HC Deb 30 July 1949 vol 467 cc2982-95

1.53 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)

The House today has been occupied with a wide range of important topics, but there is no subject more important than that of education. One of the subjects in which the people of Wales take a proud, and indeed a passionate, interest is that of education. The Welsh are not interested in the narrowness of education, but rather in its fullness; that it may serve the great purposes of humanity. We believe that education should help towards the fullest and richest development of human personality.

Thus on Monday next there will begin a pilgrimage of ardent Welsh folk from all parts of the Principality to the little township of Dolgelly. For a week the attention of Wales will be focused on "Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru," which means the Welsh National Eisteddfod. There the leading bard of Wales will be crowned; soloists will be selected; choristers, musicians, artists and craftsmen will all be given their place of honour. In Wales we are proud that we have a culture of our own, a culture rooted in the education and religion of our people. The City of Cardiff which, with the Minister of Pensions and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport I have the honour to represent in this House, has the paramount distinction of being the capital of that gallant little nation.

It is because I am proud of the City of Cardiff that I am so disturbed about the state of its education. The past 30 years have seen astonishing developments in the field of education in this country, but unhappily most of those developments have passed our city by. In 1926 we had the Hadow Report which recommended new standards of organisation. Local authorities in all parts of the country, with the encouragement of the then Board of Education, began to reorganise their schools, ensuring that all children over the age of 11 should be housed in a separate building. This reorganisation was accepted in 1944 as the basis of the new Education Act. The Ministry of Education are today obliged by the terms of that Act to regard all schools which are not so reorganised as primary schools; thus if children whose ages range from 6 to 15 are in one school, the children of 11-plus cannot be regarded for grant purposes as being in a secondary school.

Cardiff has never reorganised her schools, with the result that today there is not a single secondary modern school in the whole of the confines of our city. There never has been a junior secondary school in the pre-1944 terms of education. In Merthyr, Rhondda and Aberdare, and the valleys that wind their way to the north of the City of Cardiff, secondary modern schools are to be found in abundance, because the authorities proved themselves enlightened at the right time.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Heywood and Radcliffe)

Labour local authorities.

Mr. Thomas

These are indeed Labour authorities; but it should in fairness be stated that the local education authority at Cardiff in 1929 and in 1936 set about a scheme for the reorganisation of the schools on the basis of the Hadow Report. Both those schemes were rejected by the finance committee of the council and later by the full council. The finance committee, unfortunately, has always been penny-minded instead of educationally minded, and it is upon the finance committee of the corporation that the full responsibility must lie. In 1939, when war clouds were dark upon us the authority once again passed educational reorganisation plans and this time the full council passed the plans and they were carefully pigeon-holed. They have remained pigeon-holed ever since.

What the children of Cardiff have lost, due to the mean and miserable attitude of the finance committee, no tongue can tell; no words can describe. I earnestly hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will not, reply to me as did my right hon. Friend at Question Time the other day—that in the first instance this is the responsibility of the local authority. For 23 years, we have waited for the reorganisation of our schools, to give at least equal opportunity to the children of Cardiff with the children of the Rhondda. Now I wish to know what representations are the Ministry making to obtain this necessary reorganisation? What pressure have they brought to bear, and how long is it likely to be before our children have the same advantages as are enjoyed in other areas in this country?

The Parliamentary Secretary and the hon. and learned Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Hopkin Morris), who is sitting opposite, know that the state of secondary grammar education in Cardiff has been the cause of great concern recently. At the beginning of this month I attended a mass meeting of the combined staffs of high school teachers in our city. The meeting was exceptionally well attended, and a resolution was unanimously passed expressing grave concern at the prolonged neglect of education in the city. I found that the bitterness of the teachers was alarming. The forcefulness of their criticism was such that the entire Press of the Principality felt obliged to give considerable space to the matter. There was unanimous agreement for the following clauses of the resolution: It specifically condemns in the strongest possible terms:

  1. (1) the almost complete absence of nursery schools;
  2. (2) the failure to implement the Hadow Report, so that no secondary education other than grammar schools is provided in the city;
  3. (3) the fact that only one new school building has been begun since the end of the war."
On that point I think they may be wrong. There may be two. (4) The indescribable conditions under which the staff and pupils work at three high schools damaged by enemy action in 1941; (5) the existing inadequate provision of playing fields for both primary and secondary schools. I must tell the House the conditions of secondary grammar school accommodation in Cardiff. The Howard Gardens High School for Boys was damaged by enemy action in 1941 and it remains in a scandalous condition. A fortnight ago I visited this school. It happened that we had had a thunderstorm in Cardiff that morning. When I walked round the school I found pools of water in the rooms. There was water on the walls, the ceiling of the staff room was falling down, and biscuit tins and buckets were being used to catch water as it dripped through the ceiling. There is no laboratory and no school hall.

I submit that the Parliamentary Secretary ought to have been receiving reports long ago from his inspectors. I understand from an article in the "Western Mail" that the director of education stated at a meeting of the education committee on 15th July that he had no written report about this school during the past 12 months. The fact that such brilliant academic achievements have been secured by pupils from that school, even during the past year, is a tribute to the teacher and to the child, but it ought to be a challenge to the local authority and the Ministry of Education. If parents kept their children under home conditions similar to those at this school, I think the N.S.P.C.C. might well have been interested in them a long time ago.

In the Canton High School for Girls conditions are almost as grave. On the 23rd of this month a letter was published in the "South Wales Echo" signed by the staff of the school. It said: Conditions are detrimental to the health of all concerned and cause a deplorable waste of time. Teachers have a six-minute walk between lessons to go to different classes. Unfortunately, this school also suffered bomb damage. The letter added: There are no facilities for games except an under-sized netball pitch … Indeed, it is under-sized— … and an open space surrounded by the ruins of 20 air-raid shelters and the remains of a static water tank. Yesterday at a meeting of the Cardiff Education Authority the new chairman, who is a man of considerable drive and initiative, made a special appeal to teachers. I understand from today's "Western Mail" that he said: We are doing our best and all I ask from the teachers is loyalty—loyalty to the authority and loyalty to us all. He also said: I would like the spirit to emanate right through our schools that those difficulties … And he agrees with what I have said about the Howard Gardens High School— … may be spurs for greater activity and greater enthusiasm to overcome them. I assure the House—and indeed the local authority—that the loyalty and the service of the teachers will never be withheld; but, in return, those who are giving the extra effort in their service to the rising generation have every right to ask for greater initiative on the part of both the local authority and the Ministry.

I speak today more as a teacher than as a political partisan. It is monstrous that our children in Cardiff have not the same opportunity as they would have had if they had been born but 20 miles to the north. What prospect is there in the next year of new schools, prefabricated buildings perhaps, being erected? The local authority have decided to press for their own school architect. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will encourage them. There has been a bottleneck in the Cardiff City Engineer's Department, with the result that plans for new schools have been slow in production. I trust that my hon. Friend will be able to tell me that presentation of these plans will be speeded considerably.

I ask my hon. Friend, who has manifested such a deep and sympathetic understanding in the problems of the Principality, to say something about playing fields accommodation for Cardiff schools. A school without a playing field is like a man with one arm. It cannot do properly what it sets out to do. The Minister of Education and my hon. Friend have done a great deal for Wales. I readily pay tribute to the Welsh Department, and in particular to the Parliamentary Secretary, for the way in which they have understood our bi-lingual problem and the different approach which we have to modern difficulties.

But I speak for the teachers of Cardiff when I say that we are seriously disturbed at the slowness, the lack of vision, and apparently the lack of faith, which has been revealed in the past. If the speech of the new chairman of the education Committee means what I take it to mean, then perhaps in Cardiff today we stand on the threshold of a new era in education. I earnestly hope that this is so, and that the House will appreciate that I raised this subject only because it is one of pressing and paramount importance.

2.9 p.m.

Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)

I cannot hope to emulate my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas) in the matter of his beautiful lilting tones and his delightful Welsh words describing the Eisteddfod. It is possible, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you will rule me out of Order, because I propose to use this Debate in order to raise a matter which has been troubling me for some time. Of course, I do not know sufficient about conditions in Cardiff to add to my hon. Friend's speech about the difficulties in his home town which he now represents in this House. The points I want to raise, and about which I am very troubled, concern the tendency on the part of many authorities to treat their teachers in a rather niggardly way.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Bowles)

Order. The hon. Lady should understand that Mr. Speaker decided to set apart a number of periods of three-quarters of an hour each for the discussion of subjects which he specified, and that this Debate is restricted to schools in Cardiff.

Mrs. Nichols

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

2.11 p.m.

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

I am sure hon. Members on all sides of the House have been very disturbed by the facts which have been made known to them by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff (Mr. G. Thomas). We have known these facts at the Ministry for some time, of course, and I should be the last person to say that I was not also disturbed. Indeed I have been disturbed about the educational provision in Cardiff for some time. I am not, therefore, standing at this Box this afternoon in order to whitewash anybody. We are, in one degree or another, responsible for the present condition of the schools and of the equipment of the schools in the City of Cardiff.

I want to answer as many of the points raised by my hon. Friend as I possibly can, because I know that what I have to say will be of interest not only to him and to hon. Members who heard his most eloquent pleading, but will be of very considerable interest to my hon. Friend's constituents and indeed to the citizens of Cardiff generally.

There are legitimate grounds for criticising educational provision in Cardiff. We have heard more and more about this at the Ministry recently: My hon. Friend has referred to what was aid at the annual general meeting of the staffs of the high schools on 11th July last, and he referred to a resolution which my right hon. Friend received as a result of that meeting. I shall refer to the details of that resolution in a few minutes. Then, there have been Parliamentary Questions apropos of this problem in the city, and I know that in one or two instances my hon. Friend has been told that the teachers of Cardiff should take up their problems with the local education authority. In addition, other events have occurred in the Cardiff educational administration that bring this matter to a head still more.

I have myself visited the schools in Cardiff, and I have been shocked at many of the conditions I have seen. I must confess, however, that I have seen equally bad buildings and equally inferior sanitary conditions and equipment in other parts of the country. Cardiff, unfortunately, is not alone in its heritage of dreadful schools and unsuitable equipment, and it would be grossly unfair to suggest that Cardiff was an educational Black Hole of Calcutta among the pristine whiteness of educational provision elsewhere in the Principality, or even elsewhere in Great Britain.

Cardiff has a number of bad schools; I know, because I have seen them. There are, too, many very bad schools everywhere both in rural and in industrial areas, but the problem of getting rid of these schools has reached gigantic proportions because, between the wars, Governments did not do their duty by education. The school life of the children was conceived as part of a cheap, cheeseparing policy, and we must face up to the fact that the Government could not hope, in the four years in which they have been in power, to make up for a backward, niggardly policy followed for at least 20 years before the war. Present economic conditions and the rise in the birthrate are making it an even more formidable task. With all of that, I am quite certain that my hon. Friend will agree.

Mr. Grimston (Westbury)

May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? Silence on these benches does not indicate that we agree with this electioneering speech.

Mr. Hardman

It is an extraordinary thing that, when hon. Members on the opposite benches hear a few home truths, they describe them as an "electioneering speech." If it is an electioneering speech, they ought to be very much ashamed of it.

I think my hon. Friend agrees with me, and certainly hon. Members on this side of the House will agree with me, from what I have said, that they can quite properly ask wherein lies the apparent failure to progress at a greater speed since 1945. That really is the question which is interesting us this afternoon. I am going to be quite frank about this, and I am going to agree that the City Fathers have not in the past been really anxious to spend money on educational progress. My hon. Friend referred to it as "a penny-minded policy," and we cannot avoid the issue that that has been the prevailing spirit in the discussions by the representatives on the Cardiff City Council.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

The hon. Gentleman will agree, will he not, that in this case they were Socialist City Fathers?

Mr. G. Thomas

Oh, no. Unhappily for education, the party opposite had a majority on the Cardiff City Council.

Mr. Hardman

In the past in Cardiff, educational interests have had far too often to take a back seat, and, whatever political complexion we may have, we have to see the facts in this light. For example, the estates committee has tended to allocate inadequate and unsuitable space to educational buildings, reserving the best land over and over again for housing and for parks. There was often a good case to be made out for this decision, but, nevertheless, education has not had its fair share.

Moreover, there has been—and I was glad that my hon. Friend referred to this point—a failure to allot sufficient architectural staff to educational building work in order to enable the minimum essential building programme to be implemented. It is my view that every local education authority should have its schools and educational architect, and that Cardiff should appoint one who should have responsibility for the educational building work of the education committee. Any words that I can utter to encourage the Cardiff authority to appoint such an architect will, I hope, be taken to heart. But this again is not an omission peculiar to Cardiff. It is one which many authorities should rectify, even though city surveyors, borough engineers and county architects in some instances may not like it. We must not allow professional prejudice to stand in the way of educational progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Cardiff raised, very largely by implication, the problem which is really at issue this afternoon. He asked, in effect, in the cases where the authority is a bad one in this or other respects, wherein lies the power of the Ministry of Education. There are, of course, official letters. They go to authorities whenever we feel that certain duties are being neglected, and, believe me, Sir, those official letters are from time to time couched in very strong terms. However, they may receive no answer. It is His Majesty's inspectors' business constantly to keep in touch with the local education officials, and in Cardiff, for instance, periodic meetings have been held between His Majesty's inspectors and these officials. At their meetings there has been investigation of pro- gress made, and of the need of further progress. There has been insistence on keeping the urgent problems before the authority's officials. Then, in Cardiff—and this happens in other parts of the country, too, where the need arises—there have been meetings with the Ministry's priority officer. The object of such meetings is to speed up building work. All these methods have been used in Cardiff, and they have been used in co-operation with the authority.

Those are examples of what my hon. Friend would describe as "pressure." The final pressure that the Minister can bring to bear upon an authority is that provided by the power to withhold grant, or in the use of Section 68 of the Act; but I am quite certain—this is something which has not yet been done since the Act was passed—my hon. Friend will be the first person to agree, that an atomic bomb effect of that kind must be used only as a final resort.

However, in Cardiff, we have gone a step beyond those sorts of pressure tactics I have described. A deputation from that new education committee with its new chairman has met representatives of the Ministry of Education—in fact, on 9th June this year; and we have fully and very frankly discussed the rate of educational building in Cardiff; and we at the Ministry and the inspectorate in Wales feel that, with the changes that have taken place there, there is likely to be a more rapid progress in some directions than we have known in the past.

It is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend has said, that nursery school provision, for instance, is an item in the resolution of the annual general meeting to which he referred. Nursery school provision in Cardiff has been very poor indeed. Before the war, there was only one nursery school. There are now eight, of which seven were formerly war-time nurseries, opened during the war under the Ministry of Health scheme. We have carried out considerable improvements to those premises in the last 12 months. Under the authority's development plans it is proposed to make nursery provision for between one-fifth and one-sixth of the children of nursery school age in Cardiff, but the Minister has already informed the authority that he would by no means regard such provision as adequate.

My hon. Friend referred also to the second part of the resolution which was sent to my right hon. Friend—the need for reorganisation. Frankly, before the war the authority showed no great enthusiasm for reorganisation on the lines of the Hadow Report. It preferred to make liberal provision for grammar schools, and to provide the remaining section of the children with some advanced practical instruction in their existing large all-standard schools. They felt that in doing this they were complying with all the requirements of educational legislation as it was then.

Mr. De la Bère (Evesham)

Does not the hon. Gentleman really think that the children should come first, before all else?

Mrs. Nichol

That is the whole point.

Mr. Hardman

That is the whole point of the Debate. We want to see that there is in Cardiff adequate provision for the education of the children there, and the teachers, in fact, from their annual general meeting, sent a resolution to the Minister in order to emphasise the needs of the children of Cardiff.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether the Ministry of Education has threatened to drop the atom bomb of Section 68 on Cardiff? Is that not the vital thing to do?

Mr. Hardman

No. We have not given any such order, and, moreover, we do not think either that the time is appropriate, nor that there is any need to give such an order. I have already suggested that with the new chairman of the education committee taking over it is our business at the Ministry to do our very best to help him with the task he is undertaking with very great enthusiasm. We are admitting that mistakes have taken place in the past, but it would surely be very unwise and unstatesmanlike to hold a threat over a new education officer and over a new chairman of an education committee. I hope we shall never have to use the threat of Section 68 of the Act of 1944 in respect of any authority. But, unfortunately, I am having to admit today that there have been faults on all sides in the past, and that is why my hon. Friend has raised this subject very properly today, and why the new educational chairman of Cardiff faces such a very formidable task.

I was asked specifically by my hon. Friend to say something about the new school provision in the city. Since the war there have been three temporary primary schools constructed, and there has been completed the Lady Margaret High School to provide new premises for the Howard Gardens Girls High School, to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Thomas

That was before the war.

Mr. Hardman

Yes. The new premises since the war—

Mr. Thomas

Will my hon. Friend allow me? The school was completed, and was just about to be entered into, when the war broke out and troops took it over, and £40,000 worth of repairs to dilapidations had to be done after the troops left before we could take the school over again—18 months or two years after the war.

Mr. Grimston

I thought we had heard that nothing was done before the war.

Mr. Thomas

That is one school of which the hon. Gentleman can, no doubt, be very proud.

Mr. Hardman

I may have been mistaken in suggesting that the whole of this provision was made since the war. In all probability I ought to have said that the money had been expended on the repair of premises dilapidated by occupying forces during the war. But in addition—and this, I think, was the point of my hon. Friend's question—plans for new permanent primary schools for the Ely, Gabalfa, Heath and Rumney housing estates are in an advanced stage of preparation. However, that does not carry us very far; but I can add that work on these four schools is scheduled to start at the end of this year; and I shall do everything in my power to see that we hit that target.

Recently some publicity was given in the Press to statements made by the director of education to the effect that the programme for the building of schools for housing estates in Cardiff had been seriously cut by the Ministry of Education. I think that I am in duty bound to suggest that this does give a misleading impression. The programmes sub- mitted by Cardiff have not been sufficiently closely related to the authority's capacity to produce plans for schools. The Ministry included in the programmes everything which it was thought the authority could build. I am sorry to say that even this target has not been reached.

My hon. Friend referred to playing-field facilities. I am not being unjust when I say that too often in the past there has been almost a definite antagonism to the provision of playing-field accommodation in Cardiff. Few open spaces have been left in the built-up parts of the city, and it was felt that these grounds should be available for the use of adults as well as for school children. In the authority's development plan it was proposed to make no provision for separate playing fields in existing primary schools. The Ministry has already indicated that this cannot be accepted, and the authority has been asked to investigate the possibility of providing playing-fields to be used exclusively by schools in accordance with the building regulations.

Unfortunately, the parks committee has had too dominant a say in the matter of open spaces in the city. I think this has been an important factor in prolonging the neglect to set aside land for school playing-fields. I want to say nothing which will damp the enthusiasm of the new set-up in the committee, nor am I going to say that what has happened in the past has been wholly black, or indeed has been a dereliction of educational duties. Mistakes have been made; we all have to admit it; but a new leaf has been turned over and there are possibilities for big advancement. I am convinced that the education committee in Cardiff is now well aware of the seriousness of the educational position in the city. I am well aware of the fact that the education committee is desirous of getting on with the job as quickly as possible.

I think I have been critical, like my hon. Friend, of certain aspects of past policy, but I wish the new chairman, his committee and his new chief education officer well in the formidable task which confronts them. It is a most disturbing picture that my hon. Friend has revealed, and I assure him that as far as the Ministry are concerned we will do every- thing in our power to help the new Committee and the new education officer to solve the very serious education problems that confront the people of Cardiff.