HL Deb 11 November 1971 vol 325 cc498-560

4.40 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, before the debate on the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is resumed, I should like, with the permission of the House, to apologise to the House on the matter of the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. We were all looking forward to hearing his maiden speech, and when I discovered that he was not in the House I made inquiries and discovered that he never had any intention of speaking in this debate. What I am afraid happened—and the responsibility is firmly mine—is that the name of Lord Beaumont came through as wishing to speak, and as it was only a day or two previously that I had seen Lord Beaumont and heard that he wished to sit on the Cross Benches and was going to take an active part in the House, I assumed that it was that Lord Beaumont and not Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who has already addressed the House. Therefore I am afraid your Lordships will be deprived of the pleasure of listening to Lord Beaumont this afternoon. I do apologise.


My Lords, I am bound to say that the House regards this failure by the Government Chief Whip with the greatest seriousness. I am not sure the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, should not have been in the sackcloth and ashes, too, because the message came from him. However, think we are prepared to overlook it, and we look forward with even greater pleasure to the maiden speech of the real Lord Beaumont in due course.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships have listened to two very interesting speeches in this debate, and I will try in my own remarks to follow them, but, with your Lordships' permission, I will answer the debate at the end. My Lords, And one man is as good as another and a great deal better, as the Irish philosopher said", is a warning of a possible state of absurdity which Thackerary once gave. I think this warning the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, avoided in her speech. She showed the House that her interpretation of this Motion is the need to pay particular attention to the education of children who start life with the greatest handicaps, be they mental, physical, social or environmental. A familiar picture which is sometimes painted of education is that of a pyramid, with the broad base of primary population and the tapered summit of further and higher education. I suggest it is natural, when each new Secretary of State takes over, that he or she should take the view that perhaps some parts of the pyramid have been over-strengthened and others dangerously neglected.

What is essential is that the Secretary of State of the day should take a dispassionate view. I am sure that many of your Lordships here this afternoon will understand at first hand what I mean by that, for you will comprehend very well, and often share, the hopes and ideals of the many people who are often totally committed to a particular sector of education. The trouble is that this can never be the part of Government, which has a responsibility to the whole school career of a child, a career which must be a continuing process. Recently Mr. Edward Short declared his belief in secondary education for everyone up to the age of 18 years of age, and about six months ago lie called for nursery education on demand for every child from the age of 3. Anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the right honourable gentleman will know that these statements are the symptoms of a generous desire to offer to all children everything in education which he would want for his own. The sentiment is entirely admirable, but I suggest that the method is hardly practicable.

The increase in the educational budget in the last decade has surely been one of the most remarkable manifestations which has been seen in any country in modern times of national demand on Government, but always there has had to be an expenditure ceiling. True, the ceiling can be raised sometimes if the Government are prepared to switch resources within a programme—a matter which has caused great opposition, even in your Lordships' House, in the last few months—and the ceiling may be jacked up permanently provided that the gross national product of the country presents an expanding façade into which the educational element may fit. Thus I do not think any of your Lordships would for one moment deny the added educational opportunity which might have been ours as a leading member of the European Economic Community in the 1960s; and we all hope for an increasing educational budget in the decade that lies ahead.

"But are you doing the best with what you have got?" That is a fair question at any time to any Government. We have declared our priority; it is to strengthen the base of the pyramid; it is to do our best for the primary schools. If children cannot mix freely together at the primary school stage they never will, and it is because this vital stage of school, on which a child's subsequent career depends, was crying out for extra help eighteen months ago that my right honourable friend announced her primary school building campaign. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said in her speech. This is surely a policy of social equality—equality of opportunity. Eighteen months ago it was thought that 4,500 primary schools were in unsatisfactory buildings which would need an expenditure of £180 million. Then there were further returns from the local education authorities which showed that the total number of these schools was nearer 6,000, and including the 13 per cent. higher cost limits approved last autumn the bill escalated to some £250 to £260 million. May I make it plain that this target is not to replace all pre-1903 primary schools, some of which are still excellent buildings if they have modern facilities through minor projects; the £260 million is needed for all the pre-1903 primary schools for which there is a longterm need and which call for a major rebuilding project.

The total value of all major building work to be started this year and next will run at record levels. We are indeed proud that my right honourable friend has already announced nearly £190 million for her first four building programmes for primary school improvements; because one in every five of our primary school children are in 19th century buildings, compared with only one in twenty of those in the secondary sector. In addition to the major building programme my right honourable friend has asked Her Majesty's Inspectorate for an assessment of the handicaps of bad school buildings in rural areas. She is doing this at a critical moment, just as we are thinking of the next detailed announcement for the 1974–75 building programme. Fresh thought, therefore, can he given to the claims of the rural schools.

We have also recently increased the cost limits for minor works from £30,000 to £40,000 and allocated an extra £5 million to local education authorities in areas of high unemployment for this year and next taken together. If we had the advantage of a chief education officer as a Member of your Lordships' House I think we should hear more frequently than we do the case for increases in minor works by means of which local education authorities and voluntary schools can transform a school. I am glad to be able to tell the House of this extra very large sum which we have been able to send to the areas of greatest need.

When discussing younger children, two points are frequently at issue. The first is the value of the "head-start", as the Americans call it, if it means nursery education taking place in isolation—the point the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made as his main point at the end of his speech and to which I will try to refer later in the debate.

Secondly, surely we must consider closely the cost-effectiveness of nursery schools, where over £200 per annumfor each full-time child is really more than the cost of a secondary place for a young person under the sixth form. When the Plowden Committee reported six years ago, their recommendation was that half of our 3-year-olds, and 90 per cent. of our 4-year-olds, should have mainly part-time nursery education. This would entail to-day about £100 million of capital spending, and about £50 million of recurrent spending per annum.Thus it is that subsequent Government policy followed another Plowden concept; that of "positive discrimination" for the most deprived areas.

To their credit the previous Government launched the urban programme to help those areas, and approved about 10,000 extra places in nursery schools and classes. I am glad to be able to report to the House that in eighteen months we shall have achieved almost as much as our predecessors did in six years. By this year's end we shall have approved about 8,000 further nursery places in deprived areas, including about 3,000 which come under the capital programme for areas of high unemployment. In addition, and all over the country, there are to-day over 200,000 children who are to be found in what are called the play groups. This is one of the most striking examples of self-help in the last few years, and the value of these groups to both children and adults should never be underestimated. My right honourable friend has doubled her grant to the Pre-School Play Groups Association itself, and under the Urban Programme help is being given, through local authorities, to play groups in the deprived areas with a 75 per cent. grant from the Exchequer.

Next year an Order will be laid before both Houses (and will be subject to the Negative Resolution procedure) for the raising of the school-leaving age to become effective on September 1, 1972. Your Lordships will recall that this move was announced by the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, when he was Minister in 1964, and I think it is worth weighing for a moment the need for a move which is going to cost £125 million in extra school-building alone. A 16-year-old school-leaving age was envisaged in 1938 when the Spens Committee reported, and it was provided for specifically in the Education Act 1944. Those who are worried by the prospect of reluctant 16-year-olds and the problem of truancy (if there may be some of your Lordships among them) still wish, I know, to encourage more voluntary staying on. But in 1959 the Crowther Report, and in 1963 the Newsom Report, examined just this argument, and concluded that the voluntary process was too slow and that as a nation we really could not afford to wait. Since then the percentage has risen: from 1964 to 1970 it has gone up from 36-9 to 54-8 per cent. But still there are significant regional variations. Consider the case of an area where the voluntary rate for staying on is low but where an infusion of life, which perhaps new industry can bring, is needed. In this context I believe that this act really will be a step up to a levelling up of opportunities, which is precisely the objective and almost exactly the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, in another place seven years ago.

In a speech earlier this year my right honourable friend recalled that when the school-leaving age was raised to 15 in 1947 it was described then as "an act of faith". To-day the buildings are going up, the teaching force is increasing, and for a period of seven years the Schools Council has been giving a high priority to preparing the curriculum. I think it is fair to hold the view that the raising of the school-leaving age has been planned not just as an extra year tacked on at the end of the school course, but as part of the secondary course as a whole. In August we asked, in a circular, for all authorities to let us have by December 1 reports on their state of preparedness, and we asked also for indications of any further action which the authorities envisaged before the operative date.

Many of your Lordships may feel that colleges of further education can play an important part in the success of the raising of the age. In recent years the schools have been developing linked courses, as we call them, with further education, and in February, 1969 (this is the latest figure I have), some 13,700 pupils were using further education facilities in exactly this way. Our Circular 8/71, to which I have just referred, drew attention to this significant development, to which the raising of the school-leaving age may be expected to offer new possibilities for further growth. The majority of these linked courses have a vocational element, and I thought that the House would wish for a reassurance that it will be perfectly possible, after September 1 of next year, for the adult world of further education to co-operate with the schools after the raising of the age becomes effective.

My Lords, may I, very briefly, say a word about two groups of children who demand particular attention—the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, certainly referred to both of them. From 1966, the first year for the collection of immigrant statistics, the numbers of children of overseas parentage increased rapidly, by 30,000 or 40,000 a year. In the last three years, however, we have found the increase slackening, and provisional figures show a total of 270,000 children of overseas parentage, and fewer of them under the age of 8 this year than last. But it is the concentration of these children who need special attention, if they are to have an equal opportunity, that presents the real problem. Some of your Lordships may recall an early Schools Council Working Paper which identified the learning of English as a second language as being the central matter in the academic chances of an immigrant child in a British school, and warned that, while loyalty to native culture is a natural impulse, the pupil absolutely must to some extent become involved in the life of this country if he is going to profit from school attendance here. However, that publication pointed out that there is an alternative, and it is the least rewarding path of all—that is, to drift; to make no effort at all to preserve the old or acquire a new way of life. And the consequences, that Paper said, might be called "marginal man", with no culture, no base, and no psychological security.

It is the stark reality of that possibility that draws attention to all that is being done in the field to-day. There are the reception classes, the language centres, the extra equipment—all depending, I know, on local authority initiative. There are the special grants to local authorities for extra staff. There are increases for teacher quotas, and the special teacher's allowance for schools of exceptional difficulty which has recently been increased to £83. The contribution of the Urban Programme to nursery education will, I think, be of special benefit because it is beamed, as I have said, to difficult areas. Four years ago, following the Plowden Report, the last Government commissioned a very large action research project, financed by the Social Science Research Council and the Department, concerned with five deprived areas. This project has been completed, and we await with interest the report of its director, Dr. Halsey, on the success of the measures taken to improve educational opportunities in these areas. Meanwhile, again under the Urban Programme, we are helping the five authorities concerned to continue with the work in those projects which they think to be the most valuable.

The second group about which I want to say a word or two are the handicapped, for whom the educational system assumed full responsibility on April 1 of this year. I know of the vast fund of experience on this subject in this House, but perhaps your Lordships will forgive me if, after the debates we had on the Bill on Transfer and the subsequent debates in this last year, I mention only two things. First, I think your Lordships will wish to know that members of the Inspectorate have been carrying out a survey of the transferred premises to see what improvements will be necessary in their future building programmes. Secondly, the new three-year initial training courses for teachers of the mentally handicapped should increase the overall stock of teachers annually and, in addition, there will be an annual intake of existing teachers through in-service training. Despite the really remarkable work of the Training Council on the running of courses for the diplomas in the past, it is notable that these three-year courses already in operation are producing more qualified teachers for this work than the number of diploma holders previously emerging from the one and two year courses, and I am sure that this is something which all of us will be pleased to know.

Inevitably, in a debate of this sort—and I am afraid that I have been as guilty of it as anybody—one must focus on the resources which are to be provided and the plans which are being made. But I think it would be shortsighted to omit any consideration of our motives for the organisation of secondary education in a child's career. It is my own view that we should never disregard the wisdom of the 1944 Education Act, which left the way open for various forms of organisation, and of course along that way have moved the comprehensive schools. But the open-mindedness of 27 years ago, which opened the way to innovation, surely carries a warning to those who seek to destroy all other forms of secondary education. In a time of still scarce resources, we still have much to gain from many parts of the education system.: and not least from the direct grant and independent schools. We gave an Election pledge to encourage the direct grant system. From next January, we intend to raise the general capitation grant to repair the cut of £20, which was imposed by the previous Government, by an increase of £30, and we intend a considerable upward revision of the income scales for a remission of school fees. These schools already offer an excellent education to a wide variety of pupils, and the increase of about £2 million per annum in public spending will do this, my Lords. It will facilitate a further widening of the intake of these schools for, with the extra capitation grant, we are requiring a matching reduction in tuition fees, and the alterations to the remission scales to reach across a very wide income band.

Equality—that is to say, the pursuit of equality of opportunity—and excellence are, I believe, two strands in the fabric of secondary education. But they must be joined by diversity. Since June of last year, my right honourable friend has received 2,889 proposals for changes in schools, of which she has rejected just 27. More than 1,000 proposals have related to secondary schools and of these, since last April alone, we have approved a wide variety. I would not minimise the difficulties of the varied pattern of schools which stem from differing local circumstances, differing modes of educational thought and different stocks of existing buildings. But, surely, the need of education is evolutionary, and the caution and care which have been required for many years at local level call for matching responsibility at the Department in London. That is why I suggest that we must examine critically the proposals for schools on split sites, and determine whether the drawbacks are outweighed by the educational advantages. There is also the value of smaller schools, where it is interesting to find that voluntary staying-on rates are, for some reason, above the national average.

I believe that the preference for moderately sized schools has been a factor in middle school development. We should always consider, should we not, the suitability of middle schools to stretch the abilities of the brighter child, which is surely relevant in the context of this Motion. But in the context of middle schools, the strange fact is that we have few firm guidelines. We have been approving schools which range considerably in size. There are mixtures of 8-12 or 9-13 schools, and some local education authorities include provision for both. It always surprised me that Circular 10/65 gave, I think it is fair to say, no very firm lead on the desirability of a break at 13 or 14, and it is important that my right honourable friend is reluctant to see the later transfer age year. Linked courses, and gradually sixth-form colleges, are becoming familiar features—


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt? I have Circular 10/65 here and on page 2, paragraph 3(6), it specifically mentions the age of 13 and the middle school.


Yes, indeed, my Lords. I apologise if I am misleading your Lordships—the noble Baroness has a great deal more experience in this matter than I have. I think that the Circular which I do not have in my hand—mentions the ages of 13 and 14 several times, but my point is that I do not think it gives any very clear lead on which is the age to go for. As I was saying, linked courses and gradually sixth-form colleges are becoming familiar features, but of the five schemes for sixth-form work situated exclusively in further education, only one, Exeter, is fully operative, and only time is going to reveal the pros and cons which none of us at the moment know for sure.

It was Dr. Michael Young, in his book, The Rise of the Meritocracy,who warned of where equality of opportunity could lead. One of the most significant developments of the 1960s has been the concept of school as part of the community, and the much more general concept of the two-way benefits for broad development of the individual which can flow from this idea. In assessing secondary organisation, I am convinced that our eyes should be glued to the telescope which is focused on the finish of the secondary school course. We should be looking for evidence of whether each pupil's ability has been extended to the full, and whether each pupil is aware of the duties within society which his or her ability involves or imposes. In saying that, I think that not so much divides myself from the noble Baroness who spoke first.

May I finish by saying a word about further and higher education? I make little apology for having devoted the major part of this speech to education at the school level. It is our belief that it is both the most effective and appropriate use of resources to concentrate on improving the child's development in his formative years. We do not think that all is determined by the age of seven; there are indeed some among us whose talents may not be awakened until even the age of 17. One of the great strengths of our varied educational system is that we do not leave these late developers simply to be forgotten. The further education sector provides an alternative route for their opportunity. Possibly the greatest virtue of further education is the flexibility with which it caters for the needs of the individual—flexibility which comes from its undoubted diversity. It is a matter of great concern, particularly, perhaps, to many of your Lordships, that this diverse system should be able to meet the pressures of the next decade.

In this connection, I should like to draw noble Lords' attention to a striking article in the first issue of The Times Higher Education Supplement, a new and vigorous younger brother for The Times Educational Supplement. The article was by Sir Eric Ashby, a most distinguished spokesman for the university world, or, as he called it, the academic establish-ment. He conjectured that by 1980 some 800,000 young people will be seeking higher education and he posed the question: how is this to be provided? His answer stems from a quotation which he gave from Dr. Alvin Weinberg: Our society is mission-oriented. Its mission is resolution of problems arising from social, technical and psychological conflicts and pressures… In society the non-specialist and synthesiser is king. The university by contrast is discipline-oriented… The problems it deals with are, by and large, the problems generated and solved within the disciplines themselves…In the university the specialist and analyst is king. Sir Eric went on to examine the likelihood that the universities will be able to make the radical change in their style of teaching that is needed if, in the con-text of further expansion, the demand of the young for "relevance", for what he calls "exercises in mission-oriented thinking", is to be met. Sir Eric judges that this is something which universities are not designed to give, either by tradition, social function or by the qualification and experience of their teaching staffs, and he reaches the final conclu-sion that the academic establishment has no solution whatever to offer.

If I may say so, with great respect, the Government are in a slightly better posture. When we were last in Office, we laid the foundations for a great expansion of the universities, of the further education institutions and of the colleges of education. Our successors followed this up with their most important decision to create 30, and to develop 30, polytechnics. As my right honourable friend announced last Friday in another place, she is giving this policy a new and vigorous thrust by her decision greatly to increase the building programmes for polytechnics and other further education colleges. We are aiming to authorise some £140 million of starts over the three years from 1973-74, and this will represent an increase of about 75 per cent. over the allocations for the previous three years. We attach importance to the enlargement of choice and opportunity that will be provided by the growing diversity of institutions. The needs of the discipline-oriented are, in my opinion, and in the opinion of my right honourable friend, being superbly catered for by the universities. But there is a need also for institutions which will take as their paramount task, particularly at the undergraduate stage, education in what A. N. Whitehead once called, "the acquisition of the art of the utilisation of knowledge".

Perhaps I might, finally, take this opportunity to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, who when in office did so much to establish the Open University. We, for our part, have welcomed this institution not only as an extension of the principle of diversity but also as potentially a substantive instrument for the rethinking of the curriculum and methodology of teaching at the tertiary level in general. It would be rash to predict the future growth of so young a child—the Open University is, I think, rather nearer seven months than seven years old—but its impact may well extend far beyond its immediate students. What needs no prediction is that it offers the opportunity of higher education to a variety of people who for many reasons have never had the benefit of a traditional degree course.

My Lords, I apologise for keeping your Lordships, and I must confess that I had misgivings over some ambiguity in the Motion this afternoon. I had half hoped that in Lady Phillips's plea for social equality she would have drawn attention to the fact that while, in connection with the Census, the Registrar General places university teachers, judges and bishops in Social Class I, he relegates Ministers of the Crown to Social Class II, where they are proud to share this status with, among others, occupational therapists, housekeepers, sculptors and self-employed agricultural machinery drivers. In education, every Government will be judged on where the available money has been placed. I hope that I have described the multitude of places in the pyramid which need and are receiving special attention. But our main objectives are to improve the apex of higher and further education, and this I think has been amply demonstrated by my right honourable friend's recent announcement on the further education building programme. We will try to strengthen the upper parts by the raising of the school-leaving age, and we are carrying out urgent work to the broad base of the primary schools—a policy in the fullest sense for everyone, and a policy of which, in years to come, I believe, everyone may be justly proud.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin with an apology. I regard it as discourteous to take part in a debate and then to leave before the end of it; but since I have to reach Yorkshire this evening and the debate is running rather late, it may be that I shall have to leave before the debate is over. I think it might have been considered equally discourteous if, as the immediate ex-Minister with responsibility for schools, I had not spoken in this debate, and I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Gaitskell for making it possible for me to make my speech earlier than otherwise.

The noble Lord who has just spoken has outlined many things which are being done at the present time in the Department of Education and Science, most of which were initiated during our period of Government. We initiated the education priority areas, the nursery school places in the education priority areas, the special education programmes for immigrants and the transfer of the responsibility for the mentally handicapped children from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Department of Education and Science. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Phillips for initiating this debate this afternoon, and for stressing social equality. Over the years, steady progress has been made in education. Even under a Conservative Government, with such a progressive and enlightened Minister as the noble Lord, Lord Boyle of Handsworth, there were considerable achievements, and I hope I am not bringing too much of a partisan attitude into this debate when I feel I have to say that now, with Mrs. Thatcher as the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and with 16 months of her reactionary policy, the clock has been set back several years. Expenditure on education rose from £1,400 million in 1963-64 to £2,300 million in 1968-69, and school building doubled. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has to-day referred to the fact that we have got more teachers. We have got more teachers because the number of teachers in training rose from just over 53,000 in 1963 to 115,000 in 1969; that is why at the present time we are able to look forward to a reduction in the size of classes.

Great play has been made about the primary school building programme, and great publicity has been given to the fact that Mrs. Thatcher is allocating a certain amount of money to improving primary schools. We are all glad to see new primary schools. We built many. New places in primary schools rose from just over 100,000 in 1963-64 to over 230,000 in 1968-69. It has been said by Mrs. Thatcher that the money which she has saved on milk has gone to the primary school building programme. This is complete nonsense. It is completely misleading to give the impression that the money being spent on the improvement of primary schools is an extra expenditure on school building, because it quite clearly is not. The amount spent on major school building programmes, excluding the special allocations for the raising of the school-leaving age. was £132 million in 1969-70; in 1972-71 including the primary improvements, it will be only £125 million; and in 1973-74 it will have gone up to only £140 million.

I know noble Lords might ask the question: where then is the money coming from for the improvements in primary school building? It has been made possible for two reasons. First of all, Mrs. Thatcher has had a windfall in that the amount needed for basic needs—that is roofs overhead for new housing estates, New Towns and so on—is beginning to go down. The basic programme is going down from £43 million on primary schools in 1970-71 to only £20½ million in 1973-74; and it is from here that this money is being obtained in order to improve the primary schools. Now I am very pleased that these improvements are taking place. When I was the Minister dealing with school building I often wished that people would all stay in one place and not so move about the country that we had to provide new schools for new housing estates and New Towns. Now it is beginning to happen, and it is because of that that, with the same amount of money, there is more to spend —and I am pleased about this—on improvements to primary schools.

The other reason why there is more to spend on the improvement of primary schools is that Mrs. Thatcher has decided that there should be no money for improvements, but only for basic need, in secondary schools. These two factors together— the drop in the basic need plus the fact that Mrs. Thatcher is going to abolish completely any money for building new secondary schools—means that there is this money available for primary schools. Every Education Minister has to consider priorities—I know that, and every Minister in every Department knows it—and I know that there is a good deal of support for giving priority to old primary schools. But I think she has been wrong to throw all her eggs into one basket. I think some of this money might have been used for new nursery places, and certainly there are many sub-standard secondary schools as well as primary schools. In the secondary stage, it is not always the school building. Many secondary schools are quite inadequate and ill-equipped for the education of to-day's teenagers. They lack proper science laboratories, and all the other practical rooms that are so necessary. But one of the serious consequences of withholding the money for secondary school improvement is that it will slow down comprehensive reorganisation. Quite clearly it will do that; and it may be that this is the reason it has been done. For three years I went through all the secondary school reorganisation schemes from local authorities and I know what this is going to mean to those schemes. I know that it will mean a postponement for some local authorities.

Not only will it mean the slowing down of building for secondary schools, but Mrs. Thatcher is slowing down the programme of comprehensive reorganisation. She has withdrawn Circular 10/65 and has issued Circular 10/70. I was very surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, criticise Circular 10/65 because, he said, it did not, as it were, say which scheme the Ministry, our Ministry, preferred the local authorities to carry out. I thought that the Conservative Government were opposed to compelling local authorities to go in any particular direction. Indeed, we made a point in Circular 10/65 not of compelling local authorities to go comprehensive—some of my noble friends thought that we ought to have done that—but of requesting them to go comprehensive; and we showed the ways in which they could do

so. I would have had no quarrel with Mrs. Thatcher had she said that she did not believe in compelling local authorities to go comprehensive. I would compel the local authority to go comprehensive; but the Conservative Party have always made it clear that they disagreed with this. What Mrs. Thatcher has clearly shown in withdraw-ing Circular 10/65—which, as I say, merely requested local authorities to go comprehensive—and in substituting 10/70 is that not only is she opposed to compelling local authorities to go comprehensive, but she is against encouraging the local authorities to go comprehensive. Indeed, from all the speeches I have heard, she is against the principle of comprehensive education altogether.


My Lords, I apologise for interrupting. I gave the figures for the number of schemes which my right honourable friend has approved since she went to the Department in June of last year. I think that the noble Baroness would not wish to mislead the House. Someone who has approved, out of nearly 3,000 schemes, all but 27 can hardly be said to be obviously against comprehensive education.


My Lords, I am quite sure that if we look at some parts of the country (my noble friend has re-minded me of Surrey; and there is even Mrs. Thatcher's own constituency, in Barnet) we can see what has happened. There is all the difference in the world between having a Minister at the Depart-ment of Education and Science who encourages local authorities to go comprehensive and one who shows that she is lukewarm; for in the latter case it means that the schemes do not come forward.


My Lords, if the noble Baroness would care to give me any specific instances in Barnet I will seek to give her, when I come to wind up, a reply as to where she feels that the Secretary of State is unfair.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will read the exchanges which occurred in the other place in the debate last Friday he will find all the information he desires. I sat through the whole of the comprehensive education Bill with Mrs. Thatcher, and I must say that the speeches she made throughout the Committee stage led me to believe that she was against the principle of comprehensive education.

My Lords, I turn now to direct grant schools. Here again we can see the same thing happening. There was the announcement last week that there is to be an extra £30 a year and a lowering of the income scales for this help. I have here the Yorkshire Postfor Saturday, November 6—and the Yorkshire Postis not given to criticising a Conservative Minister. The leading article begins by saying: Plans to increase the capitation grant per pupil at direct grant schools accord oddly with the Government's decision to reduce the school milk service and increase the charges for school meals. That is taken from what is usually the Conservative Yorkshire Post.But the important thing about this step, is not that money is being used that could have been used better in other places, but that by doing this Mrs. Thatcher has completely thrown overboard the recommendations of the Royal Commission, of the Donnison Report on independent day schools and direct grant grammar schools. The Public Schools Commission which produced this Report considered this question for two and a half years, and at the end concluded that the direct grant schools should either become fully independent or become part of the State scheme. This view is shared by the Association of Education Committees because Dr. Alexander, in the October 1 edition of Education(this was before Mrs. Thatcher made this announcement) reminded us that the Association of Education Committees had gone on record and had given evidence to the Royal Commission that the direct grant schools ought either to be independent or to become part of the State system.

It is argued, as the noble Lord has tried to argue, that the direct grant schools are special schools—and often the Manchester Grammar School is quoted—and therefore ought to remain as they are. In fact, the 178 direct grant schools are no different from other gram-mar schools except that they receive a direct grant from the Government and are not part of the State scheme. In return, they must offer at least 25 per cent. so-called "free" places to local authorities. Incidentally, these free places are not free to the local authorities who pay for them, but only to the children who go to them. But the Donnison Commission (at page 5, paragraph 10) state clearly: Taking direct grant grammar schools as a whole, their curriculum, teachers, equipment and costs are much the same as those of the maintained grammar schools. The achievements of their pupils appear to be similar to those of pupils … in other grammar schools. It is sometimes said that there is a greater social mix in direct grant schools than in grammar schools. Again, para-graph 11 of the Donnison Report, says: The schools have been praised for their diverse social composition and criticised for their exclusiveness. In fact they educate a broader mixture of social classes than the wholly independent schools, but have few children of unskilled and semi-skilled workers, and are therefore more exclusive than the average maintained school. These, then, are the direct grant schools; but the serious thing about what Mrs. Thatcher has done is this. I know, through dealing for three years with all the comprehensive reorganisation schemes in the country, that in some towns the direct grant schools are a stumbling block to the adoption of comprehensive education. How can local authorities abolish the eleven-plus and then have some kind of super-selection to determine which children go to the direct grant schools? This is the whole kernel of it. I know that some local authorities have decided not to take up any more places in the direct grant schools. But, some local authorities, where they rely on the places, must, unless more schools are built, take up their places. And this means that they have to have some method of determining which of their children go to the direct grant schools. In Leeds, the city that I used to represent. where they are now planning their comprehensive schools, they have had one idea, which has not a great deal to commend it, of leaving it to the heads of the direct grant schools to choose which children from the City of Leeds shall be paid for by the local authorities at the direct grant schools. I do not want to destroy these direct grant schools. I believe that they could make a valuable contribution in the areas where they are to a comprehensive system of education; and that is what I believe they ought to do. But what Mrs. Thatcher did last week was to give these schools a shot in the arm and throw overboard the whole of the Donnison Commission Report.

I should like to look at some of the things we ought to he thinking about in the future. At the time we left Office, we were preparing to issue a Green Paper which was to form the basis of a new Education Act. The last Education Act was in 1944 and it is surely time that we had a new one. I would be the first to admit that administration in education is probably as important as legislation, but nevertheless I think there are some important problems which ought to be attended to at the present time and this could form the basis of a new Education Act.

There is the whole question—this is particularly apt at a time when we are to have new local authority areas of the relationship between Government and the local authorities. When I was at the Department I found that I had no power in respect of some of the important matters in education, but sometimes I was called on to adjudicate in quite small matters. I will give one example. I believe that comprehensive education should not be left to the whim of a local authority. It is just as important, in my opinion, as the school leaving age and it ought to be dealt with nationally, while leaving a local authority to adopt its own scheme. I believe that a system of maintenance grants for those who stay on at school in later years is something that ought to be on a national scale and not a local scale; but I always found it irk-some when I had to determine, in the case of a dispute between a parent and the education authority, which school a child should attend. I felt that I did not know as much about this as the people in the locality.

There is a further point that I should like to raise, and I am sure that we shall have an opportunity to deal with it when we come to discuss the new Local Government Bill. I am very disturbed about what is happening in the metropolitan areas with regard to education. The Department of Education and Science gave evidence before the Royal Com-mission on Local Government and said that no local education authority ought to have fewer than half a million population. Giving education to the lower tier in metropolitan areas and not to the upper tier means that some education authorities will have a population of 200,000 and fewer and will not be big enough to be a viable education authority and to pro-vide adequate services. I come from the West Riding, my Lords. I have lived there all my life; I was educated there and I taught there. I am greatly disturbed at the way in which the county is split up for education purposes. In the little districts which have been created as local education authorities, poorer areas have been separated from richer areas. The poorer industrial areas of the West Riding, with a low rateable value, will have to stand on their own feet, and I hope that this will be looked at.

My Lords, I am afraid that I have spoken for far too long, and in conclusion I should like to say that I believe that the content and form of education of the young must inevitably influence the social structure of our society and thus privilege and inequality in our education system will create a society of privilege and in-equality. Everything that this Government have done so far in the field of education is, I believe, leading to a greater social inequality.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, to me education is a subject of enormous importance, not least because it must have a lasting effect for good or ill on all who receive it. Nowadays, a great deal is talked about the quality of life. Surely, there is no more effective way to improve this than to give to all the nation's children the best education possible. The terms of the Motion this afternoon refer to the need for educational policies which pay full regard to the requirements of social equality. Social equality is a concept which, to me, is difficult to define with any precision at all. What seems to me to be a much more useful exercise is to see what opportunities there are within the educational system for those children who are handicapped by inadequate parents or poor homes. in this context meaning particularly homes in which education is not regarded as important. May I say at the outset that, as someone who has served for 12 years on a local authority education committee, I believe whole-heartedly in what I say and I have, to the best of my ability, worked for those children for whom I have any responsibility whatever.

My Lords, there seem to me to be two major pieces of Government policy which go a very long way towards helping the children I have described. The first is the increased expenditure on primary schools. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has given the figures. Over the four years from 1972-73 until 1975-76 nearly £188 million will be spent on replacements and the improvement of primary schools. I should like to say what effect this will have on my own authority. We are a very small education authority with a population of approximately 110,000. But this process means the replacement of an old primary school, built between the years 1860 and 1870, at least a year earlier than would otherwise have been the case. It means the replacement of a school built in 1902 and a third school which we hope will be included in the Department of Education's design list for 1974–75. For us it will mean the replacement or remodel-ling of every old primary school within the authority. I very much support the increase in minor works which allows education authorities to remodel the old primary schools and bring them up to date.

I should be the first to admit that we are in a very fortunate position; but I would say that if, in an authority with which I am very familiar. we can do as much, surely in Northern boroughs, with their big problems and in London where there are enormous problems, there must be progress with a building programme such as we have been told about. Among other things, inadequate and obsolete buildings mean that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to introduce modern teaching methods and curricula. Even if we do not go all the way with modern educational theories and open plan schools, we would all agree that there are great educational advantages in having the opportunity to provide a curriculum to allow for children to learn painting and take music and movement and drama; let alone having a library attractively designed to entice the young readers. All these activities require space, and frequently special apparatus, none of which may be available in a school built for children in neat rows to be taught the three "Rs".

Far more important for these reasons are, I believe, the advantages to a child from a poor home of coming into a school newly built and experiencing for the first time good physical surroundings and the opportunity to explore and find out about books and music. The early years are the most vital and the most important—a point made by Lady Plowden in the Report on Primary Education. A point borne out by every educational psychologist and a point known very well by all teachers is that it is the young child who is frequently the keenest and the most enthusiastic to learn. The longer the handicap of a bad home is perpetuated the more difficult it is for the educational system to compensate for that situation.

At the last meeting of our schools committee we had a report on reading ability, and in the ensuing discussion on this report one head teacher of an infants' school described some children entering the school at the age of five whose power of communication was so bad that they could not construct a sentence. This was not due to any innate lack of ability on the part of the child but, quite simply, because the parents were either unable or unwilling to talk to the child sufficiently when it was very small. This handicap, of course, soon increases. It means a very limited vocabulary. It means immediately difficulties in reading. It sets a child behind its contemporaries right away; and it seems to me. therefore, of enormous importance and great value to the educational system that money should be spent in primary schools, particularly on those least able to help themselves. The second major point of Government policy is the policy of raising the school-leaving age to six-teen in 1973. This was, of course, one of the aims of the Education Act 1944. It was reaffirmed in the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, in 1959. It was the first principal recommendation of the Report of Sir John Newsom in 1963 entitled Half Our Future.

Many arguments have been adduced in favour of raising the age. but I should like to pick out three. First of all, any grammar school course is based on a five-year course, and local education authorities would put the greatest pres-sure on parents to keep their children, once offered a grammar school place, in the school for the full five-year course. By law, those attending special schools must stay on until they are sixteen. It seems most unfortunate that the same kind of pressure does not apply to those broadly prescribed as "in the middle". Secondly, those who leave at the earliest possible date are often those whose parents want them to leave and earn money; or alternatively do not encourage positively their children to stay on at school when the school may seem far less attractive than the outside world. Thirdly, it is of particular importance to girls, because it still seems that far too many parents take the attitude: "Why bother to stay on at school? You are going to get married within two or three years." I am glad to say that in my own local authority the returns for this September show that 65 per cent. of the children are staying on at school over the school-leaving age. This is a figure which has increased by about 2 to 3 per cent. every year for the last ten years, which to me indicates a real educational advance.

It therefore seems most unfortunate that the previous Labour Government deferred raising the school leaving age from 1971 to 1973. In this context, I should like to comment on the effect that this had in my own authority. We decided in 1967 that we were to go comprehensive, and I should like to say that I wholeheartedly support the scheme that we are proposing to introduce. It is a three-tier scheme—children 5 to 9, 9 to 13 and 13 to 18—but we felt that it depended in the upper schools on the raising of the school-leaving age to 16, because, even given that 25 per cent. only of children would not stay on over the school-leaving age, it might mean that 25 per cent. of the children in the upper schools would be there for only one year and two terms from the ages of 13 plus to 15. This is not long enough to gain the benefit of a satisfactory educational course. We therefore decided—partly of course because we had not the money for the necessary new buildings, but also because the course in upper schools would have been unsatisfactory for quite a proportion of the children—to postpone the system until 1973. I make this point because I believe that comprehensive schools are coming and that they can be very good indeed, but I think it is a fundamental mistake to believe that you will promote the interests of the children, social equality or, in any sense, a better educational system by going into a scheme which is not thoroughly and adequately prepared. It is for that reason that we postponed our scheme.

In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to make two points. I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, talk about nursery schools, because all the arguments that apply to primary schools apply with equal force to nursery schools. In my own authority we have a long-term plan that every one of our first schools for children aged 5 to 9 shall have linked to it a nursery class. I hope that this is the kind of plan that we shall see throughout the country as a whole.

I cannot conclude without saying some-thing about direct grant schools, which have been mentioned this afternoon. It seems to me that if a local education authority ceases to take up places at direct grant schools, then these schools have really the option of either becoming independent and therefore perpetuating —if one looks on it in this way—an even greater social inequality, or of paying for the 25 per cent. free place fees by putting up the fees to the fee payers and thereby creating a greater diversity within the school itself. Therefore, if a local education authority ceases to take up those places, it means, in effect, the end of the direct grant school as we know it. The real difficulty for direct grant schools is that they are usually far too small to become comprehensive schools. Of the two direct grant schools with which I am most familiar—and I am a governor of one—one is a two-form entry school and the other a three-form entry school: and I think all noble Lords would agree that either is far to small to become fully comprehensive or ever to produce a viable sixth form. We have therefore in our scheme linked the two schools to the upper schools. Our choice of selection will rest in three ways. Parents will have the right to indicate that they would like their child to go to a direct grant school. The selection will be done by the schools setting an examination. From the results, the chief education officer will determine which children will go, based on geographical location throughout the city and a spread of I.Q. from 115 or upwards, so that the schools are not just screening off the children. It may sound complicated. It is a compromise; but I believe it is one that will work, and it has been accepted both by the schools and by the teachers in the city.

I am happy to support what the Government have done in education since the Election in 1970. I believe that the money for extra primary schools and the money that is needed for the raising of the school-leaving age help just those children who most require help. I believe, at the same time, that they have maintained the equality of education, which must surely reflect on the lives of all our children.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Phillips for introducing this Motion, and I do not quarrel with its terms. My noble friend made her usual short, com-passionate and practical speech, which we all enjoyed. The Motion may contain the seeds of controversy, but it is nevertheless relevant to-day. When any new Government comes into power we expect new policy changes, but in education during the last thirty years we have come to expect a degree of continuity, and not periodic upheavals and reverses every five years. Broadly speaking, we have been lucky in our Labour and Conservative Ministers of Education. The noble Lords, Lord Butler, Lord Eccles and Lord Boyle, command considerable respect in the Labour Party. and this would not have been possible if they had represented the extreme Right Wing of their Parties. Despite political differences, there has been a steady, if sometimes stormy, evolution of national policies. This is not surprising, since neither politicians nor educationists have said the last word on education, and feelings on the subject run very high.

To-day we have a different picture. I wish I could agree with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. He is an excellent ambassador for the Secretary of State, and he put a very pretty gloss on the picture that we have to-day. But after hearing my noble friend Lady Bacon, I think she has demolished a good many of his arguments. Mrs. Thatcher, the Secretary of State, seeks to constrain some national policies within the straitjacket of the Conservative Party Election Manifesto. It is as simple as that. She does not believe in equality; nor does she believe—and this is in a way more im-portant—in consultation with teachers, educational experts, trade unions or local authorities. So far, she has not had a very easy ride from the Press and the educational experts. But the Secretary of State's speech in another place on November 5 has dashed all my hopes of any political consensus on education. She has simply not learned anything from the public reaction that occurred when she withdrew Circular 10/65. In fact every measure that Mrs. Thatcher has introduced seems to be shot through with a vindictive attitude to Labour policy on education.

Let us take first the restoration of money for the direct grant schools. Is that really the top priority today, my Lords—100,000 children? Personally, I am not against private education, so long as it is privately financed and does not impoverish any part of public education or obtain relief from the rates. Even those of us who deplore the cut in primary school milk would be mollified if what was saved on milk, together with the money that was to be given to primary school building, were distributed in a fairer way. Here again I must refer to the speech of my noble friend Lady Bacon. She seems to have exploded even the fact that there is more money to be given to this. Secondary school building needs a bit of help; teacher training needs help; and the school-leaving age—this great thing, this window dressing—needs a great deal of help. It is Only window dressing if you do not give the schools the facilities they need to implement it. At present, they have not the facilities. I was for about three years a governor of a small boys' comprehensive school. Both the headmaster and the deputy head were against the raising of the school-leaving age, not because they were not liberal but simply because there were no definite programmes and no facilities. The same thing is happening to-day. Every teacher I meet is against it. They have to provide the places. and the Government have no real sensible programme.

There is also one very important area of education—pre-school education—which to-day I believe is the most urgent, and I shall concentrate on this later in my speech. Here I agree absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley: in fact I agreed with most of his speech, except for the rather ungenerous remark he made about the Labour Party. I think it is right that the Liberal Party should have their dreams and that we should hear them: I have no objection to that at all. You may say, my Lords, that all this is a matter of opinion and judgment. I con-cede this; but what I utterly reject is policies which are introduced mainly to thwart national policies that have been threshed out over the years, accepted by the country and supported by teachers and educationists, just at the point when a boost for comprehensive education could have benefited most of our children. And this is the point: it is not, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. said, "each child", but all our children who must have the education they require.

Mrs. Thatcher has used her powers to override decisions of local education authorities, even Conservative ones, and even in her own constituency of Barnet; and she has used her powers to retain selection for grammar schools in some areas. Every single action she has taken is anti-egalitarian, and by this Motion she stands condemned as one of the most reactionary Ministers of Education we have had in years. Many of us regret this break in what has been a succession of liberal and radical Conservative Ministers, followed also by courageous Labour Ministers.

For long we have known that equal opportunity in schools does not start with getting rid of the 11-plus, though this has been an important landmark and here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that equal opportunity starts with the home. If she thinks this, I wonder that she did not point to the fact that perhaps we ought to do more in housing and not merely build more primary schools, when there are so many things here and there to which we might give a little more. What psychologists and educational experts have come to believe to-day is that equal opportunity must start with pre-school education. Watching my own grandchildren, I have seen a practical demonstration of the benefits that come from their going to school at the age of 21. But I became absolutely convinced after reading a remarkably lucid article on this subject in the June issue of Where?,the journal published by the Advisory Centre for Education. I am struck by the urgency of the necessity for a great extension of education in this field, where there has been a real failure by successive Governments to meet a great social need—ex-cept, that is, during the war years. The war-time Government of 1940-1945, which required mothers to work in the factories, had 72,000 children in day nurseries. To-day the number is 20,000, and only about 15 per cent. of our children attend nursery classes, either private or State-run. To-day, women desire to work both inside and outside the home. Our economy needs women to work, as well as men, and although the pre-school movement, encouraged by the Plowden Report, as has been said, has produced play groups, it is the middle-class children who benefit most. In areas of high educational priority, where more mothers go out to work, there is a great shortage of such groups. A shocking result of this has recently come to light; the rise in the number of illegal child-minders in poorer districts, especially among West Indians. This is a special problem and it needs special thought.

Altogether, my Lords, more than 75 per cent. of our children get no pre-school service; but I agree whole-heartedly with Brian Jackson, the author of the article I mentioned, that the time has come for the Government to establish a coherent policy. Let us remember that it was the 1944 Education Act which proposed nursery education for all. Brian Jackson estimates that to-day it would cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead said, £100 million. However, he puts forward the suggestion that the Government should approach this need in the same way as they have tackled the raising of the school-leaving age, by making a future commitment to be implemented at a definite date. Meanwhile, as Plowden suggested, they should start by providing more nursery schools. I believe that the noble Lord said that the Government were going to do this, and I welcome it greatly. Mr. Brian Jackson says that this would cost only between £7 million and £15 million. if we want growth and prosperity, more women will have to go out to work; so day care is essential and, I believe, has come to stay. A new educational initiative is necessary, and since it will benefit all the children in the country it is likely to be popular. Here is a field of great opportunity for any Secretary of State for Education, a field in which Mrs. Thatcher would become the most popular Minister in the Government—something that I think she would relish. An expansion of pre-school education not only pays full regard to the requirements of social equality; it lays the foundations for achieving it. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, spoke of the case of the pyramid. But so far as I can see, whether we quarrel about what exactly is the base, the pyramid of the Government is in the clouds, so there is nothing really practical in it at the moment. Maybe there will be something in it in the future. Whether one is for elitist or comprehensive education at present, surely the ultimate aim of all education must be to change an elitist-orientated education into an education for all, continuous throughout life.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, I should have liked very much to follow my noble friend Lady Gaitskell in her concern for the pre-school child, but I am going to the other end of the scale and seize upon the opportunity which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave us by his reference to the Open University. I have to declare an interest because I am on the Council of the Open University, and I was on its planning committee. The only quarrel that my noble friend Lady Lee and I have ever had was when I dared to call it the "University of the Second Chance". My noble friend said that it had to be first, and always first-class.

The Open University, if we are pre-pared to follow it through and invest in success, can succeed in providing educational policies which pay full regard to the requirements of social equality. This is social equality; this is really a class-less University in both senses of the word. Something very curious happened when we were bringing in our recruits last year and when we went into action at the beginning of this year: the complaint was made that we did not have enough "working class" people in the University. This seemed to be an inversion of the usual complaint. There was a great, dammed-up requirement of people who knew precisely what they were after and, particularly among professional people, there was a situation where their attention had been pretty well extended in their own journals. We now know, partly through the introduction of the technology foundation course for next year, that the proportion—if you want to go into working class, middle class or other class definitions—is such that the "working man" is now being considerably represented.

One of the problems in getting the proper encouragement for tradesmen or artisans to join the University has been the fact that there could be the suggestion that they might be educated out of their class. But I should be jolly glad to have an educated and interested bus driver. This is one of the matters we have discussed previously in this House. Why should the pursuit of a degree be the "end-all" of this? We are offering degrees and insist that these will be as valid, genuine and acceptable as any degree from any other university. My concern is much more than that. The degree is not just a piece of paper; it is not just the fact that you can take that piece of paper and trade it in for a new career, but that in the course of studying at the Open University a person will have access to information which will enable him to deal with one of the most serious problems that I foresee in the next 25 years—the access to leisure. I do not care whether one calls that "unemployment"—the harshest of all leisure—or "shorter hours": a person will have to meet a vast void of interest unless he is given the innate resources to make the most of his time. Then we might hope—and this one may say is the object of the Open University—that beyond the Welfare State we shall have the Fulfilment State. Once we have taken care, as I insist we will, of the basic and desperate needs of the people in terms of survival and existence—and we are not doing this at the moment—I believe, through the Open University, we shall be opening up doors to people to have a second chance. I have a vested interest in that, too, because I left school at 15½ years of age. That was the end of my formal education. I finished up as a Professor at the University of Edinburgh before they noticed that I had not even been to a university. Therefore they gave me the kind of degree which my noble friend Lady Lee has (and she also has an LL.B.), a Master of Arts "as by examination", which I did not sit. When I was capped and gowned, the Vice-Chancellor said, "Now you will tell everyone that you are a genuine M.A. and not an honorary M.A." I said, "Thank you very much; I now know the title of my autobiography, Forty years an Undergraduate".In fact I received my M.A. degree in 1961.

The kind of interest that I developed shows that I must have had quite a good basic education, and we are trying to serve that kind of interest and encourage it through the Open University. We are offering opportunities on a basis of social equality for everyone everywhere. We insisted that even when we could not provide for all the 42,000 students who wanted to come in for 1971, and another 35,000 who are trying to come in for 1972, that the 22,000 that we could cater for there would be a complete cross-section, geographically and in every other way, of the structure of this country. The result for those of us involved is very exciting indeed. It is the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me. This is simply to get involved in something which begins to spark off people who have been thirsting and hungering for this innovation for so long. The average age of the student is 27. That is a very highly motivated student average, I may tell you. As to the demand, in the Open University they push us to give them more work to do. In fact, the complaints to the summer schools this year were that we did not work them hard enough, which was very remarkable.

Anyone who knows anything about the Open University knows that we have now a structure which, as indeed I know, is functioning extremely well. It functioned even during the postal strike. That would have killed anything else which involved a correspondence course which depended on the post. Papers were sent out by enormous dedication of the staff. They got them out to the 300 centres we have throughout the country—the viewing and listening centres and tutorial centres —and students came from all over the backwoods to collect their courses. I do not think anyone dropped out simply because of the postal strike.

This seems to me to be something which relates not merely to terms of method and technique, which I think we are developing in an extraordinarily effective way. I know that anywhere else in the world where I go people get excited by the techniques of this scheme. But, beyond that, the content of what we are doing, the approach to what we are doing, and the end results of what we are doing, will in fact be a fulfilment, in a real sense, of that work; that is to say, to find out how far you can educate people really to discover themselves and to express their own personalities. That is the dedicated purpose of the Open University.

6.12 p.m.


My Lords, I find, I fear, that I have some of the doubts felt by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and other noble Lords and Ladies who have spoken this evening, on precisely what is meant by "social equality". I would prefer to concentrate on equality of opportunity, which I think I understand at least to some extent, and it is of course something of which noble Lords on both sides of the House are in favour. It is true that we can never have complete equality of opportunity. Even if there were a sort of compulsory social mix among children; even if there were complete equality of wealth and property; even if fee paying for education were forbidden, there would still he differences which stem from the kind of homes children have been brought up in, whether their parents really talked to them, whether there were books in the house, and so on. We could, I suppose, have complete equality only if children were taken away from school at an age too early for parental influence to have any effect on them at all and brought up in State-controlled, boarding seminaries. This was what Plato recommended, as your Lordships will remember, in The Republic,which is now regarded as the earliest blueprint of a totalitarian State.

However, there is no doubt that equality of opportunity can go very much further than it now has gone. I should like to express my own support for, and appreciation of, what the Government have done so far in the direction of a primary school programme and the encouragement of nursery schools. These are important steps in the right direction and it is perfectly true, as many noble Lords have emphasised this evening, that the nursery school and primary school stages are the stages at which differences can be ironed out and chances of equality of opportunity in secondary education can be made.

I want also to commend something else which the Government have done but which I fear does not command assent on both sides of the House, and that is their action over the direct grant schools. I ought, I suppose, to declare a bias. I was educated at one and am a governor of one. Nevertheless, I should like to put in a plea for them. They have contributed very valuably to the English educational system. They provide a means whereby people of very different backgrounds can get a first-class education, and they produce some of the best sixth forms in the country. Of course, they are not all equally good: I am not suggesting that every direct grant school is on the same level as Manchester Grammar School, which is so often quoted. But I would hope that they are allowed to continue, and I personally would much regret it if they either became a part of the comprehensive school system, on the one hand, or were obliged to become independent, on the other. This is where there is a difference in your Lordships' House, for I believe that social equality in the minds of a good many people means something more than equality of opportunity.

Of course, no one is foolish enough to believe that children actually are equal in respect of talents, brain power and ability, or even that they will be at some future date. But there is a feeling that they ought to be; that it is unjust that such differences exist—it is no one's fault that a child is stupid, and not necessarily to a child's credit that he is intelligent. Therefore, so the argument seems to run in some quarters, they should be treated as if they were equal; inequalities and differences should be blurred as much as possible and, so far as possible, they should be shielded from the fact that some are very much brighter than others and some much more stupid.

The lengths to which this desire to shield children from realities has been carried can be rather remarkable. I see there has been a recent recommendation by the Schools Council in favour of a new single examination as a substitute for G.C.E. "O" level and the C.S.E. It would have, we are told, a few very broad grades, and the top one would be some four or five times as wide as the present "O" level Grade I. That in itself seems to me regrettable, and I hope that this disappearance of incentives for intelligent children will be opposed, and strongly opposed, by the academically good schools. Indeed, if some of the G.C.E. boards themselves stick out against it, so much the better.

However, this is not the least odd feature of the new proposals. We are solemnly told that failure will in future be impossible; those who, for example, get nought out of a hundred in every paper will be recorded as "Improperly entered". Reflecting on it, my mind somehow wandered. I thought about the event described by one of Mr. P. G. Wodehouse's characters as "The annual aquatic contest between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge"—in other words, the Boat Race—and I had a vision of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, who has so often umpired that great occasion, announcing that Oxford or Cambridge (I rather fear it would be Oxford, all too likely) had been improperly entered by 12 lengths.

Social equality, if it means equality of opportunity, is important. We should pay full, though not I think sole, regard to it as a means of forming our educational policy. But if it means more than that, a vaguely comforting feeling among children that no one is, or ought to be, cleverer than anyone else, I have some doubts. I believe our future as a nation depends as much on the full development of every child's talents as it does on giving every child a sense of social equality. In this context I must express an anxiety which has been widespread in some educational circles, at any rate, ever since secondary school reorganisation has become the dominant issue in educational politics. If the 11 to 18 comprehensive school, all through comprehensive, becomes the normal form of maintained education in the country, however good it may be socially—and I am not disputing that—it could easily render sixth-form teaching of the quality that we have known in the past much more difficult to achieve. This could be the case; it may not be, but the danger is that there are simply not enough good Honours graduates teaching in schools to go round. Hitherto, they have been concentrated in the maintained grammar schools and, of course, in direct grant and independent schools. But if they are to be scattered throughout the comprehensives there may well not be enough of them per school. The situation is worrying for all those concerned, as I am, with university teaching.

The dangers were well set out three or four years ago in a letter to The Timesfrom a number of university vice-chancellors. They pointed out that Britain had the shortest university courses in the world, and that this was made possible only by the very high level of sixth-form teaching. They wrote: We are alarmed lest some of the plans for secondary reorganisation, in spite of their admirable social intentions, may lead to a denial of opportunity for the individual pupil of ability, particularly if he comes from a poor or uneducated background, and may have serious results for the universities and hence for the community. They went on to say that the alternative of a four-year university course, which is the procedure adopted in the countries that have gone furthest in the direction of comprehensive education—that is to say, the United States of America and Sweden—was, not impossible but not likely in Britain in the foreseeable future because of a shortage of money and of manpower. They continued: If the needs of the able minority are prejudiced at the school stage by hasty schemes of reorganisation, by the, diffusion of specialist staff, and, we may add, by the loss of morale in some sections of the teaching profession, serious difficulties are bound to arise. My Lords, I hope, as we must all hope, that this will not eventuate; but it is a danger and the risk is there. And if the particular way chosen to abolish selectivity in the maintained sector does prejudice the teaching of the cleverest children, it will be a tragedy. Moreover, it will mean a major and extremely expensive reorganisation of university education if the high standards of British universities are to be kept up. For these reasons, if no other, anything that weakens the direct grant schools or the independent schools is much to be avoided.

There could be a great deal of argument about social equality in education. I should like to put in a plea for some-thing else; namely, social justice. I believe that social justice not only involves helping those who are handicapped and doing the best we can for the great middle-of-the-road majority, but also means bringing out the full potentialities of those who are cleverer and more talented than the majority. A society which neglects them because of an obsession with social equality will in the long run be a poorer, a less vigorous, a less forward-looking and a less adventurous society. It would be a sad day, my Lords, if Britain became that.

6.24 p.m.


My Lords, I sympathise with the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, for guarding carefully the highest levels of excellence in education and particularly looking out for children who need special tuition because they are going to he the "highfliers" in various fields which will fulfil their own personal lives and also be a great enrichment to the nation. But I am really astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Blake, should not be more concerned about the value of ex-tending the gathering ground so that we do not just find those youngsters of high excellence in the small grant-aided schools, or even the public schools, but really look towards all the children of the nation. I can assure him that in all my public life I have never been associated with anything that meant a pulling down. What we stand for on these Benches is to sustain the best, to provide for the great diversity of talent in children and prepare them for the various jobs that they will do in after life. Most certainly it is not to reduce the young of the nation to a drab level of ineffectiveness. I hope the noble Lord will look more carefully (if he will forgive my using that word) at the work that is being done and the progress that is being made—and there is so much still to he done.

My fear is that in these Islands we are far too much the prisoners of the past. We are hedging in a bat-and-ball game between Tory and Labour, Government and Opposition. When I refer to a bat-and-ball game "I do not mean that I am treating this matter lightly or denigrating it, because nothing could be more import-ant than education. I read every word of the debate on education in the other place recently and I think I have heard almost every word that has been said in this debate, and the pattern that becomes apparent is that when we have a Labour Government there is a great forward thrust towards more equality of opportunity; when we have a Conservative Government a resistance movement sets in—often a sophisticated resistance movement because there will always be another General Election. Everything that has been said from the Government Benches surely indicates that it is the Labour Party that thrusts forward, concerned about the comprehensive principles—and we have made many converts in all Parties. I think we should all agree that the "11-plus" is a dirty word. That battle has been won. and the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, and others have made their passionate plea for the extention of the nursery schools. That has all come from the Labour Benches. in other words, every forward thrust, whether it is for more nursery schools or getting rid of the 11-plus or for the comprehensive principle in secondary education, comes in the main from the Benches from which I am speaking.

But I think we are too slow. I hope this forward thrust will come faster. I also hope that we shall look with clear eyes over the whole field of higher education. including university education. I deplore very much that in higher education we are still the victims of the binary system. We can go round this country and find able students and able teachers handicapped by inferior buildings, low pay scales and poor libraries, merely because the historical hangover is such that there were certain jobs that were "gentlemen's" jobs. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has confessed to us that he did not come by his degrees honestly in Edinburgh. I had to work for my LL.B. Of course in my university, as in so many others, one can qualify for certain jobs—to be a doctor, a lawyer or a preacher. Those were the jobs that, for historical reasons, a gentleman's son might engage in. But if you wanted to be an engineer or a chemist or a farmer, or to do a thousand other jobs relating to industry, you were not allowed into our university; you had to go to other institutions, and you were definitely below the salt.

We are beginning to deal with this state of affairs, but we are too slow. We shall have to start re-thinking our educational position right from the nursery school to the highest levels of university education, and while we are thinking of our own problems we must take note of what is happening in many other import-ant parts of the world.

There are those who fear that Peking China is going to be a great menace because its growing economic strength means that it is becoming a great military Power and has great atomic potential. But if we look at the new world that is being created for a quarter of the human race we shall find that the greatest challenge is coming in the field of education. They are doing something which we cannot do in this island. We are an old country; we have a great deal of obsolete social machinery, old habits. I am not for one moment suggesting that even the most enlightened Labour Government could introduce an educational policy on the same lines as that which is now being developed in many other parts of the world, not only in China. But we must observe its philosophy because its philosophy is that of the worker student. From the very youngest age each child is a student but is also being attuned to a future in which it is a worker. This is, of course, emancipation for the child. Children try to reach up right from the nursery school; they want to play nowadays with space machines, aeroplanes, motor cars; they want to build boats; they want to have a doll and to dress it. I have sometimes said that the work of the world ought to be done by children. I have to be careful, because these sentences can be taken out of context. I am sure noble Lords know what I mean; I am thinking of the cruelty and insensitivity of the past, when we educated children in rows behind desks. taught them counting and spelling, and things that were quite apart from anything their fathers and mothers were doing or which they themselves would be doing.

Our Labour movement was deeply rooted in this tradition because there was a great fear in the old Labour movement of occupational education; a fear that anything should be introduced that would be useful in later life. This was very understandable. The parents did not want their children exploited in a capitalist society; they wanted them to have those few years in which they would have some liberal education, some know-ledge of literature, poetry, history and so on. We on the Labour Benches come from a tradition strongly opposed to vocational education in the schools, and we have all to start thinking afresh. All education, however, is vocational. That is why it is so foolish to have the distinctions that we now have between some of our polytechnics and the universities. There is a level of excellence; whether you are studying abstract science or studying to be a doctor or vet, or what-ever it is, there are certain levels of excellence. We have to get rid of this idea that certain studies are socially inferior to other studies. It is really shocking to-day to hear parents pressing for their children to go to a university rather than to a polytechnic. Why is that? It is simply, very often, that the children, as well as the parents, want to be able to boast that they are attending a real university, that they are university students. We still have this crazy notion that they are below the salt if they are training specifically for something which is going to make them specialists in the future in industry, or in farming or what-ever it may be. I should like us to look at the problems of education right from the very bottom.

Then, of course, we are dealing with a situation in which students are getting more freedom. The type of education in our primary schools is changing; we are throwing away the desks, giving the children some notion of movement, of poetry, of drama. Is it not an extraordinary thing that, just at this moment, our poor Mrs. Thatcher has to put her foot in it with the students as well as with everyone else: that the very moment when the students are insisting on having more responsibility for running their own affairs, for budgeting their own finances, has to be the moment that is chosen in order to antagonise them? I hope that she has been given a copy of the circular which has been sent out by the University of London Institute of Education Union Society, and that she will give it careful consideration. She already has enough sins to answer for without adding this to the list piling up against her.

I do not want to take up the time of the House, and I really do not have to after all that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, about the Open University. I should like to add this further word about it. It is a complete fallacy to think of the Open University as a working man's university or a middle class man's university or a millionaire's university, although there are a few millionaires who could be improved by a course. It is not a black man's or a white man's university. It is simply something in the flow of our time, simply making the highest level of scholarship, over the arts, science, technology, available to much larger numbers than ever in the past. This would have been impossible before the age of the mass media. But what is absolutely essential is that if we are using new educational methods we should not insult the people of this country by offering them anything except the highest levels of scholarship; and I am very proud and very grateful that from the vice-chancellor, the trustees, from all associated with the Open University, we are getting this great concern for the highest levels of scholarship.

May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Blake, that some of our older universities had better look to their laurels. There are dark corners in some of our universities; they are not a mystery to some of us, and we know quite well that part of the antagonism to the Open University was rooted in a certain amount of fear. I want the correct tensions established between the old and the new universities, and above all I want to get away from this idea that because a man earns his living running a bus or cleaning the sewage, or as a coal miner or agricultural worker, there is any reason why his life and his home should not be enriched by knowledge of literature, by higher levels of education of every kind. To me this is a gross insult, because I come from three generations of worker scholars. The children in my class had no chance against me in the mining village, because I had a father who taught me sums a year ahead of time, and had a rich vocabulary and explained the meaning of words to me; therefore, I had a totally unfair advantage over other children.

One point on which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blake, is that there can never be total equality. You cannot have total equality in a class society; and even in a classless society the child who has intelligence, and sensitive and concerned parents, has an advantage over the child who does not. But allowing for that. we have got to plod on, to thrust for-ward through every stage in life for more educational opportunity. And when we are building the schools we have got to keep our minds open. We have a rebel priest telling us to scrap some of the schools, but we have to keep our minds open. Some of these ideas, thought to be so outrageous, may not be so out-rageous when thought about, because what in fact is being said is that for the child the school is now the totality of the environment. That is why we cared so much about building up the arts centres, the libraries, and the museums; and that is why it is a scandal that the Government should be contemplating putting on a charge for entering our museums and art galleries, because they are an essential part of the educational environment.

I was very much touched at the beginning of this debate by the idealistic speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, following a speech on the same high note from my noble friend Lady Phillips. We had from some other speakers—notably from the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon—a very detailed account of just how little was being done by Government Ministers to for-ward equality. I hope they will not be too proud, and I hope they will realise that our danger in this country is that we are going too slow, that we are a little bit "pot bound", and we are not looking outward enough to what is happening in the rest of the world. Unless we start to think in terms of all our young ones growing up to be both workers and educated men and women, then our problems. which are difficult enough already, could easily become insoluble.

6.41 p.m.


My Lords, before my noble friend Lady Phillips began that excellent speech she complained that on the Committee on Procedure there was only one noble Baroness representing the lady Members of the House. My noble friend certainly cannot make that complaint about the debate we have had this after-noon, because we have had a magnificent parade of noble Baronesses. I was disappointed to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was not coming because I hoped to see him there among the serried ranks of Baronesses, the only "maiden" in the House, and I felt deprived when the Chief Whip told us the bad news. To-night I want to try to find out from the Government rather more about what their policy is in respect of higher education; what size of university population they are now aiming at; and how they see the universities, the polytechnics and the teacher training colleges working in together. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to lighten our darkness in that respect.

I suppose the basic distinction between the universities and the polytechnics is that the universities are devoted to know-ledge for its own sake—which in the materialistic circumstances in which we live perhaps suggests a purity of spirit which is hardly appropriate—whereas the polytechnics are vocationally orientated. One can argue as to whether that distinction is desirable, but what I think is not open to doubt is that, over the last few years, the distinction between the universities and the polytechnics has tended to become blurred. Although some polytechnics are doing an absolutely first-class job, some of them arc getting the worst of all worlds because the division between the universities and the polytechnics has tended to be blurred. I think that there are two courses which are open to us. First of all, we could make all the polytechnics into universities, which would need a massive injection of public money, or, we could try to maintain the clear distinction of function between the two, but allow much more freedom of movement between them.

My noble friend Lord Royle has asked me to apologise for his absence, because he had hoped to talk about university building. I am sorry that my noble friend cannot do that, because I speak with some embarrassment as a director of a firm which has built a number of university buildings and which is engaged on building three at the moment. However, I think it is quite clear that an expansion of the university and polytechnic building programme is badly needed. Perhaps I could give one ex-ample. It is the example of the polytechnic which has been formed by combining the North-Western and the Northern Polytechnics in London. The two buildings are some distance from each other, it is extremely difficult for students to get from one to the other, and there are no really adequate halls of residence for the students. Indeed, so long as London has a housing problem, and so long as the price of land in London is so high, I do not see those problems being solved here in the metropolis. I should have thought that what we wanted to see was the polytechnics moving out into the Home Counties, with proper halls of residence for the students.

Looking back over the last few years —my noble friend Lady Lee and I must share our measure of responsibility for this—I find it difficult to resist her conclusion that the binary system has not been as successful as it was originally hoped it would be. But the binary system has, to some extent at least, fixed the parameters within which, if we are to be severely practical, we must operate for the time being. That does not mean that we can afford to neglect reviewing our thinking over the whole field of higher education when the James Report appears. May I say, as President of the Socialist Education Association, that I hope that the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, will study carefully the Paper that the Association has submitted to him. I do not know whether the leaks which have appeared in the Press about the James Report are accurate or not. I think, however, that it would be imprudent in the first place, and discourteous in the second place, to comment on what has been leaked at this stage. Nevertheless, it is right that we should put on record that, in the light of experience, we think that the binary system has grave defects, and that to add a third element, or layer, would be still more wrong.

In the current number of The Times Higher Education Supplement,Dr. Charles Carter, the Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, has analysed the situation with great clarity. He has really taken the attitude of my noble friend Lady Lee. He puts it like this: that the advice which is given to sixth formers can be summarised as saying to them: if you work hard and do well you may get into university; if you don't quite make it, you can go to a polytechnic; and if the worst comes to the worst, there is always a college of education. I think that is, although perhaps an over-simplification, nevertheless a pretty accurate reflection of what one often meets, and it is a remarkable assertion that teaching does not call for academic ability. I believe, speaking personally, that there is a need for a much more catholic approach when secondary education is becoming more nearly comprehensive. I am very doubtful, I confess, whether the considerations which make me opposed to selection at the age of 11 necessarily apply equally in all circum-stances to selection at 17, but I do agree with Dr. Carter (and I quote him) when he says: … the 17-plus selection has all the marks of a thoroughly inefficient and arbitrary process. We need, in fact, a single gate to full time higher education, giving entry to unified student communities. I am sure that some students will he happy, as I was, to receive a basically academic education, hoping to benefit from such capacity for clear thinking as it may confer upon them. (If the noble Lords. Lord Morris of Grasmere and Lord Fulton—my old tutors—feel that I let them down in this respect, I certainly acquit them of any responsibility.) But others will want to train for a specific profession. And others will want to receive a general education and, at the same time, to qualify as teachers.

To meet the needs of all those three we need a system of higher education which will mean that all three groups are in one institution, with many common services and amenities, and with the students having the knowledge that, if the need arises, they can move from one group to another within the same institution. Complementary to that we clearly need the Open University and the other provision for mature students, like the provision which has been made in the University of Sussex to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred. I know that the whole House will wish to congratulate my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge on that tremendous achievement of having created the Open University, which is going to bring so much happiness and satisfaction to hundreds of thousands of people for very many years to come.

Before I leave the polytechnics, I think I ought to mention recent developments in the art schools. The resignation of the Chairman and 22 members of the Fine Art Panel of the National Council for Diplomas in Art and Design has highlighted the growing discontent in the art schools. The quality of work in that field in this country has been internationally recognised, and now we seem to have thrown this away. I think that all of us will have read with immense regret the statements by people like Norman Adams, Eric Taylor and Martin Froy in the Press in the last three or four weeks. I should like to know what the Government's policy is, and what they have in mind to remedy what seems to be a deteriorating situation in the art schools.

May I turn quite briefly to unemployment among graduates, because since 1945 the value of education for its own sake has been more widely appreciated? Industry and local government, for example, have turned more and more to the employment of graduates and the university population has grown out of all recognition. But with unemployment nearing a million, demand is falling off and, at the same time, the confidence of undergraduates is being shaken. Nevertheless, it is wrong to get graduate unemployment out of perspective. From each individual's point of view, the tragedy of unemployment, as I remember from my own experience before the war, is just as great if one has no degree as it is if one has, and we have to see graduate unem- ployment as just a part of the wider tragic situation.

But among the graduates who left the universities in the middle of this year, 6 per cent. were unemployed from Oxford and York, 17 per cent. from Manchester and 42 per cent. from Swansea, and it appears that the national rate was twice as high as in 1970. It is surely a little tragic to find Mr. Holloway, the secretary of the careers and appointments ser-vice at Manchester University, saying that mechanical engineers are in severe difficulty and that, there is just no point in many scientists and engineers hoping to get jobs within their disciplines. The tragedy of that is twofold. It is heartbreak for the students, and it is a denial to society of the benefits which the skills that we have bought so expensively could be used to produce.

My noble friend Lady Lee referred to the subject of the unions, and I think that the Government's attitude on this really defies belief. We all have reservations, I suppose, about some of the ways in which students express their views. But I believe that this is a good generation. It is a generation which has no use for complacency; it is a generation which hates intolerance; it is generation which hates prejudice; and it is a generation which hates social injustice. And when you get an active and lively generation of that kind, they are going to do all sorts of things that Mrs. Thatcher and I from time to time will not wholly approve of.

But the Consultative Paper is really a terribly inept document. It has come just at the time when it looked as if relations between students and academic staff were improving. I appreciate that it is only a consultation paper, but to have produced it at this time and to incur the odium of even the Conservative students is something that I would not have thought possible, even from the Secretary of State for Education. It is interesting to note that last Sunday, for example, the Observerwas stating under the heading "Students are adults": It is hard to disagree with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals when it describes the Government's new suggestions for the financing of student unions as 'an elaborate piece of paper to deal with a system that has worked rather well in the past'. The discussion paper will create further antipathy, further antagonism, between the vice-chancellors and the students. And to deprive students of the chance to control matters like this will certainly pot encourage them to behave more responsibly in the future. This really is another action of a Government which talks so much about freedom, but which ideologically, in practice, is terribly restrictive; a Government which I suspect —and I speak with due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Blake—have long for-forgotten Disraeli's view that, A university should be a place of light, of liberty and of learning. I was shocked, too, by the extraordinary statement of the Secretary of State in another place last Friday, when she said: …it is open to question whether the general public, which has to foot the bill, would accept that all, or almost all, students have a right to accommodation in a distant university even though there is one offering similar courses within travelling distance of their homes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 5/11/71; col. 507.] Really, that is an almost unbelievable statement. I realise that the Government's anxieties are not wholly without foundation; I realise that they have the problem of escalating costs; and I realise, too, that if unemployment continues at its present level, or gets even worse, fewer people will want to take in students as boarders. There is the added difficulty that, generally speaking, universities are in the same towns as rapidly expanding polytechnics. The answer is not to say that they must find a place in a university near their home, but to provide the halls of residence and more common ser-vices in the universities and the polytechnics.

I believe very strongly that students should be away from home. I suspect that the savings from what Mrs. Thatcher has proposed will be largely illusory, and I believe that children from overcrowded homes without an academic background will be still further handicapped than they are at present. I shall look forward to the report of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, which is being chaired by Professor Robson, the Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University. But, in the meantime, I certainly agree with Sir Fraser Noble, the Vice-Chancellor of Leicester University, who said: …there is a worry in my own mind that a major Government move in this direction would tell against pupils from poorer homes which lack the facility for study. That brings me, my Lords—and this is almost my last point—to the theme which was begun by my noble friend Lady Phillips and continued by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and also my noble friend Baroness Lee, and Baroness Young, whose speech I enjoyed very much. It is about the problems of children who come from homes which are not conducive to study. It is true, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Blake, said—and my noble friend Lady Lee agreed—that you can never get complete equality, but it was a little disturbing, I think, to find in New Societylast week that there had been a survey at Durham University of the composition of the student body, and I think I can sum it up best in the words of the article itself: As is so with British universities as a whole, the group came predominantly from upper and middle class backgrounds-20 per cent. upper and professional, 55 per cent. lower professional and managerial. Only 12 per cent. were unambiguously manual, including skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled—about half the national average recorded in the Robbins Report as working class, and a some-what smaller proportion than Durham's own admission figures would indicate. My Lords, that shows the most appalling imbalance in the student population of one of our older universities, and I still do not think that the difficulty of many young people has been sufficiently appreciated. It is not only that they are the victims of bad housing conditions: it is also that they came from a bad home—and I do not necessarily mean that in any disrespectful way of the parents. It may be a house where there are irregular mealtimes, where the child cannot organise his homework. There may be no real understanding on the part of the parents of the circumstances that the scholastic child ought to have. There are none of the books and works of reference about the house with which most of us fill our homes. In a two-up and two-down terrace house, there is no room that can be set aside for homework. There is noise from the neighbours which comes through the walls. Dad is probably watching show-jumping on television in the front room, and mum is listening to "Petticoat Line" in the kitchen; and a brother who is probably resentful at having to stay an extra year at school, which he thinks is wasted, may well be playing cassettes somewhere else. There may even be—and this is a very important point, my Lords—consciously or sub-consciously, a fear on the part of the parents that education will raise a barrier between them and their children. I have no doubt at all that at present, and for very many years to come, the child from a not so good home will be seriously handicapped in the competition to get higher education. And I say at this point how much I agreed with my noble friend Lady Bacon about the need for adequate maintenance grants.

I recently mentioned to your Lordships that I kept a small anthology of Conservative speeches, and perhaps I may end to-night by quoting from a broadcast which Sir Winston Churchill made in March, 1943. He said: There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies. I hope that when they think about that the noble Lord and the Secretary of State will blush just a little. But I would go rather wider than that, my Lords. I would say that there is no better investment of any kind than investment in education—in liberal, tolerant, unbiased education, in education equally available to every child in the country, so that equality of opportunity becomes at last a reality.

7.5 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships bore with me in an overlong speech earlier, and with your Lordships' permission I will now simply reply to the points which have been made in the many interesting speeches which we have heard in the debate this afternoon. We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, first of all for the Motion, which has given us the opportunity for this discussion this afternoon; and secondly, personally, for the speech which she made. I was a little surprised that the noble Baroness queried the length of time that it takes to build a school, although I find myself sometimes at the Department drumming my fingers when, in the case of a particular school, I wonder why it must be so long before the bricks and mortar go up. I was surprised because it was, after all, the previous Government who, quite rightly in my opinion, worked out the rolling programme, running three years ahead, with its preliminary design and starts lists, which had got a little behind last year and which my right honourable friend's announcement of building programmes now three or four years' ahead is going to continue to make a practical possibility.

The noble Baroness referred to the pupil-teacher ratio. The noble Baroness indeed referred to many things in connection with a deprived area and a deprived school environment, but particularly I picked up the pupil-teacher ratio because I felt that this was a fact to which I ought to reply. In the last two years, the total supply of teachers has improved, and it has improved rapidly. I entirely agree—the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, made the point—that there can be dual responsibility for this on both sides of the House. Now we have an increase of up to 18,000—it is an incredible number, an 18.000 increase a year—and authorities have in fact allocated most of the additional teachers to primary schools. I am glad to be able to say now that, in consequence, the primary teacher-pupil ratio is improving rapidly, and I entirely agree that it had need to. In January, 1966, there were 29.5 pupils to each qualified teacher; in 1968 there were 29.1; but in January this year there were only 26.9 pupils per teacher—an improvement notably more rapid than that which was occurring in the secondary schools; although of course the pupil-teacher ratio is improving along the line.

The noble Baroness also made the point about the four-term year, and who would take action and when. There is, so far as I know, nothing in legislation to prevent this, and in the past some inquiries, usually of an unofficial nature, have been made between the Department and local education authorities; and I am sure that local education authorities, in their turn, would wish to help the noble Baroness towards her ideal of the four-term year. But the truth of the matter is, so far as I know—and I have not taken official advice on this—that there really is no move at a local level to wish to implement this. I will draw my right honourable friend's attention to what the noble Baroness said in that respect, but I am afraid that this is the best answer that I can give her this evening

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, referred to the teacher sitting on the horns of a dilemma in that he is trying to teach society for twenty years ahead, and the teacher does not know what society is going to look like at that time. I must say that as I listened to the noble Lord I felt that this was a point that was very appropriate. It distinguishes the teacher of to-day, I cordially agree, from the teacher of days before, who perhaps could teach of the past in order to prepare the pupil for the future. One of the things which I thought was a little out of con-text this afternoon and which it might be nice to bring in is that I look, and I know that my right honourable friend looks, with great care and concern at the work which is going on at the moment, and at possible plans for the future, for religious education in schools. I will not say any-thing more about that this afternoon. This is entirely a subject in itself, I know, but this I felt I would include in my reply to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord specifically drew attention to the proportion of the university population from—and I quote the noble Lord's words— "the working class". I do not want to give a self-satisfied reply, hut, factually, British universities have for a long time had, by international standards, a relatively high proportion among the student body of young people from manual and working-class homes. Before the Second World War the pro-portion was between a fifth and a quarter, and recently there is some evidence from U.C.C.A. reports, taken with the Robbins Report, to show that it may be creeping slowly upwards. The latest U.C.C.A. figures for entrants to universities for October, 1970, give an estimate of 28 per cent.

The noble Lord also referred to non-streaming. I thought he mentioned it in very broad terms. He is referring to something which I consider to be rather a blunt instrument. I wonder whether it is not more productive to discuss, rather, relative methods of streaming and setting, because we are talking about internal organisation of schools, which is nothing to do with the Department of Education in London. I wonder also whether it is not more productive to dis- cuss the advantages of mixed ability teaching and how far that should go throughout a school. Finally, the noble Lord referred particularly to working conditions in schools. The National Union of Teachers in July, as the noble Lord is aware, had done a survey and produced a memorandum on working conditions in schools which the union, perfectly rightly, said was of concern not only to the pupils but to the teaching profession. My right honourable friend in her reply—she read it carefully, as I did; and grim reading it was—made the point that she felt that a Government survey (which is what the union asked for) was inappropriate. I should like to put it on record that the reason behind her thinking was that she felt the thing to do was to bring to bear whatever resources on which she could lay her hands to become bricks and mortar in new schools quickly. There is nothing between her and the National Union of Teachers on this matter; but there is this slight difference in the way ahead. The union asked for a survey; my right honourable friend felt that she would rather bring resources to bear. I think that her record has shown that she means what she says.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, is not with us; but I will reply to one or two of the points that she raised. In her absence, I must rebut the figures she gave on school building. The 1973–74 school building programme (the second programme for which my right honourable friend is responsible), to which the noble Baroness referred specifically, is for £140 million. That discounts any raising of the school-leaving age allocation and is higher than any other programme, discounting these allocations, that this country has seen.


My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bacon left with me the publication of the Department of Education and Science from which she quoted, dated August, 1971, which shows the figure of £132 million for 1969–70; £135.5 million for 1971–72; and dropping in 1972–73 to £125 million. As I understood it, that is what my noble friend had in mind. Although the noble Lord has just given the figure of £140 million which excludes special allocation for raising the school-leaving age, that is not what is conveyed by this document, which shows that the three previous figures exclude that amount but the 1973–74 figures do not.


My Lords, I apologise if we are at cross purposes. I understood the noble Baroness to be speaking of the 1973–74 school building programme. The facts of the 1972–73 school building programme (the first for which my right honourable friend is responsible) are that she inherited from the last Government only £12 million as the improvement element. She raised it, without reducing the figure for basic needs, from El 2 million to £43.5 million. That is remarkable by any standards. She has secured even larger programmes for the three following years. The reason it shows the figure that the noble Lord recorded is that on top of that is not just an element for raising the school-leaving age but the largest element. That brings us to 1973–74.

The noble Baroness also referred to the seriousness of the situation in which, she said, it was not possible for the claims of improvement projects in secondary schools to be considered. Of course, this is extremely serious. This is something which no noble Lord on any side of the House would wish. Could we put this into context? The noble Baroness was speaking as a distinguished ex-Minister in a Department which had managed to allocate in the last two years of Office £2 million and £2.5 million for the improvement of secondary schools. She is now asking for improvements right across the board. This is hardly fair, when noble Lords opposite are talking to a Government who honestly say that for the time being they must exclude secondary schools but they have a primary school building programme the like of which this country has not seen. Then she referred—rightly, and I hoped that she would—to secondary reorganisation schemes. May I say that my right honourable friend emphasised more than once that Circular 10/70 was not in any sense anti-comprehensive. Its terms were not anti-comprehensive. The decisions of my right honourable friend on the statutory proposals submitted by local education authorities clearly demonstrate that she is not acting in a spirit hostile to comprehensive development. I gave the House the figures earlier and I will not give them again, but within the approved proposals were many examples of different types of comprehensive organisation. For instance, since last April we have approved 27 sets of proposals for the establishment of all-through schools, 21 sets of middle schools and 6 sets of sixth-form colleges. I am saying that where well-thought-out proposals for re-organisation are put forward. where the plans are matched by the ability to implement them, they have been sympathetically considered. If any noble Lord takes variance with that, then may I refer him to the figures for the total of bids and the total of approvals since my right honourable friend went to the Department?

Finally, the noble Baroness made an important statement about the Local Government Bill—particularly important because she was a headmistress of a school in the West Riding local authority for several years. In making the metropolitan districts responsible for education the Government are following the recommendations of the Redcliffe-Maud Commission, in contrast to the previous Administration which proposed giving education to the metropolitan counties. Even with the more tightly-drawn boundaries proposed by the Government, the largest metropolitan area will have a population approaching 3 million, while even the smallest will have 1.3 million. As a parent in that sort of local authority, I wonder what sort of personal service one would get. This is well in excess of the 250,000 to one million range recommended by Redclitre-Maud. On the other hand, the six large conurbations sub-divide into units big enough in terms of population and resources to provide an efficient education service and yet at the same time are sufficiently cohesive and compact to be in close touch with local conditions and individual schools and with other educational establishments. Nine of the metropolitan districts, com-pared with 11 as originally proposed in the White Paper, have populations below 250,000. This I freely admit, but the Government agree with the Redcliffe-Maud Commission that regard has to be paid to local circumstances and you cannot lay down an absolutely rigid limit. My Lords, I should be only too pleased to correspond with any of your Lord-ships who would like to take the matter further. I feel that this is only a brief explanation of our thinking behind the educational side of metropolitan district responsibility for education committees; but at this hour I feel that I should move on, unless any noble Lord would wish to take the matter further.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, with long experience of working in local authorities, was kind enough to say words which obviously would warm the heart of my right honourable friend. She was talking not as an armchair spokes-man or critic, but she came to your Lordships' House to-day and said what it meant in her own local authority to have a new and expanding primary school programme. I am grateful to her for doing that. I was particularly interested when the noble Baroness went on to develop her theme and reminded us of the advantages within the classroom, and between classroom and home, which good building can engender. I think that a number of noble Lords must have listened to the noble Baroness with interest at that stage of her speech.

The noble Baroness spoke of raising the school-leaving age and made a point which I do not think that any other speaker has made. She pinpointed particularly the importance of the extra year so that there will be time in the school for a proper secondary school course. And it is true that this will give every pupil an opportunity to take examinations if he or she wishes. To the children transferring at the age of 13, as in the plans of Lady Young's own authority, the 16-year-old school-leaving age becomes more and more important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, leaves me in a little difficulty. She attacked my right honourable friend from the moment the gun went off for her speech. She attacked my right honourable friend because she—my right honourable friend—attacks all Labour policies. And a little before the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, had told me, roundly, that our policies are a mere continuation of the acts of the Labour Party. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, spoke of the vindictive and reactionary policy of my right honourable friend.


Hear, hear! Quite right.


My Lords, is it vindictive to spend four times as much in 1972–73 on dreadful old schools—about which I received shoals of letters after we went to the Department—than the previous Government had in fact planned to spend? Is it vindictive, is it reactionary, to approve in 18 months very nearly as many nursery school places as the previous Government approved in six years? Is it vindictive to press ahead with the raising of the school-leaving age which was postponed by the previous Government—I know in extremely difficult circumstances? But is this vindictive?


My Lords, I did not say it was vindictive to press on with the school-leaving age. I said there were no facilities, no proper programme. All the teachers I meet are against it on that count. Of course, I did not say that I was against raising the school-leaving age.


My Lords, the noble Baroness is always generous at setting the record straight and I am grateful to her. It is of course easy to set the record straight so long as we stick to the facts rather than to fantasies.

The noble Baroness made a remark about the raising of the school leaving age about which, with respect, I should like to make a point. She said there was what she called "no programme". On Tuesday I visited the Schools Council who have their offices here in London, and I think I must—not on behalf of the Schools Council which is an entirely independent body, but speaking, as it were, as someone who has visited the Schools Council—make a protest to the noble Baroness over that assertion. If the noble Baroness went to look round and see what has been done during the last seven years specifically to try to make the curriculum for raising the school-leaving age not just an extra year tacked on—that is an expression that they will not allow there—but as part of the secondary school course, I think that she might re-think that remark. At any rate, I very much hope that she would do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, spoke of the Open University. A great deal of what he said is for the eyes of the university alone in its independent capacity, and if not for the university, then for my right honourable friend and my honourable friend in another place, whose responsibility it is. I assure the noble Lord that I will particularly draw his speech to the attention of my right honourable friend. I feel that I am not equipped to reply to the many interesting points that he made, but I hope that the noble Lord will be satisfied with that assurance at the moment.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Blake, referred to the concentration on equality of opportunity. He drew attention to the impossibility of complete equality and, listening to him, I was reminded once again of the forebodings which are to be found in Dr. Michael Young's book en- titled The Rise of the Meritocracy.I would affirm once against the remark I made in a speech earlier on the great use of the generous concept of the community school. I know that this was not Lord Blake's point, but that was how I saw the matter as I listened to him, and I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the tremendous work which I think is being done in a whole range of secondary schools across the country to broaden the curriculum in this way.

The noble Lord made an important statement on school examinations. Of course the proposals which have been made by the Schools Council have been made public, in order to provide an opportunity for comment from a wide range of interested parties, not least noble Lords and the noble Lord in question. The Secretary of State, when called upon to reach a conclusion, will most certainly take full account of the advice she has received. My Lords, the noble Lord also, I thought, made a most important statement on the 11 to 18 comprehensive school becoming the normal form and the dangers that this could be to sixth form teaching when difficulty arose in finding enough sixth form teachers to go round. I think this is a real danger and that it was something which is recognised on both sides of the House. But it is not lost sight of, I submit, by local education authorities. Their difficulty has been that, contrary to what has been said this afternoon, never has there been money specifically allocated for reorganisation; and the problem of this Government and the previous Government for years has been that it has never been possible to carry this out, and at this moment there is a great bulge of secondary school children passing through the schools. For this reason many of the authorities who would like to build sixth-form colleges or something of that sort have had to place their sixth-form provisions in their schools. I think it fair to say, on behalf of the local education authorities—and the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, would be able to bear this out—that this is done with the greatest care to see that facilities are not reproduced, and the best use is made where possible of the teaching forms.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lee, ref-erred in strong terms to the binary system. Is it not a little early, my Lords, to judge? After all, polytechnics are new. There are still two to be established, and we are talking of something which has not been completed: none is older than two years. What is remarkable is that already they are attracting more and more students to an ever-widening range of courses. I think it is important that parents and schools should advise young people of this range and these opportunities. I am bound to say that the Government's announcement last Friday of this enormously increased further education building programme for the polytechnics—and, incidentally, the new accommodation standard, which is very relevant to the remarks made by the noble Baroness—will give a great fillip to all this. In this matter we do not see eye to eye with the noble Baroness.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, followed the noble Baroness in talking in general and most interesting terms of the courses open to Government in the planning of further and higher education. We could make all polytechnics universities, he suggested, and we could continue the distinction of function; but what was the answer? Would not the Government say? The noble Lord is flying his kite at the very moment when the next quinquennium for universities is about to come under Government review for final decision. He also is flying his kite while the James Committee is actually sitting on the future of the training of the teaching profession. Perhaps I may therefore answer the specific points which the noble Lord made on the polytechnics and arts colleges. To some extent, this was a storm which arose not so much in the proverbial tea-cup but in the columns of the Guardiannewspaper. I would draw the noble Lord's attention, if I may, to the excellent reply to the whole outcry which appeared in that newspaper from the Director of the Leeds Polytechnic, himself a most distinguished figure in the artistic world. He gave very good reasons, I think, to suggest that most of the criticisms of the way Art Departments in our Polytechnics are being treated are somewhat wide of the mark.

The noble Lord referred to the James Committee. It would not be appropriate, I think, for me to follow up the noble Lord's remarks about the work of the Commitee of Inquiry into the training of teachers. I would simply say that they have been working very hard; and if the noble Lord, Lord James, had wished to comment on the speculations which appeared in the papers about the conclusions which he is reported to be reaching, he would no doubt have taken the step of coming to your Lordships' House today and delivering a speech. It is obviously impossible, and quite inappropriate, from the Government side, for me to say any more on this, and I hope that now, with time running on quickly towards the end of the year, we can await the outcome of this remarkable inquiry—the first time, I think, that a major inquiry has been completed within a year.

I take most seriously the last two points that the noble Lord made on graduate unemployment and the finance of the unions. On unemployment, your Lordships, I know, will have listened with sympathy to what the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said about the difficulties that face some graduates in finding posts to their liking. But there is of course a wider problem. Everybody must wish graduates to find the fullest use for their qualifications. But, at the same time, it must not be forgotten that a degree is not to be regarded as an automatic ticket to a good job; and the success of a student's education is not to be measured by the prestige of the job that his education enables him to secure. One would have hoped that, admittedly in difficult times, it would have taught a graduate, among other things, to think clearly, to adapt himself to social change, and to move sometimes outside the limits of his specialist discipline.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, and I think two other noble Lords, mentioned the finance of student unions. Although I listened with interest, and will certainly report to my right honourable friend what the noble Lord said, I must say that the plans we have put forward as the basis for consultation, as the noble Lord very fairly said, were just that. At present any university can, in consultation with its students, determine unilaterally the level of the union fee which is going to be charged. It then becomes the automatic duty of the local education authority to pay that fee. This has nothing to do with any view that is taken of any member of the student population. This is simply an indefensible situation in society; it would be indefensible whoever was operating it. It is one of the aspects of the present arrangements which we feel must be put right. Time is getting on, and on the final point the noble Lord made on student housing I will, if I may, write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, when he spoke, drew attention to the vital principle of improvement of a child's environment to match educational advance. I said when I first spoke that I took this point seriously, and I think everybody in the House under-stands exactly what the noble Lord means. But my right honourable friend has to act as the Secretary of State within her Department—of course with liaison and co-operation with her colleagues, but basically in her Department. It is for this reason that we in our Department are doing our best to bring resources to bear on as many parts of the educational pyramid as is possible. This we feel is the best we can do. We have made one very important decision; namely, to carry on from the previous Government the raising of the school-leaving age. What, in general, we aim to do is to concentrate on the apex of further education: to see that the upper side, with the raising of the school-leaving age, is kept strong, and then to complete our work on the base of the pyramid, the primary schools, which we believe, and shall continue to believe, are the basis of all good education.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. I have never at any stage in my life believed that all animals were equal. A catholic education, which places great emphasis on humility as a virtue, has certainly impressed that on my mind. I very early learned that there are cleverer people than I, better looking people than I—


No, no!


That is very kind of your Lordships—and much wittier people than I. But I think this evening we have seen the great quality of contribution in debate. Running through it there has been one notable point; that is, that all noble Lords who have taken part really care about education and children. I am glad that my noble friend referred to the parade of Baronesses. I well recall reading a story by the wife of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, called The Big Switch,in which women were in control.. One of the things she did was to reverse the order of priorities in Government; that is to say, they spent nothing on de-fence, very sensibly, but they put education and health at the top of the list. I am bound to say that the punishment which men dreaded most was to be put in a gaol where they had a moving picture of a woman who nagged them. This was dreaded more than the death sentence. At least the debate has shown that those of your Lordships who have taken part have come forward with practical and philosophical ideas, which I feel sure the Minister will convey to his right honourable friend. I am grateful to him for the trouble that he has taken in his reply. Even if we do not accept what he has said, we certainly appreciate the fact that he has taken great trouble to do research and homework.

Perhaps I may tell the noble Lord, on the question of ratio, that while I was still teaching my husband was busy writing pamphlets for the Labour Party. We had a Labour Government. I read a pamphlet one day which said: "We have reduced the ratio to 29" point something or other of a child. At the time I had 52 children in my class, and I was a little puzzled to know why I had so many more than somebody else. From that day on I have mistrusted averages and ratios. I think it is actually what we see happening that is important.

I agree so much with my noble friend Lady Gaitskell when she says that we want a degree of continuity. Children must not be at the mercy of geography; they must not be appointed because they are born here or living there. I agree with my noble friend Lady Lee and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that we have to thrust forward, otherwise events will overtake us. I again thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate, and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.