HC Deb 31 July 1923 vol 167 cc1411-4

At a quarter-past Eight o'clock, I had almost reached the conclusion of my remarks dealing with the Scottish education code, and especially with the point as to the intermediate schools which was raised by the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. D. M. Cowan). The intermediate schools will go on as before, but with a wider curriculum, and there must be ample opportunity of giving this kind of education elsewhere. The puplis of the primary schools must be given a broader outlook, and that will never be done if post-primary education is confined to the intermediate schools. The Scottish Education Department, I think rightly, have set their faces against the creation of a privileged group of schools in which alone education beyond the primary stage may be given. The provisions of the Code and secondary school Regulations now lying on the Table will do much to promote a wider diffusion of secondary education in Scotland, especially in rural Scotland.

Captain HAY

It is with pain that I have listened to the speech of the Solicitor-General for Scotland, and unless the hon. and learned Gentleman changes his mind to-night, I am afraid he will go down to posterity with the unenviable notoriety of having completed the rending of the seamless garment of Scottish education. I do not say he has rent it, but he will have done the last act in completion of the rending process, which has been going on more or less for 25 years in Scotland. The time is not so far distant when in Scotland, in the smaller schools, the teacher who taught the simplest elements to the youngest in the school was also a man who completed the education of those who were going right in for the University. That happy state of things has now passed, owing to different excuses, mostly under the guise of efficiency, but really for economy, and now the crucial point is this, that if these two sets of Regulations go through, we are going to have for Scottish children, between the years of 12 and 15, two kinds of education. We are going to have an intermediate course, and we are going to have what is called an advanced course.

As a practical teacher, as one who left the schoolroom to come right here, I dare to say that this so-called advanced education is going to be something cheap, but in proportion to its cheapness it is bound to have a certain amount of nastiness. We ask that for all children from 12 to 15 in Scotland there should be but one kind of education, and that is intermediate. To show the spirit under which the Scottish Education Department works, I wish to point out that when this subject was debated on the Scottish Estimates four or five weeks ago, we made this criticism, that advanced education was not intermediate, because, under intermediate education, your class was confined to 30, while, under the other, the class might be as large as 40. They have changed that. They have not reduced the 40 to 30 to show they mean well towards the advanced course, but they have lifted the 30 to 40 in the intermediate course, thus proving without a doubt that the levelling Is a process of levelling down, and not of levelling up. That is how one of our criticisms has been answered. They say, "Yes, we will make you equal. We will take away the sting of your criticism by making the same number of pupils per teacher both in the advanced course and in the intermediate course," but instead of knocking 10 off the advanced course, and giving the teacher a real chance, they add 10 on to the intermediate course, so that the total outcome of our criticism is this: that the intermediate course is going to be levelled down towards this cheap and shoddy advanced course.

My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland is not quite clear yet as to the balance of Scottish opinion against this new Code. If he consults the records of voting on the Scottish Estimates, he will see that the balance is 44 to 11 against him and against the officials of the Scottish Education Department, and since that time the opposition has hardened considerably. We have against the Department, the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, we have the Assembly of the Established Church, we have the Educa- tional Institute, we have eight education authorities, all speaking with a voice unanimous on this particular question. They say it is wrong that there should be two kinds of education in Scotland for children between 12 and 15. We can see quite well that it is going to be settled really on a class basis. We are told that the old intermediate schools are going on as usual. Yes, they will go on with their good staffs and fine equipment as usual, but under the guise of advanced education, the children of the working classes from 12 to 15 will be marking time in the schools under the idea that they are getting intermediate education.

Our plea is a simple one—that there should be one kind of education in the country for all children between 12 and 15, and we say, knock out the word "advanced" altogether from the code and the schools. Let there be intermediate education equal in all respects. In these days of unemployment among teachers, when the standard among teachers in Scotland is so high, there is no reason at all—and the education authorities know it quite well—why all these classes should not be staffed by teachers of a high standard. The men and women are in the country. I know quite well the Scottish Education Department fears it would cost much money, but we are just as clear that for a very little extra expenditure those courses might be made intermediate courses, and we would get away altogether from this miserable class barrier which has been growing in Scottish education for the past 25 years.

Again, at a time like this, when members of education authorities have gone on holidays, when the educational machine, as far as the technique is concerned, has been slowed down, this is a bad time and a wrong time to ring these changes on Scottish education. We were told to-day in one Department the old tradition had been abandoned—the tradition whereby the Minister took upon himself all the faults and the responsibilities of those who are acting under him. I will not ask my hon. and learned Friend tonight to abandon that position; I will ask him to try to find a via media, and while I do not ask him to abandon some officials of Scottish education, if he cannot see eye to eye with us just now, I ask him if he will do on this occasion what he did four weeks ago, and postpone this until the Autumn, when we will come back with fresher minds, the position will be clear, and he can see for himself that all Scotland is absolutely against his Department on this matter. I strongly appeal to him not to close the question, and not to ask us to close the question, but that he will make this a piece with the other things which we debated a few weeks ago, so that we can come back from the Recess with fresh minds and unstrained tempers, and give a new consideration to this, not for the sake of party or politics, but for the sake of Scottish education.