HL Deb 29 October 1970 vol 312 cc242-80

5.56 p.m.

LORD SILKIN rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in the light of the strong opinions held by those concerned with secondary education, they will reconsider their declared policy on comprehensive schools. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. Noble Lords will remember that in the debate on the humble Address last July very few speakers made reference to the question of comprehensive schools. There were only two speeches in all which were devoted entirely to this subject, and it was in no sense a debate. With all respect to the Government's comments, it was wholly inadequate. Therefore I make no apology for raising this vitally important question: vitally important to the children of this country and to the future of this country.

Comprehensive schools have been in existence for a good many years. I think they originated in the days of the former Conservative Government and were continued and extended in the days of the last Labour Government, and in July, 1965, they reached the stage when the then Minister of Education, Mr. Short, thought it right to issue a Circular, No. 10/65, in which he requested local education authorities to prepare and submit to him plans for reorganising secondary education in their areas on comprehensive lines. The circular provided advice on the methods by which this could be achieved. For guidance he set out six different methods, forms of comprehensive education, to suit different conditions which have so far emerged. I fully recognise that conditions differ in different parts of the country, and what might be suitable in one area as a form of comprehensive schooling might not be suitable in another area. He thus recognised that uniformity in the set-up was not desirable or practicable.

To-day, two-thirds of the local education authorities have responded to his request, and many schemes were prepared and carried into effect. The comprehensive system to-day is well established. It has long passed the experimental stage. Throughout the country there are 1,300 comprehensive schools of different kinds. A large proportion of the local education authorities have one or more. Some have entirely comprehensive secondary education. Nearly one child in three over the age of eleven is attending a comprehensive school. The best of them have educational results equal to, or even better than, some of the best secondary or grammar schools. I do not want to overstate my case and I would not claim that that is the case so far of the majority, but it is of the best.

My Lords, within a week or so of her appointment the Minister of Education and Science issued a new Circular withdrawing the earlier Circular No. 10/65 and asking the local education authorities who were not already committed to bring forward fresh proposals, "fresh proposals" presumably meaning not necessarily for comprehensive schools. She did this with the knowledge that this was contrary to the views of practically all teachers' organisations and the majority of educational experts and parents. It was also contrary to the trend and practice in most European countries. There is complete comprehensive education in the United States of America and also in the Soviet Union. These facts, which presumably she knew, ought to have given her cause to hesitate before coming to the decision within days of her coming into office, and at least to have discussed the matter with the local education authorities before issuing a new circular.

Replying for the Government on July 9 on the point of consultation, Lord Aberdare, who I assume is not going to reply to-day, said that the withdrawal of Circular 10/65 is hardly a subject on which there is very much point in consultation, especially when you have just had a mandate in an election to that action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9/7/70, col. 337.] I felt at the time that this was not wholly in keeping with the character of the noble Lord as I knew him; he is not usually an aggressive person, and I cannot help thinking that he was somewhat exhilarated by the unexpected result of the Election. It reminded me of an equally hasty statement made after the 1945 Election, "We are the masters now", which the person who stated it at that time has never ceased to regret. If by that statement, that the Government had a mandate for doing this and therefore there was no point in further discussion, he meant that everything in the mandate has really the force of law and was not going to be discussed, then it is a very bad look-out for the democracy of this country and for the future of Parliament.

Is the Tory Manifesto without discussion to become the law of the land? Fortunately, the Government are having second thoughts about a good many of the things in their Manifesto, and I have every reason to think and hope that in the case of some of them they will be altered. I mention only the case of supplying arms to South Africa. Whatever may be the outcome of it all, there was a definite statement that the Government were going to supply arms to South Africa. I think they have very good reasons for hesitating and considering and discussing, and that is exactly what they are doing. But not so the Minister of Education. On this matter she needs no discussion or advice.

The purpose of my Question is to ask the Minister to think again, at least to hesitate and hold up further action, and, in spite of Lord Aberdare's view, to discuss the question with the bodies I have mentioned and with the local education authorities. This is obviously a political question; the reference to the Tory Mandate proves it. But the decision ought to be on educational grounds, on the merits of education, and not on the merits or otherwise of things in the Tory Mandate.

Why has the Minister been so hasty in doing this? Her circular states that she objects to complete comprehensive secondary education because it imposes a uniform system. She wants freedom of choice. But the circular put forward by Mr. Short does give freedom; it is not a uniform system. He puts forward six different choices which local authorities can adopt, widely different in type, although of course all providing for children at the age of 11, 12 or 13 attending a comprehensive school of one or other description.

But what is this freedom that the Minister talks about? By far the greater bulk of the children, perhaps 90 per cent. of them or more, still attend comprehensive and secondary modern schools, and the secondary modern are gradually fading out with the comprehensives. What choice will parents or children have? What choice have they in determining what school their children will go to? Those who can pay fees to send their children to grammar schools of one kind or another, of which there are not more than about 5 per cent., think that they have some kind of choice, but the remainder have no choice whatever but to send them to the school that is near to their home, whatever it may be. Parents think that they are entitled to use their money to give their children a better education than the child whose parents cannot afford fees—in other words, buying a place in a grammar school, regardless of merit and possibly at the expense of keeping out a child who would better benefit. It is true that a limited number get access to grammar schools by competitive examination al the 11-plus. I need not dwell at any length at all on the educational and psychological dangers of such a system, nor on its unreliability; so much has been said and written. It is really entirely discredited, not only in education circles but throughout the country.

This is the pernicious system which the Minister want to go back to or to give local authorities the right to go back to. She suggests that there is nothing sacred about 11-plus; it can be 12-plus or 13-plus. But the entry at 12 or 13 causes great educational disadvantages. Children are introduced to new subjects— languages, science, mathematics and others—which other children have been doing for some years, and it is exceedingly difficult for a child to jump in, to be plunged in, and follow what other children have been doing for a long time. I remember in my own case that my first lesson in chemistry was in the manufacturing process of sulphuric acid. I was then 11-plus. I had never heard of sulphuric acid, to my shame, and I must confess that I did not follow the manufacturing process, with the result that I was never particularly interested in chemistry; it took away my interest entirely. I devoted myself more to mathematics.

It is alleged to be the aim of the Government, as set out in Circular 10/70, to ensure that all pupils shall have full opportunity for secondary education suitable to their needs and abilities. Nothing is said about "full and equal opportunities", which is the point of the comprehensive school. It not only gives children an opportunity of an education "suitable to their needs and abilities" but it gives them an equal opportunity regardless of their means.

As things are, two children of equal ability living in different areas of local government will have entirely unequal opportunities. One local education authority will be in favour of comprehensive schools; another will be against them. It will be just a matter of chance as to which area the child happens to live in. A child in one area may have one chance in four or five of entering a grammar school, whereas in another area, by means of a scholarship, and other than as a fee-payer, that same child may have only one chance in 20. A child moving from one area to another may have completely different chances of getting to a grammar school. Is that giving, or likely to give, a "full and equal" opportunity to every child, or is there any freedom of choice, except to the 5 per cent. or so of fee-paying pupils?

The Government are proposing to leave this question of secondary education to the local education authorities. In my view, they are quite unsuited, and indeed unfit, to determine so vital a matter as the kind of education our children should get. Surely this is a matter for national policy. It ought not to vary from area to area, usually according to the political complexion of the local education authority which at that time happens to have a majority. By all means leave administration to the local education authorities; that is quite suited to their constitution and capabilities. But policy should be for the Government. I would ask the Government to consider the social advantages of a comprehensive system of education given to all young people of all sections, classes, incomes and environment, to meet and mix on equal terms, not only in their lessons and work, but also in games and sport and outdoor activities.

Finally, the Government circular contemplates the existence of the grammar school system and the comprehensive system side by side. I regard this as most unfortunate because it will tend to cream off from the comprehensive schools the most able of the children, those who will be attending grammar schools and who can have a better influence on children in the comprehensive schools. I therefore ask the Minister to postpone her final decision and to discuss this matter with those authorities and bodies who have definite views about it. I am sure that she has not given enough thought to the matter. The future welfare of this country and of our children depends far more on the vast majority of the children of whom we have been talking than on the future fee-payers, who certainly will not suffer by becoming integrated into the comprehensive system.

I hope that I may receive a favourable reply. The Government will not lose face by putting right this blunder of failure to consult. In any case, the fight for equal opportunities for all our children is not over. We shall return to the attack, over and over again if necessary, until all our children are attending comprehensive schools. It is bound to come even though the Government can impede and delay progress towards the objective. But in the long run they will not prevent this from coming about, because it is right and fair to all our children and it gives them an equal chance of the best education that we as a nation can afford.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, it is not my intention this afternoon to talk about the merits as such of the comprehensive system in education. As the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, it is already well known. Indeed, I think that the battle is won, with majorities certainly in all educational circles and also, I think, in all political Parties, agreeing about the merits of comprehensive education. That this is so is shown by the fact that the Conservative Party, in pursuing the present policy, is not in any way denigrating the comprehensive system, but is producing two arguments. The first is that comprehensive schools and grammar schools can co-exist; and the second is that there should be a local option.

On the first of those arguments, that grammar and comprehensive schools can co-exist, I shall not spend any time, because it seems to me to do violence not only to common sense but also to the English language. But the question of local option is a serious one, and indeed for a Liberal who believes in devolution, and the maximum amount of it, it is an extremely important question and one upon which we may be expected to have a great deal of sympathy with the Government.

In July of this year in the Bedfordshire County Council, following Mrs. Thatcher's circular, it was decided by two votes to reverse the comprehensive system which was due to be put into force. It was an admirable system. New Society, the following week or the week after, devoted the whole of its leader to praise of the comprehensive system, which was to have been put into operation before the county council reversed their decision. Soon after that, one of the people who had voted for the reversal of the comprehensive plan died, and there was a by-election in the Goldington Ward, normally a strong Tory Ward in Bedfordshire. This was contested on the one side by a Conservative, who was strongly for reversing the comprehensive scheme. On the other side, the other Parties and other interested bodies got together and agreed to put up one candidate, who I am proud to say was a Liberal. The by-election was held yesterday, and as many of your Lordships will be aware the Liberal, fighting on this specific issue, won in this hitherto sound Tory area. As a result, the majority against com-prehensivisation in Bedford has disappeared, and whether or not the scheme will go forward depends on the casting vote of the chairman of the council.

In itself, this is a splendid example of local democracy at work and of how local option should work. But see how dependent it is actually on chance! If the majority on the council had been greater than two the by-election would have made no difference. If a councillor had not very sadly happened to die, nothing could have been done about it. Even now the whole future of education in that county will depend upon how one person, as chairman, interprets his duty and how to use his vote. I suggest that that is not a very satisfactory way of deciding the future of hundreds of thousands of children.

To guarantee children the best education possible is surely a matter of a human right. I do not want to overstate this, and I know that we can talk too glibly about human rights, but I should have thought it was pretty basic. Surely this is something which should be enforced by the highest authority that can enforce it. Where matters of human rights are concerned, it is much better, for once, to give the power to a national body than to a local body, and better still if you can give it to a supra-national body. In this case, I think it is only right that the Government should give a lead, and should set down a policy; and the only part of Lord Silkin's Question with which I would disagree is where he spsaks about the "policy" of the Government, because it does not seem to me that there is any policy.

As I have said, one of the main reasons against local option is because of the importance of the future of the children involved. The second reason why I do not think that in this case local option is really a worthwhile argument is that as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, says, it does not work. The local authorities are not necessarily representing what the people concerned believe. As noble Lords know, I have had some research carried out into this subject, and so far as I can see there is no local education authority anywhere in England where there is not a majority of parents of those children already at school, and parents of children who will be going to school, in favour of the comprehensive system. Indeed, I think we have a minor example of this in the strong Tory ward of Goldington, where quite obviously it is the parents who have rallied to the defence of the comprehensive system.

Further, there is nowhere in England where there is not a majority of the teaching profession in favour of comprehensive schools. The overwhelming majority of the National Union of Students is in favour of comprehensive schools, and I would remind your Lord-ships that although to a certain extent we may discount their evidence as not being experienced, nevertheless they are the people who have just had the experience of going through the schools system. A great many of them, almost by definition a majority of them, have probably come through the lucky grammar school side of the old system and not through the secondary modern.

Therefore, I venture to suggest that local government does not represent what the majority of the people who are most intimately concerned actually want. However, I agree that one should not always follow the dictates of the majority. There is one very good example where one should not do so, and that is where the majority oppresses a minority, and where the majority, by insisting on something that they want, actually take away rights from the minority. I think perhaps this could be said, and has been said, to be the case in this matter of comprehensive schools as against selection. I do not think that argument stands up for a moment. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, quite rightly said that the question of parental choice is not affected by this decision one way or the other for a single person. What is affected is that if you have a comprehensive system you have a much wider variety of choice for the child inside the school, and that is extremely important. I do not think that by following the wishes of the great majority of the people concerned in this case and having a comprehensive system, any injustice would be done to the minority that does not want it.

I think that this is a case where local option, for once, does not really stand up to examination. I think it is important that the Government should have a policy and give us a lead on this matter. I think it is important that this lead should be given. Even if it is the wrong policy, I think it better that the Government should have that policy and should give us the lead than that they have no policy at all. It is for that reason that I should like to identify myself, and my colleagues who usually sit on these Benches, with the Question being asked by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and I hope that he will receive a slightly less dusty reply than we have had in the past.

6.25 p.m.


My Lords, my excuse for intruding upon your Lordships' time on the subject which has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is simply that some years ago I served a sentence of three years very hard labour as Chairman of the Central Advisory Council on Education, with a particular remit to concern ourselves with the organisation of secondary education in England. This was a period during which I acquired a certain amount of information about the schools in this country, and a great many opinions. I have always been a convinced believer in, and advocate of, comprehensive schools. When I use the word "always", I mean for the whole of my adult life.

I think I was first converted to that view when I first went to the United States, more than 40 years ago, and had an opportunity of observing the part that the public high school, in the American definition of that term, has played, and is continuing to play, in welding a single nation out of the many diverse elements who inhabit the United States. Ever since then I have hoped that in this country we could move towards a system of education which would reproduce those social and nation-building features without, let me hasten to add, some of the more purely educational and pedagogic faults of the American high schools, which seem to me to be almost as great as their social merits.

The time I refer to was long before the invention of the term "comprehensive" in this country, and even longer before comprehensive education became a matter of Party controversy. I think I can claim that, as occasion has served, I have been writing and speaking on this subject from the 1940s onwards, and on one occasion I played a part in persuading the governors of a secondary school of which I was a governor to accept a comprehensive scheme which at first sight they were disposed to reject.

My Lords, I think it is worth recalling a little of the historical perspective of this question. Until as recently as ten years ago the advocates of comprehensive education were quite definitely a minority, both in educational circles and in wider circles of public opinion. The tripartite scheme of education was based upon the Education Act 1944, passed by the Coalition Government with a Conservative Minister and a very distinguished Labour Parliamentary Secretary. But it was implemented, and the rules and regulations and details were worked out, by the Labour Government which came into office in 1945, and of which the noble Lord, Lord Sillkin, was such a distinguished member. That was the Government which created the system that he now describes as the pernicious system of tripartite education. Indeed, it is a matter of historical record that the first proposal for a comprehensive scheme of education put forward by any local education authority—and I am very glad to say it was by the West Riding of Yorkshire—was disallowed by Miss Ellen Wilkinson. I do not say this to score a point, but simply to illustrate the fact that in those days this was not regarded as being a matter of political controversy. In fact, the comprehensive view was very definitely the minority one.

My term of office as Chairman of the Central Advisory Council lasted from 1956 to 1960. The Council was a very representative body, specifically constituted to examine secondary education and representative of every interest that was thought to bear on the subject. I remember that those very few members of the Council, of whom I was one, who believed in the comprehensive principle at that time had quite a struggle to persuade our colleagues to insert a few kind words in the Report in favour of the principle. So that it is only in very recent times indeed—less than ten years—that this has been regarded as a matter of Party controversy. I must apologise for this rather long historical prologue of the remarks that I want to make, but it is because I am anxious to establish my claim to have what I think are the strongest credentials of any noble Lord present in the House to-night for being a lifelong believer in comprehensive education. And yet I am very doubtful whether I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in the views that he has been putting to the House to-night.

His Question asks the Government to reconsider their policy, without stating in the words of the Question in what direction they should reconsider it. But he made it clear that the direction in which he wished the policy to be reconsidered was to bring it more into line with the policy of the Government that went out of office on June 18. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, did not mention, in addition to Circular 10/65, the Education Bill of 1970 which, though debated in another place, never reached this House. I was very interested in the progress of that Bill. I paid very close attention to the debates in the other place, and was looking forward to those that would take place in this House when the Bill reached us. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will not think that I am simply taking this opportunity to make a speech that I should have made on another occasion. But I cannot deny the fact that the views that I am going to put before your Lord-ships are coloured quite considerably by what the last Government put into their Education Bill.

I shall not attempt to conceal from your Lordships the fact that, on the whole, I took a very adverse view of those proposals; and they are very relevant to the debate which we are having to-night, because, as I understand it, the question at issue is not (though to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, one would hardly realise it) whether comprehensive schools are a good thing or a bad thing—I think that they are a good thing—but whether they should be made compulsory and universal by law. It is on that that I venture to take issue with the noble Lord, for a number of reasons.

First (and I hope that I shall not get into too much trouble with noble Lords sitting on this side of the House if I say this), I cannot help having some distrust of the motives of the Labour Party. Their conversion, as I have been trying to argue, has been a very rapid one—it has taken place in a very few years—and I simply do not believe that a political Party becomes massively converted on a matter of this sort for purely educational reasons. This has been a political conversion, and I do not believe that the basic elements in it have been strictly educational. I do not know that that is necessarily a bad thing. I am not one of those who believe that you can keep politics out of every section of national life in which you happen to be interested. But there are some special reasons why it seems to me deplorable that this particular issue should be made a matter of Party controversy for, as I believe, not strictly educational reasons.

First of all, if one Party becomes strongly attached to a particular educational policy, then, very naturally, by one of the inevitable processes of politics, the other Party will become strongly attached to a different policy. This I should deplore; and if we are holding this debate for any reason it is, as I apprehend it, to prevent that. Yet the strong, the passionate, attachment of the Labour Party, for reasons which their opponents at least do not accept as being educational, is likely to give rise to precisely this division of opinion on education on Party lines, which I should hope we all agree would be disastrous. How dreadful it would be if the educational structure of the country were to be reversed every few years, just as if it were the nationalised steel industry!

If this state of affairs is beginning to come about, I cannot acquit the Labour Party of being the aggressors in the matter. They—not the Conservative Party—have been the first in this country to nail their Party banner to a particular line of policy. How much better it would have been if they had relied more upon the weapons of persuasion within the framework of educational policy agreed so far—


My Lords, does the noble Lord not think that by issuing Circular 10/65 the then Secretary of State for Education and Science was doing precisely what he is now saying he would prefer the Government to have done, instead of legislating at that time? I put it to him that, whereas we had previously had Acts of Parliament to ensure that local education authorities would conform with national policy, in 1965 the then Secretary of State for Education and Science did precisely what the noble Lord is suggesting the Government ought to have done.


No, my Lords. I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord; and I speak not as a member of either Party, but, as nearly as I can, as a disinterested observer. The freedom that was put forward in that circular, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, reminded me so much of the freedom which was given by Henry Ford to his customers—that they could choose any colour of car, provided it was black. The freedom provided by Circular 10/65 was to choose any system of education you liked, provided it was comprehensive. No, my Lords, I fear I cannot agree with the noble Lord that the remarks I made were not applicable to the case.

Secondly, apart from distrusting the nature of the way in which this controversy has arisen, and deploring the consequences of it in dividing the country on educational policy, I also deeply distrust the principle of uniformity in education. Standards we must have, yes. But that is a very different thing from uniformity. Had the frustrated Education Bill of 1970 been passed it would have been the very first time in this country that the Central Government had imposed a particular pedagogic doctrine—a doctrine with which I find myself in very wide agreement—upon the local education authorities of the country. But this imposition of uniformity is very dangerous, because it is based on the doctrine that the gentleman in Whitehall or Curzon Street knows best, and, indeed, that he is so sure that he knows best that he is not going to allow any other view to prevail. This I dislike. Much as I myself agree with the principle, I detest the application of it by compulsion. My position is what I might call the modified Voltairian principle: "I accept your views, but I will fight to the death against any attempt by you to impose them by law".

In education, more than elsewhere, surely, where we are dealing with the training of the minds and the forming of the character of the young people of the country, we should preserve enough decent humility to be prepared to admit that the other man may be right. In any national educational system there must be scope for variety and experiment. How often have we scoffed against Continental countries who did not believe in that ! How often have we laughed at the story of the French Minister of Education under Napoleon III pulling out his watch and saying, "At this hour every student in France is tackling a Latin essay"! The great glory of the English educational system in the past has been the scope that it has provided for variety and experiment. If there had not been that scope, and if there had not been a willingness to allow experiments and new ideas and even minority views to be tried out, how could the comprehensive idea ever have got started?

Once you accept the principle of imposed uniformity, where is it going to stop? Let me give your Lordships an example. There is a campaign beginning now—those who read the educational Press are now very familiar with it—against streaming. I am not sure that I can rely upon all noble Lords knowing the definitions of these terms, so let me say that "selection", as customarily used, refers to the schools to which children go; "streaming" refers to what happens to them when they get into their school. The new doctrine is that, having got all the children in an area into a comprehensive school, you should not then divide them into different classes by their ability but treat them all in the same way.

This campaign is starting in much the same way (and my memory on this is very clear) as the campaign for comprehensive education started. For myself, I think it is very valuable and useful that there should be a discussion on these matters, and also experiment—that it should be tried out. But I should be horrified at the prospect of legal prohibition of streaming. Yet let me assure your Lordships that once you adopt the principle of imposed uniformity it is no more ridiculous to think that in ten years' time it might be used to prevent streaming than, ten years ago, it would have been to suppose that there would be legal imposition of comprehensive schools in 1970. This is a very dangerous road on which to start.

Now if you remove the pressure for imposed uniformity there is no risk whatever of excessive diversity or fragmentation in educational organisation. Thought goes in fashions in the educational profession, just as it does everywhere else. At the moment—I repeat, to my pleasure—the comprehensive principle is the fashionable doctrine; but whatever the fashionable doctrine is at the moment, it imposes enormous pressure upon the administrators of the schools who, up and down the country, have to conform to it. To my mind the State, instead of imposing uniformity, should exercise all its influence against the pressure to conform. The State should regard itself as the guardian of the non-conforming authority.

Finally, my third reason for deploring the policy that was developing under the last Government and to which, if I am not doing him an injustice, Lord Silkin would wish us to return, is that I deplore haste in these matters. As I have tried to show to your Lordships, comprehensive education is a very new idea in terms of educational life and development. Even if all other objections to its imposition could be satisfactorily answered, I think it would still be right to wait a little bit longer and see the results. Schools are living organisms; they change their character only slowly. That character does not depend upon the buildings or the education authority, or, come to that, upon the parents of the children. It depends upon the changing body of the teachers in the schools, and if you do violence to the opinions honestly held by the teachers in a school you cannot fail but do harm to the cause of education.

That is why, believing as I do in the principle of comprehensive education, I have lent such little support as I could from time to time to attempts to prevent individual schools from being swept into a comprehensive system. Because the question that one should ask oneself about the preservation of a grammar school is not, to my mind, whether it is a grammar school or not; it is whether it is a good school or not, whether it has built up a momentum and a tradition of scholarship and of character-forming which would be unlikely to be continued under the new form to which it is subjected. It must be wrong, it seems to me, hastily to force good schools into a Procrustean mould designed for other purposes. Time and persuasion, and the eroding effect of professional opinion, will achieve the results, perhaps not quite so quickly but much more surely and much more satisfactorily.

Now, holding the views that I have attempted to set before your Lordships, should I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in asking that the Government should reconsider their views? Governments should always reconsider their views, on education perhaps more than on other subjects. They should be prepared constantly to reconsider their views; and if, indeed, the new Government's policy were one which was hostile to the comprehensive system, then I would cheerfully align myself with Lord Silkin against it. But as I apprehend the matter—and no doubt we shall get more enlightenment when the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, answers for the Government—that is not the policy of the Government. It is simply to remove the pressure of compulsion and, if you like, of official persuasion, which can come so closely to the same thing, towards the comprehensive system, and allow those who devote their lives, their thought and their attention to building up the schools system a freedom of choice, at least for a considerably longer period of time. If that is the policy of the new Government, I, for one, think it needs more support than condemnation.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Silkin for putting this Question on the Order Paper and for giving us an opportunity to hear from the Minister something of the policy of the new Government in relation to this vital matter. I cannot spend too much time at this late hour in attempting to reply to the noble Lord who has just sat down. Nor, indeed, have I any power to speak for the Labour Party. But I can tell him, as a teacher and as one who has been concerned in education all her working life, and as a Socialist of many years' standing, that I am no "Johnny-come-lately" to the idea of comprehensive education. The Socialist philosophy and way of life believes in equal opportunity, and therefore you can believe only in comprehensive education; and I am rather appalled that the noble Lord should suggest that we should not have any kind of compulsion. Would he have suggested, therefore, that the 1870 Act should not have been introduced, or that the 1944 Act should not have been introduced? In other words, should we have allowed people who did not want to attend schools not to be educated?


My Lords, if the noble Baroness will forgive my interruping, I am sure she does not wish to misrepresent what I said. I think I said quite clearly that the State should insist upon standards; but standards are very different from uniformity.


My Lords, as I understood the noble Lord—and I shall read with great interest to-morrow what he did say—he said that he did not want direction from central Government. He made some reference to Curzon Street, and so on, and although at the time of 1870 and 1944 there was no Curzon Street, one did in fact have direction. I would suggest to him that he could examine many Acts of Parliament in which there was an clement of compulsion which has worked only in the best interests of the democratic State in which we all live.

I should like to remind the noble Lord and other noble Lords—we are having something of an historical survey this evening—that the comprehensive development in education has deep roots, like all major policies. I think it would be useful to say that as long ago as 1925 the Assistant Masters' Association (not, I should have thought, a Socialist group) proposed that secondary education for all should be provided until the age of 16 in different depths in the same school—and that is certainly comprehensive education. Since the famous Circular which we have heard mentioned this evening was issued in 1965 by the then Government, there has been a forward move in comprehensive education, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, gave the figures concerning the situation at the moment. I will not repeat them, but I will repeat what has been said several times outside this House and what obviously needs to be said again within this House: that Circular 10/65 did not impose a uniform pattern of reorganisation; it asked that local authorities should look at their plans and that it should be recognised that the method and the timing would vary to suit local needs and local circumstances. It was not in any way an attempt at uniformity.

My Lords, the previous Secretary of State for the Department of Education and Science gave three relevant criteria in judging whether a particular plan was justified, and these are the ones on which we have based our case. First, the school must be fully comprehensive in its objective, and must provide for the elimination of selection; secondly, it should provide a better deal for the children; and thirdly, it should take account of the particular circumstances of the area in which it is to operate. After the issue of this Circular we had the Election and, a few days following the Election, after the formation of the new Government, the Secretary of State issued a Circular withdrawing the previous Circular which we have heard referred to this evening.

The Circular issued by the present Secretary of State seems to be the only statement of Conservative policy on secondary education that we can take as being factual. I think it is useful, therefore, to read it. In one sentence we are told that where a particular pattern of organisation is working well and commands popular support the Secretary of State does not wish to cause change without good reason. I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply what that means. What does "working well" mean? Is it "working well" for the people who are in the grammar schools or for those not fortunate enough to get in them because there are not enough places? Is it "working well" because the teachers are happy about it or is it "working well" because the parents are happy with it? It seems to me to be an extraordinarily ambiguous Circular which has given the Minister the opportunity, as I understand it, slightly to retract her original hasty statement.

I have read an account of her speech made yesterday. I should like to commend her on tackling the problem of the Victorian primary schools and on reducing the size of classes; and here she is following a policy adopted by her predecessor in office. But she says in her speech that schools are for children and that what goes on in them is the thing that matters. Nobody would quarrel with that. Then she goes on to say that we must avoid becoming preoccupied with systems and structure to the detriment of the actual content of education. What does the Minister mean by that? It sounds rather like one of those arguments of people who, if you have a different philosophy from theirs, will say, "Don't introduce politics". What they usually mean is: "Don't introduce your politics; I am much happier with mine. Yours are dangerous."

The system and the structure of an educational grouping will determine largely the kind of education the children will have. You cannot divorce the two things. I am not clear what the Minister wants. I would merely say that she cannot have it both ways. You either have schools which are non-selective or you have schools which are selective. Ï can remember that when I was teaching—and I have said this before in this House—I found that in one county the chance of a child getting into a grammar school could be 20 to 1; in another it could be 50 to 1. No child should be deprived of opportunity because of the geographical location of his home. It is senseless and unfair.

My Lords, I conclude by asking whether the noble Lord who is to reply would like to explain again what another of his colleagues meant in this connection. This was the statement by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who said in this House: We said in our Election Manifesto that the aim is to improve the quality of life. Your Lordships may well think that this is a vague phrase, but perhaps I can clarify it by making three points: first, our object is to raise the quality of life for everybody, for children and parents, for grown-ups of all ages …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, col. 165; 8/7/70.] If you are to raise the quality of life for children they must be given equal opportunity of the best kind of education we can offer; and in my humble judgment this can be done only through a comprehensive system.

6.55 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Silkin for introducing this Question. I shall try not to repeat the arguments that have already been made. Personally, I should have liked a completely non-partisan discussion of this important subject, which is the future of secondary education and its reorganisation in this country. But this has been made absolutely impossible by two things. The first was the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, who made, I think, one of the most naïve statements that I have ever heard in this House when he said that education is not a political question. I really have never heard anything quite so naïve as that. He based his arguments on this idea of compul sion; when he knows perfectly well that even Circular 19/70 asked for minimal plans for reorganisation. Therefore to talk about compulsion—no-one is against private education; but it must be private; this is State education we are talking about.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but may I briefly say that I shall be astonished if I discover in Hansard tomorrow that I said that education was not a political question or that I condemned compulsion in any other respect than for the imposition of uniformity.


My Lords, I am sorry if I misunderstood the noble Lord but I distinctly heard him say that education was not a political question. Also I think that the noble Lord has completely misunderstood comprehensive education, which is a philosophy, an attitude to the whole question of education. It is not just about particular comprehensive schools or what the noble Lord called "uniformity" of schools. There is absolutely no uniformity about comprehensive schools—in any event, so far. However, it is very difficult to be non-partisan on this issue.

I should like to begin by congratulating the Secretary of State for Education on her escape from the Chancellor's axe. I think she has done very well in obtaining the money for rebuilding the old primary schools. Thinking and research on all aspects of secondary education is going on throughout the whole of the Western World and I find little evidence of the retreat from the comprehensive approach to a more élitist pattern. As has been said, since the Education Act 1944 the selective system has come increasingly under attack, and by the middle 1950s most parents had reacted against selection. Comprehensive education had become part of the educational policies of the Labour and Liberal political Parties, but many Conservative-controlled local education authorities came to realise that there were few votes to be gained in defending the 11-plus. Since 1965 nearly all education authorities have embarked on some form of secondary reorganisation on comprehensive lines—not uniformity: simply reorganisation on comprehensive lines.

In fact, the first major impediment to the steady if difficult progress to overall plans for this reorganisation was brought about by the Secretary of State's first speech in Parliament when the electoral catchwords "Freedom of choice; no compulsion!" were trotted out and the Government left the crucial decision to the local authorities; so that where there are reactionary councillors the 11-plus examination which labels 75 out of 100 as failures can continue. It does not even take into account that up to 70,000 children are allocated wrongly to grammar schools and secondary modern schools. Then there is the anomaly of the regions, as most speakers have pointed out; 40 per cent. selected in Wales and 15 per cent. in some boroughs in Lancashire. Little wonder that younger parents now look at comprehensive education with an open mind! It would be fair to say the majority of parents and teachers now oppose the 11-plus.

I have taken these conclusions, not from such papers as the Guardian, or the Mirror, but from articles in Cross-bow, the Sunday Telegraph, the Sunday Times and The Times not papers one could easily brand as Socialist. But this new Conservative Government have shown themselves very partial to selection by numbers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his "mini-Budget" has this week introduced the "7-plus" in his milk shake-up proposals. So now we have two things: the 11-plus and the "7-plus".

Those of us who are dedicated to the idea of faster progress towards genuine secondary education are not against good grammar schools or good secondary modern schools. We wish to adapt them so that they do not remain a quarantine for specially selected children, because we do not accept the idea that only a small minority is capable of benefiting from grammar school education or that separate schools are needed for different abilities. We know that when a former grammar school becomes fully comprehensive more children stay on and go to university. The noble Lord, Lord Boyle (then Sir Edward Boyle), said in 1963, after the Newsom Report, that all children should have the same opportunity of acquiring intelligence. I agree with him, but I do not see how this could be achieved without a change, a fundamental change, in our attitude towards the advance of genuine comprehensive secondary education. It is senseless, my Lords, to speak of approving comprehensive schools only if they are what people call "custom built". We shall have to wait for the millennium for that.

It is also not fair to judge a comprehensive school alongside a grammar school which has creamed off the more able children in the neighbourhood. A genuine comprehensive intake is absolutely essential to attract and to keep staff of high calibre and to produce good results. People who speak of the setting up of comprehensive schools as imposing a uniform pattern—as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther suggested—are simply ignorant of the reorganisation that has taken place up to date, and the diverse forms that it has produced. I know that some of the reorganisations have not been very good or successful. One reason for this is that Central Government have given advice and local authorities have had to carry out this advice; and not all local education authorities are filled with educational experts. It is when the Government abdicate, and leave it largely to the local authorities, that grave and sometimes wrong decisions are made.

My Lords, I cannot believe that the best teachers in this country—and there are many—can envisage and consider teaching only in one type of school, only in a grammar or secondary modern school; nor that they do not wish to have a stake in reorganising secondary education in the 1970s, in this continuously advancing scientific and technological age and that they can contemplate only the educational pattern of the 1950s. I found a very clear definition of present-day educational goals in a pamphlet from a West German education research institution: To change the élite orientated education into an education for all, continuous throughout life. This is the philosophy fundamental to comprehensive education, equal opportunity for all our children—not just the rich and the clever—to become educated. So I hope that the Government will forget the throw-away slogans of the General Election, about "freedom" and "parental choice", and ask themselves the questions that we on this side of the House ask: Freedom for whom? Freedom for how many? Whose choice? Choice for how many? And, finally, my Lords, what price freedom of choice without equal opportunity?

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, I was lunching with a friend to-day and he quoted precisely the point that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, made about what was happening in French schools at any particular time. My friend is not a poor man; he could afford to have his children educated privately if he wished; but I was delighted when he informed me that he had studied the situation very closely and he thought that he ought to send his children to comprehensive schools because there they would learn to grow as members of one community, and would continue throughout their school lives to enjoy opportunities to study courses suited to their developing aptitudes and abilities. It is odd that it should have been to-day that that happened.

May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, that my friend is a comparatively young father of children and is facing the future. He is anxious to do his best to serve them to the utmost of his ability. He is not a member of the Labour Party and I was deeply impressed by What he had to say. When he began his speech the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, claimed a background of experience that he suggested none of us in this Chamber could equal. May I say that not one of us would question that. The noble Lord will have to rest content to be judged on the impression he made, as the rest of us have to. If he wants to study Hansard to-morrow he will be able to do so; but we in this Chamber have to judge what he said on the basis of what we understood him to be saying. We shall do our best to interpret the points he was making as faithfully as we can, but as I understood him, the noble Lord laid great stress on the fact that he had had experience that the rest of us had not shared.


My Lords, I am very sorry to intervene once again, but the only claim I made was to have advocated comprehensive schools for as long, I believe, as anybody now in the Chamber.


That is quite all right, my Lords. I am not in the least perturbed that the noble Lord should want to re-emphasise that point. He made it in such a fashion, if I may say so, as to influence the reception of his remarks at a later stage; and I have no doubt at all that he was establishing a background position of experience which entitled him to address us in a manner which I thought was certainly interesting and provocative.

The noble Lord said a number of things—and I hope I quote him correctly. He said that the State should regard itself as the guardian of those who do not wish to conform. I may not have that precisely correct, but there I understood him to be defending the local authorities who feel that they have a right to impose on the children in their localities the system of education which they think is right. Against that point of view I would quote the view expressed by one with long experience in the field of education, R. H. Tawney, for whom I have a very deep respect. He has inspired much of my thinking about education. I think I should be quoting him correctly if I used these words: What the wise parent would desire for his own child, that the State, in so far as it is wise, should desire for all children. That, as I understand it, is the motivation of the Labour Party, whose motives the noble Lord said that he mistrusted. I was sorry that he committed himself to that particular expression—that he mistrusted the motives of the Labour Party. It seems to me that in the field of education criticisms arise in some quarters only when the Labour Party is in power and wants to do something. I think that the Labour Party has good reason to be proud of its record in the field of education, not only in the last few years but almost from the time of its inception. I do not think that anybody can say that the Labour Party's educational policy has not been primarily and overwhelmingly concerned with the educational advantage of all children.

As for suggesting that it is a matter of political motivation, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, I deeply regret that he gave tongue to the words he used on that matter. He suggested that Circular 10/65 was like the Henry Ford selection—if you buy a Ford car, you can have any colour you wish so long as it is black. Was there ever such a travesty of Circular 10/65 as that? What it suggested was six alternatives to reorganising secondary education on a comprehensive basis, and there was nothing in the circular to suggest that if an authority did not meet all the requirements they could not have it. I suggest that that reference was hardly applicable.

I share the concern of my noble friend Lord Silkin about the present position. I see Circular 10/70 as the forerunner of the "Barber's rash" we have had this week, as an attempt to put the clock back, in the sense that it plays into the hands of the most reactionary elements in education in this country. I have spent many years in a county where the noble Lord's father was a colleague on the county council. For five years controversy has been raging, and the immediate consequence of Circular 10/70 being issued was that the most die-hard elements on the county council immediately attempted to hold up such progress as we had made in the matter of considering the reorganisation of secondary education.

I doubt whether any Member of this Chamber, either tonight or at any time, including the noble Lord, Lord Crowther (particularly having regard to what he says about his early conversion to the best in the comprehensive system) would dare to try to defend selection at the age of 11 plus—not one. The system that has been operating here has been condemned by every educationist of any standing at all. The Party opposite are as committed to ending selection as we are. I do not know whether they go the whole way with the Bow Group in their latest publication, but it seems to me that the Bow Group has gone a long way towards the comprehensive principle.

What is the alternative to selection and separatism? And what is the comprehensive system when we have got it? Is there anybody in the Labour Party who advocates a comprehensive system which means that every local education authority should conform to one particular pattern? The noble Lord, Lord Crowther, knows Very well that this is not so. He reads educational publications and is as well aware as I am that local education authorities have considerable opportunity for a varied approach to the type of comprehensive system they may adopt.

After all, what is it that we want when we talk about a comprehensive system? All we are seeking to do is to create a framework in which progressive change can continually take place. What else is it? Does anybody imagine that when we put a label on a school and call it comprehensive, we have made any change at all? We in the Labour movement do not want sham comprehensives. But we are convinced that we cannot have a sound comprehensive system and have a separatist system running alongside it. If we do, we shall give the man in the street the impression that there is a first-class system and a second-class system of education, and before long we shall have him regarding the comprehensive school as little more than a glorified secondary-modern establishment. And even the Bow Group has not a kind word to say about the secondary-modern school to-day.

I believe that my noble friend Lord Silkin is fully justified in expressing his concern. It is shared not only by us in the Labour Party, but also by members of the Liberal Party, by members of the Conservative Party and by many people who are not members of any Party. Before I sit down, may I say that in our consideration of secondary reorganisation we are over-concerned about academic examination results. The time has come when we ought to be giving more thought and concern to the needs of the children who appear not to be able to take advantage of academic courses. The time has come when, as we are seeking to free the primary school system from the restrictions of the 11-plus procedure, we ought to be seeking to free the secondary school system from the restrictions of the present examination system procedures.

I think we have a long way to go before we have a secondary system that really serves the needs of all our children. We do not have all the resources we should like to have. We have to face the fact that we have limitations in buildings, that we are not going to get all the money we want and that we could do with more teachers than we have. In conclusion, may I quote the words used by the then Secretary of State who issued Circular 10/65, Mr. Anthony Crosland: We should go forward as quickly as we can and as slowly as we must.

7.19 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to intervene to put a point of view from this side of the House. My only justification for doing so is that I have spent nine years on a county council and for ten years have been a governor of a big grammar school in East Anglia. In my county we have decided to go comprehensive in about two years' time, provided that we get the funds.

Having served nine years on a county council, I believe in local government and in local choice. I would remind your Lordships that local authorities pay about 40 per cent. of the bill for education in their areas and the State pays the other 60 per cent. Are not the local authorities then entitled to have some free choice? The Minister's latest Circular, 10/70, does not say that we are not to have comprehensive education. What it does say is that we are to have freedom of choice. That is the point we must consider.

No doubt a large number has gone comprehensive, and many more will do so when money is available. But there will never be enough money to go round for all the things that we want to do in education. In the reorganisation that we have in Suffolk—and I think Suffolk and Cambridge will be more or less the same—there will be a three-tier system, instead of the two-tier as at present; and it means building schools. We are hoping that we shall get the money, but the task will be extremely expensive. You cannot just find sites and provide the extra teachers needed when you are bringing in a three-tier system; it can only be done gradually.

I was delighted when the Minister announced that she had managed to get quite a lot of money to proceed with the modernisation of primary schools, because during the nine years that I spent in local government we were busy implementing the 1944 Butler Education Act which gave everybody a good education. I deplore the running down of our great new secondary modern schools. They have been improved enormously in the last ten years, and the children are given a very good education. A large number of pupils are passing their O-levels, and if they are late developers they change, after a year or so, to the grammar schools.

I agree so much with the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, on the question of uniformity. I think this is up to local authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, in his particular Party speech, said, rather surprisingly, that there should be complete dictation from the centre. If there is to be complete dictation from the centre, then the Government had better take over the whole of education and pay the whole bill. But there are a large number of people who do not want this. If we do not want it, then there must be freedom of choice for local authorities, and their education committees, which are comprised of very able people, to decide what is best. As I have said, we in Suffolk are going comprehensive, but it will take some time and it cannot be done if the money is not available.

I welcome the relaxation from 10/65 to 10/70 and the giving of freedom of choice. Obviously the previous Minister was not getting all he wanted, otherwise he would not have produced the Education Bill of 1970 to say that all areas should go comprehensive, whether they liked it or not. I deplore this, because there are excellent grammar schools in this country which many people desire to see carrying on. I support the Minister in what she has done. She has not said that she is against the comprehensive system in any way, but she is giving local authorities that freedom of choice which we did not have before.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name down on the list of speakers, but when I heard of the debate this evening, as one who has done a good many years of teaching the young, I felt that I must join in. I do not often differ from the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, because he is a far more experienced and older politician than I am and I often bow to his opinion. But on this occasion I feel that I must differ from him on one or two points.

A great deal has been said this evening about the two points of elimination of selection and equal opportunity. To deal first with selection, the great thing that we must realise is that no two children are exactly alike in their mental capability or the possibility of their achievements. It has nothing whatever to do with class, social status or anything like that. Two children of the same parents may be entirely different: one may be absolutely brilliant and the other very slow-going. From this fact it would appear obvious that every child should have an education that is wholly suited to it.

This plea for uniformity is to my mind entirely wrong, because it does not give the other essential of equal opportunity. I agree it is essential that equal opportunity must be given to every child. But the child will not get it if he is going into a school where some children are being taught things that are entirely beyond him, and he will not be able to keep pace with the others. That is why I feel that the idea of the elimination of selection is the greatest mistake that could possibly be made in education. I am not entirely against comprehensive schools, because I think there are many cases in which they work extremely well. It depends where they are, how they are run, what the administration is like and on many other things. But we must remember that this is a free country, and one of the freedoms that we must preserve is freedom of choice of the type of school to which we are going to send our children: and that choice must be influenced by what the child is like. Suppose your child has a particular leaning towards one subject or another. Suppose, for instance, that he has an outstanding talent for music: naturally you would want to send the child to a school where the musical standard was very high. But if you have only one choice, the child will not be able to make the most of it.


My Lords, I do not like interrupting, and I have not done so before this evening, but if one was a parent in Stepney with very limited means, what choice would one have of indulging a child's taste for music or anything else? Surely the only choice one would have would be to send the child to the school which the local authority dictated.


I agree with the noble Lord that there are some cases where the family is so poor that there is no choice other than to send a child to the local school, but in these days when wages are rising to a very high peak I cannot believe that the number of cases of this category is large.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord will give way? Would he tell us what more choice a parent has in the State system under the selective method than under the comprehensive method? Is it not true that when the child takes the 11-plus examination, if he passes he goes to a grammar school and if he fails he goes to a secondary modern school? There is no question of choice.


Most certainly, my Lords, as comprehensive schools are at the moment, with their streaming system, that is probably true. There is another point about comprehensive schools that one must consider. Education is not simply the doling out of factual knowledge. The best education is given in the school which is small enough for the headmaster or headmistress to know every single boy or girl individually, and to be able to cope with their difficulties. Naturally I do not say that that is always the case in schools of a size of 500 or so, but it is largely so. The comprehensive school is so vast that no head-master or headmistress can ever know anything particularly personal about many of the pupils. That makes a great difference, because the purpose of schools is not only for the giving of knowledge; it is also for the developing of character. This freedom of choice for parents who are sending their children to school must be preserved and maintained. That choice may often be a comprehensive school. Well and good; let it be so. But I cannot feel that it is right that we should dictate to parents the type of school to which they should send their child.

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, for providing this opportunity to debate secondary reorganisation. The noble Lord would wish us to study the terms of the Question. The essence is: … to ask Her Majesty's Government's policy on comprehensive schools. The noble Lord has fairly stated that the origins of reorganisation did not spring from Circular 10/65. This immediately leads us to one of the main points in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, which I felt was misunderstood by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. The 1944 Act left open a freedom of choice for local education authorities of which a few authorities gradually began to avail themselves, and we have listened with great interest to several noble Lords this evening recounting some of the doings between 1945 and 1965. The impetus was also provided partly by the 1958 White Paper, Secondary Education for All, which encouraged comprehensive experiments and partly by the free thinking of individual local education authorities, some of them under Conservative control, which comprehensive education as the best organisation for their needs. By 1964 there were 195 of these schools in existence.

I cordially agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that Circular 10/65 gave some form to the aspirations of many authorities by setting out six alternative patterns for reorganisation. I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, when he says that this means that there was entire freedom of movement from 1965 onwards. The noble Lord for a moment forgot that in the following year the building circular, Circular 10/66, was sent out.


My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? May I remind him that a number of Conservative controlled authorities have defied Circular 10/65 to this very day, or certainly up until the Conservative Party were returned to power.


My Lords, this is adding a little fuel to my flames. The noble Lord has obviously forgotten the sending out of Circular 10/66, which made it clear to all local education authorities that unless they put forward plans which were compatible with reorganisation they would not take a place in the building programme. The noble Lord is therefore now quite right when he says that if anybody did not wish to conform to what was being forced upon them by Circular 10/66 they were having to go into a situation where they defied the Government. That is as may be. What has happened—and I think we can agree on this—is that more recently the increasing popularity of middle schools, and still more recently sixth form colleges, is proof of how, looking back to Circular 10/65, many local education authorities interpreted what their actions should be.

Meanwhile, with these increasing experiments, and in the light of much of the evidence which was in the Crowther Report, there were many people who genuinely came to doubt the continuing wisdom of secondary modern schools catering for a narrow range of ability; but it would be quite wrong to see these schools, many in spendid buildings, with devoted staff and with self-confident children, as centres of failure. Such a view is a total injustice. Indeed, it has been the very success of the teaching in these schools, particularly in the education of less able children, which has stimulated many plans for reorganisation. When the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, questions the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, upon the quality of life, may I beg the noble Baroness to recognise the general rise in educational standards which has taken place in the past decade, for which both political Parties have been responsible.

Yet Circular 10/65 was and has been a target for criticism. Why? The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said in her speech that difficulties have sometimes arisen in comprehensive education because Governments have directed and local authorities have not been expert enough to administer. I agree with the evidence of the noble Baroness which she put in a moderate form, but I would not agree with her conclusion. In 1968 the National Foundation for Educational Research's Report, in defining fundamental problems in comprehensive schools, held that lack of established traditions could be turned to advantage by schools which were purpose-built or which had organisations tailored to suit. But in issuing the circular the Government have made it clear that comprehensive plans could receive no special comprehensive allowances, and undoubtedly the circular created a situation where a limited number of authorities proceeded with schemes which have given rise to difficulties of organisation within some schools.

Then suddenly, early this year, the situation altered. Either the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, were not aware of a Bill which did not reach your Lordships' House, or else they do not take the same view of it as do the present Government. The Labour Government introduced an Education Bill to remove selection from all maintained secondary schools. This Bill sought to upset the balance between local education authorities and Central Government which is implicit in the 1944 Act, whereby the authorities put forward their proposals and the Secretary of State has the power of final decision.

The Bill perpetuated the idea of policy without resources: of financial help there was no mention. It ran headlong into the problems of securing a balanced intake into schools which some authorities have earnestly tried to achieve by a process of banding, as it is called; and, most serious of all, the Bill sought to introduce blanket compulsion of all local authorities, including several where officials and elected representatives were still working to secure agreement to their plans. In the event the first clause of the Bill was defeated in Committee in another place and by the time it was put back again the General Election had ensued. So this Government inherited an evolutionary process for which the previous Administration had suddenly sought compulsory powers. And in view of a great deal that has been said this evening I would beg your Lordships' indulgence while I say a word or two now about what our policy is and what it is not.

Our major objective is to ensure that all pupils shall have full opportunities suitable to their needs and abilities. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, spoke at length about lack of consultation. It really is inherent in the circular that consultation will occur for the very reason that in paragraph 1 the Government oppose a uniform pattern. Paragraph 2 makes local needs and wishes a criterion, and paragraphs 3 and 4 both refer to the need for consultation.


My Lords, I understood my noble friend Lord Silkin to be making the point—and I think it is a very valid one—that Circular 10/70 was issued without any consultation either with L.E.A.s or with professional organisations.


My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, will bear with me for a moment I think he will see that the circular is not Draconian and for that reason the light of consultation does not beat as heavily on it as it might have done on other circulars.

Many times we have emphasised that 11 (and this, I think, is common ground and has been said before this evening) is too early an age for final decisions on a child's future. For this reason, Circular 10/70 does not imply or express any insistence on 11-plus selection. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has described local authorities as unsuitable and unfit for organisational decisions. I quite realise the noble Lord's point on that—for organisational decisions on secondary reorganisation.


For policy, my Lords. I thought they were suitable for organisation; for carrying out things.


For policy decisions on secondary reorganisation. And the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, spoke at length in his speech about the worthlessness (I hope I do not misrepresent the noble Lord) of local choice in this field.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. It is true that I left out a section of my argument with which I have burdened your Lordships before, because I thought it was not completely pertinent to the debate to-night. But in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has said, I think I ought to make it clear that I am in favour of a reorganisation of local authority work which would put the power for the organisation of education into the hands of representatives of the parents and the teachers in the particular area, and not in the hands of the council elected on an overall change of political outlook every three or four years. This is obviously a major point which needs discussion on another occasion. But it is not that I am against local option completely as such. I think it cannot work in our present constitution.


My Lords, the noble Lord makes himself crystal clear and we will proceed along those lines. When all is said and done, plans for secondary schools, which are so much more expensive than primary school building, depend upon a supply of money; and this was a point on which my noble friend Lord Wolverton put his finger with unerring accuracy. It is for this reason that we are convinced that it is right that the main initiative for change should rest with the local authorities, and we welcome reorganisational plans which stem from an assessment of how resources for new educational ideas can best meet local needs. Indeed, many are the authorities where clearly the careful development of plans, with support of teachers and parents, has at no point been concerned with political alignment.

So the central principle of the Government's policy once again is evolutionary. Circular 10/70 permits local education authorities to proceed with approved reorganisation schemes. It asks those authorities with plans currently lodged at the Department to state their wishes. And, finally, the circular welcomes the submission of new plans. Once again, for this there must be consultation. Already the Secretary of State has approved schemes for Leeds, Tees-side and for areas of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Derbyshire. These cover a variety of patterns—middle schools, sixth-form colleges and all through 11-to-18 schools. Not too bad for a Government which has apparently no policy! The authorities have justified them, based them on careful planning and detailed consultation; and the plans were, I assure your Lordships, realistic in their use of existing buildings and application of new resources. Educational considerations, local needs and wishes, and the wise use of resources—these are the general criteria by which we intend to judge schemes submitted for our approval.

My Lords, what of the future? First, a point of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, that comprehensive education, of which he is such a distinguished supporter, is something which is comparatively new. The noble Lord said, if I read him aright, that he distrusts strong political opinions made in haste on the subject. Your Lordships may be interested to know that the National Foundation of Educational Research, which has published its first two surveys—one in 1968. and the other one only about a month ago on comprehensive reorganisation—is now planning its third one, and this it is hoped may be out in 1971. It is intended that it shall concentrate upon the aims of comprehensive schooling and what are its aims. This year, 31 per cent. of pupils in the maintained sector were in fact in comprehensive schools. Yet the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is in essence questioning this evolutionary process. During the abortive progress of the Education Bill earlier this year it was the previous Administration who tacitly admitted this process by resisting pressure from their own supporters in another place when they tried to set a date for a completely comprehensive system.

I accept that different schemes within the comprehensive system and different schemes in general can sometimes occasion administrative headaches. But this is a price that Government must always pay for the benefits of educational experiment and local responsibility, and for the benefit of the words which I believe were in the Crowther Report—I paraphrase: "We really cannot afford to lose even one good school."

The truth is, my Lords, that while pupils increasingly are choosing to stay on at school, and with the school-leaving age just about to be raised, our real concern surely should be what happens within the schools. Is it beneficial to "stream", as it is called, or to "set"; and what methods of general organisation within the school should be preferred? What administrative load can a headmaster or a headmistress reasonably be called upon to bear; and what methods can large schools devise for the pastoral care of pupils and contact with parents which has been the concern of so many in education for years past? I am aware that these are matters for the authorities and for the schools—and not for the Department—in consultation with Her Majesty's Inspectors, but they are matters which surely should be the concern of us all.

How should the very gifted be taught, and what unfulfilled need exists for boarding education, and are the greater expenses in this field worthy of deeper consideration? To what extent can we meet the higher expenses of special education, in human terms so richly deserved; and for the purposes of this debate what are the best arrangements, in terms of manpower application, which can be made in comprehensive schools for teaching the less able?

My Lords, Section 8 of the 1944 Education Act laid a duty on local education authorities to provide secondary schools sufficient in numbers, character and equipment to afford for all pupils opportunities in education, offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of different ages, abilities and aptitudes. If Section 8 provides a firm base for continuing educational advance, then within our resources we must try to pursue the ideal of satisfying diverse interests and needs. What do you do, I wondered, as I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, with a particularly nervous child if the neighbourhood schools by reason of size or character are totally unsuitable? It is surely no discourtesy to comprehensive education to envisage within our resources a pattern of freedom of choice.

When noble Lords on the other side of the House are misguidedly castigating us, may I just remind them that it is not without interest that two education authorities so frequently referred to by the previous Administration as recalcitrant are reported to be moving towards comprehensive planning now that the sting of coercion has been removed. Let us encourage authorities who fear that some waters may be cold to dip in a foot and so convince themselves that perhaps a swim would be beneficial. Let us allow local education authorities to review their plans to make the best of all that has been found good, and let us advance, not with threats but in co-operation and on a broad front. This is a policy of which we could all be proud and which would have a beneficial influence on us all.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask this question? He was so courteous that I did not want to interrupt him before. The noble Lord referred to the nervous child mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, and he indicated that at the moment parents had a choice. Would he please explain what element of choice there is for the parent whose child has to go to the nearest neighbourhood secondary modern school?


My Lords, the choice is in the pattern of education to be found in many parts of the country and which Circular No. 10/70 says it will not upset.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask a very small question? The noble Lord said that in the present state of education we cannot afford to lose one good school. Why do people like noble Lords opposite assume that if there is reorganisation we shall lose the good schools? What is going to happen to these good teachers—are they all going to become "bookies", or something? Or are they going on teaching?


My Lords, the assumption is in the mind of the noble Baroness; not in mine.