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External Examinations (Grant-Aided Schools)

Volume 463: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1949

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8.43 p.m.

I beg to move,

"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 17th February, 1949, entitled the Primary and Secondary Schools (Grant Conditions) Amending Regulations, No. 8, 1949 (S.I., 1949, No. 250), a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th February, be annulled."
Behind those words, which do not appear to mean anything very much, lies a very important order. It is an order which will make a serious alteration in our secondary education system. In effect, this order introduces new examinations to replace the school certificate and the higher school certificate examinations. Moreover, it requires that these examinations shall not be taken until a child attains the age of sixteen on or before 1st September of the year in which the examination is held. Also it has the effect of requiring that external examinations shall be held only once in each year. These reforms, if indeed they can be called reforms, are the result of the Report of the Secondary School Examinations Council, and they were forecast in circular 168 of the Ministry of Education. The Secondary School Examinations Council were unanimous in their Report, but they made a special appeal to the Minister that it should be carefully considered. They said:
"The Council trust that they will not be thought to be going outside their province if they express the hope that the widest possible opportunity will be given for discussion of their recommendations before any detailed decisions are taken on them. They understand that it is your intention to consult the Universities, to whom these recommendations are, obviously, of very close concern. It will also be necessary to consult Examining Bodies about the dates of the Examination, and the Council are proceeding to arrange for this consultation."
I quote that in full, because I want to make it quite clear that this is the last occasion—this is, in fact, the eleventh hour—upon which we can discuss these regulations in the place where they ought to be discussed, namely, in this House. We have sought from this side of the House to raise the subject in the Debate on the Estimates, and we were fortunate enough to obtain an Adjournment Debate on the subject. We thought it our duty again to raise the matter now and we make no excuse for what we are doing.

There has certainly been an enormous amount of discussion on this matter and I will not bore the House by going into detail on all the arguments which have been put ad infinitum to the Minister. There has been a tremendous lot of argument put to the Minister but only one reply, and that has been the inevitable "No." I cannot help thinking that that was not quite the sort of discussion which the Secondary School Examinations Council expected. I think they thought the Minister would, perhaps, be more amenable under argument.

I must say that I think the full importance of this step is not sufficiently realised by some hon. Members. I should like to quote from a speech made by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett), but first I take this opportunity of saying that I am sorry he is not in his place tonight. He is not well and I am sure the House will wish him the best of good luck and express hopes for his quick recovery. In speaking of the place of the external examination in our education he said:
"For the first time, we now have the place of the external examination in the educational field. We have always known that it had no place in the nursery school, the infants' school, the junior school and the modern school. At no price would they have it. That battle was won long ago."
He went on to talk about the universities and ended by saying:
"So we have this position, that the external examination has one small place in the whole educational field,, and that is the grammar schools, and only for that very small section of grammar school students who are going forward to institutions of further education, or who wish for exemption from university or professional examinations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 1584–5.]
It is a very small section, but what an important section it is. I wish to stress that fact. After all, in the ordinary way I think it is from that section that the majority of the leaders of this country will be drawn in the future. There will be a great number of honourable exceptions, but it is reasonable to suppose that those people who will push our knowledge further in the scientific field or the field of investigation generally, who will steadily increase our knowledge, will come from that very "small section," as the hon. Member for York described it.

In appealing to the Minister to reconsider this matter we must emphasise its very great importance over the whole field of our education. The question of the need for external examinations must inevitably intrude in the consideration of regulations of this kind. I want to make it quite plain that on this side of the House we place no particular sanctity on the present school certificate. I remember saying in this House about two and a half years ago, in a Debate on the Estimates, that I hoped that the whole question of the school-leaving examination, and its place in education, would be considered. I want to make it plain that we do not, as it were, pin our faith entirely on the present scheme. I agree that it is by no means perfect. I agree that the school certificate has been used for purposes for which it was not designed. But one must be realistic.

Many of the purposes for which it has been used have not been bad purposes. It has been extremely useful to the community, and there is nothing to replace it. If the right hon. Gentleman tells me that school reports can replace it, then I refer him to the recent resolutions by the universities to the effect that they could not at this present moment accept school reports as a basis on which to judge the ability of students. If they cannot, then it is quite impossible for those outside—in industry or anywhere else—to do so.

This order does not abolish the external examination, but merely modifies it. People will still be able to take the school certificate as evidence to employers that they have reached a certain standard of education.

I realise that quite clearly, but if they do that, they will have to stay at school a longer time to do it, and although I regard it as a most estimable thing that children should stay at school as long as possible, I must say that I do not think a good reason for their staying there is simply to get some sort of certificate in order then to go out to get a job. That will induce people who are less suitable to stay at school, rather than those who are more suitable to stay. Although, as I say, I should like to see as many as possible stay as long as possible at school, I can not think that this method is the right way of getting them to do it.

Our great criticism is, of course, the question of the chronological age being the criterion as opposed to the mental age. It seems to us quite wrong arbitrarily to take the date of a child's birth, which becomes very important when there is only one examination every year. We think that there must be some better way. Let me quote the figures, which many in this House already know, of the results of the 1948 examinations. I am perfectly aware that those examinations are not school certificate examinations, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that they were based—at least the Report of the Secondary Schools Examination Council assumed that they would be, and the Minister himself in his circular assumed they would be—on the standards of the present existing school certificate.

In the Northern Universities Joint Matriculation Board Examination in 1948, the figures for boys were: 23.7 per cent. of all the boys who took the school certificate took it under the age of 16; of those 80.6 per cent. passed, which was a higher percentage than the percentage of all the boys who took that examination; and they obtained an average of 5.2 credits, which was a higher average than that of all the boys who took the examination. Concerning the State scholarships, 81 per cent. of those who in 1948, in that particular area, gained State scholarships had taken them under the age of 16.

It seems to me that the position of an intelligent boy who is born at the wrong time of the year must be retarded and badly affected by not being able to take the external examination before he is 16. Whatever way we look at this matter, he will have to be held back. If that is so, I cannot see—and I have tried very hard to see—the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. It is educationally indefensible. Surely the masters themselves are the best judges of when boys are suitable for taking the external examination.

Many important people in the educational system of this country agree that this will adversely affect the organisation of schools at a very difficult time. It is going to affect, we believe, the standard of the sixth form at a time when we need a higher academic standard than ever before. The transitional period in 1950, when the school certificate is still being used, will be particularly unfair on the child who is born at the wrong time of the year.

The last point which I want to make is this. The Minister claims in all his speeches that this is going to give more freedom to the schools. I have sought hard to find out whether this will be so or not, and frankly I cannot understand exactly what he means. I have spoken to many headmasters and headmistresses on this subject, and they do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it means more freedom. I hope that he will explain in simple words, such as I can understand, exactly what he means. I am not the only person who cannot understand this matter. The Minister, when he went into this subject more deeply than at any other time with the joint four, said that he hoped that the universities would trust the schools. It is rather difficult for the universities to trust the schools when he does not trust them himself, and when he is taking out of the hands of the schools the time at which a boy or girl can actually take the examination. I cannot see how the universities can do anything but what they have done.

This is the last opportunity that we have of praying against this order. We do so in no acrimonious spirit, but because we want to get the best type of child from whatever home he comes and to see that he has the best chance, and that he does the best for the country that he can. I know that the Council reported unanimously, but my papers have told me that after that report had been made unanimously—which always impresses people who speak on this matter—representations were made to the Minister to the effect that they rather wished that they had thought about it again. That must be exasperating for any Minister.

I think we ought to get this straight. It is true that representations were made, but no representations were ever made by the representatives who were part and parcel of the Examinations Council. On no occasion did any representative on the Examinations Council make representations to me.

That is a very interesting statement, which we are very glad to have.

The associations they represented made representations, but not the representatives of the associations.

That is an important point, and I am very glad that the Minister has put it right, because it appeared from the way it was "put across" in the Press that certain members who had taken part in the discussions had been in contact with the Minister in order to express some doubt. I am very glad to hear that that was not so. It is true, as the Minister has admitted, that the associations they represented have expressed a contrary view, and I quite agree that that must be absolutely maddening to any Minister who wants to get on with the job. As I have tried to make clear, this is an important matter, and if there were any doubt at all about it the Minister should have asked that Council to think again, to flog it out a bit more, to see if they could not get something more acceptable to those who have to do the work, because it is from the masters and mistresses who have to prepare these children that the opposition comes, whereas those who do not have children to prepare for this sort of work support the Minister in this matter. It is quite obvious that in those circumstances the people of this country must feel very anxious about it.

9.2 p.m.

I beg to second the Motion so ably moved by my hon. and gallant Friend.

When last I had the privilege of taking part in a Debate with the Minister of Education, he and I were on the same side, and I therefore naturally thought that on that occasion he made a remarkably sensible speech. I am still not without hope that even at this last minute we may win some concessions out of him, because when I study, as I have done with some care, the pronouncements that he has made upon this topic which we are debating it seems to me that though his conclusions are in favour of these regulations the arguments he uses are usually against them; that, as it were, his head is in one Division Lobby and his legs are in the other. I hope that by the end of this Debate we shall have "de-Humpty Dumptied" him and put him together again.

My first argument, before we come to the intrinsic merits of the regulations, is that this has been put through without either sufficient discussion or anything like general approval and support from the educational profession, whether the universities or the schools, and I think it would have been wise to have got that, even if the regulation itself were an entirely wise one. I of course join with my hon. and gallant Friend in having great sympathy with the personal difficulty of the Minister owing to the report of the Secondary Schools Examination Council, and if he were to plead those difficulties as an excuse for having made the regulation and then withdrawing it, there is nobody who would not have accepted his amende without complaint. But it is not an excuse for persisting in that difficulty when it is found that in the educational world there is not general support for these regulations.

Let me try to understand, so far as I can, the arguments for the regulations. The last time we debated this matter the right hon. Gentleman said:
"The criticism of the minimum age is based upon an assumption that the new examination is the old system under a different name. But in fact it is a new examination and it is designed to serve entirely different purposes."
With great respect that is not quite so. We in this House are perfectly well aware that there is a new examination. We are not disputing that point at all. Then we are told that there is great danger in pushing many bright boys and girls into examinations and specialisations too early in life, because they have the knack of getting through examinations. Indeed, anybody who has been a schoolmaster and is still a parent needs no temptation to deny that. We are not denying that there are plenty of cases where it would be extremely unwise to push boys and girls too soon into examinations. The issue is whether that is a sort of matter which should be left to the schools and the parents to decide in each case what is the appropriate age according to what happens to be the development and maturity of each particular child; or whether it is a matter which can best be settled by central regulations.

It seems to me that when the right hon. Gentleman argues he argues on one side and for some reason the conclusion he reaches is the other way round. Like my hon. and gallant Friend, I have very much difficulty in understanding the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. For instance when we were debating this matter last December he said:
"Now the schools have established their standards they must have freedom, and the new examination is designed to give them that freedom, the freedom to educate children according to their age, ability and aptitude as laid down in the Act of 1944."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 1593–4.]
A fortnight later he went to the Headmasters' Conference when he used substantially the same words to them. He said:
"What is the real significance of the Act? We have always understood the claim that the centre of the education system must be the individual and we have to educate each child according to his age, ability and aptitude."
And later he said:
"The whole object of the set-up is to enable individuals to make the fullest possible progress in their chosen subjects."
He referred to the Norwood Committee's Report, and said there was need to give the schools the freedom which they had been given under the Education Act. I share my hon. and gallant Friend's difficulty in understanding what the right hon. Gentleman means by the use of this word "freedom." If he means by that the age at which their education is to take place is it to be settled by these central regulations?

The right hon. Gentleman has made familiar an argument drawn from the cricket field, when he said that when a test team is chosen the players were not selected because they were good cricketers some little time ago, but when they were playing at the top of their form at the moment. The right hon. Gentleman used that argument when we were choosing constantly changing test teams to play Australia, and they were being beaten in almost every match. Since then a regular test team has been sent to South Africa, and it has been victorious. I do not expect the right hon. Gentleman to change his political opinions because of that success in the cricket field.

Where is the hon. Gentleman's captain, the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler)?

I prefer to discuss this Prayer rather than the personal engagements of my right hon. Friend even if I were aware of them. If I may be allowed I should like to turn to the topic we were discussing. If we must draw a parallel from the cricket field, it is not so much who would be chosen for a test team but who would be chosen to go on the ground staff or something like that. It would be extremely rare if it happened that a boy turned up at a county ground to join the staff and he bowled so well that he immediately went into the county side. It would frequently happen that he would be told, "You are the sort of a boy on whom it would be worth our while to keep an eye, because you are likely to prove to be up to county standard in the future." Therefore it is by no means a foolish thing that universities may often want to select people they think likely to be worthy of university education by their standard of education not solely immediately before they go up to the university but some little time before.

In defending the later age the right hon. Gentleman said that the bright child could surely with benefit keep more subjects than his two or three special ones going during his sixth form life. I remember a Fijian chief who appeared in the United States once and was horrified to find that all the boys and girls there were incarcerated in schools from the age of six until they were 16, and he said, "Why, that is just the time in life when they ought to be learning something." I agree up to a point with the remark of the right hon. Gentleman that the young people benefit by "keeping more subjects going," but it all depends on what is meant by the phrase "keeping more subjects going." I agree that the sixth form boy or girl who is specialising in some subject is all the better for taking an interest in some other subject and being talked to about it, but it does not necessarily follow that it is good for him to keep up and cram five separate subjects to examination pitch.

My hon. Friend has talked about the problem of the schools. I do not want to go into that at greater length but I want to say a word about the problem from the point of view of the universities. There is no doubt that this has worked out as a considerable imposition on the universities and the universities are greatly concerned at it. I want to make one or two points about that. There are people who ask why the universities should object to age limits being imposed upon them because the universities themselves impose age limits. There are two replies to that. I would first say that, in itself, the fact that the universities impose age limits would not necessarily justify the Government's imposing age limits on universities. After all we do not have a State system of education in this country and the universities are entrusted to a large extent with the management of their own affairs. The fact that universities saw fit to do something would not in itself necessarily make it right for other people to impose such a system on the universities against their wishes.

Secondly, the universities impose an age limit for scholarships, which is quite a different thing. It is not a minimum but a maximum limit. They will not allow boys and girls to sit for scholarships beyond a certain age. A scholarship examination is of necessity a competitive examination in a much stricter and more definite sense than a general public examination one of the consequences of which may be to give a person a university education. The universities are doubtless well aware that there are occasions when it might happen that a boy or girl has not matured by the age of 18 but would be likely to mature afterwards and they would be delighted to give a scholarship on that person's work at the age of 19. However, when dealing with a competitive examination one has to see not only that justice is done but that justice is seen to be done. Therefore, out of fairness to the other candidates it is necessary to have regulations. As a general rule boys of 18 would be at a disadvantage when sitting against boys of 19 or 20.

The fact that the universities impose a maximum limit for directly competitive examinations is not in itself an argument for the Ministry to impose a minimum for examinations which are not competitive in anything like that strict sense.

In any event, as we know, it has imposed a problem upon the universities and, as the House knows, the universities have met together to solve it. Though nothing has been quite settled yet, it seems most probable that they are to set up this new entrance examination in which they will require candidates to pass in the English language and in either four or five other subjects. Granted that these regulations are a compromise, and probably as little unsatisfactory as possible, yet it is not satisfactory, as both the schools and the universities feel most deeply.

As "The Times" said in its leading article on 4th February of this year:
"The schools will face difficulties, but they have to recognise that these are created by the age-limit dictated by the Minister of Education and not by the universities."
It seems to me, therefore, and it is the basis of my case, that the right hon. Gentleman having been perhaps pardonably misled by the difficulties created by the Secondary School Examinations Council nevertheless is imposing upon the educational world a quite unnecessary difficulty, and he will earn the gratitude of the educational world even at this eleventh hour if he should prove himself big enough to recognise that a mistake was being made and to revise the regulation.

Therefore, I base my case in summary on these two points: first, that on its intrinsic merits we require a much more flexible system than that which is allowed to the country by these regulations; secondly, that we in this country up till now have not had a State system of education. Other countries have it. If, for instance, one goes to a school in the north of France and moves to the south, one can go on reading the same authors one was reading the day before, so I have been told. That has not been the system in this country. Only yesterday I was defending the right hon. Gentleman to an indignant constituent explaining that we in this country not only have a Minister of Education who cannot do everything he likes, but who does not want to be able to do everything he likes.

I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman nods. Therefore, the whole system of education in this country has not been a system of the imposition of central regulations from Whitehall either on schools or universities. That being so, as a matter of principle I view this new departure with the gravest apprehension because it is an invasion of the autonomy of the educational world by Whitehall, which is gravely contrary to the educational traditions of this country. I most honestly and sincerely appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, even at this eleventh hour, to make a great name for himself in educational history by withdrawing these regulations.

9.18 p.m.

There has been a good deal of misunderstanding and misapprehension abroad in the educational world about this circular and this examination, and I wish I could think that that misunderstanding and misapprehension had been brought about by disinterested motives. However, when I read not long ago in "The Yorkshire Post" an article by a well-known headmaster in Leeds that the report of this advisory Council was the report of a committee which had been hand-picked by the Minister in order to give him his report, then I look with contempt at some of the agitation which has been worked up.

Hon. Members opposite have spoken tonight as though there is a universal objection to this examination and to this circular in the educational world. I have only found it in a very limited field. That field is limited to the grammar school section. After the contemptible reference by the headmaster to whom I have referred, I looked up the report of the Council for details of its constitution. I found that practically every educational interest was represented on it: universities, both on the examination boards side and the universities themselves; grammar school headmasters; independent schools; public schools; local education authorities, both through the Association of Education Committees and the County Councils Association; women teachers; the joint four, and prominent educationalists. I am given to understand that, in spite of the fact that the names of the members of the Council were announced by the Minister, the organisations which they represented were asked to nominate the names of the representatives.

If I may adapt a short statement made by the hon. Lady the Member for Coat-bridge (Mrs. Mann) a week ago, that Council laboured for some considerable time and in the end did produce something—they produced a completely unanimous report. There was no dissentient voice or minority vote. While I do not believe that every individual member thought alike, or thought that this was the ideal solution to the problem, it was obvious that all of them thought that it was the best possible solution in the circumstances.

We on this side of the House, and particularly those of us who have made any study of education—I speak as a member of the local education authority for a considerable time—stand solidly behind the Minister in the steps he has taken. Let me explain the reasons for our taking this stand. The old examinations system, obviously, had broken down. The schools certificate examination was designed for two purposes: first, in part at any rate, to designate entry to a university; second, to give those who took a secondary education at that period a certificate that they had taken a secondary education and of their qualifications. But in later years what percentage of the children at secondary schools even sat for the school certificate examination? And would anyone today state that any university would accept the school certificate as the basis of entry to that university?

The whole problem now is that it is the higher school certificate that designates entry to a university. What has happened between the school certificate and the higher certificate? Let me quote the experience of one boy alone, a boy who gave his life for his country as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm. Not very long before he died he wrote a letter criticising the basis of the curriculum in education, and particularly of the classics—the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) will be interested to know that this lad was a classical scholar at Oxford—in which he said that the place of classics in education would have to be radically altered. "Unless this is done," he said, "people like myself, with experience of the last two years, simply cannot know what we are talking about or what we are doing." That boy pleaded for a wider conception of what education should be between the school certificate and higher certificate stages.

The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) and the hon. Member for Devizes spoke of freedom in the schools. The only logical solution to their problem of freedom would be for each school to have its own external examinations, choose its own time and choose its own age. That is not the kind of freedom we want in an educational world such as we envisage. I have looked up the speech of the hon. and gallant Member of 17th December in reference to this problem of freedom. He made a quotation from the Report of the Secondary School Examinations Council. It was:
"The schools alone are in a position to decide what is best for their pupils, and need the utmost freedom and flexibility to give effect to their judgment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1948; Vol. 459, c. 1588.]
He quoted that against the Minister, but forgot to quote the last few words of the paragraph, which are:
"This need for freedom underlies the proposals we have outlined."
I put that forward as a complete refutation of the point of view of the hon. and gallant Member on 17th December.

This examination is not meant for the work of junior forms. The junior forms will be covered by internal examinations. The examination does not concern the majority of the scholars even in the grammar schools. It may possibly only concern 10, 15, or 20 per cent. of those children. It is meant only for those for whom an examination is essential in after life, those going forward to the university or who want a set examination for the purposes of the professional bodies into whose employment they may be going. Everyone wants to know as a result of a certificate not what a child knew, or his capacity two years before he left school, but they want to know, and the universities in particular want to know, the child's capacity on leaving school, and that also applies to the business man. When the hon. and gallant Member questions the validity of the school report in the business world, he should refresh his mind as to what was contained in the Report of the Council. He forgets that the Report provides not only for external examinations but internal examinations as well. Paragraph 16 reads:
"Individual secondary schools should carry out systematic internal examinations based on and designed to suit the particular courses and the pupils following them."
Sub-paragraph (b) reads:
"The Ministry and Local Education Authorities (singly or in groups) should pro- mote and encourage experiments in the conduct and assessment of internal examinations: e.g. (i) through the association of teachers from neighbouring schools or areas in the setting and marking of examination papers, (ii) through external assessment on wider lines by appropriate assessors."
It seems to me that we are at the beginning of a new era in respect of the relationship of the school and the outside world, and from these examinations and school record cards, if properly designed and properly assessed, we shall get a much more reliable and valuable indication to the business man wanting a boy from school than has hitherto been the case. I know, most of my hon. Friends know, and hon. Members opposite know that the business world today is looking askance at the certificates and reputations handed to them by the schools today. Because some of us believe that through this system we shall be able to build up a much more objective test and one which is much more reliable, we are in favour of the examination which my right hon. Friend has decided to bring about.

I come to the problem of the bright child. I cannot understand the attitude of mind of hon. and right hon. Members opposite on this question. If there is a problem of the bright child in the grammar school, that is an indictment of the school and not of the child, nor of this system of examinations. The grammar school is not the only school which has to deal with this problem of the bright child. It is universal throughout our educational system. In particular, the rural school has it, as have the infants' school and the junior school. [Laughter.] To speak of the rural school, the infants' school and the junior school and not of the grammar school may be a subject of laughter to hon. Gentlemen opposite, but it is not a laughing matter to the common people of this country, who have to send their children to those schools. The bright child is a problem there. If there is a problem of the bright child in the grammar school, it is the problem and responsibility of the staff to see that the bright child does not suffer.

Three different levels in the examination are suggested in this scheme. The bright child can take this examination at any level and can go on developing his capacities until he is ready to take the examination. I should like to ask hon. Members this question: if the bright child takes the school certificate examination at a very early age, what does he do after taking that examination? He will be wasting his time far more than he would by taking the examination later. Before he takes the examination he will have the opportunity of continuing on a much broader basis than he has ever had in the past. Therefore, it seems to me that this problem of the bright child is a red herring which is being drawn across the path of this new departure in order to create prejudice.

The hon. Member asks, "What happens to the bright child after he has taken the examination at an early age?" Does that not depend entirely upon the curriculum of the sixth form? If it is a good school and there is a well-run sixth form curriculum, will not the bright child be extremely well catered for?

The Minister has taken out of my mouth the words I was about to use. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is right, if the good school has nothing to fear, neither will the bright boy have anything to fear in the good school if he does not take the examination until he is 16. If it is a good school in one way it is a good school in the other. It is matter for internal organisation in the school.

Does the hon. Member then say that this change against which we are praying will make no change in the curriculum of these forms?

Not at all. I am not here to say that no re-organisation of the sixth form is necessary. I believe that considerable reorganisation in the sixth form is necessary. That is one of the problems, and it is one of the reasons for the agitation against this new set-up, because it involves for the staffs of our secondary schools, particularly our grammar schools, a looking anew at the problem of the sixth form. That will be wholly good for the children in the sixth form and for the staffs also. The universities do not say to their bright children "You can take your examination ahead of the period or ahead of your colleagues in the same group." It seems to me that at every stage in the educational world there is this problem of the bright student. It is a question of organisation.

The idea behind the agitation seems to me to be that we are still in the world of competitive examinations. I believe that the day of competitive scholarships has gone, that the day of competitive scholarships belonged to a period when we had no broad highway to the university but rather a greasy pole. We have now reached a stage when if, as I hope my right hon. Friend will in the near future, we implement the report of the working party on scholarships, we shall have reached the point where any child who reaches a certain standard of achievement—which may have to be acceptable to universities—will have access to the universities. Under this constitution there can be no question of another problem which is agitating some people, and that is the question of distinction of credits in relation to the examinations. There can be no place for distinctions and credits under this scheme. That is not the job for the new Examinations Council.

The job of the schools is not to turn out specialists, but to turn out all-round and complete individuals. It is the job of the universities to turn out specialists. It will no longer be true that our secondary schools and grammar schools shall be allowed to impinge on the specialist work of the university. All this new system does is to afford the opportunity for more co-operation between the grammar and secondary schools and the universities so that they may work out a satisfactory scheme in which all may have an opportunity to play their part.

9.36 p.m.

We are indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Horn-castle (Commander Maitland) for affording us the chance of discussing this very important regulation before it is finally passed and confirmed. I only deplore that this Debate has already taken a completely party line. The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle said, "We, on this side of the House," as if everybody on this side must be in agreement. I am very sorry that the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) is not here himself, but I was very worried about the arguments used by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Brook). He said—

I think in fairness to my right hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden that it should be stated that he is ill, otherwise he most certainly would have been here.

When I used the expression, "We on this side of the House" I thought I had the right to say that we had tried to implement the desire of the examination council to have the matter fully discussed. That is what I wanted to do and to explain why I was bringing this forward. There was no party politics about it.

It is not a question of whether there is or there is not party politics. Anybody who has listened to the Debate up to date, and heard the cheers and counter-cheers, would see that there is a very deep class division on this. I am endeavouring to make the point that at the present moment it is not a purely educational Debate, but that it is much wider. There is nothing wrong about that, except that it is rather deplorable in a sense that it still exists in Great Britain, particularly in England and Wales; but there it is. When the hon. Member for Halifax says that this is only an agitation coming from a limited number of people representing grammar schools, what does he think he is saying? Does he know that he is talking about half a million children; 250,000 boys and 250,000 girls; 2,000 schools; that they produced in the last 45 years the greatest scientists and scholars in this country? That is not a limited thing. It is a very important part and I rather doubt—

In regard to the use of the expression that everybody in those schools was opposed to it, the assistant masters of those schools certainly were not.

I am coming to that. I did not say everybody in the grammar schools was opposed to it. The hon. Member opposite was suggesting that the agitation came from a limited group which represented the grammar schools. I only wish to say say that it is very much wider and a very important part of the education field.

If the agitation comes from grammar schools or a section of them, surely that is a limited part of the educational world in which we are living, even though it may loom larger in the estimation of the hon. Member than in my own estimation.

I did not want to get into such controversial matters so early. The point is that if one represents 500,000 children and 2,000 schools—

The hon. Gentleman speaks of 500,000 children and 2,000 schools. Is he aware that the Association of Assistant Masters and the Association of Assistant Mistresses, who represent most of the teachers of schools in this country, signed the report of the Secondary Schools Council?

Really, the hon. Member must credit me with a little knowledge about this. I want to make the point that one hon. Member said that this was a limited group. I think that the reaction to the circular and the regulations has been very healthy. I do not think that anybody looking across Europe today who is aware, as we are, of our own heritage of freedom in education, can like very much a ministerial edict which has such profound effects, as the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) said, on the content of the curriculum even when that has been buttressed by an important body such as the Secondary School Examinations Council. We must remember that Sir Philip Morris who was chairman of the Council said:

"It was achieved in order to get a comprehensive set of proposals with which they did not disagree too much."
In other words, it was a most difficult problem.

Though the Minister may not know it, I am actually speaking, on balance, in favour of what he is trying to do. I think it is wise today to consider the matter purely on its merits. We should not consider the political aspects of it, but as far as possible—as the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) did in his speech—we should consider it on educational merits. Once we admit, as the Act does, secondary education for all, which is an important consideration involved in the Act; once we sever the relations between the school certificate and the matriculation, which many hon. Members probably wish to do—nobody likes it very much, and once we aim at one examination which has a distinct purpose about it instead of two or three at 11, 15 and 17, one of which was rapidily becoming rather valueless, some sort of solution on these lines is inevitable. On the face of it, to set an age limit seems somewhat arbitrary especially when it is set for the whole country. I warn the hon. Member for Halifax that if he thinks we have come to the end of competitive examinations for the universities he is wildly mistaken. There will be competitive examinations for the universities during the next ten years which will be as severe as any there ever have been.

I have just been re-examining the Minister's report on awards. It is high time we had a full Debate on that subject because the implications of the Report are so far-reaching that they affect very seriously the whole of the problem we are tackling today. Why has there been this large amount of misunderstanding? The Minister intervened a few minutes ago and said that, when he went, the Association of Headmasters changed their views. Whether or not it was due to his persuasive speech, I do not know—

I could quote many resolutions which have been passed. The fact remains that the independent schools, through the headmasters' conference, and a great many other bodies representing grammar school masters, were against it. They did not like it. Some have come to the point of saying—they use different words—that they will accept it and try to make it work. Even people like Dr. Eric James, of Manchester Grammar School, have said reluctantly that they will do that.

All I am trying to say is that if there is a very important reform which is accepted reluctantly, then I think either there is something wrong in the way it has been put across or else the reform itself needs rather careful inquiry. I do not like the reform to be accepted reluctantly, nor do I quite understand the Minister's phrase, quoted in the "Times Educational Supplement" on 8th January, that he had not imposed the minimum age solely in order to protect the modern schools. I shall be grateful if, when he replies, he can explain that because as I have said to some of my hon. Friends who represent another point of view in the teachers' world, I should like to hear the real story.

Dr. Jeffery, who cannot be dismissed—after all he is Director of the Institute of Education at London University—said:
"The main strength of the attack, however it comes, must unfortunately come from other branches of the teaching profession and particularly from those who think that the progress of the modern school will be assisted by the abolition of the school certificate. Thus the profession is divided at a time when it is all-important that it should be united."
That quotation is worthy of attention. I hoped very much that we should get more and more unity within this great teaching profession. There is a different view to some extent on this matter and it is best that we should face it. What did the Minister mean? Was there any danger of the school certificate being taken by the modern schools and did that have any influence in the final decision? There are cases where a compromise has to be reached and the phrase of Sir Philip Morris is, I think, a perfectly reasonable one. He said:
"… with which they did not disagree too much."
Do not let us describe this as some tremendous reform on which everybody is agreed. As I see it, the real problem is the problem of freedom. Here I disagree with the hon. Member for Devizes; I think he confuses freedom of education with the examination system. I have been brought up to believe that one of the biggest difficulties of freedom of education in England has been this very interfering examination, which, after all, comes right in the middle of secondary school life and which changes the whole life of the school. You cannot get away from it. If you are to sever that, the case for keeping an examination about that age is not very strong and, therefore, I think we have to discuss the question of freedom in new terms. If the argument is that the scaffolding—and I think that is the phrase the Minister used—of examinations has served its purpose—that is at 11 years of age or 15 years of age and so on—we have to make some very big changes in primary and secondary schools to see that another process of selection takes its place.

About 25 years ago I used the phrase, and I dare repeat it today, that what we have to do is to reach selection by differentiation and not by elimination. In others words, we do not want to select and eliminate people; we want to see them going down different paths. That implies more and more individual attention. It implies more opportunities for the average boy. I think it implies foreign language teaching in the primary schools, as it does in the preparatory schools. These are absolutely fundamental and radical changes if we are to have, in spite of what the hon. Member for Devizes says, a national system of education.

It may be run by 140-odd local education authorities, but in the Act it is now described as a national system. It means, also, more and more better paid and university trained teachers right through, otherwise this examination will not work.

One good thing which, I think, has emerged from all this is that by the force of this the schools and universities have for the first time been compelled to sit down together. It may be a sort of indirect result, but I think it is a good thing. I do not agree that the universities themselves are blameless in this matter. In one of the Universities which I have the honour to represent—Bristol—they are very strongly in favour. I cannot speak for the whole University, but, naturally, the Vice-Chancellor is because he is the Chairman of the Secondary Schools Association Council; but there are other distinguished members of the University who have discussed the matter with local schools in Bristol, and quite irrespective of the Vice-Chancellor, are in favour. There is also, of course a very distinguished professor at Manchester, Dr. Graham Cannon, who speaks in very strong language about what he calls the "ludicrously" high standard in sixth forms obtaining now, being equal to that of a man in his first year at a university.

It is all very well for us here, who are not experts, to try to give our views, but I find it very confusing when a professor from Manchester says one thing and a professor from Oxford says exactly the opposite about the standards in sixth forms in the secondary schools. But unless there is, for instance, some form of inter-availability between the universities, unless there is a much better form of school records, and many other reforms, this system is not going to work very easily. I have to take note again of what the High Master of Manchester Grammar School says. That happens to be a school which has obtained more of these scholarships than almost any other. He says that some of the conditions being imposed, or likely to be imposed, by the universities on the schools will make it quite impossible to burden the boys with the number of subjects which will be necessarily required, and which will affect the boys' freedom, especially in a school like that, where the experiments which have been made in non-examination subjects are possibly as important as the winning of the open scholarships themselves. Therefore, it does seem to me that that means a very big change is necessary in the whole attitude of the schools and the universities.

I would say that when the phrase "general education" is used—as it very often is—it seems to me that this country needs to do some absolutely radical thinking again, because as I read these documents I find some people put together mathematics or science with one foreign language plus two art subjects and say that that is a balanced curriculum. I should say that it is high time for us to do some such work as Dr. Conant did in Harvard five years ago, who produced a first-class book called "General Education in a Free Society." We have not done that yet.

My last point is this. I think matters demand very wise and new statesmanship from schools and universities. I quoted before from Professor Cannon. He says, "Let the universities lower the standard and broaden the content of the open examinations." If that is the point of view of such a professor, I think we want to know who is right—those who say the standards are declining, and those who, like Professor Cannon, of Manchester, say we want to lower the standard and broaden the content of these examinations. As to our making experiments in this field, the Minister has I think, put forward a point of view several times. He is hoping that schools will be free to make experiments which they could not before, because of the school leaving examination.

Well, that is my hope, too. But it does mean an entirely new trust in the schools; it does mean a new sense of responsibility; it does mean we have to pay the teachers better and get better grammar school teachers as well as others, otherwise the teachers will not be capable of doing this individual work. It is not a question of taking classes of 30 or 40. More individual work will be needed under this scheme than for the higher certificate. I hope very much that the most important English institution which we have—the sixth form—is not to be in any way injured. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite say that that is perhaps inevitable under this scheme, but I do not think that they are entitled to say that at all. First of all, it has not been tried, and, secondly, there is no doubt that not only Professor Bragg, the eminent scientist, but a great many other people are saying that they wish boys to come up to the universities with a broader general knowledge. Not only the young man quoted by the hon. Member for Halifax but many others have stressed this important point.

I think that in this country we need to broaden the whole content of secondary education. That is my view for what it is worth. If this reform will assist us to do that, and if the examination which, after all, has three levels—scholarship, advanced and pass—can be taken between the ages of 16, 17 and 18, it does not seem to me to matter, so long as the professional institutions are looked after and there is not a second full examination for the universities. That I think is an educational problem; how, by a single examination, we are to select 11,000 people to go to the university, no one yet knows. There can be over-specialisation under the old scheme or under the new scheme, and everything now depends on this self-imposed responsibility of the schools, on the public attitude to secondary education, on the trust given by the universities to the schools, and on a new meaning being given to general education.

Other countries—France, Germany and the U.S.A.—are facing the same problem today. I on balance, although I think the problem is a very difficult one, would not vote against this regulation, because I do not believe that this new set-up is trying to do what the old school certificate was doing. It is trying to do a new thing. If we are to have a national regulation at all, and we must have if we are to have an external examination, there is nothing that should limit giving a real freedom to the schools if this is put into practice honestly and the integrity and standards of secondary education are maintained.

9.58 p.m.

May I bring the Debate back to what I consider to be the real issue raised by the Prayer? It is the objection to the Minister in saying that the examination shall not be taken by any child until he or she has reached the age of 16. That is the real point. We are not objecting to the changes in the examination and other matters that have been raised in the Debate; it is that particular issue and the action of the Minister which has caused me personally very great concern and that is the reason why I shall vote for the Motion.

This action of the Minister is an entirely new departure in the relation of the Minister of Education and the State and the schools. Hitherto our schools had been the freest in the world—they were actually freer than the schools in the Dominions. The teachers have been free to choose their own textbooks and free to decide about the content of their teaching. Something which was extremely precious and something which, hitherto, the teachers have had the right to decide themselves on educational grounds, and from their knowledge of the individual child, was when that particular child should take an examination. That is the freedom which is now being taken away by the Minister. I know he says that he does it in the name of freedom, but I would remind him of what Madame Roland said at the guillotine:
"Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name."
This is only the first step taken by the Minister. I do not believe that either he or his Parliamentary Secretary would wish to go further along this road; but they have created a precedent, and I ask myself what use is likely to be made in the future of this example they have set. We have seen what use is made in totalitarian countries of the powers taken to control what actually goes on in the schools, and at a time when these things are still fresh in our memories, and when we are feeling—are likely to feel for a long time—the consequences of the actions of States in trying to turn the schools to their own purposes, we are naturally very concerned that this step should be taken. In a matter of this kind it is the first step that counts; the first step, which creates a break in relations, is the most serious of all, and if one takes one step along this road—this dangerous road, as I think—it seems to me that it would be easier for others to go still further—much further than I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would like to think the State would ever go in interfering with the schools.

In addition to that, a right is taken from the parents. Hitherto parents have had some say in the question of when their children should take an examination, and they have consulted with the head teachers. I know from my own experience that frequently there is a difference of opinion between the headmaster and a parent as to whether or not a child should sit for an examination. Personally, I have always taken the view, so far as it rested with me, that if a parent wanted his child to take an examination at a particular age, then he had the right to have his wishes respected.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be making the point that the State should not interfere in deciding the age at which a child should take an examination. Did the hon. Gentleman take part in the earlier Debate, when we decided the age of selection for secondary schools? This House decided the age at which examinations or selection should take place at one end, and we are now discussing the other end.

I do not think the two things are comparable. As was pointed out with reference to the universities, it is a quite natural thing to say that admission to a particular school shall be at a certain age; but it seems to me quite a different thing to say that in no circumstances should a child be allowed to take an examination, even though his teachers and his headmaster want him to do so, or even though his parents want him to do so, if the State says, "No, you must not." I believe that to be an unwarrantable interference with the rights of the teachers and of the parents. I would remind the Minister that these children are not his children; they are the children of the parents, and I believe that on the question whether or not the child should sit for an examination, the parent has a right, and the State is wrong to take away that right.

Would the hon. Gentleman say that the age of 15 or 16 did not affect the argument if a child were capable of taking the examination at 11?

The Minister does not want to take up an absurd position. As the school certificate examination is at present constituted, a child may enter between 14 and 16. One of my own children took the certificate at 14 and passed with a number of credits. Other children have done the same. As a parent I should have objected had the State said that she should not take the examination at that age, and that she must wait until she was 16. I do not think it would have been good for her. It is a bad thing in education as in other directions that the rate of advance should be the rate of the average.

Under this system, when the hon. Gentleman's child reached the age of 16, she would take an examination which possibly was of a higher grade than that which she took at 14.

Yes, but if a particular child—and I will keep my own out of it—is able to take even this new examination before reaching 16, what right has the State to come along and say that he or she shall not do so? That is something to which I personally object. It is true that the Minister has been fortified by the views of the Secondary School Examinations Council. In reply to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Brook), I do not for one moment question the qualifications of the members of the Secondary School Examinations Council who came to that decision, and I dissociate myself from the kind of remark which apparently has been used by a correspondent in "The Yorkshire Post." I want the case against the regulations, just as I want the case for the regulations, to be judged not by the worst arguments anybody can produce, but by the best.

I am surprised—and it is something of a mystery to me—how the Secondary School Examinations Council came to a unanimous decision. I think they did it in their individual capacities, judging from the information that was available at the time, but what I do know is that in coming to this decision many of them did not represent the views of large numbers of people whom they were supposed to represent on that Council. That is nothing surprising. The same sort of thing happens to Members of Parliament. The views they express from time to time are often repudiated by their constituents, by trade union leaders, and so on. In a matter of this kind what is important is whether, in coming to this decision, the Council were speaking for the overwhelming majority of teachers, who will have to work this new arrangement? The answer to that, I believe, is "No."

For these reasons, I ask the Minister to withdraw these regulations, at any rate for the time being, and consult further with the members of the teaching profession. There is no doubt that if the right hon. Gentleman persists in forcing these regulations through now, he will disturb a great many of the teachers in this country, and he will lose the confidence of many of them. It is important that the Minister of Education should be able to feel that he has the wholehearted good will and support of the members of the teaching profession in the very responsible office that he holds. It seems to me that if he could agree to withdraw these regulations and think again on this matter, he would be rendering a real service to education as a whole. I do not believe that these regulations are wise or necessary, and I hope that on reflection the Minister will realise that this is a matter in which more haste will mean less speed.

10.10 p.m.

I shall try to answer as rapidly as I can some of the arguments put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for Horn-castle (Commander Maitland) and the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis). I shall first answer the main argument of the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) who asks what right the State has to dictate at what age a child shall take a certain examination. It would be just as logical to ask what right the State has to dictate until what age a child must compulsorily remain at school or the lowest age at which a child will be accepted at school. The State dictates those things in the general interest of the children of the country. We can say to the children, "You must not take a certain examination until you reach the age of 16," if such a course is in the general interests of education as a whole and in the interests of the children. We believe that the laying down of a minimum age of 16 for taking the general certificate of education is in the interests of both the children and the schools.

The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle and the hon. Member for Devizes tried to give the House the impression that the regulation was dictation on the part of the Minister of Education but for many years past, leading and representative opinion in educational circles in the country has been in favour of raising the minimum age at which the children can take an external examination. That recommendation was implicit in the Norwood Report and also in the Spens Report, and it has now been made unanimously by the Secondary School Examinations Council.

I want to say quite definitely that that Council was representative of all kinds of teachers in the country, in all grades of schools. The Assistant Masters' Association and the Assistant Mistresses' Association were represented on the Council and they represent the majority of the teachers in our secondary grammar schools. The representatives of both those organisations signed the Report. Did they represent the opinions of the rank and file who selected them to go there? If they did not represent their opinions, the members of the Assistant Masters' Association or the Assistant Mistresses' Association must select other representatives in future or nobody will take any notice of what those representatives say upon some other matter. Of course they represent the views of the majority of the teachers in the secondary grammar schools.

The Headmasters' Association and the Headmistresses' Association were also represented on the Council and they signed the Report. The local education committees were also represented on the Council and they signed the Report, and a large number of eminent educationists were sitting on that Council in their individual capacities and they also signed the Report. There has never been a more unanimous decision on the part of thoroughly representative educational and teachers' organisations in the educational history of the country.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham should know that the majority of teachers back the decision to have the minimum age for the general certificate of education at 16, and I am surprised to hear him exhort the Minister not to carry out the decision because a number of teachers do not agree with it. The overwhelming majority of teachers are in favour of the decision which has been made by the Minister acting upon the unanimous recommendations of the Secondary School Examinations Council. The Minister did not immediately act upon the recommendations of that Council. He consulted all the interests concerned. He received representatives from practically every educational organisation in the country after the Report had been issued. He discussed the matter fully with them. As a result of those discussions the Minister came to the decision that, on balance, the right thing to do was to give effect to the report of the Secondary School Examinations Council.

I think that the decision to have the minimum age of 16 for the taking of the general certificate of education is one which will benefit the clever boy more than anybody else. It will not affect the average boy to any extent because the average age of passing the school certificate examination in the past was 16 years three months and, in these regulations, the boys will be taking the examination between 15 years eight months and 16 years eight months. So the average boy will be taking the examination at about the same time as he has always taken it in the past. Of course in the past there were clever little boys who took the school leaving certificate and passed it at the age of 14¾ and sometimes at the age of 14½. What happened to those clever little boys after they had taken and passed the school leaving certificate at that early age? They did the same things over and over again for the next three or four years. Sometimes they took the higher school certificate two or three times. They indulged in premature specialisation.

The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) said, quite rightly, that these clever little boys who took the school certificate and passed it so very early would become the future leaders of the nation and, if they do not become the future leaders of the nation they would probably be the leaders in whatever minor sphere of action they entered in after-life. I ask the hon. and gallant Member, do we want the future leaders of the nation to be narrow specialists who have spent four or five years of their lives up to the time of passing the school certificate examination until at 19 they go to the university learning more and more about less and less? Do we want the future leaders of the nation to drop the humanities or to drop the study of science at the age of 14½ and specialise in their universities on a narrow range of subjects? Surely we want the future leaders of the nation to have an all-round general liberal education, to have a wide framework of ideas into which they can fit the problems which will be presented to them.

The hon. Gentleman asked me a question and I shall be pleased to answer him. First, he misquoted me. It was not the children who had passed the examination when very young to whom I referred as being the natural leaders. I referred to all the groups of children who come under this order, all the children who will take this examination. I said that out of their ranks will come the leaders of this country. I also say this, that history has shown, quite recently too, that children who have taken this examination have specialised and have been able to be perfectly wide, broad-minded people. There are many examples.

If the hon. and gallant Member was referring to all the children who will take this examination at the age of 16, then fixing the age at 16 will mean that all the children who will take it will have had a broad, general education in a number of subjects and will not have been subjected to undue specialization, and so they will benefit themselves and the nation when they grow older. It is a fact that, in the past, the universities have complained strongly about the excessively specialised nature of the knowledge which the entrants to the universities today bring with them on account of having taken the school certificate at this early age and having spent the succeeding years in specialisation. It must be pointed out also that the universities themselves set a minimum age at which their degrees can be taken. The boy and girl enter the university at the age of 18 but however clever they may be, they are not allowed to take their final degree until three years afterwards, at the age of 21. The universities themselves lay down a minimum age at which the final examination can be taken.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) complained that that meant a loss of freedom. Those of us who support the recommendation of the Examinations Council, however, think that it will mean a very considerable extension of freedom for our grammar schools. It will make the examination the servant of education and not its master, as it has been in the past. It will allow teachers in grammar schools to plan their curriculum according to the aptitudes and abilities of their pupils. It will banish undue specialisation and give to the able grammar school teacher—I do not think that able teachers in grammar schools complain about the recommendations of the Secondary Schools Examination Council—the freedom they have lacked in the past: the freedom to adopt modern, flexible methods; to be free from being confined in the straitjacket of an external examination system, and the freedom to adapt their teaching methods to modern ideas and to give individual attention to children from the age of 11 at least to the age of 16 when they take this new external examination.

I hope, and am sure, that the Minister will stick to his guns. By these regulations he has put the coping stone on the great Act of 1944, which said that we should have a system which would give education according to age and ability to every child in the land. Those regulations will enable that education, according to age, ability and aptitude, to be given for the first time to all the pupils in our grammar schools.

10.23 p.m.

I wish there were time, but hasten to say I realise there is not, to discuss the very interesting speech we have just heard from the hon. Gentleman the senior Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley). I would only say, in regard to his references to the Secondary School Examinations Council, that although that body was unanimous, it is surely open to this House to disagree with its conclusions if it feels that they were wrong. Indeed, it is the duty of this House to consider those conclusions and to form its opinion about them.

Although that Council was unanimous it is not the case, I submit, that its findings represented the views of by any means all the bodies represented on it. I have the greatest regard for the representative of Cambridge University—I was writing to him only yesterday on another subject—but it is notorious that Cambridge University, rightly or wrongly, by a great majority of its members disagrees with the conclusions of that Council. I have equal regard for the very distinguished headmaster of Westminster School, Mr. Christie, but it is notorious that the Headmasters' Conference, of whom he is a member, have repudiated the findings of that Council and entirely disagree with him. It would be quite wrong, therefore, to say that because the Council was unanimous its conclusions represent the opinion of all the bodies comprising it. They do nothing of the sort.

My objection to the regulations can be very briefly stated. I object to them because they represent the iron hand of Whitehall clamped down upon the schools of this country. It is one of the few defects of the admirable Administration that fills the benches opposite that it shows very little regard administratively for the individual. It believes in legislating for the herd, for the whole mass. In no part of the social life of this country is such a system more disastrous than in the field of education. When we come to consider the individual child, I do not believe that the Minister and his officials know nearly as much about what is right for the child as do its parents. I do not believe they know as much about what is right for it as its makers. It appears to me to be a grave invasion of freedom, particularly parental freedom, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) said, that the right hon. Gentleman should endeavour to do this thing.

A great many criticisms have been made of the schools pushing on the bright child and of undue specialisation. I do not know to what schools those criticisms refer. I have some knowledge of the schools of this country. In an earlier and more respectable period of my life, I was teaching in one of them for two years. I have been on the boards of two schools and am on one now, and I do not believe in this argument about overstrain and over-specialising for examinations. I do not share the view which seems to be prevalent, that examinations are a bad thing in themselves, that they should he as few as possible and put off as long as possible. I believe they are valuable in getting people working and keeping them on their toes. I passed the higher certificate examination when I was 15, when I was 16, when I was 17 and when I was 18. [Laughter.] When hon. Members contemplate the result, I am sure they will feel any further words are unnecessary. [Interruption.] And of course I was not, as the hon. Member for Southampton suggested, learning the same thing over and over again. There was a different history period each year different set books in classics and in English literature each year and by taking an examination over and over again one gets a steadily broadening education.

As to specialisation, whatever the actual curriculum of the school may be everyone knows that in the case of the independent schools at any rate the whole school is pulsating with different interests; there is the natural history society, the debating society, craftswork and scouting—everything that militates against narrow specialisation. Certainly an extra examination at a particular age is not needed as a prevention of specialisation. The right hon. Gentleman represents Molotov in certain particulars. It pains me to say that, for I have a high regard for him, but I must add my appeal to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham and others. I think in all seriousness that a grave situation is arising in that he is throwing himself athwart the prevalent opinion of the universities and the prevalent opinion among headmasters, whereas he ought to carry both with him as far as he can. It will be a serious situation if we have a contest—which I see arising—between the Minister and the universities and headmasters. I think it is in the highest interests of education that he should think a little longer before he takes what I regard as a disastrous step in this matter.

10.28 p.m.

I am sorry that on this occasion I cannot find myself in agreement with the conclusions of the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley) for whose experience and wisdom I have very great admiration. It seems to me that two aims implicit in the 1944 Act are to preserve the present high standards of our older education institutions and to help build up the traditions and extend the achievements of the newer schools. Can these aims be reconciled? They can, but the danger is lest in trying to help with the second aim, we fail in the first one. I think the majority of the secondary modern schools which are not too big are getting on very well and getting their roots into the ground, but I suggest that it would be a great disservice to education if in trying to help them we did anything which made it more difficult for the older grammar schools to maintain their present high standards. If the Minister is to be true to the traditions of our education, as I am sure he wishes to be, he has two obligations in this matter; first of all, to secure as great a measure of agreement as he can, and secondly, to make sure that the minority are not unduly coerced. The hon. Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) in the Adjournment Debate quoted a very important paragraph in the Report—paragraph 30, which says:

"Schools alone are in a position to decide what is best for their pupils and need the utmost freedom and flexibility to give effect to their judgments."
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) gave us a picture of the right hon. Gentleman with his head in one Division Lobby and his legs trailing across the House into the other Division Lobby. This picture is possibly a little difficult for us to visualise, but I am perplexed by some of the utterances of the right hon. Gentleman in this matter. He said recently:
"We do not have children for examinations, but examinations for children."
He also said:
"I trust the schools to do what is right."
I suggest that he is proceeding in this particular matter as if he believed almost exactly the opposite. I cannot feel otherwise than that consideration for the individual must mean that the individual child should take examinations when he is ready to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that the Report of the Secondary Schools Examinations Council was unanimous, and that, of course, is a point to which considerable weight must be attached. The hon. Member for Horncastle has already drawn attention to the proviso in the recommendations of the Council that there should be full discussions and consultations. I think that indicates that they had a slight lack of confidence that their unanimity would be reflected by the same unanimity in the educational world at large. I think it is obvious that the unanimity of the Council was somewhat strained. I cannot help feeling that possibly the Council might have locked themselves into the room, as I believe juries do in a murder trial, until unanimity was reached.

It has been said that this regulation will give a charter of freedom to the grammar schools and greater opportunity to those schools and the universities. As an amateur, I do not want to put forward my own view, but surely very many of those concerned with the grammar schools and universities do not feel that way about it. I was a little shocked by what the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Brook) said. He seemed to imply that because the objections came mainly from one quarter and represented one section, therefore they could be disregarded. Surely, in education, above everything else, a minority must be respected. It seems to me that the schools are in a dilemma now. The Minister says, "Not before 16," and the universities still insist on a fair range of subjects. The result is inescapable. A clever boy or girl must either postpone entry into the sixth form for a year or more or keep too many subjects going when he or she gets there.

The present system is obviously far from perfect. About a quarter of a century ago the hon. Member for Devizes and I were both members of the same sixth form. I passed my school certificate at a rather mature age and graduated into that distinguished assembly by a process called the "effluxion of time." The House will not be surprised to hear that the hon. Member for Devizes, on the other hand, passed his school certificate at an extremely early age. Surely, the House will realise the loss to the nation which would have resulted if the hon. Member for Devizes had been held back for a year or two and had not had the opportunity of that intimate association with the hon. Member for Tiverton at the most impressionable period of his career. Surely, two such extremely satisfactory results as arise in the example which I have quoted must give the right hon. Gentleman ground for thought.

The schools, I suggest, really do know best. I personally have revised my opinion of headmasters a good deal since I left school. I consider that the headmaster of a school which is not too big does generally know how the individual pupil is likely to get along best. A great headmaster of my own school, urging boys not to waste their time during the holidays, said, "I have known some boys so unenterprising that they have returned from the summer holidays having learned no more than if they had been at school." I will conclude by saying that I really do believe that in this matter of a minimum age the right hon. Gentleman is making a mistake—a mistake of a kind which it is extremely unlike him to make. He is, I think, imposing an unnecessarily arbitrary restriction upon the grammar schools, and indirectly upon the universities. I suggest that that is out of accord not only with the Act of 1944, but with our whole educational tradition. I hope that he will recognise this error and will retrieve the high reputation which he has, because I can assure him that it is not too late to do that, by removing this minimum age. By doing so, I believe he will show that he really does trust the schools, and that he will then be giving them the utmost freedom and flexibility, which I believe he wants them to have.

10.37 p.m.

I think the fact that the House has not only listened, but listened with interest, to every speech which has been made on this subject, shows that there is public interest in what is taking place in educational circles. I believe that is to the good. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), who moved this Prayer, suggested that the Secondary School Examinations Council had asked that consideration should be given to their findings before they were put into operation. I, as the Minister who received those recommendations from the Council, took it as an instruction. I regarded it as a duty to do what they suggested should be done. I do not think any of the bodies who have been associated with the opposition to the decision which has been reached would disagree that I consulted every one of the bodies interested before I came to that decision.

When it is suggested that I ought not always to say "No," I would remind hon. and right hon. Gentleman that I do not always say "No." I was taught, when I was quite young, to "Have courage, my boy." I have the courage to say "No" when I am not convinced that I ought to say "Yes." I can assure hon. Members that in the course of those discussions which took place, the people concerned were capable of putting their point of view, and did. Although I have not passed through the stages in which one is called upon to pass the school certificate or the higher school certificate, I still think I was capable of assessing the arguments put forward by the people who were seeking to prevent this change being made. I came to the conclusion—and I was of the same opinion after listening to all the arguments—that I was doing the right thing in implementing the recommendations of the Secondary School Examinations Council. Careful consideration was given to the arguments put forward by the people who were opposed to that recommendation, and at the same time the same careful consideration was given to the recommendations themselves.

Does the right hon. Gentleman include the universities among those whom he consulted before he announced his decision?

Yes, Sir. I had representatives consisting of six vice-chancellors of universities and I can assure the hon. and learned Member that the point of view of the universities was well and truly put. They were particularly courteous, and I listened for a long time, even though I was obdurate at the end of their argument.

It is a peculiar argument to use in this House if we are to assume that consultations have taken place only when a Minister has changed his mind. Following the advice of someone else, or agreeing with the recommendation made by someone else, may be an indication of the fact that there have been consultations. But I would submit that it can be equal evidence of consultations if a Minister does not change his mind, and continues to say, "No," particularly a Minister who takes a delight in saying, "Yes" when he can. It is true that after they had left I expressed sorrow that I was not able to agree entirely with their point of view.

The point which has been stressed more than any other has been this question of freedom. I have been studying for a long time not only the educational administration in this country, but, in particular, the organisation of our schools. I have depended upon expert advice in that direction, because of my lack of experience. I have been assured, not once but a score of times, by experts in all branches of education that to set up a curriculum and insist upon a certain type of examination meant that an individual who was running a school was not free to organise that school as he desired, but had to organise it in accordance with the curriculum laid down. If it is suggested that the success of that individual in meeting the requirements determines the success of his school I would say—not in any offensive way, because it is true not only of education but of other walks of life—that what are called "pot hunters" are not always the best representatives of their profession. That is a Lancashire expression—[HON. MEMBERS: "And a Scottish expression."]—If it is Scottish as well I will not say any more. The freedom which I am supposed to have interfered with is the freedom to use an examination for a purpose for which it is not intended, that is all. There is a difference between this new examination as contemplated and the examination as we have it now. The whole object and purpose of all the representations made to me in order that the examination might be taken at an earlier age than that laid down is only, and for no other reason, in order that they might get a subject out of the way, forget all about it, and then go in for specialisation.

Surely the Minister will admit that as a child may not take an examination at 15 years, he is interfering with the freedom of the parent who may want that child to take it at 15? The right hon. Gentleman may not think he is interfering, but he is.

In laying it down that a child must begin to attend school at five years one can be accused of interfering with the freedom of the parent. I am amazed that it has been suggested that this is the first step on the road to totalitarianism. An hon. Member suggested that this is in some way intended to strengthen the iron hand of Whitehall, enabling someone to clamp down on schools and universities.—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Not universities."]—Well, the suggestion was quite clearly that it was the first step to curtailing the power and liberty of the university. I suggest that hon. Members know far better than to believe the suggestion that there is to be any clamping down in that way.

The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) also put forward the strange doctrine that it is essential to have unanimity before one can act. I think that it has been fairly evident in the Debate tonight that experts differ and that, if one waits for unanimity before proceeding to action in this field, no action is going to be taken. I made note of what the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Amory) had to say about the hon. Member for Devizes being an ornament to this House because he passed his school certificate examination at an early age; I wondered whether he would not have been two benches lower down if he had waited until he was 16. I have the feeling that it is very true that too early specialisation may lead to brilliance in one direction, but the prevention of that too early specialisation may lead to a better all-round product. When it is suggested that, by this action, I am placing some sort of imposition on the university, I must say I think that the universities are big enough, and independent enough to look after themselves. They are doing so, and it is the duty, I think, of the universities, as I have told their representatives, to attempt to work in with what is described as the State system of education, because if the universities are independent we, in the main, provide the raw material, and it has been my object in this matter to carry the universities with me; and the recommendations of the universities will be made to fit in with the new examination when it comes into being.

It was suggested that this so-called arbitrary action of mine in leaving the minimum age at 15 years meant that it cut right across certain things because an individual might be born at a given time. There is always a difficulty in that direction. There is nothing in the regulations which prevents an examination from being conducted twice in the year, and the Secondary Schools Examination Council are examining that particular proposition at the moment. In other words, it might be possible to arrange that this examination is conducted twice in the same year.

That is a most interesting statement, but it is not in accordance with the circular which the Minister has sent round. This is a new announcement.

No, it is not an announcement. I say there is nothing in the regulations which prevents the examination from being held twice in a year. At the present time they are drawn up to provide for one a year. There is nothing in them which would prevent us from providing for two examinations in a year if that were found to be a reasonable and workable proposition.

The Members who have spoken have pretty well answered each other. I will be quite honest, I have not heard a new argument tonight. I have heard all tonight's arguments before, and, after all, if hon. Members want me to say "Yes" they have to put up some different arguments from those to which I have said "No" so often, because there was a reason for saying "No." I have not heard anything tonight which leads me to think that I ought to change either my mind or my attitude towards this matter.

A great deal has been said about specialisation. I had intended to quote a passage from a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), but in his absence I am not going to quote it. I will quote one passage on teachers' educational standards which has been suggested as a consequence of this new examination. This particular don from Leeds University says:
"If any importance at all is attached to a reasonable width of knowledge and appreciation, it is difficult to follow the suggestion that a boy, who can easily get the certificate in seven or eight subjects at 15, would be considerably burdened by being expected to pass an elementary examination in some of them two years later."
In other words, if, as has been suggested, it is not a difficult thing to pass the school certificate as it is now at 15 years of age—although I would point out that the vast majority of them pass it at turned 16—then I claim they will be able to take the new examination in their stride. For all those reasons, and for reasons given by my hon. Friends which I do not want to go over again, I would ask the House not only to pass the regulations, but to assist in their implementation by pointing out the advantages of a change rather than dwelling on what might be described as the glories of the past.

There are just two other points. It was suggested that I was praying in aid some section of the secondary schools' staff and that I had some influence upon them. The assistant masters and mistresses in secondary schools both rejected resolutions at their annual conferences that were to be adopted for the purpose of disagreeing with the Minister in what he was proposing to do. The Headmasters' Association had a resolution on the agenda at their annual meeting deploring the action of the Minister in fixing a minimum age, but pointing out that they would do this, that, and the other. I went to address them. I was taken to task for doing so, it being suggested that I should have made my speech in this House before I had made it to the Headmasters' Conference. But the effect of the speech on the Headmasters' Conference was that immediately I finished speaking somebody got up and moved that the passage deploring the action of the Minister should be withdrawn from the resolution, and the resolution was then carried unanimously. If that does not mean somebody else saying "Yes" where they had said "No" before, I do not know what does.

I am sorry that the Prayer of hon. Members who have prayed against this has not been answered in the way they expected, but prayers seldom are. I would remind the House that it is the duty of all of us to see to it to the best of our ability, not only to make these regulations work, but to make them work in the interests of the children rather than in the interests of any particular section.

I believe I have a right to speak on this Motion a second time. I should like to say that I am in absolute agreement with the Minister when he says that what he has listened to tonight has not convinced him. I find myself in exactly the same position. My feelings against this order are just as strong as when I came into the Chamber, and I have listened to every word that has been said. My hon. Friends will do what they think fit but I am not going to ask them to divide—I spoke to the whole House against this order—and it is for this reason. I want to make it quite plain that I do this as an earnest that we all, I think, feel that when this actually becomes a fait accompli and when it is working and difficulties arise, as undoubtedly they will, we wish it all success and will do everything we can to make a success of it.


"That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, praying that the Regulations, dated 17th February, 1949, entitled the Primary and Secondary Schools (Grant Conditions) Amending Regulations, No. 8, 1949 (S.I., 1949, No. 250), a copy of which was laid before this House on 18th February, be annulled"

put, and negatived.