HL Deb 29 July 1976 vol 373 cc1471-603

11.30 a.m.

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

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill contains a number of miscellaneous provisions but is chiefly important for Clauses 1, 2 and 3, which relate to a major aspect of Government policy on education. This issue is highly controversial; the ideological background was discussed at length in another place. I hope that we shall be able to deal with it rather more quickly here.

In another place the time devoted to the Bill was more than was devoted to the whole of the Education Act 1944. That Act was 10 times the size of this Education Bill and was concluded in 14 Sittings on the Floor of the House. The accusation that the Government have tried to rush the Bill through is absurd. But I realise that the Second Reading is a time when the ideological points can be well and truly made. I hope that, when we come to Committee, during which on every clause or Amendment the Opposition can quite easily defeat the Government if it wants to, the ideological points will not be pursued and we can concentrate on the details of the Bill. The Government will, of course, consider carefully any suggestions which your Lordships may make for improving its effectiveness.

I begin by giving a short and pared-down account of the origins of this controversial Bill. I think it fair to say that the evils of the 11-plus examination provided the jumping off ground for the whole comprehensive movement. It was felt by parents, educationalists, teachers and indeed by children, that the decision as to whether the child goes forward to grammar school or sideways to secondary modern was a decision of such importance that it was unreasonable that it should be decided at 11 years old; partly because of the pressure it put on the children and partly because of a wide margin of inaccurate placements.

The psychological traumas for parents, children and, indeed, for headmasters and others, have been described again and again. I do not think many people today believe that selection at this age is the right way to deal with the education of our children. It has become increasingly thought of as a division between sheep and goats. Now, this being so, there had to be some alternative and the comprehensive movement, which had started before even the 11-plus argument became very strong, was the movement to which all eyes turned.

There is no doubt that the comprehensive movement has been extremely successful over a large part of the area which it has covered. I do not think anyone would deny that in rural areas—such as Anglesey, one of the first to have gone comprehensive—it has made sense to educate together all the children from a wide area, children of a diversity of social backgrounds and intellectual attainments. The alleged drawbacks of comprehensive education appear in urban areas; it may be more difficult there to get a satisfactory social and intellectual mixture; first because the area served by a particular school may itself not have such a mixture; and second because such a school may well suffer from the presence of a long-established grammar school "creaming off" the most able and ambitious pupils.

It is in areas such as these that people fear change. They fear that able pupils will lose the opportunities for the specialised provision that grammar schools can offer. On the contrary, we believe that, although the education given by many grammar schools has been first class—there is no argument about this—if grammar schools take away the ablest pupils then one leaves comprehensive schools with the top level of ability removed and the whole quality and standard of the education they provide is prejudiced.

In essence, we are confronted with a simple problem. The 11-plus is bad and must go. The solution to this problem—the comprehensive school—is generally agreed to be satisfactory in most areas. In some areas there is resistance, partly because of the social problems that all schools, comprehensive no less than others, may face—problems which many local authorities and teachers are working hard and successfully to mitigate— and partly because of the prestige and competition of the grammar schools.

The introduction of comprehensive education means that the grammar school, which in itself may be extremely good, will inevitably change, we think not necessarily for the worse. I believe that the solution is to accept changes in some of the characteristics of the grammar school, which benefits a minority, in order to produce really effective comprehensive schools for all and thereby do away with the evils of the 11-plus. Many of your Lordships will know of former grammar schools who have merged successfully and willingly with local secondary modern schools to make first-class comprehensives. It can be done and we all know it can be done.


My Lords, before the Minister leaves that section of his speech, may I ask whether he would concede that, despite what he said about the 11-plus, it is not absolute and there has always been exchange when it has been found that children may have been wrongly placed academically? Would he concede that there has been a flow between the comprehensive school and the grammar school?


My Lords, there has been this effect in some cases, but not in all. I do not believe that this has been a universal characteristic of the application of the 11-plus, although it would have been the correct application. But I could not admit that this was the general practice throughout.

The abolition of selection for entry to schools—of the 11-plus or its equivalent—does not of course mean that there will be no attempt to assess the abilities and meet the needs of individual pupils. Indeed far from it. It is within the comprehensive school, not within a selective system, that such assessment may and does take place more effectively. For in a comprehensive school such a process can take place on a continuous basis; and it can take account of the needs of pupils who are good at one or two academic subjects but whose other strengths lie on the practical side—whereas in the selective system these two aspects of education cannot be effectively married together.

So the comprehensive system does not mean that the needs of different individuals are suppressed in some monolithic uniformity; if any of your Lordships fear that this would be so, I invite you to read a recent book by Hunter Davies, The Creighton Report, which illustrates wonderfully the variety that can exist within a comprehensive school. No, my Lords, the comprehensive school heightens variety rather than suppresses it; but heightens it within an environment of shared learning rather than of segregation; an environment in which teachers are free to organise the educational process in whatever way seems best to enable the individual to go at his own pace, along the road best suited for him and in full consultation with parents whether by streaming classes on the basis of ability, or by setting classes subject by subject, or by some other method—but always in the company of his fellows, sharing an experience which cuts across the divisions of ability, interest and background.

This, my Lords, put very shortly, is the argument of my Party and indeed of the majority of educationalists, and the argument which this Bill is now making finally the law of the land. We now have three-quarters of maintained secondary school pupils in comprehensive schools. The great majority of local education authorities and governors of voluntary schools wish to complete this process as soon as possible, and all the evidence is that over the next few years, even though the resources available will not be increasing as hitherto, significant progress will continue to be made.

The ideal, the principle, of comprehensive secondary education, is thus widely accepted. Only in a few areas is there now resistance to that principle. To some extent that resistance perhaps stems from genuine doubts and fears; but for the most part I suspect that it arises simply from an unwillingness to face progress and change, not only educational but social; there are always those who wish to preserve an older and simpler order of things; the Government may respect their views, but can wait for them no longer.

I must emphasise that we have waited long enough already. It is right that the change from selective to comprehensive education should be an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary change. So it has been, as, one by one, over the past decade, local education authorities of all political complexions have come to accept the comprehensive principle and have put in motion the procedures necessary to give effect to that principle. Both the 1964 Labour Government, and the present Government, proceeded as far as possible by persuasion and encouragement. In 1970 when it was clear that some authorities had failed to respond to five years' persuasion and the example of their fellows, a Bill was brought in, similar in some respects to that now before your Lordships' House, but that Bill did not reach the Statute Book before the General Election in that year.

Such was the progress of the comprehensive ideal between 1970 and 1974, however, that on return to power the present Government, far from introducing legislation immediately, began a further round of persuasion and discussion. Only after nearly two years of this was the present Bill introduced in another place—introduced, my Lords, with enthusiasm and yet with regret: enthu- siasm, because it is right that the principle of comprehensive secondary education should be enshrined in law; regret, that it should be necessary to legislate after seeking for so long to proceed by agreement.

Clause 1 of the Bill, then, lays down the principle that secondary education should be fully comprehensive. That principle, as there spelled out, admits of only two exceptions. One is the need to select pupils for special educational treatment, by virtue not so much of ability as of disability. The other is selection for specialised education in music and dancing; there is a number of schools, mostly independent, which specialise in these fields in which high talent, though rare, can often be spotted at an early age and may need to be nurtured from that age by a special educational regime. Under this head come not only all kinds of dance schools and schools for instrumental musicians but also choir schools. It will be permissible in the case of the small number of maintained schools which serve cathedral or church choirs to admit pupils on the basis of their ability in choral singing, and, in the case of independent choir schools, for local education authorities to support pupils selected on the same basis.

The comprehensive principle thus described and qualified is used in two ways as the basis for the provisions of this Bill. First, local education authorities are obliged to have regard to it in all their powers and duties relating to secondary education. They are not obliged to put it into effect straight away, because in many areas they are in no position to do so. Despite the enormous progress made over the past few years, simply by use of the resources made available for secondary education in the normal course of events, there are certainly—and the Government fully recognise this—areas where enough money to complete reorganisation is not going to be available for some time. But there are also areas where the resources are available but the will may be lacking, and it is for this reason that Clauses 2 and 3 are in the Bill to enable the process to be pushed forward. It would not, however, be feasible to lay on all authorities a general requirement to comply with the comprehensive principle, whether immediately or at some specific date in the future, and this clause does not do so. But they are obliged to have regard to the principle—not, of course, in isolation but along with other requirements of the Education Acts—and this will ensure that nothing is done which will unnecessarily hinder steady progress towards the goal.

Second—and now, my Lords, I am turning to Clauses 2 and 3—the Bill gives the Secretary of State specific powers to require further progress in implementation of the comprehensive principle. He cannot himself take steps to do this. Only local education authorities—or, in the case of voluntary schools, the governors of those schools—can take the action necessary to end selection in an area. That action includes changes in the character of grammar or secondary modern schools to enable them to take a comprehensive intake; it may also include the establishment, enlargement or discontinuance of schools as part of the necessary reorganisation. The Secretary of State can require them to submit their proposals for ending selection in conformity with Government policy; and, where those proposals include (as they almost invariably will) any of the things I have specified, and where they are not manifestly unsuitable or inconsistent with the comprehensive principle, and where they represent firm short-term plans for implementation within five years, he can direct that they he treated as proposals under Section 13 of the 1944 Act.

Section 13 provides that any proposals for the changes I have already mentioned require the Secretary of State's approval and that public notice must be given of them to enable the public to object. If the proposals are approved, then the provisions of Section 13, together with the provisions of this Bill, will require the proposer to implement them. Where proposals are not susceptible of such treatment, because they are long-term or do not fall within the scope of Section 13, they will be neither approved nor rejected, but noted; and in due course, as the plans advance, the Secretary of State can go back and request proposals for short-term implementation. Where proposals are manifestly unsuitable at the initial scrutiny, the Secretary of State can refer them back and require fresh proposals, but the nature of those proposals remains a matter for local decision.

I should like to refer briefly to two specific aspects of Clauses 2 and 3. The first relates to Clause 2(6). Some local education authorities operate a procedure commonly known as banding, whereby pupils transferring to comprehensive schools are assessed by ability and grouped accordingly, and places are allocated so as to ensure that no school has an unfair share of above average or below average pupils. Banding is, as will be evident, a form of selection and it shares some of the defects of the old 11-plus procedure. But in some areas its temporary retention may be a necessary evil until alternative means of ensuring parity between the schools can be devised. Clause 2(6) embodies in the Bill an assurance that the Secretary of State will not be hasty in requiring an end to such arrangements.

The second point relates to voluntary schools. Most of these are provided by the Churches, and the Churches have co-operated willingly in the process of comprehensive reorganisation. Those voluntary schools which have resisted this movement have been mostly nondenominational schools. But the Churches have a most legitimate interest here. I should like to pay tribute to their foresight and the contribution they have made to the development of comprehensive secondary education. Perhaps I might commend to your Lordships the book Built a City by one who, when his seniority allows, will surely join the Benches of your Lordships' House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. In chapter 5 of that book he sets out most clearly the argument, based on his Christian convictions and his experience in the East End of London, for a fully comprehensive system of secondary education. This is no more than a personal argument but it is shared, I think, by many in the Churches.

Knowing, therefore, and welcoming the Churches' constructive attitude on this matter the Government paid particular heed to their representations about the Bill. They asked, first, that in the last, resort it should be the Secretary of State, rather than the local education authority, who should require action from voluntary school governors on reorganisation. Under present law, the only step which a local education authority can take with regard to a voluntary school whose governors refuse to reorganise is to cease to maintain that school. That would in many cases be an undesirable outcome; and so Clauses 2(2) and 2(3) of the Bill ensure that voluntary schools governors have the opportunity—and indeed can be compelled by the Secretary of State—to submit their own proposals for reorganisation and that if necessary the Secretary of State, as a neutral arbiter, can judge between their proposals and any proposals by the authority to cease to maintain them. Second, the Churches asked that no voluntary aided school should be required to reorganise if they genuinely could not afford to provide their 15 per cent. share of the cost of any building involved. Clause 3(2) so provides.

Noble Lords will note that the proposals under Clauses 2 and 3 are neither drastic nor draconic: they are essentially reasonable and slow moving, allowing the widest discretion. I have spoken at some length on the central provisions of this Bill, and I will now speak more briefly on the remaining provisions.

Clause 4 makes minor amendments in Section 13 of the 1944 Act to remove anomalies relating to the duty to implement certain types of proposal. It is evidently of particular relevance in the context of implementation of proposals called for under earlier provisions of this Bill, but it is of more general application. Clause 5 broadly restores to the Secretary of State certain powers of control over local education authorities' arrangements with non-maintained schools which were given to him under earlier enactments but subsequently slackened or removed. Again, it has particular relevance in the context of this Bill, as some authorities might be tempted to take up places at non-maintained schools so as to preserve a element of selection and circumvent the principles of the earlier provisions of the Bill. The remaining clauses deal with miscellaneous amendments to various aspects of educational law. They are mostly rather technical and relatively uncontroversial and I do not propose to go into detail about them at this stage. I will do so later if any of your Lordships so desire, and we shall no doubt discuss some of them in Committee.

Your Lordships will see that this Bill consists of two parts; the first controversial but vitally important, the second less vital and certainly less likely to give rise to prolonged debate. Many of the provisions in the second part are intended simply to remove anomalies in the law, and these will no doubt be uncontroversial. The heart of the Bill—the expression which it gives to Government policy on comprehensive secondary education—is still, alas!, a matter of controversy despite the progress which has been made in the past decade. The Government are sorry that it is necessary to legislate in this way, that there are still pockets of reluctance to accept this great educational advance of our time. Yet all educational advances have required, at some stage, encouragement from the centre. The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, who unfortunately cannot be here today, would, if he were, recall how, in the debates on that great Act of 1944, he himself deplored the reluctance of some authorities to move faster in the matter of reorganisation of all-age schools, and how he spoke of his determination to give a lead in this matter.

The Government believe that the central matter of this Bill represents a natural and desirable evolution from the Act. In 1944 the promise was held out of secondary education for all; in 1976 the promise is of comprehensive education and a truer, fuller equality of opportunity for all. In that spirit, my Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a,.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)

11.53 a.m.


My Lords, at the outset let me thank the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for his elegant performance of a task which I personally would find distasteful and which I think he must have found difficult in parts—the explanation of this Bill to your Lordships. He admitted that the material of which it was made was still highly controversial and I do not doubt that your Lordships will find yourselves treating it as such. In this the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn has my sympathy as well as my eager anticipation of the contribution he will make which will not, of course, be controversial.

This is a Bill to prevent the allocation of children to suitable schools at any stage of the secondary system. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson. himself in an early passage in his speech said that continuous selection is a desirable feature of the comprehensive system. The difference between us, therefore, is that he believes that this feature can be established uniquely in the comprehensive system. I do not believe that to be true. Let me start at the beginning of this debate by nailing one lie before it is uttered in this Chamber as a misapprehension, since it has been uttered frequently outside it. It is not, and never has been, the view of the Conservative Party that every school that is comprehensive must be bad, any more than it has been our view that every school that is non-comprehensive must be good. That view would be manifestly nonsense. But what we do say is that to insist that every school throughout the State monopoly of education shall be a comprehensive school, regardless of the wishes of the parents and governors and in some instances the local education authorities, is not and never can be the right way to run the system.

We believe that there is no place in the British character for the imposition from the centre, from the palaces of Westminster and Whitehall, of one uniform solution to all the diverse problems of the cities and countryside of England and Wales. We believe that anyone who seeks to establish such a uniformity is exercising a tyranny not entrusted to him either by the electorate or by Parliament—and recent events bear this out.

It is a feature of this Bill that it would appear to have been drawn up by people expecting just such an endorsement as appears to be pending from the courts; by people who believe, honestly no doubt, in total ignorance of what goes on in the minds of ordinary people living in the real world, that the gentlemen in Whitehall really do know best. Such direction from the centre is not only diametrically in opposition to the spirit of the times, to the very tide of public opinion that the Government hope to catch with their approach to devolution; it is also in frank contradiction to the spirit of the 1944 Act of which the noble Lord spoke with such approval.

Let me remind your Lordships that that Act was drawn up when this country was fighting for its own life and the freedom of the civilised world against the totalitarian Axis Powers. We were in a death struggle with fascism then and we were something of an expert about dictators and dictator ships. Centralisation is the ally, the precursor of dictatorship, whether of an individual, a Party or a bureaucracy. In that consciousness we, or our predecessors, drew up an Act that gave power to local education authorities to conduct their own affairs, not in bondage to the centre but under its guidance. The idea that a Secretary of State might exercise this sort of centralist compulsion upon local education authorities was so foreign to the all-Party minority Government of the day that it produced a Bill which is not equal to doing the job. That is why we have this Bill before us today, put there not by an all-Party Government with a large majority in the House and supported by the whole country, but by a Government clinging by their fingernails to a majority in the other place and universally seen as having diminishing minority support in the country at large.

The experience of the great national monopolies other than education that we have had since 1944 does not encourage us to think that we were wrong then to entrust power to local authorities or to think that Parliament would be wrong to insist that it should remain there now. If that is not to be accomplished by Parliament the least that this House can do is to insist that the conversion can be conducted in such a manner that the voices of the governing bodies of voluntary schools can be properly heard and considered and at such a pace that the local authorities can make proper and sensible provision to cater for the needs, not of Labour Party dogma nor indeed of Conservative Party dogma, either, but of the children who are to sit at the desks. That guarantee is not in some respects apparent in the Bill as it now stands. If we have, as we ought always to have, the proper relationship between central and local government at the back of our minds in dealing with this Bill, we shall have the proper relationship between parents and children very much at the front.

I believe, and my Party believes, that children are properly subject to the care and control of their parents in preference to that of the State. Each of us in this Chamber knows in his heart that this is true of his own children and of all those who are not severely deprived as well. If the Government seriously wish to challenge that statement, then the rest of this debate would be not about education but totalitarianism—but I do not believe that this is the case. I believe that we are on common ground—I can see from the pained expression of the noble Lord that we are. Very well then. That is our premise; we share it.

Let us proceed from it to take note of a number of facts and what follows from them in that context. It is a fact that the State has a virtual monopoly of the education of children. It teaches 90 per cent. of them of compulsory school age. Once children are inside that system they are subject to effective physical control and powerful moral influence by it for most of their waking life until the age of 16 at least. It follows that the schools within that system—the schools which exercise that control and influence—should themselves be subject to the effective influence of the parents of the children. That influence is already too small: this Bill, by overriding the wishes of elected governors and sweeping away the right of parents to exercise choice within the monopoly, has diminished it still further. That is a defect that I hope your Lordships will agree to remedy by one means or another.

If any Member of this House had to send his own child every day to a school where he was badly taught or neglected or bullied, he would expect either to be able to take the child away from that school and send him to another or else to have a forceful effect upon the school where this miscarriage of educational justice was taking place. Why should we consent to put other parents in a less privileged circumstance? Why should they have to condone the abuse of both the happiness and the prospects of their children merely because they cannot afford to buy them into a system where they do have choice? I hope your Lordships will assist us in supplying a remedy for that.

Let us return to our catalogue of facts. It is a fact that both psychologists and practical men are increasingly aware that human institutions, whether they be day schools or factories, suffer a dramatic loss in efficiency when the number of people they comprise exceeds a certain limit. They lose dramatically in humanity as well. It is not a fact, but it is very probably the case, that where schools are concerned this figure is significantly below 1,000. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said in an earlier debate that he thought the figure was nearer 800. I would agree with him. I would also point out that by a fortunate coincidence this is not far off the average size of existing schools in the secondary sector. With above 1,000 pupils schools become increasingly impersonal; faces become numbers; identities are lost. For two of the 10 years in which I taught, I taught in a school of 1,400 children and have witnessed this phenomenon at first hand. It is multiplied of course when one also has to deal with numbers of oversized classes.

As a teacher of no more than average gifts I found it impossible in those circumstances to give proper academic care to a class of 42, let alone give to them the pastoral care that they deserved. And let me now say that I believe it to be high time that we reminded ourselves that proper pastoral care of children is of much greater importance even than proper academic care. Proper teaching is made up equally of both, but without care, oversight and affection the best of academic work goes often to waste—and so do those who receive it. Well then, we do not want monster schools. But straight through comprehensives must be monster schools or else fail to cater for either the full age range or the full range of needs of the children that attend them. It follows, therefore, that they must be restricted either in the range of age or in the range of educational need.

Now we come to the difficult ground. We are faced, as always, with a conflict between the aim that we seek to achieve and the means available to achieve it. The aim is to provide the greatest possible breadth of opportunity for all to develop their personal abilities to the full. We are on common ground there. The means is the existing stock of buildings, and certainly no more than the existing force of teachers. This is the cloth. We must cut our coat to fit it.

One pattern that we should consider closely—or rather, my Lords, let us not forget one pattern that we should enable local authorities to consider closely, because we are not mandarins in this House—is that of the sixth form college. Sixth form pupils are at present scattered rather thinly among a great many schools. This means, once more, either that the schools must be inordinately big in order to support a sixth form of viable numbers or that the range of subjects taught in the sixth form will be unsatisfactorily narrow. In either case the ratio of staff to pupils within the sixth form is apt to be very high, which is expensive in resources and manpower. Concentration of sixth form pupils in a separate school makes it possible to employ a more efficient staff-pupil ratio and to reduce the size of the pre-sixth schools by having several of them to support it, and to ensure a very wide spectrum of courses in the sixth itself. That is one of the alternative patterns and I think it would be a popular one.

However, to maintain a sixth form college of even modest size requires in most catchment areas a body of pre-sixth form secondary pupils far larger than the largest comprehensive school any of us would be prepared to contemplate. This is an alternative we have just rejected. The other alternative, which is acceptable on both economic and pastoral grounds, is a school of about 750 pupils in existing buildings, operating as a group—one of a group of feeder schools. But a school of that size cannot hope to cater effectively for the full range of academic and pastoral needs of all its pupils if they are selected at random. Surely it is manifestly obvious that at least within this feeder group there should be the power to match the children to the school best able to cater for their needs, and it need not be done on social grounds; it need not necessarily be done on academic grounds; it need not be done on grounds hostile to the Socialist party philosophy. But it does need to be done on grounds which fall within the descriptive phrase "ability and aptitude".

One might think that it would be an object of this Bill to promote such an interchange between schools. One might expect this to be the proper concern of the parents, the teachers and the pupils themselves; but it is the specific object of this Bill to forbid this procedure. For if the words "ability and aptitude" mean anything—and I await with great interest the noble Lord's definition of them—they mean, I suppose, the suit- ability of a particular child to a particular course in a particular school.


My Lords, if I may just ask for clarification, I am absolutely lost in what the noble Lord is saying about selection for sixth form colleges, which seems to me to be what he was talking about. In so far as there are sixth form colleges, which is something entirely determined by the local authority, the selection is done fully on aptitude and ability. Can anybody suggest anything else? There is nothing in the Bill to suggest anything else. I have lost the noble Lord's argument.


My Lords, as long as the pupils are in the secondary sector the Bill prohibits their selection on those grounds. But that was not actually the selection to which I was referring. I do not wish to be drawn into detail because your Lordships will discover that I have much to say, but I would add that I envisage as one solution a group of schools, not necessarily next door to each other, and some of their pupils going to further education, some of them to paid employment and some of them to another institution which we may call a sixth form college. How they arrive there was not what I was referring to; what I was referring to was that if you have these schools (some of them relatively small) and if they are to have a random selection from the children rejected from the ESN school because it is full but who are none the less educationally retarded, to the high flyer; from the person who is very good with his hands and cannot hold a pencil but can hold a saw or a theodolite, to the person who is a born artist—if they arrive by random in these small institutions—one cannot hope to have the staff to match their needs, and unless you allow them to go to where the staff is you are condemning them to be frustrated and not to be able to develop to the best of their ability, which is the object of the educational system of this country. Therefore, I think this is a glaring defect in the Bill, and one that we seek to put right.

To return to our theme, it is a fact that the variety of educational needs of children is greater than can be economically provided for, not only within every individual school but also in every individual local education authority, and it follows that some of them will have to be provided from outside existing LEA resources altogether. And it is a fact that there is a small but vigorous educational system operating independently of the State monopoly but subject to the same oversight and regulated by the same examining and ministerial authorities. Your Lordships might note in passing that it was recently greatly strengthened, to the cost of the maintained sector, by the direct grant schools that were forced out of the maintained sector by the recent change in the regulations. When the Government lost those schools to the taxpayer they also lost the 7,156 boarding places that they took with them, and I should like the noble Lord, when he replies to this debate, to tell us what are his long-term plans—not his temporary expedients but his long-term plans—to make good that loss and the £10 million per annum fees that go with it. In the meantime, I repeat that we have in parallel to the State system an independent centre of at least equally good standards. It follows that a logical way of providing for the educational needs of children who cannot be catered for economically within the monopoly is to pay for them to be provided for outside it.

But, although the noble Lord referred to it only briefly, we are greatly suspicious of the powers taken in Clause 5, because it would appear to us that these are taken with a view to terminating any such arrangement—not only not making any new arrangement but terminating those that exist. I hope that the noble Lord will reassure the House at a later stage in this debate that there is no intention to apply that power also to agreements recently entered into to pay for the completion of the education of children, in direct grant schools going independent, in free places. It is a fact that there is a deep and general disquiet about the efficiency of quite a number of comprehensive schools in the country; that that disquiet is growing, and that it is felt within the teaching profession as well as outside it. It has been heightened both by recent research and by the discovery that all is far from well with the teaching of the three Rs in the primary sector. The public is at last discovering that children are arriving in a large number of secondary schools not equipped with the tools to learn in them. That is a serious matter, and bears on the Bill, because it increases the responsibility of the secondary sector to see that those children are properly educated as a remedy for what they have lost.

My Lords, is it not absurd for a Government to choose a moment such as this to go bald-headed for one universal solution, one specific system of organisation, and that the one most open to suspicion? If it is not absurd, is it not malicious? Does it not amount to a plan to rush it through? The noble Lord said that it was not being rushed through, but is it not a plan to bring it through before it can be discovered that the scheme in some respects may be undesirable? To use a guillotine in the other place so to restrict discussion of this ill-considered Bill—and I hope your Lordships take note of this—that parts of it have never been examined at all by the House of Commons, but only by a Committee of it, arouses a trace of a suspicion that some such motive is in the minds of the Government.

My Lords, we are not discussing trivia; we are discussing children. We are also discussing, as we shall shortly see, very large sums of money. To commit ourselves irrevocably to a system at the moment when its very effectiveness is in doubt would be lunacy. I am firmly of the opinion that that doubt should be resolved. If Her Majesty's Government cannot resolve it, and I cannot see how they may, then there should be an inquiry or a Commission to do it for them. Your Lordships may well feel that the major provisions of this Bill should not be implemented until its report has been discussed both by your Lordships in this House and in another place. I am sure your Lordships will also share our anxiety that those parts of the Bill which were never adequately reviewed in another place are properly reviewed here, and that, where it is appropriate, an opportunity should be given to our honourable and right honourable friends on both sides at the other end of the corridor to look at them for the first time.

The final fact to which I would refer in this sequence is a painful and a pressing one. It is that we as a nation are terribly short of money. An allocation was made by Her Majesty's Government when they broached this policy. It was not an allocation of money, though many thought that it was. It was an allocation of the power to borrow money. Local education authorities were invited to share in the authority to borrow money to a total of £25 million. I believe that that sum has been vastly oversubscribed and, of course, the rates of support grant have since been cut. How far will this money go over the whole country? I am puzzled by the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, because I learn that in Kent they have costed the scheme that they would have to put into effect under the Bill, and reckon that it would cost them £40 million, and might cost £50 million. By what figure have we to multiply this to arrive at the staggering national bill which is to be paid by a Government still staggering on the edge of bankruptcy? It is not the Government, presumably, but the ratepayer who has to pay back the loan, and the investment interest upon it.

In his reply, the noble Lord should advert to this, and give us some idea what the expense will be. This Bill appears to be an assault not only on parental freedom, upon pastoral standards in schools and upon the apparent wishes of the electorate; it is also an assault on a staggering scale upon the pockets of the ratepayers. Do they, I wonder, yet sufficiently realise what is afoot? Will the Minister put them right?

My Lords, there are other areas of the Bill outside the main consideration of the comprehensive principle to which I must briefly refer. Clause 7 extends local authority grant payments to courses leading to the higher diplomas of the technical education and the business education councils. If local authority money is to be used to provide this kind of training, either of central Government or of local authorities, I think the payers have a right to be sure that it is well spent. The only guarantee of this is that it fits those who follow these vocational courses for their future employment. The best judges of that are those who provide the employment. It is they who, in this narrow but vital sense, are the customers of the councils, because otherwise jobs will not materialise. We shall wish to satisfy ourselves that they are, in fact, satisfied customers. If they are not, it would seem reasonable to give them an effective say in the work of the councils themselves by means of increased representation.

Clause 10 is also a major innovation designed to deal with some of the problems which result from the appearance on the scene—following another of your Lordships' enactments—of a new class of person, the married child. The clause deals only with the enforcement of the duty to attend school, but it contains major implications which your Lordships will wish to look at with technical assistance. My noble friend Lord Colville of Culross will be assisting us to revise this and to deal with other of the more technical aspects of the Bill at Committee stage.

My Lords, I have tried to spare your Lordships much detail. I have restricted myself to generalities. I will resist the temptation to do more than allude to the fact that Clause 1(1) establishes a principle, and then, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said, Clause 1(2) drives a coach and four straight through it. I do not think we should spend much time considering in what ways and in what vehicles we might consider following his lead.

Finally, I must say that this shabby Bill, which seeks to do for education what the pay-bed Bill seeks to do for medicine, should be seen in context. It is not a Bill on its own. It is one of a group of Bills being herded together through the other place on a composite guillotine Motion. It is designed, and avowedly designed, to do away with those voluntary grammar schools, many of them Church foundations, which, through the efforts of parents or governing bodies, or local authorities, or all three, still survive. They have survived in spite of the strenuous and dubious efforts of Socialist Ministers of Education to destroy them. The Labour Party want them gone, and they want them gone for good, just as they want free enterprise, pay beds, aviation, building and shipbuilding, gone for good. Just as they want freedom of choice of employment within five miles of the docks to be gone for good. None of these Bills is earnestly wanted by the electorate; many of them are even resisted by those to whom they most closely apply, and who subscribe to the Party adhered to, mistakenly, by noble Lords opposite. All of them are wrecking Bills, with the exception of the last Bill, Bills that once long enough enacted will have done irreversible damage to the system to which it was applied.

I see the present Government, like an army in retreat, blowing up all the installations they can as they evacuate. The noble Lord appropriately referred to pockets of reluctance, if you please, but these are the enraged majority of the electorates of local authorities, where their children have been taught for sometimes 150 years, in schools of great excellence and renown. That is the sort of thing this Bill is designed to destroy. It may satisfy some spiteful spirits in Transport House and on the Left of the Party opposite, but it is a very good way of earning the lasting contempt and bitterness of those who are deprived of the services they have destroyed, and the contempt and bitterness also of those who join them on what was billed as a march to the promised land and which is turning into a retreat to the wilderness. Those are the electorate to whom the Government is answerable. It is our function to limit the damage that they are able to do in this massive, predictable, deserved and eagerly awaited retreat to the absolute minimum.


My Lords, before the noble Lord resumes his place—and I am taking no sides whatever in this issue in which I am deeply interested—would he kindly explain why, in the 24 minutes during which he was speaking, he never mentioned the 11-plus examination?


My Lords with pleasure; because, as I said at the outset, we are on common ground; we do not think selection should take place at a specific point in time; we do not necessarily think a child need even change schools at the age of 11. We are far more flexible, as I said at the outset, in our approach to this problem than people in the country give us credit for. We are not the Party of the universal 11-plus, or the Party of the universal non-comprehensive school. We want good schools, and those are best judged by being the schools that the parents of the children themselves want.

12.20 p.m.


My Lords, I cannot raise the indignation which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has produced about this Bill, neither, I must confess, can I raise very much enthusiasm. It seems to me that, however much one is in favour of the comprehensive principle—and my Party is—this Bill and the passions it is arousing, is a waste of time, a waste of Parliament's time in a Session when we are overburdened with far too much legislation anyway. It is a waste of talent, time, resources, people and work. There are many other better things that we could be doing today. and that the educational world should be doing, than paying attention to this Bill.

It is 32 years since the last Education Act made an organic change in British educational practice, and during those 32 years there has been a massive revolution in the whole of British education. Nothing is the same as it was then, for better or for worse. And all this has happened by the use of consensus and evolution, maybe with the dangling of a carrot here and maybe a prod from the stick there, but on the whole it has happened by consensus. Now we have this rather clumsy, coercive little Bill to raise passions and to divert people in an economic and educational crisis from their worthwhile tasks.

I do not for one moment defend the local authorities who still refuse to embark on comprehensive reorganisation. I think that they are wrong-headed and I think that they are thick-headed, but I believe that, slow as they have been to produce reorganisation, they would have come round in the end; that we would do better, rather than produce a coercive Bill, to find another way of representing the electorate's wishes in the field of educational organisation. I will return to that, if I may, in a moment, because I think it is a point that ought to be examined.

Liberals are united in defence of the comprehensive system. It has its drawbacks and we know it, and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has pointed out some of the problems which arise in trying to apply it completely logically over the whole field. But the drawbacks it has are as nothing to the drawbacks of selection, and although the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has said that he and his Party are flexible—and I am quite prepared to believe it—it is still true that they have not pointed out in what way they would exercise this lack of comprehensiveness, this form of selection, in such a way that it does not have a lot of the evils of the 11-plus.

Selection inevitably compartmentalises children at an early age into categories from which it is very difficilt for them to escape. The noble Baroness, Lady Brooke, asked whether it was not true that children can get reallocation from comprehensive to grammar schools. In fact, that is not possible, because you cannot have comprehensive and grammar schools in the same system. It is just an abuse of the English language.


My Lords, in fact they have co-existed in London for the last 20 years, and the noble Lord ought to know it.


My Lords, they have not co-existed in London for the last 20 years, because you cannot properly call schools "comprehensive" if they do not comprehend the children who have gone to the grammar schools.


My Lords, the noble Lord is really talking about something of which he does not seem to know the elements. In my late constituency of St. Marylebone the Quintin Kynaston School became comprehensive a long time ago, the Marylebone Grammar School was a grammar school, and the Rutherford School was comprehensive. They co-existed for years, and the noble Lord ought to know it before speaking about it.


My Lords, I know exactly what the noble Lord is talking about, but he does not appear to have any command of the English language. A comprehensive school is a school which comprehends all the children in its catchment area. If it does not, you may call it comprehensive until you are blue in the face, but it is not; it is a secondary modern.


My Lords, may I just correct one statement which the noble Lord has just made. I was not merely referring to movement from comprehensive to grammar. I was referring to both ways; I know it has happened most successfully.


My Lords, I was just about to go on to the question of movement. I accept the noble Baroness's correction about two ways. Where you have secondary modern schools, whether or not they are called comprehensive, and grammar schools co-existing, you can have movement after selection from one to the other. But it is much less likely to happen between schools than it is within schools, and it is much less likely to happen in a system which is already divided into these different categories than one which by its philosophy rejects these categories. There-fore, there is still far too much final selection and far too many cases where a child cannot change when he or she should change either way.

This form of selection instils competition between children, encouraged by parents, of a kind which is probably undesirable at any age and is certainly shocking at the age of 11 or 12. Let us not forget the pressures that are on children and the tragedies that there were. Although we are not the same as Germany and our system was not the same, let us not forget the rash of teenage and school-children suicides in Germany at this moment, largely caused, people think, by the pressure of a selection system. These are the evils of a selection system, which the comprehensive system does away with, more or less. Selection also divides schools into two kinds which, whatever labels people give to them, are seen as good and academic on the one side or bad and practical on the other. Among other things, this has contributed towards the low prestige of engineers and technicians in our society, and this is probably an important factor in our national decline. It makes it difficult for children to combine different skills, such as, say, mechanical engineering and German which would make extremely good and fruitful combinations and which children may have real aptitudes for. On all grounds, therefore, selection at this kind of age, or any age round it, is both repugnant and catastrophic.

There is another principle which is involved in this Bill, another equally liberal principle, and that is the principle of local option and devolution. I will not conceal from your Lordships that there are many Liberals who feel that in this particular field devolution and local option should have precedence, that we should give to local education authorities the power to decide what system they want. The fact that I and my Party marginally disagree with this, and are, therefore, reluctantly forced to support the Government in this not very attractive Bill, comes from two considerations which I feel I must very briefly put before your Lordships.

The first is that I think there is a general principle about devolution and human rights. Whereas we should give as much as possible control over people's lives into their own hands, when it comes to questions of human rights they are best left to the bodies at the greatest distance from local prejudice and pressures. That is why, for example, in a broader field, the institution of the European Court of Human Rights, and our accession to it and our acceptance of it, is such a massive and good step forward in the whole field of human rights. That is why we made such a bad mistake during the 'twenties, 'thirties, 'forties and 'fifties in leaving the whole field of human rights to the devolved Stormont Parliament, instead of making certain they that were enforced at Westminster.

Although one should not extend what is the field of human rights unnecessarily, the harm which can be done by selection is, I believe, great enough to make one wonder whether this is not a field where one should put the power of decision firmly in the hands of the State. Secondly, I very much doubt whether in any of these local authorities there would be a majority for the present selective system if one were actually to take a vote of the parents of children at school and the parents of children about to go to school. As the noble Lord, Lord Elton, would say, that is not a fact, but I think that there is strong evidence to show that it may nevertheless be true.

Some time ago I commissioned a study on this matter which showed that if one took this particular part of the electorate there was an overwhelming majority of parents in favour of the comprehensive system. Surely it is those people to whom we should be listening. It is those people whose children are having to go into the system to whom we should be listening, and I do not believe that the electorates of the particular local authorities with which we are dealing and which the Bill is designed to deal with are in fact representative in this matter. It is true, of course, that they can be turned out by the electors who do not want them, but local government elections are fought on a great number of issues, some of them national, and one particular issue very seldom sways the balance. Perhaps, therefore, we need to think all over again how we control our educational system, both at the national and local level, and if the report of the Taylor Committee is anything like it is reported to be, maybe it is a very useful step to having a better form of democracy in education.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the changes, and whatever changes we may want to see in the educational system of this country, this really is a silly Bill to bring in at a time when there is so much to do. We have the present cuts in education expenditure to deal with. Why, for example, are local authorities not getting a strong lead from the Government on how to cope with them? Why are we not getting the kind of national conference to discuss how to deal with the cuts which were so usefully and intelligently suggested by the professional association of teachers? Why do we not move the social welfare elements of the Bill off education and on to social welfare so that we can actually examine the expenditures on education? Why do we not change the regulations which deal with school meals and matters like that so that sensible savings and changes can be made in fields of that kind? There are so many things that we should be doing; for example, concentrating on cutting down the vandalism bill. Why, above all, do we not realise that there is a crisis in education and that it is not really very much to do with ideologies, however much some of us may pretend that is is?

I was sitting across the table last week from the top civil servants of OECD dealing with education and manpower; very able people with wide experience of the educational systems of the developed world (no trendy "lefties") and they said, in effect, "There is the problem of the secondary school. It is not a problem, whatever people say, of selection. It is not a problem of the comprehensive school. It is a problem of the secondary school all over the developed world". That is what we should be paying much more attention to than we are and I get the feeling that we are not paying very much attention to it at all.

Nevertheless, the Government have produced this Bill and I suppose that they must have it, although in my view they should not be allowed to have it until it has been considerably amended. Clause 5 must go. There is absolutely no doubt about that. There is no excuse whatever for taking away the right of local education authorities to pay for education in any system they want out of the money that they have raised in individual cases, and if they should abuse that system the remedy is quite simple and the Secretary of State has pointed it out: the ratepayers can appeal to the district auditor to disallow it, as he probably would if the system was abused. In any event, this right must not be taken away and I hope that this House will not let the Bill through in any shape or form so long as it has that clause in it.

Next, I think that the Secretary of State must be given more discretion on exemptions in the future. I should like to examine some of this gap in Clause 1(2) with Lord Elton and have a look at it. I am certain that we must allow flexibility for the future so that if we discover fields other than singing, dancing and acting in which we wish to have some sort of discrimination, the Secretary of State or an appropriate authority will have the power, without having to come back to this House for a whole new Education Bill, to make exemptions. I think that we should have some method of local inquiries into reorganisation schemes within the comprehensive principle, and it seems to me that there are a great many Amendments which your Lordships would be right to put forward to this House.

I applaud the ideals behind the Bill and I stand four-square behind the comprehensive system. I reject the hypocrisy which would have it that selection some-how meant choice. The only choice that it involved was that parents of kids who passed the 11-plus could not choose to take up their places. I deplore the Bill as an unnecessary time and money wasting measure with some very highly desirable features. It has passed its 11-plus in another place and has got into this academy. I hope that it will leave this academy a great deal more civilised than it entered it.

12.37 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of BLACKBURN

My Lords, I appreciate the sympathy expressed on trying not to be controversial when speaking in connection with this Bill. I should not be controversial in the slightest if I said that from the Church's point of view we are very grateful for the Amendments already accepted by the Government to the Bill as originally conceived, and not least of course for the financial provision, to which reference has been made, where there are Church secondary schools and it seems to the local diocese impossible to find the money to reorganise at the time. We are grateful for the right of governing bodies of voluntary schools to submit proposals affecting their schools direct to the Secretary of State. We are partners in a dual system here and we value every line of communication, and are appreciative of that Amendment. We are also grateful for the undertaking that ability in music may be interpreted as including choral ability, so that it will still be open to local educational authorities to assist the education of choristers in cathedral or other schools which are not necessarily comprehensively organised.

The principles behind the Bill have been discussed in Church, educational and political circles—I can only speak for the Church circles—with varying degrees of expertise. The merits of the provision of an education for people of all abilities alike and the desire to recognise the wishes of parents and of local authorities clearly have to be balanced. They are understood, and they have often been discussed. The weaknesses of the 11-plus system have already been referred to today. In the Board of Education of the Church of England these issues have been debated very many times, and many times recently. Clear divisions of opinion have shown themselves, and those clear divisions are not all born of prejudice. It is equally true that the General Synod of the Church of England, meeting in Church House recently, debated what was then the issue of the direct grant schools and noted with concern the educational, social, and moral effects of the proposed abolition of the direct grant system. But, again, there were divided opinions and views which were held very strongly on both sides.

As I see it, a comprehensive school, Church or otherwise, can be just as moral and just as religious as its predecessor under the selective system, and we appreciate that there is no intention to affect or alter the religious persuasion and the religious foundation of the voluntary Church schools. Many of our Church secondary schools have gone, and many more will go, comprehensive, whether or not the Bill is passed. Indeed, I think it fair to say that there are many members of our Board of Education who would approve the comprehensive idea in principle, but regret any element of compulsion. They might suspect that Gamaliel would have said, "Let it grow on its own merits if it is the right way forward". However, if it is the right way forward, I see one value in the old secondary modern scheme that must somehow be preserved. I refer to the opportunity for leadership and responsibility to be exercised by the less academically able.

In a large—and by that I mean very large—school where the majority will leave at 16 and a minority will be staying on for the remaining two years, there is a danger that it will be from that minority, which will consist of the more academically able, that the prefects, the captains of sport, the leaders of the debating societies and others will be found. In a school where all leave at the same age, that leadership is open to all, irrespective of their academic ability. Of course, there are ways of overcoming this danger, but it is something that could militate against the very principle upon which the Bill is founded, for our society needs to give opportunities to all its growing members to learn the art of leadership and to be aware of responsibility. In our secondary schools they get that chance.

From the Church's point of view, it is the local diocese which, in the Church of England, makes decisions about the educational system and, shifting from local lines of communication to central Government may make slightly more difficult the organisation under which we happen to work. I see the role of the Church of England Board of Education as being to co-operate with the State and the local education authorities within a dual system. We try to do this at every level from infant school to colleges of education with courses leading to university degrees. In our schools, there are something like 1 million children, leaving aside schools of the Roman Catholic and other Church persuasions. We are partners in this enterprise. We have valued that partnership for over a hundred years. We are only too willing to criticise, comment and make suggestions, but it is not our intention at this moment to start fighting with our partner.

12.45 p.m.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to be the one to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on his maiden speech. I should also like to reiterate what my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge said when he opened the debate. He said that he would like to pay tribute to the co-operation of the Churches with the Department of Education and Science, and as one who had the task for three years when a Minister of dealing with the Church of England and Roman Catholic authorities, I, too, should like to pay tribute to their co-operation, particularly in the field of secondary education and comprehensive schools. I come from the opposite side of the Pennines to the right reverend Prelate, but he has made the kind of fair and forthright speech which we associate with both sides of the Pennines and I hope that we shall hear him on many occasions in the future.

My noble friend Lord Donaldson remarked in opening on the fact that this was not the first Bill of this kind. As he remembered, there was a Bill going through another place in May 1970, and I remember that I said my last words as a Member of the House of Commons in the Standing Committee on that Bill. I thought that I was uttering my last words in Parliament because the General Election had been called. The words in question, which had something to do with Clause 3 of the Bill were, "And the Secretary of State must wait five years". I never finished that sentence and I have forgotten what the Secretary of State had to wait for but, at any rate, he has had to wait six years to introduce the present Bill and I have had to wait six years to speak and to finish what I was probably going to say on that occasion.

I have always believed in the comprehensive system. It is said, and there is some truth in this today, that it has become a political issue. As far as I am concerned, however, I was an advocate of the comprehensive system of education many years ago, and my advocacy had nothing whatever to do with my politics. It was due to the fact that, during the war years, I was a teacher in a secondary modern school, and saw the unfairness of the 11 plus system and the separation of children between secondary modern and grammar schools. At the beginning of the war, I was elected a member of the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party and one of the things that I determined to do was to get the National Executive to press forward with the whole idea of comprehensive education. I am proud of the pat t that I played in getting my Party to support that idea.

For various reasons I have to be brief today, so I shall just deal with a few points though I should like to mention many more. First, I should like to mention the Conservative attitude towards comprehensive education over the years. In the 1950s and 1960s there was some—though it was not entire—consensus of policy. I always thought during that period, particularly when the noble Lord, Lord Boyle of Handsworth, was the Minister, and, in some degree, when the Minister was the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that they accepted some forms of comprehensive education, even if they were not prepared to go as fast as the Labour Party would go. I believed that they accepted the trend towards comprehensive schools.

At national level in those years, the difference between the Conservatives and the Labour Party seemed one of degree and timing. At local level—with a few exceptions—many Conservative and independent local authorties were as keen on getting their schemes of comprehensive education through as were Labour local authorities. From 1967 to 1970 I was in charge of the comprehensive scheme part of the Department of Education and I know that pressure was coming from local authorities for us to approve the schemes of comprehensive education and that that pressure was coming not only from Labour authorities but also from Conservative and independent authorities. Indeed, some of the best and most successful comprehensive schools in the country are down in the West Country in Devon and Cornwall.

But in late years there seemed to be a change in Conservative policy at national level, and I think that this change occurred when Mrs. Thatcher took over in Opposition responsibility for education, and this was accentuated when she became Secretary of State for Education. Now it seems not so much one of timing and degree, but opposition to the idea of a comprehensive system, or the strange idea, which has already been dealt with, of comprehensive and grammar schools existing side by side.

In all the arguments about details I think we are getting away from the basic issues. Before there were any comprehensive schools we had the 11-plus system with all that that meant, and there is more nonsense talked about freedom of choice for parents than anything else. Under the separate system of grammar schools and secondary moderns there never was the choice for parents, and there never has been. For most of the children of our country the alternative to a comprehensive school was not a grammer school; the alternative was a secondary modern school. I should like to ask this question. If a local authority has places for 240 grammar school pupils and the parents of 800 children have applied for these places, what is to happen to the spare 560? Where is the choice for parents of the 560 who would not in this instance be admitted to the grammar school? There is no choice whatsoever, and this freedom of choice is just a nonsense.

Before there were comprehensive schools there was room in the grammar schools of this country for 20 per cent. of the secondary intake. Eighty per cent. went to secondary moderns and 20 per cent. to the grammar schools, so that four-fifths of the children never got any choice at all. But it was even worse than that, because pre-comprehensive, about 20 or 30 years ago, the percentage of grammar school places in different local authority areas varied from 8 per cent. in some places to over 60 per cent. in parts of North Wales. So that the test, even if one could devise a fair test at 11, of whether or not a child got to the grammar school depended far more on where that child happened to live than on the ability that child had.

This Bill is to compel those local authorities which have no intention of going comprehensive to do so, and it has been argued that we should not have compulsion and that we should leave local authorities to please themselves. Well, I would agree that there are many things that are done by the Department of Education and Science which ought to be left to local authorities. I found all kinds of details coming to me which ought to have been resolved at local level. But I think there are some things which must be determined for the country as a whole. We do not leave local authorities to determine the school-leaving age, and I regard the whole of the organisation of secondary education as important as the school-leaving age.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, has today said that we should have uniformity if we have the comprehensive scheme. This is not so. There are a variety of different ways in which local authorities can introduce comprehensive education. There are the 11 to 18 schools. I have never been keen on these, quite honestly. I think that from 11 to 18 is too big an age range. There is the middle school system with schools from 9 to 13 and 13-plus. There are sixth form colleges, junior comprehensives from 11 to 16, and then a sixth form college. A great many of our young people today leave school at 16 to go on to the college of further education to take their A levels there. I think that a great many of them do this because at 16 they do not want to be regarded as pupils at school; they want to be regarded as students at college.

One of the schemes which came to me was from Exeter. It was a very interesting one in which the Exeter local authority decided to have comprehensive schools from 11 to 16 and anybody who stayed on at school beyond the age of 16 received his education in the college of further education, with a merging together of what would have been a sixth form college and the college of further education. I am told that this scheme is progressing very well and that some other local authorities have also followed suit.

My Lords, I want to mention only two other matters. I think that comprehensive schools have been getting a very bad Press lately because anything concerning a comprehensive school, particularly with regard to behaviour, has been given headlines. But of course if the boys from Gordonstoun go out drinking, that is just some youthful expedition. We have heard a lot about bullying; it is always said that there is bullying in comprehensive schools. Quite a number of noble Lords opposite went to famous schools and I hope that they will not think me ungracious if I say that some of them went to school a very long time ago. Can they honestly say that they did not see any bullying at their very expensive public schools? Of course they saw bullying.

In conclusion, I wish to refer to one other point. Mrs. Thatcher is fond of telling us that she is the product of a grammar school—and anything which produced Mrs. Thatcher must be preserved. I am the product of a grammar school, too, and a great many of my noble friends on this side of the House are products of grammar schools. But we were the lucky few, the few who got through, and I know that in my small mining town (and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that I live among ordinary people—miners and railwaymen) there were a great many boys and girls of my age who ought to have gone to the grammar school and receive a grammar school education, but there was not the opportunity for them to do so.

What I want to do is preserve what is good in the grammar school and make it available for everybody. I want there to be opportunity for all. The 1944 Education Act refers to secondary education being provided according to age, ability and aptitude. Well, I believe that a comprehensive system of education is the only one which gives meaning to this and which will give opportunities for all children, according to their age, ability and aptitude.

12.58 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, it is a pleasure to join with the noble Baroness in congratulating the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. The Churches have made such a tremendous contribution over the years in the field of education that we are really very grateful that one right reverend Bishop should be here and should make such a balanced speech. I hope that we shall hear him many times in the future and that he will perhaps convey to his Board of Education that this House wants to hear what the Church has to say about education. It is also a very great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon. I always enjoyed her speeches in another place. She said something kind about me and I can return it many times. I have never heard her make a speech on education from which I did not feel that I had learnt something, and her sympathy with children and teachers was very valuable.

This is called an Education Bill, but it has more to do with Party politics than with education. That we have already discovered, and that turns it into an important and controversial measure which I find has close links with two recent debates in your Lordships' House, one on the family and the other on the universities. I missed the Archbishop of Canterbury's debate, but reading the report I felt that the House must have been convinced that the family remains the most important agency for holding society together. Your Lordships will have noticed that at exactly the same time and in another place education Ministers were saying that social cohesion is the principal benefit to be expected from this Bill. I propose to devote a few remarks to this high claim for comprehensive schools and to ask your Lordships to examine it carefully and, I hope, objectively.

I think that we would all agree that our society will only recover its balance and vigour if we have much more in common than we have now. Rather suddenly, we have become aware of how many divisions there are in British society and that these divisions are not the same as those to which we were used. Today, they are not so much financial; that is, differences in income after tax, as cultural and social. There are many groups in society today that do not seem able to talk to each other. The question is very relevant: can the system of public education be improved to help us to treat each other as friends and equals in spite of the enormous natural differences between one person and another, differences which it is the express purpose of education to discover and develop?

The Labour Party are perfectly right to pose that question. It is one of the great issues of our time, to which, in my opinion, the answer of the most reverend Primate was right and to which the answer of this Bill is wrong; because without a background of mutual respect and understanding, traditional wisdom and a willingness for change—and where can these things be learned if not in the family—the schools can do very little for social cohesion. I hope to show your Lordships that the measure that we are discussing, far from helping will make matters worse.

First, let me glance at the other side of this Bill; that is, at the likely effect on educational standards. That is where the debate on the universities comes in. Concern was expressed on that occasion about the standards in the schools. We were told that students are entering universities handicapped by being less well prepared than formerly and the Vice-Chancellors—or it may have been the UGC, I have forgotton which—surprised us by suggesting that university courses ought to be lengthened from three years to four years to make good the deficiencies in the schools. This Bill will do further damage to higher educational standards. In another place, Ministers said very little about the immediate effect of compelling all grammar schools to become mini-comprehensives. They justified the Bill—and I am thinking in particular of a very good passage from a speech of Mr. Gerry Fowler, the Minister of State—on the grounds that the abolition of selection would reduce class differences and ensure greater social cohesion than we have now—two objectives with which I heartily agree.

Your Lordships will see, therefore, that the two earlier debates form an impressive introduction to this Bill. In them was described the social and educational scene against which the merits of the Bill must he judged. To abolish selection when there is no money to extend the grammar schools to cope with a full range of ability will result in fewer subjects being offered and fewer subjects being well taught in many sixth forms. It will accelerate the deterioration in the teaching of boys and girls on the way to the sixth form. This is a most important point.

I must emphasise that it is before children enter the sixth form that the damage is done in comprehensives or secondary moderns too small or too poorly staffed to contain within them fully organised grammar school streams. Not to select until entry into the sixth form means that many boys and girls will either never get there or, more likely, if they do, the standards of the sixth form will have had to be lowered to cope with the loss that they suffered through not having had an adequate preparation. If this Bill is passed, we shall have to reconcile ourselves to the extinction of the A-stream in almost all grammar schools which have been compelled to become mini-comprehensives. Your Lordships might think what that will mean in terms of university education.

I now return to the question of social cohesion. It would be wrong for my Party to take the position that in 1976 nothing mattered in secondary education, nothing need be considered, except the provision of an education suitable to the abilities of each child. Things have changed since the 1944 Act. Today, my Party should look afresh at the organisation and content of education to see whether they help or hinder the growth of responsible citizenship. On the other hand, if the Labour Party took the opposite position, that only social engineering mattered, for which a decline in sixth form standards was a small price to pay, one would have to ask them how Britain is to maintain her position in a competitive world unless clever children from every kind of home get an education that fits them to be leaders in the fight against unemployment and against economic stagnation and leaders, too, in the fight for an improvement in the quality of life for everybody.

I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, that in theory it should be possible to combine the social and educational objectives in one school—and supposing that this or any other Government could offer a secondary education in comprehensive schools to all children which both did justice to their immense range of talents and taught them to be responsible and to respect authority under the law, no one would be against comprehensives.

But the facts of life rule out this possibility. The resources do not exist to establish all secondary schools as comprehensives on a scale that would allow a grammar school and all the other forms of teaching average and below-average children to be contained in one building or adjacent buildings. Even were resources available, the problem, to which there are only a few notable exceptions, would remain of the administrative troubles that cripple the large schools, defeat the teachers and are the despair of parents who want the atmosphere at school to work for and not against their child doing his or her best. Here things have changed in the last ten years; and the schools are not exceptional. Throughout the Western democracies today—it was quite different at the time when I was Minister of Education—we are all learning that very large institutions, although on paper they may show great economies and other remarkable advantages, militate against good human relations, and put too much power in too few hands.

Therefore we find sensible planners in many countries besides our own operating on a more modest scale and advocating that institutions of all kinds should not be too large. The Department of Education and Science, and such bodies as ILEA, have changed their view on the minimum size of the comprehensive school that can do justice to the full range of ability. I can vouch for this conversion because when I was Minister things were the other way round. After years of calling for comprehensives large enough to contain within them a fully-fledged grammar school, they now say that a much smaller comprehensive will do the job just as well. No one believes they reversed their views so abruptly on purely educational grounds. The administrative and disciplinary difficulties of running very large schools, and lack of money to extend existing schools, must have compelled them to discover that small comprehensives are just as good. It is a characteristic of swollen bureaucracies that they will tell any tale to justify their mistakes.

If we could have an impartial review of what is going on in secondary schools, we should discover that the troubles which are now coming to light have very little to do with the abolition of selection. There I am in agreement with noble Lords who have spoken opposite. These troubles lie much deeper in the deception practised on children about the nature of man and of the world in which the school-leaver is going to live. When young people go out into the world they go out into a competitive world. Some of them get on, some lag behind; some try to become Members of Parliament only a few succeed. Most Members of Parliament try to become Cabinet Ministers. What a mercy that only a few succeed! Inequality of performance is a fact of life and it is sheer deception to teach children otherwise. Whether the doctrine that children should be sheltered from the knowledge of what success and failure mean accounts for the lowering of educational standards or whether the undeniable fall in standards accounts for the doctrine, I leave your Lordships to decide. We delude ourselves if we think we can improve what is now happening in the schools just by changing the organisation of secondary education. It is quite the contrary. This particular Bill will make the present serious situation worse both educationally and socially.

It is not difficult to show that the effect of the Bill must be socially divisive. In the first place, some parents—perhaps more than we now expect—will opt out of the maintained system and send their children to fee-paying schools. The gap between the maintained schools and independent schools will widen. That is a certain result of this Bill as will be seen from the odious Clause 5 which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, quite rightly wishes to see removed from the Bill. It will be socially divisive, and is bound to lead to envy of the independent schools and a demand for their abolition. It is also unfortunately, though understandably, true that some valuable graduate teachers who have grown accustomed to the atmosphere of a grammar school cannot face the conditions in the mini-comprehensives, and are leaving to teach in independent schools. Some are leaving teaching altogether, and what, my Lords, must be the result? The standards of education in the maintained schools must go down Secondly, if the comprehensives are to be neighbourhood schools, which I think is what the Labour Party really want, parents who can afford to move to middle-class districts will do so. Selection will continue—this is where the theorists on the other side ought to look more carefully at what is going to happen—not by brains but by where you can afford to live. The horrifying example of the neighbourhood schools in the United States of America is well known to your Lordships. If we have the same here, it will intensify social unrest perhaps with special force in the field of race relations.

However, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, pointed out, Clause 2(6) appears to mean that the comprehensives are not all to be neighbourhood schools. Instead, they may be allocated a balanced intake by bands of ability. It will very rarely occur that the children in any given area reflect the prescribed proportions of ability. Children will be drafted, whether or not their parents like it, to go to the school nominated by the local authority acting within the regulations prescribed by the Secretary of State. Do the Labour Party really think that intake by bands of ability will promote social cohesion? Children will have to be labelled before they get into the bus: first-class, second-class, and third class. Does the Party opposite imagine parents will take that lying down? They will be bitterly hostile.

A further point: so far as we can see ahead, the new comprehensives—or many of them—will have to remain small. Some children will have to walk or be transported during the school day to attend sixth forms in other schools, and vice versa. This is going to be the only way to prevent a catastrophic drop in the number of subjects offered for A-level. In my opinion it will also be necessary to move children about for remedial teaching.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount leaves the point about bands, may I make this point. The clause to which I referred says that the Secretary of State will not abolish banding at an unreasonable speed. There is no intention of developing the system of labelling people, putting them in buses and sending them off.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, one of two things must happen. Either you have neighbourhood comprehensive schools, in which case you will have class differences between the schools according to the districts where they are situated, or you try to get over that by having bands of ability, in which case you will have a form of "bus-ing" which I venture to think will be socially divisive. I cannot believe that the Labour Party really think that parents will not see that all this movement from school to school upsets children and staff, wastes time and provides opportunities for neglecting work. Will this promote social harmony? This Bill is an ugly little example of how Socialists grab the power out of the hands of the citizen and the local authorities and pile it up in the central bureaucracy. But I suspect that the day of reckoning is not far distant. Governments which carry centralisation so far as this—interfering with the dearest wishes of many families—will find human nature is not so easily outraged. In the words of Edmund Burke: The nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity; and therefore no simple disposition or direction of power can be suitable either to man's nature or to the quality of his affairs". This Bill treats secondary education as simple. How can it be simple when every child is unique? Instead of putting all our money on one type of secondary school, we should be experimenting—and the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, said practically the same—with all-through comprehensives, middle schools, grammar schools, sixth form colleges, specialist schools, direct grant schools, independent schools; the whole lot. As it is, the Bill will deprive a significant number of parents of the opportunity to do what they know is the best for their children. It will deprive many ex-grammar schools of their A-stream, with all that will mean to the standards of university scholars. It will deprive local authorities of the right to take places for children in independent schools which they have reason to believe can give the children concerned the most suitable education. All this is to be done in the name of social cohesion. The claim is fraudulent, and the results will be as socially divisive as they are educationally damaging.

1.21 p.m.


My Lords, on the previous occasions on which I have spoken to your Lordships' House I have tried to be brief. I hope your Lordships will bear with me today if I speak at rather greater length. I do so for two reasons. First, I do so because this Bill raises issues which are fundamental; but secondly—and I think more importantly—it gives us the opportunity to look at many major problems relating to the education service, to the solution of which this Bill unfortunately makes no contribution at all. Indeed, it aggravates at least one of the major difficulties affecting the education service at the present time. I refer to the tendency to increased political polarisation relating to the organisation of our schools.

My Lords, I must tell you—and I use the words advisedly because I do not advise you: I tell you—that the school system of this country cannot be reorganised every time there is a change of Party political control at either local or national level. It is not a practical proposition. Nothing but disaster will come to the children if we make the organisation of our schools the yo-yo of Party politicians. We must find an answer to that problem, and I hope I may be able to make some suggestions later which may be worthy of consideration by your Lordships.

I am not opposed to the principle of comprehensive education. I believe that consensus opinion in this country accepts the principle of comprehensive education, and in the system of educational isonomy which we practise in this country consensus opinion is inevitably the basis on which educational policy is bound to be formed. But this Bill makes a major constitutional change. In Clause 1 it completely alters the relationship between central Government and local government. It may be that there is need to re-examine the respective powers of central Government and local government relating to education, but surely that is something to be determined under the Layfield Report and not by a Bill of this kind. That is in fact the main theme of the Layfield Report—the relationship between central Government and local government. But this Bill prejudges what may happen under the Layfield Report. I share the view of some speakers who have said that the Bill is unnecessary. I believe that. I believe that, consensus opinion being in favour of the principle of comprehensive education, this would come within a period of time as natural evolution. Indeed, it is happening now.

I think that Clause 5—I find it difficult to find the right words—creates great administrative difficulty and is economic nonsense. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that at the present time local education authorities support over 30,000 children in independent schools, and Government Departments support a further 7,000. Of that group, it is estimated that approximately 12,000 are there because they require boarding education. I must assume that Clause 5 will be operated in the spirit of Clause 1. If that is so, one is to assume that the Secretary of State will not be prepared to approve of a local authority or Government Department sending a child to a school which continues the principle of selection. That, I think, can be said of almost every independent school. It is therefore necessary to find 12,000 boarding places in comprehensive schools. I hesitate to estimate the capital cost of making that provision, or indeed of the subsequent revenue cost, but I cannot imagine that there is any proposal relating to capital expenditure for local education authorities which would enable that to be done until after a very considerable period of time.

Let me turn away from the Bill. This is an opportunity I have dearly sought for the last six or seven years, to bring to the attention of the country generally the major problems which face the education service and about which nothing seems to be done. I go back to the 1944 Act. It is a great tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that it has proved so flexible as to enable it to contain the very many changes which have taken place in these last 30 years—a quite remarkable piece of legislation.

What has happened? I start with the problem of resources, because that is the background against which other things inevitably have to be judged. When I took my present post 31 years ago, this country spent £155 million on the total provision for the education services to the country. That was in 1945. It represented 1.7 per cent. of the gross national product at that time. This year we shall spend some £6,000 million, representing very close to 7 per cent. of the gross national product. I think in the current year it would be safe to say that no European country spends in that way as high a proportion of gross national product as we do. It seems to me obvious that we are very close to, if not beyond, the limit of resources which can be made available for education. Therefore, we necessarily have to increase the cost-effectiveness within the education service if the needs of the nation are to be met.

Let us look, therefore, at what has happened over these 30 years, and let me start with the schools. I accept that consensus opinion has moved increasingly towards the acceptance of the comprehensive principle, but it is also true that consensus opinion increasingly totally rejects large schools. If we take these two things together, it leads to a perfectly simple conclusion—and I would go beyond the suggested limit of 800: I would go as far as 1,000—that you cannot maintain an effective sixth form in every comprehensive school of 1,000. It would be neither educationally nor economically viable. Therefore, necessarily, you have to move to a new concept, in my judgment, recognising secondary education from 11 to 16, and what I call tertiary education from 16 to 19. That is a problem to which I shall return in a moment. It is also true that, organised in that way, there is a very substantial economic advantage and the educational opportunity is very much wider; but I would not want to stop at merely providing wider academic opportunity. I will come back to that later, but the opportunity must be wider than merely academic.

The other thing that has happened is the explosion in further and higher education. I think "explosion" is the only word to use. It has been so very great, particularly in the expansion of higher education on the academic side. I sometimes wonder whether we are making the same assumptions today as we made 35 years ago; assumptions which may have been justified then, but which are no longer justified. Thirty-five years ago, when we were admitting perhaps 3 per cent. of the age group to our universities, we had—I think from memory—nine universities. It was manifestly reasonable to assume that they were national institutions and had to recruit nationally, with a high proportion of residential provision. We now have 44 universities, 30 polytechnics and over 100 colleges of education, and it seems to me that we are continuing to make the same assumptions relating to all these institutions of higher education. The proportion of the relevant age groups that attended grammar schools 35 years ago, is the same proportion as now take first degree work in higher educational institutions.

Thirty-five years ago, I was chief education officer for Sheffield, and we had nine grammar schools. I am bound to tell your Lordships that, if I had suggested to my committee that we should recruit from Devon, Cornwall, Durham and Cumberland, they would probably have dismissed me for sheer irresponsibility. They recognised that we could not afford it. Last year I went to Sheffield to address 1,600 students from colleges of education. One hundred were from Sheffield and 1,500 were from all over the country in residence, while at the same time 1,500 Sheffield students were being financed to go all over the country to other colleges of education, to take precisely the same courses as were available within the City. The impact on capital costs is considerable. The impact on revenue costs is £350 per student in terms of the present value of mandatory awards.

We made a second assumption 35 years ago that it was reasonable to assume that a large proportion of the time of every member of the university staff would necessarily be spent on research—an assumption which may well have been justified at that time in terms of the numbers of staff involved. We still make the same assumption, apparently, judging by the staffing ratios which now obtain for all 44 universities and all 30 polytechnics, and increasingly for colleges of education. I am bound to advise your Lordships that I do not believe that that amount of research is either necessary or desirable and, looking at the results of some of it, I think it was not worth the money that was invested in it. Therefore, I am putting to your Lordships the urgent need for a re-examination of what has happened in these last 35 years, and the most fundamental thing that has happened is our utter failure to recognise the change of circumstance of this nation.

Thirty-five years ago we had an empire. We may have been justified in assuming that the education service made its great contribution by educating people who could persuade as administrators of our colonies, and could from those colonies produce substantial wealth which helped to sustain the standard of life in this country. Therefore, our emphasis on high academic standards was probably justified. That is not the situation any more. We are now facing the fact that we have to produce wealth by our own people in this country.

What has happened in that setting over the last 10 or 15 years? I was a member of the Henniker-Heaton Committee, which looked at this problem of providing effective education and training for the 16 to 19 age groups. We recommended that there should be an increase from 250,000 to half a million on day release within a period of five years. That was 14 years ago. What has happened in those 14 years is that the number on day release has dropped from 250.000 to 200,000. But at that Same time, over that same period, the report of my noble friend Lord Robbins appeared, and what is the result of his report? It is a rapid and great increase in the provision of higher education. I esteem high academic values as much as anybody, but this nation must come to recognise that unless it offers equal esteem to those who design, create, make and sell, we will not be able to sustain the standard of living which we now enjoy. We must strengthen our provision in these fields.

All of this leads me to make a plea to the Government. This is not the Bill we need. We need a new Education Act, a major Act defining primary education from five to 11, defining secondary education from 11 to 16, defining tertiary education from 16 to 19. There is great concern over the number of unemployed school leavers, and there seems to be an assumption that this is a transient problem; that it will disappear. I do not share that view. This is a trend and it will increase. The number of unemployed school-leavers in 1969 was 15,000. It had grown to 65,000 by 1971, it had grown to about 115,000 last year and it has grown to 209,000 this year.

There is a fundamental fact which is emerging all over Europe as well as in this country. We are going to reach a stage, relatively shortly, when the 16 to 19 age group is not required in industry and commerce. We will be under an obligation to provide full-time education and/or training for these age groups. Therefore, I want a new definition of the tertiary stage of education, and I hope, a steady move to the establishment of tertiary colleges; not sixth form colleges which offer A-levels, but tertiary colleges which offer A-levels of the highest possible standard, I hope, but other qualifications for the Technical Education Council or the Business Education Council; which offer a range of courses; which offer full-time and part-time education—and I do not mean merely the alternatives of full-time or one day a week—which offer a structure of sandwich courses combining practical experience in the different branches of industry or commerce with continuous study which equips the young person at 18-plus either to go on to higher education, if that is his choice, or to go into industry and commerce, but equipped to make a real contribution to the development of wealth in this country.

It is a fact of history that we have never produced a major Education Act in this country except after a war—1870, 1902, 1918 and 1944. Is it too much to hope that in peacetime we could produce an Education Act which would provide as adequately for the needs of the next 30 years as the 1944 Act has provided for the last 30; which would seek to reconcile Party political differences; which would seek to do what we are all agreed on—to provide full educational opportunity, full opportunity of training, for every child whether very able or more limited, whether his talents lie in this field or in that? 'What we are discussing is how best to do that within the limit of resources which the nation can make available. I venture to plead with the Government: take this Bill away and bring in a real Education Bill which we urgently need.

1.40 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has ranged very widely and I hope merely to restate some of the fundamental principles of the Bill which have got rather lost in the attacks made on it by the Opposition, mainly based, so far as I can see, upon two assumptions: first, that the Bill is Socialistic and therefore bad; secondly, that it is bureaucratic and therefore bad; and perhaps I should add a third identification of intelligence and academic excellence with the middle class.

My first proposition is that the Bill does not erect that monster of nationwide uniformity so eloquently sketched by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, which previously I had hoped had been destroyed by my noble friend the Minister. We are not introducing a system which prevailed, certainly until recently, and may still hold, in France, when the Minister of Education could look at his watch and say, "Every child in France is now studying the Napoleonic wars" We are not doing that. No comprehensive school is the identical twin of another. Every comprehensive school has its own individuality. The children are different, the staffs are different, the teaching methods are different, the governors are different, and in different areas the local education authority is different. They are no more like one another than chalk is like cheese.

My second proposition is to uphold the contradiction in terms which passes as a compromise and which was the cause of the dispute between the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who, I regret, is not in his place to acknowledge his defeat by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. "Comprehensive" might become a technical term which would apply with a large "C" to anything, but in the ordinary English sense in which we use it, it means all-inclusive. If I bought a comprehensive English dictionary I should be annoyed if I found I had to buy another English dictionary in order to get all the words derived from Latin. That seems to be the construction of comprehensive which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, was attempting to place on the term. To say that for comprehensive schools to exist side by side with selective schools is a compromise is not true—it is a contradiction in terms.

Schools are supposed to be a preparation for life and life does not consist of mixing entirely with your own kind. One of the first things that one has to learn—and one had better learn it early—is that so far as intellectual qualities are concerned one may expect to meet a number of people who are a great deal cleverer than oneself and perhaps some people who are not quite so clever. That is the reason for combining different levels of ability in the same educational institutions, but I would agree—and this is the only point on which I came within several yards of agreeing with anything said by the noble Lord, Lord Elton—when he gave priority to pastoral care over academic skill in schools. I would not perhaps have called it pastoral care but would prefer to say that a wider social and emotional development was more important than academic excellence. I sometimes tend to think that "academic" means out of touch with reality but that perhaps is a little aside from the purposes of the present Bill.

My Lords, in later life, on the shop floor, in the factory, in professions, in business, maybe even in your Lordships' House, we expect to meet persons of social backgrounds different from our own, with different ideologies and different religions and perhaps of different races, and we have to get on terms with them professionally and socially. The most important thing is that we should start to learn this lesson early. The great merit of the comprehensive school is that it provides for learning that lesson early. The comprehensive school will include children from all these backgrounds and in that way will create the social cohesion about which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was so despondent. This mixing of all sorts—and we might remind ourselves of the old adage that it takes all sorts to make the world-takes place on a basis of day-to-day practical experience and of equality within the school, not as a result solely of moralistic teaching but in the attitude and atmosphere which prevails in the school. So children who go to schools with this mixture will have the opportunity of absorbing, not merely learning, the lesson that in a civilised democratic community the relations of all sorts must be based on mutual respect and mutual tolerance.

1.46 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to speak with diffidence. I am not an educationalist in the narrowest sense of the word, but I make three points at this stage of the Bill on the grounds that, first as a children's officer, then as a Director of Social Services, and on behalf of a local authority, I and the local social work staff in any one year stood in loco parentis to approximately 270 children and young persons up to the age of 18 years. There were also those children who were under statutory supervision under the Matrimonial Causes Act and other Acts relating to children. Finally, there were those children whose parents voluntarily sought advice over particular difficulties, not so much with children but in respect of unusually difficult home circumstances. Such instances were children of widows; some were children of separated and divorced parents; some were children of Service families where one or both parents were out of the country. Some came from neighbourhoods of such size and type that the children experienced no sense of identity.

In other cases parents in difficult circumstances were honest enough to admit that in their peculiar home circumstances they could not meet the needs of their children. Indeed, it could be said that such children were known to me personally and came from all social, financial and educational backgrounds and were children of all abilities. They were children who had suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune. Their common denominator was that there was a particular individual need of both child and home and I look back with gratitude to some of the smaller day and boarding schools, some voluntary, some controlled, some direct grant schools, for accepting a proportion of children who were not handicapped, not maladjusted within the meaning of the Act, but whose family circumstances, as I said earlier, required specialised consideration.

Clause 1(2)(a) of the Bill excludes from the comprehensive system: pupils suffering from disability of mind and body; in other words, special schools. Under Clause 5, as I understand it, it is not the Minister's intention to stop particular cases from going to particular schools, but the general reduction of assisted places in non-maintained schools would mean that parents might not receive specialised help for their children which might be a preventive measure against the development of difficult behaviour later, and, in some instances, forestalling delinquency. Because such parents could not afford the fees they might in certain circumstances—and this has happened—be driven against their will to apply to the already over-burdened social services department for special help to carry their own responsibilities.

I believe that wherever possible and practicable children should surely be with their own or substitute families, in their own homes, in their own neighbourhoods. It could be argued, as has been argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, that all children can receive the help they require from comprehensive schools. Experience leads me to appreciate that some such cases can and do receive special support but that there are others where alternative provision must be made.

Under Clause 5, as I understand it, the Minister's intention is not to prevent a proportion of such cases from going to particular schools; but the overall decision as to whether a child should have an assisted place at a particular school lies not with the local authority but with the Minister. One would view with apprehension the exercise of his powers to prevent children in need of particular schooling on social grounds from receiving it. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that in the field of social services the Minister, Dr. David Owen, stresses the need for partnership between the statutory and voluntary sectors and, indeed, gives practical evidence of this by making grants to voluntary organisations to help children and families with particular problems.

My second point concerns Clauses 1, 2 and 3. It is with diffidence that I touch upon this point as it has been so wonderfully touched upon by previous speakers, but as an ex-local government chief officer I cannot but be deeply concerned that the time-scale for the implementation of the comprehensive principle has not yet been set and that possibly local authorities may be given little time to implement their plans. Local authorities, none better, know the circumstances of their areas. Nothing is more likely to bring the comprehensive principle into disrepute than the hasty, ill-conceived implementation of plans, with split sites and staff ill-equipped to deal with their changed responsibility.

May I ask whether there has been any research into the optimum size of a school to meet the needs of the children, enabling teachers to work positively without strain and in the interests of learning? Do we know the right type of building? Would not it he wise to make a study of the factors which have resulted in the happy, effective comprehensive schools and to compare those factors with the comprehensive school where there is violence, unhappiness and inadequate learning? In some areas disillusionment is setting in for parents, children and teachers. The feeling of euphoria for the comprehensive system is waning.

My third and last point concerns Clause 7, with which I agree, but may I ask the Minister whether further categories can be considered? I refer to discretionary awards for mature students in the personal social services. It is agreed, I believe, by both the Department of Health and Social Security and the Council for Training and Education in Social Work that more qualified social workers are required. Many people, especially magistrates, are calling for older, experienced social workers who are able to stay in post for a longer time. The older man or woman whose children are on the way to being independent have much to offer. They seek to enter social work, but because in their teens they received a mandatory award, as mature students they are refused a discretionary grant. Furthermore, there are important and necessary specialist short courses, such as those which are run at the National Institute for Training in Social Work, where there are vacancies. Yet the need for specialised training is of vital importance to social workers and, in the context of this Bill, to those dealing with children and their families.

1.55 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support this Bill with a sense of paradox. So much in my own life has depended upon my ability to pass exams and show what is called academic ability that I can well understand those noble Lords in academic life who will be speaking against the Bill and on behalf of retaining I the maintained grammar schools, from which some of them came and which have contributed so much to the life of the country in the first half of this century. But I do not do so, for a number of reasons. I support the Bill and my first reason for doing so is a political one.

Well over a century ago a great Tory Prime Minister coined a phrase. He told us that Britain is divided into two nations. I heard that phrase used again in odd circumstances last autumn. I am afraid that I was absent from my place in the House for a little while this morning and I apologise for my absence, which was connected with the business of the Committee on the Future of Broadcasting, of which I am chairman. Last autumn a few of us visited Western Germany to study their broadcasting system, and there in the British Embassy after dinner I had the opportunity of a long talk with a prominent Minister in the German Government. Among other things, I asked him why it is that their trade union movement is notably less militant than ours. He replied, "Oh, because you are a country of two nations. Look at your educational system. Germany used to be such a country, too." Then, engagingly, he added, "The destruction of the two nations, though we do not like to admit it, began with Hitler. But the old system was totally destroyed in 1945 and then for a decade we were all ruined and levelled."

Today there are, of course, enormous differences in wealth in Western Germany, but everybody believes he has an equal start in the schools. One great source of class discontent has been removed. That is why for many years now I have advocated a comprehensive system. We cannot predict at 11-plus which children will develop mentally better than others. All we can do is to endorse those who have come from the homes of educated and responsible parents, be they rich or be they poor. The whole principle of the comprehensive system is to stop irrevocable choices being made about a child's future at 11-plus and to postpone those choices for as long as we possibly can.

There is another reason why I am in favour of comprehensive schools. I am not a grammar school boy. I went to a public school where the spread of ability was far wider. I well know that those famous headmasters, Sir Robert Birley and the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, wag a finger at anybody who suggests that a public school remotely resembles a modern comprehensive. After all, most public schools did not admit boys of lower IQs than 90 and they superannuated ruthlessly if they could not get their Remove those who could not tackle the strictly academic curriculum followed in public schools. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Chelwood, and the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, would confirm, if they were in their places at this moment, since they were both in my house, that in my own school there were considerable numbers of exceedingly nice but, I have to say, exceedingly thick boys; and I think that it was a better school for that.

I am not so totally enamoured of the forcing house of the grammar school as are some people. What is more, my school had a sense of proportion. We were pleased when some of us got scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge because that usually meant an extra half holiday. But there were lots of other ways in which boys could excel and develop their personalities. The greatest blot on the grammar schools was that they concentrated so hard on winning those academic blue ribands that they so often forgot half or at least one-third of the school. It was all right if you were in the A stream; you got all the attention you needed from devoted masters. But if you were in the C or the D stream as a boy or girl you got a far worse education than you could get if you went to a comprehensive school today. May I ask a question which I hope will not be thought offensive?


My Lords, before the noble Lord goes on, may I ask him to quantify his somewhat impressionistic remarks? When he says that a lot of his contemporaries at Stowe were "thick" does he mean that a large number did not get O levels or had IQs below 100 or 110? So often when those of us who are academic talk about "thick" we mean someone who gets a two two instead of a first. Could he just quantify those records?


My Lords, indeed I will for the noble Lord. I have to confess that at the time when I was at Stowe it is perfectly true that numbers of boys— I do not say very many but at least, I should have thought, about 15 per cent.—never were able quite to attain that level which then was called School Certificate—that is to say, they did not matriculate. They might have got one pass, possibly one credit, on School Certificate. But we did take a number of boys who were not intellectually of the most distinguished kind. It is not easy for someone who is so knowledgeable and so experienced as the noble Lord, Lord James, in those great schools of Winchester and Manchester Grammar School (in which Winchester, if I may say so, is the equivalent in the public school system of Manchester Grammar School in the direct grant schools), to understand how limited in their intellectual attainments at their age some boys in public schools were.

I want to ask this question. How many noble Lords today know intimately some of those who teach in comprehensives? Clearly the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, does, but how many of us extrapolate from our school days and apply out-of-date concepts to education today? I happen to know some teachers, two of them very intimately, in the comprehensive school system. My sister-in-law is deputy head-mistress in a 12 form entry all-through comprehensive from 11 to 18 consisting of 2,000 pupils. Her son, my nephew, is deputy headmaster of a high school comprehensive of boys of 12 to 16 which sends pupils on to a sixth form college. Both schools are in Middlesex but they are emphatically not suburban middle class schools. Both have about 10 per cent. black children; both have cases of truancy and difficulty. What schools have not? Public schools certainly do, but they cope with these cases. Both these schools—I confess I gasped first with horror and then with mounting admiration as I hear their academic records—are unstreamed.

My Lords, let me tell you what my kinsmen tell me—and let me tell you while apologising for producing such personal evidence—that they are very far from being progressive starry-eyed intellectuals. Indeed, I am afraid I have to tell the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, that I suspect that in a General Election they are far more likely to vote for the Party to which the noble Lords who sit opposite belong than to his. They are tough, dedicated, hardheaded but warm-hearted professionals. This is what they tell me when I ask them questions. The questions I fear are always on one theme. I ask them, on the theme which has been uppermost in your Lordships' minds today—what about academic standards? Before the war my sister-in-law took the Higher Certificate in science before university. She says that the present system of GCE A-level is far beyond the one she took in complexity and it rests less on memory work than on ability to analyse. The children in her school cope with it. Indeed she told me that the head boy is doing three A levels and hopes to enter University College—hardly a rundown university—in chemical engineering. But what she emphasises is how many more children are staying on in the sixth form and not, like that head boy, to go to university as they would if they had been to a grammar school. Masses stay on to get more O levels and one A level and they do business studies; others of less ability stay on to get some O levels after CSE and do English practice. These are the children who go to polytechnics and further education colleges. In the heyday of the grammar schools they stopped academic work at 15. Do we want to go back to that?

We at the public schools used to pride ourselves that the clevers had to mix with the majority and learn to get on with them, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, said a moment ago, even though in the words of that quatrain it has to be said that the good are so harsh to the clever and the clever so rude to the good. But the comprehensive school today is doing not only that; it is doing something much more important. It is enabling the clever boy from a good home with all advantages to learn how to get on with his fellow citizens. My Lords, much industrial unrest would have been avoided if only we had done that long ago. Such mixing is at the root of the solving of problems of man management. Moreover, though it has been said so often when standards are mentioned let me say it again: nearly all comprehensives are still enlarged secondary moderns. Even where grammar schools have been phased out it will not be before 1978 that the first uncreamed O level candidates will appear.

In the Harrow area where my nephew teaches there are still two grammar schools, though these will go next year. No comparison of examination results between these two types of school are of any value whatsoever. Everyone knows that what this country needs is people with technical ability but that technically and scientifically trained boys and girls must not be merely numerate; they must be literate. In the average grammar school with three to four form entry boys and girls are forced to choose, at 14 very often, whether to do arts or whether to do science. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, whom I well know and from whom I have listened to many persuasive speeches in defence of the grammar school, has deplored this particular choice and has written most eloquently on the need for those who understand science to understand the humanities, and perhaps more important for those who understand the humanities to understand the problems of numeracy.

In the comprehensives they are already doing mixed science and arts courses right up to the sixth form. It is easy to do when you have 500 in the sixth form. Only in the last year in a big comprehensive will you make a dash for either the sciences or humanities, just as you do in France or in Germany. What grammar school really prepares, as comprehensive schools do, children for engineering? No grammar school does, and when I have to ask myself whether it is a choice between producing Fellows of the Royal Society in future or producing technicians I say that you do not have to worry about that choice. Fellows of the Royal Society will emerge through whatever educational system this country ordains. But it is the technicians which we have lacked so terribly in the last years—in the last 20 to 30 years and, indeed, before.

I have to ask myself, will there be a loss if this Bill goes through? Will there be a fall in standards if the Bill passes? My Lords, I want to tell you the truth: there will be. I frankly admit that for some time I do not expect to see coming out of the comprehensive sixth form those superbly drilled intellects which emerged from our leading public schools and from the best direct grant schools, or, indeed, from the maintained grammar schools, such as Maidstone or Emmanuel. These boys and girls will not, by the age of 18, have mastered the use of the enclitic D; they will not be able to construe Tacitus unseen; they will not be able to manipulate N-dimensional geometry; they will not be able to write epigrammatic essays on the rise of the gentry in the 17th century citing Tawney, Trevor Roper and Stone. I mourn that loss; I remember what fun it was to examine the essays and papers of such brilliant boys and girls.

Moreover, like the noble Lord, Lord Carrington—and I am delighted to see that he is now in his place in the Chamber—I belong to a society designed to promote the interests of exceptionally dazzling and brilliant children, and I am more convinced than I was that we need to have exceptional schools for them. But let us be clear that in mentioning such children we are not talking about 30 per cent. of schoolchildren as we were in days gone by in the division between the secondary modern and the grammar schools—we are talking of 0.5 per cent., perhaps 6,000 to 7,000 children—the real Wunderkinder. Might I refer Members of your Lordships' House to certain paragraphs in the report of the Commission on the Direct Grant Schools—their second Report in Volume 1—which dealt with gifted children and showed in fact how it was possible to do something for them.

Standards matter terribly, and I would not have made the admission which I made a moment ago had I not felt that. I would betray everything that I stood for if I did not declare how vital it is to maintain standards and how enraged I am by the disgusting events at the William Tyndale School. There is clear evidence there of the betrayal of children. The execrable Mr. Hadow is nothing but a modern Squeers, and on the whole I prefer Squeers. Squeers exploited children at Dotheboys Hall for the money he could get out of them. Hadow exploited them to satisfy his own dreary little ego. Squeers did not bother to teach them how to spell "winder"—window; Hadow made it impossible for any of the staff to teach them. Squeers beat the boys' bodies black and blue, but Hadow assaulted his pupils' minds. What are we to say of this loathsome, self-righteous tit-Titan who tries to humiliate children and incite others by calling them "scabs" because they will not support his strike action?

My Lords, there always were bad schools, there always will be bad schools; there always were, in public schools, bad houses and, no doubt, there always will be. But we must find ways of coping with them and I very much hope that as a result of the Orde inquiry this will be one of the first concerns of the Department of Education and Science. Of course there has been—and I would go all the way with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, on this—a fall in the standards of the writing of good English and there has been a catastrophic fall in the standards of mathematics and science. I am not complacent and I fear the destruction of the GCE system of public examinations at the hands of the NUT and the egalitarians. Never let teachers control education totally, my Lords. Bring in parents as the countervailing force, because parents today are better educated and more concerned. The most vital task for the DES in school education today is to erect a new and clear structure of responsibility between headmaster, parents, governor, manager and the local education authority. It is always the wretched Mrs. Walker on occasions such as recently who gets it "in the neck"—not always the people who are really responsible. The Tyndale inquiry shows that the system of responsibility for the management of schools is in a mess.

But let us put this fall in standards in perspective. It is due to two facts: first, in the 'fifties and 'sixties the avid demand of industry and business for computer experts and scientists—though not, alas! for engineers to the same degree. The second reason was the too rapid expansion of higher education in the 'sixties and 'seventies which has denuded the schools of teachers. Both of these should ease in the next two decades and there must be a system negotiated with the unions for easing out incompetent teachers who took to teaching at a time of shortage of teachers, and replacing them with the good new blood which will soon be flowing.

Then watch the old Colleges of Education and see that the teaching of teachers is not perverted. Set minimum attainments for various ability groups at various ages and of minimum mathematical qualifications for teachers corresponding to the pupil groups as my colleague at the University of London, Dr. Bryan Thwaites, has suggested. Allow universities and polytechnics to permit a limited number of students a fourth year either to remedy deficiencies and to transfer across the Humanities-Engineering boundary or allow them to acquire post-first degree technical qualifications. Take special steps—and here, I think, again of the gifted children in the schools—so that they can "get ahead sideways", as it is called technically, so that they may explore a subject in depth and breadth. Do not applaud those schools which want to eliminate all competition and who never permit anyone to succeed or fail. What do such schools do but mentally emasculate or hysterectomise boys and girls?

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord how he would hysterectomise a boy?


My Lords, I was referring when I used that word to girls. I wish to add just one other thing. I thought the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, made an excellent point about the need for home-based students in order to reduce the costs of higher education and the training of teachers. I entirely agree with and have been long involved in campaigning for the universities themselves to do something about that. However, none of this will be of any value if your Lordships do not pass this Bill and end, once and for all, the wretched debate which has plagued the childrens' and parents' lives over these past years.

Let me put myself behind the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, and others, who have pleaded for the fact that in the next few years we shall have to have a new Education Act which will define what we are trying to do for children and for adolescents at different stages in their careers. For this debate can end only one way. Noble Lords opposite are not opposed to comprehensive schools—their Party says that they welcome them. They are only opposed to making them truly comprehensive and including in them the children who would raise their tone and achievements. I would add that great concessions have been made by Labour Governments, today and in the past. They have not touched the public schools and those direct grant schools. I rather think they were wrong not to do so after the Public Schools Commission reported, but for mat I blame Labour supporters who were as doctrinaire in their hatred of the independent schools as the Conservatives and Liberals were blind in their support. It is time now for the Opposition to make a concession and pass this Bill. It is time for us all to remember Disraeli and take one tiny step in the direction of abolishing the two nations.

2.20 p.m.


My Lords, so many notable authorities on education have already spoken, or are to speak, in this debate, that as a very ordinary person I find it hard to speak in a debate like this. The Bill before us has but few virtues and is lamentably inadequate. It takes no account of the sort of thing that parents are saying so anxiously. It does not deal with the burning question of discipline: it does nothing to strengthen the hands of school governors. I will cite only one relevant incident that has recently come to my notice. It occurred in a large comprehensive school.

Recently, a family which had just moved had perforce to send their son to this comprehensive school as the only school in the neighbourhood. They had no choice. After four weeks the parents were sent a report, which said how hard their son was trying in French. The parents were astonished, and even more surprised was their son, because he said he had never attended a single French class, and knew no French at all. Surely this is hardly a recommendation for the school, for the teacher or for the headmaster, who I imagine signed the report. One would at least expect a school report to be accurate in basic particulars. Even if the governors wished to take action, what could they do, beyond a mild indication of disapproval?

My Lords, my particular anxiety is for the disabled, both in mind and in body. As Mr. Jack Ashley has said in a most notable speech in another place, the disabled suffer from great loneliness and a great sense of isolation. A school is a social institution which has, as its object, amongst others, that of integrating the young into society. If we are to have truly comprehensive schools, these schools must include as many of the disadvantaged members of society as it is possible for them to cope with. There is a great deal of worry amongst parents today about discipline, and I hope that the Government will be able to do something about it. Much of it is certainly due to the absence of sufficient outlets for self-expression in constructive endeavours both in school and in the playground. If in every school those with some form of disability were included, and the able-bodied young encouraged to help those less able to help themselves, it might well encourage them to do something wholesome and of benefit to themselves as well as helpful to society.

My Lords, no less than 97 per cent. of blind children and 42 per cent. of partially blind children are at present segregated in special boarding schools. They are apart from healthy, sighted children—and indeed apart from their families. I am sure that these boarding schools are excellent. But I wonder, when 3 per cent. of blind children and 58 per cent. of partially blind children can be accommodated and taught in ordinary schools, whether these percentages cannot be increased? As I have said, they and the deaf suffer from great loneliness because of their segregation, and anything that can be done to mitigate this loneliness is well worth the trouble. It is certainly to the disadvantage of the blind to educate them separately. It cuts them off from normal children who are in the great majority. It cuts them off from any advantages of comprehensive education, and thus very often from higher education, especially as they fear they are to remain in schools with the 11 plus selection which decides their education from then on. Surely, what is wanted are specialised units, one at least in every catchment area, which will deal with the blind children in it.

Another problem is the autistic children. The National Society for Autistic Children is very anxious about the number of autistic children in special schools, and the fact that their education ends at 16, other than at day centres. The Society would like to see autistic children staying in their special schools at least until they are 19, because very often it is only in their late teens that autistic children begin to understand what society demands of them as people. When they leave at 16, they are virtually cast adrift on an unwelcome world. The Society feels that there is a greater chance for them to benefit from day centre training if their basic education has been more thorough.

Very many parents are worried at the lack of facilities for these children after the age of 16, especially because as the children grow older and stronger, they themselves find they are tired and getting more old and frail. I can see no reason why physically disabled children, and especially those in wheelchairs, should not be enabled to attend ordinary schools. So often they are prevented because there is a lack of suitable provision for means of access in the shape of ramps, and so on. It should surely be required of local authorities, when the design of schools is planned, to make provision for the physically handicapped, and not for this to be the exception.

For them, as for others, I think I need hardly point out that the integration where possible of handicapped children into ordinary schools can well result in an economy. But I do not advocate this integration simply on the grounds of economy. I hope that the Government will consider the points I have made on integration of the disabled, because it will benefit not only them, but the able-bodied as well. It will help them to a greater understanding of each other's needs while young, and so to a better understanding of each other in the future.

2.26 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, because she speaks with such sincerity and knowledge of the specific subject with which she wishes to deal. One could meander over the whole gamut of education, but we are talking about the Education Bill. I will try and maintain my speech within the area of this Education Bill. Much that has been said today could have been left out of speeches, because if one picks up the Report for this year of the Department of Education and Science, published in June, and looks at the index, one sees that nearly everything that has been spoken about gets some attention, and the Department of Education and Science is not full of fools. It may be they are limited with finance. I do not agree all the time that one must be pushed along by just a civil servant, or by bureaucracy, but let us pay tribute to some very dedicated people within the Department of Education and Science who, over the years, have been dealing with very difficult problems—and many of the problems are due to the fact that they have not had the finance.

Yesterday we had an analysis of finance so beautifully given, rendered with perfect diction and in a most gentlemanly manner by a kindly individual, the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley. But if he mixes up current expenditure, capital expenditure and brought-forward statistics, which makes people think we are pouring money out and nothing is moving within society, then all analysis of transfer payments and capital costs is lost. The fact is that over all the years the capital expenditures are very near together all along the line. I do not want to develop that, or we shall be here for a long time, but let us think of the logic of what we are talking about.

My Lords, it has become fashionable to accuse the public sector of pre-empting resources to the detriment of industry—that is the nub of the problem—and to the detriment of investments and exports. That is a regrettable trend. I blame some of the economists who try to blind you with mathematics and calculus and, in the end, prove nothing definite. That excuse has been made for such articles as we saw in the Daily Express yesterday under the heading, "Politics and Education". Then there is the article by the Shadow spokesman on Education, bless him, Norman St. John-Stevas, who talks of Mulley's steamroller pushing this educational system through. I was delighted to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, but he frightened me because I am old enough to remember the May Report. Let us see what it said. At that time, I was earning a magnificent salary of about £12 a month, lecturing and teaching. In 1931 we had the May Report, and, Heavens above, I thought, the noble Lord is repeating it in 1977. In 1931 came the famous May Report which shamelessly stated: Since the standard of education"— God help that standard!— elementary and secondary, that is being given to the child of poor parents is already in very many cases superior to that which the middle-class parent is providing for his own child, we feel it is time to pause in this policy of expansion". That is what they said. I worked in this period. Can you have any more class prejudice than that? They thought that my type of child was getting too near the overprivileged, and we had to fight our way through examinations and scholarships to grammar schools. I do not denigrate the grammar schools, but they made machines of us. We were terrified; we had to pass our certificates for our grubstakes. There was terrific incentive. Those of us who failed were shining our trousers on lamp-posts in South Wales. That was the kind of society in which we lived. We had better look at this marvellous education system. When it came to Stowe, David Niven was as good as any vagabond that came out of there, a brilliant one, but I would not have called David's period at Stowe one of the highest and finest.


How right you would be!


That is not to say that I am denigrating the gentleman for whom I have a great respect; he has turned out to be a magnificent citizen of the world. Let us get our values right. Do not judge on this sort of simple standard that has been taken. Traditional problems are now giving way to a new set of problems in society, relating to the modern organisational society in which we live today. The entire world is now so small, a world where you throw your voice to the limits of the universe in seconds, where you pick up pictures from Mars and when you can fly round the world in seconds. In that kind of world the monetary system of Julius Caesar and the philosophy of translating perpetually Latin, Virgil or Greek, or what have you, does not fit in.

Consequently, I agree entirely that we must have an approach to technology, but God forbid that you make technological man just a fellow with a spark and a spanner in his hand and no soul in his body. We have to find the balance in this kind of individual. Labour traditionally had an aim. I came into politics because I wanted equality of opportunity. The right honourable Lady who is the Leader of the Conservative Party, like Hegel philosophically, has put that on its head. Equality of opportunity, she now seems to say, equals inequality ultimately. But whatever it is, we all know what we mean when we say we want equality of opportunity. We have had for a couple of centuries a class-ridden disastrous system of society. As a matter of fact we lost North America through it. We want to get rid of this segregation.

It should also be understood that work should no longer be a scarce privilege, but it is becoming that with the unemployment. It is the basic right of humanity. Nobody knew the evils of the 11-plus system better than I did. I told this House the story of my brother who rang up about my nephew who was going to do his A-levels. I thought he was not pulling my leg. He said he was doing Welsh, woodwork and scripture. I said "Is he going to the university?" and he said, "Good God, no, he has got more sense than that. He is going to be an undertaker in Aberystwyth". You have got to get the perspective right. There is nothing wrong with his taking A-levels in those subjects if it is going to make him a good undertaker. He is quite as useful to society as the doctor allowed to make a killing. Our new educational system aims at wiping away the old bitter class divisions, and thank goodness they are disappearing—you even accept me in this House now!

The Welfare State is here to stay, and the Conservatives agree with it as much as we do. There may be different degrees of what we will spend. However inadequate the State is, it has done a marvellous thing. The kid of today is about five inches taller than he was in my day, and you have to give him bigger school desks. And though we scoff at school milk, it has made him a greater and better human being, and we get better Rugby players now in Wales than we did in my day.


My Lords, we do not have school milk any more?


Well, they are charging 10p extra. But do not let us go on ad libbing or we shall be here another hour.


My Lords, does the noble Lord realise who started school milk in this country?


My Lords, I am not saying that the Conservative Party did not do anything. Of course they did.


I did.


Well, the noble Lord can claim credit for his Party.


My Lords, I must intervene. It was not Lord Boothby; it was my husband who started the milk in schools.


My Lords, that is the wonderful thing about this noble House; ultimately we dig out the truth. For too long modern education has been hampered, hindered and shackled by the social baggage of the haughtiness and arrogance of the past. That is what is in the objection to this Bill, the haughtiness and arrogance of the past. Because of what? Fear; fear that the privilege will be lost. It will not be lost; the privilege will be there. There are certain privileges which are bound to be there, because of differences in stature and mental ability. Nevertheless we do not want the haughtiness and arrogance to go with it. A faux pas was committed by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander. He said we have only had great changes in education when there has been a war. If he had read his Marx he would know why. Why in 1902? Well, we could not get troops who were taller than five foot one to fight for us. Seventy thousand were turned down before World War I because they were under five foot three. So we formed the Bantams. This is a fact; nobody can contradict it. They were ill-fed in their bodies and neglected in their minds. So we built up social vagabonds. More than yesterday's crime statistics existed in those Victorian times.

True education, therefore, aims at liberating mankind from thralldom and our comprehensive system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton, said, is aiming at doing this. It is aiming at destroying submissive obedience to forces that appear to be beyond the understanding and questioning of man. We must learn to assert our political mastery over our social problems, our problems of production, distribution and exchange, whatever system you call it. This is what mankind is searching for, and it is bound to come. It may not be the social concept I had, but we want to train people to have the courage to fight these problems, and we can only do it if there is educational opportunity based on our concept of comprehensive education.

The tragic figures of unemployment among school leavers could really be compared with those of 1928. Crimes of violence in London had increased—and I take my statistics from the LCC Report—437 per cent. over the 10 year period to 1928. Those of your Lordships who remember Titmus remember all these issues about our declining population and crime and punishment; we had all these arguments in the 'thirties, all this violence, razor blades on the racecourses, the lot. What is the matter with the memory of people? They think we are living in a kind of society that has never been so wicked. The urbanised social vagabond that we have built up, meandering over our untidy, motorised, noisy, horribly advertised streets, is on the increase. Why? Because as we cut our education costs we cut him free too. Yet when we cut through the ballyhoo and all the taboo that has been built up by the private school system of education, we find that in the 1930's the Ministry of Labour Gazette told us that in London one and a half million people were supported by charity. From 1923 to 1932 the LCC statistics show—and if you do not believe me look up the book, Metropolitan Man—over 2 million food tickets were issued every year to destitute people on the Embankment and I million free tickets for night shelter were given, yet we are grumbling about this transition period. People do not know what starvation and crises are compared with what happened in my day. They grumble about spending a little more of the nation's wealth on educating our children.

Remember, my Lords, that in the days about which I am speaking we were living in an Empire on which the sun was said never to set. When people moan today they should give a little thought to the past. They should remember that despite all our errors, all our difficulties and the fact that, for example, we may not be able to beat the West Indies, our standard of life is much better than it was generations ago, and we can make it better still. How many people appreciate that in the days I am talking about, for every three corpses in London one was laid out on the workhouse slab? That was in 1936 and those who do not believe me can look up the LCC statistics. One in every three who died was too poor, was a pauper, and finished up on the workhouse slab. For goodness sake, let us shake ourselves a bit! In those days we were supposed to be the richest country, with an empire, yet today we are not prepared to spend on education because we are told that we need more investment. Instead of investment we will get social vagabonds who descend into crime; that is, if we do not spend on educating our children.

I am sorry to go on about the past but it is necessary to bring the facts home. Think of the condescending system under which we lived when stale bread and cake was fed to the poor every night through the agency of charitable institutions in London. Nowadays it is sent to kennels and rat farms or disposed of with pig wash. This information comes from the LCC's report on the disposal of garbage. Around 1936 they gave some of it to the poor in my area. Despite all that, some people refuse to spend a trifling few millions to change our schools to the comprehensive system in order to build up a decent educational system for our children. Brutalising unemployment builds the thick skin which is the principal defence of the outcast, and, as Lord Alexander tried to prove, two heads are thicker than one. He seemed to be making an argument for cutting the old-fashioned elementary opportunities and he said he wanted technical colleges and polytechnics. He said it as though we had never discussed these matters. I thought that the dear noble Lord thought that he had come down from Heaven to tell us something we did not know. In fact, we know it all. We owe a lot to our children in view of the mess we have made of the society in which we live. I hear some noble Lord mumbling something, but it is no good trying to hide the fact that we have made a mess of our society. That has happened throughout the world. We should, therefore, now spend some money so that when we quit, society will he a little better than when we came into it. We can do that by giving our kids the opportunity of a comprehensive education.

I do not want to speak too long and I assure noble Lords that I am watching the clock. What also worries me is the fact that with all the high-faluting talk that goes on about education, we are changing homo sapiens into homo ludens. Noble Lords know what I mean; for example, people now want £10 million to knock a golf ball around the course. The real joy of gymnastics—wrestling, boxing and so on—has disappeared because behind it all is the acquisitive cupidity of man. We should be teaching new social values in our schools. The absolutely mindless commercialisation of life is lowering our standards, is justifying greed and is eulogising unlimited acquisitiveness.

The 11-plus examination was an example of that par excellence. "You must get the certificate to get a job", the kids were told. And what about television? What is it? It is the business of delivering our children to advertisers in the vast wasteland of TV bandages. The adult and child mind of today is stuffed with trivialities. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is in his place because he is on the educational broadcasting outfit and I sincerely pay tribute to some of the school broadcasts and hope that in some of the comprehensive schools of tomorrow more will be made of some of the excellent broadcasting that is done by both the BBC and ITV.

Noble Lords will be delighted to hear that I am nearing the end of my speech, but I cannot resume my seat without referring to something that I find absolutely daft, and I do not know whether I am going wrong or it is other people. It is rather like the Common Market; they want to sell more butter and they think they will do that by pushing up the price of margarine. I have never heard of anything sillier. It is crazy. The next one now is the statement that we must cut the supply of teachers. I will not weary the House by quoting again from LCC reports, but I remember a class of 80 kids at a church school when I was a youngster. In fact, it is not the number of children in a comprehensive school that counts but the number of children the teacher has to teach. Cannot people grasp that point? It is said that a headmaster should know all his pupils. I can see a former Mr. Speaker here and I know that he had to know 615 pupils. It should not be too much for a good headmaster to know 1,000, remembering that those children are with him in the school for seven or eight years. It is an easy job and I cannot understand why people make such mountains out of molehills.

In any case, the people who talk that way have never had a piece of chalk or a duster in their hands. They have never stood before a class or taught the ABC. They could not do it even with their own kids, yet they blame the teachers for not doing it. Then they say that the comprehensive system is upsetting them, and I am delighted that it is. They say that there will be no opportunity for the child who is a born artist or singer. They have not read the Bill. It contains opportunities for expansion in that direction. Of course in Wales we always had those opportunities because at the end of our schooling we had the Eisteddfod. If a boy was thick, like me, he could do a hit of woodwork and win a prize. If he was brilliant—like the noble Lords on the Front Benches in this House who speak on education matters—he got a textbook. I got a plane or a saw as a gift at the Eisteddfod. I am simply pointing out how there are different accomplishments for different human beings. I advise my Party to take no notice of the curmudgeons of noble Lords opposite and to get on with the Bill.

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will not think me lacking in enterprise if I do not try to compete with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, in view of all the experiences that he has had in the course of his political and educational, and I do not know what else, life. The noble Lord has obviously had a varied career and has given us the benefit of his views, to which I listened with considerable interest. I want to return to the Bill, which is what we are really here to discuss today, and I do not intend to speak for long.

I have listened to every speech that has been made so far, some of them remarkable, and I have learned a great deal from them. The speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was particularly interesting and I was fascinated by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. I recall that many years ago, when I was running youth clubs, I went to Sheffield at a time when he was the director of education there. I remember having a long talk with him on the subject of developing youth club work and how impressive he was, and I thought that today he was most impressive in what he had to say. I do not intend to speak about education as such. I had very little and it was mostly done in what I suppose would be called an amateurish way, but that is how it was. However, what I am interested in and what I have had a lot to do with is the organisation, the responsibility, involved in being on an education committee and having been chairman of that same committee for seven or eight years. What worries me and what I do not like about the Bill is the erosion—I do not want to use too strong a word—of the responsibilities of local education authorities as opposed to the near dictatorship which comes from central Government.

In local government, when one is elected to the authority and is a member of the local education committee or is its chairman as I was, one is responsible for the education which is carried out in that part of the world. That responsibility is being eroded all the time by Acts of Parliament and points of view which take away from the knowledge and experience and the responsibilities of the democratically elected members of education committees. I believe that that is very dangerous and I hope that, some time or another, it will be put a stop to. Certainly, it will not be in this Bill because the Bill insists that all schools under education authorities shall be comprehensive schools.

Your Lordships have heard from my noble friend Lord Elton and others that on this side of the House we are not opposed to comprehensive schools in principle. What we are opposed to is making everything comprehensive. None of the arguments that I have listened to this afternoon has convinced me that that is the best way to do what we all want to do, which is to give every child in the country the best experience and the type of education best suited to him or her. My noble friend Lady Faithfull spoke of the individual importance of children who come within the social work side of our national life. I appreciate that and I think she is entirely right. We want to do what we can to make our education system the best for everybody. To say that every single school must be a comprehensive school is, to me, not at all the right way to tackle it.

In the area for which I was responsible, we had two or three large high schools, as we call them in Scotland. They were not comprehensive schools though they were comprehensive to some extent, but of course we did not have those great schools in the rural areas. They would have been entirely wrong. The responsibility that we had in the education committee was not so much in connection with large schools in large areas; rather, we had, at times, to close some of the very small schools with perhaps six or eight children in them and convey them by car to a school four or five miles away where, joined together, we made a small rural school of 20 or 30 children. That was the decision we had to make. If the central Government had come down on us and said, "You cannot do this: you must do a, b, or c; you must do something else quite different", we should all have been extremely annoyed. What is more, the central Government would not have known as much as we knew about the education in that particular area of rural schools.

So I do not agree that there should be this dictatorial way of dealing with local education authorities and saying that they must do exactly what central Government say. I may say that I was exceedingly delighted when we had the result of the Tameside appeal the other day which showed that there are people who think that the authority of local government is something that should be preserved. It is very difficult to have any real authority in local government today. There is another thing one cannot do in local government: if one has a very unsatisfactory teacher, it is exceedingly difficult to get rid of that teacher. It is almost impossible to dismiss a teacher. One can sometimes change them from one school to another and they may perhaps get on better in another school. I had the experience of trying for some 10 years to get rid of someone whom everybody had admitted was not the right person in the job. Could I?—not at all. Impossible. We had to carry on and I forget what finally happened. I had gone from the education committee by that time, but they managed in the end to dismiss this person, who was highly unsatisfactory and everybody knew it, but one could not do it because of the restrictions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, there can be very good comprehensive schools and not so good comprehensive schools. The point is that we believe that it is not right to say that every school must be comprehensive. There is no reason why one should not have the grammar school. There is no reason why we should not have the public school—indeed, we have them, and many of them are of a very comprehensive nature. I have always thought about public schools that one of the reasons for going there is because one meets the worst as well as the best, the stupidest as well as the most intelligent. One can have a very good taste of the world when one has been to a big public school. It is certainly not an area which is confined either to very clever or not so clever people, intellectual or not so intellectual people. You will find everybody there and entirely agree that that is what you want. But, at the same time, you want to have an opportunity for the parents to say that they would like their children to go to another school, as they have been able to do up to the present time.

That is why I particularly dislike Clause 5, which will make it impossible for the children to have the opportunity of going to another type of school, whether it be a grammar school or any other type of school because the clause will make it impossible to give them any assistance. This will do away with the element of choice, which I believe to be valuable.

I strongly support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on the subject of opportunities for continued education, whether it be in technical colleges, sixth form colleges or universities. We have been doing that for many years. During all the years when I was on the education committee, we never refused a grant to a single child who was going on either to a technical college or a university or where-ever it was he wanted to go. Always the money was made available because the child had got to the point at which it really wanted to do it. We did not suggest that all children should do that. We did not suggest that all children should stay on at school after 15 or 16 as the case may be if they did not want to. But if they did want to we did everything we could to see that they had every opportunity. That, I believe, is the right way to treat these cases. But it was the local education authority that was able to do this because we were the people with the authority. If everything is to be overruled from the central body, I believe that we shall be doing away with something that is extremely valuable and that we may just as well give up the idea of having democratically elected local government education committees. We might just as well have it all directed from the central Government Department, whether it be Whitehall, the Scottish Office or the Welsh Office.

I dislike the Bill for this dictatorial attitude and the dictatorial powers which are being taken. I dislike it for its interference with the elected representatives and for its erosion of their powers and duties and for breaking up so much which is good and valuable in our education. Of course there are bad things—there always have been. One speaker said that the Education Act 1944 was a great Bill: that was put through by my noble friend Lord Butler and there have been other Bills that have also been good Bills, but we on this side believe fundamentally in the opportunity of adapting education to suit the children. We believe that the people who know best about that are the parents and the local education authority, if the matter goes through them, not Whitehall and certainly not a Bill such as we are discussing today.


My Lords, before the noble Baroness concludes, would she not agree after her very persuasive speech that Clause 2 (6) specifically prevents the Minister from interfering in affairs where the distribution of ability between schools would be better done in a particular way? Would she not agree that this does not mean that the Minister is an all-powerful person? He is specifically asked not to do certain things.


My Lords, if that is the case and this is left to local education authorities, I am very strongly in favour of it. The particular episode which enraged me was the new Manchester case, which could happen elsewhere if we give central Government the sort of dictatorial powers that arise, for instance, in Clause 1(2).

3 p.m.


My Lords, although this is the first appearance of the Bill before the House, we have discussed the principles that underlie it in slightly different forms and slightly different contexts to exhaustion, if not ad nauseam. In the debates on direct grants, and on other occasions, the idea of selection has been the focus of controversy. Those arguments have often been confused by misunderstandings and misstatements—and we had a fair example this afternoon. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that FRSs require no teaching, and that type of thing. We have had all those misstatements and misunderstandings. But those are natural enough. Those of us who are opposed to the abolition of grammar schools have reiterated certain things and, I hope, will go on doing so, even to the point of boredom.

We have tried to prove that instead of increasing the social mixture in our schools, the measures proposed will often diminish it. There again, if the noble Lord, Lord Annan, thinks that you will remove industrial problems by having small neighbourhood schools in a homogeneous area, then his time spent in America has been wasted, or he would have learnt about that.

We have tried to show that what is proposed will not in fact abolish selection, for that simply cannot be abolished. As long as more people want to go to a school than there are places in that school you have to have selection. This kind of Bill will impose selection by neighbourhood or money, instead of by educational need. We have referred in the past, though not today, in tones muted by natural good taste, to the curious anomaly by which many of those who claim that selection is socially divisive willingly expose their own children to the dangers of corruption by sending them to schools that are not only academically, but socially, extremely selective.

We have pointed out repeatedly that it is not the provision of comprehensive schools to which we object, but the uniform imposition of a comprehensive pattern in all areas, whatever the local needs and local wishes. We have drawn attention to the illogicality of a policy that proclaims the merits of comprehensive schools, yet dare not let them co-exist with grammar schools, because it is known that some parents would choose the latter if their children could get in, so the possibility of choice and the existence of variety must be removed by the simple abolition of one alternative. How easy it would be if all our choices could be made in that way. We have tried to demonstrate, and it is not difficult, that expenditure on a scale unthinkable today would be required to heal such self-inflicted wounds as schools on split sites.

I will not refer further to any of those well-known arguments. I will restrict myself instead to one apparently small severely practical question unrelated to educational or to social theory. I am sticking to it partly because it is a question, more perhaps than any other, which makes me oppose this Bill in the light of a fairly long experience of education. It is the problem of staffing a mixed ability school, particularly a small one. This may seem much too parochial an issue to raise in a Second Reading debate, but it focuses some of our objections to this Bill.

What I have to say is really an elaboration of points which were splendidly made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. Let me take the teaching of mathematics simply as an example. This is a subject which I think we should all agree is of the greatest importance, and I will take it as an example of what I am talking about. The number of teachers capable of teaching mathematics to an advanced level—say, to university entrance—is, alas!, small, and despite the efforts which some of us made over the past 30 years it is getting smaller. The number of children with both the ability and the inclination to learn this subject to this level is also small. Does it not therefore follow inevitably that those children should be concentrated around those very few teachers who can teach them, if we are to make the best use of our human resources?

Let me make the argument clearer and perhaps a little more interesting by an actual illustration. The Godolphin and Latymer School for Girls in Hammersmith is one of the best schools in the country. I dare say that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, would say that it drilled its pupils, but anyway they turn out pretty well at the end of the process. It is a voluntary aided school which means that it charges no fees and is accessible to any child who can get in. The ILEA in its wisdom (if that phrase does not involve a contradiction in terms) has decided that this school is to become a mini-comprehensive of six or seven hundred. The school is resisting, it is reluctantly going independent, and has launched an appeal so that it can go on educating girls from poor homes.

The appeal brochure contains a photograph that absolutely illustrates my present argument. It is of a mathematics lesson, and on the board are written symbols, such as e—x and cosh x. Noble Lords may be reassured that I really mean cosh x, and not its more low-brow brother cos x. I am sure that many of your Lordships will agree that this is fairly advanced mathematics. Now, if that school becomes non-selective, mini-comprehensive, or if the ILEA refuses, or is not allowed by the Bill, to send suitable girls to it when it becomes an independent school, what happens to that class? Let us get down to the nitty-gritty, and not generalisations, and talk about 14 girls in front of a blackboard. What happens to them?

That class will shrink to perhaps one or two, if it goes on existing at all, and the rest of the girls will be dispersed to other schools where it is arithmetically certain that they cannot hope to get that kind of teacher. She will not know what cosh x means, any more than I really do. What of the teacher with this rare gift? I believe that the ILEA have plans by which such people will be retrained to cope with children of average and below-average ability, if they cannot do so now. It is like trying to train the Amadeus to play an electric guitar. Is all this really an economic or suitable use of very scarce human resources? Yet this totally unnecessary change, in simple terms, is what this Bill will bring about.

I would ask the Minister, if he will, to answer in the most direct way, in words of one syllable, the question: What steps does he propose to take to ensure that the children with high ability in, say, mathematics—to limit the question—will receive the same standard of teaching in unselective schools, after his Bill has gone through, as they do in selective schools? I hope that he will not reply that this is a matter for the local authorities; for that will not do. After all, his Bill will have certain results. He cannot compel local authorities to a course of action and then tell them to shoulder the responsibility for clearing up the mess that he has forced them to make. But I know that he will not make that response. He will tell us how it is to be done. I hope, too, that he will not he encouraged by his advisers to use words like "enrichment" or "acceleration" because those who know the American scheme will know that that will not do, either.

What I have said about mathematics applies also to science and classics, though less quantifiably to literary subjects. And, ironically, all that I have said about matching the rare teachers to the rare pupils, as a principle of educational organisation, is accepted by the Government, as we all know, for music and dancing. When selection by ability in these fields is allowed, we are told specifically that no attention must be paid in the selection process to academic ability. It would require a Swift, I think, to comment adequately on such a policy. Here we are, a country fighting for its academic life and almost for its social life and we are encouraging selective education for musicians and dancers and subsidies for the coaching of young swimmers, but appropriate and challenging education for the intellectually gifted, for our future scientists and engineers, civil servants, doctors, teachers—all this can only be attained if you are exceptionally lucky, increasingly exceptionally lucky, or if your parents are fairly well off.


My Lords, I do not want to contradict the noble Lord, who is so knowledgeable; but am I wrong in thinking that this is the purpose of the sixth form college

A noble Lord

My Lords, too late, far too late.


My Lords, I know in my own case that my wife was a mathematician and, instead of being in the sixth form of a grammar school, suggested many years ago the idea of a sixth form college—and worked in one—and they took the best of the scientists and mathematicians and picked them because at that age they were ready for university scholarships.


My Lords, that is a very interesting question. It would require a long answer. I could make two brief answers. The first is that it is obviously too late, for the mathematician, certainly too late; but also that it is all right for a child from a good home. But the child that both the noble Lord and I care about, the child from the disadvantaged home with the constant dribbling "tele" that child by the time he has got to the age of 16 will not want to go on into the sixth form college.

As our society gets more diseducative—this is a broad issue which I will not go into now—we are faced more and more with the problem of the school trying, as it were, to hold the child to learning and (to use an unpalatable word) to culture. That is why the sixth form college is not really the answer. That is what this Bill means: that only if you are well-off will you get the same opportunity as if you were good at music and dancing—admirable in themselves, but how limited—or swimming.

That is what it means, my Lords. That is why it must be drastically amended. If it is not, then it is not a Swift that we shall require; but in 1,000 years we shall need a Gibbon to record the fate of a nation prepared to foster in its young people every kind of excellence save that of the intellect and to applaud every kind of merit except an appreciation of hard mental effort.

I have said that, I would not talk about education or social theory but about practical methods of deploying staff. What I have tried to say can be summarised by what one would regard as the most absurd commonplace were it not that it is completely disregarded in this Bill. All I am really doing is to draw attention to the hard and perhaps unpalatable fact that not every teacher can teach everything to any standard, and that not every pupil can learn everything to any standard. To bring together by selection teachers with certain gifts and children who need those gifts is surely the most basic educational common sense. It is true whether we are talking about the gifted, as I am, or the dull and backward. It is more than common sense, it is more than economic prudence; it is common justice; it is justice to our most precious citizens, our children.

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to every speech but one. I rise with a curious impression, which I have often enough had before, that people expect far too much from education. They think that education can in fact do things which it is entirely incapable of doing and always will be incapable of doing. It is a great, characteristically liberal illusion that find the perfect administrative set up in education then you can have a new heaven and a new earth. We know enough from direct experience to know that this is not the case.

The Americans have invested enormous sums in education in the past three generations and they have found that some of their greatest hopes in social terms have not been achieved. The Russians made one of their biggest achievements in extending universal literacy right over that enormous country between about 1917 and the last war. That was a tremendous achievement. But they found at the end of that that some of their moral hopes—that is, the invention of the new Soviet man—and, even more practically, their academic hopes (the idea that they would produce infinite flows of great talent) were not realised.

Both the Americans and Russians have instituted safety nets, catchments, for the kinds of problems which the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, talked about; that is, the provision of really intelligent methods of coping with bright intellects. I stress the word "intellects". I, too, was going to raise the absolutely absurd distinction between giving satisfactory, high level treatment to musicians and dancers and not to mathematicians. My noble friend, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge said that music and dancing can be detected very early. I assure him that mathematics can be detected much earlier. Anyone used to this game can detect mathematical talent in a child aged four.

There are things that education can do. One was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, in a most impressive, authoritative speech. We could get people trained in some of the really basic kinds of engineering, of which we are so lamentably short. I will refer to that later when I come to the matter which I feel most strongly about. I do not feel as strongly as most people in this House on the general issue. I could not help thinking of Lord Melbourne instructing the young Queen Victoria: Ma'am, do not worry too much about education, I never do. I do not really believe in it. The Pagets have scarcely learned to read or write and they get on pretty well. He followed on this valuable piece of Whiggish advice as follows: Do not try to do any good, and then you will not do any harm. I must say that some of the speakers today have made me feel that we often, with the best of intentions, try to do good and may do great harm.

One of the inevitable practical consequences of our curious performances is that it is going to be appreciably harder for a finite number of underprivileged children to get the best education in England. That is a masterstroke of administrative politics. We could have learnt a lot about comprehensive education if we were not so insufferably parochial. Do not look upon this as a new idea. We look upon it as an adamic surprise, as though we thought of it; something borne from the sea. The Americans have been doing it since before 1900, and they know all about it.

If you talk to American educationalists, they usually say with pain: "Why should you make all our mistakes all over again? Why don't you learn from us the kinds of things to avoid?" I think they somewhat overstate their case for, like the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, I am prepared to accept the consensus, though with a good many doubts and with certain necessary reservations about amendments which must be made to this Bill. But if we had studied the American experience, which is perfectly reasonable and accessible, we should not have been so surprised at the troubles we are now walking into.

The basic unit of American education is the high school, which is what we call the comprehensive school. This stretches all over the country. It is usually very large, with well over a thousand students, and is presided over by someone called a Principal, who occupies his entire time, so far as I can see, on administrative work. They are less like schoolmasters than any group of academics I have ever met—quite naturally, because running these schools of 1,000 or 1,200 is very difficult.

I ought to say with complete honesty that some of these high schools are excellent, but usually in rural or small-town areas where the society is homogeneous, where there are not large differences in income and no ethnic differences, and where the whole community is ready to go every Saturday to see the school basketball match—which is usually dominated by gigantic young negroes of six foot six or slightly more. That is the typical, semi-rural American high school. I believe that we are probably already beginning to find the same thing. I would guess that in parts of Wales with a good respect for education, a homogeneous community, and without any large urban disturbances, we should probably have very satisfactory results from comprehensive schools, and I can think of other parts of rural England, such as Yorkshire, and so on—and in fact I have been to some of them.

Many of the speakers we have heard today have given the impression that they have never been to a comprehensive school in their lives. But some work well. These large schools in America are nearly always very good at games because a school of about a thousand obviously has a large pool to draw on and, as we know, a large pool of miscellaneous intellectual ability, with the result that you get a fairly unusual over-plus of athletic activity. They are very impressive. But, my Lords, remember that most people do not live in rural areas. They do not live in Carmarthenshire: they live in towns. And this remarkable discovery is one that the Americans have made to their cost. There are some comprehensive schools in towns to which l should not like to take some lady Members of this House on a dark night.

I do not know how many Members of this House have ever been to a comprehensive school in New York. By the standards of one or two that I have seen, William Tyndale was admirably disciplined, very decorous, and extremely given to the learned arts. They are really terrifying—I mean terrifying physically. I am not unusually cowardly, I think, but I have been glad to get out of them from time to time. This is an unfortunate concomitant of urban life.

Leave New York and go out perhaps some 10 or 12 miles to Pelham or Scarsdale, and then you will find high schools which draw on a fairly rich community, because the more prosperous people are moving out of towns, and moving increasingly further out of towns. So you get an acute social differentiation. The ghetto schools are ghetto schools. The middle classes are evading them—quite naturally. They can afford to, and Americans are mobile people anyway. They do not mind moving of house to go and live by a neighbourhood school. I am perfectly sure that we shall run into exactly the same experience; I cannot see any alternative to it. We shall not do it quite so willingly, because we are not so mobile physically. We certainly, in towns, find it harder to get our people to take "busing" as a reasonable way of getting schools roughly equalised in composition. I suspect that in England it will be far more difficult than in America, though it is difficult enough in America.

And, of course, let us not evade crude social conflicts. The conflicts are typically between the black community and the poor whites. This is the trouble in Boston. The Irish poor detest their children being moved to a largely black school, and the blacks are usually not excessively keen on their children being "bussed" to an Irish school. All those problems we are going to have, unless we say that we are not going to make any attempt to equalise the schools but just have strictly neighbourhood schools, in which case I cannot believe how anyone who has seen the facts can possibly say that this is going to be a marvellous social emollient, a method for really bringing two nations together.

On the other hand, as I said, I am prepared to accept the consensus, for I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, that it is a consensus. I think that the Opposition are deceiving themselves if they think that this is a popular issue where the weight of opinion is on their side. I would guess that there are substantial numbers of people, where there are good grammar schools, who feel very strongly. But, although I hate to put my own estimate of a referendum very high, I would certainly expect that if this issue were to be put to a referendum it is one of the things in the Labour Party's programme which would be fairly popular, certainly more popular than not, and I think this we have to accept.

The reason, quite simply, is that everyone hates the 11-plus, and they do not hate it because it is a very bad discriminant. I think that here my noble friend Lord Donaldson, who is a very honest man, was being unconsciously disingenuous. The trouble with the 11-plus is that it is an extremely good discriminant and no one wants to know what predetermination is. None of us wants to know how our fate is settled quite early. We had a curious example in the course of this debate. Having heard how bad the 11-plus was as a selective process, we then heard almost in the next breath that the reason why we have to get rid of the grammar schools is that they have creamed off the talent. But they have creamed off the talent by the exact application of the 11-plus, and by no other method.

We must, I am sure, keep our intellectual candour in these matters. There have been examples on both sides. For instance, the Opposition view, that parents have had a great choice in the past which is being taken away from them, is absolute nonsense. Most people in this country have never had any choice whatever of what schools their children should go to, and unless we face ourselves with some pretence of intellectual probity we shall get nowhere.


My Lords, before my noble friend leaves the 11-plus, he is far too intelligent not to remember the difference between statistical and personal decisions, and there is not the slightest doubt that any test, however crude, will produce a statistical result which is to some extent correct. What we object to about the 11-plus is two things: first, the pain it causes on the way; and, secondly, the mistakes it makes.


My Lords, I am perfectly prepared to accept the pain. The mistakes are less than you get by most statistical processes and the pain is why, on the whole, the general public wants comprehensive education, and why I have already said I accept that consensus, because there is a certain degree of human disapproval which no society accepts willingly, or ought to accept willingly, and there I am very clear. But what, then, is the likelihood? What kind of prophecy can one make? This Bill I am sure, though T hope with considerable amendment, will be passed. For five years, I think there will be a certain diminution of friction—if I may use a horrible phrase—because one strain will have been taken out of society.

In ten years I think there will be a resurgence of friction, which will come about because the abler parents will know that their children are not being as successful or as well taught as they should be. We know something about the records of comprehensive schools now. If you read the Oxford and Cambridge scholarship examination results, which are as objective as most things can reasonably be, or the results of degree examinations, you will find that comprehensive schools, considering the enormous amount of theoretical talent they draw, have a bad record. That record will look even worse in ten years for an obvious reason: because an increasing number of parents will send their children into independent schools. That is fixed. It is fixed because of a rather odd intervention. As most noble Lords probably know, we, together with all Western countries, have recently accepted the decision of the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations that it is impossible to forbid people choosing private education for their children. This was done by all Western countries. It means that private education, so far as one can see, is there for good unless we deliberately become part of Eastern Europe. There is no getting away from this problem.

If that is true, then the private sector of education will have renewed stability. Traditionally, professional parents have been prepared to make enormous financial sacrifices for their children, and will continue to do so on a larger scale. On the other hand, the clever under-privileged children who used to go to Manchester Grammar School, Godolphin and Latymer, Leeds and Bristol grammar schools, will, according to Clause 5 no longer have the opportunity to do so. By this master stroke of administrative politics, the one method of slightly softening this clear opposition between professional people, who know their way about education and can afford to make a choice, and the rest of the population will be sharpened. Therefore one of the clear results in the next ten years will be an increase in proficiency on the part of our independent schools. Once they gave up training character they became extraordinarily good at training academic persons. On the other hand the comprehensive scene will be at a disadvantage unless you fudge the figures. As the figures are not in governmental control, they cannot be fudged. I regard this situation with gloom. I do not want to see this kind of polarisation. I think it is extremely stupid that this has been allowed to occur, and certainly has been allowed to be sharpened almost by deliberate act.

Yet I do not feel so tragically upset as I should have been three or four years ago when I thought that almost our entire education system would suffer this process of intellectual rundown; that is the general lack of energy and desire even for achievement in excellence in our society, which is already perceptible and which would make its way through the whole field of education. If one travels this world, the most depressing thing one finds about this country is that we will not think it is good to do something well. There are one or two things we are good at, like pure science, which can be ruined easily by the sort of academic decline which I think was threatened. I no longer think it is threatened, though I think some of the under-privileged will be kept out. I would regard it as extraordinarily foolish if we did not try to give social applause and recognition to our brighter people. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, the number is very small—a few thousand at the most at any time—but on the other hand they give purpose, drive, achievement and grace to society, and no good society can get on without them.

Also—this relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill—there is an absolute necessity to get better at some of the practical arts of applied science. I believe that this is closely related, although I should not like to demonstrate why it should be, to intellectual achievements elsewhere. If we did not have good pure science we should have no chance of having good applied science. It is very curious that demand has absolutely no effect upon what people do at universities. We have been short of mechanical engineers ever since I had to deal with personnel problems in the war. We are very short of mechanical engineers now—desperately short. The fact that they are in demand and could be employed tomorrow does not prevent many young people who might become mechanical engineers from becoming sociologists, for whom there is no conceivable demand.

My Lords, that is my conclusion. I accept the consensus. I think that its consequences will not be in the least what are expected. On the whole, I believe that they will sharpen the tensions within society rather than soften them but that by luck which we do not deserve, by the curious formulation of human rights, we shall be partially saved.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, it is always a disadvantage to follow the noble Lord, Lord Snow, because he speaks so very brilliantly that anybody who follows him looks even more inadequate than they actually are. There have been many distinguished academic speakers today but they are professionals, or suppliers. On the other hand, I am a consumer, since I have a large family.

I have one right to speak in this debate, in that I have a child in almost every sector of education. I have one child in the private sector and others in the State sector. Also I have a child at the Lycée, so the education of my family is almost an international experience. However, with all due respect to the academics, I feel that they tend to speak from considerable knowledge which perhaps isolates them from the nitty-gritty, day-to-day part of being the parents of children. Parents have to face the day-to-day problems, not the generalities. I must confess that when I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I felt that it was an extra "hard sell commercial" for comprehensives. As an advertisement, perhaps it might have been censured for total accuracy by the Advertising Standards Authority.

I have a child in a comprehensive school, and I know that there are many dedicated teachers who try extremely hard. I think that it is a good comprehensive. I am not saying anything against comprehensives, but I want to raise some of the problems which exist. My worry and sadness about the Bill is that by pushing the comprehensive system we are increasing the size of schools. I am afraid that the real point which comes out of size is that less individual attention is given to pupils and that the pupils themselves, especially those who are less articulate, often tend to express themselves in physical terms, which means violence. Hence my remarks are concerned with violence in schools, which worries me because I have met it. I welcome the fact that an inquiry is to be set up. I am sure that it will uncover many facts. Probably it will make recommendations which I hope will cure the situation. However, that is perhaps being over-optimistic; it takes a long time to sort out such situations.

Speaking about violence, the noble Lord, Lord Snow, mentioned the "blackboard jungle" in the schools of New York. I know just how tough these schools are. But, as we know, there is toughness in London schools. It is very sad, because, as a result of this violence, the ability of the pupils to learn is reduced. The things that happen can vary. Even girls can be bullied so much that they do not go to the lavatory during school time. It can reach a point where the pupils will not show their full ability because they may be bullied for doing so.

The violence can be very frightening. In one London comprehensive recently, it took seven police cars, 28 policemen, to break up a fight between rival factions. The police are sometimes criticised for moving in, but they have to move in in force to sort out the situation before anybody gets hurt. It is up to the teachers and everybody else to back the police on these occasions if they have to go in strong and hard to sort things out before anything really unpleasant happens. We no doubt all know about the incident which happened not far from here. We know that things can happen such as occurred in the case of the Sidole child who had a terrible death in the swimming pool. Actually, it was not in school but it was done by school children.

I should like to pick up the point so ably made by my noble friend Lord Elton, about the pastoral care that is needed. This was commented on by the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who, though she did not like the word, "pastoral", agreed with the sentiment. But it is really pastoral care. Much of this care has to be given, or problems sorted out, by headmasters and headmistresses, and as we know these very able people are under vast pressures. In fact, it may be that there is a need for sharing some of this care between the social services and the teachers. There are areas perhaps which pose problems for the Teachers' Union. The problem of violence starts in the home and it has to be sorted out from there, perhaps on a half and half basis. This may come up out of the report. There is a need to encourage the pastoral care of children.

My noble friend Lady Elles has had to withdraw through back trouble but she wanted to make several points, one of which is of great importance; that is, that this Bill apparently defies Article 17 of the Convention of Human Rights, signed in Rome in November 1950. This point was brought to mind by the late Lord Feathers' Bill of Rights Discussion Paper. This gives me the opportunity—and I am sure I speak for other noble Lords—to say how much his death is our loss in this House. I should like to know how the framework for the development of educational co-operation in the community which was agreed by the Minister of Education in December of last year ties in with the Convention. I feel that it is not totally compatible.

Finally, as I said, I am saddened by this Bill and the attitude of intolerance shown by Her Majesty's Government. Perhaps it is unintentional. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, used a phrase about arrogance and haughtiness. The way the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, talked about the pockets of resistance seemed to indicate that these would be liquidated.




My Lords, I take his point, but perhaps it comes to the same thing and I am grateful that he highlights the point. If it is just reluctance, they still would be liquidated, and I feel that this is arrogant.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on his maiden speech and also to say how pleasant it is on this occasion to speak in a debate in which my two sponsors, the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, have also spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, made the point that he is a practising father, but I think I am the only practising teacher so far who has spoken in the debate. A number of retired teachers have spoken, but I think I am the only one who day by day faces pupils in the lecture ball and classroom.

It seems to me that this Bill raises two major issues. The first, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, concerns the entire structure of the education system which, under the 1944 Act and preceding measures, is divided between central and local control. It is based upon a division of responsibility between central and local government and, so far as I could follow the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and other noble Lords opposite who have spoken on this subject, they made the point that the 1972 Local Government Act reinforced the autonomy of the local authorities. That is what it was intended to do, and presumably if the Scottish and Welsh devolution measures pass through Parliament and are followed by measures of devolution for the English regions, this also will reinforce the possibilities of differences between different parts of the kingdom and different parts of England in educational practice. I see that there is a very strong case to be answered in this regard.

The question it seems to raise is whether or not the balance between central authority and local authority is correctly drawn under our existing legislation and practice. My conclusion, after a good deal of thought about this, is that by and large probably the division is incorrect at the present time. It seems to me that on the whole the central Government intervene far too frequently in matters which are quite properly matters of local detail—differences between authorities may be irritating but they do not matter too much—and on certain central issues the central Government abdicate responsibility.

As your Lordships will know, there has recently been a devastating criticism by the OECD of educational planning in this country, and there is a Select Committee of another place at present examining that report. I shall be most interested to see what conclusion they come to, but I do not think it will be wholly to endorse the present pattern of central planning in education. This seems to me to be the heart of the Bill which is at present before your Lordships' House, because one has to ask whether comprehensive education is a national or a local issue. I find this an extraordinarily difficult matter upon which to make up my own mind, but I think that by and large my noble friend the Minister was correct in saying that it is a national issue. It has been before the electorate nationally at five or six General Elections and four of those Elections have produced Labour Governments. I should have thought on the whole the consensus had moved in favour of some form of eroding the division between the maintained and the secondary schools.

So there is the first point that I want to raise; namely, whether or not the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, is right in saying that this fundamental change introduced by the Bill in our practice of constitutional education is correct. On the whole, I think I would come down against the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and say that I should be in favour of this sort of issue being decided nationally. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, that we urgently need a new major Education Act. The present Act is hopelessly out of date.

That raises a second issue which I want to bring before your Lordships' House this afternoon; namely, the slow progress which has been made in the past 20 years or so towards a national secondary education system. I wish to refer to the several points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I am second to none in my admiration for the noble Viscount's two periods of office at the Department of Education and Science, which were quite the high points of postwar Secretaries of State and Ministers in the Department. If I venture to utter a word of criticism of his speech, it is not that I do not share your Lordships' tremendous admiration for the noble Viscount. But it seems to me, in the first place, it is not just a case that this Bill has introduced a whole series of new principles in the organisation of secondary education. A great deal of the trouble in the comprehensive schools has been due to indecision and slowness in settling this central issue of Governments of both Parties over a long period of time.

It is undoubtedly the case that, between 1945 and 1953, the whole armoury of the then Ministry of Education, building controls, were used to give permission for the closure of schools. The Shooters Hill case in 1953 springs to mind, when the London County Council, as it was at that time, wished to close down a small girls' grammar school in order to make sure that the Kidbrooke school, presided over by that very great headmistress, Miss Mary Green, should get off to a fair start, and permission to close the Shooters Hill School was refused by the noble Baroness, Lady Horsbrugh, at that time.

During this period, when the whole tide of opinion in favour of experiment and change in the secondary educational system was flowing, there is no doubt that central Government was adamant. They had been told by the psychologists before the war that the division, the sheep and the goats, the 20 per cent. into grammar schools and the 80 per cent, into secondary moderns, was correct, and they were not going to allow any authority, even an authority as experienced and as powerful as the London County Council, now the Inner London Education Authority, to spoil this pattern. Therefore, we must look back on the early period of the comprehensive schools as a period when an enormous opportunity was missed to do some of the experiments to find out some of the things which noble Lords opposite have been asking about this afternoon.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, very kindly referred to me. I authorised between 150 and 160 comprehensive schools, large ones. I am not aware, although my memory may be at fault, that I ever refused permission to any proposal from a local authority for a comprehensive school if it was shown that the catchment area for the children made it sensible to have one.


My Lords, I absolutely take the point of the noble Viscount, because he is certainly younger than some of the other Ministers to whom I was referring. I was talking about the late 1940s and the early 1950s. By the late 1950s when there was an opportunity for experiment in the inner urban areas, which involved closing down the grammar schools, I think the propositions were not put up to the Minister because authorities were confident that they would be turned down.

Having criticised to some extent the Conservatives in this respect, I must in all honesty criticise the Labour Party for the great missed opportunity of the period from 1964 to 1967. I would have thought that the tide was then flowing strongly in the country in favour of comprehensive secondary education for the entire community, not just those parents whose children were in the maintained sector, but a large number of parents whose children were in independent schools. The Government never quite took on board the pressure of informed public opinion which was then flowing. It was a missed opportunity. We might have established at that time a national education system equivalent to the National Health Service instituted in 1946. Although there is criticism now of the reorganised National Health Service, there is not a single person who would wish to go back to the system prevailing before 1946 with respect to the hospital system. I cannot help feeling we might well, in this House today, be debating more constructively the future of the comprehensive schools if that opportunity had been seized at that time.

My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to the very serious problem of the neighbourhood school. I shall be coming on to that as the last point I wish to make this afternoon. But there is a certain irony which cannot be lost on a newcomer to this house. When I was first brought to this House, I read with great care an expert work by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, which pointed out that no fewer than 432 Members of this House come from one large comprehensive school up river, including the noble Lord who introduced this debate, and the noble Lord who opposed it. Of course, the Liberals, with their complete independence, went to the Eton of the North, Gordonstoun. It is quite clear that the opposition to the neighbourhood school has its limits, provided the area is posh enough.

I would make a more serious point, if I may, and it is this. I think people who have been concerned with the secondary schools ought frankly to admit—it is what the noble Lord, Lord Snow, mentioned and the noble Lord, Lord James, eloquently mentioned also—the growing sense of disillusion about the secondary education system. There is no doubt at all—and I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who is a very old friend from my Oxford days, will also agree with this—that there are many areas of the country where the comprehensive schools are extremely popular. Oxfordshire is one; Cheshire is another area which I would refer to, both of them good solid Tory counties, so it is not a Party point. But there is very strong evidence, I should have thought, of disillusion among informed and concerned parents, especially parents of the professional classes, and also concern among working-class people of all kinds. I think that the central question one asks oneself about this is what is this sense of disillusion due to and will this Bill do anything to stop it?

My Lords, we are living through two simultaneous revolutions. One is a revolution in the structure of the education system of the secondary schools, which is what this Bill is largely directed to. You would not find a defender of the 11-plus. I think the noble Lord, Lord Snow, is absolutely correct. You would not find an intellectual defender of the 11-plus system. It is not defensible any longer. It is old-fashioned psychology.

On the other hand, we have also been living through a revolution of the curriculum and teaching style. My noble friend Lord Annan referred to William Tyndall, the difficulties of that school. We have to face the fact that there is a substantial minority, a very vociferous, powerful, concerned minority of teachers, who have set about deliberately sabotaging the existing curriculum and teaching style, because they wish to bring about much more than a social revolution. Let us be frank: they wish to bring about "the revolution". Consequently, there are comprehensive schools, such as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred to, where there is no doubt chaos is reigning. This is not an accident, in my view; it has been brought about by deliberate intervention of teachers who wished that to occur.

Of course, these two revolutions, the revolution in the structure, in the system, and in the contents of curricula, have, I think, got muddled up, necessarily muddled up in people's minds. So people attack the comprehensive school when really they are attacking something else. I am afraid I shall upset my noble friend the Minister by slightly criticising the Government in this respect. Frankly, I think this is an area where the central Government have failed to give the lead they ought to have done. This is why I so much hope that this Bill will be followed by a much more major Bill, which I hope will be an inter-Party Bill, on the question of where power and responsibility in the educational system should lie. At the moment the secondary system is in absolute chaos. It is in chaos in respect to curriculum; it is in chaos in respect to how to teach; it is in chaos in respect to examinations; it is in chaos in respect to the objectives which it is seeking to set itself for later employment.

Handing over these central issues to that extraordinarily ropey body, the Schools Council, is just not good enough. I often ask myself what the 3,000-odd public servants in the Department of Education and Science are doing with their time. We also urgently need—and here I so much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alexander—some attempt to correlate what is going on in the secondary schools with the needs of industry, commerce and the professions for trained manpower. If the Swedes can do this through their Manpower Planning Board, if the French can do it, if attempts can be made throughout Europe to get this kind of system working, why on earth is it beyond the wit of our dear old friends in the Department of Education and Science? In other words, immediate reform of the secondary education system is needed.

We need to know what is the best curriculum for which children. We need to know what are the best teaching techniques, and this includes the whole problem of selection. I happen to be chairman of a committee of inquiry into the training of gifted musicians. So far as I can understand, the proportion of gifted musicians in the child population is one in 10,000. I am also reliably informed—I happen also to be chairman of a committee on dance—that there is no such thing as a gifted dancer within the child population, certainly until the age of 13. What we have are ambitious mothers, which is not the same thing. The problem of how to deal with the gifted is, in my view, an infinitely more complex issue than we have yet thought.

I ask: is it beyond the wit of man to answer a few relatively simple questions? This is, after all, the nation which invented penicillin and we have an ally across the Atlantic who have a machine on Mars. Is it beyond the wit of man to discover at what age people should start learning French or what is the lowest IQ with which one can start reading at a given age? These seem to be very elementary questions, but of course we have no conceivable official answer to them. On the whole, therefore, I think that a large part of what the Permanent Secretary to the Department of Education and Science has called "the secret garden of the curriculum", which is in the control of the teachers, should not be; it should be in the control of the other place and this House, while a large part of what is now nominally within the control of this House and the other place should be handed over to the local authorities. Frankly, we have got the balance wrong and that is why, in supporting the Government on this issue, I hope that they will eventually feel strong enough to grasp the whole thicket of nettles.

4.2 p.m.

The Countess of LOUDOUN

My Lords, I intend to be brief and I wish to begin by quoting from paragraph 14 of DES Circular 2/75 which says: Special schools should be regarded as providing a highly specialised form of education designed to enable a handicapped child whenever possible to return to an ordinary school if this is considered beneficial". It is only fair to say that the Department of Education has accepted the desirability of ordinary schools for many handicapped children, although it does not go so far as many voluntary organisations would wish. There is of course a reaction, partly from those most closely involved with special schools who possibly feel that what they are doing could not be done elsewhere, and this is quite understandable. I realise that problems would be created by having handicapped children of all categories in comprehensive schools, not least access to these schools for the physically handicapped, but ideally they should be in small groups, integrated where possible, which would benefit both the handicapped and the normal children.

There will always be some children who have to be in special schools because of their disabilities, but at the moment many of those who board in special schools are a long way from their families and homes, which creates not only financial hardships but also a sense of isolation for all the family. Surely we can make sure, too, that at least any new schools have adequate access for the physically handicapped who, at the moment, are sometimes unable to attend ordinary schools merely because the architecture of local schools makes these inaccessible to or inconvenient for the use of handicapped children.

Many schools are used by the whole community and not just by teachers and pupils, and this makes it even more essential to have the plans right from the beginning. The arguments for educating handicapped children with non-handicapped children are, in my view, overwhelming and, fortunately, generally accepted, but unfortunately they are not accepted sufficiently in practice. It is far more difficult to integrate handicapped people into society when handicapped children and non-handicapped children are segregated and when teachers in ordinary schools are isolated, separated from teachers in special schools and sheltered from handicapped children.

Very few teachers in ordinary schools know anything at all about any form of handicap or anything about the problems of handicapped people. I think they should, not least because they are teaching society's future—hopefully—non-handicapped adults. Surely, the basic training of all teachers should include some instruction on handicap and should include exposure to a variety of severely handicapped adults who are successfully making their way in society. If the teachers remain unaware of handicapped people and their problems and achievements, we cannot expect the children they teach to grow up with any greater awareness. In this connection. I understand that a part of the curriculum for all children in Norway is instruction on the subject of handicap and I believe that this should be considered in the United Kingdom.

It is my belief that the performance of handicapped children, particularly at special schools, is adversely affected by under-expectation of their performance on the part of teachers. There are too many cases of the abilities of a handicapped child being recognised later than necessary and only as a result of undue effort by the handicapped child and its parents, sometimes with the help of experts who are friends of the family and not officially involved with the education or assessment of the child. This points to the need for regular assessment, occasionally with assessors who have not previously been involved with the particular child.

It also points to the need for a more rigorous curriculum and far greater emphasis, en the handicapped child's mastery of language and other basic skills, as well as on academic attainment. The handicapped young person will be disadvantaged later in life if his intellectual capacities are not very fully developed indeed. An unqualified handicapped person is doubly disadvantaged.

A handicapped child must be kept in touch with normal life to prepare him to lead a full and satisfying life in the community. With this Bill, we have a chance to take a good look at our basic priorities and to get those basic priorities right. The other place did not have the time to give to it, but we have. I should like to finish with the words with which the Association of Disabled Professionals ended their evidence to the Warnock Committee: We fervently believe that ordinary schools should be made special for handicapped children and that special schools should be made ordinary.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome the Bill and to hope that this is almost the end of the argument about comprehensive education. I hope that we shall in the future see a secondary education system in this country based on the comprehensive principle. Like the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I should like to declare several interests. One is the fact that I am not an academic. Even my best friends would admit that, and if my enemies want to insult me they usually call me an academic.

I feel that, in this argument, there are not enough people practising what they preach. For myself, my daughter goes to a comprehensive school and my son will be following her. Those who are opposed to the Bill in this House today are in the main not people who have gone to grammar schools, to comprehensive schools or to secondary schools. Most of them have been to public schools. They are not people who practise what they preach about grammar schools. I should like to say that Eton has so far won the day on the Opposition Benches because we have had, and are to have, more speakers from Eton than any other public school.

One thing that concerns me is that the Department of Education is still allowing too much autonomy to local authorities on the question of secondary education. What has happened in my own County of Kent, which is dragging its feet on the question of comprehensive education, is an example. Too many of the authorities which are dragging their feet are introducing ramshackle schemes which are doing comprehensive education in this country more harm than good. By the systems being introduced too many comprehensive schools within the co-existence areas are being allowed to be creamed off.

What is the fact about parental choice? For most ordinary working-class people in this country there is very little parental choice. For a large section, or a majority, of the population choice is based on geographical location and financial location, in terms of how much parents are earning or in terms of where people stand in the social and financial scale. It has been shown in surveys since the end of the war that, in the main, working-class people are still getting the worst of the educational system, that they are not getting the places at the grammar schools, and that social standing still plays too large a part in this matter. A number of schools were surveyed by the NUT and the Campaign for Comprehensive Education, which published its Report in 1975. Because of the co-existence factor, because of some of these ramshackle schemes, headmasters in two-thirds of the schools surveyed found that about 10 per cent. were creamed, and this was hindering the work they were trying to do and the academic range they were trying to cover.

There have been arguments about size, particularly in London. People have said that the comprehensive schools are too large. That is never an argument we hear about Eton, which has about 1,200 pupils. It is never an argument we hear about Manchester Grammar School, with 1,440 pupils. It is always an argument we hear about comprehensive schools and schools in working-class areas. Part of the problem is that those schools have not been given, by any Governments, the resources and facilities which schools such as Eton and Manchester Grammar are able to obtain.

This is where the problem arises. It is not just a question of what is happening in the comprehensive schools, in terms of violence or whatever matter people drag up—and I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, introduced a crime which had nothing to do with educational facility and which happened in a swimming bath. These are the kind of areas on which we must concentrate, and we must deal with some of the schools in our larger cities. London has a particular problem. As a former member of the LCC I must declare my interest. One of the problems we have had in London has been that of availability of sites. We were forced, through reasons of finance and due to lack of sites, to build larger schools than perhaps might be considered educationally suitable at present. But even here the situation is changing, and the average size of the comprehensive school in this country at present is about 950 pupils. There may be arguments about whether this is too large. But when noble Lords are using those arguments they ought to look at the schools shown in the Headmasters' Conference list, which in many cases are much larger—


My Lords, I should like to interrupt the noble Lord for a moment. There is the point that the majority of the schools to which the noble Lord is referring by contrast are boarding schools where the children are in the hands of the teachers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That is the first difference. The second difference is that they are allocated, in the case of Eton, to 26 individual houses which are run on a domestic system. Therefore, in these respects, the element of size is quite different from that of the schools to which the noble Lord is referring. There are other points which the noble Lord has raised, but I think it would be discourteous to interrupt him any longer.


My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot accept that. The point has been made about the size of comprehensive schools. It would be very nice if comprehensive schools in London and in, say, my own daughter's school in Gravesend were able to have the class sizes of Eton and the sizes which boarding schools have. This is where a considerable problem arises. This is where we need resources in a particular area where they have difficulties which are not confined only to the schools. Children do not face difficulties merely in schools. In Lambeth and in Southwark, for example, they live in areas which have other problems, housing problems, with pressures on them not only at school but at home where they are unable to do homework, and are living in cramped conditions and in almost continuous noise. These are the things that I hope the Government will look at. It is really the resources that we are spending on education that concern us.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, called once more—as many politicians do when they do not know the answer; and I am not intending to be offensive—for another review. But the time for review is now over. I think that the consensus in this country, both political and educational, is in favour of comprehensive education. What we must ensure as a Government and as a nation is that, in fact, this argument is finished and that the people have chosen—and they have chosen in the last four Elections out of six—on the basis of the Labour Party's education policy that we must go forward with comprehensive education. I hope that this House today will support this Bill.

4.18 p.m.

Viscount ST. DAVIDS

My Lords, I find two things in which I can agree with the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Gravesend. One of them is that a great change could be made in education if one had vast, additional sums of money to spend on it. I would agree with that. The second thing that I would agree with is that many things are changing. What I do not think this House realises is quite what size change is, in fact, occurring. I do not know what qualifies one to speak in this debate. My old friend Lord Davies of Leek said that it was holding a chalk and duster in one's hand. If that is the qualification, I am certainly qualified as I was holding a chalk and duster some eight days ago.

Looking at this Bill, I am afraid that I am opposed to it. I am opposed to it on principle. However, I am not going to make a long speech just on why I am opposed to it. Such comments as have already been made should not be duplicated by me; I wish to make my own speech. Also, I am not going to go into a subject, which has been raised in other places and at other times, on just how small a mandate this Government had for putting forward this Bill. Admittedly their mandate in the other place is small; admittedly that majority is supported by what amounts to a small minority, of the people. But I am not going into that. There is something else happening which has not been referred to yet in this debate and which is beginning to make this Bill look as if in the future we shall consider it dictatorial, old-fashioned, extremely short lived in its effects and, worst of all, unkind to children.

This is the fact, that there is another great change following this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said he hoped that another Bill would follow this. It is my belief that this Bill is going to be the last one at all for the simple reason that next year, as we all know, devolution is coming upon us and there are going to be separate Parliaments for Wales and for Scotland and it is an absolute certainty that there would then, as well as a British Parliament, be an English Parliament. They would have certain subjects devolved to them. One of those inevitably must be education. It is the very basis of devolution that there is some difference between an Englishman, Welshman and a Scotsman—and this, above all lies in education. They are going to have their own education systems. This Bill has nothing to do with Scotland; it does not have very much to do with Wales. This is a Bill to compel local authorities in England to obey the orders of a British Government. That state of affairs is likely to change very soon.

We are already in this position: if this Bill had been put in front of Members of another place coming solely from England, it would not have reached this House. This Bill has actually been forced on the English by the Welsh and the Scots. As a Welshman, I am perfectly well aware that for many years the Welsh and Scots have been ruling the English. My old friend Lord Davies of Leek is indeed one example of that. He sat in the Commons for many years—a Welshman as ever there was one—as a Member of an English constituency. The fact the constituency was called Leek is one of those wonderful coincidences; but in fact he was sitting for an English constituency. I do not object to that. If the English find that the Welsh and the Scots make good Members of Parliament to represent them, that is democratic. If they wish to vote for them all good luck to them. What is not democratic is that England should have voted on to its shoulders have voted on to its shoulders a Bill which the Members of Parliament representing English constituencies would never have supported.

We know that next year we have a great change coming; we know that education will be devolved on to the new Parliaments. When that happens each of these Parliaments will make up its own mind without reference to a British Parliament. We are going to see Scots education, Welsh education and English education and what will happen then is they will set up the education systems which they want. As a Welshman I know that the Welsh are very keen on education; I can imagine the Welsh spending a great deal of money on improving the Welsh education system. If they do so, we may well find parents getting a choice of education which they have never had simply by moving their domicile to some other part of Great Britain. We may find people moving to Wales so that their children can have a better education.

We may find the English making great efforts to improve their schools in order to keep up literally with the Jones's. This also is a possibility which is starting to come over the horizon. If it were put to them that a mixed system of comprehensive and grammar schools is better, we may find the English reverting to such a system. What is to stop them?—what would undoubtedly be a Conservative Government of England. We have all these possibilities, my Lords. The system is changing and this Bill is intended to force England to do something which it does not want to do.

At the moment, the local authorities have complete local options, except of course for certain pressures which the Government are putting on. Why cannot we leave that until after the major change has been made in the Government of Britain? Why cannot we leave it until the various parts of Britain are able to say what they want for themselves? Why must certain parts of Britain compel other parts to make a change? As I said, this appears dictatorial. It is a dictatorship by one part of Britain over another, in spite of the fact that the other parts of Britain wish to do otherwise than do what they are told to do.

It begins to look old-fashioned, because this is almost the last chance we shall have in Britain to control education. In future it will be done by the devolved Parliaments. If we make these changes now and compel these children to go to other schools, breaking up the schools we have now, and then go through devolution and have an English Parliament which believes in putting matters into reverse, it will be extremely bad luck for those children who are concerned.

This whole business must be left—whether it is right or wrong is not in question—until after devolution, when those who wish to have things one way may have them and those who wish to have things another way may have them: and I intend throughout the various stages of the Bill to try to make sure that the changes we are about to make, whether right or wrong, will take place when a time comes that they can be democratically voted for by those whose children are affected in various parts of Britain. To carry out that purpose, I shall be putting down Amendments at suitable times during the passage of the Bill.

4.28 p.m.


My Lords, coming in my familiar place at the end of a list of 24 speakers, I shall do my utmost to avoid repeating everything that has been said before. But if I were to achieve even half that, I should be nothing less than a genius—which I most certainly am not.

I want to begin by pointing out that one or two noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, in his opening speech, referred to "comprehensive education". I should like to emphasise that comprehensive education is not the same thing as education given in a comprehensive school. Comprehensive education can be given in various types of schools, and of course I am not saying that it is not given in comprehensive schools. But I should like to go on and say, as I have said before, that I am not against the comprehensive system. I think there are places where it can work very well indeed and can be quite desirable but, of course, what this Bill is doing is not so much establishing the comprehensive school as abolishing all selection based on ability or aptitude. That, I think, is a very great mistake. You must have selection, because no two children are exactly the same in their ability or aptitude.

What is more, I should like to point out that it has nothing whatsoever to do with class. I have taught for a good many years in both boys' and girls' schools, and some of the most stupid children I have ever had under my care have been those who came from what used to be popularly known as the "top drawer ", while some of the most highly intelligent were from very humble beginnings. One has only to look back at somebody like the late Lord Morrison of Lambeth to see that that is entirely possible.

Clause 1 makes two exceptions. The first and natural one is the mentally or physically handicapped, though I agree very much with my noble friend Lady Loudoun that physically handicapped children should be incorporated in ordinary schools as far as that is humanly possible. It is not always possible, I know, but it should he done as far as it can be done. But the other is: the provision of education in any school where arrangements for the admission of pupils to the school are based on selection wholly or mainly by reference to ability or aptitude for music or dancing. Why only those two arts? They are not the only arts or professions which one should start at an early age. One should start mathematics, if one wants to achieve anything at it, very young. One should start the classics very young. One should start history very young. They are all things which one should start from one's earliest years if one is to achieve anything.

There is another point which I should like to raise. I thought that my noble friend Lord Annan, who I am sorry to see is no longer here, was completely wrong when he referred to this as two nations. If he means the very intelligent and the not so intelligent, I suppose one could say that that is so, because that is simply an act of nature and one will never eliminate it. But if he means a nation of the privileged class and the not so privileged class, that has now disappeared. The old idea of the class system of the Victorian era has now really gone, and I sometimes feel that members of the Labour Party are dwelling too much on the memory of those years—which certainly, I agree, is not a pleasant memory—which has now disappeared.

The last school at which I taught, a public school, had a very wide selection of social classes. We had one young Indian boy, a most charming young boy who, incidentally, was in the chapel choir. We also had the famous, or should I say infamous, Ojukwu who caused even more trouble in his native Nigeria than he did at school. Then we had one boy, the son of a local journalist, who had a Cockney accent which you could cut with a knife, but who got on like a house on fire with everybody else. There was no feeling of social division. That attitude has really disappeared now.

To return to the point of selection so far as ability is concerned, anybody who has taught must know that, with a class of very mixed ability, one must go at the pace of the slowest. One must teach something they will all understand, not just a few. The result of course is that those who are much more able do not get what they hope for. That is why you should separate the very intelligent from the not so intelligent. That does not mean that the not so intelligent are under-privileged. They may he extremely good at other things over which the intelligent ones are completely helpless. Who knows? They all have their individual gifts. But they should be separated according to their gift. That is why I feel that, although comprehensive schools in themselves may be good, the abolition of streaming inside them has been the greatest mistake.

Any system of education can be judged only by its results. I have a few statistics which I should like to read. These are based on the six years from 1968 to 1973 inclusive. They are O and A-level results showing at least three O-level passes, excluding O gained on A or CSE examinations. For the purpose of secondary modern and grammar schools all these statistics are lumped together—that is to say, the old system as we knew it. The results are as follows. Secondary modern and grammar: 24.9 per cent., 25.6 per cent., 26.3 per cent., 26.7 per cent., 26.7 per cent., 44.75 per cent. Comprehensive: 20.6 per cent., 20.3 per cent., 21.4 per cent., 21.4 per cent., 21.9 per cent., 35.7 per cent. Direct grant: 85.9 per cent., 88.3 per cent., 87.2 per cent., 86.4 per cent., 87.27 per cent., 90.7 per cent. If those statistics prove anything they prove that the Government's decision to abolish the direct grant school was one of the most disastrous decisions in education that has ever been made in this country. I could go on with many more statistics. They all prove the same thing—that the comprehensives are on the whole just below the old system of grammar and secondary modern mixed together.

What is the results of all this? There will be a generation of young people with only rudimentary knowledge of certain subjects; maths, science and geography, perhaps, and an almost total ignorance of English literature, history, the classics and modern languages. That seems to be the trend nowadays. Mention has been made of sixth form colleges. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord James of Rusholme that sixth form colleges are not enough. We must start earlier than that. It is no use having a rudimentary education until you reach the sixth form and then suddenly being jumped into something which is entirely above your head.

I should like to mention Clause 2 of the Bill. This clause will give the powers of a dictator to the Secretary of State. The schools and the local education authorities seem to be given absolutely no say, despite the fact that they are in much closer touch with their problems. How on earth can an official at Westminster know what those problems are better than the people who are on the spot and doing the teaching? I believe that this is a fatal Bill. I suppose that it will go through, but I hope that by drastic Amendments we can make the Bill a little less bad than it is at present. I am very sorry, however, that it ever appeared.

4.41 p.m.


My Lords, first I must apologise humbly to the House and to the two opening speakers for coming to this debate so late and missing so many of the speeches. My excuse is that I simply forgot that we were meeting at 11 a.m. I am mortified by this because the subject today is close to my heart. I have punished myself by slashing my notes savagely. I will make a few general points and be very brief; I hope only that I can make some sense out of them.

I support this Bill and the reorganisation of our secondary education on fully comprehensive lines because it looks to the future and not back at the past. I think that the Bill probably needs detailed examination, and I suggest that the Government should have a close look at the speech of my noble friend Lord Vaizey who gave us some concrete ideas on this.

I begin by making the obvious reflection that education itself is an experience to be enjoyed—all of us seem to have forgotten that point—and that in many areas of Britain this experience is limited, so that the capacity for these children to enjoy it is stunted. Even today, having listened to half of the debate, it seems that many people have not accepted that the spread of academic achievement is wider than the spread of inherited ability. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, will have a close look at the statistics relating to this fact.

An interesting feature in today's Guardian newspaper tells the success story of a research study into the progress in nine secondary modern schools in the Welsh valleys which teach the children of semi-skilled and unskilled workers. We know that the main beneficiaries of the educational expansion of the 1960s have been the middle classes where there has been the fastest expansion in higher education.

Our debate today is between those who religiously believe in selective education and claim the right to be unequal—Mrs. Thatcher's famous slogan—and those of us who maintain that, in this technological age, both nationally and internationally a drive towards more equality in education is both socially relevant and economically pressing and urgent. But the tide against the selective system flowed from the revulsion against the 11-plus examination. This started the reorganisation on comprehensive lines.

By 1975 68 per cent. of secondary school pupils in England and Wales were in comprehensive schools and it was after 1974 that the Labour Government decided to develop a fully comprehensive system. The main research projects on education reached the conclusion that selection was not only unfair but also unreliable. For instance, in many cases for a child to be chosen for a grammar school depended not on ability, but on the geographical distribution of grammar schools. It was soon realised that equality of opportunity was non-existent in a tripartite system of secondary education where the grammar schools creamed off the top ability for themselves. Both the Crowther and Robbins Reports emphasised that it failed to exploit existing talent but what is absurd today is that the country's supply of skilled manpower should depend on the decisions of 14 year olds and on those who leave school at 16.

The Labour Government regard this as the most fundamental and urgent reason for an all-out drive for a fully comprehensive system of education. In industry the common, shared experience is desirable for a cohesive society. How can anyone today justify the fact that there are three times as many graduate teachers in grammar schools than in comprehensives? Up to now we have achieved a small academic elite. By the beginning of the 20th century we strove to do this. This helped our children, but there is no future for our grandchildren in keeping this small academic elite. Practically every distinguished education committee has exposed our shortcomings and shortsightedness. If we continue on selective lines we shall go into the 21st century as stragglers with the ideas of the 19th century.

The arguments against comprehensive schools are rather feeble. They leave out of account the paucity of the resources they have received. The question of resources is never mentioned when it is said that the comprehensive schools have not yet proved themselves. If we look at the state of the nation, we can see how the private sector of education and the universities have proved themselves. Let us see how they have proved themselves. Your Lordships do not have to take my point of view on this. One has simply to go back through the debates we have had on direct grant schools, universities and so on. As the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, said, in the last few years we have had too many debates on various aspects of education. I recommend noble Lords to read the recent speeches contributed by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, from Manchester University and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. He made a brilliant speech on universities, and though he came down against the comprehensive system he dissected all the things that were wrong in our universities.

His ruthless analysis of the direction in which our graduates are going or not going, as the case may be, has shown that they have not produced the dynamism which we might expect from a privileged education. They have definitely not proved themselves. It is the universities, the private sector of education and the privileged sector of education which have not proved themselves today—not the comprehensives. The comprehensives have had neither the time nor the resources so far.

I do not say that our education system is the only reason for the state of the nation today, but I do say that the private sector of education has far less excuse than the less privileged educational institutions for not producing the goods"—the necessity for growth in highly skilled jobs. The country is a long way from tapping all the talent available as a result of present methods, and even the rapid expansion of higher education for the professional classes, with only 2 per cent. for the semi-skilled manual group, only shows up how the middle classes benefit without "delivering the goods". We are lost if today we do not accept that all children should have an equal opportunity of acquiring intelligence. That was why the Plowden Committee proposed more resources for deprived areas. Finally, my Lords, I fully support this Bill at this time as a step in the right direction to give us the quality of future manpower which we need in our country.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her to elucidate one remark she made just now. She spoke about giving all children an equal opportunity to acquire intelligence: surely intelligence is part of one's natural endowment, it is not something that one can acquire. I think she meant to refer to exploiting their intelligence.


No, my Lords, I used the word "intelligence", because I found it in various things I have read. If the noble Earl likes, we can use another word—"education", for instance. That is all right—anything goes.


My Lords, I think it occurs in the introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Boyle, to the Plowden Report. I think psychologists would agree that measured intelligence is about 80 per cent. acquired and 20 per cent. innate.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill has some very serious implications which I think it is fair to claim have been recognised in the many speeches which have been made from all sides of the House. I should like to add my welcome to the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of Blackburn for the maiden speech which he made to us today. I trust that I am not being too controversial when I express the hope that he will not have an opportunity to make a speech on a Bill of this nature in the near future, but I hope that we shall hear the right reverend Prelate speaking again on other subjects. Indeed it was right for us to have with us today the chairman of the Board of Education for the Church of England, and therefore I hope that the right reverend Prelate will be speaking on educational topics also in the reasonably near future.

At the end of what has been quite a long debate, perhaps it would be right to return to a consideration of what it is that the Bill provides. Clause I lays down a general principle that local education authorities shall provide secondary education only in comprehensive schools except for the teaching of music and dancing and also teaching handicapped pupils. In the House of Commons at quite an early stage in the Committee, the Government were forcefully reminded that this principle would make reorganisation schemes unworkable where what is called "banding" was in operation and the Bill was subsequently amended accordingly.

I hold no brief for the practice of banding, but I must point out that, undeterred by the possibility that this oversight might be only one example of the different views which people in a free society hold concerning education, the Bill then proceeds to make the comprehensive principle mandatory. The Secretary of State may demand further proposals in which he will be able to spell out what it is he actually does require, proposals of which he is the sole arbiter, proposals which have got to be implemented once they have been approved. So whatever view we may take of this provision, education up to the age of 18 is going to be at the dictate of central Government.

I would just venture to say to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that it is this factor in the Bill which the Conservative Party oppose. On these Benches we share with the noble Lord his desire to provide equality of opportunity. But my noble friend Lord Eccles explained, with I thought incomparable clarity, why it is that this desire is probably not going to be met and, indeed, probably will be damaged by this Bill.

My noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood, with her experience of local government, showed that this Bill is a total reversal of the partnership between central and local government which was settled by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and the late Mr. Chuter Ede in the Education Act 1944. Because the authors of that Act believed in the fundamental importance of family life, they provided the principle that, so far as possible, children should be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. The speech of my noble friend Lady Faithfull reminded us that the influence of the family remains as important today as it was over 30 years ago. Yet, of parents there is no mention whatsoever throughout the Bill.

My Lords, because the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and Mr. Chuter Ede recognised the potential tragedy of a child attending a school where he or she may be unhappy or may be unable to make progress, they placed the initiative of planning the pattern of schools upon those who are most closely concerned in the matter; namely, the local education authority, subject to the views of people of the locality and, of course, to the final decision of the Secretary of State. The absolute right to take that initiative and to express those views is now to be removed by this Bill. Because they recognised the contribution which so many different people and organisations have made to education over the years, the authors of the 1944 Act created a settlement under which everyone could plan and could work for the future. In a national service which is locally administered, what a wise policy that was.

I wonder whether it ever occurred to the Government when they were planning this Bill what would have been the consequences if the 1944 Act had probibited secondary education from being provided other than in grammar schools, secondary modern and technical schools. The path to reorganisation would have been blocked by Statute. But instead, with a free choice, gradually local education authori- ties began to introduce comprehensive schools. Some impetus for reorganisation in rural areas, about which the noble Lord, Lord Snow, spoke, and in new housing areas, was provided by the 1958 White Paper called Secondary Education For All. Having heard the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, speak, it is fair to claim that in many authorities in the early 1950s and 1960s, the future of schools was not decided along Party political lines; until, exactly ten years ago, the Labour Party of the day issued Circular 10/66 which denied resources to school building projects unless they were intended for reorganisation. From that moment the Labour Party has moved with all the speed, and sometimes with all the passion, of the recently converted, and grammar, direct grant, independent and to some extent also voluntary schools are seen by the Government now not as partners within a settlement but as obstacles to a uniform system of education.

My Lords, a fortnight ago in a debate on a Motion of my noble friend Lord Carrington, repeatedly noble Lords expressed the view that for our country today the politics of confrontation are the politics of disaster. It is interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, used a very similar expression in the speech he made today, when he said that the changes in education systems from one Government to another are no longer a practical proposition. The tragedy of this is that the Bill is going to set the partners in the educational service one against another, endlessly involved in litigation concerning what is supposed to be a service to children, astonishing, not only for that reason, but also because I should have thought the Secretary of State for Education and Science had rather lost his taste for litigation in the last few days.

Let us not be deluded about the sheer practical problems which this Bill is going to cause. Many noble Lords have pointed out that the financial impracticability at the present time of forcing 78 local education authorities to reorganise or to complete reorganisation is going to be considerable—except the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who spoke about a trifling few millions.


My Lords, if I may intervene, all I was trying to point out was that the Opposition, and sometimes our side of the House, continually mix up the economics of transference payments and capital; when you work it all out you are moving finance inside society, from one part of it to another, which is of use.


Well, my Lords, we can discuss this at Committee stage. But I am talking about the permission which the Department of the Environment will give for loan sanction to local authorities, and this, it is quite clear from what Ministers have been saying recently—and I think Ministers are right to have taken this stand—is not going to be forthcoming.

In Committee, for this reason, we shall certainly wish to examine Clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill, which are demanding reorganisation proposals and then requiring them to be implemented within a five-year period. I hope noble Lords opposite will forgive me for saying that for a Government which appear to have considerable difficulty in seeing ahead financially five months, let alone five years, I really do think that the provisions of those three clauses are a bit overoptimistic. I hope that the Government are going to agree, when we come to the Committee stage, at least to a commonsense amendment to Clause 4, that the duty to implement proposals shall be matched by provision of the necessary finance.

I think the most worrying practical consequence of this Bill, a consequence on which Lord Eccles, Lord Alexander and Lord James have all put their fingers, will be the proliferation of weak sixth forms; indeed, as my noble friend Lord Elton said, a proliferation of schools which may be not able to cater for the various needs of children, whether they be gifted of whether they have needs of other kinds. When you find a pupil who is being educated in a school where possibly the right staff have not been attracted to the school, or it may be there is not sufficient pupil demand for the right course to be put on for this particular pupil, you can have the makings of a situation which, I am sure, having heard his speech, the noble Lord, Lord Somers, would be the first to call a tragedy. It was to prevent those circumstances that the Education Act 1944 laid the duty on parents to see that their children received suitable education, and a corresponding duty was laid, your Lordships will remember, upon local education authorities to provide the necessary schools. But not only does this Bill disregard those duties; it appears by its wording to prevent even sensible and compassionate placement of boys and girls according to their needs.

In Committee we shall certainly want to probe the meaning of Clause 1(1) which provides that schools shall not base their admissions wholly or partly upon selection. All I can say is that if the wording of that subsection means that it is going to deny to a young linguist or a young mathematician a course which cannot be provided in their own school; if it is going to prevent a nervous child from being given shelter in a smaller school; if that wording is going to bar the difficult or backward from the best course of teaching available in the locality; if, in short, the wording of this Bill is going to disregard the fact which my noble friend Lady Faithfull has brought home to us so strongly today, that children do have different needs and require different teaching and care, then I think this Bill is going to have a great deal to answer for. I am sure that all your Lordships would then want to band together to see that that particular part of the Bill was put into the correct shape.

Having listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, I must say that I am astonished that the Government can find it in themselves to introduce this legislation. I am not saying that the conclusions which the noble Lord reached would be universally acceptable. Indeed, it is precisely for that reason that, in an atmosphere of quiet, calm deliberation, we should all try to untangle the tight knot of financial stringency and difference of philosophical view in which the education service seems to be caught at the present time. Although in his very interesting speech, which we enormously enjoyed, the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, explained that he was in support of the Bill, I do not think he will mind me saying that he was highly critical of some aspects of secondary education; aspects which need thought and agreement if they are to be put right. What worries me is that the Bill is giving no opportunity for thought or deliberation.

It was my noble friend Lord Elton who asked, reasonably enough, why an inquiry into comprehensive education could not have preceded legislation. My noble friend Lord Redesdale spoke about violence in schools. He spoke as a parent; somebody who hears about what is happening in the schools day after day from his own children. The only conclusion I can draw from what he said is that we need to know more about what is actually happening in our schools.

In another place the Government were pressed to agree to the setting of some national standards which would give at least an indication of the value of different methods, and an assessment of the needs of pupils. What has happened? The idea of an inquiry was rejected out of hand. The need for some national standards was rejected likewise. A debate in another place was remarkable only for revealing absolutely nothing about the assessment of performance unit, as it is called, which has been set up in the Department of Education and Science. The inquiry into school violence, to which my noble friend referred, will be extremely helpful, but it will come after and not before the passage of this legislation.

The truth is that the Government do not intend to weigh any evidence concerning the drafting of the Bill, and nowhere is this intention more apparent than in the attitude which the Bill takes to the voluntary schools. These are schools about which many of your Lordships have spoken today, being usually reasonably small schools with governing bodies, staff and parents united by their commitment to the objectives of their school, and drawing pupils from every sort of home. In this complicated world they are, surprisingly enough, exactly what they seem: really good schools whose staff, governors, parents and pupils support them enthusiastically. But now, for the first time ever, these schools will be forced, whether they wish it or whether they do not, to reorganise, and regardless of the trust deed under which the school may be operating. And for what reason? To join them up with another school, often some distance away—surely the most careworn form of reorganisation imaginable—or simply to change the name at the gate of the school, and form what the Inner London Education Authority has called mini-comprehensives (not at all the same thing as the careful planning of smaller schools) or simply to drive the schools into independence. Is the comprehensive principle really worth all this sacrifice?

There is a word of warning, if I may voice it, of a different nature regarding the whole trend of the Government's policy towards the voluntary schools. I understand that in November of last year the Schools Sub-Committee of the Inner London Education Authority recommended in evidence to the Taylor Committee on the Management and Governing of Schools that local education authorities should have greater control over admissions to voluntary schools. That was one recommendation. The second was that there should be a re-examination of the proportion of foundation to local education authority governors in voluntary schools. If the Taylor Committee were to adopt these two recommendations, it would appear that they would be recommendations very much in accord with Government policy as it is seen to be unfolding in this Bill.

If my diagnosis is correct, this must be of concern to the Churches. Today, it is a fact that we are a pluralistic society in which some people feel that a Christian religious education may not be appropriate for certain pupils, but to jump from that to the conclusion that parents should not be allowed to choose a Church school—which is an implication of the first recommendation—would be a direct breach of the Charter of Human Rights, about which my noble friend Lord Redesdale has spoken, and would be contrary to the whole intention of the 1944 settlement. Then, once pupils have been admitted, an implication of the second recommendation would be a threat to the Christian tradition of many voluntary schools.

I regret that I am no expert at all in this subject, but your Lordships will recall that, about six years ago, the Commission on Religious Education under the late Bishop of Durham, published a Report called The Fourth R. In an increasingly multi-racial society, the Durham Committee recognised that religious teaching must play a part in advancing the general education of all children and also that it should play its part in removing prejudices. But I am not aware that the Durham Report recommended that religious education should simply become an academic study of comparative religions. Indeed, in a phrase which received wide publicity at the time of publication, the Commission said that it was concerned that religious education should guide pupils towards a faith by which to live.

I very much fear that the attitude of the Government, as it is becoming increasingly evident in this Bill, may very well lead to consequences which the Government may not intend. Indeed, I have no direct reason to believe that they intend this at all and, apparently, they do not foresee it, but it is impossible to acquit Ministers of the intention to commit the damage which the Bill is doing. One only has to look at the text to see in Clause 5 the deliberate threat to the take-up of places at independent schools by local education authorities.

There must be two of your Lordships who know more about the need for boarding education than most other people in the country. They are my noble friend Lord Eccles, who received the Report of the Martin Commission in 1960, which recommended four categories of boarding need, and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, who chaired a further Working Party in 1965 which widened the categories somewhat—categories which, broadly speaking, have been accepted by local education authorities ever since whenever they were deciding whether to place a pupil in a boarding school. Both noble Lords have condemned Clause 5, as has the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, speaking from the Liberal Benches. And rightly so. With over 21,000 pupils placed at independent schools these days by local education authorities, under Government grants, some 12,000 of whom are boarders, not to mention pupils who are also—I am delighted to say—at the direct grant schools the intention of Clause 5, taken in conjunction with Clause 1, is clearly to prevent the placing of pupils at independent schools as soon as the Government can afford to do so.

In speaking about this, I have an interest, I am afraid, but may I just say this. I appreciate that some noble Lords opposite believe sincerely that any payment for education is something which ought to he brought to an end. But once again, have Ministers given any real thought to what lies at the end of the path which they appear to be so eager to tread? At the end of that path there will be the polarisation of attitudes which the noble Lord, Lord Snow, predicted and regretted. There will be found an educational monopoly which has no independent yardstick and little freedom for parents to choose how their children are to be brought up, less provision for different needs, and the denial, in a free society, of the right of people to associate together to provide an education independent of the State. If a fundamental right of that sort is to be denied, where will the power of Government to control our lives be ended?

Above all else, I believe that the thing which parents are really concerned about is what sort of education and care their children are having, quite regardless of what school their child may be at. The huge petition of over half a million signatures, which was collected in little more than two months, and presented to Parliament this month, protesting against the Bill, shows that the Government are not fulfilling that wish of parents. Indeed, by forcing local education authorities into a totally reorganised system, standards in comprehensive schools are going to be damaged—the very schools which this Bill is designed to promote.

Because of the use of the guillotine in another place the text of this Bill was not debated at all on Report in another place. If the Bill receives a Second Reading this afternoon, on these Benches we shall do everything possible in Committee to remove the worst features of this legislation, and in doing that I believe we shall be representing the true interests of parents, of children, and of the education service.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I think that by this time most noble Lords who have trains to catch have caught them, and dinner is not as near as it usually is when it comes to me to sum up at the end of a long debate. Therefore, perhaps your Lordships will let me take this matter a little easy and not rush it too much. It has been a fascinating debate. I was not looking forward to it, I confess, but I have found it extremely enjoyable and extremely instructive.

It is a curious thought that almost everybody who spoke was a direct example of the élite education we have been discussing. Whether this is a good or a bad thing I do not know, but there is no doubt that it is a fact. It is also a fact that it is perfectly clear that education is as imprecise an art as economics, or even more so, because the best brains in this Chamber have split about down the middle and one would think that they were talking about different Bills. So much for the expertness of the educationalist. We have to have it, but I think we must use it rather carefully.

The political content of our discussion has been agreeably light. I think that on the Front Benches on both sides we felt that we had to make one or two political remarks, but basically we are dealing with an extremely serious and an extremely difficult subject, about which there are no certainties of any kind, and anybody who thinks that there are is a fool. So it is very useful in an establishment like the House of Lords to have some of the best brains of our country talking about this. One thing I can assure your Lordships is that my Secretary of State will read, and read very carefully, everything that has been said today.

One noble Lord—it may have been my noble friend Lord Murray of Gravesend—said that it sounded as if very few noble Lords had been to any comprehensive schools. I have taken an interest in this subject only fairly recently, but I have been to several comprehensive schools, and I have been extraordinarily impressed. I may have been very lucky. They may have picked the good ones and kept me away from the had ones. But I can only tell your Lordships that I have seen a standard of dedication, of enthusiasm, of certainty that they are going along the right path, even though with great doubt as to which corner to turn here and which corner to turn there. I have been enormously impressed by what I have seen. But this has not come out in a single speech from the Opposition and I think that that is a pity.

The Opposition have repeatedly said that they are not against comprehensives. The extraordinary excitement which exists in comprehensives, the opportunity to develop something new, to do the best for the children, has not been referred to by anybody. The suggestion that—


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me if I interrupt for a moment? I paid tribute—not from the Front Bench, but from the Back Bench—to the work being done in the comprehensives, of which I have personal knowledge, and so we did in fact make reference to that matter.


I am delighted to withdraw, my Lords. The suggestion made by a noble Lord who interrupted my noble friend Lord Murray of Gravesend, that Eton was quite different from a comprehensive because it had 26 houses (which is what it had in my day), misses the point that every comprehensive I have seen, or read about, has what they now call pastoral care in the most elaborate form. Either they have somebody in charge of each year horizontally, or somebody in charge vertically of each group, and this is done in the closest possible contact with the parents. The point I am trying to make—and I do not want to accuse the Opposition of overplaying their hand—is that I am talking about something in this Bill which is really good and which has the opportunity to be a great deal better.

Whether everything in the Bill is right, whether or not this little force should have been used at the end of the day, is something else. I require the House and the Press and everyone else to realise that we are not apologising for what is being done in the comprehensive movement; two-thirds of the children are being educated in that way. Admittedly, a number of comprehensives have not had a fair chance; have not yet had all the facilities in money or in other respects that they ought to have. In spite of all this, I think that what they are doing is quite remarkable. So much for that.

My Lords, my position has not changed from when I got up—it seems hours and hours ago—when I stated the Government position very clearly. I am going to state it again. We believe that selection at 11-plus is unnacceptable; we believe that the only solution to this is the comprehensive solution; we believe, regretfully, that the comprehensive solution is not possible if the grammar schools, however good, are maintained with the comprehensive schools and the best children creamed off—statistically, as I have said earlier, and not necessarily personally —to the grammar schools. We believe, therefore, that there has to be a change in the status of the grammar schools and we regret it if this means losing anything. We are aware that there may be angles in which it will cost something—certainly the mathematics point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, is one. But nothing that I have heard this afternoon has altered me in that conviction. This must go. There is not any other way of getting rid of it if we want the comprehensives to have the best possible chance.

My Lords, may I refer to the powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill. He has held a special place in our educational system for 30 years and he has made many notable contributions to the service which he has loved so well. I am only sorry that he had to wait for six years before making this one. I hope that it will not be so long again. What he said was really not something I want at this stage to take up because it was—and was meant to be—outside the confines of our particular discussion; but it is a statement of the greatest importance and of the greatest interest. I shall not have to ask my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to read it; I know that he will. One or two other noble Lords echoed the wish of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, for a further over-all examination of the educational problem. I do not think that anybody is against it at this stage but there are certain things which my Government felt had to be done first. This was one of them.

There are certain detailed points which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and others made. First was the question of costs. It is quite true that our resources are limited and that, as I said in opening, it must be quite a number of years before the reorganisation of the secondary schools can be wholly and satisfactorily completed. But even in our present stringent circumstances, we still have very large school building programmes—over £100 million both this year and next, even after taking account of the decisions on public expenditure announced last Monday in another place. And the White Paper on Public Expenditure published in February foreshadows an increase in current expenditure on secondary education more than enough to keep pace with rising numbers. We must, moreover, remember that at the end of this decade the numbers in our secondary schools will begin to fall and that some of the pressures to which the education service has been subjected ever since the war will be reduced.

Next the important question raised by several noble Lords of boarding and, in consequence of Clause 5. It is quite wrong to suppose that the effect of Clause 5 will be to prevent local authorities taking up places at independent hoarding schools and to compel them, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, suggested, to provide equivalent places in the maintained system. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave an assurance in another place when moving the Second Reading of the Bill that where a local authority can satisfy him that it cannot provide education of a type suitable for the age, ability and aptitude of some pupils without taking up places outside the maintained system, he will of course give approval for such arrangements. He added that he expected this to occur where there was a short term lack of maintained school provision or—and here quote—"special needs such as boarding or denominational provision".

May I now turn to the fundamental issue of the balance of power between central and local government to which a number of references have been made. Section 1 of the great Butler Act lays on the Secretary of State the duty of promoting the education of the people of England and Wales and of securing: the effective execution by local authorities under his control and direction of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area. This is the basis of the familiar phrase that education is a national service, locally administered. The question of what are the national and what are the local functions is always open. Somebody today said that everybody would agree that the school-leaving age should be a national one. We maintain that the type of school, whether a comprehensive or other system, will be a national one. Opponents think otherwise. That is the position.

In 1944 Parliament laid on the Minister the responsibility for seeing that national policies were executed by local authorities. Our policy of comprehensive secondary education can be fairly claimed to be a national policy, supported by many people of all Parties and none, and by what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, called a consensus of educational opinion. This Bill gives legislative form to that consensus. In doing so, it is fully within the spirit of the 1944 Act.

This brings me to the heart of the debate. Why should our secondary schools be organised on comprehensive lines? The noble Lord, Lord Elton, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and others, challenged us on this issue. They made points about the size of secondary schools, the organisation of sixth form teaching, parental choice, staffing, variety of schools and so on. I should like to try to answer these points by referring to the recent experience of two large local education authorities.

First the county of Hertfordshire. In 1967 Hertfordshire, under Conservative control, had approval from the then Secretary of State (my right honourable friend the present Foreign Secretary) to proposals for the establishment of comprehensive schools throughout its area. Nearly all these proposals have now been implemented and in some cases the new organisation has been in existence for several years. For the most part it takes the form of all-through 11–18 schools, each admitting about 150 pupils a year and giving, with a sixth form, a total of somewhere between 800–900 pupils. Much smaller than Eton or Manchester Grammar Schools, these 11–18 schools, developed from former grammar or secondary modern schools, are from all accounts providing a varied and successful system of secondary education. There is a wide measure of parental choice between the schools and a wide measure of pupil choice within the schools as to the courses that they may take. The number of choice of school complaints reaching my Department is negligible.

My second example is the city of Leeds. In 1971 the right honourable lady, the present Leader of the Opposition, as Secretary of State for Education, approved proposals for the complete reorganisation of the county primary and secondary schools in Leeds which had been submitted to her by a Labour-controlled local authority. It is early days yet but the signs are that there, too, pupils have wide choices and are finding the new system attractive. Also, there is no shortage of teachers for jobs in this largely industrial city.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that comparison, could he illuminate one point for us? In Hertfordshire, is the choice between the schools in no way related to ability and aptitude, and will it therefore be totally unaffected by this Bill?


My Lords, I think I shall have to write to the noble Lord. My understanding is "Yes", but I should like to check it.


My Lords, it is a matter of substance and one that perhaps we might return to on Committee stage, but I think it ought to go on the Record.


Certainly, my Lords. Government policy, confirmed more than once by the electorate and in another place, is to ensure that the benefits comprehensive education has already brought to the majority of our children in most parts of the country—and that is two-thirds of them, let us never forget—are extended still more widely. This is a policy to which we are committed, and which we regard as a necessary step forward in what Section 1 of the 1944 Act called: the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area. I should like, if I may, to make one or two comments on what speakers have said, as we are not in the usual rush and I think it would be acceptable to do so. I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Somers, surprised me very much by saying that abolishing all selection based on ability or aptitude was a bad thing. But there has never been the faintest suggestion of doing so. Every comprehensive school has some selection going on within it. The one I saw the other day teaches mixed ability classes for three years, streams them into A, B and C for the fourth year, and in the fifth year sets them in different subjects according to their ability. The idea that not selecting at 11-plus means not selecting at all is repeated, sometimes consciously and sometimes subconsciously, the whole time. I must confess that until I began looking into these things that is what I thought myself, but the opposite is the case. There are tremendous differences between the comprehensive schools, which is why I must object to one of my noble opponents who said that we should have a rigid uniformity. They could hardly be more different. There are different ways of doing it. Some have more selection within them than others, but basically there is invariably selection of some kind, I think I am right in saying.

The noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, made some remarks, which I found very sympathetic, about handicapped children. I will not say anything more about this at present because I am not quite sure how this will fit in with the detailed application, but I have great sympathy for what she said. My noble friend Lord Murray was quite right in saying that we have pastoral care in comprehensive schools which is quite as good as anything that goes on at Eton. He is also right in saying that 950 is the average size of current comprehensive schools.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, talked about violence. Of course, we are interested in that: it is a terryfing thing. It has nothing whatever to do with the comprehensiveness of schools but with the poor conditions of the area. I think we should all agree on that. You do not get it in grammar schools so much, because people are taken away from the rough area. I met a man the other day who said that his son was at a comprehensive school in the North-West and that he was looking for a square violin case. When I asked him why, he said it was because the boy is apt to get ragged if he goes to a comprehensive with an ordinary violin case. That is rather a grievous thought, but that is not because it is a comprehensive but because over the last 20 years it has not had the cream of the more intelligent to make it into something rather better. At any rate, that is what I think.

We welcome my noble friend Lord Vaizey as a contributor to these topics. He is an asset to this House, which is a great pleasure to us. On the whole, he came down fairly strongly on our side, with some very telling comments which will have to he looked at very closely. The last point he made, which I thought was very important, as I think most people would agree, was about the need to coordinate education with the need for trained manpower. There seems to be far too little done about this, and it is something which my right honourable friend is certainly having a look at. I do not altogether agree with him about ambitious mothers. I am told the evidence is that if you are going to be a successful dancer you must start before seven, mother or no mother.

Perhaps the most serious question was asked me by the noble Lord, Lord James, about mathematics, and I have a fairly long reply which I should like to give him. He suggested that in certain comprehensive schools such pupils would be so few that they would not be adequately catered for. I want to question all the noble Lord's presuppositions. We have plenty of time. First, as regards the best way of meeting the needs of mathematical high fliers, when the Bill was under consideration in another place my honourable friend Dr. Marshall, himself a mathematician of the highest calibre, argued that it was wrong to suppose that the ablest mathematicians should receive a segregated education. Their skills, and equally, if not more important, their ability to apply those skills, did not benefit from such treatment.

I certainly remember that by far the ablest mathematician who was at school with me, Payne, K.S., was treated as an absolutely ordinary chap. He only had to have separate papers on mathematics sent in from outside, and I should think this could be done somewhere else. His general education did not seem to suffer from not being taken away and treated differently. That is not to say that high fliers do not need to be recognised and encouraged, but there is no need to ensure that they will be left in isolation, one or two in each sixth form.

My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek spoke of one solution—the sixth form college—which is adopted in an increasing number of areas, and which enables most efficient teaching by drawing together pupils of all interests and abilities from a wide area. That system has its advocates and it also has its critics. It may not be right for every area. Where a local authority prefers the all-through school, as in inner London, and where such schools are small, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State would, before approving such a scheme, look for evidence of co-operative arrangements between schools to ensure, in particular, that the less popular A level subjects would be provided for the pupils in an area, even if this meant some movement of staff or pupils—not an unknown expedient, even in grammar schools, where pupils from a girls' school have been known to study subjects such as Greek at the local boys' school, as my daughter did once. Such a flexible approach, with co-operation between schools at this level, would certainly not be outlawed by the Bill.

I cannot, of course, give an assurance that every child in every school could study every subject to every level, and that the needs of every tiny minority would be perfectly met. I wonder whether in that great school, that very large 1,400-place school, of which the noble Lord was once High Master, it was possible for any pupil to take absolutely any A-level or combination of A-levels. I assure him, however, that we fully recognise the importance of subjects such as mathematics, and I do not believe that any local education authority would put forward a scheme which failed to cater effectively for A-level students in such subjects, nor would my right honourable friend give his approval if they did. We do not underestimate the importance of the point which the noble Lord raised.


My Lords, perhaps the Minister could tell us what scheme the ILEA put forward when it proposed its reorganisation for the Godolphin and Latymer School. What scheme did it put forward for the training of able mathematicians?


My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord about that. It is not up my sleeve. The noble Lord, Lord Snow, depressed me rather by speculating about the future on evidence which I thought was insufficient. He may be right in saying that everything is going to get worse and private education will gradually take over, but there is absolutely no evidence for his statement. It may be right and it may not. Although I enjoyed his speech, as I always do, I will not reply to that part.

My noble friend Lord Davies of Leek and his musical codences kept us interested. The best comment he made was that two heads are thicker than one. The speech of my noble friend Lord Annan was remarkable. With him, I believe in the reality of the two nations as seen in our educational system. Certainly, it is nothing like it was 15 to 20 years ago, but there is no doubt that it exists. You have only to go among people who are going to secondary moderns, when their children have failed for a grammar place, to find that 80 per cent. are those from not necessarily rich but highly educated parents, while those who go to secondary schools are from less educated parents. They may be rich and masters of the local hunt, but their conversations at dinner are below the level expected of grammar school types. I believe there is a real perpetuation here of what we all want to be rid of; namely, the remaining class system in this country.

I do not want to make a political point, but you have only to talk to any foreigner to hear, "It's a lovely place but I find the class system very odd". And it is odd. It is strong, with perhaps fewer sanctions than previously, but it exists as much as ever and we must have a shot at getting rid of it. This is one of my motives, and one of the motives of my Party, in dealing with the problem.

My noble friend Lady Wootton was bold enough to correct the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. When I told him he said he would not even look at the correction as it was bound to he wrong. She referred also to the question of uniformity, which I mentioned earlier. It is important that we should make perfectly clear that, with the number of different local authorities and the number of different people running them, uniformity is not something that this Bill will produce.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has written to say that he must leave. His arguments are always interesting. I would rather have him on my side than against, but I would rather have him against me than many others who deal so much less agreeably with the subject. My noble friend Lady Bacon was in the seat at the crucial time seven to eight years ago. I found her speech particularly interesting, especially her remark that since 1967 to 1970 the pressure for reorganising these new comprehensive schools came as much from Tory and independent councils as from Labour councils. I think one way or another we have slipped into political controversy over matters which should not be controversial.

I regarded the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, as a supporter, though rather a lukewarm one. I was interested in what he had to say. I hope what I said about Clause 5 is some solace to him. Lastly, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn made a splendid maiden speech. Having said in the speech how happy we were with the attitude which the Church has taken, and the way we had been able to work with them, it was nice to have this confirmed in a splendidly non-controversial way. We look forward to hearing him again before long. May I end this debate by saying I had considerable doubts about the Bill before studying it. But the longer and the more thoroughly I have examined it the more convinced I have become as to its rightness and its necessity. Education is an art, not a science, so no proofs present themselves. We have to make up our minds on as impartial a survey of the facts as we can manage. I do not think that it is wrong for parents to try to get the best education for their children and it is a view, although I think a mistaken one, that "my children will do better if they are separated from the common run and given special treatment".

I believe that this view is mistaken for two reasons. First, I think that it is a mistake to put off for too long meeting the real world which consists of many children brought up in widely varying conditions, many depressed and many very difficult. I think that a bright child will develop in a more balanced way if it is confronted early with the problems of the world he lives in.

Secondly, I think it is mistaken because the education in the top flight comprehensives is, in my opinion and in the opinion of a good many other people, showing itself to be every bit as good as the education in the best grammar schools. The world of the comprehensives is seething with excitement, with argument, with experiment, with determination to improve. Ten years will see the ordinary, middle-level school improved to the standard of the best. We shall have an educational system which takes responsibility for and gives equal attention to all our children, spending no less time and trouble on the backward, on the academically uninterested, as on the scholarship type, yet giving to the latter the best intellectual education with a much wider social understanding.

My Lords, I believe that the comprehensive experiment is the most exciting educational innovation of our day. It is visibly succeeding—succeeding under our eyes—and it will be a great tragedy if the Tory Party, whose educational record is distinguished by the 1944 Act, feels unable to throw its whole weight behind this dynamic and daily more successful movement.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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