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Independent Schools (Unsuitable Teachers)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 1 July 1954

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The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

88.

To ask the Minister of Education, whether she will now indicate when she will be able to implement the provisions of Part III of the Education Act, 1944.

89.

To ask the Minister of Education, whether she will now state what measures she is proposing in order to prevent men previously convicted of sexual offences against children from setting up or teaching in private schools.

91.

To ask the Minister of Education, whether she is now in a position to state the result of her consultations with the Secretary of State for the Home Department about the exclusion from schools of teachers convicted of serious offences against young persons.

92.

To ask the Minister of Education, if she can yet state what action she proposes to take to ensure that teachers in private schools are suitable persons to be in charge of children.

At the end of Questions

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to answer these Questions.

The Government have considered the best action to take to exclude from teaching persons convicted of offences against young people, and also the more general question of bringing into operation Part III of the Education Act, 1944. In doing so they have borne in mind that the great majority of independent schools exercise the utmost care in appointing teachers, and play a valuable part in the education of the nation's children.

As the House knows, Part III was devised for the general object of safeguarding educational standards in independent schools. It is my view that if Part III were introduced now, when the pressure on schools is at its heaviest, the standards which could be required of independent schools for registration under the Act would be too low, and I think that it would do more harm than good to bring this part of the Act into operation in these circumstances. As the pressure on the schools becomes less, the prospect of operating Part III satisfactorily will improve. With this in mind I propose to put in hand the necessary preparations to enable Part III to come into force in about 1957.

When Part III of the Act is in operation it will be necessary, for the specific purpose of excluding unsuitable teachers, to ensure that my Department has adequate information about teachers employed in schools of all types. I propose, therefore, to introduce at once certain changes in the procedure which will be needed when Part III is in operation and which will in the meantime help me and the school authorities to see that unsuitable teachers are excluded from employment.

First, I propose to invite the proprietors of independent schools to let me have from now on particulars of their staffs, and of changes from time to time, and I have very little doubt that they will be willing to do so. Secondly, I propose to make my information more complete by extending to schools which are recognised as efficient the requirements already imposed on grant-aided schools to report the facts to me if a teachers' engagement is terminated on account of misconduct, grave professional default, or conviction of a criminal offence. Finally, I have made arrangements with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to be supplied with particulars of convictions for serious offences against young people committed by persons engaged, or likely to be engaged, in the teaching profession.

Where I find in any of these ways that a person who appears to be unsuitable is being employed as a teacher, I shall proceed as I already do in grant-aided schools. I shall first communicate with the teacher, and after considering what he has to say I shall then, if necessary, make the facts known to the authorities of the school. School authorities, I am sure, will not wish to retain in their service persons who are known to be unsuitable.

With the help I am confident of receiving from the schools, the measures which I have announced today will, I believe, prove a valuable safeguard during the relatively short period before Part III is put in force, My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked me to say that corresponding arrangements will be made for Scotland.

Is the Minister aware that the teaching profession will welcome her proposal to take action, but 1957 seems a long way ahead? What steps does she propose to take if private school authorities turn down her invitation to supply her with details about the members of their staffs? Will she make this a requirement, and will she now give an assurance that in no circumstances will the Ministry of Education be indifferent when people with bad records are put in authority over children in private schools?

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that the Ministry of Education is certainly not indifferent, but this is a very difficult problem. I have already had discussions with the major associations of independent schools who have assured me of their willing cooperation. The short-term measure which I have outlined depends for its effectiveness on the co-operation of the schools, and I am confident that it will be forthcoming. If there were exceptional delay or refusal to act as is thought necessary for the pupils' protection, the local authority concerned would be asked to consider taking action under the Children and Young Persons Act, and this might lead to court proceedings.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for her statement, may I ask whether she is satisfied that the measures which she has announced will be sufficient to cope with the proprietors of such schools, as well as with the teachers?

Yes, I have considered that. The same procedure will be followed in the case of a proprietor. We would write to the proprietors, and again if there were delay or refusal to act as we should like them to act, the local authority would be informed and would be asked to consider taking action under the Children and Young Persons Act.

Is the Minister aware that the whole House is pleased with what she is doing to prevent children from being in danger of being taught in schools by convicted homosexuals? Is she also aware that we do not accept her argument that the fixing of minimum standards for private schools under Part III of the Act would tie her hand in the future and prevent her from raising those standards, and that all the arguments that we have used in the more dramatic case of preventing our children from being taught by convicted homosexuals apply equally to bad conditions and the employment of unqualified teachers in the private sector of British education?

The reason I think it would not be satisfactory to bring in Part III earlier is that I believe that we should not be able to insist on a sufficiently high standard because the condition of many of our schools is such that we should not approve of them in the future. Once a school is registered, even though it is of a low standard and is in bad premises, it would not be possible to de-register it.

The Minister has undoubtedly taken a very important step forward in a very important matter, but if her proposal proves to be ineffective, will she then try to bring in Part III before 1957? What is the good of a high standard of education if the children are taught in conditions which are evil?

I shall certainly watch the situation very carefully, but I want to make it clear that I believe it would not be to the advantage of education generally to bring in Part III too early, because we can only make a change in the registration of a school if it falls below the standard at which it was originally registered.

If a person is condemned by the Minister and feels that he is unjustly condemned, will he have recourse to a court of law?

This will not be a case of condemning. If the Minister of Education is informed that a person has been convicted, as I have said, that person will be communicated with in order that I may hear what he has to say. I have pointed out that the arrangement depends on co-operation, and it is a voluntary arrangement. Apart from that, of course, if there were proceedings under the Children and Young Persons Act, naturally the court would be a tribunal.