Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th May 1959.
asked the Minister of Education how many schools which are called comprehensive schools now exist in England and Wales; how many other schools are part of systems designed to eliminate selective examinations and provide the advantages of comprehensive education; and if he will now set up a committee to survey these schemes and provide to local education authorities an analysis of their advantages and problems.
Last year, there were 86 schools classified as comprehensive in the Department's records. I am writing to the hon. Member to explain the basis of classification, which is different from that used in earlier years. I cannot answer the second part of the Question. The answer to the third part is, "No."
Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware, as I am sure that he is, of the increasing unpopularity of the so-called 11-plus examinations and of the fact that education committees, irrespective of their political complexion, are considering all sorts of schemes and variations for avoiding this selective and segregating examination? As different kinds of schemes now exist, for example, in the London area as compared with Leicestershire, and other things are happening in the north of the country, would it not be a good idea to give some expert advice and guidance to education committees on the basis of existing experience?
This is a very large subject to discuss at Question Time. A great number and variety of experiments are taking place in all parts of the country at present. It is too early to generalise about these. While I know that a great many authorities are experimenting with their own methods of selection, I believe that there is great and widespread support among people of all parties for the broad lines of the Government's White Paper.
Is my hon. Friend aware that most people who are keenly interested in education want to regard these matters as experiments and not as a pattern for wholesale implementation, as appears to be the case with some education authorities?
The great danger, as my hon. Friend will agree, is premature generalisation, because, for instance, the kind of arrangements which will prove suitable for a medium-sized county borough may be very much more difficult to implement in a large county borough. and the needs and history of different areas do indeed demand different solutions.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of the premature generalisations about this question have been made by opponents of comprehensive schools, and that if he held an inquiry, such as my hon. Friend suggests, it might throw light in dark places where it is very much needed?
There are certainly not any premature generalisations in the White Paper, which has been widely accepted as a very fair survey of this problem.