HL Deb 11 April 1984 vol 450 cc1192-208

5.50 p.m.

Lord Gainford rose to call attention to the assistance given by independent schools to state schools in Britain; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, moving the Motion in my name is a milestone among many adventures in your Lordships' House, which have included asking an Unstarred Question and introducing a Bill. Today it is my privilege to initiate a debate for the first time. At the start, I declare an interest in that I am a governor of a small independent school at Quainton Hall in Hindes Road, Harrow, and I should like to tell your Lordships something about my school. I put down my Motion about six weeks ago and I was very pleasantly surprised when my name came out of the hat so quickly. I am slightly disappointed that this debate should fall on a day when there is a slight strike by teachers. If anything comes out of this debate today which might help that situation, I shall be very glad. Your Lordships need no reminder that teachers are often overworked, overlooked and taken for granted.

I want to begin by giving some first-hand facts about the school of which I am a governor. A little way down Hindes Road in Harrow is a maintained school named Norbury First and Middle, and the two headmasters work very closely together with the following results. Norbury children have been using Quainton Hall swimming pool. Norbury school also uses the Harrow leisure centre, but often when schools have to use a public swimming pool only limited numbers of children can be taken there at one time. When Quainton Hall's gymnasium was being rebuilt. Norbury provided gym facilities and helped with the storage of equipment. Thus the Quainton Hall boys were not only able to continue their physical training but they won a cup. The Norbury children participated in Quainton Hall's evening gymnastic club. Both schools meet each other in sporting matches.

There is particular encouragement to attend each other's plays, concerts and fairs. Norbury school has no school orchestra of its own but it has some talented players, so the children have been invited to attend training sessions with Quainton Hall's orchestra. Both headmasters serve on the local committee for the biennial street carnival in the district. Both schools have co-operated in instruction on road safety.

There is also an agreement that if any state of emergency, such as a fire, arises in either school, the other school will immediately open its doors and take in the pupils. Both schools also go in for entertaining elderly people with concerts, parties and expeditions. The headmaster of Quainton Hall maintains links with a number of independent and maintained schools, whose headmasters visit each other very regularly and exchange ideas. I could easily give statistics for other schools but to do so would take far too long.

I want to show that the independent school sector is an important factor in the national education system. One of the fundamental liberties which your Lordships are constantly supporting is the right of parents to choose which school to send their children to; if necessary, out of the maintained sector. In recent years, that has become a matter of considerable political controversy. In fact, the independent sector has been forced to keep on arguing and campaigning for its own existence.

Independent schools account for around 6 per cent. of the school population of this country. They have very high academic standards and are one of the best ways of helping children, particularly those who are below average ability. They instil a desire for hard work, discipline and initiative which this country particularly needs. Such values are not just the preserve of the independent sector. Many maintained schools can, and do, provide—and proudly—similar values. What is now needed is co-operation rather than confrontation, to improve the overall educational provision for the children of today and of the future, and it is up to the politicians to see that such co-operation develops.

To take a quick look at the present situation, there are many examples of links between the two. Pupils of many schools benefit from local agreements between the two sectors; for example, by sharing equipment, teaching aids, text books, musical scores, musical instruments, dramatic material and even minibuses for expeditions. There is also the important matter of exchanges of staff with skills in, for example, music, science, computing and sport.

There are, too, exchanges of pupils, which are particularly important when a school provides tuition on a certain subject to a class which is not very big. If another school has pupils who want to take up a certain subject but cannot take it in their own school, they are invited to join the class in the other school. There are many opportunities for the use of sports facilities by local agreement. This co-operation must be, and is, a two-way system. Personal contact is vital. Heads of schools and their staff must, and do, get together to plan what their schools can offer, and this can even include courses for teachers themselves.

The assisted places scheme takes pupil exchange one step further. In doing so, it has shown how the independent sector helps the maintained sector and provides a wider choice of school for parents. It is the individual child who matters and who is helped by this system, and it aims to offer these children the opportunity to develop their talents. The scheme has already shown that the heads of maintained schools are helpful in their attitude towards the scheme, and parents with a low income find that talented children are particularly benefited. The assisted places scheme provides a bridge between the two sectors and it must be supported because it shows that the two sectors are complementary.

There are four areas where this can be seen. One is boarding. Boarding schools can be an awful bore to some people, but unfortunately they are necessary when parents are abroad or when handicapped children have to be educated. I have some knowledge of that through the Invalid Children's Aid Association, of which I am a member. For almost three years I was chairman of one of their committees and raised funds for the Pilgrim School in Seaford, Sussex. This is a boarding school for boys with asthma and breathing problems. The boys were very active and did not like being considered as invalids. They did everything to show that they were not invalids but, because of their problem, they had to have an education which could be combined with medical treatment.

I have much sympathy also for children who need special tuition if they have a speech defect. I know of its pure, hellish misery, since I had a speech defect when I was a child. There is also the problem of denominational education. Many independent schools were founded and, by tradition, were committed to certain religious forms of education. The state sector cannot provide sufficient religious education to meet the demand in this country, particularly now that there are so many citizens of so many varying faiths.

I turn to the encouragement of the arts, which the independent schools help considerably. First, any form of art—whether it be literature, acting, music—is a skill and, once acquired, is something of which to be proud. It creates confidence and hope. I remember a film, which I first saw in 1941, in which a famous jazz player, Paul Whiteman, was talking to Mickey Rooney. The subject was rhythm in life, and he said, "Teach a boy to blow a trumpet and he will never blow a safe". That bit of dramatic sentimentality may have oversimplified the matter, but it drives home the point that appreciation of a skill by others creates the stimulus. A musician must have people to listen to him or to her; a writer must have people to read his books; an actor must have people to come to see him act.

Secondly, let me turn to the importance of making one's own entertainment. Boredom is a parasite. Your Lordships know that I have asked one or two Questions about hooliganism at football matches. I asked such a Question a few days ago, and one of the answers was that boredom leads to hooliganism. Boredom is one of the reasons for young people letting themselves go in such a way. They cannot create; therefore they take pleasure in destroying. I am grateful that in my youth my home was in the Western Highlands. It was a very beautiful place but it was very isolated. The nearest telephone was three miles away. My brothers and I were thrown on our own resources. We were often criticised for reading certain forms of literature which were popular with the young in those days. They used to cost tuppence a week. Such copies as survive now fetch about £10 in certain shops in the West End. We were criticised for reading those comics, so we got down to it and produced our own. We had far more fun producing them than we got from buying the comics we were criticised for reading.

Looking back to my own schooldays, I was a boy who, under the orthodox system of education, did not flourish very well. In fact, I did not flourish at all until I was forced into becoming one of the earliest pupils at Gordonstoun. I am delighted that my noble kinsman Lord Beaumont of Whitley is to join me in this debate because he, too, had experience of Gordonstoun, though a little later than I. One of the maxims of Kurt Hahn, who founded the school and who continually impressed upon us its importance, was that the function of a school is not just to educate but to provide a service to its local community. Gordonstoun provides service to the community—mountain rescue, a fire service and, in my days, a watcher system which was recognised by HM Coastguard. On stormy nights the boys kept watch at a certain part of the coast.

When I was speaking to my noble kinsman recently I asked him about an article which he wrote, the record of which seems to have disappeared, although I have dug into the archives at the British Museum. However, this article was written 22 years ago. If, therefore, my noble kinsman comments on this article it seems that we shall have only our memories to draw upon. The article was written at a time of great excitement about Prince Charles's entry into Gordonstoun as a new boy. My noble kinsman's article highlighted the services which Gordonstoun could provide but, because of its rural setting, I believe that he wrote, "What is needed is the urban equivalent". What the independent schools are now offering to others is getting towards the urban equivalent of community service.

It is a two-way system. I put down the Motion that independent schools are helping maintained schools, but maintained schools also help the independent schools. Whichever school helps another, it must not be done in a patronising way and it must not try to take advantage of what that other institution cannot offer. I greatly look forward to hearing the other speakers in the debate. My Lords. I beg to move for Papers.

6.9 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I must admit that I was rather taken aback when I read the Motion put down in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Gainford. I wondered where there had been a mistake, but it was still there the next day so I realised that it was correct. We have now heard his case and his interesting account of the co-operation between the two kinds of schools in music, sport, acting, and so on. I congratu-late him on having his name drawn out of the hat and having his first debate.

Most of us, when the subject of assistance between the private and maintained sectors of education arises, think of the assistance given to the independent schools by the state. In February, we were debating the new regulations for the Assisted Places Scheme; regulations which continued the trend of relaxing the safeguards which had been agreed when the 1980 Act was going through Parliament and which the noble Baroness will well remember. Perhaps I may say how nice it is to see the noble Baroness at the other Dispatch Box on an education matter again.

Those safeguards and assurances made Sections 17 and 18 of the Act a little more palatable to those who were worried about the repercussions of siphoning off some of the brighter pupils from state schools into the private sector. Pupils can now transfer at any age and not just at 11, 13 and 16. At 16 the local authority does not have to agree to the transfer. In parenthesis, it is interesting that there are substantial numbers transferring from the independent to the maintained sector.

As an example, in South Cambridgeshire, 151 transferred in 1981, representing 9 per cent. of the total enrolment at sixth form colleges; 181 in 1982. representing 10 per cent. of the total; and 186 in 1983, representing 12 per cent. At one stage, colleges in Hampshire and Surrey were turning away applicants, and in Oxfordshire two years ago, 117 moved into the state system and only 13 came out of it. So it is small wonder that there was some pressure for the veto to be removed.

The financial arrangements have been updated generously, making it easier for parents. The means test for the remission of fees has been relaxed. The level of income at or below which fees are to be wholly remitted is set at £6,040 instead of the present £5,616—an increase of 7¾ per cent. It is worth remembering that student grants are going up by only 4 per cent.

While the loss of the assisted place pupils damages the state schools (and I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Gainford, when he says that this helps the maintained schools, if I heard him aright) these pupils are undoubtedly an educational asset to the private schools. They are, equally certainly, a financial asset. The cost of the assisted places scheme this year is £ 16.5 million. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, told us that there will be an additional £7 million for it next year, and by 1988 the scheme will cost about £50 million. In answer to a Written Question by Mr. Clement Freud in another place, the Minister said that the number of schools which would have more than 20 per cent. of pupils paid for under the assisted places scheme by 1988 will be 47: 50 schools would have more than 30 per cent. and 44 schools more than 40 per cent. That is, 141 of the 225 schools in the scheme will be receiving a very substantial sum from the state.

It has been admitted that the scheme is a lifeline to some of the less well-known private schools—even those within the Headmasters' Conference, which have strict academic criteria for admission to their ranks. By boosting the intake of highly academic children, one head confessed that it had prevented his small day school from sliding down into the "gin and Jaguar" belt of minor private schools. That was in a report from the 1981 HMC conference.

Then there is the benefit from charitable status, tax relief and rate relief. I do not have the up-to-date figures but in 1978–79, these schools received £25 million in tax relief and £ 1 million in rate relief. No doubt the sums are much bigger five years later—and if the Minister has them, it would be interesting to know. It is enough to pay for 3,000 teachers or so, anyway.

In respect of boarding places, there have been a number of reports over the years—the Fleming, the Newsom, and the Martin. The Fleming and Newsom reports had the aim of bringing together the two sectors—the private and the maintained—but for various reasons they had little success. The Martin report was doing something rather different, in looking at boarding needs. The independent schools undoubtedly contribute in providing places, but of course they also benefit to the tune of about £56 million.

According to my information, there are about 120,000 boarding places in independent schools, against about 8,500 in maintained schools. (And I should be grateful for an authoritative figure from the Minister, because mine may be out of date.) More than 32,000 British families working overseas in industry, the armed services and the diplomatic service send their children back to board in English schools. There are other categories of boarders, such as those whose family circumstances necessitate boarding because of home conditions—I refer to frequent movers, one-parent families, orphans, maladjusted children, and so on. The local authorities pay tor these places.

There were about 7,500 places for the handicapped but I suspect that because of local education authorities' straitened financial circumstances and the philosophy prevailing of integrating as many children as possible into ordinary schools, these places are being reduced fairly fast. I do not want to be ungracious because the private schools are giving a service to the state in providing necessary boarding places. The cost to LEAs of maintaining their own boarding schools would be even greater; no one authority needs a boarding school. To make the exercise economically possible, there would have to be co-operation between authorities, and that is not always easy to organise. A boarding hostel alongside a state day school is a possibility, and I believe that that is being done in some cases.

A word about the curriculum. The curriculum is where one would expect there to be experiment and innovation in the independent sector because of the size of classes and other advantages they have. The Southampton maths project—the SMP—got going in four major independent schools, but it was quickly taken up by the state schools, which played their part in its development. I believe that the same is true of Nuffield Science. But both were 25 years ago. I have recently been reading the HMI report, Classics in Independent Schools, which was published this year. Thirty-three schools were visited. The chapter on curricular planning is not particularly complimentary; I will quote one paragraph: HMI looked especially for signs that the classics teachers had taken an interest in recent thinking about the curriculum and the proposals for examination reform especially at 16 plus. Of these two areas, rather more knowledge was evinced about the latter, but even here only a small handful of schools was well-informed. No classics department showed any sign of awareness of the curriculum documents recently published, including the statement about classics in the publication Curriculum 11–16". I found that rather surprising because that might have been an area in which they were experimenting.

The innovations and experiments now to be found in the Micro-Electronics Programme—the MEP—in maintained schools are considerable. A comprehensive school in Cambridge where I was a governor until fairly recently has pioneered some work with software for computer education. This started because of the interests of two particular teachers. They have created programs which can be sold. The MEP have bought some and an independent company has now been set up—the sort of enterprise the Government are constantly asking for. Two primary teachers from Cambridgeshire schools are on the national Primary Software Committee because of the work they have started in their own schools, and I am sure that these two examples are indicative of what is going on in many of our state schools.

Community service was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gainford. The Independent Schools Information Service pamphlet, under the heading "Contribution to Education—Pioneering" says that community service, physical fitness, self-reliance and Outward Bound schools were introduced into the English education system by Kurt Hahn at Gordonstoun—and the noble Lord referred to this. All credit to Kurt Hahn—but I would venture to query the monopoly of Gordonstoun in this respect. I should like to remind your Lordships of Henry Morris, who pioneered the village college and the whole philosophy of the community school and community involvement some 60 years ago. The whole of the local population was to be welcomed to activities within the colleges, and adult tutors were there to go out to the other villages to involve them in new interests. What started in rural areas has spread to urban areas, and the community school or college—including the community primary school—is now to be found in every LEA area; and most successful they are, too.

What is very clear from the ISIS pamphlet I have mentioned is that the private or independent schools (as they now prefer to call themselves, because it gives the right flavour of self-help) are onto a big promotion job. Tim Devlin, director of national ISIS, has put heart and soul into the business. Obviously there are not only fears of loss of charitable status, and so on, but also of loss of numbers because of the decline in the birth rate. In 1980 there were 731,800 13-year-olds. In 1984 there are 706,600. In 1991 there will be only 520,200. So there is some cause for anxiety. Fees at these schools are high and have gone up by about twice the rate of inflation. There is now a fighting fund into which at least £170,000 flowed last year. There are 155 action groups across the country raising money and which propagandise on behalf of private schooling. The 28,000 ISIS members are asked to recruit one new member each (raising another £140,000 in subscriptions) and to spread the facts in favour of independent schools widely and positively.

Tim Devlin, in a carefully calculated article in the TES last August, admitted: Not all independent schools money comes from just fees. Some comes from the community (that is, the ratepayer) through rates relief and some from the general public (that is. the taxpayer) through tax relief. Legally the schools' claim to these fiscal benefits is based on education as a charitable purpose. Morally, in years to come, with the pressure on the public purse becoming even greater, I am not so sure. Some independent schools do a tremendous amount to meet boarding need, provide choirs for cathedrals, maintain ancient buildings and justify their charitable status in other ways. Others probably do not. Within the next 10 years, independent schools", he went on, would be wise to devise some machinery by which each school individually can earn and justify any funds it receives from the public purse. It would be a small price to pay for a place in the mainstream of education and for immunity from party political attack. I repeat, "would be wise to devise some machinery". Well, some schools are paying heed to this advice and devising their machinery. Eton has offered a 10-day course this summer to 120 Oxbridge candidates from maintained schools. Eton felt that maintained schools "had been having a rough time", the headmaster said, and they wanted to help in a way that the schools would find acceptable. Applications have flooded in, which is not surprising. Many have had to be turned away. No doubt most of them will enjoy the experience and learn from it, and I hope that we shall hear the result of the experiment, but to me it smacks just a little of the paternalistic.

The Quakers, too, are having a bit of a crisis of conscience: We do not want to provide a haven, a privilege for wealthy parents", said Mr. McKee, headmaster of Ackworth School, a Quaker-run boarding school. He wanted the nine Quaker schools to form a unit under central Government to fill the unmet need for boarding schools and particularly to help the disadvantaged who had to be away from home. I would not wish to query the liberal motives of the Quakers, their traditional care for the individual and their service to the community, but it is significant of the trend of the independent schools to look outward, whether for altruistic or for other reasons. I have mentioned two possible schemes and I am sure there are many others. There is certainly room for co-operation over boarding provision.

Of one thing there can be no doubt. The Government's policy is increasingly to support and to subsidise the independent schools. There was a very revealing speech given at the end of 1982 by Mr. Leon Brittan when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury. It was a speech given to Carmel College. he said: The independent sector of education is so diverse and flourishing that it has all the characteristics which we would expect of a well-functioning market. The sadness is that the private sector is all too regrettably in practice the only area of education where consumer choice predominates. I wonder whether he has talked to Sir Keith about the great opportunities that the 1981 Act has given for parental choice which we hear of so continually. I now continue with Mr. Brittan. He goes on: But even with charitable status and assisted places the indepen-dent schools are at present bound to remain to some degree socially and intellectually exclusive. That is why we are considering an education voucher scheme, under which almost all parents would be able to send their children with Government assistance to private schools. "Almost all" your Lordships will note. What thoughts has he for the rest? For the schools the state now provides for 94 per cent. of its children? Anyway, thank goodness the voucher system seems to have vanished in a puff of smoke—we hope for good. Of course, the independent schools will remain, as Leon Brittan said, socially and intellectually exclusive and, therefore, divisive. He went on—it is hard to believe, but he did— Private education is the last bastion against totalitarianism and while even 6 per cent. of British schooling is private, somewhere the customer is king and so the rest of us are less likely to be slaves. But our task, as a society, must be to go further and to create conditions which do not just permit independent education to survive, but rather encourage it to prosper. So the Tory philosophy is quite clear. We know what they believe in.

If the independent schools are to remain, as the Tories most certainly intend they should, it can be argued that they should be truly independent. Charitable status, tax relief, rate relief, special covenants, and insurance schemes are all hidden subsidies and should go. Those who praise the achievements of the private sector ought to make quite clear what advantages they have that the maintained sector does not: advantages that make their achievements so much easier to attain. The classes are smaller (the average in prep schools is 14); the pupil/teacher ratio is much better; there is more generous pay for teachers. If pupils are disruptive or difficult they can be expelled and the state schools are obliged by law to take them in. So it is a much easier job that those teachers have than do their counterparts in the state system. There is another aspect. Most independent schools have a national catchment area and that makes a difference, too.

If our schools had the resources they need, which I am sure many of those working in and for the education service, whether teachers, parents, officers or education committee members would like them to have, if the schools had the teachers, the ancillary staff, the equipment and the books, they could do just as successful a job as the most prestigious of the independent schools. What we ask this Government, who at times seem so half-hearted in their commitment to the schools that 94 per cent. of our children attend, is to show their belief in, and some enthusiasm for, the service and really to invest in education. That is the best hope for the country, too.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble kinsman on having initiated this debate. I must confess that when it first came forward my reaction was almost the same as that of the noble Baroness, Lady David—not that I did not believe my eyes, but when I saw that we were invited to discuss the assistance given by independent schools to state schools in Britain I thought that it would be a very short debate. Indeed, so it is proving. I think that is a pity because there are a number of good reasons why we should welcome as much interplay as possible between the two sectors.

It is significant that in the two speeches we have had so far we have had only two specific instances of where this has happened; where this help from independent schools for state schools has occurred. In my speech your Lordships will get only one instance, which leaves only a couple of speeches in which to get the flood of information which we would like to have about any co-operation there is between the two sectors of schooling.

I should like to start, very briefly and succinctly, by stating my party's position on the whole question of independent schools. We are in the classic position, particularly of a small party which has not been in power for a long time, that we would not start from here. We are in a situation where the independent schools are a bigger sector here than they are anywhere else. I know that ISIS has all sorts of information which proves that that is not so but, in fact, in other countries the situation is very different. The combination which we have of a highly divisive class-based education system is unique to this country, and that is very sad. Very many of these schools, taken individually, are good schools. But it seems to me that the sector as a whole has nothing but a divisive and sad effect on British society, and it has had for a considerable time.

The golden opportunity to do something about that came with the reports of the Public Schools Commission. The Newsom Report was good and informative. Mr. John Pardoe and myself, representing the Liberal Party, produced a pamphlet suggesting a method of funding the reforms. Sir John Newsom commended it as being the most sensible comment which had been produced on the report. Unfortunately, as the noble Baroness said, nothing happened. Unfortunate it was that it was the noble Baroness's party that was largely to blame. It was in power at the time and did not choose to take up the matter, quite clearly because there was no agreement within the party.

Within that party there are intense differences on matters of this kind; it found it difficult to get everyone to agree whether independent schools should be done away with or reformed. We believed that they should have been reformed. A golden chance was missed. Later on, the situation was worsened by the abolition of the direct grant schools which, however logical, destroyed a vital link between the independent and state sectors. What we must do from here surely is to welcome any co-operation there can possibly be between the two sectors. Our regret must be that there is so little. As I have already mentioned, this debate is an example of that. The next Left-wing Government of any kind must act on this matter. We all ought to be as sympathetic as possible to any positive proposals, and to occasions like this one, which has been provided by my noble kinsman, to discuss this matter.

We have already heard a couple of examples of help given by the independent schools to the state school system. I have also been going out and trying to find examples. Again, I suspect like other noble Lords, I find that they are few and far between. I came across one famous example. One of the interesting things about this field is that there are famous examples, and that in itself points out the poverty of the field. You ask people and the same two or three examples of co-operation between schools turn up every time.

I was talking this time to someone who had been chairman of the education committee in the area which takes in Dauntseys and Lavington, which is one of the famous co-operations, where a sharing of subjects had led to the wide use of the sixth form of the independent school by the local state school. Unfortunately, over recent years that has been slightly flagging, partly I think because the independent school has been doing rather better than it was at the time the arrangement was undertaken. This is one of our problems. Independent schools tend to turn their minds to these matters only when there is something that they need to get out of it. That is human nature and I am not blaming them, but I think that it accounts for the paucity in the past. It also possibly gives us a little hope for the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke of the forecasts for the number of pupils coming into the independent sector schools. The question of co-education in independent schools was given a tremendous fillip when the schools realised that if they brought girls in at their sixth form they could fill up the sixth forms, which were getting rather depleted, partly because they needed more numbers, as sixth forms do, or they needed to have a much bigger school below, or because they were losing a large number of pupils to the state system at that level. A lot of people now do not want to spend their time between the ages of 16 and 18 in the rather strict discipline of an old-fashioned single-sex boarding school, but are very happy to move where there are sixth form colleges and other such state institutions. As a result of that there was this immense boom in co-education at sixth form level in the independent sector.

If we take a lesson from that, I think that we might be able to look forward to a time when the independent schools will be looking to the need to bring more pupils into their sixth form. If their numbers are going down anyway, if the present trend against staying on in boarding schools at that stage increases, and if there is a possibility of bringing in pupils and turning the sixth form of the independent school into something like a sixth form college and it being paid for by the local authorities on a capitation basis, there is a real chance of much greater co-operation in the future. Whatever our ideological attitudes, I do not see that that can be anything but a great advantage to the children concerned, to both systems and to the education of this country as a whole.

In the meantime, I think that we should encourage as much interplay as possible. In particular one of the good things which might be encouraged, and which has been mentioned by one or two of my informants, is the possibility of staff exchanges. There are various drawbacks and obstacles to this; nevertheless it is something which I think a great many staff in both sectors would welcome. I have not given the noble Baroness. Lady Young, any notice of this question, but if she can say whether the Government or the Department of Education can in any way encourage this, it would be a step forward.

My party is deeply disturbed about the divisive effect of the large independent school system in this country, but we welcome every effort which is made to try to narrow the gap between the two sectors and which will contribute towards some kind of solution in the future. Unfortunately, a solution looks a very long way away and it is difficult to envisage. But in the meantime we must do the best we can and be very thankful that there are men and women of good will working in both sectors of education who can help to bring about a rapprochement.

6.38 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, like the other speakers, I welcome the debate; but when I put down my name I had no idea what would be said or how the debate would proceed. I speak with a little background knowledge. I served on the Public Schools Commission under Professor Donaldson and not Professor Newsom—let me make that quite clear. I later had the privilege of being the chairman of the committee that made the recommendations regarding the management and government of schools. I was also president of the Association of Education Committees. I have had some experience of visiting both public and state schools.

During the report stage of the Public Schools Commission, we visited some 70 to 80 public schools throughout England and Wales. During the time of the Taylor Committee on governors and managers we visited some 60 local authorities and saw what was going on in the state system with the partnership there. Therefore we could see many things that were taking place. The noble Lord, in his opening speech, referred to the way in which the independent school was sharing its resources with the state schools; but the state schools have been sharing their resources for many, many years. This has been a partnership in many areas, whereby there has been full co-operation and long may this co-operation continue.

In the same way that the local education authorities have been taking up places in boarding schools with those children whose parents are in Her Majesty's forces, are missionaries overseas, or are people who, for one reason or another, require to take employment away from this country.

I must make a point of this: it sounded to me as though it was felt that the state sector had never been doing much regarding religious education. But may I make it absolutely clear that one of the outstanding requirements in the 1944 Education Act—in fact the only statutory main requirement in the 1944 Act—on the curriculum is regarding the teaching of religious instruction, and my noble friend ought to be aware of this.

Referring to boarding school education, may I say that 1 am sure that many of these special schools which deal with those children who have various deformities or defects of one kind or another would not be able to carry on without the aid of local authorities which send children with those needs to the special schools. Therefore there is a partnership in that way.

I also had the privilege of being a founder member with Lord Louis Mountbatten and Sir George Shuster of the Atlantic College in Llantwit Major. It was my responsibility to encourage local authorities to provide scholarships for the school at that time. This was a partnership as well. So please remember, my Lords, that the partnership is two ways: the state gives as much, if not more, to the independent schools. I am sure that it is the wish of many members on this side of the House to retain the independent schools. providing they are truly independent. The only thing that we on this side of the House want is to make sure that the independent schools rise to the level of the state schools in this country.

6.43 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the House must be grateful to my noble friend Lord Gainford for raising this important subject. It concerns the very nature of the education system that we have in this country. Tonight I should like to reflect on that theme and say something about education in England and Wales. I will not speak about Scotland. It is not that many of the principles do not apply there but because, as many noble Lords know very well, separate legislation applies in Scotland.

The Motion we have been addressing, if my noble friend will permit me to say so, presupposes an essential division between the maintained and the independent sectors. I think all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate so far have drawn attention to that fact and most have gone on—as my noble friend did—to talk about bridging that division. This evening, I should like to put it to the House that we do not have two education systems in England and Wales but one, and that is the one enshrined in the Education Act of 1944 for which a most distinguished Member of this House, now sadly no longer with us, must take the credit.

It is one system, with two sectors—the maintained sector and the independent sector. But the maintained sector is not the monolith that some would have us believe. It comprises what in many countries would be regarded as state schools and Church schools. In England and Wales we have the so-called state sector categories of schools which are run by local authorities—the county and maintained special schools—and other categories where a voluntary body, usually a denominational one, has important responsibilities and a measure of control. The main element common to all categories of maintained schools is that the local education authority has the responsibility for the current costs of the school. Our system is unusual too in that direct control of schools is not vested in central government, but devolved—to local authorities and in many respects to the schools themselves, both to their governors and to their teachers. It is not surprising then that on the ground the forms of provision across the country are enormously diverse. There are two-tier systems of schools, three-tier systems and four-tier systems; in the secondary phase there are selective systems and comprehensive ones. There are also special schools catering for a wide range of handicaps and disabilities. The responsiveness of the system to local needs and demands is one of its greatest strengths.

What goes under the umbrella of "maintained provision" caters for 19 out of 20 school children. There are many excellent schools in it, and there are weak ones. Maintained schools differ importantly from independent schools in that they cannot choose their pupils, a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady David. They have to take all-comers. They have to make the very best of educating children who sometimes have little inclination to schooling, or whose parents are indifferent to their progress. They come in for a lot of criticism if they fail. Their task is anything but easy. Noble Lords will, however, be aware that the thrust of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State's policies and initiatives recently has been to raise the standards of attainment of pupils in the maintained sector, through the development of broadly agreed objectives for the curriculum, through an improved system of examinations at 16-plus and through an enhancement of teaching quality. The aim of these policies is of course relevant also to the independent sector and their success, for example in relation to the 16-plus examinations, will benefit the independent sector, too.

The independent sector offers quite as much diversity, (though it is much smaller) as the maintained sector. In many ways it complements it. There are some who think only of the famous public schools when they hear of independent schools. These schools are deservedly famous. But they are only a part of the picture. Many of the former direct grant schools are independent, and have strong traditions of close links with their immediate community. There are all manner of specialist independent schools, which it would be difficult, indeed uneconomic, for the maintained sector to provide. I am thinking here of the schools for the gifted—for example, the music and ballet schools, which the Government themselves support through their fee remission scheme. The independent sector has also made a speciality in other forms of provision. Perhaps the most striking example is boarding. Independent schools provide the great majority of boarding places in this country. Another example is the schools which cater for various special educational needs. Sometimes such schools are designated as special schools by the Secretary of State and. in return for complying with regulations covering many aspects of their work, derive certain financial and other advantages.

The independent sector performs one function which is particularly important in an open society. It provides schools for those minority groups who have an outlook on life, or an educational philosophy, which is not shared by many others. Under this heading come also those schools which are consciously experimental. Amid this diversity, there is quite as wide a range of standards—if not a wider one—as that in the maintained sector. Some of our independent schools stand as beacons of excellence, and the country would be much poorer without them. Some, without being outstanding, are doing good work. Some others, if we are frank, are indifferent.

It is sometimes forgotten that the 1944 Act gave the Secretary of State direct statutory responsibilities towards the independent schools. He has a duty to take action against those who fall below minimum standards, and at a time when his policies are directed towards raising standards across the board, the independent schools are not overlooked. Let me here dispose of one myth that independent schools are no longer inspected by Her Majesty's inspectors. They most certainly are, and quite a number of reports on independent school inspections have been published in the 15 months since the Secretary of State decided to make all HMI reports available to the public. Some excellent independent schools have been reported on, and there is much in those reports which I have no doubt is of wide relevance. Equally, some reports have been published on poor schools, and in pursuance both of his statutory duties and his commitment to raise standards, the Secretary of State has not hesitated to take action against them.

Perhaps noble Lords will be beginning to think that there is more in common between the independent and maintained sectors than is often realised. I have cited the sheer diversity in both sectors—in each case the result of freedom from central control—but I have made it clear that this freedom is constrained by the necessity to achieve acceptable standards. Both sectors offer many examples of excellence for all to follow.

Let me continue this notion of commonality. The independent and maintained sectors are already, to a considerable extent, interdependent. Seen from the point of view of an individual child making his or her way up through school, there is not much of a gulf. Pupil movement between the sectors is quite common. For example, some children attend a primary school and move into an independent school thereafter. Quite a few pupils from the independent sector move into the maintained sector for their sixth form studies; this, too, was a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady David. Local education authorities frequently place children previously educated in a maintained school in an independent school on educational grounds; that is, because the child requires a boarding education, or has special educational needs.

One systematic form of movement from the maintained to the independent sector is provided by the assisted places scheme. I was interested to hear the noble Lord. Lord Beaumont, regret the ending of the direct grant school system; for of course the assisted places scheme was introduced in many respects to replace that system. The Government believe that this scheme is proving its educational value in widening the choice available to parents of bright children, and is doing so without the detriment to the maintained sector that opponents of the scheme were all too ready to predict.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked a number of questions about the assisted places scheme, but I think that these were fully answered by my noble friend Lord Swinton in the debate on the regulations that was taken last February. The noble Baroness also asked about the subsidies to independent schools. There are of course various forms of public subsidy to independent schools. The value of the subsidies is extremely hard to calculate, but it is probably of the order of £100 million to £200 million. However, for comparison I would point out that the cost of bringing all independent school pupils into the maintained sector could be anything up to £500 million, depending on the availability of spare capacity.

I now turn to the teachers. Where were they trained?—in all probability in an establishment run with public funds. Where did they do their teaching practice?—possibily in a maintained school, possibly in an independent one. Where did they gain their first job?—again, possibly in either sector. Where do they get their in-service training? The great majority of courses are run out of public funds. Teachers in independent schools often have access to the resources offered by local authority-run teachers' centres, libraries and museums. The majority of them are in the same superannuation scheme as maintained school teachers. Several teacher associations draw members from both the maintained and the independent sector. There are often close links—particularly at local level—between the professional associations. 1 would particularly cite here the example of the Secondary Heads Association and the Headmasters' Conference.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, asked whether the Government could do anything to encourage staff exchanges. This is a difficult question to answer because the fact is that encouraging staff exchanges is not a matter for which governments can legislate. The initiative must come at local level.

As regards the curriculum and examinations, much work on curriculum development has been a joint effort on the part of representtives of both sectors. The independent schools made an important contribution, for example, to the Nuffield projects, to the work of the Assessment of Performance Unit; and today there is close co-operation in the development of microelectronics education. Here I may say that schools in both sectors are benefiting from central Government grants to buy microcomputers. Moreover, the two sectors use the same public examination systems; and each has a stake in, and has much to contribute to, the current developments on this front.

Finally, in his opening remarks my noble friend Lord Gainford referred to a number of examples of initiatives at local level on the part of individual independent schools to widen what is on offer to the maintained school pupils. He also paid tribute to initiatives on the part of the maintained schools, and, indeed, he referred to this as a two-way system—something with which I agree. 1 applaud both sets of initiatives.

One major development in recent years has been the opening up of maintained school facilities— workshops, sports halls, theatres, and so on—for the wider use of the community. This is admirable, particularly so when resources are scarce. I also understand that maintained schools and independent schools alike increasingly open their doors to pupils from other schools who wish to pursue subjects not timetabled at their own schools. This again makes excellent economic sense and can only foster a spirit of co-operation between the two systems. Furthermore, schools frequently work together in the arts—for example, in joint orchestras—and in sport.

All of this is evidence that the two sectors—if we must so describe them—do work together. Those who seek to drive a wedge between them have underestimated the determination of the schools themselves to work for what is best for the pupils.

Lord Gainford

My Lords, by your leave, I should like to say that I am very grateful to noble Lords and noble Baronesses for taking part in this short debate. My noble kinsman Lord Beaumont said it was a pity that it should be a short debate, but I think that it has been all the better that the information has come forward very concisely, and it has been most valuable. Some years ago I heard a theory that if you want to learn a subject, write a book about it. I would make an amendment to that and say: if you want to learn a subject, initiate a debate in your Lordships' House. I have learned much in the last hour. I am most grateful for the support and contributions of noble Lords to this debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.