HC Deb 08 May 1946 vol 422 cc1187-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Michael Stewart.]

9.59 p.m.

Mr. King (Penryn and Falmouth)

I desire first to apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary for the very short notice I have given him, The responsibility for that is entirely mine, and he knows the circumstances. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the education and the social background of those who now occupy, and who are in future likely to occupy, the highest posts in the Civil Services, the Armed Forces, and other public services appointed directly or indirectly by the Crown. Let me say first and at once that in my view no country in the world has in our generation ever been served by public servants of greater integrity, capacity, or public spirit, and I am not intending any criticism in what I shall say. It is however also true, and equally worthy of emphasis, that in no country in the world is such an influential body of men drawn from so narrow an educational group—over 47 per cent. come from 12 schools—or so similar a social background, for heredity provides what is largely an esotoric philosophy.

I want to suggest to the House that new blood is required to prevent a widening of a social cleavage which is out of touch with modern thought, and unfortunate in its social consequences. But it is not primarily the job of a Civil Service Selection Board to consider social consequences or to probe into early educational background. It is for them to seek efficiency and award, on the results of examination, or interview as they find them. That examination is the finishing tape, at which point the results of the race are not easily adjusted. It is for the Ministry of Education to provide equal opportunity from the starting pistol right up the course.

First, the facts. From some tables submitted by the Workers' Educational Association it appears—and I quote these figures as somewhat surprising—that in 1939, since when I do not think the position has changed, out of 830 bishops, deans, judges, stipendiary magistrates, highly paid officials in the Home and Indian Civil Service, Governors of Dominions, and directors of banks, 636 or some 76 per cent. were drawn from the independent schools. Of these, 394, or 47.5 per cent., came from 12 schools. The diminution in those percentages in the last 20 years has been very slight. I want the House to consider how this has come about and why. It may be that social prejudice in appointing authorities has played a part, but I am not going to suggest that it has played an overwhelming part. Social prejudice could not alone have brought about that result, and if therefore for a moment we discard social prejudice as an exclusive measure, are there other reasons why 76 per cent. of these posts go to 1.86 per cent. of the population? Two questions arise; do the 1.8 per cent., on the average, possess a higher intelligence? Do they receive a superior education? Before I turn to intelligence, with which I will deal at some length, let me make it clear that I do not for a moment suggest that intelligence is the only factor; character, integrity, and culture obviously all take their place as do social sympathies.

These things are not reducible to figures. Intelligence is so reducible. The science of intelligence testing has made immense strides in our generation. The Department of Social Biology of the University of London conducted a survey in 1939, when they examined 10,000 children. They found that the average I.B.—index of brightness—in the preparatory schools to be 123.9, and in the public elementary schools to be 93. If those figures be accepted, it is at once apparent that, by and large, a public school boy who derives from the preparatory school possesses a substantial advantage in competing for any post which depends upon literary examination. At that school, the boy will come from a home and an environment which can purchase very many advantages not accessible to the other home, from which want has not always been far distant, for whom the books are too expensive to purchase, and music, art and all that ennobles man, hard to come by.

The one boy goes to an expensive prep" school and commences Latin—upon which entry to a university still largely depends—French and algebra at the age of nine. The other boy learns little but reading, writing and arithmetic until he is 11. It is not easy to catch up upon those two or three years' start. The one boy is taught in a class of 12 and the other boy in a class of 30 or 40. One boy is familiar with the green lawn and the tended cricket pitch, the other has the asphalted yard. The independent school provides one master for 12 boys. The maintained school provides one master for 28 boys. Anybody who has taught a sixth form knows the ghastly disadvantage that is, in the search for a university scholarship. To the one boy, the inspiration of the arts, sciences and library, and of the spacious fields, is widely available. To the other, not. Then comes the Civil Service exam. How hard a task have we set the schoolmaster in the maintained school. How heavily are the scales weighted against him—and how brilliant, let me add, has been his performance. I am asking that we shall not break his back.

Nor is this kind of difference diminishing. It is increasing. More boys were attending independent schools in 1939 than in 1914. I believe that there are more boys attending independent schools today than there were in 1939. The social rift is widening. That is the point of what I wish to say. Many hon. Members on this side of the House, and possibly on the other side, regret this tendency, but I, at least, regret it in no narrow or party sense. I want to regard this problem as a piece of social engineering, based upon hard facts. We are in the realm of the biologist and the psychologist, who have sufficient evidence which we should hear. It is the function of the Minister of Education to trace all ability of whatever kind, and to nurture it according to its nature. Approximately two per cent. —very small—of our population have the ability to gain a first-class honours degree at a British university. That is a vital fact.

I would like to help the Minister to trace this particular kind of ability. Here, percentages are deceptive. Gray and Moshinsky, who delved most deeply into this matter, found that 15.5 per cent. of fee-paying pupils have an I.B. in excess of 150, whereas only 6.2 per cent. of free pupils had the same I.B., that is an I.B. which obviously justified university training. In 1939, there were well over 1,000,000 boys who paid no fees and only about 140,000 who did pay fees. Therefore, there were a little over 21,000 of these boys in fee-paying schools and 62,000 in free schools. That is to say, and this is the important point despite the higher average I.B. in independent schools, in round figures there are three boys capable of high intellectual attainment in the free schools to one in the fee-paying schools.

Will the House for a moment cast its mind back to my original statement and see the ludicrous position at which we have arrived—76 per cent. of the higher administrative posts go to 1.86 per cent. of the population, but two-thirds of the brains of this country are not even included in the 1.86 per cent.? It is to this two-thirds, this unknown, unsung and mentally hungry 62,000, that I want to attract the attention of my hon. Friend. If these 62,000 have failed, as largely they have failed, to secure posts which are their due and if today they are doing work to which they are not by their aptitude fitted, it is on the shoulders of the Ministry of Education and not on the Civil Service Commissioners that the responsibility rests. The Education Act laid down that a child should be educated according to its aptitude and ability. Are we carrying out that pious intention, having regard to my point of departure, which was the necessity to bring new blood into the higher posts in the public services?

I am concerned to expose a disease, and not to point the remedy, which I know the Parliamentary Secretary will do better than I. The independent schools are not to be blamed for the social hierarchy from which they have sprung. Their headmasters, who have a not inactive social conscience, as early as 1921 urged on the Government of that day that they should be allowed to welcome their proper proportion of pupils from every type of home, a proposal which the Coalition Government of that day rejected and which is now being renewed. However that matter may lie, it can only be an infinitesimal contribution to the problem, and I do not ask today for any answer to it, but I do ask for parity in teaching conditions in the existing primary and secondary schools.

I ask other questions, too. Did the Minister note the request for more language teaching made recently by the President of the National Union of Teachers? Do not the cleverer boys in the primary schools in the towns now want some rather harder intellectual food which they can only secure in a smaller form? Do we not need more boarding schools to meet the needs of the rural population, as well as to provide opportunities for cultural, physical and personal development? Is the Burnham increment sufficient to attract first-class honours men to the sixth form? Is the Minister aware that sixth forms in many schools, including my own constituency, are quite literally dying for want of staff in sufficient numbers? Are there to be more university scholarships? Is he aware—to me this is a most important problem—of the problem of the bespectacled, physically under-exercised and mentally unawakened boy who for years enjoys no other education than cramming scholarship papers, and who at 19 is worked out because education committees take into account written papers only, so that prefectships, music, art, drama, games, societies, the joys of friendship, are put aside so that he may spend every minute at his books? My last question may not strictly be one for my hon. Friend to answer. Is there any suggestion of altering the type of examination for entry into the Civil Service?

May I recapitulate briefly the facts? Forty-six per cent. of our high officials come from 12 schools. That is too narrow an oligarchy. Despite the fact that less than one-third of the brains of the country are in those schools, they enjoy every educational privilege. The other two-thirds—I refer only to the in- tellectually brilliant—learn languages too late, are taught in classes twice as big, by a staff less well paid, have fewer opportunities for laboratory work, for reading, for art, athletics and for every other form of culture, and are being emotionally and spiritually deprived. The Government have expressed their intention, I am sure genuinely, of bringing new blood into the Civil Service. If that be their intention they must face these facts. I know that at this moment there are difficulties—buildings, staff and many others, but I wish to ask them, and I know I shall receive a sympathetic reply from my hon. Friend, what are their plans, even in the most distant future?

10.17 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Hardman)

Very briefly I will run through the points which have been raised by my hon. Friend. He calls for new blood in the Civil Service. With that we all have sympathy, provided that the new blood is of sufficient standard to carry on the great traditions of that great service in their highest form. May I give a few facts concerning the progressive increase in the number of high posts in the Civil Service filled by products of the grant aided schools? In the 10 years before the first World War, from 1905 to 1914, 283 men entered the administrative class by open competition. Of these, 210 came from public schools in the wider sense, that is 74 per cent. of the whole, 27 from grant aided schools, 18 from Scottish day schools and 28 from miscellaneous sources. In the period immediately following that war 197 men entered the administrative class by open reconstruction examination. Of these, 125, or 63.5 per cent., came from public schools, 43 from grant aided schools, 18 from Scottish and II from other, schools. Following the resumption of normal competitions after the first World War, of 426 men who entered the administrative class by open competition between 1925 and 1937, there were 263, or 61.8 per cent., who came from public schools, 107, or 25 per cent., from grant aided schools, 41 from Scottish and 15 from other schools. Of the persons who were appointed to the head of a first class Department between the wars, an analysis of 61 persons showed that 40 came from public schools, II from grant aided schools, five from Scottish schools and five from other sources. The term public schools is used in these figures in its widest sense, and if we make a division between boarding and day schools, we find that boarding schools supplied 40 per cent, of the entrants from 1905 to 1914, 40 per cent. of the 1919–20 reconstruction entrants, and 33.8 per cent. of the open entrants between 1925 and 1937, so that those figures show, though it is not a very great increase, that there has been a progressive increase in the number of high posts in the Civil Service held by the products of the grant aided schools. It is to my mind not satisfactory but at least there is a progressive increase.

Then we must remember in considering this problem that State aided grammar school education is a comparatively modern development. In 1904, for instance, there were 9,000 places in State aided schools. In 1946, there were 580,000. Public schools have been going for 400 years, and State schools for only approximately 40 years. I do not think that at the present time we are in a position to evaluate the products of grammar schools in connection with the Civil Service. There has not yet been time. The percentage of pupils staying on in grammar schools for sixth form work has been relatively small but there has been a considerable advance in recent years. If we take the figures for entrants for higher school certificate examinations we find that before the last war, in 1938–39 there were 13,000 entrants. The position today is that there is an increase of 6,000 making a total of 19,000. I think I must tell my hon. Friend that it is the policy of the Government to improve facilities and to increase opportunities of access to universities. This is another factor that will ultimately tend to rectify the present disproportion.

An extremely important point was raised concerning university scholarships. Perhaps the hon. Member will pardon me if I remind him of a quotation that occurs in the report of the Norwood Committee. In that report the following words occur: There should be no need for a successful candidate to search round for means of supplementing the college or university award.

I am glad to able to inform the House that very soon the right hon. Lady will be making an important pronouncement upon the whole question of awards for university students. I am not in a position tonight as a junior Minister to anticipate that statement but a statement will be made in regard to this subject. There is no question but that access to the Civil Service has been conditioned by the opportunities for pupils from State aided schools to get to universities. My hon. Friend is quite right to emphasise that. The State scholarship scheme, however, only began in 1920. I would be the first to admit that even now it is far from being fully developed. If we can get a big increase in the accommodation at universities and of facilities in the shape of scholarships, then I think again it will have a material effect.

When we consider the general points raised by my hon. Friend it is, as he said, a fact that there is a division in the educational world between two nations. The problem of the public schools to my mind is not educational, it is psychological and social. There is no reason at all for believing that Winchester, Eton or Harrow, can show a higher intelligence quotient than the Manchester Grammar School, or any of the good maintained secondary schools where there is a selected academic training. I do not agree with some of the points made by my hon. Friend in this connection. Where the public schools, in the narrower sense of being independent boarding schools with great traditions, do score is that they have a far better staffing rate, as my hon. Friend points out—approximately one in 12 or 14—while in the State schools of the selected grammar school type there is one staff to 28 or 30 as an average. Again, as was pointed out, the public schools have their pupils for longer periods with that expensive preparatory school training as a back ground. Because of economic advantages held by their parents, the pupils of these closed independent public schools have chances which those of the average secondary schools have not got. Yet in spite of this, I contend that boys and girls from maintained schools have shown themselves as intelligent, intellectually gifted and as capable of leadership as those from the great public schools, and, surely, the events of the last six years have shown this to be true. I am convinced that if the highest type of State secondary education were available for boys and girls from every type of home according to ability, to train for the highest professions—for the Civil Ser- vice, for instance—the public schools would lose the race.

We intend that State secondary education with boarding facilities, fine modern buildings, well equipped class rooms and laboratories will give advantages that have been denied to many who have not the wealth to obtain them at public schools. Yet an extraordinary position exists today, and has existed, getting more and more acute, as my right hon. Friend points out, in the last century. The status of the public schools, which are closed corporations for the wealthy, is based not on intellectual qualities but on capacity for payment. The words of a manifesto issued in 1942 convey vividly what I mean: Britain is the only great industrial country where wealth systematically buys a different type of education for its offspring, where education sets a different aim for the wealthy than for those less well off.

That was a manifesto in 1942, signed by distinguished scholars in the realms of science and art. The problem of the public schools, as I see it, is there, because it divides the English children as far as educational opportunities are concerned into two distinct and separate sections. It is a question of social prestige, not of one having a better education than the other, or a higher intelligence quotient among its pupils. I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no suggestion among those of us who say these things that public school education is bad. In fact, some of the best schools in the world are among the English independent boarding schools in the public school system. There is no question about that at all. There has been great leadership by headmasters in those public schools. There has been educational experimentation. Let us not forget also that under the State system as well there has been a great deal of educational experimentation of a very high order indeed, but we are not decrying the public school education at its best. What we say is that the State system must be given the inspiration and the money to create across the length and breadth of the land schools that are as good as and even better than the great scholastic institutions of our country.

It is no long-term solution to suggest that a percentage should be skimmed from the cream of State pupils and sent to independent boarding schools. The only solution, to my mind, is for our generation to offer only the best education that we can devise in terms of buildings, playing fields, swimming baths, libraries, class rooms and, above all, the best trained staffs. Our long-term slogan, perhaps, ought to be "Get the public school type into the State schools." The real democratisation of our society rests upon the introduction of a universal system of primary education for all Along those lines, and based upon that principle, whatever may follow after primary education, it seems to me that we have the spirit of a democracy where there is no longer a division in educational opportunity between those who have wealth and those who have not.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-Nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.