HC Deb 31 October 1947 vol 443 cc1295-9

1.47 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

I wish to bring to the attention of the House today the question of the recruitment of teachers by the Ministry of Education and local authorities. With the passing of the Education Act, 1944, it became very evident that the teaching profession of this country would have to be augmented on a very considerable scale. The Act envisaged a considerable development in every aspect and stage of the education service.

The development of the nursery schools in the days of the war came to an unhappy end with the ending of the war; but, the Ministry are anxious to see a much larger extension of nursery schools throughout the country. It is the hope of the teaching profession that in every street of this country there shall be a small nursery school providing for the needs of the families of each area. I believe that if the Ministry showed the commendable drive for recruitment which they have shown in the emergency training scheme, it would be possible for us to have an adequate supply of nursery school teachers. If these young people are to be forthcoming, it must be made perfectly clear that the nursery school teachers will not have to work much longer hours than their colleagues serving in other schools. I recognise that with the demands of industry for married women labour, and the extraordinary hours which some married women are called upon to work, it is necessary for the nursery school to be opened earlier than the ordinary day school, and to remain open after the day school has closed. This is an amenity I welcome, but I feel that if an adequate supply of nursery school teachers is being trained, the work can be shared out, and it will be possible for this part of the Education Act, 1944, really to come to fruition.

Another question which makes the recruitment of teachers one of great urgency is the size of classes in this country at the present time. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary sitting on the Front Bench this afternoon, for nobody in this House played a greater part in bringing to the Statute Book of this country that major educational Measure, which it is quite wrong to call the Butler Act. I do not mind calling it the Butler-Ede Act or the Ede-Butler Act, but I much prefer to call it the Education Act, because it was the result of the constructive endeavours of all Members of this House. My right hon. Friend is well aware of the fact that education is impossible under the conditions which prevail in some of our schools at present. I wish to know from the Minister, if he is to reply, what steps are being taken to ensure that the emergency trained teachers are reaching the schools where this problem of large classes is most severely felt. There is a danger that the emergency trained recruits will go to the most progressive authorities. We welcome those authorities in the field of education, but it is desirable, in the interests of education itself, that these teachers should find their way also to those areas which have been neglected in other days.

I am aware that the Minister has stopped recruiting for the emergency training scheme. He has said that he now has enough recruits, with the exception of those people who are still serving in the Armed Forces of the Crown. Is the Minister satisfied that he has enough women as well as men? I cannot quite understand the complacency with which it is said that we now have enough men to keep the old proportions. I want to see far more men in the teaching profession in order to maintain that balance which is very necessary in the schools of this country. That balance is possible if the Minister ensures, through this emergency training scheme, that no young people who prove that they have the ability, and feel they have the call, are denied their opportunity.

It will be to the everlasting credit of the late Minister of Education, Miss Ellen Wilkinson, that early in her administration she sent out to every education authority in this country an instruction that no child should be forbidden his chance of being trained as a teacher simply because he came from a poor home. I am the son of a miner, and I know how hard, indeed how almost impossible, it has been for the child of a poor man to have a university education unless he has obtained one of the few scholarships which have been available. It is one of the measures of which this Government have every right to be proud that it is now possible for the child of a working man, be he a farm labourer, a road sweeper or a miner, or serving the community in any other constructive way, to have an education according to his ability.

When the Education Act, 1944, was being considered in this House, the phrase "education suited to age, aptitude and ability" was much used, and I fear that there were many cynics in the teaching profession as well as outside it at that time; but it is becoming increasingly evident that it is possible for us, with a Minister of Education who shows vision, and with local authorities who reveal the necessary drive, so to change our education service that the school is suited to the child and not the child moulded to suit the school.

One other aspect to which I wish to refer is the extraordinary position in the infants' schools of this country at the present time. There, we have an outstanding example of the teaching profession having kept itself abreast of modern development, for in the infants' schools we have a body of professional workers who are aware that their job is creative. They are developing the talent of the very young, and in so doing they have to give up more of their evening time than many of their colleagues who teach the older children. Those people in the infants' schools are faced with the added difficulty that their classes are at present larger than the average classes in the other types of school. When I was a schoolmaster, I always said to myself that I would give this advice to hon. Members in this House, that the job in this world to be avoided, I was going to say, but I do not want to hinder the recruitment of teachers for infants' schools, was, for me, the infants' school. The demand on the patience and the nervous energy as well as on the talent of the teacher in the infants' school cannot easily be appreciated by those outside the teaching profession. The Minister must direct his attention to a greater recruitment for the infants' schools. If this be done, then his hopes of giving the 1944 Act real life will become a possibility, but otherwise his work will be bound to fail.

I would remind the House that the success of the 1944 Education Act, depends more upon the teacher, who is in direct contact with the children, than it possibly can either upon the local administrators or even the Ministry itself, but the teachers must be made to feel that they are not merely being given the baby to carry. Many added duties have been showered upon them during past years. In many schools they start at nine in the morning, and they have no break at all from the children until the very end of the day. I believe that the mid day meal, welcome as it is as a social amenity and a social advantage, must be watched very carefully by local administrators. We can produce a tired teaching profession unless we are very careful. In my opinion—and perhaps in this House it is only my opinion—they ought not to have saddled upon them the duty of supervising at the mid-day meal. I believe that to be the job of trained supervisors and welfare workers. My right hon. Friend, at various conferences, has heard me saying things much along the same lines.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)

My hon. Friend has heard me on similar occasions.

Mr. Thomas

I have, to my sorrow, heard my right hon. Friend express a different opinion. I trust that with the passing of the years he is becoming more mellow upon this subject. I can look to him as one who is always prepared to learn and who has an open mind on this point. If the teachers are to become supervisors in canteens as well as instructors in the art of education, we are going to produce a tired profession. In a democracy it is dangerous to have a tired teaching profession. In the afternoon session we will have an irritated pro- fession, with the consequent difficulties between child and teacher. I trust that the observations I have been able to bring before the Home Secretary, whose interest in education is unabated, although he has turned his energies in other directions, will result in his being able to tell us that the teachers shall be given every encouragement at this time when so much strain is placed upon them.