which to base a case.

I think that in the course of the next four or five years we shall accumulate as much information as can be found in this country. I think that the objections which have been voiced about excessive haste and ignorance are exaggerated. I am quite certain that no member of the Government, and none of the people in the Ministry, would for one moment presume to say that they knew all the answers or were in a position to dictate policy in detail, even supposing it were within their power to do so. I think, nevertheless, that there is a considerable amount of information available, and I am quite certain that information will accumulate rapidly in the course of the next year or two. Let us remember that most authorities want to proceed. More than half of them have already announced their intention of proceeding, and I think that their enthusiasm for change (which will, I am quite certain, improve our educational system) will attract popular support.

On the other hand, I must say—and I think it is only fair to say this—that many of the changes will involve great administrative difficulties. One must never underestimate the amount of work that will be needed to introduce any new system of education whether it be good, bad or indifferent. Administrative problems will tax the resources of the schools, the local education authorities, and all our own people in Whitehall. We face a very difficult task. We believe that great advantages will accrue from a change which is designed to make people feel united one with each other for as long as is possible. We think we should proceed with what I believe the Supreme Court once described as "all reasonable speed". I should like to end, as I began, by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for introducing this most important subject to us this evening, and other noble Lords and Ladies who have contributed so helpfully to our deliberations, and whose ideas will be a guide and a help to all of us who have some responsibility for putting this policy into effect.

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Newton for putting down this important Motion this afternoon, and giving your Lordships an opportunity of discussing the future policy of Her Majesty's Government for secondary education in this country—a matter which is, of course, of paramount importance. My only excuse for addressing your Lordships for a few moments this evening is that I have spent nine years as a member of the West Suffolk County Council, having retired a few months ago. I am still on the governing body of the Newmarket Grammar School and Newmarket Secondary School, and I am well acquainted with the work of these two schools. Both are housed in modern buildings, with up-to-date equipment. And at both schools the academic and games results are encouraging. I would add that at the Newmarket Grammar School, which is a joint boys' and girls' school, out of nineteen pupils who took the "A" level examinations over ten have gone on to universities throughout the country. I think that is a pretty high record.

I should also like to say that 20 per cent. of the pupils in West Suffolk grammar schools have qualified in the examination. Nobody in my county who has passed the examination has refused to go to a grammar school somewhere within the county. I feel that the great Butler Education Act of 1944, which established a varied system of secondary education with the concurrence—and I would emphasise these words—of all political Parties (because at that time there was a National Government) should be given a longer period to settle down, and should not be lightly discarded in favour of a system which has not, in my opinion, been adequately tested, and which has all the appearance of being based on doctrinaire principles.

I should like to put in front of your Lordships a few financial aspects, as I see it, in my county. It is only one of the smaller counties, but I think it is typical of many other counties. The implementation of the Butler Act, which has now just been finished in my county and by the end of the year will be finished in all counties, has meant spending on secondary education in the last twelve years, up to March 31, 1964, a capital sum of £1,600,000. This expenditure has provided six new secondary modern schools and two grammar schools, and the enlargement and modernisation of eight others. A further sum of approximately £400,000 has been spent on primary education, providing ten new primary schools and the enlargement and modernisation of approximately nineteen others. At the county town of Bury St. Edmunds the county has also built the first phase of a college of further education at a cost of over £100,000.

Your Lordships will appreciate, from the figures I have given, that while the total amount spent on primary and secondary education is approximately £2 million, only one-fifth of that amount—and I emphasise that figure—has been spent on primary education capital projects. The county of West Suffolk, which is only one of the smaller counties, has over 100 primary schools. I think it is common ground that the needs of the primary schools should be given a much higher priority in the allocation of the available resources. I was glad to see that the new Secretary of State for Education and Science, in a speech in Manchester last Saturday, as reported in the Sunday Telegraph on February 7, said that he would not be content until all primary school children were taught in reasonably sized classes in modern schools. I should like to say that in our county (and I think this applies in many counties) we have been able to reduce the size of classes in secondary schools to about 30, and to something between 20 and 25 in the grammar schools although sometimes it is a little higher. But the primary schools are still very overcrowded. I was in one the other night,—a Church school of which I used to be the manager which had very good results—and some classes there have over 40 pupils. They are in the queue to get money for enlargement, but it has not yet come forward, and I am afraid that it will be two or three years more before it does come. If local authorities are again asked to remodel their system of secondary education, which would entail a great deal of building and large sums of capital payment, for a system of comprehensive education, I think it would be to the detriment of primary education and education as a whole.

Before I sit down I should like to explain to your Lordships that in these counties these new secondary schools—and very fine schools they are—are doing a fine job of work. I have visited many of them, not only in Suffolk, but in Cambridgeshire and other counties, too. They are situated about eight or ten miles apart, and are built for something like 500 to 700 pupils. I cannot see, with schools seven to ten miles apart, that you can have a junior and senior wing in a comprehensive school under one schoolmaster. It is quite enough of a job for a headmaster to look after a school of about 750 pupils, which is about the size of a secondary modern school in Newmarket, although we have some slightly bigger. The headmaster tells me that he is not able to do a lot of teaching because he has so much administration to do. If one has two schools to look after, seven to ten miles apart, in areas of that sort, I do not think the system will possibly work. I am not against having a comprehensive school in new areas where it is probably the right thing to have one, but I am completely against destroying all our good grammar schools throughout the country for a system which I do not think has been sufficiently tried out. I hope it will not be done anyway until a Royal Commission has been set up and has investigated the question.

It has been going for only eight to ten years, perhaps not quite as long as some of the secondary modern schools, which have not had time to settle down. Many pupils now get good results with their "O" levels. They do not take as many subjects as grammar school pupils, but they take five or six subjects and many pass three or four. I think we are getting about 75 per cent. successes from the ones who go in for examinations, but not enough yet go in for examinations, although the numbers are growing. Examination entries started only three or four years ago in many of these schools.

My Lords, I hope Her Majesty's Government will give this whole matter a great deal more thought. I am fortified in the words I have said to your Lordships to-night in reading of an important meeting of the Association of Chief Educational Officers, held in London last week and reported in The Times of February 5, 1965, under the heading "Warning over rush to scrap 11-plus". Mr. Clegg, their President, said: These arrangements might well get rid of the 11-plus, but prove in other ways to be an educational disaster, particularly for the socially under-privileged child whom they were mainly designed to help. Mr. Clegg went on: It may be a good thing to mix the sheep and the goats—I believe it is—but do not let us assume that merely by mixing them they will be better fed. The Report goes on to say that the President's theme was that the decade from 1954 to 1964 (and these are very important words) was probably the greatest so far in the history of public education, but that the service was running into sundry dangers. This is a non-Party organisation and its President said in those words that more has been done for education in the last 12 years than in the previous history of our country.

I think that statement was worth quoting, but I should like to quote from a letter published in The Times of January 18, 1965, from Mr. L. R. Stirling, an American teacher on exchange in this country at the Blue Coat School, Sonning, Berkshire. He said: My two years here have confirmed my opinion that the British as a whole are the soundest people on earth, in education and other fields. But I am most disappointed to see a strong movement afoot to destroy the superb grammar school aspect of your school system in favour of a barely tested (in England) comprehensive plan. Coming from an American who has been on exchange for two years in this country, that is well worth bearing in mind.

With those few words I have pleasure in supporting the Motion so ably moved by my noble friend, Lord Newton. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Snow, say to-night that we must think long and proceed slowly on this important subject, because if we destroy all that we have good now for something which is not sufficiently tried I think it might end in chaos.

8.26 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin in the way in which most noble Lords have begun, which is traditional in this House, in thanking the mover of the Motion for having put it down. But I should like to go further and thank the noble Lord for the speech he made in support of his Motion. I thought it was one of the best and most objective speeches I have heard on this subject, and I speak as one who has taken part in every education debate since 1950, of which, I think, I have initiated more than half. I feel that there is very little with which one could disagree in the very fair speech made by the noble Lord.

As the fourteenth speaker in this debate, it would be surprising if I had anything very much new to say. Most of the things that I might have said have, of course, been said already. But there is one criticism I might make about the way in which the debate has gone. I think it has been too much confined to the discussion on the merits and demerits of the comprehensive school. I do not think any noble Lord or Lady who spoke actually came out strongly against the comprehensive school. There were various degrees of enthusiasm, coming down to almost zero, but nobody was actually opposed, although the logic of some of the arguments that were put forward in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, was such that I was rather surprised to hear that she was not against the comprehensive school. All her arguments were against it. I invite the noble Lady to read her speech to-morrow morning at breakfast. I think she will find that she did not give a single reason in favour of the comprehensive school; every argument was against. But she took some credit for having approved the Kidbrooke school.


And 17 others.


The noble Baroness can take that credit, but her arguments were against comprehensive schools.

At any rate, on that particular issue I think what probably divides noble Lords on the other side of the House from those on this side is that we, as a matter of policy, I think have a bias in favour of the comprehensive school; that is to say, we recognise that there are cases where it is not suitable, not appropriate and not desirable—and instances have been given, which I do not want to repeat, by many speakers on the other side in the course of the debate—whereas noble Lords opposite take the view that the onus is against the comprehensive school and that in each individual case the argument has to be proved. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, shakes his head, but I have already exempted him because I said that he had made a perfectly objective speech, but I would not say that about other noble Lords. I do not say that their speeches were not objective, but I do say that they tended rather to take the view that the case for a comprehensive school still has to be proved in each individual case.

I think the Government are right in saying that we should declare a policy, and the policy should, in my view, on this particular issue be in favour of the comprehensive school unless the case is established otherwise, and in many cases it would be. I do not want to repeat the arguments, as I have said, as to the cases where you would not have a comprehensive school. I feel that the debate might have ranged rather wider than merely on this particular issue. After all, we are talking about secondary education, and there are many types of secondary education which must be discussed and upon which policy must be settled. So I would say to my noble friend Lord Longford, who is going to wind up the debate, that I hope he will be able to say something about the wider aspects of secondary education. I am referring, in particular, to the public schools, the direct grant schools, the technical schools, and to the secondary moderns. I imagine that the secondary modern would be comprised in the comprehensive school.

If we are going to have a policy on secondary education we must first make up our minds what we are to do about the public schools. I recognise that they are in a great minority. I am not one of those who say that the public schools ought to be abolished. Most of them are first-class, and they provide a far better education at the present time than is found in either the grammar school or, still more, the secondary modern. Of course they do. That is the raison d'ê tre for their existence. My quarrel is simply that, in a community where we are seeking to give every child an equal opportunity in life, it is wrong that certain people should be able to purchase a place in the superior schools and thereby keep out other children who are equally, or better, able to benefit from this education. I would not abolish them—of course not. The better they are, the more worthy they are of being retained. But I think that, in a secondary education system, in every kind of school the places ought to go to those who can best benefit by those places.

Obviously, one can have a little discussion as to how one should decide. One can have a discussion about who pays—the local authority, the Exchequer. But I should hope that the broad principle can be accepted that we should be moving towards a system of secondary education in which no place can be bought, thereby depriving somebody equally or better able to benefit from that place. It may well be that there are many questions of ways and means to be settled, and I myself, unlike some of my noble friends who have spoken from this side, would approve of an inquiry into how this can be brought about.

Most speakers paid lip service—though I hope it was sincere, too—to the idea of equality of opportunity in education. I think that most speakers said that they desired it. But when it comes to the point, are they prepared to face up to doing something about the public school, about the direct grant schools and other schools of that character?

I was present when the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, parts of whose speech I very much regretted, chaffed my noble friend Lord Snow for, I understand, preparing to send his boy to an expensive public school. It reminds me very much of my boyhood, when members of the Socialist Party used to be accused of making profits in a capitalist society. It was suggested that, since they were against profit-making and wanted public ownership, they ought not themselves to be taking advantage of the opportunity of making profits. But, of course, we were living in a capitalist society, and we had to live. And one cannot blame the noble Lord, Lord Snow, for taking advantage of present conditions which permit of this kind of thing and doing the best, as he thinks, for his boy. What we do blame, of course, is the system which permits anybody, whether he is a member of my Party or any other Party, to do such a thing.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? Does he really believe that no parent should be allowed to save up his money—because many parents of humble means do save their money—to send their boys to a private school? Does he say that that should not be allowed?


That would be the logic of what I am saying. I am not afraid of the logic of that Of course he should not. That is my argument; that merely because a man possesses money, he ought not to be able to buy a place and, therefore, buy what I regard as an unfair advantage for his child. By so doing, simply because he is able to pay for it, he is depriving somebody else who could benefit more from a place in that school. That is what I object to, and I think it ought to be national policy. to see that that does not happen. And I am suggesting that the ways and means of ensuring that should be inquired into by a Committee.

May I say one final word about the technical schools? Very little, if anything, has been said about them to-day. It may be that in a form of comprehensive education technical education would be included in the curriculum of the comprehensive school; but that is not so at the moment to any considerable extent, and there are many children for whom a technical education is the most appropriate thing. Some children are not academically minded, and to a large extent are wasting their time even in a secondary modern school; and that would be still more the case in an ordinary grammar school, and might even be true with the normal comprehensive school. These children who are allegedly backward might well benefit from a technical education, and certainly this ought to find a place in any comprehensive education.

My Lords, it is a little disheartening to speak to fewer people than have already spoken in the debate, but at any rate I have maintained my record of having spoken in every Education debate since 1950, and I hope that, at least on the point of the public schools, I have given my noble friend something to reply to.

8.40 p.m.


My Lords, the whole House will be very grateful to my noble friend Lord Newton, not only for instigating this debate but for the very thoughtful and practical way in which he did so. I should also like to pay a very sincere tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for a most thoughtful and rational maiden speech. For some years I was actively concerned in politics, on the opposite side of course, in Fulham, where she still lives, and I still value the friendship of many people in her Party in Fulham and she is symptomatic of the kindness which one finds in that part of the world. It was a speech based on practical experience, and as such was a valuable one, the more so in that it was restrained and yet thought-provoking. I am sure that we all hope to hear a good deal more from her.

I do not think any reasonably minded person would wish this debate or any other discussion on education to become a kind of batting match between secondary modern and comprehensive schools. I have spoken on Parliamentary matters to a number of grammar schools and also to at least one comprehensive school, and the questions and reaction which I received from the children at both types of school were immediately sound and sensible. I remember recently lecturing to the John Ruskin School, a grammar school in Croydon, where most of the staff and the pupils are of a different political persuasion from myself, as the name "Ruskin" would suggest. But the chair was taken by a young man of about 14. He took it with the aplomb and confidence of a grown man. I pay my tribute to him for that.

I think one of the problems here is whether the comprehensive system, if applied throughout the country, is really going to benefit the mass of our children to a greater extent than the present system of secondary education combined with a number of these schools. The last thing I would suggest is that no more comprehensive schools should be built, but I am not sure that a moratorium should not be placed on this until we have gained rather more experience from what has happened at Kidbrooke, a school with a good record, and other comprehensive schools where one hears of things which are not so good. I do not propose to belabour that point tonight, because I know that our schools, whether public, primary or of any other kind, have their shortcomings and examples of bad behaviour, both by teachers and by pupils. As in every social matter we hear all too much of bad things which happen, but rather too little of the good things which happen. That applies to schools of all kinds.

We have heard a certain amount about the class distinction problem of these schools. I should like to quote from a letter in the New Statesman and Nation of December 11, 1964, a letter which I read and which I am bound to say that initially I found difficult to believe, but I read it again and a third time and realised that in cold print it was true. It is written by a Mr. Chapman from Glasgow. It is headed "Comprehensive Schools," and I should like to quote the last paragraph which concerns this man's daughter, who was then in the "A" stream of this particular school. It says: She has begun to despise all the children in the lower streams, and none of my socialist views about equality will convince her that someone well-mannered, well-spoken, clean and clever is not necessarily better than the rest. She feels no pride in her school, but a strong distaste for the majority of her fellows and a withdrawal from them. Far from breaking down the class barriers, this school is succeeding in erecting them higher than ever. I do not for one moment want to suggest that this is symptomatic of every comprehensive school or of every child; but this is a disturbing factor, and I hope that, before they embark on any large-scale policy of this type of education, the Government will think most carefully about things of this kind which could happen. Of course at every school we get instances of children being bullied, being "sent to Coventry", and so on. But, after all, the main argument for the comprehensive school has been that it will allow the less bright child to be given opportunities and that it will smash the snob barrier. If in fact it were proved that this could be done then the case for these schools would be strong.

Now I come to another problem which is particularly true of urban areas, such as Surrey, where I live. How is the land going to be acquired for these schools of perhaps 1,800 to 2,000 pupils? There is already a shortage of land in the South-East and, short of pulling down a number of existing schools, this is going to be a real problem. Obviously, if schools of this kind are going to be built, those who support the measures will wish the schools to be equipped with the best staff, the best rooms and buildings and to provide comfort. But all this is going to need land. I should like to ask the Government whether they have in fact borne this in mind. It was a point raised during a debate in another place and I do not think it was suitably answered then. I hope that it will be considered now.

There is, in Epsom, one of the best known and most efficient grammar schools in the South of England—I refer to the Rosebery County Grammar School for Girls. It has about 700 pupils and its university record is highly impressive. The entrance places cover from St. Andrew's to Exeter. The headmistress is a person whom I know well. I have been attending the prize givings for the last eight years. Here, they have girls whose parents come from every walk of life. The greatest possible opportunities are given to these girls. I should like to quote briefly from a thesis on this subject of comprehensive schools which the headmistress recently wrote after a visit to the United States. She spent some time there, and the visit gave her the impression that the comprehensive system of education had its defects. She says this: Can we afford the new vast buildings and the reorganisation? She is making a comparison with the kind of buildings which they had in the United States. She goes on: Have we fully considered the disadvantage of size, or rather, to put it another way, do we realise what a smaller community can give to a child which the bigger one cannot? I will not quote further, because time is getting on, but that gives the gist of her point.

Something has been said about the public schools. I went to one of the smaller public schools in Devon. I was there during the war years, and in those days we used to take in a number of pupils from Tiverton Grammar School. There was absolutely no question of any snob barrier. Those boys were accepted from the first, and they did as well as, if not better than, those who came from what some regard as the superior homes—although that is an expression which I personally heartily dislike. It is quite wrong to say that the public schools are based on questions of money. Competition nowadays is extremely great, and if a child has not got the ability there are very few public schools which a child will get into merely by his parents having money or knowing the headmaster. I should like to see more direct-grant public schools. Recently I went round one at Ockham, a very good school with an excellent headmaster and a very good record.

To conclude, I would ask the Government to think very carefully before pushing ahead with this enormous scheme. I do not think there has been sufficient consultation with the county councils concerned, or that the full implications have been considered. We are living in an age of competition, and one cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the brighter child must be considered very carefully. I should be the last to say that the not-so-bright child should be held back, but we are legislating for children of the future: the clock must go forward and not back.

8.55 p.m.


My Lords, I would not speak this evening were it not for the fact that six years ago, almost to the day, I addressed your Lordships in the debate on secondary education then initiated by my noble friend Lord Silkin. I have now torn up most of my notes, as most of the things have already been said, so I can assure the House that what I have to say to-night will be very brief indeed.

I should like, first of all, to redress the balance in some way for that speech, which probably no one remembers, but six years ago I did in fact oppose my Party on this very issue. Now I wish to say that I see things rather differently. Perhaps I should do well to say just how I see things differently. I certainly would agree with my noble friend Lord Snow that the various techniques which exist for selection, leading to segregation, have in fact been discredited. As an ex-teacher who has taught in almost every kind of school, including a secondary modern school, a grammar school and a special school (of which we have not, so far as I recall, had any mention in this debate), I think it is extremely important to get one's priorities right. I am not sure whether anyone has said in this debate that perhaps the most important thing of all is to try to enlist more teachers. These enormous classes are the biggest barrier to sound education. If we could get more teachers, and thus smaller classes, it would be an even greater advance than any building which may be considered or any reorganisation along comprehensive lines.

However, I would add that I am now quite convinced that some kind of comprehensive education is inevitable in order to get rid of these noxious techniques of selection, whether they are the 11-plus examination or any other kind of examination which ultimately means that one group of children goes to a superior school and another group goes to an inferior school.

Perhaps the other really important point I can still make in this debate is this. There have been a number of pleas that we should go forward slowly and with caution. My noble friend Lord Willis said, in effect," If the thing is right, then let's go forward. Do not let us wait, do not let us be slow, do not let us be too cautious about it." But perhaps it is not so much a matter of being slow as of being sure that the plans for a particular area—not in general—are the best that can be devised, and that the local education authority has, in fact, consulted the teachers in that area at every stage. It is important that the local education authorities should not impose their schemes: they should persuade people to accept them. In this way I am sure that these cases of class snobbery being exacerbated by meeting together in the comprehensive school would disappear. Because I think that there is no worse teacher than a disgruntled teacher; and if you have a disgruntled staff, and in particular a disgruntled headmaster, you cannot possibly have a good school with good education.

The kind of school in which I spent most time was a school for maladjusted children. This comes into the category of the special schools, of which there are, of course, the schools for the blind, the schools for the otherwise physically handicapped, the schools for educationally subnormal children and so forth; and I think we must expect this type of special school to remain. I mention this primarily because I want to reinforce what I have said about the importance of staffing—if anybody needs convincing, which I think is perhaps unlikely. In a school for maladjusted children, where the children come primarily from bad homes, broken homes, and have probably been tossed out of half a dozen schools because they were considered unmanageable, the procedure is to adopt a new attitude towards those children. But from an administrative point of view, the procedure is to have more staff per child or per group of children; in other words, the teacher/ child ratio is different.

There is one other point which is perhaps worth mentioning at this stage, and that is that some speakers in this debate have referred to the question of size. This was something that worried me a good deal at one time, and I thought it was almost inevitable that the comprehensive school should be very large, and therefore unsuitable for certain districts, particularly rural areas. In any case, I did not feel that large schools, unless they were broken up into units such as houses, were a good thing. But I now have it on good authority that this is not necessary, and that further experience in comprehensive schools makes it fairly obvious that one can, in fact, make a wide range of subjects available to the students without the necessity of having a very large staff and, consequently, a very large school.

I think that the watchword for the local education authorities will probably be that of proceeding carefully, rather than slowly—except, of course, in the case of those who have not even made a start. In spite of the very eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, I think we must accept the fact that there is a new revolution upon us, and that there is going to be a place for the type of school for which Manchester and he, in particular, are renowned. It would be a pity, in my view, if some of those wonderful grammar schools were to disappear altogether. On the other hand, comprehensive education, as I understand it, does not work properly unless you get some of the best minds coming into the comprehensive schools.

It is essential to the success of the scheme as a whole that this should be done.

Finally, there is the position of the independent school. My noble friend Lord Silkin mentioned the public schools and, if I may just say one last word about the independent schools, I believe that these must stay; because if one looks back over the history of the independent schools of this country, one must, I think, recognise that they have contributed a great deal to our educational knowledge and techniques.

9.7 p.m.


My Lords, I feel like the boy who "stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled", and at this late hour I must necessarily touch only superficially upon a number of subjects which I should have preferred to explore in depth. But I want to ask a question—namely, if we were creating from scratch a system of secondary education should we dream of devising the tripartite system which we have to-day, with its bar at 10½ or 11 dividing our children into two nations, with a notice pasted on the front gate saying: Tradesmen's entrance only—for three-quarters of the children of this country"? I do not think we should agree with such a scheme as that. I do not think the people of this country, if the significance of it were explained to them fully, would agree, either. Yet that is the system which we have. And what we have to do, my Lords, is to decide whether that system is going on for ever. Various noble Lords have touched upon a number of detailed considerations, most of which, I think, can be answered. Most of them have been answered in the reports of headmasters and headmistresses of comprehensive schools, and I do not want to say anything else except on the broad, general principle.

Now, like other noble Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Newton, for the masterly speech with which he opened this debate and for the opportunity which he has given to us to have this very useful discussion. But it seemed to me, if the noble Lord will forgive my saying so, that he was dancing on a rather slippery dance floor. Half the time I did not know whether he was going forward or reversing; but, ultimately, although his speech has been described as objective, I came to the conclusion that he was fighting some kind of rearguard action in the face of the ever-advancing comprehensive army. I may be mistaken. He may be more sympathetic to the comprehensive point of view than I credit him to be; but I felt that that was the sum and substance of the very interesting things he had to say to us.

The noble Lord also said that we must advance our most gifted children as much as we can. Then he went on to tell us about the brilliant girl whose erudition fascinated him. But that girl was forced to stay in a secondary modern school. He also challenged us as to whether the gains from comprehensive education would outweigh the losses. If one refers to the various reports that the London County Council has issued, I think that question can be answered with complete confidence and satisfaction. In the comprehensive schools which have grown out of former grammar schools there are now more "O" level passes, more "A" level passes, more children in the sixth form and more children going to the universities. Even when allowance has been made for the fact that there are now actually more children in those schools, and that there has been an advance in educational standards generally and in the ability of pupils generally, the fact still remains that these comprehensive schools in London which have grown from the seed of former grammar schools are presenting a better picture so far as their results are concerned than was the case when they were operating as grammar schools alone. I have the figures, but at this late hour I will not weary noble Lords with them.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, told us that behind this enthusiasm of the Labour Party for comprehensive education was some kind of plot for establishing a classless society. My Lords, there is a very unjust inequality now in education, as in several other aspects of our social life, and if we want to abolish that unjust inequality that is an aim for which I stand in no need to apologise. On the one hand, this is a social question, and a very urgently-needed social reform. On the other hand, it is an educational question, and can be justified on its educational merits alone.

The noble Viscount tried to make our flesh creep by telling us, with regard to these comprehensive schools, that the tension between the child and the school could, as he said, cause the child not to be properly integrated. I suppose that means that these children have become what in our terminology is called "mixed up kids". During the last week or so, I have heard of only one such case, and the child who ran away from school did not run away from a comprehensive school but from Eton. The noble Viscount also said that he believes in freedom of choice. My Lords, does the 11-plus failure get a freedom of choice?

After the speeches of the noble Viscount and of the noble Baroness, I came to the conclusion that it is clear that they and their Party are still going to wage war in defence of separatism and of the 11-plus examination. That war is still going on. They will make some occasional concessions, but those concessions will be sufficient only to ensure that the present system basically remains.

I want to interject a note on a subject that has not yet been touched upon. I shall have to do it delicately because of the Rules of your Lordships' House, but I want to say a word about the finance of secondary education. I do so because for seven years I was chairman of the Essex County Council Finance Committee and I have introduced its budgets, rising from £50 million to £60 million a year, and have become conscious of the way that very desirable and necessary educational expenditure has to be pruned in order that we may cut our coat according to our cloth. It is undoubtedly true that very much more money could be most usefully spent in our schools, in improving the fabric, in improving the facilities open to our children, and so on; but because of financial considerations the line has to be drawn somewhere.

I should like to see a much larger proportion of educational expenditure charged to the national Budget and not to the local budgets. Whether that be in the form of the State taking over responsibility for the cost of teachers' salaries or in some form of specific grant, I should not care. But I do feel that education is a national service and not a local service, and that therefore the national Exchequer should accept a bigger measure of responsibility than it does at the moment. I know there are some people who say that if you transfer a burden from the rates to taxation you merely transfer it from one pocket to another; but that is not quite the case. The incidence of rates and that of taxation are very different. It has been calculated by the Oxford Bureau of Statistics—I will not go into details—that the poorer you are the bigger the share of your weekly income you pay in rates. I think that is indisputable, so I will not try to prove it. But I am glad that the Government have undertaken to look into this question, because if a bigger share of the education costs can be borne by the Exchequer it means that the parsimonious hand of some people on education committees will be lifted.

I want to have a look at the general state of secondary education. I will do so with brevity. I think we are confronted with two basic problems. The first is the shortage of teachers and the second is the shortage of schools. I am afraid that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, must bear his share of the responsibility for both of these unfortunate situations. He was the author of many cuts; he was responsible for cutting down many of the programmes submitted by local education authorities, and that is why we have not enough schools to-day; that is why we have not enough teachers. In my own county over the last nine years we have submitted programmes for school building to cost £35 million. They have been cut down to £20 million. I know that there are other claims on the reservoir of building labour and building materials: housing, hospitals and so on. But far too big a share of these materials and labour has been devoted in recent years to projects that were far less worthy than the schools for which we are still hungry.

With regard to teachers, I know that a great deal is being done now, but I say that a great deal of time was wasted before the spurt was undertaken. Because of this shortage of teachers, more than because of the shortage of schools, we must wait five years until we can put the school-leaving age up to 16; and this is the very centre of the whole problem of secondary education. We are having to delay implementing the school-leaving age of 16 years while, all around us, our rivals, our competitors, are training their children up to 16. In France, Germany, Sweden and the United States of America—on the whole, they are training their children up to 16 years of age. In the United States 90 per cent. of the children are being educated up to 16; in this country the figure is merely 25 per cent.

My Lords, I want to have a look at the Newsom Report. I do not want to summon the Newsom Report to assist or to demolish any argument about comprehensive schools, because the Newsom Report specifically stated that it was not troubled with that particular aspect of the problem. But the Newsom Report says that half our secondary modern schools are overcrowded. In the big towns four out of five of the secondary modern schools are inadequate, and throughout the country 21 per cent. of them are not up to standard. Obviously somebody is to blame for this state of affairs which exists in 1965. But I do not want to look back and apportion blame; I am a generous-minded person. I want to look forward, and at this stage, with the raising of the school-leaving age to 16 in view, we must have new views on our educational responsibilities. So we come face to face with two issues—the future of the 11-plus and the case for replacing our present schools with comprehensive schools.

Before I deal with the 11-plus, in so far as it affects secondary education, I should like to say a word about its effect on primary education, because it casts its shadow on primary education, too. What happens is that streaming, very undesirably, begins at about 7 years of age. The teacher and the pupil are both conscious of the 11-plus that lies three and a half years ahead. The teacher picks out children who look like good 11-plus prospects. The teacher also places undue concentration on teaching the child those subjects which will figure in the 11-plus examination. The result is that many of the children in primary schools do not get the benefit of the broad general schooling to which they are entitled. The school might show up with a good record of 11-plus passes, but that is to the advantage of the relatively few. The majority of children may have to suffer as a consequence.

When I come to think of the 11-plus examination itself, I say that it should go. There has been a big change in the attitude of the public and educationists to this question in recent years. Once upon a time the educational experts used to swear by it. Now they swear at it. There are fifty local education authorities who have either abolished or modified, or are in process of modifying, or considering the modification of, the 11-plus examination. Surely the age of 11 (10½ it really is) is too early, even if we accept the premise that an examination is needed. I do not know whether there is any magic about this age of 11. I know that in boys and girls of that age all kinds of things begin to happen; and visions seem to open themselves to them. But was the age not fixed at 11 because the school-leaving age was then 14, and it was felt necessary to have the examination three years earlier? If that be so, the fact that the school-leaving age is now 15 has invalidated that argument; and the fact that the school-leaving age is to go up to 16 will invalidate it still further. In the private sector, of course, the age is 13. Is the private sector right and the public sector wrong? We cannot say that they are both right, one at 11 and the other at 13.

Why should we get rid of the 11-plus? Various noble Lords this afternoon have indicated one reason or another. I think there are six reasons. First, there is the abnormal strain which is put not only upon the child, but also upon the parents. Many of us live in houses where the difficulty does not obtrude itself too much: there is always a spare room or study where the child can go. But many children who are living, shall I say, in slum conditions in many of our big cities have no facilities for doing any kind of homework at home, and children in working class families are seriously handicapped.

As a result of the examination, there is a margin of children of roughly equivalent ability on either side of the balancing line, some going in and others staying out. The unfortunate thing is that, of every 20 who pass and go to grammar school, six or seven are found to be unsuited to the grammar school type of education. This means not only that the best has not been made of that material, but that six or seven who may have had potentialities have been deprived of the opportunity of grammar school education.

Then there are what the psychologists tell us are the psychological effects. I do not take too much notice of psychologists and psychiatrists, but sometimes one has to listen to what they say. They tell us—and I know myself—that failure in the 11-plus examination can kill a child's ambition at that time. I know, too, that it can make the child disinterested in its education for the rest of its school life. And I know—I have been a justice of the peace for over twenty years, and one knows these things—that failure in the 11-plus, together with a lack of ambition and with disinterest in educaton, frequently puts a child on the first step of the descent towards delinquency.

The final argument against the 11-plus, and I think the most powerful one, is that of the late developer. All children are not the same; some develop more quickly than others. I think the outstanding example of the danger of arresting, disqualifying and throwing into outer darkness a late developer is that of the grand old gentleman we mourned only a week or two ago, Sir Winston Churchill. Sir Winston Churchill went to Harrow. There was a sort of 13-plus entrance examination at that time, and Winston himself has put on record his experiences in the examination room. I should like to shorten it by paraphrasing, but I could not surpass, or even equal, the words of the master himself. He said: I wrote my name at the top of the page. I put down the number of the question: '1'. After much reflection I put a bracket round it thus: (1). But thereafter I could not think of anything connected with it that was either relevant or true. Incidentally, there arrived from nowhere in particular a blot and several smudges. I gazed for two whole hours at this sad spectacle: and then merciful ushers collected my piece of foolscap with all the others and carried it up to the Headmaster's table. It was from these slender indications of scholarship that Mr. Welldon drew the conclusion that I was worthy to pass into Harrow. That may be funny in one way, and sad in another. But if that boy had had to face the 11-plus examination for one of our State schools he would have been stamped as a failure at that moment, and the great opportunity of his later development would not have had a chance.

Another evil thing about the 11-plus examination has been touched upon this afternoon, and it is that the chances of success vary from one town to another. They are regulated by the number of places that happen to be available. At Merthyr Tydfil it is one in three; in Middlesex it is one in four; but at Sal-ford it is one in ten. So I have come to the conclusion that the 11-plus examination stands to be condemned on every ground. Mind you, my Lords, there is nothing sacred about the 11-plus examination. It was invented only rather recently. Once upon a time, even in the days when I sent my boy to school, all you had to do was to take the boy to the headmaster, write out a cheque and put it on the headmaster's desk, and that was that. I feel that it should go.

What are we to put in its place? I have to answer that in two parts. The first is that there must be an end of separatism. That may take time, and in the meantime there will have to be some kind of interim measures. Many local authorities are adopting various schemes which they think are a substitute for the 11-plus examination. They are taking headmaster's reports; they are taking class teacher's reports; and they are taking reports on the boy's past tests, on his capacity to learn, his general intelligence and so on. These schemes perhaps cause less nervous trouble than the 11-plus examination, but they are far from perfect, and they could lead to abuses. However, I would say that they lead to no more abuses and no more anomalies than does the 11-plus examination as we know it to-day. But because of these possible abuses, I think logic leads us to say that we must have the abolition of separatism altogether.

That leads us, of course, to comprehensive education. We have comprehensive education in the primary schools, and we have comprehensive education, virtually speaking, in the public schools. Why should we not have it in the secondary schools? I know that there is a lot of prejudice to overcome. I know also that we already have about 200 comprehensive schools in the country, most of which are doing very well. I had intended, if I had had the privilege of speaking to your Lordships earlier, to say something about the Leicester scheme, the Croydon scheme and various other schemes; but at this hour I must not do that. I will, however, say one or two words about the London scheme, with its big monolithic schools, as they are called. There are a few criticisms levelled at those. We are told that they hold back the brighter pupils. The answer is that those schools which have grown out of, or have been grafted on to, former grammar schools, have a better academic record than those grammar schools themselves when they were being run as virgin grammar schools.

The second argument is that the slower children are neglected. This argument seems to cancel out the other, but the fact is that the slower children are not neglected, and the slower children find themselves stimulated by their contact with the brighter ones. The third argument is that the schools are impersonal, and that the children do not get to know anybody. The answer is that any of the schoolmistresses will tell you that there is at least one member of the staff who is in personal contact with every child in the school.

The fourth argument is that the schools are too big. That argument probably had some appeal when the pupils in the schools numbered 2,000. But in many of them the number is less than 2,000, and the one which has 2,000 has said they chose 2,000 because they felt that that number would be necessary to produce a sixth form of adequate size. But they found that they could produce a sixth form of adequate size with a school of only 1,250 or 1,500. So I do not think that the argument of size, though it has been with us for a few years in the past, need be with us for very much longer in the future.

I had some other things to say, but I must stop. I want to say this in conclusion. We hear the argument that this system of comprehensive education is likely to destroy the grammar schools. That is not so. As I have said, many of these schools have been grafted on to grammar schools, which have been given a new lease of life. When all is said and done, surely it is the children who matter, and not so much some particular traditional type of school.

Under their new guise as comprehensive schools, these former grammar schools are producing examination results which are staggeringly satisfactory.

There are many other things which I should have had great delight in saying, but the hour is very late indeed. I stand, as I think I have probably indicated, four-square behind the policy announced by the Government for basing their future educational policy on the system of comprehensive schools, while recognising that there may have to be variants of the plan from one district to another, and that things may have to go slowly and gradually. But I believe that, in the long run, it will make for a better system of schools, and certainly for a better generation of children; and it is on that next generation of children that we and this nation depend.

9.34 p.m.


My Lords, when your Lordships' House is sitting so much later than it usually does, there comes, I feel, a time at which both those on the Floor of the Chamber of your Lordships' House and those elsewhere may feel that the comparative few who remain are a sort of élite who have shown by their stamina that they are determined to endure to the end. Although this is not my subject, I am tempted, if I may, just to add a word, because I have been provoked. I was provoked about 3.42 this afternoon by an observation of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who introduced the Motion, and who said, in substance, that really nobody knew whether comprehensive schools were any good, whether they were of the London kind or, he said, of the county kind as in Leicestershire.

My Lords, I appeared in Leicester in a local government inquiry of the ordinary kind—that is to say, all a question of Party politics—about the usual question as to how much of the overgrowth of the town was to be added from the county to the borough; and, as Leicester was Labour-controlled, of course they had asked for very little because the outskirts were mostly Conservative and they were afraid of losing their majority. The Commission naturally did not give them any more than they had asked for, but by the time the Commission reported there had been some more local government elections and the Conservatives were now in power. Of course, they appealed to the Minister asking for an enormous increase in the borough in order that they could keep a permanent majority.

About five days before the inquiry was held there were one or two more elections, as a result of which power in the city was held entirely by five Liberals, three of whom had never been on a council before. My friend who was appearing for the borough did not know until the last moment what his instructions were going to be—whether he was going to ask for something smaller or larger. There was the usual sort of evidence as to whether the city or the county had the best ambulance service, given by the usual heads of departments, and then the inspector said that he thought we had better have an evening meeting in case some ratepayer who could not come in the daytime made a fuss, saying that he could not be heard. He said he did not suppose anybody would turn up. The only hall available was the very large concert hall. This was taken, and it was packed out with thousands of people, at a time when, as we all know, you could not get people to go to meetings. One or two of them were people in the county who did not want to be put in the borough where the rates were higher. A few more were people, used to the three-tier system of government, who said that they knew their rural district councillors, "who are looking after our own people, and do a lot of local welfare work, and we do not want it all run from the town hall."

But the vast majority were parents and they were hopping mad because in the city they had secondary and grammar schools whereas the county had comprehensive schools. Some of them had sold their homes in Leicester in order to get away from the city education system and the 11-plus and give their children the advantages of a comprehensive school education, and now they were being threatened with being put back into the city again. What struck me as, I confess, a complete amateur in this field was that all the members of the National Union of Teachers, whether from the city or the county, said exactly the same. I remember now one head teacher. She had been in a school in the county and following the previous local government review she had found herself in the city. It had taken her seven years to get out of the city and back into the county with its comprehensive schools, and now she was threatened again with finding herself back in the city. Of course, I had always known that the 11-plus was not very popular, but I had never known before to what extent it was both hated and feared. It seemed to me that where you had both parents and teachers alike with experience of both systems feeling so strongly the superior advantages of the comprehensive school, it was at least possible that they were right.

Finally, the other thing which had always occurred to me in this field is this. I have a lot of younger friends, married couples with children, some of whom have given up smoking, and others who have scraped and saved in order to send their children, particularly their sons, to public schools which, after all, are comprehensive schools. Certainly when I was young you really could not be stupid enough not to get into a public school; it was just a question of money. When I ask my friends why they do this they say, "Well, I do not know that the education is necessarily any better than it is in the State schools", as they call them. I think that may be right. I know that at my public school, for example, in history I twice got up to George I, but each time I found myself the following term in a form which was starting again with William the Conqueror. You know what it is; you say "I can always learn that later". There is a moral here for all children. As a matter of fact, you do not learn later what you do not learn at school. By the time you have got a job and family you have not the time. So I do not know anything that happened in England since the time of George I, except that trouble in an American colony. A Member of your Lordships' House whom I met about five years ago, and who was at the same house of the same school, after me, told me that he never got beyond George I. But these things change—no doubt they have got to George II by now.

People say, "It is not that the education is necessarily better, but if only we can afford it it will give the boys two great advantages throughout life: first, the advantage of having been at a school where they speak right; and, second, the great advantage of having been at a school with a large section of those who are going to be the employers in their generation". "Snob value", I say. "That is right" they say, "and if only we can afford it, it will be worth it every time". One thought has often occurred to me—and of course this applies just as much to my friends in the governing Party, who naturally put their own children's interests first. All those who can afford to take the best possible educational advice, and follow it up, send their own children to comprehensive schools, and it may be that what is good enough for the rich may also be right for the poor.


My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware, in this context, that, of all the noble Lords who sit on both Front Benches, more than half went to Eton; and that, of those noble Lords who have remained in this interesting debate, I think more than one-third were also at Eton?


My Lords, on a purely technical point, the actual distribution of intelligence in schools is something that I know a little about. There is no more common superstition than to regard the public schools as comprehensive schools. There are some that are indeed fairly comprehensive, but the schools of which the noble and learned Lord is thinking are very far from comprehensive; and at the school I know best, where the actual I.Q. distribution has been determined, there are very few boys with an intelligence quotient of less than 120.


If I may interrupt the noble Lord with great deference, is he making a second speech, or what exactly is he doing?


I am asking, if I may, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor whether he would explain the statement that these are comprehensive schools.

9.45 p.m.


My Lords, we are coming to the end of a most expert and interesting debate on secondary education, and until the end of this debate we were covering a fairly narrow field. But in the last five minutes we seem to have widened the range of our discussion. We have heard from a number of very distinguished speakers, and it would be invidious for me to single them out. They included two ex-Ministers of Education and an ex-Minister of State, as well as the present Minister of State and many distinguished educationists. In fact I think we should congratulate the Government on having produced four Front-Bench speakers to support their case. But I should like just to refer to one particular speech, that of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, who made her maiden speech earlier on. I know that we all felt that she spoke with considerable experience of her own, as a primary school teacher at one time and now concerned with adult education, and I am sure that we all hope that she will continue to address us in the future.

As all of your Lordships have already said, we owe a great debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Newton. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, paid him an elegant compliment in saying that it was the best objective speech he had ever heard. Certainly, I could not do better than reiterate that. We must, of course, face the fact that there is controversy between us, particularly on the point of comprehensive schools. The debate has been conducted in an argumentative but reasonable fashion, and I should like to assure noble Lords opposite that I accept their argument as genuine and not in any way held for any other reasons.

One point that particularly struck me which was made earlier on in the debate and which I think most of us would feel in agreement with, is that although we have been mainly concerned with the argument over comprehensive education, the fact is that most of us believe that the real problem of secondary education lies in the provision of teachers, the building of new schools and the subjects that are taught in them. I am sure that if we could solve these three problems satisfactorily the rest would fall into place and we should not be having controversy over the problems of organisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, mace mention of public schools, and this was followed up by the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack. I was not quite sure whether the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack was going as far as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in wishing to abolish all fee-paying schools, but I see that this is a logical—


My Lords, I am sorry, but I did not intend to abolish the schools. I thought they were, in the main, good. It is the principle of entry by fee-paying that I am concerned with.


Yes. I am sorry; that is really what I was after. I personally should feel that whereas certain reforms of the public schools might be desirable in the way of admitting boys paid for from local authority funds, I could not possibly agree that it would be right to prevent parents who so wanted from paying for their own children's education in the way that they thought best.

Why this question of comprehensive education has become the issue that it has is the decision of the Government to adopt a national policy of comprehensive education, thus revolutionising the present educational set-up without, we feel, any thorough inquiry, and without any proved experiment, and against the clearly expressed views of many parents and teachers. Of course the present system has its weaknesses, but I think we should be over idealistic in supposing that any other system will be without its drawbacks; and I feel it would be better and much more beneficial, both to the children and to the teachers, not to make any sweeping changes but to build on the system that we have already.

The major criticism of the system at present is, as we made perfectly clear throughout this debate, the selection of children at the age of 11 to go to grammar schools or to secondary modern schools. This, indeed, may cause hardship in a minority of cases, and it is a difficulty which I am sure we all wish to overcome. Some of us question whether the right answer is to impose a comprehensive system and, in particular, whether this is the right time to take such a decision. I am sure your Lordships will have been impressed by what was said on this point by my noble friend Lady Horsbrugh, from her wealth of experience, and also by the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, both of whom asked for more inquiry and research before coming to final decisions.

As the system exists at present, none of us has any quarrel with the grammar schools. Throughout the debate we have heard praise paid to them. Except that there may not be enough of them in some areas, everybody seems to admire the work which they are doing. In fact, the Government spokesmen have assured us that they do not wish to damage them in any way by their adoption of a comprehensive system, although some of us find it difficult to see how this is going to come about. I should also like to say from this side of the House that we see much good in secondary modern schools, and noble Lords opposite have not really paid them the credit which, to some of them, is their due. In fact the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, perhaps accidentally, did them a rood deal of discredit, and I thoroughly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord lames of Rusholme, said when he tried—


My Lords, I should like to emphasise the fact, if I may, that I obviously used an ill-chosen phrase and thereby by no means did justice to them. I know them well and admire them, and I am sorry if in some way I underestimated them in what I said.


Of course, we accept that from the noble Lord. I rather thought that was the case. Within their brief of looking after the education of the average or below-average child they have had considerable success. We also believe warmly in the Report of Sir John Newsom, who was, for some reason, described by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, as the eminence grise. We believe that was a highly imaginative Report, and some of the reforms which it introduced—and some of the work which is being done now in the secondary modern schools in putting them into practice—are very valuable and are having a good effect.

Where the problem seems to me to lie is with the small minority of boys and girls who fail their 11-plus but who develop late and who would be better placed in a grammar school. It is the selection procedure and the difficulty of later transfer which is the real problem. But these are problems which can be tackled practically, without necessarily going into a 100 per cent. comprehensive system. My noble friend Lady Horsbrugh drew attention to the fact that there is at the moment a Committee sitting under the chairmanship of Lady Plowden considering this problem of selection. I would agree with her that we should be wise to await the outcome of their investigations before taking any irretrievable step.

The trouble is that many supporters of the comprehensive principle look on the word "selection" as anathema, but unless we are going to have one vast comprehensive school covering the whole of the United Kingdom there is bound to be some form of selection. The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, drew attention to one of them: selection by area, for each comprehensive school will serve only one particular area. This surely will lead to a distinct difference between schools according to what type of area they serve.

Moreover, within the comprehensive school there will have to be selection between the more and the less gifted children academically. One type of education is more suitable to one type of child than another. There will still be within the comprehensive school those proceeding to higher education and those leaving at 15 or 16. There is bound to be selection between them, if both are going to get the education best suited to their varying talents. Selection forms part of our natural life as long as we live, from the cradle to the grave, and often it is made in very much more unfair ways than it is in the educational system. Selection procedures are often haphazard and unscientific. This does not mean to say that we should not always be seeking to improve them, but my point is that a comprehensive system does not automatically solve them all.

My Party, the Conservative Party, is certainly not against comprehensive schools. I think that has been made perfectly clear in the debate hitherto. In fact, the number of comprehensive schools that were built when we were forming the Government is surely evidence of that. We believe that in certain areas they have a most usefulrô le to fulfil, and particularly when they are specially built for the purpose. Moreover, we are equally interested in such experiments as the Leicestershire scheme, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords, and other developments. But there is a deep division of opinion in educational circles, of which I think we should take due note, about the merits of a fully comprehensive system. This is surely obvious from this debate, and is obvious to anybody who reads the columns of The Times Educational Supplement.

Ultimately, surely, our educational system will depend more on our teachers than on any particular form of organisation. Whatever system we have, we shall have to find the teachers and they will be the same teachers as we have at present, with the same children, the same subjects and, until we can rebuild extensively, the same schools. I suggest, therefore, that we must be very cautious in doing anything that might damage the best features of the present system. There are urgent problems of school building and teacher supply that should be our first priority, rather than wholsale reorganisation, especially at a time when we are to raise the school leaving age to 16 in the fairly near future.

As I understand it, the Government are now committed to a circular to be issued by the Secretary of State to all local education authorities, asking for their plans to reorganise their schools on a comprehensive system. This is putting pressure on them to devise a host of schemes, similar to those already well known to us, for combining existing school buildings into comprehensive units. This is surely bound to lead to some disruption and considerable damage to well-established grammar and secondary modern schools. How tough is the Secretary of State going to be in turning down unsuitable makeshift schemes, and—if I may follow up what was said by my noble friend Lord Newton—has he the powers to prevent unsuitable schemes from being adopted? His powers under the 1944 Act, as my noble friend has explained, are strictly limited and, having encouraged local education authorities to produce plans, can he then stop them from being put into practice if he does not. think they are suitable?

I would remind your Lordships of a memorandum on the reorganisation of secondary education, issued by the National Union of Teachers and the Joint Four Secondary Schools Associations, referring to their doubts about such schemes unless suitable buildings were available, and saying: Schemes which rely on improvisation or sketchy adaptation of existing buildings are unlikely to receive our support … Neither the Union nor the Joint Four could support schemes of reorganisation which disregarded local needs and aspirations; which too hastily abandoned school units of proved success in meeting those needs or which would be put into operation in inadequate or unsuitable accommodation. My Lords, on November 27, when the Secretary of State enunciated Government policy on comprehensive reorganisation, he went on to say: … the Government fully accept that this cannot be done overnight, nor could it be done by any one method".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 702 (No. 22), col. 1785.] How much there will be in that proviso will depend on how the Secretary of State uses his powers. But I would suggest that in considering these schemes, and what is or is not feasible, he pays due attention to the words of great wisdom which this evening fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, with his wealth of practical experience in secondary education.

Lastly, my Lords, what of the direct grant schools? We have heard extremely little about them. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London made mention of them, but he did not seem to be as apprehensive of the problems involved as I should have thought he might have been. After all, if they are expected to fall into a comprehensive system they are going to be involved in a great deal of extra financial burden, and I wonder what is the view of the Government as to exactly how these direct grant and denominational schools are going to find their place in the system.

My Lords, I end as I began. We consider that the Government's proposals for comprehensive schools are dogmatic. We should like to see a pragmatic approach to the reform of our educational system. If I could sum up the debate to-day, I would say that the burden of advice to the Government from these Benches, from the Cross Benches and from the Bishops' Benches is to think twice, think again and move forward with caution.

10.3 p.m.


My Lords, this debate was started on a very high level many hours ago—it seems many weeks ago—by the noble Lord, Lord Newton. I hope I do not sound patronising if I say that he made a speech today that some of us had always thought he would make one day, and now that he has made such a splendid speech I hope he will go on to still further achievements. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, spoke to us with an air of judiciousness and calm. I thought that the Opposition had moved to the Right; and he struck a slightly more partisan note, but a very acceptable one, in what he placed before us. We on this side have tried to show our respect for the House, as was suggested by the noble Lord, by bringing to bear no less than four Ministers. The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, and the noble Lord, Lord Snow, spoke from wide educational experience; and my noble and learned friend, the Lord Chancellor summed up this matter, in a way in which I have tried for years to sum it up but have failed, when he said, "What is good enough for the rich should be good enough for the poor". I thought that put the whole thing in a nutshell.

My noble and learned friend was very modest about his own schooldays at Harrow. All I know about his achievements there has been derived from a noble Lord who is the only Member of this House who might possibly be (I am not certain about it) larger than the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, and who was a friend of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor when at Harrow. He told me that one of them acted Watson and the other Sherlock Holmes. I must leave those of your Lordships who know the noble Lord, Lord McCorquodale of Newton, to guess which was Watson and which Sherlock Holmes.

My Lords, I agreed very much with what fell from my noble friend Lord Silkin—or shall I say from my noble friend Lord Leatherland, since my noble friend Lord Silkin has left us—and from the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, when they stressed the fact, which of course was well within the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, at the beginning, that there are other issues which are ultimately more important to education than that which we nave been discussing today. I think that all the professional educators will agree that while this issue is vital today, the provision of teachers and the encouragement of teachers and the provision of adequate facilities, whatever system we claim to be going under, is the more important still.

I do not follow up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Darwen, who was a teacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, who has so much experience of education administration, because of the lateness of the hour and because, by general agreement, we have concentrated on this question of what the noble Lord at the beginning called "selectivity". But I do not regret that we have concentrated on only one aspect of education; it has taken us already up to ten o'clock, and if we ranged over the whole of education we should now be only just getting into our stride. I think we have been wise in our own generation.

I should like to say something about the public schools. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was particularly interested in this subject; but he has gone. I was looking at some figures about the national expenditure on education which, I must say in fairness, as I have said before to noble Lords opposite, have risen in the period of Conservative rule. But if we take the total of £1,322 million, it is, in money terms, more than three times what it was thirteen years ago; it is a collossal figure. And let us realise that we have hardly begun. We have made some progress, but we are not very far ahead with the policy of giving every child in this country an equal chance in education. It is worth noticing—and I give the figures for illustration: they are not meant to be precise—that at the present time in our national primary schools a child's education costs £70; a secondary place for a child below the age of 15 costs £107; and above the age of 15 the cost is £188. If you take the average for public school age, then you might say that we as a nation are paying about £150 a year for our children.

To take the fees of a first-class school like Westminster School—and I select Westminster School because it is one of the most famous and because they have boarders and day boys—they are £528 for a boarder and £315 for day boys. Even where we are trying to make adequate day provision for children, we spend on our children today only about half what is spent by parents who send their children to Westminster School as day boys. This is an illustration of the distance that we have to go—and this is not a Party point—before we can begin to talk about equality of opportunities of education in this country. I would just say another word about the public schools. We can expect a statement by the Government on this question very shortly. I cannot put a date to it, but there will be an important statement in the fairly near future.

I will not return to any of the more heated aspects of my argument with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I realise he came here rather heroically and under the stress of influenza and I am afraid that I cannot have contributed to his recovery, but I hope he will soon be very much better and be fit and well again. I must however, even in his absence, reject strongly—and I do not think it is very difficult to do this inoffensively—the suggestion that we in the Labour Party are not concerned to any large extent with educational values, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said; and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who implicitly repudiated that suggestion just now.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, were both aware of what the noble Lord. Lord James of Rusholme, meant when he said he knew that what he called his "friends of the Left" were most anxious not to damage any of the good schools there are. I think the whole House in its cooler moments is aware that we are at least as interested in education as any other Party in the State, and, at times, I might think, more so. At any rate, of the three spokesmen from the Front Bench, all were at one time engaged for years in teaching, which can hardly be claimed by many Front Benches, and we have had at least two professional teachers seated behind me among the contributors to the debate. I would take this opportunity of congratulating my noble friend Lady Phillips on an altogether delightful speech, and of conveying to your Lordships her apologies for not being able to stay, owing to a pressing commitment.

There is another point I would take up with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles.

That is the suggestion that we are not interested in parental choice. That was dealt with effectually by my noble friend Lord Leatherland, who said that at the present time one could hardly argue that the 11-plus or any selective system gave very much choice to the parents who wanted their children to go to grammar school; and as that is just what they cannot do at the present time, we cannot rate parental choice very high. Possibly Lord Eccles was questioning our attitude to denominational schools and the right of parents to have the religious education they desire for their children.

I would remind the House, without reading it all out again, that my right honourable friend Mr. Stewart, Secretary of State for Education until the other day, spoke particularly strongly and sympathetically on this subject in another place; and I am authorised to add that the Government very much welcome the co-operative views which have been expressed by the spokesmen for the Churches. It would be quite unthinkable for a national policy on secondary education to leave out the voluntary schools. They must be as much part of the national plan as grant-aided schools. The Government are considering any financial problems which may arise. They are not likely to be few or small, but they will be considered in a careful way. So I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Iddesleigh, and the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, who, of course, is a professional educationalist himself, will agree that this Government recognise the principle of parental choice at least as acutely as any other Government we have seen.

I now come to the central issue, which was pinpointed at the beginning by the noble Lord, Lord Newton—this question of selection. I am not going to spend time, particularly after the very thorough going-over my noble friend Lord Leatherland gave it, on the 11-plus. The right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of London, as sometimes happens to ecclesiastics in these debates, can be prayed in aid by both sides. I thought he was entirely on our side. The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, took a different view. At any rate, we can both draw plenty of encouragement from various parts of his speech. The right reverend Prelate said that "flogging" the 11-plus was "flog- ging" a dead horse. I understood him to go on to say that any other selection was likely to be equally hopeless. Once we agree that there is no adequate method of selection, then we are driven towards something that must be called, for want of a better word, the comprehensive principle.

I realise that words are sometimes used in different senses by different speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, for example, refused to agree that grammar school education could be extended in a comprehensive school. That, to him, was playing with words the wrong way. He is referring to grammar school education in the sense of the grammar schools as we find them today using the basis of selection by ability; but, as my noble friend Lord Snow pointed out, grammar schools have not been like that throughout their history, except in some cases. It is not at all clear to me why children cannot be given a grammar school education in what the noble Lord, Lord Newton, calls "the academic sense" in a comprehensive school. This is where I think the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, is more wary than some of his allies, because he sees that once you reject selection at all you are, so to speak, in the end all the way to a comprehensive school. Therefore I think that, almost alone in this House, the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, whose experience in teaching must be held to be greater than that of any of us—though there is a lot of teaching experience represented in this Chamber to-day—if I understood him aright, is still an unrepentant supporter of the 11-plus. I think he used the only good words on behalf of the 11-plus that were employed today. But once you reject selection, then I am afraid you are on a slippery slope, so far as noble Lords opposite are concerned.


My Lords, the point I should like the noble Earl to explain is what we mean by the abolition of selection: because if you have a school, then you must have selection for it. On what principles? It is no use saying you are abolishing selection unless you can explain to us on what principles you propose to send children to one school rather than another.


The noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, but his method of formulating that intervention was rather over-ingenious. He would hardly say that when people go to a primary school they are selected. They may be selected because they happen to live in the area, but to say they are selected by neighbourhood seems to me to be using words in an unfamiliar way. I am afraid I cannot accept that use of the words, and it is not in common currency. I must have used the word "selection" a little crudely, because I agree that you do not have a straightforward competition in Eton. It is a selection by the purse, in the sense that only a limited number can afford the fees.


My Lords, there is the common entrance examination, and they have heightened it a good deal since our day. The noble Earl and I were at the same house together.


We went to Eton on the same day; and were soon joined by the noble Viscount, Lord Dilhorne, so you can see what a lot of knowledge we have of each other. It is no doubt true that it is harder than it was to get into Eton. But, broadly speaking, the children of professional and propertied classes can go to public schools, unless they are retarded, and it is widely untrue of the working class.



My Lords, Winchester was always a school difficult to get into. You need to be a brainy child to get into Winchester. The other public schools vary greatly in the amount of marks required in the common entrance.


I concede Winchester, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, and I was going to refer to it, because we have been privileged to hear at least two Wykehamists during this debate and their tone was less friendly to comprehensive schools than that of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who comes from Eton. At any rate, I agree that Winchester is a competitive school. All my forbears went there; but when it came to me, perhaps they thought it safer to put me down for Eton, and that is where I went. We know, too, that there are schools like the great Manchester Grammar School which are highly selective. But, broadly speaking (I have said this before in this House and noble Lords have "hopped up" to interrupt indeed, I was told by the former Lord Hailsham that the public school to which I sent my boys is highly selective—they do quite well), this idea that public schools are basically selective is, in my opinion, a complete fantasy. It is important for the reason that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor gave, and I would repeat what he said: that the well-to-do people send their children, unless they are somewhat retarded—and there are retarded children in all classes—to public schools.


My Lords, would the noble Earl say, for my information, whether people's sons who go to these public schools can get in without passing an examination for selection?


Without having the figures before me, if you said that nine out of ten of the children of the propertied and professional classes could pass the examination, I think that would correspond to the truth. In other words, the child who cannot get in is the exception, the backward child. That is not at all the position for the working class, and one must draw a sharp distinction. We intend to provide for the poor and the masses what the well-to-do have all along insisted on having for themselves. When the children are backward they should go to special schools. I entirely agree with anybody who suggests that, whether the children are rich or poor, if they are retarded they need more treatment, and I shall have one more word to say about that later.

Accepting the principle, let us recognise the difficulties. There is the question of money, and I do not want noble Lords to conclude from the figures I gave earlier on that we could double the national expenditure tomorrow without ruining the country. Obviously, one has to proceed in some kind of relationship with the growth of the economy. This is not an economic debate, and I will not become involved in that aspect, but there are limits set by money. There are also limits set by knowledge. The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, most notably, one or two on this side and nearly all noble Lords opposite—the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare, Lord Wolverton and Lord Auckland, and perhaps most positively of all the noble Baroness—insisted that we must go slow. Indeed, the noble Baroness went a little further, because she said that we must stop. How one stops educational developments I do not know, because the building goes on, the schools are there, and so on. So I do not think it is possible to come to a complete stop. I took that as a picturesque expression. At any rate she led the "go-slow" school, and was firmest of all.

It is argued that we must have more knowledge, and anybody who stands up as a Minister, any educationist, or any kind of public person at all, who says that we should not benefit from more knowledge deserves to be hounded off the premises. Obviously, we should benefit from a lot more knowledge. The last Minister was intellectual and the present Minister equally so; and I think the present Minister, Mr. Crosland, will be particularly interested in what might be called the intellectual aspects of the organisation. He has written a notable book, which may be known to some noble Lords, which contains a good deal about the future of education, and I think we can assume that he will be most anxious to take advantage of all the best thought.

In the end, then, we have to go forward. There will be no distinction. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, will agree with this. You will not discover, for example, that the system of education at Eton is better than the one at Winchester. Their method is quite different, but you will not discover that one is better. We have had them before our eyes for hundreds of years, and nobody today can say whether one is better. It is impossible to get administrative proof, from the very nature of the subject. But let us agree with all those who suggested that the more knowledge we acquire, the better. But we cannot arrest the march of educational progress while we are trying to sort this out.

The other great problem, of course, is the problem of resources, but that takes us back to money, in the end; and I think that, for economic reasons, we have to proceed much more slowly than I could wish. I am not foreshadowing some kind of check or squeeze, or anything of that kind, but we should all like to go faster at the moment than the money permits; and that is bound to be the case for a long time to come. But with that limitation I certainly hope that we shall go forward as fast as possible.

Let us be clear about one other point—though I need not tell this to educationists; the school is to some extent, at least, a living organism. If you destroy a school, it is not the crime that you commit if you destroy a human being; but it can still be a grave offence against the light. It is impossible to pull schools to pieces and start them up again and redistribute teachers and boys as though you were distributing money. There is life there; it has to be handled very tenderly. And I should like the noble Lord particularly, but other noble Lords, too, to realise that we appreciate this to the full.

Noble Lords may or may not be aware that the present Minister spoke in a very thoughtful and careful way about these matters last Saturday, and if any noble Lord wishes to have his full speech, which is not available to everybody, I shall be only too pleased to let him have it, and he will see the nature of the Minister's thought. I would quote only one sentence to act as some kind of reassurance. He is re-emphasising this message which we are sending out to local authorities in which we are calling on them for plans for reorganisation along comprehensive lines. When one says that, one does not mean, may I repeat to the noble Baroness, that we are insisting one one kind of school. We are calling for reorganisation on comprehensive lines, but it does not mean that all or most of the schools have to be exactly like the excellent schools we know in the L.C.C. which the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, in many cases authorised, although I know of some cases where she turned down applications.


My Lords, may I tell the noble Earl that I did not turn down any single application for a comprehensive school. The only thing I ever turned down was the closing of a grammar school to make it an addition to a comprehensive school. But I passed every single comprehensive school the L.C.C. put up.


My Lords, I have visited the school which the noble Baroness prevented from becoming part of a comprehensive school. But I do not want to bandy words, and I certainly was not trying to misrepresent the noble Baroness. But, in fact, she did not agree to all the plans for amalgamation from the London County Council.

As I was saying, in sending out this message the Minister was recognising the nature of the difficulties, and he said in his speech: It is the nature of these difficulties that there is no one general answer to them. They have to be dealt with by scrutiny of each local authority's plans for reorganisation. In some areas these difficulties are absent or slight; in others we must accept that reorganisation can only proceed slowly". That is not the whole speech but a key passage from it, which I hope will be a reassurance to noble Lords who have expressed anxieties about too rapid a progress.

In conclusion, my Lords, as our discussion was purporting to deal with secondary education as a whole, may I turn our thoughts in the last moment or two—and I really am at the end—to the less able children; because, if we talk of secondary education as a whole, those who seem best qualified to judge would say, whether or not we are doing what might be expected at this period of time for the able children, whether we are going to do better in the future for the able children by all this reorganisation, the children we are failing quite considerably are the less able children.

Mr. Clegg, Chief Education Officer to the West Riding Education Committee, giving the Presidential address at the Association for Chief Education Officers at their annual meeting a few days ago, said this: It is when we look at the other end of the intellectual spectrum that we seem to be rushing headlong in the wrong direction and the sinister importance of this can hardly be exaggerated. The Newsom Report is a major documentation of the fact that the children born into the worst homes are brought up in the worst schools. Let us take a cold look at what we do to the weaker Newsom child. We say: you have not been selected at 11 for the grammar school. You are not good enough for the G.C.E. school stream in the modern school. You are not even good enough for one or two C.S.E. subjects in the modern school. You will, therefore, be placed in one of the forms which gets the poorest teachers, the least choice of subject, the most meagre use of facilities, the least homework, and whose members assume the least responsibility and are the first to be sacrificed when teachers are absent. When you leave you cannot train as an apprentice. You will be the last to secure day release. You will be the last to be cared for by the Industrial Training Board. My Lords, that is how Mr. Clegg sees our treatment of the poorer section of our population, and as our subject to-day was not just the "comprehensive" issue—though, rightly, we have concentrated on that—but secondary education as a whole, I think we ought not to close before turning our thoughts to those who are weaker vessels. Mr. Clegg said that: It is surely up to us, as individual advisers to our committees and as a body, to do all in our power to see to it that every child is treated with the same care and concern which we now bestow on the most able, and with the same care and compassion that we devote to those who are mentally frail. I should like it to go out from this House—and this is non-controversial and does not bear directly on the comprehensive issue—that all of us recognise that to make sure all our children get a fair chance in life is the supreme task in years ahead.

10.30 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that in my speech I did not neglect those whom the noble Earl has just described as the weaker vessels; I am pretty certain I did not. Some of your Lordships who have spoken have said that I conveyed a useful service to your Lordships in introducing my Motion to-day. However that may be, I am in no doubt at all that the only service I can now do your Lordships is to stop this argument here and now and bring the debate to a conclusion as quickly as possible. The debate certainly exceeded my expectations in more senses than one. I did not anticipate the bonus of an intervention by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack; I think it was an achievement. I am very sorry that I evidently provoked the noble and learned Lord at 3.42, but, as I said in my speech, it is my ambition not to provoke anybody. I am bound to say I cannot recall arguing in the way which apparently provoked him, but I will to-morrow morning read in Hansard what I said at 3.42, and although I know the noble and learned Lord is an exceptionally busy man I would regard it as a great personal compliment if he also would read what I said at 3.42 because nothing would make me happier than to feel that the provocation which I unintentionally exerted had melted away.

I would add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for her most informed and charming speech. I would thank all your Lordships who have contributed to this debate and made it the memorable education debate—and we have had many in the last few years—which I think it has been. Not least I thank my noble friend Lord Aberdare who sat here virtually throughout the day in order to do me the kindness of winding up the debate on my Motion for our side of the House. I am very grateful to all your Lordships, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before eleven o'clock.