HC Deb 19 December 1934 vol 296 cc1287-94

11.25 p.m.


I beg to move in page 2, line 15, after "colleges," to insert "secondary schools."

I regret that this Bill should again come before the House at an inconvenient time. We finished the Committee stage last week, under the impression that the Bill was likely to reach the Statute Book before Christmas, and I think Members of the Committee would not have been prepared to assent to the rushing of the proceedings at the end of the last sitting had they realised that that object was not to be achieved. This Amendment was omitted by accident when the Bill was going through Committee. There is a widespread opinion that the commission that has been reviewing these educational endowments has not given full value to the need for providing competitive bursaries, particularly at secondary schools. The Under-Secretary of State, in meeting this point on the Second Reading, quoted statistics to show the number of bursaries which the commission had left in being, and I accept the figures which the hon. Gentleman gave. All I can say is that there are some glaring cases in which bursaries have been taken away and those are the cases which have impressed me. I thought there was good reason for giving some additional instruction or direction to the commission to have special regard to this matter. The position is being changed considerably by the Bill. The original Act of 1928 gave certain directions to the commission. They were to pay special regard to three sets of circumstances. The Bill proposes a fourth. Clause 2 provides that there shall be added to Section 3 of the Act, a paragraph directing the commission to pay special regard to the need for continuing the provision from endowments of competitive bursaries at universities, central institutions, training colleges or other educational institutions of a similar character. It is remarkable that the Government should think it necessary to give that direction and should deliberately omit from it the secondary schools. It is a positive direction to have regard to the need for competitive bursaries at those institutions mentioned, but negatively it has also a certain validity as a direction. The deliberate omission of secondary schools from the direction means that the commission will give and must give even less consideration than heretofore to the need for providing competitive bursaries at secondary schools. I do not want to labour this question at this late hour, and I know that certain representations have been made to the Government already, so I hope they will now be able, with sympathy, to consider this Amendment. It would go a long way towards allaying a certain amount of uneasiness among secondary schools and those interested in them, if the Government could accept the Amendment, and I hope they will be able to meet us. The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State has not met us too well in the consideration of this Bill heretofore.

11.31 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

Attendance at these institutions which are mentioned in the Clause involves for many young people either travelling daily or living away from home in lodgings. But many have to do that in order to attend a secondary school. I know that the local authorities have the power under the 1918 Act to assist qualified people. I have no desire to repeat what I said in the Second Beading Debate, but many people in Scotland still believe that nothing should be done to prevent or to discourage young persons of capacity from earning a bursary or a scholarship to make it possible for them to get the best education that is open to them. The case I have specially in mind is that of a county where there are only one, two, three, or four secondary schools. As things are, it is better nowadays to enter a secondary course in the appropriate school about the ago of 12. It is not a good thing to take young people away from home at that tender age. Also I have no desire to multiply examinations, especially at that age, and in any system of examinations at that age I should lay a good deal of stress on the general school record, more than on anyone examination, but to use the words "competitive bursaries" does not rule out the possibility of employing methods of testing which do not involve cramming, with the attendant evils of which the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) spoke in Committee upstairs. The remedy for that kind of thing is to set a kind of examination where cramming does not pay. I hope the Amendment will be accepted.

11.34 p.m.


The hon. Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood) has spoken about the widespread opinion that there is in favour of the Amendment, and the principle which it involves, the principle of the continuance of bursaries at secondary schools, is one that has been supported, not only by secondary school authorities, but also by universities and by the Convention of Royal Burghs. The only reason which has been given against it is the fact that educational grants can be made. After all, an educational grant is different. There are two points which we have to bear in mind. There is no compulsion on the education committees to make these grants, and we cannot tell whether they will make them in corresponding numbers. They will be guided in their policy by the general opinion of members as to how much the county can afford, and not by the amount of educational endowments which have been given in the past. The other point is whether we would get from the educational grants the same material that we got from competitive bursaries. The general opinion, especially at the universities which are the prime authorities in that matter, is that the material has not been so good when the recipients of educational grants have gone to the universities as when they have received competitive bursaries. The important age for these bursaries is when boys and girls are thinking of leaving school and taking up employment; and the temptation of a parent, especially if he is in poor circumstances, is to try to find employment for the child so that the resources of the family can be helped. The parent will not be very willing to acquiesce in an educational grant for the child. It is different if a competitive bursary is won by the child in open competition. There is much more chance in that case of the parent being willing to consent.

I do not want to mention again the question of the Fordyce bursaries and the amount which Fordyce's Academy is likely to lose in that direction. The school has done great things since these bursaries were left to it, and those who have been trained there and gone on to the university have distinguished themselves in many walks of life. Now it is proposed to take away the bursaries completely. It will be a great loss to the school and the substitute measures as to the provision of tools, travelling expenses, exhibitions and training colleges, of which there are none in Banff, will not make up for the loss of bursaries. That is an example of how important it is to have bursaries in secondary schools, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider this Amendment and the importance which is placed upon it by secondary school authorities and by all those interested in education.

11.38 p.m.


I wish to reinforce the plea of the hon. Member who moved this Amendment and of my hon. Friend the Member for Forth Aberdeen (Mr. Burnett). My reason is that during the time I was a member of the education authority of my county I was a member of the higher education and bursary committee, and therefore had a good deal to do with this subject. At this hour I do not propose to take up time by giving instances, but I can from my personal experience fully endorse what has been said. I hope the Government will see their way to accept the suggestion. By doing so they will relieve a considerable amount of apprehension and anxiety in the minds of many people in Scotland, and they will take a step which will be for the benefit of Scottish education as a whole, not merely in regard to secondary schools, but in regard to the later stages at the universities and training colleges.

11.40 p.m.


The mover of the Amendment and the other hon. Members who have spoken have made abundantly clear what it is they want. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Sir M. McKenzie Wood), when he said, it was remarkable that in the new provisions we have put into this Bill we did not refer to secondary schools no doubt expressed what was the real feeling in his mind. Hon. Members will see that the new provision in Clause 2 says that the commissioners must pay special regard to the need for continuing the provision from endowments of competitive bursaries at universities, central institutions, training colleges or other educational institutions of a similar character. All these are post-school institutions. The special reason why the Clause is confined to post-school bursaries is that the Education Act, 1918, gives a different degree of responsibility to education authorities as regards the provision of secondary education and assistance towards post-school education. Section 6 of the Act of 1918 says: It shall be the duty of every education authority within 12 months after the appointed day to prepare and submit for the approval of the Department— (a) a scheme for the adequate provision throughout the education area of the authority of all forms of primary, intermediate and secondary education in day schools (including adequate provision for teaching Gaelic in Gaelic-speaking areas) without payment of fees, and if the authority think fit for the maintenance or support (in addition and without prejudice to such adequate provision as aforesaid) of a limited number of schools where fees are charged in some or all of the classes. That means that it is one of the primary duties of education authorities to give this comprehensive opportunity for secondary education. Their duties with regard to post-school education are set out in Section 4 of the same Act. Instead of saying, as in Section 6, "It shall be the duty to prepare a scheme," Section 4 runs: It shall be lawful for an education authority, with a view to securing that no child or young person resident in their education area who is qualified for attendance at an intermediate or secondary school, and in their opinion, formed after consideration of a report from the teachers concerned, shows promise of profiting thereby, shall be debarred therefrom by reason of the expense involved"— so far as secondary school facilities are concerned, that is the language— to grant assistance in the case of any such child or young person by payment of travelling expenses, or of fees, or of the cost of residence in a hostel, or of a bursary or maintenance allowance, or any combination of these forms of assistance, or otherwise…. It shall also be lawful for an education authority similarly to assist any duly qualified person resident in their education area to attend a university and so on. The provision of adequate secondary education and an opportunity for making use of it is one of the primary duties of an education authority. When we get to post-school education then their duty, though said to be lawful, is less compulsory on them. That is the first reason why, in drawing the attention of the commissioners to the necessity of retaining competitive bursaries, we have concentrated on that area of education—post-school education—where the responsibility of the authority is slightly less. That is the first reason, and though I agree with much in the observations of the mover and seconder of the Amendment, I must confess that I am most anxious—and the Government are most anxious—that we should retain this distinction as to the bursaries in an area of education where the responsibility of an education authority is slightly less and not confuse that, as we think, rather important issue by dragging in secondary schools, where the responsibility of the education authority is greatest. Bursaries for universities are far more important than those only for secondary schools. This proposal deals with competitive bursaries, but if you mix up secondary school bursaries with post-school bursaries, it does not seem, with sufficient clarity and directness, to direct the attention of the commissioners to that upon which we want their attention fixed.

I think it will be information to many Members who are interested in this subject that a great many of the secondary school bursaries came into existence through the action of the commission of 1882, which was specially charged with the duty of furthering secondary education, because in 1882 secondary education in Scotland was in a rudimentary stage. They deflected a great deal of money, which had previously been used by the old-fashioned hospitals, to bursaries for secondary schools. What happened to those bursaries which had their origin in the commission of 1882 is extraordinarily interesting. Hon. Members will find it in Section 30 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1908, which said that bursaries for secondary schools which had their origin in the 1882 commission were to be treated in the following way: Where the revenue is less than £50 it is to be handed over to the education authority to be used for bursaries in accordance with their scheme. The Section goes on: If on the average exceeding fifty pounds but not exceeding one thousand pounds per annum, shall, notwithstanding any provision of the scheme hitherto regulating the number, amount, conditions of tenure, or method of award of the bursaries, be applied by the governing body in accordance with the district bursary scheme of the local authority. That is, in relation to those endowments where the bursary revenue is over £1,000, they remain in the form in which the 1882 commission left them. All the others have already been handed over to the education authorities. I mention it for the reason that Parliament in 1908 clearly felt that when dealing with bursaries for secondary schools it is very much less important in whose keeping they may be and whether they be competitive bursaries or not. I believe that was the right decision.

We should weaken the force of the new provision which we have put in, and to which I and all the Members of the Government who have spoken on this Bill have said that we attach great importance, because it concentrates the attention of the commission on the need for maintaining competitive bursaries for university and post-school education. We should confuse the issue and not achieve the object which all Members who have studied this subject desire if words be introduced dealing with the entirely alien matter of bursaries not for post-school but for secondary school education. It is on those grounds, after very careful consideration and with an interest in competitive bursaries not in any way inferior to that of Members who have raised the matter, that I urge them not to press the Amendment. The reasons which I have given lie very deep down in the good conduct and development of the highest type of education in Scotland.


Would the hon. Gentleman deal with the point which I made as to the negative effects of this Clause?


I will. I am sorry I did not actually do so, but by implication I did. It is clear from the present form of the Clause that the matter referred to deals with post-school education. I do not think there is any reflection upon what the commissioners may or may not do with regard to school bursaries. The record I gave of how the commissioners have dealt with school bursaries is surely most satisfactory. Out of £20,000 odd, £19,000 must be used for these bursaries, while £1,000 or so can also be used. Only £180 out of the actual total of £20,900 has been deflected in schemes other than school bursaries. The reason for the deflection is that these endowments are so small that the commissioners decided to apply them to other purposes, none of the trustees in the three endowments involved objecting to the change. I think with that record and the knowledge that various debates have given us, we can say we are conscious of the importance of competitive bursaries.

Amendment negatived.