HL Deb 25 October 1976 vol 376 cc9-28

2.53 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [The comprehensive principle]:

Lord ELTON moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 19, after ("pupils") insert ("of compulsory school age").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is one procedural matter to which your Lordships may like me first to draw your attention, though I believe it is not my proper place so to do. But I understand that the order of the Amendments on the Marshalled List is different from the order in which it is proposed to lake them. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that we are first to have an Amendment No. 1, then Amendment No. 4, then Amendment No. 3 and then Amendment No. 2, because that is the order in which they strike in the Bill. But as your Lordships may have differing interests in different parts of the Bill, I wonder whether the noble Lord would care to confirm or otherwise what I believe to be the case.

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

My Lords, this has not been suggested to me. It sounds to me in no way objectionable, and if the noble Lord wants to do it in this order I will be very happy to do so. But the order in the Marshalled List is the order which I was proposing to take, unless otherwise asked.


My Lords, plainly I have been misinformed. I understood that this was the order in which it had been intended to take them. I have no wishes in the matter at all. I shall now proceed as though nothing had happened.

We return, therefore, at the outset of our debate on this Bill to an Amendment which we tabled and discussed in Committee. The original intention of the Amendment was to secure that sixth form colleges could be run as academic institutions suitable for pupils of comprehensive schools who had academic gifts. It is in no way aimed at destroying or curtailing the operation of the comprehensive principle at any point in the career of schoolchildren of compulsory school age. It was framed, in fact, as a means of making it easier to overcome what, to all of us, is seen as being one of the undesirable side effects of the introduction of the comprehensive principle in one of its forms, and I refer to the generation of schools of very considerable size.

I submitted at Committee stare that one widely accepted way of reducing the size of such units was to set up sixth form colleges and the Minister pronounced himself in favour of them. I suggested that they would operate far more effectively if they were permitted to select their entry on grounds that were academic—that is, grounds that were based on ability and aptitude—and I tried to make it clear that the pursuit by school pupils of academic excellence, upon which the whole future of excellence of the administration and industrial performance of this country depend, is made very much easier and more profitable in an atmosphere where that pursuit is recognised as the dominant aim of all those participating. Whatever the social advantages of non-selective education up to the age of 16, the educational advantages of selective education from that time onwards are considerable and have a close bearing upon the future prosperity and cohesion of this country.

However, in his reply, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said at col. 1331: The Government are perfectly clear that they want to eliminate selection at all stages of secondary education, and the Government … see no reason to make an exception for sixth form education. A little further on he went on to say: It has always been the Government's view that the sole criterion for admission to a sixth form course should be the pupil's ability to profit from that course."—[Official Report, 6/10/76.] In accepting that the ability of a pupil was a criterion for admission to a course, he emphasised that it could not, under the Bill, he a criterion for admission to the school in which the course was held.

While I did not in any way accept the wisdom of the noble Lord and his Party in making this decision—and that is a matter of political choice on which we on this side disagree, differ from them fundamentally—it became clear almost immediately afterwards from an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, that there were other reasons of an entirely pragmatic and non-political nature that must be taken into account before such a choice can be endorsed by this House, whatever its political complexion may be. If I may summarise, they are briefly as follows. First, there already exist a number of routes by which pupils over compulsory school age can pursue their education beyond the fifth form, and they can do so without remaining at school. Some of these routes are part-time and provide an area for the development of exactly that interrelation between employment and learning that the Prime Minister, in a speech to which I shall have occasion to refer again later, warmly encouraged. Others are full-time and involve institutions of education other than schools.

The second consideration is that the traditional and essential function of the sixth form has hitherto been to provide an extension of education beyond compulsory school age for the specifically academically able up to university entrance level. They are the proper institutions to provide this service and, if they do not provide it, it will not be adequately provided at all in the foreseeable future. If noble Lords opposite want to widen this function and take in an extension of non-academic schools careers, that is an addition to that vital function and not something to replace it. There is scope for such an extension and it will be for them to see that it is not done at the cost of the prime function. Whether or not they can do so is a question that may be open to doubt, but it is not the question to which I am now asking noble Lords to address their attention.

The third consideration is that in present economic circumstances, to quote the Prime Minister again, There can be little expectation of further increased resources being made available, at any rate for the time being. This, I take it, was a euphemistic way of saying that the resources that we are sampling at present already taste very strongly of the bottom of the barrel. If that is so, the 15 sixth form colleges, which the Minister has already told us operate selectively, and any new colleges which may be subsequently opened under the auspices, or perhaps I should say the blight, of this Bill, cannot be expected in any realistic way to deploy any resources beyond the performance of their essential functions; and that is especially the case where such a deployment would merely be in duplication of some of the other resources in other institutions of further education and polytechnics to which I have already referred.

The fourth consideration brings me back to the very valuable intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, at an earlier stage. It is this: as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, it has always been the Government's view that the sole criterion for admission to a sixth form course should be the pupil's ability to profit from that course. But the criterion for admission to the college is no more than the sum of the criteria for admission to the courses it offers; and as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said, obviously if a child is going to take A-level he must have O-levels in order to pursue the course satisfactorily. That is one measure of ability to which the Minister referred. The Minister was quite clear, and rightly so, that there should be no question of pupils entering upon courses from which, by reason of lack of ability, they could not profit. But if the sixth form college offers only academic courses, it will be forced to admit selectively on academic grounds: that is, on grounds of ability or aptitude.

However, the Bill expressly makes clear in Clause 1, on page 1, lines 17 to 20, that this will disbar the local education authority from placing students in that college. Existing selective colleges will then be faced with the alternatives of closure or of a considerable deployment of scarce resources in needlessly duplicating facilities already available to their potential pupils elsewhere. That is an anomaly in this Bill and it is one quite clearly which, from the tone of the remarks made by the noble Lord at Committee stage, was not foreseen when the Bill was drawn up. In his concluding intervention at Committee stage, in col.1336 of the Official Report, on 6th October 1976, he said: Though I do not want to look at the principle involved"— and he meant the comprehensive principle as applied to post-O-level education— I am quite prepared to look at the point the noble Lord— and he was referring to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, to whom I should perhaps apologise for having followed him so closely in this argument— has raised, which we can deal with, or otherwise, at a later stage. That later stage has arrived and as it was our Amendment originally we have tabled it again to provide an opportunity for an explanation of the point; and upon what that explanation is and what evolves from it will rest our decision on what to do at the conclusion of the debate. I beg to move.


My Lords, since I have been referred to so frequently perhaps I should make my position quite clear. When this point was raised in Committee the Minister was kind enough to say that he would look at the point, and he has been kind enough subsequently to write to me, which I very much appreciate. In his letter he gives an assurance that there is no intention of interfering with the operation of sixth form colleges. I hope I have not misinterpreted the letter. Naturally I accept the sincerity of that assurance without any reservation of any kind, but I have to tell the noble Lord the Minister that that assurance can be fulfilled only if this Amendment is accepted by the Government.

The position is as follows. There are three types of operation at sixth form level emerging increasingly. There are tertiary colleges which, as your Lordships know, I personally favour very much, which protect the comprehensive principle and offer the full range of courses. There is no problem there because they operate under further education regulations and are therefore excluded from the provisions of this clause. There are sixth form colleges which have a policy of open admission: that is to say any child of appropriate age can come, and they seek to provide a course which is appropriate to the ability of the child. They do not affect Clause 1. But there are a. number of colleges to which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has referred which are deliberately designed to provide sixth form courses essentially for A-levels and which therefore necessarily require as a condition of admission appropriate evidence that the course can be pursued satisfactorily.

It is true, of course, that normally young people who do not want to pursue these courses can go to an institution of further education in the area and pursue other courses, so that the full educational opportunity is not barred. These colleges are run under schools regulations. As such, such a college is a school. If therefore any parent, teacher or body of teachers makes a complaint, say, under Section 68, to the Secretary of State against such a college the Secretary of State, in my judgment, would necessarily rule against the authority and the college under this clause. If in his endeavours to fulfil the undertakings the Minister has given he did not so rule, then any parent taking the Secretary of State to court must win because the words of the clause are perfectly clear. This is a school. Its admission policy is on the evidence of academic aptitude, as evidenced by passing certain examinations at the necessary level. I would appeal to the Government, in order to secure that these undertakings are fulfilled, to accept this Amendment. That would resolve the problem and I do not believe it would in any way harm the impact of the Bill.


My Lords, when we discussed this Amendment on the first day of the Committee stage I made the Government's position quite clear. We wish to eliminate selection at all stages of secondary education, and see no reason to make an exception to those aged 16. But both the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, raised one particular point. In essence they wished to know whether a sixth form college would be in breach of the comprehensive principle if it were not able to provide for pupils of lower ability who wished to pursue certain practical and technical courses normally found within a further education college. On that occasion I said that although I did not want to look again at the principle involved I was quite prepared to look at this specific point. I did in fact correspond with the noble Lord on that point, as he has been kind enough to say. He pointed out on that occasion that where an authority's provision for the 16 to 19 age group is in tertiary colleges students of all abilities and aptitudes would be catered for within one institution.

It has never been envisaged that sixth form colleges should provide the same breadth of courses. To duplicate un-necessarily the courses provided in the local further education college would be a waste of time and money. The Government wish to encourage close co-operation between the schools and colleges providing for 16 to 19 year olds in any area; and for two main reasons. The first is that they want to see the most efficient use of teachers and equipment. Secondly, they want to ensure that between the school and further education sectors a full range of courses is offered for students of all abilities. I can assure noble Lords that there is no question of a sixth form college contravening the comprehensive principle because it could not cater for a pupil wishing to follow a course which it did not provide and which in any case was either already being offered or could be provided more satisfactorily at the local further education college. I hope this will go some way towards satisfying the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, but he shakes his head and so it seems I am unlucky.

I have looked at our latest information. Of the 72 sixth form colleges and two sixth form centres in operation in September 1976, only three still operated selective admission procedures; and of these, two are moving towards becoming open access colleges. By "open access" we do not mean that any student can control for any course. Clearly anyone wishing to study for A-level in a particular subject will need the entrance requirement set by the tutors for those who wish to follow that course. What it does mean is that no general entrance requirement—for example, passes in five O-levels—will be required before a young person can enter the college. Thus there is no entrance requirement to the college but only entrance requirements that are relevant to the course or courses the pupil wishes to take.

Nor does open access mean that a sixth form college must provide every conceivable course which, if I understood the noble Lord aright, is what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, appeared to be saying. A sixth form college will provide only those courses for which there is a demand, for which it has resources and which are not readily available elsewhere. This clause will bite only on those colleges with a general academic standard for admission, such as five O-levels. It will be perfectly permissible for open access colleges to set standards for admission to particular courses. That is the Government's position and I am afraid I cannot accept the Amendment.


My Lords, I am afraid that this is a very difficult situation. One sees the virtues of the arguments on both sides, but my judgment must come down on the side of the Government. More young people are staying on at school after the compulsory school leaving age and we wish to encourage this trend. I should have thought that taking into account the present very large unemployment problem everybody would wish to encourage this trend as much as possible. It is far better to be learning than to be idle.

When it comes to a choice of what kind of education they are after, there may be very good reasons why young people will want to stay in the school atmosphere rather than move to tertiary colleges, even if academically they are not of a very high standard. Although I say this, I am very much in favour of tertiary colleges; they encourage these young people who feel that they wish to move out of the school atmosphere and go on to tertiary education. Nevertheless, we must take account of the fact that there are young people who wish to stay in the school atmosphere, and parents also who wish them to stay in that atmosphere. I understand that parental choice is still an important feature of Conservative Party policy. Therefore, where there are sixth form colleges I think it is important that young people should be allowed to go to them.

Nor do I see that there is a very great academic difficulty about this unless young people wish to pursue a course which is not offered at a sixth form college. If they do, we have the assurance of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that these young people do not in any way lay themselves open to the law. Where, however, they can be accepted, surely this is a situation where, almost more than anywhere else, the comprehensive system and the mixed ability teaching system work. We tend to think of mixed ability teaching, if we approve of it at all, as working only at a fairly low age level, but of course that is absolute nonsense. The older one is, the better the system can work.

One of the great vices of the present debate is that we tend to think of the selective system and the comprehensive system as entirely opposed to each other. They are not. The ideal of the best educationalists in both system is that every child shall be taught individually according to his or her abilities. When you get to sixth form level and to the academic children, plus the children who have voluntarily chosen to stay on, and when you get to the usually higher ratio between staff and pupils, you are most able to take the individual pup I, whether he be very bright or not so bright, and teach him individually: set him or her to do his own job in the school library, with film strips, or what have you. The sixth form colleges and the sixth forms are much more able to take care of mixed ability groups than are certain classes in middle schools, particularly these which are situated in difficult and crowded social situations. Therefore I see no difficulty and I think, on balance, that although there are difficulties the Government are right to resist the Amendment.

Baroness MACLEOD of BO RVE

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said that a college is a school. May I ask the noble Lot d whether a sixth form college is to be treated as a school? So many of the following clauses hang on this question that I should be grateful if the noble Lord could clarify the point.


My Lords, I understand that the answer is, Yes.

3.15 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, I cannot feel satisfied with the answer of the Minister and I support the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. If we had infinite resources, then I suppose one could build as many non-selective sixth form colleges as there might be children who wanted to stay on until they were 18, but we have not. We are in for quite a long period wren it will be necessary to make the very best use of the courses which can be provided, using the highly qualified teachers that we have in a restricted number of colleges, which number none of us sees much chance of increasing in the near future. Therefore we ought to look at the sixth form college problem more from a practical point of view, given the organisation of secondary education as envisaged in the Bill.

The fact is that secondary education cannot be organised on the principles of Clauses 1 to 3 without doing educational damage. That is mainly because a limit will have to be put upon the size of all but a very few exceptional comprehensives, not for educational reasons but for reasons of administration and in order to create that sense of community without which a school is not a school and is sometimes a bear-garden.

Public opinion will not for much longer accept the chaos which now characterises some of our large comprehensives. The Soviet Union found that out years ago and limited by decree the general run of schools to a maximum of 800 pupils. Whether or not the limit has been observed I do not know, but at the time Mr. Khrushchev told me that this limitation was necessary because many teachers had no liking or gift for administration. Is the same true here? That is a question which requires very careful investigation and we have put down an Amendment asking for such an investigation to be made. However, we do know now that a great many local education authorities have come round to the view that most comprehensives must be limited to five-or six-form entry if they are to reach the best standards (I think particularly the best standards of discipline) of which their staff is capable.

A price has to he paid for this limitation on size because in four cases out of five the comprehensives will be too small to develop a strong sixth form. That will happen only in some very favourable neighbourhoods. Then what happens? Limitation of size forces selection, either between a group of comprehensives, or from comprehensives to a sixth form college or to some other such institution. The local education authorities will have to decide which is the less unsatisfactory course: either children dawdling, running or being transported from one comprehensive to another in search of the courses that they want to take and therefore wasting time and probably getting up to mischief, or selecting children at 16 to go on to a sixth form college where the courses that they want are taught by qualified teachers. Noble Lords will notice that either method requires selection.

My noble friend's Amendment is necessary to give the sixth-form colleges as they are now a chance to do the best they can for able children. If they do not select they are not going to attract highly qualified teachers to teach the less well-known subjects, or, indeed, some well-known subjects, like mathematics and the more difficult languages. Therefore, I support this Amendment but with a heavy heart, because sixth-form colleges will decapitate so many comprehensives. The highly qualified teachers will not like teaching in the small comprehensives and many bright children will never arrive at the point where A-levels are within their grasp. Their talents will either be underdeveloped or undiscovered, and the loss of the A-stream all the way from 11 to 17 will deprive the country of leaders in a great many walks of life.

I should like to make two further points. As I have said, in most comprehensives linked to a sixth-form college a strong sixth form can never be developed in the school. At 16, or even before, the bright children will have moved on. This will be a great loss. A sixth form gives a sense of responsibility to the whole school. It is a status to aim at and to work hard for; it encourages staff and pupils to do their best all the way up the school. It helps the head teacher to organise discipline inside the school. Take all that away and substitute a sixth-form college in a different, building with a different staff who will not know any of these young adolescents until they arrive at the age of 16—and then they will be pretty difficult to know—and you have lost something very valuable indeed.

I am astonished that the universities have not seen what is happening and have not demanded changes in this Bill long before it came to your Lordships' House. The consequences of going comprehensive in the manner proposed in the first three clauses of the Bill will damage education for the able children, will be had for industry and will be extremely bad for the universities. If my noble friend presses his Amendment to a Division, I shall be with him.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, I think some noble Lords are making a mountain out of a molehill over this Amendment, because from what I can see there would be very few pupils affected by this. As we have heard from my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, most of the sixth-form colleges are what he calls "open colleges", and it seems to me that few pupils would opt to go into a sixth-form college where most of the children had O-levels and were going to take A-levels; but if they do want to do that, then I think they should be encouraged to do so and not prohibited. While this Amendment looks as though it is doing something positive, in fact it is doing something negative, because it is giving the local authorities the power to exclude such pupils from the sixth-form colleges. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, when he says that surely they could be catered for.

I agree with the legal interpretation put on this matter by my noble friend Lord Alexander of Potterhill, when he says that if a child were excluded, then the parent would probably (though we never know in view of recent rulings) be able to pray in aid Section 68 of the 1944 Education Act—but we all know where that has led some people lately. That aside, it seems to me that so few pupils will be affected by this provision that those who are affected should be welcomed into the sixth-form colleges and we should not seek to exclude them.


My Lords, by leave of the House, may I say that there are 85 sixth-form colleges, of which 17 would be in breach of this clause. If those 17 have to satisfy the clause they will have to extend the range of their courses and their staff. In fact, they would become virtually tertiary colleges to meet the needs of the whole range of ability, which is a major problem and therefore would necessarily call for considerable resources. As to how they would operate, I may say that I was recently in Solihull, and it is perfectly true, as the noble Lord the Minister said, that they operate very closely indeed with the further education college which is nearby, so that those who do not go to the sixth-form college go to the further education college. It is a fact that last year they won 20 scholarships, so I think it would be a pity if they had to depart from their present purpose.


My Lords, it is important that we should not turn a Report stage into a Committee stage argument but I should just like to say to the noble Lord, by leave of the House, that I do not agree with his figures.


My Lords, may I say that when I heard my noble friend—if I may so call him—Lord Eccles, say that he confronted this question with a heavy heart, I completely agreed with him. I am personally out of sympathy with the intention of the Government to do everything at once and to enforce on the educational system changes which will involve years of reorganisation when a slightly slower pace might have enabled us to reach the wished for goal with much less dislocation. I imagine that I shall be almost alone in this House when I express my deep conviction that the true target in this connection is not the existing organisation but the influences which have paused the existing organisation to come into being.

I am totally out of sympathy with the general policy of the universities South of the Border to inflict upon school education before the age of 18 a sort of imitation of university education as it used to be in my young days. think the Scottish system, which provides for greater versatility and for more superficiality, perhaps, up to the age of 18, is a much superior system, and it is no accident at all that where in the rest of the world the education in this island has been imitated, it is the Scottish system and not the system South of the Border—with one or two notable exceptions—which has been imitated. I have no sympathy at all with the pride in the specialisation w rich is en-enforced in the sixth form colleges, whatever designation they may enjoy. I have no sympathy at all with the system which enforces on my grandchildren at the tender age of 14 or 15 the choice whether they should be scientists or humanists. I think in this Amendment we are completely on the wrong track and, therefore, whatever Division takes place, I personally shall remain glued to my seat.


My Lords, I wish to make only a brief intervention at this point. We have heard about the administration, we have heard about the different types of sixth-form college, we have heard about the large comprehensive schools and the small comprehensive schools: what we have not heard about are the children themselves. Never have children wanted more to have the confidence of those people who are teaching them and have been looking after them from the age of, possibly, eleven onwards, than they do now. With broken homes, with increasing crime figures, the one place where there is a possibility of stability is in the schools where members of the staff have been teaching children—and I am particularly thinking of girls—from an early age. I would beg noble Lords to consider the child through its school years when they are considering the way in which they are going to vote on this Amendment, with which I have very great sympathy.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, this first Amendment of the Report stage of this Bill demonstrates a problem which, it has struck me throughout the Committee stage, plagues the Bill despite the excellent and thorough arguments and replies which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, have given us in answer to our Amendments. As I see it, the problem is the inflexibility of the provisions of the Bill.

I would assure the Government that this Amendment was not originally put down again on Report with any intention on the part of my noble friend, Lord Elton, or myself that we should press it to a Division as a matter of principle, but because the needs of children differ, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brooke of Ystradfellte, has said so pertinently. We now find, having listened to the debate, that there are very deep considerations to be taken into account as to what should be done with this Amendment, and not least the technical imperfections of the drafting of the Bill which have been shown up by the speech made earlier in this discussion by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill.

The simple effect of this Amendment, if it were to be pressed, would be to allow local authorities to have regard to ability and aptitude in providing sixth-form education. Even the Minister in charge of the Bill could not believe that the choosing of pupils for the sixth form should not pay some regard to their ability to profit from the courses offered; yet that is the really incredible effect of this Bill. Because he was a reasonable man the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, took that view before he read the Bill in any detail. Because he is, as we all know, an honest man, he stood up and said, "To me, 'sixth form' has an academic meaning, whereas it has not in secondary education now, nor should it have".

Let us just look for a moment at his opinion and the really extraordinary reason which he gave in Committee for its correction. I would guess that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, being a totally reasonable man, before he read the provisions of this extraordinary Bill took the view that sixth forms should, as far as possible, open their entry to any pupils who had any chance at all of tackling the courses offered. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, would have taken into account that the raising of the school-leaving age was designed to encourage more pupils to to stay on longer at school. I am sure also that the noble Lord was armed with the knowledge that many people want to see a broader sixth-form curriculum—only this afternoon we heard the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, speak again on this particular point on which he has expressed his views trenchantly and forcibly on previous occasions in this House. But to move from all that to the assumption that it should therefore become the law of the land that every single sixth form must admit every single pupil to every single course without any regard at all to either aptitude or ability is really a very large assumption indeed. It will lead to problems of the type which my noble friend Lord Eccles has outlined.

This coercion in the Bill leads the Government into a second problem which plagues the Bill, namely, obscure drafting, a fault which in no way should be laid at the door of the Parliamentary draftsman but which is evidence of the impossibility of translating the intentions of Ministers with regard to this subject into a draft which can take account of the practicalities of life. In the real world, where young people reach the stage when they want to choose courses suitable to their abilities and aptitudes, what are they going to do? They will look around to find where those courses are offered.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has reminded us of the problem as he sees it with regard to the drafting of the Bill on this point. Having listened to the noble Lord speaking, I think it is clear that if a sixth-form college can exclude some pupils because it does not offer certain courses, this is bound to be selection by ability and aptitude. I have listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, had to say and I would ask the Government this question, and perhaps, as this is Report stage the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, will be able to reply. If the Government are saying that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, is wrong, then I hope they will explain the distinction between a college which refuses admission on the grounds that it does not offer the necessary courses and an institution which includes courses of such a standard that some pupils might then be refused admission?

I know perfectly well that the Government will tell me that the second option is completely prohibited by the terms of the Bill. Why is it that the first option cannot be prohibited too? I am driven to the conclusion that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, is right; that the drafting of Clause 1(1) will lay a duty on authorities to see that their sixth-form colleges can admit any pupil for any course. May I offer the Government a word of warning on this, of an entirely practical kind? I do not know whether the noble Lord has seen the report of the Head-masters' Conference some three weeks or so ago, in which Mr. Dance, Head-master of St. Dunstan's College, Cat ford, and formerly the head of the Luton Sixth-Form College, said that he was concerned whether sixth-form colleges were desirable at all, because at Luton he found that too much—and I quote his words—"remedial work was needed when pupils arrived". He added that it had been a relief to him to return to a school where there was a sense of continuity. That was a very significant statement, because the Luton Sixth-Form College is one of the seventeen selective sixth-form colleges in the country. Presumably the state of affairs on which Mr. Dance was expressing an opinion would have been less marked at the college of which he was then the head than it would have been at colleges which were totally open.

My Lords, I am bound to put it to the Government that they are laying a very formidable burden on local education authorities. Even if the legal advice given to the Government on this Amendment is that this is not so, undoubtedly the Bill is going to continue the practice of spreading sixth-form teaching resources ever more widely, rather than concentrating them, a point on which my noble friend Lord Eccles spoke.

A week ago the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister made his speech at Oxford, expressing his concern about the results of our education system. He expressed his view in terms of the skills which should be acquired by school-leavers and he was specific. The right honourable gentleman said: Is there not a case for a professional review of the mathematics needed by industry at different levels?". The Government will remember that the right honourable gentleman went on to ask why there were 30,000 vacancies for science and engineering students last year while the humanities courses in higher education were full. These are wholly reasonable words. But what is the Bill doing? It is busy ensuring that the answers to questions which the Prime Minister put are never going to be provided. By removing the discretion of local authorities to provide education as they think best you arc going to be hard put to it to provide, for instance, the sort of maths teaching we want. We shall be discussing this point in more detail when we come to the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Eccles.

My Lords, at col.1342, of Hansard for 6th October last, during the Committee stage of this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, put the matter more clearly than I could when he said that if the rare resources for teaching maths up to Advanced level are going to be deployed properly, selection is inescapable. This is precisely what this Bill is aiming to prevent, and that is the point to which this Amendment is directed. The Bill will also work against the expressed desire of the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister for a swing towards science and engineering, because the total imposition of comprehensive education is absolutely bound to destroy schools which have a science and engineering staff, facilities and traditions.

I remember well the Birmingham proposals in 1973 for reorganisation. There were schools which bear the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, and because they do, they have a very strong engineering side to them. I remember how anxious and concerned the noble Lord on the Cross Benches was that those schools were to be turned into mini-comprehensives within a consortium of schools. I remember well the reorganisation proposals for Harrow Secondary School. By common consent, including views given in letters written to the Department at the time by Members of Parliament on the Labour Benches, that school had almost the finest science department of all the maintained schools in the country. It was literally going to be destroyed and dismantled in order to turn the school into an 11 to 16 comprehensive. I am not arguing for a return to the technical schools of the tripartite system, but having listened to my noble friend Lord Eccles I am driven to the conclusion—and I would hope the Government are, too—that if you pull up good sixth form teaching by the roots in this way you cannot hope to achieve the declared objectives of the Prime Minister, when he said that what was needed was a more technological bias in science teaching that would lead towards practical application in industry.

Whether in the light of the Prime Minister's Oxford speech the Government are prepared to write some flexibility into the Bill I suppose we are now going to discover, for a new Secretary of State is saddled with a Bill on which the Government have so far refused to make one concession. Surely this could be an opportunity to recognise that a degree of flexibility for local education authorities is necessary. In addition, I hope the Government will take on board the fact that authorities are genuinely worried that the wording of Clause 1(1) as it appears will lay a duty on them to provide courses at any standard for any pupil who may be admitted. It will be for my noble friend Lord Elton to decide what we ought to do about this Amendment. There is no wish on this side of the House to breach the general principle of the Bill in this respect. As I said when I started, we put down this Amendment for a second time purely to find out what the effect of the wording of the Bill will be in regard to sixth form teaching.

I am bound to say that, in a clash of opinion between the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, I believe that the noble Lord, with all his experience, is right. The effect of the wording of Clause 1(1) will be to make every sixth form open. There are questions to be answered when the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, comes to speak. Is the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, right in saying that you may not refuse admission to an institution because it is an institution but you may refuse admission to an institution because a pupil has not got the correct qualifications for a particular course? Why is it that the wording of this Bill, in distinction to the wording of the 1970 Bill when it was introduced by the last Labour Government, outlaws selection in sixth form colleges but will allow sixth forms in schools to be as highly selective as they wish. We shall hear the answers to these interesting questions in a few moments; then it might be right to have some discussion between the Government, the Opposition and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and other noble Lords, and maybe we can return to this matter again on Third Reading.