Norman St John-Stevas
SO AT LAST we have it: the Department of Education's .Green Paper on education summing up the fruits of the last year's non-stop debate in which
politicians, teachers, educationists and even parents have been taking part. Never has there been so much talk about education, never so many conferences and certainly never so many television and wireless programmes.
Has it all been worth it? If the Green Paper be taken as the prize the Government evidently intended it to be then I fear the answer must he a negative one. in expends, I instinctively resort to Latin and this time call Horace in aid to express my feelings: Parturiunt monies nascentr &Beaus main the mountains have laboured and given birth to an absurd mouse.
After all those outpourings we could have expected something more structured, more thought through, above all more definite than this. The Green Paper is greener than most and it will certainly settle hardly any questions. Heaven preserve us, but its most likely outcome is to give birth to yet another great debate I
This is not to say that I consider the paper a disaster. I do not. There are two things in particular which 1 welcome. First there is the stress on standards, and this is the beginning of wisdom in the educational sphere.
I am delighted that the Labour party at last is returning to a part of its tradition of which, in its mad, foolish and wicked crusade against
the grammar schools, it has been in danger of losing sight — the impor tance of learning as a key to moral and social progress. So two cheers then for Shirley for initiating what one hopes will turn out to be a great return.
Second, I applaud the attempts, however restrained, to throw the public spotlight on the teaching profession. A school is as good as its teachers, and especially its head
teacher. Some people seem under
the illusion that you need to build a skyscraper to construct a formula.
You do not. All you need to be a good teacher is to have a teaching nature.
Furthermore it must be recognised that in the great expansion of the colleges of education that took
place after the war a number of people entered the profession not
only with no vocation for teaching but who have turned out to be a positive liability.
Mrs Williams, albeit in ever so muffled a manner, has recognised
this and has begun the first tentative moves towards grasping the nettle. If there is a gain from the great debate it will be that the teaching profession will have to recognise (as the best teachers already do) that they are accountable to the nation for their successes and thei: failures.
Education is too important to be left to the teachers, and, let us face it, too expensive, too. We are now spending something like £6000 millions on education each year. the major part of which goes on salaries and wages and the nation is right to demand that it gets value for money.
Yet the Green Paper constitutes a great missed opportunity. In the words of the Prayer Book it has left undone those things which it ought to have done, and the chief sin of omission is the failure to put forward any concrete proposals to increase parental influences and choice in education.
Yet the right to educate children belongs inalienably to the parent. True, in the complex conditions of modern society the exercise of the right has to be delegated to others, but the right itself is not forfeited. Everyone in the world of education from the Secretary of State down to the humblest dinner lady helping out with a school meal is there to serve the parents. The cry should be not, We are the masters," but "We are the servants now." I regret very much that there are no proposals to increase the number of parental governors on school boards. They should number between a third and a half.
Rigid zoning for schools introduced at a time of population explosion and pressure on scarce schools resources is no longer needed: the Green Paper should have declared its abolition. An appeals system should 'have been outlined for parents dissatisfied with educational decisions. Once again the silence has been deafening.
And talking about deafening silences, why have we not heard anything from our episcopal leaders during the whole of the great debate'? There has been virtually nothing said on religious and moral education: surely the most importaro part of education for every committed Christian.
Surely, on this subject we had the right to expect an authoritative statement to fill the gap left by the Secretary of State. Never since the war have we been so bereft of a lead from those whose function it is to speak out clearly about the importance of the moral issues at stake in education.
We do not want bishops to lay down the law, but we wish to see the ends, both social and educational, defined clearly by those whose very office calls them to this form of service in the Church. And if the hierarchy is silent one can hardly blame the Secretary of State for being silent in her turn.
Yet unless a warning he given, unless positive moral goals are laid down for the guidance of the people the clockwork orange society will turn From a fantasy into a reality. To allow this to huppen would be a real troilism, des dere.