HC Deb 31 July 1923 vol 167 cc1370-6

I wish to draw attention to the Regulations in reference to the Scottish Education code. I wish particularly to draw attention to the position of children who will be leaving the elementary schools. They get a three years' training and are able to qualify in that time to take an intermediate certificate. It is very helpful, not only to the parent, but the managers of the school, to follow the success of the education so imparted. The authorities, in Scotland are all opposed to the alteration of the code and to the omission of the words" intermediate "and" intermediate schools. "When the matter was last before the House it was stated that only one authority in Scotland, the Glasgow authority, had made complaint against the operation. We have now a communication from the Educational Association in Scotland protesting against these alterations, and we have a communication from the Edinburgh School Board this week, in which they say: The education authority for the burgh of Edinburgh regard with concern the omission in the last code of regulations for day schools, and in the draft regulations for secondary schools for Scotland, any provision for 'intermediate schools' and protest that 'advanced division' or undefined higher grade schools are inadequate substitutes for the statutory requirement of Section 6 (1) of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1918, that the education scheme of every education authority shall provide for all forms of primary intermediate and secondary education. Further my authority object very strongly to the abolition of the intermediate certificates which have been so long valued as a national recognition of the attainments of a scholar who has completed a full three years' course of instruction after the age of 12 and is unable for many reasons to continue at school to obtain the full leaving certificate which involves a five years' course at a secondary school. I have communications from other authorities on the same lines, and I hope that the Solicitor-General for Scotland will pay some attention to these communications. The system of education which has been built up in Scotland has been of" great help to the Scottish people. I think that one of the reasons why we get Scotsmen and Scotswomen in every part of the world is because of the system that has been built up. There is a tendency since the present Government came into power to interfere with that system, and the feeling on the other side of the border is that, instead of trying to level the English system up, they are trying to pull the Scottish system down. That would be a bad thing.

We admit that probably we have spent more on education in Scotland than you have spent in England, taking the populations of the two countries into account. The industrial centres of England have spent as much as we have spent, but there are large areas in England in which comparatively little money has been spent on education, and the result is that the system of taking the populations of the two countries as the basis for the allocation of expenses is having a tendency to lower the standard of education. I appeal to the Government to consider the representations which have been made. The system in Scotland has worked very well. No authorities in Scotland want any alteration. I do not think that the Government should insist on making this change. We would like them to meet the views of the authorities in this matter. They are the best able to judge. They know the needs of the people and how they have progressed in the past and I hope that the Government will take these things into account, and will allow the old system to remain.

Notice taken that forty Members were not present; House counted; and forty Members being present—

8.0 P.M.


I have listened with the greatest pleasure to the eloquent and well-reasoned speech of my hon. Friend, and I trust that what he has asked from the Government will be conceded. I confess that I rather sympathise with my hon. and learned Friend in the position in which he finds himself, because I think that he is engaged in what may be all very well in ordinary matters of law but does not apply in matters of education, and that is in trying to make the worse appear the better cause. A month ago we had a discussion in this House on what was then a draft code of Regulations. Now we have the Regulations in their final form, and it is these which we are considering. I admit that in the final draft of the code of Regulations we do find an Amendment or two as compared with the former draft. I congratulate the Solicitor-General and the Department on having made a change with regard to the number of pupils who can be normally in charge of a particular teacher, and reducing it from 60 in the draft code to 50 as a general rule. That is good, so far as it goes, but it might go a little further and impose a penalty after a certain time upon such school authorities as keep the number larger than 50. My sympathy goes out to the hon. and learned Solicitor-General, because he is defending Regulations which are opposed by practically every authority in Scotland. This is a matter which should receive the very careful attention of the Department and of the Government. If those authorities find that their wishes are unreasonably disregarded, it will not make for the betterment of educational administration in Scotland.

With regard to the question of the retention of the term "intermediate," I should like the Solicitor-General to tell us, quite frankly and fairly, why the Department is so wedded to the phrase, "advanced divisions"? He has said that school authorities are quite at liberty to call their schools intermediate schools, but does it not appear to be a very absurd thing that an authority should call its school an intermediate school while, in the Departmental sense that same school is referred to as an advanced divisions? There is no logical reason for this differentiation. It is rather an absurdity than anything else. I think we ought to have a definite answer to a definite question, as to why this phrase "advanced division" has been substituted for the old familiar "intermediate," which has become a household word in Scotland, owing to the number of pupils who have taken the intermediate certificates. On the previous occasion, I said that some proposals in the draft Code were retrograde, and in this revised version of it we have ample proof of that. Up to the present, in our intermediate schools, the number of pupils under a particular teacher has been 30. Now, we find that in the final Regulations that number has been raised to 40, which is a most retrograde step. I have been told—not on the Floor of the House, but with almost equal authority outside the House—that this is to be an equality between the number of the pupils in the intermediate schools and in the advanced divisions. That may be so, but this seems to be a matter of dragging down Scotland rather than raising it up.

We have not even the excuse that we are following England. In England, in similar schools, the number is normally 30, and in no case is it allowed to exceed 35. The Solicitor-General should tell us frankly whether that is an advance in Scottish education, a retrogression, or just a stage worse. These are definite points, and this, the unanimous opinion of Scottish educational workers, is deserving of more consideration than it is receiving at the hands of the Department. No one has a greater respect for the Department and for its distinguished head than I, but at the same time, for the sake of the rights of the children of Scotland, we have to make the situation clear, and I am afraid there will be very considerable trouble unless we get very clear answers to the question I have put.


I have been told to-day that practically all the educational opinion in Scotland is opposed to the Code and Regulations. I desire to deal briefly with the points which have been made. I was accused, not unjustly, in the Debate on the Estimates of taking up a very great deal of time. On that occasion I went as fully as I could over various points, the Code and the Regulations for secondary schools being the main subjects. I put the matter before the House as fully as I could, and therefore I shall not be expected to do so to-night, and I will only deal with the points raised. I am told that practically every education authority in Scotland objects to the new Code and Regulations. All I can say is that in the last week or so there have been representations from eight authorities in Scotland criticising certain parts of the Code and Regulations on the lines indicated in the speeches which have been made, with regard to the use of the word "intermediate." One of those eight solely deals with the point of the intermediate certificate. The whole question of the intermediate certificate, as I indicated in the discussion on the Scottish Estimates, is at present under consideration. It is not decided yet whether the Department will issue a certificate or merely endorse it; how far account can be taken of continuation school work; how far, if at all, written tests may be required, and regulations made for early leavers in secondary schools.

All these things are under discussion, and I find, even in those documents which are sent by the education authorities which offer some criticism, that they really seem to appreciate—and I am glad of the fact—the point of view which the Department has taken up in regard to the certificate, that the things you really want to lay stress on are the effort of the teacher coupled with the working of the inspectors of the Department, which really are factors on which it is most proper to rely. The efforts of the Department are directed very much against any excessive rigidity, and the whole desire is to give the teacher more scope with regard to the work of the pupil. I should like to say that the Education Authority of Lanark, a very populous county in Scotland, passed a resolution in favour of the Code and Regulations when they were first in draft; and only yesterday the Education Authority of Midlothian, another most populous and important county, passed a resolution in favour of the Code as laid on the table. Therefore, it cannot for one moment be suggested that educational opinion in Scotland is unanimous against the Regulations and Code. When the draft was first submitted, nearly half the education authorities in Scotland made no comment upon it at all. I do not wish to put that any higher, and you may say, putting it at its lowest, they acquiesced in it; but we find that nearly half of them made no sort of comment whatever, and two of the most important county authorities expressed themselves as satisfied with the Code. Therefore, I hold quite clearly, that it cannot be laid down that the Code is objected to by the educational opinion of Scotland.


Is the hon. and learned Gentleman quite clear in his statement with regard to the Lanarkshire Education Authortity? They have written to me.


My information is exactly in accord with what I have said, namely, that Lanark, some time ago, passed a resolution in favour of the Code as drafted; and that only yesterday Midlothian did the same. That is, I am informed, an accurate statement of what was done. Does the hon. Member say that he has had a resolution from the education authority of Lanark objecting to the Code?


Yes, but unfortunately I have not got it here. I thought I had it with my papers. So far as my memory goes, Lanark was against it.


I think, unless I am mistaken, that the hon. Member is thinking of the Glasgow Education Authority, which certainly has criticised the Code. If my information is correct, the education authority of Lanark took another view, and when the draft Code first appeared, passed a resolution approving of it. There has been a good deal of criticism from those educational authorities who have sent in documents of protest in the last few days on certain points. As I have said, there are only eight in the whole of Scotland, and one confines itself to the question of the intermediate certificate, which is still under discussion.

On this question of the intermediate schools, it is admitted, pretty generally, that as regards curriculum the new Code represents a considerable advance, both in the curriculum in the schools described as intermediate and in the advanced divisions. After all, it seems to me that the proposals in the Code make for a wider division of higher education in Scotland. Is it to be said that intermediate education is only to be given in a selected group of schools, and that these schools alone can carry on education after the primary stage? If such a privilege were conferred on a certain restricted number of schools, it could only be conferred in respect of special equipment as regards buildings and staff. Through the necessities of the case, such schools would be bound to be limited in number, and it would mean that over wide stretches of Scotland pupils would need to travel considerable distances from home. The Department has no objection to, and in fact desires to encourage concentration where it is possible in populous counties. It is of great use, but to limit or restrict education beyond the primary stage to a certain defined number of schools would not, I think, be of benefit to Scotland as a whole. These intermediate schools go on as before, as my hon. Friend pointed out, and the Department has no objection whatever to their being described as intermediate. They will continue, but they will have this one difference, that their curriculum will be widened, broadened, and better.

The curriculum in the advanced divisions is an immense advance on anything we have seen before. A defect in Scottish education has been that the intermediate curriculum hitherto has been on rather narrow lines, and large numbers of pupils have not had as much benefit from it as they ought. We know that in many cases a very small percentage of pupils completed the course, which has meant a wastage of time and money, and that the boys and girls have not got out of their school careers all the benefits which ought, under better circumstances, to have been possible. Value was attached to the word "intermediate" owing to associations, and the Department recognises that the schools may value the title, and they have no objection to its being used.


If the Department have no objection to it, why do they not use it officially?


We have strong objections to con fining intermediate and post-primary education to a certain selected group of schools. We have complete freedom from financial restrictions as regards the grant, and the money can be spent as the authorities think proper—

It being after a Quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.