HC Deb 29 October 1947 vol 443 cc1045-52

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

12.48 a.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

When the Education Act of 1944 was passed through this House great expectations were raised amongst the people of this country. It is to the credit of my right hon. Friend that those promises are largely being fulfilled. The most disappointing field, however, is that of secondary education, and in particular with regard to the modern school. I believe that the greatest welcome of all given by the people was to the promise that the scholarship examination would disappear, and that every child would have an opportunity of free secondary education. The scholarship examination was not only cruel, it was ineffective, for by no means, as every schoolmaster knew, and certainly as every parent knew, did it choose all the children best fitted for a secondary education.

One of the conditions laid down by the Minister in order that a school should be recognised as a secondary school is that reorganisation as a secondary school shall have taken place, and as long ago as 1926 the recommendation of the Hadow Report asked local authorities to reorganise their schools. Owing to the wholly commendable recommendation of the Ministry that schools should be reorganised there is this anomaly that children with reactionary authorities are being made to suffer still more, and I want to give the example of the city of Cardiff. The city of Cardiff failed completely to reorganise its schools in the years before the war. A number of serious efforts were made to get the authority to reorganise its schools on the basis of the Hadow Report. Unfortunately, they were so niggardly in regard to expenditure on education that the opportunity was lost. Today, the only school in Cardiff which is reorganised is one which has been brought in through an extension of the boundary taking away a school from the Labour authority in Monmouthshire. The Minister promised me, in May of this year, that he would intercede with the Cardiff authority, in order to say that he would recognise the reorganisation within the existing school accommodation. Now the Cardiff authority are saying they cannot give secondary education to their children, although in a ring around the city, where-ever there happens to be a Labour authority the children are receiving secondary education.

The city authority say it is impossible to reorganise owing to the problem of school buildings. I ask the Minister if he has made his representations to the Cardiff authority and if he knows what is holding up the reorganisation? The National Union of Teachers, along with its Cardiff Association, followed up the Minister's statement in this House by visiting the local authority. They met with a vague reply. I urge the Minister to threaten to take the grant from this authority unless they give evidence that they are going to deal with the 11-plus children. To think that in Cardiff thousands of school children are in all-age range schools such as have long since disappeared from comparable authorities throughout the country is something of which we are not very proud.

I ask if it is true that the Ministry is holding up the temporary building schemes at Fairwater, Caerwys and Rumney, and, if so, what is the reason for the Ministry's attitude? Unless the Minister is prepared to put some pressure behind this authority the children of Cardiff will suffer for very many years. Within the existing accommodation it is possible for the programme to be carried out without costing the city a penny in rates, as the Minister will know. At present the raising of the school-leaving age is being made a dead-letter in that city and all that is resulting is an extra year at school. That is desirable in itself, but the extra year was intended to give free secondary education. The course was to be linked accordingly, and the teachers have not a chance in that city under the present scheme.

My last question to the Minister, is, what steps are being taken to facilitate the transfer from these all-age schools to secondary grammar schools of children aged 12 or 13 who failed to pass the scholarship examinations due to various reasons but who have shown evident promise in later development. I know that in other parts of the country this scheme is being carried out and I earnestly trust the Minister, who has been forthright in his declarations on secondary education, will urge this authority into some action.

1.3 a.m.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Tomlinson)

May I say, in answer to the first question put by my hon. Friend on reorganisation, that I did promise, in answer to a Question in this House as long ago as 8th May, to communicate with the Cardiff authority with a view, as a temporary measure, for which he asked then—to reorganising its schools within the existing accommodation. In order to fulfil my promise made on that occasion, I sent both the Question and the answer to the authority itself, in order that I might receive suggestions with regard to reorganisation. I wanted it to be clearly understood that it is not within the power of the Ministry to reorganise for an authority, but that the Ministry can authorise and encourage an authority to reorganise for itself. Local authorities are very naturally concerned about their autonomy and it is necessary, in seeking to carry out what is desirable, to get not only the full co-operation of the authority, but also their suggestions with regard to these things.

The fact that on 8th May the Cardiff schools were not in a position to reorganise, or to become what I would call secondary schools within the meaning of the new Act, was primarily because of the fact that little or nothing had been done under the Act of 1936 in carrying out the reorganisation suggested in the Hadow Report of 1926. I might say that that applies not only to Cardiff but to a number of other places. Where this was not done, the difficulty of organising secondary education on the new basis is all the greater because of the difficulty of creating new departments in what, to all intents and purposes, are standard schools. It has been suggested that one of the reasons—and it seemed to be implied in the questions asked this morning—is because a development plan for Cardiff has not been approved. Only in one instance has a development plan been approved, and about £23 million worth of work on these short-term operational programmes is actually in being. If we are to wait for the development plan to be approved before any reorganisation takes place, there is not much possibility of carrying out the present Act or the 1936 Act in seeking to implement the Hadow Report. I think I ought to be fair to Cardiff and say that, as far as preparation for secondary grammar education is concerned, Cardiff is in line with the rest of Wales, and I think it is true that Wales is ahead of England in that respect.

Mr. G. Thomas

The Minister is making a clear distinction between the modern school and its classification, and the grammar school.

Mr. Tomlinson

I am coming to that point. I was speaking of the accommodation that had been provided for secondary grammar schools before the passing of the 1944 Act. There they were up to the high standard set in Wales. I must rebut the charge that the Ministry has been responsible for any holding-up of this work. As a matter of fact, we are awaiting now what the Cardiff authority plans to ask for, in order that these things for which my hon. Friend has asked might be carried out. Only the other day we received a letter from the Cardiff authority. We failed to understand the letter, for the simple reason that the Cardiff authority was asking for a decision from us, when two months previously we had written asking for the plans in order that the decision might be fully carried out. The procedure was, of course, that the suggestion which was made having been accepted in principle, we asked for plans in order that we might confirm the whole business. We had waited in vain—and are still waiting—for the plans so that we can give approval, having already approved the matter in principle.

With regard to the three particular schools situated in places, the names of which I cannot pronounce, I want to say again that, as far as the Ministry is concerned, I deny any responsibility for any hold-up so far as that provision is concerned. May I give the House, in order that it might be clearly understood, the position regarding the programme in relation to the Cardiff authority. In 1947 the number of projects originally in the programme submitted by Cardiff was 15. The number accepted by the Ministry as a realistic estimate of what could be done in 1947 was eight The number completed is none. Of the new primary schools connected with housing estates which come within the operalional programme, and for which facilities are provided, the number in the programme is three. The original plan was submitted in August, 1946, and later scrapped by the Cardiff authority in favour of, I proposal for temporary schools, which was submitted in July, 1947. The temporary school proposal was approved by the Ministry in August, 1947, three months ago, and the plans are still awaited. I am a little tired of people blaming the Ministry for things for which the Ministry is not responsible. It may be that there are difficulties in connection with the personnel in the drawing offices or the architects department. I do not know; there may be a perfectly good explanation but difficulties in the local offices, and the suggestion that the Ministry is holding up the scheme ought not to be laid at the door of the Ministry.

With regard to blitzed primary schools which are in the short-term programme, and for which facilities are found, the number is three. In case No. I no plan was submitted. In case No. 2, plans were submitted in January, 1947, but the final plan has not yet been received. In case No. 3, a preliminary scheme was submitted in October, 1946. This was dropped, and no further plan has been received with regard to that scheme or the three schemes under the blitzed primary school programme, which are all held up at the moment because no plan has been received at the office. With regard to the blitzed secondary schools, the number in the programme is two. In the first case, the programme was approved practically two years ago, and plans were received only about two months ago. In the second case, the programme is held up by the shortage of materials and equipment.

I would point out to local authorities the necessity for dealing with the matter so that they will not be held up when the time comes for the building to be completed. As far as temporary accommodation in connection with raising the school-leaving age is concerned, owing to difficulties we have not made the progress there that we might have made. This is due to difficulties at the Ministry of Works in the carrying out of the programme. There is the difficulty with regard to materials. We are hoping that by the end of this year this difficulty will be overcome and that the numbers required for September, 1947, will be available at least by the end of the year. I suggest that in all these instances local authorities who are anxious to implement the 1944 Act should, and must, realise that they ought not to wait until the development plans have been approved before they start their work. All must realise in present circumstances that there are many things which can be done in the implementation of that Act without waiting for the development programme, and in many instances without new buildings. Just as in the case of Cardiff, many others who are reorganising could take steps and new departments could be set up within the present buildings. I should be willing not only to look at it, but glad to encourage it, for this is one step that leads along the road to secondary education for all.

Then there is what was described as the modern grammar school, the secondary grammar school as we knew it. This has been going on in many places for a long time and this is the basis of secondary education for all, for under secondary education for all, it is not a question of all receiving the same kind of education, but rather of receiving the kind of secondary education which is suitable to their ability and capacity. Therefore, unless we get a system in which we can transfer from one type of school to another, we are not going to meet the requirements. There are authorities in this country who for many years have been transferring to what was described, prior to the passing of the Act, as selective and non-selective central schools, and which are now modern grammar schools. I hope that not only the Cardiff authority, but every authority will realise that the Ministry are anxious to help in this work which the hon. Member has called to our attention tonight.

Adjourned accordingly at Seventeen Minutes past One o'Clock.