§ 4.57 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Mansfield)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Before I embark on the customary review of the provisions of this Bill, may I say a word about the form in which it has been drafted. It will not have escaped the attention of noble Lords that certain of the clauses are very long and that they contain within themselves a number of separate sections. This presentation has been adopted to enable. its content, after enactment, to be embodied in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, which was itself a long overdue consolidation of the statutes relating to education in Scotland. This will retain the advantage of having the law in an easily readable form. I hope it will not make life too difficult for noble Lords. Those who have been dealing with the Bill in another place assure me that one quickly gets used to it.
I turn now to the actual provisions. Clause 1 fulfils the Government's manifesto to commitment to place a clear duty on local authorities to take account of parents' wishes when allocating children to schools, 1182 and to set up a local appeals system for parents dissatisfied with an authority's decision. Authorities vary in their response to requests from parents who would like their children to be educated in a different school from the one normally serving their area of residence. Some are flexible and try to accede to parents' wishes wherever possible, but others are prepared to grant requests only in very exceptional circumstances. In those areas where authorities have a rigid policy, parents find it difficult to understand why their requests should be turned down, especially if there is plenty of room available in the school of their choice, and their disappointment is intensified when no reasons are given for refusal. For too long parents have been forced to conform to the pattern of educational provision imposed for the convenience of education authorities. It is time to remember that it is on the parent that the statutory responsibility rests for seeing that his child receives "efficient education … suitable to his age, ability and aptitude", (I quote the words of the Section) and it is time to act in accord with the spirit of this provision and give the parent a greater say in how his child is to be educated.
This is what Clause 1 does. It lays on education authorities a duty to comply with a parent's request for a place for his child in a particular school, except where one or more of a number of specified grounds for refusal apply. It also lays on authorities a duty to tell a parent of his right to ask for a place in a school other than the one the authority propose. If a parent chooses to exercise this right, the Bill limits the grounds on which the authority can refuse his request to those set out in new Section 28A(3). Obviously, an authority will be able to refuse a request if the school which the parent wants is already full. Similarly, the authority may refuse if a school has room, but is not staffed to take more pupils, and the authority cannot transfer a teacher from another school. But even if these, or one of the other grounds specified in the Bill, apply in any particular case, education authorities will still have discretion to grant a parent's request if they consider it appropriate to do so.
Inevitably there will be cases in which parental requests have to be refused. Popular schools may be oversubscribed, and, although the decline in the school population means that many schools will have surplus accommodation, authorities will not always be able to provide sufficient staff to meet all requests for places. Clause 1 and Schedule 1 therefore provide for the setting up of independent appeal committees to which dissatisfied parents can have recourse. The Government hope that the number of references made to appeal committees will be small. The fact that authorities will not be able to refuse a request if there is room and staff in the school of the parent's choice, will remove one of the reasons why parents sometimes feel aggrieved, as at present. There will none the less be cases where parents feel that their request has perhaps not been treated entirely adequately, and where they wish to take the matter to an appeal committee for independent review. There may also be some parents who remain dissatisfied even after that, and the Bill therefore provides for a further right of appeal to the sheriff. This is a substantial improvement upon the present position, under which a parent can only get the case for his choice of school before the sheriff by with-holding 1183 his child from school until attendance order proceedings are taken.
One of the Government's aims is to ensure that parents have a right to information about the school serving their area, or alternative schools which they may wish to consider for their children. Clause 1 therefore empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations about the information which education authorities must give parents. Here I call your Lordships' attention to the consultation paper which my right honourable friend has issued about the content of the proposed regulations. Copies of this are available in the Library. It lists the information which we propose that each parent should be given about the school in which the authority proposes to place his child, and which he can request about any other school that he may wish to consider for his child. The Government are at present considering the comments received on this consultative paper.
I turn to Clause 2. Naturally at a time when we are committed to reducing public expenditure, we are very conscious of any new expenditure implications. A major one would of course be the cost of transporting children to schools more distant from their homes or of paying their expenses if the school chosen was too distant for daily travel. It would not be right to lay a duty on education authorities to defray these extra costs, and Clause 2 therefore provides that authorities are not committed to additional expenditure in respect of board, lodgings and transport. The extent of any financial assistance to be given will be for authorities to determine.
The next part of the Bill, and one which has been generally welcomed, contains the provisions relating to special educational needs. These are Clauses 3 and 4 and Schedule 3, which give statutory expression to the recommendations of the Warnock Committee on the educational needs of handicapped children and young people. The committee's report described in detail how these educational needs, and particularly the needs of those with serious disabilities, might be identified and met. Its essential message however was a simple one—the handicapped are not a race apart. Generations of dedicated teachers have made the nurture of the individual the foundation of their educational philosophy and have striven to give it effect in their work. It is more than time that it should be recognised also in the statutory framework of education and that we should provide for a new and positive approach to the needs of children, with emphasis on these needs rather than on causative factors such as disability. This approach calls for us to end the statutory categorisation of children for educational purposes by their handicap. The Government welcome the opportunity to end categorisation and the distinction between remedial, special and "ordinary" education, and to introduce in their place the concept of special educational needs within the body of school education.
Clause 3 defines special educational needs in terms which establish the application of the concept to all children who require a measure of special intervention, short or long term, if they are to make all the progress they can at school. It thus covers many children besides the 2 per cent. or so now receiving special 1184 education—indeed, the Warnock Committee suggest that up to one in five children would evince some special educational need during their school life. It does not, however, set them apart or regard them as essentially different from their fellows.
Clause 4 then makes new provision for children whose special educational needs are marked and continuing, broadly those for whom special education was found necessary in the past but now extending also to those continuing at school after the school-leaving age. The clause begins by placing a duty on authorities to make known the importance of the early discovery of special educational needs and the opportunity for assessment. Thereafter it replaces the special education provisions of the 1980 Act by a series of provisions concerned, first, with the identification of children and young persons with marked and continuing needs and, secondly, with the participation of their parents and of the young people themselves in decisions about their education. Where a child or a young person is found on assessment to have, in the words of the Bill:pronounced, specific or complex special educational needswhich are such as to require continuing review, the education authority have a duty to keep a special individual record profiling his impairments, listing his special educational needs and the measures proposed to meet them, and where appropriate nominating a school for him.
The provisions include the same right to the parents of recorded children to express wishes with regard to choice of schools as is given to other parents by Clause 1. In addition, particular opportunities for them to comment and to be consulted are built into the process of assessment leading up to recording or the periodic review of the record. If parents object to a decision to record a child or to the description of impairments and needs in the record they may go to an appeal committee, who will be required in turn to refer these issues to the Secretary of State but will deal themselves with any appeal against the refusal of a parent's choice of school. Clause 4 also confers on the Secretary of State the power to make regulations covering such things as assessment and recording arrangements, the content of the record and the conduct of schools making provision for recorded children. These regulations will not be controversial but they are certain to be complex and will require careful consultation with education authorities and other bodies representative of interests in these matters.
I come now to Clause 5—the assisted places scheme. This clause requires the Secretary of State to establish and operate a scheme to enable pupils who, in the words of the clause, might not otherwise be able to do so, to take up places in fee-paying schools. The scheme is essentially a fee remission scheme, the amount of remission being determined by a family income scale. There is provision also for the payment of some incidental expenses for school transport, meals and so on, at the lower end of the income scale. Fee remission will be available at schools chosen by the Secretary of State, but the choice of pupils to receive fee remission will lie in the hands of the schools themselves within the scope of the resources allocated to them.
This is a simple scheme, a praiseworthy scheme, 1185 and at the present stage a relatively small scheme. It has most regrettably been misrepresented and blown out of all proportion for purely political reasons. The truth is that the people who have been attacking it are opposed not so much to the scheme as such as to the very existence of independent schools. We do not, of course, expect to convert all noble Lords opposite to a belief in the value of independent schools. But I would like at this stage to deal with some of the misrepresentations.
First, the scheme certainly does not imply that this Government believe that independent schools are inherently better than schools in the public sector. We all know that there are good schools and not so good schools in both sectors. It does show that the Government believe that there should be as much choice as possible. Although independent schools are not necessarily better than public schools, they are certainly different both from the public sector and from each other. The independent sector contains a great variety of schools and can meet the demands of a great variety of families who are interested in a particular kind of education for their children and cannot necessarily find it in the public sector. That concern about their children's education and that desire to choose what they believe best for them is not limited by some mysterious law to people who are reasonably affluent. It goes right through society. But in present circumstances the power to choose is limited. The assisted places scheme is the beginning of a new kind of provision that will extend the power of choice to all levels of the income range.
Let me deal briefly with some others of the common misapprehensions. A second one is that the scheme will impoverish the public sector by creaming off its its best pupils. This is wholly without foundation. The scheme is not aimed exclusively at brilliant pupils. Each participating school will operate its own normal admission procedures. The whole ability range will be represented. I understand—and this is a very significant point—that the biggest group of the participating schools, that is to say, the Edinburgh Merchant Company schools, made it clear right from the start that they would not be prepared to participate in the scheme if it was directed exclusively to pupils of high ability. Thirdly, new public money is not being poured into the scheme. All the resources to be devoted to it—and they are no more than a drop in the ocean of education expenditure—will be derived from the phasing out of the block grant to the grant-aided secondary schools.
Finally, it is not true that the scheme has no friends in Scotland. We never imagined that it would be popular with Left-wing dominated bodies and from them we have had only the response we foresaw. But there is now very satisfactory evidence that the scheme is popular with the people for whom it is intended; that is to say, with parents who would like their children to go to a fee-paying school but who simply could not afford to pay the fees. The scheme is certainly something of an innovation in Scotland but it is, I believe, taking firm root.
I come now to Clauses 6 to 8 of the Bill which contain another main theme—greater freedom to education authorities to take their own decisions locally, after due consultation with parents. Under 1186 the present law education authorities have to obtain the Secretary of State's approval before they can close any school or make a change in the schemes governing their school provision. These controls date from a time when the school system was closely monitored by central Government—the control over school closures dates from the Education (Scotland) Act 1872—and they are no longer appropriate in present-day circumstances. Clause 8, therefore, abolishes the requirement on education authorities to prepare schemes and to submit them for approval, and Schedule 9 repeals the specific requirement on education authorities to obtain approval for any school closure. In addition, Clause 7 removes certain controls over denominational schools.
The repeal of these requirements is balanced by Clause 6, which empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations requiring authorities to carry out consultations before they close a school or make other changes of a kind prescribed in the regulations. Clause 6 also empowers the Secretary of State to prescribe changes which will still require his approval. Again, there is available in the Library a consultative paper setting out my right honourable friend's proposals for the content of these regulations, comments on which are awaited. Because we recognise the special position of rural schools, we have proposed in the consultation paper that the Secretary of State's consent would still be required where the closure of a school would result in pupils having to attend a school more than five miles away in the case of a primary school or 10 miles in the case of a secondary school.
Clause 6 contains two particular safeguards for denominational schools. First, under new Section 22C the Secretary of State's approval will continue to be required for the closure of a denominational school if the result of the closure would be that the pupils concerned would have to attend in future a non-denominational school.
Under new Section 22D the Secretary of State's approval will also be required if the authorised representative of a denominational body or, in the case of a Roman Catholic school, the Scottish Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, satisfies the Secretary of State that an education authority's proposal would result in a significant deterioration in the position of denominational schools compared with other schools managed by the authority. The right to make representations can be exercised only where the education authority and the denominational body concerned have failed to reach agreement after discussion of the proposal. The Government's aim is to preserve the balance between denominational and non-denominational education, in accord with the spirit of the 1918 Act, and if authorities continue to observe the spirit of the 1918 arrangements, it should seldom, if ever, be necessary for a church to make representations of this kind.
Clause 9 is consequential on the establishment of the assisted places scheme. As I have explained, the resources for the scheme are being taken from the traditional block grant to the grant-aided secondary schools. When the phaseover is complete these schools will become independent schools and will have to be entered in the register of independent schools. Normally such registration cannot be made final until the school has been inspected. That requirement, however, 1187 is obviously meant to apply to a new school. The grant-aided schools are all subject to inspection already and in normal circumstances there is no reason why they should not be finally registered on the strength of the information already available about them. This clause, therefore, amends the procedure to allow registration without the formality of an extra inspection unless there is some good reason for such an inspection, in which case inspection can of course be required.
My Lords, I think that I have dealt with the majority of the more important clauses, although if noble Lords raise any points in debate I shall, of course, have the right of reply and try to answer any questions which may arise. I think that I should just deal with Clause 12, which relates to social work establishments and is a clarification of the law. Some education authorities provide nursery education in nurseries run by social work departments, and they have assumed that they have power to do so under Section 14 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980, which deals with special arrangements for pupils to receive education elsewhere than at an educational establishment. I understand, however, that legal doubts have been expressed about the appropriateness of Section 14 for this purpose. This clause now removes that doubt.
Let me emphasise once again the Government's main objectives in this Bill. First, we are proposing to give parents clear rights in relation to the choice of the schools their child should attend. We do not believe that choice should be arbitrarily limited for the convenience of local bureaucracy or to mask the differences in the level of popularity of different schools.
Secondly, we are providing that parents will have the information they need about the school their child attends or which they want him to attend to enable them to make an informed judgment.
Thirdly, we are providing for an appeal system for parents whose choice of schools is not granted by the education authority. We accept that not all parents will be successful in their requests. But in order to ensure that justice will be seen to be done we are providing for avenues of appeal which will be clear and fair to all parties.
Fourthly, we are providing a new framework within which to cater for those children and young people who have special educational needs. The old rigid system of separate categories of handicap is to be abolished. Of course, the Government regret that at a time of public expenditure restraint it is not possible to provide for a great expansion of services for children with special educational needs but that should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the Bill greatly improves the statutory position and provides a foundation for progress when the expenditure position is more propitious.
Fifthly, the assisted places scheme will open up to parents a new area of choice—giving them the chance to send their child to a school outside the local authority system if that is the kind of education they prefer.
These, and the other valuable measures in this Bill, together fully justify the claim the Government made when it was first published, that it represents the most important initiative in Scottish education legislation since the passing of the Education (Scotland) Act 1945. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Mansfield.)
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, we should like to thank the noble Earl for his very careful and clear description of the Bill in his introduction. I only regret that I have been unable to look at the documents to which he has referred as placed on the Library table. It is also with regret that my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie is unable to take part in this debate today due to a longstanding engagement. From these Benches we welcome the principle of parental choice contained in this Bill. Throughout the lengthy debates and Committee sittings in another place there appears to have been an underlying assumption, which was referred to by the noble Earl, that the choice for parents was automatically from a state school to an independent school because all independent schools somehow gave a better education than the State equivalent in their district.
This may not always be the case, as the noble Earl said, as there are some poorly run independent schools in Scotland, as indeed there are in England and Wales. The question I should like to ask for clarification from the noble Minister is this. Are all independent schools, and especially those which receive Government subsidies through the assisted-places scheme, required to provide exactly the same information to parents as that required for the state schools? This information should include the facilities for parental choice of courses within the schools, as well as representation for parents on a school council for each school, as it applies to state schools.
All these details should be made available by the local councils to parents—and I understand that this is contained and explained in the consultative document—who request it in order that the parents are properly informed before exercising the rights of parental choice as given in this Bill. I hope that the Minister can confirm this, because this requirement in the Bill, if it is not met, that independent schools need the same requirement for information as state schools, would seriously weaken what is fundamentally a good Bill, and it would also encourage what I believe to be the issuing of misleading prospectuses by independent schools of poor educational performance.
Coming on to the other part of the Bill for children requiring special educational needs, we welcome that the attitude of the Government has become the same as that of Mrs. Warnock and her committee. That is that the object is to try to take away the stigma that has affected children of the ESN category—educationally sub-normal—or with handicaps of other kinds. I think it was Mrs. Warnock who also said that money is not the answer entirely. Although the Government have said, as usual, that they have not got funds to assist greatly in this area, they are at least doing something to change the attitude.
I wonder whether the noble Minister can help in this debate by reassuring those parents who are worried about their children's progress that they have been properly and expertly assessed at their school work. A number of noble Lords and Members of another place received requests from the Society for the Deaf, which is often a difficult handicap to identify in a 1189 child. There is also dyslexia, which is equally difficult to recognise with children who cannot read at an early age. On the other hand there are also—and nothing has been said about this, and I assume that it is covered under the term "special educational needs"—those children who are known as gifted and have difficulty in fitting into a normal school system because of their exceptional intelligence.
Would the noble Earl be able to say whether there is any system of identification like a visiting psychologist, or educationalist, who is able to identify at an early stage any symptoms of the kind that I have described in order that they can get the extra teaching requirements? Above all, I want to make it clear that we are pleased with the spirit of Mrs. Warnock's recommendations, that the integration of ESN children into the normal school system will end discrimination against them later in adult life.
The noble Earl mentioned cost, and the inability of the Government to increase facilities due to cost. But I think we should remind the Government from these Benches that the cost to the State is far greater when these children reach adult status without having had remedial education and so they become then passengers of, rather than contributors to, society. I am sure the noble Earl is well aware that if remedial education achieves one thing, and one thing alone, it is to get these children back as adults into society so that they are not passengers of it. Once they become that, then the cost to the State, and indeed to society as a whole, is far greater than the cost that originally could be allocated to them at an early stage for remedial education in the schools. I wonder whether the financial experts in Her Majesty's Government have worked this calculation out. Perhaps they might look at this area again, or perhaps the noble Earl can give a reassurance that investment in remedial education is perhaps worth while from purely fiscal reasons, which is the reason he has given why money cannot be given at the early stages for children requiring special education.
The noble Earl also made reference to a consultative document on the position of the closure of rural schools. Unfortunately I have not read it, as I did not know when it was made available. This has been a great worry to those of us who live in the outlying areas. I am pleased that the noble Earl mentioned the five-mile rule, because in many of the outlying areas in Scotland the closure of the primary school in a district would certainly mean a distance far greater than five miles to travel in order to receive primary education. We shall reserve any judgment on this matter until I have had time to see the consultative document.
Finally, there is just one thing worth saying. I have read most of the debates and what was said in the Committee. A great many words were said—often heated words—in another place, and there is no point in repeating them. This is not my usual subject on which I speak but there is one thought that comes to me as a Scot; there is a feeling of hopelessness in some parts of Scotland where there is crushing unemployment. There is a feeling of hopelessness filtering through both from the teachers and the children on the point of being educated at all. The school-leavers leave school, and their friends, the school-leavers of the year before, are 1190 still on the streets of Glasgow and other parts of the depressed areas of Scotland without a job, and with an education that appears to be of no use to get one.
This is an attitude that must be killed now during this difficult time of recession. The questions that the children ask their teachers have to be answered in a way that is going to give them hope and re-assurance for the future. Otherwise there is a danger of young people feeling that there is no point in going to school in these areas because it gets them nowhere. This again leads to a much wider question, well outside the confines of this debate and this Bill, as to the kind of education children are receiving in the later stages, the sixth form stages of their schools, to prepare them for what is an impossibly tough life without a job.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl for the care and clarity of his presentation of the provisions of this Bill. I rise, not for the first time, with some hesitation because the education of the young is not a field in which I would claim any high qualities or qualifications to pronounce any judgment. I can hear some of your Lordships saying to yourselves, "In that event, why do you presume to detain us here somewhat late on a Thursday afternoon?" I would answer that question by saying, "I do so because I am a Scotsman, and also because am a Social Democrat".
Your Lordships may then say, "What on earth has that got to do with it, apart from the circumstance that it is a Scottish Bill?" Well, my Lords, I have read much of what has been reported in the press about this measure and much that was said in the other place, and much, though not all, of the report of the proceedings in the Scottish Standing Committee. What I saw there was a microcosm of the widespread and profound concern that is abroad in Britain at the political state of the nation—the feeling that the adversarial style of politics conducted by the Conservative and Labour Parties for so long, whatever its value may have been in the past, is now played out and needs replacing. It is those concerns and feelings which have re:;ulted in the birth of the new party of which I am a member.
That may seem distant from what has been said so far in the debate, but since this measure was conceived and taken through its various steps in the Westminster square dance—that dance which, incidentally, so fascinates so many of the performers but so often baffles the spectators who are the ultimate judges—the Bill has been variously described. It has been described seriously and in a considered way, on the one hand, as:the greatest and most imaginative initiative in Scottish education for a generation",and, on the other, as:a ragbag of a Bill born out of prejudice of, and the promises to, the Edinburgh bourgeoisie",and:an irrelevant conception of a Government concerned with privilege and sheer snobbery",and:setting the clock back if not for a thousand years, then at least until we have the return of another Labour Government".1191 That has all been said perfectly seriously in the controversy surrounding this measure, but the victims of this tragedy—or comedy, according to the way you view the way in which we handle these affairs—are of course our much-prized Scottish education system and the children who are educated within it. Of course it is not said in your Lordships' House, but from what has been said in the controversy so far, both sides appear rather detached from reality, and it is time that we had a breath of fresh air in these debates; and that is one of the things this new party is concerned to bring into the atmosphere. However, this is neither the time nor occasion on which to discuss our policy on education.
I see nothing wrong in principle in giving to parents a greater say in how and where their children are educated—in seeking to increase rather than diminish the concern of parents to influence the destiny of their children—which, as I understand it, is what Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill are concerned with. I see nothing wrong in principle in the education provisions implementing, so I believe, Warnock, which is what Clauses 3 and 4 are concerned with. I see nothing objectionable in principle in the provisions of Clause 6 relating to school closures and affecting the changes and the way in which education authorities discharge their functions. And I see nothing wrong in principle in any of the other miscellaneous provisions. No doubt many of us have a large question mark against the provisions for assisted places in Clause 5, but we shall hear more about that in due course. Therefore, the Bill seems to do more good than harm, but of course many questions will arise in Committee.
At this stage I would mention only one matter to the noble Earl, although I appreciate it may be a Committee point. Like a number of other noble Lords, I received this morning a letter from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities complaining about the deletion from the Bill of what they describe as:an essential safeguard to education authorities for the rational development of school provision".The safeguard, in their view, was contained in the provisions which were deleted on Report in another place in subsection (3)(a) of new Clause 28A, to be inserted by Clause 1, and the related subsection (1)(c) of new Clause 28B to be similarly inserted. I understand that concern has also been expressed about this matter by the Education Institute of Scotland. The noble Earl will, I hope, have something to say to allay the grave concern expressed by both those bodies and at the failure of Government to consult with them before the step was taken and the amendment made at so late a stage in the passage of the Bill.
§ 5.37 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the very clear way in which he outlined the Bill and its purposes. I wish to address myself to two of the subjects, subjects with which I have been involved, the first being the new proposals for the education of handicapped children, and the second, the assisted places scheme and the position of grant-aided schools.
1192 As it happens, I am chairman for Scotland of the International Year of Disabled People and therefore have been concerned with the first of those subjects. I am also chairman, and have been for the four years since it was founded, of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools; that covers boys' and girls' schools and both secondary and primary schools, as well as the grant-aided schools and those which are completely independent. One of the tasks which that council has had has been to crystallise the views of the independent sector of education in Scotland, to convey them to the Government and to keep in discussions with the Government. I declare those two chairmanships not as pecuniary interests; far from it, they are voluntary and honorary and indeed take up a great deal of time.
On the question of handicapped children, to which Clauses 3 and 4 apply, I am very glad that in the International Year the Government are putting into effect the main proposals of the Warnock Report; that report applied to Scotland as well as England and Wales. At present, there are, as noble Lords will be aware, special schools for handicapped children, and their education is separate from able-bodied children in ordinary schools. The local authorities are also, under present legislation, required to concentrate on the disabilities of handicapped children and to place them in categories.
The two principal recommendations of the Warnock Committee, as I see them, were, first, to change the distinction between special and ordinary education and, secondly, to place emphasis on the abilities and potential of handicapped children, and thus to determine the special educational needs in individual cases. I fully support both of those principles. The results should be that in future more handicapped children should be educated in ordinary schools. This will be good for them and it will be good also for the able-bodied children in those schools. It will mean that from an early stage in life they will become familiar with disabilities and they will form an informed and enlightened attitude to handicapped people in the community.
No one should think that the need for special schools or for special education will disappear. I must emphasise this because there have been misunderstandings about it. Here I should like to give your Lordships two examples. The first is of the almost completely paralysed child aged 10, who can move only one hand and who has difficulty in articulating words. The second example is that of the child who is blind and partially deaf and completely unco-ordinated in his movements. Those are two examples where children can, and often do, have basic intelligence potentials which are much above the average. But in cases of this kind—and they do exist—it is very unlikely that they can ever be catered for in ordinary schools.
There will be some observers—and I have already heard this view being stated—who favour complete integration, who say that if the Warnock principle is to be adopted, all handicapped children must be in ordinary schools. I cannot support that view, nor indeed did the Warnock Committee. If your Lordships read its report, you will see that it pointed out that the kind of case to which I have referred cannot be covered in an ordinary school. Therefore special schools and 1193 special education—and that means in hospital or in the home; and certainly in the cases that I have given the education would probably have to be in hospital or in the home—will still be needed. However, substantial numbers of children can, and should, be accommodated in ordinary schools in accordance with this principle, and I ask those who will call for complete integration to make more inquiries into the kinds of case of very severely handicapped children that exist and of which they are probably not even aware.
The second principle that the Warnock Committee puts forward is that of the determination of the special needs of a child, and here the committee recommended a system of recording. This means that there would be a case history and the progress of a child would be recorded and monitored. The methods of assessment proposed in the Bill will no doubt be examined in some detail at later stages of the Bill, but the Warnock Committee suggested that this would apply to about 2 per cent. of the children in the country. My comment on this is that those who have been recorded but who none the less are thought able to enter ordinary schools—and here much will depend on the character and determination of each individual child, as well as the physical handicap involved—must not be left to sink or swim.
I think that the particular merit of the system of recording is that those children who enter ordinary schools, as well as those who will be in special schools, or who have to have special education, should none the less have some surveillance—someone keeping an eye on them—so that their progress can be closely monitored.
In the Warnock Committee's report and again I am glad to see in the Bill, too, it is suggested that parents of handicapped children should be kept informed and should be closely consulted. I think that again there might be some questions asked as to whether this is going far enough, because it appears that there will be some reports that might not be conveyed to the parents. My noble friend pointed out that the Bill is drafted in a particular way; namely, huge new clauses are to be substituted in the principal Act, and Clauses 3 and 4 (about which I am now speaking) are almost totally in this form. The clauses are concerned mainly with the new system of defining needs for each child, as well as quite an elaborate system of appeals to enable parents to pursue their rights if they so wish. But as a result of the drafting it is not very clear from the Bill itself how the precise obligations are being placed on the local authorities to carry out the principle of more children entering the ordinary schools, and the number of special schools being reduced.
The White Paper which my right honourable the Secretary of State for Scotland issued in August of last year, at the same time as the White Paper for England and Wales was issued, made the Government's intentions clear. They are not clear in the method of drafting this Bill. I accept what my noble friend said: that this might well be a good method for those of us in this House. We might well become familiar with this form of drafting, in the way in which he said honourable Members in another place did. This form of drafting might also be convenient for those working in local authorities and other experts who 1194 have to deal with these matters. But it is very difficult for the layman and for many people concerned with handicapped children, including parents, to be able to follow the Bill in its present form, and so I hope that at some stage my noble friend will make quite clear where these obligations are spelt out in the Bill.
Accompanied with that, many would like to know what are the target dates that the Government have in mind. Clearly, progress will be faster in some areas than it will be in others, but anything that can be said as to when it is expected that local authorities will be moving substantially in this direction would be helpful. In that connection I would add that this seems a propitious time for this kind of change to take place. The pupil population is becoming less because of the fall in the birthrate some years ago, and therefore there is scope for this kind of change. Places are becoming available much more easily in ordinary schools.
I turn to the other subject, that of the assisted places scheme, referred to in Clause 5. In Scotland there has been a tradition of support from public funds to grant aided schools. That is the nearest equivalent to the direct grant schools in England and Wales. There have been high academic standards attained in these schools. Many of their pupils have brought success and prosperity not only to Scotland, but to the United Kingdom. They have become leaders or have become eminent in their occupations or fields of activity. Six years ago the Labour Government took the first steps to abolish that system, and I accept that that was a decision which they took as a party. They carried out the decision with phased reductions of the grant. So by May 1979 the grant had almost disappeared when the change of Government took place. In the meantime the schools had faced difficult decisions about their future. I recognise that it is virtually impossible for the Government to try to reinstate the system as it was. The Labour Government took a deliberate decision to abolish it.
However, if a system of grant is to continue—and there are many who would greatly regret its abandonment altogether—this kind of scheme in this Bill is the best for present-day conditions. It has a wider scope. It is open to all independent schools, not simply the grant-aided schools, as in the past. The former grant-aided schools are of course able to make use of it, too, subject to the qualifying conditions which will be in the scheme. Under this system the grant will be attached to the pupil, and not paid direct to particular schools. I know, and accept, that it is Labour Party policy to oppose this system, but at the moment there is also coming forward a Labour Party document proposing the abolition of private education altogether, apparently within 10 years. So I do not today expect those on the Opposition Front Bench to be convinced about this point. I would only remind them of what a Labour Party leader said some years ago, which was to the effect that if a citizen has paid fully his rates and taxes, and thereby his share of state education, it is difficult to justify stopping him spending what is left of his own money on education, and thereby adding to the educational resources of the country. Is he expected, instead, to buy another motor-car, to go on another holiday abroad or put a television set in 1195 each of the rooms of his house? I think that is something which needs to be thought out for longer.
Here is a scheme, the assisted places scheme, which will continue to provide opportunities for those who can benefit from them. It is a different form of a principle which has served Scotland and this country well in the past.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Earl for introducing this Bill. As with all education Bills, we cannot think that it is not a controversial Bill. It is controversial, and no doubt we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Ross, all that he feels in this matter. I have had, as I expect most people have, a great deal of information sent to me by COSLA, by the Educational Institute of Scotland, by the Advisory Council on Child Care and by the mentally handicapped children's organisations. I have studied all these with great care; and I know, of course, that we all have different views about how best education shall be handled in Scotland or, indeed, in any other part of the United Kingdom.
I can speak only from the experience that I had for some 8 or 10 years as chairman of an education committee in a rural area. That, I know, is quite different from the experience that people have in the great industrial centres where the conditions are utterly different. On the other hand, one has had the chance of doing things connected with education, and I think that that, anyway, gives one some experience as to how a new Bill of this kind is likely to work. I would support entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said about the clauses which allow the parents to choose the school to which they want their child to go. It is not easy; and it is not easy for the education authority, either.
On the other hand, there are opportunities which can be fulfilled, and I do not anticipate for a moment that it will mean a tremendous number of children trying to switch from one school to another in a highly-populated area. But the fact that they can and will be able to get information about schools, that the parents will be able to know what schools are especially good at, and so on, will all be of great help; and I think that to allow parents to choose the school that they want their children to go to is something I would support.
I should then like to support those proposals which provide for the special needs of children who are handicapped in any way. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who has enormous experience of this, has outlined, I think very succinctly, what is the right thing to do and what would be the best way of carrying it out. I should like to say that in my experience the children that were not handicapped to a very severe degree were able to join in classes for the non-handicapped provided that one was able to give a certain amount of assistance through the teachers or through the other children who went to those classes.
I can well remember an occasion when, in one of the areas for which I was responsible, we were building a new school and I insisted that instead of having a separate school for the handicapped, or the not so very handicapped, in this new school we should have classes 1196 for them which would be side by side with the classes for the ordinary children, so that you would be able to pass a handicapped child into an ordinary class very easily because they would not have to go anywhere else; in the old days there was a quite separate school for the handicapped. This has worked extremely well; and I think that the idea of bringing the handicapped and the non-handicapped as close together as possible is, as Lord Campbell has said, very good, not only for the handicapped but also for those who are not handicapped but who should understand and grow up with their less fortunate bretheren.
Here I should like to put in a plea for a particular handicap which, in Scotland, has been recognised, though not quite as much as I should like it to be—and that is the autistic child. We have, I think, one special school for autistic children, and one or two areas where there are classes in which autistic children are being helped. I should like to suggest to the Minister that when they are considering the needs of the handicapped people they do not forget the autistic child. There are very many fewer autistic children, hence the reason why it is not easy, possibly, to provide accommodation. But it can be done, and in various places it has been done.
I also agree with the proposal for the assisted places scheme. This could be a great help, either to those who have special talents—in the arts, for instance—or to those who would benefit from a stay in a school which has particular academic qualities. There is no reason why these assets and these qualities should not be applied to all children, no matter what their status; that is to say, I cannot see any reason why those who cannot afford to go on their own, perhaps, should not be helped to do so. I can remember that in the case of our education committee we never refused to subsidise children who could go to a university after their schooling or could go to a special technical college, et cetera, and I cannot see why the same thing should not apply to children who would benefit from going to the often very long-established and very important, fee-paying, independent schools.
I should like to say one word about the rural schools, because I know how difficult it is, with rural populations getting smaller, to keep rural schools in being. On the other hand, having lived, as I have all my life, in a rural area, I know how important rural schools can be to the whole community. It is not possible to keep all rural schools open—that is obvious. I can remember one school for which I was responsible being reduced to five children. Quite obviously, it was most unwise to keep five children in a rural school, when, if you took them four or five miles to another rural school and joined them up in another community, they found themselves in a school with 30 or 40 children. So, obviously, it is important; and one has to take a judgment on any particular case. But I think it is worth while spending possibly a little more money on keeping certain rural schools going in a rural area rather than transporting them all into the towns. I am sure that the Government, who are really wise about these things, will realise that this is one of the things that we should like to see preserved to a sensible extent—not 100 per cent., because that is not possible, but to a sensible extent in rural areas.
The proposal to simplify the way in which teachers' 1197 salaries are to be managed, outlined in Clause 14, will, I hope, be successful, and I hope the National Union of Teachers will co-operate. This is a very difficult subject and a very controversial one. But I think that anything that can simplify it, provided the teachers' organisations agree and go along with it, will be a help.
I hope the clauses which deal with further education will enable young people to be trained for the kind of jobs which need to be filled in the modern world. The schemes put forward by the Manpower Services Commission are, I think, very helpful, and I hope the Minister will encourage these schemes as much as possible, particularly, of course, because of the present position with regard to unemployment. I think these schemes have been successful in many areas and there is no reason why they should not be successful in Scotland. I hope that under this Bill when enacted, if further education is developed, it will be developed along lines which will help train boys and girls for the kind of jobs that are wanted today. That is important. It is easy to say because it is common sense, but it is more difficult to put into effect. I hope that under this proposed new Act the continuation and enlargement of further education will be on a highly practical basis.
I support this Bill. I am sure that there will be moments when we shall have to discuss amendments and controversial matters, but I think the Government are right to bring in this Bill with its various clauses to which many noble Lords have spoken. I hope that it will be a great success.
§ Lord Balerno
My Lords, may I have permission to intervene? I was unable to get my name on the list of speakers. I welcome this Bill very much. It is somewhat overdue. I am particularly glad about the parental choice of schools. I think that this is a big step forward. It may not be used frequently but it is a very good safety valve and this will avoid friction and the indignation of parents and pupils. I wish to draw attention to one point, the appeals committee. The appeals committee is to consist of three, five or seven members nominated by the authority. They can be drawn from members of the authority or others outside who are not members of the authority. The drafting of the schedule, as I read it, means that the majority of such an appeals committee will be swayed always in favour of the members of the education authority concerned. In making their decisions they will be tempted, I fear, occasionally to take the side of their own committee's previous decisions in the matter. It is not a very big point but I think it is an important one. When the Bill comes to Committee I hope to have the opportunity to put forward an amendment.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, there is no doubt that, whether one likes everything in this Bill or not, it is an important Bill. In many cases it deals with things that, as has been suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, are long overdue. I noted the comments of the representative of the "Democratic Socialist Party". Is that what one calls them? They have got to be careful not to get into a "holier than thou" attitude. They stand apart, but to take every 1198 one to task and then to say that they have not got a policy at the moment is to put themselves into a rather dangerous position. When one appreciates exactly what this contains, I would not call it a ragbag of a Bill; I would call it an "Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill".
I hope that those who are in charge of the proceedings of this House and the allocation of time will take note that the day before yesterday we had an English Education Bill before the House and that the equivalent of that English Education Bill is incorporated in this Bill. The first four clauses take 28 pages; and the clause to which, for the most part, most people have referred and some concentrated on—the clause about the changes in respect of those with special educational needs—takes about 14 pages. No wonder the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that it was complex. Consider the whole drafting. There are two clauses about parental choice in respect of transfer of schools and then there are provisions which take 28 pages—virtually two Bills. Then one wanders through the rest of it. I think it was the Minister of State who suggested that it was a rather curious way of legislating to get great chunks of what would be virtually a new Bill, a separate Bill in a form that is readily available to push into a new consolidation measure. He said that we would quickly get used to it. We shall not get the time to get used to it quickly. The Committee stage in another place took several months. I should be surprised if we get more than two days. No doubt the Government will say that the Session is coming to an end and that we must rise by such and such a date. I hope that they will remember that the Queen will be in Scotland the week after next. That would rule that out from the concern of noble Lords probably on all sides of the House. There is going to be a considerable concentration in the legislative programme for Scotland. And it does not end there. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, is the only person who has so far mentioned a very important clause, the clause in relation to the teachers' salary negotiations and how they must be conducted in future.
I think that the only part of the Bill that has had universal acclamation is the transfers of the appointments of university principals from Her Majesty to the university courts themselves. It is a very important Bill but it is not a very cohesive Bill. There are people who have said, and I think rightly, that from an educational point of view and the needs of Scotland at the present time it is not terribly relevant. Even in the parts about which we may agree no date is stated. There are other weaknesses in respect of it.
Yesterday, we had the announcement that there were over 300,000 unemployed in Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, like me, must be appalled at the situation and at what we would have felt in our day when we were Secretaries of State. How we would have been pilloried if things had got to that state! The saddest feature about that—and there is more to come in Scotland; the figure is now over 300,000—is that a considerable number of these thousands are youngsters who have just left school. There is still more to come next month because at the end of this week, the greater number of schools in Scotland will be closing down and the children will 1199 make up their minds whether to stay on at school or whether they can get a job.
We shall be in a difficult position. Yet although people have complained and suggested that it is time we got down to the education of the 16 to 18 year-olds—and this was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot—there is nothing in this Bill about it; not a thing. There is nothing here for them. I think that probably from the United Kingdom point of view and from the whole stability of society, the sooner we get down to the hoped for advances in education which were provided for in the 1944 Act, and which were certainly in the 1945 Education (Scotland) Act, the better things will be. There is nothing more despairing than children leaving school at 16, looking forward to a job for which they hoped they had the correct qualifications, and finding that there is nothing for them. Indeed, they find they are joining unemployed children who left school a year before and have spent all that time doing nothing.
I spent part of the weekend at the Craigie College of Education, where I met one mature student who, three or four years ago, made up her mind to become qualified as a primary school teacher. At very considerable sacrifice within her own family she did just that and succeeded in getting on with a number of her subjects. Now what does she face? She faces unemployment. Perhaps some noble Lords saw the Glasgow Herald last week in which Mr. James Scotland, the principal of Aberdeen College of Education, stated that of the 277 teachers who had graduated only 144 had jobs to go to. That is even worse than it was last year.
This position has led to the present cynical attitude towards education, when people ask, is it worthwhile? I think it is fair to say that one of the things we have fallen down on in Scotland in respect of people's behaviour and the way in which they misuse the time they now have is the need for changes in the curricula. We increased the school-leaving age to 16 without looking properly at the content of education. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made reference to this in his speech. Now there are going to be changes arising out of the reports by Munn and Dunning, which will affect curricula and examinations.
The educational priorities in Scotland have been neglected and this itself has led to the question being asked, is education relevant? A party that has no policy on education has no right to belabour everyone else for creating confrontation and being sterile. There is nothing sterile about controversy; out of controversy one eventually achieves a measure of progress.
I should like to deal next with that part of the Bill which has been rightly applauded and arises from the Warnock Report. We have groped and stumbled towards a correct approach to those who have special educational needs. There were hopes that things in the 1944 Act were going the right way, but then we stumbled and fell by the wayside. This may well have been due to a lack of resources and the priority of rebuilding after the war. But then we found—and this is what we are now trying to escape from—that it was far easier to segregate than to educate. Unfortunately, it was not always the kind of education that 1200 was required. Some children were being classed as ineducable. They were pushed aside. Anybody who has been in the position of examining this matter, who has spoken to parents, and who has seen what some parents have done with children who have been classed by others as being hopeless cases will know that even the slightest improvement becomes almost a revelation in respect of people's attitudes to family life. The parents themselves have pushed us into this position and I believe the Warnock Committee will have done a very considerable service if something is now achieved.
I have been, as I am sure other noble Lords have been, most interested in comparing the wording of English clauses with the Scottish clauses. In England the word "statement" is used; in Scotland we are a little more blunt and refer to "recorded children". We talk about "children with a record" and I hope that will be looked at again when this Bill comes to Committee, because anyone who appreciates the sensitive nature of this subject will agree with me that we should consider carefully the way in which we describe children.
I remember the school to which the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, referred. What has happened at that school is very encouraging. It is amazing how helpful young children can be in the presence of a handicapped child. I can recall a case in one particular school where there was a young handicapped boy and where the rest of the members of his class became his protectors. We must introduce young children to the fact that handicaps are part of life and that they are natural. Handicapped children require special treatment within the school, but we must not push them aside right away without proper assessment.
I agree with the whole procedure in relation to assessment, but once again I am interested in the differences between Scotland and England. I believe I am right in thinking that in England parents have 29 days' warning of an assessment, but in Scotland they have only 14 days, and if the parents do not turn up they are liable to be fined £50. That may well reflect a desire to get things done.
We have been talking about pre-school assessments of children under the age of two, but these cannot be done in nursery schools. That means that we have to get all those concerned with children looking for difficulties at an early stage so that early assessments can be arranged. It is, of course, a very touchy subject with parents. It is amazing how many parents convince themselves that everything is all right, whereas an earlier diagnosis and assessment would have been much more helpful.
The right of appeal is there and I am glad that the appeal will be to the Secretary of State and not to the sheriff. I hope that I shall be able to convince people that, so far as education is concerned, the last thing one wants to do is to bring in the sheriff; and, in any case, coming before the sheriff is likely to lead to publicity which can be embarrassing all round. That applies not only in this case but also at a later stage when it comes to the choice of school even for those children who have special educational needs.
Our new interpretation of special educational needs and all that follows from it would be meaningless unless there is the required development of teacher 1201 training in colleges of education and in in-service training. It is wrong for people to suggest that we should throw our hats in the air. That could be misleading. It is also wrong to suggest that all this does not cost a penny. The Government are saying that all this has to be done within existing resources. Remember that the Warnock Report said:The integration in ordinary schools of children currently ascertained as handicapped, if achieved without loss of educational quality, is not a cheap alternative to provision in separate special schools".There is no short cut. In the Financial Memorandum is says that there is not an extra penny to be spent. We cannot even begin with a framework and the preparation in respect of this new deal in respect of the handicapped without incurring very considerable expense.
Teacher training and in-service teaching. Where did I begin? I began with unemployed teachers. Many of these young teachers presently unemployed could be trained to do a first-class job. But it is going to cost money. There is no use getting up and saying "We applaud all this" and at the same time recollect the actions of this House and another House when we dealt with the rate support grant that cut local education authorities. We are cutting that this year by £20 million. Local education authorities are cutting out special classes; they are cutting out remedial classes—the very thing demanded and required to make sense of this.
I hope that I am not being too aggressive for the noble Lord who sits behind me. I do not think that he will disagree with me on anything that I have said. It is not sterile controversy, it is real. We have to face the facts of reality in respect of this. The reform of the law itself is not enough; we must go forward so far as we can with what can be done.
Now I want to come to parental choice in schools. I do not think that anyone would disagree with the parental choice in schools. It was written into the Scottish Acts and has been there that the parent had a right to select the kind of education for the child. There was a limitation in relation to expense and what it would cost for that special provision that a child needed according to the parent. It would have been only fair to Scottish education if the Minister had proved his case. He said that there were some education authorities that were not prepared to go along the way with it. Who were they? Was it the Borders? Was it the effect of the régime of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot? She knows quite well that there was flexibility in approach to parental choice. Was it Lothian? The right of appeal is there at the present time.
In the Lothians there were 391 appeals. Of these, 265 were granted. In the central region education authority there were 300 appeals and 226 were granted. What about Strathclyde? Strathclyde is half of Scotland. There are more teachers in Strathclyde than there are pupils in the Borders. This is the nonsense of this local government. In Strathclyde there were 3,707 appeals. The numbers agreed were 3,373. Where is the difficulty?
It is true at the present time when rolls are falling that there is a better chance of getting flexibility in respect of this kind of thing. But there are limits. At the same time as the Government are putting in this 1202 and proclaiming a charter for freedom—and Tories, as the apostles of freedom, are to me the stuff that nightmares are made of—it is the local authority that has to cope with this. At the present time there is a working party with the Scottish Education Department and the local education authorities getting together and looking at the question of falling rolls. Where we have annexes, where we have schools scattered all over the place, maybe a mile apart, they are looking now at the practicability of getting rid of all that and, as far as possible, getting all the children in one school in the one area. It means fixing a maximum roll, an optimum roll.
When this Bill first saw the light it was in the Bill. Now it has been taken away. This is the thing that we got from COSLA without any consultation. I think this was done in the Report stage. It is going to make it more and more difficult for the local authority to deal with the question of getting rid of unused capacity. If a parent comes along and says "Yes, but there is an annexe there and you can use it". The Government themselves have admitted that there is a limit to parental choice. I think there were about eight or nine subsections limiting the things which could deal with that. They took two of them out which dealt with the school roll. When COSLA wrote to them, they replied to say that it was unnecessary because it was covered by something else.
It is far better from a local authority point of view to be specific because they are concerned about the state of the law; they are concerned about whether it is vague or clear and so will the parents be if they are going to exercise that point of law to the point of going eventually to the sheriff. There again, I think it is wrong. The appeal, Yes (though there have been complaints about the nature of the appeals committee); and we have had something from the Scottish Consumer Council about the unfairness of this. This is because of the over-balancing domination of the local authority in respect of it, although it is a local authority that has the responsibility of carrying out the other aspects of all the pressures that we are putting on to them by the Government at the present time.
Another great "freedom" is that they close the schools without reference to the Secretary of State. I can remember noble Lords from the Borders area being very worried about what was happening with the closure of schools there. They were very glad that there was an appeal to the Secretary of State. There is going to be no appeal to the Secretary of State unless it is in a very limited field. One of the fields is going to get the Secretary of State into trouble. It was raised in another place by Mr. Frank McElhone when it was suggested that if there was alarm and disagreement about this in respect of a denominational school—and, let us be blunt, a Roman Catholic school in Scotland—then there would be the right of appeal to the Secretary of State. If it is a Protestant school, there is no right of appeal to the Secretary of State.
There is trouble there. It may be construed as unfairness. Certainly we have responsibilities in respect of denominational education in the 1918 Act, an Act which I uphold and which has saved us from a lot of troubles in Scotland. If there is discrimination in this particular field quite gratuitiously the Secretary of State and the Education Department should think 1203 again. Instead of departing halfway they should keep where they are. Therefore, so far as parental choice is concerned, there is no great departure from the present position. In Scotland most people already have parental choice.
Now I come to the assisted places scheme. Will the Minister of State tell me whether we require legislation for this at all? Am I right—as has been suggested to me—that certain of the regulations have already been gone through and gone through under existing legislation? To my mind this part—and this is a very small part of the Bill—is politics, not education.
As far as Scottish education is concerned, this is a return to a form of the old divisive education that grew in Scotland in the Victorian era. Many schools that are independent or were grant-aided started life as charity schools, that is, for the poor burgesses of Edinburgh or Glasgow—they were "Hutchies", "Hutchisons". It is fascinating to go back, and equally fascinating to see the changes that have taken place in some of those trusts and how they developed away from the original purpose of many of the schools. We rid ourselves of the Victorian hangover when we had fee-paying local authority schools. When I was Secretary of State in a Labour Government, we wiped that out; we never heard any more about it. If they felt so proud of it, why did not the present Government bring it back? It really is a nonsense to have fee-paying local authority schools.
Then there was the question of the grant-aided schools. Those grants in aid were grants to the whole school. Certainly, I agree with the Government to this extent, that in that case they were subsidising people who did not require subsidising. Now they have moved to the more English form of the subsidy nominally being given in the form of remission of fees and other charges to the parents of those children who get there. Freedom of choice?—there is no freedom of choice here. As far as I know, there are only 44 schools involved. Is there one in Ayrshire? They are mainly in the Glasgow area and, above all, in the Edinburgh area. The bulk of them are in these two cities. There is not one in the Highlands as far as I know; I think there is one around Fort Augustus; there is nobody from Orkney and Shetland and there is nobody from the Highlands who is going to get a choice here. I think the suggestion was that there should be one in 25. If this were part of Scotland's tradition of education you would have these schools all over Scotland, and you have not got them. This is an English import.
The whole tradition of Scottish education is a democratic form. I do not want to mention names in case I am wrong, but someone mentioned these schools and the fine men they produced. There is nothing wrong with the school I went to and the men it produced. I remember a fellow called Sir Andrew Duncan, the Member of Parliament for the City of London—or was it the City of Westminster? One of the first great heads of the steel industry came from the same school. Doctors, lawyers, administrators—they came from all the local authority schools in Scotland and we prided ourselves on it. And the suggestion here, that we should subsidise these schools in another way, is something that is not good for the health of Scottish 1204 education—and to pretend there is freedom of choice!
There are nearly 400,000 children in the secondary schools in Scotland—400,000. How many are going to get places? Freedom of choice? I think there will be 1,200 places available: that is all. Indeed, some of the schools themselves would rather have the grant aid than the form of subsidy that they are going to get—and that is what it is.
The only eligibility mentioned in the Bill is one of age, residence or "other matters". We have been given no clear indication. The Secretary of State selects the schools. I think there are 44 or 45. I hope we shall get as much information in this House as was given in the other place. But who selects the pupils? It is the schools who select the pupils. It is not the parents: they have no inborn right, once they have made their choice—oh, yes, Glenallan is the place, or Fettes, or Strathallen or St. Aloysius's, or somewhere else. The choice is going to be made by the school. And how is it going to be made? We were told by the Minister that there are going to be all bands of people considered. I have been reading the debate in another place and at various times somebody slipped up and talked about "the more able pupils".
There is one line I object to in the Bill—"that children will benefit". They probably are not able at the present time to afford to go to the school, but that does not mean that if they go they will benefit. This implies a superiority in a kind of school in which there is no superiority in Scotland. I quote from col. 1015 of the Official Report of the other place for 12th February, 1981:There is no restriction according to the ability of the child. The decision on whether the child will benefit will depend upon whether the family is on a low income … The children who benefit may be of any ability—good, bad or indifferent. The common factor is that their families will all have low incomes".That was the Secretary of State.
I shall be interested to find out, once we get this thing going, how many children are involved from Drumchapel in Glasgow, from Lochside in Ayr or from the big housing schemes in Kilmarnock and elsewhere. Why make a pretence, when we know that for the greater part this will be selective, purely and simply according to ability? There will be an element of creaming off.
This, I suggest, is really politics rather than education. It was a pledge that was given: the Government are keeping their promise. But remember, that promise was not supported by the people of Scotland. The people of Scotland's idea of education is the traditional Scottish education, and at the present time, when all local authorities and the other 398,000 in the Scottish schools are being subjected to cut, cut, cut, affecting courses, school books, nursery classes and remedial classes, is this the time to go for a proposal like this, with £5 million more being spent on it than was spent on it three years ago? Three years ago, when I had started the phasing out in respect of these grant aids to direct grant schools, it was about £1 million. Last year it was £3.3 million—three times what it was. There is not a phase of education in Scotland that has had that kind of treatment and it is suggested, even at the present time, that the increase has gone up to something between £4 million and £5 million.
1205 It may be only a little, but many local authorities are faced with educational problems in respect of schools and structure and in respect of teachers and remedial teachers, and at the present time, thanks to the Government's activities, are looking through their educational programmes to see where they have to make further cuts. I am not against independent schools. I think that anybody who suggests that you can wipe them out does not know what he is talking about. There are many independent schools which perform a function that is not performed by any other academic establishment at all. Indeed, if you take away from parents this right there is nothing to prevent them sending their children to schools on the Continent or elsewhere. But if there are independent schools they should be independent. In other words, they should not be subsidised by the taxpayers; and anyone suggesting that somehow or other they are already paying full rates and taxes, had better look into the status of some of these establishments, which are registered as charities so that they can get a reduction in taxation, even in respect of covenanted fees. But this is not the right thing for Scotland, and this is why I hope there will be some very heated and illuminating discussions when we come to the Committee stage of this Bill.
There are tremendous weaknesses in this scheme of assisted places. I shall give your Lordships a quote from the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, which is no revolutionary body. They said:It appears to be based on the faulty premise that a better education is provided in secondary grant-aided or independent schools than is provided in state secondary schools. If this is not the premise, why offer a choice only to parents of able pupils'?".That is a phrase which has been used in document after document. They go on:Ate the parents of 'less able' pupils not also entitled to a choice and, indeed, not more deserving of a choice?".But the choice is to be made by the school, not the parents. They end by saying that they come to,… the conclusion that the main objective of the scheme is not to provide parental choice but to restore financial assistance from public funds to the grant-aided schools and to extend such assistance to independent schools".And this at a time when the publics schools, properly called in the Scottish way—that is, the local authority schools—are being deprived and deprived, when teachers are being sacked and when young people who have prepared themselves to go into the teaching profession are being denied the opportunity because of the cuts. We look for expanding opportunities, and even for the expanding developments that we require in respect of those who need special educational treatment. They will be denied, because of the activities of the Government in the financial field. I would say that this is a charter for the few and not always the most deserving.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, I should like to thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Their reactions, in some cases, have been predictable; in others, perhaps, less so. For instance, I was very interested to learn how the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, would view the assisted 1206 places scheme and, indeed, the Bill generally; whether he like one wing of his party, regards some independent schools with anathema, or, like the other, as establishments which do a certain good and which should be encouraged. But I shall come more especially to what the noble and learned Lord said in a few moments.
A great many of the points which were raised are points which we shall come back to in Committee, and if I do not answer them now it is for that reason and that reason alone. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, welcomed most of the Bill. He asked me a number of questions. First, so far as the assisted places scheme is concerned, he asked whether schools which participate in the scheme will be required to publish the same type and quality of information as, for instance, schools in the public sector. The answer to that is, yes, they will.
Then he went on to talk about children with special educational needs, and those in need of remedial education. As regards the identification and assessment of such children, there are standing arrangements already for development screening by health authorities. These, combined with normal surveillance by education authorities, will ensure that there is a consistent and, indeed, high standard of assessment. Remedial education, as such, is now comprehended within the scope of education generally.
Then the noble Lord stressed, as did my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, the importance of the preparation of young people in their last years at school for the particularly unpleasant economic conditions in which we are now living and, of course, the extremely grave incidence of unemployment. I can say to the noble Lord and to my noble friend that a good deal of attention is being given to preparing young people for today's conditions, so that they can make the best of such opportunities as may be open to them.
The noble Lord will know of the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum in Scotland. That body has put a good deal of time and thought into a five-year major project, which is called An Education for the Industrial Society. That is aimed, among other things, at preparing young people for working life and at making the curriculum more relevant to the needs of industry. Other schemes include work experience for pupils and, also, secondment to industry for teachers. So I can say that this problem is not being lost sight of.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, and also the noble Lord, Lord Ross, touched—if "touched" is the right word—on the deletion, on Report in another place, of the maximum roll as a ground for refusal. There has been a considerable misunderstanding about these provisions. It was always the Government's intention that authorities should be required to explain their reasons for fixing the maximum roll for a school at a particular figure, and that these calculations should be open to challenge before both the appeal committee and the sheriff, if it appeared that a school had not made out its case for the limit which it imposed. Those reasons would have to be based on the school's physical capacity and staffing. Otherwise, it would be all too easy for a school to get around the provisions of this part of the Bill, merely by quoting a number as being the maximum for its roll.
Because, as I have said, these provisions were mis 1207 understood, and because it was seen that they would enable authorities to restrict the intake of popular schools, the reaction of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and some of the teachers' associations convinced the Government that it was right to remove them. Of course, there have been complaints that the Bill as it now stands could, or might, lead to an exodus from unpopular schools to popular ones. But I ask the question: Why should parents be forced to send their children to unpopular schools for the sake of the administrative convenience of local authorities? It is for the schools to find ways of improving their performance and the standard of the education which they provide, and to become more popular, rather than try to dragoon pupils into attending them, regardless of whether or not parents want them to do so. Those are the reasons which lead on Report to the deletion of that part of the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy welcomed, as I anticipated that he would, those parts of the Bill which deal with handicapped children in particular and their integration into the educational system. Because of the choice of school provisions in Clauses 1 and 2 which limit the grounds on which entry to a school can be refused, if a parent wants his child to go to an ordinary school the authority cannot refuse merely on the ground that the child is handicapped, although they could refuse if the cost of providing special facilities in relation to the child would be excessive. So that is a very real advance.
My noble friend went on to ask about the timing of the Warnock provisions, as I call them. The Government hope to bring them into operation, subject to necessary consultations, by the summer or autumn of 1982. The improvement of standards in ordinary schools to make them easier for handicapped children to attend is something which education authorities are attending to all the time and, naturally, as and when they have the necessary resources to devote to such causes. It is a gradual process.
In his contribution my noble friend Lord Balerno asked about the composition of the appeal committee and complained, if that is not too strong a word, that the members of the local authority in question would be in a majority on appeal committees. The composition of these appeal committees is a matter to which the Government have given considerable thought. There are two reasons why it was felt that it should be possible for local authority members to be in a majority of one on these committees. The first reason is that an appeal committee is empowered to overturn the refusal of an education authority to grant a placing request. The second is that such a decision could well commit the authority to additional expense. In those circumstances, it was thought that local authority interest, so to speak, on appeal committees should be well protected. However, I would remind my noble friend that if the appeal committee does not act in a way which the parent considers to be fair and right so far as he and his special circumstances are concerned, then there lies a further appeal to the sheriff. So there is that additional safeguard in respect of parents.
I come now to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. If I say that a great many of the points which he made are Committee points, I do not do so in any way 1208 offensively. I have no doubt that we shall return to them, perhaps at some length, at later stages of the Bill. The noble Lord said that parental choice may be all right, and I think he would not accuse me of unfairness if I said that he gave some sort of grudging approval to that part of the Bill.
§ The Earl of Mansfield
My Lords, my choice of phrase is "grudging approval". If the noble Lord does not think that his words amounted to that, I shall not complain. "Why is the legislation needed?" the noble Lord asked. Unfortunately, the situation in Scotland is perhaps not quite so rosy as the picture which the noble Lord paints. The proportion of appeals granted, for instance, in Lothian has been going down as the school rolls decline—not, as one might imagine, up. The fact is that 24 per cent. of the requests received for the 1978–79 session were refused; 32 per cent. of those for the 1980–81 session were refused—almost one-third; and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has received a large number of representations from individuals objecting to Lothian's policy. It is also fair to speculate, at least, as to how many parents do not bother to apply because they do not expect to succeed.
In the circumstances, I suggest to the House that quite apart from any other consideration it was a good move, and entirely logical, to tidy up the process, renew it in the form of a new statute, generally to make it more logical and also to make more obvious to parents what their rights are.
Then the noble Lord turned his attention to the assisted places scheme which, perhaps not entirely unnaturally, he failed to welcome. Again he asked whether it is necessary to legislate. The noble Lord is perfectly right to the extent that interim regulations have been made to enable the scheme to get off the ground in 1981–82. These interim regulations have been made under the existing powers in the 1980 Act. However, the Government felt that there were advantages in taking fresh, specific powers. Not the least of these was a desire to embody the scheme in primary legislation, as we think a scheme of this importance should be. I am sure that the noble Lord, as a good democrat, would agree that by embodying it in primary legislation it gives Parliament, and both Houses within it, the fullest opportunity to discuss it and to make any amendments, where necessary. By reproducing and making a new scheme in this particular Bill we give full scope to making regulations which will be more up-to-date and in general more satisfactory.
The noble Lord in effect claimed that what the Government were doing was to milk the public sector in order to top up the finances of the private sector which enjoy a charitable status, which he did not think was altogether fair, and that, as such, this was a provision which was unfair, ill-advised and not in the interests of the majority of the children of Scotland. I would just remind him that the cost of the assisted places scheme, which is coming out of money which is being phased out in any event (not an extra penny of public money is being used) is in the region of £800,000 out of £900 million, the amount of money that is devoted to Scottish education at the moment.
1209 It is not my purpose tonight to make any justification for the independent schools and the way in which they work, but what this scheme does—it is the way in which I commend it to the House—is to give a little wider choice to people who would otherwise, because of their economic circumstances, never have it. It is not a panacea for the ills of the Scottish educational system. It is never going to be and it was never claimed that it would be. But it is, as I have said, one more illustration of the Government's determination to give freedom of choice to individuals in every respect that they can. It is in this particular instance that I commend this part and, indeed, the whole of the Bill to the House.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.