HL Deb 06 October 1976 vol 374 cc1295-384

2.47 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [The comprehensive principle]:

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 6, at beginning insert— ("Without prejudice to the general principle that pupils arc to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents as provided for in section 76 of the Education Act 1944 and subject to the duty of local education authorities to secure provision of secondary schools sufficient in number, character and equipment to afford for all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities and aptitudes as provided for in section 8 of the Education Act 1944 and").

The noble Lord said: At the outset of the Committee stage of the Bill I want to make it abundantly clear that the quarrel we have with it is not a quarrel with the comprehensive principle as such but with the prospect of its blind, doctrinaire and universal enforcement. It is our view, and not ours alone, that the interests of children, or parents, and of elected local authorities should take precedence—and in that order—over the interests of those who wish to impose a uniform system of allocating places to pupils.

Different local authorities face different problems. They have different child populations, job opportunities, geographical distribution, transport requirements and social and ethnic structures. They have inherited different stocks of buildings and equipment, schools with different scholastic traditions, and teaching staffs with different experience, outlook and tradition as well. It would be foolish indeed, therefore, to look for one single solution to such a wide range of problems and I think that noble Lords will follow me there. However, the proferred solution to some of the problems—maybe the allocation of places without regard to aptitude or ability, as the Bill required—may perhaps be right. That we accept. Such a solution may be dictated in part by decisions already taken. That it may be the proper solution in the majority of cases we doubt, but that is the proper concern of the parents and the local authority in the area.

In our view, it is not merely unlikely but impossible that a non-selective answer to the problem shall be the right answer every time. For Parliament to say that good educational practice requires local education authorities to mix pupils of every ability into every school, regardless of its size, is to ignore a whole range of other considerations of great importance as if they were not there. It is the intention of this Amendment to see that in certain circumstances the considerations embodied in the Bill take second place.

We believe that the overriding concern of Parliament and, under Parliament, of the local authority, must be the welfare of the children. That concern must be related to their circumstances and informed by their parents. Both principles are alluded to and defended in our first Amendment. Where the parents and the authority are agreed that a comprehensive system offers the best solution to the local problem it would be manifestly wrong and even tyrannical to deny it, and I think that if noble Lords opposite agree with this they must, in all logic, accept the converse as well. If it is wrong tyrannically to impose selection it is equally wrong tyrannically to impose non-selection. It is also clear that the power of the LEA is a democratic one, vested in it by its electorate of which the parents are a part, and that an attempt by an executive to enforce a plan hatched by an authority which has since been swept aside, for instance, by its electorate would be, to use a term of some contemporary interest, unreasonable.

It is therefore the purpose of a number of our Amendments, and notably this one, to entrench in the Bill principles that were both implicit and stated in the 1944 Act. Two of them are clearly fundamental and closely related. They are, first, that wherever it is practicable to do so pupils—that is to say, children—are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. This is so much a matter of natural justice that your Lordships might think it unnecessary to entrench it in an Act of Parliament, but recent events have shown that people in positions of political—and worse still of administrative—power can be perfectly prepared to put doctrinaire political convictions above both parental and intellectual wishes.

We intend therefore to state perfectly plainly at the beginning of this Bill that pupils are still to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents, as was laid down in the Act of 1944, Section 76 of which makes it binding upon both the Secretary of State and the local authority to do so. The passage is very short in Section 76 of the 1944 Act and I refer it to your Lordships: In the exercise and performance of all powers and duties conferred and imposed on them by this Act the Minister and local education authorities shall 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.

Children are individuals, and in leaving this subject of the wrongness of the mass solution to individual problems I ask your Lordships throughout the debates that are to follow to remember that it is about children that we are legislating, not childhood. Parents do not regard their children as small, malleable parts of a liquid mass of childhood to be poured into some sort of officially recognised mould complying to a general standard. They are precious individuals and they differ. We are human beings, not bees, and we are talking about schools, not bee-hives.

Noble Lords opposite may argue that there is no intention to use this Bill as an instrument to enforce an absolute uniformity of educational principle upon an unwilling parent population. That may indeed be the case, though some of us take leave to doubt it. But I would ask your Lordships to ignore in fact this case, no matter how honeyed the terms in which it is presented, for whether it is or is not the case now is a matter of little relevance so far as the Statute Book is concerned. The courts are no respecters of persons, nor do they read Hansard, nor are the successors of the present Minister bound by the undertakings or avowals of their predecessor or by his or her Government. No matter who is Secretary of State in five years' time, what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said in the House tonight will by then be binding upon nobody but the noble Lord himself. Even if the Government are still in the deadening and, to my view, stultifying grip of his Party it will be a different Government. What of this, then, will have endured—apart, hopefully, from the noble Lord himself—will be an Act of Parliament that finally springs from this unlovely Bill and that will be the law: not Hansard, not The Times' Report, not our shared recollection of this crisis-ridden week, but the Statute Book: and that is why we must get it right.

The courts are bound only by the law; let the law therefore be clear on this one point, that nothing in this Bill shall prejudice the principle that parents must have a considerable voice in the—

Baroness BACON

Will the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Can he not say, in the middle of all this speech that he is making, whether or not when Tameside has changed back from a non-selective system to a selective system that all the children in Tameside are now being educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents?


It is rather a tall order to spring from the general to the particular, but certainly I think it is fair to say that the local authority under the direction of one political Party set wheels in motion which they did not wish to have stopped until they had accomplished the task set them, although in fact the time for its completion ran beyond their tenure of office. It is also fair to say that in the election campaign in which they were replaced it was made very clear that it was a principal object of the incoming authority to reverse that process, at the behest—among others—of the parents of the children then at the schools and the children who had been at the schools and the children who were going to be at the schools. If we are to expatiate, as indeed I would at another time be willing to do, upon the extraordinarily intricate, and I think not always edifying, manoeuvres which subsequently took place, that is another matter but I would not wish to hold up the Committee at this stage on that point. The noble Baroness has a perfect right to intervene in the debate in her own time and perhaps she will revert to the point when I have sat down.

Nothing in this Bill shall therefore prejudice the principle of parental interest and influence over their children's education. That is the first principle enshrined in the Amendment, and the second is found in Section 8 of the 1944 Act and is rather longer but of fundamental importance to this Bill. In fact the crucial words come at the end of subsection (1) and are brief: the schools available for an area shall not be deemed to be sufficient unless they are sufficient in number, character, and equipment to afford for all pupils"— please note— opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities, and aptitudes, and of the different periods for which they may be expected to remain at school. In other words, you may ignore ability and aptitude in selecting between schools, but you cannot ignore them when you are teaching a class or allocating children to classes. So if noble Lords opposite claim that the effect of this Bill is not to narrow the educational choice but merely to confine it within limits without reducing the number of choices, then of course they can find no objection to this Amendment.

They are in fact the touchstone on which we can gauge the good faith with which Her Majesty's Government will advance most of their propositions throughout the rest of the debates that follow, for we are all agreed that children differ from one another in age and hence we have primary, middle and secondary schools; in sex, and hence we have boys' schools, girls' schools, mixed schools; in academic achievement and in academic potential, both in respect of their capacity for learning and also in the direction of their learning. Therefore, the allocation to streams and courses is related not merely to their I.Q. or whatever other quotient one may care to consider but also to their bent and the future career which they may eventually hope to pursue. They differ also in parental circumstances, hence the need for meeting boarding requirements, medical conditions and so on. I think we do not, any of us, differ on this: we all recognise the very wide spectrum of academic needs and its many sectors.

Her Majesty's Government seek to say that the whole spectrum can be met in schools that cater in one building for all of them. We take leave to doubt whether this is true in all cases. If it is not then it follows inescapably that such a general principle—the comprehensive general principle as it is now called—is being imposed not for the benefit of the children but for some other motive. This is old ground; we have discussed the motives before, but if Her Majesty's Government resolutely maintain that under their system the LEA can provide a sufficiently wide spectrum of resources to meet the needs of the children let us lay down that that system shall only be imposed where it does so. Let us state again in this Bill what is the duty of the LEA. We believe that no system, no matter whether it is egalitarian or elitist in its origins and aims, can be permitted to take precedence over the welfare of the children.

I make no apology for making an extended speech on this subject because it is in fact the fundamental ground of the Bill. It is implicit in the first clause and we are seeking to preserve in our first Amendment those areas which must not be eroded by political choice. We believe therefore that the duty laid upon the local education authority in 1944 to provide schools of sufficient number, character and equipment to satisfy as far as possible the educational needs of all the children must stand—all the children, and not the average child. There is no such thing as "the average child" any more than there is the "average man". You see him in his bowler hat, I suppose, with his rolled umbrella, carved in half to represent 1,500 people. You cannot do that with children.

We believe that it follows that if the necessary resources are not to be distributed between different schools, then, if the children are not to suffer from the implementation of this principle, they must be found in every school. It follows, incidentally, that you would not have abolished selection at all, you would merely have taken it away from the local education authority and given it to the head and his heads of departments. If that criterion of preserving educational standards can be honestly met, if reorganisation can be shown to lead not to a decline in educational standards but to maintaining them, then we on this side would have little to object to in this Bill, except, of course, to the perfectly horrendous expenditure of money which is implicit in it.

What frightens us and our supporters is the belief that noble Lords opposite and their supporters wish to impose this universally for doctrinaire reasons, when that criterion cannot be met, at the expense of our children's education, and, be it noted at the expense of their own children's education. It is not enough for them to deny it. Let them, if their denial is genuine, put their denial into the Bill. Let them make the implementation of the principle of the Bill conditional on the discharge of the prior duty of the local education authority to provide a variety of education sufficient to meet the variety of needs it has to cater for.


I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord's speech, which seems more suitable for Brighton than for this place this week. I wonder whether he could tell us what choice parents have whose children failed the 11-plus examination. I think that goes to the nub of his argument, if he has one.


I think what we principally lack from Brighton is the bracing ozone which might hearten the noble Lord to listen more patiently to what I have to say. I have nearly concluded. Of course, there is a choice open to the child who has, as the noble Lord puts it, failed—and it is an unfortunate word because it should not be a question of succeeding and failing; it should be a question of matching children to resources. Assuming that he means the child who is not going to one sort of selective school but to another, and the one he has been allocated to is a non-academic school, the choice remaining is the choice of courses within the school.

We are saying that we do not want to lay down a universal principle, as this Bill does, but if noble Lords opposite insist on a universal principle then let it not take precedence over the welfare and future of the children. It is up to the local authority to decide on an 11-plus system—between failure and success, as the noble Lord puts it—under pressure from their local electorate and possibly the campaigning fervour of the noble Lord himself. But in this House we do not believe that we should impose on local authorities and parents choices which are not seen by them to be suitable in a free democratic society. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will see fit to support me in moving this Amendment.


I have no doubt that there will be other noble Lords who wish to speak, but before they do I should like to say about three sentences. The noble Lord played into my hands rather when he was responding to my noble friend Lady Bacon, when he said it was difficult to return from the general to the particular. My goodness, so it is! I am going to try to do that, because we have had a Second Reading speech of merit which is absolutely nothing to do with the Committee stage. I am not going to respond to Second Reading speeches, from wherever they come. I said this in my own Second Reading speech. I said, "This is the time for the philosophical discussion. When we get to the Committee I hope we shall not have them all over again". I say this as, I hope, a not offensive warning which most people will agree with. We are here to discuss specific Amendments.

If I may turn briefly to this first Amendment, this is not a wrecking Amendment, which some are, and which I shall oppose totally. This is a perfectly sensible Amendment. It happens to say what everybody in Government agrees with, and it is unnecessary in this Bill because the Bill already perfectly fairly affirms the point the noble Lord is trying to make. I shall speak again at the end of any discussion we have, but I thought it might be interesting to start the debate on this clause by making it perfectly clear that there is no difference between the Parties at all.


I should like to support the Amendment. It seems to me that this Amendment, and indeed the first paragraph of this Bill, is really the pith of the whole Bill, to my mind a shockingly bad Bill. It really quite simply makes the Minister of Education a dictator. You may have good Ministers of Education or bad ones. I think the change we have had recently is excellent, and I have the greatest admiration for the present Minister of Education. Nevertheless, he is given far too much power. It abolishes the influence of the local authority in this matter, which should surely be pre-eminent. It abolishes the ratepayers' interests. There is an old saying that there should be no taxation without representation. Where the local authority has been cut out so the ratepayer has really been cut out.

Then there are the interests of the parents and, above all, of the children. I always think that children are rather like flowers, very varied, very different. They need different treatment to bring them to their fullest fruition. By compressing everybody into one educational system you are going to destroy this very variety which is such a joy in children. I do not advocate particularly my form of education. I went to six schools in five different countries, which certainly did not do me any harm and I think did me a lot of good; I had no time to get bored. I think one of the dangers of the comprehensive system, as advised universally, is that children go into a school and get into a groove: they get bored and want to leave much earlier than they should. I therefore feel very strongly that we should support this Amendment, which preserves the opportunities of variation for children. I am not interested in the question of selection by examination, I myself was never very good at passing exams. That did not do me any harm. I think there should be a variety of choice, for the sake of the children in the first place, and secondly for the rights of the parents.


I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, responded to this Amendment in the way he did. I was beginning to fear that we were going to start the debate on this first Amendment in such a way that the Amendment would be pressed for reasons far beyond its wording, and would be opposed for reasons which could not be justified except by rebuttal of the arguments put forward by the other side.

In itself I think this is an extremely good Amendment—not that it is necessary. If the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and noble Lords on the other side decide that they do not want it in because they think it is unnecessary, I should have thought it would be unwise of them. I should have thought that this is a moment when, if we put this in and say "yes," as those of us who believe in the comprehensive system do believe, we are supporting the comprehensive system, because it can produce exactly this kind of variety and possibility for all children.

Before I sit down I want to say a word about choice. Yes, again, of course, we want to affirm the possibility of parental choice. A great many of us who have been involved in this field over a period of time have had to try to think as hard as we can about how to give the maximum of parental choice, and it is not easy. Do not let us have any nonsense about the idea that there was more choice under selection than there is under the comprehensive system. The only changes I can see in moving to the comprehensive system, where choice has been effected, are two. One can say that because at one stage of the comprehensive idea it was considered right that there should be much larger schools, but that by making much larger schools one diminished the choice to a certain extent. This was balanced by the increased choice of courses and subjects that children had in those schools. In any case, the whole thing is irrelevant, because now the doctrine has changed and we are going back to smaller comprehensive schools.

The only other change was that under the old system if a child passed the 11-plus I suppose his parents had the freedom to say, "No, we will not take up our place in the grammar school, but will send him to the secondary modern". I doubt whether that was done very often; it stands to reason it would not be. Therefore, the change in the freedom is minuscule, if existent at all.

It is important that these truths should be made plain. On the whole, I think this is a good Amendment and would like to see it in the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that in a way, it is a pledge of the bona fides, and the good intentions of the Government that they should be prepared to treat this Amendment with sympathy, and I for one hope they will actually accept it.

The Earl of ONSLOW

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said that he agreed with the Amendment, but that it was unnecessary. Surely there is nothing wrong in underlining a freedom and allowing it to be written into the Bill. I should like to take up two points made by my noble friend Lord Elton. I suppose I must declare an interest here in that I am a governor—why I simply do not know—of one of the highest quality academic schools in the South of England. This particular school has 90 pupils a year, ergo 90 leavers. Of those leavers, 79 got into the sixth form last year, and 74 went to a university or polytechnic equivalent, 15 of whom went to Oxford or Cambridge.

If this Bill is totally passed, one is worried—and I say this absolutely sincerely —genuinely worried, that, for want of a better word, you can either use "working class" or use a more modern and possibly slightly more hypocritical phrase like socioeconomic class D and C or C and D, or whatever it may be, and those children will be excluded from that school. I did not intend to speak, but I thought that what my noble friend Lord Elton said on the question of selection by heads—in other words, instead of having an examination set by the State, this means that the schools can set their own exam and children, or their parents, may then apply to sit for that exam—was an excellent idea. I feel very strongly over this, that if you have a centre of academic excellence it should not be confined to one class of society. It should be open to everybody; it should be allowed that everybody can have the benefit of this.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, is a highly civilised man. He is a highly sympathetic noble Lord, and I am sure that, having agreed with the spirit of the Amendment, he will see that we are not arguing over a doctrinaire point of view on this side of the Committee, but are genuinely trying to improve a Bill which perhaps in principle we do not like. We are trying to improve it. If the noble Lord listens on the point of selection by heads of schools, and if he listens to the spirit with which my noble friend Lord Elton moved this Amendment, having said he agrees with it, can he possibly ask your Lordships to reject it?

3.15 p.m.


I would resist the implied chastisement directed at my noble friend by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. If this Amendment is in order, and I take it it is because it is formally on the Order Paper, it is an Amendment which justified the type of introduction my noble friend Lord Elton gave to it. If the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, wishes to call that a Second Reading speech all over again, that is up to his judgment. This Amendment is in order; it is on the Order Paper, and it could not have been presented and have justice done to it without ranging over the field, at any rate to the extent my noble friend did. I should like to feel that, while one accepts chastisement when it is deserved, on this occasion it is not deserved.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, accepted that the general impression given by this Amendment was one that he accepted. The noble Lord said it was already in the Bill, and he did not want to accept the Amendment because that was his view. I should like to impress upon the noble Lord that, while in strict terms what he said may be correct, he may be able to justify that what this Amendment calls for is already embodied in the Bill itself. On this particular topic on this particular Bill the disillusion and disturbance is so great in the minds of parents that this may be the occasion where reiteration would not only be right but be wise. It may well be that although it is wrong, the views that the Government have in mind are misunderstood, and if the inclusion of these words will reflect what the Government truly intend, then the fact that they are merely reiterating something already in the Bill is a price that it may be good sense to pay. It is in that sense that even now I should like to feel that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, having said he agrees that the terms embodied in the Amendment are not wrong, would be prepared, although it may be repeating it, to have it included in the Bill by accepting the Amendment.


I cannot help feeling that the opposition of the Government to this Amendment is based not on logic but on a desire to consider that all children are exactly alike, which of course is an absolute fallacy. For example, if one looks round this Chamber can one pick on another noble Lord who is exactly similar to oneself?—mentally, of course, not physically. Of course, it is absolutely impossible, and it is equally impossible throughout the country and throughout the world. It is also impossible among children. Every child is an individual with his own individual talents, abilities, and his own individual problems. The way in which those problems will be solved is best known by his parents. Therefore, I think it is highly desirable that the parents should have some sort of say in what kind of education the child is to have.

I have the greatest admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. I think he is a sincere man. I am sure that if he really considers this point thoroughly he will agree that children cannot be cast into a single mould, that they are individuals and must be treated as individuals.

3.20 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

This Amendment raises a problem which we shall face all through the Committee stage, and it is this. If there were sufficient resources so that all secondary schools could be first-rate comprehensive schools—that is, that the whole range of ability within them could be matched with teachers who would bring the best out of the pupils—and in such cases, which would certainly occur, where this or that comprehensive school could not offer the full range of courses there would be adequate arrangement for pupils to spend part of their time in other schools, I would concede at once that it is all right if we could have a system of comprehensive schools which guaranteed to the very great majority, let us say 95 per cent. (you would never be able to deal with the last 5 per cent.) of the children of this country the kind of education we looked forward to in the 1944 Act. But the fact is that we have not got those resources, and that very serious errors have been made in the secondary schools in the last few years.

Therefore, we are dealing with a period—I should not like to say how long it will be, but I would think it will last at least a generation—during which it is necessary to make the best use of the resources we have; that is, of teachers, buildings and money. What we find wrong with this Bill is that instead of trying to approach what would be, and perhaps one day will be, a universal system of non-selective schools that give the best possible education to all children, instead of going for that gradually making as much progress as we can, the Bill promises a surgical operation which will further damage the parts of the education system which are by no means satisfactory today.

Having said that, I should like to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that we should address ourselves to the Amendments. Clause 1 sets out the criteria which the Secretary of State will apply in using her powers under Clause 2. It is therefore very important to make sure that the principle laid down in Clause 1 shall he one which meets with the needs of the education system as they are going to be carried out under Clause 2. The Government, as I understand it, tend to say, "Well, there is no point in putting a reference to Sections 8 and 76 of the 1944 Act because we do not really intend to depart from them in any kind of way". If they do not intend to depart from them, they ought to put in this Amendment for symbolic reasons.

But the fact is that, if you look at Clauses 1 and 2 together, you can see that both Section 8 and Section 76 are bound to be whittled away by the administration of Clause 2. The express purpose of Clauses 1 and 2 is to increase the powers of the Secretary of State against both local authorities and parents who may wish to modify, or delay, the Secretary of State's plans to impose a universal system of wholly non-selective schools. That is a very great extension of the Secretary of State's present powers, and in my opinion is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the 1944 Act.

The 1944 Act, which was a triumph of wisdom of a particularly British character, created a partnership between local authorities and the then Minister of Education. That partnership meant shared responsibility, and it meant flexibility between one area and another. But under this Bill the authorities are to he reduced from partners to agents of the Secretary of State's will. They must organise their schools as and when she wishes, however seriously those on the spot regard the effect of her directions upon the quality of education in their areas. They have no recourse.

When that threat hangs over our secondary schools, Section 8 of the principal Act becomes of very great importance, because Section 8, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, and he read out the relevant words, puts a duty on the local authorities to provide a sufficient number of schools of … character, and equipment to afford for all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities, and aptitudes,…". How can the Government say that that duty is not compromised by Clauses 1 and 2 of this Bill? Grammar schools and technical schools are to disappear. They are to be replaced by mini-comprehensives. Places in direct grant schools are no longer to be available, and places are not to be taken in independent schools.

That has only one and inevitable result; namely, that the variety of opportunity open to children must contract because the resources are not there to replace the education in the schools which are being eliminated inside the new comprehensives. So then one of two things must happen. Either Section 8 is maintained as it stands, in which case the manner, and particularly the timetable of changing over to a system of non-selective schools must conform to its provisions—that is, that local authorities must not be allowed to reduce the variety of schools available—or Section 8 must be overruled by the new principle in Clause 1 of the Bill when it conflicts, as it very often will, with the duty to provide the variety of education required to match the children's needs.

The Government of course insist on the second alternative. That is why they really do not like this Amendment. But I think they ought to put it in the Bill, because the Amendment has very great symbolic significance. If your Lordships will allow me a moment or two, I should like to talk about Section 76, which gives parents the right to be listened to, and subject to practical considerations to have their views acted upon. I know from long experience that this is an extremely difficult right to define and administer. At the time of the Bill it was agreed that Section 76 was to be taken in conjunction with the rest of the Act, and that is why Section 8 is relevant, because if you take the two sections together, subject to financial and other restrictions, parents have the right to ask that local authorities shall provide as wide a range of schools and educational opportunity as they can.

Of course all parents never did, as the noble Lord on the Back-Bench over there said, have a choice. But because all parents have not got the choice we should like them to have for their children's education, does not mean that no parents should have it. This is the doctrine that underlies the Bill. When the Bill goes into operation, of course the reverse will happen: the variety that now exists will be reduced, and Sections 76 and 78 will thereby be whittled away.

The confusion about parents' rights—and we shall hear a lot about it on Committee stage—arises in my opinion mainly because the parents of 1976 are not the same as the parents of 1944. When Lord Butler was preparing his Act—I helped him as much as I could— parents' wishes centred on the right to choose a school where their own religion was taught. That was the main purpose in those days. The anxiety of the parents about other school subjects, such as the three Rs, and still less about discipline in the schools, was not in evidence at all. In those days administrators, and not a few teachers, looked on parents as a nuisance. They said quite frankly that parents could only do harm when they interfered with the superior beings who were responsible for their children's education.

When I was Minister of Education I was strongly advised to have nothing to do with parent-teacher associations, because they said that such bodies would delay and hamper the admirable work that we were doing. Needless to say, I did not take that advice. A change has taken place and I remember warning my officials that the type of education which we were encouraging in the secondary schools would produce a generation of parents who would be keen and anxious to take quite a different interest in their children's education; and, of course, that has happened. The present generation of parents—and I must say that this is partly economic, because of course wages have risen so much—do not feel that they are of a lower social status than those who teach their children. They want, like everyone else, like those in industry, to have some chance to participate in those decisions which affect themselves and, in the case of this Bill, their children.

In the circumstances it really is remarkably foolish of the Government not to reaffirm the principle of Section 76. I think they know enough about the kind of manifestations from parents up and down the country today. It would be a pity if those manifestations got out of hand, and if the Government refuse this Amendment that really will be saying to the public at large, "We are not willing to reaffirm the interest of parents in education, which was set out in Section 76." I would say to the noble Lord the Minister that it would be good politics on his part to accept this Amendment.


I should like to revert to the sentiment expressed by the mover of this Amendment, with which I am in wholehearted agreement. That is that we have to remember all the time that every child is an individual and that we are not trying to get some undiversified mass product. We are trying to remember the individual child. I do not know whether any noble Lords have had the experience that I have had of dealing with a child who, in the days of the 11-plus, passed the 11-plus and went to a grammar school; the child was prodded by parents, who were very proud that their child had gone to a grammar school, and helped in every possible way by the teachers, who also wanted the child to he a success in the grammar school, but the child obviously was not an academic one. That child obviously was going to be one of the craftsmen or artisans and had other types of gifts, and the end of the story was a complete mental breakdown because, of course, the more enlightened local authorities made it possible for a child from a secondary school to move to a grammar school at a later age.

But think of the dilemma of a child who has to go from a grammar school back to the old secondary modern. Your Lordships may say that is past history, that we abolished the 11-plus and that children will go on to comprehensive education. But the very essence of comprehensive education is that it must give all children parity of esteem. Children can he badly hurt. I am sure I am not by any means the only Member of your Lordships' Committee who has known families where one youngster has gone to the secondary modern in the old days and another to the grammar school, and that difficulties have occurred.

Surely the unanswerable case for the comprehensive is that we are seeking to give all our children parity of esteem, so that they can have the same uniform, the same playgrounds and the rest of it, and then it will begin to emerge that some are the academics of the future and special provisions must be made for them. There is nothing now given in a grammar school that cannot be given in a good comprehensive. That is the whole meaning of the idea. But, on the other hand, we have got to stop downgrading the child who is going to be the artisan or craftsman of the future. Even in our present economic situation there is still a hangover from the past in this country that one does not want little Johnny to be an engineer because he would have to come home in dirty dungarees. One would prefer him to go to another sort of training. We cannot live in the past like that, and just as there was very serious hurt done to the ego and the spirit of children by the old gradations between secondary modern and comprehensive, we can repeat this pattern if we find that in a locality some of the more academic children are syphoned away to a State-aided or a grammar school or a religious school of some kind. It is repeating the very thing from the past that we want to get rid of.

I am not saying that all comprehensives are perfect. We know well that the comprehensive reflects the atmosphere of the locality and that some have got support from parents and from the general environment which makes life easier for them than for others, but if this country has got to have a future it is going to have a future in which our children belong to one great family. I always thought that the wonderful thing about the old public school was that you did not say because Johnny was good at football he would go to one kind of school and if he was good at maths he would go to another. They had parity of esteem. I am saying that the unanswerable case for the comprehensive—


That is quite untrue.


Did the noble Lord say it is not true?


There are all sorts of differences, I am sure.



Several noble Lords: Order, Order!


I was talking about the traditional. I remember reading with great interest what Sir Winston Churchill had to say, and he never claimed he was a brilliant academic. But the great thing was that children went to the same school, they had parity of esteem. Some had one kind of gift and some another. That is all I am asking for. If we are going to have our children as one family, who are going to grow up to diversify their gifts and make their different contributions to society, do not let us make the mistakes of the past and brand our children quite unnecessarily. Those who are seeking to denigrate the comprehensive principle are doing just that.


In supporting my noble friend's Amendment at the beginning of this Bill I should like to give just one small example of what is implied in the emphasis upon Section 76. I happen to have experience of a school of some 700 girls. At the moment there is a sixth form of 200 with an option of 22 subjects. The alternative scheme is that this school shall become a mini-comprehensive where the local education authority has agreed that the sixth form would drop to about 60 and the options to about 10. This is not the desire of the parents who sent their girls to that school and, because of that, I would strongly support the Amendment which seeks to lay emphasis upon Section 76.


I have spent my life devoted to avoiding taking any part in Party political disputes, and I fear that in the next three days this is what this Committee will suffer from, to the great detriment of the welfare of 9 million children. I hope the Minister will look very carefully at the wisdom of accepting this Amendment. After all, he has already said he thinks it is unnecessary because it is acceptable. Of course one does not dispute the Amendment, but there is a very special reason why I think it is desirable that it should be embodied in the Bill. As your Lordships know, I do not dissent from the very general principle of comprehensive education; on the contrary, I accept it, although I think it requires special organisation, to which I made reference in the Second Reading debate.

What we are discussing is really a very simple issue. On the one hand there arc those who say we require different schools to allow for the differences in ability and aptitudes of children and, on the other hand, those who say we can do it all within one school if it is properly organised. But we are all agreed that our function, purpose and duty is to secure the fullest educational opportunity for every child at every level of ability and every kind of aptitude. On this I think we arc agreed. My concern with. this clause is perhaps a little bit more detailed. I have always believed that there are only two ways in which one can educate children: either by individual tuition or by a homogeneous grouping or setting or whatever word might he used. In other words, you either deal with an individual child or you seek to get a limited group of children or young people together whose rate of learning, interests and capacities are nearly enough the same to enable you to make progress.

This Amendment would secure, as I understand it, that this principle should he heeded in the organisation of comprehensive schools. In other words, it would reject the principle of all-ability groupings, which I am bound to tell your Lordships I most firmly reject, which seems to me something to which I have devoted my life to getting away from, something which the Haddow Report, the Spence Report and every report has rejected. We would go back to the village schools of the last century. But there are those who take the view that all-ability has a certain virtue based, I fear, more on concern for avoiding the acceptance of individual differences, which they are reluctant to accept, than for the welfare of the children. I very much hope, therefore, that the Government accept the principles of the Amendment, the reasonableness of parental choice within limits which must he prescribed, the importance of recognising the differences in individual abilities, aptitudes, interests and so on.

I would accept Clause 1, the principle of comprehensive education, so long as it also accepts the principle of Section 8 and Section 36 in the Act. If we are agreed on that, I really cannot see a valid reason why this Amendment cannot he accepted. If it is not accepted I greatly fear that the pressures for the organisation within comprehensive schools will not have regard to the provisions of Section 8.


Before the Minister comes to reply, would I be right in thinking that the brief intervention which he has put into the debate so far is that as this Amendment is not necessary, presumably the Government will be resisting it? I should be right in that. Well, I am no lawyer, but I have always understood that Section 76 of the Act was a general principle and that it can only be put into effect by way of other powers and duties in the Education Acts; and because it is not possible to assure every parent the education which he or she wants for their children, local authorities in having regard to Section 76 can have regard to other things besides, so Section 76 is an important but a fairly modest general principle. At the same time I have always understood from the case of Wood v. Ealing Borough Council that Section 76 did refer to the specific wishes of parents and included the wishes for certain curricula, religious education, whether a school has mixed-ability teaching, whether it is single sex, and that sort of thing.

When my noble friend Lord Eccles spoke, he certainly persuaded me that it really is not any good the Government's saying this afternoon that because there is not a repeal Schedule in this Bill therefore Section 76 will stand and therefore the Amendment is unnecessary. Clearly because, unlike with Section 76, in having regard to Clause 1 of this Bill authorities are going to have to obey the mandatory provisions of Clauses 2, 3 and 4, the result, as my noble friend pointed out, is that, whenever there is any doubt as between Clause 1 of this Bill and Section 76 of the Act, Clause 1 will always be held to prevail.

My noble friend talked about whittling away, but I would put it a little more strongly. I think it is a great pity that in drafting Clause 1 of the Bill the Government have not had the caution and the modesty shown by Lord Butler and Mr. Chuter Ede 30 years ago to draft a general principle which would give local authorities some direction.

Having listened to people who really do understand what the Education Acts are about, such as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and my noble friend Lord Eccles and support for this from the Liberal Bench from Lord Beaumont, what Section 8 of the 1944 Act provides by laying a duty upon authorities to see that schools are available for age, ability and aptitude within the requirement of good standards is that they shall be able to provide that education with a certain discretion in different sorts of schools, and if the Government do not like that argument, with different sorts of organisations within those schools. That is what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, was talking about.

I can assure the Government that it really is no part of the case for this Amendment that my noble friend Lord Elton has moved that all-ability schools cannot educate according to age, ability and aptitudes, But the question that arises, and will arise again and again on this Bill, is, what do you do if a pupil lives in an area where the available school clearly is not suitable for that pupil and no alternative is allowed to be provided?

May I give the noble Lord an example of what I mean? The noble Baroness, Lady Lee, and the noble Lord, Lord Somers, both spoke about the importance of parents. Let us consider how one would feel if one was the parent of a girl aged 14 who was just starting on 0-level courses, studying two languages, and doing another one also on the side. Then her parents have to move and their daughter is transferred to another school and it is the case perhaps, for reasons which my noble friend Lady Brooke gave, that at the school to which that girl would go there would be only one of those languages which she could study for 0-level, that she could not study the other one at all and that the third language also was not taught at that school. Is that school suitable to the ability and aptitude of that girl? At the moment the answer is perfectly clear: the authority has a duty to provide schools with such variety of instruction and training—Section 8—that a parent can at least try to exercise some choice. The authors of the 1944 Act believed that a diversity of schools would be necessary to achieve this.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, said quite reasonably to my noble friend Lord Elton, "What if certain pupils can have no choice because they can only go to a school to which they are being sent because there has been in that area an 11-plus and they have not passed it?".


Is the noble Lord aware that we are bandying around words like "Section 76, Section 6, Section 8"? Let us see what Section 6 says. It talks about education authorities being established. Section 8, which the noble Lord has just quoted, simply lays down that primary and secondary education should be provided. Having experienced all branches of teaching, when a child moves she may be wanting to learn Russian and Greek in one school. You cannot guarantee that every school in Britain will have Greek and Russian together, and very often local education authorities or sixth form colleges are now providing for children who may move.


May I come in a moment to what the noble Lord has said? Before I sit down I will return to that. First, I take up the point which the noble Lord, Lord Murray, made, which I will not go over again. May I give an example of what is happening in the next-door authority to where he lives just North of the Thames in Essex, which has been steadily, as the noble Lord will know, reorganising its schools from before even the time when Circular 1065 was issued, and has indeed, I understand, now reached the stage where 90 per cent. of its children are in comprehensive schools in what was the old Essex area before reorganisation of the authority. Apparently the authority has decided that it is going to try to work towards having 97 per cent. of its children in comprehensive schools but to leave, at least for the time being, 5 per cent. of the children with the option of being allowed to go to a grammar school, if the parents want the children to take an examination.

The ludicrous situation which will be perpetuated by this Bill is that that authority which, with the best will in the world, has been trying to reorganise is being called a rebel authority by the Government. That is neither fair nor sensible when it is put into legislation because it seems that the Government do not take any notice of the fact that authorities have to be concerned with what parents think.


The noble Lord has not answered my point, which was that in those authorities which are trying to maintain a selective or 11-plus system, parents whose children fail, for all sorts of reasons, have very little choice indeed. In fact, in most cases parental choice is nil. What certain authorities, such as Essex, do does not alter the point I was making.


My noble friend Lord Eccles answered the noble Lord's first point when he said that because some parents may not have as much choice as one would like, the noble Lord is arguing that no parents should have any choice at all. I have given another example, that of an authority which is trying to maintain some selection but where in the end there will be no children being sent to secondary modern schools but where there will be a mixed economy of comprehensives and a few grammar schools. Noble Lords opposite do not take enough account of the fact that authorities must take some notice of what parents say, and the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend, will know better than I of the situation in Southend, where the Essex authority sent out voting papers to see what the parents there would like. I understand that 27,000 voting papers were issued—one child, one vote—and that 65 per cent. was the level of the poll; 74 per cent. of those who voted said that they wanted some sort of selection retained and over 50 per cent. said squarely that they wanted the existing system retained. I do not think one can cast to one side, as the Bill is doing, the responsibility of an authority to take some notice of parents.

What in essence I am asking the Government on this Amendment is, first, for the Minister to say just what will be the effect of Clause 8 when it is taken in conjunction with Clause 1. This is the essential question. Does not Clause 8 become virtually inoperative because of Clause 1? If so—this is my second question—does that in essence not mean that Section 76 of the 1944 Act becomes a sham, because if there is a clash between Section 76 and Clause 1 the right of Clause 1 to prevail will be complete? I ask that question because since 1950 admissions to schools have been decided in the context of the 1944 Act interpreted by the Department of Education and Science's Manual of Guidance which was issued 25 years ago. Earlier this year the Department issued a draft reprint of the Manual and sent it to local authorities and the managers and governors of voluntary schools asking for comments by 30th June and saying that the new draft "reflects more recent legal advice". Embedded in that new circular is this passage on the subject of the unsuitability of a school: Questions of a school's suitability to the ability and aptitude of a child are not expected to remain of practical significance for much longer as they should not normally arise in the case of admission to a comprehensive school. Does that mean that there will not be any opportunity to help the difficult, gifted, artistic, highly academic or more vocationally inclined if they want to go to a particular school, be it a grammar, comprehensive or anything else? I trust that that is not the case and, to put the matter beyond doubt, I hope the Minister will accept the Amendment.

3.55 p.m.


As the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and several others have referred to Section 76 of the Education Act, I must point out that it is the kind of section which we have used almost as a bible, but I suggest that noble Lords, particularly Lord Belstead, are being less than fair if they do not quote the whole of the section because it is a classic get-out that every Government have incorporated in every Act, whether it deals with education, health, pensions or anything else. With reference to educating children according to the wishes of their parents the section says: 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. Those of us who have been involved in education know that very few parents who have exercised any sort of preference have ever been able to follow it through; reasons have always been given why it is impossible for the child to go to the school in question. As the Opposition are pressing very strongly that there should be cuts in public expenditure, it seems that the clause we are discussing gives ample opportunity for saying that children will not be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. Section 76 is useful so far as it goes but it goes only a very limited way and to build up a whole argument based on Section 76 is to mislead those of us who have known exactly how it operates.

The Lord Bishop of BLACKBURN

It seems a pity that Section 76 is quoted as though parents were having a choice of school, whereas in fact the section simply says that the wishes of parents regarding the education of their children should be respected. I see the Amendment as a challenge to local authorities and to those of us in the voluntary system so to order our schools that they meet the wishes of parents. I should therefore like to see the Amendment accepted in principle, and the noble Lord said that the principle was not objected to. It does not say that the parents shall have the choice of school; it says that those of us who are responsible for the schools shall try to meet the wishes of the parents and try, under Section 8, to provide such variety of courses within the schools as will meet the various aptitudes and abilities of the children.


I made some rather catty remarks at the beginning about the making of Second Reading speeches. Now that we have had a series of rather good ones, perhaps I had better withdraw that remark because this has been a Second Reading debate with one or two notable short extracts about the Amendment. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, showed the greatest skill in making a Second Reading speech yet somehow managed to refer to the Amendment, so I will begin by making a Second Reading point. The objection to selection is that it makes proper comprehensive education impossible. Let there be absolutely no mistake about that. If we are wrong about that, we are wrong about everything. Has anybody ever been to a comprehensive school and said to the head teacher, or any teacher, "I do not suppose it matters, but there is up the road a grammar school with a better and higher standard of education than you have?" They are all absolutely clear that they cannot give the best so long as this goes on.

I was at a school the other day which has a 70 per cent. black population and therefore a very difficult situation indeed. The school had run into local problems because of the unevenness of its population; the boys were accused of doing things that they did not do, although sometimes they did, and the school had rather a bad reputation. Within two or three years the headmaster has raised its reputation by being, in my view, a brilliant headmaster. I will not say where the school is. Does he think that it is all right that there is a grammar school up the road? No, he does not. That has been our case from the beginning and nothing cart alter it. The general case has been decided in another place. I said on Second Reading that I was not going to discuss it in detail every time it came up. I shall not discuss the general principles and I shall not go into them any more than I have now.

The Earl of ONSLOW

The noble Lord says that this school of which he speaks has gone from being a bad school to being a very good school and that there is a local grammar school up the road. Surely, in this case the local grammar school has not lowered the standard of the comprehensive school; the comprehensive is now competing with the grammar school and people will want to go there because it is a good school.


If I said "good", I withdraw. I meant "better". It has become a much better school than it was, but it is certainly not as good a school as it could be. The noble Earl's point is not a substantive one. Having made my Second Reading point, I want to make two points which concern the Amendment. The first is that Clause 12 already secures the objective of the Amendment by providing that the Bill shall be construed as one with the 1944 Act and the present clause emphasises in terms that local authorities, in the exercise and performance of their powers and duties in relation to secondary education, shall have regard to the comprehensive principle.

One cannot add a principle without altering a situation. Nobody thinks that is possible. Of course the meaning of Sections 8 and 76 will be different after the passing of this Bill because something has been added to it. What is said seems to me to be absolutely clear and it is also absolutely clear that, apart from adding something to these sections, there has been no diminution in their validity. The clause does not override the 1944 Act but complements it. It adds a third principle to the two that both noble Lords opposite and the Government wish to preserve. It makes a troika—liberty, equality and fraternity.

The Amendment is unnecessary and there have been a number of noble Lords opposite who have served in Government who have more or less said that it is perfectly all right to have unnecessary clauses in a Bill. There is not a single noble Lord who, if he were standing in my shoes, would accept that. The addition of unnecessary verbiage to Acts of Parliament is an unforgivable crime and it is one that Parliament tries to avoid and which Ministers are—quite correctly—chased and bullied by the draftsmen to avoid. I cannot believe that people who have held high positions in Government are really asking me—accepting as they did that it is unnecessary—to incorporate it into the Bill.

Having said that, I feel that I must say a word or two on the facts as they arise, as we have been having a very full debate on this subject. Let us look at the possibility of conflict between the duty of a local authority to have regard to the comprehensive principle and its duty to have regard to the principle of parents' wishes, as set out in Section 76. The scope for conflict between these two principles is really very slight. It has been held, as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said, by Mr. Justice Goff in Wood v. Ealing London Borough Council, 1967, that the general principle specified in Section 76 does not refer to the size of the school or the conditions of entry. In other words, Section 76 does not refer to organisational matters whereas Clause 1(1) clearly does. More important, Mr. Justice Goff also ruled that the general principle in Section 76, is confined to the wishes of particular parents in respect of their own particular children and does not refer to the wishes of parents generally. That is very reasonable; parents are a constantly fluctuating body, by the very nature of things, and the views of those involved in 1976 may not be the views of those who will be involved in 1986 or, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said, in 1944. Yet an authority's planning, involving as it often does substantial building programmes to last over the years, cannot be radically changed every few years.

It is therefore right and proper that Section 76 should not place a duty on authorities to have regard to parents' opinion polls such as the one carried out recently in Southend. The wishes of parents in general under our democratic system are expressed in elections and we certainly cannot accept that a local referendum taken at one moment in time could override a national policy endorsed by the electorate and shortly, 1 trust, to be enacted into law. Those who espouse the cause of the grammar schools often protest that the Government's policy restricts parental choice. I was most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for his very clear refutation of this point. "Choice is a perfectly good concept, provided all have options between which they can realistically choose. A selective system of secondary education does not provide these options as only about 20 per cent. have any choice. It is simply not possible under a selective system for a parent to say, "I want my child to attend a grammar school" and to have that choice met. What happens is that either the local authority or the grammar schools themselves will decide whether the child obtains a place on the basis of tests, the fallibility of which has been clearly demonstrated. In a comprehensive system, the opportunity to study a wide range of courses will be open to all pupils; all parents will therefore be able to make choices within the school as well as, in many areas, between two or more comprehensive schools.

I should like here to say one word about what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, said. We regard him as a formidable opponent and I hope that he will he a formidable adherent of what we are going to do, though it remains to be seen whether or not we can convince him. He spoke of his battle against mixed ability teaching. My experience, which is perhaps about one-fiftieth or one-seventieth of that of the noble Lord, but which is still not to be ignored, tells me that in comprehensive schools as a general rule—and I do not say in only one—children come in at 11 and are unmixed for one or two years while they are extremely carefully looked at, assessed and examined by their form, year or pastoral teacher. At the end of a year and half or two years—I think it is more usually two—they are streamed and usually "setted", if that is the past of "set", which I am not sure. I hope that this will make the noble Lord feel, in relation to the particular battle he has fought, that he has won. I think a year or two to look at the children and then a proper division within the school of the best form of teaching for them is as about as satisfactory as we can get.


Before the noble Lord continues, would he elaborate upon one point about the unreality of parental choice under the present system? If the choice is as unreal as that, why does he regard the co-existence of grammar schools with comprehensive schools as so intolerable? Is it not simply that if they do co-exist, parents will, if they can get in, choose to send their children to the grammar schools? The noble Lord regards that as wrong and so abolishes the grammar schools. Is that or is it not a deprivation, a limitation of choice?


It is perfectly obvious that the objection to a grammar school is that—by the choice of the parents—it selects the better academic performers and takes them away from the general body. The noble Lord need not get up again; I am giving him his point. Of course this is the exercise of choice. It is the exercise of choice which depends on selection by standards of the authority in one form or another, and not of the parent. But without the parents' choice of course it does not go, I agree. My view, my Government's view, and the view of a very large number of people in the country is that if one did not take away—cream off is the jargon—the top people from the comprehensive schools into the grammar schools, one would get a better education for everybody in the comprehensive school. That is what we stand for and we do not pretend to be standing for anything else.

Let me just finish; I shall not be long. If selective schools and comprehensive schools continue to coexist, not only would the comprehensive schools be denied the full range of abilities—the point which I have just been making—and hence parents denied the chance for their children to attend genuine comprehensive schools, but there would be true freedom of choice only if there were gross over-provision so that authorities would he able to cope with a 20 per cent. or an 80 per cent. demand for selective places. This would obviously be imcompatible with reasonable public expenditure.

My new Secretary of State, who I am glad to say I have been able to see once since she was appointed, takes parental wishes very seriously, but she can only do so subject to the provisos in Section 76. As I have already stated the preservation of any real choice between selective and comprehensive schools is incompatible with those provisos.

We have had a good Second Reading debate, and I am quite unable to accept the Amendment, but the reason why I cannot accept it is the drafting one that it is unnecessary. It is not that I do not think that it is right and proper that the Bill before the Committee should and in fact does incorporate both Section 8 and Section 76. I must recommend the Committee to vote against the Amendment if it goes to the test.


The noble Lord has made his principal ground the fact that this Amendment is superfluous, and in this we cannot agree with him. We have tried to show that this is not an Amendment against the comprehensive solution. We have tried to show that it is an Amendment in favour of parental interest and the rights of the child, whether or not in a comprehensive school. It is not an Amendment in favour of the 11-plus. It is an Amendment in favour of selection within schools as well as between schools.

We do not propose that a grammar school education should inevitably and always be better than a comprehensive education. Indeed, soon the two will be found in the same building. Still, it is necessary to match the children to the correct course within the school, and still they need the protection of this principle. Admittedly, it is to be read under Clause 12 with the 1944 Act. But even in the same Bill it is necessary to have guidance as to which principle is to take precedence when they are in conflict, and the days are many when they still will be in conflict, and that must be clear to noble Lords.

The noble Lord mentioned the judgment of Mr. Justice Goff, who said that the section referred to particular parents of particular children. I certainly absolve the noble Lord from being catty, but I was at pains, in a speech which the noble Lord categorised as a Second Reading speech, to say that it was the individual child we wished to defend, and the individual parent. I think that we are on irrefutable ground here and I ask noble Lords to support me as I move the Amendment.

4.14 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 141: Not-Contents, 59.

Aberdeen and Temair, M. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Airedale, L. Gage, V. Moyne, L.
Aldenham, L. Gisborough, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Alexander of Potterhill, L. Gladwyn, L. Nugent and Guildford, L.
Alport, L. Goschen, V. Nunburnholme, L.
Amherst, E. Gough, V. Onslow, E.
Amphthill, L. Gray, L. Porritt, L.
Amulree, L. Grey, E. Rathcavan, L.
Auckland, L. Greenway, L. Redesdale, L.
Banks, L. Gridley, L. Rochdale, V.
Barrington, V. Grimston of Westbury, L. Runciman of Doxford, V.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Halisham of saint Marylebone, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Blestead, L. Sackwille, L.
Berkeley, B. Hampton, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller]
Birdwood, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. St. Davis, V.
Blackburn, Bp. Harvington, L. Sandford, L.
Brentford, V. Hawke, L. Sandys, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hayter, L. Savile, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Henley, L. Selkirk, E.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hill of Luton, L. Selsdon, L.
Byers, L. Hives, L. Sempill, Ly.
Campbell of Croy, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Shannon, E.
Carr of Hadley, L. Howe, E. Simon, V.
Carrington, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Cathcart, E. Ilchester, E. Somers, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. James of Rushholme, L. Spens, L.
Clitheroe, L. Kemsley, V. Stamp, L.
Clwyd, L. Killearn, E. Strang, L.
Cole, L. Kimberley, E. Strathclyde, L.
Cottesloe, L. Kings Norton, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Craigavon, V. Kinloss, Ly.
Cranbrook, E. Kinnaird, L. Sudeley, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Lauderdale, E. Swansea, L.
Daventry, V. Long, V. Tenby, V.
Davidson, V. Lothian, M. Terrington, L.
Denham, L. [Teller] Loudoun, C. Teynham, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Tranmire, L.
Dudley, B. Lyell, L. Trefgarne, L.
Dundonald, E. Malmesbury, E. Trevelyan, L.
Ebbisham, L. Mancroft, L. Vaizey, L.
Eccles, V. Margadale, L. Vernon, L.
Effingham, E. Marley, L. Vickers, B.
Elton, L. Masham of Ilton, B. Vivian, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Merrivale, L. Wade, L.
Erskine of Rerrick, L. Mersey, V. Wigoder, L.
Exeter, M. Monck, V. Windlesham, L.
Faithfull, B. Monckton of Brenchley, V. Wolverton, L.
Ferrers, E. Mottistone, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Henderson, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal).
Aylestone, L. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Phillips, B.
Bacon, B. Hughes, L. Popplewell, L.
Birk, B. Janner, L. Rhodes, L.
Blyton, L. Kaldor, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kirkhill, L. Rusholme, L.
Buckinghamshire, E. Leatherland, L. Shackleton, L.
Burntwood, L. Lee of Asheridge, B. Slater, L.
Champion, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Soper, L.
Collison, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Stedman, B.
Darwen, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Davies of Leek, L. Maelor, L. Stone, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Maybray-King, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Melchett, L. Summerskill, B.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Murray of Gravesend, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L.(L. Chancellor.) Northfield, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Gordon-Walker, L. Oram, L. Wells-Pestell, L.[Teller.]
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Paget of Northampton, L. Williamson, L.
Hale, L. Pargiter, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Parry, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

4.24 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 10, after ("pupils") insert ("of compulsory school age").

The noble Lord said: if I may recall your Lordships' attention from the Lobbies to Amendment No. 2, your Lordships will remember that one of the threats which worries us about the implementation of the comprehensive principle is that it is so often embodied in schools of a very large size, and I think there was general agreement that this could militate against efficiency and humanity in teaching. There was a general consensus in your Lordships' House on this, I think. We then turned our attention to ways in which this could be circumvented, one of which was the "topping off" of a comprehensive school by taking away the elder and more academic children from it, or possibly from a group of comprehensive schools, to supply or feed a sixth form college.

I sought to advance the view that this Bill as it stood would in some way inhibit this; and, if I may quote the noble Lord who intervened in column 1486, he said: My Lords, if I may just ask for clarification, I am absolutely lost in what the noble Lord is saying about selection for sixth form colleges, which seems to me to be what he was talking about. In so far as there are sixth form colleges, which is something entirely determined by the local authority, the selection is done fully on aptitude and ability. Can anybody suggest anything else?",

the noble Lord asked. He went on: There is nothing in the Bill to suggest anything else. I have lost the noble Lord's argument".—[Official Report 29/7/76; col. 1486.]

I should like, if I can, to return it to him by saying this. It seems to me that a sixth form college provides a part of secondary education; it is a stipulation of this Bill that such education shall not be given to pupils except, …in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude", which the noble Lord says is the only sensible way in which they should be allocated to the sixth form college.

Now, if I am right in saying that these schools are not qualified to he part of the maintained system as the Bill stands—if I carry the noble Lord with me on that—then I think he will see that one possible way round this difficulty is to insert, as the Amendment suggests that we do, the words "of compulsory school age" after the word "pupils" on page 1, line 10, so that it says: …provided only in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils of compulsory school age are not based (wholly or partly) on selections by reference to ability or aptitude".

It occurs to me that one effect of ROSLA may be that the wording of this Amendment is already defective, and that we ought to substitute something to the effect of "pupils who have not attained their 15th birthday" but my object in tabling this Amendment is to turn the noble Lord's concentrated attention, and that of those who advise him, upon the real, or perhaps the imaginary, danger—and he will tell me which it is—that we shall not be able to have sixth form colleges, in favour of which he has, I think, by implication, pronounced himself, unless we do in fact in some way alter marginally the provisions of the Bill. I beg to move.


I have, not for the first time, I think, simply to say that I was wrong in my intervention. This is the result, of course, of the noble Lord's education and my education: that, to me, "sixth form" has an academic meaning whereas it has not in secondary education now; nor should it have. So I cannot hope to defend what I said. It was quite wrong. It was said in the confusion of the moment—and of such moments I have a good number.


That is what comes of your having an academic education.


It all comes into it. I have to confess that that was not correct. Really, what we are talking about here is whether we want secondary education over the age of 16 to continue the comprehensive basis. I think this is the issue between us. If this Amendment were accepted, authorities would be under a duty to have regard to the comprehensive principle only in respect of the admission to secondary schools of pupils who were of compulsory school age—the point, I think, which the noble Lord made. Academic selection would be allowable for pupils over 16 who wanted to go on with their secondary education. The Government are perfectly clear that they want to eliminate selection at all stages of secondary education, and the Government—and, as their representative today, I am glad to state this in case there be any confusion about the past—see no reason to make an exception for sixth form education.

I think it important not to confuse sixth form institutions with sixth form courses. This Bill certainly seeks to outlaw selection for education to institutions, but not to courses within those institutions. It has always been the Government's view that the sole criterion for admission to a sixth form course should be the pupil's ability to profit from that course. I am sure we would all agree that schools should cater for all pupils of compulsory school age, whatever their ability, and we do not consider it right that pupils of lower ability should be prevented from continuing their secondary education after the age of 16 by a general test of academic ability—that is the sort of point which my noble friend Lady Lee was making in her very interesting speech. Sixth form institutions should be comprehensive in that they should offer a variety of A level, O level, CSE and other courses to cater for all pupils, whatever their ability.

Five or six years ago, the open sixth form was regarded as experimental, but the idea has rapidly gained ground. More and more sixth forms offer a variety of examination courses at all levels, both academic and vocational, as well as a growing number of non-examination courses. This is true of the sixth form colleges, only a few of which are still selective, and of the great majority of all-through comprehensive schools which are providing a wide range of courses at sixth form level. Some such schools receive pupils at 16 from neighbouring 11 to 16 schools; we would not expect selection procedures to be used for entry to a comprehensive school at 16 any more than at the normal age of entry. I hope the noble Lord will not find it necessary to press this Amendment. If he does, I am afraid we shall not be able to accept it.


I had not intended to speak on this Amendment, but having listened to the noble Lord it seems to me that more things become evident—or perhaps they become more obscure. Perhaps the noble Lord could tell us why it was that in the 1970 Act which the Government of the day brought forward they excluded sixth form education. It seems to me that, when the noble Lord says that, the Government do not want to exclude for selection for courses but are determined to exclude for selection for institutions. I can understand that perfectly well, but this leads us to the extraordinary conclusion that a pupil can be selected for sixth form in the school without breaching the Act but cannot be selected for a sixth form college without breaching the Act. Having asked that question—


Selected for a sixth form course.


Then let me put another question to the noble Lord. I do not know whether the Government have consulted local authorities about this part of the Bill, but the way the Bill is drafted with regard to sixth form education means that any pupil, from just about ESN to very high ability, can demand (and cannot be refused) a place in a sixth form college for a course. Am I right in thinking that that would be the case?


Could I interrupt for a moment? I should like to apologise for pulling my noble friend's leg just now—well, he has got long legs! Before I got booted out of the other place by an ungrateful electorate, I sat for one of the two or three counties in Britain which took the view which the Minister now says was the right view—or at least Mrs. Williams now says is the right view—in other words, that we should not make our comprehensives (and we went comprehensive before most) vast emporiums or factories. One of the things we did in Derbyshire was to arrange that we did not need to have 2,000 pupils, or whatever, in order to have a satisfactory size of sixth form in the same school, but that we could afford to have smaller comprehensive schools because we could arrange to have a sixth form college elsewhere. Therefore, those who wanted to go on to the sixth form could do so in another building.

I should like to say this to the Minister: it does not seem to me to fit with what Mrs. Williams now says that she has changed her mind and was wrong to want such big schools in order to get a sufficient size of sixth form in the same school, if at the same time one passes a prohibition against selecting pupils for sixth form education in a place other than in that school. There must be confusion and contradiction in that argument. If Mrs. Williams is now right, then what we were doing in Derbyshire must have been right. They were also doing it in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire. We were saying that those who wanted to continue sixth form education could do so somewhere else, in a different building. That must be right. What Mrs. Williams is now saying cannot be right, because it would mean that you will not have a school big enough to provide what she used to believe was right; that is, an adequate sixth form in that school.

I think that the Minister is trying—and I like him very much and I know how keen he is about this matter—to defend something which is indefensible, or perhaps a better way of putting it would be to say that he is trying to postpone making the necessary consequential arrangements flowing from Mrs. Williams's new view—which happens to be my old view, and of course I am always glad to see colleagues from my old Party coming round to the views which I used to think were right.

4.37 p.m.


If I may, I should like to deal first with what the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, has just said. My Secretary of State said that opinion was changing concerning the best size for a school. She did not say more than that. She said that increasingly education authorities were forming smaller schools and the Secretary of State preceding her had agreed to this. Quite separately from that, a number of local authorities have adopted the system of sixth form colleges. There are 64 at the moment, I think, and, curiously enough, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, only 14 of those 64 colleges now operate selective admission arrangements. Therefore, the Bill as it stands—without the Amendment of the noble Lord—will not alter anything very much. It will simply mean that those 14 will gradually cease to apply that particular criterion for entry.

Referring to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, there are two ways of having sixth form secondary education for children who have left at 16—which is what it is all about. One way is through the sixth form college, and the other is by having a comprehensive school which is of a size to support a sixth form and which the head of that school thinks is big enough to give a proper education. This is an opinion which varies, but at the moment there is no interference with size or numbers. The interference here is with the method of selection, and I hope we can probably pass on without altering that at this stage, since it applies to so very few of the existing sixth form colleges.


I think something is omitted here, and I hope the Minister will look at the point. There are more ways than he suggests of educating children beyond the age of 16. There are colleges of further education and there are tertiary colleges. I believe there are 85 sixth form colleges and 15 tertiary colleges as at this date. But the difference is very important. The tertiary college accepts this principle of not selecting anybody who wishes to come, though indeed within the college the course one can take will depend on one's qualifications. The tertiary colleges in many cases operate under further education regulations, but the sixth form colleges operate in many cases under schools regulations, not further education regulations.

Therefore, to say that this principle must apply, so that any child at 16 can seek admission to such a sixth form college, creates a situation in which the sixth form college necessarily has to become a tertiary college; that is to say, it has to make available courses of education which normally it is not in a position to provide. It must provide for qualifications of the Technical Education Council, it must provide craft courses and so, which it is not geared to do. With the best will in the world, it simply is not qualified in either staff or equipment to do these things.

I am delighted if the Government are making complete my case for tertiary colleges, which I have been arguing for eight years now. But I think it would be wise to look at this a little carefully, to see whether we are virtually creating a situation in which sixth form colleges would not be able reasonably to comply with the requirements of the clause, because they simply could not provide for certain of the children who might seek admission, and whose proper place was in another institution which provided the courses they were seeking. I am trying only to clarify the situation.


May I reply to the noble Lord in the form of a question? He knows much more about these matters than I do. It seems to me that this principle can be applied with whatever the sixth form college has to offer. The principle is that boys or girls are not chosen on their academic ability; not that they, or the teacher, do not select a college because of what it has to offer in the way of courses. So surely, from my point of view, the principle is perfectly all right, even though the sixth form college may teach nothing but Sanskrit and Greek.


I fear that that is not so. Obviously if a child is going to take A-level he must have certain O-levels in order to pursue the course satisfactorily. But if he goes along and says, "I want to have the qualifications of the Technical Education Council" or "the craft course" all the college can say is, "We do not have such a course. Therefore, we are sorry but we cannot take you." So they could be accused of selecting on academic aptitude or on standards which were academic, when they were really doing nothing more than saying, "Here are the courses that we can offer. If you are able to pursue these you are welcome. But if you arc not qualified to pursue these we cannot have you." This is a genuine problem.


My own view is that the accusation would not stand, but that does not mean that we should not look at this. Though I do not want to look at the principle involved, I am quite prepared to look at the point the noble Lord has raised, which we can deal with, or otherwise, at a later stage.


I am most obliged to the noble Lord for his reply which is helpful, at least over 50 per cent. of the field. There are those who feel that sixth form colleges should be places of academic refuge—if that is the word; I think it is not and I prefer the word "resort"—and those who have taught are well aware of the enormous help it is to be able to teach in groups which are entirely dedicated to the pursuit of an academic career, and to the extent to which this is diluted so are their efforts made laborious to achieve the results, and the efforts not only of the staff but of the children. However, at least the noble Lord has taken cognisance, and I have been most ably helped by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, to whom I extend my thanks, who showed much more clearly than I could what appears to us to be a basic anomaly which requires some alteration to the wording of the Bill. In the light of what the noble Lord has said, that he will look at this before Report stage, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.45 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 11, leave out ("or partly ")

The noble Lord said: Clause 1(1) requires authorities to: …have regard to the general principle that such education is to be provided only in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude.

The reason for putting down this Amendment is to try to find out what is the effect of the words "or partly". Do they mean that regardless of the kind of school—let us say, that in a non-selective school, by definition, you have a dyslexic child, or a very backward child, or a very gifted child, or a child who wants boarding education—they could be chosen for a particular school, or would they be breaching the terms of Clause 1(1), because they would be admitted, either wholly or partly, by reference to their ability or aptitude? A lot of noble Lords may have much which they are intending to say on this, but would like to hear first what the Minister has to say. Therefore, I shall sit down and hear the Government's view on this. I beg to move.


We are opposed to any form of selection for admission to secondary education on the basis of ability or aptitude, by any method and to any degree. We have made this clear 100,000 times in the last 18 months. The words "wholly or partly" are included in this clause to make it absolutely clear and unambiguous that partially selective arrangements are not acceptable.

By removing the words "or partly", the clause will allow admission procedures, not based wholly on selection by references to ability or aptitude. There cannot be a selective school in the country which bases its admission procedure wholly on selection by ability—geographical area, age, sex and all kinds of other factors must inevitably be involved as well. Therefore, all remaining selective schools would be able to claim that they were within this new so-called comprehensive principle if this Amendment were accepted. Clause 1, and consequently the whole Bill, would be wrecked and I must therefore urge noble Lords to reject this Amendment. But—I have not yet finished—I do not think, from the noble Lord's speech, that that was his intention. I do not think he was meaning to move a wrecking Amendment. I believe that he was trying to introduce flexibility into the system and I will now reply along those lines, though we believe that whether the motives be good or bad the effect on the Bill would be disastrous.

The argument against the Amendment is that if admission procedures were to be based partly on ability, one must consider on what else they would be based. For all the inaccuracy and inadequacy of the 11-plus procedure, it at least has the merit of a certain objectivity. Other forms of selection, such as teacher assessment or guided parental choice, may be more flexible but they are also more subjective and open to abuse. Flexibility, in this instance, would not result in a more fair or more just distribution of pupils between schools, but rather the reverse. We do not wish to discourage the practice of pupils attending other schools for part of their time, particularly where this leads to a more efficient use of resources in less popular subjects.

This gives a wider choice to pupils and avoids needless duplication of provision. But we would not support those able pupils transferring permanently to another school to the detriment of their original school, which could not hope to offer its remaining pupils the range of courses which would have been possible had it remained "uncreamed". Such a system would result in a new grammar/secondary modern division, albeit at a later age than 11, based on a highly dubious selection procedure and resulting in unequal educational opportunities for pupils in their later stages of secondary education.

Remembering the far-reaching effects of the Amendment which I quoted before and what I have just said, I feel that this Amendment could well be withdrawn by the Opposition. If they do not feel that they can withdraw it, I shall have to advise the Committee to oppose it.


I have a great deal of sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. As the Amendment stands and as it has now been explained to us, I think it is a wrecking Amendment, even though that is not the intention. Therefore we on these Benches would not like the Amendment to be passed. However, I do not believe that the problem which arises has yet been adequately dealt with. It may be that the answer is that we should go away again—and I speak for noble Lords on all sides of the House—and try to think of an Amendment to the Bill which would allow a little more flexibility.

Let us take, for example, the situation of a school which is very popular and which specialises, among other things, in the teaching of Sanskrit (I use Sanskrit as an example merely because it was used earlier in the debate) and let us suppose that it has on its staff some of the only teachers in the country who are capable of teaching Sanksrit to O- or A-level. I think that this point applies particularly at sixth form level, since the Government have more or less accepted the fact that they do not want there to be any selection at sixth form level, with which I agree. Nevertheless, in the sixth form where there is specialisation, the situation will arise that a certain number of pupils who want to read Sanskrit will be able to read it only at a certain school. If that is a very popular school it may be that it is oversubscribed. Does the Bill mean that that school will not then be allowed to keep a certain number of places or, indeed, all the places that it wants for those who wish to study Sanskrit and will it then be accused of operating selection by aptitude?

One answer, and it is an answer which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has deployed, is that children could move from the school of which they were a member to another school for special Sanskrit classes on certain days of the week and return to their own school for the normal curriculum. I do not think that this is necessarily a very good answer and there would be many cases where the system would not work. For instance, there might be a school three miles away from a boy's home which teaches Sanskrit but which he is not able to get into. If he wants to learn Sanskrit he has to go to a school which is three miles in the other direction, which means that then there would be six miles between the two schools and he would be expected to commute between them. That is only one example of the practical difficulties over time-tabling and everything else which might occur. It would occur particularly strongly in a sixth-form college where he would be expected to devote quite a large number of hours to the study of this subject. If we are to cultivate excellence in equality, which is what we want, we must find a way to provide flexibility so that any given school would not be offending against the Bill if it kept certain places for children with certain aptitudes who were studying certain subjects.

The noble Lord may have a perfectly good answer to the point and may say that under the Bill no school would be in such a difficulty. However, we have to ensure that this can happen. If it does not happen under the Bill, then we shall have to go away and find some form of words which, without wrecking the principle of the Bill, will allow it to happen.


The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was most illuminating. It has succeeded in impaling the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, upon the horns of a dilemma which one has foreseen for some time, and I hope that he will take the opportunity to elucidate it. If I may eludicate the point in visual terms, it seems to me that the education system in any area is like a layer cake, with a layer for every year. Let us say that in every layer of, for example, a fruit cake there is candied peel and that there is candied peel of different kinds for every subject and specialism needed. This is distributed throughout the cake and every child must have access to it at each layer of its progress. One way to ensure this is simply to say that every child in a particular year shall go to one institution and there have its own fair share of the particular variety of candied peel that is appropriate to it. You could have one year schools, I suppose—which would limit their size—or two or three year schools. But we are faced with the situation where either you have to have an enormous school to make sure that every piece of candied peel—because there will not be many in the case of the smaller specialisms—is represented or you have to cut your cake into slices vertically, each slice being an individual school, some of which will be able to teach Greek, others technical drawing but not Greek, and others geography, while others will specialise in dead languagues. But you cannot expect the specialisms to be equally distributed throughout.

I should have thought that the Amendment that we are advancing would enable a local authority to take cognisance of the requirements of an individual child on the basis of the course he requires. It is plain that it will be argued that the child, pupil or young adult who is capable of taking A-level Greek or S-level German is academically more able and more apt than the child who will—I absolutely concede this point—be of at least as great and possibly greater service to society but who specialises in technical drawing or craftwork.

I take the point which has been made before that in our society we give insufficient stature to the people who make the money by which all of us live and that this is wrong and should be put right. However, I say that those people also require to have their aptitude for technical drawing, using a lathe, firing kilns and so on taken into account. It may not be an ability but it is an aptitude. The Bill precludes this, which means either that one has to have a dilute specialism in every school or else find a way around it. We have tabled an Amendment which we honestly think finds a way around it.

We are not trying to wreck the Bill. We set ourselves the duty not to wreck the Bill at the outset, and I said as much at Second Reading. We want to provide the best education we can afford for all our children—not merely for the academics but also for the practical. if that is the word, children whom noble Lords opposite are conditioned to think we hold in inferior regard compared with the academics. This is not so. I shall be interested to hear how the noble Lord gets off the horns of that dilemma.


It seems to me that this is very much the same question as we were discussing with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. There is nothing offensive to the comprehensive principle in the choice of a course. What is offensive to the comprehensive principle is to say that of two children one is more deserving of this, because of his ability, than the other. I do not see any difficulty here. To take the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, if three places for Sanskrit are available in a school which is within reasonable reach of somebody who wants to learn Sanskrit, I cannot see that any question of selection in the form of being offensive to the comprehensive principle comes into the argument.


From the point of view of organising a school, particularly a sixth form course, there are very great difficulties, for this reason. If we move away from Sanskrit to a subject which is more common but which presents greater difficulties—that is, mathematics—it presents greater difficulties because of the incredible shortage of mathematics teachers, a problem to which we shall refer in other contexts, I hope, in the debate. If a child wants to study A-level mathematics, you have to insist that that child has passed not only O-level mathematics but also additional mathematics at O-level; otherwise you are simply wasting the time of everybody and their resources by letting that pupil go to a sixth form and attempting to cope with advanced level mathematics. So presumably if you are to deploy these rare resources with a vital subject which we are fortunately going to discuss in detail later, you must in fact have academic selection.

I must not make a Second Reading speech although I am tempted to all the time because it is the only sort of speech I can make. But please do not let us prejudice the whole future of English education by this absolutely doctrinaire insistence on the fact that there is something morally wrong in selecting people because they have certain mental abilities. After all, if we select people for a football team because they have certain athletic qualities why can we not select them for mathematics, say, because they have certain intellectual abilities? Never mind— that is a Second Reading point and i must not be tempted. But this is a practical point and I assure the noble Lord, without wanting to wreck anything, that I have had experience in organising courses for sixth forms over a long period and this is impossible unless you have a certain standard to build on.

5 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

I should like to make a rather different point. When this Bill first came into the other place I think it was generally believed that the system of comprehensive schools at which it aimed would in fact he neighbourhood schools and therefore there would be no selection on aptitudes or abilities but it would be a matter of the catchment area where the child lived. Then a considerable row blew up, led by the ILEA who could hardly be said to be the strongest defenders of the Conservative notion of education. They say that if the clause is left as it is and there is to be no selection at all by ability, then in the middle class districts there will be comprehensive schools of one standard and there will be comprehensives of a totally different standard in the district where the home background is not so affluent. Therefore they say they would like to have the power to arrange the intake into the new comprehensives by three bands of ability. I really must ask the noble Lord how they will be able to do that if Clause 1 says that there may not be selection partly by ability. One is back again at the neighbourhood school intake which the ex-Secretary of State, as I understand it, had changed his mind about because he saw the force of the argument against the creation of a network of neighbourhood schools.

Unless a local authority is permitted partly to take into consideration the ability of the children how can one have children of A, B and C abilities to provide the balanced intake which I understand the mandarins of the comprehensive system now think they ought to have?


The noble Viscount is a little unfair when he refers to "the mandarins of the comprehensive system". If I may say so, that is below his normal level. The people who believe in the comprehensive system are not mandarins; they are a very large number of teachers and educationists and others, and I do not think that should have been said. Subject to that, as always, the noble Viscount made a very interesting point. Banding is really an exact example of the transitional stages. My late Secretary of State said that he did not think it was possible to do away with banding immediately because he thought there would then be the kind of uneven balance in schools in certain areas which he wanted to avoid. So he altered the situation so that this would remain, but not for ever. That is all right so far as it goes.

The point that I think I must stick to here is the principle which the Bill stands for, which is that the course in one school can be attended by a boy from another school but the selection to the school or the college should not be on a basis of ability. This brings me straight up against the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, which I think is a very difficult one. I do not think it applies in relation to Sanskrit; I do not think it applies in relation to anything really except where there is a shortage of adequate teachers, and this brings it into the category of the banding situation—of a temporary situation which the noble Viscount was talking about.


I hesitate to interrupt again, but can the noble Lord say why he thinks the shortage of good mathematics teachers is temporary? Is there any evidence whatever for saying that?


That is quite a different point. It may be for ever, in which case one would have to think again on different lines. The general view is that this can be altered, and that view may be wrong.


It is getting worse, not better.


I wonder whether the noble Lord will allow me to come back on the point that I raised. I said that there was a need, not associated with a wrecking intention, to allow there to be some regard for ability and aptitude in apportioning children to resources. We should note that there are two criteria—ability and aptitude. His reply appeared to be that it was not necessary to consider ability in considering resources, and I think this was rather knocked on the head by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme; and he followed the other argument, saying that where courses were available in specialisms to which children were suited, which presumably means that they were apt to them, then they could be allocated to them without breach of the Bill. I do not think they can. I think the Bill says that there must be no consideration of ability or aptitude. In a later reply he said that they could be allocated to schools non-selectively but to courses—if I took him aright—outside the school if they did not exist inside the school, presumably on the basis of aptitude. This is selection.


I do not think that is on the basis of aptitude; it is on the basis of wishing to do it.


If somebody who has not mastered the art of reading wants to do higher logic, is that reasonable? What the noble Lord is advancing seems to me to be so unreasonable as to be unlikely. I took perhaps an extreme example. but there is a forceful argument that resources are scarce and they cannot be deployed willy-nilly against those who think there is a soft option because a particular teacher is funny and amusing in class and you do not have to work very hard; for instance, to pursue a subject in which they are not able to hold out prospects of making much progress. I followed the noble Lord's argument as meaning that there could be allocation outside the school, and he now says that it would be simply on inclination and not on aptitude.


The choice of course.


The choice of course, upon inclination and not upon aptitude or ability. It is merely necessary to want to do something in order to be allowed to do it; to use scarce resources. Presumably it is tough luck on the chap who asks afterwards and who has got qualifications but did not think to ask sooner, because the other one wanted it badly enough to ask first. If this is the way in which we are going to deploy scarce resources, does the noble Lord really think it is the best way?


Again I think there is a lack of practical experience here. Let us see what we are talking about. In terms of this Bill I am thinking of getting rid of the only kind of education in the world such as we had before, but when a child enters we want that child to come into the comprehensive system. As somebody who has also looked at the sixth form levels in mathematics and geography working, say, in the school run by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, how we had a bunch of 16- and 17-yearolds, preparing them for the Oxford or any of the Cambridge scholarships. I am not talking about examinations. Tom Jones says, "I want to do maths, sir", and I know he has barely got his O-levels and I know without any examination, because of the experience as I have been teaching him, that whatever he does that lad will not get his A-levels and will not get through in maths. So I call in his parents.

In practical working teaching, this is what you do. It has nothing to do with exams. If he is doing Russian we see whether he has the aptitude and the kind of mind that manages languages. If he is doing geography, he needs enough of the maths, but not to such a high standard, to understand it. Do not let us split hairs. We are not asking for selection by examination at this pitch. We are dealing with mature students. If I am right in my talking here, we are dealing with them in the sixth form of the old-fashioned or comprehensive schools and they will go on to university. What are we talking about?


May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for some help? If the words "or partly" are left in, what would happen to those children whose families seek comprehensive education and in principle, under Clause 1, are denied it, namely, the handicapped children? This subject will be dealt with again under Amendment No. 42 to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady D'Arcy de Knayth. On the other hand, may I ask what is the position of children of disadvantaged families, where the child is in need of specialised counselling help in a specialised school, due to the fact that perhaps the family has broken up, there is divorce, widowhood, a single parent family, and the school in that area does not fit, so the child either needs to go to a smaller school elsewhere or to a boarding school? I ask this on behalf of the handicapped children who want to go to the comprehensive school, or alternatively the children with disadvantaged social circumstances who want to go elsewhere.

5.13 p.m.


I cannot see that the clause as it stands is in conflict with what the noble Baroness has said. If we may take the second case first, the child of a disadvantaged family, what is her worry? These children are in the same position whether we leave the word "partly" in the Bill or take it out. It seems to me that the thing about such children is that the sort of counselling and help they need they can get in a comprehensive school and grammar schools. I do not really quite follow the point of the noble Baroness.


I am sorry. My point is that if the comprehensive school does not suit the child because it is too big, or because emotionally the child needs to go somewhere else, what would the position then?


The position then would be exactly the same, whether the word "partly" was in or out. One assumes that the child would complain to the parents, the parents would discuss the matter with the headmaster or whoever was concerned, and they would either agree or not agree with this position. If they agree that the child should be moved, then with the help of the local authority they would find somewhere else, but not on grounds which counteract the comprehensive principle. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, OK.

Viscount ECCLES

If I may return to the answer which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, gave to me, I found it unsatisfactory, because so far as I can gather from him, with the small exception in Clause 2(6) which says that schools at the time the Act is passed may continue for a little, it appears that if the words "or partly" were left in Clause 1, the intention of the Government is a system of neighbourhood comprehensive schools. The argument against that has nothing to do with politics, but it is a tremendous argument. Is it really true that that is what the Government are aiming at? I thought the speeches of Ministers in another place made it fairly clear they were not aiming at that. What is the fact?


I do not think that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is right that that is what it means. I simply do not follow it.

Viscount ECCLES

It means it.


The leaving out of the word "partly" means that a selective element can be introduced into the sending of a child to school. That is what it means, I suppose. I do not see what this has to do with geography or anything else. I do not follow the noble Viscount.

Viscount ECCLES

I am sorry, but the apprehension of a large number of people in this country, including members of the noble Lord's own Party, is that you might have comprehensives in one part of a city where every child, bar a very small proportion, was, if you like, below average, whereas in another part of the city you have a comprehensive school where the children are far above average because the parents can afford to live in that neighbourhood. In order to get some mixture going, it had been thought that when the comprehensive system was set up there would be a classification of children by the local authority into three bands of ability, and that the children would be more or less (it could not be exact) allocated to schools so that each school had its proportion of average children, of clever children, and of below average children. Is that all abandoned now?


That was abandoned under Clause 2(6).

Viscount ECCLES

No, it is not. I do not see it.


Subsection (6) of Clause 2 says that this may continue, but that the Secretary of State has in mind in due course to stop it.


I wish that the considerations on this Amendment were really as easy as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, appears to think. Such are the cogency and flow of his arguments that from time to time one is lulled into the impression that one is following him along the road of his argument, until someone like the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, gets up, and one realises there are some gaping holes in this extraordinary wording in Clause 1(1) of the Bill.

As I understood the noble Lord, what he is arguing is that this Amendment really is not necessary because the parents' choice of school in reality is a choice of course within the school, and therefore does not necessarily entail the school basing its admissions either wholly or partly by reference to ability or aptitude.


I must just say that that is not my understanding. That may be the case in specialised subjects but, generally speaking, it is certainly not the case, I should have thought.


In that case, my argument becomes much easier. We are talking, then, of a choice of school because the parent wants to choose a school because the parent knows that that school suits the child. It may be because of a particular course or for other reasons. I have two observations to make about this general problem. My first observation is that if a pupil is going to be admitted to a school for any of those sorts of reasons, I should have thought it must breach the principle of the Bill, and I say that for this reason.

If parents choose a school because of a Sanskrit course or maths, or languages, or because they like the school, and because they feel it would suit the ability and aptitude of their child, then I should have thought the school is bound to know the parents' reasons. The Plowden Report encouraged the practice of admitting new pupils for a short time before those pupils came to the school so that the pupils could get to know the school, and the school could get to know the pupils. One hopes this practice will spread, and has spread, into secondary schools. Therefore, in talking about this Amendment, it is inconceivable that a headmaster is not going to know why it is that a parent has in fact chosen a particular school. He will realise in many cases that the admission is being made on grounds of ability or aptitude.

In case the noble Lord thinks that is too general and that I have not thought this out in concrete terms, may I give an example. Let us suppose that school A has got a full-time remedial teacher well-known in the locality for skill in bringing on backward pupils, and the parents of a slow-learning child are living in a catchment area not of that school but of another school which has no full-time remedial teacher. The parents apply for admission to the school with the full-time remedial teacher and they are refused. They appeal to the Secretary of State under Section 68 of the 1944 Act, and because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, reminded us, that school is not unsuitable in terms of efficient instruction and training, and because that school is not unsuitable because it does not happen to be full, the Secretary of State upholds the parents and not the local authority. Can it by any stretch of the imagination be said that that pupil is not going to be transferred from one school to the other on grounds of ability or aptitude? I shall be extremely interested to hear the noble Lord's reply to that.


I do not think I can be following the noble Lord. I would have thought it was on grounds of need that he needed remedial teaching. I am not with the noble Lord.


He needs the remedial teaching because of his ability. We are not seeking to wreck the Bill. In the example I have given the pupil concerned has got a particular ability and the ability requires first-class remedial teaching. Because they do not find the remedial teaching in the school to which the child has been directed is as good as they had hoped, the parents, therefore choose another school. They are refused, they appeal and they are upheld. How can it be said then that that child is not being moved into the other school on grounds of ability?


I simply do not understand how something which requires remedial treatment can be described as "ability". It is a question of words.


He is shifted because he has no ability.


Well, in this case I should have thought the negative assumed the positive. The second observation I want to put to the noble Lord is that I fail to understand how boarding places are to be taken up in some cases under the present wording of Clause 1(1). We are going to come to boarding on another Amendment, but may I just remind the noble Lord of this. The needs for boarding were set out long ago in the Martin Report in 1960, when my noble friend Lord Eccles was the Minister; and the needs which the Martin Report set out for boarding education include as the last need: any case in which a special aptitude in the child requires special training which can be given only through boarding education". That is one of the criteria only of boarding need, but it has been accepted, along with the others, by local education authorities for 15 years. Once again, are we to understand from the wording of the Bill that such a reason for boarding need is now going to be totally prohibited?

Noble Lords have risen in all parts of the Committee, from the Liberal Benches, my noble friend Lady Faithfull and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and have put the sort of concrete examples which I thought would be put to the noble Lord. My noble friend Lord Eccles has put the point, for the second time in this Committee, what is to happen in an authority's area if it is not going to be allowed to band children? if the noble Lord looks at Clause 2 (6) he will find that first of all it prohibits any further banding arrangements, and, secondly, if he refreshes his memory by looking at the Committee proceedings, he will remember that the Government made it pretty clear that banding was to be phased out in the next two years.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull, I thought, made, for the second time in the proceedings on this Bill, a very interesting intervention. When she spoke on Second Reading the noble Baroness reminded us of the many different needs of children which required different forms of teaching and care, but, of course, if you have special needs you may also have particular abilities or aptitudes. Our worry is as to whether, to put it in shorthand, a child can go to a small school or a large school or to a school with specialisms being offered, whether the wording prevents that.

May I give one more concrete example. Within the last ten days I have met the parents of a child whom they held was suffering from dyslexia; that is the way they described it. I know perfectly well that there are different views as to whether dyslexia is a condition which exists or not, but I would simply rest on the wording of the Tizard Committee, which is that there are particular problems of reading backwardness and these need tailor-made approaches to the particular needs of the individual child. The point in this case is that the local education authority either was not prepared to place the child in another school where his individual needs and difficulties could be met, or else they were not able to do so. Eventually, however, the story did and happily, because the child was sent to a school in another area. Once again I ask the noble Lord, was that child moved on grounds of ability or aptitude?


I intervene once more in the hope that I may be able to offer a little help. We started off this Amendment with a desire to find out exactly what would happen if the words "or partly" were left out We got the very straightforward answer from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that this Amendment would prove to be a wrecking Amendment, and I for one certainly accept that. But we have got into a much wider field where we all of us have certain queries and certain worries about what would happen if this Bill was applied in its full rigour.

I am slightly surprised that the noble Lords on the Conservative Front Bench have not introduced into this argument their own Amendment No. 15. I think it might be for the benefit of the Committee if, without unduly widening the debate on this point, we looked at this for one moment, because it seems to me that that is not a wrecking Amendment and that is an Amendment which, if carried, would meet a number of the points which have been made all round the Committee. If it is not out of order we might invite the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to say whether or not he is sympathetic towards that Amendment, because if he is it seems to me that it meets many of the points we have made and we could move on rapidly from this morass, although an important morass, into which we seem to have embedded ourselves.

5.28 p.m.


I am afraid I can give no particular encouragement to that Amendment. I will not discuss it now; we shall have a chance to do it later on. I am afraid it would be misleading the Committee if I said, "Let us put it all behind us now and have a happy time, then". That is not the way it is going to work out.

We have had a good discussion on this. I must stick to my first and final answer to this Amendment, which is that with the removal of the words "or partly" the clause would allow admission procedures which are not based wholly on

selection by reference to ability or aptitude. There cannot be a selective school in the country which bases its admission procedure wholly on selection by ability; as I said before, it includes geographical area, age, sex and so on, which means therefore that every selective school would be able to claim that they are within this new so-called comprehensive principle. We must not forget that this is not only a debate on reason. It is also a light. We must not forget that we have active opposition of a very violent kind in certain pockets over the whole field of education, which has, in three quarters of its area, gone so smoothly the way we wanted it to go. I cannot afford to give any kind of hostage to fortune by weakening the power of the authorities to deal with deliberate attempts to evade the principles of Clause 1(1). Therefore, this Amendment, as it stands, would be a wrecking Amendment, and I cannot accept it.

5.31 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 75.

Aldenham, L. Gage, V. Moyne, L.
Alport, L. Gainford, L. Onslow, E.
Atholl, D. George-Brown, L. Pender, L.
Auckland, L. Gisborough, L. Porritt, L.
Belstead, L. Goschen, V. Redesdale, L.
Berkeley, B. Gough, V. Roberthall, L.
Blackburn, Bp. Gray, L. Rochdale, V.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Gridley, L. Runciman of Doxford, V.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Cairns, E. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller]
Campbell of Croy, L. Hankey, L. St. Davids, V.
Carr of Hadley, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Sandford, L.
Carrington, L. Harvington, L. Sandys, L.
Cathcart, E. Hawke, L. Savile, L.
Chelwood, L. Hives, L. Selbourne, E.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Home of the Hirsel, L. Selkirk, E.
Clitheroe, L. Howe, E. Sempill, Ly.
Cork and Orrery, E. Hylton-Foster, B. Skelmersdale, L.
Cottesloe, L. Ilchester, E. Somers, L.
Cranbrook, E. Inglewood, L. Stamp, L.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Ironside, L. Strathclyde, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. James of Rusholme, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Daventry, V. Kemsley, V. Sudeley, L.
Davidson, V. Killearn, L. Tenby, V.
de Clifford, L. Kinnaird, L. Terrington, L.
Denham, L. [Teller] Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Teviot, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Lloyd, L. Tranmire, L.
Dundonald, E. Long, V. Trefgarne, L.
Ebbisham, L. Luke, L. Tweedsmuir, L.
Eccles, V. Lyell, L. Vaizey, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Malmesbury, E. Vernon, L.
Elton, L. Mancroft, L. Vickers, B.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Margadale, L. Vivian, L.
Energlyn, L. Masham of Ilton, B. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Exeter, M. Merrivale, L. Windlesham, L.
Faithfull, B. Monck, V. Wolfenden, L.
Ferrers, E. Mottistone, L, Wolverton, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Airedale, L. Gladwyn, L. Paget of Northampton, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Gordon, Walker, L. Pannell, L.
Amherst, E. Goronwy-Roberts, L. Pargiter, L.
Ampthill, L. Grey, E. Parry, L.
Avebury, L. Hale, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal)
Bacon, B. Hampton, L., Phillips, B.
Banks. L. Harris of Greenwich, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Henderson, L. Platt, L.
Beswick, L. Henley, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Popplewell, L.
Blyton, L. Hughes, L. Rhodes, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kaldor, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Brockway, L. Kirkhill, L. Seear, B.
Byers, L. Leatherland, L. Slater, L.
Champion, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stedman, B.
Chorley, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Collison, L. Longford, E. Stone, L.
Darwen, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller]
Davies of Leek, L. Lyons of Brighton, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Maelor, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Melchett, L. Wade, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Meston, L. Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller]
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Murray of Gravesend, L. Wigoder, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Northfield, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Garner, L. Oram, L. Winterbottom, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

5.39 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 16, after ("8(2)(c)") insert ("and section 33").

The noble Lord said: We turn now to something slightly more technical, which I think may detain your Lordships for rather a shorter time. Amendment No. 4 seeks to insert in line 16, Page 1, after "8(2)(c)" the words" and section 33". In working out the not always limpidly clear implications of the Bill, and in particular of subsection (2)(a) of Clause 1, it came to my notice that while Section 8(2)(c) of the 1944 Act, which is mentioned in paragraph (a), lays on the local education authority the duty of providing for pupils suffering from any disability of mind or body by providing either in special schools or otherwise special educational treatment, the Act does not appear to lay down what constitutes a disability either in this Section or in the interpretation section, which is Section 114 in the 1944 Act. ft also became clear that the definitions were to be found in regulations made by the Secretary of State under Section 33 of the Act; and further that the regulations governing the special schools set up to meet this need are made under that same subsection.

I refer your Lordships to the Handicapped Pupils and Special Schools Regulations for 1959, No. 365. This begins by saying: The Minister of Education in exercising the powers conferred upon him by Section 33 of the Education Act 1944 hereby makes the following regulations…

I need not lead your Lordships into the intricacies of the regulations themselves. Many of your Lordships will share my deep suspicion of the narrower and more tortuous pahts through the thickets of the law, and I have put down this Amendment simply in order to enable the noble Baroness, as it proves to be, to step out the path and reassure us that the intention of the regulation, and, so far as one can see, of the Bill in this respect, with which we have no quarrel, shall not be frustrated in the future by some miserable and unforeseen test case. In other words, it is to see that the powers under which the regulations I refer to have been made, are reserved under the Act.

5.40 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

I do appreciate the desire of the noble Lords sponsoring the Amendment that there should be no misunderstanding of Clause 1(2)(a), but I do not think that the proposed Amendment is going to add anything of substance. It is true that Section 33 elaborates on the education of pupils requiring special education treatment, but the section is, I think, concerned more with the detailed administration. It provides, for example, for the making of regulations which define the several categories of handicapped pupils requiring special education and which prescribe the conditions for the approval of the special school by the Secretary of State. The section also refers to the arrangements made by a local education authority for special education which is to be in appropriate special schools where the children's disability is serious or in other kinds of school where that is impracticable or the disability is not serious. Reference to that kind of detail would not, in our view, contribute anything to the understanding of the clause excluding the provision of special education—whether in special schools or otherwise—from the comprehensive principle as set out in subsection 1.

I have no wish to burden your Lordships—we have a long way to go on this Bill—with a lot more detail, but I think it right to add that Section 33 of the 1944 Act has already been noted by my Department for review later, and this seems likely to be when the Warnock Committee of Inquiry into the education of handicapped children has reported and the provisions of the Act dealing with special education may have to be recast. In particular, the existing preference in Section 33(2) for special schools rather than ordinary schools needs to he re-examined, as it has long been the policy of the Department that handicapped children should attend ordinary schools where they can do so with profit to themselves and without detriment to others. I have already expressed the view that the proposed Amendment, in our view, is unnecessary and I hope, in view of what I have said, that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw it.


What the noble Baroness has said is very helpful. I do not wish to detain the Committee on strictly irrelevant points. I think she made one fascinating revelation, that the provisions of Section 33 were to be reviewed. If in saying that she was being relevant to what we are now discussing, of course we prick our ears up very much because this must be a question of a review of the relationship between that section and this Bill and the comprehensive system. May I ask her whether the plan for the review hears upon any integration of special schools with compre hensive schools, upon the reduction of the role to be played by special schools, or does it strike at a different area?

Baroness STEDMAN

At the moment the Warnock Committee are looking at the special needs of handicapped children—"handicapped" in the widest sense—and a decision will be made in the light of what they come out with. We expect to have the review in about 18 months time. We may feel in the light of the information they put before the Department that there will he need for recasting Section 33(2). We think it would be premature to try to recast part of it now when we may have to take a wider view of it at a later stage.


I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. I reiterate the point that there is no question that the provisions at present in Section 33, from which the regulations spring, will be overset or in any way interfered with by the operation of this Bill when it is enacted. If the noble Baroness will confirm that, I shall be happy to withdraw.

Baroness STEDMAN

I can confirm that.


I am much obliged, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.48 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 21, at end insert ("or such other ability or aptitude as the Secretary of State may from time to time by order designate.")

The noble Lord said: It may be to the convenience of the Committee if, with Amendment No. 5, we discussed Amendment No. 16, which is certainly designed to go with it. I do not know whether noble Lords will want to discuss any of the intervening Amendments at the same time—I certainly would be agreeable—but these two in themselves hang together and go fairly wide. I should like to make one further preliminary remark. In view of the fact that we have carried Amendment No. 3 there may appear to be no point in moving this Amendment, or indeed probably any other on the Order Paper, but I think we must work on the assumption that, with any luck, the Government may come back with a new form of words at a later stage. If that fails, I am afraid we are probably faced with a situation where it is unlikely that another place would agree with this Amendment. In either case, I think it is important that we go forward with amending this Bill in other respects without necessarily paying all that much attention, except for the purely technical one, to the fact that Amendment No. 3 has been passed.

It is common ground, among at least the Front Benches and a number of other people, that we want the comprehensive system and that we are in favour of it. It is also common ground that there should be some exceptions; music and dancing in particular have been accepted by the Government as exceptions which we can include in the Bill. Others differ as to whether there should be exceptions for other subjects, other abilities and other aptitudes, and certain Amendments have been tabled about that. Most of them I do not agree with and on one or two of them I am open to persuasion and argument. I feel that education, above almost all subjects, is one which grows and evolves, and the opinion about a great many things in it changes from time to time. I believe that the comprehensive principle as such is a great, almost an eternal, truth and will not in itself change, but various forms of application of it and dealing with it may do so and, as I say, we have already had it accepted that here are two exceptions.

My Amendment seeks to make it possible without a new Act of Parliament for a Secretary of State in the future, in the course of growing knowledge, of deepened research and of a consensus by educationalists or throughout the country, to widen these exceptions if it should seem to him and to Parliament right to do so. I know we are open to the objection that this is a loophole of which advantage might be taken by a reactionary Secretary of State to put back every sort of selection, but we cannot stop that from happening whatever happens; if there is a majority in both Houses for such a Government and such a Secretary of State they would do it by passing a Bill.

I still think that it is necessary, for those of us who accept the general principle, that we allow for this flexibility, and as a certain safeguard for a Secretary of State slipping in something unnoticed—which is very unlikely considering the immense awareness in educational circles, particularly among teachers and politicians with educational interests—I have tabled Amendment No. 16 which says that no such extension of the exceptions to the first clause shall he made without it coming to Parliament. It seems to me that that is a sufficient safeguard because, as I say, if there is a majority in Parliament for such a change, it will happen anyway. We should admit this flexibility and we should admit that we are not infallible and that we are not laying down the details of this in such a way that it cannot be changed as knowledge grows and as people's opinions and theories, based on that knowledge, change. I sincerely hope that the Government will be able to see their way to accepting the Amendment, which I claim is in no way a wrecking one and which would in no way produce a major loophole in the Bill.

Baroness STEDMAN

I am perfectly happy to speak to the two Amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred, and as he suggested that it might be opportune to speak at the same time to the Amendments from No. 5 to No. 16, I am perfectly willing to do that also, although I think I see the noble Lord, Lord Elton, shaking his head in dissent.


If the noble Baroness thought fit, she could take No. 15 at the same time, but I think there are such disparate points on the others that it would cloud the issue and perhaps delay the proceedings if we took them together.

Baroness STEDMAN

It was worth trying; I thought it might help us on our way. Clause 1(2) of the Bill excludes from the operation of the comprehensive principle specialist schools for music and dancing. This exclusion was in-corporated into the Bill to safeguard the small amount of existing provision to meet the needs of the most highly promising future musicians and dancers. My noble friend Lord Vaizey on Second Reading was one of several who drew our attention to the complex issues involved in the treatment of the gifted in all fields, but it is generally accepted that vocationally specialised school education is justifiable and desirable for these two groups, music and dancing; justifiable because a particular talent in music or dancing can he identified at an early age and its development is in no way socially divisive, and desirable because otherwise the child's talent may not be fully developed. There is no similar consensus for any of the other abilities; so far as I know, there are no schools selecting purely or mainly by ability in a single academic subject or by ability in sport. We should seek to develop any physical and mental aptitudes that pupils may display, but not at the cost of distorting their more general social and academic education, which is what would almost certainly happen if we were to segregate pupils from their fellows in order to develop such aptitude.

Let me at this point remind noble Lords that Clause 1 refers only to admission to schools and will in no way affect any arrangements for the study of subjects within a school. One cannot expect all schools to develop specialised provision for all subjects; co-operation is essential if we are to avoid duplication of provision and extend the options available to pupils. One comprehensive school, for instance; might develop its specialist sixth form science provision, another similarly its provision in languages. It will be perfectly acceptable for pupils from the one establishment to attend specific courses at the other. Provided that the pupils have been admitted to their original schools without reference to their ability, their admission to particular courses may reasonably be governed by their ability to profit from those courses. This type of liaison between schools, and in some cases with further education colleges, will ensure that the needs of pupils with specific abilities are met without detriment to their general and social education.

Clause 1, as we see it, needs no further exemptions as regards existing specialised provision. So far as hypothetical future specialised provision is concerned, I have indicated why my Government would not wish to countenance selective procedures for new specialised schools. We consider that the educational disadvantages of such extreme specialisation are very grave and far outweigh any advantages. I must therefore ask noble Lords not to accept the Amendment, not only because we can see no possible relevance in the immediate future but, more fundamentally, because we believe it could seriously threaten the comprehensive ideal.

For something over 10 years the comprehensive movement has gained ground and indeed the discussion has gone on throughout the country for much longer than 10 years. If the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, were in his place I would remind him that way back in the fifties we had a public debate in his constituency of Peterborough where those who attended agreed that we should go comprehensive; Peterborough went comprehensive last month, so it took over 20 years to do it there. For over 10 years throughout the country the comprehensive movement has been gaining ground, and as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said, the movement has the consensus of public opinion behind it. One evidence of this is that during the period 1970–74 the number of comprehensive schools continued to increase steadily despite a lack of encouragement from central Government. We are now seeking to complete the process of reorganisation as soon as is economically feasible, because, as I and other Ministers have explained on many occasions, for education to be truly comprehensive it must be fully comprehensive; co-existence with grammar schools is not a real option.

I am certain we would all agree that it should not be possible easily to disrupt the education system every time there is a change of Government. Any major educational change should usually involve legislation and must be preceded by consultation and debate, not only in the country but in Parliament. Amendment No. 16 would enable a future Secretary of State of a different political persuasion virtually to repeal the Bill without recourse to new legislation. There would be no necessity for consultation and little opportunity for Parliamentary debate; the order would indeed be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure, but this cannot be compared with the procedure for the passing of an Act. Therefore, for all the reasons I have outlined, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw the Amendment; if not I must ask the Committee to reject it.


May I ask the noble Baroness if I was right in inferring from what she said that to economise in options pupils at one comprehensive school could mean taking them up in another comprehensive school?

Baroness STEDMAN

There is a tendency, at least in the area from which I come, for the comprehensive schools to have their different specialities, as it were, and for pupils to be able to transfer to do their sixth form work from one comprehensive school to another. We have to bear in mind that it is not possible in the present economic climate, and will not be indeed for many years possibly, to provide all the options and all the staff necessary in every school. There has to be some rationalisation of sixth form work and there has to be proper use of resources and teachers. This can be achieved easily by transfers between schools, provided always that the child entered the comprehensive school on a purely comprehensive basis and not to do this particular subject.


May I—


May I just finish this point. While accepting the possibility of that in an urban area, what happens to a child in a country area where the next comprehensive school is 25 or 30 miles away? Are we going to have a system of taxis between the schools so that children who want other options than those offered in their own area have to go some considerable distance in order to take them up?

Baroness STEDMAN

That would be something which the local education authority would have to look at so as to decide how they could arrange transport and get pupils who wanted to do specific courses to the right place. That is a matter for the education authorities and not for this Committee to be writing into the Bill.


What the noble Baroness is saying is that she is laying duties on local authorities which are going to cost more money and for somebody with her immense experience of local government this is an extraordinary thing to be saying at the present time.


Is it any more extraordinary that the noble Baroness should be saying what is the truth, and is it not in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has argued throughout his contributions to this debate, that the logic of the situation as his side of the House sees it is one of matching ability to resources? Therefore local authorities have to discharge the same obligation, if that is the logic of his argument?


I am sorry to leap into this, but I am confused. We have two schools, not adjacent but close—say 20 minutes walk away—and a child is by random selection placed in one whereas all the options he wants to have in the sixth form are in the other. Is he to register every morning at one school, walk for 20 minutes through the rain, then come back, get his lunch and go back again? I do not think this is a trivial point, although I can see that some noble Lords feel that it is. It is a real point. It seems to me it is an absurdity and it becomes more absurd and more obvious when it is a question of the journey being made by taxi at public expense rather than using shoe leather, and in the rain.


I think that we have been led astray by the noble Baroness who, having been defeated in her theory that all these Amendments should be taken together, nevertheless started to speak to them together. This Amendment is a very narrow one. The subjects we have been discussing for the past five minutes or so will come up under Amendment No. 15 and maybe some of the ones taken in the meantime, but the one I am discussing at the moment—Amendment No. 5, with Amendment No. 16—deals with the relatively narrow point of the possible hypothetical discovery in the future that there is another aptitide of the same order as music and dancing which will need special treatment and which, because it is of the same order, does not raise the kind of objections which might possibly be made to other aptitudes and abilities. I think that, even though it may be true that at the moment we have nothing in mind—and it must be borne in mind that one or two things will be argued about; particular subjects will be argued about and maybe there is growing knowledge about a particular subject—the fact that we have not got a particular subject is no reason not to adopt this Amendment. In fact, if we had such a subject at the moment the thing would be to include it in the Bill.

What I am saying is that we should include in this education Bill as in all education Bills as much flexibility as possible regarding what is discovered, what is found, and the facts so that we submit ourselves to the intellectual rigours. If it is discovered over a period of time and agreed over a wide spectrum that there is another ability or aptitude that comes into the same field as music and dancing, I put it to noble Lords, with their knowledge of legislation, that it is not likely that a special education Bill would be produced for it. We know how difficult it is to get time in Parliament to pass legislation which Governments consider to be much more important than they obviously would consider that legislation.

It seems to me that there is a real need for flexibility and for the Secretary of State to use regulations. I am afraid that I do not accept the argument of the noble Baroness that this would make a gaping wide loophole for immense changes to turn the clock back. It is, of course, impossible to tell what will happen in the future, but it is noticeable and notable that the Front Benches are agreed on the comprehensive principle, and we are talking about the introduction of flexibility. As I say, it would have to come before Parliament and, if there were a Secretary of State who wanted to turn the clock back completely and he or she had a majority in both Houses, he or she would probably do it anyway and would not need this particular method.

We should not shy away from the ability to make regulations, properly approved by Parliament, because of the misuse there might hypothetically be in a very difficult and very unlikely situation. I think that, whatever our views about the next 12 or 13 Amendments, this one, without giving away anything at all of the Government's case, introduces a necessary flexibility, and I think we should pass it.

6.5 p.m.


The noble Lord has suggested that there may be other abilities which need special treatment. In fact, there is one which is very well known, and it is mathematics. Sir William Bragg, a Cavendish professor whom I knew well, used to say that this country, like many others, produces on average one good mathematician per million of the population per annum, which is a very small number indeed. The total number to be accommodated in a special school would he for this country perhaps of the order of 200 or 300—perhaps as many as or even less than the dancers or musicians.

In Russia they are aware of this fact and I have visited the great school for mathematicians in Novosibirsk, which has been specially built so that students can be selected from the whole of Siberia—Moscow is dealt with separately in another school. These students are selected by competitive examination. They are given the opportunity to meet the best mathematicians in Russia and the standards they achieve are quite extraordinary. Russians to whom I have spoken say that precocity in mathematics can be determined very much earlier than precocity in music. A really good mathematician is obviously good by the age of seven. They select for a few things, such as mathematics and a few allied disciplines like chess playing—Capablana was clearly a phenomenon at the age of 5, but I am dealing with mathematics. It is a discipline of enormous importance to the economy of this country, much more to intellectual development. It is of enormous importance to industry because some of the best engineers have been good mathematicians. It has been clear that in Russia since they introduced this scheme they have been able to select extremely able boys, give them a very good general education, such as we hope to give our musicians and so on, and give them mathematics tuition of a type no ordinary child could understand and no mathematician could be found to give.

So at least one other discipline already stands out as being as necessary as either of the other two, and there might well be others. The Russians have gone to enormous lengths to try to discover in which disciplines genius is apparent early and in which it is important that special tuition be given. They have discovered that a violinist who has not handled a violin by the age of 10 or 11 can never be of the top rank, any more than a dancer can. The same is true of mathematicians, and it may well be that there are other disciplines as well. So I hope very much that the Government will be able to accept this Amendment which allows an opportunity for the Secretary of State, if this sort of thing is discovered, if other disciplines are discovered, to make the necessary provision in the educational system.


I am sorry to disagree with my colleague behind me. The prospect of people specialising in mathematics in Siberia does not arouse any great enthusiasm in me. I feel that the Russians are possibly not a very good example. We have seen the way that they have trained people in sport and—and this is their phrase—"burnt them out" by the age of 14. It seems a system which would not necessarily be one that we should want too closely to follow.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, whether he would not agree that we are already suffering from sections in the original Education Act 1944 which are so widely drawn that people can read almost anything into them. I believe that our legislation suffers because it is not specific enough, and I hope that the Government will not change the present clause.

6.11 p.m.


My noble friend Lord Bowden has made my speech for me and I do not want to add much to it. I made it clear on Second Reading that, in principle, I accepted the consensus about comprehensive education, though with reserves and certainly without the hopes which appear to be entertained for this particular system. It is there, and one must make the best of it. However, it is absolutely imperative that we should have a certain flexibility in the things by which a society ultimately lives or dies. Both practically and creatively, one must make provision for the really talented.

As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said about mathematics, this is not a matter of controversy, for it is perfectly clear. It is perfectly clear to anyone who has ever done it or who has ever known mathematicians. One must not think that the pedagogues or pedagogy are a reliable source of information on high talent. High talent is judged by the highly talented. If you want to know how great mathematicians grow up and how they should be trained, you must speak to real star mathematicians. It is well known that Dirac, the only living Englishman who is absolutely the top master in the world but who is in other respects not specially articulate, was talking about mathematics at the age of three, and that is not uncommon. My dear friend G. H. Hardy was inventing the concept of infinite numbers at about the same age. It is very rare for a mathematician not to be detectable before he is five and usually much earlier. This was said on Second Reading, and it is interesting that Ministers and officials clearly do not read documents because this argument was very clearly set out by both the noble Lord, Lord James, and myself.

Baroness STEDMAN

I hesitate to interrupt my noble friend, but we shall be discussing the mathematical side on Amendment No. 14. I feel that it might be helpful to the Committee if we stuck to the two Amendments that are before us at the moment. We can concentrate upon the matter of mathematical genius when we come to Amendment No. 14.


I do not accept that. This is a fair case of the kind of exception which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was talking about. Precisely the same happened in Russia. For something like 30 years, the pedagogues had it all their own way and produced exactly the same solution as our pedagogues want to do here. In fact, the high academics rebelled and insisted on exceptions. This is the clearest case, though there are others. My own view is that languages are probably a similar exception, but mathematics certainly are. Two Soviet academics, Kalmagorov in Moscow and Lavrientiev in Siberia deliberately set out and made their own schools, believing that if the State system could not provide them they had to do it themselves. They produced dazzling triumphs. There is no problem about divisiveness, and no problem even that these children are different from others. If you look at these boys, as I have done, they are most impressive.

In this country, we are quite good at this. We have done this kind of highly professional specialised education for 150 years or more. It is utterly absurd that music and dancing should be tolerable as exceptions while mathematics are not. It is a pathology of the mind to think this. However, I presume that if the Government are as obdurate about this as about everything else in the Bill, something will be done. I am sure that the noble Baroness knows that the Government have solemnly subscribed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by which independent schools are regarded as a right if parents want them. Independent schools will continue and there will be a good deal of deliberate attempt to get obviously talented people into the places where they can make the best use of their talents. That is exactly what the Government do not want. It will be taking the highest talent from the Government's own schools and, by necessity, seeing them educated elsewhere. That will be the final, beautiful triumph of this particular course of action.

Baroness BACON

I am not in favour of the Amendment because it extends subsection (2)(b). I am in a minority, even on my own side of the Committee, in not being in agreement with the subsection, but I do not think it a very good idea for the children themselves to specialise in a special school at too early an age, even in music and dancing. Why do we do this? Is it for the sake of the children or for that of the arts?

I know a well-known pianist who was recognised as brilliant at a very early age. However, he did not go to a special school but attended an ordinary school and wanted to be a doctor. At the age of 17, and because he was successful in a competition, people suggested that he ought to become a concert pianist. He sat down and thought about it and he was able to decide between going to the university to become a doctor and going on with his piano playing to become, as he eventually did, a very famous concert pianist. That was his decision at the age of 17. At the age of seven or eight, and if some people had had their way, he would probably have been in a special school for those very gifted in music, and he would not have been able to make the choice he did at the age of 17. I feel that to put children into special schools at a very early age may be a good thing for the arts but is not necessarily a very good thing for the children concerned, as it takes away from them the ability to make the decision about their future which they might want to make at a later stage in life.

The Earl of ONSLOW

I should like to go on from these extra special subjects of music and dancing and come down from the sublime heights of mathematics to what might almost be called the "dancing arts" of gymnastics and athletics. We saw what happened at the last Olympic Games to the Russian and Romanian girls who did so well, though I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, about taking the—for want of a better word—"Tsarist" tyranny in Russia for our educational inspiration. These children were obviously sent to special schools and were developed in special circumstances. The Americans, too, give athletic scholarships. I am not suggesting that we should do this, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that, if there is a general move and a general surge of opinion that such schools should be set up and if the means are available, it would seem to me to be unnecessary to go through an Act of Parliament, with all the time that that requires, to enable this sort of selection to take place.

6.20 p.m.


I find this a very difficult Amendment about which to make up my mind. On the whole, I incline very strongly to the line of argument put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. I mentioned on Second Reading that I have been concerned in the inquiries into the education of specially gifted children in music and in dance.

There is a very deep division of experience and opinion in this field. First, the number involved is exceptionally small; the number of children who are highly gifted in music is very small. I do not mean those who play the piano or violin beautifully; I am talking about really gifted people. It is a very small number, perhaps one or two a year in a county education authority of average size. That is what causes difficulty—because they are special cases. The argument for having them in special schools is that the demands of their temperaments and practice are so overwhelming that their school curriculum has to be organised around the special needs of those children. On the other hand, I think that the consensus of the educational advisers in music throughout the country is by and large that these gifts should be dealt with by additional help in the ordinary schools, by county music schools on Saturday mornings and similar arrangements.

I have put that choice as clearly as I can and as briefly as I can, because time is going on, and I do not want to deal with the issue of mathematics because that will come up for discussion on an Amendment to be moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. But I must say that off-hand I cannot think of the special gifts to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was referring. I am not wholly convinced about music and dance. I think that the position taken up by the Government is a wise one, because schools exist in this field; they are doing a very good job and presumably one would wish to encourage them to continue to do a very good job.

On the general point, on the whole I am inclined to the line which has been taken by the noble Baroness. Therefore, I hope that on this issue, without having regard to the mathematics debate which we shall have later, the Amendment will not be pressed. With regard to what my noble friend Lord Snow said, there is a difficulty here. Quite frankly, this is a matter of incredible difficulty and I find it very hard to make up my mind. But on the whole the gifts about which my noble friend Lord Snow is speaking are extremely highly correlated with general intelligence, and the issue before the House on the Second Reading debate was whether or not there should be segregation of the highly gifted and those of general intelligence. Another place has taken a decison and we have to abide by the decision along that line. Although I strongly sympathise with the line of argument of my noble friend Lord Snow, I do not on the whole think that it is a sustainable one.


I do not want to prolong the argument at this stage, but I should like to say a few words. I should like to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, that the instance she quoted must be unique in the world of music. I have never heard of anybody who has risen to any heights in the profession if he did not start until he was 17 years of age.

Baroness BACON

I think the noble Lord misunderstood me. I did not say that the person I referred to started at 17. He started playing the piano at a very early age. What I am saying is that he did not go into a special school, specifically for people who were gifted musically. I do not want to mention his name, but it is internationally known. He was able to take the decision at the age of 17. He was able to take a decision consciously as to what he would do. Had he gone into a special school at an early age he would not have been able to take that decision.


I quite accept that. For instance, students do not go to the Royal College of Music until they are about 18, but generally they have made up their minds to go there long before that. As to string players, they must start not later than the age of eight.

But that is not what I want to say. What I want to point out is this. On an earlier Amendment we heard about the need of special children—either rather low in intelligence or rather high in intelligence. I want to emphasise the fact that it occurs at both ends of the scale. Naturally, one wants those who are rather low in intelligence to get the best education that they are capable of taking. But they may be particularly brilliant at some other subject. There are not a great number of them, but there are some, and I think they should be considered. If they happen to be brilliant at, say, electrical engineering, languages, or medical science, or something like that, they need really expert teaching. For that reason, I would support the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley.


This matter takes me back a very long way. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. I accept completely the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Snow. But I think that it is just as easy to identify an extraordinary high level of general intelligence as it is to identify a future brilliant mathematician. A tragedy of this country is that we extended the provision for grammar schools from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent., then to 20 per cent., then to 25 per cent. and then to 30 per cent. If my memory is right, I think in Wales we got to about 40 per cent. There is an interesting reflection here concerning Bradford where, when 15 per cent. of the children were going to grammar schools 14.6 per cent. got school certificates. The provision was extended to 33 per cent. and 14.8 per cent of the age group got certificates.

I floated a 10 per cent. scheme; I floated a 5 per cent. scheme and I tried a 2 per cent. scheme, all of which were rejected because I was concerned with establishing an intellectual élite, whatever that may be. Certainly there are times when that is manifestly not an attribute. It seems to me that we are facing a simple issue here and that is why I personally could not accept the Amendment. I believe that the Amendment really destroys the Bill. If a Secretary of State can make an amending order which says that one can select if it is for mathematics, and the next one says, "I am an historian, you can select for history", then the whole concept of the Bill is gone. This is a simple issue.

I very much prefer that we should recognise the simple issue here. Either the Bill should be thrown out lock, stock and barrel, which I would favour, and a serious and major Bill introduced which would face the needs of education in the next 30 years or, alternatively, we must find a way of making the principle that the Bill proposes operate very much better than it does in almost any other country that has operated it. Do not let us underrate the point that the selective process to which the noble Lord referred was the result of the failure of a comprehensive system to produce what the nation needed.

Therefore I would not accept the Amendment, but I hope that we will look at this question much more seriously and find a more major approach to solving the problems of the education system over the next 30 years—not by this Bill, but by a much more important measure.

6.29 p.m.


What I intended to say was almost exactly the same as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has said, and it comes from a fairly long experience of teaching able people. In fact I had determined not to speak on this Amendment because I am so associated with able people that it is sometimes thought that they are the only ones I care about, which is absolutely untrue. I would not vote for the Amendment because if one does it puts the whole question of the education of the very gifted on much too temporary and arbitrary a basis; and that will not do at all.

One has to consider the problem of the very gifted, and to some extent the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, is right in saying that this matter is associated with general intelligence. One has to consider the problems of the very gifted as a separate problem, and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has been right for many years in trying to cut down the percentage we included in that definition; that would have saved us a great deal of trouble.

All I am saying at this moment in the debate is this—and this Amendment gives one a chance to say it. If you are going to keep this wretched Bill, can you introduce an element of flexibility which will enable you to pay special attention to the general group of very gifted, whether they are very gifted in dancing, music or history—and it is possible to be that; after all, Lord Macaulay was pretty bright as a child. Can we introduce enough flexibility for the general idea of very high ability and produce an educational system which will in fact deal with the oddity, whether they are the handicapped or the very bright, on which so much of our future depends?

I am urging it here, and making what the noble Lord will say is a Second Reading speech, in a particular context. There are those of us who have great misgivings about the comprehensive idea as such—and it is not restricted to only a few dyed-in-the-wool old reactionaries like me; it is very general throughout the country—but a number of our misgivings centre on this specific point: can the country afford to disregard high ability, particularly when it is associated with low social class and disadvantage, which will not have the chance to flourish and develop? Can it afford it? Of course, the answer is, "No". If you could say that with a general comprehensive system you would nevertheless find loopholes, as you do for the handicapped and as you do for dancers, for music or something, if you can say that this is an oddity and that in a democratic society we must give a chance to oddities as well as to most people, then I believe that your general comprehensive idea would get a much warmer welcome over a much wider area than is going to happen now.


Is it not a fact that it is also part of the situation that there is within the Act at present in operation, which the Bill seeks to amend, precisely this area of operation; that there is a recognition of the problem that educationalists—not simply those who have spoken in this debate, but educationalists who are working in the field in education at this present moment—are aware of the needs to study the problems of the particular education of the very bright; that there is a funded research study going on at this moment; and that attempts are being made to establish where the bright children are and how best they can be afforded, within the existing structure, opportunities to develop their especial talents? May I at the same time say that many of us are very concerned that there are also great gaps for the very special abilities of ordinary children within the system, too. The trouble with an anecdotal debate on what is in fact a specifically procedural attempt to amend a Bill is that we find ourselves opening up areas of massive interest to which each of us would like to contribute but in fact holding up the general progress towards what we wish to achieve.


What the noble Lord, Lord Parry, says is absolutely true, and perhaps I could bring your Lordships back to the Amendment, because within the group is an Amendment in the names of my noble friends and myself, Amendment No. 15. I think the difficulty which we find ourselves in, arising from what the noble Lord has just said, is that I should have thought that anyone's reading of this Bill would be that particular abilities or aptitudes cannot be taken into account in admitting a pupil to a school. I have considerable difficulty with what the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, said about segregating children in schools, although I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Snow; but, of course, the wording of the Bill, as I understand it, will also prohibit a local education authority from being allowed to admit a child to an ordinary comprehensive school where there is a particularly good course in the school and everyone knows that the child is therefore being admitted on grounds of ability and aptitude.

All I should like to say is that I think, on grounds of both national need and local government partnership, there is a very great deal to be said for the case which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has made. Things are not as perhaps everybody would want in the schools. We know that only a fortnight ago Professor Steiner, of Geneva University, was reported in the newspapers as criticising us for our language teaching; we know that earlier this year Mr. Douglas Quadling, the chairman of the Schools Council, was voicing considerable reservations about mathematics teaching; and my noble friend Lord Eccles, in the debate on universities, was reminding the House that the University Grants Committee, in its recent report, had criticised the standards of some applicants for universities.

I must say that, while I think we in this country sometimes take criticism a very great deal too much to heart, can we be absolutely satisfied with the state of affairs at the moment? And what are the Government doing about these things? The reason why I ventured to interrupt the noble Baroness earlier on in the debate on this Amendment was that my apprehension is that, instead of concentrating on trying to improve education in particular schools and for certain subjects, the effect of this Bill is going to be to force a local education authority to spread its resources at a time when it can ill afford to do so.

I think I owe it to the Committee to give an indication of what I feel perhaps my colleagues on this Bench would do about this particular Amendment which has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. I am anxious to see whether the Government have any inclination whatsoever to designate any abilities or aptitudes as exceptions to this Bill; and I am bound to say that the replies which we have received from the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, so far, and from the noble Baroness on this Amendment, indicate that there are going to be no exceptions whatsoever made. This is my apprehension. I do not think, speaking for myself, that the general principle of a Bill can very readily he modified by regulations. Therefore, I am rather suspicious of the wording of this Amendment. A general principle, surely, can be put into effect only by way of a power or a duty to which the principle can he applied; and, clearly, the intention of the Government is to make the comprehensive principle of Clause 1 mandatory by way of the duties of Clauses 2, 3 and 4, with no room for exceptions.

I am bound to say, therefore, that I feel that we ought to try to go about this Bill with the intention of allowing local authorities some freedom of discretion. After all, the idea of partnership in education is well established, and was confirmed by the last Local Government Act. We, therefore, on our previous Amendment, No. 3, have tried to open up the way for the Government, if they do not like the Amendment which we have passed on the wording "wholly or partly", at least to bring back at the next stage of the Bill some alternative words to make better sense of a part of the Bill which has received criticism from all sides; and I am hoping very much that we may be able to persuade the Government to shift their position slightly, at least, on Clauses 2, 3 and 4, to which we shall come. We shall not be moving our Amendment No. 15; but my disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, is on method rather than objective, and it is for those reasons that I think, although I agree with everything that he said in moving his Amendment, it would be a pity if he pressed it to a Division at the present time.

Baroness STEDMAN

We have ranged rather wider than the two Amendments which were originally before us, and perhaps we may have some benefit from that, in time, at any rate, as the evening proceeds. But I really cannot give way on either of these Amendments. There was a long discussion in another place about this matter. They gave a lot of consideration to all sorts of special Amendments, all sorts of special exceptions. We really do not think, at this stage, that we have any grounds for making arrangements for any other exceptions to be added, and certainly not to be added by the draft of an order being laid before Parliament. Therefore, I regret I must ask the Committee to reject both Amendments.


The gyrations of the Conservative Front Bench amaze me. Having, in introducing their Amendment No. 3, said that they had no wish to produce a wrecking Amendment, they then pressed an Amendment which was irrefutably shown to be wrecking by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and which they did not deny was in effect wrecking.


Indeed we did deny it.


I am sorry if I misunderstood. Ineffectively, certainly; and I understand that the object of the exercise is to ask the Government to bring back something different at a later stage. I happen to think it is most unfortunate that we have to go through the rest of this stage with a Bill which in fact has been wrecked at this stage.

I produce an Amendment which will in fact allow variations and developments of exactly the same kind of flexibility that the Conservative Party would like to see. I agree it is different from their Amendments, and I shall be interested to see what happens to some of the others. We are, of course, all open to argument on a number of them. I am very sad in fact that the Conservative Front Bench do not think that they will move Amendment No. 15. Although it is true that we have already debated a great deal of the ground and may probably debate it again later, it seems to me that we ought to consider putting this into the Bill and, if necessary, if or when the Government come back with new wording of the part amended by Amendment No. 3 at a later stage of the Bill, we can then sort out what we have got. I would certainly urge my noble friends to support Amendment No. 15, if the Conservative Front Bench move it, as I hope they will.

Meanwhile, I think that a case has been made out by a number of speakers from different parts of the Committee for allowing flexibility in the future as research and knowledge concerning various subjects develop either fairly soon or if not, in the admittedly hypothetical future. I cannot see that this Amendment can possibly do any harm whatever, unless you accept the argument that it allows a future Secretary of State to behave in a totally unbelievable way and allows Parliament to behave likewise. It seems to me that it could do a great deal of good in the future and at the same time it would introduce into the Bill a great deal

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

6.51 pm.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 21, at end insert (";or the visual arts").

The noble Lord said: When this Amendment was tabled, it was not possible to foresee the breadth and range of the discussion which we have just concluded, and I must say that it is impossible not to take a little pleasure in the result, even if one did not participate too actively

of flexibility. I am afraid I must ask the Committee to divide.

6.44 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 56; Not-Contents, 54.

Airedale, L. Gisborough, L. Margadale, L.
Alport, L. Gladwyn, L. Monck, V.
Amherst, E. Gough, V. Monson, L.
Amulree, L. [Teller.] Gray, L. Moyne, L.
Arran, L. Grey, L. Norfolk, D.
Avebury, L. Gridley, L. Norwich, V.
Banks, L. Hampton, L. [Teller.] Onslow, E.
Barrington, V. Henley, L. Pender, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hives, L. Platt, L.
Byers, L. Inglewood, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Cottesloe, L. Ironside, L. Savile, L.
Cranbrook, E. Kemsley, V. Seear, B.
Drumalbyn, L. Lauderdale, E. Selkirk, E.
Dundonald, E. Lloyd, L. Strathclyde, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Tranmire, L.
Faithfull, B. Luke, L. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Falmouth, V. Lyell, L. Wardington, L.
Ferrers, E. Macleod of Borve, B. Wigoder, L.
Gainford, L. Mancroft, L.
Allen of Abbeydale, L. Greenway, L. Pannell, L.
Ampthill, L. Hale, L. Parry, L.
Bacon, B. Henderson, L. Peart, L. (L. Privy Seal.)
Birk, B. Houghton of Sowerby, L. Phillips, B.
Blyton, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Pitt of Hampstead, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kinloss, Ly. Popplewell, L.
Brimelow, L. Kirkhill, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Brown, L. Leatherland, L. Stedman, B.
Champion, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Darwen, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Stone, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Lyons of Brighton, L. Strabolgi, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Maelor, L. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Melchett, L. Vaizey, L.
Douglass of Cleveland, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Wall, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Morris of Kenwood, L. Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]
Evans of Hungershall, L. Murray of Gravesend, L. Wigg, L.
Garner, L. Northfield, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Oram, L. [Teller.] Winterbottom, L.

once oneself. At that time, I was anxious to find an opportunity to explore those areas in which a special aptitude or ability might require special treatment, because of the special kind of facility and resource which it was necessary to have in order to teach it well.

The visual arts seem to me to be, first, sufficiently akin to music and dancing and, secondly, sufficiently different from some of the more brutish and physical activities which go on in the name of education in some of our schools—I am being flippant—to merit a special inspection. Also, of course, it is true that not only are the teaching skills required in the visual arts different, and in some cases more akin to craft than art, but, in addition, the physical resources required are different, too. We are all familiar with the need for good studios with a satisfactory North light for the practising of painting. These are not available in every school—if I am not perhaps running against a certain philistine current that I detect opposite—and they are expensive to provide, both in money and in space. Then, again, you need a location where it is possible for students at the A-level stage to have access to adequate resources in the form of galleries and museums. These are not evenly distributed about the country or even about individual cities or areas.

Thirdly, the teaching staff itself has to be of a particular kind, very often remarkably different from those of the more academic and more practical streams. I think your Lordships will often have managed, quite without effort, to identify the art master and his assistants in any large school without being told who they were. Therefore, I feel that where there is a pretty thin spread of artistic ability among children, and a pretty thin spread of artistic teaching ability among our teachers, it makes sense, when in order to exploit them to the full you need expensive equipment, to bring them together in one place, at least in the A-level phase.

We come back to this question of whether or not it is proper to select students on ability or aptitude into a sixth form college. I know that we touched on this earlier. In a sense, what I am saying now reinforces the case that I advanced on an earlier Amendment to insert the words "of compulsory school age", but it reverts to this question of whether a child or a young person should be free to take a place at a sixth form college specialising in art, or whether the noble Lord feels that such courses should be presented only in colleges of further education or polytechnics. I think I have said enough to draw the noble Lord's views on this narrower area, which I do not feel it would be practicable to press too far. But I know that his sympathy is here engaged as it is not elsewhere in the Bill, and I look forward to the enlightenment that he will give us. I beg to move.


I think that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is arguing from first principles and not from evidence in this case. I think I am correct in saying that in the visual arts there is no serious school, in the primary or secondary sense, which exists for the training of people who will do the visual arts, nor can I think of any rational reason why there should be. Indeed, there is every case for saying that the expression of this kind of gift, which to a greater or lesser extent everybody possesses, should be developed in all the ordinary schools of the country; and, furthermore, that there is ample evidence, which is available to anybody who cares to go around any of our secondary schools, that there is extremely adequate provision for this kind of activity.

We are at the moment going through a great renaissance of the creative visual arts in this country, and I do not think a single person who is taking part in it has come from a special school. They actually require to go to special colleges. The art colleges, which have been much under attack in recent years, have been great forcing houses of talent, which is now so amply seen on the walls of our galleries, in the statues and in the various activities that are going on in the visual arts. So there is no serious problem there.

On the other point which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made, which is the A-level appreciation of arts, I think he is on even thinner ground. The case for specialising in, and the study of, fine arts is the case for the undergraduate or even the postgraduate level—certainly not at school. There is, of course, an A-level in the appreciation of the arts—and so there ought to be—but it is very much a specialist thing in a general curriculum. The appreciation of the visual arts could never be the main meat of a whole school. Indeed, it would be a very eccentric person who wished his child to follow such a course, since the appreciation of visual arts in that sense must depend upon a wide knowledge of history, modern languages and indeed of the other arts.

Therefore, if I may say so with great respect, I think that the noble Lord and his colleagues have been grabbing ideas from the air about a special gift which might be developed and the visual arts gift is different in kind from the special case of the music practitioner, where the gift requires many hours of practice in very special circumstances, and the gift of dance, though as I said on Second Reading I do have doubts about dance. Therefore, I would very strongly recommend the Minister to ask the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to withdraw this Amendment which would bring down ridicule upon your Lordships' House.


I think it would be proper for me to make two points clear. First, this Amendment was a vehicle not for establishing glittering new schools which concentrated almost exclusively upon the teaching of the arts and their appreciation, but for facilitating the funnelling of children who have a bent in that direction towards a school with a particular specialism in this area. Secondly, I hope I made it clear that it was a probing Amendment. I think that the fears of the noble Lord are groundless.


I accept that this is a probing Amendment, and I believe that it is probing a little because I have certain responsibilities of this kind about which I have to answer in your Lordships' House. It seems to me to be a fair enough approach, so I bear no ill will for that reason.

My noble friend Lord Vaizey has said all that I wanted to say. No specialist schools of this kind exist in the country for children up to the age of 16. Therefore it is quite different from either music or ballet, for which establishments exist and flourish. Secondly, as my noble friend has said, if you go around the schools—and increasingly I find myself doing this—what is provided is, as a rule, extremely good. I have not been around nearly so many of these schools as has the noble Lord, but I have not seen a single bad art department. The matter is being very well looked after. If you go to museums, which are my specific responsibility, you will find that schoolchildren are flocking there. The efforts of the museum staff to teach them and to teach the teachers are most encouraging.

I do not think that I need to say any more because I do not believe that the noble Lord is going to press his Amendment. Indeed, I think that the noble Lord would be unwise to do so. I believe also that the Committee in general feels that what is being done at the moment is sufficiently good to leave it as it is.


Although the noble Lord has reverted to specialist schools and has ignored the schools of those who are approaching the end of their compulsory education, I have at least given him an opportunity to ventilate his feelings regarding those areas which he felt needed to be ventilated. I believe that at seven o'clock we had it in mind to refresh the inner man, and unless any noble Lord wishes to prevent me from doing so in order that he may speak, I shall beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move that this House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.