HC Deb 02 June 1933 vol 278 cc2271-301

12.54 p.m.


I desire to raise a matter which is of particular interest to teachers and to the students who are now in the training colleges and universities. I do not propose to discuss the action of the Department as a whole. I understand that there will be further opportunity of reviewing their actions. I am going to confine myself simply to the issuing of two circulars, Nos. 1427 and 1428. In my opinion, the circulars are ill-timed as far as the students at these colleges are concerned. I happen to be either in direct or indirect touch with almost every training college and university in the country, and I find that the issuing of the circulars when the examinations are about to take place have greatly disturbed, upset and worried the students in the colleges. I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that the anxieties of passing the qualifying examination are bad enough, but when the issuing of the circulars—and I believe that the hon. Member is bound to agree with me—inevitably means unemployment for these students, we can imagine how their anxieties will be increased. As usual, the Circulars are rather cleverly worded. I must pay a tribute to those who write circulars. I always find that they are very interesting if only from the point of view of the cleverness with which they are written.

On the surface, the Circulars appear to be most reasonable in many respects. For instance, there is a plea for uniformity. I have not too much objection to uniformity as a principle, but when I examine the Circulars I am afraid that the uniformity which is suggested will mean an increase in the size of classes and a reduction in the number of teachers employed. I have no objection, and I do not think that any reasonable person can have any objection, to planning the number of teachers who may be required over a series of years. There can be no objection to an attempt to approximate the number of teachers. We have no objection to foresight being applied as far as staffing arrangements are concerned.

I would point out, in passing, that when the Board talks about foresight in planning as regards staffing, it appears to be analagous to Satan rebuking Sin. No local education authority in this country in my judgment, has been as guilty of lack of foresight in respect of staffing as the Board of Education. I have been at pains to look through some of the Circulars which have been issued during the past few years. In 1929 the Board stimulated recruitment into the profession, and Since 1929 it has urged local authorities to employ and to recruit more teachers. It has asked them to get into touch with the heads of secondary schools and say, "We will welcome your co-operation in getting an increased supply." The Board, and responsible Ministers in the past have approached teachers' organisations and sought their co-operation, which has readily been given, to increase the supply of teachers. As far as I can gather, the colleges were asked to open their doors to a larger number of students, and there must have been, during the last three or four years, 4,000 or more additional students in the training colleges over and above the normal number. Those thousands of students, some of whom are now there, went as additional students at the direct invitation and as a result of the encouragement of the Board. It is rather surprising, on turning up the Circulars, to find that even in the height of the crisis in 1931, in September and October, the Board and its responsible Minister, had no appreciation of the situation as far as the employment of teachers was concerned. So not merely in the past but even recently the Board have shown no provision for the planning for which they are now asking in these Circulars. I think it cannot be refuted that the operative part—if the hon. Member could disabuse my mind of the fact it would help very much indeed—is at the end of paragraph 5 in the Circular to which I now refer. It says: After making full allowance for these considerations they have come to the conclusion that some reduction in the present number of teachers employed is possible without loss of educational efficiency. It is clear that this is an economy Circular, and that economy is to be effected at the expense of the employment of some thousands of teachers who are now in the training colleges. I ask the House and the hon. Gentleman and his chief to think of the situation of these students. Many of them have gone into the colleges by means of borrowed money. Many of them have had to borrow money from private and public sources, and now they have been left without any hope of employment. As far as I can see, if the Circulars are rigidly applied and the spirit of them put into operation, there is no prospect of employment for some considerable time ahead. The Government in this respect are actively creating a frame of mind in the colleges—of which I believe the hon. Gentleman is not unaware—which tends to have less and less respect for ordinary constitutional methods of procedure. I can appreciate that feeling. If I had been faced with a situation of that kind when I came out of college, I think I should have protested vociferously against a breach of faith on the part of the Government. The students went there at the invitation of the Government. The Government asked them to undergo training. They invited them to be prepared to go into this professional work, and now they have suddenly decided to curtail the number of teachers to be employed.

I should like to ask one or two questions of the hon. Member, and I hope that he will be good enough to endeavour to answer them. Will his Department bring pressure on the local authorities who have large classes of 50 or 60, in order that they may reduce them to a lower number? There is one thing that the Department can do. In the profession I think we have 7,000 to 8,000 supplementary teachers. I am not going to say anything about the supplementary teachers, except that they are a cheap form of teacher. They have not qualified in the ordinary way. Will the Parliamentary Secretary give us a promise that the Board will cut off the supply of supplementary teachers? We have also a large number of uncertificated teachers. I would not for a moment suggest that the uncertificated teachers in the schools should be dismissed, but having regard to the fact that we have qualified teachers coming out of colleges, who have spent their own money and have been a cost in some degree to the State, will he announce this morning that the supply of uncertificated teachers in future shall be cut off, and that the supply shall be taken from the normally qualified teachers who go to the secondary schools and then to the training colleges and the universities?

I shall be glad if the hon. Member would tell us how many teachers are now unemployed? I do not merely mean the teachers who came out of the colleges last year, but the total number of unemployed teachers. The Debate will be of use if we can get a reply to these questions. I would like to know what interest the Board are taking in the employ- ment of the students. What estimate have the Board formed of the number of Students now in the colleges and universities who will be unemployed in September? In other words, have the Board any estimate of the number of teachers from those who are coming out of the colleges next July, who are likely to be employed? Can he forecast what number will be employed at Christmas? Have the Board any idea how long it will take before this surplus will be absorbed? Are the Board satisfied—this is rather an important question—that the 10 per cent. cut about to be made in the total number of infants for next year will meet the reduction required owing to the fall in the number of children in the schools? Let me put it in another way. Will that 10 per cent. cut eventually restore normality? Shall we resume the normal situation so far as the employment of teachers is concerned when the 10 per cent. cut has come into operation? I have some doubts whether the Board have adequately adjusted supply and demand.

Although I quarrel with the general policy of restriction in educational services, I have to recognise that we have an economy Government in power, and I am merely confining myself to the plight of the people to whom I have referred. The problem of the over supply of teachers could be prevented by planning and foresight on the part of the Board of Education. Economy ought not to result in creating a large body of unemployed teachers, who have been trained at great expense to themselves and at some expense to the State. It seems to me that the Board and the Government are now adopting a policy which ought to be completely reversed in the existing situation. This is not the time, from a national point of view, to economise in this direction. I understood from the Chancellor of the Exchequer this morning that one of the great problems that faces this nation, in common with other nations, is the problem of consuming power, the ability of our people to be able to purchase and consume what the world can so easily produce.

Here is a restrictive measure, an economy measure which, from the national point of view, is stupid, and from that angle I would say that it is a false policy. Not only from that angle do I say that it is a false policy, but with the present con- ditions, with the falling number of children in the schools, and with the adequate supply of teachers, now is the time to put into operation the raising of the school age and to expand the services of education. It would be a wise and expedient policy instead of cutting down the numbers of teachers who will be employed to extend the services in many directions by the establishment of nursery schools, the raising of the school age, continuation work, etc., all of which would decrease unemployment. No one who has read about it, much less those who are in touch with the state of affairs in the distressed areas, can be indifferent to the wastage of adolescent life.

In my own constituency, in common with other constituencies, there are many thousands of young men and young women between the ages of 14 and 18 who cannot get jobs, or even when they have jobs they only have them for a few weeks. They are in and out—blind alley occupations. I was reading the other day and it struck me as very remarkable that not only have you the blind alley occupations which are being entered into more and more by young people, but that rationalisation has affected even the blind alley occupations, and they are becoming fewer and fewer. Therefore, it is a good economic proposition and a good social policy for this country to say: "We will keep the children in school until they can find jobs. We will keep them there by raising the school age to 15, or, alternatively, we will keep them there until they are able to find work." That would give an outlet for the student, who has no hope so far as their occupation is concerned. It is the duty of the State to find these people employment, not to take action which will restrict the number of teachers required. We have heard something about continuity of policy. These students have a right to say that a continued policy should be pursued as far as they are concerned. This is a breach of faith with them, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to cancel these restrictive proposals, these economising circulars, and give them some hope that there will be work for them when they finish their training next July.

1.16 p.m.


The hon. Member has done a public service in raising this matter. Naturally the nation's atten- tion is concentrated upon world economic problems, but it is wise that a few minutes should be devoted to some consideration of this important domestic affair. The circulars to which the hon. Member has referred have caused something like consternation in the educational world. When my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. White) asked for information as to the number of teachers who had left college in the preceding July who had failed to obtain employment, he was told that the number was 1,100, but that by no means covers the amount of unemployment there is in the teaching profession. All over the country you will find highly qualified men, thoroughly trained in their profession, who entered it at the request of the Board of Education, without any means of livelihood, and the serious part of it is that these young men are not insured, they have not the unemployment insurance benefit behind them. It is a very serious danger to the community to have these young men and women, intelligent, clever, hanging about street corners doing nothing, it may be preaching discontent, and very often stimulating trouble in the districts where they live.

The Parliamentary Secretary can say that the present administration is not responsible for the position and that it was the action of Sir Charles Trevelyan when he was President of the Board of Education in making an appeal to young men and women to enter training colleges and to the local authorities to provide places for them The Parliamentary Secretary, who was then a private member, did his best to prevent the policy of the then Government coming to fruition. I am not making a personal charge against him and the present administration, but the responsibility is there, and, unfortunately, the action of a previous Government, whether right or wrong, has had a permanent effect. I think that these young men and women have a just grievance against the community. They were asked to enter this great profession and now they find themselves practically thrown on the scrap heap and unable to find employment.


I do not think that the hon. Member desires to convey the impression that the present Government are not responsible. Since this Government came in they have taken action which has encouraged recruitment, but have taken no action when they knew there would be a glut of teachers.


I do not want to whitewash the present Government but I want to be scrupulously fair. It is the responsibility of the State. I do not want to concentrate merely on the grievance of these young people but to deal mainly with these unfortunate circulars. The Board of Education has always been fond of issuing circular letters. I suppose they have a number of clever and intelligent young men in the Department who have a literary bent and they have to find them an outlet for their energies. When the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Hastings (Sir E. Percy) was President of the Board of Education he was very guilty in this respect. They used to come out every month. As soon as one was issued a memorandum had to be published to explain it. I have a great opinion of the present holder of the office. He came in with the good will of the whole country and of educationists in particular. Lord Irwin when he previously occupied the position showed sympathy and understanding with the teaching profession and with education as a whole, and when my friend Sir Donald Maclean died and a successor had to be found it was generally agreed that the Government made a good selection. I beg the President of the Board of Education to keep control over his pamphleteers. If they are to issue circulars let them be clear and decisive so that we may know exactly what they mean. This circular 1428 is exactly what a Government letter should not be. It is confused, involved, apparently ready to wound but afraid to strike, not clear; they are apparently trying to cover themselves from attack, and every other paragraph is a contradiction of the one before.

I will give a little practical advice to the Parliamentary Secretary. He has a good organisation at the Board of Education, a complete staff of inspectors whose business it is not only to inspect schools but to keep in touch with local education authorities, to be their guide, philosopher and friend, and if the President of the Board feels that in any part of the country there is extravagance or inefficiency let him instruct his in- spectors to discharge their duties and go down to the education committees and put things right. Above all, stop issuing these mischievious circulars which cause so much harm and misunderstanding. If he feels that a particular local education authority has been too generous in its staffing arrangements, or too mean, let him invite the appropriate member, the chairman of the committee, to his presence, they will be willing to come, and by negotiation put the thing right. These general charges of extravagance in staffing or in expenditure are most unfortunate, most discouraging to local education authorities, who are composed of men and women who give their time and labour to the service of education. As a matter of fact, they fail in their object.

The policy initiated by the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings when he was President of the Board was for schemes with a three years' programme. Those three years' programmes remain intact more or less. If it is necessary to amend them or criticise them, is it not better to take each case on its merits, instead of making general charges and sending out special ciroulars? In reference to Circular 1427 the Board apparently adheres to its policy of not having more than 50 in the lower forms and not more than 40 in the senior forms. Of course there must be elasticity. When you come to a country town or a village where the population is scattered, there must be a certain amount of give and take. I suggest that at this time, with so large a number of men and women out of work, it is most unfortunate to suggest that the new senior schools created in some of the county districts, where the population is scattered, should be handicapped by too rigid interpretation of that rule. I understand that it is the policy of the Board still to encourage a reorganisation, the creation of senior schools for young persons over eleven and up to 14 years of age. If that is so, and if the policy is to be a success, do not let us have circulars of this kind.

With reference to the secondary schools, I think this circular is the more mischievous of the two. There is for some reason or other criticism of the advance sixth form work. I am particularly surprised at that criticism coming from a Conservative President of the Board, and from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, because it was laid down in all the discussions between 1929 and 1931 that the State was willing to encourage ability, intelligence and character whenever it was available, and that where there was a child who was likely to get real benefit and go to the University and gain scholarships and so become an asset to the State, the Conservative policy was to give every encouragement and stint no money. Anyone who knows anything about the secondary schools and the public schools knows that if good results are to be obtained in the higher classes, the sixth and upper-sixth, in order to get to scholarship standard there must be specialisation, personal tuition and a certain amount of extra staff. The suggestion that the upper class is to be stinted and starved, or that there is to be a general average and that there should not be a differentiation between the lower and the upper forms, is not only impracticable but is a reactionary suggestion.


Where is that suggested?


In paragraph 6 of the Circular, which says: The most important of these from a practical point of view is the question of advanced sixth form work, which now tends to absorb the energies of a relatively large number of highly qualified, and therefore highly paid teachers. Later on the paragraph states: While it is not true of all secondary schools, it is quite clear that a large number still fail to realise the importance of training their sixth form pupils in habits of independent study. Such provisions would often result in a substantial economy of teaching power. Of course the whole success of sixth form work is to make a child think for himself or herself and learn to study privately. The advanced student obviously wants more personal supervision and more care than when taught in the lower forms by mass training. It is very difficult to criticise a vague circular covering four pages of this kind, but the general impression left on educationists throughout the country is that the circular is reactionary, and that there is a lack of appreciation of the real problem of education. Paragraph 8 comments on free periods for assistant staffs. There again, if you are to have good educational work you must have elasticity in the syllabus and confidence in the staff of the schools to use their time with intelligence. If they are to be tied down by red tape the secondary schools for all time will be handicapped compared with the public schools, where there is great freedom for the teaching staff, where there are small classes, more specialisation, and more concentration on scholarship standard.

All these circulars are unfortunate. I do not suggest that they should be withdrawn. Government Departments never withdraw circulars; that is too much to expect from them. But I do hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will attempt to explain them away, that he will give a generous interpretation to their meaning, and set at rest the apprehension in the minds of local education authorities and the teachers throughout the country. The teaching profession and education as a whole have had a bad time for the last 18 months. The policy of cuts was a severe blow, a shock which has not been quite overcome. Then came the abolition of free places in secondary schools and the raising of the fees. That caused a great deal of discontent. I suggest that the great partnership between the Board of Education, the local education authorities and the teaching profession can only be consummated with success by confidence, by personal contact and by good will. That confidence and good will can best be brought about by a change of policy—I will not say a change of heart, because I believe the heart of the President of the Board is all right, but a change of policy as expressed in the official documents of the Board.

1.35 p.m.


I would like to join in the general criticism that has flown from the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) and the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). Straightaway I say, as a supporter of the National Government who is proud of the Government, that I feel I ought to pay the same tribute as the hon. Member who has just spoken, and say that so far as the Noble Lord who presides over the Board is concerned, and indeed as far as the able representative of the Board in this House is concerned, as far as their speeches go in, the country, I have nothing but the greatest admiration for them. All friends of education generally rejoice at the tone of those speeches and the conception they have of education generally. We might almost say that we who espouse the cause of education feel that it is good to have two such representatives in charge of the Board.

But I come to the point that the last speaker has just made. These speeches leave me in a perplexed condition when I come to what I call the Board's cold Circulars. I think I can say of the Noble Lord and of the Parliamentary Secretary that they are tantalising in the most original and literal sense of the word. One expects great things from them and then we get a circular like those of which we have heard, which seem to fill their own friends with dismay and cause the enemy to rage furiously. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take any criticism which comes from me as being of the most friendly kind. I fervently hope that he will this morning try to make his critics realise that they are imagining vain things. I hope he will tell them and tell us, that these circulars will not perpetuate large classes. I hope he will be able to assure us that they will not aggravate the serious condition of mass unemployment among teachers coming out of the training colleges. In a word, I hope he will be able to tell the critics of the circulars that what they imagine is not true and that things are not quite what they seem. I know that the slogan of the President of the Board is that he has to drive slowly. That, I imagine, is a very good slogan as things are. I do not mind how slowly we drive the educational car as long as we drive it in the right direction.

I come to my main criticism. I believe that these circulars tend to drive the car in the opposite direction and it is that great fear which I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to dispel. As far as his speeches in the country are concerned, we are assured that he is going in the right direction, but the circulars seem to point the opposite way. If I may make a suggestion to him, I should say that now is the time for the Board to take steps to make compulsory what is now only voluntary—to make local education authorities insist that all children leaving school between the ages of 14 and 15 shall produce some definite evidence of beneficial employment before they are allowed to leave. And if I were to make a constructive criticism with regard to the question of unemployment among teachers, I would say that now is the time for the Board seriously to consider standardising the period of training. It seems to me there should be no difficulty in the Board insisting on a minimum of three years training, I am glad to be able to make these comments and suggestions because I cannot believe that the voices which make the speeches in the country are the voices which dictate these circulars. If the reason for the circular is mere economy I suggest that it is economy in the wrong direction.

I am particularly glad as a supporter of the National Government to be able to make these friendly criticisms I am proud to be a member of the Conservative party and as a lifelong adherent of that party and I rather object at times to the Opposition's suggestion that they alone can look after the cause of education. I have only to read my history, and especially very recent history, to find that no one has done as much for national education as the Conservative party and no one man has ever done more than the late Arthur James Balfour, I beg the Parliamentary Secretary not to give his critics a chance to belabour the present Government but to live up to the traditions of the Conservative party and to allay our fears, criticisms and suspicions. I do not know whether another circular will be forthcoming from the Board—as there was when we had the alteration in the secondary schools—explaining that this did not mean that. But I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary might possibly think of another circular in which he would say that the Board would insist on smaller rather than larger classes and would indicate that they were taking steps to deal with the grave question of unemployment among teachers.

1.41 p.m.


The objections to these Circulars have been covered so well by other speakers that I propose only to detain the House very shortly but as one who is brought into close touch with teachers and with intending teachers, I desire to register my opinion that these Circulars are likely to have bad results in three respects—first, in their effect on the quality of education; second; in their effect as injustices on the teachers and third, in their effects on unemployment. I agree with the hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) that if there are extravagances in the matter of staffing, and there may be such, it would be better to deal with them by the direct method of intimation from the Board than by these very generalised and rather vague circulars. The general effect of circulars of this kind is apt to be that local authorities already inclined to sluggishness and indifference at once say: "In the interests of national economy, the Board want us to go slow and to cut down and to economise," whereas the keen education authorities, who might in some cases need admonition if they are going too far, decline to pay the least attention and if they are doing the right thing, they are merely discouraged and depressed. I do not think that the method of the circular has proved at all effective in the past and it is liable to cause economy of a kind probably not intended by the President of the Board.

With regard to the admonition on senior classes and sixth forms I think it has been a shock to educational opinion throughout the country to hear it suggested that the adoption of a method of teaching which encourages individual initiative and private study among pupils will decrease the number of qualified teachers employed. It is common knowledge that the more that method is adopted, the greater the number and the better the quality of the teachers necessary. In the second place, I feel that both in these and previous circulars the Board has adopted the principle of making the teachers pay unfairly for the Board's own vacillations of policy.

As previous speakers have said, the principle of change generally has led to a diminution in the demand for teachers. That (has resulted from a, change in Government. The dropping of the proposal for raising the school age, of course, led to a great decrease. But we are continually told in connection with foreign policy that one Government even if it disapproves of the policy of its predecessors, must in honour observe commitments that have been deliberately made by those predecessors. That principle does not seem to apply to every matter of domestic policy where commitments are made by Departments of State which involve the interests of large bodies of citizens. Only a few years ago many parents were induced to make great sacrifices to send their sons and daughters into the teaching profession, believing that there was going to be an expansion in the demand due partly to the raising of the school age, and partly to the reorganisation scheme and the general improvement of standards. Boys and girls themselves made great efforts to obtain a university education in order to qualify as teachers, and now they find that, through no fault of their own, but because the policy of the Board of Education has changed, there is a greatly decreased demand for their services.

If that was really a matter of national necessity, we should all realise that necessity knows no law and that those who were injured by the change of policy must make their share of the sacrifices demanded of all, but there is an increasing body of expert opinion which altogether denies that it is in the interests of true economy to cut down expenditure upon education. It works uneconomically in two respects. First of all, as regards the teachers themselves, there is a very large number of people who have gone through a long and expensive training, largely at the expense of the public, who now find that that training is of no use. Secondly, with regard to economy leading to larger classes, based upon the diminution in the numbers of secondary schools, we are all faced with the most unfortunate results that are taking place all over the country, in large numbers of young people who are being thrown on to the labour market with no demand for their services. If there is a presumptive future strength of teachers above the estimated number of scholars, it would be better to meet that fact by a policy which encouraged the retention of children at school than by a policy of cutting down the number of teachers.

I think everyone recognises that of all wasteful and demoralising forms of unemployment, the unemployment of young people is the most so. You have boys and girls turned out of school, generally, I admit, finding employment pretty easily, because, of course, it pays employers to take on younger boys and girls for whom they have not got to pay unemployment insurance contributions, but when they reach the age of 15 or 16, they are turned adrift again, and just at the age when habits of idleness are most dangerous and demoralising, they are thrown on the labour market. If the Government, on the other hand, would meet this apparent glut of teachers by going back to the policy of their predecessors, of adding a year to the school age, it would not only prevent any excess of teachers, but it would prevent this most demoralising unemployment among adolescents and lead to the absorption of a considerable number of adults in employment to take the place of the young people who remained at school.

I should Very much like to know whether the Government, in economising on education, are really encouraged by their own economic advisers. Judging by the public statements of opinion made by some of those very members of the Government's own committee of economists, they would recommend just the opposite course. Many of them- have made their opinion very clearly known that the extension of the school age and of educational facilities so as to prevent unemployment among young people would be an economically sound course for the Government to follow. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board will be able to give this House assurances which will undo some of the harm which this Circular has done, otherwise we may expect exactly the results that have followed previous Circulars of this kind, namely, the repression and disappointment of the keen education authorities, and encouragement to do badly on the part of the backward authorities.

There may be another result, of which politicians see comparatively little, but of which I see a good deal, because of the particular nature of my constituency, and that is that to an increasing extent the teachers and the future teachers of the country are moving to the left politically, and, worse than that, are becoming inbued with a thorough distrust of political and constitutional methods altogether. If we in the future see a real increase either of fascism or of Communism in this country, I suspect that we shall have to look for the promoters of that very largely, not to members of the working-classes themselves, but to members of the intelligentsia, who are thoroughly disappointed and embittered and who are beginning to despair, from the experience which they have drawn from their own lives, of justice, or consistency of policy, or of a wide outlook on the part of the Government. It is becoming a very dangerous matter, and many observers who are closely in touch with bodies of teachers are well aware of how especially the younger among them are moving; and I warn the Government that they are making for themselves in the future, if they do not take care, a peculiarly dangerous body of enemies.

1.51 p.m.


There are many matters affecting educational administration to which one would like to refer, but the Debate to-day is mainly concerned with the two Circulars recently issued by the Board of Education, and I propose to confine my remarks to those two Circulars. My first comment would be that they seem to be singularly ill-timed. This is a year when there is a very large number of men and women who have gone in for training as teachers, and who have gone in for that training at the instigation of the Board of Education, and it seems to me that it is singularly ill-timed to issue these Circulars in this particular year, from that point of view. It is also ill-timed for another reason. Last Friday my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. E. T. Evans) put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary with regard to the number of people who had been in training departments in the last five years, and he was told that at English University and University College training departments there had been 6,797, and at Welsh University training departments 1,560. Of those who left in July, 1931, the number who were known to have failed to obtain teaching employment was, in England, 78 and in Wales 47, and of those who left in July, 1932, the numbers were, for England, 256 and for Wales 142. He was also told that the average annual grant in respect of these people during the last five years was about £366,000. When you are talking about economy and you are expending that amount of money on the training of these people, for whom you cannot find employment, and you find such a large increase in unemployment in two years, it seems to me that it is a very bad time at which to issue these Circulars.

But the matter does not end there. Yesterday I put a question to my hon. Friend, who unfortunately was not in a position to give the figures, but I have the figures which he gave in March of this year, when he pointed out that 1,100 teachers—358 men and 742 women—who left college in the year 1932 had so far failed to obtain employment. I would like to point out that that is not the total of those who failed to obtain employment, because my question was directed to that particular year, but there were others in the previous year and in the year before that who had also failed to find employment. Therefore, I think the present is a very bad time indeed for the Board to issue these Circulars.

There are one or two questions that I would like to ask with regard to the Circulars themselves. In a paragraph in Circular 1428, the Board state that: their action has in the main been limited to inviting the attention of local education authorities and governors to individual cases of extravagant or insufficient staffing I wonder whether the Parliamentary Secretary would be good enough to give us a little information as to the complaints which have been received by the Board, presumably from the inspectors of the Board, as to extravagant staffing. My experience is that the local education authorities, on the whole, are rather conservative in the matter of staffing, especially of secondary schools. I do not think that it is fair of the Board to make a general statement of this character unless they are prepared to give us examples and illustrations of the individual centres in respect of which they have received reports of extravagant staffing. That is the matter on which we are entitled to ask for information. At the end of the paragraph there is a statement to this effect: There is abundant evidence that an economical standard of staffing is fully compatible with the highest standard of efficiency. That sounds very well, but I should like to know exactly what the Board mean by it. If they compare, for example, the staffing of the secondary schools with the staffing of the public schools, although those who manage the public schools do not, as a rule, go in for extravagant staffing or expenditure, it will be found that the proportion of pupils and masters in public schools is 50 per cent. lower than it is in secondary schools. They have classes of 20 where the secondary schools have classes of 30. If that be so, I would like to know how the Board reconcile this statement about an economical standard of staffing with the highest standard of efficiency. There is another paragraph of the Circular which seems to me very interesting. It strikes me as very extraordinary that any official of the Board of Education could have committed himself to such a paragraph. Paragraph 6 says: While it is not true of all secondary schools, it is clear that a large number still fail to realise the importance of training their sixth form pupils in habits of independent study. On what information is that statement based? I should like to know that very much, for that statement is a complete contradiction of the policy of the Circular because independent study requires many more teachers than form study. Independent study, if properly organised and worked, needs many more teachers because form work is much more easily organised than individual work. That is a fact which is known, I should have thought, in every department of education, and it affects those of us who are concerned with universities. When a student can indulge in research work, he requires much closer attention than does the student attending ordinary classes for the purpose of passing an ordinary degree. I think that both these Circulars will have a bad tendency in encouraging people to believe that there is a large amount of extravagance and waste in our educational system. There are certain people who have thought that for some time, but it is difficult to get them to produce the evidence on which they base their complaints. It is deplorable that the Board of Education should have issued a Circular, the tendency of which, I am sure, will be to give that section of the public the impression that education is a luxury which is being wastefully administered. Both Circulars have done a great deal to damage education.

2.0 p.m.


I have listened with reat interest to this Debate on educational matters, and I should like to pay tribute to the ability and moderation with which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Morgan) have put their case. There is no doubt that these two Circulars have caused a great deal of anxiety, not only among educational authorities, but among teachers and among students in the colleges. If they stood alone and were the first Circulars to be issued, not so much notice would have been taken of them, but they are the last of many economy Circulars that have been issued by the Board of Education during the last 18 months. When the crisis came about two years ago, the whole educational system was brought to a standstill. The axe came down and stopped all development of every kind. Serious cuts in the salaries of the teachers took place and altogether education was very largely brought to a standstill. There is no doubt that the effect of the work of the Board of Education has been to economise on education, especially so far as local authorities are concerned, and that is why these Circulars are so disconcerting. I should like to call the attention of the House to an answer given by the Parliamentary Secretary yesterday in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones): The number of classes for children over 11 years of age in public elementary schools, on 31st March in the years 1931 and 1932 containing more than 40 children on the roll was respectively 5,845 and 9,781. My Noble Friend regrets that the figure for 31st March, 1933, is not yet available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1933; col. 2081: Vol. 278.] I should like to call the attention of the House to the enormous increase in the classes. That shows clearly that very serious economy has been going on in the last 18 months, and that there are fewer teachers in the schools than there were 18 months ago. After all the economies that have taken place, real anxiety is caused by the fact that the Board do not appear to be satisfied and are now calling attention to the possibility of further economies. My own view after a good deal of experience in local education, is that the elementary schools Circular is quite uncalled for. It may have been that it was brought out to pay lip service to the Ray Report, but, if the Board of Education really mean to take this matter seriously and follow it up with administrative action, it will cause great resentment and will interfere very much with the educational work of our local authorities. Something more can be said for the Circular dealing with secondary education and staffing. There again, I know from my own experience that very great economies have been introduced in secondary schools, and I think any excess of staffing is at the present time almost infinitesimal. However, there will be no harm in inquiries being made on those lines. At any rate, I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give us some assurance that these Circulars do not have a very detrimental effect.

It seems to me that economy in education has already gone too far. Everybody agreed when the crisis was on that it was necessary to economise, but, now that the position is much better, I do feel, as do most educationists, that the time has come for not to go perhaps full steam ahead at any rate for a steady advance and for preparation for more advance on the lines suggested by some of the speakers. In the meantime, I hope that the local authorities will not take these Circulars too seriously, because I cannot believe that the Board of Education, under such an enlightened President and such an enlightened Parliamentary Secretary, will take action further to reduce the efficiency of our elementary and secondary schools by reducing the staff to a dangerous extent. I hope the statement which we are to (hear from the Parliamentary Secretary will give us satisfaction and relief.

2.7 p.m.


I am gradually coming to suspect that it is the policy of hon. Members opposite to discourage the issue of Circulars by the Board of Education by initiating a debate whenever one of them appears. PersoNaily, the effect upon myself is the opposite, because it gives me a welcome opportunity of hEarlng my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) on his favourite topic, and on this occasion I have not been disappointed, though he will forgive me for saying of him, as was once said of another speaker, that though his bark was prodigious his bite was antiseptic. The debate has taken Circulars 1427 and 1428 under review. They are circulars concerned with the staffing of the schools. Criticism has been made of the phrasing of the circulars, but at the same time just tributes have been paid to the ability of those who compile them. I can assure the House, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), that there is nothing at all sinister in these circulars, and I hope to show him that a great deal, if not all, of his fears are quite unfounded. They are just straightforward, commonsense and, I might almost say, commonplace pieces of administration, and I might add, for the benefit of the hon. Member for Aberavon, that I cannot help thinking it is rather a pity that the administration when his own Government was in office did not issue similar Circulars.

Circular 1427, in its second paragraph, deals with the system in force up to the present and described as "approved establishments." Prior to 1926 the system of ascertaining and checking the number of teachers in the schools was a meticulous one, which involved examination by the Board and its officers of practically every case, and I am informed that it was thought better to give more discretion to the local authorities and, incidentally, relieve the Board of a certain amount of meticulous and, it may be, excessively bureaucratic work.

In 1926 or shortly thereafter this system of approved establishments, showing the establishment of teachers required for the ensuing year, was instituted. That system has been in operation Since, and is in operation to-day, but it has developed a defect, and the study of this Circular and the Appendix will show very clearly the nature of the defect. In the case of the approved establishments for 1931–32 those submitted by the local authorities showed some 6,000 teachers in excess of the actual number employed on 31st March of that year. That represents a tendency, which has been growing ever Since 1926, for the discrepancy between the approved establishment and the actual numbers to become wider and wider. It is partly on these figures that the Board frame their estimates, they are the guide to the Board and the Treasury on the amount of the financial grants required in the ensuing year, and when we get such discrepancies as that, and find they are every year getting larger and larger, it is high time to look into the matter. I feel sure that the Liberal party, or at any rate that portion of it which is under the protection of the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) will agree with me that careful administration must be a keynote in the educational service, as in any other service. The establishments for 1933–34 have not yet been approved, and as the last detailed survey was made in 1926 surely there is every ground for thinking that it is high time another survey was made in order to get some closer approximation between the approved figures and the figures showing the numbers actually employed.


The hon. Member has made a very clear statement. It is quite different from what we gathered from the Circular.


I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I am almost encouraged to write the circulars myself in future. I will elaborate a little this particular aspect of the purpose of these approved establishments. When we find that the establishments for 1933–34 were only slightly less than the establishments for 1932–33, in spite of the considerable fall in the number of children, it is high time there was a detailed survey of the position so as to find out exactly how we stand. The alternative would be to leave the matter untouched and to disregard the discrepancies.

The third paragraph of the elementary Circular stated that in the matter of future staffing regard should be had to the number of children likely to be in attendance. That is a principle with which nobody could possibly quarrel, because no one would suggest that we should appoint teachers irrespective of the number of children. In view of the figures in the actuary's Report, it is more than ever necessary to preserve this principle, because in three years' time there will be 350,000 fewer children in the schools, and the decline will continue until 1948, when it is said that it will represent a decline of something like 1,000,000. This kind of disturbance in the general position is in itself a very good reason for the Board making a full review of the situation, because the discrepancy is not arithmetically spread over the whole area. In some areas numbers may rise and in other areas they may fall very sharply indeed. That being so, nobody who has any regard to careful administration could possibly ignore the situation. But the Actuary's report is only one reason for this review, because from the information the Board have already acquired during the past year it is evident that there is quite a considerable lack of uniformity in the various staffing standards of local education authorities. There are very considerable discrepancies.

I do not want to weary the House with any tabulated statement of the kind of things we have found. But I will give one or two instances if hon. Members will bear with me. For instance, in the survey recently undertaken, these examples are shown. In one area there were 20 departments with four teachers for 76 to 100 infants. By way of contrast, in another area there were 26 departments with three teachers for 140 to 175 infants. I have another case here of 60 departments with three teachers and 106 to 130 children of all ages, and another with 67 departments with four teachers for 70 to 90 children. These discrepancies are between one authority and another. Even within the same authority there are similar discrepancies. In one large county borough there is a school of 185 children aged 5 to 11 with five teachers, and another of 198 children of the same age with 7 teachers. That does not mean that we are going to come down to the lowest level. We have to find out the discrepancies, and we want to take as a basis the best authorities, who are very often the most economical, and see how we stand.

It is certainly not the case that the Board has any desire to lower the general standard observed. I have a case here where one authority proposed a staff of 173 last year, and it was represented to them by the Board that the staff was not likely to be sufficient and they were asked to increase it to 180. The point is that with all these discrepancies any good administrator is bound to investigate and find out the reason. There are reasons in many cases to justify the discrepancy, but we ought to find out what they are, and, if they are not justifiable, they ought to be corrected. I think the question was asked whether we had any intention of encouraging an increase in the size of classes above the present permissible limits. No. The limits at present allowed are, as hon. Members know, in the case of a junior school 50 and for a senior school 40, which are the same limits as were inherited from our predecessors.


Is there any intention to reduce the classes?


Pressure is continually being exercised in that direction. Speaking from memory, during the last year I believe that 586 classes of over 50 have been eliminated, and certainly during the last ten years about two-thirds have been eliminated; but, as the hon. Member knows, school buildings are very often so constructed that large classes are unavoidable. We hear a great deal of these large classes, and in that connection I would like to place this on record. We do not hear very much about the small classes. Here are certain figures —and again I apologise for quoting figures. We have 14,000 classes with under 20 children—I am talking of elementary schools—30,000 with from 20 to 30 children, 47,000 with from 30 to 40 children and 51,000 with from 40 to 50 children. Thus, nearly one-third of the total contain fewer than 30, and three-fifths of the total contain fewer than 40. Let us hope that, as a result of the decrease in the number of children to be educated in the next decade, the excessive numbers in classes will be gradually decreased.


Will the tendency of this Circular be to get the education authorities to standardise all classes?


I think certainly not. The policy is for education authorities to make their own arrangements and look into their classes, and where discrepancies cannot be justified they should be removed. If a school is understaffed rather than overstaffed the Board will endeavour to get the local authority to bring it up to the proper standard. In connection with staffing, I would like to point out—and it is a point of criticism very often ignored—that the size of classes depends to a great extent on the character of the school. Take a school of 200 which is full and has four classrooms for 50. How can you reduce the classes below 50? One alternative is to reduce the classes to 40, and turn the other children out of the school. If the school is a voluntary one, how are you going to force them to go to the council school against the wishes of their parents? There would be very great difficulty in enforcing that policy wholesale. Can you force the voluntary schools to build? Hon. Members know the difficulty in that connection. If a school is a provided school under the local authority, are you practically to force local authorities to build when in three or four years time the probability is that owing to the fall in the birth rate the accommodation will become redundant? Are you to initiate a great building programme all through the country to meet a temporary and passing emergency? I do not believe that any of these alternatives commend themselves to hon. Members present.


Has the hon. Member anything to say about paragraph 5, in which they say that they have come to the conclusion that some reduction in the present number of teachers employed is possible without loss of educational efficiency? Is there going to be a reduction?


I propose to deal with that point when I have dealt with both Circulars in detail. With regard to Circular 1428, hon. Members will recollect that the Hay Committee on the question of secondary schools recommended a ratio of pupils to teachers. The Board has considered that, and has come to the conclusion that the problem is far too complex to deal with in any way except by examining the various factors which make for extravagant staffing with a view to eliminating them where possible. In this Circular 1428 the various factors are enumerated in turn. For instance, reference is made to uneconomical rate of entry. Where there is a single school area it may not be easy to regulate the rate of entry, but in areas with more than one school it is economical to adjust your rate of entry to the size of your forms and, instead of exceeding the numbers in one school, to level them out so that you have economical working among the schools. In some cases schools may be uneconomically small in size. It may be economical in certain cases to build larger class-rooms. We come next to the subject of private study. From such an eminent educationists as the hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) I am surprised to know that private study involves a teacher at the elbow of a private student. Surely the point of private study is to get the pupil into the habit of working by himself so that he is not dependent upon his teacher and can do things for himself. I do not see how you can justify an increase of teachers corresponding to the increase in private study.

Next is the question of sixth form work. It is pointed out that in certain cases there are too many advanced courses. I would like to take this opportunity of repeating something that I have said in the country on this subject. There are certain cases where a number of secondary schools have a variety of courses mostly of the higher certificate type. I suggest that that system might well be rationalised so that one school might get the very best course in a certain subject that could be provided, and another school the best possible specialist course in another subject rather than that all should try to do the work of each other. I think that was what the Circular meant when it suggested that there are too many advanced courses and recommended co-operation between neighbouring schools.

Other suggestions are in connection with too many free periods and too many specialist teachers. Such suggestions are welcomed by the local authorities as a guide for them in calculating their establishments and in making for economical administration. In connection with local authorities, I received the impression from the speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for South West Bethnal Green that local authorities were, like himself, disgruntled by those circulars, that they could not understand them, and that, generally speaking, they had caused un-settlement and annoyance. A journal was put into my hands this morning. It is "Education," organ of the official Association of Education Committees, which, of course, are very responsible bodies. I find this in it: As to the proposals themselves"— perhaps the hon. Baronet will take note of this— they follow very closely the policy of the Association of Education Committees. There is no suggestion there that the local authorities are disturbed by the circulars. After saying that those proposals were adopted as the policy of the Association of the Education Committees at a special meeting in February last, it goes on to say: The figures suggested by the Bay Committee as the basis of future staffing find no place in the circular. The staffing of the schools is to be determined largely—generally it is hoped—by consultation between the Board of Education and local authorities. In other words, there is to be an effective co-operation between the central and local authorities in what is a matter calling for attention and indeed for intelligent and elastic co-operation. That is, in the view of the local authorities, what they are going to get. I am glad to have the opportunity of letting the hon. Baronet know what the effect of the Circulars is on the minds of local authorities, in order to let him see that there is no foundation for his argument. The journal observes with regard to Circular 1428: There is indeed about the whole circular indication of an elasticity of mind and a desire to be reasonable that makes it almost refreshing to read, in spite of the fact that it deals with a rather cheerless subject. If the hon. Baronet still preserves his grievance, he had better take it to another quarter than to the local authorities. There is every intention to consider the individuality of the school in each area.

I am surprised at the resolution of the Liberal Educational Advisory Committee. I gather from their resolution that these proposals have tended to reduce the present standards of efficiency and staffing, but I failed to get much evidence from the hon. Baronet of any proposals of that kind. The resolution referred to the business of the Board's inspectors. It said that it is the business of the inspectors to call attention to maladministration by local authorities. It is very unfortunate that words of that kind should be imported into the relationships between the Board of Education and the local authorities. We have worked with the greatest harmony with the local authorities. There is no charge in the Circular, or intended to be made in it, against the administration of the local authorities with whom we preserve the most amicable arrangements.

We come to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) as to the effect of staffing upon the supply of school teachers. I do not wish to make a merely party point. We are much too good friends for that, but I am bound to say that the Administration of 1929 to 1931 "handed the baby" to the present Board of Education to carry. It is perfectly obvious that if legislation upon which you base the demand for more teachers is not carried, that demand is not likely to mature. That Government encouraged teachers in advance to enter the training colleges, but the gamble did not come off, and we are now left to deal with a serious situation. We have taken what steps we could. The hon. Gentleman's Government in 1931 knew that the gamble had failed, but it did precious little to stop the entry of those who had been encouraged, prior to February, 1931, to take up the profession of teacher. Not till December, 1931, when the National Government had been in office for about two months, was it possible to do anything. We stopped the additional places, and we made a 2½ per cent. cut; then, in the following August, we increased the cut to 10 per cent. We have done all that we can without causing undue disturbance or unduly affecting the finances of the colleges, and we hope that by 1935 the position will become normal. My Noble Friend and the Board are well aware of the position, and of the difficulty which many of the students have to face. As regards the trained teachers, so far as I can make out, less than 1 percent. of those who have come out of college are out of employment. There is no other profession which shows such a low rate.

As regards the figures quoted by the hon. Member for the University of Wales, I have said that there were 1,100 unemployed in December last. That represents the number unemployed a few months after leaving college. The figures for the 31st March are not completely available, but such information as I have indicates that that number has been reduced, and one hopes that, as previous experience has shown, we shall get rid of it in the course of the next six or 12 months. The hon. Member for Aberavon made a point about supplementary and uncertificated teachers. The numbers of these have been falling quite rapidly in the last few years, and they are now falling at the rate of about 600 a year. No question can arise of their being cut off as with a knife. The hon. Member would propose that at this moment an order should be issued that no uncertificated or supplementary teacher should teach in the schools. Time must be allowed. The hon. Member will see from the Circular that the Board have indicated that it is not their intention—


I want to cut off the supply.


The Board say in their Circular that they have not in mind a decrease in the present proportion of more highly qualified to less highly qualified teachers. There is no intention of altering the proportion, and the gradual efflux of time will decrease the proportion of uncertificated and supplementary teachers. The hon. Member asked whether I could give any estimate of the number of students coming out from the training colleges who will obtain posts. I have not an accurate estimate, but I may, perhaps, be able to give the hon. Member some figures at a later date.

The hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Leckie) raised a point with regard to classes over 40, which emerged from a question yesterday. The large increase between 1932 and 1931 in the number of classes containing more than 40 children, amounting to not far short of 4,000, is a purely temporary difficulty, arising from the fact that during the year 1920–21 an abnormally large number of children were born. In 1920 the number was 957,000, as against 692,000 the year before. This produced a "bulge" in the age-group of over 11 to which the hon. Member referred, and in about three years that "bulge" will pass out of the schools, and the situation will be modified. It is purely temporary, and is not due to any special policy of the Board to save money by increasing the size of classes.


Will the hon. Gentleman take steps to try to find out how many students are likely to get work in September?


I will let the hon. Member have any information on that subject that I am able to give; it is a matter which is engaging the attention of the Board. I think I have now answered the main points which have been raised in regard to the Circular, and I very much hope that it is now more comprehensible than it was, and that the misapprehension which apparently existed in certain quarters has been allayed. I would conclude by saying that without circulars of this kind we cannot hope to get a proper and economical administration. If an administration is not economical, it cannot justify itself before this House and the country. We are determined to get economy without the sacrifice of educational efficiency, and it is the business of the Board and of this House to convInce the country that the social service of education is, as far as possible, yielding full value for every penny that is being spent upon it.