Public Schools (Entry)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th June 1961.

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11.5 a.m.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I beg to move, That this House, recognising the valuable contribution that the independent schools have long been making to education, expresses the hope that. Her Majesty's Government will encourage a closer association between these schools and the public educational system. I make no apology for raising this subject today, and I hope that in the calm of a Friday morning we shall have an interesting and quiet debate on what is a somewhat controversial subject. I should begin by declaring an interest. First, I was educated at a public school and have a very high regard for the public schools, and secondly, I have two young children who, at a later date will, I hope, go to public school.

My object in initiating the debate is to try to help this type of school to broaden its basis of entry so that the independent schools which, at the moment, draw their boys from one section of the community only are not out of line with modern ideas and discussion and that their isolation does not make them irrelevant to the conditions of modern life at a time when the nation as a whole is drawing closer together. In my view, it is wrong, both morally and socially, that the public schools should segregate themselves in that way.

I do not for a moment deny that parents should always have the right to pay for their children's education, if they wish. It is sometimes amazing to see what hardships parents will undergo nowadays in order to send their children to fee-paying schools. I do not wish in any way to take from them the right to do so.

I shall not dwell at length on the advantages of a public school education. Obviously, they go deeper than was suggested by the correspondence between the cricket captains of Shrewsbury and Westminster in 1866, which hon. Members will probably have seen, when the captain of Shrewsbury wanted to arrange a cricket match with Westminster. He wrote on 27th February, 1866: Dear Sir,I write to ask if a match between Westminster and Shrewsbury can be arranged for this season. The most convenient date for us would be any day in the week beginning 17th June. We shall be happy to play on any ground in London which you may select. The Westminster captain wrote back: The Captain of the Westminster Eleven is sorry to disappoint Shrewsbury, but Westminster plays no schools except Public Schools, and the general feeling in the school quite coincides with that of the committee of Public Schools Club, which issues this list of Public Schools—Charterhouse, Harrow, Rugby, Eton, Westminster and Winchester. The captain of Shrewsbury replied: Sir,I cannot allow your answer to my first letter to pass unnoticed…I regret to find from your letter that the captain of the Westminister Eleven has yet to learn the first lesson of a true public schools education, the behaviour due from one gentleman to another". If that is the first advantage of a public school education, it is my belief that the main advantage is boarding and the acceptance of responsibility which comes from having to take decisions and make plans when one is far removed from the influence of parents and the home. One has the advantages of living with different types and different characters, not always getting one's own way, and having to be subject to a certain amount of discipline imposed not by adults but by people very little older than oneself. That, combined with a Christian approach and background, helps to form character.

I remember that at my own school, during 1943, we had several deputations and visits from Members of Parliament, including one quite large delegation from hon. Members opposite, and I know that they were most impressed by the services in chapel, so much so that one morning we sang an extra hymn for them. It was one we always enjoyed singing very much. It was, "Go, labour on," and as far as my recollections permit, I think that the next verse said "spend and be spent".

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

Yes, I think they did.

Most people who visit public schools, even those who express views against them, do find there an atmosphere and spirit quite different from what they thought they would find. I think that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who is not here today, spent a very enjoyable time last weekend at Eton. I think that he was beguiled into saying that the last thing he wanted to do was to see Eton done away with, and that, coming from the hon. Member, was certainly an achievement.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop Lord Fisher of Lambeth, as Chairman of the Governing Bodies Association, wrote two excellent articles in December in The Times, in which he showed quite clearly that the schools themselves overwhelmingly desire to extend "the area"—to use his own words—and have not swerved from their original intention when the original approach was made as long ago as 1919 by Sir Frank Fletcher, who was at that time Chairman of the Headmasters' Conference, who approached the then President of the Board of Education, Mr. Fisher, with the idea of trying to get more boys of secondary education into the public schools.

That, also, was at a time when the public schools were extremely full. It is quite remarkable that at that time and again today, when there was and is a period when the public schools are brim-full and will be full up for many years ahead, the public schools themselves should be prepared to offer substantial numbers of places to boys previously educated at State primary and secondary schools.

For some years after the last war Eton, for example, offered 10 places a year to the Central Committee of the Ministry, which was an unofficial body which acted as a kind of go-between between education authorities and the schools, and—I am permitted to say this—received a negative reply. That is extremely disappointing.

The present method of leaving the local education authorities to make the decisions and provide the money has completely broken down. They cannot do so, and I understand the reasons entirely. They do not want to spend five times as much money on one boy as on another boy when the money spread over the whole lot will lead to improvement all round. That is quite understandable. There are also, of course, quite considerable pressures from ratepayers; ratepayers feel more strongly.

Photo of Mr Henry Pott Mr Henry Pott , Devizes

I think that that generalisation is most unfair, because certain authorities do this and certain schools are receiving their boys.

Photo of Mr James Prior Mr James Prior , Lowestoft

I am sorry. I am coming later to those local authorities which do this, but I think that we must face the fact that, taken all round, local education authorities are unable to do it. It is always said that one pays one's rates in anger and one's taxes in sorrow, and I certainly think that that has contributed towards the fact that local education authorities are not prepared to allocate this sum of money required to send one boy to a public school.

There are just enough places going to know that the objections raised, that boys will be fish out of water both at home and at school, are just not valid. In fact—I now come to my hon. Friend's point—Eton, Rugby and Winchester, for example, receive two boys each year from Hertford County Council. There are many other examples as well. Surrey does the same thing. London and Surrey County Councils run their own boys' schools at Ottershaw and Woolverstone, and other education authorities try to provide for boys a few places at public schools, but nothing like enough, and that is not a general rule.

I now come to the proposals which I hope the Minister will consider carefully, and I want, at the same time, to try to deal, if I can, with some of the difficulties which undoubtedly will be put up against this scheme—just in case my right hon. Friend is unable to agree to all my wishes today.

The first proposal I want to make is that responsibility for the scheme should be taken out of the hands of the local education authorities and become the direct responsibility of the Ministry; secondly, that a start should be made with implementing the scheme straight away.

As a start, I would suggest about 500 places. The Bow Group at one time thought of having what are known as "Queen's Scholarships". I shall not comment on that, but I think that 500 places rising up to 10 per cent. of all places should be allocated by the Ministry, and the Governing Bodies Association would be quickly able to take up to that number and would agree to that without breaking into its various commitments. That would probably take some time because the public schools are extremely full. It would mean a further rise in the standard of the Common Entrance examination, and that would be very unpopular, of course, among a large number of parents who are already finding it difficult to get their children into these schools. But I think that it is a possibility, and I hope that the Minister will consider it.

I know that the Ministry does not like to take upon itself any central distribution powers of that nature, but I think that this is something which can be done only by the Ministry, and it is really useless today, I believe, for local education authorities to carry it out. The methods of selection and conditions for entry should, I think, follow Scheme B, paragraph 178, of the Fleming Committee's Report. I shall not weary the House by reading all this out, but it says: The Boards should have the assistance of each candidate's Primary or Secondary School record, a report from the Head Master or Head Mistress and the observations of the Local Education Authority; they should not be limited in their choice of candidates by rigid conditions, but their aim should be to choose those for whom a Boarding School education appears desirable and suitable. I am prepared to accept that as the type of basis on which selection should be made, and for—this is the real crux of the matter—the criteria of selection; and this seems to be the most difficult hurdle we have to overcome.

I understand that it is quite easy to measure I.Q., but if one takes all the brightest boys one is accused straight away of creaming the grammar schools and one would not immediately bring about the public school results that one would wish to see. As The Times said this morning: It is difficult anyhow to decide on what grounds the chosen few would he selected. I think that that is perfectly true. An average public school contains anything from 10 per cent. to 25 per cent. of boys whose intelligence range is comparable to that of boys in an A stream of the secondary-modern schools. Therefore, there is room for more, although too many would lower the whole standard and we have to be careful about that.

Obviously, there is scope for taking boys who are not necessarily the brightest. It may seem unfair financially that two otherwise equal children should have wildly varying sums of public money devoted to them—perhaps £70 to £90 for the secondary school and £500 for the public school, but even the local education authorities themselves are beginning to recognise that there are more boys than they thought for whom a boarding education is desirable.

I interpret this from the Report of the Working Party on "Assistance with the Cost of Boarding Education" and the conclusion, in paragraph 10, that there are four cases in particular: (i) Cases in which both parents are abroad.(ii) Cases in which the parents are in England and Wales but are liable to frequent moves from one area to another.(iii) Cases in which home circumstances are seriously prejudicial to the normal development of the child.(iv) Cases in which a special aptitude in the child requires special training which can be given to the child only by means of a boarding education. These are four cases where I take it the Ministry now accepts that boarding education seems desirable.

These numbers are bound to increase all the time, because if we are to encourage mobility of labour, which I should have thought is one of the main things in the economy that needs to be put right, we must try to enable people to move round the country more readily than they do at the moment, and particularly skilled tradesmen. Time and again a skilled tradesman will say that he will not move because his child is at a certain school and he wishes to leave him there. These are the type of cases where a boarding education would remove the difficulty.

Having selected the boys, we have to decide whether or not they should be taken from a primary school at the age of 11, or whether it is all right that they should come from a secondary-modern school at the age of 13 or from a grammar school. I believe that we should not try to take too many boys from grammar schools at this stage, but that we should concentrate more on the secondary-modern schools.

Leicestershire county education authority is experimenting at the moment by sending children to a secondary modern school in any event before they go to grammar school between the ages of 13 and 14. If that scheme were adopted universally, obviously we should overcome the problem, but at present I do not think that public schools mind taking boys at 13 from secondary-modern schools even if there is a year during which the difficulties of the previous curriculum causes trouble. If that solution did not prove satisfactory we should have to extend this scheme to certain preparatory schools and award scholarships to boys between the ages of 11 and 13½, but I do not think that that is a major obstacle.

We all know of instances of boys who have gone to one of these schools at the age of 13½ who have done little or no Latin, but, in a short while, have caught up with the rest, chiefly because they did not approach Latin at the age of 13½ with the same disadvantage as a small boy who had been slogging away at it for four or five years. The headmasters agree that objections to taking boys from the secondary-modern schools at 13½ are not valid and that any difficulties can be easily overcome. The objections come from people who want to see this scheme fail and I think that I should refute them straight away.

The cost of this scheme for 500 boys, at first, would be about £250,000. They would be in school for five years and the cost would rise to £1½ million. I should like to see the scheme extended to the suggested full 10 per cent. In the former archbishop's own words: The Governing Bodies Association believes that it is for the good of the nation, and will increase and enrich the various aspects of its heritage if some of those who are excluded by lack of means from entering the public schools are enabled to do so. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will realise that there is a considerable opinion in the country, in the Governing Bodies Association, among the overwhelming number of headmasters of public and independent schools, and among a great many intelli- gent laymen who wish to see this scheme come about.

Included in those numbers are many people who have dedicated their lives to teaching and to the benefit of public schools. I hope that the Minister and the Government will not close their minds to the opportunity presented to them at this time by the schools themselves, and I ask my right hon. Friend to give careful consideration of the points put forward to him by the Governing Bodies Association and the headmasters.

11.28 a.m.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on his good fortune in the Ballot, on choosing such an excellent subject for debate, and on the excellent and thoughtful speech with which he intrdouced it. As the hon. Member declared an interest, I declare mine. I was educated at an elementary school and a secondary school and I am as proud of both of them as the hon. Member is of the school which he attended. I owe my education to the sacrifices of my parents who were poor and whose sacrifices match those which the middle-class parent makes in buying his child a place at a public school. Today, as then, poor parents make a real sacrifice when they let their boy stay on at grammar school.

We should always remember that it is impossible for the great mass of ordinary people, with all the good will in the world, to be able to provide enough money to give their children a preparatory school and public school education if they wish to do so. I am happy that this debate shows this. The best elements in the Conservative Party are troubled about the present situation.

I am reminded of a Motion which I moved in the House on 20th March, 1953, in these words: That this House expresses its concern at the fact that most of the so-called public schools of this country are, in reality, exclusive private schools catering for children drawn from a narrow social group and outside the State system of education; and, believing that education ought to be provided for children according to their eduational needs and not according to the financial resources of their parents, would welcome further measures designed to achieve that object."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1953; Vol. 513, c. 434] I see in the hon. Member's speech a move in the same direction.

I believe that education in Britain is bedevilled by the class system which runs right throught it, and for which I believe there is no defence except history, and no justification at all as we face the challenge of modern times. We separate children at birth into what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) once called two nations, and the State system of education is largely directed by the products of the private system of education. I believe that if we had unified those two systems years and years ago, State education would have advanced much more rapidly than it has done, even though our progress has been remarkable.

But for the first century of State education in the nation's schools were in the hands of men who would never send their children to the schools which they had to administer. I believe that if the country squire or city gentleman had had to send his children to the village primary school or the all-age school or the ugly urban schools which were built for the children of the workers at the end of the last century, we should have had radical reforms much sooner than we have had them.

The public school system is at once the weakness and the glory of Britain. At its best it produces the flower of courtesy and at its worst it produces an egregious snobbery. I have never questioned the contribution that the best independent schools have made to British education. Many of them have pioneered in new fields, though even here their claims have sometimes seemed to me to be pitched too high.

The myth that the State school is State-bound but that there is a freedom in a private school not possessed by the headmaster of a State primary or a State secondary school lingers long, but it is a myth. It is like the other erroneous idea that only in Church schools is there good sound Christian teaching and good moral training.

In spite of what an old Etonian wrote in last evening's Evening Standard, the standard of scholarship in the public schools in respect of teaching their ablest pupils has been and is very high. It ought to be. Their teacher-pupil ratio is at least twice that of the ordinary State school. The fundamental factor in education is the size of classes, and much of the achievement of the public schools as compared with that of the State schools lies in the simple fact that teachers in public schools teach more smaller classes than they do in the State schools.

Forty years ago, when I prepared at a State secondary school for an open scholarship, I had a part-time Latin master and I taught myself Greek, and I went to compete with public schoolboys who had a battery of classical scholars coaching them for the same examination. Things are better today. The State grammar school enters its candidates on more nearly equal terms than existed forty years ago. But still the gap is wide. Public schoolboys compete on unequal terms with State grammar school lads for open scholarships and in addition they have several hundred closed scholarships for which only public schoolboys may enter, or even the boys of only one public school may enter.

Moreover, as yet a public school education provides a golden key for entry into many professions. It is still almost true to say that "failed at Eton" carries with it a cachet of distinction far more valuable than to have "succeeded at the Alderman Jones Grammar School". To give one illustration, despite the attempts at reform young naval officers are recruited almost exclusively from the public schools.

This is passing. The best State grammar schools easily out-strip the worst public schools, just as the best State primary schools easily out-strip the worst private primary schools. Slowly and steadily we are narrowing the gap between the private and public sector of education. I have never sneered at the public school. Rather, I want to see all that is best in public school education the right and inheritance of every child in Britain, and indeed on this planet.

It is not wrong to be proud of one's old school tie. It is a little more difficult to be proud of it if it symbolises to one and recalls to one's mind an insanitary village school or an ugly urban school with large classes and under-paid teachers, no laboratories and no playing fields. But pride in the nation's schools is developing rapidly and justifiably. If one were to take the dozen outstanding men in any walk of life, in athletics or politics or science or engineering or literature or art, one would find a much greater difference today in their social and educational origins than one would have found fifty years ago. There is hardly a walk of life in which the ex-State schoolboy does not rub shoulders with the old Etonian or the old Wykehamist, except on the Front Benches opposite, and even there we see an occasional Lord Privy Seal or Minister of Transport, neither of whom has anything to be ashamed of in his record of political achievement. I gather from their comments that some of my hon. Friends do not agree with my last remark, which had no party significance.

What have the public schools to be proud of? I would say, first, the cultivation of a spirit of intense loyalty to the school, to one's social group and to Britain. Inside the public school—if one can only get in—there is a real democracy; the parvenu's son, the poor scholarship boy—comparatively poor, at any rate, because there are very few really poor boys at public schools—mixes on equal terms with those aristocrats who—like Lord Byron—can blush when they are first called "Dominus." But this loyalty is a class loyalty. The Socialist Shelley, the Etonian Dalton—not a shining example recently of loyalty—the Wykehamist Leader of the Opposition, the old Etonian Communist Giles, former headmaster of a State secondary school—these are just exceptions which prove the rule.

The public school breeds Conservatives. That is one of its functions. One has to be very strong-minded to escape the conditioning. Britain, for the public school, is the Establishment. Boys are brought up to belong to a ruling class—the longest-surviving ruling class of modern times, and certainly the most skilful and most adaptable, always recruiting to it from below but still a ruling class. It is a republique of camarades, though without some of the uglier connotations of French politics, and royalist rather than republican. Loyalty very soon degenerates into mere conformity. The public schoolboy tends to become the archconformist. He never had it so good. What is good for Eton is good, for Britain.

The second fine quality of the prep-public school system is its discipline and its hard work. It is true that there are certain features even of the discipline which I would destroy tomorrow if I could—for example, the fag system in which the petty tyranny of a senior is endurable only because it hardens one and prepares one to exercise the same petty tyranny oneself tomorrow.

But I believe that democracy is in great danger of losing everything, including itself, through slackness. Things come too easily in an affluent society. When I recently lectured in American universities it was on a weakness of the American educational system—a system which has many virtues—and that weakness is an unwillingness, in the name of democracy and equal rights, to make clever boys work harder than ordinary boys. It provides lavishly the frills and social graces of education and tends to neglect the hard work which is part of any intellectual discipline and moral discipline.

On this count I give full marks to the prep schools making youngsters work like mad in order to win a place at common entrance and the public school, certainly as far as its abler lads are concerned. Indeed, I see from the Press that the prep schools, indulging in a little self-criticism, are wondering whether they do not drive their young children too hard. It is a fault which I, for one, would not discourage. I not only believe in discipline but I know that youngsters, far from resenting it, like it, as long as it is just and meaningful.

I believe that youth responds to a challenge and to discipline, and I do not believe that we shall get by in the challenge with which the Soviet Union confronts us, even of peaceful competition, if education is regarded as a pleasant pastime and we ignore the discipline of studies. We need more scientists, we need more technicians and we need more engineers, and they have to start work young if they are to match the demands of this age. In our pressure from these benches—rightful pressure—for the integration of secondary education, the education of every future citizen—because we live in a democracy—if we are not careful we may overlook the claims of the élite, of whom my old pupil, Lord James, continually speaks; but that élite must be an elite of character and quality and intellect and not merely a social elite.

Possibly the third quality that the public school gives is moral and spiritual—the cultivation of character, of social responsibility, seen at its best in those members of the ruling caste who really shoulder the responsibilities of their privileged position. These always remind me of the benevolent Southerners whom I met three weeks ago in Dixieland who love the negroes and who really care for their family retainers, yet who deprive them of the right to vote, or the right to send their children to school with white children.

At its finest, that sense of social responsibility is seen in the noble young officers in two world wars who were the first to die and whose names are to be found on school memorial tablets. But it is a profound error to identify all those good things with the public schools. At once I think of Jack Mantle, V.C., the Southampton State grammar school boy who was shot to pieces standing by his gun at the beginning of this war. I think of Commander Beak, V.C., of St. Denys Elementary School, Southampton. I think of the private soldiers who died by the side of young subalterns but whose schools were much lowlier than the public schools of Britain.

The same moral training of which the hon. Member spoke, the same keen work at sixth form level, indeed, the same keen and patient work at infants' school level, are to be found in the best State schools just as in the best public schools. The chief differences he first, as I have said, in the size of classes and, secondly, in the fact that the independent schools with higher pay attract the cream of the teaching profession. Every new school that the Minister completes and every class reduced in size both strengthens British education and narrows the gap between the two sectors, public and private. Incidentally, every improvement in teachers' salaries conduces to the same end.

But the biggest difference of all lies in the length of education. The boy who goes to a grammar school and then on to a red-brick university may be more nearly approaching parity with his public school brother every year, but most British children leave school at 15. While there is a kind of 11-plus or 13-plus for entry into some of the great public schools like Winchester and Manchester—and, incidentally, really poor boys may go to the latter—for children of the upper social class education continues, whatever their ability, to 17 or 18 or 19 in a private school somewhere. The biggest single reform that we could introduce and which would meet some of the uneasiness in the mind of the hon. Member for Lowestoft would be to implement the Crowther Report and raise the school-leaving age to 16.

Whatever the excellencies of the public schools, they are the result of the work of great headmasters and of great teachers working in conditions much more favourable than those under which their fellow professionals work in the great State system. They are also the result of the keen interest shown by parents in the education of their children and the keen backing which old boys give to the public schools.

I believe that there is no a priori reason why State schools, given parity of conditions and backed by the same parental enthusiasm, could not produce similar qualities and results. I see that parental enthusiasm growing year by year right through the community. Old boys' associations gathering round their old State schools—I think of my own in Southampton—have a richness and quality which matches those of Old Harrovians and Old Etonians, even if their wealth and social standing are lower.

The simple fact is that every child owes everything to nature and to nurture. As for nature, the colonel's lady and Judy O'Grady are sisters under the skin. As for nurture, the public schools could equally achieve what they do if all their children were drawn from all of Britain and not just a part of Britain.

If the public schools are to educate our most talented children—which is one way of interpreting their function—then at any moment those children are to be found not in one social group, but scattered through the community, and we ought to be seeking them out and sending them to public schools. If, as they often boast, their destiny is to train the next generation of leaders in thought, art, administration, discovery, the social sciences and social services, then those potential leaders are to be found in every social group and not merely in the upper and middle classes.

The poet Gray was right when he talked of the mute inglorious Milton…Hands, that the rod of empire might have sway'd…Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire who rested unknown in a village churchyard simply because he was not born into a family which could have sent him to Harrow. Potential leaders and real leaders will emerge in all walks of life, despite the caste system of education, for it is hard, even for the present society, to keep a good man down. But the system is a hindrance or a source of inefficiency.

If the virtue of the public school is to breed loyalty and a spirit of service and devotion to duty and an honouring of tradition, that loyalty ought to be a wide loyalty to a free and just society. That service ought to be a service not to one class, but to the whole community. That tradition is the common heritage of culture and wisdom and freedom of this great British community of ours. It is the birthright of all our children and not just of those whose parents can buy them out of the State system of education, either from noble motives, or merely to put them two steps up the ladder above their equals.

I believe that the system of education which segregates British children at birth into a favoured million versus the rest is morally indefensible and socially undesirable. It is to be found nowhere outside Britain to the extent that it exists in this country. When I was in America I had continually to explain that the public school was not a public school, but an exclusively private school.

I believe that even if politics does nothing deliberately to break down the caste system, it will of necessity wither away. Already many wise parents have stopped wasting their money on inferior private schools and unqualified teachers and are sending their children to the State primary schools. As the Minister completes his great building programme of State schools, and as we achieve what we hope to achieve with an adequate supply of fully qualified teachers, the drift away from the private primary schools will mount in momentum.

But it will take too long merely to wait for the same thing to happen in secondary education. What a wonderful thing it would be if the young Prince now finishing at prep school were to go to a State secondary modern school, or grammar school, or comprehensive school, as Scandinavian princes do. I believe, this time with the old Etonian who wrote in last night's Evening Standard, that this would be good for the young student and good for Britain.

The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Pott) interrupted the hon. Member for Lowestoft to call attention, as I am sure he will do again if he catches the eye of the Chair, to an experiment which we have been carrying out in Hampshire. This week my education committee considered a report on thirteen Winchester boys. Some years ago we decided to send some boys to Winchester. They were selected according to merit, ignoring their social origins. Of the thirteen, eleven have proceeded to university, and all thirteen are now pursuing careers of distinction.

I am sure that this is not the solution, even though the guinea-pigs proved that ordinary families can produce good Wykehamists. I believe that, if we are to get by in the difficult years ahead, we must find our best youngsters and give them the best we can in education, and the best youngsters are to be found everywhere in the community. But at present we work on a different system. What is rightly or wrongly regarded as the best education, is, with a few striking exceptions like Christ's Hospital and Manchester Grammar School, confined to children drawn almost exclusively from those whose parents can afford to pay £300 to £400 a year at a prep school, followed by £400 to £500 a year at a public school. We reward children for having chosen the right parents, not only in childhood but throughout their careers.

Education is for the child. Any differences in a child's education should be differences due to the child itself and not to the accident of birth or social origin. I welcome any narrowing of the gap between the public and the private sector; any bridging of the gap; any links between the two; as I welcome anything which breaks down this artificial caste system which exists between the nation's children.

Integration can proceed politically, but there is no need to wait for that. There is no reason why the playing fields of Eton, on which a famous battle was won, should not occasionally be open to boys of the secondary schools who live round about and whose ancesters also helped at Waterloo. There is no reason why headmasters of all types of schools should not mix, instead of preserving the caste system even among the professionls of education.

Children are not born snobs. Snobbery has to be taught. Britain is one nation, not two. Some day our educational system will catch up with the spirit of the age, and, just as we are breaking down the artificial barriers which the 11-plus tends to create, I think that we shall remove the utterly indefensible barriers which our educational system erects between those inside and those outside the pale of public school education. I welcome the debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Lowestoft on the way in which he introduced it.

12.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Bourne-Arton Mr Anthony Bourne-Arton , Darlington

I find it a little daunting to have the privilege of following the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) in what I hope I may say, without presumption, was a great speech. I would not wish to join issue with him on any of his major contentions.

It seems to me that in moving this Motion the contention of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) rested on two things. First, that a closer integration would be good for the public schools, and with that I wholeheartedly agree. Secondly—and here I think that there is common ground between my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Itchen—that it would be desirable in the public interest.

If closer integration is really in the interests of the public schools, and if public schools hold that view, they must go rather farther than they have done so far to bring it about. If the public schools want to broaden their base of entry, is it really asking too much that they should come into line with the great majority of the secondary schools and have entry at 11, as, indeed, they did at one time? Is it asking too much that they should abandon Latin as a compulsory subject on entry? Until these things happen, I have some doubt about how sincerely the public schools mean business on this matter.

I am a little more doubtful whether closer integration is in the interests of the country and the general run of school children. It seems to me that any method of selection, if it is to command public respect and confidence, will inevitably have to be one of competitive examination. Even after getting over various hurdles, such as a child being acceptable to the school concerned, the parents wishing for that child to have a boarding school education, and various people having said that the child is one who would benefit from being at a boarding school, I cannot believe that any system acknowledged to be fair and capable of commanding public confidence could be devised except that of competitive examination. I think that it would follow that the public schools would tend to become very much more an intellectual aristocracy than they are at present, and I have grave doubts whether that would be desirable.

The main differences between the public schools and the ordinary maintained secondary schools are not only that the former have twice as many teachers per child, and pay them better and that they cost twice as much for like with like—the maintained boarding school cost is about £200 per child per year and the public school cost is about £400—but they are boarding schools.

Do not let us imagine that most parents want their children to go to boarding schools. The Education Act, 1944, permits local authorities to provide boarding school education for those children who, in their opinion, should have it. Indeed, it requires them to provide boarding school education for certain children who could not otherwise get to schools because the schools are inaccessible from their homes, and for such children free boarding school education must be provided regardless of the parents' means.

For some years I served on the North Riding of Yorkshire County Council. It was one of the authorities which provided boarding school education for a limited number of pupils. The limit was those children who had passed the 11-plus examination. Our county standard was one-in-six for grammar schools, and the parents of every child who passed that examination received a circular saying that boarding school education was available if they chose to apply for it. Only about 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. of the parents of children who had been selected for grammar school education so applied. For eight years it was one of my duties to interview these parents and their children. Of the 6 per cent. or so who applied, about 4 per cent., that is to say, two-thirds of those who applied, received boarding school education in one of our own boarding schools, or in the boarding houses of the maintained secondary schools of our neighbours, or in neighbouring direct grant schools.

I can only say that during those eight years in that county—a medium-sized county—no child that we discovered to have a marked and definite need for boarding school education, for the reasons quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft—parents serving abroad in the Armed Forces, in the Colonial Service or in the mission field, orphans, and those with unusual and distressing home circumstances—was ignored. But this provision, which the Act encourages local authorities to make, is confined to children who have passed the 11-plus examination, because of circumstances.

There are no maintained boarding schools that I know of which are other than grammar schools, and many of those are old foundations which have always had boarders. It seems that we, who bear responsibility, indirect though it may be, for the maintained schools of England and the public system of education, might well turn our attention to the four-fifths of the school population among which there must be an equal proportion of need for boarding education but for which there is at present no provision.

My eight years' experience with that one authority did not provide me with the means of knowing what the total requirement was, but I know what it was in respect of the sample we took, and I cannot believe that a similar proportion of the ordinary children who are not selected for grammar school education do not have the same need for boarding. If any public money is to be spent in this sector, we should turn our attention, first, to providing boarding education for secondary modern pupils.

We all long for a more rapid advancement in education even than we are seeing at the moment and each of us could probably choose a field in which he would first like to see a more rapid advance. We could all allot our own priorities. But the time has come to establish secondary modern boarding schools, or boarding houses at one or more secondary modern schools, in the area of each authority. Only when that has happened should we turn our attention to providing even more lavish boarding education for the intelligent pupil.

12.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on having chosen this subject. I confess to a slight feeling of shame on behalf of my party at the fact that our benches are so nearly empty. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), I regard this as a subject of extreme importance to the country, first, because the present system is a denial, of a most flagrant character, of equality of opportunity. Despite what has been said, I do not doubt that the average public school is educationally superior to the average maintained school. It is certainly true that some famous direct-grant schools—in Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol—are superior to most public schools; and we can find some maintained grammar schools—at Watford, Maidstone and elsewhere—which are at least the equals of many public schools; but I have no doubt that, educationally, the average public school is superior to the average maintained grammar school in certain important respects.

A major reason for this, as my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen said, is the staggering difference in the staffing ratio, but that is not the only reason. Public schools also have a better academic quality among sixth form teachers. They have better playing fields, better laboratories and better facilities for science—and it may be that the gap in terms of science facilities is growing, as a result of the large subventions from industry to the public schools. On the average the public schools are educationally superior; they simply teach the children better.

Added to that there is the fact that today—although this is less so than it was thirty or fifty years ago—employers of certain types in certain occupations undoubtedly favour the public school product, occasionally for reasons of old school loyalty but sometimes for reasons of accent, and even because they believe that they can be sure of a more reliable character and a greater dependability among public school boys. It is irrelevant whether this is true or not; the belief exists. If we take two children of roughly equal intellectual ability, one from a public school and one from the State system of education, the public school boy has a definite advantage in terms of the job he is likely to get. For all those reasons there is still a great advantage in going to a public school, both educationally and in terms of job prospects.

I do not, however, agree with the hon. Member for Lowestoft—whose view was shared to some extent by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen—that public schools today provide the type of leadership and education which is right and apt for our needs. I take almost the opposite view. I believe that the characteristics of the public school—the boarding, the emphasis on games and the hierarchical discipline—were perfectly suited to the needs of the country fifty years ago, and even more so one hundred years ago, when we had a growing Empire, but I have the gravest doubts whether they are suited to this country in the 1960s. The emphasis on character and manners rather than brains; on the all-rounder and the amateur rather than the professional: on the classics rather than science; on the insular rather than the international, and on the orthodox and traditional rather than the new, are precisely wrong from the point of view of our national needs in the 1960s.

The fact that we have a ruling class so disproportionately drawn from the public schools, with these emphases, is one reason why we are now falling behind other countries in the achievement of what are generally agreed to be national goals, such as economic growth, social welfare and the rest.

By far the most dangerous emphasis is the much-admired emphasis on character as opposed to brains. I say this not because I wish to run down character but because I want, as it were, to run up brains. A country where the worst insult a well-known noble Lord can find to fling at the Secretary of State for the Colonies is that he is "too clever by half" is not a good prospect for the world in the 1960s. This general anti-intellectualism produced by the public schools is a dangerous feature of our national life.

However, despite my disagreement on the question of leadership and character, I am sure that, judged simply from a narrow educational standpoint, the average public school is superior. It simply teaches boys better, and that is that. That being so, it is a painful denial of equal opportunity and access to a superior education that the chance of enjoying a public school education is still out of the reach of 97 per cent. of the population. It is all very well to talk about two aided boys at Winchester, two boys at Eton and the rest but taking the bulk of our youngsters, a boy can get into a public school only if his parents are wealthy.

On that subject, I should like to make a slight digression. One of the extraordinary features of the present situation is the fact that the Ministry of Education does not know how many boys at public schools are being paid for by local authorities. My impression is that there are many things about education which the Ministry does not know. It is extraordinary that when I wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary some time ago asking how many pupils who went to boarding schools were being paid for by local authority grants, the answer I received contained the following sentence: As we do not get any returns from local education authorities giving details of the number of pupils whose parents are assisted with boarding school fees I am afraid I cannot answer your inquiry. I really would appeal to him to do something to expand his research department so that when we discuss this question we may have the facts before us.

As we all know, the number of aided people going to public schools is very small. So the first case against the present system is simply that it denies access to this often superior education to everyone except those born with relatively wealthy parents. The second reason why they are important—and here I strongly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen—is that public schools exercise, whatever anyone says, a deeply divisive influence on our whole system of social relations.

Britain, the only country in the world with this stratum of privileged education so different from the State system, the only country with such a private system of education, is also by common agreement by far the most class conscious, snobbish and stratified country in the world. One simply cannot find this system anywhere else. Of course, in the United States, especially in New England, we find Groton and a few other schools, aping the British public school, but nobody attaches any national significance to that system and it does not extend throughout the country.

Again, in Germany, one finds the occasional school like Salem trying to ape the British public school. But there is no public school system in the country as a whole. It is only in this country that we have this privileged nation-wide system to which all children of middle and upper-class parents automatically go and from which almost all other children are automatically excluded. I am sure that it is no accident that we, the only country with such a system, are also so staggeringly class conscious and snobbish.

These, in my view, are the two major reasons for thinking that something must be done, on grounds of democracy and social justice, about the public schools. The question is what. As my hon. Friend will remember better than I, because I was not here at the time, in the great flush of optimism after 1945 a lot of people assumed that the middle classes would get poorer and poorer, the State system would get better and better, and the public schools would wither away. That was never a plausible view, even in 1945, but today it is in the realm of total fantasy.

Whatever the Conservatives may or may not have done in the past ten years, they have certainly made the middle classes a great deal better off. Even if they were unable to send their wretched children to public schools before the last Budget they are much more able now, with the considerable Surtax concessions which have been given them, to do so. The whole weight of the Government's taxation policy in the last ten years has been to relieve the middle classes of a good deal of taxation so that they are much better off than they were.

Moreover, it appears to be the case that as people get better off they are more willing—and rightly willing—to spend a higher proportion of their income on education. And in addition, although I regret to say that the Ministry has no accurate information on the subject, it is clear that a very high proportion of the fees of public schools are not paid by the parents but by the Exchequer. I am not referring simply to the obvious fact of tax-free seven-year covenants. There are many other ways in which the Exchequer, in the last analysis, is paying for school fees in the private sector of education. Mr. Vaizey of the London University Institute of Education has made a guess that something like one-third of the total fees in private schools are effectively being paid by the Exchequer. In any event, even if that were not the case, given middle-class incomes today and the attitude—and rightly so—of middle-class parents to education, it is perfectly clear that there is plenty of money about for public schools and that they will continue to send their children to them.

I also have slightly graver doubts than has my hon. Friend as to whether the gap in standards between the private and the State school is closing rapidly. I believe that it has been closing recently. One must concede to the Government that in the last few years educational expenditure has been on a rapidly rising scale. I am delighted that that should have been so. Obviously, a lot of the new schools being built are most impressive. More people are staying on at school every year, so that in the last few years I think that there has been a tendency for the gap to close. But whether we can rely on it continuing to do so, I feel very uncertain indeed.

We are going to have a new bulge in the schools in the 1960s as a result of the rather unexpected recent increase in the birth rate. My view is that we cannot rely on educational expenditure in this country going up as much as we should all like it to do so long as it relies so much on a tax, namely, local rates, which does not automatically rise with the national income. This seems to me a central problem. Unlike Income Tax and other kinds of taxes, the yield of local rates does not go up almost automatically every year. This is beginning to put local authorities in a very serious position. Some quite progressive local authorities are having to cut down on their education expenditure for this reason.

I therefore have some doubts as to whether, by simply letting things go, the gap between the public schools and the State secondary schools is really going to close. But, even if it were, it is pretty clear that the public schools are not going to wither away and that middle-class parents are determined to send their children to them. Therefore, we have to tackle the problem of State-subsidised entry and this is why the hon. Gentleman raised the subject today. It clearly is, as the hon. Gentleman conceded, and as everyone has said, necessary to find the right method of entry once one accepts the principle that we are going to have some entries into the public school being paid for by the State.

I think that all that one can do is to lay down certain principles and then argue out the details. My first principle—and here I disagree entirely with the hon. Gentleman—is that I should be utterly opposed to the idea that some very small proportion of places, a proportion such as 10 per cent., should be thrown open to free entry. I regard the proposal of the Headmaster of Eton along these lines as quite preposterous; such an arrangement is far removed from the principle to which he signed his name when he was on the Fleming Committee, which recommended a much higher proportion than 10 per cent.

I feel very strongly that this proportion of 10 per cent. is fundamentally wrong. I am not impugning the hon. Gentleman's personal motives, but I think that objectively considered it is a piece of hypocrisy. There is a slightly dishonest air about it. One is giving the impression that one is democratising the public schools but in fact it would not change their basic character at all. We must choose, I think, between something radical or letting the thing go altogether. I am very much in favour of doing something radical. As to the principle of selection—and here I agree very much, if I understood his argument aright, with the last hon. Member who spoke from the benches opposite—that principle must not be by intellectual ability or the ability to pass an examination. I am utterly against any analogy to the 11-plus as a method of choosing the State-subsidised entry to public schools.

Photo of Mr Anthony Bourne-Arton Mr Anthony Bourne-Arton , Darlington

The point that I was making was that I felt that that would be inevitable. I deplored it, but I thought that it was the only acceptable method.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

Then I will still fight against it to my last drop of blood. First of all, think it unfair on the State system—and of course the grammar school system in particular—for it to have its best pupils creamed off. Secondly, we should not get socially mixed public schools. We should still get largely middle-class public schools and very largely the children of the same parents would get there because of the environmental and hereditary advantages and the rest of it. The only difference would be that the State would be paying, which is to some extent what happened when grammar schools were first thrown open to free entry.

I say, as a matter of principle, that I am utterly against a system of elite secondary education based on intellectual ability. I am completely against being governed by old Etonians and old Wykehamists because they are the most intellectual people in the country. I should prefer to be governed by hereditary old Wykehamists and old Etonians rather than those chosen for their brains. At least the hereditary ones would be slightly less efficient and one does not want a Government of 100 per cent. efficiency. On those grounds of principle I am opposed to the idea of selection solely on the basis of I.Q. and the ability to pass competitive examinations. I want the public schools to be filled by a mixture and not by just the richest or just the cleverest children. That, in my opinion, must be one of the cardinal principles in selecting, and the selection should not be based on the grounds of ability to pass examinations.

I also agree with other hon. Members in that I am certain that the scheme must be run centrally by the Ministry and not by local authorities. We should get far too much of a diversity of systems were the scheme run by local authorities.

I come down for the scheme—I do not feel committed to every detail—recently put forward by Mr. Vaizey. The object of the scheme is to maintain the character of individual public schools and at the same time to get a complete mix socially and intellectually. Eton would continue to provide Conservative Cabinet Ministers. Winchester would provide the Labour Front Bench, and the other schools would preserve their individual character. But the object would be to get a complete social mix.

The method of selection would be roughly in this fashion. Suppose that in any one year, say, 800,000 people were in the relevant age group. Suppose there are 20,000 places in public schools which we are interested in filling. It means that every secondary school would be entitled from every forty pupils to select one who would go into the pool for public schools. How would that selection be made? If we are not to select on a sort of 11–13-plus basis, which I am sure would be wrong, I agree that we have to select on much vaguer grounds, from people who, for one reason or another are apt for boarding school education. This would take place after discussion with headmasters and parents, and those apt for boarding school education would be selected in the way described in the Fleming Report. I do not think that, taking the whole of the population, there would be any difficulty in finding that number of people. The hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) was troubled about that. I agree that if we were selecting solely from the grammar school population, we should have difficulty in filling the places. But, in selecting from the entire school population, there would be no difficulty in finding that number of parents who wanted a boarding school education for their children. In this way we should achieve a complete social and intellectual mix. Every secondary modern school in the country, every secondary technical school, every bilateral school and comprehensive school and every private preparatory school would have its quota to contribute to the pool, and we should be able to guarantee that, by and large, there would be a complete mixture of people from all sections.

The details of this scheme, and any other scheme, would be subject to a great deal of debate and argument, and some difficulties would arise whichever scheme might be selected. For one thing there is the cost, but I do not think that the total figures would be so great, simply because so much of the cost of public school places is already borne by the Exchequer in terms of tax remissions of one kind or another. There would be complaints by parents who maintained that the child next door is having hundreds of pounds spent on it, while their own child attending the secondary modern school is having much less spent on it. That is a difficulty which must be faced. There are a great number of other difficulties which could be introduced as arguments against the principle, but the important thing at the moment is to accept the principle.

The tide of public opinion appears to be flowing in this direction. I think that the important thing is for the Minister to accept one of two principles. Either the limited principle of, say, 10 per cent. free entry, or—as I should like—the very radical principle of a minimum of 75 per cent. free entry. At any rate, the right hon. Gentleman should accept one or the other, and then it would be a question of getting down—in company with interested people, including the public school headmasters—to an extremely detailed discussion about how the scheme should operate. In the present tide of public opinion one of those principles should be accepted and then I think that the Minister would find that things were moving very rapidly.

12.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Humphrey Berkeley Mr Humphrey Berkeley , Lancaster

Despite the moderation of the remarks of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), I disagree with much of what they said. It seems to me that there has been revealed a deep gulf of philosophic approach between the two parties on this matter.

I, and most of my hon. Friends, take as our standpoint the conviction that every parent has an absolute inviolable right to spend money on the education of his child, if he so wishes. Not only that, but also we believe that freedom of education—which involves a system of independent education running parallel with the State system—is absolutely inseparable from freedom of thought. Most of us feel that it would be a very sad thing for this country if, together with pornographic literature and narcotics, education were included among those things on which a freeborn Englishman is forbidden to spend his money.

One gains the impression, particularly after the speeches which have been made, that hon. Members opposite consider it to be at least slightly immoral for an educational advantage to be purchasable as the result of one man having more money than another. One cannot help feeling that hon. Members opposite may regard it as admirable for people to spend money on television sets, or perhaps on Jaguar cars, but that, somehow, there is something immoral about trying to buy a better education for one's children. It is this gulf which, I think, makes it difficult for us to reach agreement on both sides of the House when we are discussing a matter of this kind.

There is one observation I wish to make about some of the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Grimsby. He categorised a number of failings in its educational structure which he believes the public school has at present. I honestly believe that he is somewhat out of touch. I do not know how old he is; I expect that he is about my age, perhaps slightly older. Probably he was thinking of what the position was when we were at school, about twenty years ago. I think that the kind of failings he described would most vividly apply to that period.

Two or three years ago I produced a pamphlet on the public schools. It was a very modest contribution, but it entailed a great deal of research. I visited 40 or 50 public schools over a period of a few months. I am bound to say I do not believe that any of these failings to which the hon. Member referred any longer apply, at least in the majority of public schools which I visited.

It seems that at present two basic problems are facing the public schools, and, to some extent, facing us. There is, first, a financial problem and, secondly, a social problem. The financial problem is perfectly simple. It is whether, in future, parents are to have enough money to meet the fees which will be demanded to send their children to public schools. The hon. Member for Grimsby has quite fairly referred to the fact that parents may find it somewhat easier to do this in future than they did in the years immediately after the war. That is not something of which I, as a Conservative, feel any need to be ashamed, but the fact remains that public schools are bulging. They have immensely long waiting lists and, so far as one can see, their economic future is set fair.

What would happen if, after the next General Election, we had the misfortune to have the party opposite in power is a very different matter, but, so far as one can reasonably foresee, their economic future looks bright. Even so, one must remember that all this talk about waiting lists and parents putting their children's names down for schools is a little exaggerated. Incidentally, a friend of mine put his daughter's name down for Eton two days before she was born. Most of us have friends of an age to have children who will be going to public schools. We know that frequently they put down their names for two or three schools, so in some senses the waiting lists are misleading. Never the less, the economic future for the schools is bright.

There is, secondly, a social problem, and this is what we have been discussing up to now. It is whether it is desirable that entry to public schools should be exclusively determined by the means, of the parents. The hon. Member for Grimsby propounded a thesis, with which I do not wholly agree, that generally, despite the limitations he sees in public school education, the average public school is better than the average maintained grammar school. I have always felt that one of the real defects in the Fleming Report was that, for no doubt different reasons, it made precisely the same assumption. I should have thought that there are probably not more than 20, and there may not be that number, of public schools which are demonstrably better than the best maintained grammar school.

The director of education of a most enlightened county authority recently told me that his authority had experimented with the possibility of sending children, on a sort of Fleming basis, to public schools. There are three well-known public schools within the authority's area, schools which would be known by name to anyone in this House. The director and his committee regarded all those three schools as educationally inferior to the best grammar school in the county. The result is that they send a very small number of children to public schools, but not to any of the three in the county because they reckon that their grammar school is a better school than those.

This, I think, is one of the faults in the original Fleming proposal. I remember very clearly the proposals coming out towards the end of the war. I was at school at that time and I remember that in our sixth form at my public school we were given the task of going through, and giving our views to our instructors about the merits of, the Report. Therefore, it remains very clearly in my memory.

As the hon. Member for Grimsby said the Report came out at a time when the whole future of public schools was thought to be in very grave jeopardy. It seems that the basic faults in the Report were, first, that instead of selecting 20, or at the most 30, public schools which were really demonstrably superior to maintained grammar schools, it sought to apply the scheme to every single school represented in the Headmasters' Conference. They number at present more than 200 and in those days I think that the number was 140 or 150.

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on the matter of selection. He read certain criteria which the Fleming Committee laid down and one criterion was that there should not be a competitive examination. I believe that to have been a profound mistake. If there is not a competitive examination it is extremely difficult to say precisely on what grounds such free places should be awarded. It is true that one can look at the primary school record and the secondary school record. No doubt if the Fleming scheme had been adopted in toto local authorities would have looked extensively into the home background of the child and used the public school entry as a means of finding suitable accommodation for children from broken homes.

If we are to ask the State to spend a vast sum of money, five times the amount that would be spent on a State maintained grammar school, there must be a better reason than the fact that one's parents engaged in hitting each other over the head with frying pans, that they cannot get on with each other, or that the child is maladjusted. Therefore, I have always felt that a competitive examination on a high level must be one of the criteria for selection.

The other reason why the scheme failed—and I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft was absolutely right in this—was that the administration of the scheme was to be left to local authorities. I am very glad to have learned from the hon. Member for Itchen of the enterprise of Hampshire County Council in its experiment with entry to Winchester. There are certain other county authorities which are also similarly enlightened. The fact remains that it is extremely difficult to convince a local authority of any need to spend five times the amount on one child, and include with it boarding education, as compared with another, unless it is part of some sort of overriding national policy. We may find one authority which is enlightened in this respect, but one is as likely to find ten which are not enlightened. Therefore, it is impossible for the scheme to work on a satisfactory national pattern.

Before sitting down, I wish to make a few suggestions to the Minister about the future. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft somewhat over-simplified the problem and tended to fall into the same error into which the Fleming Committee fell. He made no attempt to discriminate between one type of independent public school and another. Let me draw an analogy. In this country, we have a very large and in some respects slightly untidy system of Church education which goes along side by side with the ordinary State schools. To bring them into a more satisfactory relationship with the State system it was found that not one but three types of status were necessary. As we all know, there are now controlled schools, aided schools and special agreement schools. Those are all in the sphere of religious education and, for a variety of reasons, a particular status has more appeal to one school than to another.

I believe that there are three categories of independent schools which ought to be considered when we are talking in terms of trying to bring the State system and the private system closer together. First, of course, there are the direct grant schools which are anyway closely associated with the mainstream of secondary education. Their fees have to be approved by the local authority, the local authority has to be represented on the board of governors and the schools have to take a specified proportion of pupils—25 per cent., which can be raised to 50 per cent. if the local authority requires it. That is a satisfactory form of status for a particular type of school. As far as I know, direct grant schools have accepted that status and find it perfectly workable and are generally on friendly terms with their own local authorities.

Secondly, there may be independent schools which, through principle or sheer eccentricity, wish to have no connection whatsoever with the State system. That is a perfectly legitimate wish and must be respected.

There is a third type of school, the type which would find a relationship between the State system and its own independence somewhat jeopardised if it were to accept direct grant status. It is no secret that, for example, Eton is a school whose headmaster has many times said that the school would like to be more closely associated with the national system and, if it could get them, would accept a number of boys from the national system, but would not accept direct grant status. Equally, it does not want to opt out of its obligations altogether. That is the type of school to which something like the original Fleming proposals should be applied.

I doubt whether there are more than 20 or 30 schools which would fall within that category. There may be 50 or 60 or 100 which would want to be in that category, but it would be up to the Ministry and the local education authorities to satisfy themselves that at those schools the children would get an education demonstrably superior to that which those authorities themselves could offer. After all, that would be the justification for sending the children to those schools in the first place.

The hon. Member for Grimsby was totally unrealistic in talking in terms of a radical alteration, and in mentioning the figure of 75 per cent. entry. Personally, I would have no objection if the governing body of Eton College said that in future it proposed to recruit 75 per cent. of its pupils from the State system. But that is a decision which must be left to the school concerned and is not something which can be imposed on the school by a local education authority, or by the Ministry itself. Just as the Ministry and the local authority must be free to decide whether a school is the type to which they want to send children, so the school must be free to decide how many children and what type of children it will take.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft that this is a matter to be administered centrally. That is the only way in which local authorities will be persuaded to take up places. But, there is no reason why there should not be some sort of graduated contribution for boarding fees. My hon. Friend referred to Ottershaw and Woolverstone, both of which schools take children from different types of home and have graduated contributions for boarding fees.

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) said that if the public schools were really interested in a scheme of this kind they would lower their entry age from 13 to 11-plus. I do not think that he could have considered the difficulties of doing that. There is already a tremendous demand for public school places. If the public school educational period were to be extended by an extra two years, the number of public school places would be reduced by between 20 and 25 per cent. It would mean this cut, or the public schools launching out into colossal building expenditure in order to bring the number of places up to the present level. I do not think that this building programme would be possible.

Nor do I think it impossible for children of 11-plus—if that is thought to be the right age at which to select them for this experiment—to go to preparatory schools. But it would, in my view, be better to keep the public school age of entry at 13. I am not unduly worried and, on the whole, grammar school headmasters are not worried, about the possibility of a few children leaving a grammar school at the age of 13.

I have worked out some figures which the Ministry's research department will not, I hope, be able to prove wrong, although it may not necessarily agree with them. Supposing that 30 public schools were to accept a 25 per cent. entry from the State system at the age of 13, that would mean a full entry of about 900 boys a year. There are approximately 2,000 maintained grammar schools in this country and if every child in this scheme came from a grammar school that would mean one grammar school losing one boy every other year. That could not be called creaming in a very serious sense.

I hope that the Minister of Education, whom we all know to have educational problems deeply at heart, and who has already gained for himself a most distinguished name during his two periods at the Ministry, will think seriously about what has been said today. Successive Conservative Ministers of Education have made polite noises when they have attended dinners of the Headmasters' Conference, but absolutely nothing has happened afterwards.

There are profound social implications in the subject which we are discussing. The schools themselves are extremely anxious to take part in a scheme, and I do not know of any headmasters who would refuse to do so. If they are willing to do so at a time when their economic future looks rosier than it has ever looked, is that not proof that they believe that there are educational and social advantages in the kind of scheme which I have suggested?

The one thing which we on this side of the House are not suggesting is that the State shall somehow subsidise the second-rate independent school. I do not myself believe that the second-rate independent schools would be eligible for the kind of scheme that we are discussing, and none of us would in any way want to allow our determination to improve the State-maintained system to be undermined in this way. Indeed, I would not mind seeing a few of the less good independent schools go by the board as a result of State competition. I think that State competition is the best thing that the public schools could have, but let us accept—and I ask the Minister to accept this—that there are social and educational arguments in this matter which are quite overwhelming.

We on this side of the House defend, respect and admire the wishes of a parent to improve out of his own resources the opportunities for his child, but let us also see, because it can be done, that some of those opportunities, which are considerable in our really great schools, can, at the same time, be made available to children of merit whose parents have not, perhaps, had the advantages which some of our parents have had.

12.51 p.m.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

I should like to refer, first, to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley). He said that he had detected a great gulf in philosophical approach not only between the two parties in this House, but between himself and the two hon. Members who had spoken previously from this side, and I wondered what he was going to say in support of that.

The hon. Gentlemen went on to assert the doctrine—which needs to be energetically defended—of the absolute right of parents to spend money on their children's education. I do not know that, put like that, anybody wants to deny it, but, at all levels, a little advice is sometimes advisable. I have known people who have got into trouble over the hire purchase of encyclopaedias which they were induced to buy at the door on the ground that they would advance the education of a child playing in the house at that time. Whatever makes the hon. Gentleman think that the best things in education are purchasable at all? I will take that point a little further in a moment.

The hon. Gentleman then accused us of thinking that it was immoral that educational advantages could be purchased. What I suppose one would regard as immoral would be a system by which the entry to certain professions or careers was exclusively reserved to people who had paid for it. Surely it is possible to regard certain devices of that kind as immoral without necessarily wishing to attack, or, in fact, attacking, the principles we have been talking about. There are so many things which it is not immoral, but just plain silly, to try to buy—something which can be got better in another direction and that is my point.

The opening speakers in this debate have said so many things which those of us who are speaking later would have liked to have said in tribute to the general principles of education as worked out in the public schools, that there is no need to repeat them now. If we make these things purchasable, we destroy the very thing that we are trying to uphold. If we narrow the range of entry we create the conditions of narrow-mindedness and snobbery which it is certainly not the desire or intention of those who operate the public schools system to bring about. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) talked diffidently about 10 per cent., and got into trouble about that, while my hon. Friends who have spoken wanted either 75 per cent. or the whole, eventually, to obtain all the educational advantages which are manifested in the best features of the public schools system. The hon. Member for Lowestoft might have made provision in it for two-way traffic.

In my early years, I attended a primary school, and I was a little stung by the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), Who said that one could not always be proud of one's school tie if the school was an insanitary country school. I cannot even remember whether there was an insanitary place there or not. I remember the school, and I have seen it since, and it is incredibly small, consisting of one room divided by a partition. Looking back over a long life, I would not have missed for anything that brief time I spent in that school, because I was able to learn there much that cannot be bought.

There are many people who are giving anxious thought to the problem of where they are to place their children at school and who want at some period, and preferably early, every child to spend some time in a school where he will find in the next seats the representatives of every section of that little community. That is a sense of belonging which never leaves them.

In this so-called insanitary country school, certain values were taught which are capable of being learned at the earliest ages in the countryside, namely, not to leave gates open. In such places, children learn that the damage done to the growing of food cannot be put right for a whole year, and that damage done in any way has to be put right by human labour. Some of these things cannot be taught in the schools in the great cities, however well run and managed they may be. Many people would be glad to know how to select a small country school, whether insanitary or otherwise, in which a child can learn some of these simple lessons over a brief period.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Lancaster made a brief reference to the desirability of dividing up the public schools a little. I missed the first few moments of his opening speech, but I detected a tendency later, no doubt for reasons of brevity, to refer to "these schools", and it is quite wrong to suppose either that the number is inevitably fixed or that they are all exactly alike.

One possibility to be considered is how the number can be increased and the status of some of them encouraged to be increased beyond the normal dynamic processes of progress under their own headmasters or staff at certain periods, or correspondingly falling off, which no doubt happens in other schools. Of course, the image of Eton or the other great schools that have been mentioned today tends to dominate this debate, but I do not think that it dominates the public school structure as a whole.

The public school with which I have been associated as pupil and teacher is one of the younger ones which grew out of another status to find a rôle of its own. It went through a very dynamic and energetic period of development under good leadership, and it had certain characteristics. I do not want to start anything, and do not want to encourage everybody to describe the merits of their own schools.

The question arises: which are the common characteristics, beyond those already so ably set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen, which we desire to preserve? One of the most attractive things about both the older public schools and some of the nineteenth century ones is a training for life in a changing world. Some of them do not have that characteristic, and there are public schools which seem to train for a rather high level but a rather narrow administrative function in a world which is not supposed to be changing at all. There are others which still seek to carve out a niche for themselves, as they might have done in the Middle Ages, but still aware of the fact that the world is changing rapidly. That is the first essential.

That is the characteristic of the schools which developed in the nineteenth century which we should surely most like to see continued, as we are living in a changing world and a world which is changing much faster than we are or are likely to in the immediate future. That being so, we must be very careful to preserve the very factors in our public school education whch have produced that result.

I cannot help feeling, for instance, that the suggestion to throw away Latin just to make a convenient arrangement with another type of school should not be pursued, unless we know exactly what we are doing. The old-fashioned, first-class classical education at the oldest universities has no equal, except the old-fashioned craft apprenticeships. We on this side often complain that there are not enough of the latter available in the country at present. The two processes of education have one tremendous advantage. They cut people down to size. They induce a due sense of humiliation that one cannot know it all. They also enable one to judge a new situation in terms of old principles. It is that kind of abstract training that we want to see preserved in whatever new shapes our educational system takes.

The second characteristic which I passionately want to see preserved and extended is the characteristic which only the boarding schools have an opportunity to develop; namely, that the damage done to a child in the classroom can be put right out of school. I was very glad indeed to hear one hon. Gentleman say that he thought that 25 per cent. of the pupils at public school were at about the level of the A stream in a secondary modern school. I have always hoped that the secondary modern school will be able to develop the happy opportunity which the public school has to restore a pupil's morale after it has come unstuck in the face of an anti-social mathematician or a pedantic neurotic in the classroom. The pupil can go out and do something else and not be destroyed.

The fact that a boy who is a little out of step has the inestimable privilege of getting up ten minutes earlier to stoke the boiler in his earliest years at school gives him a status and respect for hard work. One cannot see that happening in a town grammar school. This is one of the weaknesses which we on this side have to face. We have fought for so long, and rightly fought, to prevent little children being tired out by delivering newspapers.

We must now face the fact that, as we put up the school-leaving age and extend periods of training, we cannot go on deferring the age at which a child will learn the merits of honest, hard, creative work which, by his own instincts, he wants to do. A sensible housemaster can lift a boy up in status by giving him the inestimable privilege of doing just that. Provided that the parent writes a large enough cheque, he is more than delighted if his son has the privilege of cleaning out the pigs owned by his school's young farmers' club. We want as much of that as we can have for the good of the nation as a whole.

We are supposed to be discussing precise measures of making these qualities available to a broader range of the community. Not having heard all the debate, I feel that I am even more confused now than I was when I came in. Whatever measure one canvasses seems also to threaten the essential character of the schools whose system we are admiring. We cannot get round it. It has been said in the debate that it should be possible for every child who needs a boarding school education to get it. That sounds all right, but what the child needs—this is why he is placed at a boarding school—is a normal, stable, balanced life, with normal, average, stupid, healthy people. If the schools are filled in the way suggested, it will no longer be an average, balanced, normal life. The attraction of the system is that most of the people in it are normal. I did not like the blasé distaste with which the be hon. Member for Lancaster spoke of people who hit each other over the heads with frying pans. Domestic problems and tensions are common enough in all sections of society.

Photo of Mr Humphrey Berkeley Mr Humphrey Berkeley , Lancaster

I was not expressing distaste for that activity. I was merely saying that it was not a proper criterion for selecting a child to go to a public school on State funds.

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

Yes, I understood that. It worried me a little, because I was going to say the same thing but from a rather different approach. The way the hon. Member put it rather put me off.

The public schools already carry about as high a proportion as they ought of abnormal cases, because it is in the nature of things that a number of parents who seek out a boarding school for their children do so because of their own special circumstances. Perhaps this is not true of schools where a child's name is put down at birth, but it is surely true of the minor public schools that there will be a higher proportion of children of older parents, for instance, for the obvious reason that older parents are better able to pay the fees.

There will be a higher proportion of children of parents who are employed overseas in one capacity or other, as well as the normal proportion of children of broken families. We would not want to increase that proportion to the point when the nature of the community was endangered.

What do we want to do? One hon. Member has already pointed out the danger of changing the age. I want to say a few words in support of his view, but from a different angle. We do not know yet whether we have the right age for a change of school anyway. All the medical statistics and reports shows us that. As children are maturing earlier, with more orange juice and one thing and another, the very problems which we sought to avoid by altering the age of entry to schools may catch up with us. We may find that it is a question not whether the 11-plus examination should go on, but whether a change of school at that time is desirable. We may find that we have built a whole set of schools to cater for a change-over at the wrong age. For that reason, if for no other, it is desirable that there should be a parallel system going on so that we can compare the two.

My conclusions, if I may be forgiven for having them, are these. I should like there to be no precise talk about percentages of free entries. I hope that the Minister of Education will not feel committed to adopt any particular system which is being urged upon him at present. What we want in this type of school is not so much 10 per cent. free entry as 20 per cent. late entry. There is a good deal of choking up of admission because of the eagerness to put down names at birth or shortly afterwards. What we have not got is a system under which people can be placed in an appropriate school at short notice.

I should like local education authorities to have some budgetary feeling for out-of-county activities, so to speak, for expenditure on a reasonable balance of pupils who for any good reason would benefit. I do not mean just the desperate cases, or the exceptionally brilliant cases, but pupils who, because of the combination of character and ability, would clearly benefit from a change to a different type of education, a different type of school. I should like that sort of bursary to be available, in consultation with a consortium of headmasters and education authorities; a certain amount of money to be spent, on the understanding that places in what we have been calling "these schools" would be available at short notice for that sort of nomination.

I would not limit it to that, however, because there are other problems that must present themselves to a lively provincial headmaster of a small public school, who is prepared, in the interests of his pupils, to say that a certain child would for a short time be better somewhere else. There is, for instance, the boy who has his scholarship to the university, who is already too clever by three-quarters and who cannot be kept at full pelt at the school he is attending, but who, if he goes to university too soon, will probably go to pieces because he will think that no further effort is required.

How do we fill in his time? There must be oases where twelve months in the sixth form of one of the great day schools which are public schools would be a tremendous advantage to such a boy before he went into the much greater freedom of university life. Flexibility of that kind might be more helpful than trying to get the Ministry to agree to a specific limited percentage entry to a limited range of schools.

1.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Brentford and Chiswick

I confess that I was rather puzzled by quite a number of the things said by the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin), but I certainly agreed with his last point, about having more flexibility for local authorities to deal with cases at rather shorter notice than is usually required for public schools. I also agree that public school morale is very important.

On the other hand, I violently disagree with the hon. Member when he says there are already enough abnormal oases in our public schools. I should have thought that the average public schoolboy of today was comparatively uncomplicated, particularly when compared with some of the products who do, unfortunately, still come from the State system—

Photo of Mr Benjamin Parkin Mr Benjamin Parkin , Paddington North

I would certainly withdraw anything I said that gave the hon. Gentleman that impression. I appreciate, of course, that it takes a good deal of organised hard work to make a child abnormal. I was speaking of the child coming from abnormal family circumstances.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Brentford and Chiswick

I appreciate that, but I would not have liked it to have been thought that the public schools bred abnormal cases.

I should like to return, briefly, to the very admirable speech made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King). If I may say so with respect, I think that it was the best I have ever heard him deliver in this House. I agreed with much that he said, but I would quarrel with him on his point of public schools being exclusively private. It is very important to establish that public schools are much more public than most people seem to realise. Many of them have a fair percentage of sponsored or assisted children.

We talk of public schools in general, but I think that it would be largely accepted on both sides of the House that the public schools are those that are members of the Headmasters' Conference. There are 193 such schools in the Conference. We also have 173 direct-grant schools. Of those 173 direct-grant schools, 49—about one-quarter—are members of the Conference. It therefore cannot be emphasised too much that a great number of sponsored and assisted children are now attending public schools—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I know that the hon. Gentleman would not want to mislead the House. The direct-grant schools are, of their nature, not independent. They receive the money direct from the Ministry of Education on condition that they admit 25 per cent. or even 50 per cent. of their pupils from the State schools.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Brentford and Chiswick

I agree, but I think that they are definitely regarded as public schools, and many are known to the public as public schools.

I venture to contribute to this debate because I am a member of a county education committee and a governor of a public school. I must, therefore, declare an interest. I strongly support the plea put forward today so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior). Local education authorities could well double or treble the public school places they take at the present time, provided that they could get adequate cooperation from the various headmasters and governing bodies involved. It has been pointed out by several hon. Members that this would cost the local authorities quite a bit of extra money, but, on the whole, I think that the public would appreciate this and agree to it being spent, bearing in mind that it is ratepayers' money, though part of the grant, of course, comes from the national Government.

In my own County of Middlesex we worked out that the fees needed to send a boy to Eton, for example, would cost us about five extra grammar school places. I appreciate that that can be a very strong argument against such a scheme, but I do not think that it should necessarily be accepted as the complete yardstick, if we accept the principles propounded today by my hon. Friend. The schools themselves should be encouraged to provide more assisted places and more free places and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) said, I believe that many of these public schools, if approached in the right way and given the right guidance from the Ministry, would be prepared to do much more than they do at present.

Broadening the entry to the public schools was propounded chiefly and in the first place by the Fleming Report. The Middlesex County Education Committee, of which I am a member, takes pride in the fact that it was pioneering along those lines before the Fleming Report was published, and very shortly afterwards it established its own scheme for sponsoring outstanding boys.

Today, we send between 20 and 30 boys to Mill Hill—a direct-grant school, I admit, but one that is regarded as a well-known "second division" public school. In fact, about one-quarter of its intake comes from the Middlesex County Council. In addition, we send five boys annually to Harrow which is, perhaps, the best known public school in the county. Each year we send 10 boys to Christ's Hospital, and a number of boys individually to other public schools.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft did not refer particularly to girls' public schools, but we do not neglect them. We send about 15 to Wycombe Abbey—a major girls' public school and five to Westonbirt.

In all these cases there is a joint selection committee composed of representatives of the governors and of the education committee. All the children involved are personally "vetted" by the respective headmasters to make sure that they will not suffer any particular hardship by going to that school, and that they are suited for it not only intellectually but morally. There have been very few mistakes, indeed, though it is only human that there should have been one or two. On the whole, the success has been most marked.

Middlesex also provides 174 free places and 130 assisted places at independent and direct-grant day schools, most of which, again, qualify for the description of "public school". I feel that our example could well be copied by some of the shyer local authorities, which are rather reluctant to sponsor children. I have had my attention drawn to one large county which sponsors fewer than 50 children a year, whilst another and much smaller county sends several hundreds of children each year.

Although more people than ever before are anxious today to send their Children to public schools, many of them will be disappointed because there are not nearly enough places to go round. As was said earlier, the waiting lists have never been longer than they are now. One wonders why this is. I venture the opinion that it is not, in the vast majority of cases, the result of snobbishness, or the anxiety of parents to give their children an unfair start in life. People believe that a boy at a public school will get a better education than he would in the State system, receiving more individual attention in smaller classes and from better qualified masters. Parents believe that their children will be better equipped, after attending a public school, to face the challenges of the modern world with assurance and understanding.

There has been a quiet but, nevertheless, formidable change, a revolution, in nearly all public schools during the past fifteen years. It was stated recently that over half the boys now being educated in public schools are the sons of fathers who did not go to a public school themselves. I anticipate that my son will be in that category in a few years' time. I am an ex-grammar school boy who has every hope of sending his own son to public school—that is, of course, if hon. Members opposite do not gain power within the next few years and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) and his right hon. and hon. Friends do not decide to abolish the lot.

More and more people today are in that position, and there can be very few guarantees for anyone—that are for some, but only for a few—that his son will be accepted into a public school without achieving a high standard of entry qualification. Educationists are always saying that the competition is growing hotter and hotter not only in university entrance but in public school entrance, and many parents financially well able to cope with sending their children to a public school will be bitterly disappointed.

Those who have inherited wealth or have substantial capital can still afford the stiff public school fees which are demanded, but there are many professional people like civil servants, clergymen, and officers in the Services who are being priced out of the public school market. They used to send their children to public schools in the old days. Now, they are being replaced by the industrial and commercial executive and the prosperous shopkeeper and trader. There are those with small incomes who feel that the sacrifice is still justified, but their burden grows greater every year.

These are the people who do without annual holidays, who go without entertainment, who do not smoke or drink, who decorate their own homes and who generally deprive themselves so that their children may be educated privately. I suppose that many hon. Members opposite would say that they are wrong to do this, and I should agree in some ways, but it is a personal choice, and many such people make very considerable sacrifices for the purpose.

There is little doubt that these people are fighting a losing battle because the fees are rising all the time. Practically every time my education committee meets, there is a new list of fee increases for the public schools where we are sponsoring children. There will be another big increase in nearly all the main public schools at least by next January when the new Burnham award is taken into account in adjusting the salaries of public school masters. I feel that the public schools themselves, in some of these cases of hardship, could do more to help the financially handicapped professional classes. I am sure that, if they were reminded about this by the Minister, they would look at the matter again.

Some counties are doing extremely good work in this matter of broadening the basis of entry into the public schools, but many are well able to expand what they are doing now. Other local authorities which have been lagging behind could well follow the example of those like Middlesex which are doing better. Recently, Dr. Birley, the headmaster of Eton, made a suggestion which follows somewhat the line of thought advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft. He said that he believed that a system could be worked under which £1 million a year would be spent out of central funds to enable a percentage of boys to attend public schools. He was sure that a working party could start the necessary machinery quickly, although he agreed that selection would be difficult.

Although I am not a product of a public school, I believe in the public schools and I regard them as a vital part of our education service. I am not complacent about them. I am sure that the public schools themselves are not complacent, and I am equally sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, who has done so much during the past few years for our education service, is not complacent about the position of the public schools, either. If he encourages the provision of more scholarships and assisted places in public schools, he will earn the gratitude of the many people who have at heart the welfare of our education system.

1.25 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

It is a pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) both on the speech he made and on the debate which he promoted. Hitherto, the hon. Gentleman and I have taken part in debates on fishery matters, and I think I can quite legitimately claim that on those occasions the House has been united against the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Education has not yet intervened, so we do not know whether that will be true also in this case. At any rate, it is agreed on both sides that something ought to be done. If we disagree, it is as to the measure and extent of what should be done.

I have no allergy towards the old school tie. What we are concerned about, I think, is the extent to which we carry our affection. I remember reading what was said by Earl Baldwin when he first had the opportunity of becoming Prime Minister and forming a Government. He wrote that When the call came to me to form a Government, one of my first thoughts was that it should be a Government of which Harrow should not be ashamed. I remembered that in previous Governments there had been four or perhaps five Harrovians. I determined that it should be six. The world has not changed very much since then. We must delete "Harrow" and insert "Eton", but the affection is, I think, even more marked than it was in Stanley Baldwin's day.

It has been generally recognised that what we have been saying today is not an attack on the public schools. Both sides recognise that some of the best schools in the country are public schools. Nevertheless, the point should not go by default that, if we talk of the public schools we are talking incidentally also about the private sector of education generally. Some generalisations have been made about the private sector at large. We must recognise that, perhaps, 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. of our children are privately educated. I want to be fair to the right hon. Gentleman. He is responsible for the public sector.

We should not exaggerate the advantages of the private sector. The right hon. Gentleman is entitled to claim that in many branches of education the publice sector outstrips the education opportunities afforded in the private sector. Even if we confine our attention to the public schools, there is a considerable overlap, as several hon. Members have pointed out. Some of the best schools in the public sector now outstrip schools in the private sector. The Crowther Report showed that the assumption about staffing ratios is by no means so much in favour of the private sector as is often assumed. This is very important because the decision taken by a parent to provide privately for the child's education is, more often than not, taken on conventional social grounds and not education grounds. It is only right to recognise the great advance which has been made in the public provision of education.

One factor which, I am surprised to note, has not been emphasised greatly is that the public schools are very largely what can properly be called sixth form schools. The importance of the school is focused on the sixth form. This is a matter of vital importance for the country, because it is the avenue to further education.

If we are regarding this aspect of the public schools we have to recognise that there has been a dramatic change over the past years. The public schools no longer are predominant at this level of education. As the Crowther Committee pointed out even then nearly two-thirds of all the boys and girls at school at 17 are in maintained schools. What I want the right hon. Gentleman to do—I am sure he does—is to realise the significance of this, because one of the important things about the public schools—it would be self-declared as one of the justifications of the public schools—is the relationship of the public schools to further education, particularly to the universities.

But the right hon. Gentleman has been very emphatic in calling attention to our shortcomings in the provision which we make for further education, the necessity for expanding the provision which we make for further education. That, on broad social grounds, is now vitally necessary and urgent. It is also necessary, I believe, to review the way in which a boy qualifies for further education.

I mentioned the old school tie. Everyone knows, for the reason I have given, that the old school tie is still very influential within educational circles, and I think this is something—I do not want to say more than that—that we ought continually to keep under review. I think that we should even look further to pursue the old school tie to see where the old school tie is most influential, and, not surprisingly, we find it in industry, and it is in industry that we want a real shake-up and we want ability to be more directly recognised. So I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman is considering further education and further education as the avenue to responsibility particularly in industry, he will bear this factor in mind to see how, in further education itself, equal opportunities lie, more particularly for industry. The very fact that now two-thirds of our children at 17 are in maintained schools means that we have to see that there is equality of opportunity carried through.

I mentioned, I hope not offensively—I have not meant to be offensive—for it is an historical fact, the influence of the old school tie and of the public schools within education itself. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that this has been one of his difficulties. The fact that a very influential part of the people of this country have traditionally regarded it as their right and duty to provide for the education of their own children and to have seen their way to further education through the public schools has meant or has contributed to the position in which the right hon. Gentleman finds himself when he says that we make less university provision, for instance, than any other highly industrialised country in the world. A myopia which has afflicted our education, a lack of ambition we have had in our education, is very largely attributable to this one single factor which has affected our education.

I say this without offence, I hope, because I at once agree that the parent who himself looks to his own children and, at sacrifice, provides for their opportunity and no more by seeing that they develop their intellectual attainments to the full deserves every credit, but I am regarding the system of education as a whole, and that is a matter for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible. If I have been rather critical I will say this in favour of the public schools, and this can hearten the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure that this will be confirmed by the Robbins Report. What the public schools have shown is that if we provide the right environment, if we can provide the proper facilities, if we can give educational advantage, then what we call the pool of ability is much larger than we otherwise assume—because I do not think anyone in this House would say that boys in the public schools are different except in the social class from which they are recruited.

Now I want to turn to another question which has run through the debate, though I doubt whether we have drawn the lesson which the right hon. Gentleman should draw from it, and that is the question of boarding schools. It seems to me that the fallacy which has run through the debate is that because the public schools are largely boarding schools they provide the best education. I do not think that is true at all. I do not think that this decides the issue of whether boarding school education is the best education. I do not think that in fact we have the material in this country to decide that. I think that we should probably recognise that boarding school education is important in the educational system.

I am not being doctrinaire about this because we know what is happening in Russia. The Russians have already 2,700 boarding schools; 600,000 of their children are boarders; and their plan is to have 2½ million of their children at boarding school by 1965. I mention this because I do not think that we need to be very doctrinaire upon the issue of the place of boarding school education within the educational system.

What disturbs one about the lack of results from the Fleming Report is that, rightly or wrongly, the Fleming Committee thought that there ought to be a wide development of boarding facilities. I think that the significant thing is that the Fleming Committee came to that conclusion at the time when there was available in this country an exceptional amount of evidence in support of such a conclusion, if it properly examined it, because at that time, through evacuation, we had the extraordinary situation in which schools which had never before thought of or envisaged the opportunities for boarding school education were enjoying it or having it inflicted upon them. There was a good deal of experience available to determine whether or not boarding school education ought to be a significant part of the education provided in Britain. The Committee came to the conclusion that there ought to be wide development of boarding facilities, but that the choice ought to be freely available.

It seems that when we come to discuss this now we are in difficulties. I think that we can fairly easily determine the criteria. The right hon. Gentleman can call in aid a report and advisers about the criteria. The difficulty is in applying the criteria. I do not mean only because of the peculiar difficulties in which local authorities find themselves, either. Apart from the easily identifiable cases it is a difficult matter, I should have thought to determine, if one is making a selection between children.

But, in the light of the Fleming Committee's Report and the years which have passed since then, I should have thought that what one required from the right hon. Gentleman was some specific statement about the requirements, the absolute requirements, for boarding school education. If we got that then we should know how to proceed. We could then deal with two problems. Estimates have been made today; but the estimates which have been made so far are largely made upon the existing position with the provision of boarding school education in the public schools. What I am asking for is an estimate of the educational requirement for boarding school education. If we had some picture of the situation then we should know whether it was best to tackle the problem centrally or through the local authorities and what provision should be made.

This might solve some of the difficulties, because there are some headmasters who presumably have spoken with the authority of their governing bodies and who have said that they had every admiration for the public schools system of which they are part, except the method of entry. These would be willing co-operators in providing accommodation if the decision was taken that such accommodation should be provided.

I want, however, to deal with the essential problem—the cardinal point—put by the Fleming Committee. The Minister has had the views of the Governing Bodies Association, the Archbishop, and Mr. Birley. The Fleming Committee was composed of a wide selection of distingushed people whose view on this subject was unanimous. They were worried by the cleavage between the social classes. They said: We find in education a social breach which follows and aggravates if it does not actually cause the much more serious divisions in society at large. This is the problem of which they and we are aware, and my criticism is that the proposals made do not go to the heart of that problem.

If this is the problem, then something rather less than the Fleming recommendations will not help, because I would emphasise, if I may so put it, that Fleming itself was rather more than Fleming. The Report said that we should start with 25 per cent. and progressively go forward. I do not think it unfair to the Fleming Committee to say that in effect it said, "We must provide a new basis of entry into the public schools. We do not propose at the moment to do this at one blow. We provide for 25 per cent. because anything less would place those who are going to the public schools at a disadvantage, but once this gets under way we hope that the experiment will transform public schools into something which really can be called public".

If that is the approach of the Fleming Committee, then the retreat from that approach made in 1944 is not helpful in solving the cardinal and essential problem which struck the Fleming Committee as a problem from which it could not escape. One of the disadvantages which affect education as a whole is that this re-emphasises the rigidity of divisions in education. These divisions between the private sector, and even within the private sector in the form of public schools, are very rigid divisions Which run through our educational system.

I should have thought that it was generally agreed today that, as far as we can, we should lessen the impact of these divisions, but in his approach to the subject the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) is making the divisions more real than they are now, because if his scheme were adopted the divisions would have the stamp of approval.

But what we should not be doing if we accepted the hon. Members' proposals would be to deal with the cardinal problem which faced the Fleming Committee. This is what places the right hon. Gentleman in a dilemma, because the Fleming Committee said expressly that "we cannot leave things as they are". This is true and it is the reason for the remarkable degree of unanimity of purpose in this debate. Once we recognise the problem that faced the Fleming Committee, we cannot leave things as they are and I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman a simple question to which I hope he will give a satisfactory reply.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept the Fleming Committee's overriding conclusion? If we have agreement that we accept that conclusion, we must then decide what we can do. What we must do immediately is to consider the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland). He mentioned Mr. Vaizey's estimate that one-third of the cost of public schools is being borne by the Exchequer. It is estimated that private education is assisted in this way to the extent of £10 million to £12 million a year. This is something which we ought to consider because whilst it continues it marks approval.

If the right hon. Gentleman agrees that the Fleming Committee was right in the major overriding conclusion to which it was driven, we would agree that this is a matter which we should look into, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will go further. I hope that he will say, "Not only do I accept the broad approach of the Fleming Committee that we ought to lessen and not aggravate the cleavage between the social classes, but consequent upon that we should look at this distortion by hidden subsidies in the support of the private sector in education and see whether this should be allowed".

May I put another question to the right hon. Gentleman? He is responsible for the public sector in education, with the local authorities. Does he think that it is quite impossible within that sector to provide an element of independence in administration? If his answer is "No", I am afraid that we shall face difficulties. I recognise that within the public schools system there is in many schools a feeling of creative independence and, negatively, there is the fear that if there is too close an association with the State system this independence may be blunted. Personally, I feel that we could overcome that difficulty and I am heartened by the fact that within the public sector there are the universities which, although now mainly State supported, would be the first to declare haw independent they are.

My last question is directed not to the Minister but to the public schools themselves. I would say to them, "Do you genuinely believe that the form of education you provide is beneficial solely to the children of parents who earn more than £1,500 a year?" Obviously from today's debate it is clear that the answer is "No". We have now an area of common agreement and good will on what has hitherto been regarded as an almost intractable problem.

I do not think, however, that we should go back to the Fleming Report. The Fleming recommendations were made in 1944. Hon. Members have spoken of the steps—in the main disappointing—taken by local authorities, but their practice varies. There is nothing more difficult than to get local authorities to agree on something when historically they have behind them different practices.

I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to be heartened by the debate and to recognise that if we are to face the difficulty that faced the Fleming Committee then, as that Committee itself showed, it will not be impossible to obtain the agreement of all people of good will. In view of the repeated, disturbing revelations which the Minister makes about the invidious comparisons that can be drawn between further education in this country and in other competing countries, I hope that he will agree with the Fleming Committee that we cannot leave things as they are, that we have to give greater reality to equality of opportunity and that he will see that something is done.

1.50 p.m.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , Holborn and St Pancras South

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on his good fortune in the Ballot and on his good sense in choosing this subject for debate. He declared an interest, and I must also declare an interest. I had the good fortune to be educated at the same establishment as he was.

One of the troubles about these proceedings is that so many of one's points have already been made when one rises. I was particularly indebted in one sense to the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) for his speech, which I found profoundly interesting, but I was disappointed in another sense because he took most of my points from me. However, I should like to stress a few, particularly some which have arisen in the debate.

One speaker after another made clear that the waiting lists for our public schools are bulging. The gloomy future predicted for them at the end of the war has not come to pass. Therefore, I think that it is very generous of the public schools that they should now come, with their order books full, to the public suggesting that their doors should be opened even wider to a broader section of society. It is clear that they come forward leading from strength.

I am sure that this is true, having experienced some of it in respect of my own son, but I wonder how long it will continue to be true. I wonder whether there is perhaps a slight fallacy in people's thinking here, namely, that because there are these long waiting lists people are pleased with the public school system and otherwise would not put down the names of their sons and daughters for public schools.

I wonder whether this is really true. Obviously, people feel that the schools have something to offer them. But I cannot help feeling that many parents who, for laudable reasons, put down the names of their children for these schools are imposing on themselves a tremendous strain and have got themselves involved in a kind of education rat-race. I believe that unless something is done about the public school system the same parents who are making these sacrifices and at present seem, on the surface, to laud and praise the public school system might well turn on it. I think that the system is a financial strain which many people resent. But they feel that they must send their children to these schools because the alternative is to send them to schools which are not of the standard they like.

Furthermore, many of today's parents who are products of public schools find that they are caught in two ways. Not only are they faced with the prospect of paying for the education of their children at these schools, but some of the schools approach them and ask, "Will you help us to provide further opportunities for expansion?" My school recently launched an appeal, and it is one of many. If I had a child there now, I should be financing his education there and, in a sense, financing the education of successive generations. In other words, I should be caught both ways.

I believe that in certain areas of the country people are beginning to think rather hard about the advisability of sending their children to public schools when they see that there are significant improvements in the State schools in those areas. That is particularly so, I suggest, in respect of science. I believe that the gap between the State schools and the private schools in the teaching of science is narrowing considerably.

More and more people are beginning to realise that whereas, in the old days a rather gracious manner, personality and charm stood one in tremendous stead in obtaining a worth-while post, it does not really count for so much in an increasingly technical, specialist age, and that what counts in regard to technical subjects is the ability of the child to master complex problems.

If this is true, then in another respect the importance of public schools, which at present looms so large in the minds of many parents, may further diminish when they realise that the path to success, to technical success, to good technical jobs, lies not through the public schools but, in the long run, through the ability of the child to obtain a first-class university education. If any sacrifice has to be made to enable a child to stay on for its full educational term, parents may feel that the sacrifice should be made when their children are 17, 18, and onwards, and there may then be a willingness for their children to go to State schools at earlier ages.

Another factor is a social one, and it is very interesting to note. I may be a little conscious of this, because I have done some broadcasting. I refer to the importance with which accent features in people's minds when talking about public school education. This has been diminishing. I notice this particularly when listening to old tape recordings of the commentators and announcers whom the B.B.C. used to employ. There is a difference in the style and manner of speech which was thought fashionable and important to the listening public twenty years ago and even some ten or fifteen years ago.

We are now finding, particularly in broadcasting, that a much more down-to-earth accent is regarded as more socially acceptable to the public, and that one can pronounce on fairly weighty matters without necessarily having an Oxford accent. I certainly find in my own broadcasting experience that the feeling that accent is all-important, and one of the keys in providing one with a better job, is diminishing.

It is possible that many parents may come to realise that a provincial accent is not to be deplored in the sense that it has been in the past. It may be that such people have always looked upon the public schools in the wrong light if they thought that a "good accent" was one of the real values to be obtained from them. However, this is a very strong force in some families.

I mention those points because one speaker after another has assumed that there is great love for the public schools because of the huge waiting list. I am suggesting that there are a number of factors which may turn people away from the public school system unless something is done to widen the basis of entry. It is obvious, therefore, that I strongly welcome the integration of the public school system with the State system of education. The case for bridging the gap is completely overwhelming, and one hon. Member after another has made this clear in the debate.

Having said that, I must confess that I got the impression from the speech of the hon. Member for Grimsby that the logical significance of his proposal would be the complete withering away of the public school system as we know it in so far as it would allow people to educate their children privately by private means. I believe that I am correctly interpreting the hon. Gentleman's remarks. This point was challenged by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), when he said that he felt that people should have the right to educate their children privately by their own means. This is a fundamental right which everyone should enjoy.

Photo of Mr Anthony Crosland Mr Anthony Crosland , Grimsby

I think that the hon. Member has understood correctly what I said. This is an important point. I would never dream of suggesting that a Government should deny any parent the right to pay for education if that parent so wishes. This seems to be a basic principle. On the other hand, I should like to see the existing public school system as such wither away, so that if there were to be private schools marginal to the State sector of education I should not like them to be like the present ones.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith , Holborn and St Pancras South

It seems that I am in agreement with the hon. Member, because I would like to see the present system changed very radically. That is why, like some other hon. Members who have spoken, I did not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft went quite far enough when he suggested that the entry should be broadened to admit 10 per cent. of people who, normally, would not go to public schools. With respect to my hon. Friend, that is playing around with the idea of integrating the public school system with the State school system.

I emphasise a comment made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, North and by the hon. Member for Grimsby on the question of the extent to which the public school system as it now exists encourages or even exacerbates, if that is the word, the degree of class consciousness which exists in this country. I have no doubt that we are the most class-ridden of any highly developed society. One is constantly struck by it.

I do not think that we have the economic class distinctions which we used to have. Economic mobility is much more greatly developed than ever before in our history, but that is not the rub. It is the continued lack of social mobility which is important, and that is a blot on the sort of society which we have and it inhibits people's development. That is another argument why the reform of the public school system is desirable, because it is the public school system itself, with its pre-eminence in education, which does nothing to remedy this social blot.

Everyone has agreed that these schools provide tremendous educational opportunities which very few State schools are capable of providing, so much so that in this evolutionary process there has been created a kind of educational apartheid based on the financial ability of a number of individuals wealthy enough to segregate their children from the major part of the education system. It is this educational apartheid, this educational separateness, which has led to, or largely contributed to, the remarkable class-conscious atmosphere which still pervades our society.

That separateness has two reasons for its existence. The first is that the very fact of going to a privileged establishment like a public school sets in the mind of the pupils there a feeling that they are set apart from the rest of the community, that there is something special about them, their school, their teachers, the whole curriculum. They are told so and their parents are probably told so.

The parents themselves, and certainly those who stand outside looking in at the public schools, regard a public school boy as a privileged person. Secondly, pupils at public schools, coming as they do, in the main, from the better-off families, learn very little, if anything, about the ways and habits of those who come from families with very different backgrounds.

That leads to one very important conclusion. When they emerge from this close and rather privileged society, taught a great deal about leadership and everything to do with character, and so on, they come out of school at 18 with a remarkable lack of understanding of the vast mass of their fellow men and women who have not been brought up in that sort of environment. I found it very strange when I joined the Army, and it was one of the advantages of National Service that the public school product rubbed shoulders on an equal footing in the ranks with people who came from a widely divergent background.

Like everyone else in the war, for a time I served in the ranks. I did so at an infantry depôt in the North Country, where, from time to time, one would rub shoulders with new intakes, mostly people from the industrial towns of the North-East. It was eye-opener to me, coming from what I suppose was a comparatively sheltered background, to see these stunted, ill-fed youths—that was a shaker—and it brought alive to me what the 1930s must have meant to them in the matter of unemployment and malnutrition.

I assume that with no National Service any lads coming out of schools will not have that sort of experience and are not likely to achieve it. That is not their fault, but I imagine that they will not be in a position to form any sort of understanding, sympathy and, if I may say so, respect for their opposite numbers who come from different walks of life.

I emphasise "respect", because that was something which I found profoundly true in America, where I lived and worked for three years. People tell me that, of course, there is class in America and that it is based on money, whereas here, we are told, at least it is based not on a sordid, materialistic thing like money, but on something finer and more abstract. I have no doubt that there are some economic class distinctions in the United States, but I confidently reject the view that in the United States the class system produces the sort of system which we have.

I found a far greater social unity in the United States, a far greater respect from one man towards another. Be he big-shot tycoon who went in his Cadillac to have his car filled up with "gas" by the "gas attendant", there was still no question of a master-servant relationship. There was the respect of one man for another, as from one equal for another.

This showed up in social life when manual workers and artisans earning good pay would feel it perfectly ordinary to go into the most exclusive restaurant which the neighbourhood had to offer, without any feeling of social inferiority whatsoever. I suggest that that does not occur to any marked extent in this country.

In this country one still finds contempt by the manual workers for the man at the top, the man who is bound to his desk and the man who has had a privileged background of education, sitting behind his desk often has a contempt—certainly a lack of respect, which is probably more accurate—for those who hold down more humble jobs and who have had a more humble type of education.

Perhaps this lack of mutual respect stems from the fact that there is this gap between the private and public sectors of education, whereas in the United States, as in France and Western Germany and the Scandinavian countries, all people, regardless of their background, eventually get swallowed up by the State educational system and rub shoulders with people of different backgrounds. Perhaps that is the reason why we alone are still bedevilled by this class consciousness.

It is interesting that the existence of a privileged educational group in our society should excite some envy and resentment among those who do not have the good fortune to receive some of the benefits of a public school education. I am reminded of the fact that in the 1955 General Election the Daily Mirror thought fit, I think on polling day, to publish a large photograph of Sir Anhtony Eden dressed in young Etonian dress.

I suppose that that was designed to discourage the readers of the Daily Mirror from voting for a Conservative Administration—I am sure that he must have looked a pathetic figure in Etonian dress—on the ground that they would elect a party which believed in and was dedicated to class privilege, particularly in education.

It is interesting that the Daily Mirror did not think fit to suggest to its readers that if the Tories were elected there would be a Government which was composed largely of members who, to me, would have had the far more valuable privilege of having been educated at Oxford or Cambridge. Public envy or resentment is fixed on the public schools, but not on Oxford or Cambridge. Oxford and Cambridge have succeeded in identifying themselves, their causes, and their aspirations, far more widely with the public. Many people regard them as part of their national heritage, far more so than they regard my school or any other public school as part of their national way of life.

How has this come about? These two universities are private educational institutions with tremendous traditions, often far more noble than those of the majority of public schools, and yet, with good sense and wisdom, they have managed to achieve a sort of harmonious relationship, a kind of happy marriage, between themselves as private institutions and the State which asks them to undertake bigger national responsibilities.

I do not know the statistics, but I believe that the last count showed that over 50 per cent. of the people at the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were subsidised by the State. This is an example which the public schools might emulate if they want to rid themselves of the envy and resentment to which I have referred. The public schools must emulate the example of Oxford and Cambridge if we are to bring about mutual respect between one section of the community and another, and if we are to rid ourselves of the title, which I think we still deserve, of being the most class-ridden society in the Western world.

2.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) began his speech by referring to the difficulty when one speaks late in a debate that all the points which one wants to make have already been made. I commend to the hon. Gentleman my practice, which is not to attend the earlier part of the debate. One thus avoids the embarrassment of knowing that everything which can be said has been said by other people.

I should like to take up two points in the hon. Gentleman's extremely interesting speech. He mentioned the demand for places in public schools. I do not think that it is as remarkable as the hon. Gentleman implied, because, after all, the middle classes have the same natural instincts as the rest of the population. The instinct to propagate is not confined solely to the proletariat. The middle classes have their bulge as well as the rest of the population.

The other interesting point which the hon. Gentleman made was about broadcasting. He said that there was no longer the same need to have a south country accent. I have often remarked that the people who command most confidence and have the best avuncular status are the people who have regional accents. This is not a new development. I am thinking of people like Mr. Middleton, Mr. Hilton, and one might venture to say the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, none of whom are noted for having south country accents.

To come back to the main point of the debate, it seems right that one should start from the fact that public schools exist. However much one may regret that, it cannot be avoided. It is no use thinking about complicated and revolutionary methods of blowing them up. What one has to do is to consider the main features which distinguish them from other schools, and how much those distinguishing features are worth preserving.

I think that there are three aspects to be considered. First, the principle of independence, whether we should have independence or public control. Secondly, whether we should have boarding-school education, or day-school education. Thirdly, whether there are any advantages in having high staffing ratios and liberal endowments, with playing fields, and how we are to allocate scarce resources of that sort to get the maximum benefit for the community. As one does when discussing other problems of social justice, it seems natural to ask how one can make the most effective use of these scarce resources, namely, teachers who are in short supply, and playing fields and open spaces which are available in most of the public schools.

Dealing first with independence, I have never been a governor of a public school. Therefore, my knowledge of what happens depends largely on what I have been told by those headmasters whom I have met in my capacity as a governor of a school within the State system. On many occasions they have pointed out to me the advantage of the public school system of government. But the more they have pointed out the advantages, the more I have become convinced that the State system of government is much better, and I would not willingly surrender a substantial amount of public control, for this reason. One of the things I dislike most about public schools is the dictatorial authority of the headmaster as regards discipline and the appointment and control of staff.

My impression—and I have gained this over the years, not from personal experience, but from complaints which have been made to me by people who have been headmasters—is that on the whole the main job of the governing body of the public schools is to produce the money, to produce the buildings, and to let the headmasters get on with the job of running the school, appointing the staff, and deciding questions of discipline.

That is wrong in principle, because one is thereby giving a specialist great discretionary authority, and the whole of our democratic system is based on the idea of having laymen to stop experts getting above themselves. That principle should be applied as much in education as in other walks of life. I have always fought hard for the principle that public representatives should appoint the staff in schools, because I think that that is the only way in which one can take responsibility for what goes on in the schools and for the quality of the education provided in them. The dictatorial power of dismissal which is very often given to headmasters of independent schools is not consistent with preserving the professional status of the teaching profession. Therefore, on balance, I feel that if any bargain is done with the public schools a substantial secession of independence would be a very important part of it.

The next question concerns the pros and cons of boarding and day schools. I am in the fortunate position of being unmarried, and have therefore never had the experience of many of my fellow Socialists, of having to decide whether or not to send my children to a public school, and I have the greatest sympathy with them in this decision. Nevertheless, I have seen the effect of this problem of the choice of school both in respect of friends and relations of mine who have gone to public schools and also as vice-chairman of the governors—since its foundation—of Woolverstone Hall, a local authority boarding school. I have seen the problem of boarding school education at close hand, although not against the background of the public school system.

I remember the mother of a small boy of my acquaintance telling me of an occasion when some apples were delivered at her door, and when she remarked to the greengrocer's boy, "What lovely apples these are. I am glad you brought them, because I want to take them to my little boy, who is at a boarding school". His natural reaction was to reply, "Cor, what has he done wrong? What have they put him in for?" That is the common reaction of a large number of the population to anybody who goes to a boarding school. They feel that he has gone there either as a result of delinquency or through being maladjusted.

At Woolverstone Hall, which is an admirable school, providing a first-class education, the demand for places is not noticeably large. There is a larger demand than there are places, but not noticeably so; there is no waiting list. We are faced with the extraordinary position that 10 per cent. of the population are passionate believers that a boarding school education is desirable while the other 90 per cent. believe that it is undesirable. In my view, the right decision comes between the two. I am sure that an enormous amount of suffering is caused to middle-class children by being sent to boarding schools, for social reasons, when they ought never to go there because they are quite unsuited for them, while, on the other hand, many children who have not necessarily come from what are known in the jargon of the trade as "category" families would benefit from a boarding school education.

One of our present difficulties is that, apart from places like Woolverstone Hall, it is extremely difficult for a child with ordinary parents to get a boarding school education unless the father is obliging enough to beat the mother. If he drinks to excess and blacks his wife's eye his child will be recognised as being suitable for boarding school education, but if he comes from a normal family, and the only reason for his being considered for a boarding school education is the same reason as that which gives such an education to 90 per cent. of the upper income group, it is difficult for him to get one. That is one of the great advantages of Woolverstone Hall. A child goes there on merit and not because he has bad parents, or comes from a bad home.

One of the problems is how to develop a boarding school system without its being overshadowed by what I regard as the socially dangerous and obsolete traditions which have survived in many public schools. One of the great difficulties in our educational system is the fact that it is overshadowed and dominated by the small minority type of school. People are apt to measure the worth of a State school not by the degree to which it strikes out on its own as an educational institution but by the degree to which it apes the public schools system.

Before the war, when I was on the education committee of the London County Council, I received an inspector's report which almost gave me a seizure, although in those days my blood pressure was lower than it is now. It referred to the fact that one of our best London schools had a camp at Strensall. The report went on to say how nice it had been for the London boys, because they had met the boys from a certain public school who had been extremely nice and had treated the London schoolboys as human beings, and had even spoken to them and had behaved extremely well with them. I knew the public school by repute, since it was near the school that I had attended, and I regarded the boys there as the most revolting collection of stinkers. I would not have wished any other boys to have had anything to do with them

The fact that an inspector of a local authority education committee, measuring the success of an educational jaunt on the part of the boys of one of our best schools in London—a school which ought to be standing on its own feet—should have this sort of feeling of inferiority to the boys of what I regarded as an extremely fifth-rate public school, brought home to me the extraordinary depth of this problem.

There is a case for boarding school education, but I have never been able to make up my mind how far it should go. The age for going to boarding school is at present much too low. It is certainly inadvisable to send boys to a boarding school at 11 years of age, and even 13 years of age is a little on the young side. I believe that a later age would be much more proper. But I should be against any system of dilution. There is nothing to be said for a system which would inject into the public schools even a 50 per cent. intake of guinea-pigs. The only effect would be that the guinea-pigs would probably pick up the worst vices from the other 50 per cent., and would leave with either a feeling of insecurity or uncertainty as to their position, or become social careerists on the upgrade. We must have a preponderance of selective entry from our State schools, apart from the independent schools.

That brings me to the problem of allocating resources. It is not possible, in any community which has any social sense or conscience, to justify the allocation of scarce resources, such as are represented by the plant and staff of the public schools, on the basis of wealth. The difficulty is to decide what the alternative should be. The purely academic test is not a happy one, because it underestimates the advantages of boarding school education for the non-academic boy.

Although my own school had certain academic advantages, the main advantages were not academic, but were based on the area in which the school was situated. It was in the days before "Outward Bound" was founded, but it provided a kind of "Outward Bound" training. If we are to derive full advantage from our residential educational institutions we must find some sort of test which is not merely academic.

I should have thought that the most urgent need educationally was not merely the production of more purely academic qualifications. On the whole, our own day schools are providing the facilities which enable people to go to university and to play a very great part at university. That is not only an academic need. If one looks, for example, at the schools from which the people who represent our two major universities in athletics come and compare the position with what it was years ago, we find that there are far more people coming from them now than there were then. Therefore, I do not think that that is a big problem. The big problem in education is finding an outlet for the spirit, the liveliness and the virility of the non-academic people who want to be able to stretch their limbs and want to have opportunities for adequate training in different pursuits—in mountaineering, etc. That group should not be forgotten.

To sum up, I will make two constructive suggestions. The first is that I think that in future the age of entry should probably be much higher than it is. The full benefits of residential education are far more likely to be received after the age of 15 than under that age. One is much less likely to be homesick and miserable over the age of 15. Secondly, more use should be made not so much in terms purely of people who do well in academic matters but of people who get benefit from a much broader curriculum and one which gives more opportunities for people of the non-academic type. Thirdly, there are other people who for a variety of reasons want to go to a boarding school. They should have the opportunity to do so. This seems to me to be the main direction in which this problem should be approached.

2.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I am very glad that this debate was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) who delivered a very valuable speech. I only regret that I was absent during part of it. I had to see the Ambassador for the Lebanon.

I find it most extraordinary that the most modern approach to social affairs today is coming more and more from the younger Members of the benches on this side of the House and less from hon. Members on the benches opposite. As for the Liberal Party, with its great past and its future, its Members are not even represented here on a day on which we are discussing probably the most fundamental social reforms which the country could undertake. I have no doubt that they are busy elsewhere.

It is the custom of the House, of course, when an hon. Member speaks for him to declare his interest. I am a voluntary governor of Christ's Hospital, a responsibility which I do not often exercise. I also had the fortune to be educated at a very pleasant school called Uppingham in the Midlands, which was a very enjoyable experience.

Having said that, I wonder, having listened to the speeches which have been made, what we can best contribute to the debate and how best we can assist the Minister and even the country when we come to consider the problem of the selection of certain people in the community to go to these public schools.

Several hon. Members seem to think that the lists for entry into public schools are going to decrease. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) thought that. I should say that he was wrong. I can tell the House from my visits to the Middle East and other parts of the world that there are parents in those parts who are very anxious to get their children into public schools in this country. People in the emerging new countries and countries coming to independence in the Middle East and Africa deplore the fact that they cannot get sufficient teachers and sufficient public schools of the same standard as those in this country. I should say that there is a great underestimation on the part of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South when he suggests that the public schools system in this country and all that it stands for, with all the valuable assets which it makes available to society, is going to subside. I am certain that the reverse will be the case.

One is able also, to watch with interest the experiments of one's own local authority. We heard a very valuable speech from the hon. Member who spoke about the Middlesex County Council. I certainly think that the experiments conducted by the Shropshire County Council are just as valuable. For example, I think that where a local authority sets up its own boarding schools, as in Millinship, in my own constituency, that is a very valuable experiment. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South complained that one sort of boy would be kept out and another in. Why does not the boarding school sponsored by a local authority allow fee-paying parents to send their children there.

When we look at our educational system we see that there are two sharp differences which are no good for the country and for society, and the House must try to encourage the Minister to do what he can Ito take as his basis the Fleming Report and to find methods by which children from poorer homes can go to public schools.

This is an essential part of our social philosophy and policy. I as a radical member of the Conservative Party fundamentally believe that it is the duty of that party to see that this is done. I hope that hon. Members will not just accept a very polite and pleasant speech from the Minister, of the kind we always get from him, but will insist that further progress is made in these matters.

The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) rather pooh-poohed the idea that one local school in his area was aping some of the public schools' ideas in its educational system. He thought that the visit made by the public school boys was not of very much value. I do not know about that. Perhaps one such visit would not be particularly valuable. One school in my constituency, of which Sir John Hunt is a patron, runs itself like a government. It has ministers for running various departments in the school. Vast experiments are going on there. A phenomenal thing that happened this year was that that secondary modern school received from the Duke of Edinburgh seven gold awards. That is truly a phenomenal thing to happen in one secondary modern school. That school is putting into practice the valuable principles learned in the greatest public schools in this country.

I mention this matter only because it shows to some extent how valuable the assets of public schools if applied to State education can be. That, however, does not get over the final point, that we ought to see what can be done to integrate the two systems.

This country is in such a position that it cannot afford to squander any talent. We are now facing a world quite different from that which the public schools system was set up to face. The public schools system, with its particular pattern of thinking, was set up to prepare people for the administration of overseas territories and in the spirit of Empire and Commonwealth. It was set up in the pattern of thinking for the Services, the Royal Navy, the Army and, eventually, the Royal Air Force.

The public schools themselves as well as the country recognise that that pattern of thinking does not now produce the type of people required for leadership in a highly technical and specialised world. I think that the public schools are right now in offering new opportunities to the State system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft has rendered an extremely valuable service to this House and to the country by initiating this debate, and, as a fellow back-bencher, I shall support him in his endeavours to see that equality of opportunity means something in this country. Hon. Members on the back benches on this side of the House must support him to the best of their ability.

2.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Martin McLaren Mr Martin McLaren , Bristol North West

I enjoyed listening to the stimulating contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates). Like other hon. Members, I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) should be thanked for providing us with such an interesting subject and congratulated on the way in which he moved the Motion.

I approach this matter from what is perhaps a simple and a naive point of view, that if public schools are what some of the history books call a good thing it is morally right that their advantages should be available to a wider range of people. I think about them in the same way as I think about a home-owning democracy or a share-owning democracy. These are benefits which I should like to see more widely dispersed. If this debate has revealed anything, it is that there is a strong feeling to that effect among the younger hon. Members on this side of the House.

I look on our public schools as one of our unique institutions. One of their special features, as has been said, is the way in which the individual and independent responsibility of boys is developed. The system has been copied elsewhere throughout the world. I think it significant that the Russians have found a use for the boarding school system of education and are now developing it.

To some extent I suppose it is true to say that from the outset the public schools have opened their doors to a wide range of people. Take, for example, the case of the first of the great public schools, Winchester, which was founded by William of Wykeham in the year 1382. He founded his school as a perpetual college for poor scholar clerks of the City of Winchester and he provided for 70 poor and needy scholars.

Those 70 scholarships still exist today. There are several illustrious Members opposite who have held them. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was on the foundation at Eton; he was one of King Henry VI's Scholars. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble)—who came, like the Prime Minister, from his croft—was also a Scholar at Eton.

Once a year these schools open their doors to all corners to compete for scholarships, and if the parents of a scholarship winner cannot afford the fees, they may be remitted altogether. I agree that this point about the scholarships cannot be pressed too far, because, of course, it is true that to win a scholarship a boy has to be well grounded in Latin and other subjects. But it is significant that two or three years ago it was a boy from a grammar school who won the first scholarship at Winchester and only this summer, I am told, one of the scholarships at Eton was won by a boy who came from the Choristers' School there.

However far that may take us, we wish to go further, and in recent years some progress has been made. We have heard that the Hertfordshire County Council and also the Middlesex County Council may be singled out for honourable mention as in recent years having sent boys to public schools, and the system has been a success. If these councils can do it, we wonder why others cannot do the same.

I know that there are difficulties for local authorities. They feel that it costs so much for one boy, and there are difficulties about selection. Two possible alternative criteria are academic ability or a special need for a boarding school education. I should think that the second fits in well with the requirement in Section 1 of the Education Act, 1944, that education should be provided for children in accordance with their age, aptitude and ability.

Everyone who has examined this problem has, in the end, come to the conclusion that if anything is to be done on a substantial scale it needs to be done centrally by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. We all know that there are difficulties. There is the difference in age breaks. In the State system the break comes at 11-plus. The public schoolboy arrives at 13. However, those are difficulties which, I think, could be surmounted. In the meantime boys could go to a grammar school or to a preparatory school.

Today, it is necessary, and it is only just, to place on record that ever since 1919, when the first approach was made to the Ministry of Education, public schools have been receptive to the idea that a larger number of boys from the State system of education should reach them. Public schools have been ready and willing to open their doors wider. Repeated offers have been made to the Minister to provide places and it is not the fault of the schools if, so far, the system has not been extended more widely. I hope, and I think, that it will be. For the time being I consider that 10 per cent. of places would be a reasonable figure.

One thing that buoys me up with a certain amount of hope is that if one looks at other forms of public institution in our national life, one finds that nearly all of them have by now been considerably democratised. Take, for example, our universities. When I was an undergraduate, any boy of average ability from a public school could go to Oxford or Cambridge if his parents could afford to send him there. That is not by any means the case now. One has to be much brighter because competition is a great deal keener from boys in the State system of education.

Take, by way of illustration, the Foreign Service. It used to be a requirement that entrants to it should have an income of £400 a year. Take the Armed Forces. The requirements of the fashionable regiments are no longer what they were. Take the Inns of Court. In the old days candidates for them were ruled out for what was called "lack of gentility". All these things have gone by the board, so why should they not go by the board in the case of public schools?

I do not think that public schools have ever been closed corporations. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith), there has always been a great deal of social mobility, and half the boys there now have fathers who did not themselves go to public schools. As G. K. Chesterton once said, the public schools are not for the sons of gentlemen, but they are to make gentlemen of sons. There has always been a gate open there for new people, and, with the help of the Minister, we want to make that gateway wider.

If the public schools have a defect, I should say that it is that there is too much social segregation. It would be very good for them to draw their intake from a wider field. I was struck by the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith), who described how public schoolboys have far less experience of the ways of the modern world and of the streets than have boys in other sections of the community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft mentioned the remarks of Archbishop Fisher, who recorded his sincere belief that it would be to the good of the nation if some of those who, hitherto, had been excluded by lack of means should be admitted to the public schools. I warmly agree with that. I think that today's Motion will have served a helpful purpose in drawing attention to the problem and to the promising opportunities.

2.54 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Eccles Mr David Eccles , Chippenham

I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) in thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) for giving us this opportunity. My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft has had more tributes paid to his wisdom in putting down this Motion than I remember any hon. Member having had paid to him in a Friday's debate.

My hon. Friend brought forward an issue which is highly charged in some ways, very complicated—as I think we have seen in the course of this debate—and an issue in which sometimes it is rather hard to disentangle the educational considerations from the political and social considerations. We have had a lot of advice on what we should do, if anything, about the public schools. I shall try to thread my way through all these various considerations and to leave a consistent picture of what the Government feel on this difficult matter.

I should like to begin by giving the statistics of the boys' independent schools. I hope that girls' schools will not be offended if I do not pay as much attention to them as to the boys' schools. I have always felt that girls' education is equally as important as boys' education, but on this particular issue I think that it would be better to confine myself to boys' schools.

There is no official definition of a public school. If, for the purposes of this debate, we take it to mean schools whose headmasters are members of the Headmasters' Conference, there are 117 such schools with a total of about 55,000 boys, of whom 37,000 are boarders. These schools, which receive no grant at all and, therefore, are independent schools—not to be confused with the direct-grant schools—account for about six boys out of every 100 between the ages of 13 and 18 who are now in secondary schools of all kinds. I suppose that we have to ask ourselves whether the 6 per cent. who go to public schools are receiving such an exceptionally good education or being brought up to consider themselves so superior to everybody else that this constitutes a social danger, and, therefore, whether such a distinctive kind of education ought to be open to a wider range of boys.

I think that that was the general issue posed in the debate. I am very glad that several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), stressed this as a very important issue of national policy in the social field. The Government think so too, because we agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft that the system of education in any country does to a very large extent shape the contours of society for the days to come. Therefore, my hon. Friend must be right to have asked us whether a small minority of children coming from more or less the same kind of homes and receiving an exceptional kind of education is bad for the harmony of our society. I very readily agree with the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) on this point.

I agree about the gross failure in the nineteenth century to tackle this privileged position of a small minority. I would say that that was a major cause of the division of the British people into the rich and the poor—that is to say, into Disraeli's two nations, which were ranging themselves further and further apart precisely because at that time we were collecting the dividends of the Industrial Revolution without having any system of universal education through which to share the increasing wealth. I consider that it was inevitable that the new wealth fell into the hands of the few and that lilt was inevitable that it opened the gap between (the educated property owners and the property-less and all-too-often ignorant working class.

It is interesting to see that the consequences of this division in society have had to be faced by all industrial countries. One group have redistributed wealth through some form of the Welfare State and for them universal education, paid for by the community, has become the cornerstone for holding society together. The other group have adopted Communism. They are using universal education not so much to integrate society—they have done that by violence—as to act as the chief instrument of economic growth and national strength.

In the United Kingdom we, too, have to see that our educational system achieves its modern purposes, both for society and for economic growth. My hon. Friend's Motion, if I understand him aright, is an expression of doubt whether the reforms which we are carrying out in the maintained schools go far enough in one particular direction, because he spies a reserved area inside our educational system—the public schools—which he considers should be brought closer to the maintained schools. In his speech he put a very pertinent question to all of us—whether we ought now to take steps to open the independent schools to boys financed through public funds.

I agree with the thought expressed in the Motion—that is to say, that the only policy which is wise and just in our generation is to bring the two educational systems closer together. But I doubt whether in the 1960s the public schools are quite such exclusive institutions as he thinks, devoted, as the hon. Member for Grimsby said, to so many reactionary forms of education; and I certainly could not accept the methods of changing their intake which those who broadly follow the Fleming Report ask us to adopt.

I must go back a little in time. This great Report, the Fleming Report, was written during the war on pre-war assumptions, many of which are now largely out of date, and the authors of that Report—I hope that I am not doing them an injustice—seem to have believed in the sweeping generalisation that almost every public school gave a much better education than any maintained school.

I have no doubt that they had very much in mind the merits of boarding education as something which, in their view, was valuable in itself, and I think that they were afraid that this invaluable form of education might be endangered through a lack of finance. That was true of the public schools just before the war, and, therefore, in order that public schools might he both financially solvent and draw their boys from wider sources, they proposed that a substantial number of places—25 per cent. to start with—should be bought by the Government and filled with boys whose parents could not afford to pay the fees.

I can appreciate the force of that argument at the time when it was made, but nobody then foresaw that, however much the fees of the independent schools might have to be increased after the war, the queue of parents able and anxious to pay those fees would grow much faster. Still more important, nobody then could know of the hundreds of millions of pounds which Governments and local authorities would be investing in the maintained system after the war and how successfully the pupils from the maintained system would compete with the pupils from the public schools for higher awards in the university world and also for the top posts in industry and in the public service.

Every year one finds that the leading positions, especially in the engineering world, are held by boys who have not come from the public schools. The truth is, therefore, that very great changes of social importance have taken place since the Fleming Report, and we must take them into consideration in judging whether the recommendations made in quite different conditions stand up today.

It is our view that the growth of the middle classes and the progress that has been and will be made in the maintained schools make it almost impossible, in the 1960s, to determine how to select boys to go to public schools in respect of whom a subsidy would have to be paid, several times—perhaps four or five times—greater than the cost of places in maintained secondary schools. I am glad that in the debate we have heard a great deal of advice on this very difficult question of the selection of boys to fill the grant-aided places, and I should like to tell the House how I see the various arguments that have been put forward.

The first thing to notice is that the selection would have to be twofold. First, we should have to choose the public schools, and then choose the boys to fill the grant-aided places. On what criteria would the Minister of Education nominate the public schools which were to provide the places for the grant-aided pupils? Some of the public schools are very good indeed, some of them are middling, and some are indifferent, by academic standards; and no one could now deny—indeed, most hon. Members have made this point—that a considerable number of the maintained secondary schools are better than the average public school.

I would be very sorry for anyone who had to pick out on their merits the public schools which were to take part in any such scheme. I do not know how many hon. Members think might qualify. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster suggested 20. It is very difficult to pick the 20, and it would be very hard on those which were not selected, and very difficult to define exactly why they were left out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft was probably on the real point when he talked about the advantages of boarding education. A good number of people who have considered this question feel that a school should qualify for grant-aided places because it has boarding places, because boarding places offer such great advantages. I agree on this point with something which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North said. It is true that boarding schools have opportunities to influence their pupils which the day schools do not. On academic standards, there is no clear-cut superiority between the one system and the other.

I do not know how anyone could prove that moral education and character-building were necessarily better provided away from home than in the atmosphere of a good home. This is a proposition which just cannot be proved. None the less, I shall show in a moment that, in our opinion, there is a certain limited number of boys whose education is likely to be more rewarding in a boarding school than in a day school.

If I cannot see clearly how we would select the public schools to qualify for these places, I find it still more difficult to define justifiable grounds for selecting the boys to fill the places. As one of my hon. Friends has said, the supporters of the Fleming Report have always complained that the local authorities, to whom the power was given to pay for boys from the maintained system to fill places offered at public schools, have never been anxious to use this power.

The handful of boys who have been sent to public schools by local authorities—here, I agree entirely with the tribute paid to Middlesex and Hampshire by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. D. Smith): those counties have done well—may have done quite well, but the experiment has really been too small to have had any noticeable effect, either on the schools or on society. It may be that Mill Hill is an exception. If so, perhaps my hon. Friend wll allow me to make it. Otherwise, I think that what I have just said is true.

In any case, why should education committees be enthusiastic about paying several times the cost of a place in one of their secondary schools to send a boy to a public school? Local authorities rightly believe that their first task is to improve their own schools. They have not the resources to do anything like what they would wish to do. For example, they might well say that to continue to work towards raising the school-leaving age is a far better expenditure of money than spending four or five times the sum required for one boy in a maintained secondary school in order to send him to a public school.

As I understand it, ratepayers do not think that it is a good idea for them to be asked to subsidise boys to contract out of a first-class system of education which they are determined to create. Therefore, the proposition never has commanded their wide support, nor was it ever likely to do so.

Realising that this reluctance on the part of the authorities was inevitable, the Governing Bodies Association of the Public Schools told me some time ago that it wished the selection of the boys to be controlled by the Minister of Education and taken out of the hands of local authorities. But I conceive it just as much my duty as Minister, as it is the duty of local education authorities, first, to try to improve the schools in the maintained system. The right way to solve this problem is to make the maintained system so good in quality and the choice for parents so wide, that the overlap between the two systems will become obvious to all parents. When we have done that, the sting will he removed from the out-of-date claim that, in general, all public schools are better than all maintained schools. I shall return later to discuss the rate at which we could close the gap in this way.

I ask hon. Members to consider with me some of the points which would arise if we decided to buy some places and were therefore up against the problem of how to select the boys. We have received a great deal of advice. Some educationists, following very largely the Fleming Report, I suppose, suggest that we ought to choose boys who for some special reason need a hoarding school education—on health grounds, because their parents are moving about, because their parents have broken up the home, or because there is no accessible maintained school which teaches a subject in which the boy desires to specialise, such as Greek. These are a group of special cases. That would not meet my hon. Friend's point about social policy. Furthermore, local education authorities already have power to provide boarding places for such boys.

There are about 8,000 boarding school places in the maintained system, of which, if my memory serves me aright, about 6,500 are in grammar schools. As was mentioned in the debate, it was not easy last year to fill those places; in fact, they were 300 underfilled. That is to say, it looks as though for boys of over average intelligence there are in the maintained system today as many boarding places as the local authorities consider should be provided.

Where I think more boarding places would be distinctly helpful would be for a number of boys and girls of below-average ability, who are likely to do better when they are educated away from home. One could, perhaps, call them secondary modern, but I would stress particularly the needs of those who are backward; who, perhaps, do not have a very good home background, but who could be brought along in a boarding school, and who sometimes make really wonderful strides in their education. I doubt, however, whether the local authorities would consider that the public schools were the right place to educate this particular group of special cases, and it is not very likely that the public schools would differ from that view.

If we leave on one side the special cases—for whom the local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide, but for which, like many other things under the Act, we have not yet been able to furnish them with all the resources they need it is obvious that the most straightforward thing would be to take some of the ablest boys from the maintained system and put them in the public schools. That has at times been a popular idea, but I have already rejected the view that it is necessarily true that these able boys would get a better academic education in a public school than they would in a grammar school.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Bourne-Arton) said, the boys would have to be chosen by competitive examination, and the result would be that the maintained grammar schools would lose at any rate some of their best boys. We know that the local authorities dislike this idea very much, and what is even more important, the public schools themselves, so far as they speak with one voice, have also rejected it. I think that they must have rejected it because it would be likely further to accentuate the differences between the two systems and would, in particular, place a premium on cramming for this examination, which would not be in the best interests of the boys themselves.

We are, therefore, driven to look round for some average boys whose parents would like them to go to public schools, but who cannot afford present-day fees. It is fair to say that in all the excellent speeches we have had we were always driven back to looking for some average boys.

I want, for a moment, to digress to meet the point in this part of the argument put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley). It has been part of the proposals put forward on behalf of one or another headmaster to reform the intake of the public schools that the headmaster would have the right to refuse entry to any boy submitted to him. This is a very serious point, and in itself it would mean that we should have to take over the final say in selection from the local authorities who today have a statutory duty to approve the placing of the boy for whom the fees and the maintenance costs are to come out of public funds.

I am not sure whether my hon. Friends have really thought about this point. I just put it to the House. We should have to consider whether the power to determine the granting of a subsidy four or five times the cost of sending a boy to a maintained school should rest absolutely in the headmaster's hands. I do not think the analogy of the university is quite right here. There is, of course, only one set of universities. Here, we are dealing with the maintained system and the independent system of schools.

Although I should certainly not go all the way with the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) in saying that headmasters should not have a very large measure of the authority which they have in the independent schools, I should be a little doubtful of the wisdom of having a public subsidy of this size paid when the decision as to the recipient was entirely the headmaster's. But that is implicit in all the public school proposals which I have seen. It is a difficult point. Incidentally, reverting again to the argument of the hon. Member for Widnes, I myself think that the authority which the headmasters have in the independent schools is one of the reasons why the independent schools get on with their work. As the hon. Member for Itchen said, the discipline in the schools is controlled in most cases by very able and first-class schoolmasters.

I now return to the problem of finding the average boys. Those who ask us to select boys of this type very often have in mind the sons of parents who went to a public school, but who cannot, in their turn, afford present-day fees. I sympathise very much with those parents. They may belong to one of the poorer sections of the professional classes, the clergy, for example, and they are often heartbroken that their sons cannot follow in their footsteps. In my own experience, when I see the buildings of my own school, when I hear the chapel bells, or I remember the summer days of my last term, I can feel how deep must be the wound to have known all this and not be able to hand it on.

There are, of course, generous arrangements in some public schools for helping the sons of old boys. Those schemes are good and they ought to be extended by all wise and charitable men who care for their old schools, but I do not consider that Parliament should provide money for this private purpose. Rather, I think that we ought to see value in the fact that the sources from which the independent schools are drawing their pupils are always changing with the times.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick said quite truly, over half of all the boys in the public schools I have enumerated, the 55,000 boys, are sons of parents who never had any connection with a public school before. In its way, that is a justification of the independent system. The schools are not reproducing a narrow class. They are all the time absorbing new blood. Nevertheless, I myself feel that to help the able sons of old boys is a private benefaction of great merit.

I come now to the social problem. Behind all this is the nagging thought that the public schools are the product and nurse of a privileged class and, therefore, for the sake of social harmony we ought to select boys from homes which have never been middle class and cannot pay fees. It is said that we ought to inject a lower or different level of society into the public schools, hoping, I suppose, that such boys would knock the alleged superiority out of the regular intake. It might well be the other way round.

The regulars might indoctrinate the subsidised newcomers and turn them into polished, versatile gentlemen like the Leader of the Opposition, the Chairman of the Labour Party, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), who all had the advantage of going to the same public school. It is very curious how powerful certain institutions are in preparing people to sit upon a Front Bench.

It is noted that Eton has a larger proportion here, but ours is nothing like the Front Bench opposite. Consider the number of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen there who have both been—and think how narrow this combination of sources is—a don at Oxford and a temporary civil servant, like the Leader of the Opposition. I can scarcely imagine a more blinkered occupation.

There we have the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman—so great an intellectual figure in the party opposite—the hon. Gentleman himself who has addressed us so well, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand)—was not he a don at Oxford?

Photo of Mr Hilary Marquand Mr Hilary Marquand , Middlesbrough East

If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that I had the doubtful benefit of an education at a public school he is mistaken.

Photo of Mr David Eccles Mr David Eccles , Chippenham

No. I said nothing of the kind. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman had himself had the distinguished position of being a don at Oxford. Perhaps I am wrong. I was only trying to show how narrow are the sources from which so many of the great leaders of the party opposite come, and, therefore, reflecting to myself how difficult it must be to manage a national party with so narrow a base.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Will not the Minister agree that there is a great difference between Oxford and Cambridge and the public schools in that Oxford and Cambridge are drawing even their dons from a much greater social range than the public schools?

Photo of Mr David Eccles Mr David Eccles , Chippenham

Yes, I do. There are only about 9,000 places at Oxford whereas, as I mentioned, there are 55,000 in the public schools. So it is a narrower door to get through. That is the only point I was trying to make.

However, it is just possible that we have not penetrated to the heart of the reason for putting forward these proposals. At least, I think that this is in the minds of quite a number of people outside this House with whom I have discussed it. They feel that if the Conservatives nationalised a good slice of Eton then the Socialists who long to nationalise the whole of the school would be placated and abandon their attack.

I think that that is very questionable advice. One might as well ask the Government to buy up a quarter of the places at Glyndebourne and distribute them to the Keep Left Group in the hope that they would be quiet. One might as well say that a quarter of the beds in the London Clinic should be bought by the Government and given to those who otherwise would have to go to a hospital ward. I do not believe in that kind of policy. I think that we have reached the conclusion—at least, on these benches we certainly have—that nationalisation is an appetite which can grow with eating.

Anyway, our view is that the public schools do not need to be decontaminated in this way. We are going to put them in their modern place and proper perspective by raising the standards in the maintained schools so that the problem which rightly stirs the conscience of many good men will not trouble them in such a way in the future.

This brings me back to the terms of the Motion. We accept the wisdom of bringing these two great systems of education closer together, and that is happening all the time. I assure the House that the results of bringing up the maintained system would be much more apparent than they are had we not had the extra 2 million children for whom to find places. Now we can go forward somewhat faster in raising the quality of the maintained system.

Formal education is a long journey, going from the small child right to the university graduate, and I suppose that we can divide it into three stages—primary, secondary and higher education. I wonder whether it is right, as I think the hon. Member for Grimsby said, that we must have very rigid divisions in this long journey of formal education between the maintained and the independent systems. It is already true that our young people meet on terms of equality at the top end, at the university and the technical college.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. North-West has said tremendous changes have taken place in higher education from the point of view of the social mix-up since the war. But I am very much concerned, also, with the other end of the educational scale. Is it not a fact that there is a steady mix-up going on in the primary schools?

I am quite sure that we can and will make these primary schools attractive to parents whether the parents can afford fees or not. It is happening now, and again it is a movement which could happen quicker. If the entry to a public school could be as easily prepared via a county primary school as a fee-paying preparatory school, that would be all to the good. It would lead to a mixing-up process in the primary schools.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington when he says that he would like to see more of this. It is going on on quite a large scale now in the public schools, and here the girls' schools have always been ahead of the boys' schools, that is to say, in making or extending their arrangements for offering places to children coming from the primary schools, and altering the requirement in such a way that the children from primary schools have as good a chance as children from the fee-paying schools. It is a reform which public schools can make themselves and which would be of absolutely first-class importance. I hope very much that the House will endorse the endeavours of those who are trying to see that there is no handicap in having been to a county primary school to the chance of getting a boy or a girl into a public school.

The Motion deals with the middle part of the educational journey, that is to say, with the secondary schools themselves. Ideally, parents ought to have the widest possible choice of secondary schools, day schools, boarding schools, denominational schools, and schools where there is a bias towards academic, technical, or practical subjects.

I believe it to be the duty of the Minister, in carrying out the Act, to plan for a very flexible and varied system of secondary education into which the independent and the direct grant schools could fit naturally, offering an education for which some parents will always wish to pay but not, in general, offering higher academic standards than can be obtained in the maintained schools, which we will improve very much. And, of course, subject to the provisions of the Act, parents ought to have the last word in the education of their children.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster made that point. It is really only the dyed-in-the-wool theoretical equaliser who would deny parents the right to spend their money on giving their child the education that they think best. I really think that almost all of us agree with that. The only difference is that the hon. Member for Grimsby wants there to be no places where people can spend their money, but we would like there still to be schools where people can buy a good education of a kind which suits them.

The Minister should, as he has an obligation to do now, inspect these independent schools and see that they reach proper standards. I do not think that a parent ought to be allowed to buy a really bad education for his child. We deal with that in Part III of the Act. It is, of course, certainly true of British parents that, whereas they believe in equality of opportunity for everybody else's children, they want something a little more than equality for their own children, and they very often spend a great deal of money without achieving that object. Therefore, the Government's task is to provide in the maintained system, an education which is good and with constantly rising standards to suit each child, and we can continue to do this provided that Parliament will give us the resources.

I would agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South that the number of maintained schools offering a better education than some of the independent schools is steadily increasing, and I include in these maintained schools secondary modern schools. Only a very short time ago I was in a technical college where boys and girls from secondary modern schools as well as grammar schools were taking a G.C.E. course. I talked to the head of the department, who told me that the boys coming from the secondary modern schools as well as the grammar schools were better grounded than the students in the same course who had come from an independent fee-paying school.

I do not think that that is an exceptional case. We live so close to it, of course, that we cannot visualise the pace of improvement at the top of our secondary schools but it is there.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

I would support what my right hon. Friend has said. I have talked to many parents in industrial areas who could well afford to send their children to independent schools, but many of them who are in engineering are deliberately choosing to send their children to State schools because, on the engineering and practical side, they get a better education there.

Photo of Mr David Eccles Mr David Eccles , Chippenham

I am very glad to hear what my hon. Friend said. I believe that if the secondary modern schools—many of them, the majority I suppose, have not yet been established for five years—are given the chance we shall get excellent results.

However, it is not just the academic teaching at which we should look to measure the value of the two systems. We very badly need to teach our children moral standards as well as store their heads with information and train them in valuable skills. I would accept what the hon. Member for Itchen, said, that the maintained system has also to be judged by the way in which it can show boys and girls how to choose between right and wrong and to recognise, as we all have to do, that we have duties as well as rights. It is my hope and belief that the maintained primary and secondary schools will, in this respect, prove to be the equal of the independent schools. At any rate, what is quite sure today is that the overlap is growing, and growing at a pace which one can really appreciate.

The Government see no reason to use public money to subsidise the transfer of boys from one system to the other on a basis of selection in which nobody knows what would be just or why. Still less do we see any reason for destroying the public schools altogether. We want the two systems to live alongside and to learn from each other.

If it is a historical fact, and I think that it is, that the public schools have set the pace and taught us a very great deal of all we know about boys' secondary education, those days are almost over and, as the Minister of Education, I should not be, and I am not, in the least jealous of the public schools today. I am very grateful to them for their example, but I am equally confident that it will not be long before the independent schools learn as much from the maintained system as the maintained system will continue to learn from them.

It is in that spirit that I hope that the House will accept the Motion which has provoked so many good speeches during our debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That this House, recognising the valuable contribution that the independent schools have long been making to education, expresses the hope that Her Majesty's Government will encourage a closer association between these schools and the public educational system.