HL Deb 14 March 1979 vol 399 cc664-730

Debate resumed.

4.6 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this debate on this extremely important subject, even if some of us are somewhat stunned by the awesome grasp he has of the details of examination syllabuses past, present, and to come. I certainly do not intend to embark on the controversy aroused by the proposals for changes in the examination system. We are also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for what can best be described as an end of term report on the Government's performance in education. Like many end of term reports I think we would all agree that what she really said was that the Government had tried hard and will try harder in the future, and hope to show that they have not done too badly. I thought, however, that the noble Baroness protested too much when it came to the question of the comprehensive system. We on these Benches have long supported the comprehensive system, and continue to do so. But in relation to the comprehensive system, as in so many other things which one supports, we do not support it in a totally uncritical way. Nor do we think it necessary to say that, everywhere and in all respects, the comprehensive system is delivering the goods. I had the good fortune last week—and I cannot pretend that it was anything to do with speaking in this debate, because I had no idea that I was going to speak in it—to visit two comprehensive schools of a very different order in different parts of the country. One was a purpose-built comprehensive school which, even for someone who has never taught and never aspired to teach in the secondary system, made the mouth water in terms of equipment, of environment, of facilities there, and the imagination-stirring environment in which one felt that almost anybody would be able to teach almost anything to anyone. I am sure that that is not true, but that was the feeling one had at the end of the visit.

The other was to a comprehensive school which had taken over a stately home—a rather unlikely start you might have thought. This school had a quite different but an equally stimulating effect on me. I had the good fortune to spend an extremely lively hour with the sixth form explaining to them the virtues of proportional representation. They were taking politics in their A-levels, and I hope the A-level results will be that much the better. I must say that they were much quicker to see the point than many Members of your Lordships' House!

In other words, and seriously, what I am saying is that obviously there are comprehensive schools and comprehensive schools. Some of them are breaking new ground and making achievements of the highest order. That should not prevent us from saying that there are some cases in which expectations have been far from achieved, and in which the results are a matter for real concern. For my own part, where this has happened—and I say this with great hesitation because I do not pretend to know anything about teaching in secondary schools—I suspect that the comprehensive system in public regard has suffered from the very unfortunate fact that it was got under way at precisely the same time (and I do not think it had anything to do with the nature of comprehensive education) that there were introduced into the schools what I shall stick my neck out and call quite dotty teaching methods. If you associate quite dotty teaching methods with large schools where it is difficult to take control and maintain standards, then in some places you are going to get some deplorable results. Although I may be quite wrong about this, I suspect that comprehensiveness has been blamed but that the cause lies somewhere quite different.

We on these Benches are committed to the comprehensive principle, but we are also anxious to see a number of improvements taking place. One of the improvements I should like to suggest turns on being adventurous and experimental, on leaving a maximum amount of control at the level of the school, but not however exclusively in the hands of the headmaster. I believe we must trust the organisation of the committees, with a much better representation of parents and teachers on those committees, to develop schools in ways which seem to be appropriate to them, because by no means can this lie with the bureaucratic administrators, be they in the Department or at local authority level. There should be the opportunity for experiment and variation within the schools; let one do it in one way and another in another way if that seems good to the local committees. No doubt things will sometimes go wrong. That will happen whatever one does, but a greater degree of local experiment is something for which we should strive.

We believe, too, that now is the time when it is desirable to raise teaching standards. We have, we are told, a falling input into the schools because of changes in the birthrate; and we have, as we know, a surplus of trained, though not always experienced, teachers. In-teaching, in-service, training has been promised for a long time and, as Lord Elton said, it is the quality of the teaching that matters, and it is vitally necessary to get that quality up to the highest possible level. Surely we could take advantage of the present opportunity of having more teachers available to see that older teachers, and teachers who perhaps did not get the best training initially and who are not in touch with new ideas, have the advantage of in-service training, and that should be undertaken on the largest possible scale.

Of course it would cost money, but I suspect it would be a very good investment, especially if we are working in the direction of giving schools more opportunity to experiment, having more freedom of action, which is what we should like to see happen. I am sure that if comprehensiveness is to be successful, it will be successful because we will be able to have more generous teaching ratios than we have had in the past, and will be able to deal with small groups of people who can have real personal contact with teachers. This is what teaching is all about, and it can be done only by being more generous in teaching ratios and in the quality of staff who undertake teaching.

So much for the need to develop and improve, rather than criticise, the comprehensive system. Another area in which people are greatly concerned is the whole relationship between school and work and the preparation of school children for the world of work afterwards. In no circumstances would we move from the position that what education is all about is the development of the child; but it must be the development of the child for himself or herself as a person, a person who is able satisfactorily to earn a decent livelihood and hold down a job.

I underline again what I have said often in your Lordships' House, that all the forecasts show that the future of the youngster, boy or girl, who lacks skills to sell in the market place is a very bleak future indeed. While I do not take the rather hysterical view that some people are taking about the results of the introduction of micro-processers, it seems to be a fact that for the first time in human history there will not be a career except for a very small number of people who are only hewers of wood and drawers of water. That is new, and it is of the greatest possible importance and relevance for the education system. This means that the connection between school and work—the importance of seeing that youngsters are prepared while at school in a way which will enable them to get into the world of work and hold their own in that world—is of the greatest possible importance.

I should like to see—we have discussed this before but this seems to be the place to return it to—the development in schools of departments of work education. I am not talking about job training; I am talking about having departments concerned with work and the relationship between education and work. Just as we have departments of art, religious education, physical education and so on, we should have departments of work education in the hands of highly qualified and respected teachers, who can hold their own in the academic field, but who have the additional knowledge and ability to cope with the whole area of work and the relationship between school and work.

This needs the real training of very able teachers, and I do not mean just a week seconded to a factory to have a look round. I have read with interest and some despair the paeans of praise because teachers in various places have been spending a week in industry. The world of work is far more complex and demanding than that. What we need are properly planned training programmes for teachers of high quality, so they really can understand what the work process is about. Even Lord Elton, unless I misunderstood him, spoke rather as if the world of work was for the less able children. I do not know what the more able were supposed to do. The more able would be academics, and he seemed to be supporting the eternal round of the bright A-level, scholarship level, university candidate, unversity First, who then goes back and repeats the process.


My Lords, the distinction was that the person who takes the A-level goes on to academic pursuits before going to work, but the person who does not goes straight to work. That is why the preparation has to take place in the secondary school.

Baroness SEEAR

I accept that, my Lords, but I also believe that knowledge of the world of work is highly desirable for the academically bright as well as for the academically less bright, and this is a matter which could be included in the syllabus. We have liberal studies—I do not quite understand why they are called that—but why should we not have work studies? They would be liberalising for a great many of the more academic people. I believe this whole matter must be taken very seriously indeed.

I am talking about the planned release of youngsters in the last year or two at school, with that planned release dovetailed into academic studies—in the way sandwich courses are provided for people at a later level—used as an educational instrument by people who understand what they are doing. That would of course be combined with careers advice work, which should start much earlier and as a much more integral part of the educational process, not in the penultimate term when most people have made all the decisions and committed themselves in the school programme and when it is too late for them to adjust their educational programme. Other countries have done it and, if we were really taking the work education system seriously, we would see that information about careers and the relevance between careers and studies done in schools were available to, and known by, both youngsters and parents at the time they are making the decisions which really matter.

When one looks closely at what the world of work will ask from the schools, one sees that the world of work knows clearly that it cannot forecast what the demands will be over the next 50 years, over the working lives of the youngsters now leaving school. The one certain fact is that they need youngsters who have the capacity to be flexible, to change, because that is all we know. No forecast, no manpower forecast, makes sense beyond five years, and even at five years it is quite murky. We need people who can find it easy o change, and for that reason they must have a good academic base, because unless they have the capacity, which is an academic capacity, to acquire new knowledge and use it, they cannot be flexible.

To build flexibility into the academic system they need, from the point of view of the world of work, good reading, mathematical and linguistic abilities of various kinds; so in reality the academic and world of work demands are not so far apart. We do not have to think of them as people who are in two separate groups with some mysterious dividing line between those who are capable of doing the academic work and those who are not; obviously there are points along a line. But can we not look very seriously and anew at the very fundamental demands in providing acceptable standards that this whole area of the relationship of school and work creates.

This will be a long debate, my Lords, and I have spoken for too long. There is only one other point that I want to make. It seems to me that in the discussion about education we have become bogged down with a false idea of equality and, in some quarters, almost a fear of excellence. No educational system dare deny the importance of the achievement of excellence wherever it can be found, and it is a totally false idea of equality which encourages people to deny the pre-eminent importance of excellence. We are all equal in the eyes of God and of the law, but we are most emphatically not all equal when it comes to choosing the first violin. If we can get that clear in our heads—and I say it as one who does not know one end of the violin from the other—surely we can proceed to make a better job of emphasising the importance of excellence while maintaining our belief in equality.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, I am honoured and privileged to take part in this debate as there can be few more importance subjects than the standard of secondary education in our schools, but I must first declare my interest. For a little over a year I have been Provost of Eton, and as such am the chairman of the governors and resident of that school which will be familiar to many noble Lords, and which has from time to time, in my view with very little regard for the truth, been described as that "large comprehensive school on the outskirts of Slough". I have therefore a personal stake in the secondary sector of education. I was given what was I am sure an excellent piece of advice by a noble Lord. "When you are making your maiden speech", he said, "make sure that you pick a subject of which you know a great deal, but for which you do not feel much passion". I cannot pretend that a year at Eton has made me an expert on education, but it has given me a passionate conviction that Eton, and indeed the independent sector of secondary education as a whole, has in the national interest a positive obligation to survive. I am therefore doing exactly what I was advised not to do. I hope, none the less, that I may have the indulgence of your Lordships' House if what I say must inevitably by its nature be somewhat controversial. I certainly have neither wish nor intention to be provocative.

I have no doubt that public schools today are more civilised, more professional, in the laudatory sense in which the word is rightly used, and far more ready to include practical and technical subjects in their approach to education than some noble Lords will remember as they look back with nostalgia, or repugnance, on their school days. Unfortunately, however, this is not our public image. The media are inclined to cast us in a stereotype role, which is very far from reality. We are presented as bastions of privilege, picturesque and rather brutal neo-Gothic survivals, bracketed with Morris dancing and Beefeaters, as they will miscall the Yeomen of the Guard. For instance, I should be surprised if a journalist, except the most perceptive, seeking information about Eton would fail during the course of his inquiry to ask pointedly about flogging and fagging—matters which have about as much relevance to life at Eton today as the Yeomen of the Guard have to the Defence Review. We have certainly come a long way from the day when Dr. Keate, headmaster of Eton at the beginning of the 19th century, on being confronted with a number of boys, automatically flogged them, assuming them to be defaulters, only to discover that they were in fact confirmation candidates attending on him for edification. And of course we have come a long way from times much nearer our own than those of Dr. Keate.

Schools in the independent sector today not only aim to achieve academic excellence over a wide and varied field, but also to develop in the fullest possible way each child's potential. They also seek to instil into him or her a proper regard for ethical and moral values. I am sure that comprehensive schools share this aim, and I have no doubt that the best of them achieve it. But because many independent schools are boarding schools, because they have a long tradition of worship, because their size is limited, and because there is a particularly close relationship in them between teachers and pupils, they inevitably have better opportunities than do comprehensive schools to teach children to take their part in the community, to accept responsibility for others, and to learn both to accept authority and the difficult art of exercising it.

That schools in the independent sector are generally successful in their aim is, I believe, demonstrated by the pressure for places in them. Most of them are full and most of them have full order books. Why is it that parents, many of whom never went to independent schools themselves, appear ready to mobilise whatever financial resources they have in order to pay the formidable fees which schools in the independent sector are forced to charge? Why is it that they are often prepared to sacrifice so much to this end? I am quite sure that it is not primarily or largely for reasons of class or snobbery. To take that view would be an insult to the great majority of them. No, my Lords; they do it because they want to do what they believe is the best possible for their children.

If I am justified in my belief that independent schools do indeed provide a broad, fulfilling education of a high order, I find it difficult to believe that that is not in itself beneficial for our country. The only pity that I can see is that more of our children are not able to enjoy the educational advantages provided by public schools. That is indeed a great pity. Of course it is unfair on many children who have the ability and the character to get the best out of a public school education that they do not have the opportunity to do so. But it seems to me that only a single-minded belief, which I certainly cannot share, in the dogma that what all cannot attain, none must, could make anyone rejoice at the extinction of public schools.

Public schools are of course restricted in social range and because of this are criticised as a divisive element in our society. This is a very controversial question, and I certainly do not wish to go into it on this occasion, except to say that many public schools—and certainly Eton—do to the best of their abilities finance scholarships which are open to any who can win them and bursaries which are available to those who need them. I also have little doubt that many of these schools would welcome the opportunity to provide places for more children who would normally be educated in the maintained sector if practicable arrangements could be agreed with the education authorities.

I contend that schools in the independent sector are good in themselves. I believe also that they are a good, indeed an essential, element in the total mix of secondary education. They are a good ingredient because they add a rich diversity, and they are essential because they set a standard of quality.

I was most interested last week to listen to a Radio 4 programme called "About Face". It was a discussion about the contrasting merits and demerits of comprehensive and independent schools. There was a general consensus in the discussion that parental choice, where it could be exercised, leant towards independent schools, and at the finish each of the three highly intelligent people who had been taking part in this discussion was asked what single thing could be done to reverse that trend, what could be done to make comprehensive schools more popular. I was particularly interested to hear the reply given by Mr. P. E. Daunt, the eloquent and persuasive protagonist of the comprehensive system. He said, "Leave it alone", and I hope I am not misinterpreting him in saying that what he meant was that comprehensive schools should be given more time to settle down, more time to achieve such excellence that parents who could afford to send their children to independent schools would decide that comprehensive schools could do the job as well and send their children to them instead. If that situation comes about, if that degree of excellence can be achieved by the comprehensive schools, it would be wholly good; it would be something in which everyone should rejoice. But I am sure of one thing: it will be achieved much more readily if there is a standard set by the independent schools at which to aim.

I agree with the view expressed by Mr. Daunt, as I understand it; but, above all, I am sure that it would be contrary to the national interest to weaken the position of independent schools, because to attack excellence is to promote mediocrity. I believe, therefore, that one of the conditions necessary to secure acceptable standards in secondary eduction in England and Wales is the continued existence of a vigorous, competitive, independent sector, thriving itself on the threat of competition from the comprehensive schools and by its existence stimulating comprehensive schools to further excellence.

4.32 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, it is the greatest pleasure to be the first to congratulate my noble friend (I hope he does not mind me calling him that) Lord Charteris on a speech which was as delightful as it was robust, and good for us all to hear. The noble Lord is at the pinnacle of one of the two best schools in the country and his defence of the independent system was quite splendid. He reminded me of Abraham Lincoln's remark, I like a man who is proud of the place where he comes from", and that we saw very well this afternoon. I hope the noble Lord does not mind being congratulated by someone who comes from the same place as the barrow-load of earth which was used to found Eton—that is, Winchester. We very much hope that he will share his wide experience with us many times in the future. That he is one of those shrewd Etonians is shown by the way he has picked this debate which was opened by an old Etonian, my noble friend Lord Elton. Another maiden speech, by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, is to follow, then the Marquess of Salisbury and then the wind-ups will be my noble friend Lord Belstead and the Minister, Lord Donaldson—all educated at Eton. That is something very remarkable.

My noble friend Lord Elton in a very well-informed speech directed our attention to the conditions necessary to raise standards in secondary education. I ask your Lordships to consider whether there is not one condition which is more important than all the others put together. In making this case I shall confine my remarks to the maintained schools which, as the noble Baroness said, are over 80 per cent. comprehensive. Some of these schools are extremely good. The noble Baroness. Lady Seear, visited one. I hope that those excellent schools of which I have some knowledge will not take it amiss if most of what I have to say (because I wish to be short) is concerned with the less good institutions.

Your Lordships will also be aware that the quality of the teaching in the primary schools is a big factor in the failure or success of the secondary schools; and, alas!, that teaching is not always what we would desire. The standards which are in your Lordships' minds are presumably those related to proficiency in the basic subjects and to access to other subjects which should be available to all pupils Suitable for them. We can evaluate those standards to some extent by looking at the statistics, by looking at the results of the exams, and by asking employers their opinion of the school-leavers who come to them for jobs. I think it is fair to say that over the last two years, on that basis, these standards have been showing improvement, but obviously we should not be having this debate if the evidence of a decline in standards, patchy though it is, were not plain enough for all to see; and, indeed, two years ago the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State themselves referred to it.

This evidence should not come as a surprise. Successive Ministers of Education felt it their duty, in order to reduce the size of classes, to increase the number of teachers at such a rate that standards of teaching in many scools were bound to suffer; and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, to make things more difficult, young teachers were encouraged to use methods which could be employed successfully only by very experienced teachers. A decline in results was therefore predictable; and the party opposite did not like it when I used to say that more teachers must, for a time at any rate, mean worse teachers, especially since competition for sixth-form leavers—competition from the expanding Civil Service, from the social services, from industry and from many other forms of employment which were only just opening up for girls—was growing stronger every year. All those new oportunities made it certain that a growing number of places in teacher-training colleges could be filled only by lowering the qualifications of entry; and that is what happened. Not long ago, as I think one noble Lord has already mentioned, only half those teaching mathematics in the primary schools had taken an O-level in that vital subject. Of course, secondary schools could not he expected to raise their standards if that was the general level of the teaching in the schools below them.

But I would also draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that the explosion in the teaching force distorted the age structure of staffs. In large schools, the rapid turnover in staff became very serious; and, the proportion of experienced teachers being reduced, the authority of the staff as a whole was greatly impaired. This dilution—bad luck, again, for the schools—occurred at an unfortunate moment when permissiveness and indiscipline were growing throughout society. Yet, whatever may be the state of morals in our society a lack of sufficient authority undermines all that goes on in any school.

My Lords, what is the target at which we should aim in secondary education? It must be more than cramming pupils with information or getting them through some examinations before they leave. It is after they leave, how they then approach their work, what standards of conduct they evince—it is then that the real value of their education is put to the proof. I am told that a lad who wants to join one of the gangs that plan and execute bank robberies has to have at least one "A" level. He needs as much instruction and training to become a professional criminal as to become a competent clergyman. The schools cannot contract out of the question—or not entirely—of why a boy chooses to be one rather than the other.

We must therefore start with a definition of education that aims to make children not just good at physics or quizzes but good human beings and good citizens; because it is only against such a definition that we can usefully measure the standards of secondary schools. I like very much the definition given by a professor of philosophy at Chicago University, Professor Mortimer Adler. He said: Education is the process whereby the powers of human nature are developed by good habits—good habits not just of reading, writing and arithmetic but good habits of behaviour and responsibility". Your Lordships know only too well that the area of education concerned with moral values has undergone a sea-change since the war and, in changing, it has not had a good influence on academic performance. Boys and girls who at home or in school are not taught habits of good behaviour, who will leave school muddled about the difference between right and wrong, who may even have been told that it is more important to do what they like than to do what is right—boys and girls brought up in that way are difficult to teach. They do not co-operate easily and may well learn much less than might have been expected from their natural capacities. So, my Lords, the first condition for securing acceptable standards is for the staff to wish, and to be able, to exercise authority over the whole school. They will not be able to do this unless parents and teachers can get together and agree upon the rules of behaviour which all children should follow. When there are two sets of morals, one taught at home and quite a different one at school, great damage is done. That is much more often the case now than it used to be. Some teachers, especially the younger ones, find it difficult to stand up against the bad habits of a whole neighbourhood.

As noble Lords have said, there are other conditions to be fulfilled. The structure of the schools can be improved. For example, I think that we shall come to see that authority is so important that the schools ought to be smaller because it is easier to exercise authority in a smaller school. I am not saying anything about the comprehensive principle. I am merely talking about how you get the best out of any school. Also, of course, there may be something to be said for changing the exams. I thought that my noble friend knew so much about that that I would not add anything. And there can be big improvements, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, has said, in the quality of teaching as a result of the decline in the number of children on the school roll. It is essential to use that opportunity deliberately—and I would almost say "only"—to improve the quality of teaching.

But behind all the improvements that one can make in education, in organisation and in teaching, lies the acute need to develop better habits of behaviour and responsibility. Is it possible to change direction in those schools where authority is weak? Not unless the whole community will support the teachers who want such a change. It is bound to he very difficult to define, publish and teach clear distinctions tweeen right and wrong in our permissive and multiracial society, but I believe that good habits are as catching as bad habits and, to the extent that we succeed in living up to Professor Adler's definition, it will be easier to introduce all the other improvements which noble Lords have very rightly called for. To rebuild the authority of the teachers is the first condition; and we must try to help them to do this as much as we possibly can.

4.47 p.m.

The Earl of ERROLL

My Lords, I was not expecting, nor was it by design, that I should take part in a debate so populated by Old Etonians. I had not realised it in advance. On this, my first occasion of addressing your Lordships' House, I crave your indulgence should I commit any errors of omission or commission. It seems to me, from discussing this subject with various people interested in education, that the conditions necessary for a good secondary education system fall into three main parts: one, a good foundation; second, the subject matter; and, third, the teaching. The foundation—and here I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles—depends very much on the primary school education because it is impossible to teach children well if you do not have a base to build upon. If you take someone at 11 or 12 years of age with little knowledge and small experience of the world and of life and try to teach him something new, it means starting from scratch, possibly with the added disadvantage that he will have an inbuilt resistance to certain subjects and already have some preconceived ideas about certain things. Therefore, it is very important to have a broad base upon which to build. The whole secondary education can then take place in which you can see someone's talents, in which direction they lie, and develop them further.

In talking about the State education system, rather than the education system in which I was brought up, the system of which therefore I do not have any direct knowledge, I would say, having spoken to several people who have direct contact with it and have studied it, that the curriculum of primary school education at the moment is based very much on the three R's—reading, writing and arithmetic. Any other subjects are now included only by the way because the teacher wishes to involve the children in other subjects. But the curriculum has been reduced because the schools have found that they cannot keep up with what was considered necessary. It is very laudable that people should leave school literate, able to read, write and do arithmetic, and it appears essential to modern life that they should be able to do so; but it is not in fact essential. It is essential in academic life but it is not necessarily so in life outside where there are many other things about which a person needs to know. People may be able to lead an interesting life or a full life and contribute well to society without actually being very good at any of the three R's. The problem is of course —back to examinations—that the examiners cannot examine somebody properly unless he can read or write, other than by an oral examination. I am not going into the examinations system because that has been dealt with far more fully and can be dealt with far better by people with a greater knowledge than I. Though the teaching schemes in the primary schools are good, the general year group standards of education are dropping. It seems to me that one reason is the shrinking of the curriculum so that reading, writing and arithmetic are taken out of the context of the real life later on, and that therefore people have less of an interest in learning. Perhaps by widening the curriculum again we could get a broader base on which to build in a secondary education system; and, secondly, we might increase the primary school child's interest and give him some relevance to the things he is learning—the three as we see them essentials.

What is the aim? What are we trying to produce from the system? That is important because on that we decide the subject matter that we teach in school. Obviously, as I have mentioned, there are the three "Rs" but the main need is to equip children for life and enable them to take their place in the human society in which we live, the whole of society. One is trying to educate them for two purposes: one is work, preparation for which is the traditional role of education. The second is leisure. It is the leisure side which is becoming more and more important, because people have traditionally been brought up and educated for a job and to expect and want to do a job. Thus they feel unfulfilled if they do not get a job. Hence there arose the motto of the unions and the workers as a whole, "The right to work". That is a very important concept because it obviously shows a strong feeling.

Although there are many jobs that can only be done by humans, there are coming to be more and more jobs which are of a mechanical, routine or unpleasant nature— working in unpleasant conditions in factories, and so on. These jobs can now be far better done by micro-processors, and in fact I am involved in them to a certain extent, though not in the factory environment. One has become aware of what is possible, of what level of automation is possible and of the amount of unnecessary and unpleasant toil that can be eliminated.

The problem then arises that people will have more leisure time. It will be either in the form of unemployment, which is showing itself at the moment, or in having more time on one's hands at work if one is working to a fixed number of hours per day. Alternatively, it will mean working fewer days per week. Therefore, people arc going to have more spare time. It seems to me important that the educational system should cater for educating people for leisure, particularly in this transition period where we are moving over to greater automation and therefore there is going to be more spare time. In their spare time and with their better education, people will, one hopes, be able to think up new ideas to create further employment in the future, though this may not be necessary.

If one considers why one educates people, first of all it is for science, and that is obvious. With the new ideas and technology which are creeping in and appearing day by day, it is more and more desirable for people to have a scientific background or a knowledge of science. However, there are many people who find this field very difficult to comprehend and who find science a tricky subject. For these people there must be arts subjects—the arts as a whole—craft subjects for those who like to work with their hands and are not academic, and natural subjects for those who like the countryside and things like that which can be combined with crafts. If one can start this as a broad base in the primary school, one can build on it in the secondary school and choose which direction people can go in, or they can determine it for themselves.

I realise that broadening the base of subjects taught is quite a formidable objective. Immediately people will say: "How are you going to do it"? It has already been mentioned by several noble Lords that the school population is declining. I believe that at the moment the projected figures are down to something like two-thirds of the present 5 to 8-year-olds by 1986. This will then work its way up through the system, and it will mean that there will be a far larger proportion of teachers. This can either be used in broadening the number of subjects taught, in reducing the classes or perhaps in both. Here is an opportunity: if we do not allow the number of teachers to drop, using this as a method of making economies, but try to maintain the present position, we can increase the base on which the entire education system is built and, therefore, I hope, affect the output of the education system at the far end, and I hope also help people over what to my mind will be a fairly difficult coming period.

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, it is not only my first duty but my real joy to be able to congratulate the noble Earl on his maiden speech. It is always a joy in this House to listen to a younger voice; it rejuvenates all of us. But I should like to emphasise that that younger voice delivered a speech of great maturity and great interest which we enjoyed, and we all look forward to listening to him in the future. May I also join in the congratulations that were extended to the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, for his speech in this House, a maiden speech in which he so eloquently defended the fields of Eton and reminded us—as indeed did the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles—that the percentage of speakers in this debate who come from Eton is almost equal to the percentage of Etonians, if I remember correctly, in the Macmillan Government.

My Lords, there are two dangers in a debate of this kind. The first is to belittle the standards of our secondary education; the second is to be over-complacent about it. There are reasons why there is so much criticism of the standards of secondary education; they are again twofold. The first is that parents take much more interest these days in the education of their children, and they expect very much more. That is a good thing. The second reason is that one very often gets complaints from employers, who fail to realise that the applicants for the positions at the lower end of their employment status, are different kinds of applicant from the applicant that they used to get. That is because so many of our young people who would have had to apply for such positions in years gone by are now much more ambitious. They are staying on in the sixth forms, taking further education and going to universities.

This was put quite admirably in a short question and answer which is to be found in the Tenth Report from the Expenditure Committee. If your Lordships will allow me, I shall read the question and the answer. The answer was given by one of the officers of the National Association of Careers Guidance Teachers who were examined before that Committee. This was the question: … Is there any stage where you are clearly being presented with documentation by employers or statistics which indicates in their terms that students at a comparable level of attainment in schools over a ten-year period are in fact less well equipped to do the job that employers are asking of them? Mr. Heppell, an officer of that Association, answered: Employers have been producing some quite detailed statistics about young people who are going into, say, clerical jobs or engineering jobs and the level of competence that they maintain. What we are contending is that they are contrasting people at the lower level of the ability range with those they had before because a great many who would have gone into that sort of occupation are staying on at school and taking full time education and taking examinations. So they are contrasting a group lower down the ability range with those they had before". There is a tradition of this House which one of your newer Members has learnt: it is that nobody should rise to speak unless he thinks he is a specialist in some measure in a subject or has some thing original to contribute. It is a tradition which should be exported to other places, if not merely to another place! But it is a very inhibiting tradition. It means—and I am sure that your Lordships will not regret this—that my own speeches will be limited to a very few during my life time. At all events, my Lords, I claim one original contribution which I can possibly make to this debate. It is this: immediately after the war I had the privilege of commencing to sit on the front bench of the old London County Council, where I was privileged to stay until the demise of that Council—an act of political murder for which I shall never forgive my friends opposite. During that time some of my colleagues and I had the thrilling adventure not only of trying to rebuild a bombed London but also, instead of mending destruction, of doing the creative job of starting a new educational era based on the Education Act 1944.

I want, if I may, quite briefly to deal with some of the ways in which that old London County Council and the education authority that followed it—the Inner London Education Authority—attempted and are attempting to create the very conditions that this Motion speaks of. Some of the things are original, and that is why I want to talk about them this afternoon. I cannot help this parenthesis—I must be forgiven for it—but at least in the political murder of which I spoke, even my friends opposite felt that the standards of education produced in its area by the old London County Council were such that not even they would lay a finger on that area, with the result that the Inner London Education Authority survives with the same jurisdiction and area as the old London County Council had.

If I may say so—and I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is not in his place at the monent—I was a little disappointed with his speech, if only because he is usually so assiduous in keeping to the subject on which he wants to speak. I thought we were going to have this afternoon—and I mean this—some very practical and constructive proposals in order that we might know how to manage contemporarily to keep up and improve the standards of secondary education. Instead of that—and it is only because he has built up such a high standard in this House that I dare to use these critical words—too much of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was devoted to some controversial argument about whether there should be one examination or two, and matters of that kind which, if I may humbly say so, I do not really think did him justice in respect of the Motion he brought before this House.

I turn, as I said, to what is being done and what it is hoped to do in the Metropolis to bring up the standards that we all want to see in secondary education. I am going to mention six matters quite briefly—and I promise your Lordships that I shall deal with them quite briefly. The first has been referred to on a national scale but the Inner London Education Authority is doing it on a more particular scale. That is, you have to take stock of where you are, what you are trying to achieve and how far you are succeeding. The authority has taken steps to monitor its educational system by a variety of screening and testing procedures. They are beginning at the age of six, and they are doing it at the age of six because they want to diagnose at that age potential learning difficulties; and it is very right that they should. They end this screening and monitoring process by a collection of examination data at the end of the secondary schools. But the schools have to do this themselves, and not just centrally, because improvements will be realised in the schools by a process of their own creation, and the authority is encouraging schools to assess themselves. I have here a pamphlet called Keeping the School Under Review, which is a pretty good educational pamphlet and a very creative document.

I turn speedily to the second item, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred, as did the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. You cannot build a foundation for your secondary schools save in the primary schools; and that is where the job has got to be done. Here, in laying that sure foundation, the authority has planned and is setting in motion the idea of having advisory teachers to assist the inspectorate in in-service training—which has already been referred to in this debate—in order to improve the knowledge and capacity of primary teachers. Additional teachers are being taken on in order that other teachers who need this in-service training may be released for the purpose.

The third point concerns the proper use of resources. Here there has been a steadily improved pupil-teacher ratio—an improvement that the authority regards as most essential. If we are to talk politics this evening—and I hope it will not be in the slightest degree an antagonistic debate but politics have been brought into it—I must say with deep regret that when we tried to trace the 10 authorities in the whole country who were worst as regards the teacher-pupil ratio, to my great regret—I get no pride or fun out of this—the 10 worst were 10 Conservative education authorities.

I turn from the proper use of resources to the essential fourth item. Co-operation between schools and colleges, must be encouraged. The Inner London Education Authority has established sixth form centres in some areas. There is a programme of sixth form summer schools, where sixth formers can be brought together in a most interesting way in order to exchange experiences, to exchange studies and to share their interests together. There are linked courses with colleges of further education and they are, indeed, widespread.

But there is a special programme now under way, of which I proudly tell your Lordships. It is to develop more closely integrated bridging courses between the school and the college, for those who would not succeed in the school system and who, if I may use the phrase, lack survival skills for the world of employment and in living generally. This programme has received a great deal of attention throughout the country, and certainly in educational circles, and indeed has obtained a grant from the EEC as part of its programme of support for the transition from school to work.

Fifthly, there is the curriculum. Much attention has been given in this debate to the need to raise the standards, not just of our schools but of the teachers, because, without raising those standards, the standards of our schools and of our pupils must obviously deteriorate. Here, again, the Authority has a proud programme. Specialised teachers' centres exist in all areas of the curriculum, where teachers and inspectors work together to improve the standards of teaching and the quality of the syllabus. In many subjects there are special curriculum development programmes, or projects, which have been funded, or to which additional support has been given, to raise standards. Examples are in the fields of science and mathematics, both of which have been mentioned, as well as in other subjects where specialist attention is very necessary, and where some teachers' standards fall short, by way of qualification and otherwise, from what we would want them to be. That applies, too, to the area of modern languages and to a very specialised area—that of the multi-ethnic curriculum.

I now come to the very last item in the speech which I have inflicted upon your Lordships, and that is in regard to the proper use which I hope it is thought the Inner London Education Authority is employing for the support services. These are extremely necessary. Behaviour has been mentioned. Many of us are very worried about some of the behaviour patterns in some of our schools. There is no point in pushing the matter under the carpet. There are psychological problems and social problems, which we all know about. In many areas, there are problems thrown up by immigration, and there are problems with which we are delighted and proud to deal. But these problems can be dealt with only, as I believe this Authority is very well dealing with them, by the proper improvement of inspectors and of school psychological services.

Despite what I have said, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the fact that he put down this Motion. It has given me the proud opportunity of saying what a progressive Authority is trying to do, and I believe is achieving, in keeping up—nay, improving—standards, because none of us can be satisfied with standards until we reach the excellence that we hope to achieve. I end with one plea. As has been said, you cannot deal with children or teachers unless you have proper buildings. Unless you have proper laboratories, you cannot improve your science teaching. When he replies to this debate, I hope that the Minister, who has the cause of education so much at heart, will be able to give some encouragement to those of us who hope that the school buildings programme allocation will be made rather more generous than it is, especially to the metropolis which needs it so much.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, may I first join those who have offered their congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, on their maiden speeches, something which we always enjoy. I was a little encouraged when the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, did at least suggest that standards in education were not necessarily measured by examinations. I remember, as an undergraduate, being told by a professor whom I greatly respected: "In this university you can get either a good education or a good degree, but it is extraordinarily difficult to get both". I chose a good education—I hope. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has introduced this subject, and I hope he will forgive me if I perhaps tackle it on a broader basis than has been the case so far. I believe that the education service is facing a major crisis, which has not yet been sufficiently discussed or examined. Indeed, I hope I can convince your Lordships that we have reached a stage where a new major Education Act is a must. The 1944 Act has lasted for longer than any Education Act in the history of Britain. There were Acts in 1870, 1902, 1918 and 1944. It is now 1979. The 1944 Act had two major virtues. It had a great degree of flexibility, and it was an agreed political measure. I hope that we might have a new major Act which has both of those virtues, but I shall come to that later.

The two major problems, as I see them, are, first, the decline in the school population: and, secondly, the education and training of the 16 to 19-year-old age groups, in a situation which we have never had to face before. But let me first take the impact of the falling rolls in different areas. The total school roll will fall from 9 million to about 7½ million. It would be idle to pretend that the buildings at present available for secondary education are in all cases adequate. That simply is not true. We have buildings that were provided as temporary accommodation, and they have been there for the last 35 years. Therefore, with falling school rolls, here is a great opportunity to get rid of buildings which are no longer satisfactory or valid. I should hope, also, to revise our concept of the space needed, particularly for 13 to 16-year-olds. That is probably the age when people are most active and need more space than when they are older. Therefore, 1 hope that that concept can be revised.

I turn now to the size of schools. I share the view of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that relatively small schools can make a major contribution to problems of discipline. In any event, I think that consensus opinion no longer accepts the validity of very large schools. So far as I can see, in the years that lie ahead, the average size of secondary schools will be between 500 and 700. I think most people would accept that this satisfies the requirements. If, however, we look at the size of comprehensive schools, we have to face the simple fact that we shall not be able to sustain sixth forms which are either educationally or economically viable. The Secretary of State's definition of a viable sixth form has varied from 100 to 140, but there will not be a sixth form of 140 in a comprehensive school which has 500 or 700 pupils. I shall come back to this issue, because it ties in with the major problem of the education of the 16-to19-year-old age group. Let me continue for a moment, however, on the impact of falling school numbers.

Falling school numbers will have a major impact on teaching staff. We have to face the fact that the promotion prospects of a large number of teaching staff will be seriously affected. Therefore, the teaching staff will need to be reassured. As your Lordships know, I had a fairly active connection with the Burnham Committee for 30 years. During that period we were concerned with a service which was expanding from 5 million to 9 million pupils, and we built a salary structure which was geared to that expansion. I hope that that salary structure reasonably met the needs of that expansion. Now the Burnham Committee needs to adopt an entirely new approach. The need is not merely to tinker with the present structure but to develop a new structure which can cope with a diminishing school population—in other words, with a contracting instead of an expanding structure. It is not for me to suggest what might be involved, but I am certain of one thing, and it is a point which was raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I am quite sure that we have to give greater weight to the basic structure of the classroom teacher and very much less weight to the total superstructure which was necessary in an expanding situation. But that is a problem for the Burnham Committee.

There is another problem for the teaching profession. We in this country have built secondary education on the basis of subject specialism. We recruit teachers as subject specialists. In a contracting situation and with schools of relatively limited size, we cannot sustain the necessary range of options, the necessary breadth, if you like, of the curriculum on the basis of subject specialism as we now know it without involving ourselves in a staffing situation which will be unreasonably expensive. In the future, therefore, we have to look, I hope, to teachers being capable of teaching certainly up to 0-level in more than one discipline—perhaps in mathematics and physics. They will have to be capable of teaching over a broader field than a single subject. This is essential because there is a very real danger that, as numbers drop, community pressure to safeguard schools will be very strong. The tendency will be to say, "Give us a very generous teaching staff", and the authority will reply, "We really cannot afford a staffing ratio of I for 4, or some such number. The school will have to go". Then the community will say, "No, it's quite all right. We can manage with our teaching staff. We will just cut down the curriculum and we will start off by dropping religious instruction". That is sure to be the first to go. They might also say, "We can drop foreign languages, perhaps", or, "We can drop this or we can drop that". In my opinion, that is an intolerable situation. Therefore, we must reach agreement not on a prescribed curriculum but at least on the limited range of curriculum that is essential in any secondary school and face the issue of the staffing establishment that is competent to cover that range of curriculum. The Secretary of State will have to face the issue and say, "Unless this can be satisfied, with the greatest regret the school must go". In other words, unless it is sufficiently large and has a reasonable staffing provision to sustain a reasonable secondary curriculum, it will not be viable as a school.

Finally, I come to the issue of control of admissions. In a contracting situation, this is imperative. As the Bill was going through the other place, I read the debates on this subject. Frankly, I was appalled at the complete lack of understanding of the nature of the problem. To speak of free parental choice is a nonsense. When there are 2,000 parents chasing one school at which there are 500 places, what happens? One is driven straight back to selection on some basis. A planned structure is necessary. I take great exception to the criticisms that have been voiced regarding how untrustworthy are local education authorities. I feel that this criticism is hardly justified. If some of our colleagues in the other place had the responsibility, which chief education officers and their committees will have in the next five years, of facing the problems that will arise because of falling school numbers, they would realise that a planned structure, in which there is an agreed, defined capacity for a school, is absolutely imperative if there is not to be a chaotic situation.

I turn now to the problem of the education of the 16-to-19-year-olds. In a rapidly developing technological society, it is a simple fact that the necessary level of production can be sustained by a smaller labour force. There are three possibilities. We can restrict entry into industry and commerce until a later age. We can shorten the working week. We can retire people earlier. All of these possibilities have implications for the education service, and it may be necessary to deal with all of them. However, to take the unemployment of school-leavers at the age of 16, this is not a local problem, nor is it a national problem. It is an international problem which obtains throughout the whole of Europe. We are the furthest behind in Europe in the provision that we make for the education and training of the 16-to-19-year-olds. We must put right this deficiency.

If we accept the difficulty of maintaining sixth forms in schools of reasonable size, if we accept, as we must, a new concept of sixth form work—leading not merely to A-levels but to TEC and BEC sandwich courses that lead to the relevant industrial and commercial qualifications, and if we are to avoid the dichotomy from which this nation has suffered of the academic and the non-academic, then I suggest to your Lordships that we need to face a new situation. We need to define secondary education as ranging from 11 to 16 and we need to define the tertiary stage in education as ranging from 16 to 19. We need to develop what I have called tertiary colleges, which offer full time education to A-level, and TEC and BEC sandwich courses, which offer training, and to take away the present. in my opinion rather wasteful expenditure upon job creation schemes and other activities from those schemes and put it into the training of these young people. So at 18 they are sufficiently skilled to command the job and to hold it. If we except the other alternatives of the shorter working week or the earlier retirement, we face a greatly increased leisure for the nation as a whole and therefore a great increase in the need for adult education, for education to enable people to enjoy increased leisure and to use it to their own advantage.

If we take all of these problems together, I suggest that we need a new Education Act—an Act that would define the opportunities that are there and which are very real. The contraction in infants schools enables us to provide nursery classes at very limited expense. I visited one at Hillingdon last week; it was beautifully arranged, with two nursery classes because of the available accommodation due to the contraction of the infants school.

I do not think that the primary school is a major problem, apart perhaps from strengthening the teacher force. There is secondary education from 11 to 16, tertiary education, I would hope, and following that—leaving the higher education structure largely as it is—community colleges combining, what we now call, further education with, what we now call, adult education, offering both vocational and non-vocational opportunities to the community; training and retraining and also providing for the older man who wants to "make do and mend", who wants to learn how to do this or to do that or who wants to take up painting as a new exercise in his leisure, or indeed any other activity.

My Lords, it is now 10 years since I wrote a small book entitled, Towards a New Education Act. I have always accepted that it takes about 10 years before any idea that one floats becomes the subject of serious discussion. I profoundly hope that we can get back to the atmosphere of 1944, in which I was privileged to take some part, when we were not arguing party politics but how best to make provision for the next 30 or 40 years of full educational opportunity for every child, of great ability or of limited ability, of academic aptitude or of technical aptitude or of practical skill. That is still our task; that is what we have to do. I hope that the political parties can get together on this and move towards an Education Act that will provide as adequately for the next 30 or 40 years as the 1944 Education Act has provided for the last 30 years.

5.33 P.m.


My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, and later in my speech I want to touch on one or two things that he has said. First, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for introducing this important debate. I also wish to congratulate the two maiden speakers—two very spirited maiden speakers.

We have had a terrific defence from my old friend Lord Charteris about his school— Eton. I am not against private education and I think Eton is a wonderful school. After all, why should it not be? Unless economically it is priced out of the system it has the very best and the highest paid teachers, it has pupils who pay the highest fees in the country and there is every reason for it to be a very good school. So far as I am concerned that is all right, so long as it does not get a penny out of the rates. That is all I ask. It must have no money from the education authorities but must pay its own way.

The very wording of this Motion is interesting, and particularly the two words "acceptable" and "standards", which go right to the political heart of the matter. Therefore I begin with two questions: standards—for how many? Acceptable—to whom? As we are committed to comprehensive eduation our emphasis is on opportunity before standards. Of course we hope to achieve the standards, and of course we have not so far achieved them overall in comprehensive education; but surely that is the only kind of education that is essentially non-divisive. For all that the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, said, there is no doubt that public schools are divisive in their education.

I came across a quotation from that great man, Disraeli. In 1874, more than 100 years ago, he said: Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends". That is a marvellous quotation. Today I should like to add one little word to that quotation: Upon the education of all the people of this country the fate of this country depends". This it is which embodies the comprehensive principle in education because the emphasis rests on expanding opportunities for our children. It is not only that there have been tremendous and dramatic changes in this century but the pace of the change has quickened so much and expectations have been raised so high that we have many more difficult problems to tackle. The changes have been spectacular, but the very scientific and technological miracles run the risk of producing a large number of educated, unemployed people. We might have a great many as a result of the technological and scientific age in which we live. The skills cannot be taken up quickly enough, and knowledge cannot be transmitted or put into practice quickly enough.

We are nowhere near coming to terms with the speed of change and the greatest burden has fallen on the teachers who now have responsibilities well beyond their academic training and for which they are not prepared. They are custodians, they are social workers and they are teachers. At present it appears that we are short of teachers and the classes are too big. I am puzzled—and here I am so grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, for what he has told us about the country being in difficulties because of the falling birthrate. I do not understand the situation, and I was much heartened by what he said about this. I should have thought that would give the teachers smaller classes and altogether easier and happier conditions. But many people disagree with that. Both teachers and pupils could have a better deal, and education would be improved.

My Lords, one of the education journalists, Oreol Stevens, who writes on education in the Observer, is, to me anyway, the only one who makes sense of this population problem. If, in 10 years, there will be 2 million fewer children, it seems to me this presents new opportunities to improve the quality of their education and to lighten the tasks that many present teachers have. She also suggests that at the same time this situation would lead to large savings in public expenditure, always such an attractive proposition, particularly to Conservatives and to local authorities. However, I have faith in what I believe is the best kind of education for a democratic society today, comprehensive education. Of course there is much room for improvement, but fundamentally any other system of education in society is divisive, no matter what other people may say. A quick glance round the world today reflects the dangers in countries where the social and economic differences among people are great.

My Lords, I have very little else to say. These were just a few random thoughts on education. There are many ways in which we can improve the lot of the teachers and that of the pupils. There is no excuse for a shortage of books. That is one of the scandals of the moment, and it seems to me that it is one of the small scandals we can deal with. I think that is all I need say.

5.42 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first of all to congratulage the two maiden speakers, who must be having a happy evening with a feeling of relief, having taken the first step. We hope they will take many more in future. Then I must apologise that I cannot stay late this evening; I accepted an engagement three weeks ago which I cannot cancel so I hope I maybe forgiven. My Lords, I have two bees in my bonnet which I have had ever since I was vice-chairman of the education committee of our county council for six years. Rather unkindly, I hope they will sting the Minister very hard so that he will remember what I have said, because I believe they are important. The first one is the question of teacher training colleges. Teacher training colleges were set up in rather a hurry after the last war and some of their locations are, I think, quite unsuitable. I have in mind one which is in a seaside resort where the average age of the population is, I should think, 70 to 75. There is no spark of intellectual surroundings and it seems to me a most unsuitable place to put a teacher training college, though it has done quite good work. Whether our teacher training colleges are suitably located is an important aspect that needs looking at. To my mind they ought to be in the vicinity of a university.

Then, of course, the head of the teacher training college is of immense importance. I think some very faulty appointments were made shortly after the war. To my mind, not only must he have intellectual qualities, of course, but he must have a great heart, because he must not only teach teachers how to impart knowledge but also give them a sense of vocation. After all, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, said, they have a tremendous responsibility. The youth of the nation is in the charge of our teachers, and it is vitally important that they should realise their responsibilities in this respect.

This takes me to the question of an assembly. There has been a great deal of criticism of our assemblies in schools in the morning, but, in my view, they give a feeling of corporate existence to the school. It may just be that something is said or something is read which goes straight home to an individual in the audience. I remember something a head teacher of mine said which has had a great influence on me all my life. I think those are the sort of occasions that one should not pass by and consider useless and ridiculous. After all, youth needs a stake, like a young tree, to protect it against the gales. the winds and storms and so on. This stake should be made available to them by teachers, and it may well be that it is in an assembly that that stake may be found.

The other bee I have in my bonnet is about the EEC. I owe a great debt of gratitude to my parents because they were absolutely set on our learning languages; there were five of us. We were all quadrilingual before we were 10. It was a curious system my mother instituted. I might have gone to Germany to school in the autumn, to Paris to school in the spring, to Italy to school in the summer. All I can say is that I found it a most effective form of education, with the result that I was literally quadrilingual. I feel that we do not pay sufficient attention, either in our training colleges or in schools, to the teaching of languages. Not only is the rebuilding of Britain through the youth of the country in the hands of the teachers, but the rebuilding, or, shall we say, the making, of Europe is also in their hands. I should like to see a very large interchange of pupils between the European countries and ourselves. It opens up a tremendously wide horizon. If you make friendships you then have private hotels all over Europe; I had them everywhere. Unfortunately, my age is now against it, and my hotels have been closing down. But it is a very valuable asset to have friends abroad and to travel and to see the way other people live, especially now that we are in the EEC. It seems to me that that is one way in which we could really much more quickly build a European community than we are trying to do at the present moment. I think that is all I have to say—just those two bees; I hope they stung very hard.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Baroness, I must first offer my apologies if I have to go before the end of the debate. I sincerely hope I shall not, because this is an extremely interesting debate and I think we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for having introduced it. I would touch first of all on just one question which he introduced in his opening speech, and that is the proposed alteration by the Minister of Education of the two standing secondary exams, GCE and CSE, into one unified exam. I sincerely hope that she will not press forward with this scheme, because the new unified exam is bound to be nearer the lower level than the higher. That stands to reason, because surely she does not want to make it more difficult for those who perhaps have limited ability; she certainly will not want to do that. So the result will be a lowering of standards rather than a raising of them. I sincerely hope that that will not come to pass. It is, of course, an attempt to unify the ability of children, to look upon them as all exactly alike. But, my Lords, however much we might like to feel that—and personally I do not share that liking, because I think it would be incredibly dull if we were all alike—it simply is not so.

We are not all born with the same talents, character, ability and so on: we are all individuals and have our own individual needs. It is for education to recognise those differences and needs and to cater for them. Some have a great talent for some form of art, some have it for languages or for mathematics, and some are very clever with their hands. I am very glad that one noble Lord mentioned craftmanship. That is a matter which I think should be very seriously taken into consideration. However, there is no doubt that we cannot all be considered alike. Another matter about which I should like to make a few comments is teacher standards. I can hardly claim to have been a schoolmaster after having listened to the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris (who is sitting in front of me), although I have had a few years at teaching. Incidentally, may I say in passing how very impressed I was with both of the maiden speeches which we have heard today. It is hard to call that of the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, a maiden speech; he obviously has made many others. None the less, we welcome both noble Lords and although it is normal for your Lordships to say that we hope to hear from them often again, in this case I say it with the greatest sincerity.

Let me revert to the question of teacher standards. Teaching is not merely a question of conveying the three R's or factual knowledge. Teaching also involves the training of character. The teacher must be able to see what each individual pupil wants and how he can best get the training across to him. Of course, one essential point for any teacher is not only his personal knowledge of the subject, but the fact that he must make it interesting to his pupils. Unless one's pupils are interested one can teach to the end of one's days and have conveyed nothing. Therefore, I believe that the selection of teaching staff should be more carefully carried out. I should like the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, when he replies to say something about what amount of choice is open to the headmaster of a school, because that is, I think, an important matter.

I should like finally to make a few comments concerning religious education. At present we have what is called moral and religious education, but I personally feel very strongly that it should be Christian education. After all, we are still a Christian country and we should not be ashamed to admit it. Even if perhaps there are those who have cone from abroad who do not want to share it, they can be excepted, but religious education should be firmly based on our Christian convictions. After all, Christian principles are the only principles that, in the end, will prove a solution to all our various problems of industrial unrest, foreign relations and so on. We must realise that that is the fact and accept it.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, may I first congratulate the two noble Lords on their stimulating maiden speeches and express the hope that we shall often hear from them again. I should also like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for enabling us to exchange views on this important subject. Although our views differ greatly, I am sure that we should all agree that education is probably the most important of all our social services. It not only plays a vital role in the production of professional and industrial skills, upon which our standard of living depends, but it reflects and helps to maintain in the widest sense a moral and political viewpoint. Our comprehensive schools system reflects our belief in the equality of educational opportunity for all boys and girls, irrespective of the occupations and income level of their parents. It also helps us to maintain a democratic community.

A selective system of education, based on the assumption that some young people are, in an educational sense, more worthy than others, widens class distinction and makes it more difficult to establish sympathy and understanding between people of different income levels and occupations. It also narrows the parental choice. Parents today are more aware than they were a few years ago of the deficiencies of the selective schools which may not be able to afford, or indeed have room for, the wide range of equipment required in the arts and sciences by those working for the O-and A-levels.

We are asked in this debate to consider conditions which are necessary to secure acceptable standards in secondary education. I would suggest—and I do not think that this has been mentioned so far—that among the most important of those conditions is the active co-operation of parents and of parent representatives on the governing body of these schools. The parent representatives on the governing body of the school of which I am a member are indispensable, and I think that parents should be represented without delay on all the governing bodies of maintained primary and secondary schools. Pupil representatives should also have direct contact with governing bodies, but I do not suggest that they should be full members of the committee. Close contact should be established between local secondary and modern schools. As the parents of primary school children usually have choice of secondary school, they should be given every opportunity to visit those schools and to meet members of the staff and parents of the pupils. Such meetings are usually by arrangement through the parent-teacher association, which should be regarded as an essential organisation in secondary schools.

One of the most important decisions which pupils have to make is that of occupation on leaving school. At what age should they leave? What examinations should they take? Should they continue their education on a full-time or part-time basis? Should they be content with an office job or work in a local factory? The decision taken at that stage of a boy's or girl's career may well prove to be the most significant taken in a lifetime. Careers teachers in comprehensive schools have therefore a very important role to play. They need to be in close touch with both the pupils and their parents and to be well-informed about the qualifications required for a wide range of occupations. They need to make an acurate assessment of the chances that young people have of obtaining the jobs that attract them. Most important of all, they need to believe in the great potential of young people and encourage them to make the maximum use of their abilities. I believe that that aspect of a teacher's work is the most important of all.

5.59 p.m.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

My Lords, first I should like to add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers. It is most refreshing for someone of my age to hear the views of someone who has more recently left school and his reaction to the education which he has received. At the same time, to be able to hear from a senior member of the teaching side adds piquancy to the situation. We had a very notable contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Charteris. The noble Lord mentioned the redoubtable Dr. Keate and his efforts to instil discipline and learning. What he did not mention was a sequel which once took place. A number of his pupils resident in Paris one day heard that their late headmaster was paying a visit to the city. Their immediate reaction was to invite him to attend dinner with them. They proceeded to give him the best dinner that money could buy. So perhaps there was some merit in his rather stringent system of education.

I was most interested in the progress report of the noble Baroness, Lady David—what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred to as an end of term report. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I did not find it entirely in keeping with some parts which she quoted, of which I have local knowledge. I shall look at the figures which she quoted with great interest when they are published in the Official Report. It would appear that in our area we have done rather better than any of us thought.

The point which I should particularly like to mention today is the question of equality, which several speakers have mentioned. The emphasis seems to have been on giving an overall appearance of equality—to get away from what has been described as "divisiveness". Surely that is extremely difficult to achieve when we are dealing with completely unequal minds. If I can use an educational word, it is an "equation" which does not seem to balance. It is the problem of making it work which faces us today and why this debate has an important part to play in considering what we shall do in the future.

However, it stands to reason that if we have different standards of intelligence, they need different treatment. Under the old system, for better or for worse, they were given completely different treatment. It is suggested that it is not fair that such pupils should go to different establishments. But, in fact, is it more unfair than making them all go through the same curriculum? I think that we should consider this. So far as the more intelligent and the less intelligent pupils are concerned, it cuts both ways. It is liable to be most fair to what, for want of a better term, I would call the average intelligence. We must try to ensure that a very intelligent child receives the sort of education—and this also goes for the standard of teaching, which has already been mentioned—which he or she requires in order to give full development to his or her intellect. At the other end of the scale, there is the less intelligent child who will find it difficult to keep up, even with the norm. Again, that child may need special educational facilities to give him an opportunity to develop. Under the new system they are all living in one establishment and I believe that there is a danger that it will be difficult to differentiate between the various requirements of each type of pupil. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about what steps can be taken to help in that direction.

What I have said also applies to the question of the proposed new examination, which has already been touched on. As the noble Lord, Lord Somers, has just pointed out, if we do not have a reasonably high standard, it will be no test for the more intelligent pupils, and it will not help the less intelligent pupils because probably they are not capable of undertaking the examination at all. Is it really right to say that everyone must be in a position to take the same examination if it will not fulfil some function that will help them in their future?—whether it is attaining a certain standard, or making themselves proficient in order to undertake a job when they leave school. It seems to me that this is part of the same problem which I have already mentioned in connection with the general principles of education today.

I should like to mention two other matters. The first is the problem—which is a difficult one in secondary education—of the less intelligent pupils. Many of them come to the secondary school labelled "educationally subnormal". That label covers a multitude of different standards. Many pupils only qualify for that description because of circumstances perhaps beyond their control and beyond the control of the primary school which they first attended. It may be that they are late developers; it may be that they have some impediment which makes learning difficult; their situation may be due to their home background. If it is possible to give them help at the primary school stage, that is the time when it can be used to the best advantage. What is apt to happen now is that limited additional instruction is given to them at the primary stage and they are given more at the secondary stage when it is too late to be effective.

These unfortunate pupils are placed in the position of having to follow a curriculum which they do not understand and which they have to go through for the remainder of their secondary school life. Of course, some will never make the grade, but a great many could do so. If funds were available, I wonder whether this could not be one of the areas where money could most profitably be spent. As I have said, it is not always the child's fault. Perhaps I could give your Lordships an example of what I mean. The other day in a small primary school half the young intake were reported to require speech therapy. That seemed a very high proportion. I said to an old cousin of mine who is interested in education, "Don't you thin k that is rather surprising?" She said, "Oh, no; I am not a bit surprised. It happened to my own grandchild". The point is that parents do not talk to their children as they used to, and that is all that is required. When it happened to my grandchild I took her into a nearby field and pointed to a cow; I said, "Moo, moo, cow, moo-cow, moo-cow". Next morning my daughter said to me "Your grandchild is actually beginning to speak. Do you know she said 'Moo-cow' this morning?" Obviously, this reflects on what can be done in secondary education when they reach that stage.

The only other point I should like to make to your Lordships is on the question of the position of the headmaster. As we all acknowledge, the headmaster has a most important role to play in his school. I, for one, would say that the school is as good as its headmaster. Therefore, it is important that everything should be done to help him in his arduous task. In the case of a large comprehensive, it is a very heavy burden indeed. If the recommendations made in the Taylor Report on the functions of governors were to be implemented, this would place an additional burden on the headmaster. He would have more interference in what is surely his own province, in the running of the school, both from his staff—whom he can consult anyway through his normal staff meetings—and from pupils, if pupils are appointed; and here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch, that they should not be appointed. However, they would add to the problems of the headmaster. Surely we should be thinking in terms of saying, "How can we best help him?", rather than impede him in his duties.

I conclude by referring to a point that has already been raised; namely, that school numbers are falling and that this is an appropriate time at which to reconsider the whole position of secondary education. Clearly anything we can do is going to be dependent on the availability of cash. If we can find some way of making improvements without additional expenditure, it is surely worth looking at. It seems to me that there is an area which we can look at now, which is that those associated with education in a managerial capacity, whether in the Ministry or in the offices of the local education authority, have increased in number and they continue to increase. They are very expensive individuals. I cannot see that so far this increase has led to any improvement either in the standards of education or in the efficiency of the organisation. Therefore. I would suggest that their numbers could be reduced and the money spent in the schools on the teachers and on equipment, which is surely the only place where improvements in education can be achieved. I hope very much that this can be done in the near future.

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other Members of your Lordships' House in congratulating the two maiden speakers. First, my noble friend Lord Charteris, under whom I sit in another capacity. 1 hope that we shall see a great deal more of him and hear a great deal more from him in this House, and also the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, whose refreshing and original views were very much welcomed. A great many experts have spoken in this debate, although only one of the former Ministers of Education who is a Member of your Lordships' House. I have not myself got that eminence of experience, but I have a lengthy period of experience of secondary school standards. This is the 28th year that I have been a unversity teacher, for half of that time at Oxford and Cambridge and half of that time at a much more recent establishment. I have also sat on two education committees, one very small in Oxford city, and one very large, the successor to the London County Council, which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, quite rightly grieved the demise of.

I think that when we listened to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, moving this welcome Motion, and to Lady David's reply to his speech, it would have struck everybody who listened that this is an extraordinarily difficult question. It is a complex question. The question, first, of what are the standards in secondary schools and, secondly. how you assess them and how you discover how to improve the standards in the secondary schools. None of these questions is susceptible of a simple answer. Quite rightly your Lordships have concentrated predominantly on a question of standards in the comprehensive schools.

I take the view that the debate about the comprehensive school is to all intents and purposes now over. The great majority of maintained schools are comprehensive schools, or will be. The question now is not whether they ought to be comprehensive; the question is what to do now that they are comprehensive. I tried to reflect, as I was listening to particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, talking about education, over the post-War period, part of which I experienced as a schoolboy but most of which I have watched.

I cannot help feeling that the comprehensive school had three bad fairies on its christening. One very had fairy was the Ministry of Education during the period of the Attlee Government, because the then civil servants were absolutely committed to the psychological theories upon which the divided system was based. It took a long time for those theories to be abandoned in the places where they count, which is the minds of the civil service. That meant, as it were, that the post-War reform started off on the wrong foot. A great deal of aimless and pointless debate has had to take place about what should have been substantially self-evident; that if you are going to reconstruct a secondary education system from the elevens to sixteens it was almost inevitable that it would take place inside a nonselective system.

The second bad fairy I must point to is something that the noble Lord, Lord Mischon, will be upset about, but I think it is true, and it is the old London County Council. They were great pioneers of the comprehensive school, but they were committed to the idea that we could only have a comprehensive school if it was very big indeed. Consequently, in the popular mind the idea of the comprehensive school got muddled up with the idea of the very large school. This has been abandoned currently by the London Education Authority and by large numbers of other local authorities, but there is no doubt that the fear and the hostility to the big school, quite properly held very widely in the population at large, has contributed to the unpopularity of the comprehensive school.

Thirdly, and the point was made by several noble Lords in the debate, the long process of change to the comprehensive system has coincided with the rise of the permissive society. To try to reorganise secondary education, and to raise its standards, in a society where practically every value was falling seems to me to have set the schools a task which was almost incapable of being achieved. The schools have quite frequently been blamed for what is our own fault and not the fault of the schools.

It is interesting to discover that many of the areas where the comprehensive schools are most successful are the old shire counties with good, solid Tory education committees in charge of them; Oxfordshire, Cumbria. I do not think that this need even have been a party matter, and I deplore the fact that it has been. A great many of the conditions which have led to the unpopularity of the comprehensive school have disappeared. We now have a widespread acceptance of the comprehensive school as at least inevitable if not welcome, and the question is now posed by professional educationalists, both in the Ministry of Education and elsewhere, as to how to make it work. That is a substantial advance, and one which I greatly welcome.

Secondly, because of the decline of the numbers of children in the schools, the schools are becoming smaller, often despite the wishes of administrators. We must all warmly welcome this and the enormous opportunities, as well as the challenges, which it presents to administrators and to teachers. The evidence is quite clear in a number of areas that standards have risen throughout the comprehensive reform and are continuing to rise. Many of the statistics which were quoted by the noble Baroness on the Front Bench bear close examination because they show a substantial improvement, particularly in the field of examinations. If you take the CSE, the 0- and A-level examination results across the country, and in particular authorities, there is no question that academically the country is much better off than it was 20 years ago.

But the curriculum is not only concerned with academic success in these examinable subjects, it is concerned with other areas of human experience. Here too, you can point—and any objective observer must point—to substantial fields of achievement. Take, for example, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award. There is no doubt whatsoever that every year many thousands of boys and girls enter this sort of scheme, and other schemes like it, and are doing incredibly well in areas of the curriculum which are very important but which are not examined by the CSE and the O- and A-level boards. I would draw attention too to the whole question of the care and compassion which is shown by a large number of secondary school pupils, particularly of the older pupils, in their work in the community. It would he silly to run ourselves down too much in ignoring these substantial achievements by pupils in the secondary schools of the country.

There is one other deeply worrying side to the picture. That is the whole question of the rise of criminality, vandalism, and the general deplorable decline in social standards which is very much in evidence. I gave a lecture a year ago, as I do regularly, to the National Defence College. I happened to put up a slide of the statistics on crime. I then discovered to my horror that I had misread the statistical points. I had underrated crime by a factor of 10, which was rapidly pointed out to me, I may say, by the eminently clever young men who go to the National Defence College.

According to Social Trends, the Government's magnificent statistical publication, no fewer than 8 per cent. of adolescent males aged 14 to 16 have been convicted of serious crime, and if 8 per cent. have been convicted, goodness knows how many have carried out serious crime because, as we know, the conviction rates are very much smaller that the crime rates themselves. I mention that as an example—not because I am sitting next to my noble friend Lord Longford—because it happens to be a measurable tip of a perceptible iceberg in our society, which is the flaunting of criminality and vandalism as part of the aspect of contemporary society with which we have to deal.

If we are to take credit as teachers or people involved in schools for what the schools have done, as the noble Baroness properly did in respect of examination results, and as I have mentioned in other less easily measurable areas of the curriculum, we must also ponder seriously the evidence of the rise of anti-social behaviour in society. I come reluctantly to the conclusion that there is very little the schools can do about it. I used to be a great believer that the schools could do a great deal, and with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, I am not wholly sure that the independent sector shows conclusively much evidence about this because the independent sector willy nilly, as he rightly pointed out, is dealing with people who have chosen to go to those particular schools, where the parents, teachers and pupils to a considerable degree are working in the same direction.

There is, at the opposite end of the spectrum, a substantial group in society where the parents are opposed to the teachers and the teachers are opposed to the pupils. That is true not only of a high proportion of inner city schools but of schools which I have visited in some other parts of the country. I hope the factors which have been mentioned—the fall in teacher turnover, the fact that teachers are staying longer in schools and the general settling down of the system—will help, but I doubt very much whether the solution lies in the schools. Where the solution lies, by the re-creation of some sort of widely acceptable scale of values in our society, I do not know, but I am convinced that until such a renaissance has taken place the schools will continue to have a very uphill job indeed.

6.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to join in the debate, and to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating it, and I congratulate the two new Peers who have contributed to it. For 25 years I have been connected with a local education authority and I have seen changes within and outside it. I know that my noble friend from London agrees, though he did not say so officially, that large comprehensive schools were a mistake. At the time we were experimenting; we did not know the answers so we had to try. We did try, and we found that the experiment did not work in the way that many of us had hoped. It was not a political issue at that time. I say that because any member of the general public attending a meeting of my authority at that time, sitting in the public gallery, would not have known who were Labour and who were Conservative members. We were trying to get the best for the children of our area and we went for large comprehensive schools. We realised after a certain time that it was a mistake, so we started reducing; then we found that the birthrate began dropping too, and that provided us with an opportunity. We, like many of the 103 authorities in England and Wales, decided to go for our own particular system. Some authorities decided on 11 to 18 schools; some on sixth form colleges; various schemes were tried throughout the United Kingdom, and that was good.

For two and a half years I have been visiting schools and authorities and talking with managers and governors. I might mention that what has been going on in another place in regard to a report that was presented there is another matter and it breaks my heart to see the way in which they are dealing with it. I hope that when we will have an opportunity to debate that matter in this House we shall reverse some of the decisions that have been made there, but I will leave that for the appropriate time.

I must emphasise that the present Government—I am not, as I cannot, speak on behalf of the Government, even though I support them fully—have done a great deal to try to understand and overcome the difficulties. I was most impressed with the statement made by my noble friend Lord Alexander of Potterhill regarding a new Education Act because I have supported him on that all along the line. The 1944 Act was a splendid measure because it was an Act right across the board and was accepted by all parties. I feel it right and proper that we should now have a new Act right across the board, and I am grateful to Lord Alexander for pointing that out. Nobody in this House, indeed in the country, has had more experience of dealing with local authorities and teachers' organisations than Lord Alexander, and the way in which he has co-operated with associations and organisations should be recognised more widely. I pay tribute to him for the work he has done over the years in trying to get a new Education Act.

Many people accept that one of the worst things that happened to education in this country was the disappearance of the Association of Education Authorities, which had been a mouthpiece for the world of education. However, it has gone and we must accept that things change with the passage of time. That being so, I think it right and proper that I should draw attention to some developments we have seen. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said that the most important person in a school was the headmaster. I acknowledge that, but any headmaster worth his salt must realise that the world is changing rapidly. Any headmaster must take cognisance of the views of the governing body. At the moment—and I say this with due respect to my friends in the teaching profession—there are too many people who go from school to college, to university, and then directly into teaching, and so they do not know about the requirements of commerce or industry. It is important that they should know about these things. The governing body are the people who can advise the headmaster on these matters. That does not mean that they want to do the headmaster's job for him. They do not want to do that; but rather leave it to the headmaster.

Let us look at what the present Government have done. I do not want to go into the realms of politics in discussing this matter, but it is important that I point out to Members of the House what the Government have done. There is the assessment and performance unit, which is absolutely first class and was established in 1975 to monitor activities of schoolchildren in English language and so on. It is hoped that the results from the unit will be published in 1980. There is also the Act of 1976 which dealt with secondary reorganisation. As already stated, 83 per cent. of children in maintained schools are being educated in compre- hensive schools. The majority of authorities—and here I again speak with authority in the sense that I have visited more authorities probably than has anyone else in the Chamber during the past two years—accept comprehensive education provided that they can do it in the right way. This is a situation that I find.

Let us go further and consider examinations. We recognise that the examination procedure as it stands is not good. Various things are wrong with it. If I had my way I would do away with A-levels, and I would introduce the international baccalaureate, so that it is accepted by every country in Europe and throughout the world; but this is a personal view. When you start speaking about the international baccalaureate most people do not know what the dickens you are speaking about. Therefore, you have to explain it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, for helping me out on that point. I can see that quite a number of my colleagues do not understand it. That is something that I should like to introduce.

There are other suggestions and changes regarding the examination system which the Government are trying to look at at the moment. For example, the Schools Council is looking at different types of examinations, and a report will be made in due course. Let us go a step further and consider the introduction in in-service training which is a very important matter. Here again I refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said. In view of changes that have taken place, it is important that teachers should be able to transfer from one subject to the other. I hope that local authorities will be prepared to allow teachers secondment to universities and training colleges in this way, because to do this is important. I feel that someone who has been in a profession for a length of time needs retraining, and I am sure that the Government will realise this. I know that the Government have allowed for 1,700 extra places this year, and this will mean that people will be allowed to be seconded to colleges and universities in this way.

I should like to say much about school government, but as I am the 15th speaker in the debate I feel that your Lordships may have heard enough, and I know that later I shall have an opportunity to say much more about school government and the way in which I feel that it ought to go. Therefore, perhaps your Lordships will forgive me for leaving the matter at that. I thank your Lordships for allowing me to speak.

6.36 p.m.


My Lords, the speeches which your Lordships have made today show the wide range of interest which has been attracted by the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Elton, and I wish to add my appreciation of the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris of Amisfield, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll. I think that the noble Earl is a former Army parachutist, and so I do not feel that his first dive into a debate in your Lordships' House was too difficult for him. He interested us very much by his references to the needs to develop the curriculum in the light of increasing leisure time nowadays, as well as the increasing problems of unemployment. I am so glad that the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, chose to make his first speech in your Lordships' House in today's debate. I hope that the balanced and open-minded way in which he spoke of the work of independent schools may cause the Government to think seriously about the formulation of their party policy in the future.

It occurred to me that, in a debate of this kind, I ought to say something about school behaviour, but then I recalled rather guiltily that perhaps I had not been the best example of good practice in that field when I was concerned in it, so I decided to keep my mouth shut. How very glad I was that I did so, because by keeping my mouth closed and my ears opened I learnt much from my noble friend Lord Eccles and the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. I wish to make one other short point at this stage. I thought that a considerable part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, might be devoted to the subject of governing bodies because he was the chairman of the most important committee on which is based the legislation which we hope will shortly come before the House. However, the noble Lord refrained because of the coming of that legislation, and I very much hope that we shall have the benefit of his views, regardless of whether we on this side of the House agree or disagree with them, when the Bill comes before us.

Although the scope of the debate is wide, it goes surely to the heart of what people want from education. After all, those who work within the education service primarily must be concerned about the quality of the service which they provide, and it is natural for parents to be anxious that their children should make the most of their opportunities. In many ways these hopes have been fulfilled in recent years. Today there are more young people seeking further and higher education—and I am encouraged in this assertion by what has been said in the debate by people who have so much more experience than I—there are better exam results, and there are certainly more opportunities within the curriculum than there were some years ago. But we must face the fact that there is a contradiction. A few weeks ago the senior personnel officer of one of the best known retail firms in the country told me that her firm is compelled to turn away increasing numbers of applicants as a result of a short entry test in numeracy and literacy which forms part of the firm's interview procedure.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, was absolutely justified in putting his finger on the point that my informant might not be comparing like with like because of the passage of time. None the less, my Lords, that information was not an isolated point of view. There were, I think, echoes of it in the speech which was made in January by the Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education and Science, when Sir James Hamilton questioned the effectiveness of the dissemination of good practice among local authorities; and, of course, the Prime Minister himself was more explicit some 2½ years ago when, in the speech which he made at Ruskin College, Oxford, he voiced his concern about complaints from industry that some school-leavers do not have the basic tools for the job that is required.

The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who is replying for the Government, may well say that it is precisely for these reasons that the assessment of performance unit was established at the Department of Education and Science. At a time when this country needs more mathematicians and scientists, and certainly to have a better command of languages than my generation ever managed, I need no convincing that a body like the APU can be of real value. But let us be under no delusion that the unit tests the progress of the individual pupil. It does not. At the North of England conference held in January, Dr. Marjoram is reported to have warned that the unit of which he is head could tell us nothing about individual pupils and schools, but will inform us only about performance and trends. But the paradox is that the Green Paper which launched the great debate between two and three years ago called for a sound system of assessment, and in essence that view was repeated only last year by Pamphlet No. 93 in the DES's Reports on Education series. I accept absolutely that the basis of any good system has got to be continuous teacher assessment, but to provide no minimum standards before the age of 16 really seems very much like desiring the end without willing the means.

What I should like to ask the Government is: Cannot the assessment of performance unit, together with Her Majesty's Inspectorate—or possibly, if that does not commend itself, the National Foundation for Educational Research, from its independent standpoint—produce tests in basic skills for a particular stage or stages of a child's education which schools could use if they wished? This system would not intrude into teachers' freedom, and would not segregate children, but would be, as I would see it, a personal assessment at a critical stage or stages of a child's education. I ask this because, at a time when the examination system appears to be under review, surely examining should be looked at as a whole. Yet, if the Government will forgive my saying so, there appears to be no overall strategy. There has been an immense amount of work done by the Schools Council on what are called the N and F proposals designed to replace A-levels; there is the certificate of extended education, an examination which some pupils, after one year in the sixth form, are already having set for them, but upon which the Secretary of State has not yet pronounced; and then there are the plans for a common system of examining at the age of 16-plus.

It is this last proposal which has received the support of the Secretary of State in the White Paper which was published last October, and within the last month, in order to provide the vehicle for the new exam, the Department has asked the examination boards for proposals to reduce their numbers from the eight GCE boards and 14 CSE boards to three, or at the most four, examination boards in England and one in Wales. My noble friend Lord Elton spoke about this in some detail, so may I simply say that I have a good deal of sympathy with those, particuarly members of the teaching profession, who dislike having to decide whether a pupil should enter for one examination or for another. Indeed, if I was teaching I know perfectly well on which side of the fence I would be. But it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to be convinced that a major change in the examination system of this country is not only desirable but is also practicable, and I really do not think that the Secretary of State has discharged that responsibility.

It is now clear that a common system will require alternative papers to be set, and even then many people, like my noble friend Lord Salisbury, doubt whether it may be possible, by a common system, in fact to examine right across the 60 per cent. ability range who sit for examinations. But if is is possible, then the fundamental question of how optional papers are to be graded within a common system remains completely unresolved. No conclusion has been offered as to what sort of constitution the new examining authorities may adopt. As to local authority costs, during the debate this afternoon many of your Lordships have spoken with tremendous experience of local authorities. All I can say is that local authority costs have been virtually disregarded; and how the GCE boards are to continue to finance their high overhead costs also appears to be something which continues to be disregarded.

The noble Lord may say that the committee under Sir James Waddell, which reported last year, sorted things out because it recommended that the new examination would be feasible. But feasibility and practicability do not necessarily coincide. I am sorry, but it appears to me that the Secretary of State, having seized upon the Waddell Committee's conclusion, has taken it as a signal to put her faith in a cart which at the moment appears to have no horse; and then, to cap it all, the Secretary of State apparently intends creating yet another QUANGO, a central co-ordinating body, to go along for the ride. The motives for introducing a new system of examining are something with which, without any effort at all, reasonable people can say they have great sympathy, but I think the Government have made very little attempt to face the practical problems. Despite warnings, it is still not clear how the link between a new exam and A-levels is going to be preserved; and such are the uncertainties that pupils are apparently going to have to wait, as my noble friend told the House, another six years, and probably longer, before any change can be made.

My Lords, may I turn from that for just a moment to the forecast, the really incredible forecast, of a fall of (what was it that Lord Alexander said—1½million?) 1½ million to 2 million pupils which is already taking place in our schools and is to go on, I think, until about 1990. To anyone working in education since the war, this news must have seemed like blessed relief; but as was said so clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, whose experience of education since the war is unrivalled, already we are aware that there are attendant difficulties. I should like to ask the Government two questions. The first is: Can the Government give an assurance that special measures will continue to be taken to improve on the numbers of teachers in shortage subjects? May I say that I very much appreciated and support what the noble Baroness, Lady David, said about the initiative which the Government have taken with regard to having the one-year teacher training courses for teachers in shortage subjects, although I wonder whether languages is a subject which should not be added to these teacher training courses.

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

My Lords, because I am being asked a great number of questions, I wonder whether I may say, in order that I do not forget that one, that the answer to it is, "Yes".


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. He answers my apprehension absolutely. I think, as I am being critical of the Government, I must just add that, despite the Government's commitment to a continuing improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio, which again I very strongly support, obviously I realise—I think all your Lordships realise—that at some time during the 1980s there is going to be, in real terms, a fall in teacher numbers. That is why I was putting the question about teachers in shortage subjects, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply.

The second question is this. I should like to discover whether the Government have given any thought to the distribution in the future of rate support grant. The fact of the matter is that the Government have been starving those local authorities which the Government seem to regard as wholly rural in character of the needs element of rate support grant. Consequently, areas with some of the most pressing educational needs are being penalised from year to year. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, in his speech referred to some of what he called the shire counties who had led the way in reorganisation. As I am going to speak about my own local authority, may I say that my authority was one of the first to reorganise and has been, in my view, forward-looking in every possible way ever since I knew the authority and started to live there. The fact is that my own authority, Suffolk, by no means a high wage area, has experienced a population explosion with a massive increase in pupil numbers and has been suffering very much indeed.

How is the authority being asked to finance all this? The answer is by the absurd combination of a high capital building programme for more school places, supported by a steadily reducing share of rate support grant. For that reason, it is no good the noble Baroness, Lady David, in her speech complaining that there has been under-spending by some local authorities. Indeed, when my noble friend Lord Elton spoke about what we misleadingly often call the non-teaching costs, and particularly put his finger on the importance of spending on books and materials, I could only think rather ruefully that in East Anglia we do our best, but with a steadily soaring rates bill and persistently diminishing support from Government. Beacuse I am tying these remarks into the fall in school population, I hope the Government will not run away with the idea that the prospect of falling school numbers is going to relieve the situation. As I understand it, I nationally, the average size of secondary schools is forecast to fall to (I think) rather less than five forms of entry during the 1980s—and that is if there are no closures at all—and in many rural areas the fall would be steeper. If we are to avoid major school closures, if we are to preserve as many sixth forms as we reasonably can, and if in the countryside we are not to suffer further massive closures of village schools, this Government discrimination must stop.

My own local authority is only an example of a wider picture. Of course, inner cities have pressing problems, but I think that there has to be a fairer allocation of resources. The East Anglia region as a whole has now lost over £52 million of its share of the needs element of the grant. What makes the situation, which I think probably affects the South-West as well as the East and maybe the West Country as well, so tragic in human terms is that the authorities that I speak of contain a mixed society with some centres of very high population growth—and the nine GLC expanding towns in East Anglia come to my mind—and other remote areas of static or decreasing population, a mixture which the rate support grant calculations seem quite unable to comprehend. I ask the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government this question. How long can this discrimination continue? It is becoming intolerable to those of us who care about the quality of the education service in their areas.

We on this side of the House have, I think, always been consistent in making it clear that we deplore the Government's constant preoccupation with structure. I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in doubting Lady David's particular form of Couéism: "Every day in every way comprehensive schools are getting better and better." From these Benches we have criticised Government policy, not because we do not believe in reorganisation but because we do not believe in forcing local education authorities into secondary reorganisation without consulting them properly. We differ about this, but time will tell. I must point out, however, that time is already showing that the fall in pupil numbers may well require authorities to revise the type of reorganisation which in some cases they have had to choose, and I believe that time will prove that all-ability schools will develop their own strengths and, as a result, parental demand for a particular school sooner or later will drive a coach and horses through the very rigid rules of the 1976 Education Act.

It is arguable that a Government which have been so much concerned with structure may tend sometimes to neglect—and I know that we none of us very often mean to do these things; but on this occasion it is "to neglect"—their general duty to promote education. If noble Lords opposite think I am being unfair, all that I can say is that I was dismayed to read a reply which Miss Jackson, Parliamentary Secretary at the Department of Education and Science, gave on 2nd February to a Parliamentary Question in another place which revealed that the number of Her Majesty's Inspectorate had fallen since 1st January 1974 from a total of 443 inspectors to 403. The Government will agree, I am sure, that the existence of the Inspectorate is an essential condition within the terms of this debate for the maintenance and improvement of standards.

Having listened to the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, of the imminent education and demographic problems connected with the fall in school numbers, who can doubt that we must have a healthy Inspectorate, and if possible an increased one? There used to be a saying that it was not what an HMI report said but what it did not say which was the more revealing. Certainly advice from the Inspectorate is always given in such a way that no one should take offence but all should take it to heart. Of course, the Inspectorate speaks from a position of generally accepted strength because its advice is given independently. May I ask what is the target for the establishment of Her Majesty's Inspectorate? Can the Government disclose what efforts are being made to improve recruitment, and are the Government prepared to make the resources available? I should also like to know how many HMIs have been involved in the preparation of the numerous Government surveys and inquiries and how many have been included on Government-appointed committees during the last few years; and whether—I ask this specifically—the number of HMIs occupied in those ways has increased since the Government came to office. The standards to which your Lordships have been referring in this debate are not just standards for the clever child. That "a man's reach should exceed his grasp" is as true for the handicapped, for those in remedial classes, for the maladjusted and, of course, for the thousands and thousands of children who, some 14 years ago, were referred to by the Newsom Committee as Half Our Future. I cannot honestly say that it was my view when I was younger, but I believe now that children are happier if they are always reaching out for that little bit better. It is genuinely in their interests, it is crucial for this country. That is the measure of the value of this debate and of the importance of the reply which the Government will now give.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, there are always two levels in a debate of this kind. There is the "nuts and bolts" level with which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who opened so moderately, was chiefly concerned; and the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has ended up faintly less moderately but not offensively. Then, through the rest of the debate, we have been talking on almost a philosophical level. We have been talking not of "nuts and bolts" but of the realities of the situation which are extremely difficult to deal with. I find summing up a debate of this kind extremely difficult. As I have been asked and been given notice of one or two specific "nuts and bolts", I think that I had better deal with those as quickly as I can. I will then try to have a look at what has been said and pull it together or pull it apart, as the case may be. The most important topic of the debate of the nuts and bolts kind was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and is the question of examinations. I was encouraged by his political leader Mr. Mark Carlisle's approach to this subject the other day, which I thought was a good deal more friendly than Lord Belstead's or indeed Mr. Carlisle's predecessor. I hope that from my point of view the going might not be quite as rough as at one time it looked. I have prepared some notes on this matter and I think that I must get them on to the record otherwise it will look as if I am refusing to face the question.

We are determined that the job of preparing for the GCSE shall be done thoroughly and well. The education departments are at present discussing with the examining boards and the Schools Council the administrative arrangements which must be made first. New syllabuses must then be prepared and appropriate examinations devised for each main subject. The Secretaries of State will be monitoring these preparations carefully and will only set a date for the introduction of the new system when they are satisfied that all the necessary work can be completed in good time. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, thought we were doing it too soon; the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, suggested that we were going to do it too late. As will be seen from what I have said, we are keeping our options wide open.

It will be easier for employers and parents to understand the single grading scale of the new system. This is obvious; it does not need much elaboration. The new grades will relate to known standards in the present dual system. This is one of the points made by the local authorities in their submission to us, that the grades should relate to the old O-level grades and start from there, and this they are going to do. Nearer the time of implementation there will have to be a major publicity campaign to explain this to everybody. It is not necessary to do it in this House because here everybody will have read the Waddell Report and indeed the White Paper and will know as much about it as I do.

The case for reducing the number of separate examining boards from the present 22—eight GCE boards and 14 CSE boards—was brought out by the Expenditure Committee in its report last year. Comparability of standards nationally will be more readily achieved by having fewer examining authorities. This again is perfectly obvious to the meanest intelligence. The central co-ordinating body—as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, derisively described it, "the Quango"— will be of prime importance in ensuring that standards and public confidence in the examinations are maintained. It will determine national criteria for all syllabuses and examinations to be used for the new GCSE and will monitor the system when it is operating. This will secure the coherence needed to ensure comparability between examination result throughout the system. The Secretaries of State will decide on the constitution of the co-ordinating body after discussion with the interested parties. Its exact relationship to the existing constitution of the Schools Council will need careful consideration, but I hope that it will be chaired by the Council's chairman and that its servicing can involve the Council's staff. In all the discussions which have so far taken place—and many more are to take place—nobody has criticised the importance of trying to get central co-ordinated criteria. This is common ground among everybody concerned. I think the central co-ordinating body is something one simply has to have.

Noble Lords have referred to the need to maintain the standards associated with present O-level examinations, and to provide appropriately for candidates with different levels of ability. The provision of alternative papers at different levels of difficulty is very important in this context. A good deal more development work has to be done before it will be clear how best to provide alternatives of this kind subject by subject, but it is not difficult to give some illustrations of the problems and ways in which they might be tackled. This is the only technical problem in the whole business which seems to me to present some difficulty.

I remember from my own school days—shared with many other noble Lords, it appears—that we used to have test papers in mathematics which were called problem papers. They began with simple problems which all of us could tackle but went on to harder problems near the end of the paper which only the mathematicians among us could handle and which I used to leave severely alone. This is one way you could do it, my Lords. A different kind of issue arises in the field of literature where different set books could be read. One class could be reading Hornblower and the other Proust. Obviously the level of the intellectual paper would be quite different. This would be a perfectly reasonable technique in that particular way. These are only examples, of course.

It will be necessary to provide these alternative papers, and because of that there will still be occasions under the single system when schools will need to teach separately groups of pupils preparing for the harder or easier papers—a point that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, made. We shall not get rid of it altogether but the extremely difficult decision made in the past, usually at age 11 or thereabouts, of doing an entirely different syllabus will not arise. It is a much less violent decision, though the decision is not entirely removed. There will still be a place for school-based examinations of the Mode III type, but under the GCSE proposals all syllabuses and examinations, of whatever type, will have to satisfy the nationally agreed criteria. The Government believe that this will go far to alleviate the concern which some have expressed about standards in Mode III examinations. This is again a point I have made before. Everybody is agreed that the imposition of national criteria is desirable.

The Department have asked the boards to put forward proposals for the constitutions of the new examining authorities which will provide the GCSE. The White Paper indicates the principles on which these constitutions should be based, but because the boards are independent bodies, and proud of it, and because of the need to allow for regional variations, the White Paper does not prescribe a detailed pattern. The Government's proposals do not imply any change in A-level examinations. It is only in respect of their contribution to the GCSE work that the GCE boards would work within the new examining authorities.

We know very well how important the GCE boards' work is in relation to A-level examining. This is recognised and there will be no change here. One would have thought from hearing the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that this was a terrible muddle and completely unthought out. I think that this is entirely unfair. I do not think it is true. The fact that pretty well everybody concerned thinks that it would be a very good thing if a way could be found to make a change of this kind entirely justifies the Government in going into it carefully, following the advice of an extremely well informed committee and issuing a White Paper to try and get the thing moving but without forcing it. So much for the examination question.

The other question of which the noble Lord gave me notice was the rate support grant distribution. As he knows only too well, this is matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I understand that he met a deputation from Suffolk on 12th February to discuss these matters. I do not know whether the noble Lord knows what was said—I do not. That would be the next thing if the noble Lord is interested to find out. I understand that all categories of authority will receive greater amounts in real terms of needs element of rate support grant in 1979–80 compared with 1978–79. This total picture includes increases and decreases in grant as determined by the standard approach. There is no question of discrimination against any authority. While the grant to shire counties as a whole increased in real terms by the equivalent of 0.6p rate, Suffolk's grant decreased by £485,000 in real terms, or the equivalent of ½p rate.

To put the matter in context then, to make good the decrease in grant, Suffolk needs to increase rates by only ½p in the pound, and Suffolk's rate poundage of 65.23p in the pound is below the average for shire counties of 67.4p in the pound. It seems likely that local budgeting decisions will have a much greater effect upon the level of rates in the county. The rate support grant is a block grant, paid in support of local government expenditure as a whole. It is not earmarked in any way. It is for each authority to decide and defend at the local level its own pattern of expenditure in the light of its own assessment of local needs and cirstances, including resources of all kinds.

Here I should like to make a point which has been made before: One of the deeply important things in our education system—and noble Lords opposite have said this on several occasions—is the power which rests with the local authorities to make their own decisions. I know it is galling for noble Lords opposite for me to get up and say that it is the Tory local authorities which are under-spending on books, which is true, and which have dragged their feet on nursery schools, which is true. On the other hand, I am fully aware that noble Lords opposite cannot alter this, and indeed should not be able to alter it. We have to stand by it, and I have to stand by the situation that, if a local authority does not spend as much as the rate support grant says it can, there is nothing in the world I can do about it.

The last point I was given notice of was the question of the strength of the Inspectorate. It is now 430. The number in post at 1st March was 403, which is a shortfall of 27. A full programme of competitions is maintained and the numbers should be up next year. The shortfall is attributable to a combination of circumstances, including the need to recruit only candidates with the right personal qualities, experience and qualifications. As we all know, skilled labour of any kind is getting more and more difficult to find, despite the difficulties at the other end of the market.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question which of course he can answer in writing? Am I right in believing that, if you wish to become an HMI, you have to accept in advance that you will have to work in any part of the country and that your location of living does not enter into it?


My Lords, I understand that is the case: Mobility is one of the conditions. About three-quarters of the Inspectorate are mainly concerned with schools; 45 to 50 per cent. of their time is spent in inspecting institutions—the same proportion as in 1959. The last available figures show that they visit annually about one-quarter of all maintained primary schools and about two-thirds of all maintained secondary schools. I do not have the figures the noble Lord asked for, as to what other things they do and how many surveys there are. If he likes to write to me or to put down a Question for Written Answer about that, I will give him the answer. I doubt whether it is worth pursuing, but that is up to him.

I want now to look at some of the other things which have been said today because it is always a pity to sum up a debate without doing so. There is one particular thing which interested me in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, which was not touched on by other speakers. It referred to the difficulties of promotion—the better you are the more likely you are to get into administration. Of course that is perfectly true. It is true in almost every walk of life. The only people who go on doing the same thing, roughly speaking, are accountants, who seem to be promoted and remain accountants. I have no idea what the answer is on this matter; it is an interesting point that we might discuss further some time. I find in the arts world that there are people who are very good at either the visual arts side or the musical side, and before you know where you are they are spending all their days in an office dealing with something which has nothing to do with what they have been trained for. I think this is a very important point. I do not know what the answer is but, as I say, perhaps we will talk about it on another day.

The noble Lord said in his opening speech that we had really come to the end of the comprehensive argument. I think that is so, and I appreciate the way in which the House has treated the comprehensive argument today. We differ quite bitterly on one quite small point. Both sides think that the comprehensive system is good, can be made better, should be made better and is in many ways very desirable. We believe that it is inconsistent with selection. We think that if you combine it with selection you destroy it, and noble Lords opposite do not agree with that. That is the only point at issue: we have not discussed it tonight and I appreciate that. It would have been a great bore, because we know exactly what both sides think.

I need not refer to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, because she is not here; but she wrote me a very polite letter about that. Her reference to "dotty teaching methods" was interesting. There was a stage, which I think we inherited rather than produced,where the sort of permissive world was having some rather odd views, as certain people do now; but of course that has nothing to do with the comprehensive schools. I could quote half a dozen curious schools which have dotty teaching methods, which have nothing to do with comprehensives, but there we are.

One other point made by the noble Baroness was also referred to by several other speakers: that is, the very serious and awful question before us—the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, raised this matter in his excellent maiden speech—namely, the bleak future for the unskilled. I think this is something we shall have to think about more and more: it was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, in a very moving way. But above all I should like to thank the noble Earl for having brought out this important point in his maiden speech. Once again it is something to which we shall have to give a lot of thought. People talk about "training for leisure" but most people do not want to be trained for leisure. I worked for many years in a pioneer health centre with 900 families, and what they liked, with the exception of about 20 self-selected groups in different things, was beer, billiards and whist. That is what they liked and that is what they did, very largely—and why not? We were perfectly happy for them to do that: but there are certain problems.

I now come to my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Charteris. Of course, if the Labour Party want to put up an attack on the public schools, they will not put me up! My family has four generations of very much appreciated treatment or teaching from Eton; my father even taught there. I love the school and nothing is going to make me say I do not. I think that my noble friend Lady Gaitskell made a very good point. There is absolutely no reason why anybody except the parents of children who go there should pay a penny towards it; it is extremely well endowed anyway, and that raises questions which I shall not raise tonight. They have been raised elsewhere. However, I do not think I can let the noble Marquess and the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, be the only ones with headmaster stories. I may have quoted this before—the way Eton changed from being an old-fashioned school to being a modern school. It was, I think, in 1860 or 1880 when Dr. Hawtrey, who was then headmaster, called the masters together in chambers and said: "Gentlemen, I have hired a man to teach the mathematics". That was the change.

There was one thing I would like to say about Eton, loving it as I do. I have a grandson at a comprehensive school and I have a grandson at a public school —not, alas, Eton because, as the noble Lord knows, they would not have him, wrongly—but that is a different point. However, I have no doubt whatever that my grandson at the comprehensive school is learning something about life which the other boy is not learning. That is all. Whether it is worth it, I do not know. It is rather difficult. He does not carry a new suitcase because he thinks he will be laughed at. That would not happen at Eton or anywhere else like that. There are different standards, but for what it is worth I throw that in. Anyway, I very much enjoyed the noble Lord's speech and I am sure that we shall hear him very often.

The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is always interesting but, if I may say so, I felt that his approach was slightly Wykehamist. It was just a tiny bit "pi", if your Lordships know what I mean. There were faint memories of Dr. Arnold, and I think that his speech lacked irreverence. The problem about teaching children is that nobody knows how. What you have to do in order to teach children is to have good teachers. Nobody knows how to make a good teacher. When it is said that everything would be better if people respected authority, I say that of course it would, but how do you make good teachers? Nor, in my opinion, does the noble Viscount know. But I agree with his general point, and we all accept now that the schools should be smaller, though it leads us into the kind of problem that the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, pointed out, where, if you get them to the size you want for one purpose, they are not big enough for a proper sixth form school. So there we are.

My noble friend Lord Mishcon was very interesting in speaking about the ILEA. I note that, like so many colleagues, he would like a little more money spent. We have not done badly in relation to spending on buildings, but I shall not go into detail on that. I think that his six points were fascinating and very useful for us to study. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, set something going in his desire for a new Act. This will be studied by my colleagues who, I think, will have plenty of time to bring one in next year; whether or not they will, I cannot say. But the noble Lord has made it quite clear that there are new problems—I have touched on two or three which have been brought out by noble Lords—of a kind which it has not been our business to consider up to date, and they need considering. I am grateful to the noble Lord and what he said will be very carefully studied.

I have already referred to my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. She wants smaller classes—so do we all, and we are getting them. Classes today are smaller than they have ever been in our public education history. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, is not here, so I need not refer to her speech. The noble Lord, Lord Somers, was right in saying that teaching standards is the vital matter, and that what teachers have to do is to interest their pupils. This is the point I was making. Nobody knows how to get a teacher to interest his pupils. Aldous Huxley, who wrote that marvellous book in which he described the windows of Eton College as blue, jaundiced and bloodied with 18th century glass, was an absolutely total failure as a master at Eton, but was a very interesting man. So we do not know how to do it but the point is absolutely sound.

I think that both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Emmet, spoke about religious education. The rules remain what they always have been since the 1944 Act. The interpretation of them may vary from place to place; in fact, I believe it does. But an assembly is still in the 1944 Act, and there you are. My noble friend Lady Stewart talked mostly about the active co-operation of parents, which is absolutely fundamental—probably as important as asnything—and we shall discuss that later on when we come to the Taylor Report. We discussed at great length three months ago the question of careers teachers and the relationship of pupils and parents to business. We had rather an interesting debate on that point and I shall not go over it again, but a good deal is being done.

The noble Marquess puzzled me rather, because he seemed to think—I am sure that I misunderstood him—that comprehensive schools were mixed ability teaching schools. That is not the case. Mixed ability teaching is tried here and there, at the request of the local authority or the headmaster, but, generally speaking, so far as I know, comprehensive schools have streaming and setting and all the other ways of internal grading according to ability. So I think that that worry is not important.

The Marquess of SALISBURY

My Lords, I am sorry that I did not make myself clear. One point was that I wondered whether it was intended to continue with streaming, which the noble Lord has said is not at issue. My other point was that if there is to be streaming, is it possible to ensure that the most intelligent and the least intelligent get suitable special treatment?


My Lords, I think that the answer is, Yes, it is. It is being done in most comprehensive schools. My grandson is a very clever boy, and he is very well looked after at school. There is no problem whatever. The noble Marquess said that a school is as good as the headmaster. I entirely agree; but, again, I do not know how to get good headmasters, and nor does the noble Marquess. My noble friend Lord Vaizey has left the House, so we can leave him out. My noble friend Lord Taylor is somebody whom we always want to hear on this subject. He raised the question of the transfer of teachers. My impression is that it is perfectly easy to do this, but it costs a local authority money to do it. Perhaps that is the reason why it is not done as often as it ought to be. I have already answered the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, so I think that I have done my duty.

Your Lordships will be glad to hear that I have come to the end of my speech. May I end by referring again to our end of term report, which my noble friend put so well. I believe that this is what this Government stand on. We believe, with your Lordships, that the quality of education is what education is about. We are sceptical as to all the different things that can be done, but we think that what we have done has been highly relevant: the review of the curriculum, the progress towards completing the comprehensive system, the Assessment of Performance Unit, the new requirements in maths and English for intending teachers—this is a very important point—the crash courses in subjects where there is a teacher shortage, and the provision of extra resources for teacher training needs, the fall in class sizes and the marked decline in teacher wastage, and our intention to help the disadvantaged and to expand nursery education.

These things we have done. They are beginning to show results, as my noble friend showed, at Merton, Hertfordshire, East Sussex, Leicestershire and many other places. At the national level, it is significant that twice as many young people gained one or more A-levels in 1976 as did 15 years ago under the then selective system, and over four-fifths of school-leavers now get some examination result against barely half 10 years ago. Education is an impossibly difficult subject. We are not only not complacent; we are worried about a very large number of things. But we have made a considerable effort. We have done a number of things which Governments have not done before. We think that some progress is being made, and I believe we are entitled to look for the support of noble Lords opposite in what we are trying to do.

7.29 p.m.


My Lords, in thanking all the contributors to this notable debate, I should like especially to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, on a most valuable embarkation upon the waters of this House, and the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, for a distinguished start in his Parliamentary career. The end of term report is what we have been told we have been hearing. I suppose that any report which was written by the pupil would be as good. None the less, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for his summing up and for unconsciously correcting an error which I slipped into my speech. There are only 22, not 30 examining boards, as I think I said.

I must take issue with the noble Lord on one point about comprehensive education. We differ as to whether or not the system should be imposed. That is not, I think, a dead issue. I do not believe that his attempt to create a difference of opinion between my right honourable friend Mark Carlisle and I will succeed. I have not said that work on the 16-plus should be aborted but that it should be completed. I was moderately reassured by the noises which he made in reply to my fear, although no revised date for the reception of the consortia-suggested territorial and organisational proposals was given. I hope that that will be coming. Having heard the noble Lord, the difficulty now is not to start the whole debate again, but I shall resist that temptation and, with your Lordships' leave, will withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.