HL Deb 12 November 1975 vol 365 cc1797-877

11.25 a.m.

Lord BELSTEAD rose to move to resolve, That this House condemns the Government's policy to end the present system of direct grant grammar schools and urges the Government to re-open the direct grant schools list. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the direct grant schools, which are the subject of this Resolution today, are varied in character. Over half of them are for girls, nearly one-third are Roman Catholic and about 10 are Methodist. Most of the rest are closely identified with the Church of England. Ten thousand of the places are for boarding pupils. It is fair to claim that they are a varied lot—perhaps not unlike your Lordships, some of whom have been direct grant pupils. Like this House, these schools believe deeply that they can make their best contribution if they are allowed to get on with the job. Each school must have at least 25 per cent, of free places. They then receive direct grants from the Government, while fee-paying parents are eligible for a fee remission scale. Therefore Governments, local education authorities and parents are involved in these schools in a kind of mixed economy which saves money for the Government and makes co-operation in education a reality. Yet on 30th July the Government had laid regulations before Parliament to end the direct grant system. In this unique act of destruction I must declare an interest, as chairman of two committees which represent all of the direct grant schools.

May I thank your Lordships for coming on the last day of this Session to speak in the House and ask whether it is too much to hope that the Government will heed a list of speakers which includes two former Ministers of Education, the General Secretary of the Association of Education Committees, two right reverend Prelates, one of whom, the Bishop of Worcester, served on the Donnison Commission, and noble Lords who are involved in university and secondary school administration. At any rate, your Lordships' words are not going to be forgotten by those who have been responsible for the avalanche of letters which have been received by many noble Lords from outside the House begging the Government to be persuaded to think again, nor by the 4,000 or more pupils and staff who, four months ago, converged on the House to lobby their Members of Parliament.

Why is there this intensity of feeling which is reflected in the Resolution before the House today? First, it is simply because these are good schools that are doing a valuable job at a time when both finance and the national interest dictate that we cannot afford to lose even one good school. It is as simple as that. The widespread sadness and resentment which are felt stem from this sense of quite unnecessary loss, for the Government have not made the slightest attempt to retain these schools for as wide a group of pupils as possible. Despite the protestations of Ministers, I do not believe that because of the cost Ministers have wished direct grant schools to become maintained. If one looks at the regulations, paragraph 3 stipulates that the only terms on which a direct grant school can become maintained is as a fully comprehensive school. Although I realise that this is the Government's policy, the effect of it is simply to put a gun to the head of each school and local education authority.

In Ipswich, which is only five miles away from my own home in Suffolk, there is one of the girls' public day school trust schools. With three forms of entry, this is a school where the headmistress and her staff know all the pupils, and yet there is a really strong sixth form. Despite close relations with the education committee the Government's terms have created an impossible situation for authority and school alike. With the best will in the world, the school cannot be included in local reorganisation plans, so that all the school has to offer will now be denied to pupils unless the parents can pay the fees. That story is going to be repeated again and again all over the country. Can there be anything in Socialist philosophy which approves of forcing some of the best schools in the country out of reach of the vast majority of children? It seems to me to be an act of incredible irresponsibility when, as never before, this country needs the skills and the talents of the younger generation.

But the intensity of feeling against the Government does not derive from opposition to comprehensive education. Indeed, this is not so. The trouble is that without heeding any of the attendant problems the Government have seized upon the comprehensive concept to the total exclusion of all other forms of education. Grammar schools, both voluntary aided and fully maintained, are to be placed under sentence of death, decreed last year by circular and now threatened to be included in legislation. Independence is not to be tolerated and under these regulations the direct grant schools are to go. But this total commitment is only reputable if it is certain that universal compulsory comprehensive education really is preferable to all other forms of competition. If this is so—and I do not accept that it is—that totalitarian argument has now become thoroughly disreputable because of the shortage of resources today. When authorities are at their wits end to meet ordinary items of current expenditure, how can they be expected suddenly to transform large numbers of schools? In effect, the Government are seeking to impose a contradiction. They are claiming that comprehensive education is all things to all men, when clearly this is not so, and I think this is a disservice to the people who are working in the comprehensive schools.

Some three months ago I attended a prize giving at a school which has served a Yorkshire city for over 450 years. Afterwards a pupil came to speak to me. He was the son of a Polish miner and he had just gained a university place to study aeronautical engineering. "I cannot understand", was the gist of his words to me, "why the Government are deter- mined to prevent pupils from coming to this school. For me it would have meant no university place, for, you see, I know that the science and the maths which happen to be taught at the school to which otherwise I should have gone would not have enabled me to reach the necessary standard". I should be interested to know what answer the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, would have given to that pupil. Of course to the House the noble Lord has given an explanation. On the 26th March the noble Lord said: We do not believe in the perpetuation of a privileged system like the direct grant school system in which, for the most part, well-off families are being subsidised by the State to buy, at much below the economic cost, what they regard as a privileged education for their children. In the last analysis that is why noble Lords opposite want to maintain it and are pledged to restore it; on this side of the House we want to provide real equality of opportunity for all our people."—[Official Report, 26/3/75; c. 1276.] Is that really the answer that the noble Lord would have given to that boy? I wonder which would have rung the more hollow: the words "for the most part, well-off families", which would have been spoken to the son of a man who has found refuge in this country from a foreign land, or the words "real equality of opportunity", which would be spoken to a young man who owes the start of his whole career to a school which the Government are now seeking to destroy.

It was not for nothing that Section 76 of the 1944 Education Act provided the principle that, children are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents". Children have different needs and parents have different aspirations. It may be strong sixth form teaching which is wanted, or a school which is of a religious foundation; or perhaps boarding education is wanted, or a single sex school. Your Lordships may remember that in our last debate my noble friend Lady Young spoke about girls' schools, which form the majority of direct grant schools, many of which have led the way in the cause of women's education.

But it goes deeper than that. Many parents today feel deeply about current teaching methods and objectives. They believe, not without reason, that sometimes the whole purpose of education is being put at risk. So you find some parents who desperately want a school where the approach to learning will be more traditional, and others who say: "No, we want one where it is more experimental". But what is certain is that the vast majority of parents want to have some influence on the education which their children are receiving. I think the tip of this considerable iceberg was revealed in your Lorsdhips' House some months ago in an exchange during Question Time on religious education. It was for this deeply felt reason that the Department of Education and Science some months ago set up what is known as the Taylor Inquiry into the managing and the governing of schools. What will the Government do if Councillor Taylor's Committee reports that indeed the direct grant system provides a unique bridge between the maintained and the independent sectors, and that part of the structure of that bridge is the element of parental involvement in these schools?

The noble Lord speaking for the Government has called the idea of a direct grant bridge a fallacy, but after all, these schools have their link with the Secretary of State and his control over finance and standards; there is the statutory representation of an authority on the governing body and there is the priceless element of independence. The noble Lord may be eager to make the direct grant system a memory, but I think he can hardly call it a fallacy. What conceivable case can there be for cutting down exactly those schools which are living examples of the co-operation which is so desirable in education?

May I here turn aside for a moment and say that on 29th October the Direct Grant Joint Committee visited the Department to try to resolve a whole mass of obscurities which still exist in these regulations, despite the fact that after just one hour's debate in another place the regulations are now law. I now ask for clarification on only two main issues—the welfare of pupils and the future of staff. May I ask the noble Lord what, after September of next year, is to be the position of a pupil who is occupying a free place, who transfers from one direct grant school to another? Will a pupil who is not in a free place, who transfers from boarding to day provision in the same school, become eligible for remission of fees, and what arrangements have the Government made to give any sort of guarantee of security to pupils who are occupying governors' free places? Each of those questions concern those who matter most—the children—but the position of staff remains a matter of very great concern.

I think I am right in claiming that when a local authority reorganises, the level of salary of serving teachers is always safeguarded. Why are direct grant heads and staffs to have no such guarantee? And what does Circular 7/75, which accompanies the regulations, mean when it asserts that in the case of a direct grant school becoming maintained it is the governors who may have to pay compensation if the local education authority is not able to employ all the staff?

I do not know whether I am right, but it has always seemed to me that the 1944 Education Act was like an open door through which schools in this country could pass with confidence; and it is a testimony to the foresight of Lord Butler of Saffron Walden and Mr. Chuter Ede that gradually through that door in increasing numbers have passed the comprehensive schools. I think this has been absolutely natural, and the inevitable desire of a free society to extend opportunity. But now all but comprehensive schools are to be pushed back across the threshold and the door is to be slammed in their faces. That will create a monopoly, and in a free society a State monopoly on education is surely something which ought to make any Government hesitate.

But a middle way could be found. During the summer, two articles have appeared in The Times Educational Supplement, one by the editor Mr. Maclure and the other by Dr. Harry Judge, the very successful former headmaster of Banbury Comprehensive School. Those articles have fundamentally questioned the Government's bid for a monopoly; both have followed the recommendation made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester and the former headmaster of Brentwood School, as members of the Donaldson Commission, and both have argued the case for a choice of school at the age of 14 years. That recommendation may be an over-simplification. I must say I rather think it is; but before it is too late I ask the Government to heed the call for expansion and not contraction of educational opportunity.

This might be achieved by some sort of free choice at an age to be agreed with the local education authority. It could be achieved by entry of pupils into certain schools for specialist subjects, by reopening the direct grant list, on a purely fee remission basis alone, or by the introduction of some form of voucher system. Indeed, some of these arrangements are already working in some parts of the country and with good will they could be developed.

My Lords, none of this can be achieved if the Government first betray their true intentions by destroying the direct grant schools. I must say I am surprised that the Liberal Amendment does not recognise this. In the real world, where parents know what they want and are going to do their best to get it, it really is no answer for the Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, to accept that all direct grant schools should "come within the comprehensive system", and to offer as a bromide preservation of enough boarding places. Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord, Lord Wade, what, after all, are the views on his Bench on the religious issue which is enshrined in the whole of this question? What does he think is going to happen to Bristol Cathedral School, or to the two Worcester schools, to Hereford and to Norwich? Who does he believe ought to fight for women's education? I hope that the noble Lord will explain why it is that parents of boarders only are to be considered under the Amendment. Doubtless, he will divulge how direct grant schools are to contribute from "within the comprehensive system" when, with the best of good will, most of them are none the less too small to accept pupils of all abilities.

I believe a variety of schools can continue to contribute to national education. In Government, the Conservative Party will restore the direct grant schools, so that they can make their contribution. I ask your Lordships to support that policy today, by voting for the Resolution which I now beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House condemns the Government's policy to end the present system of direct grant grammar schools and urges the Govern- ment to re-open the direct grant schools list.—(Lord Belstead.)

11.43 a.m.

Lord WADE rose to move, as an Amendment to the above Motion, To leave out all the words after "policy" and insert "of ending the present system of direct grant grammar schools in the present economic situation without making proper provision for boarding needs and without providing time for agreement on the contribution these schools could make within the comprehensive system. "The noble Lord said: My Lords, at this stage I beg to move the Liberal Amendment which stands in my name. If the Motion were amended, it would read as follows: That this House condemns the Government's policy of ending the present system of direct grant grammar schools in the present economic situation without making proper provision for boarding needs and without providing time for agreement on the contribution these schools"— and may I make the point that the words "these schools" refer to direct grant schools and not only to boarding schools— could make within the comprehensive system". I cannot accept the view that that is a bromide.

Any of your Lordships who studied the Order Paper up to late last night will be aware that the Amendment was put down in the name of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley. Obviously, it would have been very appropriate that he should move this Amendment, as he is our spokesman on education and he opened the debate in this House on 26th March this year. But owing to the change in the order of Business, for which this House is in no way to blame, the debate has commenecd at an earlier hour than was anticipated, and my noble friend Lord Beaumont is not yet able to be present. So it has fallen to me, at a few hours' notice, to step into the breach. I am very happy to do so although, whenever the words "substitute speaker" and "stepping into the breach" are used, I always recall the remarks of a chairman introducing a substitute speaker. What he said was well-intentioned, but might have been better expressed. He said he was delighted to welcome Mr. So-and-So; he was grateful to Mr. So-and-So for coming at such short notice as a substitute, and he assured him that they would have been very willing to make do with a less distinguished speaker, but they could not find one.

The Amendment is intended to pinpoint timing, where the Government are so very much at fault and are undoubtedly causing much worry to many parents who are trying to make future plans for their children. By "timing" I am referring not to the total period of the phasing-out of the grant, but rather to the period for a decision in principle on the direct grant schools. This is undoubtedly too short, and allows little time for negotiations between the direct grant schools, LEAs and the Government. This is regrettable. As to parents, this is not just a case of snobbishness, although there is always some degree of snobbishness in society. In a number of cases, there are very real problems for parents anxious to do what is best for their children. Before proceeding on those lines, may I just put one or two general propositions?

In the long debates that have taken place in Parliament and in the country on the subject of selectivity and the comprehensive principle, there has been a tendency to assume that the choice is between one hard and fast system and another, between an imperfect mixed system and a theoretically perfect comprehensive system which will provide the ultimate solution. I think that the very words "ultimate" and "theoretically perfect" are misleading, since they imply that something is static, whereas the educational system is always changing and evolving. I believe that in 10 years' time many of the arguments now taking place will be out of date. I believe that the comprehensive principle is a step forward, and a necessary step forward, but already many faults have been found in the comprehensive schools. At the same time, it is only fair to say that many exciting experiments have taken place in some of the comprehensive schools, but all the time new ideas are coming up. One of the most marked has been the change of opinion about size. All this points to the need for avoiding hasty action without adequate regard for local circumstances and special cases. I know that anyone who says we should go more slowly is always open to the taunt that one does not move at all, but I must risk that taunt.

The second proposition I would put is that there is all the difference in the world between a new purpose-built comprehensive school, and taking two or three existing and often old schools, sometimes separated by a considerable distance, lumping them together and calling them a comprehensive school. Too often that has happened, and it is all the more serious when finance is insufficient. Even in the case of the new purpose-built comprehensive schools, there are problems. I know of one school in Yorkshire which had a very fine start owing to the inspiration of that great educationalist, Sir Alec Clegg. He was head of education in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Alas, owing to local government reorganisation, the West Riding has ceased to exist and we no longer have the benefit of Sir Alec Clegg, and the school I mention is beginning to show some signs of becoming tarnished and not living up to the original hopes. Therefore, I stress the point that time is essential to avoid the danger that comprehensive schools may fall into disrepute; and there are always those who are only too ready to knock the comprehensive school.

My third general observation is that some of this latest Government action may be self-defeating in the sense that direct grant schools, because they have to make such quick decisions, have decided, or are deciding, to become independent and wholly fee-paying, thus increasing the number of fee-paying children rather than the reverse. I should like to make a brief reference to independent and public schools, although they do not really come within the terms of this Motion. I went to Mill Hill School, and after the war it adopted the idea of accepting 20to 25 per cent. of boys from the local authority, from the Middlesex County Council. It worked very well and, so far as I am aware, the idea is still operating. Unfortunately, as your Lordships know, that concept was not accepted generally throughout the country, partly because of lack of enthusiasm of Governments and local authorities, but it might have provided a bridge between the public schools, the direct grant schools, and the State system. That, however, is past history.

It may be that I have an interest to declare as I am a Governor of a small independent public school, the Headmaster of which is a member of the Headmasters' Conference, but it is very much smaller than the average public school. It is completely independent, and was founded to assist the sons of Non-Conformist Ministers, when the father, by the nature of his job, moves about from one part of the country to another. I mention that merely to show that there are special cases—and I accept that there are special cases. There cannot be complete uniformity, and I am not sure that it is desirable that there should be complete uniformity. I do not want to see a situation where independent schools grow and expand for the wrong reasons; namely, because parents are forced to pay because, in their view, the alternative offers so much lower standards than they would wish to see for their children. I want to see the comprehensive schools flourish and given every opportunity to compete with any other school. But I think that that will be impossible if the policy is pushed ahead without adequate time and without adequate finance.

I am keeping to my theme of timing, but I want to say a word about boarding schools, and I repeat that I am sorry if the Amendment appears to be concerned only with boarders—it is not. It so happens that all my children went to public schools. Three of them are married and have children, and I find that none of them wishes to send any of the children to public schools or boarding schools of any kind. Whether that indicates a change of attitude, I do not know. Nevertheless, there are special cases. For example, where parents are working abroad there is a strong case for boarding schools, and not nearly enough time has been given to solving that problem within the State system. Is it to be left entirely to public schools, and a few private schools, or what?

May I say a word here about the impression which has been created as a consequence—perhaps not intentionally —of directing all the political warfare against direct grant schools, and matters arising from that issue, and apparently playing down the subject of the public schools. Some young people are very cynical about what they choose to call "the Establishment"—and that does not mean any one Party. They say, "The attitude of the Establishment is, 'Let us keep the public schools for our own children, and it does not matter what happens to the rest' ". That may be unfair, but I think there is a danger in concentrating excessive attention on the direct grant schools as a political issue. The complaints which have been made are, I believe, in many respects justified, but I do not want to see that degree of cynicism.

To conclude my comments on the Amendment, what I think is sad is that the aim of many in the postwar years, to bridge the gap between class and class, and between paying children and non-fee paying children, has not been achieved. What I fear is that, by the way in which the Government are handling this matter, they are indirectly widening the gap. It may be that all this can be explained by ideological arguments. There is nothing inherently wrong in an ideology, or in being guided by it, but my plea today on this subject of the direct grant schools is: please, a little less ideology and a little more thought for the practical problems of parents and their children. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, as an Amendment to the above Motion, To leave out all the words after "policy" and insert "of ending the present system of direct grant grammar schools in the present economic situation without making proper provision for boarding needs and without providing time for agreement on the contribution these schools could make within the comprehensive system."—(Lord Wade.)

12 noon.


My Lords, at this point I should like to do two things. The first is to say broadly and briefly why we are ending the system of direct grant schools, and the second is to say how we are setting about doing it. I should also like to set out the existing factual state of affairs as a background for our debate which will follow. I will not, therefore, at this point seek to answer specifically the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and the noble Lord, Lord Wade. With the leave of the House, I will deal with those later on. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was kind enough to send me notice of some of the points he raised, and I am grateful for that.

The regulations which were laid before Parliament in the summer, and which the House of Commons recently decided not to annul, implement the plain and unmistakable undertaking in our Manifesto for the October 1974 General Election to put an end to the system of direct grant grammar schools. The Government's case for making this change is based on our belief that any form of selection for secondary education is wrong. We believe that it is wrong to segregate children in this way on the basis of academic ability and it is fair to say that our desire to get rid of the 11-plus examination has the support of the great majority of parents and educationists. We want to ensure that each child, whatever its home background, ability level, aptitudes or individual speed of development, is afforded the maximum opportunity to develop its own particular talents to the full. We are convinced that this can be achieved only through a fully comprehensive system of secondary education and we have consistently encouraged local education authorities to reorganise their schools along comprehensive lines. Their success in doing so and their acceptance of the principle of comprehensive schooling may be judged by the fact that already about 2,000 schools in England—roughly half of all the maintained schools—are comprehensive and cater for at least 60 per cent., perhaps even up to 75 per cent., of the nation's pupils, with the proportion rising steadily. We have asked local authorities to extend the benefits of comprehensive education and all but a handful of local education authorities are now working towards this end.

At a time when secondary education was organised wholly or mainly on selective lines, the direct grants schools had a valuable part to play and, like other Ministers. I freely acknowledge the distinguished contribution they have made. But times change and with a primary objective of comprehensive education in the maintained sector, it would be inconsistent with our policy to continue to subsidise selective education from public funds by direct grant to what are virtually independent schools taking away some of the academically ablest children who might otherwise attend comprehensives. The subsidy from public funds takes two forms. First, there is the capitation grant which the school receives in respect of each pupil in the school, irrespective of whether his fees are paid by the local authority or by his parents; and, secondly, there is the fee remission grant which reduces the contribution required from parents, on an income scale, and I will say a few words about each.

First, the capitation grant. Parents who believe that the education provided in a selective system is better than that provided in a comprehensive system, are of course at liberty to send their children to a non-maintained school. One alternative is an independent school, but hitherto the direct grant schools provided a more attractive alternative; they provide selective education on the cheap because their fees are kept down by the State capitation subsidy. All pupils at a direct grant grammar school rank for a capitation grant of £79 for each pupil to the school and each sixth former qualifies the school for £84 in addition to this. Thus, for each pupil, whatever his parents' income, the school receives between £79 and £163 to be set against the fees being charged. The total cost of this is over £10 million a year and it works out at an average grant of about £100 per pupil. If parents believe that the education provided in a selective school is better than in a maintained comprehensive, they are free to choose the former but they should not expect the rest of us to pay for their choice. Nor is it logical that we, with our belief in comprehensive education, should go on subsidising a selective system for a few in what is effectively the private sector.

The second form of subsidy is the remitted fees grant. As prices have risen over the years, so has the cost of this subsidy, which has this year risen to about £5 million. This grant is most objectionable in those areas of the country where there are vacant secondary places in maintained schools. In return for opting out of the maintained system, even where places are available, parents are rewarded with a fee reduction as well as the subsidy enjoyed by all parents of children at direct grant schools through the capitation grants. What this means is that someone earning as much as £9,000 a year can obtain a subsidy through the fees remission scheme from the Government towards the cost of educating his child in what is essentially an independent school. I repeat that because it stresses one of the extraordinarily objectionable features of this system: that someone earning as much as £9,000 a year can obtain a subsidy through the fees remission scheme from the Government towards the cost of educating his child in what is essentially an independent school. This is in addition to the average subsidy of £100 per year to all parents through the capitation grant.

It has been argued that the direct grant schools provide opportunities for the academic development of the children of working-class families. My answer to that is three-fold. First, comprehensive education can adequately provide such opportunities. Secondly, the direct grant schools are not evenly distributed throughout the country, and even it it were true that they provided special opportunities, these opportunities are not open to all, not even for those who live within reach of direct grant schools; there is still the selection test for admission and the sense of failure for those who cannot pass it. Thirdly, the proportion of working-class children in direct grant schools does not lend very much weight anyway to this argument or to the one that claims that there is a good social mix in these schools. The last authoritative research into the social mix, the Donnison Report, found a heavy preponderance of professional and middle-class children in most direct grant schools. This was true even of children holding places taken up and paid for by LEAs; more than 60 per cent. of these children's fathers were in professional or managerial occupations. Although this research was undertaken some time ago, the position does not seem to have changed very much over the last eight years or so. In a debate in another place on 27th October, the honourable Member for Chelmsford said that in Manchester Grammar School, presumably as a result of a recent survey, only 8.1 per cent. of children were from homes of industrial workers and 2.4 per cent. of these children's fathers were in unskilled occupations. The plain fact is that these schools—like selective schools generally—have afforded much greater opportunities to children from homes where standards of comfort and culture are already high than to equally able children who, to gain admission, would have had to overcome the deficiencies of their home environment and often the indifference of their parents.

We have no wish to close these schools. On the contrary, we would welcome every direct grant school into the maintained system if they could all be sensibly organised along comprehensive lines. Those which do enter in this way will bring with them their traditions and standards which they will, we hope, retain in the same way as have hundreds of former grammar schools, county and voluntary alike, which have become comprehensive over the last ten years. I repeat: we do not want to see any direct grant school close; but if some of them cannot or will not make their standards and traditions available to the whole community as maintained comprehensive schools, they will have to manage without Government money as independent schools. As to the phase-out arrangements, contrary to certain suggestions made in your Lordships' debate on 26th March, the schools have been given until the end of this year to decide where their future lies. I do not think that they can claim to have had to make their decisions in a hurry. They have known for years that something on the lines of what we are doing was to be expected; they have had notice of our firm intentions since 11th March and of the detailed arrangements since 1st May. I understand that the majority of schools will be making up their minds at Governors' meetings being held this term.

We have had discussions with representatives of local authorities and with representatives of the schools and so far as possible we have met their wishes. The regulations contain provision for the settlement of capital debts, subject to certain conditions, of those schools proposing to enter the maintained sector and for the treatment of schools with substandard premises who want to come in. We have not been able to meet all of the detailed points put to us by the schools and somematters—such as the approval of fees in the situation as it will exist in the next academic year and arrangements to protect the interests of the staff of direct grant schools—are still being considered. We have tried, however, to be as helpful as possible, and we have always had in the forefront of our minds the need to protect the interests of the children at present in direct grant schools. They will be safeguarded. The schools which choose to join the maintained sector will continue to receive grant in respect of every pupil, present and future, on the present basis until their change of status. So far as possible we hope that LEAs will see that employees of the school, both teaching and non-teaching staff, will be found alternative employment if their services are no longer required; consideration is at present also being given to compensation for those for whom alternative employment cannot be found. For those schools which decide to become independent, the pupils at present in them will continue to enjoy direct grant privileges—the capitation fee, the fees remission scheme—so long as they remain at the school. So that except in the very few cases where a school may decide to close, there will be no need for any parent of such a child to worry that he will have to transfer to a different form of education as a result of the phasing-out of direct grant.

My Lords, our case for the ending of the direct grant system, then, rests on the Government's conviction and that of the majority of the people in this country that individuals can best achieve maximum development through a comprehensive system of secondary education. Against this background it would not be appropriate, in our view, to continue to subsidise selective education for a few who choose to regard this form of education as superior to that provided by the maintained schools. We are trying to carry out our policy of ending direct grants in a way which will cause a minimum of inconvenience to those pupils at present attending direct grant schools, and we have given the schools every encouragement to enter the maintained system where they can share their traditions with a wider public. We hope that those who have not yet made up their minds will take the time still available to them before the end of the year to think carefully about the Government's invitation. For those schools which choose not to enter the maintained system, so be it. And those parents who wish to buy this form of education in the future will still be able to do so, but they can no longer expect it to be subsidised from the public purse.

12.13 p.m.


My Lords, it is not an unusual experience for me to find myself in disagreement with those who have already spoken, and to find myself in disagreement with both sides of your Lordships' House. It seems to me there is a real danger of confusing a number of quite different topics within this debate. The argument which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, submits, that these are extremely good schools and should therefore not be abolished, has equal application to maintained grammar schools; it is an argument in favour of selection as distinct from comprehensiveness, but it has no particular relevance to the principle of direct grant. It is really the subject of another debate.

I recall that the position before the War—certainly before the passing of the 1944 Education Act, in which maintained grammar schools were entitled to charge fees, and indeed many of them did so—was precisely parallel to the position of direct grant schools. A proportion of pupils were admitted without charge; the remainder were admitted and if they were appropriate for admission to the school the parents paid a limited fee, again with provision for remission, and public funds provided the rest. This was a situation exactly parallel to the direct grant structure, the essential difference being that in one case the local authority provided the additional support, in the case of direct grant Central Government did. The 1944 Education Act embodied a new principle. It denied the principle which previously obtained. It set out quite clearly that no fees must be charged in maintained schools and, in particular, in maintained grammar schools. That principle, in my judgment, justified at that time the discontinuance of the direct grant system, which was precisely parallel, and indeed I said so in 1945. But the direct grant schools were continued.

In 1955, since the direct grant schools were continued, I felt it reasonable to put a proposal to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in a Conservative Government, Mr. Harold Macmillan. The proposition was that it seemed equally reasonable that parents who sent their children to independent schools should be allowed a limited claim against taxation in respect of a proportion of the fee, perhaps with some correspondence to the costs involved in maintained schools. Mr. Macmillan—I presume he was speaking on behalf of the Conservative Party at that time—rejected the proposition on principle, and he stated the principle with his usual clarity. In his judgment, the proposition was to opt in or opt out.

The facilities provided by the nation were available if parents desired to use them. If they did not, then it was entirely right, and indeed a matter of individual liberty, which I fully support, that they should be enabled to make private arrangements for the education of their children. But, if they did so, they must pay the full cost; it was quite wrong that public funds should contribute in that situation. On that principle the principle of direct grant schools cannot be defended. I have, therefore, complete sympathy with the Government as to the principle of discontinuing direct grant; I have had since the 1944 Act was passed. To that extent, I am necessarily in disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I have a great deal of sympathy for much that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said, and I shall come to that in a moment.

Where I am profoundly in disagreement with Her Majesty's Government is in the timing of the application of that principle. I do not dissent from the principle, but I can think of no more inappropriate time to apply that principle than the present time. Circular 10/75 places on local authorities, and particularly on local education authorities, the obligation not to increase expenditure in real terms; indeed it goes further. It says that in the two subsequent years—1977–78 and 1978–79—the Government will look for further substantial economies. In that situation to apply the principle proposed of abolishing direct grant schools is placing deliberately an additional financial burden on local education authorities, and is in complete conflict with the policy set out in Circular 10/75.

It is difficult to estimate the precise increase in expenditure. Obviously no one knows how many of these schools will become independent; how many will opt into the maintained system; how many children will be affected. I place the immediate cost in the first year at about £10 million and I do not think that the Department would necessarily argue with that figure, though it might say that it would be only £9 million. To place deliberately additional expenditure on local education authorities, when education committees' estimates are being severely cut at the present time, seems to me administrative irresponsibility. Therefore, I plead with the Government not to depart from the principle that the time must come when the principle of direct grant must be discontinued, if there is to be coherence in the policy adumbrated in the 1944 Education Act; but they should not do it now.

Indeed, there are many things which should be done before then. The great doubts that are expressed about comprehensive schools seem to me largely to be concerned with a fear that they will not be able adequately to meet the needs of the most academically able children. The first need is surely to establish that comprehensive schools can satisfy that requirement. That means more resources. Let there be no doubt that at the present time—and for a substantial period yet—the resources are not, and will not be, available to design comprehensive schools properly for their purpose, to staff them adequately, or to organise them to meet that obligation. For let there be no doubt that there are major problems in organisation.

If one set a limit to the size of a comprehensive school of, say, 1,000—which would seem reasonable—I should have no doubt whatever that each of these schools would be unable to sustain a sixth form of adequate size to provide the necessary range of opportunity; therefore some other organisation will become necessary. As some of your Lordships may know, I hold the view that if the principle of comprehension is right, it could be carried into the 16- to 19-year-old age group and tertiary colleges established, which would offer not merely the full range of academic opportunity, but the full range of educational opportunity, including studies in technical, or commercial, or other fields, leading to qualifications other than those which are available in schools.

The first need, my Lords, is to prove, and I do not say that it cannot be proved but to establish, that comprehensive schools can indeed provide full opportunity for all children, of all ranges of ability, and of differing aptitudes. That is the first task; and it has not yet been fulfilled. There is a long way to go and very great resources will be necessary. Thereafter, by all means let us apply this principle and give the option, which is right and proper, for direct grant schools to come within the maintained system or to opt to become independent. But I am bound to advise the Government that to proceed to apply this principle now is fair neither to the children nor to local education authorities; nor indeed is it in the best interests of their policy. It could very well lead many, who may have some hope and faith that comprehensive schools are the best and the right solution—if properly designed and built, and properly organised—to reject that policy because of the implications it would have, because of the failure to meet needs which are now being met in the direct grant schools. Therefore, my concern is simple. I am bound to agree, as I have done for 30 years, with the policy, as a policy in principle. The timing of its application may be politically expedient, but in my opinion it would be educationally disastrous.

12.26 p.m.


My Lords, I regret that recently I have not had an opportunity of speaking in your Lordships' House. I have been preoccupied on my visits to London with my Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders. I am only too glad to say that that Report is now published, and I will be able to have a little more leisure in London to attend your Lordships' House. This may be a great sorrow to your Lordships, but it will be a great pleasure to me.

I was very interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, because we have worked together in the past; and we are all very glad to have so distinguished an orator, of so much administrative experience, addressing us. But I regret to say that I agree with only part of his speech; namely, that it is rather cruel of the Government to impose this additional burden on the comprehensive system. I do not agree with that part of the noble Lord's speech which said that the direct grant schools should be abolished; nor do I believe—and the noble Lord knows all about this—that it was the object at the time of the introduction of the 1944 Act that the direct grant schools should be abolished. It was an integral part of my policy as Minister—I was then called President of the Board of Education—to include this reform among the other ones.

I was very glad to hear the Minister (who is well known for his knowledge of education) talking about equality of opportunity. We recently had a joyous speech at Cambridge by Mr. Hattersley in which he dismissed equality of opportunity; everything had to be equality. Thus he differed from Napoleon, and he differed from all the propagators of the French Revolution, and, evidently, from the Government themselves. Therefore it is a great relief to know that we are all agreed about equality of opportunity. I regard the direct grant schools as an absolutely integral part of equality of opportunity. The object of education is not to be the sole instrument of reform of the social structure—as the Government sometimes imagine—but to bring out the best in every child, and to give every child, according to its own and its parents' wishes (and here direct grant schools come in) the opportunity to make its way in the world. That is the object of the 1944 Act.

A few moments ago I saw the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, sitting opposite. I should like to pay a tribute to the Labour members of the Administration under Sir Winston Churchill, who supported me at that time. One of them was Arthur Greenwood. No man helped me more, no man more backed the Education Act, no man more backed the direct grant schools portion of it. Another most distinguished member of the Labour Movement—perhaps the most distinguished this century—Ernest Bevin, actually offered to resign the Foreign Office if I was not reinstated in my position after being defeated by the Tory Reform League on equal pay in the course of the education debate. Those were two stalwarts. But there is another stalwart sitting over there; and that is no less a person than the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell. I well remember a situation in the corridor in the House of Commons when I was in the midst of dealing with this Act, when he came up to me, patted me on the back and said: You have my full support in going through with a policy of equality of opportunity. I am very glad to see the noble Lord sitting in his usual place today, and I am always very glad to hear his speeches.

The first point I want to make about the Act is that I asked Sir Granville Ram, the then Parliamentary draftsman (or what we call Parliamentary Counsel) to draft the Bill, and to draft it in such a way that, as an Act, it would last for at least a generation. It has lasted a generation, and there is no reason why the reforms which the Government wish to put through should not be put through under the general aegis of the Act. I do not regard the Government action in using Section 100(1)(b) of the 1944 Act as illegal. I do regard their action as being against the spirit of the 1944 Act. I have had the opportunity of discussing this Act and its potentiality with every Minister of Education since 1942—that is, myself, then Miss Ellen Wilkinson and every Minister since—but I have not yet had a chance to discuss it with the present Minister; so, perhaps, if an opportunity occurs, my poor and simple knowledge of education might be contrasted with his and I might be able to have a discussion with him or with the noble Lord. I should be happy in either case.

But I think that this action which has been taken is contrary to the spirit of Section 1 of the Act, which provides for a duty on the Secretary of State to promote the education of the people of England and Wales by, in particular, a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area". Those words are in the Act. In the White Paper of 1943 I deliberately foresaw the comprehensive system. I said: There is no reason why the variety of secondary education should not be included under one roof and there is nothing in the comprehensive system which in my opinion is contrary to the spirit of the Act". What I think will be extremely difficult—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill—is to impose on the comprehensive system a half-baked idea of amalgamating direct grant schools in a great hurry and in the present financial situation. Personally, I do not think it will work, and in that I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken.

Not only is the Government's action contrary to Section 1; it is also contrary to Section 36, which imposes a duty on parents to cause their child to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude…". That is precisely where the direct grant schools come in. It is also contrary to Section 76, which says that in the exercise of all powers and duties under the Act it is the duty of the Secretary of State to have regard to the general principle that, so far as is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents". That section, Section 76, has, alas!, been forgotten, not only by many of your Lordships but by the country as a whole, and the sooner we get back to remembering that that was the original idea, backed by a Coalition Government, by myself, by Mr. Chuter Ede, by the noble Lords I have mentioned and by others in the Labour Movement, the better.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has asked one or two questions, and I want to add mine. Some of them have been answered already in the speech of the noble Lord the Minister. Will pupils in the schools be able to continue the course of study which they arc undergoing? I believe that to be the case. Will fees continue to be paid during the tenure of place by the present pupils? I do not think that is quite clear, because I believe the fees will stop at the date the schools stop. What arrangements will be made for displaced staff? That question has not yet been answered, and will be answered later. What will be the cost? Miss Lestor, in another place, has given a great variety of estimates of the cost, and I have never heard a sane or reliable one up to date. Perhaps this debate will produce some idea of the cost. Lastly, how many schools will be closed? What I think is rather typical of this Administration is that this action of theirs in proposing to close the direct grant schools will be counter-productive. My own information—and I travel about the country a good deal on educational matters—is that at least half, and possibly 100, will go independent. This will therefore produce an even greater gulf than exists at present, and instead of there being a bridge you will find that the result of these 100 or so schools going independent will be divisive and counter-productive of what the Government really want. If, during this debate, the Minister can give us a figure of how many he thinks will go independent, we shall be very grateful to him.

I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, mentioned The Times Educational Supplement. I have also read this document regularly. There was a very damaging article by Mr. Maclure, who was mentioned by the noble Lord, in The Times Educational Supplement of 18th April. He criticised the comprehensive system. Unlike Mr. Mulley, the Minister, who has been to America, he regards the American system as having not proved itself yet. I believe that to be the truth, and I believe it also to be the truth that the British system has not proved itself yet, either. What the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said is perfectly correct: that if you push together a variety of schools separated by some distance or another you cannot get the same result by way of a comprehensive school as you can from a compact, special-built school.

I am gratified by the shortness of the speeches in your Lordships' House, but before concluding may I sum up the points in favour of retaining the direct grant system. These schools provide an invaluable and necessary bridge between the independent and the maintained sectors. They are a contribution to the variety of schools, and enable parents to have an element of choice in the education of their children. They are probably—and this is a phrase used often by the Secretary of State in a Labour Government—the most socially-integrated schools in the country. They are centres of academic excellence. No less than 32 per cent. of direct grant schools have leavers going to university places, as compared with only 20 per cent. in the independent sector—the independent sector, my Lords, with all the marvellous teaching which is given there! Then, 32 per cent. of the children go on to other forms of education as well, with the result that there are no schools in the country which have such an academic excellence.

I am Master of a very large institution which is completely open in its entry. We have people from every sort of school, and I am glad to say that we are beginning to take in comprehensive school boys and shall shortly be beginning to take in comprehensive school girls. But what I should like to point out is that by far the most academically suited to our extremely high standard at Trinity College are those who come from direct grant schools—and that is more true of Cambridge as a whole than it is of my college. We find that the standard of excellence is unbeaten by any other form of education in this country; and although we may talk about equality, surely for a moment or two today we could talk about quality, because without quality this country is ruined. We have a terrible import situation. Our only real riches are our talent, our wealth and our skill. For goodness sake do not destroy any schools which have such high academic records as the direct grant schools.

I follow up what the noble Lord, Lord Wade, said about boarding. When I was Minister of Education, what to do about boarding was always a great problem for me. Some 9,000 places are provided in the direct grant system. Where else are they going to be provided? These schools make a special contribution to girls' education, and when I study the position of girls' education up and down the country I am very distressed to find a comparative lack of standards in the pool of girls available to go to higher education. These schools provide higher education for girls at a moment when we very much want that education to be encouraged. Lastly, these schools save public money, because many parents pay fees, which amounted to just over £10 million in 1974.

For all those reasons, I would ask you to support the Resolution moved by my noble friend Lord Belstead. Owing to your Lordships' preoccupation with other matters in which I have not been engaged, there has not been a chance to have this debate earlier, so it is a little late, and it is perhaps rather late to talk about prayers. However, at memorial and funeral services it is often the case that a prayer by John Donne is used and I should like to make a parody of that to conclude my speech on this sad occasion: Instead of a search for quality, We are to have a drab equality. Instead of a search for skill, We are to have a dull conformity. Instead of independence, We are to have a condoned uniformity. That is the sad prayer I would utter and I ask the Government to reconsider their decision and to let these schools continue.

12.41 p.m.


My Lords, I feel somewhat daunted but very privileged to have a walk-on part in the star-studded cast of this debate. However, I welcome this opportunity as another chance for us to thresh out the differences that exist between us and to try to understand each other's point of view, because, so far, despite a list of brilliant speakers including the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, I still feel that the gap is almost unbridgeable. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, took an extreme point of view and I deplore the terms in which he put down his Motion. He simply went through a great deal of out-dated propaganda put out by the Conservatives which is now no longer true. It seemed to me that he supported those in the Conservative Party whose attachment to the vestiges of privilege amounts to an addiction.

My noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt has given us some of the statistics, and I shall try not to repeat them, but we are speaking of 104,000 children in direct grant schools and 10 million in maintained schools. That is in the public sector. That puts the size of our education needs and problems into its proper perspective. In the 170 direct grant schools, children obtain, as has already been said, the equivalent of an independent school education at less than the actual cost. The difference is made up by local and national taxpayers. The cost of the direct grant schools is twice as much for the taxpayers as it is for the parents. I am very confused by all the different figures which are put forward, but I read that the Education Minister, Mr. Mulley, had said in the Commons that he reckoned that he could save about £30 million if the proposed changes were instituted.

The important and central issue in education is, I maintain, not just economic. It is not just a question either of saving or of spending. We really need to spend far more on education today than we have ever spent in the past. The importance turns on mobilising the means for expanding and spreading more opportunities towards more equality or equality of opportunity—call it what you like. We know what we mean by this. The tripartite system of education in this country is not only out-of-date but, because it is socially so divisive it wastes talent and reduces potential in the majority of children. We are still regarded as a class-ridden society and a class-ridden country. A few weeks ago, I heard on the radio that Chancellor Schmidt of the Federal German Republic thought that one of the reasons for our industrial difficulties is that class distinction is still so prevalent in this country.

The direct grant schools have done a very good job. We all know that and we do not wish to say otherwise. They have attained an academic standard of excellence we can all acknowledge and praise. The Conservative Party has claimed the credit for this—I do not quite know why—and has been leading the propaganda in favour of these schools. At the same time, it has been denigrating comprehensive education and comprehensive schools. We all know that there are good and bad schools of all kinds. I used to go round the country with my husband and for my husband to speak we visited comprehensive schools, secondary modern schools and every kind of school, though we did not go over some of the public schools. There are good and bad schools of all types. Slowly, however, the arguments and statistics which have been put forward are beginning to be shown to be false when people use them to defend the direct grant schools. We now know that the bulk of the direct grant does not help poorer parents. Quite the contrary. It simply reduces the fees paid by better-off parents. The idea that direct grant schools have a wide social mix is disproved by the facts and the Conservatives have been standing these facts on their heads. Children from unskilled and semi-skilled backgrounds attending direct grant schools amount to only one in 13. In Manchester, the home of the most famous direct grant school in the country and probably in the world, 55 per cent. of the population have skilled or unskilled jobs. In that most famous school only 8 per cent. of the pupils are the children of working-class parents.

It has been established for some years that our tripartite system of education puts many of our children at an educational disadvantage. Noble Lords need not take my word for it; they need look only to Plowden, Newsome, Crowther and many others and they will see from the reports in question that what I have said is true. These experts have been pleading for positive discrimination in favour of schools where there is educational privation and where the need is greatest. It is to these schools that we have to turn our attention. We need not worry so much either about the direct-grant schools or the independent schools. If people want private, independent education, they must pay for it and they should not receive anything off the rates or from the taxpayers. We in the Labour Party really believe in equality of opportunity and particularly in education. It is an article of faith with us and we want to see a real shift in the priorities in education. This is crucial at a time when our resources are at a low ebb. Despite feeling complete sympathy with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, when he suggested that now we have so few resources we ought to keep the old system going I fear that that was where I parted company with him completely; because it is just at this time when resources are few, when we need more education for more people, that a change, however difficult, must be brought about. This is what the scientific and technological age demands from all of us.

The separation that sprang from selection at 11-plus was inimical to the changes required by our industrial society and, in any case, no change is painless when it comes to education or when it comes to the industrial parts of our society. We have a very complex society and we have a long way to go before we are satisfied and can place our education system so as to reduce the divisions in the educational system.

When resources are scarce in education there are no panaceas and we have to make sure of the priorities. That is what we have to stress. We should constantly review the share of our national resources that we allocate to education; we might do something about that. Technical progress requires an increasing number and proportion of trained and skilled manpower and women power. Few can believe that there are not still untapped reserves in our society among our children. We owe a duty to educate all of our children, not just a few.

The private sector is still the most divisive element in education. We have arrived at a position where social divisions poison relationships between different groups in our society and cause stress and strikes and even lead to violence. I would not outlaw the independent schools; but, as I say, I do not support cut-price educational establishments with relief from the rates. As for the Conservative Party's pledge to reopen direct grant schools if they come to power, they would be heading for trouble if they stopped the progress towards a nonselective system of secondary education and prevented the comprehensive system from being improved and made to work properly.

Looking round the world, people seem to be blind to the need for spreading more educational excellence instead of maintaining a hit more privilege. Finally, my Lords, we speak of investing in our children. Does that mean that we have to invest in very few of our children, when investment should go as much as possible to as many as possible?

12.54 p.m.


My Lords, I shall speak as briefly as possible about this subject. That is not because I do not care about it deeply, because there are few subjects that I care more deeply about: nor is it because I do not think it is important, for it is. It raises issues that go far beyond the fate of a limited number of schools or of a hundred thousand pupils. The noble Baroness who has just spoken seemed to think that 100,000 is a small number of children. I think it is quite a lot. It raises issues of the reconciliation of quality and liberty and of the importance of intellectual excellence, and of the opportunities which we ought to provide for the young people on whom our future largely depends. I shall not say much partly because virtually everything that can be said has been said at one time or another, and, this morning, by people with greater knowledge and eloquence than mine. But, partly, one fears, too, that whatever the arguments one deploys they will not affect the issue; for it is decided.

Yet at the risk of repeating oneself and others, something must be said at best to try to find some kind of saving compromise between apparently irreconcilable positions, or at least to emphasise yet again the significance of what is happening; because I do not think people who are not "in the trade"—if I may put it that way always realise the precise effects of what has been decided over the past few weeks. Also one must say something because one owes some response to all the parents and teachers who have written, often so movingly, to enlist one's help. Like many of your Lordships, I have received over the past few weeks dozens of letters asking that the opportunities now open to children should not be removed. It would be wrong to answer by saying that we have said it all before, that we have fought and lost and to leave it at that.

My Lords, let me summarise in a few sentences what is happening today and how what is happening today appears to one who has spent his whole life in education; this will be familiar to a number of your Lordships. We have a number of schools within the State system—do not let us forget that—that are accessible to any boy or girl who is qualified by ability to enter them, irrespective of their parents' income or social position. They have over the years increasingly come to discharge a particular and vital function by providing an education of high academic standard. Their organisation, their buildings—incidentally, they paid for those buildings—and, above all, their staffs are designed for that purpose. A number of them provide boarding places (which as we have heard are all too few elsewhere within the State system) and because they bring together many of those with special academic aptitudes and abilities over wider areas than most schools, they can offer opportunities to study minority subjects such as Greek and advanced mathematics that it would be impossibly absurd and uneconomic to provide otherwise.

Further, because in large cities they are not neighbourhood schools, they provide unusual and often unique opportunities for social mixing. They include an unusually high proportion of good schools, in the widest sense of that term, schools that have been held up by foreign observers as almost unique examples of a reconciliation between democratic accessibility and excellence. They are not the only such schools. There are others, voluntary-aided and maintained schools which fall outside the scope of this debate but which often share their achievements and their reputation and, today, share the threat which has become a reality. The threat is simply that of destruction of their essential character. There is no use in answering that they are not being destroyed but merely altered by becoming part of a provision of secondary education which, by Government edict, is to become universally and uniformly non-selective, whatever the local circumstances or the local desires.

Yet such an imposed uniformity is in many cases equivalent to destruction. Consider, for example, a school of 600, one of the best girls' schools of its kind in the country, distinguished by the size and quality of its sixth form, which is told that it must become an all-ability school for children from between 11 and 16 and that the staff will be retrained for their new tasks. Can one imagine a more ludicrous waste of a very scarce resource? We know that something of this kind will not always happen; that the schools will go independent. But to some of us this is, in itself, a kind of destruction. It is a destruction of what to many of us was at the heart of our work; the principle that led us to prefer to stay in that kind of school rather than to move to the independent sector; the principle that our schools were not for the well-off, not for those who could afford fees, but for all who could profit from the kind of education which they needed and which we could provide.

At this moment in our history when we are striving to increase opportunity, to open doors rather than to close them, when we are simultaneously facing an economic and social crisis that threatens our very existence as a civilised democracy, why are we forcing through changes in our educational system by the will of a minority of our citizens, and in opposition to the majority of teachers in every kind of school? Is it to save money? Well, in our present circumstances that would, at any rate, make sense; it would be comprehensible, if short-sighted. It has been pointed out this morning that it is as yet difficult to draw up an accurate balance sheet. But there is much evidence to suggest that these changes, particularly in areas like the North-West where there are many direct grant schools, will impose a considerable burden on the taxpayer, and still more on the ratepayer, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, who knows more than almost anyone about local authority finance regarding education. After all, if one removes 100 schools, with their laboratories, gymnasia and workshops from the State system to the independent sector, one has to create others or impoverish our resources. If local authorities have to buy places in independent schools to maintain their provision of secondary places, as some undoubtedly will, what happens to their budgets at a time of nil growth? The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has told us.

But it is not, and could not be, economy that prompts these changes. It is rather in the first place this vague but strong belief that they are privileged and middle class schools. What a muddled argument that is! —an argument that arises because they are usually lumped in with the independent schools, although their methods of recruitment are totally different. In what way are they privileged? Their staffing ratios are no better than other schools; their salaries are no higher. But what of their class structure? It is true the unskilled working class is "unrepresented"—whatever that means. But that is not the will of the schools, many of which fall over backwards to make their selection as independent as maybe of social background. It is the result of deep social forces and it is disingenuous not to admit that the poorest backgrounds are under-represented in any institution recruited by intellectual performance, whether it be the universities or sixth forms of comprehensive schools or, if it comes to that, to the Cabinet itself. We must not talk as though the direct grant schools selected boys from middle-class homes. It is the last thing they would do. The remedy, if there is one, lies not in destroying what opportunities there are, but in the endless struggle to improve the social circumstances of all our citizens. If the unskilled are under-represented, let us not forget the great numbers of those from homes which could not conceivably afford fees, which could not be called privileged or comfortable: the clerks, the workers in the lower ranks of local government, the technicians, and some teachers, too, whose children form such a large proportion of those in many direct grant schools. It is those that we are going to exclude and deprive.

I have said I have received dozens of letters from parents, and I know that that is true of many other noble Lords. I wish that those of your Lordships who persist in labelling these schools as middle class would look at some of those letters and ask whether they come from middle class homes. If they do, the word has lost any meaning it ever had. But most important of all in the suggestion in the campaign against these schools, is that they are selective, not by money, not by neighbourhood, not by class, but by ability. It is a commentary on our society—and perhaps one reason for our decline—that selection by intellectual ability should be, of all kinds of selection, the most profoundly distasteful to so many people of good will.

I have discussed selection before in your Lordships' House and I will not do so again. I will simply say this: I believe that much of the odium attached to the phrase "11-plus"has rubbed off on to the whole idea of academic selection and, in particular, to the direct grant schools. I should imagine that none of your Lordships is really opposed to some kind of selective education. After all, the Government themselves admit the necessity for early selection for those gifted in ballet and music and, increasingly, in sport. Noble Lords of all Parties demonstrate that they are not opposed to selection as such by very often, and quite properly, sending their own children to highly selective schools. It is largely the comprehensible and humane dislike of an irrevocable and impersonal decision at an early age—an idea that in practice is now largely out of date—that leads to this willingness, even this desire, to destroy so many good schools.

This leads me to my last and most important point. It seems to me that we have reached an altogether lamentable and unnecessary position. The Government are committed to abolish the 11-plus. But cannot that obligation be honoured without taking a course that will in effect, if not in intention, at the present time restrict opportunity and impoverish our educational provision? We all know that many of their own supporters are deeply disturbed about what is happening. This should not be a Party matter. It is a matter affecting the lives of thousands of children, and also it is affecting our national prosperity, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, pointed out. It is a conflict to which people of knowledge and good will should—indeed must—be able to find a solution.

The truth is that the direct grant schools have never really been properly examined in complete isolation from the different problems of the independent schools. They have borne the stigma of being regarded as privileged on the one hand, and that of the hated 11-plus on the other. It cannot be too late for us, in a way that we have not accepted before, to examine their place in the whole changing educational system as schools fulfilling a particular and necessary function.

That they are selective schools is admittedly of their very nature. But a belief in selection does not mean acceptance of 10 or 11 or 12 as the appropriate or only age. It might be that a cool and expert examination would recommend new and flexible methods of selection, perhaps at a variety of ages. It might well involve a different relationship with local authorities. It could be that it would recommend the elimination of preparatory departments, as I did myself at Manchester. It could be that such an examination would show that the existence of some such schools would actually strengthen a general pattern of comprehensive education by removing one of the greatest difficulties of those schools, the problem of dealing with the very gifted child. I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, raise that particular point, which is far too seldom made.

I believe that if we looked afresh at the nature and contribution of these schools, not in terms of slogans or sentiment or preconceptions, then we should find it at the present time in the national interest to preserve them in one form or another. Simply to abolish, without further detailed thought, with no examination of varying local circumstances, some of our best schools, or to drive them into an unwilling independence, is surely an act of doctrinaire vandalism unworthy of those proposing to do it. But to say that, without withdrawing their pledge to abolish the 11-plus, they will re-examine how best the undoubted qualities and the unquestioned contribution of these schools can be preserved and extended, would be an act of conciliation and statesmanship. Is it too late to ask now for such an act?

1.10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of WAKEFIELD

My Lords, I shall not detain your Lordships long, because so much of what might be said about this subject has already been said. I should like to say how much I regret that there seems to be about this issue an element of a class war. This constant harking back to middle, upper and lower class, the suggestion that we, of all places in Europe, are class ridden, I cannot accept. I have now lived for many years and I do not see signs of this class war. In the last 30 or 40 years, I have seen a wonderful reduction in the barriers between those whom we say are in one class or another. I wonder when one stops being working class, and starts being another class. These words are so easily bandied about in a semi-political way, but I do not think this issue is political. We are concerned about young people, and about the best possible education for them. So often when we get into assemblies of this kind, we forget that our real concern is for young people. Very often we tend to get lost in a kind of political bickering, when it is the young who are at the receiving end.

I personally have a great admiration for comprehensive schools. I have a number of them in my own diocese which I visit. When they have been designed and built from the ground as a comprehensive unit, I have nothing but praise for them. I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Wade, about various units here, there, and everywhere, simply being designated as a comprehensive school. I have in my diocese at least two excellent direct grant schools, and I must say that the proportion of children in those schools from areas in which the main industry is mining is very high indeed—much higher, I should have thought, than the national average. I am in close contact with the products of this system and I see their academic excellence. As I see these young people going out from those schools, I am bound to ask myself: can the nation afford to lose this stream of young men and women going out with such obviously high standards of academic excellence? I do not think it can.

For that reason, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, which is before the House today. We know it is too late, but perhaps the expressions of opinion of your Lordships might cause the Government to think again about this subject. A number of my brother Prelates would have been here today, were they not engaged in another legislative assembly not more than 200 yards away. Many of them will be concerned with our Church schools, some of which are direct grant schools, and we would venture to speak also on behalf of the many Roman Catholic schools which will find the withdrawal of a direct grant a great hardship. It is for those reasons that I support the Motion put by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead.

1.14 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, this debate shows how vain it is to try to keep politics out of education. Society, acting through Parliament, shapes the system of education and the system of education shapes society. That is what politics is about—the structure of society—and right honourable ladies and gentlemen in another place will always be tinkering with the system of education, trying to keep it in step with the kind of society which they describe in their Manifestos.

It is the same all over the world. Wherever one looks, one sees political principles conditioning the schools. In the United States, the schools have always been used as a melting pot in which the children of immigrants learn to be Americans. In Communist countries, as I hope the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Southwark knows, the child is taught to serve the Party and the State, and no other god. And yet in this country we often say, and often wish, that education should be taken out of politics. My Lords, we cannot say that any more. The Labour Government's determination to destroy the direct grant and grammar schools compels us to reconsider the politics of education, and perhaps I might preface my remarks with some reflections on that underlying issue.

After the war and the passing of the 1944 Education Act, which was the work both of my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and of the late Mr. Chuter Ede, the political aim of British education was more or less agreed. We wanted to strengthen the unity of the nation, sharing and spreading culture throughout the length and breadth of the land and opening up opportunity for all children. It was quite clear at the time of the passing of the Act, that both Parties saw that that aim required that the maintained schools and the independent schools should be brought closer together. I think we realised—and here I agree with the Party opposite—that the pre-War education system had helped to keep society divided. Therefore, the urgent practical question was how the schools could best be reorganised to overcome that division. As your Lordships know, there were only two ways in which this could be done—either by levelling up or by levelling down. Sad to say, the political Parties. while agreeing about the aim, could not agree upon the method. They chose opposite ways of bringing the two systems closer together.

My Party made vast new resources available for education, in the confident hope that the standards in the maintained schools would rise so fast that those parents who could afford fees would soon have little reason to prefer an independent school on educational grounds. Of course, they might prefer a boarding school to a day school, or one with a special bias, be it religious or academic: or they might choose a school for health reasons. That, we thought, was implicit in the status of the family in a free society. We believe that to allow a family to spend money on a motor car or a holiday abroad, but not on the education of their children, would be to put politics in front of people—and that is precisely what the Government are doing in this case of the direct grant schools. Our policy was to keep the choices and options open for parents, while at the same time making as sure as we could that children would have as good a preparation for passing exams in the maintained schools as in the direct grant and independent schools.

My Lords, I have to admit that progress in levelling up was slower than we had expected, and it was for reasons beyond anyone's control. It was numbers that defeated us: numbers and movement of children about the country. It followed that the supply of teachers had to he increased faster than was compatible with the improvement of standards. Secondly, our permissive generation began to behave in ways that brought problems of discipline into the schools much more damaging to educational progress than any of us had foreseen. These difficulties did not pass unnoticed by the levellers-down. They began to say that if the maintained system, and in particular the comprehensive schools, could not do better, then one reason must be the continued attraction of the independent and direct grant schools; let these and all the grammar schools be destroyed and then the comparison could no longer be made. That, my Lords, is the main reason why we are having this debate today.

Unfortunately, the category of independent schools, or if you like semi-independent schools, easiest to destroy is the direct grant schools because the Secretary of State can sign an order for their execution and does not need to come to Parliament for a new Act. I say "unfortunately" because in the direct grant schools we have a working model of a well-designed bridge between the two systems. These schools face both ways: they look towards the independent schools and they look towards the local authorities. They keep open the road along which from both ends the two systems can meet and work together. But now, by forcing the direct grant schools to choose between independence outside or comprehension inside the maintained system, the Secretary of State cuts the link and sharpens the divisions in our society. He outrages thousands of parents whose concern for their children's future the Government treat with shameless contempt. He puts at risk the quality of sixth form education and, as I shall show in a minute, he may intend to undermine the religious character of many aided schools.

The standards of education will be damaged in more than one way. The clever children—we have heard this from noble Lords already—are bound to suffer because it will be impossible to re-create the sixth forms in quality and in spread of subjects in the new, small, botched comprehensives. Perhaps an even greater weakness will be in the education of able children in the years before they reach the sixth form. The idea that most of these children can learn as fast and give of their best in classes of mixed ability is rejected by experienced teachers—by all the experienced teachers I have spoken to, except those with an obvious political axe to grind.

In passing, I would ask your Lordships to realise that many graduate teachers who have given splendid service to the direct grant and grammar schools are unwilling to transfer to a comprehensive. Why is this? It has little or nothing to do with political bias. Their reluctance is a compound of experience and temperament. They feel they could not cope with the disciplinary and teaching problems in classes of mixed ability. They hear from their friends in the profession what conditions are like in other schools and they are now applying in markedly increased numbers for sixth form vacancies in the independent schools. If the Secretary of State has any doubt about that, let him make his own inquiries and publish the facts for all to know.

This reluctance to transfer will increase the weakness of the sixth forms in the comprehensives and widen the educational gap between the two systems. This will affect the able children coming from poorer families—and that for a reason that is only now becoming apparent. The staffs of many comprehensives—and all credit to them—are deeply concerned that in examination results their schools should not fall far behind the independent, direct grant and grammar schools. The senior staff are therefore concentrating upon the minority of pupils who might obtain "O" and "A" levels. That is good in itself, but inevitably it involves some neglect of the less gifted children who constitute so great a teaching problem in the very large comprehensives.

Just how much damage is being done to the lower forms in the comprehensives it is impossible for anyone outside the Department to say. So I would ask the Secretary of State to order a survey of all comprehensives so that we can know to what extent the sixth forms are unacceptably weak; to what extent the senior staff are concentrating on sixth forms to the detriment of the average child; and to what extent both these distortions are to be found in one and the same school. Ratepayers, taxpayers and parents, not to mention your Lordships and Members of another place, ought to be told these facts.

Now I turn for a moment to the religious character of those direct grant schools and aided grammar schools which are being forced to become comprehensive. I assume that these schools which are now religious foundations, can opt to become aided comprehensives. Then arises the question: will all the rights of the managers be preserved intact when the new aided comprehensives come into being? I am going to give your Lordships three examples although I am well aware there are others which are equally significant. First, assuming that the majority of the managers will still be nominated by the Church, be it Anglican or Catholic, will they have full powers to appoint the head teacher? Secondly, will the head teacher still have the right to interview children for admission and give preference to those whose parents express a wish for a denominational school? Thirdly, will the managers retain the right, which is essential to the character of the school, to recruit over an area wider than their immediate neighbourhood; that is, to recruit over an area defined by themselves and not by the local authority? I have to ask for an assurance that these rights are not going to be whittled away. Some local authorities are already hinting that the admission procedures will have to be modified. Of course, the game is to get these schools into the comprehensive box and then to start taking away their legal rights.

However, it appears that certain local authorities—whether they are egged on by the Secretary of State I do not know, and I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, to tell us—want the head teachers of the ex-direct grant and aided grammar schools to accept without demur lists of what they call a balanced intake of pupils. These lists will be prepared and handed out by the local authority, and if the head teacher is allowed to interview at all it will be only children on the list. It is most unlikely that these lists will include all the children of parents known to the school who want religious background for their children; for example, the children of past members of the school who may not be living in the immediate neighbour- hood. This simply will not do. Your Lordships will see how the denominational value of these schools could be undermined by restricting the intake to a small area, and to lists provided by the local authority, and by twisting the arms of the managers every time they wished to reject the advice—"advice"is the local authority word—that comes to them from county hall. I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate is no longer with us. I doubt whether the Anglican Church realises how serious could be the threat which Socialist-controlled authorities are holding over the new aided comprehensives.

I do not think that I need to tell right reverend Prelates that the parents of children at direct grant and aided grammar schools, supported by militant groups of old members of the schools, are far from satisfied that the Church of England has fought hard enough to save her best schools. I was much heartened by what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield had to say, and I look forward very much to what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester will shortly be telling your Lordships.

My Lords, I have taken up too much time, so may I sum up my argument as follows? The hasty and politically motivated destruction of the direct grant and grammar schools will lower the standards of British education and widen the division between the independent and the maintained schools, at a time when we ought to be raising the first and overcoming the second. I shall support the Motion which has been moved by my noble friend Lord Belstead if the matter is pressed to a Division.

1.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased indeed to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, because he has raised a number of issues that serve as an introduction to my remarks. Therefore, I think that I can shorten them. He was quite right when he said that education is a matter of politics. We ought to remember that when the order went before the elected representatives of the people in another place it was approved. It is the vote, not merely the total of the Members who voted, which ought to be taken into consideration. Only Conservatives opposed the order. It was supported by Liberals, Welsh Nationalists and the Northern Ireland Social Democratic Labour Party. If they were truly representative of their electors, that would represent 16½ million voters in this country apart from Scotland. Therefore, there is general support for what the Government are doing by introducing this order.

I am also grateful to my noble friend Lady Gaitskell for bringing out so clearly another point that I was going to dwell upon; namely, the bad consequences of the selective system for the mass of children in this country. We must abolish it and I am glad that it is being abolished. I am sure that even noble Lords on the other side of the House will no longer continue to defend a selective system for the general run of children in this country, regarding those who happen to pass the 11-plus as successful children and those who do not pass it as failures. Whether they are potentially good or bad academically has nothing to do with the examination; it has got everything to do with the places in the schools that are open to them if they pass the 11-plus. The great majority of youngsters in this country who were labelled as failures at the age of 11 were quite as good and competent as those who were given places in the schools for which the examination was set. They did not get into those schools simply because there were no places for them. Surely we must look at the deprived majority rather than at the successful minority.

I should like to make a personal point. When the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, opened this debate, he looked at the list of speakers and said that some Members of your Lordships' House who are here today must have been to direct grant schools. I do not know into which category of schooling the noble Lord would put me, but mine finished at the age of 14 in what was known in those days as an elementary school. As a result of that kind of experience, I have some regard for those children who are deprived of a good education when they possess the ability to benefit from it. The views which have been expressed during the debate about this country's educational system bear no relation at all to the kind of system I know. I do not mean the old- fashioned elementary schools. For instance, we are told that there are opportunities for children generally if they possess the ability to go to direct grant schools; but there are very large areas of this country with no direct grant schools. So what happens to the children of ability in those areas?

May I deal with some of the very questionable views which have been put forward by looking at what I believe to be the first major local authority to go fully comprehensive. It has been fully comprehensive for five years. That means that the youngsters who are now leaving the fifth and sixth forms have been educated entirely within the comprehensive system. Many of the prejudiced views which have been put forward about comprehensive education fall down completely when one looks at the results. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made the very good suggestion that we should make a careful examination of what these comprehensive schools are doing. The evidence is there. Such a survey has been carried out in Sheffield, not by the local education authority, although it had got the information, but by educationists. The results were outstanding and extremely encouraging.

The problem that we face is not whether we can continue to provide places for 100,000 children in direct grant schools, but whether we can continue to provide them when we have a fully comprehensive system. From my own background and this experience in Sheffield I am quite convinced that one cannot have existing side by side a selective and a non-selective system. They are contradictory. Since the non-selective system will be the comprehensive system to which 90 per cent. or more of the children will go, it is that which we must look at. We must look at the question fairly and without prejudice and ask ourselves whether we can infuse into that kind of system the selective element of the direct grant schools. It just will not work.

Let me say a few words about Sheffield. Sheffield began to move towards a completely comprehensive system 10 or 15 years ago when they provided two large, purpose-built comprehensive schools. They were experimental. As a result of the experience of those comprehensive schools, and particularly of the experience of the very good grammar schools in Sheffield, the local authority, with the full support of the teachers in all of the schools, went wholly comprehensive. Some 50 schools are now brought together to form 31 comprehensive schools, and I am sure the noble Viscount will be pleased to know that the Roman Catholic schools have come in, too. They have gone comprehensive without any trouble whatsoever and they will happily be part of the city's comprehensive system.

If we are speaking about numbers, there are just over 107,000 school-children in the city of Sheffield, so that we have plenty of children to consider. There are 31 comprehensive schools of all shapes and sizes, with a great deal of autonomy being given to the headmasters and their staff and to the governors. We make sure that industrialists and professional people arc represented on the boards of governors, which is a point I will come to again in a moment. What the comprehensive system has done over the last five years in Sheffield has been to give every child a full opportunity to develop his or her potential, free to choose the subjects they wish to follow and which arc best suited to their talents, and free to pursue their education without any artificial barriers of segregation and selection. There are, of course, university and other examinations at the end, and tests of progress throughout, but those tests of progress do not prevent anybody going ahead. There is no division between successes and failures; they go ahead to pursue the courses that they want to pursue and the results are extremely encouraging.

I will give one or two figures. In the five years of these schools going fully comprehensive, the number of external examination subject entries per student has increased from just over two, five years ago, to nearly six and a half now, which is an increase of 300 per cent. The number of subject passes has gone up from 1.4 to 5.2, which is an increase of nearly 300 per cent. All the other statistics for examination successes—this will be the test—are on the same scale.

There is another aspect to this which follows from what the noble Viscount said about the difficulties of getting progress in classes of mixed abilities. I should like to give him the examples of one school which is a difficult school because it went comprehensive by joining together two secondary modern schools which were about half a mile apart, so that it had difficulties in regard to transportation. In the first year of going comprehensive only nine students started a fifth year and took the CSE examinations; last year there were 64. Not only that but because of the starting difficulties the headmaster decided that a student could take only six CSE courses out of the numbers that were available to them. This is the interesting thing that is going on all over the city. It was the students who rebelled and insisted on seven, eight and nine courses, and now 80 per cent. of the students who took the CSE examination last year received awards in all these subjects, and 95 per cent. of them received awards in six or seven.


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to ask whether this is at "O" level?


My Lords, I think it must be. It is the CSE examinations of last year, at the time when they come to the end of whatever their entrance year is for the other school. The point I was making is that they are going ahead in classes of mixed abilities that have not been streamed. I am not saying that all the comprehensives in Sheffield are unstreamed. A tremendous amount of experimentation is going on, but these results are typical of the change that takes place when one goes fully comprehensive. Of course, this is in direct contrast to the direct grant schools which usually do not open their facilities. The point I am trying to make is that when we go ahead from this situation, and the children want to follow courses that are not available to them in their own schools, they can pass on to other schools. There is a tremendous amount of interchange of schools throughout the city, and again I say, this is in sharp contrast to the direct grant schools, which usually do not open their facilities to students from other schools.

As for the examination results and the students going on to polytechnics, there has been no reduction—if this is how we are to measure success—from the grammar schools that we had before. There has been no reduction in the number of good examination results, and we had some very good grammar schools which produced people who now occupy leading positions in industry, in our Civil Service and in other places. The important thing is that now we are going to give all these opportunities to all the children, and for the life of me I cannot see how you can include a system of selection for direct grant schools in this situation.

I should like to make one last remark about this parochial view of Sheffield. We have one direct grant school—a girls'school—with a yearly intake of about 60 as compared with a yearly intake of 7,000 into the comprehensive schools. If there is no order for the change which the Government propose and if the Conservatives (as promised) come back, I suppose the local authority will be compelled to provide 15 places—one quarter of the 60. What use is this? Surely, in a city with 31 comprehensives and all the opportunities that are available for even esoteric courses, the direct grant schools cannot offer a better education than can be provided in the ILEA schools. So why go on with it? It is socially divisive and, in any case, surely the local authority ought to be allowed to choose.

If anybody suggests that closing the direct grant schools will be a very unpopular move, I will give your Lordships another example. When it was announced that Sheffield was going completely comprehensive a group of—I will not describe them as "class-conscious notables"—notable local people got together to raise a fund to start a boys' independent day school. They wanted £175,000; they did not get a quarter of it and they abandoned the project. I am willing to guess now, with some confidence, that if such a scheme were launched at the present time they would not get much more than would cover the postage for sending out the appeals


My Lords, that would not surprise me in the least, considering the present cost of postage!


My Lords, this is not a joke. The industrialists who were being appealed to for help are now involved in the comprehensive system. That is the point I was trying to make earlier. They are involved in it and it works extremely well. I am sure that the Tory promise to enforce the opening of the direct grant school on reluctant local authorities will never be carried out. It does not make sense.

But I sincerely hope that, when we are discussing the future of education, we can get some of the prejudices out of the discussion, even those which I expressed. Let us do as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has suggested: let us have a good look at all these schools, but from this point of view. If we are to continue with non-selective comprehensive education the question is, how can we fit them in? How can we have a selective system alongside a non-selective system? My view, for what it is worth, is that the system will not work. Therefore, I fully support the Government in now introducing this order and I am not quite sure whether I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, that the timing is wrong. The educational advance we need means that we have got to have this order in operation fairly quickly.

1.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to underline very briefly two only of the many points raised in this debate. In each case I do so from personal, direct experience, so I am not weaving educational hypotheses or spinning sociological theories. I do, for once, think that I know what I am talking about.

My Lords, I was brought up in the then West Riding of Yorkshire, in one of the schools which are under discussion, and I have never, I hope, been lacking in my recognition of the debt which I owe to it, and that on two main counts. We have heard this morning a good deal about social mix and social mobility, and about the desirability of providing for them within our educational system. In my personal experience, there is no better background for the so-called mixing of the so-called classes than a direct grant grammar school.

My father was a clerk in local government service. Among my classmates I remember the sons of doctors, chemists, solicitors, photographers, shopkeepers, farmers, tram drivers and coalminers—if I had a better memory, I could obviously lengthen the list. I knew them all on absolutely equal terms. We visited each others' houses and homes as a matter of course, and got to know each others' parents and brothers and sisters. As far as I can remember, there was never any social embarrassment, or so-called class-consciousness of any kind—perhaps because nobody had ever told us to expect it. Part of the reason for this was the wide catchment area. One would not normally find coalminers or farmers in a city—still less, if you did, would you expect to find them living in the same part of the city as the professional middle class.

I have no wish to be controversial, but I find it hard to believe that the neighbourhood school, by whatever name it might be called, can be as socially mixing as a direct grant school with a reasonably wide area of recruitment. A neighbourhood school in Stepney or in Hampstead is, I submit, less likely to afford a social mix than was the school where I was brought up. We came from a variety of homes, but we had one thing in common—all our parents wanted us to "get on in the world". I make no apology for those words, or for the hopes and fears behind them. Each of us had to make his own way in the world, and the kind of education we individually and collectively received was deemed to be the most effective preparation for our individual futures. I am not now concerned with the curriculum or the actual content of what we were taught. I mean simply that the kind of education provided by that school was what would most help us to "get on in the world".

Of course, there was an element of plain, straightforward ambition about it, both in our own minds and in the vicarious aspirations of our parents. And why ever not? We moved, many of us, up an educational ladder which led us towards new experiences, to wider and sometimes quite considerable public responsibilities, and, if you care to put it so, into a higher social class than that into which we had been born. That is what I understand by "social mobility" and I, for one, am not prepared to kick down the ladder by which I have myself climbed up.

Your Lordships will probably be relieved to hear that I now propose to abandon these embarrassing senescent reminiscences. I will jump 50 years, to the present day. Here I must declare an interest in that I am Chairman of Alleyn's College of God's Gift; that means, in twentieth century English, that I am Chairman of the Governors of Dulwich College, and also eo ipso Chairman of the Governors of Alleyn's School. Dulwich College is, of course, an independent school and therefore out with the terms of this debate. Alleyn's School is a direct grant school and, therefore, very much within them.

As a responsible body of Governors, we were confronted with an extremely difficult decision. The dilemma is this. Should we, as the phrase goes, "take our place within the pattern of the local education authority", or should we, on the other hand, go independent? In relation to the former of those alternatives, there are two relevant considerations. The first is whether the past history and present nature of a school fits in with the overall structure of the pattern of the local education authority for children in the Dulwich area. The answer is that it clearly does not. A long-established grammar school, annually recruited to carry out what has for long been recognised by a substantial number of LEAs as its specific academic purpose, does not easily transform itself overnight into a comprehensive school to serve a limited catchment area. Even if it could do that, with extraordinary metamorphoses of staff and objectives, there is no evidence whatever that any local education authority would be prepared to absorb it. So the dilemma is resolved, your Lordships may say. Yes, but at what cost? Alleyn's School has no option, whatever its wishes might have been, but to go independent.

Doctrines and ideologies apart, what does this mean in real life? It means that there will now be in Dulwich two independent day grammar schools, one of 1,300 boys and the other of 800 boys, within a couple of miles of each other. It also means that in order to maintain Alleyn's as an independent school its fees, with the removal of direct grant, will have to be put up to something like those of its consistently independent neighbour, Dulwich College. What sense does it make to have over 2,000 places in independent boys' grammar schools, at independent school fees, in one district of South London? We, the Governors of Alleyn's School think it makes no sense at all, so we are intending to make Alleyn's into a co-educational school. Then, in the Dulwich area, there will be an independent boy's school, Dulwich College, an independent girls' school, James Allen's School, and an independent coeducational school, Alleyn's. We thereby increase the range of parental choice for those who live within day school reach of one or other of the three, but we do so at the cost of making all three of them independent schools, with the fees, which viability for an independent school inescapably requires. To put it another way, the opportunities which were open to me 50 years ago are now being denied to what might be my grandsons if their parents lived in Dulwich.

I confess that I cannot see any educational or social sense in driving deeper the gulf between the private and public sectors in education. When I was headmaster of an independent school, 30 years ago, the Fleming Report advocated closer relationships between the two. There were some of us in the independent schools who passionately believed in this closer relationship. The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, will remember the zeal with which the headmaster he then served pressed this project. It is proper in this context that the name of Spencer Leeson should be remembered. At Shrewsbury, at that time, I did what I could to translate these ideals into fact. At one time there were 30 boys in the school, each one of whom might have been myself of 30 years before. We tried, genuinely tried, to bridge the gulf between the two sectors. There were of course difficulties. These did not—I repeat emphatically not—arise from the boys themselves or from their parents: they arose from the problems which the local education authorities understandably had in selection and finance. But, my Lords, here in the direct grant schools is, laid on, the already established, well-tried, accepted bridge between the two sectors. I find it difficult to understand why that bridge should be deliberately destroyed, and I therefore associate myself with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead.

2.1 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, like the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, was educated at a direct grant school, and I should like to associate myself with everything that he has said about social mix and so on. I do not have his memory for various categories of parents of boys who were educated with me, but I have little doubt that they were on very much the same kind of scale. Like the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, I am a head of a college, a smaller college and in another place, if I can use that expression without its being ambiguous, but it is also a college to which a number of boys from direct grant schools have come. I think because of the North country connection which Queen's College, Oxford, has, there have perhaps been rather more than in many Oxford colleges, and I can entirely confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, has said about the quality of the boys who come.

I am glad that this Motion has been put down by my noble friend Lord Belstead. I myself regret, I must admit, that we have not prayed for the annulment of the direct grant regulations, and I think the fact that this has not been done—though I understand the reasons for it—will give rise to a lot of disappointment in some quarters. There was a general expectation that this would be done, and I think many people will he very sorry that it has not been done. But half a loaf is certainly better than no bread, and I hope that the House will carry my noble friend's Motion by a large majority. I also hope that we shall not accept the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wade. Of course, I agree with him to the extent that the timing, pace and lack of consideration displayed by the Government in this matter is a particularly odious feature of their conduct and one that merits special reprobation. Nevertheless, I believe that we on this side of the House feel that the principle of direct grant is something more than just an ephemeral matter; we would not agree that it is simply a matter of timing, though we might well agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, whose speech was a very striking one, that the timing and economic circumstances make it peculiarly insane.

My Lords, we debated this question, on a Motion by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on 26th March this year, and most of the arguments for and against the Government's policy were deployed then. At that time, the Government reiterated, through the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, their determination to go ahead with their, as I consider, disastrous policy, and this has been done despite petitions signed by, I believe, over half a million people and despite the very widespread doubts which are felt throughout the country by people who are very far from being necessarily Conservative supporters. This is an issue which cuts much more across politics than is fully recognised.

The direct grant schools have been, or are in the process of being, by a sort of ultimatum, bidden to make up their minds whether to remain independent or accept the offer to go into the LEA system. I do not know how many have accepted that offer, but I know that a large number of famous schools have not. As many of your Lordships predicted last March, these schools have reluctantly decided to remain independent. The Government are thus well on their way to success in achieving a curious objective for a Government which ostensibly believe in providing opportunity for clever children in poor families. They have opened a gap between the independent sector, parents who can pay, and the rest who cannot, which is now wider than ever before. The chances of children from a relatively disadvantaged background getting a first-class academic education have been diminished by this piece of doctrinaire folly. Let us make no mistake about that.

Like many of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, I have had a number of letters about this matter from people I do not know at all. I have been much moved by their nature. There is a very real sense of distress among parents who, from the way they write—and I confirm what Lord James has said—obviously do not belong to the category described by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, as, …well-off families…subsidised by the State to buy, at much below the economic cost, what they regard as a privileged education for their children."—[Official Report, 26/3/75; col. 1276.] The sort of letters that come in, or a great many of them, clearly are not written by parents who could reasonably be described in that way. They are people whose children are bright and clever but who themselves have, for whatever reason, not had the chance of getting the sort of education to which they aspired, and who will not have the means to place their children in the sort of schools in which they believe if the direct grant is to be withdrawn. They see all this prospect cut off—and why? It is because the almost fanatical hatred of selection has become one of those doctrinaire shibboleths which obsess the guilt-torn middle class intellectuals.

My Lords, what is it, in the end, which alternately distresses and enrages one about the Government's policy towards the direct grant? I think it is this. Here is a system which, however illogical, untidy, unplanned, actually works very well. If I may refer to our last discussion of these matters, the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, said, quite rightly in one sense, that "the direct grant system was never planned, but just grew out of history". She seemed to regard this as in some way a bad thing. But a great deal of what we value and cherish in this country has grown "out of history". Of course, some things that grow out of history become barnacles of a kind on the hull of the State, and it is time to remove them. But the mere fact that something is the product of historical accident is not a count against it. The system may be illogical, and the civil servants in the Department of Education and Science would no doubt never have put it into a blueprint, which is precisely why they hate it so much, but it is, for the many reasons which have been advanced in this discussion and in other discussions in your Lordships' House, a success. That is to say, these schools are successful in terms of certain values—academic quality; openness to all who have the talent to get in, irrespective of class or means; a long tradition of service to the local community, and an alternative and, perhaps, a stimulus to the LEA system. But, of course, my noble friend Lord Eccles put his finger on an important point when he said that, in a sense, it is just this success which makes them suspect. By a curious irony, what really lies, at least in part, behind the Government's policy is what can only be explained as profound misgiving about the system of non-selective schooling to which it is now so deeply committed.

The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, made this clear enough in our last debate—he has an engaging ability to release cats from bags—when he said that: the continued existence of direct grant schools side by side with the maintained comprehensive system weakens that system by taking away some of the ablest pupils."—[Official Report, 26/3/75; c. 1266.] Precisely, my Lords! But is the comprehensive system so frail, feeble, dubious, shaky and insecure that the competition of the direct grant schools—of which there are, after all, only about 170 in the whole country—will menace their whole future? My Lords, this is rubbish, and there is evidence to show that it is just that.

I referred last time we discussed the question to the investigation made at Bristol, which has an exceptionally large number of direct grant schools. I shall not weary your Lordships with the details, but it went far to prove the opposite of what the noble Lord said. But if it were true, how much worse the Government's case becomes. Surely they should welcome competition to keep the LEA comprehensives on their toes. Surely they should regard an alternative category of schools to which boys and girls can go, irrespective of means, as a challenge to be met by endeavour, not as a threat to be met by suppression.

My Lords, I feel very sad, as well as indignant, about the Government's policy. This will be a blow to parents and potential parents who had hoped much for their children in this type of school. They regard the decision as incomprehensible. No doubt they are a minority, but minorities count for something. They can affect elections, for example—and I hope they will. I also feel sad for the headmasters, headmistresses, and their staffs who have believed—and believed rightly—that their schools were, in a very real sense, diminishing social divisiveness and providing a career open to the talents, and they have been right. We shall be told that their personal careers are safe whether their schools opt to stay independent or to go into the LEA system. This may or may not be so. We shall probably hear more of this later this afternoon. But there will be among them this melancholy sense of being unwanted, of having been part of something which a Government, backed by a great political Party which once had noble ideals, have decided to reject. People respect Governments, even this one. When they see it bent on the destruction of institutions in which they sincerely believe, they will not lightly forgive or forget what seems to them to be a doctrinaire decision based upon obsession, jealousy and malice. I hope very much that we shall carry this Motion by a very large majority.

2.13 p.m.


My Lords, this debate, I fear, is rather like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. After one debate in your Lordships' House I was interviewed by television in the South-West and the interviewer suggested that it was a waste of time attending or taking part in debates in your Lordships'Chamber. I replied that maybe he was right, but since I had the luck (shall we say?) to have a platform I felt it my duty to express opinions on matters on which I—or those who look to me, however misguided their hopes—have opinions. In this case it is only because I have, like so many other noble Lords, received so many letters, all from my co-religionists, on this subject, that I venture to intervene in this debate. I shall therefore confine my comments solely to the position of the Catholic direct grant schools and how they are affected.

Historically, during the persecution times there was little education. Those who could afford it sent their children abroad to institutions such as Douai. But back in this country the education of the less well-to-do had to be of a semi-underground nature. My family started a small school in 1730 which served what few Catholics there were within reach, and the estate workers of the family. When the last teacher retired, I closed it down. But until the last war we always sent two of the most promising pupils to Catholic grammar schools. Of course, death duties killed all that.

At the French Revolution, with its rabid anti-clericalism, the teaching orders started to come back to this country, and some of the older and better-known Catholic schools date from that period. After the Catholic Emancipation Act the tempo increased and a big impetus was given by the Christian Brothers and other teaching orders for schools now operating all over the country, and with great predominance in the North-West. There has been a magnificent tradition of Catholic education for the less fortunate, and it is from the North that most of the pleas that I have received have come. My knowledge mainly comes from the South-West. About a third or more of the direct grant schools are Catholic, out of all proportion to our number, and they differ from other direct grant schools because they are part of the Catholic school system in their areas which has grown up in the way in which I have tried to point out to your Lordships.

The Church, officially, is not opposing the general proposals put forward by the Government, though individuals and individual school organisations certainly are. Most attention has been paid to the pros and cons in general. The proposals provide for the possibility of direct grant schools becoming maintained comprehensive schools. How this will be achieved gives rise to the main question. There has been no "dummy run". The regulations are laid down at the outset. Will they cover all the points as they arise? Will there be sufficient flexibility? Will the Government give us a guarantee that regulations will be extended to cover these problems as they arise?

Some of the schools to which I refer are boarding schools. If they are to be maintained, they have to be maintained as at present, by one local education authority. But for boarders, boarding schools serve much more than one local authority; their catchment area is wider. Take, for example, in Plymouth a school called St. Boniface's. In the boarder element and in the day element, many come from Cornwall from across the River Tamar. Will the Government ensure that the Cornwall Education Authority continue to support it after this change has taken place?

Catholic schools are not alone in this. The Methodist Colleges of Edgehill and Shebbear, also in the South-West, are affected. The Secretary of State said: No authority would be put in the position of maintaining a school it does not want. But it seems that the authorities wish to avail themselves of these boarding facilities. How can the Government assure us that bringing direct grant grammar day schools into the maintained system as comprehensive schools will not do irreparable damage to the small number of direct grant boarding schools? Surely this is a case where the regulations should be amended before the damage is done.

If schools are to become comprehensive, how will the Government deal with the adaptation of building? If a school is now mainly academic it will not have the facilities, like extensive carpentry and engineering shops, if it is to become mainly non-academic. Who is to pay for it? And while on this subject, who is to service the loans which these schools have raised for their present building programmes? Are the religious orders to be left holding that baby? If a school has been developed and extended in a way that does not suit the Government's new arrangements, surely the Government must bear the cost; that should apply to capital debts, too. What about the staff? What about those who are prejudicially affected by these changes? What compensation has been arranged? I bet the Minister will say there is a scheme under consideration, but that is not good enough. This has been rushed so quickly that we must have something definite, and very soon.

I have so far tried to be objective, as I believe the Catholic Education Council has been, when dealing with the Government and I have dealt with the problems envisaged by those schools which are going comprehensive. With many others, I believe that quite a few Catholic schools will go out of existence—as the Scarborough Ladies of Mary Convent has already—because many of them cannot afford to go independent and do not fit in with the Government's scheme. The less fortunate will suffer as most of the Catholic direct grant schools have such a large proportion of free places.

Sister James, headmistress of the well-known Bar Covent at York, says: I think we also go along with this"— that is the hierarchy's approach— and are prepared to go comprehensive under direct grant status…but the greatest worry for schools is the question whether standards can be maintained, and this seems doubtful. I read on the tickertape outside the Chamber a news flash that nine out of 10 London schoolboys are involved in theft by the time they leave school. I apologise for that aside, but it seems to follow on from what that headmistress said. The whole of the diocese of which I form part—which is Devon, Cornwall and Dorset—has signed a protest right across the social and political board in this respect. The Notre Dame Convent at Crownhill, to which I have referred, is a most formidable institution, as I know to my cost; several years ago I had the honour to make the speech and present the prizes. It has an extremely high standard of educational achievement and the headmistress there, Sister Veronica, says: The attack on fundamental freedom is still, in my opinion, the most dangerous aspect of the Ministry's policy. Think of having to send one's child to a Tyndale. In Plymouth the situation is bedevilled by the fact that the city is not yet ready to reorganise and the difficulties for the Catholic schools are obvious if they go it alone. The "Levellers" of the Government tend to make a mockery of those who talk about parental freedom of choice, but they should remember that for we Catholics the Vatican Council has enacted: Since parents have conferred life on their children, they are acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Parents require the help of the State in carrying out this task, but it is help. The State should act in accordance with parents' wishes, not against them. It goes on: Parents, who have the first and inalienable duty and right to educate their children, should enjoy full freedom in their choice of schools. Therefore, the State must keep in mind the principle that its function is to help parents so that no kind of school monopoly arises. Governments are the servants of the people, not tyrannical masters. The Government may not like that, but, then, Henry VIII did not like what the Vatican said about divorce, and the result of that disagreement meant that we Catholics had the best part of 300 years as outcasts in our own country. It was harder for us to build up our school system than for others and demanded more sacrifice. For 300 years no one would touch us with a barge pole, so we had to pull our educational system up by our own bootstraps. For that, if for no other reason, I beg the almighty monopoly, the Government, as of right and permanence, to maintain some educational flexibility and allow this minority the freedom of choice as has been laid down by their spiritual leaders. I could go on for hours quoting people who have written to me about their various schools and problems, but that would be too much. I end as I began, by apologising to your Lordships for inadequately inflicting on the House a sectional minority case.

2.27 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, there seems to be an equation between a defence of the direct grant schools and an attack on the comprehensive schools; all that is needed to refute any argument in defence of the direct grant is to restate the long-accepted case for the comprehensive schools. I refute this equation. The real issue is freedom of choice; the right of a parent to choose, and recognition of the value of variety of schools. These schools show a standard of excellence which is a lasting shame to our destructive reformers. Education for all in Hastings, where I live, has grown from private fee paying and individual experiment. Today, we have a system in Hastings second to none, better than it has ever been before and far better that most. I could say this particularly of a London deprived of its independent schools, the best it has; show me a better school than Emanuel at Wandsworth.

About 22 per cent. of Hastings' children are recommended as suitable for grammar school or academic education. The others, who in the past might have been labelled 11-plus failures—there is no 11-plus in Hastings; today the children are selected from headmasters' reports—can now choose their own path. To waste one's opportunity is unfortunately one of the choices at any school, but most can attain success in other ways or, after "O" levels, at about 16, the grammar schools are open to any child inclined or wishing to pursue its studies. This is not a catchphrase but a fact. Many Hastings people have benefited, my daughter among them, from the opportunity to develop at a gentler pace at a secondary modern school and then to find that the gates of higher learning are wide open to them to pursue any subject of their choice in ally school. The people of Hastings find themselves, like the scholars past, present and future of the direct grant schools, powerless spectators of destruction. Their wishes, whether for or against the change, are of no account. Hastings, like Emanuel, is on the block—its crime, excellence. People throughout the country who know from their own experience the value of these schools earmarked for destruction look to us for a last protest before the demolition starts.

I am not against comprehensive schools. That is an argument that was settled several years ago. But there is also an acceptable argument for special schools for special children in the case of the educationally subnormal, the deaf, the blind, the mentally handicapped, and so on. These, apparently, do not affect the comprehensives. What about the educationally super-normal? Their case is different, closed and not to be considered. The real issue here is not just the ending of the direct grant, it is another step towards the anthill society. Everything we hold sacred and most beautiful in life is second always to Party approval. Let Westminster Abbey itself lie in the way of a Party Manifesto and we shall be able only to raise our voices in its defence. The machine rolls on, its so-called "moderate" driver at the wheel, deaf to the entreaties of millions. Like justice, democracy should be seen to be done.

2.31 p.m.


My Lords, the greatest need of this country today is excellence in every sphere, and excellence is achieved only by hard work and continual discipline. Where should these virtues start but in the schools where our children are being educated? Since the 1944 Education Act, it has always been the right of parents to exercise some choice as to the sort of school they wanted for their children's education. Some chose comprehensive schools. Some chose secondary modern schools because they knew that their children's bent lay in the practical rather than the academic field. Some chose grammar schools because they were ambitious and because they wanted their children to have a chance to develop and be academically stretched by the teachers in charge of them and by the intelligent boys and girls with whom they would be working.

I happen to be chairman of the governing body of a girls' voluntary-aided grammar school which is being forced into the independent field by pressure of circumstances. The voluntary-aided schools, the direct grant schools and many of the Church grammar schools provided the excellence of education and the mental discipline necessary to get the utmost value out of their pupils. They were schools which demonstrated their true value by the results of their efforts; but, most important of all, they were schools in which children from all sorts of home backgrounds, rich and poor, came together to learn the excitement and stimulus of subjects presented in such a way that it was an inspiration to be taught and, moreover, to be taught to work and read and think alone as well as in the company of one's contemporaries.

Then, the idea of comprehensive education came, I believe, across the Atlantic from the United States of America. It was seized upon by the Labour Party as the one means of ensuring educational equality for all boys and girls of school age. "Equality" became the battle cry. "End selection." But one cannot do just that. Selection is inevitable at some stage of a child's life, because children differ immensely in their mental and practical ability and in their powers of understanding and absorption. If selection on academic grounds is abolished, as is the avowed intention of the Government, selection will be based on parental income, neighbourhood, religion, or some combination of all those.

Who stands to lose most by this determination to seek equality by seeking to maintain those voluntary-aided and direct grant schools which insist on academic potential as a key to entry, regardless of the home background from which the pupils come? Without a doubt, children from the poorer homes whose parents will not be able to pay the fees which must be asked when the local authority or State maintenance ceases. I, too, have been inundated with letters from just such parents. They are people who see only too clearly what the future holds for their children educationally if the grammar and direct grant schools are excluded from the State system and can no longer offer free places to children old enough to profit by them. Your Lordships have heard much about these letters. I shall venture to read two of them: My lady, I am a painter and decorator by trade. I have two children who are very clever and are now near 11 years old. Our local schools are going to go comprehensive and this means my children will have to go to the local school which I am telling you is no damned good at all! If the schools were not going to be changed my children would have gone to the grammar school and I know would have done really great, and I know would have made it and gone to the university. Hundreds of my pals and workmates agree with me. They don't want to see the really good schools go. We have got to have grammar schools for the bright children and these schools are open to everyone. Local neighbourhood schools won't work. It is OK if you can afford to live in an expensive area, but if you can't then it is hard luck. As far as I am concerned it is cockeyed. I agree with "comps", but don't ruin the others. I hope the Lords of this land can do something about this. I am telling you that if the working class who care about things are done down there will be a lot of trouble and unrest so we shall open the door for real troublemakers to get going. Do your best to keep our good schools. I hope you don't mind me writing to you. Best of luck. The letter is signed. The second letter reads: Dear Sir, I am not an educated man and I have never written to a Lord before but I am doing so to ask your help. I have two lads at a grammar school who entered on scholarships and they are doing great. It has not been easy to keep them there but I have done it and I want to continue doing so. I think I have the right to spend my money as I wish. I pay my taxes and my rates and what is left over is mine to spend as I wish. I choose to spend it on my boys' schooling and that means doing without a lot of things. I have been told that the school to which my boys go is to become a comprehensive school and if that— and I leave out the adjective— man Mr. Mulley has his way, not only this school hut lots of other schools in the country are to go comprehensive. What, my Lord, are you going to do about it? Millions of families like mine will suffer and our children will not have a real chance in life if these schools are messed up. I beg you to help ordinary chaps like me. Please get your other Lords to do the right thing and stop this happening. Otherwise the country will be in an awful mess. Comprehensive education is a comparatively new experiment in this country. It has not yet had sufficient trial to justify its acceptance as the sole instrument of free education. Let the experiment continue, but let it continue side by side with those schools that are the outcome of years of experience so that all that is good is not wantonly imperilled in the search for equality.

What the Labour Party has done is to oversimplify the problem of the educa- tion of our nation. It has taken the principle of equality and is attempting to subordinate to that all other questions in education. How simple would life become if one could apply one single principle to every problem of conduct! But human life is not like that. In every human situation there may be two, three or four principles which are relevant, and wisdom consists in balancing these various and often conflicting principles wisely one against the other.

It is the failure of the Labour Party to realise this that threatens to downgrade the quality of many of the best schools in the country, some of them among the best schools in the world. Its policy will also rob children from underprivileged homes of the quality of education which their brains deserve. To guarantee these children a first-rate education is just as important a principle in the national interest as to abjure selection. What sickens me about Labour's educational ideas is that they talk and act as if the abolition of selection at 11—they approve of selection at 17, mark you—is of such outstanding educational value that all other values in education must yield to it.

My Lords, this is dangerous nonsense, and it all flows from the false idea that only one principle of conduct and policy needs to be taken into account, whatever disaster that may bring down upon the children with good ability from poor homes. That is why the Labour Party's obsession with equality to the exclusion of every other consideration seems to me to be near criminal; not only folly, but in the present state of our nation, criminal folly. I could develop my theme at great length, but I am not going to do so. Others have spoken more ably than I, and the case for the retention of these excellent schools as part of the State system has been made. All I say in conclusion is that in ceasing to maintain the direct grant schools and the aided grammar schools, the Government will be dealing this country a mortal blow from which it may never recover, and for which they may never be forgiven.

2.42 p.m.


My Lords, permit me to echo the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who asked this Government to pause and think again before this step becomes a permanent one. It seems to be a curious feature of the pattern of human behaviour that when something good has been created someone wants to tamper with it or destroy it, and it appears to me that this is the situation that faces us now. The noble Lord, Lord Butler—with great authority—and others have shown how these schools have developed to a standard of excellence for which there has been no competitor. Nobody would wish to impede this really interesting experiment in comprehensive education, but it seems to me a little illogical, and certainly not pragmatic, to destroy schools in order to make way for schools that are not yet built, because we have seen ample evidence that the coagulation of adjacent schools never creates a sensible educational unit.

With some modesty, I suggest that in this remarkable system of education that we have built up in this country there is one blot. I feel very strongly about this blot, which is the size of the individual classes, the units of little girls and boys being taught. They are far too large. They do not give the teacher any opportunity to exercise her or his attention to the little child who may be suffering from some physical defect, which is, apparently, described as backwardness. The bright girls and boys will succeed under any system; this is obvious. It is the little girl or boy who needs this rather special attention that can be given only through small classes. It seems to me that this is where we should be going, creating smaller and smaller classes, with the individualism of the teacher able to deploy itself with skill, honesty and integrity.

The noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, may perhaps be placing upon me a label, labelling me possibly with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden. I should be very happy to have that label, but I have not the distinction, because I have emerged from the opposite end of the spectrum. But not a single word did the noble Lord utter that created discord in my mind. There was opportunity; I had opportunity, limited though it might have been. Frankly, I do not wish to discuss this question of opportunity at any length because it does not get one anywhere. But what does get one somewhere is this: the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Darling. If I heard him aright, he stated that 60 girls are going into the former direct grant-aided school in Sheffield, but into the 31 comprehensive' schools there are to pour 7,000 girls; that is, units of 200. Therefore, if your Lordships accept my figure of 20, there will be needed 10 classrooms per intake. It is physically not on! So it does not make sense to destroy good schools, to lay an imperfect pavement of cobblestones towards comprehensive education.

The noble Lord, Lord Darling, also said—if I heard him correctly—that this was a political issue, and I make no apology for thrusting the characteristics of politics that are involved in this picture. Uniformitarian education is a weapon that I should not like to place in the hands of any Government. We have seen what has happened in countries where there has been uniformitarian forms of education. Your Lordships may be disgusted by what I am to say now, but in this week of remembrance let us not forget the Brownshirts and the Blackshirts who are the products of that kind of education. I am not going to say that it could happen here; it could not happen because we will apparently still have centres of educational excellence which would be independent of politics.

But this raises another ghost that may materialise. If we follow logically the argument of removing direct grants from these schools, it seems to me that the same argument could be used to remove all direct grants from every kind of educational institution in this country; the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, will perhaps share this fear. This could mean ultimately the removal of the direct grant from our glorious universities, and the day that happens, the sun will go down upon their independence. The noble Lord, Lord Darling, says that this is a political issue. I ask the Front Bench whether they can prove to us that these direct grant schools have been a blot on our educational system, and if that cannot be proved, I suggest that this is an illogical, unnecessary piece of political vandalism.

2.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am not one who is 100 per cent. anti comprehensive schools. I believe that there are some cases, and some neighbourhoods, in which these schools can function quite well, but that does not alter my opinion that the Government's present policy is very wrong. It is founded on the idealistic desire to look upon all children as exactly equal, needing the same education, having the same problems and the same abilities, and so forth. Nothing on earth could be less true. In fact, I think it is safe to say that no two children are exactly alike in their needs, their abilities or their problems. It seems to me to follow from that, my Lords, that selection of some sort is necessary, because not everybody in the country deserves higher education, or needs it.

My Lords, the public feel very strongly on this point. I think I have had a heavier mail on this subject than I have ever had on any other. I have had over 30 letters from various parents, whom I have never met, urging me to support the direct grant schools. To go back to selection for a moment, I think one noble Lord condemned it on the grounds that those who did not pass felt a sense of failure. My Lords, we all feel a sense of failure at some time or other in our lives. I feel a sense of failure every time I put my name down as a speaker in a debate in your Lordships' House and find myself eighteenth on the list. We all have to face the fact that we cannot do everything that we would wish to do; but that does not make it true that selection is not desirable. However, I would not provide for selection at a fixed age—11 years as it is at the moment—because some children develop more slowly, and they should be able to change their school, if necessary, at any period during their education.

My Lords, the scholastic achievements of the direct grant schools are very high indeed. Every year thousands of girls leave these schools with many "A" levels to their credit, and many of them go on to universities. I wonder whether that could be said of the comrehensive schools? What is it, then, that the Government have against direct grant schools? Can it be anything else than their desire to have everything conform to a given pattern, regardless of what the needs or the talents of the child concerned may be? I was amazed to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell—I am sorry she is not here at the moment—make two quite astonishing remarks. One was that these schools were socially divisive. My Lords, if there is one thing that they are not, it is that. Your Lordships have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, describe the mixture of origins in the school to which she was referring. It is quite true that they all mix on an absolutely equal level, and there is no social difference. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, also said that if we continued with the direct grant schools we should be going back to the non-productive. Non-productive, my Lords! If any class of school has produced more eminent people in this country than the direct grant schools, I should like to know what it is. Of course, it is not yet time to know whether the comprehensive schools can do as well, since they have not being going for long enough, but I shall be very surprised if, in 20 years (if I am still alive), the same can be said of them.

My Lords, I think the most astonishing part of this move on the part of the Government is the fact that they are really cutting off their nose to spite their face, as it were. They are removing from the very children whom one would have thought they were out to protect—namely, those children from poorer homes—the chance of a really first-class education. Whatever is said, children will not get a first-class education at a comprehensive school; they can get it only at a direct grant school.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, in Scotland we call them grant-aided schools. We have only about 26 of them but, like the English grammar schools, some of them have very great traditions indeed. In Scotland, these schools have never been socially divisive. They have a good social mix—laird's son, ploughman's son—and there is little or no social difference between them and the parish schools set up by John Knox as a result of the Reformation. In fact, these grant-aided schools, such as Dollar Academy, have prided themselves on the absence of discrimination by sex, race, colour, wealth, creed or intelligence. That school stands now with roughly a third of its pupils drawn from the village, a third from the surrounding area and a third comprising the children of people who are serving overseas. That, I think, is a very important point, which has been touched on by one or two noble Lords but not, I think, fully appreciated as yet—the importance of providing education for the sons and daughters of parents serving overseas.

My Lords, we can say that the other grant-aided schools in Scotland which have come into existence in the past hundred years were not so much founded for social reasons as because of the fact that in some urban areas the quality of education at certain of the State schools was very much lower than at the old village schools, where the dominie brought on the lad o'pairts right up to university standard. It has been said that in Edinburgh the chief industry is education, and this is due, so far as school education is concerned, very largely to the Merchant Company, which is responsible for running some of these grant-aided schools. The Merchant Company has decided to close one of its girls' schools, Mary Erskine, with 1,100 girls, to sell the school to the local authority and to distribute the girls among its boys' schools. At the same time, another grant-aided school of considerable antiquity is closing down completely. The closure of that school means 400 less school places; and the phasing out of the Mary Erskine Girls' School, which is now educating 1,100 pupils, and the turning of it into a comprehensive school, with all the requirements of the comprehensive system, will reduce its capacity to about 800 school places.

As a result of this action by the Government about 800 school places will have to be provided for by the local authority. In addition, there will almost certainly be a number of parents who cannot afford the fees in the grant-aided schools as they go independent; and that will add to the provision required of the local authority. Our rates in that area have trebled and the local authority has yet to provide places for (shall I say?) 1,000 new places. How quickly can it be done? The expense of this exercise—and for figures I am quoting only one place in Scotland—is tremendous, and obviously in the first instance it will be to the detriment of the pupils.

My Lords, I want to say one thing to continue a point raised in the speech of my noble friend Lord Belstead. He emphasised the variety of the direct grant schools of England. I would say that we have equal variety among the grant-aided schools in Scotland. Variety in education, in the systems of education and in the methods of education, is to my mind fundamental to any progress whatsoever in education in this country. We have heard arguments about education in the USA as compared with education in this country. Who can say which is right? Let us experiment and find out! But we will not experiment if we have only one type of school or only two types, the completely independent and the State schools.

My Lords, I am talking as a biologist and not as an historian like my noble friend Lord Blake. He said the historical value of the schools was great but that the barnacles had to be taken off. May I speak as a biologist and say that the system of education has grown up in the same way as my noble friend Lord Blake described. It has evolved in a natural way and where it has not succeeded it has gone out; because parents have not supported those kinds of school that were not any good. There can be no better way of getting progressive education for the varying needs of the different sections of the community, for the different objects of education, than by continuing these direct grant schools.

3.3 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of WORCESTER

My Lords, some apology is probably required from those of us who sit on the Bishops' Benches for apparently rather arbitrary attendance this week; but, having a second legislative body sitting at the same time, it is not always easy to make the two coincide. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for the manner in which he outlined the spirit of the Education Act 1944—a spirit that enabled a developing situation in education; an Act that permitted growth, an Act that permitted adaptation. The permission of adaptation and of growth within the law is not always recognised, but it was in that Act. The steadily developing situation in the educational field in the last 30 years has been very remarkable. It has changed radically, although the Act itself has not been called in question. This opportunity to grow in educational values and in educational methods is what I would particularly ask for.

If I may say so as a member of the Public Schools Commission Mark II, commonly called the Donnison Commission, the terms of reference that we were given by the first Labour Government of some six years ago was that we should inquire into the movement towards integration of the independent and direct grant schools. We wrote, if I may say so, a rather good Report. Two or three of us wrote a Minority Report, to which I put my signature, asking for a slower movement towards integration—not asking that there should be no integration, but that there should be a slower one. What we are faced with now is the sense of a guillotine. Although there is a wide range of schools of different size and standards, I would point out to your Lordships that the principles underlying the system of direct grant originated at a time when schools of this sort provided nearly all the secondary education available to children coming up from elementary schools. The fact of their founding about 100 years ago was of very great importance. It is true to say that both the grammar schools and now the comprehensive schools have largely taken their pattern from what has been developed on an experimental basis in the direct grant schools.

It is now being said as a matter of complaint that these direct grant schools soak up local resources and central funds. I would ask the question: What is inherently wrong with the concept of a central direct grant? The University Grants Committee not only works admirably but contains this essential freedom of central aid to local initiative. Are we to lose this local initiative in a changing educational system? What is socially wrong in subsidising many schools that are still leading the way in educational experiment? It was my privilege to visit some 20 such schools as a member of the Commission, and I think the most remarkable element in many of them was that they were free to develop patterns of teaching, patterns of teacher-student relationship and patterns of partnership between parents, authorities and pupils which was not happening in the commonly-called maintained sector. Therefore, I put considerable store by the principle that underlies the concept of direct grant schools which was outlined in the Report of the Commission, by those who signed it and by those who signed the Minority Report.

Consequent upon that, I think it is true to say that at the moment there are two groups of direct grant schools, and it is important to differentiate between the two. First, there are what are called the regional schools: the large, great, famous schools in some of our great cities drawing pupils from a wide area. They may be driven to going independent and many of them will, as at present arranged, go independent. By so doing, they will increase social divisiveness. But what is so sad, to my mind, is not the fact that we are driving these schools into independence, but that we are creating a wedge between the different elements of education that are all moving towards a greater freedom and a greater sense of comprehensive education. These great direct grant schools are all willing participants in the slow and gradual move towards comprehensive education as we see it, as a vision for the future.

Secondly, within the present group of direct grant schools, there are what we might call "denominational schools". I must apologise for the fact that I did not hear the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, say a word about these schools, particularly I presume in Lancashire which I was able to visit. These schools are smaller in size and much less selective than regionally maintained schools. They are looking after the needs of particular localities. Socially they are less selective than boarding schools. I should feel very sad if the Roman Catholic development of education in Lancashire was cut off at this stage, at a moment when they are ready to talk seriously about the period of the next five years or so—and you cannot hurry educational development—and about the integration of those schools into the system. I insist that there is this conviction among the supporters of direct grant schools that there should be a movement towards total participation in comprehensive reorganisation. That is not in doubt. The question is the speed at which we try to create that situation.

Too much attention has been focused on the theory of comprehensive organisation in education, and too little on the care of these 169 schools. There has been too much attention to theory and too little care given to the schools that are themselves setting these interesting patterns of education, and to the part they can play in the movement towards reorganisation. For example, they encourage more children to stay longer at school. One of the sad facts about our scholastic situation at the moment is the mis-match between the life of the schools and life at work. There is a serious mis-match in parts of the industrial areas from where I come, where the schools have been unable to prepare boys and girls for the type of work available. I believe that direct grant schools are making much more radical experiments in relating the requirements of work to the syllabus of education.

At the moment, school leavers' unemployment is not directly dependent upon the economic state of affairs; it is partly dependent upon the fact that the schools are not preparing boys and girls for work that is available. This is a sad fact. The direct grant schools are, in general, encouraging proportionately more children to stay longer at school and prepare themselves more adequately for trades, professions and skills. They offer a valuable opportunity to clever boys and girls from poor and culturally deprived homes. The Minister gave us some statistics earlier in the day of the number of children who come from artisan homes. These statistics are very misleading. We are moving, fortunately, to a society that has a far greater local acceptance of equality; and to make a rule of statistics as to those who come from culturally deprived homes is, I believe, misleading. In these schools there is a substantial proportion of children from economically deprived homes, just as there is elsewhere.

In conclusion, I should like to say that neighbourhood schools suffer from the severe social limitations of any school confined to a locality, and the great advantage of much secondary education is in having a much wider catchment area, thereby creating different levels of recruitment over an unspecified area of the county or township. Therefore, I hope that the movement towards comprehensive reorganisation will be allowed to go at the pace of educational experience and not at the pace of political requirement.

3.16 p.m.

The Earl of SWINTON

My Lords, it was certainly not my original intention to speak at all in this debate. I took part in the debate of the noble Lord, Beaumont of Whitley, on 26th March. At this stage in the afternoon, I am beginning to regret that I decided to speak; I feel I little like the man who comes in after the Lord Mayor's Show. We have had so many distinguished speeches from academics and educationists that I am regretting my decision. Like so many others in your Lordships' House, I have received many letters from parents and others interested in direct grant schools. I should say that there were many which were not just photocopied ones. I recognised one of those which was read out by my noble friend Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte. I had a lot of others besides, so I thought I really must speak.

I find myself agreeing with a great deal of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. I am sorry that I cannot see him in his place at the moment. May I say what a pleasure it is to have him in your Lordships' House. For many years, that splendid, deep, gravel voice has awakened me in the mornings at educational conferences, speaking with his usual clarity. What a wonderful and clear speech he made. I should like, to agree with him on one main point. What a terrible time this is to inflict more expenditure on local education authorities, when, at this stage of the crisis which we are in, every penny counts.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, referred to Circular 10/75 which tells us—I say "us", as I am a member of a local education authority that we must not spend more than we did last year. Ministers make statements criticising local authorities about overspending. Yet, day by day, those Ministers churn out more and more legislation which puts more and more duties and expense on local authorities. The meeting of my full county council last week considered four new Acts and passed them on to committees of the county council for implementation. They were the Control of Pollution Act 1974, the Reservoirs Act 1975, the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 and the Conservation of Wild Crea- tures. and Wild Plants Act 1975. I am sure that all those Acts are most important, but they all place more and more additional work, and more and more expense, on local authorities.

One of Her Majesty's Ministers, talking about local authority expenditure the other day, said, "The party is over". So far as my local education authority is concerned—and I am afraid that I speak with only 15 years' experience as a member of that education committee, unlike several of your Lordships who have had a great many more years concerned with the subject—we look forward to the party beginning. My mind goes back to the halcyon days—I do not know how many years ago—when I came down with a deputation from the then North Riding of Yorkshire to see the then Minister at the Department of Education and Science, the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. We came down to protest that we had only two or three primary school replacements in the educational building programmed. I see that my noble friend Lord Belstead is looking at me; I protested to him at one stage. Perhaps those were the halcyon days when there was a party. In the coming year my local authority, which has grown in size, will not be able to afford a single replacement primary school in the whole of this area.

I would go farther than the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, when he talked about money which must be spent on the comprehensive situation before "mucking about" with direct grant schools. There will be an enormous amount of money to be spent, and I should like to see it spent on primary education. After all, I think the experts would agree that the primary school stage of a child's education is the most important of all. It develops his character and also, if the child starts off in a cheerful, bright, new modern primary school, he or she is much more likely to be interested in education, to be bitten by the bug and to stick with it for the rest of his educational career.

We have been "mucked around" certainly, in my own authority and I am sure that is true of many others, also—by such things as the raising of the school-leaving age and the debate on the reorganisation of secondary education. Perhaps, if we had been allowed to spend more money on old primary schools and not so much on raising the school-leaving age, we might well have found that many of our secondary schools would not be in quite the mess they appear to be in at the moment. However, that is altogether another point. For the practical reasons I have given, I support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Belstead.

Where I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, is on a matter of principle; but before enlarging on that perhaps I might say just a word in a semi-official capacity to the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, both as a Governor of the Bar Convent of York and chairman of the schools subcommittee of North Yorkshire, where York comes. I am delighted to say to him that I do not think nine out of 10 of our secondary school children take to crime in York. If I might make a personal statement—and I am not in any way speaking in my official capacity on behalf of my committee—I have always been very pro comprehensive education, because I can see no justification whatever for the compulsory selection of children by an examination of any sort taken at the age of 11 or 12. My recent experiences as chairman of the appeals committee of my authority, which sits on borderline decisions in part of my area where selection is still carried on, has only strengthened my belief that there should be comprehensive reorganisation.

I was delighted that my noble friend Lord Butler brought out some of the principles underlying the 1944 Education Act. On the other hand, if parents wish to opt for this sort of selection procedure because they consider it to be in the best interests of their children to go to a direct grant school, I cannot see why they should not be allowed to do so. Therefore, both on the practical point and on the point of principle, I strongly support today the Motion of my noble friend Lord Belstead.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene from these Benches with some degree of reluctance and only after prolonged and careful deliberation. I do so because I have been deeply committed on this issue for many years—almost the whole of a lifetime—and my convictions have only deepened with the passage of time. For well over a decade now, as Chairman of the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, I have pleaded for special educational facilities to be provided for children who are mentally retarded. I am glad to say that over the years our pleas have been recognised by successive Governments and they are now engrained in our educational system so that every child who is mentally handicapped is entitled as of right to special education long before he reaches the age of 11-plus. And so we have created special schools for the mentally handicapped all over the country. We have trained special teachers and promoted special courses in this highly specialised educational field.

To me it seems utterly illogical that with all the efforts we devote to the mentally handicapped, we do not provide at least equal facilities for the other end of the scale. It may be argued that merit will always win in the end, whatever the obstacles, that character and ability cannot be supressed and that indeed the test of ability should be the overcoming of obstacles. This may be true in the case of the individual, but, in this highly competitive world, it becomes positively dangerous if applied to the wider interests of the State. Therefore, however fervently we believe in equality of opportunity, as we all ought to do, this principle becomes self-defeating if it results in the narrowing of opportunities, for then we restrict our children as individuals, and in the wider field, we restrict ourselves as a nation.

The whole case for the phasing-out of direct grants seems to rest on two arguments: the unfairness of selection and on Labour's Election Manifesto. While loyally accepting the latter for the most part, I find it impossible to swallow the whole of the 39 articles, and of them all, this one for the phasing-out of the direct grant positively sticks in one's throat. As politics in this country tends to become polarised into the two great political Parties, there must always be some issue for which even the most faithful cannot show an equal enthusiasm. I can only say that on the issue of the grammar schools I have received letters from friends who are lifelong Socialists, imploring me to take a stand against the Government's policy. In my home town of Oxford—an area not altogether removed from my noble friend—nearly 17,000 signatures were collected in a short period of time, pleading against the phasing-out of the direct grant. As it is now, happily, represented by a Labour Member of Parliament, I simply refuse to believe that these 17,000 signatures all came from members of one Party. And at a time like this, in the midst of the gravest economic crisis since the War, it is, to say the least, unfortunate that such a divisive issue should be inflicted on our community by any Government in power. That is where I join with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, in his plea of, "not now".

I come now to selectivity. If we are opposed to the creation of an elite in education, then the Government's policy is self-defeating, because most of the 173 direct grant schols—I give way to the right reverend Prelate on the issue of four, so that one may call it 169—including my school in Newcastle-on-Tyne, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ward of North Tyneside, well knows (and causes like this can make the strangest bedfellows of all of us!) in line with other grammar schools such as Manchester and Leeds, are determined to go independent and so become more selectivist and elitist than ever before. No, my Lords; the wise course would he for the Government, while continuing the direct grant, to encourage those schools to become wider in their outlook and to draw their intake of pupils more evenly from all sections of the community.

On grounds of economy, likewise, I believe that the Government's case has yet to be made. I hope that my noble friend who is to reply for the Government will say precisely how many millions of pounds the Government will have to spend after the direct grant has been phased out. He has told us how much it is likely to save. He gave the figure of £10 million, or £15 million overall, and the cost to each child of £100 a year. That sum of £100 a year is the cost of fewer than four days' stay in a hospital. Even in times of the most stringest economy, four days' stay in hospital equates to providing for a whole year's education at one of our grammar schools! How mean can we possibly get? I should like to hear from my noble friend when he comes to reply what the outlay is expected to be after the final withdrawal of the direct grant has taken place; his answer may yet decide in which Lobby I shall vote. Let me also add this: any saving of the direct grant may be offset by a stifling of intellect and the uprooting of valuable traditions that may prove a false economy in the long run.

So we come to the only argument, as I see it, in favour of the phasing out: the unfairness of selection at the tender age of 11. I do not see how we can eliminate selection in early school age and avoid it altogether at a later age, on entry into university when wider national considerations become involved. I fear that in their pursuit against selection the Government are chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. Indeed, the physiological strains of puberty which a boy undergoes at age 14 or 16 may render the results of competitive examination then far more unreliable and capricious than a simpler examination held at the age of 11 or earlier. My noble friend Lord Darling of Hillsborough spoke of children being branded as failures at age 11. What about failures at 14, 16 or 18? Is not the psychological trauma far greater, and the potential loss to the community as well infinitely greater? He singled out the case of Sheffield. Could ever a stronger case be made out for selection than the case of Sheffield as a successful instance of the comprehensive system? Would anyone here suggest that Sheffield is being repeated all over the country? Surely, if we speak of grammar schools being available to only a small section of the community—as my noble friend Lady Gaitskell said, some 100,000 as against 10 million—no one can pretend that the excellence of the comprehensive system in Sheffield can easily be repeated—and I welcome any instance of it in any other similar towns throughout the country.

If we accept that selection and élitism must apply at a later age because, as has been said already, we cannot all expect to be equally mentally equipped, let us also remember that nowhere does this principle of selection operate more unfairly than under a dictatorship, and nowhere is selection exercised more ruthlessly than in the Communist States. A demand was made only recently at one of the Party conferences for members of the Cabinet to be selected by delegates at the conference, instead of by the Prime Minister. That was surely an instance of selection or democracy gone mad. And not so very long ago at another Party conference, as some noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite may still recall, a vacant premiership was being hawked about for selection by the delegates. That was surely a case of selection only a little less mad. But in addition, a very strong case can be made out for the retention of schools that are smaller in size than the comprehensives, just as a very strong case can be made out for the smaller colleges in universities, as against larger ones such as Trinity in Cambridge—I refrain from following this argument too far in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden—or smaller medical schools where tuition is far more intimate and personal, or smaller universities, as distinct from the pattern now found so widely in the United States, or for smaller businesses or smaller nations. Or else, why are we all arguing now about the case for devolution into smaller political units, which this Government already seem to have accepted in principle?

We might do well to heed the advice of an American correspondent in one of our provincial papers who warns that a comprehensive system in England would be a retrograde step. He goes on to say that at 15 the average English school child is as advanced as the 18-year-old American, and that the English "O" level of the GCE is harder than the university entrance examination in America. I have seen, again and again, American university graduates whose level of intelligence is well below that of the average sixth former in our English grammar schools. That is why in America exasperated parents of very moderate means go to inordinate expense to send their children to private schools—because they are so completely disenchanted by the low level of education prevailing in their comprehensive schools. It is because we need to maintain the highest possible standards of education in every direction that our grammar schools are worth retaining, and worth a heavy national sacrifice to retain.

I am all in favour of our grammar schools. To abolish them would be to abolish something of intrinsic value in our national life. And with what do we intend to merge them? With huge comprehensive schools, sometimes with more than 2,300 pupils, where the headmaster, in the natural course of events, is unable to get to know each of his pupils individually, and will fail to leave the impact of his personality on the character of the school—a most important factor in many of our grammar schools today. If we feel deeply about a cause it is not enough merely to sustain it. The Latin motto of my old grammar school, if I may lapse into rather doggerel Latin, is borrowed from the City Arms of Newcastle, Fortiter Defendit Triumphans—he stoutly defends and triumphs. Although the Opposition have no need of my vote in the Division Lobby—their ranks opposite amply demonstrate that—this is an issue on which I cannot remain inert, aloof and indifferent.

My Lords, I believe that the Government's present policy towards the grammar schools to be a mistaken one. It is unjustified in principle, and harmful and destructive in its application. Torn as I am in going against the loyalties of a lifetime, I feel that this is a cause which has to be stoutly defended, and a cause which will triumph in the end.