HC Deb 28 March 1944 vol 398 cc1311-9
Mr. Henry Brooke (Lewisham, West)

I beg to move, in page 54, line 5, to leave out from "syllabus," to the end of line 8.

In moving this Amendment, I am anxious to ascertain what exactly was in the Government's mind in introducing these words, which are new to our educational law, but which will, in fact, upset arrangements that are at present working happily in many parts of the country. It is because it strikes me as such a mistake for Parliament heavy-handedly to interfere with local concordats which have been reached between the local education authorities, the teachers and all the churches, that I am particularly anxious that the Government should look at these words again.

I have already submitted to the Minister a large amount of evidence showing that these arrangements are working, and working satisfactorily, by mutual agreement, and I have more of that evidence here in my hand. Local education authorities have made arrangements by which Free Church ministers and Church of England clergy are authorised jointly to inspect the religious instruction given in what are now council schools and will, in the future, be county schools. That is working with the complete co-operation of all concerned, and, in those areas, the teachers have accepted the plan as a means whereby they can obtain genuine assistance from people of different denominations who ought to be, if they are anything, competent to give such advice. The local education authorities authorise the plan, which cannot be carried out unless the local education authorities approve of it, but, if the words remain in the Bill all these arrangements will be brought to an end in law. It will also, as the Minister will realise, render it illegal for Church of England clergy even to inspect religious instruction based on the agreed syllabus where the agreed syllabus is in use in an aided school, whereas I should have thought it had been one of the happy developments of recent years that, in those county areas where the agreed syllabus has been adopted, a considerable number of Church schools have been using it as the basis for part of the religious instruction. That excellent plan will be upset if this Clause goes through unchanged. It is on those grounds that I hope very much that the Minister will look at the Clause again, because the purpose of the Amendment is to do nothing whatever except permit people in different areas of the country to continue, by agreement, plans such as those which are at present working.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I should very much like my right hon. Friend to give sympathetic consideration to this Amendment because it seems to me that the words at present in the Clause run contrary to the whole spirit of the Bill. They seem to assume that relations between the different religious denominations are so bad, that an Anglican will feel that the Anglicism of his child is in peril if he is taught an undenominational syllabus by a Nonconformist, and vice versa. I do not think the Board of Education are fully aware of the very good relationship which exists generally between the denominations. The words in this Clause do their level best to go against it. Much more could be said on the subject, but I do not wish to waste the time of the Committee. I should like to say, finally, that religious instruction is an experts' subject, and it seems sheer folly to throw away the services of experts in the teaching of a subject which needs the knowledge of experts. I hope my right hon. Friend will give consideration to the Amendment.

Mr. Jewson (Great Yarmouth)

I hope that the Minister will be able to accept this Amendment. I have very little to add to what has already been said by the mover of it. So far from being a denominational issue, it is a case in which co-operation between the denominations actually exists at the present moment, and it seems to me that it would be most unfortunate if the opportunity for that cooperation were taken away by the words remaining in the Bill.

Mr. Ede

At the moment, religious instruction in a school may not be inspected by His Majesty's Inspector of Schools. He is prevented from doing that by Clause 27 (1, c) of the Education Act, 1921, which goes back to the Act of 1870. When the Church, in conjunction with the Free Churches, formulated their five points, one of them was a request that religious instruction in the school, especially on the agreed syllabus, should be open to inspection by His Majesty's inspector. We have not, therefore, in this Bill repeated the prohibition on inspection of undenominational religious instruction by His 'Majesty's inspectors. When the representatives of the National Society came to see my right hon. Friend with regard to the future of religious instruction in the schools, a very distinguished cleric, a dean of one of the cathedrals, whose arguments are perhaps distinguished more by their thickness than their subtlety, hinted, what I knew myself, that there was great resentment among teachers at having their professional work as teachers inspected by the members of another profession.

May I say that, after all, the best preacher is not by any means the best teacher. Preaching and teaching are two very different means of instruction. I think it is desirable that teaching work should be inspected by those who are capable of assessing teaching. This is really one of the most difficult subjects of all to inspect. The best boy I ever had in religious instruction lessons was one who, when we collected flowers for the East End hospitals, robbed the churchyard of every flower he could find. Religious instruction, after all, will be shown in the tone and life of the school and in the life of the pupils both in school and afterwards, and, whereas it is comparatively reasonable to inspect and assess the work in mathematics and similar subjects in the school, it is very difficult to inspect and assess the real value of religious instruction.

From a hint dropped to us by the National Society we framed this Clause.

I do not take the same view as my hon. Friend the Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) does about its effect on syllabus teaching in denominational schools, because the agreed syllabus teaching in auxiliary schools and in the aided and controlled schools will be given with a Church of England bias to children whose parents hold the faith of the Church of England. I think that is shown by the introduction which the Bishop of Guildford authorised to be inserted in the diocese of Guildford religious syllabus, in Part II of which he inporporated the agreed syllabus of the Surrey Education Committee. In that introduction he says: These two parts, therefore, though they appear to be distinct and to deal with the separate subjects of the Bible and the Church, form in reality a unity and should be treated and taught as such. In dealing with the fundamental teaching of the Church as expressed in the Creeds, use has been made as far as possible of the Biblical material in Part II. At the same time, the sections on Christian life and worship in Part II should be taught in conjunction with and as part of the appropriate sections of this portion"— that is, the first portion.

It is quite clear, therefore, that it will not be an agreed syllabus in the way defined in the Bill where no doctrine or formula distinctive of a particular denomination may be used. Therefore, the Church will still retain the right to inspect the syllabus instruction given in the aided schools and given to the children who elect to have Church of England teaching in the controlled schools. This Clause was drafted, as I have shown, in consultation not merely with the Archbishops, but with the representatives of the National Society, and I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that the explanation I have given will be such as to enable him to know that what he desires to do can be done under it. But if there should remain any doubt, my right hon. Friend has asked me to say that he will be quite willing to see the hon. Member with a view to seeing whether any difficulty remaining can be removed.

Captain Prescott (Darwen)

I would ask the Committee to consider the very great feeling among teachers as to the possibility of this Amendment being accepted. They feel, quite rightly, I think, that inspection with regard to agreed syllabus teaching should not be done by clergymen, and the Parliamentary Secretary has said that there is a very great difference between teaching and preaching. I sincerely hope that this Amendment will not be accepted and I emphasise that this Clause relates merely to agreed syllabus teaching, and not to denominational teaching.

Mr. Brooke

I am very grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the assurance he has given about the effect of this Clause as it stands on instruction in aided and controlled schools, but I am afraid that I am not wholly satisfied with what he said about the future in county schools; and with regard to what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) has just said, I would like to point out to him that, in fact, these plans are working with the full co-operation of the teachers in many areas of the country. It is because, as I have said, it seems a pity for this House to step in and bring to an end the mutual co-operation already existing, that I moved the Amendment. In the circumstances, I would like to take advantage of the suggestion which the Parliamentary Secretary has made that I should be allowed to approach him or my right hon. Friend before the next stage of the Bill to see whether any further arguments that I can use can suggest to him a way in which the general purpose of the Clause can be achieved, that is, to get the best inspection possible by fully qualified people, without compulsorily cutting out existing arrangements that are working to everybody's satisfaction at the moment. With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Godfrey Nicholson

I hope the discussions which my hon. Friend will have with my right hon. Friend will be on the basis that there is to be no interference with what is going on now, which meets with the full acceptance of the teachers and of the religious authorities. We are not seeking to extend it against the wishes of the teachers, if what is going on now is accepted by them.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Moelwyn Hughes (Carmarthen)

I wish to remind the Committee that the Clause with which we are dealing concerns something far wider than the inspection of religious instruction. It is, in fact, the general Clause dealing with inspection of all schools. It deals with the power of the Ministry to inspect schools, the power of the education authorities to inspect schools within their purview, and the power to inspect schools which may desire to be inspected. I need not remind the Committee—attention has been directed to it many times—that the definition Clause includes all types of schools, independent schools, those that do not come within any regulation or control of any kind, and schools operating completely independently.

They can, within the purview of the Clause, be inspected, and that includes preparatory schools of all types. Many preparatory schools are very efficiently run, but there are plenty of others which are merely money-making machines and exist for the purpose of trying to make as much profit out of the snob value of the school outside the State system as can be made. It also includes schools which may desire to be examined. Schools or educational establishments of the type that exist for training people for different professions which survive on the basis of seductive advertisements in all sections of the national Press come within the meaning of educational establishments, if they are prepared to ask for the right to be inspected. They are only too glad to be able to say on the advertisement, "Inspected by the Board of Education." It gives them an additional cachet. In both these cases the inspection should be made effective, and one which goes to the whole root and substance of the institution which is being inspected.

Inspection is directed to the method of teaching, the way the classes are run, standard of instruction given, and to those who give the instruction, but there is one thing which is really fundamental in seeing whether it is a school or an educational establishment of a sufficiently high standard to receive the imprimatur of "Inspected by the Board of Education," and that is, to see what are the finances of the school. Is it run financially? Is it an honest effort to provide, at reasonable cost, education for the young or instruction for those who want to qualify for different occupations? Is it of that kind, or is it, to employ a term which hon. Members will understand, although I think it is very difficult to define it exactly, a racket? In order to do that there should be power in the Ministry to look into the financial stability of the school or educational establishment. We should be given an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that he is satisfied that the powers contained in this Clause are sufficient to enable that aspect of the instruction to be inspected or, if not, that steps will be taken at a later stage to see that the gap is filled.

Mr. Colegate (The Wrekin)

I hope that the Minister will not accept the arguments advanced by the hon. and learned Member. Everyone must know that to inspect the accounts and the financial stability of an establishment is a totally different thing from inspecting an institution from the point of view of whether it gives good education or not. Many of His Majesty's inspectors of schools, who are most admirable people, giving light and guidance, apart from instruction in education, are utterly unfitted to cope with accountancy questions which arise in connection with a school. Every such school has to render accounts to the Income Tax people for the purposes of Income Tax, and, in view of the corn-petition that exists among them, the only chance that a preparatory school has to-day of being successful financially is, that it gives good service to the people who go to it. Nothing is more difficult to run to-day than a successful preparatory school. The idea that you should divert His Majesty's inspectors of schools from their true occupation of helping, by their inspection, the educational standards of this country and turn them into accountants, is one which, I hope, will not commend itself to this Committee.

Mr. Ede

The Amendment which was put down in the name of my hon. and learned Friend would have been unnecessary in any event, for we have ample powers to inspect the financies of schools, and, in fact, we now do it. I have myself read comments by His Majesty's inspectors on the financial arrangements of some of the schools which we now inspect, and where it is relevant to the efficiency of the school, it is a course which is always adopted. I imagine that not in every case do we rely on the word of His Majesty's inspectors, who have, on occasion, been quite distinguished literary gentlemen—one was Matthew Arnold, and one wrote the famous ballad "Father O'Flynn." We rely rather on the financial inspection of the Board when we want to examine the accounts, and we can rest assured that any examination of accounts will be done by skilled people capable of forming the right conclusion on the matter.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.