HL Deb 18 November 1976 vol 377 cc1542-7

7 Clause 1, page 1, line 21, at end insert ; or (c) the provision of education at any non-maintained school which can afford opportunities for education to a particular pupil which cannot be afforded at a maintained school in that area.

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason:

8 Because the Amendment extends the exceptions to the comprehensive principle beyond what the Commons consider ustifiable.

7.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 7, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 8. When this was discussed by your Lordships on Report, the noble Lord who moved it made clear that his main concern was that the Bill should not prevent a local education authority from providing education in non-maintained schools for children who could not otherwise be satisfactorily educated. Boarding education was mentioned frequently in the debate on this and related Amendments, which were discussed at considerable length in Committee, in total for over seven and a quarter hours. I assured the House that the Government's intentions were to operate flexibly the provisions of the Bill relating to support for education in non-maintained schools, their sole object being to prevent children being chosen for support from public funds on the ground of ability. There are a number of other grounds on which support will be allowed, and the character of the school will not in itself be a barrier to such support. Any other approach would be unrealistic.

This Amendment, however, would introduce such wide freedom as to put into doubt the possibility of the Government having any control over public support for education in non-maintained schools. There must be few, if any, such schools which, at a pinch, could not point to something that only they, as distinct from the local maintained schools, could offer to any particular pupil. It is much to broad, ill-defined and subjective a basis to be acceptable and is certainly likely to add to public expenditure. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will agree not to insist on it.

Moved, That the House doth not insist on the said Amendment, to which the Commons have disagreed for the Reason numbered 8.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for that explanation. I find the whole situation in regard to pupils with particular needs getting the help they need in the way the noble Lord outlined difficult to envisage unless this Amendment is implemented, and I referred to this subject some time ago. I speak particularly of children with social problems who come from families which are disadvantaged through no fault of their own. I speak of the children of widows, widowers, divorced parents and children where one or perhaps both parents suffer from a physical or mental disability within the home.

Such children react in different ways, though it would be presumptuous of me to speak to the House on the ways in which such children react. I am not, so to speak, a biological parent, but I have been responsible down the years for I should not like to say how many disturbed children. However, they have been children who have not fallen within the part of the measure which deals with special schools. They have been parents and children who have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune who have needed a particular setting in which to develop, in which to counterbalance the difficulties of their backgrounds and in which to stabilise their emotional difficulties in order that they may gain and learn intellectually.

Many of these children, I have found, have needed small schools, small day schools and small boarding schools, but all these schools have not fallen within the comprehensive system, and could not do so by virtue of the fact that they are small schools. I quite understand what Lord Donaldson said about there being flexibility; he said it would be possible for education departments to give grants to pupils in special circumstances and with special home difficulties. But will this be understood broadly by local authorities throughout the country, where there is a shortage of money? Is this not likely to be something that they will cut?

If a disadvantaged family is suffering in the way I have outlined, it will almost certainly be short of finance. It will find that it has two options. The parents know and feel that their children need something special which is not available in their neighbourhood. They cannot afford it and they can go to the local authority and, if the authority is generous, it may accept—although the school does not fall within the comprehensive principle—or they can go to a voluntary organisation or a voluntary trust. I have made inquiries from a number of voluntary trusts. I have found that, in anticipation of this Bill, they have trebled their applications for grants for their children to go to particular schools to meet the individual emotional needs of those children.

Parents who are in this very difficult position do not wish to be placed in further difficulty by having to go to the Social Services Department. They want to prevent their children from falling into further difficulties. They want to counterbalance the difficulties that the children are in. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said that there could be counselling in the local comprehensive school and I would absolutely agree that, where it is possible for teachers, education welfare officers and social workers to help children from families where there are difficulties to attend a local school and be supported locally, that is outstandingly good. But reality compels me to say that there are children who need a counterbalancing influence in the form of a very special type of school. Without that counterbalancing influence of a very special type of small school which does not fall within the comprehensive system, those children may, can and do fall into delinquency or into mental trouble later, or they become the frozen and hardened children who have no feeling for anybody and who become the social problens of the future. I should be most grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, can help me on this matter.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words after the very moving speech that we have just heard. For many years there has been a system in this country by which perfectly ordinary children who passed or did not pass the 11-plus examination could be sent away to a similar school in another district on the understanding that the parents paid the boarding charges and that the transfer was arranged as between local authorities. I should like to ask my noble friend Lord Donaldson whether this system, too, will be put in jeopardy by the Bill.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I have had exactly the same experience of trying to organise, either as the chairman of the education committee or chairman of the social work committee, the kind of care and education that these deprived children—or whatever phrase one likes to use for the children whom my noble friend has so accurately described—need. It is extremely important because, in the end, if nothing has been done, they will turn up at the age of 14, 15 or 16 either as delinquents or as so mentally retarded that they cannot get a job. It all depends on being able to do something for them as they grow up. The rigidity that the Government have put into the Bill, so that everything is excluded that does not fit into the exact pattern of what they think comprehensive education should be, inevitably leaves out quite a large proportion —larger than your Lordships would like to know about—of children who need this special care. It seems to me to be most wrong and, what is more, it is storing up many problems and a great deal of difficulty for the community as the children get older.


My Lords, this Amendment brings a third class of exception to Clause 1. What the Commons have said is that it is much too wide. If noble Lords will accept that—which seems clearly to be right—let me reply to the two noble Baronesses who were talking about the realities of need, delinquency and the first of it. There is nothing that we have yet come across that refers to this at all. There is a later clause on which we shall discuss it and which makes it clear that local authorities have the right to send people to non-maintained schools for certain reasons. One of the reasons is need. Clearly, if someone is a cripple or is educationally subnormal or anything similar, nothing has changed. There are places in most local authority areas which deal with such people and, in so far as they belong to these categories, they will still go there. In so far as they do not, this Bill has nothing to do with it. There should be more, but this Bill is not attempting to deal with that. I assure the noble Baroness that there is nothing in the Bill, as introduced, to prevent local authorities from helping parents with fees at boarding or day schools or special schools if that is desirable. The only point is that the children should not be admitted on ability and aptitude. This is not the same as not being admitted on need. I hope that that makes it clear.


My Lords, it makes it very clear. Nevertheless, when one is dealing with a child, it does not work. Take, for example, Finchden Manor, which was run by the late Mr. George Lyward. It accepted 45 boys who did not fall within the terms of reference of special schools but, at the same time, Mr. Lyward found that he could not deal with the type of boy he was offering help to if the boys were below a certain IQ. He took the bright boys and it was selected and it depended on the parents' choice. In very many cases, it met the boys' needs. Many of Mr. Lyward's boys are now leading people in the country.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, we must not have an argument. This is not the moment for it. Of course, I know about Mr. Lyward's answer. What I am saying is that there is nothing in the Amendment which the Commons have rejected to make things better or worse for such a school.

On Question, Motion agreed to.