I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This is a very short Bill, but I hope that it will meet with the approval of the House as being valuable in content. It has two main purposes. Its principal purpose is to enable local authorities in England and Wales, and voluntary bodies, to experiment with new schools, but only new ones, in varying the age of transfer, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. That is the purpose of Clause 1.
The second purpose, which covers both Scotland and England and Wales, is to remove an anomaly connected with the payment of maintenance allowances whereby the parents of handicapped children at special schools are precluded from receiving the benefit of the allowances if those children are between the ages of 15 and 16. That is the object of Clause 2 in regard to England and Wales, and of Clause 3 in regard to Scotland. I think that I can assure the House that Clauses 4 and 5 are, at any rate for the purposes of a Second Reading, either formal or consequential.
Perhaps I may deal with the two main purposes I have outlined in reverse order, that is to say, with Clauses 2 and 3 first. I would explain that the power that local education authorities have to make payment of maintenance allowances to parents of school children derives from Section 81(c) of the parent Act of 1944. This is drafted so as to permit the payment of maintenance allowances only in respect of children above compulsory school age, so that in the case of children at ordinary schools, whether they are handicapped children or children who are not handicapped, the age at which the allowances can be paid is, in consequence, 15. But under Section 38 of the principal Act it is provided that a handicapped child at a special school—not one at a general school—is deemed to be of compulsory school age until he reaches the age of 16.
Although I am absolutely certain that it was not in the minds of the draftsmen when the Act was passed, the House will see that the combined effect of those two Sections, and of the two Sections of the Scottish Act referred to in Clause 3, which have the same effect, is to deprive the parents of handicapped children of the benefit of the allowances for a year after the parents of the child in an ordinary school, whether handicapped or not, have been entitled to draw them. For the parents of a handicapped child at a special school this adds a financial disadvantage to the initial misfortune which those of us who are happy enough to be parents of normal children can guess at and deeply sympathise with, but perhaps can never fully appreciate.
I think that this is a mere anomaly, quite unintentional, and something that we have promised more than once to remedy when the opportunity occurred. I am glad that it has occurred now, and I am only sorry that it has not occurred before. Indeed, I hope that the day will arrive when we can evolve a method of Parliamentary procedure which avoids the consumption of Parliamentary time for uncontroversial and humanitarian legislation of this type. But we have not yet reached that stage.
If I may return to Clause 1, which is the main purpose of the Bill and limited to England and Wales, this is more substantial from the point of view of educational policy, although it is frankly experimental in character and limited in scope. As the House will know, it is a fundamental assumption of our legislation that schools are divided into primary and secondary, and the age of transfer, as I am afraid we call it in the jargon of education, is round about 11—that is after 10½ and before 12. This is the result, if I might again be precise, of reading Section 8 of the Act of 1944 with the definition Section, that is Section 114.
As the House knows, schemes of secondary reorganisation are very much in the air at the moment and it is, therefore, perhaps not altogether surprising that some local authorities—a notable example is the West Riding of Yorkshire, but it is not alone in that respect, I think—have shown a desire to experiment with the age of transfer itself. Owing to the way in which the Act is drafted in these two Sections, they cannot properly do so under the existing law.
The purpose of Clause 1 is to remove this restriction for new schools, where the proposals meet with the approval of the Secretary of State for Education and Science under the well-known and very well tried provisions of Section 13 of the principal Act. The Bill was originally drafted for the benefit of local education authorities. This was because we supposed—wrongly, as it turned out—that only local authorities would be interested in experiments of this kind. In fact, up to that time we had only been approached by local authorities, but during the passage of the Bill through another place the voluntary bodies—the Roman Catholic authorities and the Church of England authorities—expressed the desire to be given a like right of experiment. Therefore, the Bill was amended in another place, gladly on our part, to include them.
I hope that the House will agree that what we propose is reasonable. There is nothing specially sacrosanct about 11 as an age of transfer. The case for 11 was very well and fully argued in the Hadow Report of 1926 and nobody can say that it was not prescribed by the law deliberately. But many other countries—and, indeed, our own independent system, of which some hon. Members are unworthy examples—have very largely settled down to an age of transfer centring round about the age of 13. Although the Hadow Report argues the matter very learnedly, I have never quite rid myself of the suspicion that the real reason for 11 lay in the historical fact that the old system of universal, compulsory, elementary education prior to 1900 long ended at the age of 11, so that when the central Government and local education authorities came to add post-primary—or, as it was afterwards called, secondary—provision they found it more convenient to superimpose new schools on top of their existing school structure. This was the more natural since they were then dealing with a course of three or four years ending at 14 or 15, and not with a longer course, as it will be, ending at 16. It is therefore appropriate that we should give local education authorities and voluntary bodies, who must now be looking forward to raising the age to 16, an option to experiment with the age of transfer in the course of the wide experiments which are now taking place to reorganise secondary education generally. We do not now contemplate—nor, I think, ought we to contemplate it in advance of Lady Plowden's Report—any general change in the age of transfer. It follows that the actual provisions of Clause 1 are purely of an enabling character.
Perhaps I should now refer to subsection (2), which enables the Secretary of State to designate a school emerging from one of these proposals as either secondary or primary, as may be appropriate, notwithstanding the fact that an unconventional age of transfer is proposed. This is the administratively easier of two alternative proposals. The other way of doing it, to invent one or two hybrid classes of school, neither primary nor secondary, would have led to a much more complicated piece of legislation, and it was thought inappropriate to a limited number of experiments as proposed in the Bill. With this explanation, which I hope hon. Members have found sufficiently intelligible, I commend the Bill to the House.
This is a small but important Bill and we welcome it. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not mind my saying that we pay tribute to his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science because one of his last actions as Minister of Education was to introduce this Bill. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, the Bill incorporates two important reforms and removes a very unfair anomaly which was to the detriment of the parents of handicapped children.
We made repeated representations from this side of the House that this should be done, and we express pleasure that the Government are taking the opportunity of the extended Session to see that this anomaly is put right, but the position even when the Bill becomes law will not by any means be completely satisfactory. I have previously expressed great dissatisfaction about the present position in the matter of maintenance allowances for schoolchildren. We had the Weaver Report on educational maintenance allowances, but unfortunately its recommendations were not fully accepted by the Government. Not only are the allowances inadequate but there are wide disparities between different parts of the country and it is particularly unfortunate that the Government now shield themselves behind the present block grant provisions and that many of the disparities are now disguised.
The proper step to take is to do as we suggest in "Signposts for the Sixties" and that is to see that maintenance allowances are provided by way of family allowances, with a steep increase in respect of children who remain at school after compulsory school-leaving age. This would directly help handicapped children. However, in their case unfair disparities do not only affect maintenance allowances. There may be some differences in the numbers of these children in different local authority areas, but no such variations can explain the present disparities in expenditure on their education. For example, expenditure on special schools per 1,000 of population is £979 in Liverpool but in Great Yarmouth it is as low as £142.
Whilst we welcome the Bill and what is being done, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's affection for laissez faire will not mean that he remains indifferent to these disparities, to the prejudice of many handicapped children. Moreover, whilst we welcome what is being done for handicapped children by means of the Bill, it must be appreciated that a good deal more needs to be done for them. As long as there is a waiting list of 13,000 for admission to special schools we cannot be satisfied with what is being done, though we recognise the improvements made in the past few years.
It is not only a question of accommodation. There is also the question of teachers. The National Advisory Council a few years ago set us a target of 10,000 qualified teachers for special schools, but this still remains a target and the acute shortage in teacher supply should not blind us to the special needs of these children. It is not only a question of special schools. There is a great need for specialist remedial teachers in the ordinary primary and secondary schools.
When we recognise the provisions which we are making for the children at special schools we should also have regard to the care and attention which should be given to these children when they leave school. Very often, because we do not pay sufficient care and attention to the problem of handicapped children when they leave school, a great deal of work done at school is lost.
Whilst, therefore, we welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on taking this opportunity to right this anomaly, this only emphasises the need for much greater provision for handicapped children than we are providing and also directs our attention to the unevenness of the provision made throughout the country for these children. We equally welcome the other provisions of the Bill. We regret that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not made further provision. This would have made the Bill into a miscellaneous provisions Bill and we would have had many suggestions to make to him, but we recognise that for good Parliamentary reasons he has avoided that temptation.
We congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman on the provision to enable local authorities, who wish to experiment, to straddle the 11-plus gulf, but the House should clearly recognise that here we are doing two things. We are legitimising action which some local authorities have taken in defiance of the Ministry and in contravention of the 1944 Act, and we are removing an obstacle in the way of some local education authorities which have followed what they consider the best course in their determination—and I here use the words of "Signposts for the 'Sixties"—to reorganise the State secondary schools on comprehensive lines
in order to end the segregation by the 11-plus examination which is now almost universally condemned on educational as well as on social grounds …".
However much the right hon. and learned Gentleman may seek to disguise this, the Bill is a capitulation by the Government. After having fought a rearguard action against the reorganisation of schooling on comprehensive lines they are capitulating, because the purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the provision of comprehensive schooling for secondary school children.
It is true that, like the noble Lord, Lord Newton, in another place, the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to experimentation, but there is no word about experimentation in the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows well enough that once the Bill becomes law there will be considerable pressure on him from many education authorities to provide for schools which will bridge this 11-plus gulf. This ought not to disturb him. The right hon. Gentleman makes so many outrageous political statements that when he makes a sensible statement it is often overlooked, but when he was questioned about the reorganisation of education at Question Time a few weeks ago he said:
I thought that the tripartite system had already broken down seven years ago when I was Minister before."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1964; Vol. 695, c. 577.]
The pity is that it has taken him seven years to tell us this and that during that time the Government have done so little about it.
I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the credit, however, that he differs from his immediate predecessors and successors in that office in that politically he is more than anything else a Liberal and really believes in laissez fair. During the short time when he was at the Ministry, the local authorities had greater freedom than they had enjoyed before or have enjoyed since. I have pleasure in reminding him that seven years ago he was faced with a new approach to the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines, as proposed by the Leicestershire Education Authority, and it is to his credit that he did not sabotage that scheme or seek to frustrate or thwart it. But the trouble is—and we are paying for it now—that he was not more positive.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have encouraged and approved what the Leicestershire Education Authority was proposing to do. I believe that strictly he was obliged to have done that, because the scheme was obviously a radical variation of the 1950 development plan, but what he did was to completely abrogate responsibility Pontius Pilate-wise; he said that the local education authority had no need for his approval, had not sought it, and had not received it.
Neither will the right hon. and learned Gentleman, at least for a short time. As I say, we give credit to him for at least giving Leicestershire the opportunity. Leicestershire has set an example to other authorities in the provision of comprehensive secondary schooling.
However, at the same time, we have had an absence of leadership by the right hon. Gentleman. This was illustrated in the Leicestershire scheme in other ways. There was the provision for "high flyers", originally intended for the top 10 per cent., but in practice for much less. This was an open evasion of the law, contrary to the 1944 Act. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knew all about it but did nothing. I am not complaining about the Leicestershire scheme on the merits. On the contrary. The purpose of the Bill is to regularise the position. We are in favour of it. It provides the flexibility which ought to be provided at the age of transition, and we support authorities like the West Riding which are seeking new ways to organise comprehensive secondary schooling. We are delighted that there has been a massive revolt against the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Department and that by this Bill he is now recognising it.
What is unfortunate, and what affects the present situation very much, is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has shown a lack of courage and initiative which has seriously diminished the standing and respect which he and his Department have in education at the moment. In fact, the Bill is seven years late.
I emphasise once more that we are encouraged by and support the action which many education authorities, not only the West Riding but Stoke, Croydon and many others of differing political complexion, are taking to organise expeditious ways of providing comprehensive secondary schooling. What is regrettable in this situation of revolutionary change—the Director of Education for Leicestershire described his own proposals years ago as revolutionary—is that we have not had a more constructive and positive lead from the Minister and his Department. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seems quite unaware of the obligation which Parliament placed upon them.
One has only to turn to Section 1 of the Education Act, 1944, to see that it is the right hon. and learned Gentleman's duty to
promote the education of the people of England and Wales and the progressive development of institutions devoted to that purpose, and to secure the effective execution by local authorities, under his direction and control, of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive education service in every area".
I shall not embarrass the Minister by emphasising control and direction. A Secretary of State who relied overmuch on control and direction would be as unfortunate as a Secretary of State who abnegated all responsibility. But what is wanted in the present situation is a sense of direction and guidance, and this is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is conspicuously failing to give.
We on this side accept and warmly support the present division of responsibility in education. It is a partnership, but it is an unfortunate partnership if the senior partner is a sleeping partner. The Government ought now to give forthright assistance to local authorities in their plans of reorganisation. What makes matters worse is that not only is there not any sense of direction forthcoming but the local education authorities carrying out these difficult tasks are not receiving any guidance, help or even information from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. At Question Time a few weeks ago, when my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) suggested that the Department should collate and render readily available information about the reorganisation of secondary education, the right hon. and learned Gentleman stubbornly rejected this suggestion. In fact, it is left to enterprising local authorities such as the London County Council to provide the information. The least the Secretary of State should be doing now is to help this reorganisation by providing such information as he has in his Department.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the Plowden Committee. He will realise as well as we do that it is unfortunate that contemporaneously with this reorganisation we should be awaiting the results of the Committee's deliberations. I suggested to him that he might take the initiative and invite the Committee to offer us an interim report on the question we are discussing now, the age of transition. He refused to do so. I would respect the views of the Plowden Committee, but I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has no excuse for not taking any initiative. He should at least invite the view of the Plowden Committee on the possibility of providing an interim report.
Especially now, when we are discussing this Bill, we ought, if it be possible, to provide all the information and help we can give to create an informed opinion on the question of the age of transition. The idea of middle schools itself is not new. Not long ago, I saw a memorandum prepared by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Idwal Jones) making this very suggestion as far back as 1942. However, we have no accepted or clear view about the age range. There are different proposals from the West Riding, Stoke, Croydon and other authorities. The Association of Education Committees, apparently, leans towards the age of 12 as being the right one. It seems that the National Union of Teachers is equally divided on whether the age should be 11-plus or should be 12 or 13. There is every ground—I am with the right hon. and learned Gentleman in this—for pragmatic experiment, but there is also every ground for providing, as best we can, informed opinion and help.
If he stands by what he says at Question Time, the Secretary of State ought to be ready lo help those local education authorities which, because the tripartite system has broken down, are now facing the urgent problem of reorganisation. Instead, they are having to do as best they can without any advice or assistance from him. I have every sympathy with the plea of the National Union of Teachers that some order ought to be introduced into the administrative chaos which is rapidly developing. At least, we need some co-operation and guidance from the Minister and his Department.
The Secretary of State mentioned denominational schools. We know that the Bill was introduced without any reference to denominational schools. No inquiry was made. It was introduced in panic because of the action which the West Riding was, apparently, ready to take regardless of anything which the Secretary of State might do. The Bill in itself is not sufficient to meet the problems of the voluntary schools. In any scheme for reorganisation, the voluntary schools will face real and special difficulties, and their position merits attention, consideration and advice from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But this is what is lacking.
When we hear Lord Newton in another place and the right hon. and learned Gentleman here talking about experimentation, we get no hint of a proper sense of initiative, guidance and help. We are little further forward than we were at the time of the Government White Paper in 1958. Today above anything else, we want from the Government and from the right hon. and learned Gentleman a clear and explicit commitment to the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines. This we have not had, and herein lies the source of present difficulties.
The Bill is a small but important and valuable Measure. It will be a useful instrument for the next Government, because the next Government will be clearly committed to providing social justice for handicapped children and to providing an adequate and sufficient education for all those enjoying secondary schooling.
I should like shortly to support the Bill, and to say, although it may sound ridiculous, that it is possible that this could be a major revolution of very great importance to a large section of our people. I am speaking particularly on behalf of those who are conceptually weak. They do not have the conceptions in their head even if they have the vocabulary. It seems to me that this Bill opens up the possibility of special schools in that sense.
As I read the Measure, such a school could start from three and go on to 63; it has to be below one age and above another. This lack of conceptual ability is present throughout all the age groups and is of very great disadvantage to the people concerned. There is an obligation on the State, and it is a duty of the teaching profession, to supply what have been the deficiencies in the environment of the child or even the adult.
I have here the statement from the National Union of Teachers to the Central Advisory Council for Education. It is dated June, so it is only one day out of date. I should like to read two paragraphs of it:
It is the child's linguistic environment which most profoundly affects the development of his measured ability and attainment. 'Primary Education' puts it in this way. 'The development of thought itself depends on a multiplication of names and a perception of categories and concepts they imply.' The whole chapter on language in this handbook takes on a new significance in the light of the findings of Douglas. Of all the cultural inequalities that widen the differences between child and child it is the richness or poverty of its early linguistic development which demands most attention. 'As the child progresses through school', says a National Foundation for Educational Research Report, 'initial differences related to differences in early and continuing cultural opportunity tend to be reinforced', and once again the findings of Douglas support this conclusion.
Paragraph 10 states:
The problem is particularly recognised in all countries … as, for example, in Israel, with its problems of the oriental Jewish immigrant, and in the U.S.A., with its negro"—
and I might add its Puerto Rican problem.
We cannot do better than draw the Council's attention to the article by Charles E. Silberman, Lecturer in Economics at Columbia University, in the May, 1964, issue of 'Harper's Magazine', which deals with the problem in both these countries.
I will send the Minister a copy of this.
It is very hard for us to recognise, but a substantial portion of young children in our schools, and consequently of adults, do not understand language. When the teacher says, "It is time to put your things away, to get on your coats and go home", they do not understand those words, although they act upon them. Throughout life they solve their communicative difficulties by watching what the effect of language is on people next to them. Their little beady eyes observe and copy the actions of others. In other words, they are, in effect, like a do" which sits down when one says "Sit down" to it. But that is not a linguistic message; that is a Pavlovian conditioning to the environment. The teacher is able very easily to teach concepts provided he knows that that is the necessity.
By the Bill local authorities will be empowered to run special schools of this kind. As I see it, we learned our concepts accidentally by experiencing a number of situations. If the situation was big, or bigger, we had in situation 127 a bigger glass than another glass, accidentally in situation 254 a bigger piece of bread than another piece of bread, than a bigger boy or a smaller boy. These are different situations which we observed and memorised and from which we analysed the common factor of this concept of one thing being bigger than another. An adult in Tokyo would use a different word from the word a German would use in Berlin or a Frenchman in Paris, but in England we use our word. A child is lucky if an adult gives him as a catalyst the word "bigger" in all those situations because that helps the child enormously in forming the concept as well as knowing the vocabulary with which to operate that concept in one's mind.
In the graphic arts and in the schools the process need not be accidental; it can be planned and deliberate. Instead of being situation 204 and then not repeated and reinforced until situation 500, it can be picture 1, picture 2, picture 3 and picture 4, and always the word will be "bigger" and Uncle will not come in and say "'greater" instead of "bigger" and thereby cause a lack of repetition and of reinforcement and introduce a new factor, one of confusion.
In the schools we have this problem for a limited number of people, but they are very precious human beings. Their potentialities are, as far as we may expect, as great as those of anybody else, but they have been handicapped, and subsequently are handicapped throughout their lives, by the fact that they have not had the initial teaching in the concepts which are the basis of communication. In the beginning was the word "logos" and that means "the concept". It was given a different ticket in Tokyo, Paris and Berlin, but the concept is the same where-ever man communicates with man.
Now that we have segregated the children with frictional difficulties in reading from those with a lack of conceptualisation, local authorities will be able under the Bill to test them to find out whether it is lack of conceptualisation which is holding them back. It is possible even at the age of three, which is when such teaching should begin, to find out whether children are lacking in this opportunity of situational backgrounds and so of concepts. We can test even better and more successfully at later ages, but the real issue is to find out those children who are thus suffering. Under this Bill it seems to me that the local authorities will be able to find out and identify the very young children, and even the older people, and to set about giving them that opportunity of living which comes from man being a communicative animal.
Man differs from the dog in that he understands the generality of concept of the word "sit" as an action. He understands the generality of concept of the word "down" as a preposition in a direction. That is mankind's enormous difference from the animal kingdom. A dog sits down when one says "sit down", but there is no conceptualisation passing, only a response to a Pavlovian conditioning.
May we hope that local authorities will use the Bill in the way that it can be used. I think that we should welcome it very warmly.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman), if only to say that I regret that this is, I believe, the last time when he will take part in an education debate in this House. He will not be coming to the next Parliament. Those of us who have followed education debates in the House for the last 15 or 20 years know the tremendous contribution he has made to them. I will not follow the particular point he raised. I feared for a moment that he wished to make all our little children into Pavlovian dogs with a series of conditioned reflexes, but he escaped from it towards the end of his speech and I followed with great interest his description of the problem which he drew to the attention of the Secretary of State.
I raised with the then Minister of Education, four or five years ago, the anomaly which is to be put right by Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill. Since then, the problem has been raised at conferences of education associations. The difficulty has always been that of waiting for a Bill into which to put the reform, and I think that the Secretary of State was wise in suggesting that Parliament should one day find a method of doing what the whole House wants done without waiting for the procedure of getting together a lot of little reforms to put into a Bill. It always seems to me that we could get a single-Clause, non-contentious Bill through the House much more easily than Departments fear would be the case.
Parents receive a maintenance grant—subject to an income test—if their children stay on at school after school leaving age. The grant may not be big enough, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) pointed out, but it has certainly improved tremendously since some of us persuaded the Government to set up the Weaver Working Party. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take the opportunity of the fact that Clauses 2 and 3 deal with maintenance grants to note that whilst some local authorities are paying more than the Weaver Report recommended, and some are paying the scale, that some still pay less.
The Weaver scale has now become national policy. I hope that the Secretary of State will take the opportunity to have a word with those local authorities which are still too mean to pay adequate maintenance grants to the poor children who stay on after school leaving age. I hope that any councillors who read HANSARD will make sure that their own local authorities come up to scratch on this very important matter.
However, as the Secretary of State pointed out, if the child is mentally or physically handicapped and has to attend a special school, the school-leaving age for such a child is taken as 16 years. It was the parent of such a child who brought to my notice some years ago the simple fact that there was no maintenance allowance for the child between the ages of 15 and 16.
We do not make a maintenance allowance for a normal child in order to compensate for loss of earnings. It would be a much bigger allowance if we did in these days, when youngsters are paid so much for leaving school. The allowance is meant to help parents keep their children at school during the most expensive, non-earning period of the life of youngsters.
The only difference between a normal and an abnormal child of 15, since neither is earning, is that the parents of the handicapped child will have greater expenses to meet than the parents of the normal child. Parents of abnormal children find that they are far more costly to keep than normal children. Sadly enough, there is often no prospect of such a child ever becoming a wage earner. I am therefore delighted on all counts, to think that now such children are to receive a maintenance grant. I share the view of the Secretary of State that we should have given it to them years ago.
I congratulate the Government on this reform, which will help some hundreds of Britain's most hard-pressed mothers. It is only one of a series of useful little Measures which the Government have brought in over the past years to help the parents of handicapped children which I have not time to mention.
Nevertheless there is much more yet to be done for the handicapped child. Anyone who serves on a local education authority knows that every authority in the country has lists of children who have been recommended for special education and treatment but who are unable to get it because either an appropriate school simply does not exist or because it is overcrowded and has long waiting lists.
Even more difficult is the problem of the ineducable child. I think that the greatest tragedy that can happen to a family is when the local medical officer reports that a child cannot go to any school, not even a special school. Then there is also the problem of what happens when a handicapped child leaves the special school only to find that there is no work for them. I hope that one day we shall have a full debate on the problems of special schools and handicapped children so that we may appreciate how much splendid work we have done since the war but how much still remains to be done.
I share the view of the hon. Member for Bath that Clause 1 is very important. I have watched the transformation of the Tory Party's attitude towards education over the last 40 years with amazement and delight. They have climbed on to educational bandwagon after educational bandwagon. I remember their conversion to "further secondary education for all". I remember their conversion to the ending of all-age schools—I think that it was the last Minister of Education but two who announced that epoch-making discovery. They were also gradually won over to adequate maintenance grants, although we had to persuade them to adopt the report of their own Weaver Working Party.
These are just a few of the education reforms they have slowly come round to accepting. Now Clause 1 suggests they are not quite certain whether or not to fight the election on the battle cry of "Hands off the grammar schools!" They dare not say "Hands off Eton and Harrow!" because that would not win votes. They may come out and say, as they did when they said, "We are for social services", "We are the party for experiment in selection at 11-plus—the party for comprehensive secondary education". I have the idea that the cry of "Hands off the grammar schools" will last for just one more election, in spite of Clause 1.
In Clause 1, the party opposite are adding another nail to the coffin of tripartism and already the Secretary of State, chief of many Ministers of Education, is converted—or seems to be. The National Union of Teachers in its evidence to the Plowden Committee, has come down on the side of ending the 11-plus in favour of the establishment of comprehensive schools where practicable.
That is a real change of attitude of the N.U.T., which has been singularly backward about this aspect of education reform—singularly so, because it has been the pioneer in most education advances. Indeed, the N.U.T. now regrets that Britain is coming to accept a comprehensive system of secondary education only when the moment of doing it will be bedevilled by the fact that it has built all its secondary schools on the basis of tripartism and when many local authorities will, therefore, find it difficult to do even the experimenting allowed under Clause 1 because of the physical nature of the buildings.
It is a simple fact that everywhere in the country Britain's singular and lamentable contribution to education theory—that one can divide children into three groups, 20 per cent. academic, 10 per cent. technical and 70 per cent. the rest which one does not want to say anything about—has been torn to shreds by every local authority. No one except a backwoodsman believes that one can diagnose accurately at 11-plus a child's ability to profit by education to the age of 18 or 20. No local authority has a completely tripartite system of secondary education. Even the most conservative—and I use that word with a small "c" because some of the Labour authorities are conservative about this—have transfer at 13 or 16 or the interchange of children constantly between various types of secondary schools. Nearly every local authority has some bilateral schools—technical grammar or technical modern or grammar modern. Not all but most of them are providing a fifth form in secondary modern schools. Some are even providing a sixth form or, if they do not provide a sixth form, are making it easy for able children from the fifth form to transfer to the sixth form of a grammar school.
Then we have experiments like those at Leicester and West Riding. The West Riding experiment is the one on which Clause 1 is tailored. In Leicester there are two kinds of secondary schools—a kind of junior secondary school and a senior secondary school—and in West Riding there is almost a new kind of middle school between primary and secondary.
There are progressive authorities, not all of them Labour, which have boldly set up comprehensive schools, transferring all the children at 11-plus to the nearest secondary school, which offers to an able child everything that a grammar school offers and also to the not so able child many more opportunities than it would have had in the secondary modern school.
There are authorities like London which compromise. London rightly boasts of the fine achievements of its comprehensive schools; but they are not completely comprehensive. Some 11 to 12 per cent. of London's children still go to selected grammar schools, but even in London and certainly in Sunderland, where I visited an excellent comprehensive school three or four months ago, when the choice is given to parents to choose between selection at 11-plus with the possibility of winning a place at a grammar school or simply to the nearest comprehensive school, parents are choosing to send their children to the comprehensive school. In the case of Sunderland, of this year's 250 11-plus intake in the area dealt with by that comprehensive school about 98 per cent. of the children opted to go to the comprehensive school rather than sit for grammar school examinations. Now, West Riding is asking not merely whether it is right to select at 11-plus but whether it is right to transfer children from primary to secondary education at 11-plus. This is much more serious, in my opinion, than the question of whether we should select at 11-plus.
About the only thing that the 1944 Education Act said about the form of education was that primary education should begin at the age of five—children must be sent to school at the age of five—that secondary education should be provided separately from primary education, and that the transfer should be, as the Minister said, between the ages of ten and a half and twelve. There was not a word incidentally about tripartitism in that Act.
The Minister has never had power to prevent experimentation in kinds of secondary education. He could frown on it, as he did or his predecessors did, but he is now relaxing the frown and even smiling. In Clause 1 he goes much further. The age of transfer itself is thrown into the melting pot. I regard this as an important innovation that the House does well to look at. If hon. Members believe in selection of children for different kinds of secondary education, obviously selection can be more effective and accurate at the age of 13 than at the age of 11. The common entrance examination is taken at about the age of 13. Incidentally, it is a much more exacting examination than that of selection at 11-plus. The ablest children in the prep school have to work hard, and there is no royal road for the middle-class child who wants to go to the rich man's public school.
Selection at the end of prep school can be much more accurate because it is two years later than selection at 11-plus, but the real issue of Clause 1 goes beyond even the question of selection. I believe that all our concepts of education are at present in the melting pot. Old barriers, the least defensible of them the barrier between public and private education, must, I think, go in these modern days. The raising of the school-leaving age to 16, when it comes, may demand an alteration in the structure of education as revolutionary as the changes which will take place in the content and quality of secondary education when all our children are being educated to 16.
To carry out Crowther would be a revolution; to carry out Newsom for the average child would be a revolution. The Plowden Committee will examine, among other things, the question which is posed by Clause 1: what should be the age of transfer from primary to secondary education? I believe that it will also examine the question of selection at 11-plus. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North in his suggestion that we ought to formulate our own decisions on this question of transfer from primary to secondary now. I think that we ought to wait until the Plowden Committee has reported. It would be rather impertinent to anticipate Plowden.
The two points that I made were, first, that we should ask the Plowden Committee whether it would be prepared to give us an interim report, in other words, its opinion on this subject, and, second, that those authorities making a decision on this should have all the guidance and informed opinion that is available.
I am always prepared to listen to my very good friend on the Front Bench. I was coming to that. He argued that one way by which we could get out of the dilemma would be by asking Plowden to anticipate its own findings on this issue and whether it would make this the first remit from the Minister. I think that it would be folly to anticipate the findings of Plowden on this, but I would nevertheless emphasise one or two points.
I heartily agree with the Secretary of State when he expressed the suspicion that many of our educational reforms had been carried out for non-educational reasons. Almost every educational advance has been for a bad reason. We first had the expansion of secondary and technical education because Lord Haldane discovered that Germany was a military force and we had to educate Britain to cope with the scientific and economic might of Germany. The whole theory of the tripartite system of education depends on the buildings which existed in 1944. We have made educational decisions on financial grounds—the number of teachers that we can afford—rather than on any educational basis. I hope that no one will use the elasticity of the powers that Clause 1 gives to the age of transfer to transfer children from any other age than that which the law at present lays down unless the reason is an educational one. Merely to transfer from primary to secondary because the building suits, or because it would be cheaper to have teachers this way than the other is the kind of reason which I hope will not enter into the mind of any local authority. If Clause 1 comes into operation, I hope that it will be for educational reasons and not for administrative convenience.
I am delighted that there is to be no tampering with the age of entry. The glory of British education is that ever since 1880 every British child has gone to school at the age of 5. Indeed, we have slipped back since my childhood. A reading of the Secretary of State's own pamphlets on primary education shows that thirty of forty years ago most of our children were getting to school between 4 and 5, but there are children in England today who do not go to school until the term after they are 5. I hope that some day when we consider this age of entry we shall endeavour—and we do not need an Act of Parliament to do it—to see that every child gets into school at the beginning of the year in which his fifth birthday comes. Infant education has been compulsory since 1880.
I would say, as I have said before, that infants' schools have played a great part in the development of British education. Many of the experiments in freedom, in pedagogy, have taken place in infants' schools. The broad aims of the infants' schools are pretty clear and I think that I will carry every hon. Member with me when I say that the infants' teachers know the purpose of infant education and are carrying it out magnificently. In the same way, junior education presents a definite picture. School from 8 to 11 has a sense of unity and purpose with which there should be no tampering unless the reasons are really valid and substantial. As was suggested in another place, it may be one of the reasons for the downward trend of the age of puberty.
It may be that as we raise the secondary leaving age to 16, we shall have to reconstruct education with infant education from 5 to 7, with nursery school education before that as soon as we can get it and afford it, and with junior education from 8 to 11 or 12. The Association of Education Committees suggests 12, but for a bad reason. I am certain that if junior education were freed from the bugbear of selection at 11-plus, it would have new worlds to conquer and a great expansion and development. The Clause makes experiments in that direction possible.
I said that I hoped that the reasons would be valid, and I say that because I am distressed by the attitude of the Association of Education Committees to the subject of the age of transfer. We need more men teachers, but the A.E.C., making its recommendations to the Plowden Committee, mixed up teacher supply with education advantages. It put forward what I regard as a bastard theory. It suggests that it would be good to raise the age of leaving primary school to 12 or 13—it finally settles in favour of 12—and at the other end to raise the entry into school to 6, on the ground that the older children in a school are, the greater the status of the school and the more attraction it has for men.
I must protest with all the force I can command at this concept that the status of a school depends on its size, or on the age of the children in it, or that there is something more dignified about a man teacher than about a woman teacher. I thought that we had ended the hang-over of sex inequality in education and that we were moving away from the concept that the smaller the children, the more there could be packed into a class and the less the teacher need be paid, and the lower his status. If we are to change the school transfer age, let it not be tied up with the question of attracting men, especially if the argument for attraction is fallacious.
I will enter one last caveat. I am all for experimentation, but the teaching profession is afraid that too much experimentation can lead to fragmentation. Families in Britain are mobile. When a father and mother leave one area to go to another, they do not want to find a system of education so different that the child is handicapped in the transfer. This is why I am glad that the Minister himself must be satisfied about the reasons which prompt any change in the age of transfer. This is why I sympathise with the point of view of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North. We do not want direction of education by the Minister from the centre. We want this marriage of local and central authority to continue in what I regard as a very pleasant and happy state.
However, if we are so afraid of uniformity that we go to the opposite extreme and have too much variety in the system of education as between one part of England and another, children will be deprived, especially those who have to move, of equality of opportunity. Leaving one area for another is a trying enough experience in a child's educational career, but to leave one system of education for an entirely different system could be devastating for the child transferred.
I hope that the Bill has an easy passage. We could have had a much bigger Bill, but this is not the political or Parliamentary time for it. I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has brought in a useful reform in Clauses 2 and 3 which rights an injustice and I hope that the authorities will use the powers of Clause 1 with care.
I intervene in the debate only momentarily to support the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) in his disagreement, for it was a real disagreement, with his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey). Over the past years, it has undoubtedly been found that the time span 10½ to 12 is too narrow and constrictive as a definition of the outer limits of the age of transfer from primary to secondary education. We now know that the definition of "junior pupil" and "senior pupil" in the definition Clause of the Education Act, 1944, has proved too narrow for our purposes, and it is therefore right and necessary to do what the Bill does, to make it possible for organisations to be brought into existence, and for new schools to be built, in the light of ages of transfer which lie outside those limits—subject to the agreement of my right hon. and learned Friend.
In other words, in the words of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, there is ground for experiment. It is, however, quite wrong and contradictory, having said, and rightly said, that there is ground for wider experiment than the existing law permits, for him to complain that the Government and my right hon. and learned Friend do not give clear and explicit guidance on the reorganisation of secondary education, and indeed of education generally.
The hon. Member for Itchen touched on one, and perhaps the most important, of the reasons why it would be premature at this stage to attempt to lay down such clear and explicit guidance from the centre. It is not only that the Plowden Committee is in the earlier stages of its work. It is mainly that the extension of the school age, both through the raising of the minimum leaving age to 16 and through the continual increase in the size of fifth and sixth forms, which is one of the most encouraging and important developments of recent years, opens out a field for the rethinking of the structure of our school education on which we are now only beginning to enter.
It would be quite mistaken at this stage, at the moment when we are rightly making it possible to experiment with more freedom by loosening the statutory framework, to say at the same time that we ought to be coming forward with a clear and explicit policy from the centre.
Having said that, and having with every hon. Member who has spoken supported my right hon. and learned Friend in his loosening of the bonds of the 1944 Act, I am afraid that I must accuse the hon. Member for Itchen himself of an inconsistency in the extraordinary passage in which he spoke of the Conservative Party getting on to the educational band wagon. As he went on to detail the major advances in education over the last 50 years, it was remarkable that every one of them had been introduced by a Conservative Government and Conservative Minister of Education. It is an extraordinary band wagon that one starts rolling oneself in order to get on to it. In fact, throughout the whole of this period the Conservative Party has been the pioneer in the great advances in education which the hon. Gentleman detailed. It is a pity that he should have fallen into this contradiction when he was rightly convicting his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North of a less serious one.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) raised the question of experimentation and how the Government can assist change. I propose to deal with that in a moment, so perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not come to it straight away.
When the right hon. Gentleman indulged in party polemics at the end of his speech, he was unfair in regarding the 1944 Act as a Conservative one. I had always thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) played at least some part in that legislation. As my right hon. Friend is retiring at the end of this Parliament, I think that it is only fair to put that on the record.
My hon. Friend is correct.
I should like to concentrate my remarks on Clause 1—not that I regard Clause 2 as unimportant. Indeed, I am sure that we all have tragic cases brought to our notice by parents who have children who come under the category of Clause 2.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton), who has a great interest in this matter, has also reminded me that in Leeds, part of which I represent, it is considered such an important question that the Leeds Trades Council has set up a committee to deal with the problem of mentally handicapped children and to try to force the Government to deal with the Scott Report, which it says has been pigeonholed. The council feels so strongly about this that a petition is being raised in the area to try to force the Government's hand.
Clause 1, at line 2, refers to the establishing of a new county school and in line 3 there is another reference to a new school. Is there some legal reason for this? Does a school which is in existence become a new school, perhaps by altering the age range? I am wondering whether there is any underlying reason for the use of the word "new", twice in the Clause, and in the Minister's speech.
To me the great significance of Clause 1 is that it will allow yet other changes to be made based on the comprehensive principle.
I should like to say a word about the bipartite or tripartite system. In another place the Minister of State said that the basic reasoning of the Hadow Report and the 1944 Act was now being questioned. I query the use of the word "now". The questioning of the tripartite or bipartite system has been going on for many years, and in my view was wrong from the beginning. It was a great pity that the arguments about three types of children were enshrined in some sort of educational canon law. As the word "now" was used by the Minister responsible for schools, I draw to the attention of the right hon. and learned Gentleman a speech that was made by the Minister of State who is now responsible for higher education.
Speaking to the Education Committee Conference on the 5th July, last year, he said:
Let me assure you that neither I nor my colleagues in the Government are wedded to any particular pattern of secondary school organisation; none of us believes in pre-war terms that children can be sharply differentiated
into various types or levels of ability; and I certainly would not wish to advance the view that the bipartite system, as it is often called, should be regarded as the right and usual way of organising secondary education, compared with which everything else must be stigmatised"—
that is the word he used—
More recently, in fact on 26th June, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
It was already generally accepted doctrine seven years ago that the old tripartite division of secondary schools … corresponded to no sensible division of ability amongst pupils.
The Minister responsible for education in another place believes that it is only now that the tripartite system is being questioned. He is mistaken, and I think that we should have the Government's view on this.
Now I take up the use of the word "experimental" by the right hon. Gentleman and also, mistakenly—in my view—by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King). In another place the Minister said on 9th April:
The Bill will allow experimental bridges to be thrown across the gulf."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 9th April, 1964; Vol. 257, c. 262.]
Yet the Minister responsible for higher education regards the word "experimental" as a stigma, judging from what I quoted a moment ago.
There is a world of difference between the two. There is a world of difference in approach. If we regard the existing tripartite system, however modified, as the norm, everything else is an experiment which may or may not come off. What is the Government's policy with regard to this. In a recent debate the Parliamentary Secretary talked about the dangers of being dogmatic in education. I agree with him, but the trouble is that if one supports the existing set up, the established system, one is regarded as not being dogmatic. One becomes dogmatic only when one is trying to effect some sort of change.
I respect the views of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and of the right hon. Gentleman about the tripartite system, but in my view theirs is not the general view of the party opposite. It is not a very rewarding exercise, but recently I have ploughed through various local government election addresses, and even Parliament election addresses. I found that time and again it was said that we on this side of the House wanted to destroy this system; that we were against the tripartite system.
I specifically exempt from that the leader of the Tory group on the City of Leeds Education Commitee. Whatever differences he has with our side of the council chamber, the arguments are carried on and couched in terms which to my mind show that both sides of the Chamber are looking for reasonable forms of change. It is not enough to have a change of heart at the top. We have heard this afternoon that it is a partnership between the central Government and local government. There must be reasonable views at the local level as well.
I return to Clause 1 of the Bill. This will allow other arrangements for primary and secondary to be made. In my view the principle one will be schools which will take children from nine-plus to 13-plus. It will make viable a middle school. This is something for which, in a small way, I have worked for many years. It is one reason why I welcome the Bill in general, and this Clause in particular.
I am prepared to be dogmatic about this, after a good many years working in schools. It is wrong at any one time to try to sort children out into one category or another. Not that children do not differ in ability; goodness knows, they do. But whatever method one uses, and at whatever age one says, "This is what this child will do in the future", one is bound to be wrong. I believe dogmatically, therefore, in the comprehensive principle. But I do not believe dogmatically in the form of carrying it out. It must be carried out in a wide variety of ways.
I would like to bring in a personal note involving the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I was once involved in a by-election in which I was unsuccessful, in 1959, in a suburban area near London, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to speak at a political meeting in the school where I worked—the school that I had attended, that my wife had attended and to which all my friends went. I was responsible for the sixth form, university entrants, and so on. I was told afterwards that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had challenged my arguments on that occasion, and had said that I was a chap who wanted to destroy all this. But my argument then was precisely the same as that which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been using this evening. I am grateful when one sinner repenteth.
I am following the hon. Member's arguments about selection very closely. Does he reject selection altogether, at any stage in the child's career? If he does, how does he apportion a child's abilities and say that one child will go into the grammar school stream and another into the secondary school stream, and so on?
If necessary, in certain subjects. The point is that if the break is made at 11-plus we are telling a child that a decision has been made. That is what is put on the piece of paper that the parents receive.
I feel very strongly about this. Perhaps there is also a psychological reason behind it. I failed the 11-plus, although I passed it the year afterwards, because another school was built. Subsequently I spent ten years at university. Can anybody blame me for thinking that the bloke who told me that I had failed was wrong? One swallow does not make a summer, but I am very sceptical about selection at 11 years of age. I believe in selection, but in my view it must be done in the context of one school.
There was a sneaking feeling on my part—I am sure that I was wrong—that the right hon. and learned Gentleman had come to this political meeting realising that education was an important issue. Perhaps he had not read what my argument was, or perhaps he was deploying his argument in terms of electoral advantage. I acquit him of this, however, and I feel that the fact that what he said was wrong five years ago is now being put forward by him shows that there has been a change of mind on his part.
I make no complaint about it, but the odd thing is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman went to a relatively non-selective school for children and young people between the ages of 13 and 18. That is excellent, but I would have thought that the fact that I was putting forward on that occasion an argument for a school other than a very selective one for the ages from 13 to 18, would have been very pleasant from his point of view, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I was simply arguing that a school for children between the ages of 13 and 18 provided a much better unit than did one for children between the ages of 11 and 18. I still believe so.
We could argue about this a great deal. I prefer to believe that the Common Entrance Examination is far more flexible, perhaps in terms of the social background of people, than is the 11-plus selection examination. I go so far as to say that if, as is suggested, at 11-plus we are sorting out people who will pass the General Certificate Examination—that is the object of the 11-plus examination—yet it is not what we are trying to do in the Common Entrance Examination, very sensibly.
In the context of examination successes overall—and I am not playing down the high academic successes of certain public schools—the ordinary level G.C.E. has a higher rate of pass at grammar schools than is the case in the general run of public schools. I do not put forward the argument that grammar schools are superior to public schools, but we are telling the child who enters a grammar school, "You are selected as suitable for an intellectual type of education".
The hon. Member constantly refers to the process of selection. That is what is behind our whole system and method, and our feeling about change. He keeps talking about the fact that at 11-plus a child is told that he is destined to take the G.C.E. Let us be quite plain about this. In a comprehensive system of education, at what stage in a child's career will he be told that he will take the G.C.E.—and how?
It would depend upon different subjects. This is becoming a pedagogic argument. In certain subjects one would have to begin to form a judgment at 11 or 12 years of age, but in other subjects it would not worry me if no attempt was made until 14 or 15 years of age. This is not the time to deploy arguments about the weaknesses in our concept of intelligence. I am in favour of the able child. I feel strongly about the great need of this country for able children. I am simply saying that I regard our present system as the wrong way of going about selection.
I now turn to a subject which was touched upon by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey)—the question of the communication of ideas. One of the great problems in modern life is the problem of communication in industry and in other human activities. A similar problem exists in education. How do the people in the schools—administrators and teachers—find out what is going on in other schools in other areas? At the moment we are told that 90 out of our 140 local education authorities are investigating change. The result of this Bill will be to spark off even more investigation. But in my view it is not good enough that these discussions should take place only at inspectorate level. We know that they go on. The inspectorate gathers a great deal of knowledge about different parts of the country, and we teachers pick up rumours that the chief inspector and other inspectors are discussing proposals with the director of education.
This is not good enough. Discussions must go on, but they should be wider. It is not good enough that directors should have their own pet schemes, some of which are first-rate and some of which could lead to a great deal of trouble. I put forward the plea that this is a political matter. I am astonished when people say that this should be kept out of politics. If ever there was a political argument, this is it. People should discuss these matters on the basis of informed opinion. The trouble is that there is nothing to work on. At the very least, without the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Department deciding or commenting upon anything, some sort of information should be available.
What have been the results of the London County Council scheme? What have been the results of the changes that have gone on in Leicestershire. Is it perfect? Are there no weaknesses in the plan? The Leicesteshire experiment it seems is excellent, but we have to read the Sunday newspapers, and the odd articles in various publications, in order to gain any information about it. It would not be canon law; it would not mean that because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has commented on a scheme that it should be regarded as the right way to proceed. But there should be some method by which people can talk intelligently about the various methods of selection, and schemes of secondary education.
The whole question of selection has changed over the years. I am going to be personal again. This is very much a personal matter for many people. My father passed the 11-plus under the original 1906 arrangement and then, by some curious alchemy, he and most of his friends went to work in the pit. In my day, too, the result of my examination made a difference—it decided my future. I am not prepared to have my children's future determined by what is written on a simple piece of paper at the age of 10-plus.
This is a political matter. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will find that this argument seems to be far more important in areas where his party has the greatest support. By the very nature of social change they tend to be the people, on the whole, who went to grammar schools, and they are determined to see that their children have a similar sort of education. Most of them, sensibly enough, admit that they are not arguing that their children are all geniuses.
I come back to the point about the public schools. The civilised factor about public schools which has struck me since I came in contact with them—or rather with the people who went to them—is that, unlike some of our grammar schools, they do not set such great store by academic success. To my mind that is a much more civilised attitude. To return to this Bill and this Clause and the question of the schools for children from 9 to 13. Are there problems which we can face before these schools are set up? It is put to me strongly by colleagues, not of my political belief, who teach in the traditional 11 to 18 schools that to make the break at 13-plus will profoundly affect G.C.E. successes at 16. It will give only three years in the grammar school and that would be fatal. Many people in grammar schools are seriously worried about the effect on science and language teaching. They say they must have the full five years. Is this is? Is there no experience on which we can draw? Must it all be a leap in the dark? People feel strongly about this and that is why many of them disagree with my educational views which they say will destroy the institution which has developed over the years.
When I asked at a number of schools, the argument was put to me—now I am still acting as a devil's advocate—that there will be a shortage of trained staff for the middle schools. There is a shortage it is said of teachers in higher education anyway; they are being funnelled off to teacher training colleges, to colleges of advanced technology and universities. The highly qualified teacher wishes to teach the sixth form. He will not get sixth form work in the middle school. To a large degree it is a problem of salaries. The extra money comes from sixth form teaching. I ask that some consideration be given to the needs of the middle school. With full pre-consideration, they could, in my view, lead to a profound and valuable change in some parts of British education. In my view, this question of middle school salaries will have to be discussed at Burnham. It should loom large in the salary discussions which are now taking place. There is a lot to be said for staff colleges where this sort of thing could be discussed. If the Army, the Navy and the Air Force can have staff colleges to discuss major issues, the teaching profession, in its widest sense, should also have them.
There is a point of constituency interest that I should like to raise. There are some schemes, which are similar to the Leicestershire scheme, I suppose, where the boy or girl will go from 9 to 13-plus and if the parents then wish, and the child wishes, go on to a grammar school from 14 to 18, similar to the public schools. I am told that in some schemes unless they opt to stay until 18 they stay in the existing school up to 15. It has been put to me by headmasters that this is fatal in working-class areas where lads of 13-plus are not in a position to move on to the grammar school—not because their parents are wicked people, but because they are paid on hourly wages and do not know what the future will be. It may also be that there is no tradition of university or college. If the lad goes home at 13-plus and asks to stay at school until he is 18, more often than not the answer is likely to be "No". If the lad however stays on until he is 16 he often finds himself doing five subjects at O-level. He is more mature than the average child and often he makes the decision himself that he will go on for two years in the sixth form and on to university. This is a social factor which ought to be taken into account. In general, however, I welcome the middle school idea.
I wish to raise with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the question of parental choice. We all know that in Section 76 of the Act it says that the wishes of the parents have to be taken into account. We also know that they are not. We know—at least I know—that in answering a Question which I put to him last week, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
Authorities generally do not allocate pupils to different types of secondary education to meet the wishes of parents …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th June, 1964, Vol. 697, c. 104.]
During the Faversham by-election I was astonished to find that the right hon. Gentleman said
that is the party opposite—
will not force other people's children into schools against their parents' wills.
That is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. It is done now. I have no choice in respect of my lad. The right hon. Gentleman is arguing on a political occasion that there is now parental choice. How else can one interpret his words? I challenge him, in order to get this clear. On reading this, many of my friends believed it. One got in touch with the local authority and said that the Minister responsible for education was saying that now there was parental choice and that the wicked Labour Party would end it. What was in the mind of the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he said this? The only way one can get parental choice is by some sort of comprehensive system.
There is also the question of where the local education authority comes into the picture—
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of parental choice, may I ask whether it is not true to say that very often the choice is restricted by the catchment area determined by the local authority? Even where there are parents in a catchment area who wish to send their children out of the area the local authority refuses to give the parent a choice.
That is a different question, the question of catchment areas arises in terms of similar types of schools. I am making the case in respect of the 11-plus examination and selection.
In the same speech the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
We will not force children into schools against the wish of the local social democracy. …
That was a bit of a Freudian slip, the reference to social democracy, but those are the words used. The party of the right hon. and learned Gentleman will not go against the wishes of the local authorities who desire to change their type of secondary education. There is no other way to read what he said. What does that mean? What of the plans being actively discussed politically in the area of the Greater London Council, where the borough councils have responsibility for secondary education, and all sorts of exciting ideas are being discussed? People there read this speech and took it to mean, as I did, that the Minister is saying that he will not go against the wishes of local social democracy That is what he said at Faversham and I can only assume that it is correct.
I mentioned earlier a by-election in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman attacked me for views which he now holds. During the Faversham by-election we find him with some sort of split political personality. On the first occasion I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but now, in my view, the right hon. and learned Gentleman says one thing as Minister of Education and another when there is political
advantage to be gained from it. We were rather cross about this at home and we got crosser about it every day. Then on 23rd June the right hon. and learned Gentleman made a speech to the Association of Education Committees. This was a different right hon. Gentleman. He said:
Each side, I think, in national and local politics owes an obligation, so far as he can, so to operate the party battle which is essential for the continuance of our democratic life that public advantage emerges.
What public advantage emerges from the statement I quoted which was made in the Faversham by-election? His own lapses, I suppose, are responsible for the inclusion of the phrase, "So far as he can". It seems that the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot.
Watching his performance in education, on the one hand belligerent and aggressive and on the other humble and objective—the two sides of the character of the right hon. and learned Gentleman—I wondered what it reminded me of. I cast my mind back to the secondary schools in which I worked, I looked through the various Reports by Hadow, Spens and so on and looked at the psychological sections. I consulted the journals. I read book after book and found that the hallmark of the adolescent is a personality that fluctuates between aggressiveness and humility. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is the essential adolescent. He has the doubtful distinction of being the first adolescent to be the Minister responsible for education while still actually adolescing. There is no other way in which to interpret the speech he made at Faversham.
He made two statements. He said that those whose children are coming up to the 11-plus can operate parental choice, but they cannot. He also stated to local authorities that he will not interfere with local social democracy. Is this the case? He says one thing education-wise and one thing political-wise. This does not help people who rightly or wrongly feel dogmatically both ways. The job of the Government is to play these things down so that changes can take place when people themselves have cooled down and are able to look at these matters objectively. We should not force these things on to people. While I wholeheartedly believe the Bill is a step forward, I wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman responsible for it would realise his wider educational responsibilities on political occasions.
In part I welcome this Bill. I am not so happy about Clause 1, but I think that the other Clauses are admirable.
I should like to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees) on the question of selection. I may have something to say about that later. We must realise that in education we are living in an age of transition. It has been said from both sides of the House that the 1944 Act, whether it is regarded as a tripartite or bipartite system, is dead. It is certain that whatever we think of the 1944 Act now it performed a revolutionary purpose in our system and it gave us what we always needed in education, a mixed system. That is what I always want to see. I never want to see our educational system in a straitjacket. There is room for experiment, yes, and that is the value of this Bill.
In the uncertainty and in the controversial thinking on education which is going on in all parts of the country and in this House it is of paramount importance that we should recognise that a new look at the whole system is needed. If it is true that the 1944 Act is dead or dying, we have to have a new Act which will reshape our system to what we want it to be. That is why we await the outcome of the Plowden Committee with some interest. The point of controversy in this argument tonight obviously ranges around the present system of grammar schools, secondary modern, secondary technical and primary schools, on the one hand, and the full-blooded comprehensive system on the other. This is what literally divides the two parties.
I am not dogmatic about comprehensive schools or a comprehensive system. I have said for many years now that there are certain parts of the country where a comprehensive school is the correct answer. In a wide, diversified rural area in which we could not get a large enough entry stream it is obvious that a comprehensive school is the right answer. In East Anglia, Anglesey and certain other places that is the type of thing we need, but in an area such as my constituency of Burton, where so far as is humanly possible we have achieved a perfect educational system—which is not threatened by the Labour Party but which is threatened by something about which I shall have something to say next week—the comprehensive system would not be the answer. It would despoil and destroy years and years of work, particularly the work of the grammar schools and technical schools.
This is the challenge; this is where we have to examine our policies. I say quite bluntly to my right hon. and learned Friend, is Clause 1 of the Bill the beginning of the end of the grammar school? I am not talking of the grammar school system but about the grammar school as a separate entity, a separate school. We all know about the Leicestershire plan. It keeps grammar schools as grammar schools but essentially it changes the very nature and content of the school so that no longer does it carry on the traditional pattern of the grammar school.
I am glad that the hon. Member fully agrees. I accept the challenge politically. In my political thinking as applied to education, the Leicestershire plan and all its hybrid brothers and sisters and cousins are a definite challenge and danger to what I regard as the traditional grammar school. Whether it is a middle school of 9 to 13 or if the break comes at 14 and the parent has the right to opt for his or her child to go to a so-called grammar school irrespective of ability, when it comes to selection what do we expect of a grammar school?
The hon. Member said that he is all for the able body. I am delighted that in the Bill we make provision for the handicapped child. When it comes to the high flyer I am almost a heretic. In recent years we have done a tremendous amount for the maladjusted and handicapped child. Let us go on doing that. What we are tending to do in reshaping our educational system, obviously in the limited experiment allowed for in Clause 1, is to descend to a level of mediocrity.
Has the hon. Member seen the records of the academic achievements of the sixth forms of comprehensive schools? Does he know, for instance, that in the Isle of Man the achievements in quantity and quality in the sixth form, academically considered, are superior to anything which existed in comparable grammar schools?
I do not dispute that comprehensive schools are doing a wonderful job. I said that I am not dogmatic about comprehensive schools. The point I was taking was that made by the hon. Member for Leeds, South about selection. I am quite sure that in a comprehensive school they are in the end put into streams. They must be. I have no doubt that this is done successfully, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) says, and that they get wonderful results. I was pointing out certain effects of the Leicestershire plan. A parent has a right to say of the child when it is 13, "This child will go to a grammar school irrespective of whether it is dull and backward or a high flyer". I was talking about the high flyers.
I pointed out that there are 90 local education authorities watching Leicestershire. The hon. Member says that there is mediocrity in the Leicestershire scheme. How does he know? Has he read of the L.E.A.s moving forward without, on the surface, any informed opinion?
I have informed opinion, because I live on the edge of Leicestershire, I am the Member for Burton and I have watched this plan develop ever since its inception. Under a plan such as the Leicestershire plan, by which, irrespective of ability, a child can be sent to a grammar school, we shall tend to a level of mediocrity. I have seen it for myself. I have a classic case on my own doorstep where the whole nature of a traditional grammar school is being changed by this influx. The hon. Member quoted colleagues in the profession who were frightened that this would cramp and stultify the whole scope of grammar school education.
We have done much for the average and maladjusted children, but if we as a nation are to hold our own in a highly competitive and computer-minded world, we must give the earth to our high flyers, to the top 5, 6 or 7 per cent. We have to groom them and to give them every encouragement possible, and we must get away from social justice, averaging out and mediocrity. Let us encourage our high flyers, and we shall compete with the best in the world.
We have heard much nonsense talked about the wickedness of the 11-plus. Whether it is 11-plus, 12-plus, 13-plus, 18-plus or 21-plus, we underestimate the resilience of our children when we talk about the stresses and strains of examinations. How do we select at any stage in a child's career? We come back every time to some form of test, whether it is an objective test, an essay test or the old-fashioned scholarship. We must test at some time. We have heard much poppycock about the child not knowing about the test, but we underestimate the intelligence of the children. Even if it is spread over two years or more, they will begin to sense when they are being examined. The hon. Member is a teacher, and he knows. In every class there are children, no matter how good the teaching, no matter how competent the school, no matter how grand the amenities, who detest school. When people tell me that the comprehensive system gets rid of selection, I say that it is complete nonsense. In the end we have the grammar school stream, the average stream and the dull and backward stream in the comprehensive school. The parents, instead of saying that Johnny has gone to a grammar school, will say that he is in the grammar school stream.
I welcome the Bill, but I am frightened about Clause 1. In another place the Minister of State for Education and Science said that this was a simple operation intended to enable a strictly limited number of educational experiments to take place. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with this phrase? I am sorry that I was not present for the opening of the debate, but I was busy with the affairs of Burton ready for next week.
If my hon. Friend refers to HANSARD tomorrow he will see that I said almost exactly the same thing. I hope that it was not very much different, and if there is any difference I will try to explain it.
The phrase was "a strictly limited number of educational experiments". The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said that the Bill mainly put right what authorities had been doing outside the Act, because the Director of Education for Leicestershire saw how he could drive his educational coach through the Act, and this set the whole process going. In another place Baroness Summerskill explained what this Bill will do. This blows the gaff and gives the game away. She said:
More and more local authorities are anxious to introduce comprehensive schools"—
I will paraphrase it. She said that the purpose of the Bill was to enable local authorities who were desirous of bringing in comprehensive education in their areas to do so. This is what frightens me about the Bill. It pleases hon. Members opposite. I want to see a proper approach to the word "comprehensive" in our educational system, which I admit needs reshaping.
In spite of all the criticism, we have a system of education of which we should be rightly proud. I am sick and tired of people denigrating our educational system and comparing it unfavourably with the systems in the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. We have many things which we could teach them. No doubt they have many which they could teach us. But in all our debates and discussions, let us stick up for our own country.
As a Scotsman who is not a schoolmaster, I have some hesitation in challenging the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), who is an ex-schoolmaster. Schoolmasters are rather like doctors. The suggestion is that no one but a schoolmaster has any right to put forward any views on education and what should be done about education.
Perhaps I should have said that in this respect some schoolmasters are rather like doctors. Doctors perhaps have a better justification for this attitude than some schoolmasters. I am reinforced in my readiness to offer a little criticism because I know many schoolmasters who disagree with the hon. Member for Burton. Educationists are very divided on this issue. There are the stalwart opponents of the comprehensive system, of whom the hon. Gentleman is one. There are the stalwart supporters of the comprehensive system, of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Meryln Rees) is one.
Although the Bill is a small Bill as regards Scotland—only one of the Clauses relates directly to Scotland—the main subject of debate this evening is of considerable interest to us all in Scotland. I am happy to say that Clause 1, about which there has been so much discussion, is unnecessary in Scotland. Traditionally over the years—and over a much longer period than has been the case in England—Scotland has had an education system which has been open to virtually all youngsters. It has been a comprehensive system. The schools which are still boasted of in Scotland are comprehensive schools.
The characteristic school in Scotland is a comprehensive school. At the time when comprehensive schools were the schools in Scotland beyond any question, doubt or challenge, Scotland beyond any question or doubt provided the rulers of England—I will not say "and Wales". Doubt as to the status and standing of Scotland is beginning to emerge only now that we have begun to adopt something of the English system. The setting up of what we call junior secondary schools, sorting children out when they are about 11 or 12 into the junior secondary school or the senior secondary school, is indicative of the type of system that there is in England, and it is causing very grave disharmony and much disturbance in Scotland.
This is an alien system which is being injected into our long-established system which produced such excellent results. The hon. Member for Burton doubts the possibility of the comprehensive school operating in areas with large concentrations of youngsters where there could be a diversity of schools. In Scotland we have had comprehensive schools in country areas and in towns. Heriot's in Edinburgh is a comprehensive school. Over the years, Scottish comprehensive schools have produced men and women, in so far as opportunities have been available for women in Scotland, who have shown that they can carry the burden of empire as well as any coming from the playing fields of Eton.
The hon. Member for Burton said that the comprehensive system was a step towards reducing everyone to the level of mediocrity. He said that the high flyers—the 4 per cent. to 6 per cent.—should be singled out and carefully nurtured so that they would reach right to the top, and that this would enable us to hold our own with the rest of the world. The Empire was not built on the high flyer. We have all heard the argument that battles were won and empires made on the playing fields of Eton. Those who came from the public schools of England and who were said to have played such a large part in building and running the Empire, which has now gone, were not the type of people who had the high academic ability and quality of which the hon. Gentleman spoke.
Britain and the world needs a great range of developed capacity and I believe that in some respects we tend to be needlessly narrow in our views and unaware of what the world requires, for we must not think in terms of one or two types of ability possessed by hand-picked youngsters when tested at the age of 11, 12, 18 or even 19. If youngsters are given the right opportunities they select their own range of capacity according to their abilities. This is the way people who are worth anything emerge. Many of them emerge having had to overcome great handicaps, but I appreciate that not all of them emerge and I agree that in the past a world of potential capacity mus have been lost through lack of opportunity.
I am not agreeing that all the emphasis should be placed on the special child. It is too easy to concentrate on the child who can easily remember or easily turn something off his or her pen. There are many others who are equally able to turn things out with their hands, things which the youngster more adept at using a pen would never dream of making.
In considering the way we should proceed we must consider what tests we apply, what means we have of saying, "This is the best way to find the most promising youngsters". This cannot be decided on the basis of a test at school or university. One must see what the boy or girl does upon becoming a man or woman; how he or she lives and the sort of things that are done. It is for this reason that I say that we tend to be needlessly narrow in selecting certain types according to ability.
Whatever happens, we must provide the best facilities we can, although I believe that those facilities will always be limited and that we will never achieve all we desire. Nevertheless, if I were asked what sort of youngster I would nurture and nourish I would say not only or not so much the lad o' pairts, the lad of ability, because he starts out with an advantage, but the youngster who finds progress more difficult. It is rather a contradiction in terms to think that we spend so much more effort on the child who finds learning easy. If youngsters with less ability were helped to get over their difficulties they might be able to show many of the high flyers and quick-off-the-mark fellows just what they can do. I am, of course, talking not merely in terms of character but of sheer ability.
I hope that the hon. Member will realise that I, too, made a differentiation. I did not for a moment suggest that the dull or backward child should be neglected. I pay tribute to what we are doing on their behalf and I have urged that more should be done. I also recognise that over the years, particularly since the war, the average child has been encouraged to a great degree. I emphasised the fact that there was a danger involved here but, at the same time, I urged that we should not neglect the real high flyer—the type who can make all the difference between our position in the world being a high or low one.
I cannot accept that, and although I do not wish to drive the hon. Member into an extreme position, what he is suggesting is dangerous and could lead, if followed, to a growing concentration of effort on the brightest youngster to the detriment of the rest.
I can, perhaps, best illustrate my point by referring to a school in my constituency. This came to my notice only a few months ago. I attended a women's meeting and heard them talking about their youngsters. One woman described a class of children who were about 18 months away from the sorting-out process—it is not the 11-plus with us. She said that they were already sorted out by the teacher into categories, and that in one category was the cream of the children, to whom the teacher wished to devote his energies to seeing that they passed. Those others who did not pass were doomed from that stage onwards. I know of a headmaster who, after asking the children to which of the senior schools they hoped to go looked down his nose and audibly spoke of the hopelessness of their thinking that they could get to a particular school. One child told her parents of that kind of thing.
Here is stigmatising, and the putting on of the seal of failure, as I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) comment. We cannot say what capacity a youngster has, and we should provide opportunities for the youngster himself to select one of a number of ways that are equally necessary to our society. I might add that the right hon. Gentleman has taken over control of higher education in Scotland very much against my inclination; and that it will not be long before he hears a lot from us on the subject.
We welcome Clause 3, and are only surprised and a little distressed that it should come forward in this way. I well remember that at 15 minutes past 11 o'clock at night on 8th May, 1963, the noble Lady the Under-Secretary told my hon. Friends and myself that she could not accept just precisely what is now before us. I was then substituting, as my hon. Friends will recall, for our hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Mary-hill (Mr. Hannan), who has persisted on this point over the years. He had been pressing it just prior to that occasion, and had been turned down on the basis that this could not be done on a Scottish basis but only on a United Kingdom basis. As on that occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill is not able to be with us tonight, although that was very much his wish. Indeed, had he been here I would not have been speaking at all.
All the arguments having been produced to show how weak and absurd that United Kingdom basis was, the noble Lady rose at 15 minutes past 11 o'clock on 8th May, 1963—
—and said that the argument about the United Kingdom did not enter into the discussion, but that there was a quite different argument. We had destroyed that argument, and the noble Lady proceeded to tell us that it did not matter and had never mattered and that what mattered was that if she on behalf of the Government were to adopt what my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill had urged on her the Government would be adopting a practice which would be detrimental to the existing set-up. Her argument was that the compulsory school-leaving age for the handicapped child was 16, as opposed to the normal 15, and that my hon. Friend's scheme would mean that those responsible would be acting contrary to the encouragement of ability. The payment of the grant or bursary was not designed to help a family in need—a family allowance could perhaps do that—but was intended to encourage a child of ability to stay voluntarily at school. In proposing our scheme we were therefore going contrary to a basic principle.
This was something like the argument which we have heard today from the hon. Member for Burton. Here was a rejection of my hon. Friend's plea to help the handicapped child, and the noble Lady said that if the scheme were adopted it would produce the criterion of age rather than of voluntary attendance at school by the child of ability. We did not think very highly of that argument then, any more than we do now after listening to the hon. Member for Burton.
Obviously; the Scottish Office was far behind the English Education Department, because when my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) and I were pressing for a long time for the adoption of this proposal we were told that it was just a matter of finding the Parliamentary time. There was great difficulty in finding that time, but the Scottish Office obviously was against the proposal in principle.
If one does not want to do something one can find any sort of argument. On one occasion it suited the noble Lady's book to take one line, and on another occasion it suited the Government to take another. The noble Lady spoke of the difficulties and the repercussions which were produced. Her heart bled for the handicapped youngsters. She has a heart and it occasionally shows itself, but on that occasion she said that nothing could be done because many more new difficulties would be created. It was so immensely difficult that despite her sympathy and her desire to help, and despite the pleadings of my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill over the years, it could not be done—and yet now here it is done in nine lines of this Clause. The noble Lady really will have to do some explaining of all this. I am commissioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill to welcome what the Government are now doing. It should have been done long before this.
I had not intended to intervene in the debate, but I have found it so fascinating, particularly some of the comments of hon. Members opposite, especially those of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), that I think it right to say a few words.
Along with hon. Members on both sides, I welcome the Bill for the reasons which have been ably put by previous speakers, notably the particularly persuasive reasons advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). Whatever our reasons for welcoming the Bill may be, there is one piece of common ground, I think, namely, that all of us recognise the need for change and we think that the Bill will help us to come to sensible conclusions about the nature of that change. We are all innovators. However, the course of the debate has clearly shown that that is about as far as agreement between the two sides goes.
The basic question is, "Change to what?" Some of us refuse to be stampeded in this matter. In my view, we are in some danger of moving into an era when there are too many pedagogues peddling panaceas, not all of them as persuasive as their promoters imagine. There have been many strong views expressed, and there is the danger of mighty schisms developing in the education world over the next few years. As the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) so wisely said, if too many of these views are given credence and are implemented, there will be the danger of severe fragmentation in our education structure.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North gave me the impression—I think that he gave the House generally the same impression—that he regards the Bill as a kind of signpost to the comprehensive school. This is certainly one of the interpretation put on it by the noble Lady, Baroness Summerskill, in another place. I do not regard the Bill as anything of the sort, and I take this view not for any reasons of prejudice. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), I believe that there is a very good case to be made for comprehensive schools, but I see no reason why the good grammar school, the proficient technical school and the sound secondary modern school should be swept away and the comprehensive system be substituted in their place. I strongly reject the dogmatic approach of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North and some of his hon. Friends.
The hon. Gentleman told my right hon. and learned Friend that he should give a clear lead to the local authorities. Some of the flaws in his argument were pointed out very clearly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and I shall not develop them further, but I wonder to what extent the hon. Member for Sunderland, North thinks that his own party, of which he is one of the principal spokesmen, is giving us much of a clear lead about the organisation of our secondary education system.
My critical view of the party opposite in this respect is shared by many people
outside the House. I draw particularly to the attention of the House an editorial published on 8th May in the "Teacher", which, as we know, is the journal of the National Union of Teachers. I hope that it will not be regarded as too lengthy a quote because I believe that it says something important and that what it says deserves a wider audience. The "Teacher" says:
For some time we have been asking what the Labour Party is going to do about the grammar schools in the light of the Party's declared aim to introduce a comprehensive system of secondary education and Mr. Wilson's, somewhat contradictory statement that they would be abolished 'over his dead body'. Many other people must have been asking the same question, because Labour's National Executive has issued a special circular for the guidance of M.P.s and election workers on the subject. The new circular says that Socialists intend to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines"—
we heard that today from the hon. Member for Sunderland, North—
and in carrying this out they will carefully preserve what is valuable in grammar school education, namely, a wide range of courses up to university entrance standard. What it does not say is what will happen to the grammar schools themselves, as separate, selective institutions—which is precisely what everyone wants to know. And yet, in the Commons last week Mr. Merlyn Rees, M.P., himself a former grammar school boy and teacher, said that the last thing he would do was to destroy the grammar school system. The National Executive might have saved its time; all its circular has done is to perpetuate the present equivocal position of the Party on this subject.
I would hope that the Labour Party would be less equivocal. I think that it would serve the cause of education for it to be so. It would serve the cause of education tremendously if some hon. Members who belong to the Parliamentary Labour Party were, in some places, less dogmatic. I think that this is what my right hon. Friend may have had in mind when he suggested at Faversham that the freedom of choice of our citizens in the form of education that we have in this country would be seriously limited if a comprehensive system of education were imposed. If one adds to the view of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North the view expressed by some hon. Members opposite about what they would do to the independent private sector of education if they were the Government, it makes me, for one, shudder about the freedom of choice which the people of
this country would have. It seems to me that at no time has a rational and pragmatic approach to education been more needed than now, and, in my view, this Bill approaches the problem in just that spirit.
I agree with the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. G. Johnson Smith) that the Bill is not exactly a panacea. It is a mousey little Bill. It is certainly not the Pandora's Box which the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) feared that it might be. I wanted to remind the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who is having a very long dinner hour, and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South that in 1867 Disraeli stele the Liberals' clothes and Gladstone won a great victory in 1868. In 1944, Conservative Ministers in the Coalition Government were compelled by Labour Members of the Cabinet and the feeling of the country to attire themselves in educational clothes which fitted them badly. The British public was not deceived by the Tory disguise. They gave the Tory masqueraders a decisive verdict in 1945.
During the last twelve months hon. Members opposite have been dressing up again, and, in the words of a very eminent Tory, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing. In the 1964 election the public will ignore their fancy costume and return the Labour Party.
The Bill has three Tory characteristics. It is too little, and very late. It is the 59th minute of the eleventh hour. It is cheap Tory modernisation. It offers marginal improvement with the minimum of finance. There is a kind of Tory law of fading returns: the loftier the principle, the less the money.
Thirdly, the Bill marks the gradual moving away of the Tories from their belief in aristocratic education to meritocratic education. We welcome this slight move to the Left. At least meritocracy is better than aristocracy. But they are still a very long way from evolving a genuinely democratic education system.
As my hon. Friend said, the use of Clause 1 for the modification of secondary and primary education should not be for needs which are not strictly educational. I notice in the same context the A.E.C. memorandum to the Plowden Committee. If the Secretary of State is worried about the "wastage" of women, so it is called today, will he face the problem? If he wants more men teachers, will he face the problem? I hope that he will not try to get round it through the back door by altering age structures so that the purpose is to make primary schools more attractive to men. Will he follow the suggestion set out by the Labour Party for the attraction of married women back to schools by giving them tax inducements and part-time superannuation rights and by getting the local authorities to appoint advisory officers to welcome them back?
I would not be in order if I replied to the first part of the hon. Member's question, but to the second part I can say that I have no power of doing anything under this Clause except to approve a proposal from a local authority. The principles upon which the approval of a Minister is given or withheld under Section 13—which is the procedure imported into this Clause—are very well known and I shall be limited to them.
But the right hon. and learned Gentleman could very well allow a flood of applications of this sort which would have as their main motive trying to deal with the teacher shortage instead of dealing with the situation in particular schools on an education basis. However, it looks as if the Secretary of State can assure us that he will only make his decision on an education basis, and if he does that I will be content.
I would have thought that the purpose of the Clause was, by experimentation supported in another way by research, to find out the best education organisation for children. The Education Act and its practice has been to make State education more and more child-based. Possibly this is what the Secretary of State wants, but I hope very much that he will make this clear.
I want particularly to talk about provision for handicapped children. Clause 1 should be able to make a contribution to better education for them. I have
here evidence by the Guild of Teachers of Backward Children to the Plowden Committee about the transfer of handicapped children from one class to another. It says:
In this sense neither the age of 7 nor chat of 11 has magical properties with regard to certain groups of handicapped children, and it should be possible for children to be retained in primary schools or in all-age schools as long as they can benefit more from such provision than from change.
Transfer from infant to junior school and from junior to secondary schools can create problems for various groups of backward children unless there is close relationship between the schools.
As I read Clause 1, it will enable this to be done in new schools better than it could be done before, and I hope that the general principle will enable local authorities which are perhaps not as conscious of this difficulty as the Guild to take careful note of it.
As I said earlier, the Clause giving higher maintenance allowances has been awaited a long time and I am tempted to agree that it is strange that Parliamentary time should be used as an excuse for not putting right until as late as this what was known and admitted to be a bad anomaly. I hope this will be associated with a good deal more interest in the teaching of handicapped children and provision for them. This is why I say that the Bill is inadequate. We would have hoped that there would have been a good many statements and a good deal of activity by the Secretary of State's Department to make a real bite into the problem of handicapped and backward children.
For a long time I have been worried about the lack of places. I know that advance has been made, but there are still, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North said, about 10,000 children awaiting places. The central problem is not even the lack of places on the waiting list but the fact that because there is such a deficiency of places ascertainment is not done as energetically as it should be, and many authorities do not take the steps that are open to them because of the difficulties. The actual number of places that is short now is a great deal more serious than it would appear.
The second difficulty that I would like to stress is that nothing like enough training is given to the teachers of handicapped and backward children. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will soon read, if he has not done so already, the evidence of the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children which has been saying, what some of us have been saying for quite a long time, that we need some training centres, not necessarily training colleges but probably several university departments, to specialise much more widely than they are doing. We certainly need a number of teacher training colleges to specialise in the training of handicapped and backward children, but we also need a big drive to offer opportunities for training those teachers who are in special schools and who have not had that training.
I received a little while ago the actual number of teachers who had been trained for special education and it was very small indeed. I think it would be fair to say that this is a field in which there has been the maximum neglect. Inasmuch as this Clause puts right this anomaly, I hope that we can expect from the Secretary of State, in the short time that remains to him, more evidence of interest in the training of the various categories to which I have referred.
In order to make any impact next year, many of these plans should be well advanced now and places made available in the various colleges. The actual setting up of the institution I have been referring to would perhaps take a little longer. I do not think that it is good enough for the Ministry of Education to accept that when it has advertised supplementary courses and special places and the number of places has not been taken up that is an excuse for not instituting still more places and bringing more pressure to bear on the local authorities.
Not only is the educational provision for backward children and the training of teachers for this work the Cinderella of the educational world, but so is the school medical service which ascertains children. School medical officers are overworked and are not supported by auxiliary staff. Psychologists are difficult to obtain. There has been a very slight movement forward in the matter of psychologists and psychiatrists in the regional hospital boards who are available for this work.
In giving a somewhat tepid welcome to this very slight Bill. I hope that we can expect that it will be a prelude to the right hon. and learned Gentleman doing a little more work in the Department, so that when the day comes, we can take it over more nicely and give it the impetus it needs.
I hope that I am right in assuming, Mr. Speaker, that the debate can continue beyond the hour of 10 o'clock and that by intervening I shall not deprive my hon. Friend, or any other hon. Member, of the opportunity to catch your eye.
My right hon. and learned Friend was described by a rather uncharitable hon. Member opposite as an adolescent. If to combine a sense of fun and good humour with brilliant intellect and command of language is to behave like an adolescent. I hope that there will be more of that type in the House in future.
It has been suggested that anyone who would introduce into the debate the battle of the preservation or otherwise of the grammar schools might be described as a backwoodsman. I hope that no one will accuse me of that, for the main topic with which I wish to deal is the threat of the extinction of all the grammar schools in my own city. I take part in the debate because I see the possibility of the misuse of the Bill as a vehicle for the hastening of the extinction of these fine schools.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) quoted a speech—I am not sure who made the speech, but it was meant to be someone respectable and was probably a Minister of the Crown—which suggested that the relationship between the Government and the local authorities should be that of a happy marriage in education and that there should be local freedom. I am all for that, but in my own city it seems that this happy marriage has been a shot-gun wedding and that for political reasons the local authority is completely disregarding the whole spirt of educational thought.
We learn from hon. Members opposite of the unity which one hopes will continue in the educational system. In Bristol we are threatened with the complete destruction of the existing system. No one would deny that experiment is a good thing, and that is what the Bill is about to a very large extent, but I am sure that it would not be the will of any hon. Member interested in education, whatever his view, that a city should be faced with the possibility of the destruction of all its grammer schools at one blow.
I noticed some hon. Members looking at me with displeasure when earlier this evening I was reading a newspaper in the Chamber, but I brought that newspaper into the House in order to be able to quote from it, because it gives considerable support to my case. It is the Bristol Evening Post, which is not noted for its support for the Tory Government, or for Conservative Members of Parliament for the City of Bristol. At best, it would be described as an independent newspaper. On Friday, 26th June, it had the headline, "The heads speak out". Above the headline were photographs of the heads of the seven schools in Bristol which are direct grant schools and which are threatened with dire measures by the Bristol Education Committee.
In recent months, the Bristol Education Committee has had a sub-committee in secret session to consider the future of these schools. The members of the sub-committee have been bound to secrecy until the proposals could be finalised and submitted to the Education Committee. However, appalled by what has been happening, certain members of the Committee, from my party, have felt themselves obliged to break silence and to speak out and give the citizens of Bristol knowledge of this very grave threat to these schools. It is planned by the local education authority, which has a majority of Socialists, to withdraw from these schools all the children placed there by the local authority, a very severe threat to these schools
That so appalled the committee representing the schools—a committee headed by the Dean of Bristol—that it issued a statement saying:
We can see no reason why the city should not continue to make use of the rich diversity of educational provision in Bristol, where maintained and direct grant grammar schools and comprehensive schools at present co-exist.
That statement was signed by a number of responsible people at the head of those schools.
No one would deny that there are cases where grammar schools should be closed. In country areas where there are a large number of grammar schools, there could be a good case for comprehensive schools to be created, and perhaps a better job could be done in a rural area where the population was scattered if there were one fine, large school, but in a city which has this splendid tradition going back over such a long time, and with schools providing the finest education—and no one would deny that, not even hon. Gentlemen opposite, nor the members of the city council who are out to smash these schools—we see this spectacle of aiming to smash these fine schools, and I would not willingly support the Bill if I thought that it could be used as a further vehicle for that sort of activity.
There are other matters dealt with in the Bill, and I would not quarrel with any of those. For many years I served on the education committee in Bristol, and I think I can say that I have had a fairly wide experience of the State education system in all its aspects. I have served on management committees, on governing bodies, and so on, in special schools as well as in the ordinary type of school. No one would deny that in this changing world experiment is very necessary, but local freedom can be used for dangerous political purposes, and I shall find it difficult to support the Bill unless I can be assured by my right hon. and learned Friend that it will never be his wish to see the sort of wanton destruction which is planned in my native city taking place under the cloak of a Measure of this kind.
If I receive that assurance, I shall be able to support the Bill, but at the moment I am in some doubt about whether I can give it my support because it seems that in Bristol local freedom has not worked out well. It is being used as a cloak for political activity which cannot but do harm to a number of splendid educational institutions which have rendered great service in the past, are rendering fine service now and, I hope, will long continue to do so in the future.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) into the argument about the grammar schools in Bristol. I rise to say a few words about Clause 3. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) in expressing pleasure that this Clause has been included in the Bill, but my pleasure is rather marred by the discreditable way in which the whole business was handled by the Scottish Office and by the hon. Lady.
I took part in the debate on 8th May last year. On looking at the record, I see that I was speaking on this subject after midnight. We pooled our forces and tried to get the hon. Lady to accept this proposal. On that occasion there was not a single Scottish Tory Member in the House. They were not worried about handicapped children. Incidentally, there is not a Scottish Tory Member on the benches opposite tonight. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Earl of Dalkeith) has just run in like a Derby winner.
If the hon. Member had been here a little longer he would have seen them, and would also have heard them.
My pleasure at the introduction of the Clause is marred by my memory of the rather disgraceful manner in which this matter was handled. The hon. Lady must admit that her speech on 8th May last year was a bit of nonsense.
If it was not nonsense, why are we now departing from what she said then? We tried to tell her last year that it was nonsense, but we could not persuade her. My hon. Friends and I have been pressing for this minor reform for some time, in respect of England and Wales, and also Scotland. My English and Welsh colleagues were told that there was no Parliamentary time, but Scottish Members had the necessary Parliamentary time. We had the opportunity to do this, but the Scottish Ministers were so spineless that they could not take the opportunity that was offered them. That is what rather disgusts me. The Scottish Office was content to drag along on the heels of England. As soon as the English Department decided to introduce the Bill, the Scottish Office found that it could slip this in.
I agree, but my hon. Friend will, remember that we spent hours on this matter on 8th May. A Bill was before the House at that time which could have been amended to include this proposal, but the plain fact was that the Scottish Ministers accepted the dictates of the English Ministers in respect of this trifling matter. They were not prepared to stand up and say, "In our view this is right. We shall have this now. If England cannot find the time for it, that is not our problem. Let the English find time to introduce a Private Member's Bill". I ought slightly to amend what I have said, and point out that it was not the hon. Lady's nonsense; her brief was prepared in the Scottish Office and the hon. Lady read it with her customary charm, but the content was an awful lot of stuff and nonsense.
I rose to express my sorrow at the fact that under the Tories Scotland has sunk so low that in order to achieve this trivial reform we have had to wait for the English Ministers. Now the situation will be rather worse, because the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been foisted on to us—a matter about which we shall have a considerable amount to say. The hon. Member for Bristol, West might admire the intellectual capacity of his right hon. and learned Friend, but we do not want him interfering in Scotland. We like to deal with these matters ourselves.
I welcome the Clause, but I had hoped that the noble Lady would intervene in the debate. She might have told the House, in rather a generous manner, "I am sorry about what happened last year, I appreciate the fact I was wrong". She might have displayed some semblance of penitence. It may be that the noble Lady is not big enough to do that, but I think it only right that she should do so. No one loses by saying, "I am sorry, I made a mistake". We admire people who do that. I had hoped that the noble Lady would address the House and say that last year she was wrong and that many of the arguments did not stand up to examination. Unfortunately, it looks as though we are to have a winding-up speech from the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
We have heard from him once and this is only a three-page Bill. In fact it is not even a three-page bill—there are two pages. Is not it a rather pathetic sort of Government that cannot produce two people to speak on such a trifling Measure? There seems a lack of capacity somewhere. Apparently they do not trust each other, and can trust only the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
I had hoped that we might have had a winding-up speech from the noble Lady. Scotland is mentioned in the Bill and there is no reason why a Scottish Minister should not speak. Surely it has not become a great sin for a Scottish Minister to interfere in matters affecting Scotland. We are getting into a terrible position under this Tory Government. We have been sinking, and now we are not even allowed a Scottish Minister to speak on Scottish matters. I should have thought that we might have had at least one short speech—not a long one, just a short one—dealing with this very important point; and a few regrets expressed; and due apologies offered to the members of the Opposition for having resisted this with such vigour on previous occasions. Perhaps also thanks might have been expressed to the Opposition for the way in which we have nobly assisted the noble Lady, in the complete absence of her political colleagues. We have assisted her on this Clause which I welcome.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) complains about my right hon. and learned Friend speaking twice. May I ask whether the hon. Member was present in the Chamber to hear my right hon. and learned Friend when he spoke on the first occasion?
I think that it may be convenient if I intervene at this point—with the rising tide of Scotland behind me. I understand that the Rule is suspended and so no doubt we shall be able to carry on happily for a little while, which will give the noble Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland ample opportunity to make amends, which I feel that she should do. My Scottish colleagues have made abundantly clear that on this matter the Government were seriously in error 12 months ago, and I think that the decent thing to do would be to acknowledge it. The noble Lady is putting on a brave smile, but I do not see why she should be forced to speak through the mouth of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. As time will present no difficulty, we shall look forward to an explanation from her later.
By now the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have realised, if he did not know before, that if a Scottish Clause is included in a Bill the voice of Scotland will indeed be heard. We are glad that our Scottish friends—at least those on this side of the House; they are a little thin in numbers on the other side—are showing a genuine interest in this matter which has been raised on many occasions by hon. Members on this side of the House, in relation to Scotland and to England and Wales. That is the question of the inequity of a handicapped child in a special school being obliged by law to remain at school for a year longer than other children—which is very right and necessary—and the parents of that child not being eligible for a grant which the parents of a perfectly able-bodied child would be able to obtain from the local authority.
I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said about our extreme disquiet at the variations in maintenance grants made by different local authorities. It a child's needs are comparable and the circumstances of the parents are comparable, in equity the parents of that child should have the appropriate grant no matter where he or she lives. This is the unfortunate part about this Clause, which otherwise we welcome very warmly indeed. I am sure that all who are interested in education have been gratified to read in the last few days the very interesting evidence submitted to the Plowden Committee by those concerned with the education of handicapped children.
I have here the evidence of the Association for Special Education in its memorandum to the Central Advisory Committee. In reading it I was particularly struck by something which is of very great concern to me. That is the question of the pre-school child. I wish to make reference to the scope of the Bill because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North pointed out, we think it a great pity that this Bill was not an Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.
We are most of us aware of the circumstances in which the Bill was brought before the House. We are grateful to the Minister of State who deals with higher education for seizing what appeared to be a gap in the Parliamentary time-table to introduce a small Measure with two points only in it. Because of the Title it is impossible now to insert any other matter. Unfortunately, his political calculations went awry. I think I am correct in saying that when the Bill was planned he was under the impression that the Prime Minister might appeal to the country in June. Therefore, it was essential if the Bill was to go through that it should be kept to minimum provisions. I am particularly regretful about this. Among the many minor reforms—I am not now speaking of major legislation—I should like to see legislated for is the position of the Secretary of State for Education in relation to pre-school children who are not in recognised nursery schools or classes.
At present we have a vast number of private nurseries, private play groups and so on, springing up all over the country. They are exclusively in the province of the Ministry of Health and local health authorities. This means that the whole question of child development and educational play provision is omitted. The sort of inspection which is carried out of hundreds of private groups of one kind and another is confined narrowly to matters of health. The inspectors who go around are much more concerned about the number of lavatories and such things than with the development of the child.
Only in one or two cases on which the Minister has turned a blind eye do local authorities use their nursery staff and inspectors to give advice and assistance to many parents who, because the Government have not pressed on with nursery education, have tried to provide it for themselves. This may appear to be a small gap in our educational provision, but it is exactly the kind of thing which could have been put into the Bill had it been drafted somewhat differently. I shall not pursue that because, unfortunately, it has not been included in the Bill. We have not had an opportunity of including this or several other relatively useful matters which could have been in the Bill had the calculations of hon. Members opposite been more politically astute.
Apart from the assistance to handicapped children, the main Clause is Clause 1, which is permissive and which will allow local education authorities, and in particular the West Riding, to pursue schemes of reorganisation which at the moment they could not legally do. I am all for flexibility and for experiments, but I must say frankly that I am beginning to become a little concerned at the multiplicity of schemes which are being considered all over the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees)—possibly the right hon. and learned Gentleman can confirm this in his reply—said that 90 local education authorities are actively considering schemes of secondary reorganisation.
I have every reason to think that the figure is not far wrong. Well over half the local education authorities are actively concerned in schemes of reorganisation. This should much concern us, because evidence is being submitted to the Plowden Committee which suggests that children should be removed from one school to another at the age of 8, of 9, of 10, of 11, of 12, of 13, of 14 and of 16. The only age I have not heard mentioned is 15. This means that unless we are careful we may find ourselves with an extraordinary patchwork of secondary organisation in this country.
Both the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) said that we should have no kind of formulation at this stage. In a sense I can see what they mean, but the Government have put education authorities in a very difficult position, because they have not awakened early enough to see what has been happening in education. Several years ago the right hon. Gentleman expressed the view that the tripartite system was crumbling, but apart from permitting the Leicestershire experiment he did no more about it. His predecessors have been obstinately obstructive and his successors have been myopic, and the result has been that education authorities are agonising over the question how they will carry out their secondary organisation.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South said, nowhere can authorities turn for objective advice. If one writes to education authorities or members of various groups, one is likely to have a statement which is either concerned with local conditions, which may not apply in one's area, or is a partisan view which, unless one has considerable local knowledge, one might not be in a position to assess. It is lamentable that because of lack of foresight on the part of the Government there is no place at the moment to which a member of an education authority may turn for an objective weighing-up of the advantages and disadvantages of various possible schemes of organisation of various groups by age and so forth.
It is also extremely unfortunate that the Plowden Committee was appointed so late. I am well aware that there is a system in the Department of Education of a central advisory council which is appointed ad hoc and given a certain remit. Until it has worked its way through that, any other major pressing problem must wait its turn. The result of all this is that we have had reports on the universities. We have had the Crowther Report and the Newsom Report. We are still waiting for a report on the foundation of it all—the primary schools and, following them, the transfer from primary to secondary education. Unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman informs us tonight that a request may be made to the Plowden Committee for an interim report on the age of transfer, we shall have to wait another two years until 1966 before we have the full report of the Plowden Committee.
What, therefore, is the position of education authorities all over the country—the great urban authorities, the rural authorities, the small authorities, the large authorities—which have come to the point when they believe that secondary education should be reorganised? We have had much discussion tonight, particularly from hon. Members opposite, on the pros and cons of the comprehensive system. The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings), professing that he was not being dogmatic, was dogmatic until his very last sentence, when he said that it all needs re-shaping. Having reached his last sentence, he did not say how.
The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) spoke of the difficulty in Bristol. I do not want to go into all the local conditions there, but I put this to the hon. Gentleman. It is impossible for an authority which is attempting to reorganise its secondary education on comprehensive lines when it has a large number of highly selective schools in the city. I am familiar with the matter of principle. It cannot be done, because, if there is a large proportion of selective schools in the city, there cannot be comprehensive education. The two things do not go together.
I am not arguing that case one way or the other. I am pointing out that, if comprehensive schools are being aimed at, they cannot be comprehensive when within their catchment area there is a high proportion of highly selective schools. The two things do not match. Therefore, it is essential that one should fully understand the difficulties of education authorities whose schools, which should have a full range of ability, are deprived of children of a higher range of ability because they are creamed off into the other schools. This is a real difficulty.
I repeat that I do not wish to go into the whole question. Those of us who are concerned with education matters are very familiar with the arguments by this time. My deep convction of the need for the comprehensive principle in secondary education is based, as much as anything, upon the effect of selection on primary education. I am convinced that, so long as selection is kept at 11, 12 or 13, there will be a detrimental effect upon the education of children of primary school age. The evidence of this is incontrovertible and is becoming increasingly recognised. It is for that reason, as much as for any reason within the secondary system itself, that I, for one, am passionately against selection of children at 11 or any comparable age.
I have said that at present members of education authorities and administrators in local authority offices are having deep heart-searchings about how they are to implement the principle which they believe to be educationally right—the comprehensive system. Because of lack of foresight, many of them have to do this within a structure of school buildings which it is very difficult to adapt. This, again, is because of the intransigent position of so many Conservative Ministers of Education, for there has not been adequate foresight in this matter.
Had the Minister seven years ago reached the view that the tripartite system was crumbling, he should have said so. He should have said, "Let us at least so plan our secondary buildings that we will be able to use them flexibly, one way or the other". It should have been so organised that had an experiment gone one way or the other, in favour of tripartite or bipartite education, comprehensive or otherwise, our buildings would have been flexible enough to be used whichever way the argument went.
Without such forethought and foresight it cannot be a success. Ministers should have taken an educationally objective attitude and have said, "We have not made up our minds. We do not want to be dogmatic. He will not build and so go one way or the other but will keep the position open". It is impossible, however, for the position to be kept open if one builds in a way which in itself determines the pattern of one's educational organisation.
Unfortunately that is what has been happening during the past decade. That is why we are now going to be in great difficulties in many places in achieving a thoroughly satisfactory reorganisation. In some places there will be far more expense and difficulty than there would have been had a statesmanlike view been taken towards this problem. The fact that 90 education authorities are now coming round to our point of view is indicative that we have been right; the tripartite system was mistaken and that alterations will have to be made. Because for political, and I emphasise political, and not educational reasons—for political, doctrinaire, dogmatic reasons—local authorities have not been encouraged to have flexibility in their building programmes, we will possibly have considerable damage done to our educational organisation in future.
I wish to conclude by asking a question which happens to be of a constituency interest to me. I will not go into the local details of the difficulties which have arisen in my county; I ask this question in a general context. I have said that there is nowhere to which local authorities or their elected representatives can turn for objective information and advice; in other words, there is no publication or series of reports, and so on from which they can obtain information or are able to balance the pros and cons of different methods. What do they do in these circumstances? The answer is that they go direct to the Ministry and ask for comments on specific schemes.
This is exactly what happened to the Flintshire Education Authority. Certain proposals which have been the subject of contention in the county—I will not go into the merits of them one way or the other—were submitted to the Ministry for comment and advice. The comment received was to criticise the proposals in detail on purely educational grounds, to point out that there were various defects, omissions and deficiencies which, according to the Ministry's inspectors and officials, appeared to be manifest to them. The authority was strongly advised that other methods of organisation should be carefully examined. This advice was completely flouted by the Flintshire Education Authority, which took no notice of it whatever.
When advice has been sought in this way and has been completely disregarded, what does the Minister do? He, after all, is responsible for the proper organisation of education. We all recognise that it is a partnership, but the ultimate responsibility rests with him. When his official advice is tendered, and is completely disregarded, we bare entitled—
I was asking the Minister whether he would be good enough to reply to what I put as a general question. It is true that it happens to have arisen in my own constituency, but I have a feeling that, with all the schemes now under consideration, a similar position is likely to arise in a number of other local authority areas, and it would be for the general benefit of educational administration if we could have an answer from the Minister as to exactly where he stands in those circumstances.
I apologise for making this error of procedure. I had looked at the rules of order, and misinterpreted them. Otherwise, I would not have forborne to ask for the leave of the House. I had misunderstood what the rules of order said.
Before replying to the debate at large, I should like at once to deal with the last question put to me by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East. I am not sure that I would be within the bounds of order if I were to give her a full answer to her question. It is a very proper question to ask, and if I only give her a very short answer, with the forbearance of the House, I might say that I would be very glad if she were to return to the subject on an occasion when the rules of order are less exacting than they would be were I to enlarge on the matter now.
On the particular application of the hon. Lady's question, there is a Question on the Order Paper for tomorrow, the answer to which I do not want to anticipate. As to her general question I would simply say that I fully accept her view of my responsibilities in the matter; that is to say, that it is my responsibility at any rate to see that things do not get out of hand in educational matters. My powers are confined to Sections 13 and 68 of the Act, and the hon. Lady will know that there is a fairly long tradition of the limiting circumstances in which successive Ministers of Education have, on the advice of the law officers, interpreted their powers under Section 13. They are fairly well known, but on some other occasion, if the hon. Lady wished it, I would desire to enlarge upon the subject.
My powers under Section 68 are more general in character but more limited in application. That is to say, there must have been something very perverse about the local authority's behaviour before the Secretary of State would be entitled to invoke those powers, and I should be very slow to do this. I want the House to understand that under both Section 13 and Section 68 what I said at the by-election is exactly true. It is not my view of my duties to act as a court of appeal from a local authority. A local authority has the right and the duty under the Act to carry out certain functions. Although I am often being pressed to act as a court of appeal from a local authority, I do not view that as the intention of Parliament in entrusting me with the limited powers under Sections 13 and 68.
In passing, this is also the answer to the criticism of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) when he accused me of neglecting my duties under Section 1, because if he reads the Act he will see that, although the duties under Section 1 are general in character, and I accept the responsibility which they impose upon me, the powers which I am given under the remaining Sections must be read with those duties. I do not consider it my function to exceed my powers in relation to a local education authority.
Nevertheless, those powers were intended to be used in suitable cases and, if I were so advised and I accepted the view, subject to the constitutional limitation which I have tried to express, and if I believed that a situation had arisen where either under Section 13 I ought to withhold my approval of a scheme or under Section 68 I ought to give a direction, I would not shrink from the responsibility that the law had imposed upon me. I hope that the House will note that I say this in response to a particular question, and that my general approach to my duties is that I am not there to act as a court of appeal for the local electorate. If a local authority, duly elected, chooses an educationally viable scheme it is not my duty to substitute my own judgment for that of the local authority even where my judgment would not coincide with its judgment.
This brings me to the heart of the argument of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North. My conviction, and it is something about which I feel quite deeply, is that there is quite a variety of perfectly allowable options—educationally legitimate options—for local authorities to choose from, and that there is no absolute right or absolute wrong in these cases. There is a broad band of suitable options for local authorities of different political complexions to choose from in accordance with their convictions, and I would not feel inclined to interfere with a local authority, whether Socialist or Conservative, inside the band of those options.
If for some reason a local authority—and I hope that it never would—chose to act perversely and be unreasonable and chose an option which was not educationally acceptable and chose to do something which was outside the band, on either side, of legitimate options, I should feel it my duty to intervene, but not otherwise. This is not a divergence from my speech to the Association of Education Committees on 26th June or from my recent speech at a byelection. I was saying exactly what I have now tried to express to the House. I was saying it to both assemblies, although in the one case I was the guest of a body composed of more parties than one and in the other case I was standing on the platform of a political party expressing that party's point of view. There was no inconsistency, although there was a difference in tone between the two speeches which I felt not only entitled but bound to adopt.
I now turn from the hon. Gentleman's diversion to what was also a central theme in both speeches from the Front Bench opposite. There has not been any lack of guidance on these matters either from my predecessors or from myself in my previous incarnation and in my present incarnation. If the hon. Member for Sunderland, North will do me the honour of reading my speech to the Association of Education Committees, he will see that on that occasion, only last week, I made some very positive statements which were designed to cover in a reasonable way exactly the ground which many speeches today have covered. I approached these matters in exactly the way which the hon. Gentleman wants. Whether or not he would have agreed with any of the sentiments I expressed, he could not claim that there was any lack of guidance.
When the hon. Gentleman suggests that I have only informed the country seven years later of the view which I formed in 1957, that the tripartite system was on its way out, he is completely wrong. I am not asking him to do any historical research, of course, but if he looked the matter up he would find that I had in terms expressed those views during my previous period of office.
There is considerable confusion in some people's minds about selection and universal comprehensiveness, and about selection and streaming. These are not absolutes. There is no absolute dilemma for the local authorities or for the central Government. This confusion, I thought, was revealed clearly in the interchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings) and the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees). The truth is that the situation is more complex than some people think.
Moreover, to those who ask for objective advice and some form of Ministerial guidance I reply that these are contentious matters. Most of the schemes which we have been discussing, whatever their merits or demerits, have been running for a relatively short time or in relatively restricted areas and, although one may express a strong conviction—most of us have expressed strong convictions—yet if one were to ask for an objective assessment of what they had done or failed to do, one would inevitably get from any reasonably impartial judge the conclusion that more time must be given to assess them. Therefore, I do not plead guilty on that count.
In reply to the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East when she says that these local authorities have no one to turn to, I remind the House that both I in my recent speech to the Association of Education Committees and my predecessors have repeatedly stressed the desirability in these cases, whether or not the Minister's approval is technically required under Section 13, of consulting the Ministry, consulting the local teachers, consulting the inspectorate, and even—I say this, with respect, to the hon. Member for Leeds, South with reference to another point which he made—consulting the parents and the local electors, so that these schemes are thoroughly discussed before they are adopted and are not entered upon precipitately, without discussion.
I promise that I should never try to take advantage of any technical powers of approval or disapproval which I had under the Act if they would come early on and try to discuss these things, taking account of the excellent advice from officials, if not from me, which is available in my Department and in the Inspectorate. They have, and I wish it to be generally known that they have, somewhere to go to discuss these matters in confidence before they adopt in public political attitudes from which sometimes it is both embarrassing and difficult to retreat.
I return to the main theme of the Bill. When I moved the Second Reading I ventured to canvass the merits of what is proposed. Although I shall for the sake of correctness refer to some of the more political remarks which have been made in this debate, I will try to confine my main remarks to the educational merits of the Bill rather than deal with all the wider educational issues which have been raised.
We have had some very fascinating speeches today, apart from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Sir J. Pitman), who soared into the stratosphere of metaphysics and psychology, where I shall not attempt to follow him. The majority of speeches have been concerned with the merits of selection and non-selection and the reorganisation of secondary education and comprehensiveness in all its various forms versus the rest. This Bill is not designed precisely to make experiments in reorganisation, although I have tried to define my attitude to them. It is about experiments with the age of transfer. Although these questions are not unrelated, I should say frankly that they are not the same. I was concerned simply to deal in my speech with the question of the age of transfer.
Before I get to that, I should like to deal with the two points which have been raised on Clauses 2 and 3, which are the subordinate part of the Bill. I confessed candidly that I wished that both Clause 2 and Clause 3 had been introduced before, and I pointed out why when I moved the Second Reading. It seems to me sad that we in this House cannot, in the atmosphere which we have engendered and the rules which we have developed, find a way of passing uncontroversial and humanitarian legislation without so much discussion and exhaustion of Parliamentary time. I believe that there is a wide feeling of agreement in the House on that.
However, I should have been extremely sorry to see an anomaly for the parents of handicapped children which it was promised would be removed and which was obviously an anomaly removed for Scotland but not for England. This is not because I am an English Minister. It is because I am a Minister of the United Kingdom and because I think that the parents of handicapped children south of the Tweed, who are governed by the same legislation as that which governs those north of the Tweed, should not suffer a handicap when it is removed north of the Tweed. This is my conviction.
I have not had very long to consider the speech on 8th May of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, but I noticed that the matter was raised on that Bill only at the recommittal stage. She pointed out with perfect truth that these allowances were originally introduced for the purpose of encouraging parents to keep children on at school beyond compulsory age. She said that a change of this kind required a little more consideration than could be given at that stage of the proceedings. That is what she said; I have read it.
I do not think that my hon. Friend has anything to apologise for. The only thing that I would criticise is the suggestion that we could do it for Scotland without at the same time doing it for England. That would have been a thoroughly serious and bad piece of legislation.
The argument is that it is right to do it for both at this time in this case, and I believe that reasonable minded English and Scots would both agree that that is a reasonable proposition. The real trouble here is not the attempt to differentiate between England and Scotland, but the fact that in this House we have not yet evolved an adequate method of dealing with uncontroversial legislation that everyone wants.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate that England and Scotland have not the same legislation in this case. We have entirely different Education Acts, as he will see from the fact that, in this Bill, different Clauses apply to England and Scotland. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman further continue research into what happened on 8th May? If he does, he will discover that the Secretary of State for Scotland gloried in the fact that the welfare services under the National Health Service would be dealt with at different times and in a different way for Scotland from that for England and Wales.
We are not talking about the National Health Service. We are talking about this anomaly in the Education Act. I was about to point out that the legislation is exactly the same and it would have been contained in a single Clause but for the fact that the numbers of the Sections and the dates of the Acts are different. That is why we have to have Clauses 2 and 3. I see no reason, therefore, to qualify a word I have said.
The second important point raised by hon. Members was the difference in the levels of maintenance allowances as between various local education authorities. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North referred specifically to the Weaver Committee. I make the fair point that the Bill does not cover this aspect at all. It simply removes an anomaly as between one class of parent and another class, which deprives one class of a financial advantage which has accrued to another. What the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, was talking about, and what might well be debated more fully on another occasion, is the level of maintenance allowances to all children.
The hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East and at least one other hon. Member also raised the question of the general treatment of handicapped children. It is of course true that the level of allowances by some local authorities is higher than that of others. I concede that at once. So long as one has general grant, it is inevitable. However, my impression is that this is because many local education authorities pay higher rates and have more generous income scales than the Weaver Report recommended. So far as I know, the great majority of local education authorities pay at least the Weaver rates.
My Department would be interested to receive any information about local authorities which pay less than what I have described as the Weaver rates, because I would make it my business to initiate informal discussions which might well help remove that difficulty.
The last time the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Ministry gave us figures, a number of local authorities were paying less than the Weaver rates. Will he look into that?
I have been on the Bench throughout the debate, with the result that I have not been able to pursue the matter very far, but I am told that no direct information is available to my Department since the general grant led us, as a matter of policy, to stop policing the rates. Our information, which is likely to be in general true, is that the great majority of local authorities pay either the Weaver rates or something more generous, and I do not see why they should not do so if their finances allow.
When I last raised this issue with the Department I was told that the information was not available because of the block grant system. However, that reply is not adequate and this information ought to be obtained. Handicapped children are a special category of children and are compulsorily obliged to attend special schools. I cannot see any reason why the right hon. and learned Gentleman should not think of providing in that case for at least the minimum scale. I hope that he will consider this in Committee.
There are two separate parts to what the hon. Gentleman has said. I will certainly seriously consider any suggestion from him about what information my Department should provide. However, as regards the differences in scales, I will say only that maintenance allowances are designed to meet the needs of parents who keep their children at school, and this Clause is designed to open those allowances to a new class of parents, but not to differentiate between different classes of parents or different classes of child or to provide different rates of allowances according to whether a child is handicapped or whether it attends a special school. That would be a very much wider proposition and I should have to consider it very carefully before being prepared to concede that there was a great deal in it.
Some time ago, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessor gave me details of local authorities which were paying less than Weaver rates. I have in my hand a very detailed document which his Department is now revising for me and which gives the total amount of awards which local authorities make for maintenance and the percentage of their income which this represents. I should have thought that the Department almost certainly had the actual number of awards so that it could easily divide it out and find out what they were.
I would much rather that the hon. Gentleman pursued this detailed matter with me at a time when I was less disadvantaged than now when I have to reply to a debate. I have gone beyond the terms of the Bill in trying to give the information available and I think that I must now return to the issues which have been raised.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North suggested that I should either indicate rather firmly what the view of my Department was about the suitable age of transfer, or press Lady Plowden for an interim report about the age of transfer. I think that he is wrong about this. I agree with the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) that this would be premature. That was also the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell).
Of course, the possibility of an interim report was one of the first ideas which came into my head after I assumed my present office, and I immediately took great care to find out whether it was feasible. Perhaps I had better not say exactly what inquiries I made, but I made as many obvious inquiries as would have occurred to the hon. Member. I must say that I received a very frosty answer and I was not encouraged to pursue the matter.
On reflection, I was persuaded that the question of age of transfer was so much at the heart of the whole complex of the problems into which Lady Plowden was inquiring that it would be impossible to judge this issue without judging the others. Short of pressing her to form a conclusion in advance of the evidence, or form a conclusion which would prejudice the whole of the rest of her report, the suggestion was not feasible. I have not got the terms of reference here, but they are to this effect: to consider education in all its aspects, including age of transfer to secondary education. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman for pressing it upon me because it was one of the first ideas which occurred to me, and therefore if he was mistaken in pressing it on me I was mistaken in pressing it on myself. However, I think the answer is what I have already given, that it is not sensible to prejudge this question because it cannot be disentangled from the general issues which Lady Plowden has to inquire into.
I am obliged for what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I said that I would respect the views of the Plowden Committee upon this matter, but we are nevertheless facing a real difficulty. The Committee is considering something which is very germane to changes which are taking place at the moment. I also appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty, because of this, in providing information which he ought to provide to the authorities which are facing this problem. He might be accused of prejudicing the eventual Plowden Committee Report. But we have to get a sense of urgency here. It is unfortunate that this is the last of the comprehensive Reports that we are having on education, but we are facing a real practical difficulty and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not be discouraged but will pursue the matter further.
I agree that there is an element of urgency about this, as there is about all important questions, but it would be a radical change of policy to change the age of transfer from that which was recommended after very careful argument in the Hadow Report, and I could not ask the Plowden Commitee to skimp its work in order to arrive at a preliminary conclusion, because although I think there are great disadvantages in delay I think there would be worse disadvantages in making radical changes and making them wrongly.
While we agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the undesirability of a precipitate decision which might be wrong, does he not recognise that what he is saying adds force to our argument that there was a lack of foresight in his Department in not recognising that this inquiry should have been made further? It is almost 40 years since Hadow.
I do not agree with that. I think Ministers and officials were very much preoccupied, certainly when I was there last, with the urgent questions attendant upon the provision of secondary education for all. We had the 1944 Act which deliberately chose to adhere to the age of transfer of between 10½ and 12. As a matter of fact, I considered this very point seven years ago when I was in office before. There were some bright young people in the Department who tried to make me do it, but I was persuaded—and I think rightly—that to have done this before we had got rid of the all-age school and before we had got a stage further with the provision of adequate secondary education for all would have added confusion to extreme pressure.
Although there is an element of judgment in all these choices, I do not regret the choice I then made. Nor am I at all inclined to reproach my successors for having adhered to it. However, if there is a guilty party in this matter, here am I; and I am prepared, at any rate, to say that I stand by what I did. There is an element of judgment in all these things. In handling an administrative problem one has to consider the pressures upon oneself and upon one's officials, and I believe I chose rightly. However, we are again tending to stray a little from the Bill.
I thought that parts of the speeches from both sides of the House, but particularly from that side, were of an electioneering character. There is a time and a place for everything, but I rather thought that this was not the time and possibly not the place. I do not complain that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North called me a liberal who likes laissez faire. It was a pity that there was no one on the Liberal benches to hear him do it. Both parts of the statement are completely wrong. But I rather minded when, having called me a liberal who likes laissez faire, he complained that I was occasionally guilty of outrageous political statements. I thought that that was a case of Satan rebuking sin.
I do not resile from what I said at a by-election about parental choice. There are plenty of people in this country—and I thought that the hon. Member for Leeds, South was one of them—who think that Section 76 of the Act is a dead letter. I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not one of those people. I think that this is part of the law of the land, and it will be administered as part of the law of the land as long as I am Minister.
Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that in answer to a Question that I asked last week he said that authorities generally do not allocate pupils to different types of secondary education to meet the wishes of the parents. It matters not to those who are parents what the Minister would like to do. What does happen is that there is no parental choice at 11-plus.
There is much too little parental choice, in my judgment. If there is a system of selection, there are people who come quite obviously on one side of the line or the other. That is to say, there are some who could not gain by a grammar school course, and some who would gain from no other kind of course. There I would not be tremendously impressed if the father or mother said, "I do not like what you offer". But there is a broad band of cases where the pupil can gain from either kind of course, and indeed from several different kinds of course. Therefore, I say to the hon. Gentleman, to the House, and to local authorities, that I am not prepared to suspend Section 76. I am against forcing children into schools of a type which the parents do not like.
If I am asked for justification for that, I say, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, that there are a number of perfectly legitimate options both for parents and for local authorities. As long as people keep within those options, I have no quarrel with them. I think the law ought still to stand as it is, because Section 76 provides a reasonable safeguard for local authorities through the words
so far as is reasonably practicable".
I have tried to cover a number of questions which have been raised, and I ask the House to give a Second Reading to a Bill which, whatever may have been said that is contentious, has met with almost universal approval for its own terms.
On a point of order. As the House is to discuss education in Scotland for the whole of tomorrow if it so wishes, is it in order to have a further discussion on the subject this evening?
The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Robert Cooke) is young. The trouble is that I doubt whether he will learn from experience in this House.
We are dealing with a Bill which relates to Scotland. It is not the case that only one Clause relates to Scotland. The fact is that only two Clauses do not. I am tempted to follow the wide and interesting paths which speakers have so far pursued in this debate.
I was amazed at the interesting way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman began his speech. He was asked a question, but he excused himself from answering it by saying that he did not want to get out of order. Then he proceeded to get as far away from the subject of the Bill as he could for at least a quarter of an hour, and gave us his views about selection, streaming and the rest of it. He then said, "I will now deal with the Bill.".
And the right hon. and learned Gentleman proved a very weak vessel. What I am concerned about is the fact that although the right hon. and learned Gentleman now has a certain standing in relation to Scottish education, he shows a woeful ignorance of it.
In his remarks on the Clause which is of most importance to Scotland he told us that we were governed by the same legislation. We are not. We are governed by separate Acts of Parliament. Just now he was telling us about parental choice, and how he was not going to become a court of appeal. Does not he know that under the relevant Scottish Act a parent has the right to say what kind of school his child is to go to, and what kind of secondary education he will follow? Does not he know that if there is disagreement a parent has the right of appeal to the local board of control, and then, if he is still dissatisfied, he can appeal to the Secretary of State who becomes a court of appeal? That is the position under Scottish legislation, and I glory in the fact that there are these differences.
The hon. Member is not entitled to misrepresent what I say. It will be within the recollection of the House that I said that the Scottish law as dealt with in Clause 3 was the same as the English law as dealt with in Clause 2, and that the only reason why we had two separate Clauses was that the dates of the Acts and the Sections of the Acts were different
I was not talking, and the House knows I was not talking—and I venture to say that the hon. Member knows that I was not talking—about the identity or otherwise of the Scottish law with regard to parental choice or any other part of education.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's second speeches, which tend to be explanations, are always much more explicit and longer than his first ones. If he reads HANSARD tomorrow he will find that his first reference to the subject contained the phrase "are dealt with by the same legislation." They are not. If he wants uniformity of treatment, will he have uniformity of treatment in England and Wales on the one hand, and Scotland on the other, after these provisions become law under the same Statute? Of course there is not uniformity of treatment in England, as compared with Scotland. The position is entirely different. For the same subject we have different legislation and different Acts of Parliament. Even if we put it into one Act of Parliament, because we have to have different Clauses referring back tho different legislation, we get different results.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman glossed over what happened about this subject when we discussed it in the House on a previous occasion Apart from the hon Lady, he is the only Tory Member who has mentioned the question On 8th May last year we started a debate on the subject of Scottish education at 10 o'clock and finished at 3 o'clock in the morning We dealt with Scottish examination systems, and there was not a single Scottish Tory Member in the Chamber They have Questions on the Order Paper this week about it, but they could not say a word about it when they could have influenced matters
We also dealt with other matters concerning Scottish education At present there is a question concerning the E.I.S., and no doubt some bright Scottish Tory will stooge a Question for the Secretary of State about Glasgow Corporation, and the representations of the teachers. That subject was also dealt with on that night. We dealt with many matters concerning Scottish children, local authorities and professional men, and we dealt with the question of handicapped children. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the hon. Lady was quite right. She had advanced the argument that the matter had come to her late, on recommittal.
I have the report of the debate, and I also wrote down what the hon. Lady said. At the end of a considerable argument she was saying that it could not be done educationally; it would require to be done in another way, and not by way of an educational statute.
What the hon. Lady said was, "At this stage it will require considerable thought and discussion to find another way of doing it". Does she agree that those were her words? Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman like to make another explanation of what he meant to say? The phrase was, "I cannot accept it at this stage without a great deal of thought and consultation to see whether there is another way of getting round the difficulty". That is what she said. My hon. Friend was concerned not only with the Bill but with the Children and Young Persons Bill, with which a United Kingdom Committee was dealing. On Report, as a last desperate measure and knowing that it was outside the Long Title of the Education (Scotland) Bill, he put this down and got an agreement in relation to recommittal. Just a fortnight before, the Secretary of State said, "We cannot do it unless we do it in joint legislation." But the hon. Lady said that legislation had nothing to do with it, and that there was the question of the anomalies which would arise.
There are two sets of children at school in Scotland at present, both over 15. There are those between 15 and 16 who are the pride and joy of then-parents at the senior secondary schools. It is possible for them to get a maintenance grant. The other children, the handicapped children, because of the compulsory leaving age, are still at school but handicapped—still loved by their parents, but one knows what heavy hearts many of these parents have about them and their prospects for the future. They are denied the maintenance grant.
The hon. Lady said that if we gave to the handicapped it would mean that people who were at school compulsorily were being paid as against those who were there voluntarily. She said that it used to be a gap of two years but that when we raised the school-leaving age the injustice would be wiped out. The implication of her remark was that nothing could be done educationally until 1970, although at that time we had a different Prime Minister and the right hon. and learned Gentleman was lording it elsewhere. We had not then even had the announcement about 1970. The hon. Lady explained to us that it might be done by maintenance grant but that it was all wrong to do it in that way.
That is the part of the reason why the debate went on so long. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small) was there. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) had moved it in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Mary- hill (Mr. Hannan). My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) was there, and spoke, and I managed to get a few words in myself. [Interruption.] Who supported the hon. Lady? Not one of them, either by their presence or by their voice. She will remember that that night she was left completely on her own. Even his noble Lordship did not show up that night. The Secretary of State disappeared at 10 o'clock and left her on her own—
Until we hear the noble Lord we are not able to judge, because such is his quantity that we do not know whether he has any quality apart from the quality with which he was born, and that has a special meaning in Scotland.
This is something which should have been done long ago. The hon. Lady and the Government had an opportunity to do it in May last year. Up gets the Secretary of State for Education and Science and says, "If only we could have found a way in this House to deal with uncontroversial legislation and get it passed speedily, but we have not." Does he know that last year we in Scotland persuaded the Secretary of State, and through him the Leader of the House, to give us a new Sessional Order which enabled us to set up a second Scottish Committee to deal with private legislation?
It is not reminiscence. It is a case of answering the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because we did pass two Private Bills of this character. If the Government had done the same with this subject, this would probably have been law, but the Government did not do it. They held up other private legislation as well. This is not our fault. It is the Government's fault.
I think that the hon. Lady should quite honestly get up and say that she regrets that she did not exercise what power she had last year to accept our Amendment. She was new to the job. I think it was the second time she had appeared in the House at that Box. It might well be that if she had then had the experience she has now gained, and the realisation of the power of persuasion she can wield in the Scottish Office, she would have exercised that authority at that time and not come to the House with these dreadful orders to resist, to use any argument she liked but not to give in, rather like a former Minister of Education who said: "Treat 'em mean and keep them keen."
The Government have treated meanly the parents of handicapped children in Scotland, but we are glad that at long last we have got what we asked for.