HC Deb 06 June 1924 vol 174 cc1701-4

I desire to call attention to the unsatisfactory condition of secondary education in Wales. A question was put to the President of the Board of Education recently asking if it was his intention to appoint a successor to the late Sir Owen Edwards, Chief Inspector in Wales who died in 1920, and the right hon. Gentleman gave a most unsatisfactory reply, saying that he had inherited the present position from his predecessors, and that the work of the Chief Inspector was being carried out by the Permanent Secretary to the Board of Education with two assistant inspectors. It is unsatisfactory that the work formerly performed by a distinguished gentleman should now be carried on in this way, and it was no answer for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he inherited this policy. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was head of the Administration in 1920, and made no attempt to fill the post, although probably he more than anyone else in the Government was responsible for the creation of the Welsh Department of the Board of Education. It bears the stamp of the right hon. Gentleman's work, because it is a com- promised Department, and like all compromises it has never worked satisfactorily. No one wanted it and no one asked for it, but the unsatisfactory working of the Department was in some. manner minimised by the fact that it was fortunate enough to have the services of Sir Owen Edwards as Chief Inspector. The fact of this post being kept vacant for four years forces us to one of two conclusions—either that the late Sir Owen Edwards was wasting his time and that public money was being wasted in paying him, or, alternatively, that serious injury is now being caused to secondary education in Wales. I think there is no question that injury is now being caused by the fact that no successor has been appointed. The late Chief Inspector had first-class knowledge of secondary education in Wales and could represent the Welsh point of view to the Board, and how can it be expected that the Permanent Secretary, with no special knowledge of Welsh conditions and with other duties to perform, can, assisted by two other inspectors—who were there during the time of Sir Owen Edwards—carry out these duties satisfactorily?

Welsh secondary education at present is in a chaotic state. There is the Welsh Department of the Board of Education, who are interested in certain schools; there is the Central Board, responsible for other schools: and a further number of secondary schools are outside the scope of both bodies. I wish to know if it is the intention of the Government to put into force the recommendation of the Departmental Committee that there should be for Wales a unifying body, not only with regard to secondary schools, but covering the whole of education in Wales. The present unsatisfactory position is illustrated by a pamphlet, written by the Principal of the University College of North Wales, in which he gives signal instances of the bad effect on Welsh education of the power being used by the Welsh Department on the Board of Education at the expense of the Central Board in Wales itself. With regard to the advanced courses—doubtless the Under-Secretary knows to what I am referring—he gives the instance of what the Board insisted upon at a classical school like the Prior's School at Bangor. Such a state of affairs would never have been reached by anybody exercising authority in Wales itself who had been conversant with the conditions. I should like to know whether the present Government intend to appoint a successor.


The time at my disposal is somewhat limited, but I will take the first subject first, and that is, the question of the appointment of a successor to the late distinguished Sir Owen Edwards. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) referred to the answer given here some time ago by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board. Of course, as I suppose my hon. Friend will agree, Sir Owen Edwardses are not to be found every day. He was a man of very great distinction and of very exceptional achievement, and it is rather a difficult thing, even if we desired to do so at this particular moment, to appoint a man who could be expected to fulfil those duties adequately. We found the system that now prevails in education when we came into office at the beginning of this year. Under the agreement arrived at, the present Permanent Secretary of the Board of Education, Welsh Department, acts as Chief of the Welsh Department at Whitehall, as well as Chief Inspector of Education for Wales, and that arrangement has been extended until April of next year. Meanwhile, I have no doubt the President of the Board will re-examine the position in the light of things such as those my hon. Friend has mentioned, and I have not the faintest doubt that, long before the termination of the period of office of the present Permanent Secretary if the Board of Education, Welsh Department, an announcement will be made as to future policy.

In regard to secondary education generally, I think most people who know the facts would- agree that the condition of secondary education in Wales requires very careful re-examination. One is aware of the strictures passed upon the arrangements for controlling our educational system generally in Wales in the Clauses of what is called the Red Report. I can only state that the recommendations of that Report are receiving the very careful consideration--and have been for some time—of the Board, but we have, as the hon. Member perhaps knows, made some small attempt to initiate one part—a very small part, I agree—of the recommendations made in that Red Report, and at this particular moment I have been conducting, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, some delicate negotiations with the Central Welsh Board in regard to the question of the inspectorate in Wales. These negotiations are not yet at an end. There is to be another meeting presently in London, and I am afraid, having regard to that fact, that my hon. Friend must excuse me from discussing the matter in any greater detail.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at One Minute before Four o'Clock until Mon-day, 16th June, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.