§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY rose to call attention to the Government's proposals for the future of the Direct Grant Schools; and to move Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion in my name on the Order Paper I am aware that I have a difficult task. On the one hand, it was clear from the exchanges in your Lordships' House recently that many noble Lords were anxious that this matter should be discussed as soon as possible, and my noble friends had this very much in mind in asking me to put this Motion before you: Lordships today.
§ On the other hand, the same exchanges showed what my friends and I consider to be a dangerous tendency to oversimplify the issue. Indeed, the question which I have been most often asked over the last two or three days is: are you for or against direct grant schools? I do not believe that this is a question which can be either framed or answered in that kind of tone. The Conservative Party obviously see this as a heaven-sent opportunity to rally the faithful by raising the banner, however much of a banneret it may appear to be when closely examined, of parental choice.
§ There are many Members of your Lordships' House who will add deep wisdom to this debate and I am delighted to see the number of noble Lords who have put down their names to speak. Of course I welcome the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, whose speech—based on her considerable knowledge and experience— we look forward to hearing. Since, judging from the list of speakers, the debate looks as if it may be slightly one-sided, I hope she will not hesitate to give us her views fairly strongly. Opposite the Conservative Benches, the Government have to defend in detail a policy which, however simple in principle, is very complex in practice and the implementation of which is influenced by certain political considerations—not, I hasten to say, necessarily of an ideological nature— which may well detract from the correct educational conclusions.1187
§ We on these Benches think that this is an extremely complex matter and, as a result, my Party has adopted a policy which itself is rather more complex than those policies which may stem from the thundering guns of the other Front Benches. I emphasise that it is a policy that is not woolly or indeterminate but is as simple in principle as the main issue and as complex in practice as is the whole question of the administration of education. It is for this reason that I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not indulge in the usual tour d'horizon of the usual opening speech of a Wednesday debate, but embark straight away on an exposition of my Party's policy. I also give notice to a possibly groaning House that I will exercise my right of reply at the end of the debate to refute, or it may be to accept, objections to this policy.
§ My Party firmly and completely accepts the principle of comprehensive education. We were the first Party to adopt this nationally as part of our policy and we have consistently reiterated it in democratic Party assembly after democratic Party assembly. The arguments for this have been fully rehearsed many times and will no doubt be ably recited this afternoon by the Government. For that reason I shall not spend more than a moment or two on them this afternoon, since they form no part of the distinctively Liberal case—distinctive from both the other two Parties—which it is now my business to deploy. Suffice it to say that, given the main choice before us, our decision was inevitable—the choice between two systems: on the one hand, a system which claimed the virtues of parental choice but in fact limited this to a small minority of parents who could opt out of the system, and another small minority who were given the unreal choice of the freedom to reject the grammar school for their children if they had qualified to go to it; a system which segregated children almost irrevocably into two types of children at two types of schools, divided into undergoing two types of education and bound to end, in that great Conservative phrase, as " Two Nations ".
§ On the other side, there is the opportunity of constructing a system of education in which children have a choice as to the kind of education which is best suited to them, involving combinations 1188 of subjects and levels totally unattainable in the old system, a flexibility in moving through the school system which makes allowance for both late and early developers, a system which can be flexible and responsive to the needs not only of the time but of the future, and which can embrace the new without rejecting the old and foster relevance without rejecting academic ability.
§ Of course, reality is not the same as the dream. Reality is not the same as the dream in any educational system. There are plenty of lousy direct grant schools and there are plenty of very good ones. But the dream which I am talking about, the dream of this system of education, does exist in places and there is no reason why it cannot exist everywhere. We are not therefore tempted to fall into the trap set by those who make nonsense of the English language by saying that we can have comprehensive schools and grammar schools. We can no more have a moderately comprehensive system than we can have a moderately unique phenomenon or, if I may say so, a moderately noble Lord. "Comprehensive " means comprehensive.
§ On the other hand, however repugnant some of us may find it that people should be allowed to buy better opportunities for their children, my Party has always resisted the suggestion that we could ever tolerate the abolition of the independent sector. In this, the Labour Party, if action speaks louder than words, appear to agree with us, whatever they may say. We, however, are honest enough to face up to this contradiction and to acknowledge the logical difficulties that these two conflicting principles pose—as, indeed, they do in so many difficult political decisions, as every politician knows. But these logical difficulties are not insuperable ; they have been overcome, not by an unofficial body but by a body of the great and good appointed by the Government—the Royal Commission on Public Schools.
§ I have been a politician for the majority of my adult life and I am proud of the title and the avocation. However, there are times when I wish that, having appointed a Royal Commission, the Government were bound to abide by its decisions. I am sure that on balance we 1189 should do better that way than we do under the present system by which we pay for highly qualified commissions of experts and generalists to consider piles and piles of evidence and spend a lot of time on coming to conclusions, and then the Government of the day either ignore them or mangle them beyond recognition.
§ This is certainly the case as regards the First Report of this Commission. And here it is that I level my first accusation against the Government, one in which I can be quite sure that the Conservative Front Bench will not join me. If the Labour Government had accepted the Report of the Commission which it had set up, if it had dared the Scylla of the Opposition and the Charybdis of its own Left Wing and not succumbed to the temptation to play safe by resting on its oars in the shallows, it would now be in a much better and more logical position to act on the direct grant schools. It would not be open, as it is wide open, to the charge from the Conservative Party that it is destroying the bridges between the independent and maintained sectors, charges which are true and unanswerable. The First Report of the Royal Commission on Public Schools— noble Lords may care to be reminded about this because the poor thing was buried as soon as it was born— recommended that the public schools be not abolished, not left as they were, but integrated by a system of mild sticks and juicy carrots into the national educational system, the main factor being allocation of boarding places according to need, not purse.
§ The main reason which was given for the rejection of the Report was the expense. There were ways round this. My honourable friend in another place, John Pardoe, and I devised a scheme for taxing independent education to pay for the changes, a scheme which had the honour to be approved by the late Sir John Newsom as being relevant and workable. But even if our scheme had not been accepted, I believe that it would have been better to have found the money than to land ourselves in the kind of mess our educational system may well find itself in during the next few years as a result of the Government's determination to implement the Second Report of the Com- 1190 mission without implementing their First Report.
§ The next accusation which I level against the Government is to do with the extraordinary news which we heard the other day that direct grant schools will be asked for a decision by the summer. We may, and I hope that today we shall, hear about some considerable modification of this horrifying demand, but I fear that it will be nothing like the three to five years or so which, educationally and administratively, would seem to be desirable. I am afraid that the evident reason for this is the Labour Party's desire sufficiently to scramble the omelette of the direct grant system that no subsequent Government can unscramble it. To such damaging and undignified measures does our much vaunted two-Party system condemn us!
§ We shall be told, of course, that this measure has been in the Labour Party's programme for some time and that schools should have been planning their actions accordingly. There are two answers to this. One is that, rightly or wrongly, 500-year-old establishments do not pay much attention to Party political programmes; they have seen too many slips between cup and lip for that. The second answer is that for many schools the decision—if they are given enough time— should be dependent on the places that they are offered in the maintained system. There is, for instance, a lot of difference between straight "going comprehensive" and the possibility of becoming a sixth form college. If they are not mad—and although there are symptoms of acute schizophrenia there is, as yet, no evidence that they are clean " round the bend "— the object of the Government must be to retain as many as possible of these schools for the maintained sector. If that is not their aim, let them say so today; but if it is their aim, they must give time for local authorities to draw up schemes and produce the most educationally attractive package that they can in order to reassure schools that they are not going to be bulldozed out of existence after a long period of honourable life. I estimate that a time scale of three to five years is probably desirable for this.
§ That, my Lords, is the case for the Liberal Party. We think that, as so often, the Labour Party's heart is in the right place. Also we think that, as so often, 1191 their head is notably adrift. What this or any Government should do now is to shelve these particular plans, implement the First Report of the Public Schools Commission and follow it up, after a decent interval, with the implementation of the Second Report. If they do not do this, I believe that with the best intentions in the world—and I certainly believe that they have the best intentions—they are likely to do the educational system of this country great and, possibly, even irremediable harm. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating this debate, because it gives your Lordships' House this welcome and early opportunity to consider the Statement which was made on 11th March by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the phasing out of direct grant grammar schools. At this point, it is not my intention to reply specifically to any of the points which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. However, I think it may be helpful to your Lordships' House if at this stage in the debate I outline the main lines of my right honourable friend's intentions in respect of the direct grant schools. It seemed to me that this would be a factual basis on which our subsequent discussions could be based.
As was made clear in the Statement on 11th March, grants to schools which are unwilling to enter the comprehensive maintained school system or which it is not practicable to absorb into the system will be phased out, starting in September 1976. Phasing out means that grants to such schools will not be payable in respect of pupils entering those schools from September 1976 onwards. The capitation, sixth form and remitted fees grants in respect of pupils who have already entered the upper schools (that is to say, who have started their secondary education) before September 1976, will, however, be paid in the school year 1976–77 and will continue to be paid until the end of their school life. This means that over the course of about six years from September 1976 the per capita grants and the number of pupils entitled to fee- 1192 remission at the expense of the Department will gradually disappear and that the schools will eventually become fully independent of Government finance in around 1982. So this is a slowly and carefully phased programme.
Schools which are willing to enter the maintained system and which can be absorbed will, in most cases, become voluntary aided schools, their governors will have certain responsibilities for repairs and attention to the premises and will have an important role in the conduct of the school, although the LEA will bear all the running expenses. Some may become voluntary controlled schools, with all expenses paid by the LEA and a correspondingly smaller role for the governors. In exceptional cases, the school may become a county school which will be entirely the LEA's responsibility. When a school becomes part of the maintained sector, it will cease to charge tuition fees and all grants will cease from that time. That is when it has become part of the maintained sector. LEAs and governors will be expected to do everything they can to ensure that pupils already in such a school will be able to complete their education along the lines they have been following.
My right honourable friend has already initiated discussions with the representatives of the local education authorities and the representatives of the schools. It is expected that full details of the proposed arrangements will be issued to individual schools and their LEAs in the near future, so that they can reach a decision in principle about their intentions before the end of this summer. I should like to emphasise, as my right honourable friend has done, that the Government's hope is that as many as possible of the schools will become maintained comprehensive schools, in which capacity their resources can be put to the best use for the benefit of the whole community. I might just add that, so far as non-grammar direct grant schools are concerned, no change is proposed in the grant arrangements for the direct grant nursery schools, the Royal Ballet School and the Yehudi Menuhin School for Young Musicians.
I do not intend to say more at this stage but I hope that what I have said sets out rather more fully than in the statement of the 11th March the main 1193 points in the Government's proposals, particularly so far as the phasing out arrangements are concerned. I hope to reply in more detail later to the many other points which I have no doubt whatsoever noble Lords will be only too anxious to make.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this debate, and before saying anything further I should like to give my best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, who will be making her maiden speech this afternoon. I am sure we will all listen to it with great interest. I also wish to convey the apologies of my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who very much regrets that owing to ill health he is unable to be present this afternoon.
I welcome this debate, not because I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—he would not have expected me to do so—but because education is such an important subject, affecting as it does the lives of our children; and this debate must be seen as part of a continuing debate on major educational principles—today, quite specifically, about direct grant schools. We on this side of the House believe that direct grant schools ought to be retained and that the policy outlined in the Government Statement of 11th March will be, to put it as strongly as I can, an educational disaster. To phase out the direct grant schools, starting in September 1976, means the end of the direct grant schools as we know them, and to ask the schools to reach a decision in the course of this summer is almost an impossibility.
Almost without exception these schools are of proved academic excellence. In many ways they have been, and are, the breeding grounds from which so many great British achievements have come. On any academic "league table" they come out at the top, and although entrance to them is based on academic ability they are schools of genuine "social mix". The tragedy is that nowhere in the Statement, or in any other document, have I seen, or—if I may say frankly to the noble Lord, Lord 1194 Crowther-Hunt—any educational reasons for the decisions that have been taken about these schools. There are no reports from Her Majesty's inspectors suggesting poor standards; there is no public demand for their closure—quite the contrary; more parents than ever before wish to send their children to these schools. In the only recent inquiry into these schools—and here I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, had to say—the Public Schools Commission thought so highly of them that it proposed extending the general direct grant principle to independent schools. Nor, so far as I know, have local authorities complained about the schools or refused to take up free places for educational reasons. Indeed, they arc far more likely to be concerned about their closure and the costly alternative arrangements which they will be obliged to make. Even the Department of Education and Science Press notice announcing the proposed ending of the direct grant said:Direct grant schools have made an important contribution to the national system of secondary education while that was organised on selective lines.At a time when our country faces great difficulties, and when, above all, we must be able to make the best use of the talents of our people, the Government have decided that institutions of proved academic worth are to be finished. It seems to me to be a policy of total irresponsibility, not only to the children but to the country as a whole, to close these schools before we can be sure that the alternative will be as successful. Any dispassionate outsider would be astonished. If we disbanded a symphony orchestra or sacked the top football team for no better reason that that they were too good to provide competition for everybody else, we would be justly blamed. Yet the Government have chosen to do so in the case of excellent schools, and I believe that future generations will blame those responsible for this decision. I make no apology for saying that I believe institutions of excellence ought not to be destroyed, and I was glad to see excluded from this general provision for the future of direct grant schools the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Ballet School—no doubt for the very good reason that they are both excellent schools.
1195 But as the decision is about to be taken, it is worth examining the only reason; namely, that it is impossible to provide a fully comprehensive system of education while direct grant schools still exist. I do not believe this to be true and I base my reasons, first, on personal experience. Let me say at once that I am not opposed to comprehensive schools. Quite the contrary, when I was in local government I introduced a scheme of comprehensive education into Oxford. Indeed, I would regard it as equally wrong to be against comprehensive schools as to be against direct grant schools. But included in the scheme which I introduced was the take-up of free places at two local direct grant schools. This is not the place to explain the scheme in detail, though I shall be glad to do so if someone wishes me to. Suffice it to say that it was a scheme which had the support of both parents and teachers. It did not just "cream off" the most able, and it could have worked.
But leaving aside my own experience, we have as well the experience of both Bristol and Norwich, to name but two authorities which have made arrangements to keep their links with the direct grant schools at the same time as their own comprehensive system. The direct grant schools themselves wish to see these links with local authorities maintained, and have suggested a great variety of ways in which this could be done. There could be entry at 11 or 13 or into the sixth form, entry for specialist subjects only, entry for those who want a specifically religious education, or a boarding education or a single sex school. Indeed, I believe that they will consider any reasonable compromise that is possible within what they have to offer.
I wonder how many who talk so easily about integrating these schools into the maintained system have considered in detail what will have to be the realities of each situation. Most direct grant schools are far too small to be fully comprehensive and they will inevitably end up as one part of a split premise site, possibly separated by up to two or three miles from the other part of the school. That is, in fact, what is being suggested. To say that the direct grant schools are encouraging privilege and divisiveness, when in fact they bridge the gap between the maintained and independent sectors, is unjust to the schools and 1196 is untrue. However, I suppose that the real reason why the Government will not allow coexistence is their dislike of the word "selection". But, of course, there will inevitably be selection, whether within a school or outside it.
No one, not even the most bigoted egalitarian, has ever suggested that all children entering a comprehensive school should pursue an identical course for four or five years, and whether selection occurs within a school by "setting" for some subjects, or streaming for some subjects, or indeed at a later stage by what the Americans call "drop out", it will inevitably occur. Selection in some form will occur, because it is a fact of life. Indeed, do we not select at the lower end of the IQ scale for those needing special education? No one pretends that all human beings are born with the same appearance or physique. Why should they be born with the same intellect? Even Socialism cannot abolish heredity.
So the Government fall back on the argument about privilege. I am bound to say to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, that I was surprised to read in Hansard what he said on 11th March, at column 166:… I recognise naturally the indignation which the noble Lord and his colleagues feel at the ending of another area of privilege in our national life ".I wonder whether he really believed that, whether that was a true statement of his views about education, and whether he really believes that all comprehensive schools will be equal. It may well be that in the country, in a number of schools with large catchment areas and a good "social mix", the schools will be roughly similar. But this will never be true of towns, and I shall be interested to hear how selection for what will come to be regarded as a better school than the other comprehensive schools will be made, and what will happen when such a school is over-subscribed.
Furthermore, the Statement illustrates again that we are not simply living in a world of rapid change; it is one in which political principles of long standing are being not simply questioned but swept aside. One of those which we see slipping away almost daily is the principle of liberty—in this instance freedom of choice in education. I accept, of course, that it is a very limited freedom. It is a choice 1197 available only to those parents in a local authority area in which there is a direct grant school, and where the local education authority takes up free places. It applies, too, in the generous scheme of remission of fees to parents who would not be able to afford to pay the full fees but whose children have high academic ability; and in providing boarding education in 57 direct grant schools at considerably less cost than most independent schools. These schools help those parents of modest means whose work takes them abroad or who, for one reason or another, need a boarding education for their children. I can think of two or three cases, known to me personally, of women who are either widowed or divorced and who have to do a full-time job, and for whom a boarding education for their children is undoubtedly the best education for those children.
There are those three freedoms which the direct grant schools give for some children. If they are taken away as is intended, small and limited though they are, it will be one more item in the sorry catalogue of this Government, for there is now, after one year of a truly Socialist Government, less freedom in housing, less freedom for the individual trade unionist, less freedom for the Press, less freedom in the National Health Service and now less freedom in education. The final tragedy—and I believe it to be a tragedy —is that those who will suffer most from the closure of the direct grant schools are the children from poor homes, for whom these schools provided a ladder of opportunity. Only a few weeks ago almost all noble Lords in this House were united in saying on the Children Bill that the welfare of the child should be paramount. That is certainly not true today.
My Lords, before concluding my remarks, I should like to say something quite specifically about the education of girls. It is sometimes said—though perhaps rather surprisingly in this House—that parents choose a single sex school for their daughters and a mixed school for their sons. Whether or not that is true, for a variety of reasons many parents would like their daughters to be educated at a girls' school. Again, I do not wish to be misunderstood on this subject. I do not want to see every child in a single 1198 sex school—far from it. There are excellent mixed schools and I hope that there will be many more of them. But what I believe is needed is a variety of schools and a choice for parents.
There are, I think, two very good educational reasons for providing some girls' schools. There is considerable evidence, particularly that produced by the Girls' Public Day School Trust, which has 22 girls' schools, that girls tend to do better in maths and science in a girls' school than in mixed schools. Why this should be so is not clear. It may well be that just as girls tend to do better in literature and the Arts, boys tend to do better in maths and science and a great many girls find that they get very discouraged in a large mixed school when coping with maths and science. Nevertheless, we need more mathematicians and if this is one way of getting them the advantages of a single sex school should be borne in mind. Secondly, girls and boys undergo different rates of development, and again there is evidence to show that a great many teachers, when teaching a difficult class of 13 and 14 year-old boys and girls, choose the books that boys prefer because it will keep them quiet, rather than a fair sprinkling of both sorts for both sexes. In this way, girls in many big schools do not get what we would regard as co-education but get simply a mixed education.
As the Sex Discrimination Bill proceeds through both Houses of Parliament we shall hear a great deal about discrimination, and although under that Bill there is a provision which I welcome—that it will be unlawful to discriminate against women holding top positions in mixed schools—I wonder whether we shall see more women heads of mixed schools as a result. If not, the opportunities for girls to see, day by day, women holding positions of responsibility will be less. Then there is the argument that for some girls a small girls' school provides a far better educational environment than a very large mixed school; and there are still those parents who are sufficiently old-fashioned not to want their daughters at the age of 11 or 12 to start having to look attractive to boys. It seems to me that just as children differ so we should try to cater for their different needs.
1199 The case for variety in education could not have been put better than by Mr. Crosland in 1967, quoted in the leading article in The Times last Saturday. It read :In a speech at Lancaster University in 1967, Mr. Crosland made a similar point—'We want not a monopoly situation in higher education, but a variety of institutions under different control. A unitary system would surely imply an omniscience which we do not possess'.Who could have put the case for variety better? We live in an imperfect world, and I believe that those of us who take part in public life do so because we want to see whether, by our own efforts, we can leave the world a little better than we found it. No one can pretend we have all the answers, but when we look at the world today and see institutions which are good, which no one has criticised because they have failed to do their job —schools in this case—which are in many respects the envy of other countries, we cannot regard the situation which we see outlined in the Statement as anything other than tragic. My Lords, even at this late hour I ask the Government to think again. For our part, we on this side of the House are glad that my honourable friend in another place, Mr. St. John-Stevas, has said that the next Conservative Government will reopen the direct grant list. All history shows that you never help the weak by destroying the strong.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and say something about the reasons for the proposed changes we are discussing this afternoon. What is about to happen, quite simply, is that some 170 schools within the State system (most of them good, many of them very good, some of them by common consent among the best and most successful schools anywhere) are going to be forced to change their entire character, to disappear, or unwillingly be driven to sever their links with the State. Such radical changes would be undertaken only for pressing reasons, and it is these reasons I want to look at a little more closely.
My Lords, the first reason is that though these direct grant schools are in the State system—some people talk sometimes as though they were not—they do 1200 not fall into the usual pattern. They are not administered by local authorities, though they usually have close links with such authorities. They are subsidised by Central Government, and charge fees. They are the nearest approach in fact to that misused term, "State school", that we have in this country.
I must make it clear that if these arguments were the only ones against the direct grant system, I would not be prepared to resist them too strongly. These matters of administration no doubt could be altered and perhaps improved, and the essential character of the schools would not be very seriously affected. I would simply say that the present arrangements have always seemed to me sensible and defensible, and I worked within them for 16 years. Many of the schools are boarding schools, and a number of those which are not still draw their pupils from several local authorities. It would seem only appropriate that they should therefore derive their support from the taxpayer.
My Lords, more important, if we have a binary system in higher education, which I regard as sensible and justifiable, why should we not have a similar system for the secondary level? The noble Baroness, Lady Young, quoted a passage that I wanted to quote from the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Crosland. It was a very good passage, in which he said:A unitary system would surely imply an omniscience we do not possess ".That statement seems equally applicable to secondary education and exactly describes what the direct grant system provides, which is variety.
My Lords, the second objection is of a quite different kind. In spite of the belief in variety of the right honourable gentleman Mr. Crosland as regards secondary education, we now seem to have acquired, the omniscience which he disavowed, and we now believe in a completely unified system in the sense that all schools are to be fully comprehensive. It is said that the coexistence of grammar schools will make impossible the attainment of that ideal. Why? Because many parents and particularly, apparently, parents of clever children, will try to get their children into these grammar schools, and in so far as they succeed, comprehensive schools will not be truly comprehensive. In other words, they must be 1201 shielded from competition. If one has little regard for liberty, it is clearly logical to remove the opportunity from these wilful parents to send their children to schools which they think are good by simply altering or abolishing them.
It is often said that since all parents do not have this choice, then none should have it. But surely this is a very dangerous doctrine in education, or in anything else. How far are we to carry this idea of having no alternatives in education for fear that some people might adopt them? The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, until recently was a teacher at Oxford. Thank God that is still an élitist and privileged institution! Supposing I had said, when I was attempting to build up the infant university at York, "It is wrong that Oxford should coexist with York, or Leeds Polytechnic or anywhere else. It is so good that too many of the best people will try to get into it if they can, York and Leeds will not have their fair share of the very highest ability. Oxford must go". What would have been the reply? Yet that is precisely the argument that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, is prepared to apply to the schools, some of which, if not quite as good as Oxford, at any rate are somewhat similar. If some of them are so good that people want their children to go there, if they are clever enough to get in, then we are told we must get rid of them or limit to the well off the possibility of attending these schools. I wonder whether that is educational or national sense? I should like the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, to answer that point carefully when he comes to reply to this debate.
My Lords, the third and most important general attack on the direct grant schools is related to this point: it is that they are intellectually selective. Since some have become among the most selective schools in Britain, they are particularly open to attack by those to whom the whole idea of selection is anathema, as being elitist, divisive, indeed platonic. The word, "selection" is associated with misconceptions about the 11-plus. Let us remember that this much-maligned 11-plus examination made the most resolute attempt of any system of selection to give equality of opportunity to all children, whatever their home back- 1202 ground. The 11-plus did this by searching for what in the trade are called "test items", independent of information which may have been acquired from parents, by attempting the perhaps vain search for a culture-free test of innate capacity. Its imperfections—and few people would now wish to rely completely on it—must not blind us to the fact that selection of some sort is inevitable. If one is to permit any choice of any kind to any one in anything, one must admit that selection is good, and exists. We really must be honest and acknowledge this. Every year at Manchester we had up to 2,000 boys wanting 200 places. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, had the same experience when he was a college tutor. How should I have chosen the boys for those 200 places? By money? By saying the first requirement is that the parents can pay? That is what the measure we are discussing will do. By geography?— by saying "If you live in the right catchment area or, if in the case of some schools, your parents can afford to move into it as they do in America, then you can come"? That is what the comprehensive school does. If the area is a small town community, the result can be very good, and often is, if provision can be made for the exceptional child. But, alas! this is not the case in many big cities.
I must assure your Lordships with all sincerity that if Manchester, Bradford or North London Collegiate became neighbourhood comprehensive schools tomorrow, they would be far more socially selective than they are today. If we do not want selection by money or neighbourhood, then by what, apart from chance—perhaps that is the answer? I do not know what you propose. But if you do not like that, the answer must surely lie in ability, aptitude and need, the need of a child for a particular kind of education. My Lords, the able child needs a special kind of opportunity as much as the handicapped child or the ballet dancer. It means that we must, so far as we can, devise selection methods which are fair as between child and child, eliminating, so far as possible, the influence of good and bad fortune, and using, of course, the experience of the primary school, as too often we have not done.
1203 My Lords, do not let us fall into this facile and dishonest position of saying that we do not like selection and we shall not have it. Of course, no one likes selection at any level. Of course one hates to say "You are not in the team", or the orchestra or the corps de ballet, though those fields my comprehensive friends seem willing enough to select in. Let us be honest and say that in the interests of the child, we must select, and the question then is how? Faced with the alternatives of neighbourhood, or money, or ability and aptitude, what are we to say?
It is said, of course, that selection by intellectual merit works against the poor boy from the poor home, and there is truth in this. Of course, the child from the home without books or conversation or music is at a disadvantage. But that effect is actually often not nearly as marked as it is when selection is by neighbourhood. I wish my opponents showed more awareness of American experience in this field, because there is a great deal of it. But of course, the only real solution to the effect of the background—the great obstacle to the realising of equality of opportunity—lies not in some spectacular engineering in the school itself but in the slow, profound progress of social and economic change; most of all, perhaps in the field of housing. But, meanwhile, the solution lies in encouraging in every possible way those people who transcend their handicaps.
My Lords, it is a naive error to think that one eliminates class division by comprehensive education, just as it is a naïve error to think that selection by ability and aptitude promotes it. I was amused— perhaps that is not quite the word I should use—to see the other night in the television programme "Look North" a piece about a grammar school which had gone comprehensive, and which was clearly a good school in a small Northern town, the ideal environment. The head boy was asked why he thought the school was better behaved, more manageable than many urban comprehensives. Believe it or not, he replied, "We have not many working-class children here". I could not but be appalled at the contrast between that remark and what would have been said by the head boys of some grammar schools I have known. It would have been incredible. Why? Because 1204 there money, class and neighbourhood were truly unconsidered in the face of the unifying links of common intellectual enterprise, or aesthetic or athletic interests.
The picture of these schools as hot houses producing segregated intellectual snobs is ludicrous to everyone who has ever stepped inside them. Which environment is more likely to produce a sense of intellectual superiority: one in which everyone is good, but some are more good than others, and academic achievement is so much a matter of course that one does not even have an honours board in the school, as I did not, or one like the well-known comprehensive school where the first pupil to get to Oxford was such a phenomenon that she had to appear on television, and stated that she had received practically nothing but private tuition for the past year? Can you really get more hot house than that?
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would give way for one moment on this point?
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, is it not true that the results of pupils from comprehensive schools who have gone to Oxford stand up to those from other schools, including grammar schools? Is it not very unfair to quote this point against comprehensive schools?
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, with respect to the point made by the noble Baroness, I was not in any way implying that her record when she got to Oxford would not be superb; I am sure it would be. All I am saying is that she was very much a rare bird in that environment, and what I am saying is that you are more likely to encourage a feeling of separation if you are one among many than if you are simply an average alpha-plus performer in that kind of environment. I may assure the noble Baroness that the place where I found least intellectual snobbery in my life was in college at Winchester, where they were all what I would call reasonably fair.
I am sorry to have kept your Lord-ships so long ; I am very nearly at the end. I must mention one educational argument for the retention of higher 1205 selective schools. It concerns staff. It is, alas!, true that the number of teachers, particularly of subjects such as mathematics and physics, who could themselves win, for example, a Cambridge scholarship, let alone teach for it, is very limited, indeed, and getting worse. It follows inevitably that we cannot hope to provide this kind of teaching in all schools, unless they are very large indeed. Hence, it must follow that those pupils who need and want this kind of teaching must be brought to the few teachers who can give it in selective schools. I can see no way out of that dilemma, with the best will in the world. The alternative is to say, and I fear it is now being said, that these things do not matter, that the standards of scholarship are too high anyway. We see here the beginning of an alarming process. To destroy or modify the character of very good schools will inevitably endanger our economic future; not only our economic future but our national cultural life.
We arc concerned with something more than 170 schools. We are concerned with an attitude of mind. In the last resort we must ask ourselves whether we want to produce a society in which words like "excellence" and "merit" are acceptable only in sport or music and ballet, a society in which the highest intellectual and aesthetic insights are discounted because not everyone can have them, in which ideas of value axe restricted to the perceptions of the majority of men. And we shall bring about all this in the name of an equality of opportunity that in our shortsightedness we are actually diminishing. We shall not abolish or change the academic character of all these schools. A number will certainly survive as independent schools. What we are proposing to do is to limit their capacity to serve all classes.
If I were a High Tory instead of a Fabian Socialist—a Tory of a type that now scarcely exists even in cartoons, one who really believes in privilege and keeping the lower orders down—one of the first things I should do would be to get rid of grammar schools and, above all, I should applaud what we are doing this afternoon, getting rid of the direct grant schools. But I am not such a person. I do not dare speak of the boys from poor —sometimes very poor—homes whom I 1206 taught in Manchester, for if I did I should be tempted to become emotional. It was not a question simply of getting them to university or securing a better job or "declassing" them, or anything like that. It was, rather, a question of developing their considerable talents in the service of the community and of opening the doors of experience and fulfilment that otherwise they could never have attained. The inevitable effect of the measure we are discussing will be to close those doors for many of those youngsters. Cannot we think again before it is too late? I fear that we shall not. But let us at any rate, all of us, be aware of exactly what we are doing.
§ 4.1 p.m.
§ Baroness STEWART of ALVE-CHURCH
My Lords, I seek your indulgence for this, my maiden speech. I have listened to this debate with great interest and clearly the subject is one of concern to us all; and although we may disagree about the type of provision that should be made, I am sure that we all agree that it should meet the needs of all our children irrespective of their ability and the occupations and incomes of their parents. I hope that this is true irrespective of our political views. The future of this country depends on the talents, understanding and co-operation of all our citizens, and it is in the light of that belief that my comments on selection and direct grant schools are made.
I am sure that direct grant schools have made a valuable contribution to the secondary education of this country. In particular, their examination results have shown how great the potential of young people is when they have the support of their parents and the high standard of teaching and equipment which is usually provided by direct grant schools. But time moves on and, now that we are concerned for the education of all young people, we realise that the system of selection on which direct grant schools have depended in the past can be a handicap for young people as a whole. Young people cannot be labelled and priced like motor cars or grand pianos. The standard of their achievement—and I am sure that all noble Lords are aware of this—varies from day to day, year to year, and depends tremendously on the opportunities and encouragement we give 1207 them to make them feel that their efforts are really worth while. If a boy realises at the age of 12—and he may be a Manchester boy—that he is not considered bright enough to go to a direct grant school, he may well, realising that he has in some sense failed, underestimate his abilities and feel that it is not worth while to make an effort to do well in his local comprehensive or modern school. I am convinced by my experience as a WEA tutor that there has been a tremendous wastage of talent among our young people. Certainly many of my students who left school at 14 or 15 could have taken their "A" levels or equivalent and gone to university.
Another serious disadvantage of selection at 11-plus is that it is socially divisive. In a world in which understanding and co-operation are essential for survival, it encourages children to think more of the characteristics which divide them than of their common humanity. The adoption of a comprehensive school system does not, of course, imply hat all schools will be alike. So as far as it is possible to give it to them, I agree that parents should certainly have the choice of a mixed school or a single sex school and most LEAs with which I have had contact are at the moment adopting a very flexible approach; some comprehensive schools are mixed and some are single sexed, and there are great variations in size. It seems to me that in a few years' time the majority of young people may have a wider choice than they have today.
The fears that highly intelligent children will be handicapped by their association with the less bright are, I think, exaggerated. Teachers are very quick to spot and encourage the brightest pupils, and I am certain that these pupils benefit from their contact with young people of widely different home backgrounds and up-bringing and widely different levels of intelligence. I think it is much better that we should meet those who are considered both much brighter and perhaps less bright than we are ourselves. It is too soon to compare examination results in areas before and after the adoption of a comprehensive system, but such information as we have is encouraging and we can hope and expect an overall improvement in the next two or three years.
1208 As the chairman of governors of a comprehensive school, I am fully aware of the many problems that these schools have to face and I should be rather suspicious of staff or governors who seemed to be very satisfied with their efforts. The more one studies the needs of young people today the more one realises one's own shortcomings as an adult, and it seems to me that it is important to keep the older pupils in touch with changes that are likely to occur and seek their comments and advice; and again, I think this is happening far more in schools today than used to be the case.
I am aware that direct grant schools will have much to gain and contribute as comprehensive schools. This, I hope, will happen to most of them. Their above average pupils will continue to receive the help they need in the classroom when they are working for examinations and university entrance. As the same time as these young people will benefit by their association with children of varying intelligence and widely different social backgrounds, equally I am sure that the other children will benefit by the presence of those who have formerly attended direct grant schools. Of course, there will be difficulties, but I am sure that in the great majority of schools teachers and parents will respond to the challenge and that a truly comprehensive system of education will benefit all the boys and girls of the next generation.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, it is my very pleasant task to begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on her maiden speech. It would be idle to pretend that I agreed with everything she said, but in what she said I am sure that she gave the whole House a feeling of her own wide experience and warm humanity, and that all noble Lords will be grateful for her maiden speech and hope that she will speak often to us in future.
I wish at the outset to clear up one or two points that seem to arise from the Statement which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, made in the House and also the supplementary statement, as it were, contained in his speech today. I am grateful to him for his remarks today, which cleared up some of the points about 1209 which we wanted to know more. When I asked the noble Lord a question at the time when he made his Statement to the House, it was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who said he thought that legislation would not be required. He said that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, would correct him if he was wrong. The noble Lord did not correct him, so I presume he was right.
May I point out that on 23rd January in the House of Commons Mr. Robert Hughes, an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, said (column 1899):For the policy of phasing out grants to continue, the Government will require legislation.I should like to ask the noble Lord whether legislation will be required in Scotland but not in England and Wales and, if so, why? Is the payment of grants mandatory in Scotland at present, and at what point would legislation be needed? Perhaps he could also indicate how easy it is going to be without legislation to convert trusts into comprehensive schools.
My Lords, may I now say a word about the purpose of phasing out the grants. I hope I am not stepping out of line by saying something about Scotland today; it is, after all, part of the United Kingdom and the policy being applied in Scotland seems to be the same as that in England. Mr. Hughes said on 23rd January, when discussing the stopping of grants (column 1898):This is not being done because of cost, or because we object to the amount of money being spent; it is an argument about education and social philosophy.I turn now to the question of money. Curiously enough, we have been on the higher plane so far and do not seem to have come down to this very important subject. The noble Lord said that grants would be frozen at the 1974–75 level— at any rate, that is so in Scotland; it might be 1975–76. In his speech today he referred to grants being continued throughout the school lives of those who continue to remain in direct grant schools. Does this mean continued at the same monetary level or at the same real value? There is a tremendous difference. If they are only to be continued at the same monetary level, then a good many parents will not be able to keep their children at the schools. They will have 1210 to be taken away and the result that the noble Lord has indicated, that the children shall be enabled to complete their courses at the same school, in the same line of study, I think he said, will be defeated.
In the Statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland in another place, and reproduced in Hansard on 11th March, he said :… I have not made up my mind … on what the best arrangements might be.Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to answer, on that point, whether he expects the same policy to be pursued in Scotland as in England and Wales, and what that policy is to be. If the schools are to make an intelligent choice, undoubtedly it is essential that the schools, the parents and the children should all know exactly what the choices open to them are to be before a decision is taken by the schools. I would join with noble Lords who have so far spoken in suggesting that it would be very difficult for them to be able to grasp all this and to make their choice by this summer.
My Lords, integration will cost the Exchequer and local authorities more. Instead of paying a grant of one-third in Scotland, it will soon be only a quarter of the cost per pupil, because the grant has been frozen. Certainly, in the end, the State and the local authorities will have to pay the whole cost. What is the noble Lord's estimate of the cost? I have seen an estimate of £4½ million a year for Scotland at current prices, and Scotland has only 25 grant-aided schools. What is the estimated cost of acquiring the schools—or does this not matter, because the decision to withdraw the grant is to be made apparently on doctrinal rather than economic grounds? If the school decides to integrate, on what terms will the Government acquire it?
For England and Wales it is said the Government will discuss the problems of capital debt and of substandard buildings. The Statement says nothing about the price that Government or local authorities will pay for the assets acquired. Who is to value the assets? Obviously they ought to be valued on the basis that the school is a going concern, or would be but for the Government's withdrawal of the grant; and on the basis that there is a shortage of school buildings over the 1211 country as a whole, and that many of the State schools are themselves substandard, the purchase price paid by the Government could then be reinvested in modernising schools which opt for independence, presumably without changing the purposes of the trust. To that extent there might be advantage to the Government, if they wanted to avoid legislation.
My Lords, I come now to the educational side. This has been dealt with so brilliantly by noble Lords who have spoken before me, notably by my noble friend Lord James of Rusholme, that I do not propose to say a great deal about it. But one asks the simple question: will the schools which decide to integrate become better or worse? Does integration mean that pupils will be drafted into them on a purely local basis? Will there cease to be selection of any kind? I am not talking of selection within the school, but of selection to get into the school. If the Government think that it will make no difference to the educational standards of the school, why make the change? But the Government think that as a result of integration State schools will benefit by getting more pupils of high potential and through redistributing the teachers. This must be their purpose. That is theory, and I suggest that it may well not work out in practice.
Just a word about equality of opportunity. We are told that the step the Government are now proposing to take will enhance equality of opportunity. As has already been said, if all schools were run by local authorities there still would not be equality of opportunity. Some schools will always be better than others. Merely imposing a common form of schools will not ensure either equality of opportunity or the mixing of all social classes, because the social mix as between particular school catchment area varies considerably.
The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, referred to the great shortage of teachers, particularly I think in mathematics and science. There will always be a shortage of the best-qualified teachers; and the best-qualified teachers will always tend to prefer to go to schools where they are likely to get the best results; that is to say, unless they have a special vocation to teach in other kinds of schools. It is an illusion to 1212 suppose that equality of opportunity will be enhanced by suppressing the grant-aided schools.
Now as to choice. In areas where direct grant schools are available parents have a genuine choice, either to let their children be allocated to a fully maintained school or to pay for what they believe to be better for their children. If that is so, ought they to have to pay the full cost of education if they opt for a fee-paying school? Where is the logic in that? To the extent that they are paying, say, for two-thirds of the education, they are saving the State a considerable amount of money and they are certainly buying for themselves—and I see no reason to reject this at all—what at any rate they consider to be a better education, more suited to the needs of their children.
So far as Scotland at any rate is concerned, I can say that some of the fee-paying schools used to belong to local authorities and most of them, I believe, have now been absorbed into the State system. Others were founded by benefactors and came to require grant only because the value of their funds dwindled, mainly as a result of two wars, and the interest ceased to be adequate to supplement the fees that parents could pay. Others, again, were able to improve their standards and adapt their education indirectly through the grant that was received. If grant is withdrawn, many of the parents will no longer be able to pay the fees. It may well be, however, that in the cities at least the children of these parents will be replaced by children from other schools which, because of their circumstances, will have no option but to integrate. Is this what the Government want? If this happens, the schools which choose to be independent will have pupils from a much more restricted range of income groups than they have at present. In other words, the class distinction, with class being defined on a money basis—and I may say that this is a distinction which has never been accepted in Scotland— between those schools and the State schools will become more marked than it is at present. Is that what the Government want?
My Lords, nobody can challenge the right of the Government to cease to give 1213 grants, any more than anyone can challenge the right of the Glasgow dustmen to go on strike. Rights are rights. The question is whether it is wise and fair to exercise that right. Is it in the interest of the children who go to these schools? Is it in the interests of the nation that the individual character and identity of schools of acknowledged excellence should be destroyed, and all in the name of a will-o'-the-wisp—an equality that can never be achieved?
My Lords, these schools have provided a high proportion of our leaders, not because those who attended them were given better jobs simply because they had attended them, but because a high proportion of those who did so were not only given a sound education but were trained to exercise responsibility and leadership. That is not to say for a moment that comprehensive schools—and there were comprehensive schools in Scotland long before they were thought of in England— cannot produce leaders. They do, but it is folly to destroy institutions of proven capacity to produce leaders and responsible people. Of course it is true that large numbers of parents are not in a position to exercise choice but, in these days of affluence— precarious as they may now seem—large numbers are in a position to do so. It is not a small majority which has the choice, though it may be a small minority which exercises it. But the minority will certainly be made smaller by withholding grant, and we on this side of the House believe that any diminution in the exercise of choice is a diminution in our liberty, and that diminution of liberty makes the nation poorer both in wealth and in spirit.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lord BLAKE
My Lords, I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on her maiden speech. I thought it a most interesting, wise and well-balanced one. I do not think that she would expect me to agree with what she said, but I hope that she will often contribute to our debates and we are all most grateful to her. I ought, I suppose, to declare an interest. I was educated at a direct grant school; my father was a schoolmaster at a direct grant school; my uncle was chairman of the governors of a direct grant school and I myself am a governor of one. So I suppose that I have a certain 1214 vested interest in direct grant schools. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising this matter in your Lordships' House in this way. I am sure it is right that we should debate as soon as we can the implications of what I consider to be a most disastrous announcement by the Secretary of State. I hope that it is not too late to persuade the Minister to think again before finally taking the plunge.
My Lords, the removal of the direct grant will be a blow against freedom, a blow against educational values and a blow in favour of social divisiveness. It will be a blow against freedom, because it is a further limitation on freedom of choice. Freedom of choice may be limited, but it is much to be regretted if it is even further diminished. It is our belief on this side of the House that a variety of schools is one of the most important features of a free society, and that there is no monopoly of virtue in any one single system of education. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, quoted The Times leader of Saturday which itself quoted Mr. Crosland on higher education, including his point that a unitary system would imply an omniscience which we do not possess. What is the difference between higher education, secondary education or any other form of education in that respect? We do not have that omniscience.
The abolition of the direct grant is, along with the imposition of non-selectivity on local authorities, yet another step towards a completely unitary system of secondary education. I admit that independent education is not openly threatened with abolition—merely with harassment and ill will—but who can doubt that very large numbers of those on the other side of this House, and supporters of the Labour Party in another place, would get rid of it as soon as possible if they could?
I believe that the abolition of the direct grant is also a blow against educational values. Perhaps I should say what I mean by that expression. One of the educational values in which I believe is the importance of giving the best education to those who are able to profit from it, irrespective of their parents' means. The boy or girl who will be penalised by the abolition of the direct grant is not the child of middle class parents. If their child is at a direct grant school and that 1215 school goes independent, they will probably somehow find the increased fees. Of course, the direct grant school concerned may become part of the LEA system and, in that case, the better-off parents will send their children to an independent school.
To digress for one moment, despite his pious aspirations to the contrary, the Minister must really be praying hard that as many direct grant schools as possible go independent. The prospect of Bradford Grammar School or the seven direct grant schools in Bristol going on the rates would, I should have thought, make any Minister hesitate. There is likely to be something of a rate revolt this summer in any case, and the burden of the direct grant schools on top of it all would be the last straw for many local authorities which are already desperately short of money.
Reverting to educational values, the victim of the abolition of the direct grant will be the clever child of parents who cannot afford school fees. He or she will have to go to the local non-selective school. Of course the "comprehensivites" will say, "A jolly good thing, too." They will say so, because they believe that direct grant schools are creaming off talent which would otherwise go to comprehensives and so enhance their academic standards. I think that this is a very dubious argument indeed and I entirely agreed with the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, on this point. I think that even if it were true, the interests of the child concerned should be paramount. However, I do not think that it is true. In that connection, an investigation which has been undertaken by the Bristol direct grant schools is described as the Bristol Research Project in Coexistence. That sounds a grandiose title, but it is in fact an investigation into the effects that the Bristol direct grant schools have had in the matter of creaming-off clever children. For what it is worth, that report suggests that this particular bogey has been very much exaggerated.
I said at the beginning that the abolition of the direct grant was a blow against freedom and against educational values. I also think that it is a blow in favour of social divisiveness. I am here putting myself in the shoes, if I can, of the supporters of the Government. I happen to think that a great deal of nonsense is 1216 talked about social divisiveness and its effects on the educational system. But it has been a favourite argument of the Left that independent fee-paying education is socially divisive. I suspect that this is largely a matter of putting the cart before the horse, that education reflects a class structure but does not create it. But those who think differently —and this was the whole basis of the Commission of Inquiry into the public schools—ought to resist as strongly as they can the abolition of the direct grant. For whatever else one can say, the direct grant schools are not socially divisive. On the contrary, by bringing into the same classroom boys and girls of very different social origins they have precisely the opposite effect.
If Mr. Prentice carries out his threat, a large number of direct grant schools will go independent—not all of them, of course; perhaps not even the majority, but some of the famous will do so. They will do it reluctantly, no doubt, but feeling that the educational standards for which they are geared simply cannot be accommodated within the LEA framework. They will do so well aware that, despite the higher fees which they will, very reluctantly, have to charge, they have an excellent chance of remaining financially viable. So the result will be an actual increase in the number of independent fee-paying schools, a wider division between them and the rest, and the disappearance of a valuable bridge between the maintained and the independent sectors of education. This is an argument which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said the Conservatives would use; and I have used it—and the noble Lord, rather to my surprise, said that it would be both true and unanswerable.
My Lords, can this policy really make any sense to a Socialist? If it were the first step in the total abolition of all independent education, it would have a certain mad logic; although that aim, in my opinion, would be utterly indefensible and totally disastrous. But I cannot believe that, however much the Government dislike independent education, they could seriously contemplate outlawing it. That would be a step which has never yet been taken by any country with free institutions. I know that this would not, in itself, worry some of those who support the Government from the outer fringe of 1217 the far Left, but the majority would surely be less illiberal. Moreover, the cost would be prohibitive. I ventured earlier to suggest that if all the direct grant schools went on to the rates it would be a serious financial matter. If all the independent schools had to do so, too, it would, in effect, be cataclysmic. Independent education will not go away, and no Government for years to come in the foreseeable financial future will be able to afford to abolish it. That being so, a Government which really believed in social unity would try to keep as many links as it could between the LEA sector and the independent sector. The very last thing it would do is abolish the direct grant.
My Lords, there are many other points that could be made. There is the boarding need; some 10,000 places are supplied by direct grant schools, and we already have a national shortage of boarding places. If the direct giant schools with boarding wings were obliged to close down, it would be a very grave matter. Furthermore, some fifty-four direct grant schools are Roman Catholic. Most of them would not be able to afford to go independent. Yet their size, sites and buildings may, in many cases, make it impossible for them to fit into the LEA system. Are they just to go under? And what would be the reaction of the Roman Catholic hierarchy?
Over half of all direct grant schools are girls' schools—94 out of 174. I was very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned that point. These schools send a very large number of girls on to higher education and are especially good and, indeed, are better— for whatever reason—as has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, than large comprehensives have been at producing scientists and mathematicians. Many of these schools may find it very difficult to go independent, and yet they, too, would be difficult to incorporate into the LEA system; and if they were so incorporated a large part of their contribution to education would disappear.
Perhaps I may quote the ending of an admirable article in the current number of The Times Educational Supplement by the headmaster of my old 1218 school, Norwich—Mr. Stuart Andrews. He writes:In their anxiety to ensure that no child of ordinary parents should ever again go to Manchester Grammar School, the enemies of the direct grant have produced a policy which will kill or gravely wound dozens of humble, even obscure schools, whose names they have never heard. It is a strange way of seeking social justice.My Lords, in the end what we are involved in today is a real clash of political philosophy. There is a pleasant usage in your Lordships' House of assuming that we are all—despite our Party differences—Cross-Benchers at heart, working for the same object but differing only on methods of achieving it. Very often this is true, but sometimes it is not—and this is one of those occasions. The aim of the Conservatives is not the same as the aim of Labour. We have different objectives, and there is no point in glossing over those differences. We believe in a society where there is a chance to rise and—the corollary—a possibility of falling, though we hope that there should be a safety net to prevent the fall being too calamitous.
We do not believe in "equality". We believe that there should indeed be real equality of opportunity, and that those who have talents, whatever their class in society, should be able to use their perhaps inherited, perhaps fortuitous, perhaps acquired gifts to the full. Such a society will not be one of equality in the Socialist sense of the word. There will be rewards for the successful. And we believe that a society in which the abilities of the able are encouraged and stimulated, instead of being deadened and frustrated, is one which will lead to a better, happier, more prosperous social order, to the advantage of all its members, including those unlucky enough to be disadvantaged by their perhaps inherited, perhaps fortuitous inadequacies.
My Lords, because I believe that equality of opportunity is far more im-important than equality, because I believe that a vigorous, expanding and flourishing economy is far more desirable than one in which everybody is treated in accordance with the principles of "social justice"—whatever that strange expression may mean—and because of this broad and deep division in political philosophy I regard the abolition of the 1219 direct grant as a major quasi-symbolic move in the wrong direction. I very much welcome the statement made earlier this year by Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas that the Conservatives will not only restore the direct grant, but will enlarge the list when they come back into Office.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Baroness BACON
My Lords, I should like to begin with an apology. As the House will know, this debate was arranged at rather short notice. We thought that there was to be a debate on a different subject today, so I had already undertaken an engagement. I am afraid that means that I shall not be able to stay until the end of the debate. I am sorry about this, because I do not like to speak and then fail to hear all the speeches made after mine. I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating the debate. Even though the debate has been arranged at short notice, I think it is good that we have had the debate quite soon after the Government's announcement. I also wish to congratulate my noble friend Lady Stewart of Alvechurch. I have known her for a long time and so knew that she would make an excellent maiden speech. I know of the interest she has and the work she has done in the field of education. I am very pleased that we have in the House a new Member with such a valuable contribution to make on the subject of education.
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the debate this afternoon, and I must say that during the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, I wondered at times what it was we were discussing and what it was the Government proposed to do, because many of their comments had nothing whatever to do with the abolition of the direct grant. I know that the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, feels very emotional about this issue, because he was the High Master of Manchester Grammar School, about which I shall say something later in my speech. I regretted that at one point he seemed to descend to some rather cheap remarks about comprehensive education and the girl who managed to get to Oxford. I have probably visited more comprehensive schools than has the noble Lord, and I can assure him that there are many girls and boys from compre- 1220 hensive schools going to Oxford and Cambridge; boys and girls who would never have had a chance to get to a grammar school, let alone whose parents could afford the fees at a direct grant school.
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, with respect, may I say that I believe the noble Baroness has misunderstood me. When she reads my speech, she will see that I was in no way scornful or anything like that. I know that there are these boys and girls from comprehensive schools. My only point was that, in a way, where there is one, so much is made of this that it becomes more divisive than when it is a matter of course.
§ Baroness BACON
My Lords, I listened carefully to the noble Lord. I do not quite see the purpose of his having introduced that point. In a debate like this, it is important to distinguish between the schools and the system. The fact that we want to change the system is not an attack on schools, some of which are extremely good. A great deal of our education system has not been planned; it just grew. The 11-plus system just grew. Nobody sat down and planned it; certainly nobody would sit down and invent it today. In the same way, the direct grant system was never planned, but just grew out of history. It was indeed a kind of historical accident. I am quite certain that if anybody were sitting down today and planning our education system nobody would produce a scheme where, in addition to local authority and independent schools, we had a third category of schools—schools not responsible to the local authority, fee paying (for that has not been stressed at all during this debate; that most of them are fee-paying schools) mostly single sex (when, despite what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, the trend today is towards co-educational education) and with a direct grant from the Government. I do not think that, at the turn of the century —when this was started and there was a direct grant for all secondary schools— anybody thought it would develop in this way; and in the context of the 1970s, I think that the direct grant system is an anachronism.
There is a good deal of misunderstanding in the country about the direct grant 1221 which comes from the Government to the schools. It is often said that the schools receive the grant from the Government, in return for which the schools have to offer a minimum number of free places to the local authorities. It gives the impression that the direct grant which goes from the Government to the schools is used for the free places; but, in fact, that is not so. The local authorities have to pay the schools for the places they take up. The local authorities then offer these places, free, to the pupils in their areas. It can be seen, therefore, that the direct grant is not used for the local authority free places; the direct grant is used to reduce the fees of the fee-payers. As I am well aware, the local authorities pay the same fees as the parents of the fee-payers. Then, it is up to the local authorities to decide how the children shall be chosen for the direct grant schools.
The noble Lord, Lord Blake, has just mentioned the Roman Catholic schools; but this is a different problem altogether, because many local authorities pay for a much greater proportion of places in Roman Catholic direct grant schools than in the others. There are few fee-payers in the Roman Catholic schools and a much wider social spread; so that I think that it is unfair—and I am not saying that the noble Lord, Lord Blake, was unfair in this respect—to include in any statistics the Roman Catholic direct grant schools, about which I shall say a little more in a moment.
My Lords, in 1970, there was the Second Report of the Public Schools Commission, the Donnison Report, dealing with the independent day schools and direct grant grammar schools. I shall not take up the challenge by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and go into the entire First Report of the Public Schools Commission and what the Government did or did not do about that, and the Second Public Schools Commission; but I always feel that one of the values of a Report of a Commission of this kind is the intensely valuable information which they give. In this respect, I think we are indebted to the Donnison Report for the valuable information about the direct grant schools which explodes a few of the myths about them which we have heard today.
1222 Manchester Grammar School is always quoted when we talk about the direct grant schools; but I think that even the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, would agree that Manchester Grammar School is almost unique among the direct grant schools. It is a very good school, and it ought to be, because it has always creamed-off the brightest boys from a very big area of Lancashire; but not all direct grant schools are like this. If I may I will quote from the Donnison Report in page 5, paragraph 10, where it says:The direct grant schools are an exceedingly varied group. A few of them are famous, large and highly selective regional grammar schools, more are well-established local grammar schools, much like the maintained grammar schools … Taking direct grant grammar schools as a whole, their curriculum, teachers, equipment and costs are much the same as those of the maintained grammar schools. The achievements of their pupils appear to be similar to those of pupils with comparable ability coming from the same kinds of social backgrounds in other grammar schools.After a great deal of investigation, this is the conclusion to which the Donnison Committee came. The Donnison Committee also said in another part of its Report that the teachers arc slightly less academically qualified in the direct grant schools than in the maintained grammar schools.
My Lords, there is the argument about social mix. We are told that we must have direct grant schools preserved as they are, with the direct grants, because they are a bridge between the maintained system and the independent system. I have never been able to understand this. It is said sometimes that the only opportunity for bright working-class children to reach the top is to go to a direct grant grammar school. But may I quote again from the Donnison Report in page 5, paragraph 11, where it says:The schools have been praised for their diverse social composition and criticised for their exclusiveness. In fact they educate a broader mixture of social classes than the wholly independent schools, but have few children of unskilled and semiskilled workers, and are therefore more exclusive than the average maintained school.I think that in another part of the Report it refers to the schools as being predominantly middle-class.
I have been investigating what has happened in a city like Leeds, which I used to represent. Excluding the Catholic schools, there are there two direct grant 1223 schools, one for girls and one for boys. The old borough of Leeds, before local government reorganisation, used to take up 50 places a year—not in each school, but 50 between the two schools; and this out of 9,000 eleven year olds each year. This is not producing any social mix; it is a mere trickle. Of these 50, quite a number would be from middle class homes; so that we can say that the places taken up by the local authorities have a negligible effect on the working-class areas of our big cities. I am very interested in the argument about neighbourhood schools and how it is essential that working-class children who want to get a good education should be taken out of the areas where they live and moved to other areas in order to mix with middle-class people and get a good education so that they may go to a university.
I have represented the City of Leeds in three different constituencies, and at times I have represented very working-class areas. About twenty or thirty years ago, it was true that if a working-class child in such areas in Leeds wished to have an education that would take him to the top, he had to go out of his working-class area in the South of Leeds to a grammar school in the North of Leeds. This was not because he would have been educated badly among other working-class children and in order to get a good education he would have to be educated with middle-class or better-off children; it was simply because for decades all the good schools had been built in the better-off sections of our big cities and very few grammar schools—in fact none at all in the South of Leeds—had been built in the working-class areas. That was the position, and for about forty years there was not a new school of any kind in the South of Leeds. All the new schools were built in the new areas, either council house areas or on private estates with a good many better-off people. So the children had to go, with grammar school or 11-plus scholarships, to a different area of Leeds.
That is not so today. There are good comprehensive schools in these working-class areas and for the first time children are able to get a very good education in the areas where they live. I am not keen on taking children out of their neighbourhoods and putting them into 1224 some other place. I believe that schools should reflect the community in which they are situated. A school should not only be a place where a child can go in the daytime, but also a centre for the whole community and for the use of adults in that area. I do not think we do any good at all by moving children from one area to another. The solution is not to move children about, but to see that there are as good opportunities in the working-class areas of our country as in the better-off areas. That is the solution to this problem of neighbourhood schools.
I remember the time a few years ago when Leeds had a kind of "mixed economy" so far as education was concerned, before we had a complete comprehensive system. There were secondary modern schools, grammar schools and a few comprehensive schools; and I remember that in one area out towards the North-East of Leeds some middle-class parents were very much against their grammar school going comprehensive. But of course not all of them could get their children into the grammar school. Then what did they do?—they objected to their children going to the secondary modern school in a rather nice area and wanted to claim places in the comprehensive school in a working-class area. That shows it is not the area which is important but the kind of education available in any particular area.
The Government have decided to end the direct grant and offer the schools a choice of being independent or becoming part of the State system. We have had this recommendation from Donnison, but even without that it is inevitable, because the country is moving towards a comprehensive system and the abolition of the 11-plus. It is not only Labour local authorities which are doing this but also Conservative local authorities.
I wonder sometimes, when I listen to Conservative spokesmen for education, whether they have abandoned this policy of being in favour of comprehensive education. Certainly some of their local authorities in the country are going ahead with comprehensive schemes in the same way as Labour local authorities. But those authorities which have abolished the 11-plus are unwilling to preserve some kind of selection to determine the handful 1225 of pupils who will go to direct grant schools. Indeed, a great many education authorities have already decided not to take up the places offered to them by direct grant schools. I do not know the position in the country as a whole: I can mention only a few in the North of England. The new District Council of Leeds, which covers a big area, has ceased to take up places in direct grant schools, and Manchester is in the same position. The Wakefield Metropolitan District, which represents a big slice of the old West Riding authority, is also not taking up places in direct grant schools. I am told that that is the position with Hull, too, and that it is also under consideration in Humberside. Therefore, though the schools are receiving a direct grant from the Government on condition that they offer at least 25 per cent. of places to local authorities, the local authorities increasingly do not want to take up these places. So one can see that part of the arrangement is not now in operation.
Mention has been made of the Roman Catholic schools, and I should like to pay a tribute to the Roman Catholic authorities because I have found them most willing to bring their direct grant schools into their own schemes of comprehensive reorganisation. There are places in the country where the Roman Catholic authorities have gone ahead before the local authorities and have merged their direct grant schools into their own system. The schools have a choice. They can choose to become independent or to come within the State system. I hope as many as possible will come into the State system, and I am sure that local authorities will be able to give the best of them a special place in their comprehensive reorganisation. They might become sixth form colleges or an upper part of a comprehensive scheme; and I hope that many of them will choose to do that.
It has been said today that these schools offer a means of educating the bright. If that is what those who have spoken today wish to be done, I should have thought they would have abolished the direct grant schools, because this system is not a means of educating the bright—and here I am excluding places like Manchester Grammar School. What has happened is that when children fail 1226 the 11-plus their parents then pay for them to go to a direct grant school, and the children get in not because they are bright but because their parents can afford to pay the fees. Parental choice has also been mentioned—
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a question? I have heard her mention, not once but several times, during the course of her speech the payment of fees at direct grant schools. Is the noble Baroness aware, and will she accept, that there is a fee remission scale which was considerably improved about four years ago, and that therefore parents who are not able to pay fees have a very big remission of the fee? Is the noble Baroness aware of that?
§ Baroness BACON
Yes, my Lords, I am well aware of that, but I still maintain that many of the children who go to direct grant schools do so because their parents pay the full fees.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a supplementary question? If that is the case, would she accept that there is no question of "selection by the purse" which, listening to her—if she will forgive me—was the impression I got from what she was saying?
§ Baroness BACON
Yes, my Lords. I think that if anybody lives near a direct grant grammar school he will know that is the case. People do pay fees for their children to go to direct grant schools, and a great many children get in there just because their parents have the fees. I was just coming to parental choice—
§ Baroness BACON
My Lords, let me just finish. Parental choice has been mentioned a great deal during this debate, but although it is in the 1944 Act it has always been a myth. The ordinary person I know and among whom I live in a mining area does not buy places at direct grant schools.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, would the noble Baroness forgive me for interrupting? She has to leave after she has made her speech, and therefore the only way of questioning her is while she is actually speaking. It is not very much 1227 good my putting the point to the noble Baroness: does she or does she not agree that there is a fee-remission scale, which means that if parents cannot afford to pay fees they pay either no fees or virtually none?—if she replies, Yes, she agrees, but in actual fact there is selection by the purse.
§ Baroness BACON
There is, my Lords, because only the people who feel they can afford to pay the fees will try to get their children into the schools as fee-paying pupils. I cannot do this while I am on my feet, but if the noble Lord will look in the Donnison Report—and perhaps he could put down a Question to my noble friend at some stage—he will see what this amounts to and that fees are paid. But as I was saying, parental choice has always been a myth for the majority of people in this country. Although it has been provided for in the 1944 Act there has never been any parental choice for the parents of those children who fail to pass their 11-plus examination.
My Lords, I have spoken for much too long but I support very much what the Government have done; it is logical; it is inevitable. I do not think any good will be done by saying that we want to destroy some schools; we want to keep the best of these schools as part of the maintained system in order that they can play a great part in the future of education in this country.
§ 5.2 p.m.
The Countess of LOUDOUN
My Lords, we are living in a time of upheaval, ferment and great social change that is perhaps part of the natural progression of society striving after the better life for all. This part I welcome in its endeavour to favour the under-privileged. We who have enjoyed the comforts of privilege in the past must accept willy-nilly the discomforts of the change and loss of advantage. Whatever the arguments in favour of these direct grant schools, in the past they have served, and perhaps still serve, the privileged, the financially well-endowed or the academically well-endowed, the élite of the next generation. But while I welcome some changes in the public interest I fear the loss and destruction of these schools. This is not in the public interest. After 1228 all, this attack on the direct grant schools is part of the overall attack on all schools in the independent sector, an attack on privilege in education. But the desire to attack and destroy is more evident than the desire to employ these great institutions for the benefit of public and general good.
There are schools for the autistic, the deaf, the dumb, the mentally handicapped, the physically handicapped; schools for the blind, schools for the maladjusted, for troublemakers, for delinquents, for the educationally sub-normal, schools for the less able—schools of all kinds. Are there to be none for the more able? If this proposal takes effect it will begin the destruction of some of the finest schools in the country and the opportunities they provide for these equally special children.
I would mention one direct grant school, Emanuel School at Wandsworth Common. This school came into being by the will of Ann Sackville, Lady Dacre, dated 1594. Lady Dacre, whose descendant sits with me on these Cross-Benches, was a second cousin of Queen Elizabeth I whom she served as a Maid of Honour. A Charter of Incorporation granted by Queen Elizabeth in 1601 established that "from henceforth for ever" Emanuel Hospital, as it was then called, should provide for 20 poor old persons and for 20 poor children and that the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of London should be responsible for its good management. So a Charter was drawn up and buildings were erected on the Westminster site and Emanuel Hospital began. Here it remained until 1883. In that year the boarders, as the boys all were then, moved to the present buildings at Wands-worth Common put up after the Crimean War by the Royal Victoria Patriotic Fund.
Today Emanuel is purely a day school, assisted in drawing boys from considerable distances by its sometimes uncomfortable proximity to Clapham Junction, with its present total of about 870 boys between the ages of 11 and 19 years. Under the Education Act 1944 it became a voluntary aided school and fees were abolished. Over the years there have been many additions to the buildings as well as extra acres of playing fields acquired, and a fine boathouse at Barnes opened in 1960. 1229 Last week Emanuel beat Eton to win the Head of the River boat race.
A boy at Emanuel, or some such direct grant school—a school with traditions founded on discipline, order and the pursuit of excellence; a boy possibly from a suburban semidetached or high rise block of flats—may experience for the first time in his life a sense of identification through the school and its corridors of history with the larger community outside. This boy will emerge like a house built on a rock, above the tumult of our turbulent society with its threatening waves of recurring crisis. We are in danger of stifling our future leaders for fear of giving them the privilege of a better education. People may talk about the system of education in other countries, in France and Denmark and so on. While they were in chains and trembled and were humbled we stood firm behind our leaders. We had the men to meet the challenge.
This school, Emanuel, has given places to children of ability regardless of social standing, tomorrow's leaders. It seems to me the Minister would be better employed in trying to incorporate this school, and others like it, further into the State system ; to extending its opportunities and advantages to more children of ability, rather than in isolating them for the present as a preliminary to destruction in the future. My Lords, I end here with the conviction that in this proposal we witness the determined pursuit of Party policy taking precedence over individual and national interest.
§ 5.8 p.m.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, I would first congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on her maiden speech and for speaking so fluently and with such confidence. I am sure that your Lordships appreciated her special knowledge of this subject and we all look forward to hearing from her many times in the future. I was also glad to hear the speech which has just been made by the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, and her plea for a particular school, Emanuel, which I hope the Government will listen to sympathetically. But I myself rise to draw attention to the similar situation facing schools of a like character in Scotland. My noble friend Lord 1230 Drumalbyn has already drawn attention to the grant-aided schools in Scotland and has put some particular points, which I fully support and which I hope the Government will take into consideration although they may not be expected to answer them all today.
In Scotland there is a list of 30 grant-aided schools, as they are called, at present receiving grants from the Exchequer. They include some well known for their academic standards and for the many former pupils eminent in our national life. But the system in Scotland is different from the direct grant system in England. I can assure your Lordships immediately that the House will not be wearied with the burden of the particular differences between the systems, because I shall refer shortly only to one which I think affects our debate.
The grant-aided schools in Scotland are threatened by the Statement which was made on 11th March, because the Statement by the Secretary of State for Education and Science was immediately followed by a similar Statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Having frozen the grants to the direct grant schools, the Government are proposing to phase them out from 1976. This is a deplorable decision, and that view is shared by all those who are concerned with running these schools, by parents and prospective parents and by many more people in Scotland and elsewhere who recognise the value of those schools to the country. The grant-aided schools are controlled by voluntary boards of managers, and because they are receiving grant they conform with various Regulations of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I should like to express gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for having raised this subject. I am sorry that the Liberal Party do not appear to be opposed to the policy of the Government to phase out these schools. When the Statement was made in the other place on 11th March, the Liberal Party's spokesman indicated that his Party supported in principle the Government's announcement. Therefore, it is clear that the Liberal Party must be in favour of phasing out the grant-aided schools, and I greatly regret this decision.
1231 The House will recall what has happened in recent years. The grants to both the direct grant and grant-aided schools were frozen in 1968 by the previous Labour Government. When the Conservatives returned to Office we unfroze the grants. As Secretary of State for Scot-land at the time and responsible, among other things, for education in Scotland, I unfroze the grants and enabled them to be increased, as did my right honourable friend, Mrs. Thatcher, who was Secretary of State for Education and Science at the time. When the Labour Government returned to Office in 1974, they again froze the grants. It seems to me to be the greatest pity that these schools should thus have become a kind of political football and that their policies should be affected by whichever Government happens to be in Office.
During the last year, the rate of inflation has been so great that the freeze has really become a squeeze. This has been felt more in Scotland than in England and Wales, for the reason which I will give in a moment. In particular, awards to teachers in salary increases have meant that fees are bound to increase. The squeeze is harder on parents in Scotland and will continue to be harder on them, if the phase-out is carried out, unless there is a change of policy. The difference which I mentioned earlier between Scotland on the one hand and England and Wales on the other is that in Scotland there is one grant made to each school by the Scottish Education Department; but in England and Wales, in addition to a capitation grant to each school of the same kind, there is a remission scheme. Through this scheme, the Government in England and Wales provide the difference between the fees and a figure which is based on parental income, according to a sliding scale. For parents South of the Border, this means that some of the effects of inflation are ameliorated, even though the grants have been frozen. This is not so in Scotland, because in Scotland there is no remission scheme. Therefore, the full brunt of the rise in fees and other costs falls upon the parents.
Both North and South of the Border, these schools provide a financial contribution, through the payment of fees by parents, to the country's education. It is provided by parents who have fully 1232 paid their rates and taxes towards the rest of the country's education. In addition to the upheaval to schools and staffs which the proposed phasing-out would cause, it would add to public expenditure and cause increased pressure upon the systems of local authorities. As my noble friend Lord Blake said in his cogent speech, the Government must hope that most of these schools will decide to go independent, because if they do not a great burden will be added to the State system.
I should also point out that the grant-aided schools in Scotland—and I am sure that this applies to the direct-grant schools in England and Wales—have adjusted themselves very well to the changes which have taken place in recent years. Nobody can accuse them of having fallen behind the times. In a brilliant description of the present situation and a warning of what we as a country could lose by these proposals, the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, spoke of the catchment areas which various schools, under the uniform comprehensive system which this Government appear to want to enforce, would create. In that situation, there would be selection but it would be selection by money or by place of residence. This principle creates financial and social differences between different areas, and I am sure that the noble Lords opposite must consider that to be undesirable.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, is not with us; she mentioned that she had to leave. However, I think she missed the point which some of my noble friends on this side of the House have been making, because what I have described would be to create a kind of educational apartheid. Surely this is what we wish to avoid. When I was a professional diplomat, I lived for some years in the United States, and am very well aware of the creation there of catchment areas. Many Americans have deplored this. Therefore, people of different income groups are living in different areas in order that their children may be able to attend certain schools. The whole geography of towns and areas is being changed in accordance with this principle. Although the noble Baroness was speaking of Leeds, I can assure her that in Glasgow families of all kinds are glad if their children, because they are very able 1233 and will therefore be able to get the education which is academically suited to their talents, have to travel to schools in other parts of the City. There is no question of anybody complaining about the fact that he has to be educated in a school which is not on his doorstep.
We shall suffer in this country if a particular system, whatever it may be, is en-forced uniformly everywhere. In the North of Scotland where I live, over the years we have evolved a system which meets the situation of a scattered population and the long distances which pupils very often have to travel. In that situation, some of the first comprehensive schools were created long before the word "comprehensive" had been invented. As my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn has mentioned, this was part of a system which was evolved to meet the circumstances of a scattered population and difficult geography; but because it was pragmatic, it also provided opportunities for the brightest pupils academically. On the other hand, schools, including grant-aided schools, have been selected in the large towns and cities of Scotland to which children from different back-grounds and from a wide area—though not necessarily from a long distance, because the population is concentrated— could go. The size of population has enabled such a variety to exist.
To abolish selection, in particular to abolish the grant-aided schools, would mean depriving our community of the schools which have proved themselves to be pre-eminent for education to the high standards that these children can attain. The country cannot afford to lose this priceless asset. More today than ever before do we need to encourage our ablest young people to excel. This is recognised also by other countries.
Recent correspondence in The Times has drawn attnetion to the fact that the Soviet Union has reintroduced a selective system. I speak of this not only from my time as a diplomat, but I can testify to it because a few years ago I found myself in touch with the organisers of the International Mathematics Olympiad for Schools. This was because one of my sons was involved as he had won the British Mathematics Olympiad. The most formidable of the opponents in this international contest were the Russians, 1234 closely followed by one or two other Eastern European countries. It was evident that the young Soviet mathematicians were from a small élite receiving a special education. They were selected early when their unusual mathematical ability was first observed and they were then segregated and treated quite differently from other school children. Whether this was good for their general education, or indeed for their characters, is another matter. That is a matter of opinion, but it is an example of extreme selection which the Soviet State does not disdain in the name of egalitarianism.
So on the general subject of selection, of which this proposal by the Government is a part, I ask the Government to think again. A variety is required if we are to allow equality of opportunity, as my noble friend Lord Blake pointed out. We want a fair opportunity for every child in the country to be able to pursue his or her talents, and I ask the Government to have a change of heart and a change of policy before they carry out a piece of educational vandalism.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord SNOW
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, from whom we all hope to hear many times. On this subject, I am afraid I disagree with her—probably the only subject on which we do seriously disagree. I should also like to say how grateful we are to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this debate. I think I disagree with him more but, nevertheless, we are grateful, if only for the fact that it has produced one of the most notable speeches I have ever heard in this House; that is, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, which seemed to me to be a justification of the entire institution.
If I may, I should like to begin with rather cruel factual points. What are independent grant schools? They are, in fact, grammar schools of a very high order; some of them with international reputations, quite a number with national reputations and probably as good as any schools in the world. They take boys and girls from all classes, give them a most rigorous academic education and other sorts of education, and they have contributed quite out of proportion to the 1235 national life. No one doubts that. It is just a fact. Anyone who quarrels with that is quarrelling with the telephone directory. They are, in fact, more socially mixed than almost any comprehensive school, simply because they draw in pupils by a process of selection.
Comprehensive schools suffer from the grave disadvantage that they are determined by geography. I do not know how many of your Lordships saw a programme on television about comprehensive schools in Sheffield. Roughly speaking, if you live on the West side of Sheffield you have a very good chance of getting a decent grammar school education; if you live in parts of the Eastern district of Sheffield you have no chance of getting that grammar school education. This was conceded on all hands and, again, you cannot quarrel with it because these are facts. Of course, Americans found this out long ago, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has just reminded us. The problem is that in America people live in different areas according to different incomes. Therefore, if you are unlucky in the place where you live you have to go to a school where there is no one who is normally very bright—just a pure chance group of persons drawn together by locality and for no other reason. In order to try to accommodate themselves to this situation, Americans have had to invent the extraordinary system of "bussing". Bussing means moving people from one part of a town to another in order to get a fair distribution in terms of colour. They cannot get nearer to a decent solution than that. That seems to me to be a most intolerable way of dealing with children of whom you have high hopes, to go 20 miles across Los Angeles in order to get to a more white school or a more black school.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way for a moment, the point I should have made is that at some schools it was well known that the teachers were much better than at others. Perhaps that was more to the point than the question of the pupils.
§ Lord SNOW
My Lords, I accept that. This is not a new problem. If we were not so intolerably parochial we should have learned from this experience already. 1236 I cannot understand why, because we live in an island, we think that no one else has ever dealt with educational problems in their lives. All countries have dealt with educational problems, and all other countries have run into our difficulties. There is no simple solution.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, also reminded us of the Soviet experience. They have a nationwide system of what we should call comprehensive education which is rather good. The best Moscow schools are certainly better than any London comprehensive schools that I have ever seen, but they found that the system did not really work for the very brightest, and their academics—who are powerful in the Soviet Union—exerted immense pressure and even, in effect, set up their own schools where pupils were deliberately selected by the old-fashioned English method of competitive examination. They make no bones about it — these are schools for the really clever. I have visited one at Novosibirsk and one in Moscow, and there are several others in the Soviet Union. They are remarkably good. It is rather like going into a larger college at Winchester or a college at Eton, and I think the fears expressed about them by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, are unjustified. They are not narrowly specialised. They are exceptionally good at mathematics, I agree, but they are also exceptionally good at most other things, and they are now setting up similar schools for people who are good at languages, and they are getting immense benefit from it.
I am sure that if we go through with our attempts at equality we shall ourselves undoubtedly be reduced to setting up similar schools in about fifteen years' time. I have no doubt at all about that. What, then, are the real arguments for this very peculiar course? It is certainly not to make the direct grant schools better; we all agree that it will make them worse. That is quite certain. It is not in order to improve social relations; in fact, it is quite clear that they will get less socially mixed than they are now. We shall increase social divisiveness. as the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, made absolutely and incontrovertibly plain.
Therefore, we shall be cleverly setting up a system under which if you are 1237 moderately prosperous you can still get a wonderfully good education; and where, on the other side, unless you are quite abnormally lucky, you will have nothing like the chance that poor boys in the East of Manchester had until this day—often poor Jewish boys who have made tremendous contributions to this country's wealth and have distinguished themselves in all kinds of ways. That will not happen, because it is quite inevitable that the best independent grant schools—I he ones mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blake— will very reluctantly, feeling their sacrifice as part of their social duty, go independent. What, then, are the arguments for this course? The first argument is, of course, administrative tidiness, which is a very bad argument in all circumstances. It means you ought to say that institutions are more important than people. Administrative tidiness means nothing, and I have found all through my life that whenever people have done something for administrative tidiness they have always done something bad.
The second reason is, I think, more honourable, though intellectually disreputable. It is really an optimistic belief in egalitarianism as such. Here we have to distinguish, as did the noble Lord, Lord Blake, between two kinds of equality; equality of opportunity and equality. Equality of opportunity is very cruel. If we really had equality of opportunity, if we removed all the handicaps we have had through fate and. chance, et cetera, and had to stand only with our own naked selves in this world we should know how very incompetent we are. That is why people shy away from equality of opportunity. Equality is a much more agreeable concept, but the only way it can be obtained in education is by not educating anyone at all— though even that would not really work, the cleverest and the strongest would emerge somehow—but it is literally the only way to make education a hygienic and a benevolent business. Education is difficult, complex and cruel, and these completely benevolent but very unfarsighted moves will make it possibly more benevolent but certainly less educational.
I know no one in academic life who would have serious doubts about what the 1238 noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, said today. The only professional academic that I know of who has ever defended these peculiar steps is the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, who is an academic of distinction. We have all had to defend the indefensible in our time and I do not envy him his task. Again, I think we expect too much of education. I believe that this is one of the optimistic illusions of decent-minded progressive persons. It does not solve social problems. It does not equalise human beings. Human beings are very unequal in endowments. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will be glad to admit that we select people for musical talent, so why should we not select people for mathematical talent? The school of Yehudi Menuhin is regarded with great approval. It gets pats on the back from everyone. If someone set up a similar selective school in mathematics, which is quite as easy and very important, it would be regarded as some curious denial of social justice. I sometimes feel at a Mad Hatter's Tea Party, as someone said the other afternoon.
As I say, education is not simple; the results of it are not pleasant and there are no real solutions. We hope too much. Anyone who has had children knows that in the same family the luck falls differently. The real truth is that God deals you a hand of cards and all education can do is to teach you how best to play it. It is a very hard truth. There are many things that everyone in this House could not have begun to do, even with every conceivable kind of training in the world. For instance, I would have made a very poor living as a musician. If we start with a slightly harsher view of what can be achieved— and the way in which those rather simple aims can be achieved—then we may at least avoid doing ourselves maximum harm. In this process we are genuinely doing ourselves harm. We are cleverly cutting out from good education poor children who would have profited by it, and that is a sin. We are making a token gesture of a kind which no reputable person familiar with the educational life can justify. I beg your Lordships to think again.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I 1239 ask him a question? How is he to expand equality of opportunity to the many children in this country who at present do not have it when he says that, of course, men and women are not equal; therefore, let us go on with that and keep them unequal?
§ Lord SNOW
My Lords, I can answer that question, at least in a negative sense. By not denying opportunities for the equality of opportunity to exist. The great direct grant schools were as near an approach to giving equality of opportunity as anything of which we are likely to conceive. It is quite certain that neighbourhood schools give a less chance.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, first of all, may I say how much I enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch. In this House we are fortunate to have former Secretaries of State for Education; but I think that, if we really want to know what they think, then what we need is the wife of a former Secretary of State—and this need the noble Baroness certainly fulfils. On her own account she made a speech which interested all of us very much indeed, and I am one who hopes it will not be too long before we hear the noble Baroness speak again in this House.
May I also declare an interest in this debate as chairman of the Governing Bodies' Association and also of a committee called the Independent Schools Joint Committee, on both of which committees the direct grant schools are represented. In this House we are familiar with the argument that because not all parents can choose a particular school therefore all other choice in school education should be swept away. When the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and Mr. Chuter Ede brought forward the 1944 Education Act, they quite deliberately created a broad framework within which all schools could develop, and they emphasised a principle which has often been repeated subsequently, that the most important factor in the life of a child is the interest and affection of the family. So the 1944 Act included two sections to give this the force of law: Section 76, which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, once told this House he had drafted personally, which provides the principle that children are to be 1240 educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents; and Section 36, which makes the parents responsible for ensuring that children shall receive education according to age, ability and aptitude. Within the framework of the 1944 Act and in response to people's, wishes a variety of schools developed, among them comprehensive schools.
My Lords, I hope that enough has been said in this House in the last few years for the Government to accept that there is a genuine wish to see schools containing all abilities develop and flourish. But it is a deception not to recognise that, like all human institutions, comprehensive schools have their problems, too. I think that it is a disservice to both staff and pupils to claim that therein lies the sum of all human knowledge, fulfilment of the ability of every pupil and satisfaction for the aspirations and ideals of all parents. It is precisely for that reason that many of your Lordships—notably, the noble Lord, Lord Snow, who has just spoken—have expressed concern that direct grant schools should continue to provide an alternative form of education where it may be needed.
What is the attraction of these schools? Many of your Lordships have referred to the standards which they achieve, and, of course, it was a fact which was recognised by the Public Schools' Commission. I turn to this again for a moment, because I think the appeal of these schools runs a little deeper. Of course, every school is a community, and when a community is united in its aims it will have the best chance of success. In this respect comprehensive schools have a difficult row to hoe. By definition a good all-ability school is bound to have disparate aims. Although many comprehensive schools are demonstrating their advantages to great effect, inevitably there will be boys and girls who will not settle amidst large numbers, and who need the life of a smaller community. This consideration undoubtedly applies to many girls. My noble friend Lady Young has explained the damage which she believes can be done to girls' education by the removal of the grant.
Your Lordships may be interested to know that last year, out of the 1,473 girls who left the Girls Public Day School Trust schools 1,183 went to university 1241 or some other degree course, or to some other form of education, or, I am pleased to say, into teacher training. So there is not much worry there, if I may say so, about equal opportunity. I realise that statistics should be treated with caution, but I must say I was surprised to discover shortly before this debate that whereas in 1971–72, 4.2 per cent. of all girl-leavers in the country went to university, this compares to a similar figure of 25.3 per cent. of girls leaving direct grant schools. The education offered in these schools through the direct grant can apply to boys and girls regardless of neighbourhood, and regardless of origin.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, referred to the particular needs of certain pupils; not just their academic needs, as I understood him, but their other needs as well. Recently, a headmaster from a direct grant school told me of a boy who is one of a family of six living in overcrowded accommodation, without a mother, and with a father whom the family very rarely sees. Not surprisingly, the boy is desperately in need of help. But at school he has found two priceless assets: a headmaster who finds the time and has the sympathy to make a point of seeing the boy every morning when he arrives, and the boy has discovered, quite unexpectedly, a real love of classics.He is thriving on two things"—the headmaster wrote to me—the element of personal reassurance and the briskness of the academic competition, but he withdraws at once when faced with uncertainty, and why not? He is virtually parentless.This is not a claim that any other head-master would not do exactly the same thing in similar circumstances, but it is a claim for this school to be able to continue giving its particular service to children, whoever they are and from wherever they come. Let us be quite clear: if the direct grant is destroyed this will no longer be possible.
My Lords, in the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, he was, if I may say so, rightly critical of the deadline proposed for the negotiations, because each problem to be solved will involve the education and wellbeing of boys and girls. In this respect, although 1242 the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, has given us some more information in the statement he made at the beginning of the debate, may I put one or two practical questions to the Government which will need careful consideration.
Although well over 50 per cent.—nearly 60 per cent.—of direct grant places are currently taken up by local education authorities, some schools are being required to offer governors' free places. Pupils taking up these places will be a financial commitment to the schools for the rest of their school careers. It is true that the Secretary of State has said, and the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, reiterated today, that the grant will continue for pupils already in school, and also for fee remissions. If the grant remains static (a point brought up by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn), and as it tapers in volume, the responsibility for continuing the free places is going to become all the more hard to sustain. That is a point the Government will need to sort out with the representatives of the schools. On this matter, I am not asking for an answer in this debate.
May I put this question to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, about the discussions which he said have now been initiated with members of the local authorities. May I ask in particular about those local authorities which have their own arrangements of a rather special nature with schools in their area. Several local authorities have taken a deliberate decision in past years to remain either partially or almost wholly dependent upon their direct grant schools. For them, withdrawal of the grant is bound to entail either considerably higher fees for the local authority to pay or a rushed building programme for alternative accommodation at a time when there are few spare resources.
However, this goes a little deeper. If an authority has had Section 13 notices approved for the reorganisation of the schools in its area, and if that authority decides with those Section 13 notices also to use the facilities and accommodation of a direct grant school or schools, then what is to happen? Are those authorities —because there are more than one—to be told they should never have done anything of the sort? The Section 13 procedure is a statutory procedure which 1243 depends upon consultation and upon the local education authorities and voluntary governors to promote it. I suggest that to force authorities to publish new notices immediately, simply because the Government have made a general statement of policy, would be a manipulation of the law which I am sure the Secretary of State cannot be contemplating.
My Lords, let us suppose for a moment that several direct grant schools will be determined to preserve their links with the maintained schools. In this case, two questions arise. The first was put by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn: is this, in fact, going to make the schools better or worse? The second question was put by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, when he queried whether direct grant schools could possibly become part of the maintained sector at such very short notice.
In its Report, the Public Schools' Commission conceded that many of these schools, whatever their wishes, would be really too small to become comprehensive. My noble friend Lady Young repeated this from the Front Bench today. Yet when in another place the Secretary of State was specifically asked on 11th March whether those schools wishing to join a comprehensive scheme would suffer academically, the right honourable gentleman replied:… I see no reason to assume any decline in the standard of academic excellence in any of these schools as a result of this decision-no reason at all."—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/75; col. 275.]I can certainly think of many cases of smaller single sex schools in terms where all the other schools are large and are probably mixed, and it may very well be in such cases that both the local authority and the school concerned would take the view that they would wish to preserve the choice which this particular school or schools would afford.
When the noble Lord winds up, will he explain, at least in broad terms, what is the thinking of the Government on how a smallish school—let us say, with a two-or three-form entry—can maintain its standard, as the Secretary of State has said, if it is to be transformed at short notice into a school of all abilities? My Lords, lastly, on this practical question, there is the matter of boarding. The noble Lord, Lord Blake, referred to its 1244 importance, as did the Statement of 11th March. My noble friend recorded the number of boarders at 10,000 in direct grant schools. I believe I am right in saying that a survey of the direct grant boarding schools which are represented on the Headmasters' Conference has shown that half their pupils would come within the four categories of boarding need recommended in 1960 by a Working Party set up by my noble friend Lord Eccles, and which have been broadly accepted since by the local authorities.
The effects of inflation are felt so sharply by boarding schools today that they might have to decide to close very suddenly indeed if faced with the financial consequences of a withdrawal of the grant. I am asking what would happen to the pupils in that event. I doubt whether the maintained boarding schools could accommodate them, although the noble Lord might have figures to give us this afternoon. No age is a good age at which to transfer a pupil who has embarked on a secondary course, and to create conditions in the boarding schools where this might occur very suddenly would surely be unwise; for pupils approaching their public examinations I think it would be criminal.
There are many other practical matters. What is to be the fate of staff members in schools which will have to close? What is to be the solution for existing debts? Although these and many other practical matters will be discussed between the Direct Grant Joint Committee and the Secretary of State, what I am asking for in broad terms is a little more information than has been afforded hitherto. I am sure the Government must realise that it is not possible for the schools to take decisions until the Department has made known the implications of either entering the maintained system or becoming fully independent.
This policy comes at a particularly difficult moment in education, when authorities are literally at their wits' end for money. Is it not of value to have these schools helping to serve the maintained system? The parents raise money voluntarily for their capital expenditure, in addition to paying their rates and taxes. Last year, the direct grant schools in membership of the Headmasters' Conference completed building costing just under £4 million, almost exactly the same 1245 sum as the Government have been able to allocate for school improvements in the forthcoming year. I make no complaint about that at a time of very short resources. But should not this be encouraged, and can the Government really afford to shoulder the total financial responsibility themselves?
My Lords, I have listened to all the debate, and every piece of evidence I have heard supports the conclusion that these schools really do develop the abilities of pupils to the full. There is one point which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord James. It is achieved in a unique way; it is achieved by an alliance which is both statutory and voluntary. I have always understood that this was something we always tried to achieve in things like our youth service and our social services within this country. I must say I am surprised that in a debate initiated from the Liberal Benches no mention was made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, of the desire of parents to have a greater hand in being able to run their schools. For many parents this is becoming an ideal. For the Secretary of State it is a headache, because, of course, local education authorities naturally feel that they ought to maintain control over their own schools.
But in the direct grant schools there is a unique solution to this problem. There is the link with the Secretary of State, his control over fees, grants and standards; there is the link with the local education authority, always reflected upon the governing body, and there is the priceless element of independence. At a time when the Secretary of State is setting up an inquiry into the governing of schools, it surely cannot be desirable to destroy just those schools which are the best examples of happily shared responsibility. Here is a practical example of how the direct grant schools can help in the evolution of the maintained system. Surely there is no reason why these schools cannot remain a partner, with that maintained system, and sharing in that evolution.
After all, as my noble friend Lady Young said, arrangements between the schools and the authorities are always subject to review. Age ranges can be narrowed, academic standards widened 1246 and facilities shared. Several authorities have already concluded agreements which bring the schools and the authorities into closer co-operation. I trust that the Secretary of State will bear this point very much in mind, because although we do not know who is supposed to benefit from the loss of these schools, what we do know is that many boys and girls will be the losers. I believe that the authorities and the schools need have little difficulty in continuing their co-operation, in order to carry out the intention of the 1944 Act; that in a free society people should be free to choose how their children are brought up. What is certain is that to build the future by destroying the past has never been our way in this country, and I must say that I hope it never will be. I ask the Government to think again about this policy, which I believe can only be a blow to our education service.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord SOMERS
My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on her maiden speech. I think she displayed the most extraordinary talent in such a controversial debate in keeping her speech entirely uncontroversial. I was wondering whether the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, would think it qualified her for the Diplomatic Service. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her, and I hope she will speak again very often.
My Lords, I must declare a very slight interest in that I am one of the friends of the Girls' Public Day School Trust, which is, I think, the largest of the organisations covering the direct grant schools. But anything that I say with regard to that Trust will have equal meaning for other direct grant schools. I want to make one point quite plain before I go any further; that is, that I am not in principle against the comprehensive scheme. I think the idea is probably a very good one, but many ideas which are extremely good do not really work in practice.
There are perhaps some reasons why the present system does not produce better scholastic results. First, I think the schools have been made too big. If there is too large a school one fails to have any contact between the headmaster or the headmistress and the children, or 1247 even the staff, and, of course, it is that personal contact between teacher and child which means so much. Also, of course, there is the fact that comprehensive schools have now abolished streaming. I will come to that point later on, but I think that has been a very great mistake. In schools of that size one is apt to get very large classes. Anybody who has had anything to do with teaching knows that if you get a very large class of extremely mixed ability, some very brilliant and some very slow, you have to do one of two things; either you teach at the pace of the brilliant, which leaves the slow ones out in the cold, or you slow down to the pace of the slower ones, which means that the brilliant ones will not get the education they deserve.
There is another point, that in most classes one generally finds a small handful of troublemakers. If a class is small enough you will generally spot them and deal with them appropriately. But if you have a very large class it is much more difficult to spot them; first, because there will be more of them; and, secondly, because it is very difficult in a large class to find out who is doing what. I have heard more than one teacher from comprehensive schools say that it is practically impossible to do anything in the way of serious teaching at all, because almost the whole time is taken up with trying—without a great deal of success—to keep order. That does not, of course, make for high scholastic achievement.
But in any case there should be a choice of type of school for the parents. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, in opening the debate, referred to what he called the tattered banneret of parental choice. I am not waving any banners, but the fact remains that nobody knows a child more closely than its parents. They know its abilities, ambitions, talents and character, and they are by far the most qualified to decide what kind of education it should have. So I am firmly on the side of choice for parents, and what better choice could be given under the present educational system than the direct grant schools?
In these schools the academic level is extremely high. For example, I will give your Lordships some figures applying to the Girls' Public Day School Trust. They had 22 schools in various parts of 1248 the country, and from those 22 schools during the academic year 1973–74 there were 601 who gained university places. 64 who gained other degree courses and 134 who went on to colleges of education. That is a pretty good record. This high standard has more than one cause. First, they have an entrance examination, which is looked upon as the most deadly of all sins by those who wish to see the comprehensive system flourish.
This entrance examination is not socially divisive because, after all, talent can be found in every social sector of the community. In fact, if one looks back in history one finds that practically all the great geniuses in the Arts and engineering, and in many other walks of life, came from very humble beginnings indeed. That is certainly so in the Arts. The only way in which the direct grant school is divisive is in the entrance examination, which separates the more gifted from the less so, and I feel that that is absolutely necessary— a point that has been emphasised by many speakers in this debate.
One cannot expect that children of all talents will flourish under the same course of education. The Government's ideology, which is apparently shared by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, would have us believe that all children are equal. What utter nonsense! The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, mentioned that able children need special education as much as the handicapped, and this is absolutely true. No two children are really alike. They are different in their talents, ambitions, character and everything else. Selection is essential if we are to get the best out of each one. After all, selection is practised in other walks of life, from Cabinet Ministers downwards. The Prime Minister does not choose his Ministers from an alphabetical list or the like, and what about Ambassadors and police inspectors? One must pass a test even to drive a motor car. Is not that divisive? If one fails the test one cannot drive.
We cannot all rise to the heights of our professions, and it is stupid to think that people go on resenting that fact through-out their lives. Most people are sensible enough to do as well as they can and leave it at that. What will happen if the 1249 grant is phased out? I think it is practically inevitable that the vast majority of the schools will go independent. That means that they will have to raise their fees, and the result will be that thousands of children from poorer homes, very poor homes some of them, who are talented and who deserve a really good education will be deprived of it. Is that justice? I say, No.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ The Earl of SWINTON
My Lords, I, too, wish to begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating what has been a most enlightening and enlivening debate. I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on her maiden speech, which I very much enjoyed. Like her, I was rash enough to make my maiden speech in an education debate—and look where it has got me; I end up as "tail-end Charlie" on the list of speakers today. I hope that the same fate does not happen to her in your Lordships' House.
When I began looking at this question I started on very neutral ground, with no really strong feelings either way. But the more I looked into the matter and the more I have listened to your Lordships debating the issue today, the more convinced I have become that to remove the grant at the present time would be to sacrifice a happy and successful partnership between the independent and maintained sectors of the education service to pure Party dogma. Perhaps I should apologise to your Lordships if I appear to be rather parochial in my remarks. I want to speak about North Yorkshire because this is the area about which I know. I am chairman of its schools subcommittee and vice-chairman of its education committee. I feel that there must be other local education authorities in the country which are faced with the same problems that we are, and not all LEAs in the North of England are in the same position as those mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon.
At the present time the North York-shire Education Committee sponsors 593 pupils at direct grant schools, and of these, 532 are day pupils and 61 are boarders. In regard to only 21 day 1250 pupils out of this figure of nearly 600 can it be said that the direct grant school duplicates the provision already made by the committee for its maintained schools. In any case, the arrangements for this small handful of children are under review by my committee at the present time. For the rest—who form the great majority— the sponsorship of pupils at direct grant schools illustrates the partnership between the independent and maintained sectors. For North Yorkshire, the direct grant schools provide a means of offering denominational education for groups for whom it cannot at present provide economically through maintained schools. The 61 pupils who attend direct grant schools as borders illustrate another longstanding partnership in the provision of boarding education for those whose domestic and social circumstances make it a necessity. Although the committee maintains secondary schools with boarding facilities, these do not entirely meet the demand, and the committee has found it a great asset to have available boarding facilities provided by direct grant schools.
Much has been said in this debate about boarding, and I should like to stress that the children for whom we provide boarding in direct grant schools are not those whose parents think that they are getting some cheap form of education in a boarding school. These are parents from remote and isolated farms and cottages, or from families where there is some form of stress in domestic relationships and where the family needs are strong. May I ask the Minister to say—should these direct grant schools opt for independent status —whether Her Majesty's Government will consider some financial help to LEAs wishing to provide substitute boarding accommodation in these circumstances?
My noble friend Lady Young and Lord Belstead mentioned these boarding schools. But I am not only concerned about the direct grant schools which choose independent status. In North Yorkshire, the bulk of our children attending direct grant schools are Roman Catholic girls attending the Bar Convent in York, and I have reason to believe that this school will be seeking voluntary aided status if the Government threat to cut off the grant is carried through. At 1251 the moment, my local education authority, like so many others, is under enormous pressure. When we started after the Labour Government reorganisation we inherited the whole, or part, of four different local education authorities, which all seem to have different ways of doing just about everything. We are under enormous pressure—the members, particularly the officers—to try to iron out the anomalies which exist at the present time; and not only to iron them out but, somewhere, to find, in the desperate financial situation of the moment, money to enable us to do it.
I must say also that, contrary to a report—which appeared a week ago today in a paper for top people—of a speech made by an Opposition spokesman in another place, that North York-shire was one of those education authorities which were to resist comprehensive reorganisation at all costs, we are, in fact, pressing ahead with plans to bring selection to an end. This September 37,000 out of our 51,000 pupils of secondary age will be attending comprehensive schools. In the remaining areas, Working Parties have been set up, and each has met at least twice. These Working Parties are to report back to the Education Committee on what they consider to be the best scheme of reorganisation in their areas. Of course, the Working Parties have to be serviced by our very hard pressed officers. I realise that it is quite impracticable to ask Her Majesty's Government to pay the overtime for officers who have at the moment, to work out—in addition to all the many details of the education of children who would normally have gone to the direct grant schools—all the details about the schools which wish to go over to the maintained sector of education.
May I ask the Minister whether financial assistance will be forthcoming to help local education authorities to help those direct grant schools which seek voluntary aided status? Over the past few years local education authorities and the schools themselves have undergone numerous and far-reaching changes, both in administration and in curriculum and teaching methods. They are facing many problems on many fronts and this, surely, is far from an appropriate time to precipitate further changes which will disturb existing and meaningful partnerships, if 1252 this can possibly be avoided; and I feel from the tenor of the debate in this House that the feeling is that it should be. I hope the Government do not press ahead with this cutting off of the grant from direct grant schools.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, I must apologise to your Lordships for taking part in this debate without having earlier put down my name to speak. I was attending a Committee and I did not think that I should be able to attend. I missed the first three speeches. I was, however, just in time to hear the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme. Because of that I put my name down to speak. His speech was exciting and stimulating, and it seemed to me that perhaps I might be able to contribute. Like all other speakers I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Stewart of Alvechurch on her maiden speech. I think we all regarded it a model both of clarity and of brevity, and we look forward to her speaking frequently in the future.
In this debate I have at times been a little puzzled as to whether noble Lords were in favour of comprehensive education or not. A number of speakers have said quite clearly that they were in favour of it, and then have proceeded to go on to speak in a way which suggested " Please God, don't let it come in our time "; that it was something to be delayed as long as possible. Unfortunately, my noble friend Lord James of Rusholme is not here. I would only say that when he spoke I was interested to learn what I half suspected: that he was a Fabian Socialist. I think if my memory of the classics is right, Fabius was known as Cunctator, and I think Lord James was perhaps adopting delaying tactics in his Fabian method of dealing with this subject.
My noble friend referred to the principle of selection as being one of such great importance. Selection is, of course, something which occurs throughout life; there is no question about that. No one would deny that selection occurs, but the question is whether one uses selection as the basis of a general educational system, which is quite a different matter. I feel that Lord James himself showed that selection is an extraordinarily crude and ineffective method of producing the 1253 educational results that one wants. He said—I noted his figures at the time —that for Manchester Grammar School when he was High Master there were 2,000 applicants for 200 places. I wonder whether the noble Lord means that by some magic they picked the right 200 out of the 2,000? I can only say that I was for many years the head of a university department, and every year we were forced to make this sort of choice. I never had the slightest confidence at the and that I had chosen the right people.
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me? I wonder whether the selectors, or whatever they might be, of Newcastle University had confidence at the end after they had selected the noble Lord?
I should doubt it; but, after all, the noble Lord will realise that he is asking an impossible question. I would say that if you are trying to choose a limited number of entrants out of a number of applicants, the possibility of making the completely right choice is low. Of course, unless you are absolutely incompetent, if you have 100 people to choose from and you are going to admit, say, 10, you would hope to choose some among those 10 who were pretty good; but I can assure your Lordships that whenever I had made the choice, the examination results at the end of the course did not indicate that my choice had been outstandingly good, and I always had the feeling that the same results would have been obtained if one had simply drawn lots in taking in the applicants. I do not believe that there is this magic of selection which automatically guarantees that you get the best people in. Even if you did, my question would still remain—if 2,000 have applied and you are to take in only 200, are the other 1,800 no good? Are you saying that you want an educational system in which a certain sector is made up of the small number who enter by this method of selection, and you let the rest go?
My Lords, the whole purpose of the policy of comprehensive education is to try to ensure that we have a good and an increasingly better system of education in the country. There is no suggestion that any system at a given moment of time is perfect—one is lucky if a given system 1254 just manages to get away with it—but what one is trying to do is always to have an increasingly better system. There has been reference to a comprehensive school from which one girl obtained admission to university. There was a very famous school run by A. S. Neill. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, will remember him. He was a graduate of Edinburgh University and a well known educationalist who ran an absolutely free school in the sense of discipline, and took those who had not been successful elsewhere. They came from privileged families because the fees were very high and he educated them. Neill's idea of education was a perfectly good one, but he himself, in a book that he wrote, pointed out in order to indicate how successful the school had been that one girl—I seem to remember that her name was Diana Fishwick—had become the woman's golf champion of the country and that another boy had succeeded in passing what we now call the " O " levels. This was the pinnacle of A. S. Neill's academic achievement, but it was a darned good school and it did a wonderful job for many people. One cannot go around judging schools in this " formula" way which is being applied. The point of education is surely to bring up children so that they will be capable of facing life afterwards and of living a good life.
My noble friend Lord Snow said that he doubted whether education ever did much good, or words to that effect. That may be, but I have seen the consequences of no education. I am sure that the noble Earl, who has considerable experience in Yorkshire, will also have seen the consequences of no education, or inadequate education. Although I am not now certain of my figures, if one takes the part of the country from Teesside up to Tyne-side and including both those areas, I think one still has the lowest percentage in secondary education in the country. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, nods and I am sure that she knows more about this than I do. I think that this is a fact, and it is in those areas that one has had the greatest difficulty in raising the standard of the people. The two things go together, and I have seen people—excriminals whom it so happens that I have met, some of whom have spent 20 to 30 years off and on in prison—who never received any education beyond the age of about 13.
1255 It is that lack of education which plays an absolutely dominating part in what happens to people afterwards. None of those who have had the benefit of education can deny that. We may not always have liked the education we received, but we know perfectly well that education has played a determining part in our lives. This is the whole point. It is not, as somebody said, a matter of political prejudice. It is not a matter of trying to stop someone doing something because one wants to be nasty to them. It is nothing of the sort. It is an attempt to create an educational system which will be effective throughout the whole country and will raise the level of all the people in the country.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, let me at the outset thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this subject of compelling interest and great importance. Let me also congratulate, as have all my predecessors, the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on a most accomplished embarkation upon the waters of this House, upon which we hope to see her sailing frequently and gracefully in the future. I think I ought also to add a felicitation to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, who has come in politically rather like Herminius or Lartius—T am never sure which it was— to help hold the bridge, because the ranks are very thin in support of the point of view which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, is seeking to advance.
My Lords, before we abandon this subject, let us be quite certain what it is we are looking at. What we are looking at is a small sector of a very big phenomenon. It is not just the direct grant schools which we are now looking at which are of concern or under threat for, on the one hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said in October, this is only a small step towards the abolition of all fee-paying education which will eventually be achieved under the Socialist ideology. On the other hand, of course, we have the voluntary aided schools, which are already under corrosive attack in the Inner London Education Authority area and in others where this doctrine holds sway. We are, therefore, looking only at one specific section of the campaign to reduce the 1256 British educational system to uniformity and, in my view, to mediocrity. With that always in mind, let us look at the direct grant schools.
My Lords, I think that enough has been said for me not to have to weary your Lordships with a definition of the nature or the function of the direct grant schools. Let me remind the House that there are some 103,000 pupils, or 20 per cent. of all children, in private education at those schools. This is no small subject, though there are only 174 schools under consideration at the moment. These schools are the bridge—as I put it in replying to the Statement of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, on 11th March—between the maintained and the independent system. They draw children both from the maintained primary and from private preparatory schools. They draw funds in part from the parents of children in fee-paying places, and in part from the Department of Education and Science and local education authorities. They are, moreover, the bridge by which children with academic, as opposed to practical, ability can cross from a nonacademic background into the pursuit of learning. They are the principal and in many areas the only means by which the academically gifted child of poor parents can get the only education which will enable him fully to develop his talents—and get it free as well, as the Act of 1944 said he was to do.
The case of this child, which was eloquently and persuasively argued by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, seemed to me, as I listened to the policies propounded by Her Majesty's Government, to be the subject of this attack, and it is to his rescue that I feel we on this side of the House should leap.
The direct grant schools are widely acknowledged on all sides of this House and in the other place as being centres of academic excellence. A " centre of academic excellence " is a portmanteau phrase and it is a rather battered portmanteau, because scorn has been poured on it from a great height by fashionable educational Left-Wing theorists for about 15 years. None the less, within that phrase we find a very precious and, indeed, priceless treasure. It is that regard for accuracy, that taking of pains, that grasp of the particular within the 1257 general, that ability to identify the relevant, that unrelenting pursuit of the truth, that vital spark of disciplined curiosity and that refusal to dilute or disguise what is the truth upon which the progress of civilisation depends and without which all civilisations must finally perish.
We disparage or abandon it at our very grave peril, even at this relatively humble level of secondary education, because upon that foundation is built, eventually, research that goes into astronomical radio telescopes, into the discovery of rare diseases, into micro-biology, nuclear fission and the rest. It all starts there, and if the standards are not induced in the child at the beginning of his career, that career will not attain the pinnacle for which it was destined.
In our own country the fusion of the Christian spiritual discipline with the Humanist intellectual discipline has produced an academic tradition which has grown strongest in schools that were in existence when that fusion was strengthened, under the influence on the one hand of Darwin, and on the other hand of Arnold. The doctrines of both are received to produce, on the one hand, a tradition in which we have the academic virtues of diligence, accuracy and the others I have mentioned, with the spiritual virtues—or, as some would call them, the Humanist virtues—of service to the community on the other. It is a unique blend, and we disparage it at our very great peril. It is with such schools that we are concerned today—schools in which the traditions of learning and service go hand in hand.
They are, it is true, recruited by selection, by academic ability, and I think enough has been said of that, with sufficient pungence, by enough speakers to show the absurdity of rejecting selection for its own sake as a bad thing. As a result, there have arisen schools which —as my noble friend Lord Belstead has put it—have an ambience of learning. It is very much easier, my Lords—as all of you will at some time have discovered— to pursue intellectual or mentally ardous pursuits surrounded by others engaged in a similar pursuit, rather than by those engaged in other and perhaps more mobile and more noisy pursuits. It is not simply a question of being able to work 1258 in silence. It is a question of being able to work in the company of those who recognise the worth of work. This applies a fortiori to the Royal Ballet School, which has been mentioned already. It is right to produce the ambience of dancing there; it is right to select and specialise there. Physical or musical bent is all right, but not academic bent. This seems to be a distortion of logic and an inconsistency.
My Lords, as I said earlier, sufficient has been said about the academic excellence of these places of learning which we are now discussing for me not to go into the statistics of achievement. But I should like to know what is to replace what we are now to destroy? According to all Socialist pronouncements, we are to go eventually for universal comprehensivisation. One must immediately ask: is there any evidence whatsoever to make one suppose that the comprehensive school, as we know it, is superior to the bilateral school? There is so much wrong with education today; so much truancy facilitated by split-site comprehensives of great size; so much violence, facilitated by the impossibility of proper pastoral care in schools built to the scale of broiler houses with a shifting population; such a decline in literacy was witnessed in our debate in this House in the past three weeks, that one cannot claim that there is anything absolutely right in this field at present.
It is all experimental, and at the moment the results of the experiment are not particularly encouraging. But one can say that there is less violence and less truancy in direct grant schools than in the larger comprehensives. Of course, there is also less illiteracy since the selection process eliminates the risk of illiteracy altogether. I wish to make another point on selection and on logic and consistency. We have bilateralism and we are proud of it, as the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, pointed out, in further and in higher education. It is just this narrow band which has somehow been focused on by those whom I suppose we must term " social engineers ".
My Lords, I should at this stage present my credentials, which are very humble in comparison with almost everybody who has spoken, or who will speak, in the debate, but I have taught for five years 1259 in a direct grant school. I am not entirely partipris, because I also spent two years teaching in a comprehensive, with 1,400 pupils, with 98 per cent. of them drawn from a slum clearance estate. I spent a further three years teaching in a teacher-training college, thereby having access to some 18 or 20 other schools whose practices I was able to observe at firsthand. I am utterly convinced from this experience of three elementary points. The first —which has already been referred to—is that the single strongest influence on the growth of personality of a child is that of his home. The second is that the next greatest influence upon a child is exercised within the school by the quality and efficiency of the teachers. The third is that no matter how dedicated and efficient the staff may be, they will find themselves labouring under progressively greater difficulties as the school in which they teach increases in numbers beyond a certain point. This point is allied to—but I ask your Lordships to notice that it is independent of—the factor of the numbers in individual classes. The number of the whole group is crucial, as I discovered when I was taking a class of 42 children in a school and another time when I was taking a class of 18. There were two cognate but separate difficulties here—
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, will the noble Lord indicate where he thinks that point in the numbers in a school comes? I think this is of genuine interest to noble Lords.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, without elaborating or going into great detail —I am not entirely of a closed mind—I would say that it is between 800 and 1,000. I think that 1,000 is too big except in certain circumstances, one of which is boarding circumstances. A boarding school, or a school with a significant boarding section, is a different animal. As teachers who have taught there will know, one is on duty, whatever the roster may say, for 24 hours day and night. Therefore, you have that much more insight into and control of—and one hopes affinity to, or possibly antagonism with— individual pupils.
My Lords, the arguments in favour of big comprehensives have been on two levels—administrative and social. Until recently, the argument has been in favour of the big. This enables the recruitment 1260 of a viable sixth form out of academically weak material, and also makes available a concentration of resources which enable a higher standard of teaching to be given in the sixth form—so the argument runs. But of course this can be achieved just as well by a system of selection, by the concentration of the sixth form talent, as opposed to the concentration of enormous numbers of children of all abilities in one place. There are endless permutations.
The straight-through comprehensive is enormously big. You can have the middle school. You can have entries of different sizes, for differing lengths of time. I will not elaborate on that, except to say that there are other solutions. We now find that in medias res, as it were, the Inner London Education Authority—so far as one can define what is going on there— has become disenchanted with the full-scale comprehensive and now wants mini-comprehensives with, in some cases, as I was astonished to hear the other day, two or three-form entries. If this be true, it argues that there will be sixth form colleges. Maybe there is hope for voluntary aided grammar schools and, indeed, grant grammar schools in this direction. Perhaps the noble Lord will look at that.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships on the social argument, but it is so important. The aim of the comprehensive—one could detect it from the nodding of noble heads opposite at various stages in the debate—is to achieve a " social mix " and eventual social uniformity. We have been told that this is not achievable because of human nature. But leaving the philosophic aspect aside, let us look at the practical. There are two schools, one situated in a middle-class dormitory suburb and the other in a working-class council house estate. Those are their typical catchment areas, and they become comprehensive and each is, as it were, the social centre of its catchment area. What happens? You have now only to look at particulars given by estate agents for houses within a five-mile radius of any good direct grant school, and you will see that the fact that it is situated within five miles of that school is cited on the prospectus as a reason for getting a slightly better price. And there is polarisation. So you have one middle-class school, expanding and pushing up the prices of houses locally, and another working-class school with prices of property around it 1261 sinking. You get a polarisation. I have seen it happen, my Lords.
So Her Majesty's Government propose, for social aims which they cannot thereby achieve, to do away with schools which are the focus of academic excellence in our secondary system, which offer to many disadvantaged children their only access to an academic career and which save the taxpayer and the ratepayer a great deal of money every year. And whence the pressure? Until recently it was thought that it was from the teaching profession. Your Lordships had only to read The Times Educational Supplement and The Times Higher Education Supplement to be convinced of that. Those were journals notably in favour of the comprehensive experiment, or plan as it became; but they recently—more power to their elbow—published the results of their research on the voting intents and attitudes of the various academic and scholastic plans in October of last year. They have revealed that of all teachers of all ages 70 per cent. are against the abolition of the grammar school, of which the direct grant school is the prime example. Even in the polytechnics and universities, staffed by people who for the most part have no experience in secondary education, 61 per cent. were against the abolition.
The pressure is not from the teachers. The applications for places have so increased in the last five years that it is fair to say that it cannot be from a very large sector of the public. It must be, therefore, the politicians; and that is why this is inevitably in the end a political debate. Given this aim, how is it being set about? I am happy to be able to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, at least on one point, and that is the extraordinary concertinaed timetable. I should like the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, to let us know what stage these discussions that we have been told of have reached with local education authorities. You cannot expect schools to make an option at the end of the summer term for something which is still a " pig in a poke ". They must be given a choice. You cannot say, " What are you going to do tomorrow? Are you going to become voluntary-aided, voluntary cold or independent? Let us know!" They must 1262 be told what the options are. That depends on a variety of different considerations in every area. It cannot be uniform. The circumstances, the resources and the demand are not uniform.
Secondly, I am glad to note that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said that the 25 per cent. taking free places in September of this year will have their free places guaranteed until the end of their school career. I hope that he will reassure both me and my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn that this and any other grant which is granted for the remainder of the phasing-out period will take account of inflation; otherwise the guarantee will be meaningless. I should like his reassurance—and my noble friend Lord Belstead asked for this also—that the career structure of teachers already in the direct grant system will be protected in the transition; and I am particularly interested in the 800 or so efficient, but technically not qualified, teachers of whom one may expect about 500 to be in posts in direct grant schools which come into the maintained system in the phasing out.
May I ask whether the Government will take steps to assist the direct grant schools that wish to go value added— my Lords, I am sorry. I saw the initials VA ; but perhaps it really may be the same thing when you think of it. Noble Lords opposite would like to call it the same. I would say rather " value subtracted ". I was, of course, referring to voluntary aided. Would the noble Lord offer any hope for help to these schools; because if they are going comprehensive they must blossom in size and that is expensive. To have voluntary-aided status, they will have to get 15 per cent. of the capital for that themselves and that could be in the order of £750,000 for some schools.
We have been asking for assurances about the future of the single-sex schools and I hope that we shall also be told a little more about the dangerous situation in regard to boarding places, which are in short supply anyway. I notice that the report published by the Working Party of the Essex County Teachers Association on Disruptive Behaviour in Schools asked for additional boarding provision to be made as part of the means of resolving the problems in their schools; 1263 so that this is very germane at the moment.
There are two other points. The first is on social engineering. One comes back to this. One understands that what we want is a fair society. We are united on that on this side of the House. A fair society and a fair educational system is one which produces more members from the working classes, socalled—I use a shorthand—that is to say, more working class entries to university than other systems. The latest comparable figures that I have were given by Mrs. Shirley Williams in 1967 to a conference of European Ministers of Education; and I do not think that the situation has changed markedly since. They applied the social yardstick and found that in Switzerland only 4 per cent. of university places were taken up by people of working-class origin. In West Germany, it was 5.3 per cent., in France, it was 83 per cent., in comprehensive Sweden (be it noted) 14 per cent., and in the United Kingdom 35 per cent. It seems that we are striving in the wrong direction. We are moving from egalitarianism rather than towards it.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, I think I am right in saying that those figures were later challenged on the ground that the figures had been submitted from countries with quite different standards of classifying people as working-class.
§ Lord ELTON
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I shall take early opportunity to put down a Question to elucidate the answer to his question to me.
We have heard of selection in Russia. We have heard of many things which disturb us; but I should like the noble Lord to put himself in the position of a parent of a child or children in a neighbourhood school—which is going to be the eventual upshot of this policy—with a bad reputation, with above-average truancy, with more than the usual violence and with lower than usual academic success rate and with having no other maintained school to send his children to. Would he honestly then remain in the maintained system? Would not any parent strive to buy something better?
My Lords, I must truncate what I wish to say. I will conclude with two obser- 1264 vations. The first is that we on this side of the House are committed to reinstating a direct grant system and to reinstating it with a legal framework which cannot be swept away by the Circular or circular saw of a Minister's whim, but only by legislation. We believe that parents should have a greater say in children's education and would encourage local education authorities to continue to take up places in direct grant schools for as long as may be.
The final point is this. Shared buildings, unlike shared aspirations, do not magically produce uniform backgrounds or social conditions. The strongest single influence on the growth and personality of the child, as I said earlier, is the influence of the home. It is at that point that we begin to recognise the attack on direct grant and other selective schools as being part of a Socialist attack upon a still wider front. The punitive rates of capital transfer tax designed to debilitate small businesses and professional partnerships in a generation; the war of attrition upon the private practice of medicine; the savage increase in insurance charges on the self-employed; the gradual but ruthless forcing of all courses of education into an identical mould are all, in the phrase of the noble Lord opposite " small but important steps". They are small but important steps towards a totally uniform, totally monochrome, totally mediocre society which comes closer to C. S. Lewis's description of Hell than anything that this country has yet seen.
It seems to me that we are here witnessing a fundamental change in the philosophy of the Party of noble Lords opposite. At the outset it was an organisation to protect the poor and the disadvantaged and to enable them to better themselves. Now it is an organisation to drag back down again those whom their earlier policies had enabled to succeed. Its aim, when my father belonged to it, was to lift people up. Its aim now is to level them down. How much idealistic and disinterested support, I wonder, have they lost through this simple reversal of emphasis, to those Benches and those upon which I have the honour to sit.
§ Lord WOLVERTON
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, replies to the debate, can he tell 1265 the House whether the Government have made any estimates at all of what the extra cost will be if it all has to be borne by local authorities and the State? I have heard mentioned a very alarming figure, perhaps anything up to £100 million a year, which is about the amount we are spending now on educational buildings which are still very badly needed. Budgeting is now very tight, and local authorities spend about 70 per cent. of their money on education. I should like to know whether Her Majesty's Government have made any estimate of the cost involved.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should now like to reply to the many points which have been raised in this debate. I should first like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on managing to speak in such an authoritative way on such a controversial subject, and yet she captured the genuine appreciation of both sides of this House. It was a very notable and distinguished achievement, and we all look forward to hearing more from her on this and other subjects. Secondly, may I say that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Snow, for his sympathy—I am always grateful for sympathy from every possible quarter—though he put it in terms of " having to defend the indefensible ". I do not regard myself this evening as doing that, because there is an overwhelming case for what we on this side of the House are doing, and I feel myself privileged to be able to do my best to put it forward. I have noticed the enthusiasm which was expressed on the other side of the House for the Russian educational system. I point out that any educational system cannot be divorced from the political and social system of which it is essentially a part. I do not believe that the enthusiasts for the Russian educational system would necessarily want to transfer to this country the other parts which essentially go with it.
More seriously, I should like to start by taking up a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, earlier in her speech, that there are really no educational grounds for what we are proposing 1266 to do. I would be second to none in paying tribute to the direct grant schools which have, of course, played a very useful and important part in the education of the country's children in many areas for many years. I fully acknowledge, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has done, the very great contribution they have made. But we cannot accept that the present system should continue. We cannot, while expecting local education authorities to abolish selection, go on paying grants to perpetuate it. It is a matter not only of consistency of policy but also of practicality, in that the continued existence of direct grant schools side by side with the maintained comprehensive system weakens that system by taking away some of the ablest pupils. Moreover, the direct grant system as we know it is incompatible with a comprehensive system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, pointed out. This is not an administrative convenience. You simply cannot have, existing side by side as part of the State system, one system based on selection at 11-plus and a quite different system based on the comprehensive principle.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, in case silence should mean agreement, might I just make it clear from these Benches that I disagree fundamentally with that. May I ask the noble Lord whether, when he and his colleagues look at Section 13 notices now, they do not look at what the level of selection might be in a reorganisation scheme? Are they not advised by the Inspectorate that this is what is important, and that it is not necessarily essential to have every single child going into the reorganised schools?
My Lords, I certainly took it that silence did not mean consent, as I could certainly see from the faces of the noble Members opposite. But on the Section 13 point made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, I will return to that later, if I may. I was going on to say that local education authorities generally are welcoming the Government's decision, especially as the existence of direct grant schools in some areas has hindered the realisation of genuine local desires to reorganise on comprehensive lines. This is particularly true in the North of England where, in 1267 several areas such as Manchester and Liverpool, the existence of these schools and the intransigence of their governors represent a considerable obstruction to local authorities in their attempts at reorganisation.
I should next like to deal with certain other points which have been raised. The first is that educational opportunity is being reduced. We do not accept the contention that by phasing out the direct grant system we are reducing educational opportunities, especially for the children of less well-off parents. That argument suggests that educational opportunity can exist only in selective schools. As I have said on a previous occasion, we feel— and general educational opinion on all sides agrees with us—that opportunity for all children can be very much better in comprehensive schools. This is especially true of those children, well-off or not, who happen to be late developers. I sometimes think that the anxiety of some people to get a few children from less well-off homes into more exclusive schools arises from feelings of guilt about not fighting for a better State school system for everybody, and it is coupled also with feelings of guilt about buying their own children out of the State system.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, as a latepractising teacher, I really must reject this suggestion. My own intention is to act entirely for the benefit of the children, and so is that of any honourable person who is concerned with education. I think that those who have firsthand experience of all the sorts of education going on in this country recognise that the system we recommend gives a greater chance of advancement to the able poor child than does the other system—and that is the only reason.
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite obviously within his rights to reject the suggestion I have just made, and we on this side are equally within our rights to maintain it. On the evidence that we have, our case is better founded than that of the noble Lord. As an example, to turn for a moment to the " social mix " point, on which a great deal of the direct grant argument hinges—because it is said that this gives the poor child and the child from the working-class home " a leg up " —the " social mix " point does not cut 1268 much ice. In most of the direct grant schools one will find a very heavy weighting of children of professional and managerial parents and very few children of unskilled manual workers. I might add that the children of the professional and managerial parents are in fact being subsidised by the taxes that all the people pay. In this connection, may I make the point that people from the professional and managerial classes who think they are purchasing a better education for their children in the direct grant schools—as they clearly do—are doing so, if it is true, at the expense of the community as a whole, since the fees they are paying are much less than the economic cost in view of the capitation fee which the State makes available to all the children and all the expenses of that particular school.
I turn next to the point that the freedom of choice will be reduced—a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Blake, Lord Snow and others. I may say that direct grant schools give no freedom of choice to those failing the 11-plus. I think the argument arises from a desire to perpetuate selective education for a few—subsidised, as I say, by the State— rather than from a wish to see freedom for all parents to choose between one school and another. It is of interest in this respect to note that direct grant schools are by no means evenly spread. Their geography, like the grant system itself, arises from an accident of history, so whatever choice they may offer is by no means universal.
Let me now turn to a point which was made by a number of noble Lords, and in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that good schools will be destroyed and lost by the policy and principle that we are putting forward and the phasing out in the way we are doing it. We are not, my Lords, setting out to destroy any schools. Those which enter the maintained system as comprehensive schools will bring with them their traditions and standards which they will, we hope, retain in the same ways as have hundreds of former grammar schools, county and voluntary alike, which have become comprehensive over the last 10 years. If some of the direct grant schools cannot or will not make their traditions and standards available to the whole community in this way, they will have to manage without Government money as 1269 independent schools. But it will be the decision of those schools which withdraw themselves from offering educational advantages and educational traditions, not the decision of the Government, to deny their opportunities to the people of this country. We want as many of those schools as possible to stay in the system and at the end of the day it will be their decision if they withdraw from it.
A number of noble Lords have used the bridge argument; that it is important to maintain the direct grant system because it acts as a bridge between the purely State system, on the one hand, and the independent school system, on the other. Before I comment on this point may I, with deference, correct the noble Lord, Lord Elton? I think he misunderstood something he quoted me, or seemed to quote me, as saying on a previous occasion. I undersood him to quote me as saying it was the policy of this side of the House to abolish all fee-paying schools. I do not think I over said that, my Lords. I certainly spoke in this House about the Labour Party Manifesto in the first speech I made here on education. I made the point that there is nothing in the Labour Party Manifesto to end the independent schools. What we say in the Manifesto is that we are going to end the charitable status of the independent schools, which is a very different matter ; and that we intend to carry out.
I also said on that occasion that we intend to phase out the direct grant schools. But to come to this link or bridge point, the argument that has been put forward is that the direct grant school system provides a link or bridge between the maintained and the independent system and therefore we must preserve it. A bridge is something that people cross; that is the concept of a bridge. Are we saying, or is the argument, that somehow or other people from these schools will then cross to the independent schools? The argument is fallacious. We are not thinking of a bridge. Noble Lords opposite, with respect, arc not thinking of a bridge. There is nothing here to be crossed. It is a link which is illogical and unnecessary.
The question of expense and the financial implications of this matter have been raised. At this stage it is impossible to 1270 estimate exactly what the financial consequences of these changes will be. There will be some savings and some additional costs to the public purse. The final balance does not seem likely to be a big one, one way or the other.
Then we come to a number of practical problems which have been raised by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and other noble Lords, suggested that the deadline is too tight, that there should be more time for discussion and consideration. A great deal has been said about precipitate action by the Government. But this debate about direct grant schools has been going on for well over 10 years and nearly all the direct grant schools have long since decided their attitudes. Governors cannot say that they have been taken by surprise. Indeed, it is clear from immediate reactions in the local papers following our Statement on 11th March that many such decisions have already been reached. In any case, in the next few months we shall not be seeking more than a decision in principle as to the direction in which a school's future appears to lie, though I must emphasise that we shall be looking for evidence of bona fide and well-grounded decisions, not merely temporising aspirations.
The argument has also been put forward that pupils will suffer in the transition. We are taking great pains to protect the interests of pupils already in the schools. This was a point I made earlier this afternoon. There is no reason why any child now in a direct grant upper school, or entering next September, should have his education upset. We intend to continue the capitation and fee remission grants in respect of these pupils whether they hold free or fee-paying places. Our intention not to change the level of capitation grant does not imply, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, suggested on 11th March, financial starvation in these schools in England and Wales. Their sources of income will remain essentially unchanged. If their costs increase, their fees payable by local education authorities or parents will rise as necessary to meet the school's needs. Parents who already pay will continue to pay according to their means, with the Department's fee remission grant meeting the difference where it exists between the parental contribution and the full economic fee. These 1271 pupils will not be affected by a decision by the governors to seek independence. Where schools decide to come into the maintained system—and we hope many of them will—the governors and local education authorities can be expected to do everything possible to ensure that the education of the selective pupils remaining in the schools will not be prejudiced.
I now come to the question of the boarding places which it is asserted will be lost, and about which certainly a number of noble Lords have expressed concern. This was a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. The problems of integrating boarding schools into the maintained system are, I certainly agree, rather different from those relating to the day schools. But we should like to see these schools playing a full part in the comprehensive system. There are not enough comprehensive boarding places available at present and we should like to see the number increased. I do not think there are any grounds for expecting that the Government's action, whether the schools go in one direction or the other, will diminish the total number of places available for boarding. The arrangements for assistance with boarding fees will continue unchanged, so there should be no lessening of opportunity for those needing boarding education to find a place, nor will they be penalised financially.
May I now deal with some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, made in his speech. I have of course dealt with some of his points already. I should like to take up—indeed I cannot resist rising to the bait of—one of the points he made when he said he did not ask for Oxford to be abolished when he established York —and established York so successfully. Somehow he drew a parallel between the continued existence of Oxford and York, and the continuation of the direct grant schools alongside comprehensive schools. But I have to emphasise that the State finances directly both Oxford and York, and in the end I was not quite sure how this argument applied to the direct grant system. If some universities are better than others—this is undoubtedly true; it would be invidious of me to suggest any compari- 1272 sons or to draw any specific comparisons in this context—and there is an elite among the universities (and I am delighted it should be thought in this House that there is such an elite), then, similarly, some comprehensive schools are clearly much better than others and there will be elites among the comprehensive schools, too.
I should, more seriously, like to take up the point the noble Lord made about selection. He said it could be only on a neighbourhood basis, a money basis or a merit basis. I think what we are looking at here is the future role of any of the direct grant schools as they come, as we hope many of them will, into the maintained system. The roles they can play are many and varied within that system, as experience has already shown in many respects. They can contribute to the comprehensive system of education in a number of ways. Because of the specialist facilities which they often provide—for example, in science laboratories, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned— they might most suitably be used for a concentration of sixth form work, either as sixth form colleges or as 11 to 18-year-old schools providing sixth form facilities for a number of 11 to 16-year-old schools which would not have their own sixth forms. In other cases, they may function most suitably alongside the existing maintained system as schools for children of 11 to 18, 12 to 18 or 13 to 18. It is a matter of fitting them in in the best way, in order that they can contribute to the overall planning of the local education authorities.
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, the noble Lord has said that he is perfectly prepared to agree that there are elite comprehensive schools and less elite comprehensive schools, just as is the case with universities. Will the noble Lord make it clear that in his planning for the future children will be free, without actually having to move their home, to go to one of a number of comprehensive schools of their choice? And if more children apply to go to one comprehensive school than to another, how will the noble Lord select one school rather than another?
My Lords, I recognise that this is an important point. I should not like to give a 1273 specific and precise answer to it now, but I promise to write to the noble Lord about the matter. I regard it as too important a point to give an off-the-cuff and unstudied answer.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I have raised the point, too, and I do not think that the noble Lord has given an answer to it. When the noble Lord writes to the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, will he be kind enough to send me a copy of the letter and also say what advice the Government will give to local education authorities about how they are to select pupils for the most popular comprehensive schools?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, I shall be delighted to ensure that when we write to the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, we write also to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and do not keep secrets one from the other.
May I turn next to the questions which have been raised about Scotland by the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Croy, and Lord Drumalbyn? On the question of legislation, may I say that I am advised that no primary legislation will be required to phase out the grant to the grant-aided secondary schools in Scotland; but of course the Regulations will have to be amended. That is broadly the same situation as in England. Turning to the financial problems relating to Scotland that have been specifically raised, there has been criticism—as there has been to some extent also in England— that Scottish parents are not shielded against increases in fees, since there is no national fees remission scheme in Scotland as there is in England and Wales. The English scheme was introduced many years ago as an integral part of arrangements designed to involve the direct grant schools in greater participation in the State system. Similar arrangements were not made for Scotland and the grant-aided secondary schools are not required to take local education authority pupils.
It is not the intention of the Government to introduce a national fees remission scheme in Scotland; it would mean diverting extra resources to this sector. However, there is nothing to prevent grant-aided schools from using their grant to operate their own remission arrange- 1274 ments, charging different levels of fees according to the ability of parents to pay. I shall not attempt today to answer the other questions of the noble Lord, but will ask my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to arrange for as full and as prompt an answer as possible to the questions which both noble Lords have raised.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting out the position, but does he realise that this means that parents in Scotland are in a much worse position, because of inflation and the freezing of the grant? The grant is frozen from which the noble Lord is suggesting that schools should introduce a remission scheme in Scotland, whereas in England and Wales the remission scheme means that, with inflation and rising costs, parents are getting extra help. So far as they are concerned, their contribution to the fees is not changing. The noble Lord gave the impression that the fees paid by parents are making no contribution and that the parents of direct grant and grant-aided schools are getting special help from the taxpayer. But may I point out to him that anything which parents are contributing to a school, even if it is not the full fee, is extra, because they have paid their rates and taxes to the State system. Therefore, anything over and above that which they are contributing is a contribution which the country would have to do without if the schools were abolished.
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, I recognise that there are differences on the financial side—and, indeed, that there are other differences as well—between Scotland on the one hand, and England and Wales on the other. So far as England is concerned, it is equally true that the capitation fee is itself frozen in the way that the whole Scottish grant is frozen. As the noble Lord has pointed out, the difference comes in the other variations. I accept that this is so, and I think that the implications from this are as the noble Lord has suggested. This was the reason why I made the point that, so far as Scotland is concerned, it is not proposed at this stage to introduce a remission scheme when we are in the process of phasing it out in England and Wales.
1275 If I may turn to the points which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to which he asked me specifically to reply, I was grateful to the noble Lord for giving me advance notice of these points and, indeed, I should have said I am also grateful to other noble Lords who have given me advance notice of the more technical and specific points they wished to raise. On the question of what stage the discussions with local authorities on phasing out have reached, those discussions have already started and I can assure the noble Lord that they will be pursued intensively over the coming months. On the question of the careers of unqualified but efficient teachers in the direct grant schools who join the State system and whether they will be protected, this is one of a number of questions which need very careful consideration in the further consultations which are taking place between the local education authorities and the schools.
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, if I may enlighten noble Lords who are not familiar with the situation, the position is that it is possible for a teacher who is not certificated and qualified in that way and who has taught for a number of years in a maintained school, to be regarded as efficient, and therefore as qualified. I am asking the noble Lord whether a similar period of service in a non-maintained school which decides to become maintained will be accepted as a similar qualification, because otherwise these people will be out of a job.
My Lords, it is precisely that point which had in mind and to which I was addressing myself when I gave that very carefully phrased answer; namely, that this is matter which will be very carefully considered in the consultations which are already under way.
If I may turn to the point which was next raised by the noble Lord—whether there will be any means offered of assisting direct grant schools which become voluntarily aided with the cost of the expansion necessitated by local education authority schemes—the position is that their governors will be able to claim a grant of 85 per cent, of their expenditure on any enlargements which are carried 1276 out within the normal building programme arrangements ; but no special additional resources will be available.
I turn my attention now to sex which was the next point raised by the noble Lord. He asked about the attitude of the Department to the continuation of single sex schools in the maintained sector. The position is that in principle the Government have no objection to their continuation. The question in each individual case is one for consideration by the local authority and the school.
My Lords, I am aware that time has gone by and that I have been unable to reply to every point which has been raised by noble Lords. In so far as substantial points have been left unanswered, I will do my best to see that answers are provided in writing. The fact of the matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Blake, pointed out in his speech, is that at the end of the day the clash is not a clash over detail ; the clash is not a clash over administrative tidiness or anything of that nature. The clash is a clash of political philosophies. In my view, as the noble Lord was so right to emphasise, it is a clash of political philosophies and political principles. As the noble Lord, Lord Blake, put it:We of the Conservative Party do not believe in equality, but we do believe in equality of opportunity ".I think I have quoted his words almost exactly. We on this side of the House believe that, unless we have much greater equality and egalitarianism in our national life, we can never get equality of opportunity. We do not believe in the perpetuation of a privileged system like the direct grant school system in which, for the most part, well-off families are being subsidised by the State to buy, at much below the economic cost, what they regard as a privileged education for their children. In the last analysis that is why noble Lords opposite want to maintain it and are pledged to restore it; on this side of the House we want to provide real equality of opportunity for all our people. Our policy of phasing out direct grant schools is an important part of that programme. We do not want to maintain subsidised privilege which makes a nonsense of real equality of opportunity for all our people, which we on this side of the House are pledged to achieve.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, in rising to wind up this debate, I should like to thank all those who have taken part. It has been an extremely good debate and I am certainly proud of having been able to initiate it. In particular, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, on such a good maiden speech; such a good embarkation as it was put on the waters of your Lordships' House on such a difficult subject. It was almost " Ladies' Day ", because as various speakers have picked out various speeches I should particularly like to pick out the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, who seemed to me to produce a real knowledge and a commonsense approach, and certainly so far as I am concerned she did not go on for a minute too long.
If I may be allowed to pick out one more speech, it would be that of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. Between a beginning which was certainly the higher rhetoric and a finish which was possibly even slightly the lower politics it was good to have a Tory Front Bench spokesman who spoke with such knowledge and insight and personal experience. When he was actually talking about education, as opposed to the other parts of his speech, it really was an education in itself and I know all noble Lords will be grateful to him.
I wish to make an apology. In an aside during my opening speech I said that, as was the way with all institutions, a number of direct grant schools were '"lousy". My Lords, I have no evidence as to this ; I unreservedly withdraw it and I should like to make it known that I do so proprio motu. I have not been stimulated by anyone to do so. Obviously some schools are less good than others; let us leave it at that.
I am afraid I cannot go along with one or two of the statements made by the noble Lord, Lord Snow, who I am afraid is not still with us—I am sorry. but I am not responsible for that! He said that direct grant schools were grammar schools of a very high order and one could not argue with that because it was like arguing with the telephone directory. Well, my Lords, I do not mind arguing with the telephone directory on matters of education—it is probably likely 1278 to be wrong. In fact if you read the Donnison Report you will see it said that direct grant schools are good grammar schools but they are not better than that. Their results and their standing and everything else are just about the same, given the class and background of their pupils, as ordinary grammar schools. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, also said that no academics of repute had come out in favour of these steps. Again all I can say is that he cannot have read the Donnison Report.
The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, dealt with the whole question of the Russians and I agree with him that it is very piquant to hear the Russians being introduced as a reason. It seems to me, however, that the point about the Americans needs to be met. The noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, really met it when she spoke about neighbourhood schools being desirable in their own right because we want community schools, and the noble Lord, Lord Snow, accused some of us of never looking beyond our own shores. In fact the Liberal Party spends a great deal of its time saying to people: "Look beyond our own shores to see what other people are doing", but it seems to me that in this particular case the American society has a system of neighbourhood societies which we do not have in this country, which I hope we shall never have and which in fact we are moving away from. It is the people who want to keep direct grant schools for the taking up of the poor working-class boy who are in fact doing social engineering and the people who want neighbourhood schools who are doing the opposite. I admit that some of the defenders of the comprehensive system at the beginning were social engineers. It was a great pity that they were. They were wrong; but it is not true nowadays. The concept of the neighbourhood school is exactly the opposite of using education as social engineering and it is up to the Government—any Government of the day—to deal with neighbourhoods and to see that they have equal opportunities.
I am not going to detain your Lordships long, but I warned you that I wanted to answer a few points. I think sometimes too much is made of the question: "Are you going to get a good comprehensive system by bringing in different schools 1279 of different sizes? " With regard to the point about a " botched up "comprehensive system, we have seen some, but I have always thought that given care and trouble almost any resources could be deployed to make a worthwhile comprehensive system and that certainly the importation of a number of small academic schools will not present insuperable problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned, people are now beginning to realise that you can have 600 or 800-strong comprehensive schools. This brings me to a point which I will take up at the very end, about the greater need for delay in making a decision.
We are told that we must have more diversity in schools, but I think that raises several red herrings. First, what we are aiming for is diversity in the schools as opposed to monolithic type of schools. No one can deny that the comprehensive school is far more diverse in itself and produces far more diverse education than, say, Manchester Grammar School on the one hand or a normal secondary modern school on the other. Also, of course, there is diversity of schools. Only in Question Time today some noble Lords seemed to be baying for the Secretary of State to enforce a curriculum on schools in Birmingham about the religious syllabus. But in fact we have very great freedom in our schools and there will be considerable diversity.
That brings me to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, as to who decides about priority as between, say, good and less good comprehensive schools, or comprehensives which some people think to be good and some think to be less good. There are local education authorities in this country at the moment who provide 80 per cent, of parents with their first choice schools and over 90 per cent, with their second choice, and that is a very much higher percentage than existed in any local education authority area before the 11-plus was abolished. We are told that the best qualified teachers go to the academic schools. There is a certain truth in that but it is not entirely so. A number of the most gifted teachers over the past few years—and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will know this—have been drawn to the comprehensive schools. Does the noble Lord wish to intervene?
§ Lord ELTON
My Lords, it was a sub-jective and instant reply, but I believe 1280 none the less it had an element of truth in it. I said that a lot more had left.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, I thought mobility was what we needed to encourage! From what has been said from the Conservative quadrant of the House, anyone would think that the whole movement towards comprehensive schools had been forced upon an unwilling country by a few single-minded Left-Wing ideologues sitting on those Benches. Nothing could be less true. Local authority after local authority have gone comprehensive of their own free will—not just in the Midlands, not just in the soft Liberal South of Surrey, Sussex, but even in the strong conservative (with a small " c") areas of the big Northern cities which were the last places to resist the comprehensive area. Everywhere there has been pressure. My figures are slightly out of date, but I undertook a poll at one stage and I defy any noble Lord or any member of the Tory Party, or of the Tory research department, to come up with a poll showing that over a given area of any size there is not a majority of parents, and parents of pre-school children, in favour of the comprehensive system. That certainly is our experience and what I think all the polls show. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is making a note to look that up
My Lords, the main question we have been asked is: will the schools be better or worse? That is a very difficult question to answer. One has to ask, "Better or worse for what after this change? "What is education for? What is our society about? That some of these schools will be worse according to the views of some noble Lords, I have no doubt; some may even be better. But I think it is the view of those of us who believe in the comprehensive system that the schools will be better for the full education of the individual for society, and that, by these changes, good will be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, imputed slightly unworthy motives to those who wished to retain the grammar schools in order to get the working-class boy of talent into the schools. I know that he, like myself, absolves of these motives the noble Lord, Lord Elton, or any other person who has professional teaching experience. Nevertheless, I think 1281 the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, missed out on another motive ; that is, the motive of catching the clever boy, the future élite, young, and processing him through middleclass institutions so as to preserve an elitist society. I think that is a very real and, in some cases, an acknowledged motive.
My Lords, in coming to the end there are three points which I should still like to urge on the Government. One is help for boarding places. The points made about this were absolutely valid. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said that help for boarding places would be continued. That is not enough. We all know that local authorities do not like helping people with boarding places, because their full entitlement is so expensive in relation to the money available. Could not the Government look at the possibility of providing special help for extra boarding places during a very difficult period? Secondly, I still say that the deadline for decision is applied far too quickly. The noble Lord said that it should be easy for the schools to make up their minds. I do not think it is. I think they have to know what they are being offered ; they have to be given a scheme, and I would suggest that anything before summer 1976 is totally derisory, and even that would be the bare minimum.
Lastly, there is this difficulty about the bridge between the independent system and the maintained system. Of course, it is not a bridge over which people pass like the bridge over the River Kwai. When noble Lords on the Front Bench want to do anything about the independent sector—apart from just removing the charitable status—to integrate it into our social life, they are forced into a situation where they have only one choice, and that is to try to abolish it. I know that they have no intention of that, but they have done away with the opportunity for anything in between. That is the last possible alternative. They could actually take the independent sector and establish a direct grant system, but that would look a little silly once they have abolished this, I ask noble Lords to think about the timetable and the way they do this. With that point, I should like once again to thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate and 1282 beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.