HC Deb 17 July 1934 vol 292 cc1023-9

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum not exceeding £28,110,018 (including a Supplementary sum of £1,506,000) be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Board of Education, and of the various Establishments connected therewith, including sundry Grants-in-Aid."—[NOTE: £15,500,000 has been voted on account.] 8.3 p.m.


I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.

When the Parliamentary Secretary made his speech on the Estimates before the end of May I thought he struck a very optimistic note, but since that time I have had an opportunity of re-reading his speech in the OFFICIAL REPORT and also of studying the Board of Education Report for 1933, and I must confess at the outset that I cannot find much justification for the Minister's optimism. First of all, I understand there are roughly 2,000,000 children in this country between the ages of two and five, and it is certainly true to say that of those 2,000,000 children no fewer than 200,000 come from overcrowded or slum homes in this country. I wonder if hon. Members think what kind of life they lead from day to day, living in these often squalid houses, playing in squalid streets, their mothers in scores of thousands of cases going out to work all day. It is not any wonder that the infant mortality rate of these children exceeds 100 per 1,000 in many cases, and the disease rate must in many cases be between 200 and 300 per 1,000. It has been pointed out by Sir George Newman year after year for the last 12 years that what is wanted for children in such conditions is the establishment of more nursery schools. I should like to quote from the report of 1926. Sir George Newman said: There is no doubt at all that the effective health supervision of children between five and seven is a public health problem of great importance and urgency. In 1929, he said: We shall never be in a position to deal satisfactorily with our school medical problem until we are meeting the physical conditions of children between infancy and school life. From that great authority we see there is an urgent need for the establishment of nursery schools. It has been pointed out by many Members in this House what great advantages accrue to the State from such establishments. Sir George Newman states that children coming from the nursery schools are physically better than those coming from poor homes. He says that in the case of the slum child the nursery school secures a new standard of health and that it is almost magical to see the rate of growth showing a triumph over the handicap of home environment. I see from the Education Report of last year that we have in this country 58 nursery schools only. Obviously, for a population of 200,000 slum children we need at least 250 nursery schools. There ought to be an additional 200 to deal adequately with this problem. We are told that this may cost something like £2,000,000 from a building point of view. I suggest that the £2,000,000 would be a very good and beneficent investment for the State and certainly much better in these times from every national point of view than the millions squandered by this House in various subsidies in the last few years. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that owing to the financial stringency they have had to impose restrictions on the development of nursery schools. Frankly, I cannot see much ground for the Minister's optimism so far as this department of educational life is concerned.

Then in the Debate of 30th May, in considering whether or not local authorities should be authorised to raise the leaving age, the Parliamentary Secretary said there were various points which the board took into consideration. He gave some arguments, which I thought strange, why local authorities should not be encouraged to raise the school age. First, he said that if they raised the age in one area only it might cause infiltration of children in search of employment. For the life of me I cannot understand how that is an argument against Bradford or Burnley or Gloucester raising the school age, because it seems to me that, first of all, the children in the town where the age is raised will certainly have the benefit of improved education, and, secondly, the area from which the children are alleged to be infiltrated to get better employment will have less un- employment. One area will get better education and the second area will have less unemployment, neither of which is other than a definite advantage. I have heard that two blacks do not make a white, but I do not see how two whites make a black, and I wish the Parliamentary Secretary would explain to my rather dull brain where the argument lies against raising the school age. The second argument was that of the difficulty of making proper accommodation for the children. Seeing that the school population is and will be rapidly decreasing I cannot see how the question of accommodation is an argument against allowing any town to raise the school age.

The third reason I thought extraordinary. It was that the state of unemployment must be taken into consideration and that where there is little unemployment the children are staying on at school voluntarily. How that is an argument against any area being allowed to raise the school age is beyond me. The fourth argument is, I think, the proper one. The real reason why the present Government dislikes any town raising the school age is contained in the statement that: Finally, there is always the factor of expenditure. That is the real argument. It may cost a few thousand pounds or less in Bradford or Gloucester to raise the school age and, though we can find money for brewers, or shipbuilders, or hop growers, or merchants in various branches of industry, this great country cannot afford £5,000 or £10,000 to allow a progressive local authority to give better education for its children. That is the policy of the National Government as far as the raising of the school age is concerned, and I cannot find much room for optimism. Turning again to the report for 1933 it informs us that there are still in this country 1,200 schools on the black list. That is a decrease of 114 in a year, hut, if that be the rate at which we are going to decrease our black-listed slum schools, it will take 10 years to wipe out the present slum schools, and I have no doubt that by then there will be another 1,200 schools that ought to be on the black list, so that we shall always be 10 years behind in clearing out the slum schools of this country. The Parliamentary Secretary said the black-list school problem was one of practical im- possibility owing to the difficulty of getting proper sites. It is always so difficult to make any progress in education. If we want a scheme for a greyhound or speedway track, a cinema, or a public house, there is plenty of ground in all parts of England. They have sprung up in the last 10 years and the greyhound track requires 20 times the space of the average elementary school.


The hon. Member has omitted an important sentence.


The hon. Member clan correct me when he speaks. We are told that the board have examined the staffing to get more uniformity. "Uniformity" is a good word; it does not mean more efficiency apparently, but in some areas they have rather more teachers per school than in others, and uniformity means scaling down the number of teachers per school, because the report informs us that in 1934 the board is to recognise 1,600 fewer teaching posts than in the previous year—another achievement. The Minister told us the number who completed training in colleges last July was 8,600, and he said that by December, 1933, of those who had passed out of training colleges all except 1,400 had obtained posts. Six months after leaving the training colleges, where they were often maintained by great sacrifices of their parents, 16 per cent. were without posts. We were told that by May, 1934, nearly 12 months after leaving, there were only 800 of the last college leavers still out of work. Ten per cent. of the teachers leaving college last year were still out of work a year after leaving. As an ex-teacher, I do not regard that as a satisfactory achievement. The hon. Member said that much had been done to eliminate extravagant staffing by the assimilation of more pupils without the employment of additional teachers. They have been able to have more scholars per class, more students per school, without employing any more teachers—another achievement of the Board of Education in 1933. Steps have been taken, according to the report, to secure a general reduction of the number of training college places and this will result in reducing the output of teachers substantially. There are 8,300 classes, the report tells us, with more than 50 per class, an increase of 300 on the previous year. There are 55,000 classes in Britain with over 40 per class.

An hon. Member behind me deplored the fact that in some secondary schools there were now classes of more than 30 students per class. I also think it is deplorable that in a secondary school there should be as many as 35 in a science class. I know that it is impossible to get efficient work. It is just as deplorable to have 40 or 50 students in a class in an elementary school as it is to have 35 in a secondary school. I have taught boys of nine, and I have taught boys of 15, 16 and even 18. If I had the choice of having a large class, I would rather have 50 boys of 16 than 50 of nine. My most miserable and difficult teaching time was when for a year in a training college I was given a class of 55 little boys of nine who all got the better of me. Two boys of seven would get the better of many Members of this House, let alone having 00 in a class. Three hundred more classes to-day with over 50 per class than in 1933—I do not see in that state of affairs much ground for the optimism that the Parliamentary Secretary seems to have. The hon. Gentleman told us about the point of view of a child who was looking through the railings of a London school and, when he was asked why he did not go inside, replied, "Too many teachers." I suppose it was a joke, but. I cannot understand the point of the joke. It seems to me to mean that in London schools there are too many teachers. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that in these schools, where there are thousands of classes with 50 or more in a class, that is too many teachers, I wonder what he wants. I think he ought to sack all the masters and employ policemen and sergeant-majors.


I said I disagreed with the point of view of the child.


The hon. Gentleman did not show much disagreement. Perhaps I did not read it far enough. I know that in London the vast majority of elementary schools have classes of more than 40. Many of the central schools in London, which are supposed to be among the best central schools in Great Britain, have more than 40 or 50 per class. In my last school, a central school, they were teaching German to classes of 45. Anyone who has had the misfortune to teach or to be taught German, of all languages the one most needing individual tuition, can imagine the poor master trying to teach German to a class of 45 students. I feel inclined to say, "Lord help that schoolmaster." He must have even more optimism than the Parliamentary Secretary. I wish the hon. Gentleman could be compelled to go for a. year to the East End of London and teach French or German to 45 children. He would come back and be an enthusiastic supported of a maximum, not of 30, but of a dozen, and I would be quite enough for him to teach.

The report goes on to tell us that in 1932 there were 900 secondary schools in England with fees of less than £10. Now there are only 500 schools with fees under £10. In 1932 there were 160 with fees under £3. Now there are no schools with fees less than £3. It will be seen that the board reports that there are no longer any schools entirely free from fees, and that the number charging fees of 6 guineas or less has now been reduced from 239 to 88. The Board of Education can boast in its report that it has actually succeeded in abolishing all the secondary schools where the fees are nil, and that they have reduced materially the number of secondary schools where the fees are low. They have succeeded, in short, in making secondary education still more impossible to the vast majority of working-class children. That is another foundation for the optimism that the Parliamentary Secretary displayed so well two months ago. It goes on to report that the new pupils in secondary schools have declined by 4,000 in the year, the number of students in part-time schools has declined by 60,000, and the number of students in evening schools is down by over 150,000. These are the achievements that the Board of Education has been able to manage in twelve months. It has reduced the children, increased the fees, increased the classes and decreased the teachers, and the Parliamentary Secretary is very optimistic. I cannot understand these achievements at all.

I do understand the report telling me that they have been able to save in the last year more than£800,000, after allowing for the increase of£400,000 in teachers' pensions. That is a saving, apart from pensions, of£1,200,000. Now they can boast that£7,000,000 has been cut off our educational Estimates in three years, while our armaments Estimates have gone up by£8,000,000. That is progress from the National Government point of view. In my constituency there are bills on the hoardings advertising the achievements of the National Government. I have no doubt that many Members of the Government have read with surprise what the National Government has done. Next to "What Guinnesses will do for you," you can see the achievements of the National Government. Might I suggest another poster narrating the achievements of the National Government in education which, unlike the present poster, would be accurate. It would be,