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Public Schools (Commission)

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 22 December 1965

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With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the public schools.

The Government have already announced that they propose to set up a Public Schools Commission. I am glad to be able to tell the House that Sir John Newsom has accepted my invitation to be Chairman of the Commission.

The main function of the Commission, which will cover Scotland as well as England and Wales, will be to advise on the best way of integrating the public schools with the State system of education. The Government are determined that the public schools should make the maximum contribution to meeting the education needs of the country, and that this should be done in such a way as to reduce the socially divisive effect which they now exert. This implies that the schools should, like other parts of the education system, become progressively open to boys and girls irrespective of the income of their parents; that the schools should move towards a wider range of academic attainment, so that the public school sector may increasingly play its own part in the national movement towards comprehensive education; and, in particular, that the schools should seek to meet any unsatisfied need for boarding education amongst wider sections of the population.

For the immediate purpose of the Commission, public schools are defined as those independent schools now in membership of the Headmasters Conference, Governing Bodies Association or Governing Bodies of Girls Schools Association. But the Commission will also be asked to recommend in due course whether any action is needed in respect of other independent schools.

The Commission will be expected to collect and assess all relevant information about the public schools and the need and existing provision for boarding education; to work out the role which individual schools might play in national and local schemes of integration; to initiate, subject to my approval, experimental schemes; and to recommend a national plan for integrating the schools with the maintained sector of education.

The Commission's detailed terms of reference and a list of the schools concerned will be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of "a national plan for integrating the schools with the maintained sector", what is his real objective? Is it to give a wider range of children the opportunity to benefit from the admittedly good education provided by many of these schools—many people would support that objective—or is it to bring about fundamental changes in their independent status and character, which would be infinitely more controversial.

Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise the importance of now stating clearly his policy regarding the future of the direct grant schools? Does he realise that we on this side attach quite as much importance to these schools as to the public schools, partly because many of them are schools of the highest quality making a notable contribution to the educational provision in their areas, and partly because we believe that there is great advantage in having a number of fine schools standing between the maintained and independent sectors and sharing some of the advantages of both?

Finally, as regards the appointment of Sir John Newsom, will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that many of Sir John Newsom's warmest admirers, like myself, will perhaps be reminded of the Clerihew,
"Ernest Newman
Said, 'New week Schumann';
But, when Sunday came
It was Wagner just the same."
However, having said that, and subject to his answer to my first supplementary question, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take it that we on this side would certainly wish Sir John Newsom well in what is clearly bound to be a difficult task?

The Clerihew is altogether too subtle for me. As to the real objectives of the Commission, they are as laid down in the terms of reference and as outlined in my statement, namely, that we wish to integrate these schools with the State system in such a way that they make the maximum contribution they can to meet the educational needs of the country.

In my view, the direct grant schools pose a problem different from that posed by the public schools. They are already in some sense part of the public sector. In many areas they play an essential part in local authority educational arrangements, and it would be quite wrong to take them out of the maintained sector. They are predominantly day schools whereas the public schools are predominantly boarding schools. In any case, we have already laid down the policy for the direct grant schools in our comprehensive circular, and I am quite clear that they must be treated as a separate problem and as a separate operation.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who sat under Sir John Newsom at a recent conference on the public schools organised by Dr. Royston Lambert in Cambridge particularly welcome his appointment? Second, will my right hon. Friend say what criteria he has in mind as to the need for boarding education?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his first remark. On the second point, I do not think that one can lay down the criteria for boarding education in black and white detail. We are gradually acquiring much more information about the need for boarding education, partly as a result of the Martin Report, partly as a result of the Newsom Report itself, and, even snore recently, as a result of the researches of Dr. Royston Lambert, which are financed by my Department. We are gradually acquiring a corpus of knowledge about the nature of the currently unsatisfied need for boarding education, but should not like to set down any sort of criteria in black and white now.

The Minister will be aware that many of us welcome a great part of the contents of his statement, but will he clarify a little his reference to extending the work of the Commission to other independent schools? Does it mean that the Commission will be working in two stages? Will its remit be extended at a certain stage, or just how will it proceed? Will it produce an interim report on public schools per se and then go on to examine other private education, or what precisely will it do?

I do not want to lay it down in any sort of detail. I think that one must leave it to the Commission to decide any such question as interim reports. But I have in mind that the problem which has excited all the public discussion over the last twenty years is that of what are called the public schools, broadly the schools as I have defined them, which amount in number to about 277. We want to give the Commission that problem as the first priority. On the other hand, it may turn out that other parts of the private school sector as well raise problems, and it may turn out that one cannot examine the public schools themselves, as ordinarily defined, without taking account of other private schools. So I do not want to rule out consideration of the remaining private school sector, which amounts altogether to about 3,000 schools, but I want to make it clear that the primary task of the Commission is to deal with the public schools.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that almost everybody will wish well to the Commission and the Commissioners, but that it would help us greatly if the Minister could tell Parliament clearly whether the Government's main purpose is educational or Socialist?

I have never seen how it was possible to divorce educational questions from social questions. The idea that one could discuss education in a vacuum divorced from social influences has always seemed to me, with respect to the right hon. Gentleman, quite nonsensical. I believe that any of these controversial questions in education which we discuss are bound to have very strong social overtones and implications, and it is deceiving ourselves to pretend that we can ignore them.

While I am sure that most progressive people welcome the statement made by my right hon. Friend, may I ask him whether he can say to what extent some of the headmasters of the 250 or so public schools have already expressed approval in general terms of his objectives.

The headmasters of most of the schools and, indeed, all the representative bodies of the headmasters have long been saying that some reform of the schools is vitally necessary. Indeed, they have called on me in very strong terms to set up a Commission and introduce some machinery for making reform. Whether every headmaster will agree with every word in the terms of reference remains to be seen. We shall no doubt discover that in the next few days.

Most of us, I think, would agree that there is an unsatisfied demand for boarding education in this country, but is the right hon. Gentleman aware that some of these schools, both day and boarding—they include both—have very specialised and very distinguished academic records based on their independence of selection? To what extent is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to give assurances that those records will be respected and that those specialised educational and academic traditions will be respected?

I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman really sums up what will be the main task facing the Commission, to try to link all that is best in the schools, which people rightly wish to preserve, with the unsatisfied need and demand for the kind of boarding education which they provide. This is the crux and heart of the whole matter.

Following are the Terms of Reference:

The main function of the Commission will be to advise on the best way of integrating the public schools with the State system of education. For the immediate purpose of the Commission public schools are defined as those independent schools now in membership of the Headmasters Conference, Governing Bodies Association or Governing Bodies of Girls Schools Association.
The Commission will be expected to carry out the following tasks:
  • (a) To collect and assess information about the public schools and about the need and existing provision for boarding education; forms of collaboration between the schools (in the first instance the boarding schools) and the maintained system.
  • (b) To work out the role which individual schools might play in national and local schemes of integration.
  • (c) If it so wishes, and subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, to initiate experimental schemes matching existing provision with different types of need.
  • (d) To recommend a national plan for integrating the schools with the maintained sector of education.
  • (e) To recommend whether any action is need in respect of other independent schools whether secondary or primary.
  • In carrying out its tasks, the Commission will be expected (while respecting the denominnational character of the schools), to pay special attention to the following objectives:
  • (a) To ensure that the public schools should make their maximum contribution to meeting national educational needs, and, in the first instance, any unsatisfied need for boarding education in the light of the Martin and Newsom Reports*.
  • (b) To create a socially mixed entry into the schools in order both to achieve (a) above and to reduce the divisive influence which they now exert.
  • (c) To move towards a progressively wider range of academic attainment amongst public school pupils, so that the public school sector may increasingly conform with the national policy for the maintained sector.
    • * Report of the Working Party on Assistance with the Cost of Boarding Education, Published 1960." "Half Our Future". A report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England). Published 1963.
  • (d) To co-operate closely with local education authorities in seeking to match provision with iced for boarding education.
  • (e) To ensure the progressive application of the principle that the public schools, like other parts of the educational system, should be open to boys and girls irrespective of the income of their parents.
  • Following is the list of schools mentioned in the terms of reference:

    • Abbotsholme
    • Ackworth
    • Aldenham
    • Allhallows
    • Ample forth
    • Ardingly
    • Beaumont
    • Bedales
    • Bedford
    • Berkhampstead
    • Bishop's Stortford
    • Bloxham
    • Blundell's
    • Bootham
    • Bradfield
    • Brighton
    • Bromsgrove
    • Bryanston
    • Canford
    • Carmel
    • Charterhouse
    • Cheltenham
    • Chigwell
    • Christ's College, Brecon
    • Christ's Hospital
    • City of London
    • Clayesmore
    • Clifton
    • Colston's Boys
    • Cranleigh
    • Dean Close
    • Denstone
    • Douai
    • Dover
    • Downside
    • Dulwich
    • Durham
    • Eastbourne
    • Edinburgh Academy
    • Ellesmere
    • Epsom
    • Eton
    • Felsted
    • Fettes
    • Forest
    • Friends'
    • Giggleswick
    • Glasgow Academy
    • Glenalmond, Trinity College
    • Gordonstoun
    • Grenville
    • Gresham's
    • Haileybury and I.S.C.
    • Harrow
    • Harrow, Lower School of John Lyon
    • Highgate
    • Hurstpierpoint College
    • Ipswich
    • Kelly College, Tavistock
    • King's College School, Wimbledon
    • King's College, Taunton
    • King's School, Bruton, Somerset
    • King's School, Canterbury
    • King's School, Ely, Cambs.
    • King's School, Gloucester
    • King's School, Macclesfield
    • King's School, Rochester
    • Kingswood
    • Lancing College
    • Langley School
    • Leighton Park
    • Leys
    • Liverpool
    • Llandovery
    • Lord Wandsworth
    • Loretto
    • Malvern
    • Marlborough
    • Merchant Taylors'
    • Merchiston Castle School
    • Mill Hill
    • Milton Abbey
    • Monkton Combe
    • Mount St. Mary's
    • Nautical College, Pangbourne
    • Nottingham
    • Oratory
    • Oswestry
    • Oundle
    • Prior Park
    • Queen's College, Taunton
    • Radley
    • Ratcliffe
    • Reed's
    • Rendcomb
    • Repton
    • Rishworth
    • Rossall
    • Royal Masonic
    • Royal Merchant Navy School
    • Rugby
    • Ruthin
    • Rydal
    • St. Bees
    • St. Benedict's
    • St. Dunstan's
    • St. Edmunds, Canterbury
    • St. Edward's
    • St. George's, Harpenden
    • St. George's, Weybridge
    • St. John's, Leatherhead
    • St. Lawrence
    • St. Paul's
    • St. Peter's
    • Scarborough
    • Sebright
    • Sedbergh
    • Sevenoaks
    • Sherborne
    • Shrewsbury
    • Silcoates
    • Solihull
    • Stonyhurst
    • Stowe
    • Strathallan
    • Sutton Valence
    • Taunton
    • Tettenhall College
    • Tonbridge
    • Trent
    • Truro Cathedral School
    • University College School, Hampstead
    • Uppingham
    • Warwick King's School
    • Wellingborough
    • Wellington
    • Westminster
    • Whitgift
    • Winchester
    • Worksop
    • Wrekin
    • Wycliffe
    • The Abbey, Malvern Wells
    • Abbot's Hill, Hemel Hempstead
    • Alice Ottley School, Worcester
    • Ancaster House School, Bexhill
    • Ashford School, Kent
    • Atherley School, Southampton
    • Badminton School, Westbury-on-Trym
    • Bedford High School
    • Bedgebury Park, Goudhurst
    • Benenden School, Cranbrook
    • Berkhamsted School for Girls
    • Brentwood School, Southport
    • Bruton School for Girls
    • Burgess Hill P.N.E.U. School
    • Casterton School, Kirkby Lonsdale
    • Channing School, Highgate
    • Charters Towers School, Bexhill
    • Cheltenham Ladies' College
    • Christ's Hospital Girls' School, Hertford
    • City of London School for Girls
    • Claremount School, Esher
    • Cleveland School, Stockton-on-Tees
    • Clifton High School
    • Convent of the Holy Child Jesus, Edgbaston
    • Convent of the Sacred Heart, Hove
    • Convent of the Sacred Heart, Woldingham
    • Cranborne Chase School, Tisbury
    • Croft House School, Shillingstone
    • Croham Hurst School, S. Croydon
    • Derby High School
    • Downe House, Newbury
    • Durham High, School
    • East Anglian School, Bury St. Edmunds
    • Edgbaston Church of England College
    • Edgbaston High School
    • Ellerslie, Great Malvern
    • Elmslie Girls' School, Blackpool
    • Eothen School, Caterham
    • Esdaile School, Edinburgh
    • Farnborough Hill Convent College
    • Farringtons Girls' School, Chislehurst
    • Felixstowe College
    • Francis Holland School, N.W.1
    • Francis Holland School, S.W.1
    • Gardenhurst School, Burnham-on-Sea
    • Godolphin School, Salisbury
    • Greenacre School for Girls, Banstead
    • The Grove School, Hindhead
    • Guildford High School
    • Harrogate College
    • Hawnes School, Haynes Park
    • Headington School, Oxford
    • Heathfield School, Ascot
    • Hollington Park School, St. Leonards-on-Sea
    • Howell's School, Denbigh
    • Hull High School
    • Hunmanby Hall, Filey
    • Huyton College, Liverpool
    • James Allen's Girls' School, Dulwich
    • Kent College, Pembury
    • Kingsley School, Leamington Spa
    • Lady Eleanor Holles School, Hampton
    • Lawnside School, Malvern
    • Lewes High School
    • Lillesden School, Hawkhurst
    • Lowther College, Rhyl
    • Malvern Girls' College
    • Micklefield School, Seaford
    • Moira House School, Eastbourne
    • Moreton Hall, Oswestry
    • Mount School, Mill Hill
    • Mount School, York
    • Newcastle-on-Tyne Church High School
    • Northwood College
    • Oakdene, Beaconsfield
    • Ockbrook School, Derby
    • Overstone School, Northampton
    • Parsons Mead, Ashtead
    • Penrhos College, Colwyn Bay
    • Pipers Corner School, High Wycombe
    • Polam Hall, Darlington
    • Princess Helena College.
    • Hitchin Prior's Field, Godalming
    • Queen Anne's School, Caversham
    • Queen Ethelburga's School, Harrogate
    • Queen Margaret's School, Esrick
    • Queen's College, London, W.1
    • Queenswood, Hatfield
    • Roedean School, Brighton
    • Royal Masonic School for Girls, Rickmansworth
    • Royal Naval School, Haslemere
    • Royal School, Bath
    • St. Albans High School
    • St. Audries School, West Quantoxhead
    • St. Brandon's School, Clevedon
    • St. Catherine's School, Bramley
    • St. Clare's School, Penzance
    • St. Dunstan's Abbey, Plymouth
    • St. Elphin's School, Darley Dale
    • St. Felix School, Southwold
    • St. George's School, Edinburgh
    • St. Helen's School, Northwood
    • St. Hilary's School, Alderley Edge
    • St. James' School, West Malvern
    • St. Joseph's Convent, Reading
    • St. Leonards-Mayfield School, Mayfield
    • St. Leonards & St. Katherine's, St. Andrews
    • St. Margaret's School, Exeter
    • St. Martin's School, Solihull
    • St. Mary's Convent, Ascot
    • St. Mary's Convent, Shaftesbury.
    • St. Mary's Hall, Brighton.
    • St. Mary's School, Calne.
    • St. Mary's School, Gerrards Cross.
    • St. Mary's School, Wantage.
    • St. Michael's School, Limpsfield.
    • St. Michael's School, Petworth.
    • St. Monica's School, Clacton.
    • St. Paul's Girls' School, W.6.
    • St. Stephen's College, Broadstairs.
    • St. Swithun's School, Winchester.
    • St. Winifred's School, Llanfairfechan.
    • School of S. Mary & S. Anne, Abbots Bromley.
    • Sherborne School for Girls.
    • Skellfield School, Thirsk.
    • Stonar School, Melksham.
    • Stover School, Newton Abbot.
    • Stratford House School, Bickley.
    • Sunderland High School.
    • Surbiton High School.
    • Tormead School, Guildford.
    • Trinity Hall, Southport.
    • Tudor Hall School, Banbury.
    • Uplands School, Parkstone.
    • Upper Chine School, Shanklin.
    • Upton Hall Covent, Upton, Wirral.
    • Wadhurst College.
    • Welsh Girls' School, Ashford, Middlesex.
    • Wentworth Collegiate School, Bournemouth.
    • West Cornwall School, Penzance.
    • Westolbirt School, Tetbury.
    • Westwood House School, Peterborough.
    • Winceby House School, Bexhill.
    • Winterbourne House Collegiate School, Bristol.
    • Wycombe Abbey School.
    • York College.