Schools Council

Part of Orders of the Day — Education Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st July 1976.

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Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North 12:00 am, 21st July 1976

I see that we have other reactionaries. Dr. Thwaites is Principal of Westfield College. He attacked the humanities curriculum project of the Schools Council. I am glad that the Stenhouse project is on the retreat and that very few schools are doing it. That in itself is a lesson. If a body suggests a project to a group of people with the power of decision, and that project is tried by other people and found to be unsuccessful, the implication is that the suggestions of that body are not likely to be successful in other areas.

The trouble with the 16-plus examination is that there will be no choice unless the GCE boards remain in existence. I hope that they will remain in existence and that parents will be able to discuss matters with them on Saturday mornings.

I do not know what will happen in 1981, when the two examinations are brought together, if the present climate lasts. It is the height of folly to believe that the climate will last until 1981. The cost of the Schools Council is £2½ million a year, and I am advised that it is going up even while we are speaking here.

If we want something done, I suggest that the Schools Council should be discontinued. Let it be recognised that it is not only Opposition Members who are saying that. There is a crisis of confidence in the council. If it is discontinued, other bodies could begin to do its job. When a new body is created it usually happens that an existing body goes to sleep or that the process of buck-passing begins. We have so many bodies taking responsibility that it is so easy for everyone to say that responsibility lies else- where. The William Tyndale situation is a classic example.

I believe that Her Majesty's Inspectors once fulfilled a splendid function. It was their job to see whether something that was working well in one school could be transferred to another. They used to suggest that the head and staff of one school might visit another to examine the operation of an idea or scheme that might be transferable. That would be done instead of everyone going on a course and listening to somebody talking about something that they had probably never done. The best course is to ascertain why something is working in a particular school and to consider whether it is transferable. That is what the HMIs used to do.

The HMIs used to print their quinquennium and it was available to be read by all staff and governors. That produced a monitoring effect. I should like to think that the review and assessment of the Performance Unit is a sign—it may be no more than a cloud on the horizon —of the return of the HMIs, a return to the primary function of inspection in our schools. That would allow new and spontaneous movements in the schools to be considered on the basis whether they were worthy of transferring elsewhere.

I see no reason for the National Foundation for Educational Research not carrying out a research function. It is rarely that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, and I listened to his wise words with care, but I do not see why another body need be established. We are littered with committees and groupings with blanket representation. It seems that all must have their say before anythting is done.

I believe that people must have responsibility and that there must be a way of checking what they are attaining. The National Foundation for Educational Research was set up for that purpose. It is an independent body, whereas the Schools Council is a cross-hybrid. We have talked about hybrid Bills before and I must not refer to them this evening, but the council is a strange hybrid that seems to represent all sectors, including the Department. Let the HMIs be the people who carry the fertilisation of ideas and let the National Foundation for Educational Research do its job. If that is done, and if things go wrong, the foundation will be able to let us know who is responsible.

If we had the HMIs performing their old function along with the foundation, without having some strange body in the middle that seems to perform no underpinning function, we should have a system that would have the approval of a significant part of the educational world. Despite the fact that recommendation after recommendation has been made to that effect, they have been turned down by the Secretary of State.