HC Deb 30 May 1934 vol 290 cc169-260

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £26,604,018, 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-inAid."— [Note.—£15,500,000 has been voted on account.]

3.8 p.m.


The Memorandum on the Board of Education Estimates for 1934 shows a total of £42,104,018. As a result, however, of the partial restoration of the cuts in teachers' salaries, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last April, there will be a further addition of about £1,500,000. That addition is not, of course, shown on the Estimates, but the real total is somewhat over £43,500,000. I need hardly say that my Noble Friend the President and myself were highly gratified that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to restore half the cut in the teachers' salaries, and I feel sure that the teaching profession will much appreciate the principle which he laid down, that the particular special measures taken in 1931 should be dealt with first. Apart from that addition, the net increase in the Department's Estimates this year is £43,117, and, in view of the fact that there is such a small increase on so large a total, I do not suppose that the Committee will expect any very startling development of educational policy to be announced. I shall be surprised if anything sensational or dramatic is deemed to be contained in the observations which I am about to make.

The figure reflects the policy which the Board have consistently pursued since 1931 of sure and steady progress, and of employing resources which are by no means unlimited in securing those aims which are most needed. I will not pretend that that has been an easy task. It has been difficult. Our passage through the years has in some ways been a kind of educational Odyssey, steering between Scylla and Charybdis so as to avoid the savage fangs of the one and the unfathomable depths of the other. Sirens too, have not been lacking, to lure us from our path with seductive voice and counsel. The Committee will recollect that, when confronted with similar enticements, that much-enduring man Odysseus bade his crew bind him to the mast with ropes. My Noble Friend the President of the Board of Education has not found it necessary to take precisely similar steps, but I am sure that he has used all his powers of restraint, control and moderation to save us from analagous perils.

In view of the small change in the Board's Estimate compared with last year, I do not propose on this occasion to undertake the same exhaustive analysis of the figures that I made last year. I propose, first of all, to deal with the reason for the small increase, and at greater length to deal with the general questions of policy which I think may be of more interest to the Committee. The Board's Estimate shows a reduction of grants to the local education authorities of £116,000 and of £66,525 to bodies other than education authorities. Economically-minded critics will probably be disappointed to learn that these small savings have been more than counterbalanced by the increase in teachers' pensions of £243,700. That increased cost will grow automatically for many years. We have also to remember that the Teachers' Superannuation Act, which pensions teachers on back service without any contribution from them, has been estimated to be a free gift to the teaching profession from the State equivalent to an annuity of about £4,500,000 for 40 years.

The reduction in grant of £66,000 to bodies other than local education authorities is mainly due to a reduction in the number of students in the training colleges for teachers. A few years ago the service was considerably over-recruited in consequence of an anticipation of the raising of the school-leaving age, but that anticipation was not realised. There has consequently been a fall in the number of children in the schools. In view of those two facts, it has not only been possible but necessary to slow down the rate of recruiting to the training colleges. The Board pays capitation grant in respect of students to the training colleges, and that amount has therefore been decreased pro rata. The reduction of £116,000 in the grants to the local education authorities is due to two factors; first, to the increase in the product of the 7d. rate which, under our somewhat complicated grant formula, serves to reduce the amount payable by the Board to local education authorities; and, secondly, to the reduction in the average attendance in the elementary schools. Part of the grant which is paid by the Board to the local education authorities is based upon the average numbers in attendance and as we have estimated this year for a reduction of 80,000 children the Board's grant will be correspondingly reduced.

But increases of cost due to teachers' pensions, and decreases due to the gymnastics of the grant formula do not in themselves give a good picture of the realities of the position. If you want a better picture hon. Members should turn to the estimated expenditure of the local education authorities for this year which shows an increase of £185,000. It is estimated that the Exchequer and the rates between them this year will have to find about £82,000,000. Those who from time to time declare that education is progressively starved, are using somewhat immoderate language. I do not believe that any other country in the world has so successfully maintained and increased expenditure in the sphere of educational service as our own. It was only a few years before the War that Mr. Asquith, then Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Liberal Government of 1906, characterised the Board's Estimate as colossal. I have looked up the figure to see what it was; it was about £13,000,000. Faced this year with an expenditure from the Exchequer alone of £42,000,000 I have not ventured to inquire from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer what would be the appropriate epithet.

I am well aware that an expenditure of £82,000,000 between ourselves and the local authorities is not enough to please all the friends of education, and I doubt if any figure ever will be. Given a completely free hand, it is highly probable that I should produce a much increased Estimate, but education is only one of the many services which require the support of the taxpayer and the ratepayer. The hon. Baronet the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who is an educationist of repute and speaks on educational matters as the mouthpiece of that section of the Liberal party with which he is associated, said in this House a month or two ago: The needs of national defence are always paramount."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1934; col. 1920, Vol. 288.] I infer from that statement that in his view the needs of the Army, Navy and Air Force have a prior claim to our national resources, and must take precedence over the needs of education.


He does not recognise that statement.


It is in the OFFICIAL REPORT. In the past 12 months the Board have been urged simultaneously by educationists to restore teachers' salaries; to raise the school-leaving age; to give maintenance allowances, I assume without exemptions; to press on with reorganisation; to build more nursery schools; to reduce the size of classes; to increase the number of teachers; to provide free milk for all school children and to give free dinners to all children of poor parents. Many of these reforms are desirable and some of them are already under way; to carry them all out in the immediate future would require a surplus very much larger than that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to show in last April.

Consequently, I cannot estimate for the immediate realisation of all those projects, but I propose to discuss with the Committee the policy of the Board with regard to several of them. Unhappily, I am debarred by the rules of order from discussing one which is occupying a good deal of attention, the raising of the school-leaving age, as to raise it on a national basis would require legislation. I do not gather that educational authorities are by any means unanimous in the policy of raising it piecemeal up and down the country by means of by-laws. For instance, my own county of Lan cashier has definitely decided against that solution of the problem, and I believe the London County Council has done likewise.

But I propose to deal with one question which is in many ways closely related to the problem, namely, reorganisation under the Hadow scheme. The Board has from time to time been subjected to criticism on the ground that, while favouring the. adoption of reorganisation throughout the country, it has in its administration restricted the building of new schools, except where countervailing economies have been secured, in order to meet the pressing needs of newly developed areas. But it seems to me that that criticism ignores the crisis that we were faced with in 1931 and the fact that even last year, when framing these Estimates, we could not foresee with certainty the recovery that has taken place. In spite of those difficulties, we have made very substantial progress with reorganisation throughout the country, and the figures I am going to give will emphasise that fact. In March, 1931, there were 1,350 departments qualified as senior containing 319,000 children of 11 and over. In March, 1933, there were 2,340 senior departments containing 700,000 children of 11 and over. So that in two years the number of children within the ambit of the senior schools has more than doubled and progress is continuing steadily. In the year ended 31st March last we approved the building of 86 new schools and the enlargement of 118 more, and we have approved 91 premises and equipment for instruction in handicraft and domestic subjects, besides a larger number of proposals for rebuilding and altering schools and for obtaining new sites. The position to-day is that 50 per cent. of the children of 11 and over are now in reorganised schools and, if you include juniors and infants, as we ought to, the proportion is 60 per cent. I anticipated that during this Debate I might hear something about the Board having placed an embargo on new school building. In view of those figures, if anyone has prepared a speech containing that allegation, there will still be time to substitute some other criticism perhaps less damaging but better justified.

In that connection, I should like to say a word about capital expenditure. These Estimates are no index of the capital expenditure to be approved during the coming year. The loan charges and maintenance charges for the next 12 months cannot figure in the Board's Estimates until next year. During the last two years, it is true that we have had to conserve our resources, but, in spite of that, our figure of capital expenditure has amounted to over £7,750,000. That is a remarkably good record considering that at no time during that period did we anticipate the national recovery that has taken place. As regards future capital expenditure, it must be borne in mind that these Estimates cannot in the nature of things reflect the expenditure which may or may not be incurred in the next 12 months. All proposals for such expenditure which may be put forward, and which may be necessary, will be sympathetically considered, particularly those that further the policy of reorganisation.

The Committee will appreciate that it is difficult, in developing our scheme of reorganisation, to continue at all times the same rate of progress as we have made in the past, because those areas which lend themselves most easily to reorganisation should make the most headway, but we are now coming to be left with the more difficult cases. We are approaching, as it were, the hard core of the problem. For instance, take the very difficult position of the voluntary schools, a difficulty constantly, consistently and conveniently ignored by the Board's critics. In March, 1933, in the council schools only 32 per cent. of the pupils were still in unreorganised departments. The corresponding figure in the voluntary schools was 58 per cent. That shows that the problem is becoming more and more a voluntary school problem. But it is also a rural problem, both as regards non-provided and provided schools. It is a rural problem because in the country areas it is naturally difficult to get suitable accommodation in many cases for central schools, and there are also the geographical difficulties of disstance and transport. I note, in passing, that in the Liberal party's recent and stirring "Address to the Nation" it is laid down that the next step in the development of the education system should be to carry forward the reorganisation programme based upon the Hadow Report. It is always agreeable, and indeed reassuring, to be advised to take a step which you have already taken, and the Committee will be gratified and relieved to know that the Government are doing and have been doing in the past precisely what the Liberal party recommend should be done in the future.

Now I will say a word on three or four subjects before I come to one that I shall have to deal with at greater length. With regard to the black-list schools, we are proceeding with their removal from the list. Last year we removed 114, and plans have been approved for the removal of 163 more. To a considerable extent this is a voluntary school problem, because of the capital expenditure involved in the removal of these schools. It is also a problem of the congested urban areas and of the practical impossibility of improving schools because of the great difficulty of getting appropriate sites. The fact remains that in December last two-thirds of the worst of these schools had been removed from the black list.

As regards large classes, there is the point of view which I heard the other day of a child who was looking through the railings of a London school playground and, when asked by a kind-hearted soul why he did not go inside, replied: "Too many teachers." On the other hand, the point of view with which I am chiefly concerned is naturally that of the teachers. It sounds a platitude, but one of the greatest benefits that we could achieve would be to ensure that all teachers are asked to manage classes of manageable proportions. There has been a considerable fall in the school population, which will help in that direction.

We are making progress in the reduction of classes throughout the country. At present the average number of pupils to teachers in elementary schools is 29. I believe that involves a proportion of teachers to children higher than any that we have had hitherto. We have recently made a special investigation in the areas of those authorities where unduly large classes were known or suspected and, as a result, we have been able to make improvements in two-thirds of the cases, and in the area of another 100 authorities we have also carried out striking improvements in that direction. The Committee are aware that we are reducing the number of teachers this year consequent upon the fall in the school population, but I can assure them that the reduction which will take place will certainly not be proportionate to the reduction in the number of children. The Committee will also realise that large classes are in many cases due to unsuitable accommodation, and that is the case very often of the voluntary school where it is not possible to provide additional accommodation for the children. At the same time, we are making progress. It is not likely to be sensational, but we are gradually ameliorating the position step by step.

Part of the demand for smaller classes arises naturally from a desire to employ more teachers. Last year when I spoke on these Estimates I admitted that my Noble Friend and I were very anxious with regard to the position of the large number of students coming out from the training colleges that summer, and I am glad to say that the position of those students is very much better than was anticipated. The number who completed their training last July was about 8,600, compared with an average of preceding years of about 7,500. By December last all but some 1,400 had obtained posts, and, from the notifications of employment which we have received from time to time since, that number has been reduced to about 800. Nobody wants to see a single competent teacher out of a job, but, even if it be assumed that all the 800 are still seeking employment—and it is not a just assumption, as it very often happens that a teacher just coming out of college is not prepared to accept the first job that offers, but waits for something more suitable—the position is much more reassuring than was at one time anticipated.


Those are the figures for last year.


Yes. This summer the output of the training colleges will be 1,000 less than in 1933. I think that, as the result of the prudence which we have exercised, we shall find that the unemployment position among the teachers is certainly not serious. We are also steadily endeavouring to obtain an improvement in the quality of staff and are increasing the proportion of certificated teachers to the number of teachers of other grades.

I now come to a subject which I know to be dear to the hearts of all parties— the question of the physical condition of the children in our schools. I am well aware that there is an impression in many quarters that the physical condition of the children is deteriorating in consequence of prolonged economic distress. For instance, an hon. Member opposite a short while ago stated in this House that: We are hearing almost every day statements of medical officers of health up and down the country that the health of the children is declining, mainly in families where unemployment is rife."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd April, 1934: col. 1414, Vol. 288.] A statement of that kind should be received with considerable caution unless supported by the clearest of evidence. The reports which I have received from up and down the country certainly do not confirm it. I cannot quote all these reports, and I know that if I quote any particular one I shall be told that I am selecting it for my own purposes, but I must draw the attention of the Committee to the report of the school medical officer for the North Riding of Yorkshire dated February, 1934. The area in question is partly agricultural and partly industrial, containing as it does towns like Thornaby and Eston near Middlesbrough which have suffered a great deal from industrial distress. According to this report, out of 13,000 children medically examined, there were only seven really bad cases, and the number of those children pronounced subnormally nourished declined from 6.64 per 1,000 in 1930 to 3.97 in 1933. The school medical officer writes: Malnutrition, the sequence of absolute lack of food, was not established. On the other hand, and as so often reported, the real cause appeared to be improper feeding, there was a sufficiency of food of a kind, but of the wrong type; there is also the malnourished child from the home of the well-to-do, a condition often associated with physical ill-health. He goes on to quote a report from the school medical inspector for Thornaby and Eston, who writes: There has been great depression throughout my area. About 60 per cent. of the men are unemployed, but an amazingly high standard of nutrition is maintained. The few that are under-fed do not suffer from lack of quantity but of quality of food, and this is not because of poverty. I am not quoting that area as typical of the whole country. It clearly is not, for the percentage of malnutrition is not so low in the country as a whole. I quote it for this reason. It is apparently not generally realised that malnutrition may and obviously does occur in certain cases, not on account of poverty, but on account of unsuitable feeding or organic defects and delicacy. For example, from a recent investigation which was carried out, it was found to be comparatively rare for the brothers and sisters of a malnourished child to show any signs of mal-nourishment.

As regards the country as a whole, the figures of malnutrition show very little change from last year. In 1931 the number per 1,000 was 11.2, in 1932 it was 10.7 and in 1933 it was 11.1. There is just over 1 per cent. of the children coming within that category and it would certainly be unreasonable to draw any inference from the fractional increase in 1933 as compared with 1932, but, nevertheless, 10 per thousand are 10 too many. Increasing and energetic steps are being taken to combat this evil. The principal factor in the fight to check malnutrition so far as the Board of Education are concerned is obviously the provision of meals by local education authorities. This year 190 out of 316 authorities have exercised the powers under the school feeding Sections of the Education Act, and it is expected that 10 more are shortly to adopt those powers. Those authorities cover about 70 per cent. of the school population of England and Wales, and, as they are almost entirely authorities in industrial areas, somewhere between 90 and 100 per cent. of the children in industrial areas are covered by authorities which exercise those powers. The others are mainly in rural areas, in seaside towns, or small country towns where our experience goes to show that the problem of malnutrition is of small or negligible proportions.

The Board has not allowed the financial stringency of the time to impede the desires of local authorities to spend money on the provision of meals, on which they pay the grant at the rate of 50 per cent. In 1928 the net expenditure of the authorities on this service was £227,000; last year it was £560,000. In 1928 the number of authorities exercising their powers in this matter was 145; last year it was 190; and this number is to be increased by about 10 more. In February of this year the authorities were feeding about 292,000 children either with ordinary meals or milk and about 212,000 of these were being fed free of charge. The point of these figures is that, although only 1 per cent. of the public elementary school children are reported to be suffering from definite malnutrition, free meals and milk are being provided for over 4 per cent. In addition, there are about 900,000 children receiving one-third of a pint of milk daily for the payment of one penny under voluntary schemes organised by the National Milk Publicity Council.

It has been represented to me that all local education authorities should be urged to provide free dinners for the children of the poorer classes. In view of the large expense which such a proposal would involve, I do not think it could be justified unless it were clearly established that the existing permissive arrangements are inadequate. I do not think that is the case. It is the function of local education authorities not to relieve poverty but to ensure that the children coming to school are not prevented by lack of food from getting the full benefit of the education provided. To say that all poor children, irrespective of their physical condition, should be fed at the expense of educational funds is to imply that the resources available for the relief of poverty and distress in other directions are insufficient. I cannot accept that suggestion. The principle is that expenditure on the provision of meals out of educational funds should be related to the educational capacity of the children and should be based on a selection by school medical officers of the children, supplemented by reports from their teachers. Such selection should include not only children definitely malnourished but children who also show any symptoms of sub-normal nutrition.

To make the provision of meals universal for all poor children would contradict that principle and would impose on local education authorities the duty of supplementing out of educational funds the assistance given from other sources for the relief of economic distress. In any event, the experience of some of the most distressed areas shows that it is possible to keep malnutrition in check by providing dinners or even milk only under a system of medical selection, which would include all children suffering from subnormal nutrition but not those children who, though poor, are able to take advantage of the education offered to them. I hope the Committee will forgive me for the time I have spent on this exceptionally important matter which I can assure them is one which is constantly engaging the attention of my Noble Friend and myself.

I have seen from time to time in the educational Press suggestions that the Board is placing an embargo on various services for improving the physical condition of the children. Let me say at once that no embargo has or is being placed on the school medical service. Last year we approved 17 proposals for new clinics and 124 forms of inspection and treatment, including the appointment of additional medical officers, dentists or specialists, school nurses, the equipment of clinics and many other forms of expenditure, and this year we have allowed in the Estimates for an increase in the cost of the school medical service.

I come to secondary education. The Committee will be glad to know that the numbers in our secondary schools are steadily rising. In October there were 8,000 more in our secondary schools than in the previous year, and the fact that there were no less than 1,100 new admissions is remarkable because in June, 1933, there were 80,000 fewer children between the ages of 10 and 12 in our elementary schools than in 1932. The remainder of the increase is accounted for mainly by a sensible tendency on the part of the children to remain at school unless there is suitable employment available for them.

Let me say one word about Circular 1421, of which no doubt the Committee has heard. That circular substituted special places for free places. Children who win special places are now admitted free or their parents pay either a part or the whole of the fee according to their means. There are two points to be considered now that we are able for the first time to see the effect of that policy. In the first place, although there has been a decrease of 80,000 in the number of children between the ages of 10 and 12 between June, 1932, and June, 1933, and although there has been an increase in the average rate of fees charged, yet over 1,100 more children have been admitted to our secondary schools. The second point is that the percentage of pupils paying no fees has decreased from 51 to 49 but the percentage of those who are paying full fees has also declined from 48 to 42. And whereas 51 per cent. were admitted free in 1932, 58 per cent. in 1933 were paying either no fee or partial fee. I recollect that there were some very gloomy forecasts made both in and outside the House when Circular 1421 first saw the light of day. False prophets are treated much more tenderly to-day than in times gone by, and I will only say to hon. Members opposite in the words of the late Lord Balfour: They prophesied and they were subject to the weakness of all prophets; the event contradicted them. A word as to technical education. The Board is pursuing its policy of endeavouring to secure co-operation between neighbouring authorities in important industrial areas. The Yorkshire Council for Further Education has now been established for several years and has carried out a successful policy of regional coordination in its area. The Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes is adopting a similar policy, but there are other large industrial and commercial districts where co-ordination of this kind is desirable. For instance, there is the West Midlands, the great industrial area between Coventry and Wolverhampton. In that area the Board has been engaged with the local education authorities in formulating a scheme for the co-ordination of technical education. There is also the area in South Wales, in which the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) knows I have taken a personal interest. Progress there is much slower than I could have hoped, and perhaps hon. Members who represent constituencies in that area might help me and reinforce my inadequate powers of per suasion. Regional co-ordination does not only apply to technical education but also to art instruction in its relation to industries which depend on design and fine craftsmanship, such as textiles, pottery, glass and so on.

The Board has had the advantage of a series of conferences with the Industrial Art Committee of the Federation of British Industries, and one of the matters discussed has been the regional co-ordination of art instruction. We hope to set on foot a policy of voluntary co-operation on a regional basis on the lines that art classes and art schools are allocated for the several areas with a central art college for the region as a whole. The response to our proposal has been encouraging, and I hope that in the next 12 months we shall make considerable progress in achieving our aim. Last year and during the present year we have approved a number of important new proposals for building or re-housing technical colleges; for instance, new buildings at Coventry and Dudley, a new technical college in Middlesex and an extension of a technical institution at Willesden. There is also an important proposal for a new technical college at Barking, to serve not only the needs of the older urban districts but of the new towns springing up on the north bank of the Thames, including important industrial concerns like the Ford motor works at Dagenham.

I have kept the Committee at great length, but before I finish I would like to say a word or two about constructive policy for the future. I regard the corner-stone of elementary education as the policy of reorganisation of our schools on the lines of the Hadow report. It is the Board's intention to press on with this policy as rapidly as financial circumstances permit. I believe that the reorganisation of elementary schools on the lines of the Hadow report to be the greatest educational advance that this or any other country has made in the last 20 years. What I say is not based on theory, but on experience and practice, as far as we can obtain it.

All the reports from the Board's intelligence service, the inspectors, confirm the great advantages gained by children in reorganised schools. Every type of child, whether clever or backward, is found to benefit in the senior schools. Clever children do not mark time; the school is no longer a waiting-room in which they kick their heels until the longed-for day of release. They are grouped in appropriate age groups and are taken forward to more advanced work. But perhaps most profit is gained by the children who find it somewhat difficult to learn from books. They are children who have plenty of intelligence but not much literary skill. They belong to what we might call the non-academic class of child. These children in the reorganised schools are sorted out into their appropriate groups or streams, and it is much more feasible to offer them a range of work selected and simplified according to their needs, and to distribute them so that they can get greater individual attention than they could get when they formed, as they did in unreorganised schools, a small section in a class much of whose work was beyond their understanding and outside their interest. The so-called dull and backward children need no longer remain at the bottom of the school in the lower classes. They are gradually taken up in their appropriate group and are given a curriculum suitable to them. They get instruction which is really interesting to them. The traditional subjects are often uncongenial to them, and if instruction is to have a vital interest it must be and is made more realistic.

Practical instruction is a feature of the reorganised school and every type of child gets the advantage of it. The result is apparent in the first-rate work which is being produced, and undoubtedly it will have a very great influence on the craftsmanship of this country in the future. It is not only in the senior schools that the good effect of reorganisation is felt. It has an influence on the junior and infant schools. They can now be treated as separate institutions, and the separation from the seniors makes the younger children a more distinct and therefore an easier educational problem for their teachers. The younger children are no longer hampered by the presence of dull and backward scholars who are out of place in a curriculum and environment planned for their juniors. In their last year in the junior school the children gain at an early age valuable lessons in responsibility and leadership, and when they take their place in the senior school they get the salutary lesson of having to find their proper place again at the bottom of the school.

The practical work in the junior schools is most encounaging. There is nothing forced about it. The children like it, though I did hear of one small boy who was heard to remark the other day "Oh, 'ow I 'ate my 'obby." But he was the exception that proves the rule. There again the conditions of teaching are very much better under the new regime. I know that the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) will bear me out when I say that there is a vast difference between teaching a class of the same age group and teaching a class composed of children of four or five different age groups. After all, in the matter of reorganisation we have to remember that the primary condition of success is bound to be the teaching. I regard the headmastership of any of these senior schools as one of the most important jobs, if not the most important job, in the whole of the teaching profession.

Let me refer to another point. According to our inspectors, when it is possible to make a comparison between adjacent areas similar in general economic and social conditions, but differing in the progress made with reorganisation, it is found that there is an unmistakable superiority in the intellectual attainments of children in the reorganised areas over the children who are still in unreorganised schools. A striking example of the success of reorganisation is provided by the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes, the body concerned with technical education in those and neighbouring counties. According to their recent report they have been led to reorganise their preliminary courses in order to make them more suited to the better prepared students now coming forward from the senior schools and to bring them into closer connection with the senior technical courses.

At the same time there is always the question of finance to be considered, and progress towards our goal must be slower than many of us would like. The policy of reorganisation was introduced by my Noble Friend the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), and it is a policy which is being carried out by my Noble Friend the President of the Board. In some ways perhaps one might liken him to Moses on the Mountain of Nebo. He sees the Promised Land before him, but, unlike Moses, I hope we shall be able to enter it with him.

In the secondary schools we are trying to introduce greater freedom in developing a variety of courses and to enable the schools to be less subject to what has been called the tyranny of matriculation, so that we may avoid a curriculum which might otherwise become too academic. Changes of this kind are not easy to bring about because there are always certain vested interests, but I believe that a sounder public opinion is being built up on the subject. Nowhere can public opinion assert itself more effectively than amongst the employers of labour. In that connection we are trying to get, and are gradually succeeding in getting, a much closer liaison between industry and commerce on the one hand, and the educational system on the other. We are trying to induce employers to interest themselves far more than hitherto in the educational system and to familiarise themselves with what we are doing and in the products we are producing, in the hope that they will recruit their staffs a good deal more scientifically and carefully than they have done in the past. We also hope that the sympathy of employers will be stimulated so that they will allow their young employés far greater facilities for part-time education in the day-time, instead of leaving those employés to get their further education in evening classes after a long day in the shop or factory.

I have tried to portray, and I hope that I have succeeded in showing the Board as being active in well doing. I have given, I am afraid at great length, a progress report, but, even so, I have had to omit a great many topics upon which I should like to have touched— for instance, selection of children at 11 plus for admission to secondary schools, the problem of the first school certificates, the influence of the cinema and the wireless in teaching, and many other matters. In some ways my survey has had to resemble the annual report of the chairman of a public company to his shareholders, but with this difference, that they look for cash profits and dividends, whereas most of us will have departed long before any estimate can be formed of the real success of our measures. At the same time, we are confident that the best investment this nation can make lies in the education and training of its children. But it is a long-term investment, and progress cannot, in the nature of things, be sensational or spectacular; indeed, for many reasons it had better not be, lest we had to retrace our steps or build houses of cards only to kuock them down. I said in the Estimates Debate last year that I hoped I would show the Committee that we had kept intact the fabric of education. This year I have tried to show the Committee, and I hope that they will gather from what I have said, that we have done a great deal more, and that we have enhanced and enlarged it.


May I ask one question? I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman could not touch upon certain subjects, but I would like information upon one subject. I understand that the Board have recently arrived at some arrangement whereby they make an additional grant to denominational colleges in future. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether that is so, and, if so, what is the amount of the financial commitment, and whether there is a change in the proportion of students not attached to any denomination who may enter denominational colleges?


I should like an opportunity to verify the information which, I think, I have on that subject. The position of the denominational colleges, as a result of the restrictions we had to make in the number of entrants into training colleges, was different from that of the local authorities, and the denominational colleges were definitely very considerable losers by our restriction. In order to get them out of this difficulty—I am speaking now from memory—we have, for this year only, given them a grant to help them out. If I gave the hon. Member an exact figure I should be wrong, and I will give it to him when I reply.

4.4 p.m.


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

Last year, on a similar occasion to this, it was my pleasant duty to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his most excellent statement in regard to the Estimates. This afternoon I can unreservedly reiterate my congratulations. I have listened for 10 or 11 years to Estimates being expounded from that Box, and I have felt that no Minister of the Crown has been so successful in expounding his Estimates as the present Parliamentary Secretary has been. But part of his cleverness is that he has taken us away from realities. He has painted a beautiful picture, and we have been extremely interested in his literary allusions, and have entered into his classic jokes, but the tendency has been to obscure the reality of the policy the Government are pursuing, which reality is unadulterated reaction in the field of education. I am not asking the Committee this afternoon to take ray word for that statement. It might be contended that I was making an ex parte statement, that I was biased because I happen to speak from the Labour benches, or because I happen to have been, for my sins, at one time a teacher in an elementary school. I am not this afternoon going to ask the Committee to accept my word, but, if the Committee will allow me, I am going to ask them to accept the word of a body whose opinion, I believe, cannot be disputed—an impartial body, a body which has no political affiliation, a body which has wider administrative experience of education than any other body in this country. I refer to the body which is known as the Association of Education Committees, a body which, in its national organisation, represents the local education authorities up and down this country.

The hon. Gentleman gave a beautiful picture of progress, though he was very careful to emphasise that he had no story of sensational progress to put before the Committee, but the Association, which is impartial, non-political, with experience, as I have said before, of educational administration unmatched, says the complete opposite of almost everything the Parliamentary Secretary has said this afternoon. A short while ago—in December—an official deputation of that body approached the President of the Board of Education, the Parliamentary Secretary and the permanent officials of the board, and brought to the notice of the board the circular which was issued during the crisis of 1931. The hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Leckie) was among the deputation, and he will be able to recall it. This body went before the Minister and reminded him that the Circular governing the administration of education in this country, imposing drastic economies on account of the crisis in 1931 in every phase of educational activity, was still in operation, and was still the policy of His Majesty's Government. An hon. Member opposite is pleased, but it does not bear out the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon. Let us see what that Circular says, because I want to get the voice of the education authorities to this House, it I may. The spokesman of the deputation said: I address myself first to the resolution adopted by the Annual General Meeting of the Association in June last. What was that resolution? That the time has now arrived when the embargo of the Board of Education on the provision and improvement of school buildings should be lifted. Then the spokesman went on to say: It has been suggested that no embargo in fact exists. That is what the Parliamentary Secretary has suggested this afternoon. The Committee has been led to believe that really there is no embargo, that the situation is being met in a very reasonable and progressive manner, although not in a sensationally progressive manner— still, the needs of the time are being met. But what does this spokesman of the education committees say—not a Labour politician, but a person representing the collective opinion of the most experienced men in this country in education administration, and men, moreover, who not only have education at heart, but who represent the ratepayers. This spokesman, representing this body of opinion, says: We are unable to accept that view. There you have, in a statement of the spokesman of the education authorities, a fiat denial, a complete refutation of the assertion that no embargo has existed. They go into further details, and I hope that I shall be allowed to mention them, but first let me read the paragraph of the circular issued during the crisis: As regards new developments (including the provision of additional teachers) the financial provision to be made by Parliament will, it is hoped, suffice to cover grants in respect of

  1. (a) new projects to which the authorities are already contractually committed, but which have not yet fully matured;
  2. (b) any essential new need, e.g., of new housing estates;
  3. (c) urgent repairs and treatment of the worst "black list" schools.
Paragraph 12 of the same memorandum-lays it down that any new developments in any sphere of education with which local authorities are anxious to proceed will be judged on their merits, and in particular in the light of the probable extent of the annual additional charges involved. Generally speaking, however, it will only be possible to consider additional annual charges in such cases in so far as they are covered by countervailing economies. Before there can be expenditure on one branch of the service, there must be countervailing economies on another branch of the service. I want categorically to ask the Parliamentary Secretary who, I hope, will reply further to this Debate: Has the circular issued during the crisis in September, 1931, imposing restrictions upon developments in the education service, been scrapped? There can be no reversal of policy without that circular being scrapped, and, as a matter of fact, the fine words of the Parliamentary. Secretary butter no parsnips in this respect. He may come down here and give us a very excellent speech, but the reality would be the scrapping of the economy circular. Can he get up and say definitely that there is no embargo? Can he get up and say definitely that the policy of the crisis has gone, that with the revival of trade—and he found great pleasure in it this afternoon—with the returning prosperity, there has also been a return of real progress in the educational world? Can he say that definitely and categorically? Let me go further. I am relying on this document this afternoon, and I want to read it because it is authoritative. Says the spokesman of the authorities: I have made careful inquiry as to the extent to which the judgment of local authorities of the needs of their areas for new schools is being set aside, and I am startled by the volume of the response. Here is a local authority charged by Parliament with responsibility for meeting the educational needs of an area. They go to the Board and say, "We have a number of children for whom we are not at present able to provide and we want this or that new development." They ask for permission to proceed and we are told by the spokesman of the education authority that he has been startled by the number of occasions on which such requests have been turned down by the Board. Is not that more important for us to realise, than what was contained in the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon? Examining the replies very carefully"— the statement continues— to find some thread of principle running through the policy of the Board, I find that in general all new proposals for the amelioration of the conditions of very young children, of ailing children, of defective children and, in general, all proposals for the extension of the provision of the playing fields are rejected by the Board. Approval is not generally given to the provision of nursery schools, of open-air schools, of playing fields or of schools for defective children. The whole category of educational activities—stultified and starved by the present Administration! That list, as a matter of fact, practically covers the whole of the activities in the educational world. I do not want to exaggerate, but I say frankly that I did not realise the extent of the stark reaction that is being pursued by the Board until I studied the statements by the education authorities. I do not think that any hon. Member here would say that those statements are not true. Is there any hon. Member who will say that a body of responsible persons, representing Conservatives and Liberals I should imagine, and people who have no political colour at all, per-sons with the greatest experience in educational administration—that this competent body is making false statements? It is clear from the evidence submitted by them that the embargo on educational activities still exists, that finance dominates the policy of the Board, and that, in the educational realm, the crisis of 1931 is still upon the children of this country, who are being denied that educational opportunity which any civilised country ought to give them. The statement goes on to contrast the policy of the Board of Education with that of the Ministry of Health. I am not going into that question in detail, but I will read the final statement. It was addressed to the President of the Board himself, and it was as follows: We ask your Lordship to consider that this policy is not in accord with its immediately past policies: that hurt is being done in the denial of the educational needs of the children of the country; that the children to whom you are by your policy denying the benefits of the schemes of reorganisation enjoyed by others are losing those benefits for all time"— Then follows a tremendously strong statement, and I hope the Committee will realise how strong a statement it is for these people to make. I have been criticised by many of them for making too strong statements and for taking up an attitude which they regarded as extreme. They have criticised me in their journal more than once, but this is what they say themselves in continuation of the statement which I have already quoted; —that by your policy you are denying health and physical betterment to large numbers of children sorely in need. Could there be a stronger or more serious statement than that? The Parliamentary Secretary treated sympathetically—in words—the question of the feeding and health of children. Here is a representative of the education authorities saying that you are denying health and physical betterment to large numbers of children who are sorely in need. They proceed: We beg that you will take immediate and vigorous steps for the revivification of a department whose charge and concern should be primarily for the children who cannot speak for themselves. At the end of the report I find this: Lord Irwin replied to the deputation. The discussion on the above statement was, by agreement, regarded as confidential. I have not anything to complain of in that and it may have been regarded as confidential there but the House of Commons has a right to know what was the policy enunciated, even at that discussion and the country has a right to know. It is wrong that the Minister's reply should be regarded as confidential. It is a matter of high public policy. It involves millions of children. It involves the whole educational outlook and future physical well-being of those children. The House of Commons has no right to allow that to pass as confidential in the board room at Whitehall. It is a matter of the greatest public importance and if we cannot have a reply from the Parliamentary Secretary to-day I am going to suggest to my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Opposition Bench, that the position in the field of education is serious enough for us to have these Estimates brought up again for discussion. I have discovered that the short time at our disposal to-day is not sufficient to deal with such a serious situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] It is not my fault that this Debate has to end at half-past seven o'clock and, as I have been asked to speak on behalf of my party, I am going to try to put forward their point of view as strongly as I can. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give us definite facts —to tell us categorically that the policy enunciated during the crisis is no longer the policy of the Government, that the policy of the starvation of the mental and physical needs of the children is no longer the policy of the Government. It has been suggested that there is no embargo such as I have indicated. I quote this from the official organ of the education authorities dated 2nd February: A borough authority a few days ago submitted a scheme for the building of a school peculiarly necessary to meet the needs of the area. A curt—not discourteous—communication was received that the Board were unable even to consider it. The local education authorities ask: "Is this embargo?" They point out that: the general policy of the Board stated explicitly in Circular 1431 is that no new schools shall be built in any area other than a newly developed housing area unless the cost can be met out of countervailing economies. They ask is that an embargo on development or not? Of course it is an embargo on development. The Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon prided himself on the wiping out of black-listed schools. Last year in these Debates I read some descriptions of schools which I was ashamed to read. Any hon. Member who cares to do so can look them up and I can supply many other eases of filthy and insanitary buildings. Teachers are supposed to teach the children in the classroom cleanliness and hygiene when the physical conditions in the school are filthy in the extreme. Many of these blacklisted schools still exist throughout the country. The Parliamentary Secretary prided himself on the fact that his Department was tackling the problem. Let us see what the education authorities say about that. It is not what I say. It does not matter what I say but it does matter what the education authorities say.

Viscountess ASTOR

It depends on how long you take.


The Noble Lady has to keep quiet for once. I am determined on that this afternoon. The education authorities' official organ says: Even the black-list schools are to be preserved for the benefit of mankind. Proposals for the rehabilitation or reconstruction of the very schools which have come under the Board's condemnation have been disallowed. The Board has condemned schools and that is a noble action in itself. No doubt the present Administration prides itself on the fact that it has condemned schools but the amazing thing is that we find on the authority of the education authorities' journal that even where they have condemned schools, permission to reconstruct has not been given. The local authorities say they have been prevented from dealing with black-list schools. They add: The Minister of Health has initiated, developed and is carrying on a campaign for the abolition of slum housing. The policy of the Board of Education, for which Mr. Ramsbotham answers to the House of Commons, has for its immediate object the perpetuation of slum schools which his predecessors in office have condemned. They ask "why" and they go on to say: Is the truth that while Mr. Ramsbotham asseverates and reasseverates his love of education and what it connotes, that this love is not shared by the Government he so faithfully serves? I am not going through all these figures but an examination of the Memorandum on these Estimates is enough to disprove the statements made from that Box this afternoon. Perhaps I may be allowed to say a passing word of praise for the Labour Government against whom I voted so often. Anybody who takes up this Memorandum and examines it can see when the Labour Government was in office. One can see merely by the statistics when Sir Charles Trevelyan was President of the Board of Education with my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) as Parliamentary Secretary. I refer hon. Members to page 18. In 1930 proposals representing in round figures £13,000,000 were approved by the board. In 1931 the figure was £7,000,000; in 1932 it was £4,000,000 and in 1933, £2,500,000—drop after drop. Take the medical service. In 1930 it was £349,000; in 1931, £160,000; in 1932, £59,000.


Hear, hear!


That cheers the heart of the hon. Member opposite. Diehards' hearts always beat high over economies on children. We go from £59,000 in 1932 down to £29,000 in 1933. During the whole period of the present Government, economy, lack of expenditure in every sphere of the education service, is shown. The hon. Gentleman talked about large classes. I hope he has read the speech of the President of this Association to which I have referred. He will find there that you still have 400,000 children in classes of 50 and more. I believe I am not far wrong in saying that, though I am speaking from memory. At any rate, large classes still exist, and the Minister did not tell us this afternoon that as far as anyone can find out—and I do not think he will deny this—for the first time for ever so long there is going to be an increase in the number of children in large classes.

Now let me turn to the physical side, and here I want to make a statement about which I want to be rather careful. Many of my hon. Friends and many people in the country are beginning not to put their full faith in some of the reports that have been issued in various parts of this country with regard to the malnutrition of children. I will not go further than this, but there is a feeling growing up, and many people are suspicious, that the examinations and reports are not as objective as they might be, that more opinion and feeling enter into them of a partisan character than is good. Everybody who is connected with the distressed areas knows that children are ill-fed and ill-nourished. What is happening in the Rhondda Valley?

Viscountess ASTOR

I will tell the hon. Member what is happening there.


All last winter the teachers, with other citizens, were engaged, week after week, in organising concerts and sales of work—with twopenny and threepenny tickets—spoiling the full advantage that the children ought to get, as a matter of fact, from the education service, in order to provide boots for the children to go to school. Everybody knows, or ought to know by now, what malnutrition is, though I have tried to find out what it is technically, and I find that the doctors themselves do not know. They do not accept any test universally. They do not agree. They do not know what it is, technically. It used to be thought that if a lad or a girl was growing big and fat, that was all right, but you can feed children up like you can fatten pigs, without the resiliency there. It all depends on the type of food you give. You can fatten without strengthening. Go down to Eton or Harrow, go to Winchester, go to Rugby, go to Marlborough, and see the physique there, on their playing fields. Then let us bring children up from my constituency in the Avon valley, children of the unemployed, or let us bring the children of the Rhondda Valley up, and place them side by side on the playing fields of Eton and Harrow and compare their physique. That will show the amount of malnutrition that is taking place in the great distressed and derelict areas of this country. I am prepared to accept that test. I was looking through Paten's list of schools, with beautiful pictures of the playing fields. The fee for Harrow or for Eton is, what?

Viscountess ASTOR



Keep quiet. I am going to have my say, and I will thank the Noble Lady to keep quiet. Look at those lists of fees—£200 a year, £180 a year, £150 a year, with pluses. To-day you are spending round about £12 per head to educate a child in an elementary school, and I say that the process of economy pursued by this Government is a class policy of the most rabid description. You cannot have equality of opportunity in a capitalist world of any kind, but the nearest approach you can get to it is by giving some equality of opportunity within your educational system. The educational system has been a greater contributor towards equality of opportunity than any other social service in this country. The Parliamentary Secretary is content with the reports that have been sent him about the physical condition of these children, I beg him this afternoon, in this House, not to be content with those reports. Some investigation must take place which will reassure this House and the conscience of this country that these children are not being ill-fed. We are not satisfied as it is now.

Such an investigation took place in Newcastle the other day, with regard to children under five, it is true, but it was the sort of investigation that I suggest. An investigation was undertaken into the physical condition of poor children and of the children of the better-to-do, and what did they find? Nearly half the number of children in the poorer class were found to be below the standard height, compared with only 5 per cent. of the better class children. In weight, more than half of the children in the poorer class were below the standard, as against 13 per cent. of the better class children. Only 2 per cent. of the poorer children were above the standard height, as compared with 25 per cent. of the better class children; and in weight only 11 per cent. of the poorer children were above the standard, compared with 48 per cent. of the better class children. With regard to anaemia, only 20 per cent. of the poorer children passed a test satisfactorily, and 23 per cent. were found to be definitely anaemic. I understand that that is not due to malnutrition either. According to the standard set, there was no anaemia among the better class children. A study of the histories of the children showed that 49 of the 125 poorer children had suffered from acute or chronic chest trouble, compared with only 5 of the 124 better class children. That calls for nursery schools.

Viscountess ASTOR

Hear, hear!


Not nursery schools out of the pocket of the Noble Lady. We freely admit that she has been interested in this question, and she wants to tell us all about it now, but I submit that the provision of nursery schools ought not to depend on the pocket of the Noble Lady.

Viscountess ASTOR

Hear, hear!


It ought to depend on the pocket of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is now clearly established —I think this investigation establishes it—that from the ages from 1 to 5 there is tremendous need for much better attention being paid to the physical needs and general well-being of children. One further point—and I am sure the Noble Lady will be pleased to hear that. I want to ask the Minister, What is the policy of the Board with regard to the raising of the school age by by-law? I had always assumed—and most innocent people like myself had assumed also— that if a local education authority wanted to raise the school age, made an investigation, and came with a request to the Board, the Board would say that the responsible local education authority had come to this conclusion and that therefore the request should be granted. But what do I find from an answer given by the Minister? He says: Proposals for such by-laws have been submitted to the Board during the last two years by the local education authorities for Burnley and Huddersfield, but the Board were unable to approve them. That is unsensational progress. He goes on: The question has also been discussed, either formally or informally, between the Board and the local education authorities for Cheltenham, Colne, Lowestoft, and Northumberland, and has been deferred for further consideration. That is unsensational progress. It is understood that the Gloucester City Local Education Authority are also considering the question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th April, 1934; cols. 1547–8, Vol. 288.] Has the Board of Education come to a definite policy on this subject? Am I not right in inferring from that answer that the Board has decided that there shall be no raising of the school age by bylaw? Why the hesitancy? Why the turning down in the cases I have mentioned? Why the deferring of the question? One would have imagined, if the Board were of this mind, that where a local education authority had decided to raise the school age, that would have been quickly approved; and the only inference that we can draw—unless there is a denial from the Front Beach, which I very much hope will be forthcoming—is that the Board has now determined that the age shall not be raised by by-law. The policy of the Government in this respect, as I said in the discussions on the Unemployment Bill, is that they have now decided that there is to be no raising of the school age and that the policy of the Government is to be found, as the Minister has said, in the Unemployment Bill.

I say again that that is class legislation within the field of education, throwing thousands and thousands of these lads into industry, out of work, and then junior instruction centres. There never was an occasion when it would have been better for the children or for this nation that the school-leaving age should be raised. We shall have in the next few years hundred of thousands of children more in the field of industry than we have had in the past few years. Unemployment is going to be rampant; now is the time therefore when we should raise the school age. From the benches opposite the idea has been put abroad that money spent on education is waste, that it is spending and not saving. There is no higher form of saving than the spending of money on the development of the bodies and minds of the children of this country. It is capital development. We give too materialistic an interpretation of saving. What is saving under modern capitalist society? It is generally regarded as building up factories, adding to capital equipment for further production, bank balances and capital accumulations. Spending on these children is capital accumulation of the finest kind in which the country can invest, and the Government are rendering a great disservice to the children and are not meeting the needs of the modern situation if they still hark back to the policy enunciated in the crisis of 1931. I ask the House to agree with us and to see to it that the physical condition of the children is rectified and that they have a chance of the full education that they deserve.

4.49 p.m.


We have just listened to an eloquent and moving speech from the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove). Everybody who knows him knows with what deep conviction he speaks and how much he feels about this vital problem. I would like to add my congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary. I envy him his masterly handling of difficult figures and complex problems which he showed in his rapid survey of the whole problem of the education of the children. I do not think that any Minister is able to get so many words in so short a period as the hon. Gentleman. He seemed to be able to rush through the problem without an error or a mistake and without losing the thread of his argument. Whatever we may think of his opinion, it shows that he has his heart in his work, and that he thinks all day of his responsibility in is difficult jub.

I wish that we had the annual report of the Board, which is usually a very remarkable document. It loses some of its value because it comes out rather late in the day, and particularly this year because it will come after the discussion of the Education Estimates. I pay a tribute to the value of the report when I say that it is a handicap to be without the valuable facts and figures which it contains. It may be that we are taking an earlier opportunity than usual to discuss the Estimates. It is also unfortunate that we should have only half a day for this discussion. That is quite inadequate to the size of the problem and the number of hon. Members who wish to take part. I hope that both sections of the Opposition will co-operate to get the Government to give another half-day so that other Members may have an opportunity of expressing their views, because education is entitled to a full day's Debate once a year.

We are not only without the annual report of the Board, but without the annual report of the Chief Medical Officer. After the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberavon, the Minister will agree that it is most important that the annual statement of the Medical Officer should be available when we come to our annual survey of education, because his work is an essential part of education in these days. In the last Debate we did not have the advantage of the report for 1932, which did not come out until November, 1933. It is always one of the most remarkable documents published by His Majesty's Stationery Office. I believe that when the history of public health in this country comes to be written. Sir George Newman will be shown to have contributed more to it than any one medical man or public officer in the country. His reports are comprehensive, fair, incisive, well written and have real literary merit, which is usually missing from most public documents. They are so clear that for the meanest intelligence it is difficult to avoid his point. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary steeps himself in the recommendations and the criticisms contained in that report.

I wish specially to call attention to page 11 of the 1932 Report, because it contains a complete answer to the criticisms in the Ray Report about extravagance in the administration of public health by education authorities. Replying to the suggestion that because expenditure in some areas was so much less than in others there must necessarily be extravagance, Sir George Newman says: Because an authority takes an unduly narrow view and makes inadequate arrangements, thus securing a low unit cost, it cannot be seriously suggested that other authorities should come down to the same ineffectual level. On the other hand, other factors sometimes operate in the production of a low unit cost such as the provision of treatment facilities by charitable organisations at little or no cost to the authority. During the past year, the financial aspects of the service were meticulously examined in 14 representative areas by officers of the board, and their reports indicate that, with small exception, a reduction of expenditure could he effected only by a definite decrease of efficiency. Finally one word should be said upon the second question, 'would an increased expenditure producing even better results than at present be a true national economy?' The answer from a medical (point of view must clearly be in the affirmative, though not necessarily in the affirmative for all branches of the school medical service. The dental work, for instance, is an example. There can be no doubt that a substantial increase in expenditure would not only result in sorely-needed extension of that service, at present little more than initiated in most educational areas, but it would be definitely economical in the sense of ensuring the ultimate value of the preliminary inspection and treatment of the teeth. To make a child's teeth sound at eight years of age and neglect them thereafter is not in the long run economical, but rather extravagant; to provide dental treatment effectually in area A and neglect to do so in area B is partial, inequitable and nationally ineffective; to fail to follow up the business in later school life or in adolescence is short-sighted. Are the Government in this matter shortsighted? Are they seeing that area B is brought up to the standard of area A? Are they effectively discharging their duty and meeting the criticism of their own medical officer and adviser at the Board? I rather hesitate to trespass on what my Noble Friend desires to say, but I think that Sir George Newman's report on nursery schools is most pertinent. There is no better friend of nursery schools and no one who in and out of season has more advised the Board of Education in the interests of real economy, which is the well-being of the State, to undertake a progressive policy in the organisation of nursery schools. I wonder how much the Board's own medical officer is listened to. He points out that there are at present 58 nursery schools recognised by the board, and says: Owing to financial stringency the recognition of new nursery schools has been temporarily suspended, but the last school to receive recognition affords an excellent example of adaptation of existing premises to meet the needs of a small area. He states that there is a growing con-census of opinion that these particular schools are valuable, and adds: The children coming from a nursery school into the infant department at five years of age are physically better and are more amenable to ordinary discipline than the child who has remained in a poor home. Some 'emergency nursery centres' have been established in certain slum areas at Middlesbrough and elsewhere. There are two pages of the report giving facts and statements showing the advisability of pressing on without delay with nursery schools, but I will not read them; I will hand them to my Noble Friend who may desire to quote them. We understand that the bar of the national emergency is now removed. I think, therefore, that we have a right to command the Parliamentary Secretary, as representing the board, to outline the Board's policy towards nursery schools. The hon. Gentleman's very long speech seemed to cover everything, but he forgot even to mention one thing. Perhaps he meant to put it in his peroration. He forgot to mention the two words "nursery schools." In the light of the advice of his own accredited official, he is bound to give a lead to the country without waiting for local authorities to take action. He should stimulate them to make this most economical investment of public money in order to prevent evils arising in the life of the child because of early neglect in providing these most useful and well-proved institutions.

On the question of elementary education, the hon. Gentleman was very complacent and satisfied. I am afraid that the best that can be said for the Board is that there has been two years of masterly inactivity. It has been a close time for circulars, at any rate. We have been spared them during these years, and that has been some consolation. Those monthly bombs which came from the Board and disturbed local authorities have ceased to be fired. We have to be thankful for small mercies. The fact is that the clock has been set so far back in the past year that it was not possible to put the hands any further back without bringing the machinery pretty well to a standstill. I understood from the peroration of the Minister that he agrees in principle that the time for inertia is past and the time for activity has arrived. The severe financial stringency which faced the country has passed, and the Government may take whatever credit is due to them for that fact. Now they can go to the local authorities and say: "There is a good time coming. Owing to our sound financial policy there is money in the coffers. The country is no longer bankrupt. Therefore, go straight ahead with the good work of education and we will sympathetically consider your proposals."

There is another reason, and perhaps a more practical reason, for a forward policy. There are new facts which the Board cannot ignore. The Minister passed over them lightly, indeed, he hardly referred to them. There is the fact that a very large number of children are pouring out of the schools and entering the labour market to compete for the available jobs and to be, I am afraid, contributory factors adding to the number of the unemployed. Compared with last year there will be this year an extra 200,000 children above the normal leaving the schools and entering industry. According to the estimates of the Board, there will be, roughly, during the next four years 800,000 children above the average leaving the schools and entering industry. The usual number is two and a quarter millions.

That is a big problem. It may be that the conditions of industry will so improve and that there will be such a revival of trade—I hope there will be; I do not want to be a pessimist—that we shall be able to deal with the problem. Even if things are normal and do not become worse we shall have a very difficult problem before us to absorb the big army of two and a quarter million children entering industry when it is supplemented by an extra 800,000 children above the normal. The Board cannot shut its eyes to that problem. To his credit the Minister of Labour is facing up to it. He has realised the seriousness of the position and, rightly or wrongly, has made provision for it in the Unemployment Bill. These persons, however, are children and they are the Board's care. The Board is primarily responsible and they cannot shift the responsibility on to another Department. To the credit of the Minister of Labour he is prepared to shoulder the responsibility that the Board of Education has tried to avoid.

There is another side to the picture, and that is why I would emphasise the necessity for a new alignment of policy on the part of the Board. While these children are pouring into the labour market they are pouring out of the schools. There is a steady decline of the school population. From a statement made by the Minister, in answer to a question which I put last November, there were last year 5,640,000 children in the schools. By 1937 it is estimated that the number will have been reduced to 5,140,000 children. There will, therefore, be a falling off of 500,000 children in the schools. The Government must have a policy in regard to what is to be done with those vacant places. They cannot shirk it. The local authorities are entitled to a lead in the matter.

I have a great opinion of the noble Lord who presides over the Board of Education. He is one of the great figures in the State. No one admires him more than I do. He fills a great post with ability and capacity. I was pleased when he took over the position of Minister of Education, but he cannot sit in Olympian silence and feel that he can get out of responsibility because he happens to be in another place. I wish he was here. The responsibility is with the Board. The country demands a lead and the local education authorities want to know how they are to deal with this new problem. The Board is a partner. It finds part of the money and has a right to say: "Are we to have smaller classes? Are we to maintain the same number of teachers for a smaller army of children in the schools, or, alternatively, are we to deal with them in another way?"

The newly-elected London authority, to its credit, is very much conscious of the problem. They want the school-leaving age to be raised, and they want the Board of Education to deal with that question. It would be out of order for me to deal with that matter now. It is a very controversial subject. There are, however, bye-law making powers. The Act of 1921 anticipated a situation of this kind. Certain authorities have already exercised those powers. What is the Government's attitude to the authorities who desire to do that? A London conference has been summoned, and various local authorities in London have agreed to attend. They are going to discuss frankly and freely the alternative policy of raising the school age by bye-laws. What is the attitude of the Government to be? In greater London there is a very difficult and complex problem. It would be a fatal blunder to raise the school age in one part of London and not to raise it in another part, to raise it, say, in Croydon and Hendon and not to raise it inside the county or, alternatively, to raise it inside the county and to fail to do so outside. The Board exists and is paid for the purpose of directing the policy of the country. If it is going to sit as a passenger, silent, indifferent, apathetic, without a policy, we might as well sweep the Board away and economise in that direction, and leave this work to the Treasury or some other financial authority. The Board is the Department of the Government which deals with education and it has a direct responsibility to deal with this problem.

I agree with the Minister as to the immense progress that has been made in organisation. In London 88 per cent. of the schools have been reorganised and by next year 77 per cent. of the children will be in reorganised schools. That is a great triumph. In the Hadow Report, to which the Minister rightly paid a great tribute —he recognises that report as his guide, philosopher and friend; he is steeped in its philosophy—it is stated that there should be a four years' course to be effective. Will he accept the whole scheme as outlined so that when the reorganisation is complete children over 11 years of age shall be required, in order to make the new education effective, to stay at school for four years? He ought to give the country a lead. Let him say: "We are against raising the school age by by-law and we are going to stop any schemes of that sort," or let him say: "We will sympathetically receive any suggestions on those lines."

I understand that West Riding and Lancashire authorities will meet next week. The Board have turned down Huddersfield. I do not think it is wise to take small areas. If you are to raise the school age by by-law it must be done by large areas, so that you will not have children coming from one area and taking the jobs in another area. That is what has brought about the breakdown of the county council's experiment.


Have not the suggested by-laws to be submitted to a poll of the parents of the children, in accordance with the Education Act of 1921?


I do not think so. The only authority to which they have to be referred is the Board of Education. There is nothing that requires that there shall be a ballot of the parents of the children concerned. If the organisation is to be effective, there must be, first, a four years' course. That point is made clear by the Hadow Report. In the second place, they insist upon the necessity of proper buildings. If the schools are to be suitable and to be effective for their purpose and if there is to be a new atmosphere, the buildings must come up to something near the standard required for secondary schools. The hon. Member for Aberavon was right on this point. During the last 12 months the Board has, time after time, turned down proposals for new buildings or for reconstruction. I am told that in Lancashire and Yorkshire time after time proposals for rebuilding schools have been turned down by the Board, although that is part of the essential provision for carrying out reorganisation.

There is also the question of equipment to be considered. The Hadow Report constantly dwells upon the necessity of broadening the syllabus of education if it is to become acceptable to the children in the schools. Obviously, a world run by black-coated people would soon come to an end. Trade would stop, fields would go unploughed, and machinery would come to a standstill. If the extension of the school age is to be acceptable to the parents, the children must be brought more into contact with real life. There must be greater variety in the curriculum and the opportunities for manual and mechanical work should be brought up to the standard required in technical schools. But there again, unfortunately, the Board are at fault. No encouragement is given to local education authorities to bring these new schools up to the standard required in the report. The report suggested that there should be a parallel division of senior schools into, on the one hand, grammar schools to provide literary education, and, on the other hand, modern schools with modem equipment, modern machinery and all that is required to give a really effective practical education such as would enable children to enter a factory or workshop equipped as are children who enter the literary professions or commerce or trade. Last year I referred to a remarkable report by four inspectors sent out by the Board of Education to study Continental methods. I think I can claim some credit for the journey of those four inspectors, because I have constantly pressed on previous Boards the necessity of studying Continental methods. Their report is most emphatic on the necessity of the development of technical education in this country if our young people are to be efficient for their work and our industry is to hold its own with industry in Continental countries. On page 47 they say: To an English observer the equipment of Continental technical schools appears to be lavish. … This applies to the schools in Belgium, and especially to the trade schools. Even the smallest are provided with some machine tools, and the largest are as fully equipped with machines and precision instruments as a modern industrial firm. Then they make four practical proposals. First, they suggest an increase in the number of junior technical schools. The Parliamentary Secretary was apparently conscious of the importance of that problem, because he referred to it, but progress last year was comparatively slow. Secondly, they suggest a considerable increase in the number of junior vocational schools. Thirdly, they speak of the inadvisability of leaving the training to evening classes, and say how important it is to remedy a state of affairs under which the bulk of our children who receive such training acquire it after a hard day's work in factory or workshop, when they are too tired to take advantage of it. They insist on the necessity of proper opportunities for attending day continuation schools. Finally, and this is a practical point in reference to the new system of senior schools, they urge the proper equipment of senior elementary schools, saying: In view of the fact that the great majority of skilled workers in our industries need intelligence, alertness and flexibility, rather than specialised skill, the manual instruction work undertaken in the senior elementary schools should be broadened in scope; it should include work with a considerable variety of materials, simple machinery should gradually be installed and team work should be encouraged That all means money, find also a complete reorganisation of the character of these senior schools. I know from personal experience how those schools are handicapped by insufficiency of materials, of equipment and of machines. I suggest to the Board that if they really mean business, if they really want to be worthy of their responsibility, they should outline a practical policy for making this reorganisation of schools not merely a figurative reorganisation but a real reorganisation, giving us a system of education suited to the needs of the country and comprising, before long, a four years' course. The Board exists, and I want the Board to function, and not any longer to be afraid of its shadow. The Board of Admiralty has a policy; the War Office has a policy. The Ministry of Labour has outlined a policy in its great Bill which, however we may disagree with it, at any rate was an attempt to deal with one of our economic problems. The Board of Trade has its policy. What is the policy of the Board of Education? If the Board is to be effective, if our education is to be on the right lines, the co-ordination of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken will not be enough. A real constructive policy is wanted, so that our education in the 20th century may be up to the standard and meet the needs and requirements of a 20th century population.

5.21 p.m.


I should like, in the first place, to join with those who have congratulated the Parliamentary Secretary on the admirable way in which he has presented these Estimates, but, unlike the speakers who have preceded me, I shall not go on to disagree with everything he has said. The two previous speakers have referred to elementary education, and I want to say something concerning higher education. I wish to bring before the Committee's attention the Regulations laid down by the Board of Education in relation to State scholarships in universities in England and Wales. Perhaps I may be allowed briefly to give some account of these State scholarships, showing how long they have been in existence and the object for which they were instituted. It was in 1920 that a grant was first made from the Treasury for State scholarships, in order to encourage the flow of pupils from grant-aided schools to the universities and, generally, to encourage individuals, who could not afford a university education, to take it. The scholarships are restricted in value; the maximum payment for tuition fees is £50 a year, and the maintenance grant cannot exceed £80. The tenure of the scholarships is three years, though they may be extended to four.

The Regulations laid down by the Board are many in number, but there are only three to which I wish to refer. The first is the educational test. Every candidate for one of these scholarships must have passed one of the examinations known as the higher certificate examinations conducted by the various universities in England and Wales. There are half-a-dozen or more of such examinations. The next test is the financial test, or, in other words, and to use an expression more familiar in this House, the means test. Every parent or guardian of a boy or girl who wishes to enter for one of these scholarships has to make a statutory declaration showing what his means are and stating how much he himself can afford to pay towards the boy's or girl's education at the university, and the scholarship, if awarded, varies in value in accordance with that declaration. The maximum value, as I have said, is £50 for fees and £80 for maintenance, but the actual value of the scholarship may be less if the parent is shown to be capable of providing something towards the cost.

The third regulation to which I wish to draw attention, and to which I and many others in the House take particular exception, is that boys and girls, in order to be eligible for these State scholarships, must be pupils in full-time attendance at a secondary school recognised by the Board of Education for purposes of grant, or, in other words, grant-aided schools. They are schools which the Exchequer already subsidises in a very substantial manner for the education of boys and girls. I suppose everybody in the House will admit that the first two regulations, that dealing with the educational qualification and that imposing a means test, are reasonable—I think they will be accepted even by the Opposition who sit below the Gangway but as regards the third regulation I maintain that discrimination between grant-aided schools and any other schools in the country is entirely unjustified. These State scholarships are paid for by the taxpayer, and the field should be open, and there should be no favour. The opportunity should be open to all who fulfil the first two conditions, the test of educational qualifications and the test of means. Any boy or girl in any school in the country who has satisfied those two tests should be allowed a perfectly free and open chance of getting one of those State scholarships. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO."] I hear an hon. Member of the Opposition say "No." I know why. He wants to force parents to send their children into grant-aided schools, and to do away with the whole tradition of our educational system. This is not a question of one law for the rich and another for the poor; the regulations as they are at present are one law for poor X and another law for poor y, and that is quite unjust.

As a general rule, I am prepared to agree that there are probably more boys and girls in the grant-aided schools who are in financial need than there are in the other schools. The Committee should not think that I am speaking from the point of view of the great public schools such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester, where there are very complete and adequate endowments to help pupils, but I am speaking of schools where there are no such facilities. They are not grant-aided, and are struggling schools. They are excellent in their way, and I could mention a number of them. It is not fair actually to specify any schools that I have in mind, but they are among the so-called public schools. It is difficult to define a public school, but in those I have in mind the endowments are extremely slender. There may be excellent boys and girls there who have only a one-in-20 or one-in-30 chance of getting an exhibition —comparatively, a negligible chance. Those schools are not already a charge upon the State in respect of grant, and the boys and girls from them satisfy precisely the same educational tests as are demanded for State scholarships they also satisfy the test of being able to show financial need; yet the children are debarred from State scholarships. If I could prove that there was only one boy or girl in this country who was excluded from the benefit of education in a university on account of the regulations, that would prove the necessity for a change in the regulations. But it is not a case of one; it is a case of very many.

The crisis of 1931 affected a very large number of parents who would have been able, looking forward under normal conditions, to afford to send their boy or girl to a university without requiring a State scholarship, but that crisis changed the circumstances of many parents in such a way that they are not able to face the expenditure required, and yet they are debarred an equal opportunity under these regulations. All I ask is equality of opportunity. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) used that phrase in his speech. I have heard of parents who are faced with this alternative, whose children at the moment are at a school which is not grant-aided, that they cannot afford to send their children to a university and they have to ask themselves whether they should take their boy or girl away from the schools where they are being educated in order to make the children eligible for a State scholarship. The Board of Education points with pride to the academic successes which State scholars have succeeded in attaining. I think I am right in saying, speaking from memory, that 89 per cent., or perhaps a little greater, have succeeded in getting first or second-class in honour examinations in a university. That leaves a very ominous 10 per cent. who are only getting third class. After making allowance for failure for illness, or some other circumstance which does not depend upon the intellectual powers of the scholar or upon whether he has been lazy, there is still a large percentage of failures, which ought not to be the case. There are 20 or 25 of the 300 scholars who are elected now who fail and who ought never to be encouraged to go to a university. They have been chosen while perhaps 20 or 25 who were much better capable of benefiting from a university education than they have not been allowed to compete.

The point that I want to impress upon hon. Members is that we are doing an injustice to boys or girls who have to earn their living on their academic record. It is a real unkindness to send boys and girls of that kind to the university and to let them come out with a third class. They might have been much better employing their time learning something else than competing in the higher educational circles with those who can get first or second class. I do not know what percentage of scholars get first class, or second class, the latter is not of very great value in the educational world. I have been challenged to produce figures comparable with those to which the Board point sometimes in regard to scholarships. I have taken the trouble to get the records of my own college for a period of 10 years. I do not think my college differs very widely from others, but in those 10 years we had 131 scholars, and they took 217 honour examinations. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to say that one may take more than one honour examination in the process of getting a degree. Out of those 217, there were 135 first-class. That is a very good record indeed; 62 per cent. of our scholars get first-class. I do not know how that compares with the State scholars of the Board of Education. The number in the second-class was 69, that is to say, 32 per cent., and only 13 were third-class. That is almost exactly 6 per cent. The percentage of third-class does not differ very widely from the percentage of third-class of State scholars, but the percentage of first-classes is better. A third-class may not be quite such an injury or be so disastrous to the ordinary boy or girl who comes up from a public school and who may not be dependent upon making a living afterwards in the educational world, as it is to one who comes up and, having get a State scholarship, only obtains a third-class.

There is no discrimination between one school and another in any other form of assistance—and there are many of them. Local education authorities are able to make grants for suitable candidates to go to universities, and there are leaving exhibitions from schools, and scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge. The whole thing is open and free to all, and depends upon educational qualifications and, in nearly every case, upon need. It is open to everyone, and there is a fair field and no favour. Why should not the State scholarships be equally free? What would hon. Gentlemen opposite say if the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were to say, "We shall not allow people to be eligible for scholarships who come from grant-aided schools"? We could not stand against the uproar for five minutes. Everyone will agree that the way in which the scholarships at the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges are awarded is fair and free from favour.


What would you say if the endowments were taken away from the public schools?


That goes a little outside, but I can answer the point in this way, the endowments of the public schools benefit and give help to boys and girls who need it. There is a needs test in every scholarship. I am not speaking for the great public schools which are heavily endowed, but for the small schools which have only very small endowments. Unfair discrimination exists between those schools and the grant-aided schools. The only attempt which has been made to justify the discrimination is that, if the field were widened, and boys from any school, subject to the fundamental conditions which I have mentioned, were eligible for a State scholarship, it would mean a large reduction in a number of State scholarships available for boys and girls in the grant-aided schools, or it would mean an increase in the national expenditure. I would not for one moment support anything which would now increase the Vote required for this purpose.

Let us think for a moment; either I am correct in my statement that there is a considerable number of boys and girls who, owing to these regulations, are prevented from getting to the university and getting the benefit of the higher education, or the number is so small as not to affect the number of scholarships which would normally be given to boys and girls in grant-aided schools. If the number be large, so much the greater is the injustice against which I complain; if the number be small, so much the less will the number be of scholarships available for boys and girls in grant-aided schools be affected. I do not want to press the Board too much at this stage, but I would like to make this practical suggestion, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to accept it when he replies. Let the Board test the actual facts over a year. Let the Board announce that they are prepared to consider applications from boys and girls in schools which are not grant-aided. Let the parents of the boys and girls send particulars of their children having passed the examination test and a statutory declaration as to their means, precisely as is required under the regulations now. Let the Board then say, having examined those statements: "We will let you have a chance with the others." That would show what the numbers are likely to be, and it would show what effect it would have on the number of scholarships available for the grant-aided schools. If, as I believe would be the case, it showed that there are a large number of deserving boys and girls who ought to have as great a consideration as those in grant-aided schools, let the Board say, "We will let you compete on the same terms as others."

I am speaking for all universities, and the view which I am expressing has received the support of every University representative in this House except one. I have been in touch with other universities, apart from Oxford and Cambridge, and I have talked over the matter with their vice-chancellors. I have not met with a single vice-chancellor who does not agree with the point of view that I am putting. I have spoken with school masters at some of the larger schools, and I find that it is almost unanimously agreed that the regulations should be amended.

5.44 p.m.


I ask the indulgence of the Committee on venturing to raise my voice in this Chamber for the first time. I promise to be brief, and I can make that promise the more confidently as some of the subjects on which I should most have liked to speak would be excluded by the Rules of the House. I should like, first of all, to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on the very interesting and able statement which he made. He interested me from the very beginning when he spoke of the reorganisation of the schools which has been in progress. He is justly proud of what has been done, and we must all rejoice that so much has been done in the time; but the hon. Gentleman knows as well as the rest of us that, so long as the senior school course remains shorter than the four years which the Hadow Committee considered essential, so long must it remain a truncated and incomplete thing. I hope that before long we shall be able to congratulate the hon. Gentleman on its proper completion.

I regret the delay in raising the school-leaving age, on general grounds. It was always, in my opinion, a sound policy; now it is an urgent need. I regret that delay also on the special ground that, until England does something in the matter, no money is forthcoming to enable Scotland to do anything. As to the question of allowing authorities to raise the age by by-law, no one can object to the Board's exercising its discretion if it finds that the local conditions are not suitable, but one would like to feel that no difficulties are being put in the way. Without going into details, one may say in general that difficulties of accommodation and difficulties of staffing are now much less than they would have been three years ago. One was glad to hear, during the Debates on the Unemployment Bill, that the interim solution, as I may call it. afforded by the junior instruction centres is not to be a bar to the raising of the age at some future date, one hopes before long. In the meantime, it is up to all of us who are concerned to make that second-best alternative as good as it can be made. Now, when the expected great and rapid expansion of those junior instruction centres is about to take place —in their first year some eight or 10 times as many young people will be accommodated in them as before—one hopes that a good standard of staffing, equipment and environment generally will be set up and maintained. It is of the utmost importance for many reasons that the prestige of these institutions should be high, and in that connection there is one point that I should like to mention. I understand that some education authorities are willing to lend the services of their medical officers for these centres, and I was glad to hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that the Board is not likely to be niggardly in the matter, but will look with an indulgent eye on any such schemes. I mean, of course, medical service for those who are not insured under the National Health Insurance scheme.

The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) has referred to the question of nursery schools. One of the most important discoveries made in the course of the medical inspection of schools has been that many of the defects which are discovered in the course of the medical inspection of schools are defects which could very easily have been remedied, and with much better results as regards after-life, if they had been found during the pre-school years. One hopes that the Board will give a lead and begin a forward policy in connection with this and some other matters. Reference has been made to recruitment for industry, and one welcomes the increase in the number of consultations between home and school on the one hand, and between school and industry and commerce on the other. There is one matter to which I should like to refer in that connection. Speaking as an old headmaster, I am afraid that in giving vocational guidance our methods of what I may call vocational testing have been somewhat rough and ready. I contrast them with something that I was able to see a year ago in an elementary school in Rome. That school, which was of the ordinary size, had attached to it a completely equipped psychological laboratory, intended to serve that school and three or four others. In charge of it were two ladies, trained psychologists, one with a medical degree, and it was interesting to see the large number of delicate, expensive and elaborate machines for all kinds of testing for response to stimuli and so on. While this was mainly for the benefit of those who were about to leave school, it was being done throughout the school course, and very accurate records were being kept. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider the possibility of doing something in that direction a little more scientific than what we have been doing in the past.

There is only one other matter that I should like to mention. As regards the size of classes, the latest figures that I have been able to get show that between 1931 and 1932 the number of classes with 50 pupils or over fell from 8,571 to 7,986. I think the hon. Gentleman mentioned a later figure, but I did not catch what it was. The numbers, however, are still appallingly large, and it must be common knowledge that the modern enlightened methods, which make much use of individual work and practical work, pre-suppose smaller classes. I would express the hope that there may be further reduction, and that the process will be speeded up.

5.54 p.m.


I am sure the Committee would wish me to congratulate the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Dr. Morrison) on the thoughtful, interesting and instructive maiden speech which he has delivered. As I understand that there is still quite a number of would-be speakers, and the time at our disposal is but short, I do not intend to detain the Committee for long. It seems to be a custom, when these Estimates are introduced each year, for the Minister to mention the fact that practically two-thirds of our expenditure on education goes in teachers' salaries. I would not complain about that except that I think that it gives a wrong impression to the country generally. People seem to have the idea that teachers are extravagantly paid, but to-day there are still many thousands of women teachers who, even after the restoration of half the cut, are receiving less than £3 a week; there are thousands of men teachers 30 years of age, with eight or nine years' service, who are receiving less than £5 a week; and even in London, which is perhaps the highest paid area in Great Britain, the average salary for men teachers is very little above £5, and the maximum is still under £7 a week. When one considers that most teachers do not begin to earn until they are at least 21 years of age, and sometimes older, I think that very few Members of the House would consider that the salaries present paid to teachers are at all extravagant. In fact, they are in my opinion still a grossly underpaid class of public servants.

Another point which the Minister stressed was that he had not received much evidence of malnutrition in this country. He seemed to think that one had to go to distressed areas to find such evidence, and that even there it was lacking. I do not think he need go so far as that. If he would go only a mile or two from this House, to the Royal Borough of Kensington, he would get plenty of evidence if he sought for it at all. He would find, in the northern division of the borough, an infantile mortality of 120 per 1,000, and, in one ward, of 140, or twice that of Poplar. He would find a disease rate in children double the disease rate in the southern part of the borough, and he would find, if he would investigate in conjunction with the medical officer of health, an abnormal number of cases of malnutrition. I suggest that, if the Minister would take a trip to Kensington, he would discover that evidence which at present he finds lacking in his journeys up and down the country.

We are frequently told that the country is weathering the storm, that we are out of the crisis, and we see evidence in the financial journals of the increased stability and wealth of the country. If that were really true, this ought to be a year, not only of rejoicing from the benches opposite, but of pronounced development from an educational point of view. It ought to be a year of abnormal expenditure on education. But that has not been the case. The Minister himself admits that in the last two years there have been economies amounting to nearly £7,000,000 a year. With regard to buildings, he seemed to think that what I would call the slum schools were to be found only in non-provided areas or in rural areas, but again he need not go so far to find slum schools—he can find them in London. Having taught in many parts of London, I believe it would be fair to say that practically one-quarter of the schools of London could well be pulled down and re-built in any decent five-year educational plan in this country. I know of schools within a mile of this Chamber with playgrounds for 40O children of which the area is less than that occupied by this Chamber. We talk about cleanliness in the class-rooms, but I know of schools where you will find 200 boys with two towels to keep themselves clean in recreation-time and lunch-time, though cleanliness is next to godliness.

As regards books, I do not pretend that the equipment from the point of view of books in many of our schools is what it was in pre-war days. Hon. Members on this side will recollect the reading lessons when there was one book for a class for a year, and when, if you told a boy to go on reading and he happened to have lost the place, he could still go on, because he knew the book by heart. Things are not so bad now, but everyone knows that the provision of reading books in our schools in this country is generally woefully deficient. Again, in a large number of schools in London the lighting is still by gas, and, while the first rows in the class-room are warmed by the fire, the children at the back are frozen. The Minister admits that there are still many hundreds of classes in our schools with more than 60 pupils, and many thousands with more than 50. In London I have had the pleasure of teaching classes with only 30 or 35 pupils, and it was never my experience that, with a class of 30 boys, I had too few in the class. In fact, I think it is true to say that no teacher, however clever and conscientious he may be, can teach in any reasonable fashion a class of more than 45 or 50 children. Modern methods and modern teachers stress the importance of individual tuition, but when you have a lesson of 40 minutes for a class of 60 children, by the time you have gone round and said "Good morning" and "How are you?" the time is up. It is impossible and stupid to think that there can be. any real educational efficiency so long as thousands of our classes exist with 50 or more boys or girls in them. Indeed, in my opinion there is every reason for saying that, instead of a decrease of £7,000,000 in the Education Estimates for the last two years, this Government and this country ought to have been spending £10,000,000 more. It would have been a far greater thing to boast about this year if we could have said that we were spending £10,000,000 more on education and £10,000,000 less on military Estimates than the reverse, as has been the case in the last two years.

I often wonder why Conservatives as a whole seem to be opposed to educational development, though I know there are individual exceptions. Is it because they have realised through statistics that poorer children, who have had little opportunity, come out very well in examinations in comparison with others? I wonder if it is because they fear that in competition the working-class child will be at least as good if he has the opportunity. If that is not the reason, what is it? I wonder if it is because the average Conservative realises that in the last 60 years, as we have spent more on education, as we have had better schools, and perhaps better masters and equipment, they have seen that the whole tendency has been towards a more democratic outlook. I wonder if some of them think, as the old Tories used to think, that more education means the downfall of Tory ideas and traditions. If it is so, they ought to put on the other side of the scale the obvious truth that, as we have spent more on education, we have produced, from their point of view, better workers, better thinking workers, more productive workers, and from the sheer mercenary point of view, from the business and profit-making point of view, the better educated our workers are the better for the economic standing of the country. Even from the lowest point of view that is true.

I do not feel at all pessimistic when I look back on the progress of the country in the last 60 years generally. Not being a pessimist, I can see very well that during that period there has been, from almost every point of view, very great progress. There have been less drinking, less crime and less distress. Although there are many factors contributing to that improvement, I believe that increased and better education is the biggest single factor. If that be true, it would be sound common sense and sound economy not to decrease but to go on increasing educational expenditure, making it more efficient, and giving the poorest children an equal opportunity with the richest. It would pay the State from every point of view, and, in my judgment, it would be the best investment in which the country could indulge.

6.3 p.m.


I should like to add my modest congratulations to the Minister on his speech. I welcome more than anything else the definition of the picture that he painted. We hear a great deal of the pictures painted by educationists. My great complaint against them usually is that they are very indistinct and hazy. That, at any rate, cannot be said of the Minister's speech. He has had two very difficult years in which to function in the Department, and it would be ungenerous on our part not to recognise that, in spite of the difficulties, in spite of the crisis through which the country has passed, the educational structure as a whole has survived pretty well. I can never agree with those who seem to think that, the more money you spend on education, the more efficient it is bound to be. On the other hand, I believe that very often, in a time of crisis such as we have passed through, the Department is inclined to think that by petty economies it can do something really worth while, and the great danger that they have been up against in the last two years is in falling to the temptation of making small economies which might do damage to the educational structure far out of proportion to the amount of cash that they save. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) trailed his coat, principally at the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) and my hon. Friend in front of me, and I will not tread on it, but there are one or two points to which I should like to refer in connection with secondary education. I cannot go into any great detail on the question of pensions. The Minister touched on it, and I hope that he is giving the matter very careful attention. I would just remind him that, at any rate at present, the teachers are suffering in perpetuity a cut in respect of pensions which was only imposed to meet a national emergency, and I will leave it at that.

I should like to say a word upon the separation of the matriculation and school certificate examinations. I welcome the decision that has been made to bring the school certificate examination more into alignment with the requirements of the present position. The whole tendency in the past, and the influence of the examination, has been to stereotype the curriculum, to eradicate individuality and to bring all the schools to one dead and dull level. In my opinion, that is a very bad thing in the secondary schools. Indeed one of the reasons which make me enthusiastic on the question of education—here I part company with hon. Members in front of me—is that I believe if you followed their policy to its logical conclusion you would deprive our secondary school system of its most valuable feature, that is, the variety that has always existed throughout those schools. As Pope said in another connection; What shocks one part will edify the rest; Nor with one system can they all be blest. Of nothing is that more true than of the secondary schools. Anything that the Board can do, through the alteration of this examination or in any other way, to preserve the variety and individuality of the schools instead of stamping it out, would be welcomed by every true friend of education. Another fault of the examination is that it has led to the desire to accumulate facts rather than knowledge. It was Huxley who once, speaking of his science students, said: These students study to pass and not to know, and outraged science takes her revenge. They do pass, and they do not know. That is one of the curses that have been put upon our schools as a result of the demands of the matriculation examination. Then my hon. Friend will have two great difficulties. First of all, he will have to contend with a very large body of employers who demand a matriculation certificate as a passport to employment. I had a case brought to my notice two years ago of a young fellow, whom I knew, who applied for a post in a firm in one of our large cities. He told them he was a Bachelor of Science with honours from Manchester University, and he was granted an Interview. The gentleman who interviewed him said, "What have you done? What can you show me?" He replied, "I am a Bachelor of Science." The man said, "I know that, but have you passed matriculation?" That is the attitude of a surprisingly large number of employers, who seem to think that this certificate is a wonderful thing, and unless a person is the proud possessor of it, he is not worthy of being offered a post.

Perhaps an even greater obstacle will be the parents. You come up there against a quite natural family pride and a certain amount of jealousy where you get boys going to the same school, particularly in industrial areas, and a certain amount of social prestige is lent to the mother of William, who passed his matriculation and who will look down her nose at the mother of Thomas, who has not been so fortunate. There is, no doubt, also a reform needed in the character of the examination itself, which should be based more upon the actual curriculum of the schools and less upon the requirements of universities than it is at present. There is too much tendency to make the examination approximate to the intermediate or preliminary examination in universities, to save the tutors and professors a certain amount of work.

I think that this school certificate examination should be, in its essence, a test of what the boy or girl has done at school, and the certificate a badge of proficiency and of attainment. Secondly, I should like to see more oral and more practical work in examinations. English, a subject in which I am particularly interested, is very much neglected. It tends to be more and more a test of the candidate's memory—whether he can reproduce from the text book, or from the skilfully compiled notes of his teacher, just those things which the examiner is likely to ask him. I think there is room for more oral work in connection with English, and, of course, foreign languages generally. There should be more room for practical work. At present what is called group IV in the school certificate examination, which embraces these practical subjects, is an outcast in many cases and schools only resort to it as a last resort for what they look upon as their border-line cases of pupils who come very near the margin of mental deficiency.

Then there is required a fairer assessment as between subject and subject. If you are to have these passports, which the child is to carry with him for the rest of his life and be asked for by employers, you should not have the anomalies which arise at present. I have two examples which are very striking. One pupil who took this examination passed up to the standard of good in two subjects, credit in three, passed in two, and failed in one, and get 1,099 marks. He failed although he had reached a pass in no fewer than seven subjects out of eight. Another pupil in the same school get no "good," one "credit," five "satisfactories" and two "fails." with 281 fewer marks, and passed. That is obviously an anomalous state of affairs which ought to be remedied.

The Minister congratulated himself upon the way he got away with Circular 1421, [...] I cannot allow him to get away quite so easily as that. Circular 1421 as put into operation was a totally different thing from Circular 1421 as it was laid before the House. There was all that blessed elasticity brought into play, and all that concession made which we know that Wales received in greater abundance than any part of the Kingdom. The fears that we had when the Circular was first issued were very reasonable and well-founded fears. It is in the administration of that circular that those fears have been removed, and as a result, no doubt, to some extent of representations that were made on the subject by local authorities. I agree with the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) who said in this Chamber not very long ago that it would be an excellent thing if we could have a close season for circulars, and then we could have some time to think about them before they were issued, and, having had some time to think about them, we should not waste time afterwards in explaining them away and whittling them down.

There is another example of a circular which at the time caused considerable perturbation, and reasonably so. There, again, we had the usual explanations that the circular did not mean what it seemed to mean, but that it had an inner meaning which would be expounded to the authorities concerned. There was talk in that circular about extravagant staffs. It appeared, at any rate on the surface, to recommend larger classes, and whatever may have been the case in the primary schools, there is no doubt that in the secondary schools there has been an increase in the size of Glasses. Whereas in 1930 those possessing more than 30 pupils amounted to something like 3,600, in 1932 they had gone up to 4,800, so that Circular 1428, at any rate, coincided with the increase in the size of classes. Of those at the present time above the limit, some are science classes with more than 35 pupils, and I would like to appeal to the Minister on that point. In science it is not merely bad for teacher and pupil, and not merely inefficient, but positively dangerous to co-am, as I have seen, 37 children into a laboratory constructed to hold two dozen children, and to put a teacher there with responsibility for all that might happen. It is putting too much strain on the teacher. It is impossible for him to do justice to his pupils and to the subject of which he is in charge, and at the same time to look, as he is bound to look, after the safety and well-being of those children in such a confined space. Under Circular 1428 there are, no doubt, authorities which are afraid to do what they ought to do, namely, to increase their staffs in order to make proper provision for the children in those swollen classes.

There is one other thing to which I should like to refer in regard to Circular 1428. It is suggested in connectiin with the circular that in order to economise staffing, pupils at the top end of the school should be transferred to some other school where a suitable course might be provided. That would be a very bad thing and would have a very bad influence on the spriit of the school. A number of these schools are old schools and have a tradition. Those which have not an old tradition have been building up a tradition for the last 20 years. There is an esprit de corps about the school. Boys are proud, though some might not think it, after leaving some of those secondary schools, of the fact that they are old boys of those schols, and it is a thing we ought to foster and encourage. If at the age of 16, when he is about to become a leader in his school, a boy is to be taken away and put in some other strange institution, it will do a great deal of damage to something which is far more valuable than the few pounds which may be saved in that connection. These are comparatively minor points, and I end as I began by saying that I think that, on the whole, our educational system has been in good hands, and has suffered very little considering the very difficult times through which the nation has been passing.

6.21 p.m.


The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education in the course of his speech to-day, compared himself to the chairman of a public company delivering his annual address. That analogy had occurred to me before he himself mentioned it. In the course of his speech he used phrases which shareholders have now become quite accustomed to hear. He emphasised the necessity for what he called conserving our reserves, and warned his hearers against expecting any sensational or spectacular results. His warning was delivered at the proper time, because we certainly have not had either sensational or spectacular results. At the same time, I join with othe rspeakers in congratulating my hon. Friend upon the very charming and interesting way in which he presented his annual report to the Committee. Above everything else, I welcomed the great change in the tone and temper of his speech to-day from what occurred on the last occasion, when it seemed to me he was more concerned with defending his Estimates against those who criticised the expenditure of public money upon our educational services. To-day he was more concerned with defending (his Department in respect of justifying what they had been doing in the course of the last year. I do not want to say anything which will detract from the value which he has claimed for the services of the Board of Education during the past year.

I welcome very much the figures he gave showing the great improvement in regard to the buildings of elementary and secondary schools. He must not rest content with what he has done. There is still a great deal of room for improvement in regard to the buildings of our schools, particularly in rural areas. I emphasise the point because it has relation to what he said about the physical condition of the children. He spoke with justifiable pride of the provision which is being made for the feeding of school children, but, as far as rural areas are concerned, it is possible that the benefit the children gain by the provision of meals may be more than counterbalanced by deficiencies in two directions—the one the deficiency of the school itself, and the other the matter of transport. When I come up from Wales to London I have to pass through an area which includes about six elementary schools, and I cannot help observing in the early hours of the morning, and at all times of the year, the children who have to walk several miles in all sorts of weather in order to get to school. It may very well be that, by reason of the insanitary condition of the buildings and the dangers which they incur as a result of the early morning walk in all weathers, whatever may be done in the matter of feeding the children may be more than counterbalanced by the defects arising from those two considerations, I emphasise and press upon the Minister the necessity of securing an improvement in the sanitary condition of schools in rural areas. The Minister of Health has recently sought and obtained powers from Parliament with a view to meeting the dangers which may arise from the drought, and I would ask the Board of Education whether they cannot get into touch with the Ministry of Health—because they do not seem to be spending the £1,000,000 very rapidly; I doubt whether they have spent any of it so far, as I have not heard of a single grant being made—to see whether there is a chance of getting hold of part of that money with a view to improving the water arrangements in schools in rural areas.

I also welcome what the Parliamentary Secretary said about the reduction in the number of large classes, and, in view of one statement which he made, I would emphasise that the importance of the reduction in the size of classes is not to be measured by the prospect of giving employment to a larger number of teachers. We are concerned in advocating the reduction in the size of classes not from that point of view, but from that of advantage to the children by giving them the education which they need and which will be useful to them in the future. I also welcome what he said in regard to technical education, where there is also room for further improvement. I was reminded of a remark made by the late King of the Belgians in a foreword to a pamphlet issued by the Minister of Education in Belgium. He said: Technical education is one of the essential elemeents of the economic life of the country: its value contributes to the progress of our industry. One cannot conceive a nation compelled to export in order to live failing to seek every means of lowering the net cost of its products. Experience shows that this cost depends chiefly on improved methods. But to give its full yield, modern technique demands qualified workmanship which will be trained in schools capable of introducing students to the most modern processes. That matter applies equally to this country, and therefore the Board should go further in the encouragement of technical education. At the same time, one must enter a caveat that technical education should not be substituted for the general education provided by the general educational system of the country.

There are one or two criticisms I should like to make in regard to the educational structure of the country. I approach the subject from two ends. One is from the point of view of early childhood, emphasising the importance of developing the whole idea of nursery schools and their efficiency, and the other is from the end of encouraging every local authority which by means of by-law seeks to raise the school age. I was a little disappointed at the reply which the hon. Gentleman gave yesterday in answer to a question as to the attitude of the Board of Education to certain local authorities which were anxious to raise the school age. It did not seem to incorporate the spirit which we expect from the hon. Gentleman, and which we are entitled to expect from the Board of Education. It was rather a discouragement. I believe that the general opinion of the Committee is that it is up to the Board of Education to give every encouragement to every local authority which is anxious by means of by-law to raise the school age where that is possible.

I should like to ask a question with regard to Wales. I have heard the figures showing the grants made by the Government to education in Wales covering several years. I will take only three years. In 1932 the grants to all branches of education in Wales amounted to £3,909,323, and in 1933 it had dropped to £3,688,423. I can understand that there are various causes for that, including the reduction in salaries of teachers. In 1934 the grant went down still further to £3,605,656. I shall be obliged if the hon Gentleman, either now or on some future occasion, can give some explanation of the very considerable decrease in the amount of grants made to Wales. I, in common with many who are interested in educational matters in Wales, regret very much that the Secretary of the Welsh Department, Sir Percy Watkins, has left the Department. We appreciate the great energy and enthusiasm which he displayed in respect of all educational matters in Wales; at the same time, I think that we can congratulate the Board very heartily on the choice of a successor in a man whose character and personality, I am sure, will enable the Board to view Welsh educational matters with great favour and energy. I still feel that there is a lack of co-ordination with regard to our whole educational system. We find the most recent illustration of that fact in the Unemployment Insurance Act, in the fact that the responsibility for juvenile training centres is entrusted to the Ministry of Labour. I believe that to be a mistake, and it is only illustrative of the common failing in regard to the educational system of this country. The President of the Board of Education ought to be President of a board of all education in England and Wales. He is not. Many educational activities are entrusted to other Ministers, which means inefficiency. Just as the whole of the finances of the country are in the charge of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so in regard to education you should coordinate your system so that the Board of Education is the responsible authority. Only in that way will you promote the highest efficiency.

6.31 p.m.

Viscountess ASTOR

The hon. Member for North Hammersmith (Mr. West) asked why it was that Tories were always against education. If he will make inquiries he will find that some of the finest educationists have been Tories. In fact, good educationists are never politicians, and the trouble with the Labour party is that they have made education a political question. Really they are not any keener about it than any other party. No party is keen about education. Education is not a very popular subject; if it were, we should have had a better system long ago. I resent very much the endeavour to make it a party question; it is much too important for that. It is far above any party question. The Trades Union Congress used to say that the party stood for education, but they put it so far down on the agenda that they could never discuss it. There has been very little vision on this subject for the last 15 years. Women used to be classed with criminals, lunatics and paupers, and they have had no say whatever in the education of their children until quite recently. In spite of this lack of vision, we have probably the best educational system in the world. It is not yet good enough for some of us, and it will not be developed in the right direction unless there are some people who are constantly pressing its importance on the attention of the Government.

I have heard hon. Members on the Front Bench make the most beautiful speeches about an uneducated democracy carrying a torch in their hands, but I have never heard one of them speak with a torch in his own hands about education. I really believe that the Parliamentary Secretary would do so if he were a free man, and had his own way. I congratulate him on what he wants to do. It is all very well to criticize the Government, but after all, we alone, among all the countries in the world, have not had to make during the last two years great reductions in our expenditure on education. I (have been appalled at the fact that some of the States in America have had to close down their schools. We have not opened as many new schools as we would like, but, at any rate, there has been no closing down of schools. The time, however, is certainly coming when the Government will have to have a more progressive policy in education and give a lead to local education authorities. I was glad to hear the delightful maiden speech of the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Dr. Morrison), because it showed that he is a progressive educationist. Some university Members have not been progressive at all in the matter of education. It is absolutely essential that we should raise the school age. The Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) is now talking about the necessity of raising the school age. I wish he had seen the necessity for it five years ago, and that the Labour party had seen the necessity for it when they were in office.


We did.

Viscountess ASTOR

Do not talk nonsense to me. The Labour party put in a perfectly ridiculous little Clause in a Bill which even their own party could not support. I do not want to fight on this subject, but it is monstrous that local authorities which desire to raise the school age should be prevented from doing so when the Government are boasting that we have passed the worst of the financial crisis. On this matter the country is ahead of the Government, and the Parliamentary Secretary would, I think, get a vote from the House for raising the school age if it were put before them.

Then there is the question of large classes, which means a waste of education. There are three causes of wastage in education. There is first the large classes, and then there is the wastage in the new buildings. Some schools seem to have been built for eternity, whereas Miss Margaret McMillan made the discovery that you can get much better schools for a much less expenditure. The third cause of wastage in education is one which is very near and dear to me, that is, the wastage in the case of children whose health is such that they cannot take advantage of the opportunities offered to them. The Parliamentary Secretary says that children should not be prevented by their physical state from getting the full benefit of the education given. I am not much good at figures, but I have some figures here which, I think, he should know. We have 1,750,000 children between the ages of two and five years; 175,000 of these children live in real slums and many more in overcrowded conditions. I used to think that all children benefited from infant welfare centres but apparently only 50 per cent. get the benefit of this infant welfare, that is, children up to two years of age.

It is the children between two and five years of age who should be the special concern of the country. That is a gap in our treatment of young children. Of the children entering our elementary schools at five years of age between 40 and 50 per cent. show signs of rickets, while 27 per cent. are physically impaired; I do not mean mentally deficient. Our school medical service is enormous, and little wonder, because 194 children in every 1,000 between five and 15 years of age required treatment in 1932, and 174 more in every 1,000 required medical observation, while 613 in every 1,000 required dental treatment. These are facts which we must face. We also have to face the fact that there are nearly 58,000 children in special schools for blind, deaf, the tuberculous, epileptic, mentally deficient and crippled children. The chief medical officer of the Board has called attention to the neglect of pre-school children in every report for the last 15 years; he is one of the most efficient medical officers in the world, a man of outstanding ability and vision. I must read to the Committee what he has said. In 1922 he said: After the first year of life the young child has to bear a heavy burden of environmental neglect, associated with bad housing, poverty and absence of hygienic supervision. In 1923— There can he no doubt at all that the effective health supervision of the children between two and five is a public health and educational problem of great importance and urgency. In 1925— One significant fact in medical inspection is the serious degree of physical defect in the children on their first admission to school. I place this in the forefront of the medical problems of the elementary school. In 1926— The school medical service is called upon to deal with a yearly recurring burden of disease coming into the schools. It is not a defect here and there, which can be put right, and that is the end of it. It all too often is a degenerative process. In 1928: At present the pre-school child gets very little chance at all, and that is the plain reason why in these precious neglected years the seeds of disease are sown. In 1929: We shall never be in a position to deal satisfactorily with our school medical proplems until we improve the physical condition of the children between infancy and school life. That has been going on for 15 years. We have done very well and made splendid progress in infant welfare work, but from two to five years of age children from overcrowded areas have been neglected and are going to be neglected, although we know the remedies. In 1908 the Consultative Committee issued a report dealing with the advantage of nursery schools, and in 1933 it reported again, and strongly advocated their extension. As far back as 1918 the Board empowered the establishment of recognised nursery schools. In 1931 we were just getting going, and then came the Economy Act. I know of 33 projects which were stopped, and now that we are restoring some of the cuts which were imposed then, I press on the Government that they must restore the cuts which were imposed on nursery schools. They are a vital necessity. We have 5,000 children in the open-air nursery schools while 174,000 children between the ages of two and four are living in slum conditions.

What is the effect on the children of open-sir nursery schools? It has been proved over and over again that children taken from the worst conditions of overcrowding and housing, and from the worst parents, show marked improvement after they have been in the nursery school for a little time. I should like to show hon. Members the picture of a little boy two years of age who was rickety, malformed and listless, a hopeless kind of child. Within one year he was one of the most beautiful boys I have ever seen, alert and strong, and a child of which anyone could be proud. We have proved that children taken from the worst homes by the time they reach five years of age are half an inch taller than an ordinary child and five lbs. heavier than other children. We have also proved that rickets can be eliminated entirely. The figures show that of children who have not been to a nursery school 27 per cent. have rickets, whereas only 7 per cent. of the children who have been to a nursery school suffered from them. Take the case of the Margaret McMillan School at Deptford. Of the 62 children admitted this year 50 per cent. had rickets, not to mention other defects, but of 48 children who left at five years of age two months ago, 93 per cent. had a perfectly clean bill of health. That is extraordinary. Many of the diseases that are developed in later life are caught between the ages of two and five. That has been proved. Then surely it is false economy to economise in any way in the health of the nation and of the children whom we are educating. Children who go from the open air nursery schools are healthy in body and mind and alert. Sir George Newman stated: In the case of the slum child the nursery school secures a new order of child life. It is almost magical in its rapid growth, showing a triumph over the handicap of home and environment and circumstances. I could go on quoting for hours. It really is almost magical. Some day the country will wake up and realise what Margeret McMillan was and what she has done. Her beneficent influence has extended to all countries. It belongs to no class, no party and no country. I have taken people who did not believe in nursery schools down to Deptford. I took a leading Member of the Government, who said he could not spare more than half an hour, but he stayed one and three-quarter hours, and even then I could hardly get him away. At such places one can see what is possible.

Members of the Labour party talk about democracy and equality. I am convinced that the only way in which we shall get equality and really true democracy is by beginning to deal with the children at a younger age than at present. If I had a child carefully nurtured I should not care for it to go into an elementary school at five years of age with other children who may have come from dirty homes, but if you took my child at two years and took at two years also the child from the worst home in England, and you put the two in a nursery school, I would be perfectly willing for my child to go. Apart from health it is creating a new social order. You should see the children. They learn how to co-operate—that blessed word of which we hear so much talk. In overcrowded homes the best mother in the world has an impossible task. From the age of two to five the only place where a child can play is on a floor which is apt to be dirty, or in the street. Naturally the child has a grim time. Only a month ago I saw a child in a Nursery School which had come from a very tragic home. I found it grabbing everything and holding on to its food and its toys. I said to the teacher. "You have a problem there." The teacher replied, "Wait and see." In 10 days' time I saw that little toddler again. She was playing happily with the other children and sharing her toys with the best will in the world.

It is really astonishing what effect the nursery school has. At a very early age it eliminates greed, fear and disease; psychologically it has a wonderful effect. It teaches children companionship and everything that is beautiful in life. The hon. Lady the Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) said that when we had the wonderful houses to be provided under the new housing schemes open-air schools would not be necessary. I think she was wrong. Some of these new houses are death traps for children of two to five years. They have no backyards and they are built on the edge of the road. Apart from that, if a woman has to look after many children, even in a good house, those children cannot be looked after properly. With due respect to the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Dr. Morrison), I do not believe we need psychological clinics. It is far better to put children in open-air nursery schools, and to watch them there.

It may be said that all this is talk, and I may be asked what proposal I have to make. I have a very good proposal to make, and I hope the House of Commons will stand by me in pressing it on the Government. It is amazing what you can do with a Government if you push hard enough, particularly when by-elections are going against the Government. I am all for by-elections going against a Government that is large and powerful and strong. It has a very good effect. When I used to press for the raising of the school age my Socialist opponents used to go to the mothers in back streets and say, "Lady Astor is going to take the children away from you." To me education is not a party subject. I believe in an educated democracy. I cannot conceive anything that would make me more bitter than to have a child which I felt could not get an equal chance with other children although it had equal brains. When I talk about education I talk of something about which I feel very strongly.

We know what the Government spend on medical services. At present the sum is £4,500,000. I could give the figure of expenditure on the blind and the tuberculous. If we had a scheme to build open-air nursery schools for 50,000 children it would not cost more than £1,000,000, and, as the Chief Medical Officer has said, a great deal of disease is preventable, and that expenditure would save further expenditure later on. I beg the Government to think of the matter from that point of view. Let us have a really big constructive scheme for open air nursery schools; £1,000,000 is not very much to spend. Think of what we have spent on sugar beet. No better investment than £1,000,000 on nursery schools could be made at the moment. I have come back from devastated areas, and I have seen what open air nursery schools mean. You cannot build an open air nursery school in any area unless the community there is ready for it. There are communities ready for these schools, and there are education authorities ready. But unless the Government will give a grant we shall never get the schools. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to be courageous and to save the lives and the health of thousands of children. If I were a child of very poor parents in the slums I would almost rather die in infancy than face life with a deformed and crippled body. I beg the Government to go forward on the road, which will not only be good for the country but may be a paradise for thousands of little children.

6.57 p.m.


I share the regret of hon. Members that these proceedings are to terminate so soon and, that being the case, the Committee will understand that when I try to deal with the points which have been raised I must deal with them in a much more perfunctory way than I would otherwise do. Before I concentrate on the main points, I would answer the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones) on a point he raised with regard to voluntary training colleges. The position is that we are making this year a special grant of £20 for each place that they have lost this year, owing to our restrictions. The total sum for the one year, and it is non-recurring, will be about £10,000. We hope that that sum will go some way to relieve the difficulty though we know it will not go the whole way.

The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) spoke at considerable length on the subject of the embargo which the Board of Education is alleged to have placed on new school buildings, and he quoted at considerable length from an article written by the Secretary of the Association of Education Committees. I am sorry that the hon. Member did not rely on his own eloquence and originality which we always enjoy hearing, and that he has borrowed second-hand diatribes from the writer in question. I had seen the article myself, and whether or not it represents the opinions of local education authorities, of whom about 250 are members of the association, I do not know, but I am not prepared to adopt the writer's views as either impartial or accurate. It would have been very much better if the hon. Member, instead of relying on an article, had given me facts that contradicted what I have given to the Committee. I was at considerable pains to state what we have done, the number of schools built, and so on. If I could be given definite instances of local authorities having complained that they had had proposals turned down, I would be prepared to deal with them, but I cannot deal with a second-hand tirade contained in an education journal.

The hon. Baronet also referred to the circular dealing with capital expenditure. The new building which has taken place is very considerable though within the limit of Circular 1413, and, as the hon. Baronet knows, that circular gives discretion for proposals to be approved on their merits. The whole thing is largely a matter of administration. When I was speaking about capital expenditure I explained to the Committee that the future attitude of the Board will be that where the proposals for necessary capital expenditure are made, they will be sympathetically considered, particularly if they promote reorganisation.


Is the veto in Circular 1413 now removed in spirit?


That is a very vague phrase, which the hon. Baronet is rather fond of using. As Circular 1113 stands it is perfectly possible under it to carry out a large measure of reorganisation.


Circular 13 has been misrepresented by the hon. Baronet up to now.


That may be. The hon. Member for Aberavon in the course of his remarks stated that we had only to look at the figures of educational expenditure to see when the Socialist Government was in office. That is perfectly true, but he would get exactly the same information if he looked at the unemployment figures. At all events, it would be a mistake to base the progress of education on expenditure; that is a fallacious method of measuring it. The hon. Member alluded to the expenditure of £200 per annum on a child at our public schools and compared it with the £12 spent on our elementary schools. Apart from the fact that the £200 is spent by the parents out of their own money, I have no hesitation in saying that the education at any of our elementary or secondary schools is just as good as it is at any public school that he mentioned. He referred also to the raising of the school leaving age by by-law, and wished to know whether the Board were endeavouring to oppose the raising of the school leaving age by by-law in various areas, or whether they were agreeable that such procedure should take place. The position is quite simple. As I explained to the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) yesterday in supplementary answer, the by-law procedure is subject to approval by the Board, and in considering whether or not the authority should be authorised to raise its leaving age there are various points which the Board can quite properly take into consideration. The hon. Member mentioned one, that if the school leaving age is raised in one area it may cause an infiltration of children in search of employment from the surrounding areas where it is not raised. He gave the example of the Greater London area. That is one consideration which the board have to take into account in coming to a conclusion whether or not an authority shall be allowed to raise its school-leaving age. Another point which he raised which seems a sound one is educational. It would clearly be most unwise to allow authorities to raise the school-leaving age where they cannot make appropriate provision, not only in accommodation, but also in that practical instruction to which we attach so much importance in the schools. If it has happened that the Board has not been satisfied that this provision has been made, the authority may no doubt consult with the Board and decide to take steps that will be sufficient. Another consideration is the state of employment, where there is very little unemployment and the few children who are unemployed are staying on, as they are in some cases, voluntarily. Finally, there is always the factor of expenditure. These conditions, two of which the hon. Baronet will agree are reasonable, are vital in taking account of the giving or withholding of permission by the board. The hon. Baronet also said something about equipment. I think he meant practical equipment. As far as I am concerned, that is one of the first considerations authorised in any school. Practical instruction and domestic science are a sine quâ non of the board's approval. When he said that he did not want reorganisation to be merely a figure, I entirely agreed with him. As far as we are concerned, it is not a figure, it is becoming a very real thing.

I now come to the point raised by the junior hon. Member for Cambridge university (Mr. G. Wilson) in the matter of State scholarships. He and I have had various correspondence and conversations on this matter, and I am afraid that we still remain in disagreement. I will tell the Committee why. As my hon. Friend pointed out in 1920 this scheme of State scholarships was first introduced and 200 were awarded. It served the very valuable purpose of encouraging boys from the grant-aided schools—and at least 70 per cent. of those boys are from public elementary schools—to go to universities, not only Oxford and Cambridge but all universities. It was right to encourage them, because the flow of children from the poorer classes to the universities was nothing like as large as it should have been. The scheme worked very satisfactorily; admirable material was forthcoming, and in 1930 the numbers were increased from 200 to 300. If I were to adopt the suggestion made by my hon. Friend it would inevitably result in throwing open the field of these 300 scholarships to non-grant-aided schools and the number of children from the grant-aided schools who would get the scholarships would pro tanto be somewhat diminished. That is an almost inevitable Conclusion. If I had any reason to think that the quality of the children coming from these grant-aided schools were inadequate, then I might be very much more sympathetic towards this proposal. My inclination and my views are, however, decidedly to the contrary. Not only is the quality entirely adequate, but I could do with more State scholarships to children from grant-aided schools. Some parents, of course, who have not sent their children to grant-aided schools find when the time comes that their resources are not what they expected. None the less, I do not think that this justifies the State in saying that it will diminish the existing number and let in others. My hon. Friend gave figures from his own college as to those who only get third-classes. I think that the percentage was much the same as among State scholars.


What about the second-classes?


Speaking from memory, I think that the percentage of first-classes was rather similar. The figures are pretty good considering that over 90 per cent. of these State scholars get first or second-classes, and the number that get third-classes is precisely the same number as that of which the hon. Member has had experience in his own college.

The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Dr. Morrison) made a speech which all hon. Members much appreciated, and we all hope that he will intervene again on educational matters. He referred to vocational testing in our schools. This happens to be a subject in which I have taken a good deal of personal interest, and I was interested to hear his experience of the psychological laboratory attached to the schools in Rome. He hoped that we should do something of the same sort here. A certain amount of psychological work of the kind he mentioned is going on. Hon. Members are aware of the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, and local authorities in Willesden, Birmingham and elsewhere have utilised the services of experts from this Institute for the purpose of testing the children in their charge and of giving vocational guidance. Even if the result were to improve or diminish the number of misfits in the country by a small percentage, it would be well worth while. Although all these methods may be, and probably are, in their infancy, I think it is worth while for local education authorities to look into the possibilities of giving more scientific and more efficacious vocational guidance than they do at present.

The hon. Member for St. Helens (Captain Spencer) dealt with matriculation and the school certificate. He knows as well as I do the difficulties with which the situation is fraught. We are not, so to speak, masters in our own house. There are vested interests whose opposition it is necessary to remove. They are not entirely under the control of the board, and it may take time to remove these difficulties. He quoted the increase in the size of classes in the secondary schools as the result of Circular 1428. I am aware of the figures, but it is due to the bulge in our secondary schools which should be eliminated by 1937, and when that is through the position will be far more in accord with what I should like to see.

The hon. Member for the University of Wales (Mr. E. Evans) asked me about a decrease in certain figures of expenditure on Welsh education. I have not had time to look these figures up carefully, but at first sight I think he will find that the explanation is the decrease in the salaries of the teachers. I promise to look into the matter and, if there are any other reasons, to let him know. He also spoke of lack of co-ordination, and thought that the President of the Board should be in charge of all education all over the country. We are not seeking to have greatness thrust upon us but I will bear his recommendation in mind.

The Noble Lady gave us one of her very interesting and well-informed speeches upon the care of the pre-school child. I incline to emphasise that word "pre-school" because, strictly speaking, from the point of view of the Board of Education my concern is with the school child.

Viscountess ASTOR

I spoke of children in nursery schools. I hate to interrupt, but that point is decided. We had that battle, of whether the nursery schools should be under the Minister of Health or the Board of Education, and they are officially under the Board of Education, so they are yours.


I agree that the schools are, but the question is whether all the pre-school children are. The Noble Lady is interested in the position of nursery schools. There again it must be remembered that in 1931 and 1932 we were faced with the necessity for financial restrictions and there was a cessation of nursery school building. I do not wish to indulge in any prophecies as to what may now occur. I can only state that within the last month or two the Board has authorised two more nursery schools, one at Swansea, and I think one at Bradford. There is nothing to prevent local authorities from submitting urgent cases or where it is considered that the circumstances have altered, from bringing fresh proposals before the beard. I do not know what the result may be but I think the Noble Lady realises that where the provision of such a school is found to be urgently necessary it is unlikely that the Board are going to be adamant for all time.

We have had a very interesting Debate upon a subject which vitally concerns the future of all the children in our schools and therefore the future of the nation as a whole. In our educational system it is our business not only to teach these children to read and write and to use the tools of learning but to train them to think their own thoughts and not always the thoughts of other people. In the process of realising this aim it was inevitable that we should reach a stage at which hundreds of thousands of boys and girls on leaving school are susceptible and vulnerable to mass propaganda and suggestion and prone to regard the written or the printed word as gospel. Education has been defined as the art of preventing a man from being humbugged by a newspaper and I am sometimes inclined to think that a reliable educational barometer would record the advance or decline, of our educational system, in inverse ratio to the net sales of certain of our daily journals. The surest defence against that influence lies in our schools where it is our intention to train the mind and where the mind can be trained, to form calm, fair and dispassionate judgments and opinions. I have said recently outside and the Committee will forgive me if I repeat it now that ready-made thoughts seldom fit and the mental equipment which our children can be taught to fashion for themselves however scanty is preferable to the editorial reach-me-downs of the "murder and misconduct" press. In my view, and I think in the view of the Committee, the safety and stability of the nation depend upon the power of its citizens to form independent judgments and it is only by education that that power can be secured.

7.20 p.m.


It was not my intention to take part in this discussion, but inasmuch as the Parliamentary Secretary has resumed his seat at this stage I may be permitted to make a few general observations without entering into any detailed criticism of his speech which would indeed be rather unfair, since he has already replied. I should like to make clear, however, that while I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the Parliamentary Secretary upon his excellent presentation of his case, I do not regard his apologia for the Board of Education as very convincing. Because we find it unconvincing we do not propose to take a Division now at half-past seven o'clock as we wish to keep the discussion of these Estimates open so that if time permits and an opportunity is accorded us we may return to this subject and go into it in greater detail on a future occasion.

In making one or two general observations on the Parliamentary Secretary's statement I would refer first to the question of reorganisation. I think he will agree that the late Labour Government applied itself as strongly as it could to the task of carrying forward the work of reorganisation in the schools, and judging from the hon. Gentleman's remarks in the earlier part of these proceedings the present Government is engaged in the same task. Speaking not by way of criticism, but rather by way of expressing a hope, may I say that reorganisation ought to mean more than the mere transference of children from one type of school to another. From my point of view, reorganisation will miss its point and its purpose unless the 11 plus child is given an educational opportunity of different content from that which has been given under the old educational regime. I am not sure that in some parts of the country reorganisation has meant much more than mere transference from one school to another and that is largely useless. The Hadow Committee linked up the idea of reorganisation with the idea of raising the school age and we on this side would equally associate those two ideas. I would have been very glad had the Parliamentary Secretary been able to give us some hope to-night that the Government looked upon the proposal for the raising of the school age, nationally, in a more favourable way than is apparently the case.

It is not necessary that the Government should await a favourable political opportunity to raise the school age nationally because anyone who studies the trend of public opinion in relation to this subject must realise that education authorities are moving in that direction. They are certainly studying the proposition—to put it no higher. I agree cordially with those who take the view that it is not much worth while for one isolated education authority to be prepared to do it. At any rate if it could be done in a regional way, over large areas, it would be much more efficacious than if it were done in the more isolated way I have suggested. I would urge upon the hon. Gentleman that whether education authorities have already put up proposals and guaranteed proper facilities for practical instruction or not, and whether the proposals made would pass an exact educational test or not, the question still remains: What is to be done with the 400,000 young people who will flow into the industrial market in the coming years? To my mind, poor as may be the accommodation and the educational equipment in some of the schools as they now are, it would be infinitely better that our children should be kept in those schools than that they should be left to flow out into the streets with nothing to occupy their time.

I wish to associate myself with the compliments which have been offered to the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Dr. Morrison) upon a most excellent and interesting maiden speech. I am sure that we shall all look forward, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, with the liveliest anticipation to his future incursions into debate. I was particularly attracted by that portion of his speech which referred to the Rome laboratory and the psychological tests that are being applied there. At an educational conference which I attended during the Recess an educational expert spoke on this very subject. I am at one on this point with the hon. Member, who, I was glad to see, welcomed the idea sympathetically. I am sure there is a strong case for embarking on some sort of experiment of this kind. As an old teacher, like myself, the hon. Member knows that those who have children at 13 or 14 in their charge would like to be able to assist those children in determining what their future careers should be. It is not always easy to do so. A child is not always very clear as to what he or she wants and the parents are often not well-informed as to the child's capabilities. It seems to me that a psychological test properly considered would enable headmasters whose responsibilities in this respect are bound to increase in the coming years, to assist parents much more efficiently.

I associate myself heartily with the remarks of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) in relation to the question of nursery schools. I know her interest in that matter and, with her, I am sorry that progress in the provision of these schools has not been maintained. As I have said, we do not propose to challenge a Division on the Question now before the Committee, but we desire that this Vote should be kept open for discussion upon a future occasion.

Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £26,603,918, be granted for the said Service," put, and negatived.

Original Question again proposed.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.— [Captain Margesson.]

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.