HC Deb 29 January 1948 vol 446 cc1335-44

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

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I take this opportunity to raise the issue of school buildings in relation to the country's educational programme, because, at this moment, and at this juncture of the history of our country, I believe that this issue is of paramount importance. Unless this country produces a stream of highly trained and skilled boys and girls, and afterwards, by further education, men and women who are trained in technical and art colleges—and ultimately in the universities—this country will be in danger of losing its place in the social, cultural and economic leadership of the civilised nations. We must have a skilful nation. We must have an educated nation.

Under the new Education Act, which the Ministry of Education and both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary for Education, working as a team, are doing their best to implement, we are now meeting with great difficulties, because of the White Paper Cmd. 7268 on Capital Investment in 1948. We cannot allow the future of the young children of this country to be shipwrecked once again on the rocks of economic crisis, or fear of war, or whatever it is that is being talked about. We saw the 1918 Education Act destroyed in the inter-war period by apathy and casualness on the part of the Government and people of this country. We can no longer afford to he casual about education in this country. We must jump into the lead in technical and scientific manpower if we wish to maintain our markets, our skill and our international prestige in this international system of trade.

Always after wars there is the battle of the "three Rs" against the "three Ms," against the issue of manpower, materials and money. I wish the Minister to assure me that the Ministry of Education will not give up the struggle against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or anybody else, for a higher amount than the allocation of 1 per cent. of manpower, materials and buildings which is indicated in the White Paper. We want a far higher percentage than 1 per cent. of manpower and building materials de- voted entirely to this question of school buildings. The Government have made magnificent efforts to maintain their programme. No doubt I shall be given figures to show that in 1948 there will be a spurt compared with 1947. However, I am not so much concerned with a spurt in one period of 12 months. I want to see a steady stream of school buildings and accommodation of all types being erected now to relieve the burden on the mass of the primary school teachers and others.

They are a class of people often forgotten during the war. Much praise has been showered upon many types of people for their work during the war, but we have forgotten the struggle carried on by these people amid the shortages of the elementary materials of education. With the raising of the school-leaving age and the increase in the birthrate, these problems will become more intense. Sir Frederick Mander, a past President of the National Union of Teachers, once said, when speaking at a conference on school building: There is nothing wrong with standardisation. What we need is good standardisation. I fail to see how we can cope with the problem in front of us unless we are prepared for a large measure of standardisation. I, for one, am not prepared to immolate a whole generation of children on the altar of architectural aestheticism. The point I am trying to make is that if we cannot get perfect buildings from the aesthetic point of view, or from the point of view of space, light and air room and the saving of the energies of the teachers, it is essential that some types of building be allocated for the purpose of implementing the school building programme. Circular 145 of 6th June, 1947, distributed by the Ministry of Education, says: The rise in the birthrate will present the education service with problems affecting the supply of teachers, accommodation and furniture. The extent of these problems will vary appreciably from area to area. Below that statement, we have a chart which shows that there will be an increase in the school population from 4,869,000 in 1946, to 5,732,000 in 1952. In the age group from five to six years, there will be an increase of roughly 21.2 per cent. in the number of children who will he demanding primary education. It is no use having a high-falutin' scheme for magnificent universities and technical colleges, or building up a great scheme of nuclear physicists, unless we have the base of the pyramid in the primary schools on a firm foundation of great accomplishment in the shape of buildings in which the children can start their work.

On 2nd June, 1947, Circular 1943 on the subject of the educational building programme was issued. This asked local education authorities to review the position. I want the Minister to tell me what exactly is the position at the moment, especially in view of the White Paper, "Capital Investment in 1948." The present Chancellor of the Exchequer told us on 5th December that the estimated expenditure on the educational programme in England and Wales would be £20,250,000, and £32 million in 1948. In Scotland during the same period the figure would jump from £2,600,000 to £4,600,000.

The permanent building programme for 1947–48 is estimated at £50 million. Can anything be done to increase the allocation to the Ministry of Education? Can the Ministry do something about this £50 million that is allocated to permanent buildings, so that we can get up types of buildings speedily to serve the present demand? The White Paper, on page 14, says that the educational programme for 1947–48 has been designed to meet the following requirements: Places needed for raising the school leaving age to 15; schools to meet new housing developments; the maintenance of existing primary and secondary schools; including provision to meet the rising birth rate; school meals; further education; teacher training, and special schools for handicapped children. I would refer to the issue of school meals, which is well down the list. I would like to see school meals higher in the priority list. In March, 1947, the Ministry provided 40 dining huts. At that period, according to an answer given in tins House, they said that they were planning to provide accommodation for 115,000 children. How far have they gone in that direction? Are they going to allow this White Paper to limit that planned point?

There are two other points which I would like to raise. In this White Paper, I am astonished to see that all building of community centres, youth clubs, and adult education centres, is to be postponed, as well as major schemes for nursery schools and school meals. If we are asking at the present time the women of England to go into industry, then we should on no account prevent the expansion of these nursery schools. In the city of Stoke-on-Trent, we have hundreds of children now waiting to go into nursery classes. Something should be done about that, and the utmost pressure should be brought on the Cabinet to see that this part of the programme is implemented.

There are two local points about which I have written to the Minister. In my own area, we have some Church schools which were in a dilapidated condition, and I must admit that the Ministry and the local education authority in Staffordshire acted immediately and promised to do their best to see that these schools should be ready as soon as possible. I would ask the Minister what the officials of his Ministry are doing in a case like this. A Church school was given permission by the Charity Commissioners to sell their house, which had not been occupied within living memory, and which belonged to the school. The Ministry said that they could only spend the interest on the capital from that house, which must be invested. They want to spend £600 or £700 immediately, because there will be no new school there until 1960. I want the red tape cut at once and that school put into a condition in which the children can be comfortable in winter and have decent sanitary conditions.

I would also like to refer to difficulties in various areas where we have mining subsidence. I hear today that a complete school is to be left and the children moved to another district because of the mining danger of subsidence in a village called Packmoor. The Ministry must act quickly to help our harassed local officials in this matter. If we do not get these buildings, and if we have the 8,000 emergency teachers training in the emergency training colleges in 1948, I ask the Minister are we once again going to have redundancy in the teaching profession, because the buildings are not put there owing to our having sacrificed once again this issue of education on the rocks of a so-called economic crisis?

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton)

I wish, very briefly, to add my plea to the one already made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. H. Davies). After the passing of the Education Act, 1944, we considered that the two great obstacles of putting it into operation would be the shortage of teachers and the shortage of buildings. Owing to the success of the emergency training scheme, a success very largely due to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, the difficulty of the shortage of teachers has been overcome. I believe that, in a few years time, we shall have enough teachers to give effect to the 1944 Act. But the difficulty of building seems to be getting worse as the months pass by.

We have still a very large number of all-standard schools in the rural areas, where children are kept until they reach the age of 15, and we are under an obligation, under the terms of the 1944 Act, to give those children a secondary education after the age of 11. It is impossible to do that in the type of schools that now exist in many thousands in the country areas. It will be necessary, very quickly, to have a number of new buildings in those areas. The problem is also presenting itself in the urban areas because of the increase in the number of infants going to school, owing to the rising birthrate. There is great difficulty in those areas in finding accommodation for the infants, and, in many districts, they are having to have double shifts in the infant schools. We still have very large classes in our schools—40,000 of over 40, and round about 2,000 of over 50. Although we have the teachers, we cannot reduce the classes until we have the classrooms into which to put the children. We must have further accommodation if there is to be any reduction in the size of classes.

I know quite well that the Ministry are doing as much as they possibly can, in view of the cuts in capital expenditure, to erect new permanent buildings. In fact, I think I am right in saying that the amount of permanent building last year and next year will be found to be greater than that which took place in some years before the war. But is it not possible, now that the H.O.R.S.A. scheme is coming to an end, to extend the scheme so as to provide additional classrooms for those under the age of 14. Is it not possible to make experiments in the prefabrication of classrooms, which might be assembled quickly to make new schools? What are the prospects of the aluminium school?

I should like some assurance from the Ministry—and I have no doubt I shall get it—that they are sparing no efforts in the extension of prefabricated huts, and the adoption of new types of schools which, though no less expensive than the old buildings, can be more quickly erected. Unless there is some speeding up of the provision of school buildings, we shall not be able, for years to come, to give effect to the Education Act, 1944.

10.28 p.m.

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

The first question concerns the capital investment programme, and, of course, we have to concern ourselves with the effect of the Government review on this. It is a question which has been raised by my hon. Friend, and I want to go into it in some detail. The White Paper on Capital Investment, 1948, recognises that, in general, the education building programme represents the essential minimum. I think I must make perfectly clear what has been agreed for deferment. Major projects for nursery schools and classes, except where they are needed to assist mothers to enter industry, are deferred. The second deferment is for all major proposals for community centres, adult education centres, and youth clubs. Naturally, my right hon. Friend and I deplore these deferments, but, under present conditions, it seems to us that they are inevitable. Except for school meals, all the remaining classes of projects in the primary and secondary field are allowed in principle to go ahead.

The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) raised the most important question of technical education, and we are glad to say that the Government recognise the pressing need for additional facilities for technical education. If this country is to play its part in the export markets of the future, then technically trained personnel are essential and we recognise the pressing need for this additional accommodation and the programme to cover essential requirements for this purpose up to the end of 1951 is to be fully worked out. I may say that my right hon. Friend and myself have received complete sympathy from other Members of the Government in this respect.

The performance of this programme will have the first claim after the most urgent statutory obligations in the primary and secondary field on the resources available for additional building. Excluding school meals, the White Paper estimates that the expenditure involved in the programmes for 1947 and 1948 is £17,000,000 and £27,750,000 respectively. The financial deductions which will be made as a result of the deferments required by the White Paper will be negligible. In answer to the hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Morley), I can assure him that we shall spare no efforts in supplying new types of schools, from whatever untraditional materials these schools may be built.

In regard to the question on the school meals service raised by the hon. Member for Leek, I think these statistics should be of interest to the House. Up to the end of 1947, 1,300 projects had been completed by the Minister of Works. That means 500,000 children have school meals accommodation. At the present time 500 further projects are in progress, which means a further 175,000 additional daily mid-day school meals. In addition to that, the local authorities have their own programme which they are doing themselves and this programme will provide an additional 175,000 meals daily.

In terms of canteens for the provision of these meals, up to the end of October, 1947, 20,715 had been supplied to serve 25,187 schools. Between June and October, 1947, the total children taking a mid-day meal had risen from 2,322,000 to 2,536,000—from 48.5 per cent. to 50.8 per cent. The Ministry recognises that the mid-day meal is an essential part of the educational curriculum day by day and we are determined that, when materials are available, the best possible equipment will be there to enable the school meal to be in the maintained school for the general school population of our nation as complete a function in the school day as in the independent school system or in the colleges of the older Universities.

The hon. Member for Leek has raised a local question, of the Longsdon Church of England School, and I should like to say something about that problem. The facts that he has implied do not bear out the allegation that the Ministry are not allowing the trustees to apply the proceeds of the sale of the school house in the manner desired by them. Indeed, the Ministry are quite agreeable to the proposed use of the proceeds, but it is a question not of what is agreeable but of what is permitted by law, and my right hon. Friend has to stand by the law like anybody else in the Gauntry.

The solicitor's letters have raised technical legal points of considerable difficulty, and the Ministry have endeavoured to assist the trustees in every way possible, and to suggest means by which they can achieve what they desire. A reply will be sent to the letters of the 14th and 15th of January as soon as possible. I hope my hon. Friend will receive this assurance that we shall do our best to settle this constituency case for him.

My hon. Friend raises the question of the cuts in the building programme—which I fear are inevitable—influencing the emergency training scheme for teachers who come from the emergency training colleges. Frankly, we do not expect this difficulty. At any rate, the negligible cuts I have already instanced will not affect those now training in the emergency training colleges.

It may be of interest to the House, in connection with this school building programme, to have some figures of the number of classrooms which the Ministry of Education has been providing. During the past six months, we [...]e provided an average of between 270 and 280 rooms a month. These rooms have been provided under the H.O.R.S.A. scheme. The total rooms completed during the calendar year 1947 is 2,004. We realise at the Ministry that we cannot do all that we would wish to do in the provision of new classrooms and new school buildings.

I feel, and I think my right hon. Friend feels, that in the present emergency the Ministry of Education have not come out of the exigencies of the present time too badly. When we compare the 1920 building programme for schools after the first world war with the position today, I think our figures, though not entirely satisfactory at least give some cause for commendation. If you allow for the differences in the cost, the amount of work approved in 1947 equals approximately that approved by the old Board of Education in the four years after the first world war. The 1947 achievement is, I think, the fastest rate of approval ever achieved in the years between the wars, and when the Minister of Education gives his approval, he does so knowing that the local authority can go ahead because the supply of material and labour in that administrative area is available. It is not a question of giving approval, and having several months to wait to see whether labour and materials are available. Quite frankly we feel that, considering the difficulties after the second world war the Ministry of Education have risen valiantly to their task and are doing better in the provision of school buildings and school rooms than was the case after the first world war.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-one Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.