HL Deb 08 October 1976 vol 374 cc1661-708

11.27 a.m.

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

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 55: After Clause 5 insert the following new clause:

Consultation with Parents

".—(1) It shall be the duty of every local education authority to consult the wishes of the parents of each child of compulsory school age in their area before allocating to him a place at a school at winch he is not at that time registered.

(2) Such consultation shall not take place until—

  1. (a) the local education authority has indicated to such parents which are tie schools at which a place may be allocated to the child; and,
  2. (b) except in a case where the child is not already registered at a school, the parents have had a reasonable opportunity to discuss the educational needs of the child with the head teacher of the school at which he is at that time registered or with a person, being a member of the staff of that school, appointed by that head teacher to act in his stead for that purpose."

The noble Lord said: We return after what seems all too short an interval to the considerations that we were pursuing last night. The first Amendment is for the insertion of a new clause designed to make mandatory the completion of consultation between a local education authority and the parents of a child before that child is required to attend a school. You will notice, in reading the Amendment, that it does not restrict itself to consultation before a choice has to be made between different schools, but it requires consultation before the allocation of any school, whether a first school or a school to which the child is transferred either in the natural processes of his educational career or as a result of misdemeanour or the removal of his parents, or whatever.

This is not an oversight but it is deliberate because it is our view, which we have emphasised throughout our deliberations, that there must be an area of choice for parents, and there must be an area of control of the destiny of their child if even the child is to go into one school only, and not one of a choice of schools, because the schools are big. And if, under the terms of this Bill, the school is designed to meet the educational needs of every child throughout the spectrum of need represented by the population of that school, then there must be a width of choice just as formative of the child's future to be taken within the school as hitherto has been taken between the schools. I hope that the noble Baroness is shaking her head at what she read and not at what she heard.

Baroness STEDMAN



In the second subsection of this new clause the authority is required to let the parent know, as a necessary preliminary, what school the child will be attending. Also as an equally necessary preliminary the child's parents are to have had a reasonable opportunity to discuss the child's future with the head teacher of the school at which the child is at present a pupil, whether he is leaving, as I say, in the natural course of events, academically speaking, or for family removal or any other reason.

This is only good educational practice. One is often advised that it is not necessary to legislate for reasonable men who will be reasonable. A great deal of our time, however, is spent in seeing that unreasonable men shall not be unreasonable. What I should like from the Government at this stage is a statement of their attitude to the level of importance of parental consultation about children's futures in whatever educational o system may eventually come out. In the light of the replies towards the end of last night's session on the Bill, when the fabric of enforced attitude weakened under the stresses of weariness, we hope for a relatively favourable reply.

Baroness STEDMAN

I am advised by my noble colleague, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that it had nothing to do with the time of night that he gave things; just that what was being put forward to us at that time of night was more sensible. Coming to the Amendment, it seems to me that it shares both the good and the questionable points of some of the others put down by the same noble Lords. Its intentions, I think, are in principle wholly admirable; my right honourable friends and I fully agree that a parent, before accepting a school place allocated to a child, should have an opportunity to think about other possibilities and to discuss them with the child's present teachers. The arguments against seeking to achieve this by legislation, however, are strong. There cannot always be a choice. In many places, especially in the countryside, there is only one maintained school to which any particular child can reasonably be expected to go because of distance and difficulties of travelling. Even where there are two or more suitable schools which are reasonably accessible, there may be very little practical possibility of choice when the LEA has satisfied the needs of other children, for example, when Roman Catholic children have been chosen to go to Roman Catholic schools, when Church of England children have been allocated to Church of England schools, children with special needs to special schools, nervous children to small schools and not to large ones, and so on. They do not have much room for manoeuvre in the general field of choice of schools.

No Government in this country have ever been prepared to dictate to local education authorities the basis on which school places shall be allocated or to prescribe the relative importance of factors such as nearness of residence, family connections, preference for denominational or single-sex education and any of the other factors which parents and authorities have a right to take into consideration. If schools are filled—as very many schools always are—with children who have the strongest claim on the basis of the local allocation arrangements, then any particular parent without a special claim on that school is bound to be disappointed. This difficulty is perhaps the reason why subsection (2)(a) of the Amendment speaks rather vaguely of, … schools at which a place may be allocated to the child". In our view, that recognises, by implication, that the authority may indicate that at only certain schools, perhaps only at one school, is there in fact a realistic possibility of offering a suitable place for the child. I do not think the Amendment would or could increase the range of choice available. If the authority is able to offer a choice, then I do not think that it needs statutory prompting to tell a parent what is available. Nor do I think that in such a situation there would be any demand for the parent to make up his mind without, if he so wished, talking to his child's present teachers.

In Inner London, for example, parents whose children are approaching the age of transfer to secondary education are sent a booklet giving full details of the secondary schools in their locality and can also get details of schools in neighbouring localities on request. They are encouraged to visit the schools and they are invited to go to the child's present school and discuss the matter with its head, who will tell him about the child's progress and interests in that school. Only then is he asked to name the secondary school which he prefers, and only thereafter do the ILEA begin to allocate the places available. There are, to my knowledge, similar arrangements in the County of Cambridge and I am sure that, to a greater or lesser extent, most LEAs are doing something of this kind, perhaps not in the same detail that the ILEA is able to do because not all authorities are able, like the ILEA, to offer a wide range of reasonable accessible schools. Even the ILEA, I think, would have to agree that unless the majority of parents seemed to be content with a neighbourhood school it would be difficult or perhaps impossible to satisfy all their preferences. I suggest that to the extent that local education authorities feel able to offer a realistic choice between schools, the Amendment is unnecessary, and to the extent that they do not feel able to offer such a choice, it would be of no practical effect. The noble Lord may care to ponder on what I have said and perhaps withdraw the Amendment.


I do not think the noble Baroness has sufficiently closely read the shoulder head or title in the margin of this Amendment, which is not about choice by parents but about consultation with parents. She perhaps unwittingly implied that where there was no choice between schools there should be no consultation; it is precisely that unwitting attitude that the Amendment is intended to dispel. A parent should be consulted before his child goes to even a Hobson's choice of a school because he must have a chance to say whether the child, as the noble Baroness accepted, has a need, because he or she is a nervous child, to go to a small school. This is done of course where there is a choice, but the nervous child also needs special treatment in the big school. If Hobson's comprehensive has 2,000 children and the nervous child has to go there because of the doctrinaire enforcement of the principle which we will not argue again now, then it is very important that the parents should be almost required to be brought into consultation, rather than sitting shyly at home feeling that they cannot cope with authority.

The purpose of the Amendment therefore is to see that authorities which do not follow the admittedly admirable procedures which the noble Baroness outlined where there is a wide choice, have adequate procedures where there is not a wide choice or where there is no choice at all. The noble Baroness suggested that it had never been the practice of central Government to prescribe the order of importance of the factors-entering into choice, and that is not the intention of this Amendment, either. There is no such indication in it. It is simply that "authority" in the form of a person should consult the parents in the form of two people about the child in the form of one person. We are not talking about great masses of paper. I know that it builds up and that there will be many consultations with many parents about many children, but what is important is that the parent who is not naturally one who goes and knocks on the council building's door or the headmaster's door is approached, and the purpose of the Amendment is to elicit from the Government some commitment that that should be done and some indication that, if there was any indication that it was not done, they would see that it was done. I wonder whether the noble Baroness, before we take any further decisions, will say whether she shares the view that the education authority should satisfy itself that the parents of the children are properly brought into consultation before a change of school, even where there is no choice.


Surely there are two sides to this; not only should the parents be consulted from the parents' point of view but I think it is good for the headmaster or headmistresses to have the opportunity of consulting the parents, even if that is the only school in the neighbourhood, because that could have an influence, if enough parents are consulted, on what is going on in that school.


I am rather puzzled by the comments of noble Lords opposite because in my experience the great majority of heads consult with the parents of children who have not had a choice of school. In fact, in schools I know it is taken for granted and if a parent is invited to come and he or she does not come the head will have further contact, discover if the family is on the 'phone, and so on, and will see the great majority of parents in that position.


If I might just rejoin at that point, of course the great majority of schools do follow good practice. We are not trying to eliminate good practice. But good practice is not universal and the great majority of parents, of course, are not on the 'phone. We are legislating for everybody, and it is really the people who are not on the telephone, who are living in some back alley, who are in dread of authority and have children who are much more likely to be disturbed and deprived as a result, who are the ones we are trying to bring into the consultation and for whom we want to strengthen the family bond as well as the school link.

Baroness STEDMAN

The good practice referred to by my noble friend Lady Stewart may not be absolute over all our schools but it is followed in the great majority of schools. There is another way of looking at this. The statutory responsibility or statutory duty is on the parent to see that the child goes to school, to see that a school is found for the child. I should have thought that that applied throughout the whole of the child's school life, not just when the child is starting school to sort out the right primary school, when most parents are very good about it and take the child along to the school and talk to the teacher.

We expect duties of the local authorities, but we have a right to expect the parents also to take an interest in the sort of things their children are doing. I am sure most of our schools do everything possible to involve the parents in the decisions that have to be made about their children's education, about the sort of school they should go to, about the sort of courses they should follow.

I do not think we are going to achieve anything by trying to write the consultation into legislation. We can only do it by example, by pressure from the Ministry, by pressure from the parents themselves, by pressure from the elected members of the local authority. They know if they are good public representatives, which of the schools in their area have a proper consultation procedure and which have not and they can start to put pressure on, through managers or governors. The responsibility is not one-sided; it is double-sided. The parents have a statutory duty to see that their children go to school and presumably to take an interest in the sort of school they go to, in the same way that the local education authority has some responsibility, if not a statutory one, of seeing that the right sort of procedures are carried out within the schools.


Of course the parents have a statutory duty, but I do not suppose many of them have read the 1944 Act. Our intention is merely to facilitate the fulfilment of that duty. The noble Baroness used one phrase which gives me an excuse to withdraw and ponder, and that is that one of the constituents of the pressure to see that this is done would be pressure from the Ministry. I just want the Ministry to be aware that there are cases where this does not happen, and if there may be so much as one this ought to be put right. If this is part of the code of practice I would be very happy, by leave of the Committee, to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.45 a.m.

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 56: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause:

Publication of particulars of schools

".—(1)(a) It shall be the duty of every local education authority to publish particulars of each school in its area. (b) The particulars referred to in paragraph (a) of this subsection may be published either together or separately for each school, or group or type of schools.

(2)(a) It shall be the duty of every local authority to furnish, free of charge, to the parents of every child who is required by that authority to attend a school at which he is not at that time registered with a copy of the particulars referred to in subsection (1) of this section as soon as possible after they have made that requirement known to them and not less than 28 days before they require any such parent to make a choice between allocations of places at different schools. (b) Where such particulars are not published together, but separately for each school or group or type of schools, the duty laid upon the local education authority under paragraph (a) of this subsection to furnish particulars to parents shall be a duty to furnish the particulars only of the schools, or groups or types of schools as the case may be at which a place may be allocated to their child.

(3) The particulars referred to in subsection (1) of this section shall include for each school:

  1. (a) the name, address and telephone number of the school;
  2. (b) the names and qualifications of the Head Teachers and all full time members of the teaching staff;
  3. (c) the names and qualifications of all part time members of the teaching staff;
  4. (d) a list of all the subjects taught, and the levels to which they are taught;
  5. (e) an explanation of the principles upon which pupils are allocated
    1. (i) to courses, and
    2. (ii) to teaching classes or groups;
  6. (f) a list of the public or other external examinations for which pupils may be prepared together with a tabulation of the number of candidates for each such examination in each subject in each of the last three years and the results of their entries;
  7. (g) an explanation of the system by which contact is maintained between the teaching staff and the parents of pupils;
  8. (h) a statement of the arrangements made for the religious instruction of pupils;
  9. (i) an explanation of the disciplinary system;
  10. (j) an explanation of the arrangements made and facilities available for sporting and other outdoor activities;
  11. (k) a statement of the items of clothing or equipment with which pupils are required to be furnished together, where any such items are required to be of uniform characteristics, with a list of local suppliers who have agreed to carry stocks of them; and
  12. (l) a statement of the basis upon which allocations of places are made;
and for reach secondary or middle school and each primary school with more than 200 pupils enrolled or with any class of more than 35 pupils an explanation of the system established for the maintenance of pastoral care of the pupils whether by tutoring, by counselling or by other means.

(4) It shall be the duty of the local education authority to place two copies of the particulars referred to in section (1) of this section in the reference section of every public libary in their area.

(5) Nothing in this section shall be construed to mean that information relevant to the school, or types or groups of schools mentioned in subsection (1) of this section but not mentioned in subsection (3) of this section may not be included in the particulars."

The noble Lord said: Now we come to something of more substance, I think. Your Lordships are aware that we have been all along anxious to get the parents involved in their children's educational career. There is a feeling in this country that something is going wrong with the family link and that parents are not as much in contact with their children as they were. We are all aware of the generation gap. We are all aware of children behaving in a manner which makes us say they cannot have been properly brought up. Partly this is the result of the pattern of work the parents have to follow, which means that a great many children are "latch-key" children. They leave home after the parents have gone on the early shift and come back after parents are worn out by the day's work; or, more likely, they come back before the parents return from the day shift. If they are nine-to-five school children the parents are apt to be seven-to-seven parents. One aspect of this is that parents do not, perhaps, take as close an interest as they might in what goes on in the schools, and the converse of that coin is that the schools do not always either involve the parents as closely as they should in their running or indeed bring to the notice of the public at large the way in which they are run.

This Amendment, which I think is innocuous in itself, is intended as a first step towards enabling that to be put right. It will again be argued that it asks for no more than is done, and indeed asks for a good deal less than is done, in a great many excellent schools up and down the country—I can anticipate the noble Baroness's telling me that, and indeed I applaud it—but it is not done everywhere. With a rather depressing regularity, schools that are in one way or another somewhat scandalous come into the headlines simply because this has not been within the knowledge of the locality, and the responsibility for that lies largely with the administration of the school but partly also with the parents.

We have therefore drawn up a pro forma which says what are the least pieces of information that parents might be expected to require before a child is sent to a school and to require that these should be published and made available to them. So subsection (1)(a) makes it the duty of the local authority to publish particulars of each school in its area and subsection (1)(b) says that they may for administrative convenience be published as one great brochure for an area or for a small part of an area or for individual schools. And at the end of the clause noble Lords will find that the local authorities are under an obligation only to provide copies relating to the schools relevant to the child under discussion. The particulars referred to are enumerated in subsection (3) and they start off with some fairly elementary stuff, I agree; that is, the name and address and telephone number of the school, not a bad thing to have propped up against the mantelpiece for some emergency if you are not going to be home when the child gets back. The second one requires that the name and qualifications of the head teacher and all permanent staff shall be listed. It is as well to know—and we came to this when we were discussing the standards in mathematics and other subjects yesterday—on what grounds those who teach your children presume to do so. The same goes, of course, for the part-time members of the staff. Then one wants to know the subjects available to choose between and the levels to which they are taught, and an explanation—and here we do come into the area of comprehensivism—of the principle upon which pupils are allocated to courses and to teaching classes or groups within the school. It is a requirement that we have, and I do not think the noble Lord opposite has perhaps sufficiently taken account of this, that if choice of teaching career, of the career of the taught, is not to take place between the schools that is absolutely no reason why anyone should concede the principle that there should be no choices between courses within the schools. It would be manifestly unfair if it were not so. The growing vogue for mixed-ability teaching makes one begin to feel that it is necessary for parents to know whether or not that is the method used in the school to which the child is going. There should be a requirement for this.

Then, of course, one wants to know that the present system of evaluating the academic performance of a school rests upon the examination system, and as long as that is so, and some of us hope it will continue to be so for a great many years, this means of quality control, if you like, should be made public. I think it is a very sinister thing when a particular group of schools, or an area, or an education authority, suddenly say they are not going to do this any more, because the inference is that they are ashamed of the results. It may be a false inference, but it is an inevitable one and it is damaging for the reputation of the school and the children in it.

Some of these schools are very big but even if not, it is important that a link should be kept between the parents and the staff so that the children may survive in the recognition of the teachers as individuals in more than the school dimension. It puts the behaviour of a child in a totally different perspective if one suddenly discovers, after he has committed some gross breach of discipline or apparent idleness, that there has been a tremendous family upheaval at home at the same time. If the teacher does not know, he cannot make allowances for it nor help the child to ride out the storm in his life.

Many people are concerned about the standards and methods by which religious education is given to pupils and this is a question which is becoming more pressing and complicated as the ethnic pattern and consequently the religious pattern of the country changes as a result of immigration. Therefore, it is not merely as an Anglican that I feel that there should be some declaration of the position of the religious content of education within the school and of the importance which is attributed to it.

Another area of great concern to parents and one about which they do not always inquire is the means by which discipline is asserted. There are conflicting views on this. Indeed, a headmaster of my acquaintance had a moment of great worry about this, for one of his pupils has been discovered outside the school, but in uniform, smoking under age. He had the boy in before him and said, "You were not officially under my charge because you were in the market place, but it is against the rules and I should like to know whether your father knows about this." The boy said, "Yes, he does, and he approves." The headmaster said, "Nevertheless, I am going to give you corporal punishment."

He gave him six strokes of the cane and the next day the dreaded letter came, saying, "Dear Headmaster, Johnny tells me that yesterday you gave him six strokes of the cane for smoking. He also told you that this was known to me and that I approved." The headmaster turned the page and the letter went on, "This is a lie. Please heat him again." Interpretation of the justice of corporal punishment can be different on different sides of the playground gate. It is, none the less, something that parents wish to know because they want to know what they are backing up or disagreeing with at home and, if school discipline is at variance with parental discipline at home, the school will lose in the end. In any case, where a school and a home pull in opposite directions it is the home that will win and it is therefore a need for the school to secure the co-operation of the home, and that again emphasises the importance of the link between the parents and the teachers.

Of course, parents will also want to know what chances there are to play games in the open air and, here, parents' associations, if formed, can take a very helpful hand once they know the circumstances. If there is no pavilion or if there is a bit of rough ground that needs clearing, it is amazing what can be done at no charge to public funds. I commend that to the notice of the noble Baroness.

Another practical consideration is that one must know—and inevitably does know, but let us have a complete list here—the clothes that the children are supposed to arrive in. If it is a question of school uniform, where can it be got from? This is a very considerable item in the parental budget and it is important that they should know who are the people who have contracted—one hopes, on terms which have been favourably negotiated—to stock the clothes. Those of us who have taught in the poorer areas know that it is a matter of great concern to parents. For instance, a teacher may find that a child will arrive not properly clothed and that the answer is that the child has only one set of uniform which got wet in the morning so that he has had to come in something else. By saying that, I am merely trying to say that the choice of uniforms, which may seem a matter of trivial concern to your Lordships, is a very large item to those who are on a small budget or who are on national assistance. I believe that it should be taken note of.

Then, I felt it as well to put in the basis upon which the allocation of places is made. Of course, if the school is a totally comprehensive one, the answer will be, "All come, all served", but in other cases it is important that this should be known. Also, where there is "competition", as the noble Lord would call it, between a selective school and another, it is important not merely to take that into account but to put into the parents' mind as a basis of the conversation and consultation with the head teacher of the previous school, the idea that it is not always the best possible thing for a child to go to an academically selected school and that it can be harmful, so that a child may be better off in a school where not so much is expected of him academically. We should, in other words, be disabusing ourselves of the idea that grammar is better than secondary simply because it is more academic. It is only better for the more academic child. I hope that that has been taken note of.

Not as an afterthought, but as a tail piece—though your Lordships may feel that it should have been among the main requirements—I suggest that in schools which are not tiny schools where the child is in a room with the same teacher all the time and that teacher has a reasonable number of children to look after, it is exceedingly important that people should know the means by which the teacher knows their child apart from another. People ought to be concerned about this. I do not want to bore your Lordships with my experiences as a teacher, which are not all that extensive, but where one is faced with classes of 40 and over—


I commend the hard work that the noble Lord has put in, going through all the letters of the alphabet from A to L, but—


If the noble Lord wishes to criticise the whole structure of the clause, I should prefer to give way at the end.


No, I have a very simple question. I think that there is quite a lot in what the noble Lord is saying, but he must not assume that a teacher cannot distinguish one child from another in his class. The noble Lord wants some information as to how a teacher distinguishes: this is one of the practical things of a man's or a woman's job in this profession.


I think the noble Lord has made the point better than I could. Where a teacher is responsible for a subject and circulates between perhaps 10 or 12 classes of, say, 30 to 45 pupils, he may be required to recognise up to 400 children though he sees them only occasionally. Clearly, that teacher will not know the idiosyncrasies of every child at least in the first six weeks of term. Indeed, some of us who have a limited ability to distinguish the identity of individuals may confuse people—not their work, but the individuals—when they meet, for instance, in the playground or when they are not sitting in their usual desk, and will not know who they are. I have to tell the noble Lord that though he might be able to do so I should not.

In that case, there must be another teacher who not only has the job but also the ability, and the circumstances in which he can discharge it, of knowing the children. The normal thing to to have a tutor group, a set or a form which belongs to one teacher, who is what is called at the university a "moral tutor". In other schools, the burden lies on a counsellor and the initiative then comes from the child. There are different methods and I can see that the noble Lord is perhaps not entirely aware of this fact. All I am saying is that the parents ought to know what is the method in use at the school in question and ought not to assume that it is the one to which the noble Lord has referred or that which I have at the back of my mind.


I apologise. I do not want to detain the Committee, but I have had 16 years' experience in all kinds of schools and 17 years in adult lecturing and I have specialised through a large area of geography and mathematics. I had no trouble in knowing those who were duds and those who were good natured. In the period of work this is a natural thing that grows with a practical teacher. We also had form masters with whom we consulted when there were difficulties with particular people in the subjects in which we specialised.


I am sure that the children and, indeed, the adults who were taught by the noble Lord were fortunate. My experience is limited to 10 years. I have had children from primary age up to adults taking university degrees so, in a sense, our experience matches. All I have to tell him is that people such as I who lack his remarkable ability find that, when they have 300 or 400 children through their hands in a week and are meeting them not regularly and always sitting in the same desks but in different places, they cannot know them fully as people. Therefore, all I am saying is that some factor must be built into the system to compensate for this. It is not always done in the same way and the parent is going to want to know who to go to see if Johnny comes home upset or if Mary stops eating her breakfast. It is no good going to the headmaster of a school with 2,000 children in it.

That is what I am saying and I am sorry it has taken me so long to eludicate this point. The child must be known as an individual by somebody in a responsible position and that person must be known to the parents. I hope that has elucidated the point. Your Lordships will have grasped at least what this Amendment seeks to achieve, which is that the parents shall be in communication with the school and that the school shall be aware of the child as an individual, and that the home and the school shall co-operate together. I beg to move.


I have been waiting on tenterhooks to tell the noble Lord that in principle I think this Amendment is perfectly sensible. I do not think it really needed quite such a full exposition, but in any case it was a very interesting speech.

This is a question which I discussed yesterday with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and she basically endorses the principle underlying this clause. Parents, of course, have a right to be informed about their local schools; many local authorities already do this extremely well and we should like others to reach the same standard. But she doubts whether this clause is the right way of proceeding. I say this not mainly because it would add to costs when money is tight, but rather because it is surely offensive to the good sense of local authorities to specify by Statute, in great detail without consultation with them, what they ought to do.

My right honourable friend prefers another approach. After consultation with all those concerned—including again noble Lords opposite—she will consider what helpful guidance she can give to local authorities. Advice that commands general consent would be better in this situation, she thinks, than a detailed section in an Act of Parliament. This is another area in which I hope we can all work together to satisfy parents more fully than at present about the administration of the public system of education.

I hope that on this very sincere assurance the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to enforce his Amendment. There are many ways of doing this sort of thing, and I think the assurance that my Secretary of State agrees that something of the kind ought to be done and that she will consider how to do it should relieve us of the necessity of putting this into the Statute.


In support of what my noble friend the Minister has just said, I should like to suggest that if we write all these details into an Act of Parliament we are going into the region of the absurd and the impossible. I would fully support the list of schools being published and that the name, address and telephone number of the headmaster should he included in that publication; but if all these details are to be included the schools list will not be a brochure it will be a volume, and a volume which is constantly going out of date. The staff and the qualifications of members of the staff of a school change only too rapidly at present.

I am quite sure that the proposal which the Minister has just made is the way out of this. We sympathise with the need to give parents as much information as possible and this should be the content of their discussions with the school staff and the local education authority, but to write such details into an Act of Parliament as that there must be an explanation of the disciplinary system, is another matter. How is that going to be done? One can say either that there is corporal punishment or that there is not, but is one going to list the exact occasions and limits on which it may be exercised as illustrated by the example which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, gave? I think we really are proposing, if this Amendment is accepted, to go into the realm of the impossible and the absurd.

12.5 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

I had hoped to say a word about this before the noble Lord got up to reply because I want to bring in another point. When I was in the other House I got innumerable letters from people in Her Majesty's Services—the Army, the Navy and the Air Force—inquiring about the schools in their neighbourhood. They were rate payers who had either let their houses or had friends living in them and they were entitled to have their children at school in that area. Also, very often they were abroad and had to send their children to relations. While I am not saying that all these details are necessary, it would be a very great asset to them in the future if they had some knowledge on which to judge which kind of school to send their children to.

Previously they have relied on the grant aided schools, which have been very helpful in this matter; but now of course those are probably going to disappear under the new system. Therefore, if people in the Foreign Office or in Her Majesty's Services, and others, either through their welfare officers or the Ministry in which they are serving, could have some knowledge, it would be most useful because it is extremely important to decide to what kind of school they want to send their children and also where they can get their clothes. And I think that the question of the subjects taught and the levels at which they are taught is very important indeed. So that if the noble Lord does not agree to putting all these details in, perhaps he could consider asking his Minister whether something could be done to give guidance to those who live overseas.


I am grateful to both noble Baronesses for what they have said. In regard to the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, I think I have said that this is what my right honourable friend will consider. The way to do it is not certain, and I agree with my noble friend, Lady Wootton, that it should not be done as a statutory order, an Act of Parliament. I think probably most of us would agree that there is something which reeds to be done and that the statutory method is not the right one.


I think the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, was a little harsh on the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I think in fact that the local education authority should produce a brochure quite as full as this. There is a very real place for a description and discusson of the disciplinary system which does not just boil down to, "Do you use corporal punishment or do you not?" but is something which gives real information about the ethos behind it. I think all this should happen. As for the fact that the informaion may frequently change, so of course should the brochure There should be a new edition every year for every new intake, and I do not think that this would be unnecessarily expensive. It certainly is, it seems to me, extremely necessary and a very good thing. I entirely agree with all the noble Lords who have spoken that it probably should not be in the Bill as such and we are much encouraged by the noble Lord's assurance that action will be taken on this.

Viscount ECCLES

I welcome very much the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that the Secretary of State is going to look into this matter. I think it goes very deep and a good deal wider than this Amendment, though I think this Amendment is very useful because it brings up the matter. If one looks at the history of British institutions from time to time one finds that groups outside those which have a statutory right to operate institutions grow in power and begin to demand a share. This is very clear in industry today. Who would have thought 25 years ago that the Trades Union Congress would have any real power in determining economic policy? But, after a bit, we have done these things all through our lives. We in the country have extended the vote to various groups of people which have risen to positions of importance. We have had to change our suffrage and we have to change our institutions in order that protest groups may not get out of hand and make institutions more difficult to operate.

One thing that is quite certain in the education world is that parents are beginning to form such a group outside the teachers and the administrators. Therefore, if the Secretary of State is right to bring them in—and I think it would be extremely wise to do so—we have first to recognise that this is going to be a complication in running the schools. It is bound to be, just as it is a complication in running the national and economic policy of the Government when we have to consult a body outside Parliament. But somehow or other, these things need to be done if one wants to avoid a breakdown.

So I hope the Secretary of State will look at this in a very wide manner. Certainly one of the things that has to be done is to give the new group of powerful people, the parents, information on which they may make more considered judgments about what goes on in the schools. They have not got the information today. I remember very well a mother in a Lancashire school approaching me with her brolly in a threatening position, saying: "You are the man I want to talk to. You are the man who has taught our Annie to come home and say that we have got a bad old stove and that we ought to buy a new one. And you are the man who has taught her to say that the curtains in our sitting room are horrible." Of course that mother had not the slightest idea that there was a domestic science class in the school and that it had very reasonable purposes in mind in bringing up Annie to run her own home in a good way in due course.

I inquired into that case. There had been no information given from the school to the parents about what Annie was learning. Such situations must be put right. I hope that some form of a parents' charter can be brought in. But I must point out that it will not be any good unless there is some adult education as well, because the generation gap is such that merely providing parents with information about what goes on inside the schools will not be enough. The schools will have to have "teach-ins" or whatever they may be called, to explain to parents how to handle the information when it is given to them, and I very much hope that this will happen.

12.12 p.m.


I am delighted that on both sides of the Committee there is now a growing appreciation of the work done by parent-teacher associations, which are now growing. I know from my experience of parent-teacher associations—and I am sure that the noble Lord opposite has similar experience—that they are keen observers and that they often help the schools to get swimming pools and all kinds of facilities. Consequently, much of that cannot be written into the Bill, but it is a growing trend, and nowadays, so far as the Department of Education is concerned, much more attention is being given to this than was the case in my day and in the day of the noble Viscount, who was a distinguished Minister. I should like to make it clear that when I interrupted the noble Lord it was an interruption for the purpose of honest inquiry, and was not with any pomposity whatsoever.

Much of the information which we have been talking about is now in fact given because many schools, even at primary levels, are having such functions as prize days, and more and more parents are taking an interest in such matters when much information is given by the head teacher and the staff, who mix with parents more than ever. I am delighted that my noble friend on the Front Bench has said that much of this will be accepted and that my right honourable friend the Minister will look into this matter to see what can be put into the Bill.


I want to make only one very small point. The Amendment moved by my noble friends has been most useful in raising an interesting discussion. When it comes to furnishing particulars to parents—whatever particulars it is decided ultimately to publish—would the Minister be so good as to ensure that the governors and managers of schools are consulted before the particulars are decided to be set out for any one school? I have been a governor of a grammar school for many years and the chairman of a primary school for many years, and I should like to know what is to be said about these schools before the information is actually published.


I cannot say what the decision of the Secretary of State will be when plans are made, but it seems absolutely inconceivable that she would authorise statements about schools which the schools have themselves not seen.


At the outset I must make an impassioned disavowal: I have never thought of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, as being in any way pompous. We have ranged far, and most of us, though possibly not the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, are agreed that the Amendment seeks to do something useful and that the range of material which it requires to be published is not unreasonable. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that of course the information has to be updated; otherwise there is no point in having it. The Government were wise not to advance the objection of cost, because a school has to he able to fund that kind of operation. If one wants something glossy, then one gets it done by the local education authority and the print run is such that it costs very little, if anything, more.

I was heartened by what the noble Lord had to say at the outset, but it does not fill me with quite the degree of confidence with which he wishes to fill me. He said that the heart of the Secretary of State is in the right place, as we all hoped and supposed it was. He told us that it is her intention and his to look very seriously at this matter and perhaps to do something, and he said that the "something" will probably not be what is proposed in the Amendment. So far, so good.

But in fact it is quite open for the Bill to get on to the Statute Book, for the years to roll by, and for the heart of the Secretary of State to continue heating in its proper place, and, indeed, for her to pursue her inquiries and to reflect upon the matters upon which we are now reflecting, but for nothing actually to happen for a good many years so long as inquiries proceed. We have also to recall that debates in your Lordships' Chamber do not hold the fascination for the general public which they do for your Lordships, and that what we say here has no chance of having any effect at all unless that effect is first felt and then magnified and disseminated, by the noble Lord and his right honourable friend the Secretary of State.

Therefore, I feel that it is incumbent upon us to take some step beyond uttering good intentions. I accept that to put into the Bill the minutiae of what every publication should contain may not be accepted practice and may not be the best practice. I am not yet convinced by what I have been told that to put nothing in the Bill but quite a lot into Hansard is an acceptable alternative. What I think must be done before I withdraw the Amendment, if I am to withdraw it, is that the noble Lord should perhaps be a little more forthcoming about the extent of the information which he feels he could persuade his colleagues—or at least advocate honestly and without the intention of being over-persuaded by his colleagues—should go into any publication such as we advocate.

I would also wish to reserve the position at the Report stage, after consultation with him, to look into some alternative such as putting in a clause requiring the Secretary of State to issue regulations for the publication of particulars. This is a possibility. In other words, I do not wish your Lordships to feel that the sympathy which this Amendment has attracted, with the principle behind it, should be allowed to evaporate without the absolute confidence that there will be a genuine and active, as opposed to passive, interest evinced in the Ministry; and also, without reserving the right, should it on reflection to your Lordships seem right, to have an Amendment in different, more permissive terms—in term of content—but less permissive than a withdrawal in terms of the requirement of future action. I should be interested to hear what the noble Lord has to say to that.


I cannot stop the noble Lord bringing in an Amendment at the Report stage. That is not within my capacity or anyone else's capacity; it is up to him. I have said what we will do; I meant it. If the noble Lord does not think that I meant it, then he must play the hand some other way. I have nothing to add. My Secretary of State has expressed interest and approval and has said that in her opinion something should be done, but this is not the right way. If the noble Lord wishes to discuss with me later what her ideas are and they do not satisfy him, he can take the right which any noble Lord has to put down an Amendment at the Report stage and I will deal with it then.


My interpolations seem to be destined to begin with disavowals. I had no intention of discourtesy to the noble Lord, and I for no moment doubted his good intentions—although a doubt can amount to a discourtesy. What I was hoping he would do is this. What he said, and has said again, is that the Minister is in sympathy and something will be done, but not this. "Something will be done" is open to a very wide interpretation. The noble Lord has not said that there will be a requirement to publish particulars in some form at all. He has merely said that something will be done to resolve the position which my noble friend Lord Eccles alluded to; that is, to bridge this gap and to bring parent power to bear on the schools, to coin a phrase. Is there something he has in mind, in fact, in the form of the publication of particulars about schools, prospectuses about schools? If he can tell us that, it would be a great help.


I have not discussed the detail of this at all with my right honourable friend. If the noble Lord would like me to guess a little, I will do so. I would have thought that the kind of thing which my right honourable friend would consider doing would be to issue a circular, after there had been some discussion with education authorities, saying, "We think a good basis of information is something like the following", and it certainly seems important that (a), (b) and (c), at any rate, should be available. But I do not know whether or not this is what her conclusion will be, and I do not think I want to be pressed further. In fact, in a sense I should not even say what I think she might say. It is really rather improper.


Ministers never want to be pressed further; in fact, they rarely want to be pressed at all. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I think he has probably said as much as he can say at this stage, and I take it that the result of this will be conversations between him and the Secretary of State before Report stage.


I hope so.


Therefore, it will be proper, I think, for us to have some sort of Amendment down on the Marshalled List for Report stage, either for acceptance by your Lordships or for withdrawal in the light of a further and more specific commitment. I am much obliged to your Lordships for your patience in attending this debate, and I hope it will be agreed that it has achieved some advance in the Government's position. With your Lordships' leave, I withdraw this Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Awards for higher diploma courses.]:

12.25 p.m.

Baroness FAITHFULL moved Amendment No. 57: Page 5, line 3, at end insert (", the certificate of qualification in social work and certificate in social services.")

The noble Baroness said: I rise to submit this Amendment in order to suggest clarification and simplification of the arrangements for funding those seeking a grant to train as social workers and to give them a mandatory status, as is recommended in this Bill for the higher diploma of the Technician Education Council or the Business Education Council, with which we on this side of the Committee are in agreement. This is surely a precedent which social work training could follow. There are two qualifications in social work. The first is the certificate of qualification in social work, which is a two-year, non-graduate course. Many applicants, but not all, are in post as untrained social workers. Then there is the certificate of social services, which is a part-time course pursued by a wide variety of workers in day, residential and the domiciliary sector of the personal social services. Such workers are usually in post.

I am not seeking for an inordinate infusion of money, nor a vast increase in social workers, but merely a simpler method of funding unqualified social workers already in post or older people with experience of life wanting to take up social work who may or may not have had a training in their youth. I apologise for taking your Lordships' time, as I am sure that many have studied the two Consultative Documents, Manpower and Training for the Social Services and Priorities for Health and Personal Social Services. The present position is that there are in the Probation Service 77 per cent. qualified, and therefore 23 per cent. unqualified. In the local authority social services there are only 40 per cent. of social workers qualified; and in residential work, which is perhaps the most difficult work of all, there are only 12 per cent. qualified, with a further 5 per cent. holding the National Nursery Examination Board certificate.

The Council for Education in Social Work was set up under the Health Visiting and Social Work Training Act 1972, as amended by the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970, and has a duty to promote training in social work and thus to improve the quality of the work of the personal social services. The Council's courses, for which they have a supervisory duty, cover the following: the local authority social services, which include Scotland; the social services and the health services; probation and after-care; social services in education, and corresponding social workers in voluntary organisations. There are 140 cases, covering 3,300 places.

Now we come to the difficulty of funding. In order to attain the two-year certificate for qualification in social work, students can be seconded from their local authority social services department, in which case they are paid their salary while training. There are other students who apply to the local authority education department, but the funding of such courses is by discretion, and there are only discretionary grants. Graduates wanting to take the training are funded by the Department of Health and Social Security, and probation officers are funded by the Home Office. This Amendment seeks to make mandatory the funding of social workers in post through grants through their local authority, and not by secondment from the social services departments. Secondment costs in the realm of £2,300 per annum, which is their salary, whereas a grant from the local authority costs £1,060. These particulars I have taken from the DHSS Consultative Document dealing with manpower. I am not asking for an increase, necessarily, in the number of social workers, because in fact there are inbuilt constraints in that there is a shortage of tutors, a shortage of practical placements and a shortage of supervised placements.

I think the situation is very well known to the various Departments. The Departments involved are the Department of Health and Social Security, the Department of Education, the Council for Training and Education in Social Work and the local authority social services departments. Between them, there seems to be no clear way in which students can now be funded. The difficulty is that social services, as with other Departments, are being cut, and one of the cuts made is that of seconding students to courses. So I would move this Amendment, realising that social workers must work with teachers and that teachers must have to refer to social workers those cases where there are difficulties, where there is delinquency and where there is non-school attendance. I would submit that a social worker who is trained can work on a equal basis with other people who are trained. I beg to move.

12.30 p.m.


I want briefly to support what my noble friend Lady Faithfull is asking for from the point of view of the chairman of a very large juvenile court. I would welcome anything that can be done to encourage older people, who, as the noble Baroness said, had not perhaps got degrees in their youth but with experience of life, to come in and get diplomas in the courses she mentioned. All too frequently in the courts we run across social service workers who, despite the fact that they have taken up this work and probably are very keen about it, are very young, very inexperienced and have little practical knowledge of life although there is a great deal in their theory books. I am asking the Government this morning to consider the Amendment for the reasons that I have given; that we want the older people to help us, certainly in the courts. We are desperately short of helpers. That we will not be able to get any more people to help us in this sphere, we know very yell; but we want people who have got the proper diplomas. Therefore I support my noble friend's Amendment.


I, too, should like to support my noble friend Lady Faithfull, and also to support what the noble Baroness, Lady McLeod, has just said. The situation is extremely complicated but perhaps the solution might be slightly simpler. I only wish to emphasise the need for more qualified social workers. I appreciate, in saying that, that the noble Lord might say that this is a Bill on comprehensives as opposed to other matters. Before he says it, perhaps I can pre-empt him on the grounds that the clause refers to awards for higher diploma courses. On that basis I contend that we are justified in raising it now.

I have personal experience—I have spoken on fostering before—in dealing with social workers at the receiving end. It is of great importance that in fostering situations the social workers should be fully qualified. It is not just a question of having your heart in the right place—a remark that has come up many times today. It is a question often of having very full knowledge in very complicated situations; for instance, when to open a place and when to close it; and when you can bring in volunteers. There are so many aspects of this matter. It is not just experience although this is vitally important, but you need qualifications as well.

There is also the question of advancement and the phrase which, I believe, refers to it which has many connotations, which is that unqualified people are "below the bar". This seems a strange expression, but it means that their pay is limited and their opportunities for advancement are limited. There is the question of money. The problem at the moment is that a lot of people who have a large amount of experience are not enabled to go for the qualification which was promised them by the local authority because the local authority funds are obviously limited. Therefore they cannot go to secondment, which is on full leave.

If, on the other hand, a grant is made (as would be the case here) then less money would be involved, people could get qualifications and in the end, although a certain amount of money is required—and Mrs. Castle referred to this money as having been allocated; this may come out again—it will not be as much as might appear on the surface. I should like to support the Amendment.


I have some sympathy with the intention behind this Amendment and particularly with increasing the numbers of social workers who are adequately trained. I appreciate that if they are trained by grant and not by secondment, money will be saved; although perhaps this is hard on the trainees, for the saving is at their expense. I am concerned a little about the method by which the noble Baroness proposes to achieve this. As I read the Amendment, I think it will come rather oddly, tacked on to the existing clause. I think that she is trying to do something which her Amendment will not achieve. I should be glad to hear what the Minister has to say on that.

12.35 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

I am sure that your Lordships accept the facts as the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has put them and the tremendous need for more training and more qualified social workers. Training is desirable in the social services. It is very necessary. But Clause 7 as it stands, as my noble friend Lady Wootton has said, is not the place in which to try to raise this matter; because Clause 7 is not intended to extend the field of mandatory awards which covers degree and comparable courses, initial courses of teacher training, courses leading to the Diploma of Higher Education and the Higher National Diploma; although provision is made for a marginal increase in the number of such courses.

The need for this clause arises solely out of the decision to replace courses for the Higher National Diploma by similar courses run by the new Technician and Business Education Councils. It is designed to ensure that students attending these new courses receive mandatory awards just as they do at present when attending courses leading to a Higher National Diploma.

The effect of the Amendment would be to extend mandatory awards to cover a whole new range of courses which, in the case of the certificate in social services, would not even be in the area of advanced courses. This would be very costly. It is estimated that the additional cost would be at least £1½ million at the present time, and this can be expected to grow substantially in future years as courses for the certificate in social services are only just starting. In the present economic climate, obviously, such additional expenditure could not be contemplated. Moreover, it would make it difficult to resist pressure for all the other advanced and non-advanced courses to be brought within the mandatory field; and that would make the cost astronomical.

We applaud those authorities who are able and willing to second their members of staff to take their courses; but students who are not seconded to attend courses can apply for grant to the local education authority now if they wish to attend qualifying courses in social work. There is no reason to make it only the non-advanced course which is going to attract a mandatory award. I think, if I understood the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, aright, that she said that the certificate in the social services was a qualification that was obtained by part-time study. If that is true, then no part-time courses attract mandatory awards. If we do it for the certificate of social services, then why not for courses run by the Open University and others? For those reasons, that this is not the place in which to try to achieve this, and also that if it were to be included the cost would be so astronomical, I do not think we should be able to get away with it.

12.39 p.m.


May I thank the noble Baroness for that answer. Perhaps I may ask for clarification. I have put down this Amendment on the basis that the Working Party of the Department of Health and Social Security in their Consultative Document made this recommendation and at two meetings the then-Minister, Mrs. Castle, gave a commitment to the training of social workers—recognising not that there should be a large infusion of money but that there should be some infusion of money. At the moment what is happening is that there are unqualified social workers working who cannot get training now because the local authority social services cannot expend money on sending them for training. I would submit that these other courses are comparable to the social work course—admittedly not the social services course, but the first one, which is a two-year course taken at a university or at a polytechnic.

Baroness STEDMAN

Those students who cannot get secondment can apply to their local education authority for an award to enable them to take a course. I know local education authorities are as short of money as the social services are. It may be that there is not the money to go round. There is the opportunity of getting it, providing the necessary cash is available. At this time, I do not think we can ask for any more cash.


I should like to thank the noble Baroness very much for that reply. May I say that these people are falling between two stools. There is not the cash from one Department or the other, and therefore they are not able to qualify and they stand to be corrected, as the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said, in court for not knowing their law, or in other spheres. If it is not possible for them to be qualified, they cannot be expected by the public to give the service which is at present demanded of them.

I realise that it may be felt this was not the way to bring this up. Personally, I am sorry to have to say that I have no regrets for having brought it up. It is well known between the Departments that this is a problem; but various Departments have let it fall between all the stools. Where there is divided responsibility, I regret to say there is no assumption of responsibility and therefore social work is suffering. I realise that this poses a problem and therefore, with the permission of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, but ask for the right to bring it up at a further stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12.42 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 7 shall stand part of the Bill?


At Second Reading I alluded briefly to the Business Education Council (BEC) and inquired whether your Lordships felt that it was sufficiently in touch with business reality. I made a few further inquiries, and the composition of the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) broadly satisfies the market. Merely looking at the end of the first policy statement, I looked down the names and qualifications, rather in terms of the brochure we have just been discussing of the head teacher and staff. I found a council of 43 members and, so far as the information which is given in the document to which I have referred is concerned, only four of these are at present directly concerned with business.

There is further an education committee of which 13 members of that council are members, or were at the time of going to press. Only one of those 13 was one of the four with business commitments. Co-opted to it are a further six members of whom two—which is a slightly higher proportion—are business members. What you finish up with is a Business Education Council directing the regeneration of British industry in the face of fearful odds—and I am not being flippant—with 43 members of whom only four are directly concerned in business and industry as it is now practised, if the details are as as I see them.

The educative process by which they actually have effect upon the industrial and business community—or at least the business community—consists of 19 people, of whom only three are actively engaged in business. I wonder whether the noble Lord feels that the preponderance of academic and theoretical expertise on this body—which alone among the BECs and RACs has a purview over the whole country—is a satisfactory balance. I wish to do nothing to detract from what it has achieved in the past. I wonder whether it might be able to pursue its aims with greater vigour, effect and rapidity—and those are greatly needed at this time—if it were composed in some slightly different way.


The object of this clause is to make clear that the Higher Diploma of the Technician Educational Council and Business Educational Council is replacing the Higher National Diploma. It says nothing about the composition of the bodies concerned. I think that what the noble Lord has said is something that should be noted. But in relation to the Bill, I do not think I can make any reply at all.


I ought to have given notice, beyond what I said at Second Reading, about this matter. I wanted the Government to take note of this. Having had some experience, as has the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, of the degree to which academic discussion can depart from practical reality—although it does not always do so—this is something which should be taken note of when recruitment to the Board is taking place.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [School Milk]:

On Question, Whether Clause 9 shall stand part of the Bill?

12.47 p.m.


I put down a Motion to delete Clause 9 not because I particularly wish to do so, but as a way of drawing the attention of noble Lords to the fact that I think there is a serious point here. The best way seemed to be to place this Amendment on the Marshalled List. I should like to make it clear that I am not addressing myself to the merits of Clause 9 as it stands, but merely whether Clause 9, and the subject with which it deals, should be in this Bill.

It is difficult to draw the line between what is social welfare and what is education. We have found this in all sorts of fields. It is very difficult to draw the line directly between the activities of Government in a wide number of fields. We are always considering this and drawing the lines differently. It is easy to make out a reasonable case for including milk and school meals in the education budget and having them administered by the Department of Education. It is possible to make out a case for anything to do with children or schools as they are in the Department of Education and Science.

On the whole, it would probably be better if these matters were considered as a matter of social welfare and social security, which is really what they are. It is more important that this should happen in a time of economic stringency. When we are feeling affluent and lashing out money on all sorts of things, it does not matter much under what heading various expenditures come. But when the cuts begin to bite, when one has to economise on things that no one wants to economise on, it is extremely important that budgets should be seen to be what they are, and what they represent should be understood.

A situation where 6.9 per cent. of the educational budget is meals and milk is one where it is very easy to blur the edges of what is the proper expenditure on education. Perhaps one could say that some of this money might be better spent actually on education if it is going into the education budget. One of the answers of the Government might well be that it would not make all that much difference. If that money was being expended by the Government anyway, they would merely have to cut the educational budget by 6.9 per cent. There is wide feeling among teachers that there is a lot of money being spent on these matters which could better go to keeping down the pupil/teacher ratio. I have a great deal of sympathy with that. There are all sorts of things which need to be looked at in this field. A complete review is needed of the whole financial side. For instance, school meals cost 42.1p and at the moment the charge is 15p. The charge is likely to go up to 20p next year and possibly 25p later. This does not cover the cost, and possibly it should cover the cost. I am not talking about free meals for those who cannot afford to pay but about the cast of meals for those parents who pay because they can afford to pay.

Possibly there is also the need for overhaul of the regulations which are in many cases unnecessarily detailed. It seems to me quite unnecessary, for example, to lay down that meals should include puddings and so on. It might be that considerable savings could be made by local authorities without in any way diminishing the calorific value of the meals. That is by the way, but I wanted to make the point that what arose almost as an historical accident of the injection of social security and social welfare into Education Bills should be taken out in these times, and the sooner the better.


I do not want to delay the Committee for too long, but I am glad that the clause has included a reference to the payment for milk. I think it should be appreciated that when this system was first introduced it made a marvellous physical difference to the children of England. We now have children several inches taller than their parents or grandparents were. We have had to rebuild school desks because we have built a nation which is physically more fit. During this last five years or so of this affluent society a dental surgeon friend of mine has told me that, so far as teeth are concerned, they are beginning to decay because of the eating of sweets and because merchants of desire fill the television screen with the trivialisation of advertisements urging the young to stuff themselves with all kinds of sweets and so on.

At least one good thing that was given to the children was milk. I realise that some parents can well afford to pay, but for those who cannot afford to pay, this small amount of milk, particularly between the ages of five and nine, should be given free. We want parents to work, as they are working, but we find that too many children are given a key to their home and they miss meals. At least if they were given school milk we should be guaranteeing that some proficiency in feeding is given to the children even if the parents cannot afford to pay for it. Many parents have to go out to work to meet the high cost of living today, and consequently I hope that the Government will not give way and will maintain school meals and milk, because this system has done great things for the children.


It appears that milk raises higher feelings than whisky. I should like to say one word about this point. Recently the Government withdrew the grant to direct grant schools, so presumably they do not approve of their methods. However, I should like to point out that one of those methods was to reduce fees for poorer families who could not afford the full fee, even to the point that with very poor families they gave them an entirely free education. Why could not this method be applied to milk? Let those who can afford it, pay for it. I cannot believe there are many who cannot afford it, but in the case of very poor families let the charge be reduced, or even cancelled. I should have thought that that was applicable.


It requires a certain ingenuity to reply to this short debate, because not a single speaker has touched on the point at issue. I accept the excuse of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, that it was the only way that he could bring in something he wanted to bring in. Possibly the same applies to the other two speakers. There are times when the presence of a Speaker here would save time and today, as we have an ex-Speaker in the Chair, he must have been left gasping at what goes on in this Chamber. However, I have a very carefully prepared reply which I do not propose to read. Since nobody has referred to its substance it seems to me there is no point in giving it. I will take up the point made by the noble Lord out of politeness rather than duty. I do not think one can, in a Bill about general educational policy, start dealing with this sort of detail. One could, for example, ask about school transport and whether it should come under the Ministry of Transport. Questions are being raised which are not really soluble in these surroundings. I think all the noble Lord wanted to do was to get on the record some of his feelings: this he did. He did not ask a single question and I do not propose to give him a single answer.


As the noble Lord is keen to keep to the effect of the clause, I cannot resist asking him three quick questions. The effect of Clause 9 is to meet the requirement in the 1971 Act that if local authorities wish to provide milk for pupils other than those statutorily entitled to receive it free of charge, the parents are going to have to pay. That is withdrawn by this clause. May I ask first, what is going to be the cost? Secondly, is it in line with Government policy on public expenditure? Thirdly, will the expenditure be relevant expenditure for rate support grant?


I am a little confused about the beginning of the question asked by the noble Lord.


My first question is: what is going to be the cost, on the assumption that all authorities would now begin to pay?


The assumption has not been calculated. This gives freedom to local authorities to vary the price of milk, just as they are able to vary the price of other foodstuffs such as orange or lemonade, or so on, which they push into school meals and sell to their children at their wish and at their own expense. No calculation has been made over the hypothetical situation as to, if 50 per cent., 70 per cent., or 100 per cent., did it, what it would cost, because the cost would be absorbed by the local authorities.


Would it be RSG relevant?


Only in the case of local authorities that are not education authorities.

Viscount ECCLES

Are we then to understand that the estimate of the cost which is printed on the second page of the Bill as £6 million to £9 million is all nonsense? It is in the Explanatory Memorandum.


I hope that your Lordships are not to suppose that. Clause 9 is explained in this way: Clause 9 will not itself entail additional expenditure, but regulations made by virtue of the clause may result in additional expenditure by local education authorities— which I think is what I said— which would be relevant expenditure for the purposes of rate support grant, of the order of £6 million to £9 million in a full year. I had omitted to recollect that an estimate had been given and I apologise to your Lordships.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Married persons of compulsory school age]:

12.59 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 58: Page 6, line 3, leave out ("(5)")

The noble Baroness said: I beg to move Amendment No. 58, with which your Lordships may find it convenient also to take Amendments No. 59, Nos. 61 to 64 and No. 66, which stand in the name of the Government. By leave of the Committee, I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 60 and 65, which stand in the name of the noble Viscount, Viscount Colville of Culross. All these Amendments relate to Clause 10, which was added to the Bill at Committee stage in another place against Government advice. The Government have made it clear that they do not intend to seek the deletion of the clause, but they consider that, whatever view may be taken of its merits, it requires certain modifications in order to bring it into harmony with existing legislation, to avoid undesirable anomalies and to ensure that it functions with the minimum of difficulty. All the Government Amendments were put down in the Commons in the name of Dr. Marshall, but they were guillotined under their proposal. In moving for this purpose the Amendments which stand in the name of the Government, I will, if I may, say a word also on the Amendments of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, which I fear I must ask your Lordships to reject.

Briefly, the intention of Clause 10 is to transfer to a married person of compulsory school age the responsibility for his or her own attendance at school, a responsibility which at present rests with the parents. There are relatively few such persons. They are young people who have reached the age of 16, at which age they can marry with their parents' consent, but have not yet reached the date—which may, in some cases, be up to seven months later—when they can lawfully leave school. I shall not now attempt to argue the merits or demerits of the clause in general, but will outline the points to which each of the Amendments relates.

Amendments Nos. 58 and 59 together ensure that the offence of failing to comply with the requirements of a school attendance order is, in the case of the married 16-year-old, set out expressly in the Bill instead of by reference to a provision in the 1944 Act. Amendment No. 60, standing in the name of the noble Viscount, is an Amendment which I must ask your Lordships to reject. It would, in a roundabout way, permit a married person of compulsory school age to leave school with impunity if he or she had no fixed abode, but could show that he or she was living more than three miles from the school, and that the local education authority had not made suitable arrangements for his or her transport to and fro, or for boarding, or for his or her transfer to another school. I do not think that such a situation is likely to arise very often. It seems to me a matter on which the Committee need not spend a great deal of time. I shall content myself by pointing out that the honourable Member who moved the addition of the clause in another place was anxious that it should in no way diminish the obligation of the married 16-year-old to attend school, or offer a way by which the compulsory school age limit could, in effect, be lowered for some pupils, albeit a very few. Since that would be the effect of this Amendment, in so far as it had any effect, I think that those who are responsible for this clause being in the Bill would wish to see the Amendment rejected. The Government do not necessarily share their view of the value of the clause in general, but if the clause is to be in the Bill it ought not to be used as a means of weakening the law on compulsory school attendance. I hope, therefore, that the noble Viscount will not find it necessary to move his Amendment.

Amendment No. 61 removes the anomalous provision in subsection (8) that a married 16-year-old truant should be tried in an adult court. That would imply that the offence was one of exceptional gravity, and might have suggested that 16-year-olds who commit other offences should be tried in adult courts if they are married. The next three Amendments bring the penalties imposed by Clause 10 for the new offences which it creates into line with those already prescribed in the 1944 Act (as amended) for the corresponding offences on the part of parents in the case of children of compulsory school age, other than married 16-year-olds. I hope these Amendments will be accepted and I think that if they are the noble Viscount's Amendment No. 64 might fall. But, by the same token, I must ask your Lordships to reject Amendment No. 65, which would impose, for a second offence under this clause, a penalty of £100. I see no reason why married 16-year-olds, who will be responsible for their own school attendance, should be treated more severely than their parents would have been if they were still responsible. Given that the clause is in the Bill, it should neither diminish nor exaggerate the responsibility or the penalty: its purpose is simply to transfer them from one person to another. Finally, Amendment No. 66 replaces the body of subsection (10) by a simpler and more appropriate provision which, I am advised, will have the same effect. I hope your Lordships will accept it. I beg to move.

1.5 p.m.


The Government's attitude to this has, I am glad to find, not really changed. I do not wish to be particularly abrasive about this clause, but I must say that I think it is fairly silly. It arose because, in the constituency of the honourable Member for Goole, Dr. Marshall, the local education authority, for some reason that I cannot conceive, chose to prosecute the mother of a married 16-year-old child who had moved away with her husband and had not been going to school. What the magistrates thought about it is perfectly clear, because they gave the mother an absolute discharge, and the Government have said that they have never heard of another case being brought in these circumstances, and I do not suppose there is one. Moreover, the Government have said that if they did hear of one, or if they heard of a local education authority seeking to bring such a prosecution, they would advise it not to do so, whether formally or informally.

What are we doing? We are transferring all this rigmarole from the parent on to the shoulders of the married child, himself or herself, and it may be that this is the more satisfactory way to do it. But I am bound to agree with what the Minister said in another place, that, although the present situation is clearly not ideal, the proposals do not substantially improve it and, in some respects, they make it worse. I was really waiting for an indication from the noble Baroness or the noble Lord as to what was the Government's attitude on this clause, before I considered whether at another stage I might move to leave it out altogether. But at any rate, so far as the Amendments are concerned, I agree that those put down by the Government improve it.

I particularly think that the courts to which the offence goes should be in line with all the other offences of this comparatively trivial nature. But where I am at odds with the noble Baroness—and it may be that in this I am just plain wrong—is that I did not understand that the attraction, as amended, of Section 39(3) of the Education Act 1944 was as she said. It is perfectly possible that I have missed a repeal of part of this subsection.

What I think your Lordships are enacting, if we leave the Bill as it is in this respect, is the following situation. I ask your Lordships to remember that the child concerned is a child who has married very soon after the age of 16 but, as the noble Baroness has said, has up to about seven months, because of the date of his or her birthday, still to go to school. The law will then read like this, if we leave the Bill as it is: Where in any proceedings for an offence against this section it is proved that the child has no fixed abode, paragraph (c) of the last foregoing subsection shall not apply"— that is the part about walking distance from school, which the noble Baroness told us about. But now let us see what will apply as amended by the rest of the clause in the Bill as it stands: … but if the married child proves that he is engaged in any trade or business of such a nature as to require him to travel from place to place and that he has regularly attended at a school at which he was a registered pupil as regularly as the nature of the trade or business of the married child permits, the married child shall be acquitted: Provided that, in the case of a child who has attained the age of six years"— which is obviously a mistake— the married child shall not be entitled to be acquitted under this subsection unless he proves that he has made at least two hundred attendances during the period of twelve months ending with the date on which the proceedings were instituted". I am at one with the noble Baroness in wishing to ensure that those who are meant to attend school should attend school, and I certainly did not put down this Amendment in order to prevent that. What I had in mind was that if you want to take up what is, I suppose, an apt modern, peripatetic or itinerant trade or business, what about the trade of a "pop" group? What is to prevent a married child skipping most of the last two terms during which he or she is meant to be at school, and saying that he or she is engaged in a trade or business and is of no fixed abode? He goes around as a member of a "pop" group and then does not have to go to school at all and can claim to be acquitted under this subsection. I ask the Government to look at all of this. It may he that it has all been repealed, but I doubt it. I think we could certainly come to an arrangement whereby we got out of this nonsense, if it is as I suggest.

While I have put down a £100 fine for the second offence, I do not believe there ever will be a prosecution for a second offence because there will not be time; but I agree we have to make provision in order to take the final sledgehammer to crack this nut. I thought if we were to have the peripatetic modern school-age "pop" group persons coming before a court for the second time, the reason why they had not been to school was because they were earning a great deal as members of the "pop" group and if already convicted once, they could continue to do it, and a £20 fine would not do much to persuade them to give up their business and go back to school.

That is what. I had in mind. Unless I have failed to appreciate that there has been a repeal of this part of Section 39(3), it is nonsense to apply it in the circumstances I have described. It may be that there are defects from leaving out the whole subsection (3) such as the noble Baroness has suggested, but we must look at this again, and make sure we are not passing on to the Statute Book not only a long, probably unnecessary subsection, but one which contains an internal idiocy.


I have looked at this, and something has been forgotten. We are now a multiracial society. Information has been given to me that girls of certain races at the age of 14 years or 15 years have been married because of the Moslem religion. We must not just think in Christian terms. The law can make an ass of itself. We are talking of quite mature human beings of 16 years of age. I have visions of a very lucky 16-year-old girl, married to an Arab, coming to school in a Rolls-Royce to meet the implications of an ass of a law passed by Parliament. Once this happens at that age, provided the youngster is not under the age of 12 years or 13 years and in special care, we are just making fools of ourselves if we try to pass minute laws like this. God help the barrister, or anyone else; the cartoonist will take a happy holiday just pulling the leg of Parliament for passing a damn silly thing like this.


I have only one point to raise briefly. I think the whole of Clause 10 should be deleted, and perhaps we can do that at a later stage. I am delighted, however, that Amendment No. 61 was deleted because that seemed to be making an ass of what we are trying to do in our courts. There is only one small point I want to make.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, brought it to our attention that the children in other religions are allowed by their laws to grow up and, indeed, marry, have boyfriends and so on, at a much younger age than we countenance in this country. However, there are quite a number of young people who, whether they like it or not, under the age at which they are able to leave school, do produce children. I should like it not to be written into the Bill at all, but to have an assurance from the Ministers concerned that they would issue some instruction which might well not be necessary. On the other hand, one cannot always rely on every single local education authority, if there is some guidance from the top, not adhering to this particular item; that is, if a child gets married or, indeed, if she is unmarried and has a child and she is under school-leaving age, she should not be compelled to go to school if she keeps her child.

I think this is important. Whether it is important enough to have any directive from the Secretary of State I am not able to say. I realise there are few children in this particular situation, but if we are making laws which should be abided by, then perhaps we should make the right laws. On the other hand, I do not want it written into the Bill, but would like the Secretary of State to be aware of the situation.


As a social worker to whom cases have been referred of non-school attendance of under 16-year-olds, particularly those with babies, one is in a very awkward position to know exactly what is right. One does not want to undermine the principle that children should attend school, nor subscribe to it. But at the same time, equally, one is saying that people should look after their children, 16-year-olds though they may be. Particularly as the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have said, where you get people from a different culture who marry by their own law at 15, with children, one is in a very difficult position when one has the non-school attendance of those types referred to one.

Baroness STEDMAN

So far as the young pop group singer who can wander round earning a lot of money is concerned, by law he cannot lawfully take a job until he is past compulsory school-leaving age; so by law he should not be careering round the country earning a fortune.


Can he not be self-employed?

Baroness STEDMAN

Not until after compulsory school age. We would like to take advice on this from our officers, but it would seem to me that we are covered because the compulsory school age is the time at which they can lawfully take a job, but I am happy to take that back from the noble Viscount. He has raised some doubts in our minds, and we will have a look at it.

Concerning the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, of which she was good enough to give me notice, we cannot issue guidance from the Department telling local education authorities to ignore the fact that children, even if they are 16-plus but not quite old enough to be of compulsory school-leaving age, should go to school. Any powers of compulsion on these youngsters, with the children themselves, would have to be started by the appropriate local education authorities.

Quite frankly, I do not think that any local education authorities will attempt to compel a young mother between 16 years and 16 years 7 months to attend ordinary school, but they might attempt to provide some kind of suitable instruction for such a person by means of home tuition, or something like that. They might be able to give some help in that way without insisting they attend school. The Bill does not change the existing law on compulsory school attendance. That still stands, except in the particular that the responsibility for attendance will now rest with the 16-year-old married boy or girl, and not with their parents.


When the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, looks at this matter, I think she will agree that the question of whether or not the trade or business was lawfully being engaged in by the pop singer is neither here nor there. If he or she establishes this was in fact his or her trade or business requiring, as it would, travelling around, this would come within the subsection.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for looking at it again. I shall not press it today, but I really think that we must come back and look at that. If that is typical of the sort of thing resulting from this Bill, I am not sure I shall not join the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, take the flavour of the Committee, and move to leave it out altogether on Report. The other place has never considered this matter at all as a whole. It was guillotined altogether at Report stage. It was put in at the very end of a Select Committee which had gone on for two volumes, so far as I am concerned, and possibly another place should look at that in a rather more sober light than they have had a chance to do so far.

Baroness STEDMAN

This clause was inserted against Government advice. We are only trying to make it workable, if it has to stay in the Bill.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 59:

Page 6, line 5, at end insert— ( ) If any person upon whom a school attendance order is served by virtue of subsection (4) above fails to comply with the requirements of the order, he shall he guilty of an offence against this subsection unless he proves that he is receiving efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability and aptitude otherwise than at school.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amend-Nos. 61 to 64 en bloc:

Page 6, line 17, leave out subsection (8).

Page 6, line 25, leave out ("£1') and insert ("£10")

Page 6, after ("second") insert ("or sub-Sequent")

Page 6, line 26, leave out ("£5") and insert ("£20")

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 66:

Page 6, line 27, leave out subsection (10) and insert— ("(10) Proceedings for an offence against any of the foregoing subsections of this section shall not be instituted except by a local education authority.")

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 10, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 11 [Expenses]:

Lord ELTON had given Notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 67: Page 7, line 3, at end insert ("but only at such time and to such an amount as authorised by regulations laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State to be subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament")

The noble Lord said: As Amendment No. 68 has already been taken, this is the last Amendment on the Marshalled List. I wish to use this opportunity to thank your Lordships for your patient attendance during what I make about 18 hours on this Bill. It has not been a profitless debate; principles have been established and positions taken and clarified. Your Lordships may feel that the time has been well spent. I think your Lordships will also recall that there is a good deal left to do on Report. Both sides will be looking carefully at what they propose to do and in a number of areas consulting each other upon it. The willingness of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness opposite to do this is something I welcome, while I deplore the areas in which they have been unable, however much they may personally have wished to do it, to meet our intentions.

I would thank all your Lordships on this side for your indefatigable support, and especially my noble friend on the Front Bench. I do not know whether it it customary to finish a stage of a Bill with this sort of flourish, but I think it is richly deserved and I should like to place it on the Record.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Citation, construction and extent]:

On Question, Whether Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill?


Talking about Clause 12 is quite irrelevant, but the precedent has been set today, so I would wish to say thank you to noble Lords opposite, particularly to the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Belstead, for their courtesy in the fairly long struggle we have had. I expected it to be a good deal worse. The noble Lord has once or twice twitted us on this side for not making concessions to their reasoned arguments. I think, coining from the noble Lord's Bench, that that was probably not said in the right direction. When I have been sitting on that side we have suffered a good deal worse. But I think noble Lords will admit that, whenever something the least sensible was put up—and this has happened at least three times—we always bent over backwards to meet noble Lords. May I end by saying, seriously, that I am very grateful to my noble friend for the very hard work she has done, and I am grateful to noble Lords for the courtesy with which we have been received.

Clause 12 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported, with the Amendments.