HL Deb 15 January 1976 vol 367 cc276-99

3.17 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced on 8th July the Government's intention to introduce legislation to alter the present summer leaving date for school pupils. This Bill meets that intention. It is simple and specific. It provides for a minor alteration in the present law on compulsory schooling in England and Wales so as to bring forward the summer school leaving date from the end of term to the Friday before the last Monday in May. It also provides for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Social Services to make appropriate changes in the social security field where certain arrangements are linked with school leaving dates.

I should first explain what I mean by the expression "school leaving date ", for that term is very commonly misunderstood. Its precise and legal meaning is the upper limit of compulsory school age. It therefore represents the last date on which children in the relevant age group may be legally required to attend school. It does not mean that children will necessarily leave school then. All are free to stay on voluntarily after that date and there is a clear duty on local education authorities to make proper provision for those who choose to do so. Thus, children who attend school after their leaving dates do so by choice, not by compulsion.

What the Bill proposes is a minor adjustment to the boundary so that the law will accord more closely with the wishes of young people and the education service. Noble Lords may wonder why a Bill is needed to make an alteration of some six weeks or so in the upper limit of compulsory schooling. To explain this I shall have to rehearse the present legal posiiton, and I will try to be brief. School leaving dates in England and Wales are governed by Section 9 of the Education Act 1962. That Act provides for two leaving dates. One is for those whose 16th birthday falls in the range between 1st September to 31st January, and for those the school leaving date is at the end of the following Easter term. The second is for those whose birthday falls between 1st February and 31st August, and for those the school leaving date is the end of the appropriate summer term.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has no discretion under the Act to vary those leaving dates to meet new circumstances, or to confer exemption on those on whom the law is claimed to bear harshly. We are convinced that the law is unsatisfactory in its impact on 16-year-old school-leavers; a new Act is the only way in which that situation can be put right.

I say that we are convinced that a change is needed. No high educational principle is involved. Our reasons are essentially pragmatic, but none the less powerful. They flow directly from the raising of the school-leaving age to 16, itself a long overdue reform foreshadowed in the 1944 Education Act and finally implemented in 1973–74. We remain firmly committedto that decision and have no intention of reverting to earlier arrangements. But we are obliged to look carefully at the way in which the new leaving age accords with our public examination system and the traditions of schools and pupils. It is clear that it does not accord particularly well. Our major public examinations for schools —the Certificate of Secondary Education and the General Certificate of Education at "O"level—are normally taken towards the end of the fifth year of secondaryeducation. Before the raising of the school-leaving age examination candidates were almost always over the upper limit of compulsory schooling, and there was a long-standing tradition of leaving school once the last examination paper had been taken, as they were legally entitled to do. That pattern has persisted—illegally, in the case of those whose school-leaving date is the end of that summer term. The plain truth is that children see no reason to attend when their courses have finished and their examinations are over; parents are understandably reluctant to compel them to return; schools and local authorities have neither the means nor the will to enforce attendance for the large number of pupils involved.

The law is clearly out of step with mood of those principally involved and is in danger of being brought into disrepute. That situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. We must either enforce the law or change it. Enforcement would be difficult, and would impose a heavy burden on already hard-pressed local authorities. It also takes time to institute attendance proceedings in individual cases. I fear that we cannot hope to secure continuous attendance up to the leaving date, but only make examples—and expensive ones at that—of some truanting pupils very late in the term and just before they bow out of the school system for good. I wonder how that would affect their future attitudes towards further education in early adult life. I wonder also what enforcement would gain for the schools. They are heavily involved in public and internal examinations at that time of the year,and would find it extremely difficult to occupy purposefully those who were compelled to stay on to the end of term against their will. I conclude that enforcement would offer no real benefits to anyone. Instead I present this Bill to change the law.


My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can help the House by dealing with the point that there have been widespread representations from local authorities and local education committees that there should be one leaving date and that the Easter leaving date should be abolished. Will the noble Lord be good enough to say what were the considerations that led the Government to reject those strong representations?


My Lords, I was not in the process of finishing what I was saying and, if I may, I will take up the noble Lord's point at the end of the debate. Other noble Lords may raise the same point in a slightly different context and I would rather reply in an overall fashion at the end of the debate. However, I shall make sure that the point is not forgotten.

I was about to say that, since we could not follow the line of seeking to enforce the law because, in our view, there was no merit in that approach, I was presenting a Bill to change the law. Your Lordships may ask what evidence I have that this is the right road to take. The proposal to bring forward the summer leaving date has the almost unanimous backing of local authorities and the teaching profession. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has received many representations from his colleagues over recent months about this matter, following approaches made to them by parents, teachers and perhapseven pupils. There are, it is true, a few voices raised in favour of the present summer leaving age. I believe that their misgivings arise directly from their commitment to good secondary education. They may feel that this Bill represents a weakening in our resolve to maintain the principle that all our young people should have a full course of secondary education. To them I would emphasise our continued commitment; what this Bill will do is to release from the law on compulsory attendance the twilight post-examination period which is frustrating to schools and pupils alike.

What should the new summer leaving date be, given that the main aim is to deal with the difficult post-examination period? The answer is not simple, since the timetables of examination boards throughout the country vary widely. Even inside the same school, the effective end of public examinations will vary from pupil to pupil, depending on the subjects taken. There is therefore no single date which could be regarded as representing the end of examinations— unless it be so late in the term that it would present the same post-examination problems for most as does the present system. Nor are we prepared to contemplate an individual leaving date, that being the last day of public examination for a particular pupil. Such a course would seem bound to create a disincentive to some to finish intended programmes of study and examination. It would also require separate arrangements for non-examination pupils for whom no such last examination date exists. I see no possibility of progress in that direction. We therefore looked for a common date early enough to avoid significant post-examination problems, late enough to avoid significant curtailment of the fifth year programme for those who are not taking examinations, and at a point in the school year which makes sense in terms of school organisation.

In most areas and in most years the spring bank holiday would match that prescription. It is rapidly becoming the date of the half-term holiday throughout England and Wales. Most Certificate of Secondary Education examinations have ended and courses for non-examination pupils are effectively over by then. It is true that GCE "O"level examinations commonly run on after that date, but I see no difficulty in presuming the continued attendance of GCE pupils until examinations finish, given their motivation and the tradition of schools. "Spring bank holiday "is not however an expression known to the law. The Act which specifies the last Monday in May as a bank holiday also provides for the substitution of another day by Royal Proclamation.

Indeed, in 1977 the bank holiday is being delayed by a week to coincide with Her Majesty's Jubilee celebrations. For 1977 that weekend would clearly be as suitable for school leaving purposes as a late May date, but it does not follow that all such substituted dates would be equally suitable. They might, for example, fall in mid-week, or differ so substantially from the normal bank holiday date as to recreate the post-examination difficulties which it is the purpose of this Bill to remove. For those reasons the Bill proposes as the summer school leaving date the Friday before the last Monday in May, rather than the bank holiday itself.

How many young people will be affected by the new law? This year we shall have some 750,000 children reaching school-leaving age. Those whose school leaving date is Easter will not be affected, nor will those who decide to remain in full-time education after reaching the summer school-leaving date. The change will affect only those who reach the limit of compulsory schooling in the summer and who decide to leave then—and that number is some 280,000. And the majority of these will not leave exactly at the new leaving date; rather they will leave school between then and the end of term, as and when their examinations finish.

My Lords, these numbers are large, though the impact on individual children is relatively small, and I should perhaps say something about the employment implications. It is now—and will remain —illegal for a child of compulsory school age to enter full-time employment. Those who truant in their last weeks at school are in a difficult and vulnerable situation. Their absence lies outside the law and they cannot be employed. Their prospect is therefore one of disreputable idleness. If the Bill becomes law, they will be eligible to enter employment from late May onwards, and some of the worst effects of truancy will be avoided. Your Lordships may feel that these are difficult times to be proposing earlier eligibility for employment. There is some force in that, I agree. Equally, there is some consolation, in employment terms, in the staggered summer leaving pattern which would result from the changed law. I would also ask you to remember that the Bill proposes a new law for the future, as well as the present, and that it does not say that pupils will leave—only that they may leave. At worst, an unemployed school-leaver seems to me to be preferable to an unemployed, and unemployable, truant.

I now turn quickly to more technical matters. Certain Amendments to social security legislation are necessary because that legislation is linked to school leaving dates. Clause 2 of the Bill relates to those consequential Amendments. The provisions of Clause 2(1) are necessary because in legislation dealing with family allowances payment is related to the school-leaving date. The powers in that clause will enable awards of these allowances, and related child dependency benefits, to remain in payment up to a date roughly coinciding with the end of the summer term in 1976, as at present. Young people will of course continue to count as children for family allowances and related purposes at least up to their sixteenth birthday. Child benefit is due to replace family allowances in 1977, and will be related as nearly as possible to the actual dates of leaving school.

Clause 2(3) deals with injury benefits. It maintains the present position under the Social Security Act 1975; namely, that for the purpose of entitlement to injury benefit a person is treated as attaining school-leaving age on the date when family allowances cease. In 1976 this will be the common date deemed for family allowances purposes under the power in Clause 2(1). Clause 2(4) relates to entry to the National Insurance scheme. It amends the Social Security Act 1975 so as to secure that the earliest date from which anyone can be liable for National Insurance contributions will be his sixteenth birthday. This continues the effect of existing arrangements which ensure that, when a young person is allowed to take a job before he is 16, he does not have to pay contributions until he reaches that age. But it does so in a way which is both simpler to understand than the existing provision, and is consistent with the general use of the age of 16 as the starting point for rights and obligations under social security legislation. Because of the need to keep family allowances and social security legislation in line throughout Great Britain, Clause 2 of the Bill also extends to Scotland.

My Lords, you have been very patient particularly regarding these technical points at the end. I have spoken at length to make the intentions behind the Bill as clear as I possibly can. We propose a small change in the law which is essential to put right a situation which is highly unpopular, educationally unsound, and administratively impracticable. I trust that you will feel able to support it. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Crowther-Hunt.)

3.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will join me in thanking the noble Lord for his lucid exposition of this small Bill. I must say at the outset that it seems to be sufficiently well constructed to achieve the somewhat limited, though laudable, aim which it has set iself. None of us would quarrel with the intention of saving school-leavers from a life of disreputable idleness, for however few weeks that might be. I also think it wise not to delay the release of school-leavers next year in order to match the Silver Jubilee date, which might strike unpatriotic emotions in a number of juvenile bosoms. But I believe that we should look at this Bill in a slightly wider context and remind ourselves that the aims of education are to enable the individual to develop his or her maximum potential, both for himself or herself and for the society within which he or she is going to live.

We should also remind ourselves that this can be done only under certain conditions and in certain circumstances. It cannot be done either by incarceration or by frustration, but only by education. The noble Lord. Lord Crowther-Hunt, has recognised the tradition of post "O "level and post CSE exodus which has existed in many schools. He may have had experience, as I have had, of the difficulty of coping with the needs and aspiration and new feeling of liberation in those who feel that they should be outside the school but who are required by law to be in it, although they have achieved what they regard as all the purposes that they have set themselves in remaining at that school.

However, there are other children—and perhaps at the end of the debate the noble Lord will kindly enlighten us as to how many they may be—who at no stage in their school career expect to take any external written examinations, for whom the dates of GCE "O"level and CSE certificates examination are entirely irrelevant, and of which in fact they may be completely unaware from the day they enter the school until the day they leave it. I should like the noble Lord to look at the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hill, in the light of the position of these people, as well as in the light of the recommendations for administrative reasons for a single school-leaving date. I should also like him to consider the position of those children with no justifiable academic aspirations, who have already achieved their maximum academic potential, and who are in a position of being able to go to secure and properly authorised employment in vocational training—for instance, in apprenticeships—from which they can go on day release or, indeed, on sandwich courses, and thus attain the status of adulthood which they find it more and more pressingly urgent to achieve.

I should remind your Lordships of what became evident with the publication of the Plowden Report in one of its most fascinating passages: that children today are not what children were in the childhood days of your Lordships. Whether your Lordships be of my age or older, the actual biological process of maturation has advanced very significantly since the beginning of this century. I will not weary your Lordships with the details, which your Lordships can find in the Plowden Report. But the fact remains that children are grown up and feel themselves, with justification, to be grown up much earlier than we give them credit for, and very often much earlier than is apparent from their behaviour and since their behaviour is in a marked degree a response to the teachers'behaviour to them, there is a sort of inertia in the progress. This is one of the factors which builds up tension, dissatisfaction and frustration in the school and in the classroom.

My Lords, when the school-leaving age was raised it was intended that the school curriculum should be adjusted to the needs of those children who then, as young adults, as I believe, found themselves in school for another year; but in spite of the fact thatfor this purpose sums of money were allocated for 1970 to 1973 to the tune of £110 million in 1970 terms, it is clear that this is not enough to achieve the objective (or it apears at present that it is not being achieved) and thus we must learn to cut our coat to fit the cloth. In my view, if I may briefly give it to your Lordships, it is not adequate to dress up a timetable or simply to pinch a few periods from one teacher here and another there and to call them civics, or to concentrate on bank loans and mortgages, on the one hand, and traffic safety and the dangers of smoking, on the other, and to call this a ROSLA course. It is necessary to have an entirely new atmosphere between the teacher and the taught, and I believe to emphasise this by teaching, if at all possible, in a different circumstance—in different rooms, with different equipment and, preferably, with different staff, certainly with staff specifically trained to adjust to this delicate and most important psychological need.

My Lords, if this cannot be provided then these people, who are treated as children. will sit looking out of the window and will see what they regard as their peers smoking, drinking and gambling, and also indulging in the more desirable aspects of adult life, more particularly the liberty of adult life to go where one wants when one wants—because from inside the classroom it does appear, although we now know different, that adults are always free to go where they want and to do what they want when they want. I know this is a chimera, but you will not be able to convince children of this. If they are going to sit looking through the windows at the rest of the world, at adults, and see themselves in the same buildings, with the same timetable, very often with the same teachers and the same blackboard as they have been looking at since they were 11 years old, they will feel themselves inhibited, frustrated and done down; and if they cannot get out of the school then it is a question of either breaking out or breaking up. I believe that a great deal of the damage which is done in schools is due to frustration which it is beyond the ability of staff, with their present resources, to cope with. In these circumstances, we must therefore look for suitable validated employment for these children or these young adults where it is available, and those were the courses to which I alluded earlier.

The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, alluded to the effect on the unemployment situation, and I hope that in his concluding remarks he will tell us what plans he or his colleagues in another place have for what is to happen in the next few weeks at the end of the manpower training scheme, because we shall be in the position then of there being quite a large number of school-leavers who will have had 20 weeks' employment but will then cease to have employment and will disappear from the statistics of unemployed school-leavers by virtue of the 20 weeks during which they have been employed.

My Lords, I am glad, as I said at the outset, that the noble Lord has seen and is now coping with this problem of frustration which exists at the end of the summer term, and I would not wish to oppose the passage of this Bill, or significantly to amend it, on those grounds. I should like your Lordships when considering this Bill to bear in mind the problem to which I have alluded, which your Lordships may feel is a little wider than the Bill itself but is none the less the environment in which the Bill is now being discussed and upon which it will act, and that is the sense of frustration which the ROSLA scheme has brought about.

I do not deplore wholeheartedly the raising of the school-leaving age, the extension of compulsory education, but I think it must be tempered with some means of relieving the frustrations of those whom it cannot help. It seems to me that in life a situation is very often either a problem or a possibility according to what your resources are to cope with it. In many schools in many areas ROSLA has been a great possibility and much progress has been made. In others, it has been a huge problem and much damage has been done. I think that to protect not only our telephone boxes but our football trains and many other more valuable and less easily identified aspects of our national life, we must pay attention to this problem. I asked at the beginning that attention should also be., given to a solution of that problem by the appointment of three days for the three terms in the year. I hope I have not wearied your Lordships by speaking too long on too short a Bill.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the Minister for explaining the contents of the Bill so succinctly and cogently. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for what he has said, with so much of which I agree. I think, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, would probably agree with me that we sadly missed his practical experience in the debate yesterday.

My Lords, we think that this Bill should be welcomedbut I personally would welcome it with one or two reservations—very much, I think, along the same lines as those of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The reservations are far-reaching and may even seem contradictory, but I think the contradictions are more apparent than real. My first reservation is that this Bill should not, of course, be necessary; and my second is that it does not really go far enough. First, then, that this Bill should not be necessary. Its object (wrap it up as you will) is to allow children to leave school after they have finished their exams lest they have nothing which they regard as important and interesting to do, and so should disturb the rest of the school or should flout the law by staying away from it. What a condemnation of our educational system! We have built it up round exams and the obtaining of pieces of paper as qualifications, either for jobs or for more education which, in its turn, is used to get pieces of paper which enable people to get better jobs.

As a result, so much of education which does not lead to an exam seems to be regarded as a waste of time— and with some justification, because certainly in some parts of the educational world the whole system so revolves around exams that teachers find it very difficult to teach except as preparation for them. I hasten to say that there are a great many teachers who do teach extremely well and not just as a preparation for exams, but the whole system is built around examinations. Having pointed that out, I would add that I think it rather follows the lines which the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhil I, followed in a very wise speech yesterday when he made the point that the educational system has succeeded very much over the last 30 or 40 years in instilling knowledge but has not succeeded at all well in instilling standards and ideals, and that the reason for this was that society as a whole was not agreed on its standards and ideals. I think that probably the idea of education as really worth while for its own sake is one of those standards and ideals which has not yet really penetrated our society as a whole.

That brings me to my second point, which is that we have a problem in justifying compulsory education at all; at least, we should have if we looked at the question with open minds. We are a nation which believes in freedom, and the traditional man from Mars coming down to watch this freedom-loving nation would discover that we incarcerate a large part of our population for the greater part of the day, for the majority of the days of the year, for 11 years at a time in a State institution, and that we enforce this with the full rigour of the law. It is, on the face of it, barbaric. Of course, we in this House know the historical reason for this; and none should know it better than noble Lords on these Benches who were largely responsible for it. We know that the historical reason for it is that education is a good thing, it is necessary for the good life; but the temptation in the past and in the present for children to be taken away—particularly children from the more disadvantaged homes—and made to be wage earners too early is extremely great. That is why we have compulsory education. But let us never regard it as anything else but a necessary evil; necessary, but certainly evil!

Given that situation, the situation of an educational system much too tied to exams; given that in itself compulsory schooling is not necessarily good, I believe we should face these facts and in certain very specific circumstances we should allow our children out of school before the normal 16-year-old school-leaving age. I do not oppose, indeed, I supported, and still support, the raising of the school-leaving age in general; but I think that some more flexibility should be given to it—more flexibility than is given in this rather small Bill. My honourable friend in another place, Mr. Clement Freud, twice introduced, under the ten minute rule, a Bill on this matter and I am in agreement with him. The condition could be, for instance, that the children have a job to go to or an apprenticeship, that neither parents nor teachers have any objection to their leaving school, that they continue to get some kind of education by way of day release and, particularly, that they can pass a basic literacy and numeracy test.

We are often told that many school-leavers are neither literate nor numerate. Whatever the truth is—and this is a highly complicated matter—to a lot of backward children who are bored with school freedom would be a considerable incentive to become literate and numerate. That undoubted fact appears to me to be a considerable condemnation of our educational system and the society which produces it. But the Government will not go that far. The Government are far too conservative for that. What they are doing in this Bill is I think worth while; it is tiny but worth while. So that it is a pleasure to me to give a tiny but. I hope, worthwhile blessing to it.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question? Although, very unusually, I do not happen to agree with what he said, would he in this time when anarchy stalks the world, when the whole world is under an absolute avalanche of anarchy, do anything about acting on the suggestions he has just made?


My Lords, that is a very fair question. Anarchy is caused to a very large degree by people seeing no point in what they are doing and having no meaning in their lives.Where children would prefer to be working rather than being in school and where they see no meaning to being at a school, in the specific circumstances that I have outlined, I think that it would be a help against anarchy and not a help to anarchy to follow the suggestion I have outlined.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill because of the element of flexibility it introduces into a system which I think has suffered from the beginning from an undoubted rigidy. I find myself in almost complete agreement with my noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and while welcoming the Bill I would ask the Government to consider whether perhaps there may not be a case for even greater flexibility than is provided for.

I thought that this Bill offered an opportunity of raising to the Government a case which came to my personal knowledge and which I think is probably typical of many hundreds of thousands throughout the country. The young son of an agricultural worker on my farm came to work as a garden boy when he had time off. On some occasions I suspected that when he said he had time off he was in fact playing truant from school; but that was really no business of mine. I certainly did not encourage him to play truant from school. He was in many ways an admirable boy and very practical. With the help of a schoolmaster he built a canoe and went canoeing with his schoolmates and the master, managed to wreck it, swam ashore and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. He took an interest in nature and was really quite a good lad mechanically. In fact, one might say that he was an intelligent boy in all practical matters. Unfortunately he had no academic interest or ambition, and when he presented his grubby little bills to me at the weekend stating the hours he had worked on the different days in the week he could not even spell the days of the week. I said to him sadly that it seemed there was something wrong with his education when at the age of 15 he could not spell the days of the week. He has now become an agricultural worker and I think he is doing extremely well.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and like my noble friend, I wonder whether it is desirable to attempt to compel a boy of that kind to remain at school if there is some more congenial and equally useful work for him to do. My noble friend Lord Belstead mentioned yesterday that in the case of Ulster when the school-leaving age was raised, a provision was made in that Province that in suitable cases wherea boy entered some whole-time apprenticeship he might be excused from attending the ordinary school. I should have thought that, where there was a different kind of education offered and one that was more suitable for the non-academic type of child, that was a clear case for that.

I am asking the Government to consider the possibility of a boy—a good boy; for it is always so simple to give an example of a good boy, and I have given one—being able to continue his education in a more suitable and congenial atmosphere. I should also like the Government to tell us also about bad boys and bad girls, as we have learned in the case of Newcastle recently. As my noble friend Lord Elton said, there is nothing worse than complete frustration and being compelled to do something which seems to have no useful purpose. I believe that that is largely responsible for the rowdyism in schools where the bad boys and girls are not only bored but relieve their boredom by preventing the staff and other pupils from getting on with the work they wish to do. If I may reply to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, there is no doubt in this world, where there is so little discipline and so much rowdiness, that one of the causes of difficulty may be a compulsory retaining in uncongenial schools of pupils who can find no useful purpose or congenial occupation while they are kept at school.

I read somewhere—I believe I filed the article but, as usually happens when I file something of that kind, I am unable to find it when I want it—about the great legal difficulties that are involved in State schools in expelling the badly behaved pupil. In the case of private schools there is no difficulty about it, and the expulsion can be carried out at the discretion of the headmaster. Owing to the compulsory school-leaving age, I believe there are very considerable difficulties about expulsion of rowdy and obstructive pupils. I gave notice to the noble Lord that I was going to ask about this because it is a matter of some importance. It raises a difficulty which the Government might consider in connection with this Bill.

If there is to be some discretion in this matter, one wants to consider who should have the right of exercising that discretion. Whether a pupil should leave a school before the present school-leaving age should depend upon an application being made by the pupil's parents and approved by the governors or governing body of the school concerned. This decree of discretion needs to be exercised with considerable care, and it is natural for a Conservative like myself to consider that the initiative of the parents should be a matter of a good deal of importance, and I also accept the authorities of the school should have to acquiesce in the application.

My Lords, I welcome this Bill for what it does. This has been an opportunity for raising this closely connected matter. I am much fortified in what I have said by the fact that both my noble friend Lord Elton and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, have also referred to the undesirable effects of retaining compulsorily in uncongenial schools boys and girls who are unable to find intellectual or even moral satisfaction in the discipline.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him a question as he mentioned my name? Would it not be a better idea for us to concentrate on improved schooling and varied education, rather than simply letting these boys, whom we say are not academic, become part of the unskilled labour force? That was what was implied in all the suggestions from the opposite Benches.


My Lords, I do not know whether that is a fair summary of the proposals which have been made in the course of this debate. It is almost impossible to ensure that schools—especially the huge schools that now exist under the comprehensive system—make adequate provision for the vast variety of children who find themselves frustrated.


My Lords, we are all fascinated by the story of Stanley. In view of the fact that the noble Lord took such an interest in Stanley, and Stanley seemed to have a fairly good IQ, may I ask the noble Lord whether he made any inquiries regarding the standard of the school which Stanley attended?


My Lords, the answer is, No. I did not make inquiries; but as a great many children in the district seemed to benefit from the school and to be happy there, I should not have thought there was anything particularly wrong with the school. Let me emphasise that since there was a master at the school who took the trouble to help the boys build canoes, and was sufficiently keen to go canoeing with them, probably the staff at the school were sympathetic and reasonable.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, a little while ago I put a Question to the Government on this particular point. This was promoted by a number of teachers. Theirs is a hard-worked profession and we should do anything that we can to make life easier for them. I have a teacher in my family who keeps me well on my toes. He presented to me the case of many children who were kept at school after they had attained the age of 16. It was not a question, raised by several noble Lords, of the children being non-academic or of their having passed examinations and being bored, but simply by the terms of the Act they were prevented from leaving school for quite a long time. I welcome this Bill if it will make some dent in this archaic provision.

I do not know the school the noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested where pupils can gaze through windows and watch adults enjoying smoking, drinking and other enjoyable pursuits that adults enjoy. Most of the schools I know are situated in glum surroundings with large playgrounds where the children cannot see what adults are doing. We would all agree with the noble Baroness that what we want is schools where no one will wish to leave. Learning is a fire which should be lighted and burn throughout life. At present—and we must be practical about this—the schools are not too good in many instances; they are often overcrowded. In the one in which I am chairman of governors teaching still has to take place in cloakrooms. Marvellous work is done at this school, and the academic and social results are good, thanks to the sheer dedication of the staff. We must be practical about this. If a child is 16 years of age there is no reason why he should be held in school any longer if he wishes to leave.

I quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, although he may have statistics, on the view that children mature earlier. I seem to recall that my own father left his farm when he was 12 and went to work. Many people of his generation did just that. If they were immature, maturity was forced on them much earlier than it is today. I am not sure that the statistics are correct on that. I congratulate the Government on making a dent in this provision, and I hope that there will be further tidying up processes in the way the Bill operates.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, briefly may I make one or two small points. I welcome this Bill for two reasons. I have a feeling if children know they are able to leave school when they have completed their examinations it will encourage those who are thought unsuitable to take examinations and it might encourage more to attempt the examinations. It might have that prodding effect. Wearing the hat of the magistracy, I know that we have great numbers of young people who, as my noble friend Lord Elton emphasised, are frustrated in school when they have finished their examinations. They are not allowed to leave school but they truant; they are not allowed to take employment. They then get into trouble. A number of good young people in that category, within the six or eight weeks between the end of the examinations and the time they are allowed to leave school, get into trouble and become bad boys and girls. In my experience a great number do this. I cannot speak for the magistracy, but I speak from my own experience, and I welcome this Bill from this particular angle and wish it success.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad, as I am sure the Government are, about the general welcome which has been given in this House to this modest but important little Bill. I was particularly grateful for the points which were made by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, just now. She was speaking from the magistrates'point of view, though I feel that perhaps she was giving a personal view as a magistrate rather than expressing the official view of the magistracy. Her comments were most helpful in support of this Bill.

I should like to try to reply quickly to the general points which have been made which are germane to this Bill. I shall not seek to comment on those which are not so immediately relevant to the Bill. First, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, that is, that we really need, and should make all efforts to get, the most imaginative courses possible in the schools. Our inspectorate are reporting that more and more imaginative courses are being provided in the schools as the experience of the raising of the school leaving age develops. We are all very much aware of this and we want to foster this so far as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Hill,raised the point that there were two school-leaving dates and he was really suggesting that there should in effect be one.


My Lords, in fact my question was: what is the answer that the Government put forward in reply to the widespread representations on this point from local authorities and local education authorities?


My Lords, as your Lordships will know, the Bill will leave two school-leaving dates in England and Wales separated by only six to eight weeks, depending, of course, on the date of Easter. That poses the question of whether there is any point in retaining the Easter leaving date at all. My right honourable friend said last July that he would consult interested parties about this, and that has beendone. The response from the local authority and education worlds was largely in favour, but not quite unanimous. However, it was clear that few of them saw any real advantage in retaining two leaving dates so close together. From the educational point of view, therefore, we would favour a single leaving date for all, and would have regarded the abolition of the Easter date as giving a fuller effect to the policy that all young people should have a full course of secondary education.

However, other interests have to be taken into account, and the proposal to drop the Easter leaving date attracted heavy criticism from certain employment and training interests, who felt strongly that better use could be made of careers guidance, job placement and induction training facilities if school-leaving dates were staggered. It was felt that there were advantages to be gained by giving a head start in employment terms to the unqualified Easter leaver before he faces competition from the main group of qualified summer leavers. I must therefore recognise that there is room for a different view on the Easter date question. The Bill does not seek to resolve that conflict. It seeks to deal only with the more important and urgent problem of the summer leaving date. The Easter leaving date will remain, at least for the present.

I turn now to the point, which was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Elton, Lord Beaumont and Lord Molson, about a more flexible approach to the leaving date for particular categories of pupil and for those who have some form of employment lined up. It has been suggested that they should be able to leave school before their leaving date if they have jobs to go to. I accept that it is difficult for a pupil or parent to accept the continued obligation to attend school when an attractive opening is available, particularly when the employment prospects for school-leavers are generally less than satisfactory.


My Lords, I should like to emphasise one point. I did say "suitable jobs". There are many unsuitable jobs.


My Lords, I take the point that the noble Lord was making. The jobs should be suitable jobs, such as those which involve apprenticeships. Under any arrangements which are made on these lines, I think it would be well-nigh impossible to ensure that a reluctant pupil had found suitable employment and had not taken the first job available simply in order to be able to leave school. I am also conscious that the employment situation would be made marginally worse for all if some pupils were allowed to enter employment early when they could be still at school. But, more importantly, I do not regard employment as an appropriate alternative to education. To accept such a premise would erode the educational aims of raising the school-leaving age to 16 and ultimately would reduce the standard of our secondary education system. The same applies to apprenticeships. They may be taken only by those in full-time employment, and pupils of compulsory school age cannot be so employed. I have to say that the Government do not intend to change that situation.

I should like to make a small point here with reference to what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said, when he was apparently in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I do not think that his garden boy would have been able to leave school in the way that he was hoping, because he would never have passed the numeracy or literacy test suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. He may have passed the numeracy test but he would not have passed the literacy one. Also, I think there was something slightly quaint about the point which was made by the noble Lord. Lord Beaumont, when he said that out school system is too hag-ridden by examinations, but yet a condition of leaving ought to involve another examination. There seemed to be a quaint juxtaposition there. However, I accept that that may be largely a debating point. I dealt with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, was making concerning the good boys. May I now come to his "bad boys" point.


Before the noble Lord leaves that point, could he tell us whether the slightly different system which I understand applies in Northern Ireland and has always applied there, has worked satisfactory or unsatisfactorily? This seems to be a case where an experiment along these lines has been made.


My Lords, I was not going to omit the Northern Ireland point but, as the noble Lord has quite rightly reminded me, it should now be dealt with logically. The present school-leaving date arrangements in Northern Ireland are, as I understand it, the same as in England and Wales, except that young people may opt to spend their final year of compulsory education in further education colleges rather than in schools. It is true that there was a special provision which allowed some to leave at Christmas rather than at Easter if they were entering full-time apprentice training. That has now lapsed, and I cannot tell the noble Lord the specific reason for it, but I will write to him on the subject. I assume that it has been allowed to lapse because it was found to be not so very satisfactory after all; but I will let the noble Lord have further information about that point.

I should now like to deal with the noble Lord's question concerning "bad boys"; I suppose I must add "bad girls" in this context now that there is no sex discrimination. The question has been raised as to whether the legislation should be amended to make it easier for heads to expel difficult pupils. I am not sure whether the suggestion is that it should be easier to exclude these pupils from the schools or whether the suggestion is that certain pupils shall, by agreement with the school and the parents, be able to leave school if the school finds their behaviour intolerable and considers that it is in everybody's interests for them to leave. But whichever way this is put, the proposal is, in effect, tantamount to suggesting to young people that if they behave badly enough they can get out of going to school. I know that there may seem to be sound arguments for proposing that if a particular young person is bored with school, is behaving badly and is preventing others from working, he or she should surely be able, with everyone's agreement, to leave and do a job. But I suggest that we need to think more carefully about the consequences of this.

Pupils and schools alike are settling down to accepting the new leaving age, and schools are getting on with providing the right kind of two-year courses for these young people. The pupils know that they have to stay, and the schools know that they have to tackle the problems of providing the right courses, and many of them are doing it very well. I do not say, and they would not say, that they have yet got it all right, but to interrupt this process of transition by suggesting that those who are difficult enough can, nevertheless, get out of school would not be helpful to schools or to pupils.

I know that there are some very difficult pupils—and I am not seeking to minimise the problems here—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Molson, knows, there are already powers in exceptional circumstances for suspending or excluding pupils from schools, and LEAs and schools are also making a variety of other arrangements to help deal with disruptive pupils, not by getting rid of them but by trying to provide help which brings out their more reasonable qualities while, at the same time, minimising their influence on others. In rejecting the noble Lord's proposal, I do not want to suggest in any way that I underestimate the problems for the schools. There may still be a long haul ahead of us with a few, but I am sure that reacting to a difficult but small minority in the way suggested really will not help. It is likely to create tensions, encourage difficulties and be generally unsettling and, what is more, it would undermine the whole reason behind raising the school-leaving age.

May I finally try to answer the statistical points put by the noble Lord, Lord Elton? He was asking me, in effect, about the pattern of people leaving schools with and without qualifications. It is estimated that the 1975 leaving pattern was as follows. Approximately 80,000 left at Easter, out of some 310,000 who were entitled to do so. About 390,000 left in the summer; 70,000 of them unqualified, 200,000 with the CSE only and 120,000 with GCE "O" level. About 210,000 returned to school for full-time education. Some 50,000 went on to full-time courses of further education.

So far as the present year is concerned, about 750,000 children will reach school-leaving age this year. If the earlier leaving age is introduced, the pattern of school-leaving this year might be on the following lines. Approximately 85,000 might leave at Easter out of some 320,000 legally entitled to do so; 70,000 might leave at the May leaving date without having taken CSE examinations; between 50,000 and 100,000 might leave in late May having taken CSE examinations; 210,000 to 280,000 might leave between early June and mid-July, as and when their "O" level and CSE examinations finish; 220,000 might return to school for full-time education, and 50.000 would be expected to go to full-time courses of further education.

That is a difficult statistical note on which to end, and I shall be glad to supply the noble Lord with any refinements that are possible or with any additional information. But it might be unduly painful to take up the time of your Lordships'House any longer on these numerical questions, particularly when this small Bill has been commended to the House from all sides.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he would confirm one supposition, which I take it is correct, that the Easter leavers are without qualification, and therefore we add 80,000 to 70,000 to reach 150,000 unqualified leavers, which is the figure for which I was asking. It might be easier to do that and to place it on the Record now than for the information to reach me through the post.


Certainly, my Lords. The Easter leavers must for the most part be unqualified, though I would not rule out—but I should want to take advice on this—, that there may be some Easter leavers who stay on till Easter of the following year, having gained some qualifications in the preceding academic year.

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