HC Deb 09 May 1944 vol 399 cc1823-9
Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I beg to move, in page 34, line 18, to leave out "forty-four," and to insert "forty."

There are two ensuing Amendments on the Order Paper—

  • In page 35, line 6, to leave out "three hundred and thirty," and insert "two hundred and forty";
  • In page 36, line 14, to leave out "three hundred and thirty," and insert "two hundred and forty."
—which perhaps may be considered at the same time, because they deal with the same point of the length of the period of study, the length of the term and the length of the school day in the young people's colleges. The effect of this Amendment would be that, in place of a 7½-hour school day, and a 44-week school year, which the Government propose, there would be a 4o-week school year and a six-hour school day, based upon the practice of existing secondary schools, which I think is justified by the experience of those schools. The unsatisfactory nature of the strain that would be involved on teachers and pupils, in the colleges under longer hours, I think, is borne out by the experience of the one local education authority which has tried to deal with the matter—Rugby. I have heard how the teachers in the Rugby day continuation school have felt the strain of the long hours and of having only one week's holiday at Easter. We must remember that, in these young people's colleges, the strain on the teacher will be greater than in the ordinary secondary schools, because of the conditions in which they will be carried on. The pupils will be coming from work and suddenly entering into a new atmosphere on one day, or two half-days, a week. The teacher will have to get to know a larger number of pupils than he would have to know in the ordinary secondary schools. In that way, he would not only have to deal with larger numbers, but would have to deal with them under unusual conditions.

It is surely of the utmost importance, if this very great experiment and reform, on which we all congratulate the President, is to succeed, that we should not put an undue strain on the teachers, but that, as far as possible, we should give a little more consideration to this. We should have a smaller number of hours worked in the day and see that these hours are thoroughly well-spent So as to get the best out of the boys and girls, and give an opportunity for the teacher to give his best. I maintain that the hours suggested in the Government plan will involve too great a strain. We have to remember that a vacation does not mean just a period of rest, but it is of vital importance that the teacher should have opportunities during the vacation to prepare work for the ensuing term.

It is also important that he should have an opportunity of renewing his own knowledge and getting fresh experience, apart from the ordinary refreshment of a holiday. If that is to be done so that a teacher shall be able to give his best, you ought to give as long a period of vacation to the teachers in the young people's colleges as you give to teachers in secondary schools. We do not want to begin a great experiment like this, under anything but the best auspices. It is far better that we should not attempt to crowd too much into the day, or crowd into the year too many weeks of intensive work, with the result that there might be a breakdown in some cases, or that in other cases work might be done too slackly. We do want to get the very best methods of teaching, and if we ask the teachers to come forward to take up this great work, surely we ought to see that they are given conditions which will enable them to have the best chance of making their work a success. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure the House that the figures in the Bill are not going to be too rigidly adhered to, but that there will be some way by which the paints which I have ventured to raise may be met. Otherwise, I fear that the children will suffer, the young people's colleges will suffer and it will not be true economy of money but will be false economy of life.

Professor Gruffydd (University of Wales)

I beg to second the Amendment.

If I do so very shortly and formally, it is not because I could not speak strongly on the subject, but because I do not wish to take the time of the House. The teachers in this particular type of school must be of the best type available and with the very best training for the work they will have to do will be mainly experimental. I have had some experience of this and there is nothing so boring as trying to work out a new scheme in an experimental school when you get very little sympathy from the ordinary trained teacher who does not know that kind of work. I have worked out a scheme of holidays on the basis given here in the Clause. If the children go to school for 44 weeks, they will have only eight weeks left in the year for holidays.

It has been found by experiment that you cannot do on less than two weeks at Christmas, for any school, and two weeks at Easter. That leaves only four weeks in the summer. It is the very minimum of holidays given in elementary schools of this country. I do not wish to make any distinction between secondary and elementary teachers but, if there is a distinction the teachers in the young people's colleges will be something more akin to secondary and university teachers than to teachers in the primary schools, and they are entitled at least to holidays similar, both in character and extent, to the holidays given in secondary schools.

Mr. Butler

I hope that the word "forty-four" will stand part of the Bill. I appreciate the difficulties which have been put by hon. Gentlemen who have addressed the House, but the first reply that I can give quite definitely is that these hours are equivalent to those that are being worked at Rugby, and have been successfully operating there for over 20 years.

Mr. Harvey

I pointed out that Rugby teachers themselves feel the strain, and that is one reason why I move this Amendment.

Mr. Butler

I am coming to that point next, but in the interests of education generally, we found the Rugby experiment to be a very good one. We should not be at all averse to the rest of the country following this magnificent lead, given during the years of depression and continued to the present day, since the Fisher Act, and we should be glad to see that practice carried out in other parts of the country.

Coming to the position of the teachers of the country, which I believe has moved my hon. Friend to move his Amendment, the difficulty there is that you have in Rugby an isolated experiment, and teachers are themselves very rarae aves or rare birds. They are not able to move about in other experiments of a similar kind and there is not that mobility within the general branches of the teaching service as there may be in the future. The McNair Committee in their Report in paragraph 378, include this sentence: The staffing needs of young people's colleges can be met by mobility of staffs throughout the whole educational system, including the youth service, the need for which we have so frequently urged. That really is the answer in a nutshell to the fear of my hon. Friend, because if there is mobility in the teaching service and the teachers in these young people's colleges become isolated and tired and cramped by the limitation of their lives, and the fact that they are working longer hours than the rest of the teaching profession, it would be possible to arrange a change in exactly the same way as is arranged for troops in different stations to give them different times, and life with less long hours. From the point of view of the teachers, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment. The McNair Report, which has supervened since this was considered, has pointed the way to the mobility which may result from the new arrangement.

I take it that it will be in Order to pay attention to several Amendments on the same point which follow and, taking the whole subject together, we would be much more inclined to increase the number of weeks in the year, because we are here dealing with the release from industry. From the point of view of young people who are in industry, it would be legitimate to put the number of weeks over and above the 44 included in the Bill. I do not attempt to do so, but it would be possible for the reason that I do not think that young people in industry necessarily expect their lives to be organised in respect of holidays and term time exactly as they expect it to be organised in primary and secondary schools. Though they should get the industrial holidays, and holidays with pay and other developments which we all want to see, they would not be able to find themselves at work for 44 weeks in the year. I am leaving aside all question of unemployment, which is dealt with in other parts of the Bill. During the weeks they are in employment, it is our desire that they should be released for some form of supervision in these colleges.

I believe that the effect of these Amendments would mean that they would have to make 90 hours per annum the general attendance at young people's colleges, and it would be very undesirable. We are only releasing these young people for what amounts to one day, or two half days in the week. The Amendments would reduce the proposed obligations to attend from 330 hours in the year to 240 hours and this would be far less than Mr. Fisher got Parliament to approve 25 years ago, when the hours approved were 320 per annum, as provided for in Section 76 (1) of the Act passed as long ago as 1921. Therefore, for all these reasons, first mobility of teaching experience, which is another factor and meets some hon. Members' fears; secondly, the belief that young people are in industry at least 44 weeks in the year and therefore need relief, and thirdly, that in this curriculum in young people's colleges there is going to be a period—and one which ought to be of interest to hon. Members opposite—of recreation and physical exercises, and fourthly, that experience has shown that this is stimulating work, I hope that hon. Members will not press the interesting Amendments they have put on the paper.

Lieut.-Commander Gurney Braithwaite (Holderness)

Before the House passes from this Amendment—I think the Minister has relieved some of the anxiety which was expressed—I should like to place on record one or two relevant considerations on this matter. The two hon. Gentlemen opposite spoke in a professional capacity in this matter. I would like to say a word as one who has been a student, and who is now a governor, of a scholastic institution which embraces the education both of children, and of adults in the evening. One point which might be borne in mind—I do not know whether I shall carry hon. Gentlemen opposite with me but I think I shall—is that it is not so much a question of the working day as set down in the curriculum, or the length of the holiday that is set down, which covers the effort made by the teacher. As I understand, the Minister is anxious, at the same time, to provide the maximum educational time for young people coming out of industry and at the same time to keep his teachers as fresh as possible.

I do not think I shall be contradicted when I say that a 44 hour week year of actual instruction does not mean eight weeks' holiday for the teacher. That is rather like the assumption by a section of the public that the moment this House rises, hon. Members spend Recesses in recreation and idleness, when exactly the opposite is the truth, especially in the case of Ministers. Even we Private Members cannot, the moment the House rises, throw away our activities and responsibilities and my right hon. Friend will agree that it is necessary that teachers should have a period in which to refresh their minds, and prepare new matter for instruction. One of the difficulties about education is that teachers get stale through having to put out the same lectures year after year, and it is most desirable that they should have longish holidays for the purpose of preparing new lectures.

There is one point about young people's colleges. It refers to a 7½ hour day. I remember, when studying for an examination, being told by my coach that six hours' work was six hours' work; that seven hours' work was five hours' work, and that eight hours' work was four hours' work.

Mr. Messer

Go on like that and you will do nothing.

Lieut.-Commander Braithwaite

Yes, the result will be nothing. If you have to work 12 or 13 hours a day, the time comes when the brain reaches saturation point, and retains nothing at all. I am serious in this argument. We all know when a man is working on a curriculum for six hours a day, that is not the end of his working day. If he is studying for his examination, he writes up his notes in the evenings, and it is probably an eight hours' day by the time he has finished. But at these young people's colleges it is desirable to be teaching for, perhaps, a longer period than is provided for in the curriculum. If you have a six-hour day, it may be, according to the curriculum but it may be desirable that the matter shall be administered so as to give opportunities for the coaching of certain students who require individual attention, which may make all the difference between success and failure. I intervene only because I feel that this is a point which is worth making. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is fully alive to it. His speech shows us that this matter will be administered sympathetically but I felt that these few remarks should be on the record.

Amendment negatived.