HL Deb 06 October 1976 vol 374 cc1388-480

House again in Committee.

[The EARL CATHCART in the Chair.]

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 21, at end insert ("; or (9) the provision of education in any school not being a school complying with the provisions of subsection (1) of this section which is one of a group of schools which together jointly comply with those provisions").

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is intended to bring out into the open for closer scrutiny the position of the Government on the question of the allocation of children within a tightly co-ordinated group of schools. I gave notice of my intention to do this on the Second Reading debate. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I recapitulate briefly the arguments I then advanced. I may add that they have since been reinforced by the economic recession.

It quite often happens that there are two schools, or perhaps a number of existing schools, on sites not close enough to be fully integrated but not too far apart to share some common identity. It also quite frequently happens that they are in relatively small buildings. Under the Bill, a local education authority faced with such a situation, has three choices: one is to lump them willy-nilly together as one school, and have staff, pupils, or probably both, trotting incessantly from one to the other which, in a summer term such as we have just enjoyed is pleasant enough, but is rather unpleasant in the sort of weather we have experienced in the last week or so. We, and I think the teaching profession as a whole, regard split sites as something of an abomination. The second is to divest themselves of all but one of the sites and add to that at a cost which, in view of our economic circumstances at the moment, and of the plant they would have to sell on a falling market to make way for it, would be unacceptable.

The third alternative is to scatter their teaching resources at random between schools, and scatter children equally at random between the schools on lines already deplored this evening. When the buildings are so close together, there is something to be said for treating them as one school for the purposes of the Act. How you define the distance apart that they can legitimately be is probably beyond me, but there is a point at which there is a temptation to treat a couple or more schools as one split site. That is administratively bad, academically bad, and probably bad on grounds of health as well.

This could be met by recognising that the closely contingent schools could have the same uniform, and might have the same headmaster. There would then be a deputy head for each set of buildings. So whereas for the purposes of the Bill they were one school, for the purposes of allocation of pupils to resources (which is what we are principally talking about tonight), they would be a number of schools. It is my hope—although I hold it without a great deal of confidence that it will be justified—that the noble Baroness will accept that this would not be selection in the sense of a process which would attract the odium and social stigma which she assures us, and which in part we agree, attaches to selection procedures at present existing. In other words, we wonder whether there is an area of compromise where buildings would lend themselves to a combination of good academic practice based upon the fitting of children into resources without breaching the principle of the Bill in such a way as to render it offensive to her. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN

This Amendment appears innocent and, from the charming and courteous way in which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, moved it, somewhat attractive. But I must resist it because it would open in the Bill a loophole of indefinable dimensions. Many comprehensive schools are formed from an amalgamation of, say, a grammar school and a secondary modern school. In some cases, such an amalgamation would create a large school on a split site, which may, in some cases but not all, be undesirable.

I would remind your Lordships of the Creighton school described in Hunter Davies's book, to which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, referred on Second Reading. It is a large split site school, the product of an amalgamation, and yet both successful and exciting in the way in which it is operated. But to avoid the split site problem, some authorities choose to keep two or more schools organisationally separate but to run them, as it were, in tandem. This is happening in London and in Birmingham, and in a rather different way in Kenilworth and Banbury and in other places. The effect of this Amendment would be to enable authorities, in such an arrangement, to continue to select the most able pupils for the grammar school part of the group and send the less able pupils to the secondary modern part. That may sound entirely reasonable, but it must he, to a greater or lesser extent, a continuation of selection, with all its inherent evils. I say "to a greater or lesser extent" because it depends on the interpretation of that word "group" in the Amendment. That word is not defined, and we do not believe it can be defined in law. Does it mean a tightly knit "federation", as at Kenilworth? Even there—however closely the schools function as a single unit—there is an apparent separation between sheep and goats, with the able children registered at and associated with one institution, the less able at another. Or does it mean a looser "consortium" as in Birmingham, or even looser "cooperative arrangement" as in Inner London? In that case—apart from a little sharing of facilities between schools—selection and segregation would be all but absolute.

I do appreciate the point made by the noble Lord opposite, that, when resources are short, each school should concentrate on what it is equipped to do. I hope it is by now clear to your Lordships that the Secretary of State would not require an end to selection in cases where resources were as yet genuinely not available; the solution propounded by noble Lords opposite would be acceptable as a halfway house, but it would not be acceptable as an ultimate solution, and in such circumstances my right honourable friend must have the power to call for further progress when he deems the time is ripe. In many cases a fully acceptable solution can be found, without selection, on a federation or consortium basis. For most schools are equipped to cover most aspects of the curriculum; and, if sharing of facilities is required to meet certain needs, it should be arranged on a basis of nonselective intake into the schools. Selection within a school—streaming, or setting, within one institution, one shared community of learning—may be necessary and desirable; selection between schools, even schools in some way grouped together, is not. Therefore, I hope the noble Lord might consider withdrawing his Amendment.


The noble Baroness said one thing which I think should be remembered, that, when resources are short, each school should concentrate on the job which it is equipped to do. What else have I been saying, ad nauseam perhaps, this evening. We seem to be on ground that I think it is fruitful to examine a little longer, because there is a point at which a school on a split site is effectively two schools, a group of schools. There is an area in which we are both looking at the same process through a different pair of spectacles.

The noble Baroness is aware of the shortage of resources and she has quite clearly said that this should be recognised, at least during an interim period; in fact she said there might be a case for doing this for a while, as indeed the Bill already provides for banding to be pursued for a while, though I note that it has to be already in operation before it can be admitted in the Bill. That is something we will return to. If there is room for a transitional arrangement, and if the noble Baroness in the cold light of morning recognises that transition is a slow process—was it not she who said it had taken 20 years to introduce the comprehensive principle with agreement in one area?—by the nature of things and with the best will there is going to be a long period in which many generations of school children will go through the schools which we are now examining. So a transitional arrangement might not be any bad thing.

What the Amendment seeks to do, and what I think the noble Baroness suggests split sites can do if properly administered, is to avoid a transitional process where, in answer to a requirement of central Government that a particular principle should be observed, children trudge through the rain and sleet, and so do staff, time is wasted, tempers are lost, books are lost, children are lost. It is a very considerable contribution to the truancy factor, as we know from the recent researches in the inner London area. Split sites are not a good thing unless the children are effectively (I regret to use the word) selected into the part of the site which caters best for them. There may be transfers between them for shared facilities; they may go across once or twice a week, but what is a bad spectacle is to see zebra crossings continually occupied by children going from one class to another throughout the day.

It was the intention of this Amendment to get the noble Baroness to see whether there was not some means whereby this process, which cannot be profitable to anybody, could be avoided, and one way would he to treat each of these schools as a sub-school with a deputy head teacher, and a head teacher for the whole campus. There is no definition of "group of schools" in the Amendment; I accept that. The object is to make Her Majesty's Government think. After all, we are taking this Bill after the Commons, and we want them to give it thought before it returns to them, and we are up against the Report stage when we abandon this particular Amendment.

I wonder whether the noble Baroness could at least give us the solace of thinking that a little more precise thought will be given to this area, because I feel that even if the result is not an Amendment to the Bill it might possibly be a circular or some sort of helpful direction to the local authorities who are going to have to implement the Bill as it now stands. I think it does want much more thought than it has been given.

Baroness STEDMAN

I accept what the noble Lord has said, and I can see the point of it for an interim period but not necessarily for the ultimate objective. I take his point that some guidance might be given, and I will ask my officials and my right honourable friend to have a look at it before Report stage to see whether it is something that we feel we can pursue. I will get in touch with the noble Lord before Report stage.


I am much obliged to the noble Baroness. If she could discover some device whereby whatever results from this gestation could be put into the Official Proceedings—in other words, if we could put something down, by collusion perhaps, even to be withdrawn subsequently—I should be most grateful, because I think this issue requires a little more airing than otherwise it would get. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.59 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 8: Page 1, line 21, at end insert ("; or ( ) the provision of education in choir schools").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I might repeat two passages from speeches made by the former Minister of State, Mr. Fowler, in Committee in another place. The first is in columns 414 and 415 of the Official Report of the House of Commons on 11th March 1976: With regard to local education authorities taking up places at independent choir schools, Clause 5 bites there. In general it is reasonable to assume that a Secretary of State would be prepared to approve arrangements whereby those places were taken up wholly or mainly on the basis of singing ability.

At column 420 the honourable gentleman said: There is a small amount of provision, which happens to be almost entirely in the independent sector, to meet the needs of the most promising future musicians and dancers. We accept that exceptional ability or aptitude in these vocational arts can be recognised at a very early age and may need a highly specialised curriculum and training.

I do not want to ask for an undertaking which the noble Baroness is either not prepared or not ready to give, but I am surprised that the honourable gentleman in another place used the expression "reasonable to assume". Mr. Fowler and his colleague on the Front Bench in another place in Committee had gone to considerable lengths to make it clear that choir schools would be included in the exception of music to Clause 1. If choir schools are an exception to Clause 1 then I should have thought that presumably places would be taken up in those schools. It is not that it would be reasonable to assume, but that it would be the fact that places would be taken up if local education authorities wished. I wonder, therefore, whether I might ask the noble Baroness this: Are choir schools an exception to Clause 1 of this Bill, or are they not?

8.1. p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

Clause 1(1) of this Bill requires local authorities to have regard to the general principle that secondary education is to be provided only in comprehensive schools, but Clause 1(2)(b) excepts from this provision schools where admission is based on selection wholly or mainly by reference to ability or aptitude for music or dancing. We have repeatedly said here and in another place that there can surely be no argument about it—that "music" includes singing. Selection wholly or mainly by reference to choral ability is therefore permissible under this legislation. There are no maintained schools which admit pupils mainly by reference to singing ability (although one or two have a minority of pupils selected on this basis) and, as far as we know, no authorities are planning to establish any such schools. But if an authority wished to establish a school of this kind, it would not be prevented from doing so by this legislation.

A number of independent schools, and direct grant schools which have not opted to enter the maintained system, admit a significant number of pupils by reference to their singing ability; these schools, which often have close cathedral associations, are the schools commonly termed "choir schools". Let me here make the point that while we may know what we mean by the term "choir school", it has no legal definition and therefore this Amendment must be resisted as it stands on this ground. If it were accepted, any selective school might then develop its musical side, call itself a choir school, and continue to admit its pupils on the basis of their academic, rather than choral, ability. However, I will restrict my remarks to the principle behind the Amendment.

Over the past few months, the Press have contained references to the supposed threat which this legislation poses for choir schools, but Ministers have repeatedly made it clear that this so called "threat" is totally unfounded. Selection by musical ability, and hence choral ability, is not outlawed by this Bill. It will be open to local authorities to propose to support the education of pupils at non-maintained choir schools provided that their criteria for doing so are not based on general academic ability or aptitude, but wholly or mainly on their musical ability. The Secretary of State would undoubtedly look favourably on such arrangements in exercising her powers under Clause 5. I would therefore ask noble Lords not to press this Amendment, first because its effect appears to be far too wide and indeterminate, and second, because in so far as it seeks to incorporate into the Bill a safeguard for choral education, that safeguard is totally unnecessary. It is covered by the Bill as it stands at the moment.


I should like to take this opportunity of saying how grateful I am to the Government, and particularly to the noble Baroness, for having made that statement, because choir schools are absolutely invaluable as a musical start to a career. Would she think it possible to add the words, "including choir schools" after "music or dancing" so as to make it absolutely clear, and without a shadow of doubt, because many choir schools have been disappearing over the past few years and we should like to see it made quite certain that no more do so?


I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness for the trouble she has taken in giving me the reply to this particular Amendment. It would not be honest of me if I did not admit that I have certain apprehensions that possibly the provisions of this Bill touch upon the admission to choir schools in the sense that admissions are on both choral ability and also at any rate a minimum ability level. But I believe that the Secretary of State intends, in the light of what was said in another place and what the noble Baroness has said this evening, to do nothing to jeopardise the entry of youngsters into schools which we call generally "choir schools". I think that should prefer to leave that Amendment in that way this evening.

Baroness STEDMAN

May I say in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Somers, that because it is impossible at the moment to define what a choir school is—we know it, but there is no legal definition for it—it is not possible to add it to the Bill, and I am quite sure it is quite unnecessary because choir schools, choral schools, are covered by the general term "music".


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.6 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 9: Page 1, line 21, at end insert ("; or ( ) the provision of boarding education").

The noble Lord said: We now come to the very important question of boarding education. I think at the outset it should be established that we are all aware on both sides of the Committee that there is continuing boarding need. We continue to have soldiers, sailors, and airmen who serve abroad, whose families are best educated at home, and they have to be educated with a boarding education. We have civil servants in a similar plight. We have businessmen, at a time when we are desperate to expand our exports, who have to serve for long periods abroad, who cannot take their children with them because their postings are peripatetic, and they must have the security and stability of continuing their education in one place. I do not think that there is any doubt about that.

At Second Reading on 29th July I brought to your Lordships' attention the fact that the recent and lamentable termination of the direct grant list by the Government had, entirely predictably, seen the results of the departure of a number of direct grant schools from the maintained system. Whether that was the intention or not of noble Lords opposite, the net result was that they took with them 7,156 boarding places. During that debate I mentioned that the fees that were then paid for those places amounted to £10 million, and doubtless amount to more now. I asked the noble Lord to tell the House in his reply to the debate how Her Majesty's Government intended to make good the loss of these places and the money. His answer in column 1595 was that it would not be necessary to make good the loss, at least for some considerable time, since it would take a number of years to complete the process of reorganisation, and, like Mr. Micawber, he need not make provision at this date, and indeed it might be necessary to continue finding places outside the maintained system for a while beyond that point.

But the noble Lord pointed out in column 1595 that the former Secretary of State had given an assurance in another place. He said: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave an assurance in another place when moving the Second Reading of the Bill that where a local authority can satisfy him that it cannot provide education of a type suitable for the age, ability and aptitude of some pupils without taking up places outside the maintained system, he will of course give approval for such arrangements. He added that he expected this to occur where there was a short term lack of maintained school provision or—and here I quote—' special needs such as boarding or denominational provision.'

Under what powers will he satisfy the provisions of this Bill? Presumably under Section 9 of the 1944 Act and Section 6 of the 1953 Act, which give leave to pay for education of children who cannot be accommodated in the maintained sector outside it. But of course this takes place almost universally in schools to which the selection is wholly or partly, and usually the former, related to the aptitude and ability of the pupils, which is precisely the sort of school for which the Bill prevents the Minister from authorising local authorities to take up places. This, then, debars the local authorities from taking up places in virtually all schools in the independent sector including the 7,156 places I have just alluded to. This would only not be the case if the Bill specifically said that the provisions of Section 9 of the 1944 Act and Section 6 of the 1953 Act were not to be prejudiced by it.

Let us look at the place in the Bill where these sections are referred to. We find it in. Clause 5, to which we shall revert later, and the effect of what we find in Clause 5 is not to extend the powers of the Secretary of State to approve arrangements for the taking up of places in the independent sector but the reverse—to invest him with the power of revoking them. Taken together, the intention of Clauses 1 and 5 is perfectly clear. It is to reduce the number of places taken up by the local authorities in the non-maintained sector, whether for boarding or for other reasons, to vanishing point, and that is the avowed intention of the Bill.

So, whatever the intention of the Secretary of State may have been when he commissioned the drafting of these clauses, he is not the Secretary of State now and his successor may not remain in office very much longer. So once again the only criterion for legal action, as I have said earlier tonight, will be not Hansard but the Statute Book, and the Statute Book, unless we alter the Bill, will say quite clearly that the intention is to curtail progressively the taking up of places in the private sector by local education authorities.

I think when there is such a grim prospect of shortage of capital funds to find alternative accommodation within the maintained sector and to duplicate what is at present provided in what were the direct grant and are now the independent schools, it is really foolish to commit oneself to a Bill which, on the reading at least of a layman such as myself, makes it apparent that it will not for very long be permissible for local authorities to send their children to boarding schools when they need to. I should like to know what the noble Baroness sees as the solution to that problem.


I should like to say a word in support of this very important Amendment. Boarding school education need not necessarily be labelled with aptitude and ability for the child who goes there. It may be by necessity. I myself was for six years vice-chairman of the education committee of the West Sussex County Council. It was shortly after the war and we foresaw the bulge in child educational necessities and we therefore built at least two new secondary schools. They were both built adjacent to our absolutely first-class grammar schools, which had boarding facilities. Those schools made a sort of campus. It was rather far-sighted and intelligent of the West Sussex County Council, if I may say so, and it has worked extraordinarily well, because the transfer of children from the one to another has been very easy. It has helped with boarding necessities we have had, but even then these facilities were not sufficient.

We have had to take outside accommodation in maintained schools, for the very good reason that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned, of people settling abroad and the disruption of families, children with special needs, and so on. I should like to be assured that those facilities will continue, because it is quite impossible, as I know from my own knowledge of local government, for any local government to provide at short notice any additional boarding facilities to replace what they have been taking in the past and the result is that children will suffer. I do hope that this Government have very much in mind the really great need in this direction.

Also, I think one should always bear in mind that now that we are a Member of the European Economic Community we should try and work together—indeed, I think there is a ministerial conference on the question of co-ordinating our educational facilities with the EEC educational standards and so on; and there is, of course, as your Lordships know, a Convention for the protection of human rights which says that it assumes in relation to education and to teaching that the State shall respect the rights of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions. I am pretty certain, from the careful reading I have done of this Bill, that it is not in conformity with the Convention of the EEC and that we are not following the lines that have been laid down by our colleagues.

There, again, I think the importance of boarding education comes into the question because there are certain children whose parents feel that boarding education is the only solution for them. We do not seem to have realised that or to have made any provision to keep on our places that we have taken in voluntary non-maintained schools. I have consulted my local West Sussex education experts this week and there is no recognition in the Bill of what a fee-paying boarding school is in the minds of Her Majesty's Government, and where in the Bill they can come in under proper arrangements for children who have to be sent to boarding school and for whom we have no facilities. I would be very glad to have elucidation on these points, because I am quite certain they are of very great importance.

8.15 p.m.


I should like to support this Amendment as well. I do not like this Bill at all, but all the speeches I have heard from the Government side have said that this is going to be a Bill of great equality; that there is to be equal opportunity, equal this, equal that, and so on, and anybody who wants or would benefit from any special things are going to find it very difficult to get them. There are a certain number of children, quite ordinary children, who would be going to ordinary schools who would be very much hampered. Supposing, as someone suggested, their parents have to go abroad and they want to leave them at home for education and cannot afford to send them to private boarding school and therefore hope to send them to the ordinary school, but with the opportunity of boarding nearby or in the school as the case may be. There is nothing in this Bill to provide for that at all and it seems to me that that is very had luck on children whose parents, through conditions which might be quite out of their control, will be severely penalised.

There is another group for whom special education and boarding might be very valuable, and that is the children who are of low mentality or mentally handicapped in any way, for whom if you can give them some boarding education it will perhaps make all the difference to their becoming normal or being able to work ordinarily at the age of, say, 12, 13 or 14. Again, there is no provision—or there does not seem to be—in the Bill for anything of that nature. At the moment, of course, groups of that kind are very often financed by voluntary organisations.

There are far too many children, disadvantaged children, using the phrase in its widest sense, and far too few places for them; and even though voluntary organisations do their very best to provide such education they cannot do so because they have not enough money. It should in my opinion be part of an Education Bill such as this. If we are going to cater for everybody we must cater for the very gifted, for the handicapped, and so on. I hope very much that the Government will see their way to either accept this Amendment or, if they cannot accept it, explain what they are going to do to provide a fair deal for children whose conditions are out of their own control and for whom boarding education in the past was provided or made available in one form or another.


In speaking in support of the remarks of my noble friend, Lady Elliot of Harwood, I wish to bring forward the question of the prevention of delinquency and mental disturbance. The social services and education departments are working more closely together than ever before and that is a great asset for both the children and the parents. As Lady Elliot said, there are families who are disadvantaged through no fault of their own and, as I said in a previous debate, they have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. These families do not want to be the clients of the social services departments. On the other hand, they know that they cannot manage their children. I refer particularly to widows, some of whom have to work and cannot cope with their children; separated families where the help that is required cannot always be given to the children; single parent families; and others where the parents are honest enough to say that they cannot cope with their children.

For these people it would be wrong if they had to apply to the social services departments, quite apart from which those departments' expenditures have been cut, and probably understandably so. While there is this wonderful and growing relationship between the social services and education to help the disadvantaged, it would be very difficult not to have some boarding school places. We all recognise that the right place for a child is in his or her own home in his or her neighbourhood with friends and relatives, but we must face the fact realistically that that is not always possible and that without boarding school education we shall have more delinquency and more mental breakdowns.


I rise to support briefly what my noble friends Lady Faithfull and Lord Elton have said. Lady Faithfull was referring to widows, and I am the national president of the National Association of Widows. A number of our people arc in very grave trouble because they cannot be at home all the time to look after perhaps their one child. They cannot, because of escalating costs, afford to pay for boarding schools. It is important that this section of the community is helped to educate their children.

Baroness BACON

I agree with what has been said about the need for boarding education in special cases. In general, I do not like boarding schools and I believe that if possible children should be living at home and going out to day school. I appreciate that others hold different views on the subject, but that is my opinion. However, I agree that for some children it is important that there should be facilities for boarding, though where I part company with some of those who have spoken is the way in which this should be arranged.

A few years ago I visited a comprehensive school in Devon which I thought was ideal. The school was of all—range ability and took children from a neaby maladjusted home, from a nearby reception centre and boys and girls who were going on to university. It had boarding pupils at the comprehensive school housed in two houses nearby, a legacy from the previous grammar school which had been incorporated into the comprehensive school. There were two big houses, one for girls and one for boys, and the boarders lived in them and went out each day to the comprehensive school.

Some of the boarders were the sons and daughters of people who were abroad and one of the advantages of the children going out every day to a comprehensive school instead of being in a special boarding school was that they made friends with the day girls and boys which meant that they were invited into their homes and so had a home life with their friends. This seemed to me an ideal arrangement and I hope that local authorities will he encouraged to follow that example. It does not mean that because one is a boarder one must go to a special boarding school; one can he a hoarder and yet attend the local comprehensive school, and in my view that is the very best solution to what is, I know, a difficult problem.

8.25 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

Authorities perform their duties and exercise their powers in respect of boarding education by providing or taking up places in maintained boarding schools—there are some 10,000 boarding places in 137 secondary schools—or by taking up or assisting with the cost of boarding places at non-maintained schools. Let me first emphasise that nothing in this legislation will prevent authorities from making these same arrangements in the future, though they will be subject to certain constraints.

I am sure we all agree that whether a pupil needs hoarding education is not related to his or her academic ability; the criteria for judging boarding need are quite different and are concerned mainly with social and domestic circumstances, such as parents living abroad or subject to frequent moves within the United Kingdom or the existence of a seriously prejudicial home background where the child would be better in the environment of a boarding school than in his or her own home. Their boarding need could thus be catered for within a totally comprehensive system, and this must be our aim. If the Amendment were accepted it would undermine the intention or Clause. 1(1) since it would seem to imply that boarding education could not of should not he provided for within the broad context of comprehensive secondary education. The Government do not accept this as a proposition.

We realise, of course, that our aim of fully comprehensive hoarding education will be achieved only in the longer term, but this is no reason for abandoning it as an aim. We accept that for many years authorities will not be able to provide for every pupil who needs boarding education within a comprehensive school; and the use of non-maintained school boarding places will have to continue as part of the necessary pattern of provision of this type of education. Ministers have made it clear in the past, and I repeat their assurances, that authorities will he given approval under Clause 5 to provide boarding education for pupils where it can be demonstrated that the pupils are in need of boarding education judged by the criteria I have mentioned on social or domestic circumstances.

The Government recognise that the demand for denominational hoarding education will continue. Authorities will no doubt continue to take account of denominational preferences as they have always done. The important thing is that considerations of academic ability should not enter into their decision about a particular child's need for hoarding education. If the authority concludes that such education is needed. then it is open to them to consider the denominational preference in the light of the criteria I mentioned earlier. We on the Government Benches agree with all that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said, and we recognise the very strong need for boarding education in the cases to which she and others have referred, and this Bill in no way hinders the ability of a local authority to provide that sort of education.

In the maintained sector there has been substantial progress towards reorganisation with over 60 of the 137 maintained schools providing boarding places already every year. We intend to press on in this direction while recognising the undoubted difficulties that some authorities will have in turning their boarding schools into viable comprehensive units.

The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, raised the question of the European Convention on Human Rights. That guarantees the right of parents to send their children to independent schools; it does not give them the right to help with fees and nothing in the Bill conflicts with this part of the European Convention on Human Righst. Therefore I ask noble Lords opposite whether they would consider withdrawing this Amendment, for two reasons: first, because I hope that my assurances may have gone some way towards convincing them that it is totally unnecessary—children in need of boarding education will still receive it; and secondly, because we do not see any reason to exclude boarding education from the comprehensive principle in the long run.

8.32 p.m.


The assurances of the noble Baroness as to what will happen under Clause 5 about the provision of boarding places, as has already been said from the Conservative Front Bench this evening, cannot bind her successors of whatever political complexion. Therefore, I do not think that they are very much to the point. I think it is extremely important that people should he able to take up boarding places where there is very real boarding need, and it is not considerations of academic ability in the receiving schools that are important; it is important that children should be allowed to he accepted by boarding schools even if those schools administer considerations of academic ability in their admittance to those schools.

Clause 5 is, I think, a very bad clause and if it goes, as I hope it does—and from our Benches we shall certainly see that it does, though judging by the velvet hand in the iron glove which the Conservative Front Benches are producing tonight it is very difficult to tell what they will do, but I hope they will see that it does—then I think we shall be quite happy if this Amendment is not passed. But if the Government really arc going to insist on Clause 5; if they really are going to put a clamp down from the Secretary of State on the admission of children to independent schools of whatever kind, even in a situation where there is no other suitable boarding school in the State system—and we must realise that with the present financial situation there may be many such cases—then I think that this Amendment ought to go through.

It is a very difficult situation because, although the noble Baroness was very persuasive about what Clause 5 would do, Clause 5 is in fact the bugbear: Clause 5 is the trouble. If we were quite certain that Clause 5 was not going to be applied rigorously—about which the noble Baroness who has tried to give assurances is incapable of giving assurances because no Ministers are capable of giving assurances beyond the term of their own Government—if those assurances were valid, then of course it would be possible for us not to pass this Amendment. If, on the other hand, Clause 5 is going to be passed, with the possibility that with future Governments the assurances given from the Front Bench will not be effective, then there is no inconsiderable reason for passing this Amendment. This is a very difficult situation and I should be delighted to know what the Conservative Front Bench is going to do about it.


That will be revealed shortly, but in the interim the noble Baroness gave us the interesting figure that there are 10,000 boarding places in 137 secondary maintained schools, and that they take up places also in non-maintained schools. I wonder whether her brief gives her the number of those places.

Baroness STEDMAN

It does not, but I think it is as many again. However, I will check and let the noble Lord know.


That is what I thought. I think some of our points have been wrongly taken. I should like to say what great pleasure it gives me to be supported by so many noble Baronesses and even halfway supported by the noble Baroness on the other Bench. To the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, I would say that there is nothing in our Amendment which conflicts with the solution which she observed with such approval in Devon, where one wonders how the local authority would have coped with the situation if the grammar school which provided the boarding education when it went in with the comprehensive school had been one of those numerous grammar schools that went independent. That is the problem because it is a question of money; the places have to be filled and paid for.

The point that I think the noble Baroness who leads for the Government on this has not quite taken is that the Bill says specifically—and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, alluded to this—not that the allocation may be made to a school where a child is selected on the basis of his need, but that the place may not be taken up, regardless of the grounds of the allocation of the place, in a school in which the admissions policy is based on ability or aptitude. Nothing she has said has altered that fact. If a child is either brilliant or cretinous and has an overwhelming boarding need, the Bill still says that he cannot be given a place in a school if that school selects on aptitude and ability. So her argument that there is no difficulty falls, because there is a difficulty which relates not to the child but to the school. I do not think, therefore, that she has made a very convincing case, but we are in the difficulty, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, with the customary barb in his velvet glove, has pointed out, that the merits of this Amendment are to some extent dependent on what becomes of Clause 5.

But perhaps before we broach that delicate ground the noble Baroness would say whether she has an answer to the point that we are making that all schools which select by ability or aptitude are debarred under the Bill regardless of any other provisions by Clause 1, and that therefore there will be an immediate need, if the Bill is not altered, for many thousands—and it appears to be between 10,000 and 11,000—of boarding places almost at once when the Bill becomes law.


I must intervene here to say that it would be very helpful to those of us who take a very serious view of this subject if the noble Baroness would elucidate this particular point, because if the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is correct in thinking that all schools that select are debarred, it places us in an impossible position and we cannot accept what the noble Baroness has said will happen.

Baroness STEDMAN

So far as boarding education is concerned, the authorities will be given approval by the Secretary of State, where it can be demonstrated that pupils that are in need of boarding education are judged on the criteria I mentioned. We do not accept the selective principle that they go to a boarding school because they reach a necessary academic standard.

I think that there are problems here and I should like, with the permission of the House, to take this back and have another look at it and perhaps write to the noble Lord before Report stage, and see where we can go from there. He could then raise it again if he wishes when we have a little more information on this point.


That is extremely helpful and it is the way I was going to suggest, because by the time the noble Baroness embarks upon her correspondence we shall know the fate of Clause 5. Although I welcome correspondence and the goodwill it shows, I will beg leave at this point to put down a marker for the Report stage because this is of fundamental importance and of crucial concern to many parents who quite soon are going to have to make decisions based on what is said. Therefore, I think it should be said in the Chamber on the record at Report stage. So if it is your Lordships' wish I shall withdraw this Amendment with the strict expectation of coming back with something very similar at Report stage.


Before the noble Lord is given leave to withdraw his Amendment, perhaps I may put forward the suggestion that, if there is to be correspondence—and no matter that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said that he would not welcome it—copies should be sent to all noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have participated in this part of the debate.


That is an eminently sensible suggestion. I do not dislike correspondence in itself but only if it is a substitute for debate. I now beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.41 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 10: Page 1, line 21, at end insert ("; or ( ) the provision of education in any school where arrangements are made to meet the special needs of exceptionally gifted children").

The noble Lord said: Before the Government ask to whom the Amendment refers, may I try to explain what the Amendment does not seek to achieve? It does not attempt—although it may be possible for some of your Lordships to do so—to define exactly who are the exceptionally gifted. The Amendment does not seek to segregate all these children into separate schools. It simply aims to afford local education authorities the freedom to make the best arrangements possible for children who have gifts which are exceptional and which may not be developed fully in the school to which they are directed or to which they would be expected to go.

As to the problem of definition, your Lordships will remember that the Plowden Report recorded that as many as 6 per cent. of children have an IQ of over 140 but, if one is to confine the definition to IQ, it would appear that 2 per cent. or even less is the more usually recognised figure. However, IQ is of course not the only consideration. There are considerations of character and of the abilities that may be developed, and there may be some of these children who have creative talents. I hope that there is no difference of opinion between the two sides of the Committee as to the responsibility of the education service for discovering and developing very high ability. I trust that this is common ground. Our past and our present teach us that we need outstanding talents and that we have a responsibility to see that those talents can develop.

What I feel is not so generally understood is that outstanding ability is not always easily recognised. Many noble Lords here this evening will know a very great deal more about this than I do but, if a boy or girl does not show interested curiosity or creativity, his parents may not necessarily conclude that a child who seems difficult or isolated is thinking on a different plane from others. Again, if parents do discover that their child is very intelligent, is it necessarily the case that a suitable school is available?

I accept that the traditional idea of a very highly gifted person is not always necessarily the right one; they are not invariably absent-minded or short-sighted. But when one has, in the conventional world of children, a child who is very quick or full of questions, or impatient and perhaps rather superior in attitude, hostility can be attracted. It can happen that staff find such a child difficult to deal with, and it can even be that the class teacher does not come to terms with the child of outstanding ability. I noticed that in one of the reports on education issued several years ago by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools they made precisely this point.

Those are a few of the reasons why I put down the Amendment. For social, as well as academic reasons, one school may not be suitable to a very gifted child while another may. Some seven years ago, on a Motion of my noble friend Lord Carrington, there was a debate on the needs of gifted children. On that occasion, I heard for the first time the theory that if a child's abilities are not recognised, he or she may simply stop trying to achieve. Some four years later I learnt at first-hand of such a case. A pupil had been categorised as maladjusted and was sent to a special school. The parents appealed against the decision and it was then discovered that the boy had an IQ of over 140. I remember that case very well indeed.

There is a mass of research on this subject and I shall not mention any of it, for I am sure your Lordships are better acquainted with it than I am, but it adds up to the conclusion that the dangers of under-achievement for the exceptional child are very real. I am driven to the conclusion that, for such children, transfer to another school or choice of particular school may be necessary. It is for that reason that I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN

This may look like a logical addition to the exceptions to the comprehensive principle listed in Clause 1(2). If exceptions are to be made for the handicapped and those with musical or dancing gifts, why not for the generally exceptionally gifted also? But the question is not so simple when one comes to examine it.

Clause 1(2) of the Bill excludes from the comprehensive principle the provision in special schools or otherwise of special educational treatment as defined in Section 8(2)(c) of the Education Act 1944 and specialist schools for music and dancing. In the case of special educational treatment, the needs of the pupils can be diagnosed and the treatment defined accordingly. For music and dancing, the exclusion was incorporated to safeguard the very small amount of existing provision which meets the needs of the most highly talented and promising of our future musicians and dancers. If their talents are not nurtured at an early age, they may be lost for ever. There is, however, no generally accepted definition of "exceptionally gifted" children which would enable them similarly to be identified and I can foresee, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, says, that if this Amendment were carried the effects might be to lead to the very segregation of pupils that the Bill aims to eliminate.

Let me just highlight the difficulty of identifying exceptionally gifted children by taking a very crude example. A distinction is often made between the very bright children who form the top 1 per cent. of our school population—we are talking here of about 6,000 11-yearolds in England and Wales—and the exceptionally gifted children who represent a very small proportion of this number. There can be no doubt that both these groups need to be fully stretched. Like others—for example, slow readers—their educational needs should be met in as individual a way as possible. Very bright children—those with an unusually high ability in a range of subjects—can be given the necessary encouragement and stimulation without a selective system. As regards the handful of exceptionally gifted children, with the exception of those gifted in music and dancing, it has been the custom until now also to deal with them in ordinary schools.

The Government do not consider it advisable to change this practice. That is not to say that we are complacent about their particular needs. I know that schools are very concerned to ensure that the exceptionally gifted child shall be suitably fostered and they are examining ways of doing this. In addition, of course, the National Association for Gifted Children runs short courses for these children and their families. However, the paucity of their numbers would suggest that any alternative full-time provision would involve boarding education; there are so few of them that they would have to be collected from all over the country to be given their special stimulus. Not only is there evidence to indicate that gifted pupils are frequently difficult to identify, but the National Association for Gifted Children has stated that the withdrawal and segregation of gifted children has in the past proved counter-productive. It is in the interests of these exceptional children—and in the interests of all children—that they should be educated within their normal school environment. That is the view of the Government and much thought and discussion in another place and in the Department has been given to it. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will not press his Amendment.

8.50 p.m.


I have seldom heard a more tendentious statement or one more based on misinformation. In fact, I really do not know where to begin on it. Perhaps we could talk about definition and go back to the classic work on this, Terman's work, defining gifted children as those with an IQ of over 145. It is much more than this tiny handful.

The noble Baroness said that we have had no experience of educating them. Of course she has heard of College at Eton or College at Winchester, or the great direct grant schools which in fact for years, before the National Association of Gifted Children, of which I have the honour to be vice-president, was heard of. They have been educating these children and knowing how to educate them; and the very schools which knew how to educate them, and know how to educate them—the direct grant schools in the cities—have been the very schools which have been massacred by the educational policy of this Government.

The noble Baroness spoke as though these were very curious children indeed. She spoke about a total of 6,000 in the whole country. It is not a very great number, but they are not as curious as all that and they are educated in perfectly ordinary grammar schools in big cities, provided those grammar schools are allowed to be really selective. The problem is not nearly as esoteric as that. We know far more about it. The noble Baroness really must believe me when I say that what is said by the National Association of Gifted Children on this matter, dominated as it is by a very questionable American researcher, is something which I really cannot accept as comparable with the experience of teachers in English schools who have actually been doing this for years and years. I am sorry but I simply cannot accept what the noble Baroness has said as bearing very much relation to the practical experience of those of us who have done this job for a long time.


If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, this is really a question of picking certain items from what is a very complicated catalogue of figures which we have available and experience which we have available. Sitting in a prejudiced position behind the noble Baroness I am bound to say that I thought she chose her words very carefully in order to make it clear that she was talking about several different categories of brightness. When she talked about the tiny numbers of people she was talking about a particular category with an IQ range which could be so far in advance of what is considered to be normal that it is practically not measurable by the standards we have.

Whatever the experience of the noble Lord might be in the field of educating children of advanced excellence of this type, one of the difficulties is that in selecting the individual of this type our criteria for selection and matching are not yet provable as being adequate to the task we are asking them to carry through. It is a fact that some of the evidence available to us—anotated evidence—proves that such children might exist at a level of one in 100,000 or one in 200,000, and when one is talking at that level one is talking of a special and particular category.

The noble Lord mentioned an IQ of 150 and this is a particular type of advanced excellence, but not the type which the noble Baroness was speaking of when she mentioned that particular category of brightness. We must make absolutely clear that we are talking of a range here which can be as wide in its way as the other ranges at the other end for which special provision is made. I thought that the very carefully chosen statement of the noble Baroness did more justice to the problems of educating the very bright pupil than perhaps did the words used by the noble Lord.

I do not want to go on much further, other than to say this. One of the problems is—and it is a measurable problem—that these young people recognise themselves to be so very bright that they sometimes deliberately underachieve in order to remain within that section that they understand and know. It is a known fact that the problem is complicated by the very intelligence of the individuals who are being tested in that they do not wish to be selected, to be moved out from the category, from the place which is familiar to them.


Here I am entirely in agreement with my noble friend Lord James of Rusholme. This country has been doing this for many years. We are extremely expert at it and we do not make freaks of these characters. A little research has been done on this matter. It has been shown that these highly selected clever children—clever boys—are normally stronger, healthier and heavier, curiously enough, than the normal range of the population. That is a fact—


Yes, agreed.


We really have to show a little sense. I agree indeed with my noble friend Lord Parry that the numbers are very small. Therefore these people will be caught up somehow. If they are not caught up by the State system they will certainly be caught up by the independent system. There is no question in this. We are all interested here. We all think that the country depends, at least in part, on cultivating this type of talent. This really is a faint distrust of intelligence altogether. But if that is so they will be brought up and educated very well in schools which already exist.

I beg the Government to think hard about this. Like the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, this seems to me to be exactly the kind of official mumbo-jumbo with which we are normally confronted in this kind of reply.


I should like to say just one more thing, as I have been sitting here tonight, un-Whipped I may say. May I urge the Ministers to read through this debate very carefully and just see where we are going on apparently quite irrelevant Amendments? They have said, "We can't accept this, because if this were accepted it might provide a way for intelligence to be a criteria. We have got to watch this". If they read what they have said they will see that they have been saying throughout the debate words to the effect, "We would willingly accept this, only you have got to be careful. The intelligent people will slip in if we are not careful". I really mean this. It is a facon de parler, if you like, but if we go on like this then I simply cannot over-estimate the effect not only on our national economic future but on our national culture. This has happened again and again. I believe that the Hansard report of this debate will make the most encouraging reading for our national enemies.


I must say just a few words here. The last two speakers have both suggested that the Government, who include some intellects at least as good as theirs, though not perhaps better, are actually trying to dodge improving the intellectual improvement of people in this country. I resent this totally and I cannot sit here and hear that said by a member who has been in my own Party and an expert from the other side.


I am afraid that I shall repeat it again and again. I have not the slightest doubt about it.


Some members of the Government are more educated certainly than I am but not perhaps more than the noble Lord, Lord Snow. It would be interesting to see where they were educated. I had the misfortune to be educated within the State system—or perhaps it was good fortune. I am not for one moment saying that the Government are wilfully trying to avoid the full development of the intellect of this country. What I am saying is that they are adopting policies which are dominated by a fear of the recognition of human divergence, and in particular a fear of the recognition of intellectual excellence; and, as I say, if they go through this debate they will be alarmed at the implications of what I have said. That is all.


Very briefly, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, queried whether the country thought that the standards of education were going to be lowered by this Bill. I think that most of the country think they will be lowered purely because there will be a lower common denominator down to which a great number of children will be dragged.


With respect, I did not say that. What I was unable to accept was that the Government were deliberately doing this. This is what was suggested.


No, they did not say "deliberately". They were saying "in effect".


I must say that I feel a sense of depression, having moved this Amendment and heard the Government's reply. Of course I accept that there is a problem of definition, although the noble Lord, Lord James, put it into perspective in saying exactly who the gifted children are, that they do not appear in existing legislation and that this would be a problem. But, having listened to the noble Lords, Lord James and Lord Snow, and to my noble friend Lady Macleod and others, there is no problem in accepting the second leg of the argument, that children who have outstanding abilities should be allowed to be placed in schools—existing schools, not necessarily special schools; that was not the point of my Amendment at all, but existing schools—which would be able to cater for them and able to cater for them best. I really had hoped that I had made that clear.

I cannot resist quoting to the Government from a speech in 1969 of the then Government spokesman, Lord Kennet, in the debate on Lord Carrington's Motion on May 14 of that year, when the noble Lord said: The very advanced child can be identified early in one or two subjects—for example, mathematics, music and dancing—and it is not too difficult to see, and I think that there is general assent, that there must be special provision either in special groups or in schools for these children; otherwise their talents would be wasted. Common sense suggests this and experience shows that it works pretty well."—[Official Report, 14/5/69; col. 135.] All I can say is that common sense and experience have altered in the Labour Party in the last seven years. Really, we are in the most Gilbertian situation. Although under the Bill music and dancing are apparently to have special provision, now, seven years later, maths is to be excluded, and also any other ability, as the noble Lord, Lord James, showed so clearly when he intervened just now. When Ministers claim that they are legislating in the Bill a set of rules for comprehensive education which shall be full and complete, and that there must he no loophole in them, perhaps they will bear in mind that children's needs differ and that views about how those needs are to be met change as the years go by.

I think it is interesting to recall that in 1970 the Donnison Commission, which was not remarkable for its Right-Wing views, made the rather surprising recommendation that some super-selective schools might be formed. I wonder whether those views would be held by the members of the Donnison Commission today. At any rate, I had hoped, in moving this Amendment, that the Government would accept that at least there was this common ground—that we do not know enough about this subject. In Chapter 14 the Donnison Report said: Whatever system of education is adopted, however, we all agree that further research and experience is required to ensure that the talents of the most gifted are not wasted. Too little is known about these difficult questions. It was to allow research to proceed and experience to be acquired, and some freedom of action for local education authorities and the parents of these children, that I put down this Amendment; and all I can say is that, with regret, I now withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.6 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 11: Page 1, line 21, at end insert ("; or ( ) the power of any local education authority to provide secondary education under section 6 of the Education Act 1953").

The noble Lord said: This is really a similar point to the one made by my noble friend Lord Elton on boarding education, but it goes wider than that. Clause 5 provides that the powers of local authorities to take up places at non-maintained schools can be revoked by the Secretary of State, and that the Secretary of State may make regulations for the payment of fees and expenses for children placed at non-maintained schools. These wider powers than boarding education powers have of course been working for many years, and, by them, authorities are able to take up places for particular as well as for general reasons. When the Committee of this House has been debating, as we have been debating now for several hours, the able and the backward, those who need boarding education and other children, and those who have a particular social reason for placement, such as their home circumstances, many of these children are found to be placed most appropriately at independent schools. But schools in the non-maintained sector do not mainly conform with Clause 1 of this Bill; and this was the point made so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and other noble Lords.

I will not go on about it. May I simply say that the point now is the same as the boarding point. You have the schools at which the children are being placed which do not conform with Clause 1 of the Bill, and therefore it is inconceivable that under Clause 5 the Secretary of State will do more than allow authorities to take up those places merely on sufferance. I wonder whether I have that right. If I have got it right, all I can say is that it is no way to treat a part of the education system, to tell schools that they may go on receiving children on sufferance. All you are doing is trying to condemn those schools, in the end, no longer to exist. There may also be a more practical point, which I know is worrying people in local authorities, as to whether, when arrangements for taking up places in independent schools are revoked, there is going to be any legal liability which might rest upon the local authorities concerned; but I think that point can possibly wait until we get to Clause 5. I beg to move.


These Amendments belong properly to Clause 5, because if carried they would wreck Clause 5 and seriously weaken the whole Bill. I will explain briefly what underlies Clause 5 and show why it is a necessary feature of the Bill. I do that at this stage because the noble Lord has moved this Amendment, which I think makes it essential to discuss Clause 5 at this stage. By virtue of earlier legislation, LEAs have certain powers to support education at non-maintained schools; that is, independent and direct grant schools. Section 9(1) of the 1944 Act empowers them to assist such schools by way of grants. Section 6 of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953 empowers them to arrange for education—that is, to take places—at such schools, paying the full cost without reference to parents' means; and regulations made under Section 81 of the 1944 Act empower them to help parents, on a means-test basis, with the fees and charges payable at non-maintained schools. The original legislation provided, in each case, for the arrangements made by local education authorities in exercise of these powers to be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. But for various reasons this control is no longer effective. Arrangements for giving assistance to schools under Section 9 (1) of the 1944 Act have not been made for many years, but it is uncertain what arrangements, approved many years ago, might still be extant and perhaps useable if authorities so wished. As regards arrangements made under the 1953 Act for taking places at full cost without regard to parents' means, blanket approval was given irrevocably in 1959 to any such arrangement which an authority wish to make. Finally, as regards means-tested assistance with fees, the original legislation unfortunately omitted to provide that an approval, once given, might be revoked; and there are also other features of a technically questionable nature in the 1944 provision.

The purpose of Clause 5 is to remedy the position and to restore to full effectiveness the control function which the Secretary of State was originally intended to exercise in this field. The control is necessary, in the Government's view, in order to secure the completion of comprehensive reorganisation as soon as is practicable. Without it, an authority might be tempted to use the powers to which I have referred in such a way as to pay, or help to pay, for the education of an academically selected élite in non-maintained schools.

I said earlier that there is an element of battle here, and this is something to prevent the sabotage of the objects of the Bill. To do this without regard to the comprehensive principle would be unlawful under Clause 1, but that clause does not in itself prevent authorities from using the non-maintained sector in a way which is not compatible with the speediest possible progress towards completely comprehensive education. I think this is something which is between us. I believe that noble Lords opposite would like this loophole to exist in order that the comprehensive principle can be undermined, whereas we are determined that it should not be.

After that lengthy explanation of the background, I turn now to the first Amendment in this group, No. 11. The Government fully recognise the real need for a number of authorities to use the powers given them by Section 6 of the Education Act 1953, either because there is a general shortage of suitable maintained school places which it is not practicable for them to rectify, or because, in certain cases, they see a need to make special provision for the exceptional requirements of particular pupils. We recognise indeed that certain authorities are at the moment dependent on the use of places at non-maintained schools to fulfil their statutory duty to provide suitable education to those children for whose education they are responsible. We have given assurances, both here and in another place, that when the Secretary of State comes to consider what arrangements she is prepared to continue to approve, all applications will be considered on their merits and authorities may expect approval to be given to arrangements needed to remedy a local shortage of places. In short, I do not think it is right to suggest for one moment that the Government, in controlling authorities' use of the powers to which this Amendment relates, will do so except where there is full justification; but we do see a real need to retain the relevant provision in Clause 5 of the Bill. For this reason, I must ask that this Amendment should be either withdrawn or rejected.

I must confess that it is not quite clear what effect the second Amendment would have, since Section 9(b) of the Education Act 1944 itself confers no power but expressly, and perhaps unnecessarily, extends to schools outside an authority's area the power conferred by Section 9(1) by which authorities may assist non-maintained schools. I understand, however, that the noble Lord wishes local education authorities to be able to continue to assist non-maintained schools—whether inside or outside their area—without the need to have regard to the comprehensive principle. The noble Lord will, of course, be aware that Clause 5(1) of the Bill restores to the Secretary of State the power to control any arrangements made under Section 9(1) by giving or withholding approval. We felt it was necessary to include this provision in the Bill, to ensure that any arrangements newly made, or already in existence, would not be incompatible with the speediest practical progress towards completely comprehensive education which, if I may say so, is the theme song of the clause.

I hope the noble Lord will accept that I do not, for one moment, believe that there will be any widespread attempt to make arrangements that would be incompatible with Clause 1 of the Bill. So far as we know, very little use has been made in recent years of the powers in Section 9(1), and we would see no reason why this position should change in the future; not least because of the economic pressures that all local education authorities are facing. At the same time, however, we feel that it is necessary for my right honourable friend to be in a position to assess the present position and, as I have said, this is not at the moment possible.

There is no intention on the Government's part to lessen the freedom which authorities have to give assistance, provided that such assistance is not inconsistent with the comprehensive principle. The Government have already given assurances that any application by a local education authority to give assistance under the provisions in this section will receive careful consideration on its merits. We therefore regard this Amendment as unnecessary and potentially undesirable, and for this reason I must ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.

I did not say this at the beginning, and nor did the noble Lord, but we are discussing three Amendments together. If the third Amendment were included in the Bill, authorities would be able to give income-related assistance with fees for pupils to attend non-maintained schools, without regard to the comprehensive principle. If the Amendment were accepted, therefore, such pupils could be selected on academic grounds and this would clearly run counter to the express intention of Clause 1. It is for this reason that Clause 5(2) affirms the Secretary of State's power to control, by means of regulations, the practice of authorities in giving income-related assistance with fees, and we regard it as essential for this control to be included in the Bill.

We are fully aware that concern has been expressed lest local education authorities should lose the present freedom which they have to render assistance where they consider it appropriate. I can give some reassurance here. While it is our firm intention that authorities should not he able to give assistance with fees at non-maintained schools to pupils solely on academic grounds, it is equally our intention to look flexibly and, wherever possible, sympathetically, on arrangements for assistance on other grounds. We have already given assurances, when discussing this matter in another place, that all applications will be considered on their merits provided, of course, that they have proper regard to the comprehensive principle and are compatible with the speediest practical progress towards completely comprehensive education. We have indeed gone further than this in order to give some indication of the type of situation in which my right honourable friend envisages that assistance with fees will be considered acceptable. Particular mention has been made of assistance, when the desirability of boarding education can be established on grounds unrelated to the ability and aptitude of the pupil involved. Mention has also been made of the sympathetic attitude my right honourable friend would expect to adopt to the giving of assistance with fees for particular denominational reasons, either where a boarding need had been established or, indeed, in circumstances where no overall shortage of suitable maintained places existed locally. I believe, therefore, that noble Lords can rest assured that the power restored to the Secretary of State by Clause 5 will be used only to ensure the speediest progress towards completely comprehensive education. Hence the Amendments are unacceptable and I must ask the Committee to reject them.


I am grateful to the noble Lord for that long statement, because it will help us in considering Clause 5. There are, however, some contradictions in what the noble Lord has said, but I think we will wait until that subsequent clause to debate them. With that brief observation, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.19 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES moved Amendment No. 14: Page 1, line 21, at end insert ("; or ( ) the provision of such instruction and training as may be desirable to secure a minimum standard of basic skills in mathematics; and

  1. (i) the methods by which the minimum standard is defined, reached and tested shall be arrived at in consultation with the local education authority and the teachers in its area;
  2. (ii) it shall be the duty of the local education authority to see that sufficient time is provided within the curriculum to teach the basic skills in mathematics to all pupils capable of mastering them;
  3. (iii) it shall be the duty of the local education authority, within and between schools, to select pupils to match the number and capacity of the available mathematics teachers").

The noble Viscount said: This Amendment covers a much wider subject than those which we have been discussing in connection with the last few Amendments. It has already been referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Bowden, Lord James and Lord Snow, all three with great experience in education, pointing out that the teaching of maths today—one must say it with regret and alarm—shows a declining tendency. With advancing technology we need higher skills in maths than, say, 10 or 20 years ago and it would not be enough if the competence of school-leavers were the same as 10 or 20 years ago. Unfortunately, however, it can be shown only too clearly that in the last five or 10 years there has been a definite decline.

I do not wish to take up more of the time of the Committee than I can help, but I should like to give a few examples of what is happening, then turn to the cause, which must lie in the scarcity of qualified teachers and afterwards show how, unless my Amendment, or something like it, is accepted, the supply of qualified teachers, and afterwards show resulting inevitably in still lower levels of mathematical competence in school leavers.

First, I want to quote Mr. Paul Hodgkinson who belongs to the engineering industry's training board. He says: How many fairly bright, interested youngsters this year"— that is 1975— have been refused their chance of first year basic training because, as many a charge hand and managing director alike have said, they can't count'. Mr. Hodgkinson goes on to say: Employers state categorically that performance is poorer than 5–10 years ago. It is commonplace for remedial maths classes to occupy valuable, costly time in the first weeks or months of basic training. Technical college heads, often leading figures among the 'remedials', also swell the chorus of complaint. Next I should like to quote what has been said by Mr. Paul Cornish who is the training co-ordinator at British Leyland. He says: It is sad that trainees now seem as good as their earlier counterparts in terms of intelligence, aptitude and their grades of examination but their progress is impaired by their inability to cope with basic number work … When one considers that the average school leaver entering industry nosy takes three times longer than expected on a basic and simple calculation then there must be concern that so much time is wasted at the expense of other vocational or educational training elements". Finally, Mr. Philip Maylor, who comes from the Training Services Agency, said that the mathematical weaknesses of people applying for TOPS courses"— that is the Training Opportunities Scheme— lay in the fields of multiplication tables, manipulation of vulgar fractions, multiplication and division of decimals, and the understanding of circles … 'They come to the unit in desperation because they say that numeracy is what employers really want and no one else can help them'. I am sorry to have to tell your Lordships that this is typical of what employers are saying. Furthermore, this view is supported, as we heard in our debate a few months ago on the universities, by the University Grants Committee and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Vice-Principals. It is no good blaming the children. If they were well taught they could master the basic skills as they did a generation ago. So what has gone wrong in the schools and why are there not enough competent maths teachers?

In passing, I must observe that as the number of competent or qualified maths teachers recedes so also does the number of hours in the curriculum devoted to maths, and here I will quote The Second Report on the Shortage of Teachers of Mathematics: There are two important aspects of the present serious shortage of teachers of mathematics. One is that the subject is taught by many teachers who have no qualifications whatsoever in mathematics, or who are required to teach to a level beyond that for which they could provide any evidence of knowledge of the subject. The second problem is that graduate mathematicians, or others with evidence of knowledge of mathematics of a comparable level, do not regard teaching as an attractive career. It is also true, of course, that mathematics gets pushed out of the curriculum when the free choice of subjects allows people who have not got these skills to prefer other subjects.

I have done my best to find out what really is the condition of the schools where mathematics as a subject is taught by teachers who themselves have not even attained O-level in mathematics, and the best information I can get—I dare say there is a 5 per cent. error one way or the other—is that half the children in our primary and secondary schools are taught mathematics by teachers who have never themselves attained O-level.

Of course if mathematics has to be taught in a school and there are not any qualified teachers, there is nothing for it but to have an unqualified teacher. I think the definition of a qualified teacher of mathematics is one who has, himself or herself, studied mathematics beyond the level at which he or she is teaching it. That is to say, if you are teaching mathematics to O-level you must have done A-level in order to be able to put the subject properly to the children.

We all know that there is a real deficiency of mathematics teachers with A-level, so what are we to do about it? The situation calls, first, for the maximum use of the qualified teachers we have, so that through matching the mathematically inclined pupils to those qualified teachers the number of potential future teachers of mathematics may increase. Secondly, we have to make specialist mathematics teaching an attractive career.

What does the specialist teacher of mathematics want? I would say that the salary after the Houghton award is not unreasonable. It is the conditions which put the specialist off, and I think it can be shown that this is particularly true in the non-selective schools. That is because the specialist wants to teach in the areas of mathematics which interest him or her, and they want to teach children who are receptive of that level of teaching. If these conditions are not fulfilled they take their talents elsewhere. This is precisely what happens in weak, non-selective schools and I am afraid also in schools where the discipline is unsatisfactory.

I think it is also true that in the last 10 years or so society has come to put less value on accuracy than it used to. If you have ideas you are all right, but you need not be accurate. This is a very bad change for mathematics, and we must try to counter it. It makes mathematics teaching harder and it adds to the need for special measures such as there are in this Amendment. Unless we start immediately to get things right I think a real disaster is round the corner.

The solution demands the selection of pupils most likely to benefit from being taught by the at present highly inadequate number of qualified teachers up to A-level. This could not be done unless an exception for mathematics, as for music and dancing, is made to the general principle in Clause 1. When the A-level set in mathematics is diluted by turning a grammar school into a mini-comprehensive, some specialist teachers leave—that is already happening—and others, if they stay on, will have to teach children far below A-level. The result, therefore, is inevitable: the seed bed for future mathematics teachers is contracted at the very time when it is clearly in the national interest that it should he expanded.

I think there is an underlying weakness in mathematics teaching which has to be put right if a number of pupils capable of taking O- and A-level maths is to reflect the natural capacity of all our schoolchildren. Mathematics teaching for all must be improved. Therefore, in my Amendment—it may look a little curious in the Bill, but I put it in because it is the only way to get what we want, which is more qualified mathematics teachers—provision is made for a basic standard in mathematics to be set and monitored in our schools. If we do not do that, we shall never get mathematics properly taught in the colleges of education. That is the only way to do it, and in present circumstances the institution of such a standard in basic mathematics skills would require the selection of the more promising pupils for classes taught by qualified teachers in their own or in neighbouring schools.

The point to be rubbed in is that if there is better teaching in the basic skills, then there will be a larger pool in which higher mathematics can be taught. I recognise that under the Bill the important and the absolutely vital part of my Amendment is that which permits pupils—it is the last section of the Amendment—to be selected for O- and A-level teaching. This must continue to be done if the principle of non-selection is accepted. I quite understand the Government saying —and they would be right—that in some comprehensive schools mathematics are very well taught. I am sure that that is so. But what we have to deal with is a far greater number of schools in which at the moment mathematics are very badly taught. The root of that trouble will be cured only if the highly specialist teachers we already have are matched to the pupils who can make the best use of their capacities. I am not talking about mathematics across the whole child population. The noble Lords. Lord Snow and Lord James of Rusholme, know far more than I do about the very gifted mathematician. What concerns me is that our modern industry will suffer in comparison with the industries of our rivals abroad unless we have selection for this subject in our schools.


If I may follow the speech made by the very distinguished noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who has had responsibility as a Minister, may I from my experience refer to his sub-paragraph (ii) where he says: It shall be the duty of the local education authority to see that sufficient time is provided within the curriculum to teach the basic skills in mathematics to all pupils capable of mastering them;". With all due respect, I agree with the general contention of the noble Viscount, but we are beginning at the wrong place. May I give your Lordships a concrete example, having dealt in geography and mathematics. My wife dealt in advanced mathematics in a grammar school.

One of the big problems in the grammar schools is that if a pupil cannot do what we call LCMs and add up ordinary fractions, when the same person is up in the sixth and preparing for extra-mural scholarships to our universities there is no hope. It really begins in the primary schools, not the secondary schools. Instead of poor teachers being needed in the primary schools the best are needed.

Now I want to put a shiralee, to use an Australian phrase, on the backs of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools. I was nearly brought to tears once when the inspector said, "There is no need to teach them the tables from one to 15; give them a card with tables from one to 15". If I did not know my tables in a little Welsh country school in Cardigan at eleven years of age—the tables, not a calculator—I was drilled in it, it was sing-song. The modern HMI says, "You must not do this sing-song business". But it paid off. They did not know it was paying off while they were children.

Today you have this esoteric search in the primary schools for children who can dabble in French or dabble in German, dabble in a bit of esoteric Greek and Latin suffixes and prefixes. It is all loss unless we get numeracy and literacy between the ages of 5 and 11. That is where the basic work in mathematics begins. There are geniuses there, but they become frightened of it. Once they learn it, the joy they get in the mastery of figures is something inexplicable to the people who are blind to the philosophy of the theory of mathematics. May I, therefore, say en passant that it is important for any Government to impress upon HMI that down in the primary school we must for God's sake get back to the grind in the basic old-fashioned way. Do not talk about algebra and calculus at this stage; that comes later. There is no calculus, no algebra, if they cannot add up simple fractions. if they do not know their tables they are lost when they get into the beautiful mystery of algebra, calculus and trigonometry. For God's sake be realistic and know what you are talking about.


That was a refreshing interlude. I must confess, I still think the multiplication tables are worth learning. The noble Viscount has raised a very important Amendment; let nobody think that I under-value its importance. What I am not clear about in my own mind is that it is relevant to this Bill. The fact he states, that we have a shortage of the higher level mathematical teachers, I think is accepted. I do not think that is going to be altered by what we are doing here. This is something we can discuss further. There is a certain confusion in people's minds over this. My noble friend Lord Bowden spoke of the Russians and the mathematical genius. I said to him, "What is that—one in 10,000?", and he replied, "It is one in a million I am speaking of." The present system of education which we have is totally incapable of dealing with this type of problem.

I honestly believe that if we could get on with this Bill, get the comprehensive system established, as it is in three-quarters of the country, we could work out ways of dealing with this extraordinarily important question. I give an undertaking—without the slightest authority from anybody, but this should not stop one and it should still be of some value—that when we have got a little further, when this Bill is law, one of the first things that will have to be examined will be this very point.

Should this one in a million be made a special sort of exception? After you have made it, what are you going to do with it? We have got 55 million people here, of whom half are not children. So you could expect to have perhaps 100 or 200 people of this kind. Is the best way to treat them to bring them into a special school with two or three very brilliant teachers and otherwise very ordinary teaching? Would the parents like it?

It is a frightfully complicated problem. It is a problem, I believe, that our Government, or indeed your Government when the time comes, will be perfectly capable of applying their mind to and trying to deal with. I do not believe that the one in a million is a thing we ought to stop and worry about. I think that it is not being dealt with now, and under the system I am proposing here it is just as likely to be dealt with as under anything anybody else is proposing.

The second point I want to make is not to query the general point that employers are dissatisfied with the skill in numeracy of their new employees. I think this is probably true, but I think it is because the demands have become more complicated rather than because the standards have fallen. There are some facts of a not terribly dramatic kind which suggest that this is true. For example, in 1964 the O-level passes were 181,000 and in 1974 they were 196,000. The relevant age groups were smaller in 1974 than in 1964. The A-level passes were 37,000, and the A-level passes in 1974 were 47,000. They actually went up somewhat.

This is not to try to refute what the noble Viscount said. I think that we have to concentrate on further work on numeracy, on literacy and mathematics. I do not wish to make too strong a point on this, but it is worth mentioning that the evidence of decline is not reflected in those figures. Mathematics is an essential part of the school curriculum, and it always must be. Nobody can possibly deny that. We demand in employment in daily life a high standard, and the schools have to face up to this fact.

The starting point for any discussion about mathematical standards must be an assessment of the evidence about standards today. We often hear criticism, as I have said already, from employers, but the facts, the realities, are not clear. At the moment, there is no objective statistical evidence about national standards in numeracy—to compare, say, with the survey on literacy by the National Foundation for Educational Research which led to the setting up of the Bullock Inquiry. The statistical evidence, such as it is, does not support the conclusion that there has been a substantial fall in standards. One may very well agree with employers that standards of numeracy ought to rise. This is a different point. We must recognise, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said recently, that there are many fewer opportunities for unskilled youngsters than there were a generation or two ago. She said—and I think most of us would agree—that standards in mathematics, language and science need to be higher than they used to be. What we need now is not more subjective impressions about standards but careful monitoring to establish where the weaknesses lie so that the right remedies can be applied.

Here the Government have gone into action in a way which I think is quite satisfactory. The Department of Education and Science has established an Assessment of Performance Unit whose task is to develop methods of assessing and monitoring the achievement of children at school. The Unit is treating mathematics as one of its priority areas and is building on work already carried out for the Department of Education and Science in preparation for a monitoring system to cover mathematical skills. The Government hope that a start can be made on monitoring performance in mathematics in 1978.

Another important source of information will be the national survey of secondary schools by Her Majesty's Inspectorate. Among other things, this survey is expressly concerned with the development of numeracy in the last two years at secondary school. This major survey is based on a 10 per cent. sample of all maintained secondary schools and will last for about two and a half years. These investigations will give us the necessary background on which to form proper conclusions. To attempt to set minimum standards locally in advance of this process would be to put the cart before the horse. What we need here and now is a continuing effort to review the progress of each individual child as he or she goes through school and to identify and remedy any specific weakness at an early age.

Mathematics as a general standard is, I think, all very well, but when one is speaking of those people who, without being mathematical geniuses, are specially good, then there is something to worry us, because under the comprehensive system what should happen is that there should be in, say, each group above the second or third year, a setting by which the best boys and girls had the best teaching and were brought forward. But of course if the teachers are not there, then that will not happen. The point I am trying to make is that this is nothing to do with the comprehensive principle, which is what the Bill is about. This is something to do with a lack which has grow n up long before the comprehensive principle was established, which indeed it is not yet, for reasons we are not really clear about and which need remedying.

I maintain that there is nothing in the comprehensive principle which I am putting forward which makes it impossible to remedy or more difficult to remedy than under the present system. Thus, although the noble Viscount will see that I treat his Amendment extremely seriously, I must tell him that in my view there are elements in it which would prove a headache for us for a good many years, whether or not the Bill is passed.

I do not think the Amendment is exactly what we want at this stage; we have to wait for the setting of standards until we ger rather more evidence. There is also a more fundamental objection to it. The purpose is—or at least I think it is—the continued segregation into separate schools of those who are and those who not able to pass an undefined test in mathematics. We do not have the test and we do not quite know what that means, but I think the intention is segregation in different schools, and here we have the old bogey of selection, the rigmarole of tests—in effect an 11-plus in mathematics. The Government do not think it is necessary to segregate children to provide them with a satisfactory education in mathematics. In fact, the Government believe the opposite. We believe that, generally speaking, education should take place among one's fellows and not among a selected group of one's fellows. This proposed exception to the principle of the Bill, unlike the other exceptions for special schools and music and dancing—making mathematics an exception—would really turn the Bill inside out and make it largely worthless. I hope I have not skimped the Amendment, which I accept is important but which I think the noble Viscount did not expect me to recommend to the House.


May I ask the Minister a technical question? He said that the number of highly qualified mathematics teachers—not to teach geniuses but to teach, say, calculus to the O-level—was very limited and he admitted that there was a problem which he did not quite know how to solve. The noble Lord went on to say that the comprehensive principle did not make it more difficult. I may be dull and I think he inferred that I may not be as well educated as members of the Government, but may I ask the noble Lord to explain why, if there is only a limited number of teachers of mathematics, the logical way to use them is not to concentrate the children who need their particular sort of teaching round those teachers by a process of selection? Is that not sheer arithmetic?


I can only say that I think it is sheer. The position—we might as well be clear about it—is that if the comprehensive system had been accepted by 100 per cent. instead of 75 per cent. of the schools in this country we could start chipping away at it in ways which seem satisfactory to produce certain results, but so long as there is a battle being waged about this—by people like the noble Lord, quite hard on one side, and by other pepple on the other side—I do not think we can compromise and start chipping away at the comprehensive system; that is, until we have got it.

My answer to the noble Lord will be, if we had it and it had been running for several years I think it would produce the kind of teaching for gifted children in this or that school through a setting which would produce exactly what the noble Lord is asking for. He shakes his head. He is perfectly entitled to.


We will not go into that.


No, let us not. But our whole philosophy, the noble Lord must realise, is that when you have a comprehensive system working properly the education is at least as good as, and we think in fact socially and in other ways probably better than, under the present system. So what the noble Lord is saying is, you have a shortage which has grown up under the present system, not under any other system. You are now going to try and dismantle, or at least make a cut at the under belly, if you like, of the comprehensive system in order to put right something which the existing system has failed to put right, and I cannot accept it.


May I ask the Minister about salaries, because generally it is found that if you do not pay sufficient salaries for high skills you do not get them. I heard the other day that my old school, Eton College, was having to pay a very high salary for a good mathematics master, which it badly needed, because of the great shortage. If you do not pay the right salaries to teachers of course you will not get them. I agree with my noble friend Lord Eccles, it is absolutely necessary. I was a governor of a grammar school and a secondary modern school combined at Newmarket. The same board of governors ran the two schools. Teachers were getting very scarce then, but you have to get more teachers trained, as my noble friend Lord Eccles said, to a higher standard and I think it depends enormously on what you pay them. I know it is all governed by the Burnham Scale, but I should like to know the Government's ideas on that.


My noble friend Lord Houghton did a good deal to increase this situation not so very long ago. I am not briefed to discuss the salaries of teachers at the moment and I do not wish to bring that into this Bill, because it has nothing whatever to do with it. If the noble Lord likes to raise it by putting down a Question of a specific kind I will be very glad to give an answer, but I have not considered the salaries of teachers in the preparation of this Bill. Maybe I should have done, but I have not.

Baroness SEEAR

Would the noble Lord clarify a statement he made just before in answer to the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, because, speaking from Benches supporting the comprehensive idea, I did find his argument quite extraordinary. He said that we were not able to deal with this very urgent educational problem because only 75 per cent. of schools had gone comprehensive and that the Government, when they had got them all comprehensive, were going to get around to deal with the problem embodied in this Amendment. This seems to imply that it is the Government who are going to improve that. Surely in the 75 per cent of the schools which are already comprehensive it is the professional job of the professional teachers to get on with improving the teaching of mathematics? They are not waiting upon the Government to do it for them—at least I hope to goodness they arc not! If we are going to have the sort of educational system which depends on the Government's telling schools how to get better, why are they not getting better in the 75 per cent. of the system which is already comprehensive, the system which we support?


I do apologise and I hope my noble friend will not think I am being obstreperous, but the request is for basic skills and one is going to the wrong place for the basic skills. The noble Lord who is an ex-Minister of Education should go for a campaign to get HMIs impressing on primary schools the necessity of teaching basic arithmetic—forget that word "mathematics". I knew an uncertificated teacher in the school in which I had charge of certain elements who taught at all levels, taught from five years of age to nine, but there was not a child in that class who did not know his tables, do his basic numeracy questions and even add up fractions, multiply and divide, do long division and decimals. There are university students today who cannot do that because they missed the primary training.

I am on the ex-Minister's side here—I will not go into the Lobby with him because I want to cheer up my noble friend —but I want him to realise the concern on this side of the Committee. And in the United States of America, because I have been reading about it in the Sunday papers this week, there is the same problem —the lack of numeracy in the world, the trivialisation of education with television,et cetera.

Let us get down to basics. If we want to get back to basics I suggest that this Government or any other Government should wage a ruthless campaign in English, Welsh arid Scottish schools to get back to the old-fashioned basic learning, up to eight or nine years of age, of the basic rules of arithmetic. We shall get the mathematicians then because there will be a creative joy in conquering the little problems of a child's mind that will lead to greater and wider horizons in the philosophy of mathematics. I hope the noble Lord will not divide the Committee because we are all with him on this, but it does not begin in the comprehensive schools, it does not begin in Lord James's notable school; it begins before any of them get to that position.

9.57 p.m.


I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has said. What I find difficult in this debate is this. I listened to Lord James and I agreed with every word he said; I listened to Lord Eccles and agreed with every word he said; I listened to Lord Davies and agreed with every word he said. But what the noble Lord, Lord Davies, has said and what my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord James, said had absolutely nothing to do with the comprehensive school. In every speech the noble Lord, the ex-Minister, goes back to the ridiculous refrain, "We cannot do anything because of the comprehensive school". It is so silly, so idiotic, because what we want is teaching for the children so that they will be able to compete in the world today.

Lord Davies and I are the same age so we probably had the same sort of basic training. It did not turn me into a mathematician, although I am not bad at accounts which is one of the basic things one has to do in one's own life. But what the Government are saying is that they cannot do anything about this until everything is comprehensive and then they will begin again. But they will not; they are missing the bus all down the line. They will not begin again; they have not started. They are putting everything off so that nobody is allowed to get any special teaching except—and I am delighted that this is so—the musicians and the dancers. I adore music and love dancers, so that is splendid. But why should not others have the same advantages? Because, the noble Lord says, we cannot do it because everything has to be comprehensive. I never heard such rubbish in my life.

9.58 p.m.


There is no greater pleasure than having a strip torn off by my old friend the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, and I appreciated it very much. The noble Baroness has forgotten what we are here for—rather naturally, I think, in view of the conversations we have had. What we are here for is to pass a Bill about comprehensive schools. If we were here for some other purpose I should be talking about something else. As it is, whoever gets up I have to bring them back and say, "This is what I am here to talk about", and I am going to go on doing so until I have finished.


I really must intervene at this stage on a number of points, some of them peripheral and some of them tendentious of course, the Bill is largely concerned with the comprehensive principle. but it is a Bill to amend the law relating to education and we want to see it a Bill to make education better, whether or not with the comprehensive principle intact. We are concerned that education shall improve and, if it is done by comprehensive means, so be it. So long as it gets better, we are happy.

Secondly, there are fashions in education and they swing like a pendulum. We look at education as two different things: we look at it as a social tool and as a tool for training. I believe there is little doubt that, with the exception of the very old schools, when national education first came in we thought of it too much in terms of training, whereas we arc now looking at it too much in terms of a social machine. The point is that if we do not earn our living in this world we shall—as we are at last beginning to discover—starve to death. First, we are humiliated, then we starve. So we must equip our people at all levels of enterprise to compete in the world—not merely so that they can stand on their own feet but so that the country can stand on its own feet. That, it manifestly will not do, if it has not the means of manipulating the high technology which we are now developing. Therefore mathematics becomes a matter of prime importance at this time—perhaps more so than it has been since the Renaissance.

I said that there were pendulums, and it did my heart a great deal of good to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, had to say, because I have taught in secondary schools where I have had to contend with children who had not been taught to learn nor to profit from the education in a secondary school. If we do not get education in the basic three R's right, no matter whether we have a comprehensive, an élitist or any other type of school, the children will come out of it only partially equipped for the life they have to live. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, now heaves a mighty sigh because he feels that he has to bring me back to the comprehensive system.


The reason I heaved a mighty sigh is that teaching the three R's is not the kind of highly skilled mathematical teaching we have been talking about. It is equally important but they are not the same things.


I have two observations: one is that teaching the three R's is what the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has been talking about, and the other is that it is a prior necessity before one comes to the advanced skills. I say that we must get those basic skills right before we can take the next step. However, we cannot spend a lot of time on research in the future; we must do it now. The noble Lord made certain remarks about that which are modestly encouraging, but I commend the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Eccles to the Committee for very careful consideration, because it focuses our attention on an area where something is going very wrong in this country, and we shall all suffer for it.

As the older generation outnumbers the younger. as retirement age gets lower and the expectation of life increases, so a smaller proportion of the population will be paying the noble Lord's and my own pension, and it is very important that they should be able to do so efficiently. In a more serious vein, I ask the noble Lord to give very careful attention to what my noble friend Lord Eccles has said. It may not seem dramatic, in spite of the sparks that it has struck from this Chamber tonight, but it is dramatic, it is sinister and it may be tragic.


I apologise to my own Front Bench but I should like to make one correction in the tenor of the debate. I think it important that it should be understood that the teachers in the classrooms of the schools of the country will welcome some of the emphasis placed upon the need for a return to basic instruction as much as have some of your Lordships. It has been accidentally implied in the debate that teachers are not aware of or concerned about some of the difficulties which their pupils and they are facing. I just wanted to make that important correction.

In making it, may I also say that some of the difficulties in the allocation of the best mathematics teachers arc implicit in the system that occupies them in teaching at the highest level of selectivity within selective schools? There might be many adequate second-rate mathematicians who are being deprived of the teaching of the best mathematics teachers because they are in a C or a D stream. If any difficulty arises in the organisation of such a school, the allocation is of the better man to what is assumed to be the better group. That in itself is a contribution to the loss of top teaching talent to people who might be very adequate mathematicians.


May I ask the noble Lord whether jobs have been found for all those who have recently left teacher training colleges with excellent qualifications in mathematics?


I have not the answer to that question. It seems a good question and I shall write to the noble Baroness.


The noble Viscount's Amendment seems highly attractive for two reasons—first, because it deals with a problem of overwhelming national significance and, secondly, because, unintentionally—or I suspect, knowing the noble Viscount a little, intentionally—it knocks the bottom out of the 1944 Act. I have thought for many years that the 1944 Act was one of those enactments which had long been due for torpedoeing and replacement with a proper Education Act.

Having said that, I very strongly agree that the noble Viscount has raised an issue of very great importance. I support my noble friend the Minister in this instance. With great respect to what the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, said, I do not think that the real problem in this country is the education of the exceptionally mathematically gifted. I do not think that there is very much evidence that they —


I should like to correct the noble Lord before he goes any further. That is one problem. I went on to emphasise that what we are dealing with is the goodish mathematician who could do calculuses, say up to O-level. I am not concerned with Lord Bowden's one in a million. I am concerned with the chap who can do calculus, can do some statistics, and can teach the teachers of Lord Davies of Leek's people. So I am not all that egotistic.


That is a very useful correction, because it makes the point that 1 was about to make myself. As usual, the Departmental brief which the Minister has is slightly inadequate, because there is a great deal of evidence in fact about mathematical attainment in this country. The International Educational Achievement Survey, which is perhaps the most important piece of educational research ever undertaken, under the direction of Professor Torsten Husén, the very distinguished Swedish expert on these matters, shows that Britain, of all the industrial nations, lags behind in mathematical attainment among precisely the groups to which the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, has just referred.

We do not lag behind at the very top level, but we lag behind at levels 2, 3, 4 and 5 as it were, compared with Japan, Germany and France. One has to ask oneself, what is the reason for this? I think it is fairly clear that the emphasis which we have had on selection in the United Kingdom has restricted the number of people who have been able to attain relatively high qualifications in mathematics, though not the very highest. There is fairly considerable evidence that those countries with a less selective system have been producing more average and above average mathematicians. I have in mind particularly Sweden and France in this context.

Secondly, and much more important than this—and this is why I find the Amendment of the noble Viscount so incredibly attractive—we are the only country without a national curriculum. We have this absolutely dopey system of A-levels and a university structure, with the maths, sciences and engineering faculties half empty while people crowd into the interesting, thought not particularly helpful, faculties. I wish that my noble friend the Minister could apply his very considerable persuasive powers to his own Department to swing towards some conception of a national curriculum.

For donkey's years we have been talking about the reform of the A-level. It is unbelievable that we should be the only country in the Common Market where our children graduate at the age of 18 from the secondary school, having dropped mathematics years before. That is the basic cause; it is unforgivable—the higher specialisation in the sixth form. The higher specialisation in the sixth form has been justified because it has been the basis for the extraordinary selective system which has led up to the Oxford and Cambridge scholarships and so on, which has allegedly been the glory of our educational system. This marvellous highly selective system has accidentally ruined the country.

Viscount ECCLES

I must answer one or two points. First, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that it is the basic skills in the primary schools that matter, that start the thing off. But one has to go behind that and ask what proportion of the teachers in the primary schools have the qualifications to teach even the basic skills and perhaps to go a little further.

I would say that those qualifications should be that they took O-level in maths when they were in school. As said before—and I have to repeat it—I tried hard to get the best information I could, and it is that half the teachers in the primary schools have not got O-level, and never took O-level; but if you come out of a college of education as a qualified teacher, you then have to teach in a primary school whatever the head teacher asks you to teach, and if there is no other mathematics teacher you have to teach mathematics although you have no skill I in it at all. The purpose of my Amendment, which I concede needs a little revision and rethinking, is really to increase the number of boys And girls in the secondary schools who would after-wards become teachers, either in primary schools or in secondary schools. Both are very important. That will not happen unless the teaching in secondary schools, now 75 per cent. comprehensive, gets very much better than it is at present.

When the noble Lord says—and I have heard it so often—that the number of O- and A-level passes in mathematics is much the same as it was ten years ago, he really has only to go to the universities and ask them what they think about the level of those passes. The university teachers will tell him as a man that the degree of maturity which gets an O-level today is very different from what it was. I have had a number of letters on this subject, and I will not weary the Committee by quoting them, but those who have to award places in higher education to those who come up with mathematics qualifications do say, it seems, that these qualifications are the same in number, but in quality they are much lower than they were. This is sad, and it is exactly what we must try to get right.

In the same context, may I also say that if noble Lords try to get from the chief education officer of whatever area they happen to he interested in how many qualified mathematics teachers they have in their schools, they will find it extremely difficult to get any information out of them at all, because they are in fact aware that the proportion of non-qualified teachers in mathematics is so great that if parents knew it there would be a most prodigious row. It is this that we have to get right.

Then the noble Lord said that nothing in the comprehensive schools makes it more difficult to recruit competent mathematics for either industry or teaching. I wish I thought that were true. I hope that one day it will be true. For example, I know several grammar schools in the London area where they had a large sixth form. I think the noble Baroness referred to one where, out of 700 children, there were 200 in the sixth form and where, when that grammar school goes mini-comprehensive, as it has to do, the sixth form will be reduced to 60 from 200. It really stands to reason that mathematics is not going to be taught so yell as it was before. Indeed, if you have anything to do with the independent schools, you will find that competent mathematics teachers are applying for jobs in the independent schools because they do not want to go on in the comprehensive system. This, again, I regret very much. but the only way to get over that is to assure the qualified teachers in a comprehensive school that their talents will be used to the full. This is not happening in a great many comprehensive schools, and it is that which causes me to feel that unless something is put on the Statute Book which really makes mathematics a core subject (because once that happens the colleges of education will have to take a different view about how they train teachers to teach mathematics) we are never going to get this right.

I was interested to hear from the noble Lord that the Department is carrying out one or more examinations into the state of mathematics teaching and the number of teachers. I should like to ask this: if it is found, when those reports come out, that it is really going to be impossible to increase the supply of mathematics teachers unless there is selection and unless the inadequate supply of fully-qualified teachers is matched by children who are deliberately selected, would it not be impossible to do that unless some selection is put into this Bill, either on the lines of the Amendment which was put down on behalf of the Liberal Party and which was so narrowly carried, or by another Amendment that we might move on Report stage? I have listened with great interest to all that has been said. This is a very wide and complicated subject. I should like to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, but also to bring it back again in what may perhaps be a more practical form at the next stage of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.17 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 1, line 21, at end insert— ("( ) Subsection (1) above shall not be construed as affecting the power of any local education authority to arrange for the admission of pupils with particular needs to the schools most suitable for them.")

The noble Lord said: It would appear that now that the Committee have agreed Amendment No. 3, this Amendment No. 15, is unnecessary. However, it refers to admissions for particular needs which fall outside the wording of Clause 1. Therefore I should like to ask the Government this simple question: Do they agree that this Amendment is acceptable but unnecessary, because Clause 1 does not mention "needs" at all and therefore the Amendment is misconceived? That is what I expect the Government to say. If they agree with that statement, I shall be perfectly content with that assurance.

Baroness STEDMAN

This Amendment is totally unacceptable to the Government. It would completely destroy the purpose of this clause and therefore impair the effectiveness of this legislation in achieving comprehensive reorganisation. It would allow authorities, first, to decide their own criteria for judging whether a pupil has particular needs and, secondly, to admit those pupils to the schools they judge most suitable. For certain groups of pupils this Amendment is quite unnecessary. Subsection (2) allows special arrangements to be made for those who are physically or mentally handicapped and those with musical or dancing ability. In addition, the Secretary of State's approval for arrangements under Clause 5 will undoubtedly be forthcoming if these arrangements are for pupils with particular needs such as boarding need.

The Bill therefore already expressly allows local authorities to make arrangements for pupils with special needs. Moreover, it does not prohibit arrangements, such as co-operation between schools, to meet any other special needs, academic or otherwise, provided that admission arrangements on the basis of ability are not at issue. The principle in Clause 1 is really quite narrowly drawn: all that it does not allow is the making of special arrangements for the admission of pupils on the basis of their academic ability. But this would be permissible under the Amendment and authorities who so wished could claim that pupils in the top 20 per cent. of the ability band had particular needs and should therefore be educated together in one school in an area. By this means, they would legally be able to retain their selective system, and the whole point of this legislation would be lost. I must therefore urge noble Lords either to drop this Amendment or to reject it.


I am most grateful to the Conservative Front Bench for having decided at last to move this Amendment. It would have been wrong if this very important Amendment had not been discussed tonight, merely because an Amendment which most of us think was a wrecking Amendment, even though it may not have been intended as such, was passed.

This goes to the absolute heart of the Bill in both ways, and I have considerable sympathy with the Government Front Bench because, as a supporter of the comprehensive principle, I see that it is possible that this opens a very large loophole. Nevertheless, we on these Benches have always said that this is a mistaken Bill and that there is no need for compulsion. We have always felt that it was unnecessary to have a compulsory Bill at this stage, when we arc moving very fast towards a completely comprehensive system. We have always felt that there is a strong division between the principles of comprehensive education. on the one hand, and devolution and local choice, on the other.

I am afraid that the reply from the Government Front Bench is completely unacceptable. It seems to say that the Government are not prepared to give local education authorities any kind of discretion. We believe that, within a very broad framework, one should give that kind of discretion and the local education authorities are the people who can make judgments and they should be allowed to do so. Of course, they should not be allowed to do so to the extent that they completely wreck the comprehensive system, but there is a little too much extremism in the appeals of the Government Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said earlier that this is a fight. It is not a fight. There may be mistaken people; there may be people who are opposed to each other on this subject. But, on the whole, the great mass of people interested in education in this country are moving in the same way.

This seems to me the most sensible Amendment which is down on the Marshalled List from any Party, and I say that categorically. Obviously, at this stage, and with the situation which we have got into, I shall not urge the Conservative Front Bench to take one kind of action or another. But I am extremely glad that they have allowed to us discuss the Amendment and that at Report stage, as they have been saying, we will come back to discuss this or something similar. The Government keep on saying that they cannot allow discretion, that if they allow any loopholes, then, somehow, the whole comprehensive system will be blown open, apparently because there appears to be such immensely strong feeling against it, which I do not believe, having listened to the debate tonight and because of my experience over the last few years. But if there is such feeling against it, perhaps we should not be passing this Bill at all. If we want the comprehensive principle to survive, we must also at the same time allow a very great deal of local option and it seems to me that this Amendment is the right one.

As I said, given the situation in which we find ourselves tonight, I am not saying that the Conservative Front Bench should necessarily take this Amendment to a Division. But I am very glad that they have allowed us to discuss it, and I sincerely hope that we shall be allowed to vote on something exactly the same at a later stage and, if they do not, I will.


I rise to support this Amendment, particularly because it refers to the powers of local education authorities. I was chairman of a local education authority for some eight or 10 years, and in Scotland we have a fairly widespread system of education. It is not comprehensive in the exact sense in which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, used the term, but it is widely disseminated and all the opportunities are open to all pupils who come to our schools. 1 can honestly say that during those eight or 10 years any gifted child of 15, or 16 as it is now, who wanted to go on to university, technical college or any further education establishment, could do so because we were prepared to pay all his or her expenses. There was no question at all of favouritism for any particular class or type of person. Anybody who wanted to go on to further education after the age of 15, now 16, was able to do so.

If somebody had come along and said to the education committee, "Oh, no, you have no authority to operate your education system like that. We tell you that you have got to do" A, B or C, there would have been a riot, and I think that there would be a riot today. It does away with the idea of democratic election to local authorities, democratic administration and so on if everything has to be controlled from the centre—whether from the Scottish Office in my case or from the education authority in this case.

It is terrible to say that you are not going to consider the individual abilities, desires, tastes or what you will of children because of the old refrain: "Everything has got to be comprehensive and everything has got to be equal". This is impossible; it simply is not so. You may say it over and over again. The noble Lord has said it over and over again and throughout the proceedings he will go on saying that everyting has got to be equal and that everything has got to be comprehensive; but it is not and you cannot make it so.


I have said that in due course I hope that everything will be comprehensive, but never in my life—certainly never in this House—have I said that I think everything ought to be equal.


If one says that everything has got to be comprehensive, it means that all schools have got to be comprehensive, which means equal in the sense that one is not going to allow grammar schools, maintained schools or any variation. This is what I object to. If there is variation, you are able to meet the needs of individual children. After all, what is education? Is education simply a blueprint that everybody has got to do the same thing and have the same comprehensive education? Surely not. To try to make everything the same is the most—I was going to say degrading, but I do not want to use that word—depressing (that is a better word) form of education.

I think that the Amendment which has been supported by my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley and which I support would at least introduce a certain variation into the system and would also leave us with an education authority which had the power to arrange for the admission of pupils with particular needs to the schools most suitable for them. That is democracy and that is what I support.


I agree that this is a very sensible Amendment. It stands in my name and the names of my noble friends, so what else would anybody expect? I must admit, however, that my interpretation of what the noble Baroness said, although she sounded a little severe when she started, is that this Amendment is unnecessary and this, if I am right when I read her words tomorrow, I will certainly accept. At the end of her remarks the noble Baroness also said that the effects of the Amendment would go wider than perhaps I had admitted. It is mainly for that reason that I am not going to press the Amendment to a Division this evening.

However, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has spoken very strongly in support of the Amendment—and especially my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood. I think that it is the first time this evening that anybody has spoken really strongly about the powers of local education authorities and I am most grateful to my noble friend for having done so. Let us not forget that the partnership in education between local and central Government has existed for many years. It was part of the foundation of the 1944 Act and it was enshrined in the Local Government Act 1973 when the Government of the day went out of their way to ensure that the statutory education committees were continued and the powers and duties of authorities were continued as Well.

Do not let us forget, either, that local government is the biggest local authority spender, and even if a local authority has established a totally comprehensive system, surely an education committee should be entrusted with the power of making the best use of available resources by trying to ensure that pupil attend the school where the needs of thy; individual will be looked after best.

That is my view, and I shall therefore look closely at what the noble Baroness has said, and if I feel that we can table another Amendment with a similar effect I shall certainly do so at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.31 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 16: Page 1, line 21, at end insert— ("( ) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: By a small majority, but nevertheless in the teeth of both Front Benches, your Lordships quite rightly passed Amendment No. 5, for which I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is extremely grateful, because if I under-stood him aright in a recent speech on mathematics he said that they would get round to dealing with the one-in-a-mill on mathematicians and actually consider whether they needed a special school. My Amendment makes it possible for him to do so, should they so decide, and no doubt he is suitably grateful.

However, this Amendment is in fact more or less consequential in that I believe that probably no-one in the Committee would not want my Amendment No. 5 to be governed by this necessary resort to Parliament before such regulations were laid. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 1, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?

10.33 p.m.


I should like briefly to cast an eye over our collective shoulder at Clause 1 to remind your Lordships that we have incorporated a number of changes in the Bill, with or without acrimony. The first of these was to entrench principles already in the 1944 Act, which some of us believed and others doubted were already protected. We thought there should be no great difference about that. The second, which was moved by my noble friend Lord Belstead as Amendment No. 3, to leave out the words "or partly", has been stigmatised a number of times now as being a wrecking Amendment. I think it is now accepted that it is not wrecking in intention. If that is accepted then it is open to Her Majesty's Government to suggest ways in which it may be ameliorated so that it cannot become a wrecking Amendment but only a permissive Amendment, enabling the principles that ought to be safeguarded, and that we have agreed should be safeguarded, to be safeguarded.

This is one of the occasions when the Government have not said whether or not one may expect correspondence, and judging by their inexpressive countenances I would imagine that the postman will not be busy in that direction. However, I think it would be in their interests and in the interests of the Committee to get clarified, that it is not the intention of this Committee as a whole to wreck the Bill. It is the intention of this part of this House to see that the Bill goes forward, putting into pactice maybe a principle which we do not like, but putting it into practice none the less, and in so doing to protect the interests of those we feel it is our responsibility to protect, namely the children, the parents and the local authorities. I do not think it is beyond the wit of mortal man, and I am sure it is not beyond the wit of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness opposite, to arrive at something like this, and if they feel that consultation with us would be helpful, we should welcome it.


I will certainly have a look at that. I am not clear where it leaves us. We have had an 8-hour discussion on Clause 1 which is, of course, the most important part of the Bill, so I think this is a perfectly reasonable thing to have done. Every single Amendment has been an attempt to weaken Clause 1, and the Amendments noble Lords have passed have succeeded in doing so. This will have to be dealt with in the future, of course.

Having said that, we have had a useful discussion in which, although I have not given very much away, I have taken a certain amount away. There are a number of things I shall want to discuss with my colleagues not in relation to Clause 1, but in relation to educational policy in general, which is really the object of a debate of this kind. Though the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said I was wrong, I do think there is a battle. There is a very large number of members of the Tory Party who regard our approach to comprehensive schooling as actually damaging and rather evil. If I may say so, many of their better members do not think that: many accept comprehensive schooling as an entirely satisfactory thing, but there is a backlash of people who feel differently. We are trying to protect ourselves against this in this Bill. If we do no worse than we have done over Clause 1, we may end by not having ruined the Bill altogether.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Submission of proposals for giving effect to comprehensive principle]:

10.37 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 17: Page 2, line 3, after second ("in") insert ("the county schools in")

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, in speaking to Amendment No. 17, I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 25, 27, 28, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39 and 41. The effect of these Amendments would be to remove the voluntary schools from the effects of this Bill. Since the 1944 Education Act, voluntary schools have been an integral part of the education system. I cannot believe that there is a desire on their part to see these Amendments passed, provided some improvements can be made to the position in which they find themselves under the terms of this Bill.

I must remind the Government that the 1944 Act was a settlement which took years and not months to agree, was acceptable to all Parties at the time, and to the various educational interests. This Bill breaches that settlement in certain ways, and this group of Amendments will enable the Government to explain their position on various points which at best are obscure, and which may well be unacceptable to various people in your Lordships' Committee.

First, I should like to ask whether the Government have any figures to show the loss of denominational school places as a result of their educational policies. The destruction of the direct grant schools has already removed many schools with Christian tradition and teaching from the reach of many parents. How many voluntary-aided places and, indeed, voluntary controlled places, will go the same way, or have gone the same way, seeking independence from the demands of this Government, or else perforce may be closed under reorganisation. However, the majority of voluntary schools will determine to remain within the maintained system, and for them some fundamental questions arise.

Under Section 17(3)(b) of the 1944 Act, the articles of government of a school shall be the instrument under which any school is conducted. The articles of most voluntary-aided secondary schools allocate responsibility to the governors for the admission of pupils, provided the governors act in accordance with arrangements agreed with the local education authority. As the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, may well know, in recent years there have been disagreements between some authorities and schools concerning arrangements for the drawing of catchment areas. But any such disagreements are insignificant compared to the effect which this Bill will have upon admissions procedures to the voluntary schools. Will it not be the case that under this Bill the Secretary of State will be able to interfere with the articles of government, that an all-ability intake is virtually bound to alter the areas from which a voluntary school admits, and that there is nothing in Clause 2, which we are on at present, and Clause 3, except financial stringency, to prevent the Secretary of State from simply directing the voluntary school to change its character?

As I have already mentioned earlier in our debates, about four months ago the Department issued a new draft manual of guidance for admission of children to schools. In that entire draft, so far as can see, no mention has been made of the part played by religion in deciding admissions to voluntary schools. Was that an oversight or is the Government's intention that denominational places shall continue to be offered?

Finally, I would ask the Government to explain what a voluntary school is to do if a local education authority puts forward proposals under Clause 2 which are unacceptable to the school concerned. The noble Lord may say to me that, of course, the voluntary schools must be co-operative and must learn to fit in with the authority's plans, even though the 1944 Act specifically reserved for the governors the right to put forward proposals for reorganisation. Suppose the local authority's reorganisation proposals include a plan to reorganise a voluntary school out of existence. In June the Department published its latest projections of the future school population and they show a dramatic fall of sonic 1½ to 2 million pupils in the projected total school population over the next 10 years. It is an incredible figure.

It is more than likely that when reorganising secondary education the authority will wish to preserve its own county schools; it is natural. What safeguards exist in Clauses 2 or 3 to preserve the existence or the identity of a voluntary school? None that I can see. And, of course, under the 1974 Act the Secretary of State is already empowered to alter trust deeds and direct trust funds of a voluntary school once he has approved Section 13 proposals, and it never entered the head of the Government at that time that we would be having a Bill within three years to force voluntary schools to accept Section 13 proposals. Those are some of the questions which I think arise from the inclusion of the voluntary schools in this clause and in Clause 3. I hope the Government will be able to give some assurances on the points I have raised.

The Lord Bishop of BLACKBURN

I hope that this Amendment will riot be either pressed or passed in the last resort. It could become a wedge between the voluntary schools and the count) schools. In other words, it could wreck the dual system, a system which depends not so much on the 1944 Act but on the 1870 Act, a system in which we from the voluntary side have been partners with the local authorities and with the State in the provision of education. That partnership is, I believe, a unifying factor in society. From our angle it has also happened to be a unifying factor within the Churches. There was a time in the 1870s when the effect of that Act was to say that you were having Rome on the rates; that was in fact a common cry at the time. It is almost unbelievable that there are actually now Anglican-Roman schools. I know there are only two, but there are two. This is a unifying factor within the Churches, as it is within society.

Our voluntary schools—that is to say, our Church of England schools and my colleagues in the Roman Catholic Education Council, and I can to some extent speak for both, being Chairman of the Churches Joint Educational Policy Committee—comprise some 2 million children. Therefore, we are a considerable partnership. It is just short of 2 million. Half a million of those are in our secondary schools. But then all but 23, I. think it is, of those secondary schools have now either become, or are in the process of becoming, comprehensive.

To have an exemption, which we are not asking for, which to some extent could be regarded as an exclusion, would make us an alternative system rather than part of a dual system. I believe that in the dual system the strength of the bond is more important than the duality. It would be a pity to turn what we regard as the dual system into an alternative system. The alternative system is the independent system, as I would have seen it, and we have heard referred to as human rights, and other things, but there must be an independent sector to provide an alternative system. I believe that there would be a danger, if this Amendment No. 17 at any rate were accepted as it stands, of weakening the strength of the link between the voluntary schools, particularly the aided schools and the county schools. I like to feel that our aided Church schools in fact enhance the quality of the education within the total of the country, the total national education system.

We do not want to become competitors; we want to remain partners. Very recently across the way in Church House we had a debate in our Church of England General Synod and passed a resolution in which we strongly affirmed the belief in the rightness and value of partnership with the State and the local education authorities in the field of education expressed in the dual system. If this Amendment does not in any way weaken it, well and good, but we are not asking for the exemption and I do not believe that it would help us in our contribution to the system.

10.48 p.m.


I speak on behalf of the non-denominational voluntary aided school which the local education authority suggested we might turn into a Church of England school away from our own site, losing our identity. I am speaking really about a school in the ILEA area, a girls' grammar school. The Minister has reiterated over and over again that 25 per cent. of the schools of this country are not comprehensive. I am speaking on behalf of one small portion of that 25 per cent. I have a feeling that we may yet prove to be the David to the Government's Goliath, and we all know what happened to him.

The Government are sacrificing the children of this country for a mess of comprehensive pottage. For 32 years the school of which I have the honour to be the chairman of the governors has been in the State system, and so far as I can make out our only error has been that we have selected our children by academic distinction. As a result, we have a considerable number of girls who have recently taken A-level in mathematics; 78 in all. That helps to strengthen the case that has been made that those places that have good mathematical teaching should he encouraged still further.

For three years the governors of this school have been negotiating with the local education authority. Three proposals were put up before us. None of them was acceptable to the school, the staff, or the parents, and at the end of the day the local education authority have asked the Secretary of State to allow them to serve a Section 13 notice on the school to cease to maintain the school. Why? Because we could not agree as to the future place of the school in the State system. It was not for want of trying. We have been on the most equable and friendly terms with the local education authority throughout. Their inspectors have done all they could to help us, but it was going to mean a tremendous drop in the standards of what we had worked out over the last 32 years and we could not see our way to signing away what we were doing.

What does this mean? The last entry of children maintained by the ILEAs—and we are not only working with ILEA but also with some of the nearer out-county boroughs—entered the school in September of this year. ILEA and Richmond, one of the out-county boroughs which sent a number of children to our school, have agreed to maintain those children who are already in the school under their auspices or who came into the school in September of this year until they have finished their education up to the stage of further education, and we are extremely grateful to ILEA and to Richmond for this generous interpretation of what they may be allowed to do. But, on the other hand, the same attitude has not been taken by some of the other out-county boroughs and it is because of this that I am venturing to raise the case of this school as an example of what may happen to other voluntary-aided schools which are forced into the independent sector by being unable to agree with their local education authorities.

Out of out-county boroughs, Hounslow have taken seven places in infant school and three into the sixth form for one year—that means until 1977—and they have indicated that they are then going to cease to maintain those children. Ealing have taken six places for one year. Merton have taken one place for one year and Hillingdon have done the same. This does not seem to me at all to show any moral obligation to the children whose parents have chosen to send their children to this voluntary-aided school which, through no fault of its own, is being forced into the independent sector and which will have to charge fees as from September of next year, 1977, for any children who then come in.

Another voluntary-aided school affected in the same way is Emanuel. Its normal ILEA intake is 95 places for total education. This year it has not been as lucky as we have. ILEA have dropped their 95 places to 60. Richmond, on the other hand have kept to the 10 they normally take up. Out of the out-county boroughs affecting Emanuel, 14 places have been taken by Croydon for one year, four by Merton for one year, two by Hounslow and one by Kingston.

If I may just emphasise the point I am trying to make it is this. If it is going to be impossible in the future for some of the voluntary-aided schools which are becoming independent to maintain their place in the educations system, it is of the utmost importance that the Government should see that the attitude taken by ILEA and Richmond, one of the out-county boroughs, should be taken by all those other out-county boroughs. It seems to me dishonest for them to allow children from their boroughs to come for one year and then to say they are going to cease to maintain them altogether—in other words, Oat either they have to leave the school or their parents have to start paying fees.

The other question I am very anxious to ask the Government is this What I have been talking about has been happening over the last three years and came to a final arrangement this summer. Will the passing of the Bill affect any arrangements already made between the governors and LEA? I am speaking not only of our school but of any other schools affected in this way, because throughout the Bill it appears from time to time that the Minister will have retrospective control over what is already happening What I am so afraid of is that those of us who have been trying to assist the Government—by coming to decisions and not hanging fire; by deciding what our future is to be—will be penalised by the passing of the Bill and so undo all the arrangements that have already been made.


The noble Baroness will not expect me to comment on the detailed cases she quoted, though we will of course examine them closely. I think it would be wrong before hearing both sides and the rest to say anything. I am endeavouring to obtain an answer to her last question. That answer not yet having arrived, I will write to her about whether an arrangement made between the LEA and the school could be affected by the Bill. My fear is that it may be, but I will write to her. I was pleased indeed at the response of the right reverend Prelate and it was extremely encouraging to me as a churchman to find that the Church schools, which are the majority of the voluntary schools, are so contented with the present arrangements. I had a speech prepared saying much the same kind of things as he said, so I will spare your Lordships a good deal of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, wants to pull the voluntary schools out of the system despite the fact that with the exception of 15 per cent. of the capital, they are entirely maintained by the State and the Government would never contemplate that, but we are much encouraged in our attitude by the fact that more than half of them do not want to go, and that is very satisfactory. I do not think I need go into much more detail about that; it was well covered by the right reverend Prelate.

The Bill provides that local education authorities shall seek to draw the voluntary schools into the local proposals for ending selection; that is in Clause 2(2). Then, if voluntary schools do not respond by making proposals for reorganisation—proposals which, under the Education Acts, they alone can make—the Secretary of State can require them to do so; that is in Clause 2(3). Their proposals may not necessarily fit in with the preferences of the local education authority, but whatever proposals for genuine reorganisation they put forward will be considered on their merits. Thus, voluntary school proposals will be considered—as the Churches, above all, have asked—on exactly the same footing as local education authority proposals and this applies whether the voluntary school proposals are submitted willingly and transmitted by the authority with their own proposals, whether they are submitted willingly but quite separately under Section 13, or whether they are submitted in response to a requirement under Clause 2(3). Moreover, Clause 3(2) ensures that these schools will not be required to do anything they genuinely cannot afford to do.

The provisions which noble Lords opposite want to strike out are thus precisely the provisions which are intended to encourage voluntary school governors and local education authorities to find a place for these great voluntary schools within the comprehensive system. In view of what the right reverend Prelate has said and in view of what I have said, I shall be surprised if we cannot persuade the noble Lord to withdraw the Amendment. But if we cannot, then I must advise the Committee to reject it.


I absolutely accept the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn that these Amendments could be a wedge if they were pressed to a Division and would endanger the dual system. I really must point out to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that the tenor of my speech was in that sense and was not that I wished to de-gut the Bill so far as the voluntary schools were concerned. I made it clear that I was using this group of Amendments as a peg on which to hang a certain number of questions and although, as always, I was very grateful to the noble Lord for the full reply he gave to the last question I asked—a reply which was totally unsatisfactory—the noble Lord has given me no replies at all to about five or six of my first questions, and I am sure it would not be asking too much if I suggested that perhaps he should write to me before the next stage of the Bill.

Clearly the weak link concerning the omissions in the noble Lord's replies this evening is that, however the Government attempt to present it, the effect of the Bill is bound to be that the governors of the schools concerned are going to have no control over which children can attend their school. Even assuming that the school is going comprehensive the governors might want to have certain controls, although I assume that the denominational control continues to exist. I and my noble friends would like to look very carefully at the Bill between this stage and the next to see whether we cannot devise an Amendment which will continue to ensure at least some right to admit pupils as the school thinks best within, so far as possible, the comprehensive principle of Clause 1.

Before I sit down, may I thank my noble friend Lady Brooke for what I think was a most important speech which clearly showed the need to safeguard the position of voluntary aided schools in this sense. If the Bill is going to make it impossible for a voluntary school to preserve any academic selection, then in some cases the school will feel, maybe with a heavy heart, that it has no option but to go independent. In that event, it is essential for the pupils who are already in the school to be able to continue until their education is complete, and this is what our subsequent Amendments 40 and 47 are going to try to achieve. I hope that your Lordships will think that this has not been a waste of time but a useful debate. The position of the voluntary schools in this Bill is considerable, and in my view precarious, and in all seriousness if the noble Lord would reply to several of my questions which he did not have the time to reply to I should be most grateful.


I should like to reply to the noble Lord on one question to which I have the answer. He asked how many denominational school places have been lost as a result of this Bill. The answer is none in maintained schools, and the Roman Catholic and Church of England schools broadly support the comprehensive principle, so we suppose none there either.


I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.3 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 18: Page 2, line 5, after ("him") insert ("after consultation with teachers, parents and governors and").

The noble Lord said: We are now caught up in the machinery which the Secretary of State intends to use in order to enforce the comprehensive principle of Clause 1. Before going any further into Clause 2, I think it is just worth stating the powers by which county or voluntary schools can be established or discontinued under Section 13 of the Education Act 1944.

First of all, proposals to establish a new school or to close, enlarge or significantly change the character of an existing school can only be made by a local education authority or the managers on governors of a voluntary school. Public notice must be given of any proposals in at least one newspaper, by posting the notice up at a conspicuous place in the area at or near to the main entrance to the school and in such other manner as appears desirable for giving publicity, and after his there is a period of two months for 10 or more local government electors or the managers or governors of the voluntary school to object to the proposals. This, to my mind, is a clearly understood democratic procedure for taking a step which may affect the education of generations of children; namely, altering the way in which the local schools of the area are reorganised.

Let us be clear that what Clause 2 is doing is destroying that democratic procedure, first, because the initiative to make proposals is taken away from the local authority or the voluntary schools and it will be the Secretary of State who will give an order requiring reorganisation proposals to be prepared and, secondly, because those proposals will hive to be made in accordance with the principle of Clause 1. Your Lordships will notice that we on this side of the Committee have tabled no Amendments on these two issues. We have not done so because we took the view that that would be to wreck the main objective of the Bill. What we have attempted to do, however, is to make the effects of Clause 1 more flexible.

Surely, however, the Government do not intend to abolish the means whereby local views on proposals may properly be taken into account. It is for that reason that the Amendment is tabled. I really hope that, on this occasion, the Government will be able to accept it, if not in letter at least in spirit. I beg to move.


I do not think that, by the time I have finished what I have to say, we shall be so far apart. We are absolutely clear on the importance of consultation and there is no intention of reducing it in any way, but we have a number of things which exist and which seem to me to provide what the noble Lord is asking for. First, Circular 4/74, outlining the Government's policy on secondary reorganisation, drew attention to this—in particular to the need for local education authorities to explain their proposals fully to the parents and teachers involved and to consider any views expressed by them while proposals are being formulated and before they are submitted. Nothing can be clearer than that. It is far better for proposals to be discussed locally before they are finalised and submitted, as this gives the opportunity for greater participation in the planning. Once proposals have been formally submitted, we have Section 13 procedures, and local government electors have the right to submit objections to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State within the specified two months period.


Will the noble Lord tell me where in the Bill the Section 13 procedure is laid down?


I think it is in Clause 2 if it is not in Clause 3, but we can look that up as we go.


Clause 3 is optional, not mandatory, at the moment, so it can be avoided.


Can be avoided?


The word "may" is used. We have a debate pending on this—


Perhaps we should wait until then, because we stand behind the Section 13 procedure as the means of consultation in all these things. We think it adequate and we believe that there is no better way of doing it. I consider that most local education authorities have carried out fairly full consultations before submitting responses to Circular 4/74. Not only do we study comments from the local education authority or governing body promoting the proposal, but we give particularly careful attention to any objections submitted.

Clause 2(2) requires local education authorities to consult the manager or governors of any voluntary aided schools affected by reorganisation proposals; I do not consider it practical to legislate to extend consultation to the parents and teachers also involved. I emphasise the word "legislate"; I have already shown that the Government recognise the importance of such consultation. It is the responsibility of the proposers to clear the ground locally for their proposals and it would not be appropriate for central Government to insist it was done in a particular way. We already take up with proposers any objections on the grounds of inadequate consultation; I do not think we can go further in this matter without removing local initiative. There is little virtue at present in trying to formalise the concept of consultations. There has been a growing acceptance by proposers that consultation is an integral part of any proposal, and I think that over a relatively short period of time this has become an automatic part of the system.

It is true that the 1970 Bill included specific provisions about consultation. But we have moved on from there, in two ways. First, as I have said, the need for consultation is more generally recognised, and I believe that LEAs and voluntary school governors have since taken to heart the need for consultation. Secondly—and this is an important difference between the 1970 Bill and this Bill—the 1970 Bill provided for the approval of reorganisation proposals in advance of the Section 13 procedure, although that procedure would still subsequently be necessary. That would have meant that plans could have been approved without the public—or even teachers—being aware of them, if a specific consultation provision had not been written in. This is not the case under this Bill. No statutory approval would have been given until the Section 13 procedure has been completed. So there is no need for any safeguard in the Bill to ensure that interested parties are given a chance to air their views. The Section 13 procedure itself provides that safeguard, and this Amendment is unnecessary.

The noble Lord has questioned whether this is in the Bill. I shall have to look through and find it for him, but this is the basis on which I rest my case.

My objection to the other Amendment, however, is different. It does not seek to legislate on a matter which is not appropriate for legislation, and hence it does not share the defects of the first Amendment. It merely presupposes that some consultation will have, and ought to have, taken place, and that my right honourable friend will take this into account in her consideration of the proposals. The Government share those presuppositions. My objection to the Amendment is that it is unnecessary and that it introduces into Clause 2 a certain imbalance of emphasis.

What I mean is this. Clause 2(5) already enables the Secretary of State to require authorities to submit proposals in such form as she may direct. My right honourable friend will undoubtedly require a good deal of background information about the proposals, and I am prepared to give an undertaking that one piece of information which she will require—and take into account, as appropriate to the circumstances of each case—will be the nature and extent of consultation undertaken, of the sort specified in this Amendment. But there are other factors—such as present and expected pupil numbers, patterns of provision existing and proposed, and resources available—which will be at least equally important. However vital the question of consultation may be—and I agree with noble Lords opposite that it is vital, and authorities in general would agree too—it seems unbalanced to single out this one aspect for a statutory requirement in the Bill.

I do not believe that there is much difference between us. We pay the greatest importance to consultation, and we reckon that the arrangements made are entirely adequate. I hope that in the light of these assurances noble Lords will not find it necessary to press the Amendment.


In view of what the noble Lord has said in drawing our attention to Clause 2(5), which I personally regard as disastrous, in that it gives the Secretary of State almost autonomous powers over everything, and in view of the fact that the noble Lord said that the Government intend to consult, surely he cannot be against the Amendment proposed by my noble friend? All we want is more consultation at the right level. I would certainly back my noble friend when he asks for consultation with teachers, parents and governors.

We think that that is very important at all stages; certainly it is in view of what the noble Lord has said. I think that it is important that we should have this consultation written into the Bill. It is no good expecting people to do this because they have been doing it for so long; or for reasons of good will. This consultation should be written into the Bill, and so I support my noble friend.

11.15 p.m.


I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Macleod, because as she was speaking she reminded me that I had sought to put it in a moderate way in the sense that my last words were: "Even if not in the letter, I hope the Government will be able to accept what I have said in the spirit". I am going to be very short because we lave two Amendments, one from the Liberal Front Bench and one from our own Front Bench, which are on the same subject in the sense that they are dealing with time limits, and I think we can go to those rather quickly. But I must point out to your Lordships what I consider to be the implications of the noble Lori's reply. As I understand the reply which we have been given this evening, when you look under Clause 2(1) you see that the Secretary of State will require comprehensive proposals, and there is no requirement that there shall be consultations or any suggestion that any time limit should be given for them. Then, if the Secretary of State does not like those proposals, under Clause 2(4) he can go back to the local authority or to the managers or governors of the voluntary school, can spell out what it is that he or she wants and can say that those proposals must be put into effect within a certain time.

The noble Lord, as part of his answer, said, "But this is all right because eventually there will be the Section 13 procedure", which I sought to outline when I was moving this Amendment. "There will be that democratic procedure which everyone understands, including posting up notices and making objections". Where is that embedded? First of all, the Minister did not know, which is not a frightfully good start.


Clause 3(1).


Very well; let us read the words. The words, in essence, say this: Where any of the proposals submitted to the Secretary of State…by a local education authority…or…by the managers or governors of a voluntary school…being proposals to be wholly or partly carried into effect within five years after the date on which they are submitted…, the Secretary of State may direct that those proposals (or any of them) shall be treated as if they had been submitted to him by the local education authority under Section 13. I do not know what that means. I hope that at this hour somebody else knows what it means. It certainly does not fill me with any confidence at all that at the end of this appalling procedure in Clause 2 there is going to be a Section 13 procedure.

In all seriousness, may I just point out, before we go on to the next Amendment, what it is we are doing at the beginning of Clause 2? What we are doing is saying that if there is no consultation at all at this early stage then it will be assumed by the Secretary of State that the proposals which have been put forward from the locality are acceptable. That may be far from the case, but how on earth is the Secretary of State to know if no local views are given? I must confess—this is my last word—that if the Section 13 procedure really does exist in Clause 3, I am deeply suspicious of it anyway, because by the time you get to Clause 3 it will be clear what it is that the Secretary of State wants. He is the arbiter, and the decision can reasonably be assumed to have been taken beforehand, without any consultation or any time at all for anyone to talk to anyone else.

I am not going to press this Amendment because I believe the Amendment which ought to be pressed is either the Liberal Amendment or our Amendment which follows it. They will give the time, and therefore within that time there should be the consultations. But I think this is the negation of democracy, and I really am appalled at the answer we have been given this evening.


I think I must defend myself here. The Section 13 procedure is an absolutely sound procedure. It has worked very well for many years. It involves the posting up of a scheme, and it involves an opportunity being given for everybody to make objections. The noble Lord is speaking as if this was some frightfully new fascist thing. I simply cannot understand it; it must be the lateness of the hour. It really is a most extraordinary statement. Here you have a very elaborate system of consultation written into the Bill and referred to in the Bill. Admittedly, I dropped my copy of the Bill when the noble Lord asked me so I could not give him the reference, but these things happen at the best regulated Boxes. Normally the noble Lord is extremely reasonable, polite and sensible, but this is not any of those things. Here you have an absolutely democratic procedure without which the Secretary of State can do nothing, and the noble Lord talks like that. He says he is appalled—I am appalled.


May I ask where "consultation" is written into this Bill?


Consultation is written into the Bill under Section 13, where people make objections. It is assumed under Circular 4/54—I think that is the number—that consultation will take place. That is the normal practice which is going on today and has been going on for the last four or five years. Where proposals are made under this circular, consultations are made and local authorities are asked to make them. I said earlier that they have invariably referred to the consultations they have made in putting out their plans. That is the position today and it has not changed in any way whatever.


In withdrawing this Amendment, I think I had better leave it to the Liberal Front Bench and my noble friend Lord Elton to take up the cudgels. But I must say that Circular 4/54 has nothing to do with what we are talking about this evening. That was to do with submission of plans of reorganisation by local authorities and voluntary schools. That freedom has been taken away by Clause 2. Circular 4/74 was also concerned with the procedure which the noble Lord referred to under Section 13. The thing he does not seem to have taken on board is that if Section 13 really does exist under Clause 3—and if he assures me that that is so I will accept it—by the time one gets there through Clause 2, the whole situation will have been made into a sham, because it will be clear what the Secretary of State wants. In fact the Section 13 procedure will be, if not null and void, at least of no real value. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.


I have here a copy of a Section 13 notice that was served on a school in which I am interested. It has been said that consultation is always the order of the day. There is no mention in this Section 13 notice that was posted up in this particular school—nor, I imagine, in other schools—of "consultation". It merely says that objections to the proposals may be submitted to the Secretary of State. There is no mention of consultation. There is no mention anywhere in Section 13 of "consultation".


Is the noble Baroness suggesting that there was no consultation or just that the notice did not refer to it?— because Section 2(2) in the new Bill says: Before submitting any proposals under this section a local education authority shall consult the managers or governors, or persons representing the managers or governors, of every voluntary school (whether or not in their area) which is in the authority's opinion affected by the proposals;"… Quite honestly, I am at a loss to understand what we are talking about.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.25 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 19: Page 2, line 6, after ("may") insert ("reasonably").

The noble Lord said: I think the argument about this point has already been deployed to a very large extent, and I do not see that there is anything which really needs to be said—for which your Lordships will be extremely grateful, at this hour of the night. To produce the adverb "reasonably" in a situation like this seems totally unobjectionable. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, may say that it is unnecessary, and perhaps it is. But whereas the noble Lord may just have had some right on his side, when arguing earlier about a whole extra clause which he said was unreasonable, he surely should not object to one word which defines the powers which the Government have and which surely, if it does nothing else, will reassure the people concerned. I do not see that there is anything more to argue, particularly after what the Conservative Front Bench said on the previous Amendment. I beg to move.


It may be to the convenience of the Committee to consider with the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, our Amendment No. 20, which is a little longer, and which. I shall plead a little more extensively than he did his. Clause 1 sets out the direction in which the Bill is to move. Clause 2 determines the means and the rate of progress. Clause 1 is the steering wheel, as it were, and Clause 2 is the accelerator. Amendment No. 19 requires the Secretary of State "to drive with due care and attention''. Recent experience leads us to doubt whether Secretaries of State always know exactly what that phrase means, and we have therefore suggested a speed limit.

Different limits would normally apply to different circumstances, but one cannot legislate for every state of preparedness of every local authority. We are aware that, even if they have been considering 100 per cent. co-operation with the Government for a long time, the processes of consultation, to which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, himself has already drawn our attention during the last heated exchange on subsection (2) of this clause, must take a considerable time. There are authorities which have exercised their perfectly democratic and independent rights in the past, and have hence been called by Her Majesty's Government "rebel authorities" which have not been giving their undivided attention to going 100 per cent. comprehensive in the near future, and of course they will need longer. The Secretary of State is already allowed —in line 35 on page 2, in a passage to which we have marked our grave exception —to send hack proposals for redrafting in his own terms, and we feel that the provisions of this clause are draconian and unacceptable. We must at the start, therefore, make sure that at least the elementary precautions of a democratic consultative process have been gone through, and that there has been time to do it.

It is a fact of life that Secretaries of State are political animals, and it is no good noble Lords opposite pretending that it is only Tory Secretaries of State who are political animals, because manifestly, when in office, anybody is subject to political pressure. The fact is that all of us are politically motivated and our motivations colour our choices, however impartial we seek to be. The clause, as it stands, is an open invitation to a Minister of either Party to allow ample time for consultation when it is likely to reinforce the plans he favours and very little when it does not. We do not wish to tempt him or her, whatever their political colour, to proceed like this, and noble Lords will find that our view is shared by many who are responsible for administering the tangled and controversial laws of education that are growing up about us.

At this late hour I do not think that it is necessary to go on at much greater length than that. Noble Lords are aware of the temptations of office on all, whatever their Party, to play within the rules but to extend the chances of their view prevailing where they are supposed to be impartial. Let us not illustrate this closely. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, may not know to what I refer. I will not refer to it more closely. But I have made the point and I shall be interested to see whether it is necessary to expound it further.

Baroness STEDMAN

The aim of both these Amendments, I think, is to ensure that the Secretary of State specifies a reasonable time limit when she requires authorities to prepare and submit reorganisation proposals under Clause 2. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, seeks to do this by inserting the word "reasonably"; however, the drafting of Amendment No. 19 is defective in that the word "reasonably" has been so placed that it refers to the specification of the time limit, rather than the time limit itself—and it is the time limit, of course, which must be reasonable.

I do not wish to base the Government's case for rejecting the Amendment on a question of detail like that but rather on consideration of the principle behind it. It is settled law that a provision of the kind in Clause 2(1) must specify a reasonable time limit. As the clause stands at present any time limit specified by the Secretary of State could be challenged by proceedings in the High Court for a declaration on the grounds that the time given was unreasonable in all the circumstances. The insertion of the word "reasonably" adds nothing to this right of challenge. In fact it may even have a deleterious effect by casting doubt on the extent of the other duties imposed on the Secretary of State to which the duty to act reasonably is not expressly added. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, may feel able to withdraw his Amendment.

If we look at the other Amendment, we find an attempt to specify a minimum period of time—18 months—for the preparation and submission of initial proposals. I have indicated that the Bill as at present drafted contains sufficient safeguard against the Secretary of State's stipulating an unreasonably short time limit. No one—least of all she herself—would wish unreasonable time limits to be specified. Ministers have often expressed their distaste for ill-conceived, botched-up schemes of reorganisation; such schemes would certainly not gain the Secretary of State's approval. She would therefore have no reason to lay on authorities too harsh a timetable which might lead to the submission of just such proposals. But in the majority of cases, 18 months is a substantially longer period of time than should be necessary. I can assure noble Lords that it would be exceptional for the Secretary of State to give an authority less than about six months for this, because of course careful planning and consultation is necessary. In some areas, where planning needs to start from scratch, the Secretary of State might give up to 12 months, but she must have the power to decide according to the very different circumstances of each case.

It would be quite possible for an authority to use the need for planning and consultation as an excuse for delay; I hope none would do so, but they could, and this Amendment would simply encourage delays which were quite unwarranted. I should, however, like to add my own firm assurances to those already given by Ministers when this very subject was debated in another place. The Secretary of State will not expect unreasonably hasty action under Clause 2 and will proceed by agreement where this is possible. I would therefore ask noble Lords not to accept either of these Amendments.


If I may deal with the three points which the noble Baroness has made about my Amendment, I am afraid that I do not accept the first point. I still think that the drafting is perfectly all right. However, as the arguments tonight about literacy and numeracy have been rather heated, I will take it away and look at it again. The second point made by the noble Baroness was that, if we put in "reasonably", it might cast doubt on anything else which the Secretary of State did. It might well do so, but I do not object. If it is your Lordships' wish, I will put down an Amendment to insert the word "reasonably" in front of every verb that concerns the Secretary of State, which would meet that objection.

The third point made by the noble Baroness has, I think, some substance; that is, that this would not apply unless the case went to the courts. The question whether or not it was reasonable would have to be challenged in the courts; it would be taken into account, anyway, by the courts without this particular word. I should like to take away this point in order to look at it again and consult various people. I am not certain that I think that it is right. To put the word "reasonably" into the Bill would possibly help the courts in their elucidation of any decision regarding this matter, and I reserve my position.

I still think, if I may say so with considerable humility to the Conservative Front Bench, that possibly "reasonably" is a better way to deal with the matter than to impose a minimum time limit. Minimum time limits may be totally inappropriate in certain situations. I should like to ask for your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment on the understanding that I may feel the need, after consultation, to put it back at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.35 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 20: Page 2, line 6, after ("specify") insert ("not being less than 18 months").

The noble Lord said: I have listened with great attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has said, and he has endorsed what the noble Baroness has said in one sense; that is, that any protection which the Bill as drafted offers looks rather "leaky" to us and could only be proved watertight in the courts. The word in his Amendment would be understood by the courts to be there although it is not inserted, because every decision of the Secretary of State, for reasons which may escape us, is assumed to be reasonable unless proved otherwise.

We have had a case about the word, "reasonably" very recently, and it is a long, expensive and tedious business, and one which should be avoided. There is no doubt that there is an element of reason in "18 months". It has been suggested to me that we ought to have put down "two years". But we have been trying to find something so that Her Majesty's Government could demonstrate that they were not entirely stuck and bigoted and so that they would meet us an inch or so on the way; thus we cut it down to 18 months. We do not feel disposed to reduce it beyond that, and we find not a single gesture in our direction.

This is the only barrier we can I see that we can put into the Bill which will ensure that people shall be able to collect themselves and a proper assessment be made of a problem which the Secretary of State may throw into their laps at what she may think is reasonable notice, and sweep through before anybody has had the wit to take it to the courts—yet again, at expense. I have listened to a n amber of people who have been involved in this sort of case; that is, defending schools which are being peppered with grapeshot from Transport House, because that indeed would seem to be where the gun is laid from. The first consideration is the enormous cost of losing and the next is the considerable delay in winning.

We want this Amendment, and subject to anything which my noble friends may wish to say from behind me, I intend to press it. I beg to move.

11.38 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 20) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 22.

Abinger, L. Falmouth, V. Moyne, L.
Alport, L. Ferrers, E. Newall, L.
Barrington, V. Gisborough, L. Norfolk, D.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Gray, L. Onslow, E.
Belstead, L. Greenway, L. Redesdale, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Harcourt, V. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Harmar-Nicholls, L. Salisbury, M.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Hives, L. Sandford, L.
Campbell of Croy. L. James of Rusholme, L. Sandys, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Kemsley, V. Savile, L.
Carrington, L. Kinnaird, L. Selkirk, E.
Cathcart, E. Lauderdale, E. Sempill, Ly.
Colville of Culross, V. Long, V. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L
Craigmyle, L. Lothian, M. Sudeley, L.
de Clifford, L. Lyell, L. Tranmire, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Macleod of Borve, B. Vernon, L,
Drumalbyn, L. Margadale, L. Vivian, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Mottistone, L. Wardington, L.
Elton, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.] Wolverton, L.
Exeter, M.
Faithfull, B.
Birk, B. Kirkhill, L. Oram, L.
Blyton, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Parry, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Stedman, B.
Davies of Penrhys, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Strabolgi, L. [Teller.]
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Lyons of Brighton, L. Wall, L.
Elwyn-Jones, L. (L. Chancellor.) Melchett, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Janner, L. Morris of Kenwood, L. White, B.
Kaldor, L. Murray of Gravesend, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.

11.45 p.m.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 22: Page 2, line 10, leave out from ("governors") to ("of") in line 11.

The noble Lord said: On this Amendment I should just like to know the reason why consultation with voluntary schools can be entered into with persons representing the management or governors. These words were included in Section 11 of the 1944 Education Act when consultation is to take place over development plans, but I appreciate also that education committees need to be consulted, particularly when expenditure is involved. I must say for my own part I would have preferred the consultation with diocesan education committees in addition to consultation with individual schools written into the Bill, and I wondered whether there was any chance that the Government might consider a slight rewording at this particular place. I beg to move.

Baroness STEDMAN

If this Amendment were to be accepted, it would mean that where the Secretary of State has required a local education authority to submit plans to conform with the comprehensive principle, and where it is necessary for local authorities to consult voluntary schools, they would be unable to do this via the long-established diocesan education committees. Instead, they would have to consult the voluntary schools individually, which would be laborious and time-consuming in areas where the voluntary schools represent a significant element in the maintained provision.

Here, I am thinking of the large cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, where the initiatives taken by the diocesan education committees have been a highly significant factor in co-ordinating the efforts of the large number of voluntary schools in producing schemes for reorganisation. The local knowledge and expertise of the diocesan education committees is very valuable in this context, and they are able to take a strategic view of denominational provision in their area (which often extends beyond LEA boundaries) and assess the overall needs. They are also able to speak with one voice on behalf of their community to ensure that the needs of their schools are adequately represented.

I am sure that the noble Lords who sponsored this Amendment do not wish to see the long established role of the diocesan education committees removed from the scene at this important point in the development of the education system. I should hasten to add that we are by no means attempting to restrict the role of managers and governors, as is shown by the fact that they remain the only body who can in the last resort submit statutory proposals to the Secretary of State. Therefore, in the light of this, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his Amendment.


I accept absolutely the explanation which the noble Baroness has given, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.48 p.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 23: Page 2, line 11, leave out ("voluntary").

The noble Lord said: Your Lordships might find it convenient to look at Amendment No. 24 with No. 23, because No. 23 means nothing by itself. I apologise for not tabling this Amendment in the form recommended by the Renton Committee; I should tell your Lordships that the effect of it would be to change the wording of the Bill to read: …the managers or governors, or persons representing the managers or governors, of every school in their area and every voluntary school not in their area".

The purpose of putting this down is to elicit from the Government any observations which they would want to make about the extent to which the governors or managers of county schools ought to be considered. I understand that the intention of the particular subsection relates to the voluntary schools, but it has always puzzled me slightly that the consultation procedure which we regard as important should be concentrated in this way on this particular group of schools. The hour is a great inducement to conciseness. I hope I have not been too concise in moving this Amendment.

Baroness STEDMAN

With the leave of the Committee, I will also reply to the two Amendments, which will help in the time-saving efforts. On Amendment No. 23, the effect of this Amendment would be to place on local education authorities a duty to consult the managers and governors of county schools affected by proposals to be submitted under Clause 2. This would be an addition to the duty already laid on them in the clause to consult the managers and governors of voluntary schools. I have some sympathy with this as a proposition but I would point out that there is a specific reason for referring in Clause 2(2) to voluntary schools as distinct from county schools. Only the governors of voluntary schools can make proposals for the reorganisation of those schools, whereas in the case of county schools the responsible body is the local education authority. So it is clear that where a local education authority's plans for reorganisation of an area include the reorganisation of voluntary schools, their co-operation in the statutory procedure must be sought. I think that perhaps there is some misconception about this, and I hope that the noble Lord will not press his Amendment.

On Amendment No. 24 it appears—though it is not clearly drafted—to require local education authorities, before submitting proposals called for under Clause 2(1), to consult the managers and governors of all voluntary schools in their area, whether or not those schools are in their opinion affected by the proposals. Noble Lords opposite evidently fear that an authority might, through an omission, fail to consult a voluntary school which was in fact likely to be affected by the proposals, because in the authority's opinion it was not so affected. I doubt this very much; but, if it happened, the managers or governors of such a school would have a safeguard. The proposals could not be approved or put into effect without going through the public notice procedure under Section 13 of the 1944 Act; Clause 3 of this Bill provides for that. The managers or governors of the voluntary school would be sure to see the notice and would have the right to object.

That safeguard is, in the Government's view, adequate. The safeguard proposed by noble Lords opposite appears to us to be somewhat absurd. For it would mean that—to take an example —Essex, before submitting proposals for reorganisation in Southend, might have to consult the managers of an aided primary school in Saffron Walden some 50 miles away. That is the effect of this Amendment; and it is so self-evidently ludicrous that I am sure it is not what the noble Lords opposite intended, and I hope that they will not press it.


No, but it has served its purpose of eliciting one or two interesting points. The noble Baroness has rightly said that the local education authority is the initiating body where reorganisation schemes for county schools are concerned. I do not think that is any reason for not consulting the governors of them, and I detect from the noble Baroness's tone that she does not think it is either. Maybe she would like to write to me about this if she thinks I could usefully intervene at a later stage. I suspect that this is something to be done by circular or regulation and not by Statute, but if it is in fact customary to go over the heads of the governors without consulting them, which one would deplore, I think it ought to be put right. She also referred again to the protection offered under Clause 3 on anybody who wishes to object in Saffron Walden for one reason or another. I would draw to her attention a point which I thought had been taken already; that is, that in line 21 of page 3 we have the word "may" which enables the Secretary of State not to use Section 13 procedure. I thought that is what we were all getting so excited about. Perhaps we can look at that tomorrow.

Earlier this evening we were talking about the possibility of releasing children who had been randomly selected at one school for courses at another school to which they were more suited because that school offered a facility which they could not get in their home school. I can see occasions where the borderline between an area being re-organised and an area not being re-organised is being crossed by such pupils, possibly in some numbers. It would be useful to the managers, governors and indeed staff of schools in that position, when considering staffing questions for future years, to know whether this was a tide which was likely to continue or start to flow.

Thus, although I think the illustration which the noble Baroness legitimately introduced was absurd, I want her to accept that the principle behind the Amendment was not. I do not know whether she would like to say anything further about the question of consulting the governors of county schools, but if she did—and no doubt she would wish to refer to it briefly—that would be all I would expect to hear from her at this stage.

Baroness STEDMAN

The governors of county schools are, of course, normally consulted by the education authority before they submit any proposals. I do not know of any local authority which does not go round meeting the staff, patents, governors and managers of schools; they are normally consulted. I do not think I can offer the noble Lord any joy on this. We will look at it and, if we can, come back to him, but I do not think that will be so.


I am grateful to the noble Baroness and I am sure that if she comes across such an authority she will take steps to put matters right. In the light of her reply, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


This might be a good moment to halt the Committee. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

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

House resumed.