Orders of the Day — Education (East Riding)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd July 1964.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Chichester-Clark.]

12.10 p.m.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I wish to raise two constituency cases concerning decisions of the East Riding Local Education Authority and the Minister's refusal to intervene in those decisions. They are both complicated cases and, as far as possible, I want to stick to the broad principles, because I believe that in both cases important principles are involved. The first case involves the parental choice of school and concerns a child who has passed her 11-plus examination, and the second case involves the allocation of State grants for young men studying in business institutes abroad.

Inevitably, by introducing these subjects, I am seeming to be critical of the local education authority and, I suppose, to some extent of my right hon. Friend's decision not to intervene. Therefore, I want to make it clear at the start that, although I am taking up these two cases, I have the greatest faith in the East Riding Local Education Authority, which has a magnificent record in education, and that I have confidence in its Chief Education Officer, who has done an excellent job in the East Riding.

I turn now to the details of the first case, which concerns a girl named Andrea Reynolds. Before dealing with the problems of the child herself, may I sketch the background of this matter, which concerns the allocation of places and the geographical position of grammar schools in my constituency. There are two grammar schools in Beverley, one for boys and one for girls. Recently the local education authority has been introducing sixth form streams into the secondary modern schools in other parts of the constituency, particularly in Hessle, which has transformed those schools into what is, I understand, now called high schools.

It is obviously a good thing to have sixth form streams in secondary modern schools—I am in no way opposed to them—but I think that it must be done without interfering with existing grammar schools. The boys' grammar school at Beverley has, for the last two years, made an appeal for rebuilding funds. It has been a successful appeal, but as yet it has not yet received permission to rebuild. This may sound rather outside the case we are discussing, but I hope that my hon. Friend will remind his right hon. Friend that one of the problems is the shortage of space in the existing grammar schools. This could be cured in the case of the boys by permission being given to make these additions for which funds have already been raised, or by the provision of a new grammar school in Haltemprice.

In the south of my constituency, a number of children, particularly girls, pass their 11-plus and wish to take up places in the boys' or girls' grammar school to which I have referred. However, last year and again this year many of them have been allocated places in Hessle High School, which has the new sixth form stream and which is an excellent school. I make no criticism of it or the academic standard attained by it. The problem is that a number of parents do not wish their children to go to co-educational schools. It is basically for that reason that they want their children to go to the grammar schools in Beverley rather than to the high school in Hessle.

I come to the details of the case of Andrea Reynolds. She passed her 11-plus examination last summer, and her parents said that they would like her to take up a place in the girls' grammar school at Beverley. They stressed from the beginning that they had strong objection to their daughter going to a mixed school. However, their daughter was allocated a place at Hessle High School. They objected very strongly, not, I stress, on academic grounds, but on the ground that they wanted their daughter to go to a girls' school. After considerable correspondence, first direct with the education authority and later through solicitors, they assumed that children who had obtained passes lower than their daughter had been given places at the girls' grammar school in Beverley.

The local education authority, after a great deal of correspondence, admitted that geographical distribution must enter into consideration in allocating schools". The parents, therefore, felt that they had grounds for complaint, because they happened to live in the south of the constituency and therefore Hessle High School was closer to them than the Beverley Grammar School, and that this was the basic reason why their daughter was sent to the former school against their wishes as it was a co-educational school. After a further exchange of correspondence with the local education authority lasting several months, the matter was referred to the Minister of Education. He replied on 30th September last, and I should like to quote the penultimate sentence of his letter: The Minister of Education understands that they"— that is, the local education authority— are furthermore prepared, if Mr. Reynolds's circumstances warrant, to give assistance towards the cost of his daughter going either to Bridlington High School"— which is some considerable distance outside my constituency and from the girl's home— or"— this is the fundamental point of the quotation— to an independent girls' school. Any further enquiry should be addressed to the local education authority". The girl's parents assumed, therefore, that they could send their child to an independent girls' school and obviously chose one which was as near as possible to her home. In fact, they sent her to a French convent in Hull.

It must be borne in mind that the girl had already lost several weeks of her education while this correspondence was continuing. Having sent her to the French convent in Hull, the parents applied to the local education authority for the grant referred to in the Minister's letter. On 14th October they received a reply which stated: As this school"— that is, the French convent— does not appear in the list of independent schools recognised by the Ministry of Education it is not possible for my Committee to make any grant towards the cost of her education at that school". Again, I took the matter up with the Minister of Education, and he replied a month later, on 13th November, saying that … the award of a grant towards the cost of educating a pupil at an Independent School is a matter entirely at the discretion of the Local Education Authority concerned". and refused to take action.

There seem to be two matters involved. The first is the genuine mistake, partly by the official of the Ministry of Education who drafted the letter of 30th September and because of which the parents sent their child to an independent girls' school, and partly because the local education authority refused a grant because that school was not a recognised independent girls' school. If the word "recognised" had been included in the letter, the mistake would not have arisen. There is, therefore, some blame attributable to my right hon. Friend in his capacity as Minister of Education.

However, the major principle, which affects not only my constituency but the whole country, is the degree of weight given to the parents' choice when they signify what school they want their child to attend, the child having just passed the 11-plus examination. It is clear to my mind that geographical distribution becomes, in certain cases and definitely in this case, the governing factor, and I suggest that that is wholly wrong. If because parents happen to live near a school which is co-educational their child is directed to that school virtually irrespective of the child's pass mark, it is an affront to the rights of parents. I sympathise very much with parents who, if their child obtains a sufficiently high pass, wish her to go to a girls' school. I believe that the weight of parents' choice in these matters is not given sufficient attention by local education authorities.

I conclude my remarks on this case by saying that, since it was known that I was to raise this problem in the House today, I have had a shoal of letters from parents complaining about similar application of geographical distribution in the allocation of schools this summer as a result of the recent 11-plus examination. It is a matter which should be looked into carefully as one of principle affecting the rights of parents, rights which our party is pledged to defend.

The second case which I wish to raise is also somewhat complicated. Therefore, I will not go into it in great detail. It concerns a constituent of mine who was educated at Sedburgh and then went to Cambridge and decided to specialise in European business administration. He went to the European Institute of Business and Administration at Fontainebleau, France. I am no expert in business administration, but I understand that that Institute was started in 1958 and is backed by the Harvard Graduates School of Business Administration and that these schools are virtually unique. Their status is far higher than that of other schools of business administration which have recently been started in this country. I am sure that in the years to come, perhaps in the fairly near future, schools started in England, at Cranfield and elsewhere, will eventually assume the status that the world gives to the Harvard School and to Fontainebleau. It cannot be maintained that the existing schools in England have that status today.

My constituent applied to the local education authority for a grant to defray some of the costs of attending the European Institute of Business Administration. I understand that the fees are roughly £1,900, towards which European business firms contribute £1,200. Although a number of English students attend, this contribution is given wholly by European business firms. My constituent, therefore, had to find £700 for his costs.

He applied to the local education authority and, after considerable correspondence, I was told on his behalf in a letter of 15th January this year that his application was carefully considered by the Awards Panel, who felt that they were unable, in his case, to make a departure from their normal practice of making awards tenable at institutions in the United Kingdom only. I therefore raised the matter with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science. It seems to me that at a time when the country is being urged to increase its trade with Europe—indeed our trade with Europe is increasing almost monthly; when our people are encouraged to study in foreign languages—the administration of the school is carried out in three languages and students from 21 different countries attend; this is the sort of study that we should encourage our young men to take up. In any event, they must be fairly well qualified before they are accepted by the Institute. There should, therefore, be means of helping them to defray the expense of this form of almost post-graduate education.

In his reply of 24th March, my right hon. Friend said: Awards for post-graduate study, whether within or outside the United Kingdom, are made entirely at the discretion of local education authorities under powers conferred on them by Section 2 of the Education Act, 1962. My right hon. Friend again said that for that reason he did not feel justified in intervening.

I cannot question the legal rights in this case, although I should have thought that the Minister could have brought some influence to bear, but I stress the principle which is involved. We are supposed to increase our trade, and our future depends upon our doing so. It is said that business management in this country is not as efficient as business management in the United States and elsewhere. Here is a young man who, having already attended school and university, wishes to go on to a difficult European course at a school which is second only to the world-renowned school at Harvard, but he cannot get assistance from State funds. This seems to me to be a very shortsighted policy. I have evidence to show that since the time of this man's application, grants have been allocated to students to attend this very college and I am quite clear that grants have been given by local education authorities to young British men and women to attend courses in foreign countries.

I raise the question because it is a matter which may concern many people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in replying to the debate, will be able to say to what degree State funds can be allocated to this form of course. If he replies, as his right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science did on 24th March, that this is wholly a matter for the local authorities, I hope that he will either give official guidance or at least express his views strongly so as to encourage local authorities to consider these cases on their merits and that in such cases, involving business techniques on a European basis at a European school, every encouragement should be given to young men who have the initiative to go in for these courses. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to make it clear that if local education authorities take this view, they will at least have his blessing.

Those are the two personal cases which I wish to raise. They involve not only the personal future of a young woman and a young man, but, I stress, they involve two matters of principle affecting many of Her Majesty's subjects in this country. The first is the principle of the degree of weight which is given to parents' choice. Are we to assume that when they sign a form expressing their wishes about the school to which their child should go, it counts for nothing? Is allocation made on another basis and the parents' choice neglected? I realise that the choice of parents cannot be the controlling factor, but it should be a very important one.

Secondly, what methods are available to encourage our young men and women who wish to study European business administration in foreign schools? Surely, we will not be so insular as to say that only young men and women who study in this country will receive State grants. These are two important principles.

I hope that, in addition to answering the individual cases and the points raised in them, my hon. Friend will also give us his assurance that parental rights are regarded, not, perhaps, as of prime importance, but certainly as of great importance by the Ministry and that the Department will look into the second question and do everything possible to ensure that people who have the initiative to study abroad should receive adequate help from the State.

12.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

In the unavoidable absence of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, I am glad to have the opportunity of replying to the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall). I hope that it will be possible for him to take my remarks as being sympathetically disposed.

Perhaps no hon. Member other than my hon. Friend himself could feel better justified in replying to a speech on education than myself as the representative of a constituency which includes a well-known educational institution and also another very enlightened local education authority, which looks upon problems of this kind with such sympathy that I even recall a case in which the local education authority has provided a grant from its funds for a young lady in my constituency of Oxford to take her education at Cambridge. Generosity could go no further than that.

I am also glad to have this opportunity to reply to the debate because I am a Yorkshireman by descent, and indeed my grandmother was born and educated in Beverley, so I hope that my hon. Friend will accept my assurance that this is the kind of subject in which I have both a personal and a ministerial interest.

My hon. Friend has sketched very clearly the background of general principles underlying the two cases to which he has sought to draw my right hon. and learned Friend's attention. I hope that the House will forgive me if I go through the details of these cases as seen from the Department of Education as we have a good deal of time today to consider these questions.

Taking first the case of Andrea Reynolds, there have been two decisions of the local education authority which the girl's parent has disputed. There is first the authority's allocation of Andrea Reynolds to a secondary school. The facts as I understand them were these: in September, 1963, solicitors acting on behalf of the girl's father complained to the Minister that the authority, in making arrangements for her secondary education, was in breach of the duty imposed on it by Section 76 of the Act. This, if I may say so in parenthesis, is a complaint of a not unfamiliar kind, and the case was very carefully considered by my right hon. Friend who concluded that he had no justification for intervening.

The facts were that, as my hon. Friend said, the girl qualified in the authority's 11-plus selection tests for education of grammar school type. The parent then expressed preference for Beverley Girls' High School as his first choice. His second choice was Hull High School for Girls, and his third choice was Hull St. Mary's Grammar School. He also indicated a strong preference for single sex education.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, the local education authority then offered a place at Hessle High School which is a mixed school combining a grammar school stream, which was then entering its fourth year, with a more general secondary course. The local education authority was unable to meet his wishes at Hull High School because vacant places were allocated to girls much higher on the authority's list of selected pupils, and at Hull St. Mary's Grammar School they were also unable to meet his wishes because the places were reserved for Roman Catholic children.

The decision which the parent contested was the authority's refusal to place his daughter at Beverley High School. The parent argued that the education authority had acted unfairly in allocating places at Beverley High School among pupils who had qualified for grammar school type education in their selection tests on a geographical basis rather than according to relative order of merit. The result of the authority's system was that some candidates lower on the authority's list for selective education than Andrea Reynolds, but who were living in Beverley or the vicinity, secured a place while she did not.

My right hon. Friend sought information from the local education authority and examined this complaint very carefully. He came to the conclusion that the authority was not acting unreasonably. A full explanation was sent to the solicitors, and as my hon. Friend has no doubt seen the letter in question, I do not think that it is necessary to read it in detail.

The point is that from inquiries that were made it appeared that the local education authority took account as far as it was able of expressed preference for a particular school. It also, however, felt obliged to give precedence to the demands made on the schools to accommodate qualified pupils living in areas from which other suitable schools were not readily accessible. The number of places required for new entrants to Beverley High School from its own locality in September, 1963, exceeded by a large margin the number of places available, and the authority therefore refused admission to all applicants residing outside the area. I think I should add that this decision excluded 14 pupils who would have preferred to be educated at Beverley and who, in order of merit, were placed higher than Andrea Reynolds.

The girl's position in the authority's selection list entitled her to a grammar school type of education, but not to education at a particular school, because the authority does not necessarily allocate on the basis of position on the list, but takes geographical factors into account. I am bound to say that this seems reasonable, and is indeed the usual practice, particularly in rural areas.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

Does my hon. Friend appreciate the implication of that? As the reconstruction of Beverley Grammar School has not yet started, all the children in the southern part of my constituency who pass the 11-plus will be sent to a co-educational school, namely, Hessle High School, and a lot of parents resent this. What my hon. Friend has said is that geographical distribution is the major factor, and not parents' choice. Does he mean that?

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

Geographical assessments must be a factor, but parents' choice is also a factor, and a very important one. But these things must in the last resort be left to the discretion of the local education authority, and indeed they are so left under the Act. I do not think that it would be fair to describe the authority's decision as one merely of administrative convenience. The authority stretched admissions to the Beverley High School as far as it could short of what it considered excessive overcrowding. In fact, it admitted 79 pupils in a two-form entry school. Because of the other 14 pupils from outside the zone who were higher on the list than Andrea Reynolds and wanted admission to the school, her case could obviously not be treated in isolation, and the authority's decision had to be based, and was based, on its assessment of the general good.

Whatever the respective merits of single-sex and mixed education may be—and there is no reason to suppose that the latter is necessarily inferior—I must point out that the Education Acts do not confer any rights on parents to single-sex education regardless of public expense. The organisation of secondary schools is primarily a matter for the local education authority to decide, and many of them consider that mixed schools are preferable, particularly when the area is thinly populated and single-sex schools would thus be small and would involve long travelling for young children. I think that in this matter the local education authority must have the final say in its discretion. I do not think that in this case it exercised it unreasonably.

There was the second disputed point in the case of Andrea Reynolds, namely, the decision not to assist the girl's parent with the cost of education at an independent school. My hon. Friend has referred to the correspondence on this matter which began with the letter of 8th August, 1963, from the local education authority, and I think that it is important to take this letter as the point of departure in examining this dispute. In that letter the local education authority suggested that if the parent felt strongly about single-sex education it might be possible for him to secure the girl's admission to a recognised girls' private school, and I emphasise here the inclusion of the word "recognised". In that case the letter explained that the authority would be prepared to consider giving assistance towards the cost of tuition, in accordance with the parent's means.

This possibility was referred to in the letter from the Department to the solicitors, dated 30th September, in which it was stated that the Minister understood that the authority was prepared, if the parent's circumstances warranted, to give assistance towards the cost of his daughter going to an independent girls' school. The letter stated that any further inquiry on the subject should be addressed to the local education authority. This is the letter which my hon. Friend has quoted, but I wish to emphasise that it must be read in conjunction with the letter of the local education authority dated 8th August.

What happened then was that in October last year the parent made application to the authority for assistance towards the cost of his daughter's attending a school at Hull which he had already arranged for her to go to, and the authority then refused assistance, on the ground that the school was not recognised. My hon. Friend recently wrote to the Minister asking for his intervention on this point on the ground, among others, that the parents had, in good faith, sent their child to an independent girls' school which was not recognised and that up to this time they had not been told that the grant would apply only to recognised schools.

It seems to me to be difficult to maintain this argument in view of the terms of the local education authority's letter of 8th August, to which I have referred. I do not think that it could reasonably be argued that the Ministry's letter should have specified that the school should be recognised when that requirement had already been specified in the letter from the local education authority. The matter of assistance with fees at an independent school to widen parental choice is entirely one for the discretion of the authority. In this case I do not think that there was anything unreasonable about the way in which the authority exercised its discretion, and for those reasons my right hon. Friend felt unable to intervene.

I turn secondly to the other case which my hon. Friend has raised, which is the case of Mr. Bruce Beharrell, a student of the International Institute of Business Administration at Fontainebleau, in France. He was there in April of this year, but we have not heard from him since. The likelihood is that he has completed, or is about to complete, the one-year course at that Institution.

The facts in his case are as follows: in January last he complained to my hon. Friend against the refusal of the local education authority for the East Riding of Yorkshire to grant-aid his studies at Fontainebleau. He rested his complaint on the belief that there were no equivalent institutions in Britain and he commented that whereas "the State" is prepared to extend State scholarships to enable holders to take the course at Fontainebleau, the Yorkshire East Riding is not prepared to help one who is not a State scholar.

My hon. Friend had communicated with the local education authority before he wrote to the Minister on 17th February of this year. The local education authority told my hon. Friend, in a letter of 15th January, that it had felt unable to depart from its normal practice of making awards tenable at institu- tions in the United Kingdom only. They reminded my hon. Friend that the whole question of awards for post-graduate courses is left to the discretion of local education authorities. This is quite true. It added that had Mr. Beharrell embarked on a suitable post-graduate management course in this country it is quite possible that he would have been given an award although … it is only fair to point out that his academic record so far has not been distinguished. My right hon. Friend, now Minister of State, told my hon. Friend, on 4th March, that there was little he could do to help, because this matter rested with the discretion of the local education authority. For courses of a vocational nature, such as that at Fontainebleau, students must look to their local education authorities for assistance. State studentships awarded by my right hon. and learned Friend's Department and by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research were not available for vocational courses of the kind that Mr. Beharrell was following. As a rule local education authorities are prepared to consider, on their merits, applications for awards from students who wish to undertake post-graduate courses, but it is not unusual for authorities to require that applicants should have shown by their performance during their degree course that they are above average. Most authorities look closely at applications from students who wish to study abroad, since the cost is normally much higher than in this country, and it is general practice to refuse assistance where comparable courses are available in this country.

There has been some further correspondence between my hon. Friend and the Minister of State in which a number of points have been elucidated. I will refer only briefly to two items in this correspondence. First, on 24th March my right hon. Friend pointed out that awards for post-graduate study whether within or without the United Kingdom are made entirely at the discretion of local education authorities under powers conferred on them by Section 2 of the Education Act, 1962, and that because of this discretion he would not be justified in intervening with an authority on behalf of an individual student who had been refused an award. He also pointed out that one-year post-graduate courses in business administration or industrial management are freely available in this country. Examples are Birmingham, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester universities, and a number at institutes of further education.

Photo of Mr Daniel Jones Mr Daniel Jones , Burnley

Were there any vacancies at those educational establishments?

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

I could not say, but this question did not arise, because the young man about whom we are talking had not applied for such a vacancy. At the same time, my right hon. Friend pointed out that while none of these conducts courses in three languages, the standards of admission are as high as, if not higher than, those at Fontainebleau.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

But Fontainebleau has students of 21 different nationalities, and the courses are conducted in three languages. Surely my hon. Friend is not trying to say that the courses to which he has referred are of a comparable standard? That suggestion is not tenable.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

I certainly am asserting that. As to the number of nationalities represented, I should have thought that at most of the universities that I have named, if they are in any way similar to the university in my constituency, the number of languages spoken would be likely to be even greater than at Fontainebleau.

Turning to the later letter which my right hon. Friend sent to my hon. Friend, he there pointed out that State scholarships are not extended automatically for students to take the Fontainebleau course; each case is considered on its merits. Some extensions have been granted, but in other cases they have been refused. This clearly indicates the exercise of discretion of a precisely similar kind to that which local education authorities have in considering their award holders for post-graduate study.

Photo of Mr Daniel Jones Mr Daniel Jones , Burnley

If the local education authority had granted Mr. Beharrell's request, it would not have been establishing a costly precedent.

Photo of Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford

It would not have established a precedent. There are cases where grants for such extensions have been made, and local education authorities are entitled to make them at their discretion.

To sum up, the underlying reasons in this case—as we have been informed by the Director of Education in the local education authority—for the committee not making an award to Mr. Beharrell, were twofold. First, his academic record did not justify an award for this course, and, secondly, he could have obtained the post-graduate education which he needed in this country. It could have made an award if it had so chosen. It was within its power to do so, but it was also within its right to exercise its discretion. That, indeed, is what it did, and in the circumstances my right hon. Friend could not see any grounds for intervening himself.

If I may conclude in more general terms, having dealt with the details of these two cases, I can certainly assure my hon. Friend of my right hon. and learned Friend's sympathy with the two points that he has personally stressed—first of all, that the rights of parents should be given considerable weight. He said that they should not be deprived of consideration, and I certainly agree with him that they must be a very important consideration even if they cannot be in all cases the overriding and decisive consideration. That assurance I can gladly give my hon. Friend.

Secondly, my hon. Friend asked whether it was a matter of policy to encourage or discourage attendance at foreign schools providing valuable training and experience such as that at Fontainebleau. I am quite sure that my right hon. and learned Friend does regard this as a desirable kind of educational experience but not one which would justify him as a matter of doctrine in overriding the discretion which local education authorities have the right to exercise and are indeed bound to exercise, and which in this particular case it appears to me they exercised rightly.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes to One o'clock.