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Education And Science

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 17 May 1977

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Green Paper


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to publish her Green Paper on education.


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she intends to publish the Green Paper incorporating conclusions on the great debate on education.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster-General
(Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I have been much encouraged by the interest shown by all sections of the community in the issues discussed during the recent debate. The series of consultations with organisations and individuals has now been completed, and I hope that the Green Paper will be published later this summer.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the general desire to achieve a closer relationship between the education system and industry? Does she accept that one of the difficulties is that so few teachers have real and practical working experience of the outside world? Will the Green Paper take up and deal with the suggestion that entrants to the teaching profession should have a period outside the teaching profession before they take up their jobs?

That matter has been discussed in the consultations with various organisations following the regional conferences. In addition, there are a number of schemes to give serving teachers a period of experience in industry, although it is brief.

Has my right hon. Friend reached the conclusion that the country can ill afford the present degree of diversity in local authority arrangements, in terms both of the records of student progress within schools and of the diversity of the curriculum, bearing in mind the increased mobility of parents?

My hon. Friend has moved into the most difficult area of all. There is no doubt that some of the diversity and innovation that decentralisation makes possible is very valuable. The Green Paper will address itself to the problems of mobility and to how those problems can be solved without abandoning the decentralised system.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on making off with another article of Opposition educational clothing in her proposed conference on comprehensive schools at York? I hope that the shortcomings and achievements of these schools will be highlighted in the Green Paper. May I also express the hope that we shall have an announcement in the Green Paper about a return to national standards of literacy and numeracy? I hope that we shall have the opportunity of an early debate soon after the publication of the Green Paper.

I am a daily reader of the Labour Party manifesto but I am not so frequent a reader of the Conservative programme. On 17th September, the day after I was appointed Secretary of State, I announced to the assembled Press my intention to hold a conference on comprehensive schools. I was not aware at that time that it was Conservative policy to do so. I suspect that it was not. My conference is to be about the best practices in comprehensive schools with a view to extending them everywhere. The Tory Party conference, as I understand it, is to inquire into whether there should be comprehensive schools. It will therefore serve a different purpose.

School Transport


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she plans to make a statement on school transport.

My right hon. Friend is considering with the local authority associations what changes might be made in the present unsatisfactory arrangements for school transport.

Does the Minister realise that many parents living within the statutory limits, or just within them, are facing grave problems as transport costs increase? Is she aware that parents in rural areas are especially affected? Does she accept that there has been too long a delay? When will she be prepared to devise a satisfactory scheme?

I am aware of the problems facing parents in these areas and I am anxious to see them resolved. The local authorities see administrative difficulties in any new scheme for change. At present we are exploring with them to see how they might most easily be resolved.

Parliamentary Democracy


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will take steps to encourage the study of parliamentary democracy within educational establishments.

I regard it as important in a democratic society that young people should be given a clear understanding of the functions of central and local government and of the part played by Parliament and other elected assemblies in the government of the country. It is, however, for the local education authorities and the schools and colleges themselves to consider what provision should be made for such studies.

As parliamentary democracy, for all its faults, is something that we have to preserve, particularly as it is likely to come under increasing attack. I think, in the years ahead, will not the Secretary of State see to it that more effort is put into this subject in educational establishments, particularly bringing out the fact that Parliament should dominate the Government of the day?

I repeat that this is primarily—and I believe that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it ought to be primarily—for the local education authorities and the schools themselves. But the Politics Association has devoted much attention to this matter. We have given a small pump-priming grant to it for this purpose.

I wonder whether the Minister has thought of expanding that activity to include specifically education on the operations of the Assembly, the Commission and the other bodies of the European Economic Community.

I am not certain that that would be so acceptable to the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), but I agree with the hon. Gentleman.



asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what reply she has made to representations from the National Union of Teachers about the level of education spending in Oxfordshire.

The level of education spending in Oxfordshire is a matter for the local authority to determine, and it is to the authority that the NUT's recent representations have, quite properly, been made. I understand that a meeting took place last month between members of the National Union of Teachers and representatives of the Oxfordshire authority.

Does the Secretary of State accept, however, that a certain confusion has been created in the county by the contrast between her informal remarks—I think on two occasions during the last year—about the need to maintain education spending in Oxfordshire and the action of her colleague the Secretary of State for the Environment, which has forced the county council, through the rate support grant, not only to introduce substantial economies but to raise the rates by 40 per cent. more than the national average? Will she now use her influence to dissuade the teaching profession from taking strike or other action, which would only harm the service that it is trying to protect?

The hon. Gentleman will know that I have made clear on more than one occasion that the Government would regard the very highest priority in local government expenditure on education as being the maintenance of pupil-teacher ratios. In the last few weeks Oxfordshire has, in practice, found another £250,000, which arose unexpectedly as a result of a mis-estimate of the effect of the Burnham negotiations for teachers, with the result that a substantial number will be able to be retained. I hope that it will be possible to retain more of those at present under threat.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that at a time of very severe cuts in public expenditure, and more especially in education, many authorities—Tory authorities in particular—are going far beyond what they should do? Will she therefore take steps to try to curb them from carrying out these cuts in order to help other aspects of conduct by taking more and more money from education?

I follow my hon. Friend by saying that I am worried by the fact that in some local authority areas education does not have the priority that I believe it should have. That is particularly true where there is what is sometimes called corporate management. However, the Government have made it as clear as they can that their first priority is the maintenance of the pupil-teacher ratios, and that will continue to be their position.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that for several months before the recent county council elections the teachers attracted headlines in all the local newspapers attacking Oxfordshire County Council and that when the results of the elections were declared it was clear that that campaign had had no effect, because the Conservatives won 61 out of the 69 seats in the county?

Is the Secretary of State aware that if there are cuts in Oxfordshire most people will consider that they are due to the results of her Government's policies on the rate support grant, which this year was cut in Oxfordshire by 8 per cent., as compared with 4½per cent. for the rest of the country? For the last three years Oxfordshire County Council has done worse than any other authority in this respect, due to her Government trying to move money from Conservative-controlled country authorities to the Labour-controlled city authorities.

I would take the hon. Gentleman's strictures a little more seriously if it were not the case that there had been a very substantial increase in local authority expenditure for independent places, for no good reason that I can discover.

Colleges Of Education (Ponteland And Fenham)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she has completed her consideration of the recent representations she has received about the future of the Northumberland College of Education at Ponteland and St. Mary's College of Education, Fenham.

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend intends to consider together all the representations about the future of these and other colleges when the process of consultation with local authorities and other bodies is completed. She hopes to announce her decisions on them in June.

Can the hon. Gentleman assure us that his right hon. Friend takes into account the considerable documentary evidence about educational deprivation in the North-East which has been presented by one of the colleges? Will he consider how much worse the situation could be if the services of these two colleges to local State and Catholic schools were withdrawn? Will the Secretary of State do her best to ensure that even with the reduced intake these two colleges have a future rôle?

We shall take account of the evidence arriving from many deputations—I have seen 27 so far, with five to come—as well as documentary evidence. We shall look at both of the colleges in the North-East and give them due consideration. We shall give them the same consideration as is given to all colleges in the country.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept from one who accompanied one of the many deputations that my particular deputation was very grateful to him for his courtesy and the consideration he showed? Will he further continue to consider, as I know he has done so far, the importance of maintaining the one Roman Catholic teaching college—the training college at Fenham—in the North-East? Will he recognise, through his efforts—I know that he is making them to the best of his ability—to maintain this college of education, the importance of religious teaching in schools?

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. I do my best with the delegations and I shall bear in mind that the removal of this college would remove a Catholic teacher training college from the whole of the North-East. However, I do not think that the House would expect me to prejudge what my right hon. Friend will be saying in one month's time.



asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she last met the Chairman of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils.

I had a full discussion with Sir Frederick Stewart on 21st April.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the continuing widespread concern at the further cuts in the science budget for the year 1977–78, to the tune of some 3 per cent.? Is it not doubly unfortunate that these cuts coincide with an increase in the number of science students and an increase in the potential for high energy physics?

Let me say right away that there has been, as the hon. Gentleman will know, a considerable shift in the pattern of expenditure by the research councils, and I am satisfied that they have increased their expenditure on students, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman has given. I might also add that I understand that the Royal Society is shortly to mount a series of schemes to support teams of scientists working on new projects, in particular including able young scientists who might otherwise not have an opportunity. However, I shall keep the closest possible eye on this matter, because I believe that it is very important to give our able young scientists opportunities in the future.

Teachers' Meals


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps she is considering to reduce the £23 million cost of subsidising teachers' meals in schools.

Teachers exercising supervision during the midday break perform a valuable service and it would be wrong to consider in isolation the cost of subsidising their meals. The consultative document sent to local authority and teacher associations, among others, invited suggestions and comments by the end of May on how economies in the school meals service could best be made. It is our intention to offer guidance to local education authorities in the light of the response to this document, probably towards the end of the summer.

I welcome the prospect of guidance, which will save an enormous amount of money which is so desperately wanted for other parts of the education system. However, could not the Minister give this a bit of a heave, because every week that goes by more and more money is wasted down this particular gullet? Is she aware that this point has been raised with me not only by those who wish to see greater expenditure in other parts of the education system but by others, including teachers, who think that this is unnecessary benevolence on their part?

I know that there are those who contest the need for the school meals service still to exist. I do not agree with them. If the cost of providing school meals, which I think are necessary, were transferred from our budget elsewhere—

If teachers are performing duties, they have a right under the 1968 agreement to receive a meal. We do not question that right. However, we like to be assured that the agreement is being kept in the spirit as well as in the letter.

Does my hon. Friend agree that school meals are an important social service and that they are increasingly regarded by many educationists as not being in the sphere of education at all, there being an attempt to withdraw them from education and make them a real social service? Will she take note that many people are deeply worried about the future increased charges for school meals, which could prevent many children from having a meal at midday?

I am aware of the suggestion that the school meals budget should be transferred to a a different Department. I do not think that that would automatically lead to an increase in the money available generally for education. Like my hon. Friend I regret that we have been forced to raise the price of the meal, but it is still heavily subsidised.

If the money is to be allocated to anyone, would it not be better if it were allocated to the parents, who would then be able to decide whether to feed their children at breakfast, at teatime and during the holidays rather than having school meals during term time?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has not taken the point on board—namely, that school meals are provided on school premises to allow children to be fed while they are at school. Merely to give money to the parents is not a way round that problem.

Will the hon. Lady bear in mind that, although these meals are technically free to teachers, the teachers receive them in return for supervising the children's breaks? If the teachers withdrew their services in this respect we should be involved in heavy additional expenses or we should have to abandon the school meals service.

Secondary Education (Selection)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what percentage of local education authorities are now operating selection-free secondary education.

There are 22 local education authorities, about 23 per cent., in England which no longer operate any selection process whatsoever for entry to their secondary schools. Another 19 per cent. have no selection for maintained secondary schools, and a further 57 per cent. are partially reorganised on non-selective lines.

Although this may represent an improvement over the position of a few years ago, is my hon. Friend seeking any additional powers from the House to ensure that the aim of the Government of establishing non-selective secondary education is achieved?

Will the hon. Lady take note of the fact that the county council which wrote to her regarding the establishment of a sixth form college in Lancashire, which published the letter the day before the county council elections, was soundly beaten when the citizens of Lancashire made their views clearly known on this aspect, which relates to the Question but more particularly to Question 10, for which the hon. Member concerned was not present?

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the words of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) in 1972 when writing in the Black Paper "Crisis in Education", when he acknowledged that grammar schools and comprehensive schools could not exist side by side? Is she aware that the hon. Gentleman wrote that in those circumstances comprehensive schools were little better than secondary modern schools? Will she press ahead to ensure that we have a comprehensive system rather than comprehensive schools with the best creamed off from them?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. That is one article of the hon. Gentleman's clothing that we are pleased about.

Does the hon. Lady accept that selection within schools will be inevitable for as far ahead as we can see, even if there is not selection between schools? Will she give an undertaking that none of the schemes of enforced comprehensivisation will be allowed to damage the good schools still in existence?

It is our intention not to damage any schools but to make all schools thoroughly good and satisfactory. I do not accept that selection within schools is an automatic necessity.

Does the list of authorities include counties such as Cambridgeshire which, while having largely non-selective systems of their own, still take places at independent schools? Does that not mean that further action is required by my right hon. and hon. Friends?

As I think my hon. Friend knows, this is a matter that we are dealing with in another way under Section 5 of the Education Act 1976. We are asking local authorities to justify their need for places at independent schools.



asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps she is taking to encourage the study of engineering at school and in further education institutions.

My right hon. Friend is altering the awards arrangements and is examining the possibility of a scholarships scheme with the aim of attracting more able students into engineering and other courses of value to industry. The University Grants Committee, the Council for National Academic Awards and the Technician Education Council are reviewing the structure and content of engineering courses with the needs of students and industry in mind. In the schools my right hon. Friend attaches greater importance to improving the teaching of mathematics and physics than to the development of engineering as a separate subject.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that for several months both myself and members of his own party have been trying to get the Secretary of State and Ministers in the Department of Industry to release to hon. Members the most effective document and the best analysis of the problem, which is the result of a joint working party from various Departments on education, industry and management? Will he explain why, given the great debate, only Members of Parliament seem to be excluded from seeing the document, which is not secret in any sense as so many others have access to it? Will the hon. Gentleman at least release the statistical appendices so that we may see the terms of reference and hard information, which will enable us to debate effectively what he is doing?

The document is to be published. I welcome the initiative that the hon. Gentleman is taking. This is not a party political matter but is something the nation needs.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in recent years in areas of inner city deprivation, such as Brent, South, where there are excellent schools of engineering, a large gap has grown between the apprenticeship schemes offered locally by engineering firms and the graduates who emerge from the colleges? Will my hon. Friend have discussions with Ministers in other Departments in an attempt to bridge the gap between what is done in the education sector and what is being done in apprenticeship schemes in engineering factories?

I think that the number of vacancies is more a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. However, I appreciate the point that my hon. Friend makes. Steps are being taken both nationally and at local level to ensure that the gap is narrowed.

In view of the importance of encouraging better attitudes to engineering among students in higher education, is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the priority given by the Science Research Council to the sponsoring of engineering exercises and research projects in universities is sufficient compared with other scientific projects?

Yes, I am satisfied, but we are always looking at ways in which the links between universities, polytechnics, schools and industry, especially in respect of engineering, can be strengthend.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the greatest scope for increasing both the numbers and the quality of recruitment to the engineering profession lies with girls? Is he aware that there is still a great deal of prejudice, both in industry and schools, against the adoption of engineering by girls as a profession?

I think that there is prejudice, and it worries me. One of the difficulties, too, is that girls do not realise the possibilities that may well be open to them in the engineering professions in future. That is something in which there should be co-operation between industry and education.

Is the Minister aware that the Engineering Employers' Federation is gravely concerned about the lack of knowledge and interest in secondary schools concerning engineering and commerce? Although the federation recognises that it could have done more to bridge the gap and to improve knowledge, may I ask whether the Minister accepts that it would be a good thing if teachers could get out into industry and commerce as part of their course before qualifying as teachers so that they do not go straight from school to college and from college back to school?

In reply to a previous Question my right hon. Friend agreed that the more experience a teacher can have, the better. This is one of the aspects that will be discussed in the Green Paper.

Teaching Companies


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps she is taking to increase the number of teaching companies.

The Science Research Council and the Department of Industry have already launched five programmes and two more will be announced shortly. At least six universities and polytechnics are preparing further proposals in co-operation with interested companies.

I am grateful for that answer. While one welcomes any encouragement which can be given to these schemes, does not the right hon. Lady feel that the five pilot schemes already undertaken will do little more than pay lip service to the real need for a better understanding among students in higher education of the problems and aspirations of industry? In particular, will she now consider having discussions with and giving encouragement to a wider range of companies than the five which are undertaking the schemes, so that, if the pilot schemes should prove successful at a later stage, teaching companies can be created on a wider scale much more quickly?

I said that two more would be introduced shortly. The present intention is to launch four new programmes each year. Since consultations on the scheme were completed only last year, that is not an unreasonable rate of progress. Obviously, we hope to learn something from the schemes now in practice. In addition to this scheme, there are also Science Research Council awards made jointly with industry and there is the discussion on the industrial scholarship scheme that we have talked about on another occasion.

Will the right hon. Lady help the House and tell those such as myself who are ignorant what a teaching company is? Is it a name gimmick or does it really mean something?

I think that the closest parallel would be with something like a teaching hospital. The idea is that, as part of the course of study, a young man or woman at university or at a polytechnic will engage in work at his or her own level within a firm, so that he or she can see in practice how research is applied.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that, while it is important to develop and encourage engineering in our universities and colleges, we need to maintain the present balance, because the philosophy of the Conservative Party, which is clear from its statement—

Order. It was only last week that the House asked me to see that questions were more relevant. That was a supplementary question on the previous Question, was it not? We are dealing with teaching companies now.

Yes, Sir. The question of teaching companies is still related somewhat to the matter that I am raising, which is that the Secretary of State should take the opportunity to say that the balance in education between the humanities and engineering should be maintained, instead of accepting the philosophy of the party opposite and going in one direction.

My hon. Friend's ingenuity is a tribute to his education. The teaching company is concerned with those who are already choosing to study engineering and management. Its purpose is to make their studies much more directed to the real world, which I think is not a point of disagreement between the parties.

Rising Fives


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will advise local education authorities to make maximum provision for the admission of rising-five children to primary and infant schools.

It is for local education authorities to decide how to use their statutory powers to provide education for children below compulsory school age. But we have already advised authorities that rising fives may be admitted where there would otherwise be vacant places and the extra call on resources is insignificant.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Conservative-controlled Lancashire County Council is severely restricting the entry of rising fives, not on the ground that there is a shortage of accommodation or of teaching staff but to save a paltry sum in the provision of school meals? Is she further aware that the same authority is allocating £3 million towards the upkeep of private schools within the county? Does she not think that that is disgraceful?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have already expressed our disapproval of unnecessary take-up of places at independent schools. I was not aware of the grounds advanced for Lancashire's policy on rising fives. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the information.

Is my hon. Friend prepared to put further pressure on Lancashire County Council? After all, in many areas of Lancashire not only are children who are rising five not taken into schools—they are even being turned away now—but there is a severe shortage of nursery school places. This is placing a severe burden on working mothers as well as depriving young children of worthwhile education.

I shall make some inquiries about my hon. Friend's comments. As he knows, it is a matter for the local authority concerned on what grounds and to what degree it admits children, even where there is a shortage of nursery school places. But I shall look further into the matter.

Would it not be a good idea, while we are on the subject of advising local authorities, if the Minister had a word with the Minister for Housing and Construction so that there could be a synchronisation of housing plans and the building of primary schools, which are a necessary adjunct to such expansion?

Is my hon. Friend aware that the failure of the expansion of nursery schools, plus the halt in the admission of rising fives in many local authority areas, coupled with the failure to expand the provision of day care for children, means that we shall see a mushrooming of private provision for all sections of pre-school children? Does she not think that it would be a good idea if the DHSS and the DES got together on an integrated service for the pre-school child?

It has for some time been the intention of both the DHSS and my own Department to make some joint provision, and we are discussing such matters at the moment. However, I must remind my hon. Friend that over 50 per cent. of four-year-olds were receiving some form of educational provision in January last year, the latest date for which figures are available.

Student Grants


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the latest figures available for the numbers of students who receive mandatory and discretionary grants; how this proportion has changed over a recent convenient period; and what steps she is taking to make a higher proportion of grants mandatory.

In 1975–76 there were about 56,000 discretionary major awards and 324,000 mandatory awards. In 1970–71 the comparable figures were 66,000 and 294,000 respectively. My Department, in conjunction with the local authority associations, will shortly be making a survey of local authority practice with regard to discretionary awards and my right hon. Friend will review the position when the results are known.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, although the whole House welcomes the steps which the Government are taking, there is now an urgent need to tighten up on the provision of discretionary awards and that thousands of students or would-be students are already fearful of what will happen with the election of so many Tory-controlled county councils, which will be very unwilling to give some of these much-needed discretionary awards?

I appreciate the need for urgency. As I have told the House, we are having a survey. Before action is taken, we must know the facts, and we are expecting to know those facts during this summer.

Is the Minister a strong supporter of the Open University? If he is, is he aware that, because of the heavy cut-back in public expenditure and the pruning of expenditure which local authorities have had to undertake on the Government's instructions, the Open University is suffering and that many people who rightly seek discretionary grants are unable to get them because the counties do not have the money?

I am a great supporter of the Open University. I am somewhat surprised that the hon. Gentleman is a great supporter of increased public expenditure.

Can my hon. Friend or anyone else explain to me how it is that the Conservative Party, while advocating and pressing for enormous cuts in expenditure, gets very annoyed when we make any cuts in expenditure?

Training Opportunities


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is satisfied with the training opportunities in further education establishments.

Yes. The further education service provides a wide and flexible range of courses in response to the country's economic needs and the needs of the individual.

What discussions are going on between the DES, the Department of Employment and the Training Services Agency to expand the training opportunities at colleges of further education, particularly in such areas as Calderdale in West Yorkshire, where there is no skillcentre in the immediate vicinity?

Discussions are going on between both Departments. As for Calderdale itself, if my hon. Friend will write to me I shall be able to explain the position more fully to him.

What is the present position of pupils between the ages of 15 and 16 who are no longer benefiting from time at secondary school? Are they now allowed to go to a college of further education to complete a further year of their education?

No, Sir. There are link courses between schools and colleges of further education, and very valuable they are, but for full-time education in a college of further education a pupil needs to be 16.

Gifted Children


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals she has for encouraging the development of gifted children.

I am concerned that everything possible should be done to identify and meet the special needs of these children, but there is nothing that I can add at present to the answer I gave to the Question from the hon. Member on 15th March.

Does not the Minister agree that the Government's failure to announce a specific programme to help gifted children confirms our view that the Government are primarily interested in keeping down education expenditure rather than increasing it?

No, I do not accept that. It is a singularly silly remark, particularly as I recently told the hon. Gentleman that a special working party was considering the problem of gifted children. We expect it to report in May and we are expecting to have a conference on this subject in November.

Will my hon. Friend explain how it is that when we measure the achievements of gifted children by the numbers admitted to Oxford or Cambridge, or eventually to the Foreign Office, so many gifted children seem to have gone to publc schools rather than to State schools?

I think my hon. Friend is pointing to the conflict that is present in people's minds between children who have genuine intellectual gifts—who are about 2 per cent. of the population—and those who are intellectually privileged.

Would the Minister care to define the term "gifted children" and tell us where gifts begin and where gifts end?

As the hon. Member may know, there is a substantial body at work on this subject which defines what it regards as outstandingly gifted, and it is generally acknowledged that there is on the whole only a small percentage of such children in the population.

Will my hon. Friend accept from me that the term "gifted children" as used by the Conservative Party refers tot he elitism that Conservatives have always practised? Does she not agree that in comprehensive schools the teacher-pupil ratio is very good at the topmost level and that there is remarkable scope in the education of our gifted children even to the point where some of them become ambassadors, for instance?

Tameside (Legal Costs)


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether the total cost to public funds of the legal proceedings in the Tameside case are yet known; and if she will make a statement.

The costs have not yet been determined. The matter is still under negotiation between the Treasury Solicitor's Department and the legal representatives of the Tameside local authority.

Is it not clear that the total cost of these proceedings is in excess of £25,000? Since in the judgment of the House of Lords it was stated that the predecessor of the right hon. Lady had misdirected himself fundamentally, ought not the costs to be paid by the Minister personally?

It is not my understanding that it is yet known what the costs are, and I therefore cannot comment on the hon. Gentleman's observations.

Is the Minister aware that this huge cost to the Exchequer, which could be better spent on books and stationery in schools thoughout the country, was caused not by anything that Tames-side did but because Tameside was sued by the Department on wrong legal advice?

Parental Contracts


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received about her proposal that there should be a form of written contract between each parent and the school which its child attends.

What I had in mind was not a contract as a legally enforceable document but an undertaking on both sides. My Department has so far received 11 letters from members of the public, and comments have also been made by various educational organisations.

Will the right hon. Lady admit that the proposal is quite absurd and that the deafening silence that we have received about that proposal since it was made now means that it is dead and buried?

The proposal is not absurd. Something similar exists in other Western European countries, and it is extremely important to get a much closer relationship between parents and the schools. Until this moment, I did not think that this was a party matter.

Gce Examinations


asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is satisfied with the present grading system for passes of O-level examinations.

The conduct of public examinations is in general a matter for the independent examining boards. The Schools Council is, however, responsible for advising the Secretary of State on major questions of examinations policy, as for example when changes in the grading system are envisaged. The present O-level grading system was introduced in 1975, on the Council's recommendation, and while there may initially have been some misunderstanding of the new grades among employers and others I know of no reason to suppose that this is still the case.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she not aware that many industrialists are confused by the various grades of O-level examination? Would it not be better for there to be a standard O-level examination to denote average accomplishment?

I doubt whether that proposal would be educationally supported. In any case, it is open to industrialists to ascertain what is the usual standard attained by these grades.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you be good enough to use your influence with the Prime Minister to place in the Library every Tuesday and Thursday a list of his engagements, so that we can get rid of a lot of this rubbish on the Order Paper?

I shall undertake that if the hon. Gentleman undertakes to raise his points of order in future at the end of Questions.