HC Deb 02 July 1930 vol 240 cc1967-70

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law with respect to the employment of married women teachers. This is a short Bill the single purpose of which is that in future a woman teacher shall not be refused employment or dismissed merely on the ground that she is married or about to be married. It may be news to some Members of the House that, almost if not quite entirely since the War, the practice has grown up among local authorities of employing women who undertake to resign on marriage. We have had considerable experience of women as teachers, and anybody who has any knowledge of the schools knows the immense advantage of having a certain number of married women on the staff. That applies with great force to the infant departments of schools, but it equally applies to the girls' departments, especially in the older ages. The consideration that influences me more than anything else in a Bill of this kind is the well-being of the child. If I was convinced that education would benefit by a restriction of this character, I should not bother to introduce the Bill. Parents, to my knowledge, appreciate the fact that the care, training and education of their children at school is partly in the hands of married women. I am convinced that the education service would be the poorer if no married women were serving on the staff.

The full force of this new practice is only being felt to-day, because, of course, the older members of the staff were not required to give this undertaking and in the ordinary schools in many parts of the country there is still a very large percentage of married women, but now, after a fair number of years of this regulation, the serious position is being realised. The Board of Education has recognised that it is important to have a certain number of married women amongst the teachers. Circular 1383, issued by the late President of the Board in 1925, page 9, paragraph 13, points out the great advantage of infant care being taught, preferably by married women. If the practice of not engaging married women and of requiring them to resign is persisted in, the opportunity of having their services will no longer exist.

On the top of that we have the proposals of the Hadow report, the basis of which is broadening the syllabus of the schools, which include, in the girls' departments, teaching cookery and housewifery. The great advantage of having amongst the teachers a certain number of women of practical experience in running a home is that they are able to guide the child, not merely from what they have read in books, but from what they have been taught by practical experience in their own homes, is obvious. Every educationist desires to get, in the teaching profession, the best qualified and most competent persons available. I am not suggesting that single women in many cases are not as competent as married women, but we want every variety and type in our schools, just as in this House we now have the advantage of women Members, though we are glad to have single women, on this side of the House, at any rate, three of the most distinguished Members are married women, the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), the Noble Lady the Member for Southend (Lady Iveagh) and the Noble Lady the Member for Perthshire (Duchess of Atholl). The House would be the poorer if married women were barred from membership, and we want to remove that restriction from the teaching profession.

If ever there was a profession which is calling for women, it is the teaching profession. There are people who still believe in the old idea that the proper place for the woman is in the home. [Interruption.] I thought I should get a response. No doubt hon. Members do not like to see women entering into the great professions, such as medicine and law, but I think they would be the first to admit that teaching is a recognised calling for women. It is a profession in the highest sense which calls for special gifts, and the great majority of women who enter it do so because they recognise that they have particular gifts in that direction. We say to those who enter the calling for which they are most suited, "If you marry, you will have to resign and your training and your years of study will be wasted." There are some people who think it is in the interest of economy, but I question very much if the case can be made good. It takes two or three years to train a teacher, usually at the national expense, and the cost is estimated at £400. If, automatically, when they marry, however efficient and capable they may be, they must resign, that money is largely lost to the State and to the community.

It is also argued that it is purely a matter for local authorities and that they must decide their own business, but 60 per cent. of the cost of teachers' salaries is borne by the State, and we are perfectly justified in having a say, as partners in the education of the child and in the provision of the money for the schools, as to how they should be staffed. Then there is the case of the convenience of the schools—the inconvenience of absences. I think there is a very simple answer to that. Eighty per cent. of the teachers automatically resign on marriage. It is only the enthuiasts, the most keen and the most competent, as a rule, who remain on, and it is for that small percentage that I am pleading in the interest of the teaching profession and, above all, of the schools. It is a great profession and, when we are calling for the assistance of married women to enable us to raise the school age, it seems a very seemly time to do away with this penalty on marriage in the most important profession that women can choose. I have not the slightest doubt that the House will permit me to introduce the Bill. It is a short Bill of two Clauses only, and I hope some day it will become an Act of Parliament.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Harris, Mr. Simon, Viscountess Astor, Major Hills, Mr. Cove, Mr. Morley, Miss Rathbone, Sir Robert Newman, and Dr. Burgin.