HC Deb 17 April 1951 vol 486 cc1662-724

3.44 p.m.

Mr. Ashton (Essex, Chelmsford)

I beg to move to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House views with concern the overcrowding in primary schools, and urges His Majesty's Government to apply a system of priorities which will ensure that the most urgent needs in education are adequately met. The Amendment is drawn widely, first, to allow hon. Members an opportunity of ranging fairly widely and, second, to give the Minister the opportunity of replying to the questions which may be put to him. Possibly after four days of a test match on the subject of the Budget it is something of a relief to the House to turn to the subject of education, but it seems to me a pity that not more interest is taken in it, because even in the lives of right hon. Gentlemen opposite—even of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—it is necessary to devote part of the time to education.

On the subject of overcrowding, it has been laid down that the "high-water mark" for primary schools should be 40 in a class and for secondary schools 30. There is a lot of rather diverse information on the situation existing today, but the only really concrete facts on which J can put my hands at the moment are in the Education Report for 1949. I believe that that for 1950 will be a Festival edition and will therefore be rather longer delayed than is usually the case. In paragraph 22 on page 14 of that publication we learnt that during 1948 the total number of senior classes with over 30 pupils rose from 31,131 to 34,518, while that of junior and infant classes with over 40 pupils slightly increased from 31,693 to 31,933. During the same period there was a reduction from 2,118 to 1,782 in the number of classes with over 50 pupils. My information about my county of Essex, and especially London, is that, so far from improving, the situation has deteriorated somewhat.

I want to dwell for a moment on a situation in my county not 20 miles from here on the Harold Hill estate, an L.C.C. housing estate. When the building was undertaken, my county made representations to all the Ministries concerned impressing upon them the vital importance of putting up schools concurrently with housing. However, the emphasis was upon the housing, and what we warned the Ministries was likely to happen has now happened. The situation today is that there are some 1,300 children on the new housing estate, where one school has just been opened, but they are transported daily by 26 buses, at a cost of £10,000 per annum, to Romford, with the result that the classes there are normally 45 and very often 50 and 55.

As regards London, some facts have been given in the House recently, and I believe that there is considerable concern in the matter all over the country. I would draw the attention of the House to the priority resolution of the National Union of Teachers at Llandudno on 26th March. It referred to the position in the primary schools and asked that classes should be reduced to 30. I also have a letter from the National Council of Women of Great Britain on the subject. They are entitled to their views because they introduce the children into the world; at least so I understand the position, though it does not apply in the case of spinsters.

I want to put a question to the Minister at this point. There are in Romford a number of children for whom school places would normally be available at the age of five, but at present there are no places for them. How many children of five are not going to school there today owing to lack of places? Also, will the Minister give us the up-to-date figures of overcrowding in 1951—I quoted figures for some years back—and some estimate of what is likely to happen during the "battle of the bulge" which I believe will come in 1953?

We may ask ourselves, "Could this situation have been avoided?" In view of the marriage rate after the war and the increase in the population, the answer is definitely "No," but if we put to ourselves the question, "Could this have been alleviated?" I think the answer is "Yes." In Essex we have over 2,000 public spirited people who serve on the various education committees and on the governing bodies of various schools. For the last five years I have sat on many of these committees in different parts of the county and have read many of the minutes. I can recall so often, when there was a suggestion of some form of economy, the comment made, "But can we afford to do without it?" I feel the Government must bear some of the responsibility for the fact that after the war there was created the atmosphere, centrally and locally, that the sinews of Government for education and other purposes were quite inexhaustible.

We have travelled a little distance since then and, of course, events may have overtaken us to some extent. Indeed, we have learned that the maximum cost of a place per primary school has come down steadily from £195 to £170 and now to £140. In secondary schools it has come down from £320 to £290 and now to £240. It is just as well to bear in mind that these costs, very considerable still even on the lower figures, do not include anything either for playing fields or for the land, both of which are considerable costs today.

In the debate on this Report the Minister referred to the fact that some excellent buildings have been put up below this cost and, furthermore, that schemes in Hertfordshire will result in certain reductions. At the same time, if the present more realistic view of the accommodation appropriate for primary and secondary schools had been adopted several years earlier, the same amount of capital expenditure would have provided many more places. In all these things it is capital expenditure which is the bottleneck.

Now what is the necessity for priorities? I am sure any hon. Members who have been listening to what has been said during the four days of the Budget debate will have no doubt of the necessity for priorities having regard to the financial resources available. The Chancellor himself in his speech said that costs of education were rising. So did his predecessor. The right hon. Gentleman said that the figures this year are £251 million against £243 million last year. I understand that this figure refers to the net Exchequer expenditure on England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

If I may come more specifically to finance, I shall refer to page 9 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Ministry of Education Estimates. There is shown the net expenditure from the Exchequer and rates for the financial year 1950–51 in respect of England and Wales. I must give these figures to deploy my argument. The total—that is Exchequer and rate-borne expenditure—is £318,416,000. That is split between the Exchequer, which takes £204,697,000, and the rates, which bear £113,719,000.

The rather interesting figure here is that the increase this year as compared with last year, borne by the Exchequer is only 3.29 per cent., while that which comes on the rates shows an increase of 15.22 per cent. I appreciate that these figures may be a little out of line owing to the incidence of the recent results of the Burnham Award. Also, of course, the Ministry have saved £4 million in the running down of the scheme for ex-Service men and also on the emergency training scheme for teachers which is not at its peak at present. But I think those figures are significant, and I want to refer to the matter of the rates in regard to education. I am sure that all hon. Members who are members of local authorities have heard murmurings about this throughout the country.

I must also refer for a moment to capital expenditure, which is the forerunner of additional revenue charges to be incurred. Again from the Explanatory Memorandum I quote as follows: capital expenditure in 1948–49 was £29,440,000. In 1949–50 it was £69,683,000 and, for the nine months to 31st December, 1950, the figure has dropped to £38,790,000. I put a question on this matter to the Minister on 5th December. I asked him what was the capital expenditure allocated for primary and secondary schools only during the calendar years 1949, 1950 and 1951. In reply I was told that in 1949 it was £16.5 million, in 1950 it was £30 million, in 1951 it was £37 million. That shows a rise, although it is a little difficult to make the figures tally.

A year ago, on 21st March, when I gave the Committee the benefit of my first profound observations in a Budget debate, I drew attention to the amount of loans to local authorities on which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer dwelt for some time. He indicated that we had been rather naughty boys the year before by borrowing at too great a rate. He reduced the figure of loans to local authorities below the line to £279 million and, in the course of the debate, it came out that no less than £220 million of that sum was to be allocated for housing, leaving a mere £59 million for education, etc. I had the temerity to suggest that this amount might not be quite sufficient and, in the figures published recently, that £279 million had risen to £313 million, an increase of £34 million. I have not been able to find from the Budget statement what are the estimated loans to local authorities for the present financial year. Could the Minister let us have that figure, and tell us how much of that total is the quantum allocated for educational purposes, if possible broken down, but anyhow for primary and secondary schools?

If the Committee will bear with me, I want to return to the matter of rates. It is important and is creating a good deal of concern throughout the country. Coming to Essex, where I have the advantage of being able to consult closely the county treasurer, the chief education officers and the county clerk, I want to illustrate what this increase has been of recent years. Take, for example, 1945–46. The total expenditure on education, that is Exchequer and rate-borne, was £5 million. The estimate for the present year is £11¼ million. That is an increase of 125 per cent. or, put in another way, the expenditure today is two and a quarter times as great as it was in 1945–46.

But what the ratepayers are more directly interested to know is how this is reflected in the rates. The position is that the rate in the £ required for education in 1945–46 was 4s. 5¼d. and today it is 8s. 2d. Hon. Members may say that in 1945–46 we had hardly got under way because the war was only just over. But if we accept that, and look at the 1947–48 figure, we find that the rate required for education was 5s. 11¾d. compared with 8s. 2d. today, or an increase of 34 per cent. in four years.

As we have been told that we should not budget merely for one year, but for a longer period, we have had a look at the development plan—which has not yet been passed I agree—to find out what is to happen in the next 10 years. On the figures for capital expenditure which I have quoted, obviously the curve must decline but it will still go on. There are all these authorities with development plans to fulfil. We have taken the most conservative estimate and we find that unquestionably, in respect only of primary and secondary education, we shall have to spend between £450,000 and half a million pounds for each of the next 10 years. That, split, means 4½d. on the rates.

We arrive at these figures for 1961–62 whereby the rate for education alone is exactly the same—namely 141d. or 11s. 9d.—as the total general county rate for 1948–49. I appreciate that there may be something to be set off through increased rateable value or, indeed, the effect of the Exchequer equalisation grant, but I am taking here only primary and secondary school costs and I have made no allowances whatever for any increased costs in respect of labour and material with which we may be confronted.

I suggest in all seriousness that the figures I have quoted are likely to be conservative and that the burden of the education rate, not only in Essex but throughout the country, will be very high indeed. No doubt we have special problems in Essex with regard to new housing estates and also new towns. We seem to have rather more than our fair share of these. I can speak only with the full authority of my own county, but if we halved the figures I have quoted then the reflection on the education rate in the country would still be very high.

I apologise for this rather lengthy exercise in statistics—I very nearly said on a rather technical matter—but I feel it is important that we should get these facts fairly well into our minds. I have refreshed my memory of the debates we have had on education, so now, having established the vital need for priorities, I turn to the question—what are they to be? I do not think any of us would quarrel with what the Minister said on 4th May: We have had to recognise that the first claim on our resources must be the meeting of our statutory obligation to provide full-time schooling for all children between the ages of five and 15."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1950; Vol. 474, c. 1932.] It seems to me that education is a process which continues all through one's life. It goes on to the grave. It also seems to me that unless we catch the young in these formative years in their lives we may miss an opportunity which will not return. Could I give the perfectly good simile of what is happening on the land? We have missed a month or two on the land because of the weather. God arranges the weather and we shall not get that time back again, but here we are dealing with a human problem and I hope we shall grasp the opportunity and not let it slip through our fingers never to return.

In my view the priorities are primary and secondary education, in that order, but some of us are concerned whether that is being achieved in practice. On Sunday I was speaking to the headmaster of a large direct-grant school near where I live. He said he had last week been to a conference of U.N.E.S.C.O. in Paris and there had spoken to a number of teachers from secondary modern schools who told him, one after the other, that the material coming to them from the primary schools was not sufficiently strong in writing and reading for the children to obtain real benefit from their secondary education. I feel that I have now established that there must be priorities. We have to cut our cloth according to them, and I should have thought, as the Minister himself has said, that quite clearly the priorities are the primary and secondary schools. Where we must be satisfied is that these priorities are being dealt with adequately.

May I now refer to some schools which do not cost the country so much money and which are sometimes the subject of controversy? By that I mean the independent public schools and the direct-grant grammar and public schools. Some of the fees in these schools are paid fully by the parents while in others they are partly borne by the parents and partly by the State. A great many hon. Members on both sides of the House have had such an education and I know they are making sacrifices to provide it for their own children. Many parents throughout the land are doing so; they are perhaps foregoing buying a motor car and instead are investing the money in the education of their children. On top of that, they are paying the full rates and taxes to provide education elsewhere.

The Minister himself has said that his object is to bring his own standards up to those of these private schools, so it is rather hypocritical to shoot at these private schools and thus to remove the target at which the Minister himself is aiming—to remove the matrix, as it were. After all, if these people were not paying fees places would have to be found for their children elsewhere. In any case, these schools are the envy of the world and I maintain that they should be given every consideration. I do not suggest that they are not given such consideration from the Minister himself, but I have heard comments elsewhere which, in the light of the background of those concerned, are hypocritical.

Mr. Gilzean (Edinburgh, Central)

Is it not also true to say that these schools, dealing with a particular section of the community, managed to gather to themselves the endowments which never were intended for them?

Mr. Ashton

That is a very large question. I should not have thought that statement was true and I do not think it has anything whatever to do with the subject we are discussing. Perhaps I may leave the question of the primary and secondary State schools and the independent schools for my hon. Friends to develop.

I turn for a moment to the other end of the batting order to discuss one or two things which, for the time being at any rate, I feel most assuredly should be left in the pavilion. First is the provision of new community centres. At this present juncture, it seems to me that in towns where there are many facilities for public meetings, and where there are cinemas and where people can meet together, to spend money on new community centres is not justified in any way whatever.

If any money is available for any of these things—and I doubt it—it is better spent on small village halls in isolated villages. We are still considering the provision of these community centres in my own county; it has not been stopped. I suggest that it is a waste of time and effort at this juncture and should be stopped at once. My next point is that we are getting rather a lot of designation of land which may be used in eight or 12 years' time. In some respects this may be necessary, but in others it works out most unfairly for the owners of the property concerned.

I referred earlier to the question of youth centres. The Minister referred to it in his Report and to the importance of leadership in these centres. I do not want to criticise people, but I must say it is rather difficult to get the right leaders. It seems to me that these centres have been extremely lavishly equipped and that the small classes in needlework and such subjects have been maintained far too long in the hope that additional members would be forthcoming. We must be quite ruthless in such matters.

Again, in the Report for 1949 good things are said of the part played by voluntary bodies in education, and it is right and proper that we should give public funds to assist this admirable work. People like members of the Women's Institute give excellent lectures in the country, but occasionally there is overlapping. Perhaps I may mention a case which occurred in a village recently where in one week there were two separate lectures on the arranging of flowers. My wife has had no instruction whatever in the arranging of flowers but she does it admirably.

I agree that these things do not amount to a great deal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say "Hear, hear," but I should have thought that when we are dealing with public funds we should bear in mind, in spending small sums of money, that hon. Members are faced with exactly the same sort of problem every day of their lives. If we here or all education committees, in dealing with matters of public money, would deal with public funds as if they were handling their own money, there would be a great deal less waste than there is at the present time. These things may not amount to much; they come out of "Further Education." If hon. Members can bear yet one more figure, I would point out that the cost of further education in my own county has increased by three-and-a-half times since the beginning of the war.

Having travelled this rather long material way, this rather unspiritual way, perhaps hon. Members are asking whether I have ever heard of teachers, schoolmasters and schoolmistresses because, after all, we are discussing a most vital human problem. I can assure hon. Members that I have and I know a great many of them. Reading a publication entitled "Reading ability: Some suggestions for helping the backward"—I am sure the authors had in mind backward back benchers—I found it a little depressing in some places. One paragraph which caught my eye says: Thus when all has been done that can be done by administration and through increases in administration and through increases in knowledge, the teacher will still play the crucial part in the educational process. Those words are absolutely true and I should like to pay my tribute to the teaching profession. I hope the Minister will tell us how recruitment is going, because the size of classes obviously must depend on the number of teachers. My information, especially in respect of teachers in primary schools, is not particularly encouraging.

The quotation I have read refers to administration. May I make a plea, which I am sure will not fall on barren ground, that it should be the intention of the local manpower committee that there shall be a devolution of responsibility, that local education authorities shall be enabled to get as far as possible with their own affairs and, in return, they should allow schoolmasters and mistresses such latitude as they can.

We must regret the circumstances under which it is necessary to cut down education. Last night the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education stated that the increase in school meals from 6d. to 7d. was a contribution to the prevention of war and preventing our own children from taking part in a third world war. Unfortunately, we must look at this from a rather material angle at present and we are, so to speak, limited in the number of garments we can have by the amount of cloth to be obtained. We must see that those garments include the secondary, primary schools and independent schools and that they are given every opportunity, if it means leaving temporarily by the wayside some other thing such as community, or youth centres. If we do this by concentrating what we have on the most formative years of the younger generation we shall be providing for them the best opportunities we can. When all is said and done, the youth of our country are our greatest asset.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Angus Maude (Ealing, South)

I beg to second the Amendment.

Having for the first time been faced with this problem, I have come to the conclusion that to second an Amendment of this kind is one of the most intimidating tasks any hon. Member can be called upon to face. The hon. Member who moves the Amendment covers the ground and the seconder has not the satisfaction of any indiscretions from the benches opposite to enable him to develop an argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) in moving the Amendment has given a solid basis of facts and figures on which arguments can be developed and, if the House will bear with me, in view of the fact that other matters which are shortly to attract the attention of the House make this a lamentably short debate, I shall dance as lightly and as non-controversially as possible over the questions arising from the facts my hon. Friend has put forward.

No one, on either side of the House, can have anything but sympathy for the Minister of Education in present circumstances. He has decisions to make, many of them painful decisions, questions of advantage and disadvantage to balance, which might intimidate the most courageous. All we can say, and this he must feel to his comfort, is that the difficulties he has to face are at least matched by the magnitude of his opportunities for statesmanlike decisions and for great work in the social service field. We are now up against a problem which has been coming steadily more in front of the nation in the last 80 years. It is the question on the one hand of how we can produce an educational system on the cheap, and the answer is that we cannot produce an educational system on the cheap. On the other hand, it is a question of how are we to measure the priorities we must impose between the different social services and between conflicting claims inside the social services.

My hon. Friend quoted the remark of the Minister last year when he said that his first priority was to fulfil his statutory duty of ensuring that all children get a full time education between the ages of five and 15. But it must be obvious—and the Minister would be the first to admit it—that that statement really raises and begs more questions than it answers. These are not simply questions of quantity, of figures of children who are to be educated and teachers who are to educate them, but most serious questions of quality which are not susceptible to statistical measurement and on which in many cases one man's opinion may be as good or bad as another's.

In these questions of education the Minister has something of the same sort of problem as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been expounding in his own sphere in the debate on the Budget. The Chancellor has to decide what is to be the balance between present necessities and investment for the future. He sees, for example, that if he cuts so much investment now, it will help him to cure the problem of inflation now, but if he cuts that investment he is reducing the possibilities of increased production and productivity in the years to come. Those are very delicate decisions.

The Minister of Education has difficulties which are no less delicate and important; he has to decide on what to economise now and to ask himself how many of the economies he makes now, to get within one year's budget, are going to make his problem more difficult three, four, or even 10 years ahead. He must know whether he can afford to deal with certain problems on a rather hand to mouth basis now, and what are the problems in which he has to look further ahead in coming to a decision.

This question of priorities operates not merely inside the social services but between the social services, and I do not feel that when we discuss an education budget in any year we go as far as we might, as people who are interested in education, in deciding whether the balance of expenditure is right between, let us say, education and the National Health Service, or housing, or National Insurance, or whatever it may be. Those are questions which are left more or less in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to hold the balance between representations made to him by Departmental Ministers. These questions the House never discusses in a general way. The priorities between the social services would, I feel, at some time give us a very interesting and useful debate.

The problem inside each social service is, of course, much narrower, and slightly different. It is this: to what extent are we to try to do everything that is desirable somehow, and to what extent are we to try to do the most important things really well? Those decisions are the most delicate, the most difficult, and perhaps the most imponderable of all that the Minister has to make. I sometimes become extremely frightened when I foresee a danger, in this very difficult time, of an opposition to the social services—or to one particular social service—growing up in the country. This may in the future present a great difficulty which hon. Members on both sides of the House will have to face.

Every hon. Member on this side of the House who is interested in the social services, and believes in them, knows that among his supporters there are certain frictions, certain elements of opposition which we have to try to convert. That is undoubtedly so among the supporters of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and it may get worse. Last night the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education was very indignant about hon. Members on this side daring to talk about education and the social services. I understand his indignation, because nobody likes to have an Order prayed against that he was hoping to get away with: but I would ask the Minister to recognise that we on this side who come and talk in these debates are genuinely interested and passionately eager to make the service work and to get the support of the country for it. That, obviously, is also the motive which animates hon. Members opposite.

What are the dangers here? Sooner or later people will wake up to the fact that the vast majority of them are, directly or indirectly, ratepayers. My hon. Friend has said that the ratepayers will be faced with a bill which is mounting at an astronomical rate. When they discover just how much of that is attributable to education, and they can do that by looking at the back of the form, they will begin to ask some very searching questions. There has always been—although it is probably less now—a certain resistance on the part of parents to leaving children at school when they might be earning a living. It may be less now, but let us not imagine that if the standards of education at the ages of 14 and 15 were to fall below a certain level, that opposition would not once more increase. No sensible parents will willingly allow children to do something which they know is wasting time when the child might be making a good start in a useful job. That is a danger we must always bear in mind.

I have never had any doubt that the first priority in education should be the primary schools; because it seems to me that if the basis of primary education is inadequate we can have no hope that the secondary modern school—to some extent an experiment—will turn out to be successful. To be successful a secondary modern school must start on the basis of material which has been brought to a reasonably high basic standard in the primary school. Otherwise, I am sure that the teachers who are trying to plough what is very often a difficult furrow in the secondary modern school—because there is no doubt that the pressure to put children in grammar schools has been increasing and may go on increasing—will find their task even more thankless than it appeared to be after the Butler Act was passed.

The document to which my hon. Friend referred about illiteracy has some sobering passages in it. We were all shocked by the figures, revealed during the war, of the proportion of men coming into the Services who were illiterate. There is no doubt that the disorganisation of education in the primary and secondary schools during the war has led to perhaps a higher proportion of illiterates than would otherwise have been the case. But I do not get the impression from this document that illiteracy is now decreasing. In fact, I think there are suggestions that the proportion is at least being maintained, and that is a very sobering thought indeed.

Those who know anything about education know that even primary education—in fact, particularly primary education—cannot, and must not be simply a question of the three R's. We have got a long way beyond that. I think perhaps we have gone too far in some ways. But at least we know that though children must be taught to read and write and figure, there are many other things which they must get from their schooling if it is to be any use at all. Especially is the way in which these things are taught of supreme importance. It is not enough to set them dull exercises from a book or to writing essays.

Since we are talking about priorities I would make one point about the standards of building and equipment, a matter about which I feel very strongly. It has always seemed to me that the higher the intellectual calibre of the children, and the more intellectual and academic is the work being done in the school, the less elaborate and expensive need to be the buildings and equipment with which they are working.

It would seem to me that the sixth form in a grammar school, given a good teacher, will do its work quite adequately in the sort of classrooms in which those of us who went to the older public schools had to work, which I would have thought would have been condemned out of hand by any one of His Majesty's Inspectors. But the children who, regrettably, come from houses in the slums to primary schools deserve, and need above all things, light and beautiful surroundings, which will make education something beyond a drudgery that will inspire them with a hatred of education for the rest of their lives.

Dr. King (Southampton, Test)

I am impressed by the powerful arguments put forward by the hon. Member for the children. Will he explain why it was that in between the two wars, his party, both locally and nationally, prevented primary schools from being built?

Mr. Maude

The hon. Member will appreciate—at least he would appreciate it if he looked at the facts—that that is not true. In any case, in this debate and in any debate of this kind, if we look at the question with our heads permanently over our shoulders, looking back at the past, we are not likely to get very far in deciding what is to be done about the problems of the present.

I would ask the Minister to tell us what are his prospects of solving his problems in the primary school field? We know what they are and we sympathise with him very much. Will he get the number of places required by 1953, and if so, how? In the debate last July the Minister rather qualified the optimistic promises of his Parliamentary Secretary that the places would be found by saying that he was not quite sure whether they would all be found in the places where they were needed. That is precisely the problem we are most worried about. In the towns and cities, in London, for example, and in some of the blitzed cities, the problems are extremely serious, and we are not quite sure how these places are to be found.

Again, are these places to be found simply by transferring the pressure on places in bulk from the primary to the secondary stage after 1953? If there is any real danger of these places not being found, and the Minister will appreciate that there are in many areas a substantial number of children of five years of age who are not being found places now. That is a serious matter. We want to know approximately how many there are; because the Minister will appreciate that if the argument is taken to its logical conclusion there might come a point at which the number will become so large that it should be recognised officially, and it should be said, "We cannot admit children until they are 5½ years old."

The Minister of Education (Mr. Tomlinson)

The hon. Member is making an interesting point. He says that there is a substantial number. I should like him to give me some evidence of that. I will admit that there are a number, but I do not think that the problem is as great as he is trying to make out.

Mr. Maude

That is precisely the sort of assurance we are seeking from the Minister. We all know from experience that some authorities complain that they are having difficulties about this matter. We want to know if it is a local problem or if it is spread all over the country.

I think it would be disastrous if any change had to be made in the age for entry or leaving. I would not for a moment consider lowering the leaving age unless it were essential. But it seems that it is now respectable to discuss this problem, since the Chancellor stated in his Budget speech that he had discussed it with the Minister of Education. Now no one will not be shouted down, if he raises it, as being someone who wants to slash the social services. May I therefore suggest that there may come a point of inevitability at which one has to accept the fact. We may come to the point at which we can only find places in primary and secondary schools by lowering standards, so that the whole of education becomes a mockery. We have not got to that point yet, and we desire to be reassured that that point is not within sight.

Last July, when my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) mentioned the difficulties in cities and large towns, the Minister complained bitterly that we were very pessimistic and said that he was tired of people raising bogies about what would happen next year, the year after and in 1953, and that he had his hands full with the problems of today. We sympathise with that view to some extent, but we must realise that that is precisely the kind of thing in respect of which the Minister, if he does not look ahead, is not planning and has no right to be a Minister in a Government who are always priding themselves on the virtues of their planning. We think that the primary schools are the first priority.

We should also like the Minister to tell us his idea of the priority which should be accorded to the grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools. I and some of my hon. Friends are rather worried about the secondary technical schools in particular. We still think that they are tending to be squashed up into the corners of technical colleges and are not getting the recognition they deserve or attracting the support from parents and children that they might receive. I am not at all sure that at a time when grammar schools are finding it increasingly difficult to get science and mathematics teachers—and I am not at all sure that the new Burnham scales will solve these problems—the secondary technical schools may not have to play a most vital part in advanced technological and technical education.

That brings me to my last point. There is a great risk that parents may, with the best will in the world, make the problem of the Minister, the local education authority and the teacher very difficult, and far more difficult than it needs to be. In my view there is now perhaps more than ever before a continual pressure from parents to make education up to the age of 15 a vocational training. The dangers of this appear to me to be enormous. We were told, for example, that the abolition of the school certificate was largely designed to do away with the continual pressure from the universities and elsewhere to make specialised courses in secondary schools into pre-vocational training. My information is that since the general certificate of education was introduced this pressure has once more become apparent. The universities and the professions are beginning to lay down standards of requirements, which will mean that this problem will be once more before us.

In many cases parents are the worst offenders. They set their minds on a certain job for their children, and they ask continually that the precise requirements of the professional institution or the university, or whatever it may be, should be met in the secondary schools. We are again seeing the start of this pressure on the schools which will, it seems to me, end in doctors taking the first M.B. at the age of eight. In the primary schools that tendency has been pushed further and further back in our lifetimes. Until everyone concerned in education says repeatedly, loudly and clearly that education up to the age of 15 is only in part a vocational training, that it is a pre-vocational training, that it is designed to implant in children interest in learning, interest in culture and a desire to continue learning, we shall never really be able to make our educational system what it ought to be. That is the first priority that I would urge upon the House.

4.37 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)

Both sides of the House will congratulate the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) in choosing the subject on which he has spoken as a result of being successful in the Ballot. He spoke this afternoon with the same ease with which he used to make runs in those days when he was the idol of every schoolboy in Essex and of many schoolboys outside Essex. I should also like, if I may do so without trespassing beyond the frontiers of good taste, to congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Angus Maude) who seconded the Amendment, on what I thought was an excellent speech, with almost every word of which I agreed.

The question we are discussing today, however, that of the size of classes and the overcrowding of our primary schools, is by no means new. For the past 50 years, the first motion upon the agenda for the public sessions on the National Union of Teachers has been one asking for a reduction in the size of classes. When I was on the Executive Committee of the N.U.T. I remember that none of us wished very much to be given the duty of moving that motion, because every possible argument about it had been exhausted years before. But although we have been asking, inside the N.U.T. and other teachers' organisations, for the last 50 years for a reduction in the size of classes, the classes today are almost as big as, and in some areas bigger, than they were 50 years ago.

Never has the path to nullity been paved with so many good resolutions. I remember that I began class teaching in 1897 because at the age of 15 I was, under the old pupil-teacher system, fully responsible all day long for a class. I continued as a class teacher, with intervals for training in college, for service in His Majesty's Forces in the First World War and for service in this House, for nearly 50 years. At the end of the 50 years I was teaching a class as large as the one I had been teaching at the start of that period. During the whole, or nearly the whole, of that time, when we were asking for a reduction in the size of classes and not achieving it, the Conservative Party were in power and were able to effect the reductions for which we were asking if they had wished.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

Not quite 50 years.

Mr. Morley

Nearly the whole of that time. There was a fairly long period during the 50 years when the Liberal Party were in power. An excellent Education Bill was introduced by the Liberal Party in 1907, but it was defeated in the other place mainly by Conservative Peers. I do not want to go further into historical reminiscences. I would rather deal with the situation as it exists at present. We should not forget that overcrowding and large classes do not exist only in our primary schools: they also exist to a considerable extent in our secondary schools.

In dealing with this problem, we have to deal with what the military people call the logistics of the situation. I agree that a reduction in the size of classes is probably the most important reform that could be made in our educational system. Forty years ago one of the most brilliant journalists of his generation, Mr. A. R. Orage, the editor of the "New Age," said: There are three reforms necessary in our educational system—the first is smaller classes, the second is smaller classes and the third is smaller classes. What was said in 1910 is still true today; but to get smaller classes two things are necessary. We must have more teachers and more buildings. Unless we have a large additional number of teachers and more buildings we will continue to have very large classes and a considerable degree of overcrowding.

In this country there are 106,000 classes with over 30 children on the roll. It is generally agreed that the desirable maximum size of a class, whatever the type of school may be, whether primary or secondary, is 30. We have 106,000 classes with more than 30 children on the roll. Of these 106,000 classes, 37,000 have more than 40 children on the roll, and 1,700 classes have more than 50 children on the roll. A simple calculation shows that to reduce the size of classes in our schools to a maximum of 30 we should need about 25,000 additional teachers.

But, as has been pointed out already by the hon. Member for Chelmsford, in two or three years we shall have a million more children in our schools, because of the increase in the birth-rate shortly after the end of the war. We should need at least another 15,000 teachers to provide teachers for this additional million scholars if we were to keep the classes at a maximum of 30. That means that to reduce the size of the classes to a reasonable maximum we want another 40,000 teachers in the next few years. It is not impossible to get another 40,000 teachers. Today, there are 35,000 more teachers in our schools than there were at the beginning of 1947. In spite of wastages through death, retirement and marriage we have 30,000 more teachers today than we had in 1938.

A large number of these additional teachers have been made available as a result of the emergency training scheme. The author of the emergency training scheme was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler), who introduced it when he was Minister of Education in the Coalition Government, during the war. All credit must be given to the right hon. Gentleman for the initiation of that scheme, but the actual administration and carrying out of that scheme, the difficult task of finding the premises and sufficiently numerous well qualified staffs, fell to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education. I do not think that he has ever received sufficient credit for the fine job he did between 1946 and 1948 in getting the emergency training colleges working and producing the teachers. That scheme has produced about 35,000 additional teachers, most of whom are now in the schools, and a large number of whom are proving to be good teachers who, with the necessary experience, no doubt will make excellent teachers.

But that scheme has come to an end. After the new few months we shall have no further recruits to the teaching profession from the emergency training colleges. At the same time as the emergency training colleges were being organised, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education and the Parliamentary Secretary were expanding the provision of places for intending teachers in the two-year training colleges and in the university departments. The result is that today we have nearly double the number of places in the training colleges and university departments compared with before the war.

I should also like to point out to the hon. Member for Chelmsford and the hon. Member for Ealing, South, that the majority of these additional 35,000 teachers are teaching in the primary schools. The primary schools have had priority on additional teachers. If we could produce 35,000 additional teachers in four years, as we did in the last four years, it should be possible, if we are willing to spend enough money and to devote sufficient of the nation's economic resources to the purpose, to produce an additional 40,000 in the next five years. Then we should have enough teachers to enable us to bring down the size of classes in primary and secondary schools to the desirable maximum of 30.

But that would mean a considerable additional expenditure by the nation. I am bound to observe that during the recent Budget debates the general emphasis of Opposition speakers was upon the necessity for a reduction in Government expenditure. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot complain about large classes in the primary and secondary schools, and deny to the Government the necessary expenditure which would enable them to reduce the size of those classes by providing more teachers.

Mr. Angus Maude

I do not deny the facts which the hon. Gentleman has stated, but I think he will agree that I said that we had to look at the whole question of priorities between all the social services. It is not a question of saying, "Because you want more primary teachers you have to spend more money in total." The question is whether more money should be spent on primary schools.

Mr. Morley

I agree that we want smaller classes in the primary schools; but we also want them in the secondary schools. There are a large number of classes with over 40 children in our secondary schools, and I should say that the majority of the classes in the secondary schools have more than 30 children. We cannot be content, if we are to have a good educational system, with spending additional money on primary schools: we must also spend additional money on secondary schools.

Mr. Maude

We cannot spend it everywhere. That is what we have to look at.

Mr. Morley

The hon. Gentleman agrees we have to spend more on both primary and secondary education. Surely he would not agree that we ought to save money on technical education. I thought everybody was convinced that one of the necessities of our educational system today was expenditure on technical education to produce more technicians and technologists. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not suggest we should save money by spending less on university education. I thought it was common ground between both sides of the House that we ought to have fairly generous expenditure on university education to produce the technicians, administrators, and various types of skilled people to go into the higher posts in the country.

Mr. Maude

As the hon. Member challenges me on this I should like to make my own personal view clear, and it is this. If we get to a point where we cannot have enough places for primary school children, and where we cannot give them a decent standard of education, then I, personally, would reduce expenditure on university education to meet that. That is what I meant by a No. 1 priority.

Mr. Morley

I look upon education as a whole, through all its stages, primary, secondary, grammar school, and university. They are all correlated, and I do not want to cut down expenditure at one stage to improve the conditions at another stage. I want to see increased expenditure upon education at all stages, but the priority of increased expenditure on education, I agree with the hon. Member, should be given to the primary schools; but while giving priority to increased expenditure for education in primary schools, I would continue expenditure upon the other stages of education. It means, of course, inevitably, that, continuing expenditure upon education as a whole, it must be increased.

Mr. Maude

There is not enough money.

Mr. Morley

Now the hon. Member says that there is not enough money. It is the business of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to find the necessary money, and he was fairly successful in his recent Budget in finding some additional money for the nation's needs.

I want to come back again to the question of the supply of teachers, because I think hon. Members opposite will agree that we cannot reduce the size of our classes and the overcrowding in our schools unless we get an additional supply of teachers. One of the difficulties at present is to get a sufficient supply of women teachers. Girls will leave the secondary schools and the grammar schools at the age of 16 because, with some further education in office work, they can get fairly congenial jobs in commerce or industry and can earn as much in their twenties as they would do if they stayed at school until they were 18 and went to college and university and became teachers. I think we want to find some means of encouraging girls to stop at grammar schools till the age of 18 and to go forward to college to qualify as teachers. Something may be done by methods of persuasion, but I think it would be useful if maintenance grants in the grammar schools to the age of 16 to 18 were increased so as to encourage those girls to stay on, so that they could pass the necessary qualifying examination and enter training college to become teachers.

Further, I cannot help thinking that it would be a great encouragement for increasing the supply of women teachers if we now adopted the principle of equal pay in the teaching profession. The recent alteration by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the incidence of Income Tax has made the case of equal pay, I think, even stronger than it was before, because the married teacher with a family and £500 a year would pay very little Income Tax, and have a much bigger net income left after paying Income Tax than the single woman on the same salary.

The special problem with which we are faced in this question of the size of classes and overcrowding in our primary schools is building. Let me say that I do not think that the Opposition can cast any stones at the Ministry for what it has accomplished in school building during the past five years. During the past five years no fewer than 294 new schools have been built, and 80 per cent. of those 294 new schools have been primary schools. Primary schools have had the priority in building during the past five years. Twice as many schools have been built in this country during the past five years as were built in any previous five years during the past 100 years. No Conservative Government have ever equalled the record of school building of the present Labour Government in the past five years. This year we are spending £45 million upon building new schools. Over 900 new schools are now under construction, and the majority of the new schools that are under construction are primary schools.

I think that the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment must agree that a very fair degree of priority has been given to primary schools and is still being given to the primary schools. The merits of the Government's J achievement in the building of schools is seen to be all the greater when we reflect how many other claimants there have been during the past five years for the available supplies of building material and building labour. It has been necessary to build houses, to build factories, to build super generating stations. I should like to see the Ministry building even more schools than it is building, but it cannot have more than a fair share of the building labour and building materials, and I think that, on the whole, the Minister of Education is to be congratulated upon getting the reasonable share of the building labour and building materials that he has so far secured.

The whole question is really one of finance, and although I want to see more money spent on the primary schools, I would deprecate the point of view which, it seems to me, was put forward by the mover and seconder of the Amendment, and more by the mover of the Amendment than by the seconder of the Amendment, that we should find the additional finance by cutting down expenditure on secondary education, by cutting down expenditure upon community centres. It is true that we want the best possible primary education to form the basis of good secondary education, but having got that basis we also want good secondary education.

Mr. Ashton

The point I was trying to make all along was that we must accept the fact that there is only a limited amount available from the general Budget for education, and that on those premises and with that hypothesis, although we all regret it, we must not risk not getting value out of our priorities by spending those limited resources too widely and too thinly.

Mr. Morley

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's hypothesis that there is only a limited amount available for education. As a matter of fact, the expenditure on education has been increased from year to year, and provided the Labour Government remain in office, provided we still have a Labour Minister of Education, I hope to see it continue to increase. I do lot think it will be necessary to increase the expenditure upon one stage of education by reducing the expenditure on another stage. That is far too like feeding the dog on a piece of its own tail. I hope that that will not commend itself to our present Minister of Education.

The whole question, I think, is one of finance. It is one of how much of the nation's resources it is willing to devote to the cause of education. I may say that I do not remember, during the past 50 years, that any Member of the Conservative Party in the House has ever produced a Motion regretting overcrowding in our schools or the too large size of classes. I do not say that hon. Members opposite are hypocritical, but it appears to me that it is quite a newly found interest which they have on the subject. They appear to have journeyed to Damascus and seen the vision.

I hope that hon. Members opposite will continue to carry that vision with them, and will continue to press for a reduction in the size of classes. But, from the experience of the past, I am quite convinced that there will be far more chance of securing a reasonable reduction in the size of school classes in this country if the present Labour Government is succeeded by another Labour Government.

5.1 p.m.

Mr. Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)

I was hopeful of preparing some notes for my speech in this debate today. I started making some this morning, but what I did prepare I left at home, and I am quite sure the House will find in that fact some relief. The question before us is the provision of sufficient primary education, and I hope that today the House will really direct its attention, as far as possible, to that particular subject. To my mind it is a comparatively simple matter, but I, perhaps look upon it in a too practical fashion. It can only be resolved by the provision of buildings and teachers. Unfortunately, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when looking for ways in which to save some money—after he had asked for £251 million for education—said that he had consulted with his right hon. Friends to this end, but that all they could do was to put a penny on school meals. He had also considered the question of raising the entrance age to six or to some later age, but had decided that that was not possible.

I wish to say right away that I should like to see some change in the Exchequer method of computing expenditure on education. The nation is told that it is faced with a bill for education of £251 million, but, in very truth, it is not faced with a bill for that sum. I am one of those people who do not think that the meals service should be charged to education. Nor do I think that school milk should be charged to education. I know, of course, that the Minister will tell me in a moment that this last item is included in the Vote of the Ministry of Food. I quite agree, but I am not sure—and have not been able to find out—on which Vote the meals allocation is charged. As I say, I do not think it should be entered as education. Again, I do not think that the medical services should appear as a charge on the education funds.

I know very well, and am quite prepared to argue it at great length, as I know are many other hon. Members, where these particular services are in regard to the educational set-up. In my opinion, they are not truly educational charges. The country is faced with this tremendous expenditure of £251 million. People are saying that the costs of education are always going up, and when the local ratepayers get their demands, they find on the back of them that they are being asked for something like 5s. in the pound for educational purposes. But, in very truth, it is not for education that they are being asked to pay this 5s. in the pound.

I suggest to the Minister that my allegation that the total cost of education is not a true one, as shown by Exchequer figures, might be gone into, so that the nation may really know what is being spent on education. We are always being told in this House and elsewhere that it is very seldom indeed that we really debate education proper, but that we debate administration and all the ancillary services most frequently. That is perfectly true, because so much of our money goes in that direction. I am in perfect sympathy with the proposal made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) that more provision should be made for primary education, but I think it is education and education alone to which we must address ourselves today—that is, to the provision of schools and teachers.

We have been told by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), of the very great progress which he claims has been made by the Labour Government. I quite agree, but I do not believe that a Socialist Government could do any more for education than we on this side of the House have done for years past. The hon. Gentleman told us that they have built more primary schools in the last five years than have ever been built in a similar period. That, also, is perfectly true, but I think the solution really lies in, first, the training of more teachers which the hon. Member for Itchen pointed out could only be provided in a certain fashion, that is, by increasing the number of emergency trained teachers, or, rather, by continuing the very wonderful work done in the last few years.

Mr. Morley

I did not say that we should continue to produce emergency trained teachers; I suggested that we should expand the number of places in our training colleges and university training departments.

Mr. Marshall

I particularly stress the emergency training of teachers because the provision for so doing which we already have might be continued, and because I do not think we can expand the training colleges to the extent we shall need during the next few years. We shall particularly need an augmented number of teachers to see us over the bulge period.

Secondly, there is the question of buildings. I am quite sure that the right long-term policy is obviously that of permanent schools. I must say very definitely—and I have some experience of all the types of schools which we have been building since the war, the Sparta and the Horsa huts, and all that sort of thing, none of which appeal to me as permanent contributions—that it is very serious to reflect that we in this country are still using for educational purposes huts built during the 1914–18 war. I hope that we shall not regard these later temporary hutments as a permanent contribution in regard to building, and that the Minister will not be deterred from pressing for the provision of the money we require with which to build permanent schools.

I always have the feeling that the Minister of Education is so complacent that he does not get a square deal from his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but, of course, I must not make that charge. One could wish that he had as hefty a fist as the ex-Minister of Health, and could get as much money for the Education services as that right hon. Gentleman seemed to get for the Health Service. However, I am hoping that if he can transfer the cost of the health and ancillary services which are at present charged to education, the Chancellor of the Exchequer might feel more generous regarding the provision of funds for purely educational purposes, such as the building of schools and the training of teachers. The figures which have been produced by the mover and seconder of this Amendment and also by the hon. Member for Itchen, are certainly indisputable. One realises that, but by merely quoting figures one will never produce the practical results which we all want to see in the educational system of this country.

What we want to see in the country is more provision for primary education. There is no argument about it. I do not think any priority should be given to one stage of education over another. We cannot reduce secondary education facilities for the benefit of primary education. They must travel together. The problem cannot be separated or divided. Education must be considered as a whole, right through from the beginning to the age of 15 years and then on to the university stage. I am glad, therefore, that attention has been drawn to this problem of further provision for primary education from this side of the House. I hope the Minister will consider the question seriously and see whether he can obtain more money to provide more buildings to take us over the "1953 bulge," though he may not be able to get the money for the more permanent type of building.

We want more teachers. I do not suppose for one moment that we can tell the Minister anything new about what he ought to do to produce more teachers and from where they should be drawn and brought into the service. Nor can we tell him anything about securing buildings. But what we want to do is to press upon him the urgency of the matter. We need these things now. We do not want to wait two or three years. In most parts of the country one hears complaints of children being kept out of school until they are six or six and a half years of age.

Hon. Members


Mr. Tomlinson

I ask the hon. Gentleman to give one instance of a child being left out of school until he is six.

Mr. Marshall

I have one in my own district that I can produce. We have a great pressure in our schools. And the Minister must remember the very important point that we are providing in the State schools for only a percentage of the children of that age. If all the private schools in the country were closed tomorrow how would the State cope with the situation? I can only speak with authority for my own county, and I know it would be a problem which would be absolutely insoluble for us. We have the greatest sympathy with the Minister but we could not house all the children of five, six and seven years of age in the county of Surrey and I imagine that many other areas are in the same position.

It is not fair that the Minister should attempt to ride off this problem by saying that all children are going to school. I know very well many cases where parents cannot get their children admitted to our own primary State schools and have to send them to private schools and pay for them. I want to see children going to State schools because they get better training and better chances there. The Minister should not seek to excuse himself from the profound duty of the State to provide sufficient classes and teachers for primary education.

We know the Minister is immensely sympathetic towards every aspect of education and we hope he will consider seriously today whether, eventually, he will be able to secure enough money to provide the necessary teaching staffs and particularly the buildings so that primary classes can be reduced. That reduction and the provision of places for all our young people in State schools are urgent necessities.

5.15 p.m.

Mr. Pannell (Leeds, West)

I do not think the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) has matched entirely the tone of the speeches of the hon. Members who preceded him. I should like to associate myself with the thanks expressed to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) for introducing this Amendment. As one born in the borough of Walthamstow I knew far more about him in his earlier days when he was more familiar with the county ground at Leyton. [An HON. MEMBER: "They have moved the ground."] They have moved the ground since then and they have improved the revenue.

I am interested in this subject as it affects one who is chairman of a divisional executive for education and has been chairman of the finance committee of the local authority. What was said by the hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. A. Maude) about the Chancellor of the Exchequer fixing priorities is also true of the local chancellor of the exchequer. I have introduced about 12 budgets for the local authority and the difficulty for the chairman of the finance committee is to make a tidy picture of the many competing claims.

If I were asked what my pet enthusiasm was and what claim I should like to put above all others at the present time, I should say it would be the reduction of the size of classes in our schools. As we have often been reminded by hon. Members opposite, and even by our own Front Bench, other people put other claims higher than that. But we are all enthusiastic for education here. Let us consider the claims. First there is housing. Surely, nobody is going to suggest that real education can begin unless every family is decently housed. The best form of education is in the home itself. Education does not stand apart from the home. The family is older than the State. Education only complements the training given to the child by a good father and mother.

We cannot push the claim of housing on one side. Then there is the Health Service. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam is chairman of Surrey Education Committee or of Surrey County Council now. I know he has been prominent in the public life of Surrey. He tried to make the point that the school health service was not part of education itself. I do not think many people will agree with that. When one considers the competing claims on the Chancellor one also has to remember the question of equal pay. The post bags of hon. Members today will also show the there are claims from old age pensioners, and, in the industrial districts of the North at least, claims for spinsters' pensions.

If we grant the need for re-armament—and nobody denies that need on the other side of the House—and if we grant that there must be a ceiling to taxation, where are we going to impose cuts? The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) said last night that the food subsidies should not be cut, but, to my sorrow, he seemed to imagine that in the field of education there were all sorts of unspecified economies in administration that might be made somehow. He said: I think that the education service in its administration is top-heavy and swollen. The method of county administration, particularly in the manner that divisional executives have been created and then given budgets to spend whether they want the money or not, is one of the reasons why our county finances today are strained to the utmost."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 1581–1582.] That has come from Essex. I can say from the largest executive division in Kent that it is just not true. It is rubbish. In many cases if it had not been for the divisional executives, the demand on the counties would have been very much higher.

Mr. S. Marshall

No, I do not agree with that.

Mr. Pannell

One can only speak from one's own experience. The hon. Gentleman speaks from his experience and I speak from mine. I can speak from my experience of small budget sub-committees. I have been on the budget sub-committees of divisional executives. I have experienced spending the best part of the day going through the estimates to see that they are not inflated before they are passed to the county education committee. In Kent the county council cannot direct the policy from Maidstone right up the coast and to Woolwich. Unless we get local direction and interest, education will become a soulless thing. The opposition to this policy which I am advocating comes from the county councils and the county bureaucrats who find it inconvenient to have a local democracy. The planning should be done by local bodies.

I would make a plea for more prefabricated schools. I do not want to see a repetition of the old-fashioned grammar school. I do not think that the building as such has much to do with education at all. The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. A. Maude), dealt with what he regarded as necessary in the sixth form. I could not agree with him more. Anyone who has done any lecturing knows how much easier it is to lecture to adolescents, but we should approach with more care the question of teaching primary school children. That is a job for the skilled primary school teacher. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was in the division of which I am chairman last Friday and we opened three good primary schools. I think they would have met all the requirements to which the hon. Member for Ealing, South, referred.

The whole point about prefabrication is that a school gets out of date so quickly. For many things which we consider necessary for education, our children will curse us. A remarkable example of that can be found among the old L.C.C. school buildings. It does not matter whether it is a school or a hospital or a clinic, fashions change and different ideas emerge. The whole school building programme should follow the principle of a good central hall, with prefabricated buildings wherever possible.

Mr. S. Marshall

In the L.C.C.?

Mr. Pannell

No. I merely referred in parenthesis to L.C.C. buildings as a horrible example of what should not be allowed to happen—buildings which were erected when the party opposite had power in the L.C.C. This process of prefabrication is continuing, as is evidenced in the new aluminium type of school. I have often thought—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam—that education is bearing many costs which it should not bear, especially in relation to the provision of grounds. I have never been able to understand why many schools have been erected in spacious grounds which are reserved for the exclusive use of the school, instead of being used by the general neighbourhood.

On the question of private schools, hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. As a result of the Education Act, 1944, by which children are given the type of education suitable to their age, aptitude and ability, people who in former times were prepared to pay for some part of their children's education in order to send them to the local grammar school, are no longer able to do so. Therefore, we have 25 per cent. in grammar schools, 10 per cent. for technical schools and 75 per cent. for the rest. There is a form of snobbery among some people who seem to imagine that the county modern school is not good enough for their children. Therefore, private schools are multiplied, very often charging excessive fees, as a result of the working of the Act, but I do not think any hon. Member opposite who has any feeling for education, would welcome a departure from the Act. It was, after all, an all-party Measure. These schools very often satisfy a snob element.

On the question of what should be cut out of education, I have a list of economies which the Kent County Council are seeking to introduce. Among them, they have served notice on all nursery school accommodation in the whole county. This has been done not by the education committee, but the over-riding influence of the county council who, by a savage resolution taken in public, have chosen to wipe out nursery school accommodation. The nursery school for which I had some responsibility in North-West Kent—it was rather a show place—is presumably included in this resolution. We do not solve any educational problem by cutting off one of its limbs. I hope that the Minister's view on this decision will be felt strongly at Maidstone.

There is one point which has not been mentioned in connection with primary schools, and it is this. I think that the working of the Burnham Committee has created a fairer level of salaries. In the old days there were often graduate teachers in grammar schools with classes consisting of about 30 boys, getting a much larger salary than the head of a great school with 600 or 700 children. I am never much impressed when secondary school teachers with degrees put in special pleas. In this matter of teachers' salaries, we are right to pay for the responsibility which a teacher carries, the size of his school, and so on, taking into account whether he is responsible for certain extraneous services. We would prefer that the accent of salary should be placed on this and not on graduate qualification.

Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that a skilled member of the Amalgamated Engineering Union should be paid in some degree for his qualifications?

Mr. Pannell

If I am asked for an opinion straight out, I would say that £100 per annum would be about as much as I would pay for that qualification. I think if we add something like 12½ per cent., and up to about 20 per cent. for posts with special responsibility, that would be fair. I appreciate that I am expressing a layman's opinion, and I should not like it to be regarded as anything but that.

Finally, I come to the question of primary and secondary schools. In the past we have tended to treat the primary school as the Cinderella of the service, but that is so no longer. In spite of all the difficulties, the Minister of Education has not suffered very much in this year's Budget from the overriding calls of defence and the like. I remind hon. Members opposite that some of us remember that the answer of the party on the other side to a financial crisis not as bad as the present one, was to make, in 1931, a cut of 15 per cent. on teachers' salaries, and later to reduce it to 10 per cent. We have got away from that sort of thing now, and I hope that the position next year will be sufficiently eased by the recession in the need for re-armament, so that we may get on with this worth-while and constructive work.

5.31 p.m.

Mr. Nugent (Guildford)

I should like to make a few remarks in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton). There is not much that I need answer in the speech of the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), beyond sympathising with him and congratulating him upon being the chairman of his divisional executive. The hon. Member for Itchen (Mr. Morley) seemed to think that the only limitation upon increasing the provision for primary schools was the question of providing sufficient teachers and money. One of the most limiting features of all is the provision of adequate building resources to give us the houses we require and the schools at the same time.

Mr. Morley

I devoted a large part of my speech to school buildings and the necessity for their place in the building programme.

Mr. Nugent

If I gained a wrong impression from the hon. Member's remarks, I apologise, but I think that when he reads his speech he will find that he left the impression that he thought the main limitation was finance, and not building.

We all know that our main problem arises from the greatly increased birthrate in the post-war period, particularly immediately after the war, and rising to its peak in 1946–48. That is creating an increased school population which, as a bulge, is now passing through our schools and will continue to do so for the next 10 years. I shall have some comments to make also on the impact on the secondary schools in this respect.

The position as it affects the primary schools has not yet reached its peak. It will do so in the next year or so. The hon. Member for Itchen talked about classes in the past being overcrowded—of course they have been, we all know that; but what is concerning us on this side, and I hope we shall convince the Minister of it, is our concern that the overlarge size of classes is not decreasing, but is increasing, and that the number of children of school age who are out of school is also increasing. When a remark to this effect was made a short time ago, the Minister asked us to give the number of the children affected, but that is for him to say; he has the figures, and we have not.

As far as my county—Surrey—is concerned, if I may correct the impression which was left by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall), I do not think we have any children out of school who are over the age of 6½. We do not have many over 5½ who are out of school, but there are quite a few over the age of five who do not get into school for the first term when they become of school age. I am concerned at the possibility that that number will grow rather than diminish. The main purpose of this debate today is to try to get some idea of what the Minister has in mind to deal with this situation.

What seems to be happening in the country as a whole is that the number of places being provided is not much more than half the annual increase of children for whom places are required. To some extent that position is being met by the fact that children are not getting into school, and to some extent by the growing classes of 40 and 50 children. As far as a class of 50 children is concerned, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that try as a teacher may—and teachers try most gallantly to cope with the problem—a class of 50 children is really a superhuman task for a woman to cope with. When that class contains, perhaps, a child who is educationally sub-normal, the teacher's task becomes completely impossible. In the scale of priorities, therefore, we must still watch closely the provision of special schools. To those not closely acquainted with them, these schools may seem to be a refinement, but there is no doubt whatever that they are an essential part of the picture.

The next stage is that of the secondary school. The Minister will know that we have had a particular problem in Surrey. We have pressed him very hard on the provision of secondary schools, because we can see that the bulge will rise into the secondary schools in the next two or three years. Overcrowding of children who have reached this stage of their education cannot be dealt with by leaving them out of school and unless the extra schools can be built there is simply no solution of where they are to go to. As a result of our last application the Minister did, in fact, give way and allowed us to have two more schools. It seems particularly hard, however, in the county of Surrey that out or our total building quota, provision for three schools in each of the two L.C.C. estates at Sheerwater and Merstham should be included as part of the total capital provision for the county. The result is that in 1951 we have only about half the sum available in the previous year to provide the remaining schools in the county. This is a particularly serious handicap when all the time the tremendous problem of secondary school accommodation is growing.

On the particular problem of house building and schools, I should like to know whether there is any sort of co-ordination at the top level between the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister of Local Government and Planning as to the number of houses which are built in an area and, then, the school accommodation which is to be allowed. All over the county I see large numbers of new houses being built, yet we are not allowed to build further schools to provide the accommodation we require for the additional children. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what arrangement he has which will guard against the obvious difficulty which we are meeting in this respect.

Alongside the immediate problems of finding school places for children and of coping with the size of classes, we have the continuing problem of special equipment for children of 14 and 15 years of age in the secondary modern schools. If we are to have the confidence of parents and to give children a worthwhile extra year at school, it is essential that we should have this extra equipment and accommodation. We have a continuing problem of trying to provide them, along with the other problem of school places. We also have the problem of the reorganisation of full range schools, especially in rural areas, where we have a good many of these remaining, and I imagine that it is a common problem in the country as a whole.

It seems to me that local education authorities today have a superhuman task in trying to cope with this bulge which is now passing through our educational system, and that the obvious danger with which they are confronted is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide the quality of education which we would all like to see. The degree of illiteracy is quite sufficient already to make us worry, and what we should like to see is more care being taken to prevent it becoming worse. Quite obviously, there is a danger that, in the overcrowded conditions affecting the children now in the bulge, they are going to pass through their schooling period in the next 10 years in classes that are in an overcrowded state, so that they will receive a quality of education which is below the proper standard.

Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are sometimes rather apt to think that they are the only people intrinsically interested in education, and that it is only they who want to have the best possible educational provision. That is really a most old-fashioned idea. We are just as keen as they, and we would like to see all the things which they have promised and many which they have not. In particular, on the question of the raising of the school-leaving age, my hon. Friend who seconded the Amendment mentioned that it has now become decent to discuss that subject, since the Chancellor has mentioned it. As one interested in education, of course, I know the value of giving that extra year, and I realise that the difference between leaving school at 15 instead of 14 is just enormous.

The Minister, however, has to accept the fact that, while he takes the credit, and very great credit, for being able to raise the school-leaving age by a year, he must also accept the burden that, in doing so, he has greatly added to the problem of accommodating those children in the bulge now passing through the schools, and, to that extent, he must accept responsibility if there is a reduction in the quality and standard of the education provided. He cannot have it both ways. We have been told several times by hon. Gentlemen opposite that we could not have it both ways, and neither can the Minister. When he has taken the credit for raising the school-leaving age, it is now up to him to show how he will deal with this problem of accommodation so that there is not a serious reduction in the standard of education provided in the next 10 years, and, indeed, at the present time.

That is the burden of the comment that I wished to make. We have a double anxiety, and we all feel worried about it. It is up to us to see that the best possible education is provided for these children, and yet there is quite sufficient evidence at present to make us ask the Minister what provision he will make now to cope with this problem.

5.44 p.m.

Mr. Dryden Brook (Halifax)

The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. A. Maude), who seconded the Amendment, both in the course of his speech and in reply to an interjection by my hon. Friend the Member for the Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), asked that we should not go back into past history as we might get bogged and we might not see the whole picture clearly. Some of us on this side of the Committee have long memories of what has happened in the past, and certain hints have been dropped by the Opposition in the last two or three months which make us fear that history may repeat itself.

Some two months ago, the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), in a speech in this House, made reference to the possibility of economising on education. Yesterday, in this House, we had another hon. Gentleman opposite, who sits below the Gangway, making education one of the targets in his economy drive. Last night, too, we had the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) himself devoting a sentence or two to the same theme. This afternoon, both the mover and seconder of the Amendment have, in my judgment, brought us up against the fundamental difference between the two sides of this House on the education problem. Both stressed the importance of the financial factor, and said that there was a limit to the amount of money that could be drawn upon. It is that factor which, to me, illustrates the fundamental difference that exists between us. That difference concerns the size of the fund to be drawn upon, and between the two sides of the House there may be a very wide divergence indeed.

For example, when the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment was speaking about the local rates problem, I felt that I could point out to him one aspect concerning local rates which would go a long way towards solving this particular difficulty. Why not restore the 75 per cent. in industrial assessments which was made many years ago and in entirely different circumstances, but which industry could very well bear today? I am a member of a local authority and of a local education authority at the present time. I have in my constituency and in the course of council elections fought the issue on the education problem, and I have never yet found an audience which, when educational costs were explained to it, did not react at once in demanding that a proper education service should be provided.

On the question of the supply of teachers and of the number of scholars per class, the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite have referred to this problem as if it was a new problem entirely unconnected with the past. I believe I am right in saying that "Education," the Journal of the Association of Education Committees, about two years ago analysed the figures for the previous few years, and I believe I am also right in saying that the number of scholars per class, both in primary and in secondary education, is fewer at the present time than it was in the immediate pre-war days.

As regards children of five being found places in schools, I believe I am also right—and I hope the Minister will correct me if not—in saying that there is a larger proportion of children of five in our schools today than there has been before. When the hon. Gentleman who opened this discussion was speaking about the cuts in education that we might make, he placed first priority on primary education, but I would rather agree with another hon. Member opposite, and with some of my hon. Friends on this side, in saying that education must be looked upon as a whole. If we place all our emphasis on primary education, and we provide it not merely in quantity but also in quality, and if we then divorce primary education from secondary education, we shall leave our boys and girls in an atmosphere of doubt, and shall, as it were, leave them in the air in respect of their future development.

The hon. Gentleman went on to talk about cinemas and the provision of community centres as if the fact that we had cinemas was an adequate compensation for the lack of community centres. A community centre is not merely a place of entertainment, but a place where the people of a locality can make use of every faculty which they possess in order to develop their full characteristics. That is the kind of provision which we have to make today.

As to the size of classes, I would say that it really depends upon buildings and the supply of teachers. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent), stressed the fact that the building factor not the financial factor was the key to the situation. How different it might have been if in the years that have gone by, proper provision had been made. Hon. Members opposite are now enthusiastic about reducing the size of classes. My interest in education goes back to the days of the First World War, and I can remember the Fisher Act of 1918 and what followed and the Geddes Report and the May Report. What we on this side of the House are afraid of from the way the wind is blowing, is that at any rate some hon. Members opposite may be paving the way for something similar to what happened in the 'thirties.

In pre-war days we not only had extraordinarily large classes, but for many years many of those classes had to be held in condemned schools—the "black holes." I have seen them myself, not only in my own town but in other towns in the West Riding of Yorkshire. That is something which the Opposition, with all the opportunities they had in those days for building schools, ought to be able to answer for and face up to at the present time, when they are showing such a great interest in the provision of further school accommodation and in reducing the size of classes.

I do not want to take up much time because I am a believer in short speeches and many of them, but there is one aspect of what the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden said last night to which I should like to devote a few moments. It is not the aspect mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell). Towards the end of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said: I further think that many of the standards are too high for the times in which we live and that we had much better get on with the practical job in education of reducing the size of classes and re-establishing the relationship between teacher and taught, than with some of the fineries and snobberies that have been brought into the education service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1951; Vol. 486, c. 1582.] I like the phrase "re-establishing the relationship between teacher and taught," because if I remember history aright, and if I know education aright, in the days prior to the war there was very little of that relationship between teacher and taught; it was less even than it is today.

This afternoon one hon. Gentleman opposite said that he wanted to see more freedom for local authorities from the central authority, and in the local authority more freedom for the head teacher and his staff inside the schools. Is that not what every good local education authority is doing at present? I have been a member of a local education authority for many years and what I have noticed growing up in the educational world is what I would like to see in all democratic spheres, and that is a relationship between the central and the local education authorities which has tended to give the local education authority control in its own sphere, and at the same time in the relationship between the local education authority and the schools a growing amount of freedom given to head teachers and staffs in the schools. Without doubt, in the schools of today the freedom of the head teacher and the staff is greater and more beneficial than it has ever been before.

When the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden talks about re-establishing the relationship between teacher and taught, which according to him must have existed at some time in the past, I wonder when that past was. When he goes on to talk about the standards being too high for the times, I wonder who set those standards. Surely it was the 1944 Act which set the standards for schools, new buildings, accommodation and playing areas. Are we now to go back on those standards? When he talks about fineries and snobberies, does he want to eliminate the grammar school and to concentrate on the comprehensive school? After all, if we are thinking of fineries and snobberies in education, the grammar school is one of those fineries and snobberies, at any rate in one aspect.

We should like answers to these questions, because we are concerned about education and afraid of what the Conservative Party might do. I have referred to what they did under the May Report. In 1944, when education was a very popular subject, when every society in the country was issuing its views on education, the Conservative Party issued a pamphlet in which it said—and I think I am accurate in this quotation from memory—that education, instead of being the first subject of economy in periods of stress, should be the last. I commend that idea to the hon. Member for Chelmsford who moved this Amendment, in respect both to local finance and to national finance.

5.56 p.m.

Mr. Hollis (Devizes)

The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Brook) said that the dividing line between the Conservative and the Socialist Parties in this matter was the concern of the Conservatives with the financial factor, as he called it. Frankly, I should have thought that that was not the dividing line between Conservatives and Socialists, but the dividing line between sane men and lunatics. There seems to be no other way in which one can put it. If the right hon. Gentleman were to move to another place and the hon. Gentleman to take his place on the Front Bench as Minister of Education he would soon find, even if the Socialist Government remained in office, that he would have to pay very great consideration to the financial factor, whether he wished to or not.

Mr. Brook

I should not like the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent what I said. After all, there is a difference between the attitude of mind of hon. Gentlemen opposite which accepted the May Report and the attitude of mind on this side of the House.

Mr. Hollis

I should prefer to make my own speech and my own comments. The hon. Gentleman also said that I and my hon. Friends were concerned with the financial factor. The fact of the matter is, as we all realise, that unfortunately we are in a very difficult financial situation, and it is therefore common sense that we should give our minds to seeing in what way we can save money without sacrificing things of value and importance, because otherwise there will be a financial collapse and those things of value and importance will be sacrificed anyway.

The hon. Gentleman spoke again and again about the May Report. Perhaps he recollects that the May Committee came into existence during a time when a Socialist Government was in office, and the fact that drastic and, in many ways, unconsidered cuts had to be made later on was because reasonable economies were not made at an earlier time when the incompetent Socialist Government was in office. The hon. Gentleman also threatens that if the Conservatives return to power they would, as he says, go back on standards. I really do not quite understand what he means, because everybody knows that in point of fact the Socialist Government have gone back on standards in the sense that, very reasonably, recognising the state of affairs, they have introduced a variety of quite sensible economies in school building. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman objects to his own Government doing that. When he holds out the threat that the Conservatives may do what the Socialists are doing just that at this moment, I really cannot understand.

Hon. Members who have spoken in this very interesting debate have made a variety of contributions, as was most right and proper, about the difficulties of the situation and the solutions which they suggest to overcome those difficulties. In the very few minutes that I shall detain the House—because I know how our debate is unfairly truncated—I should like to direct my attention to certain observations about the extent to which the situation at the present moment should give us concern, in the hope that we shall get some wise observations on that topic from the right hon. Gentleman when he replies.

I bring the House back again to that handbook on reading ability for back benchers, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton) referred, in trying to see what we can make out of it. That booklet has a preface by the right hon. Gentleman in which he truly and rightly points out how the war caused an inevitable interruption from which it can hardly be expected that education would not suffer to some extent. He then lays down the question to which he wishes to find an answer: to what extent have things improved since the war came to an end? On that point the answer which the expert committee gives is almost more disturbing than some of my hon. Friends have told the House. On page 45 we are told bluntly, We must conclude, therefore, that there is no evidence that backwardness exists only among older pupils whose education was upset by war-time conditions. It seems as marked throughout the primary schools as the secondary schools. That is a disturbing condition. If we turn back to page 40, we get some detailed statistics about the prevalance of illiteracy in different schools—primary schools and others too, but today we are chiefly concerned with the primary schools. We get some rather interesting conclusions. This is what the investigator, Mr. Watts-Vernon, says in regard to private preparatory schools, urban primary schools, rural primary schools and primary and secondary London schools. As regard illiteracy and semi-illiteracy, it is the conclusion that the London schools come out worst of all; worse than the rural schools.

When we get to the other end of the scale, the children who have superior reading capacity, it is the rural schools who not only do worst but do incomparably worse than the other schools, and the London schools come second to the primary private schools and above the urban primary schools. Has the right hon. Gentleman any idea why London is both best and worst in this respect? There is indeed a question of exactly how much reliance one ought to place on this sort of intelligence test statistics. I approach these intelligence tests of deficiency with a certain amount of diffidence and trepidation. I always wonder whether I shall be able to answer the questions myself.

I recollect that on one occasion I studied some statistics from the City of Sheffield where a surprisingly large number of children were apparently rated as mentally deficient. When I looked it up to see how they arrived at this conclusion, I read that 73 per cent. had not heard of the Minister of Education. I could have done that one anyway, but it did not seem altogether convincing as an evidence of mental defect. I may say that was not the present Minister of Education. It was Mr. Fisher. I suppose he was President of the Board of Education. The general conclusion seems to be serious, and, whatever the standard of literacy, it cannot have been unduly high, since we are told that 0.0 per cent. of public school boys of the age are semi-literate—a surprisingly optimistic judgment.

On page 14, a number of remedies are suggested which have figured in the speeches of one hon. Member or another in the course of this debate. Roughly speaking, it is suggested that there are five reasons which are likely to cause backwardness. Certain children are backward because of personal handicaps. That is to say, that so far as it can be remedied, it shows that there is a relationship between health and education. Then there is the all-important factor of home conditions. I am sure that no one who meditates on the matter can doubt that one of the great problems in education today is the growing weakness of family life which makes the problems of the schoolmaster, when the children come from broken homes, a great deal more difficult than they would otherwise be.

There is the obvious particular cause for the moment of interrupted schooling from which so many children suffered during the war, which inevitably made this period a few years ago a particularly difficult one. There we come back to the question of school conditions, smaller classes and so on, which hon. Members rightly, I think, have stressed in speech after speech. On top of these four points, there is a fifth and interesting point, which, I am inclined to think, is not sufficiently stressed. One reason for illiteracy, in the opinion of the author of this report, is "a premature introduction to printed matter." Although I think that it would be a great mistake that children should not go to school at five years of age, I would not in all cases rush them into reading immediately. In the case of the vast majority of children, I think that reading is a thing which comes to them naturally, and it is better to leave them to learn to read naturally than that definitely and positively they should be taught to read.

There are certain children who it is necessary to teach because they will not learn themselves, but most children more or less learn to read without knowing that they are doing so, just, as a few years earlier, they learn to speak without knowing that they are doing so. In connection with the treatment of individual children—one treated in one way and another in another—much depends on having small classes and an adequate number of competent teachers.

I do not want to detain the House longer. I should, however, be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman if, in addition to his other observations, he would say something about what his view is upon the actual state of affairs, as well as who is responsible for that state of affairs and what is the remedy; whether he thinks that the situation is as serious as this report indicates or whether he has reason to think that it is less serious.

6.8 p.m.

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

I realise that this debate has to reach an unhappy conclusion at 7 o'clock because of the Luton Bill, and I am very sorry that education debates seem so often to be interrupted. Today we have had a most interesting debate initiated by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton), who has the gift of looking like a pleasant Methodist, who talks like an enthusiastic radical and who, I know, always votes like an ardent Tory. It is, of course, in this matter of education the ultimate decision that is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Brook) drew attention this afternoon to the fact that there are deep divisions on both sides of the House on this matter of education.

Education is a political issue in this country. I was rather shocked during a debate, when we were having weekly votes of censure on the Government, to hear the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Lyttelton), when pressed by one of my hon. Friends to say what economies hon. Members opposite would introduce in order to get 300,000 houses, say, with that gay abandon for which he is renowned, that they would deal with education. It is always education that the Conservative Party have thought of first when it comes to cuts. It is no good the hon. Member shaking his head, because if he wants to shake it until he puts the Tory Party right, he will have to shake it right off.

The question that has been brought before us today is that of the size of classes in primary schools. At a time when the world is divided on the basis of rival ideologies the content of education and the education services naturally take on a greater significance. I believe that in the defence of the British way of life, the schools are quite as important as the Royal Navy. We have to see that the rising generation is inculcated with the highest Christian ethics upon which democracy itself has been established.

Commander Maitland

Hear, hear.

Mr. Thomas

Thank you so much. It is comforting to hear a "Hear, hear," from any hon. Member when reference is made to the Christian teaching, which I do not mean unkindly. To say that the schools should be put to the front in defence of the British way of life is not to suggest that politics should be introduced; but I am convinced that the ethics upon which our system has been established must find their place in the school. Unhappily, for thousands of children the only place where they have an opportunity of hearing about Christian ethics is in the schools.

I agree with the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) that there seems to be evidence of a breakdown in family life, which I find disquieting. The greater the lack of home life, the greater the responsibility of the teacher, and the greater the responsibility of the teacher, the greater the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to see that the teacher is given every opportunity to get on with the job. The schools have in some way to compensate the child when there is lack of instruction in the home, and overcrowding makes the teacher's job impossible. Reference is made in the "Daily Mail" today to the size of classes at Eton and Harrow and the other schools from which the right hon. Gentleman opposite and some from this side of the House have come. The average is 12 to 14, and it is possible in those circumstances for a teacher to do something.

It is almost impossible to do justice to this debate in view of the time, and as I have promised to be brief and always like to keep my word, I will conclude by saying this. Member after Member opposite has been asking for more education and more money for different aspects of education; some have asked for more secondary modern schools and others for priority to be given to primary schools. So they must make up their minds that the nation must continue to spend not only as much as it is spending but more if education is to fulfil its purpose in the country. The Chancellor must have pressure brought to bear upon him, and we hope that we shall have the support of Members opposite in this.

The service of education in this country is fortunate to have a teaching profession imbued with very high ideals. It is customary for tributes to be paid from both sides to the teaching profession. But tributes are not enough. It is our responsibility to see that the teachers are given the tools to get on with the job. The Minister must not be content to tell the House that he is able to mark time by keeping the average size of classes where it is. He must somehow make inroads on the size of classes. I know that overcrowding takes place in pockets and that it is not the same problem all over the country. I sincerely hope that, apart from that proud story my right hon. Friend has to tell about new schools, he will be able to indicate to these authorities who suffer most from large classes, that there is some hope within the next two years of the size of their classes being reduced.

6.16 p.m.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) for having put me out of my agony by giving me time to wind up the debate for this side of the House. I find myself in considerable agreement with what he has said. The House will agree that we have been doubly fortunate in that we have not only had this opportunity to debate this subject, but that the Motion has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton). Few hon. Members have greater knowledge of educational administration than my hon. Friend. He has put the case we are trying to make in great detail, and his remarks will be well worth studying.

I want to deal with the subject from a rather wider aspect in order to reinforce, in general, what my hon. Friend has said in particular. This has, of course, been a ratepayers' debate; indeed, one might almost say it has been an Essex ratepayers' debate. I am pleased about this, because before the war I served as chairman of a remote sub-committee of the Essex Education Committee. It seems to me that the great problem facing us is how to convince the people of the country that they are getting value for their money. I think I shall have the agreement of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, when I say that I cannot see any chance of saving money on education, but rather that we have to face an increasing charge to maintain our present standard. The bulge in the birth-rate has decided that, and we have to face that fact. That is the background to our financial approach to this subject.

It is a tremendous burden that has been placed on the ratepayers by the pressure of educational expense. It is inevitable, but that pressure is being felt. It is a sad thing that this pressure should be at a time when prices are rising and taxation is as heavy as it is. Therefore, we ought, I believe, to try to do something to help the ratepayer. I wish I knew what that something was and could advance suggestions from this side, but the fact remains that unless we can do something, we shall have examples all over the country of the wrong sort of economies being made, with the result that while we apparently have an efficient educational system on paper, we may be turning out inefficient children who are below even present-day standards. That would indeed be getting the worst of both worlds, and it is something that must be avoided at all costs.

I ask the Minister, therefore, seriously to consider the proposal put up by the National Union of Teachers, and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) in a Question the other day, namely, whether it would not be advisable to appoint a Royal Commission or to get the best brains in the country to advise us on this very difficult and apparently nearly insoluble problem. I see all the difficulties involved, local autonomy and such like issues. The matter is so acute, it presses on educational development to such an extent, that I think we should be justified in having a Commission or use some other method to get the best advice which we can possibly get.

If it is considered that the educational side is in itself too small, the examination should extend to the whole of local government expenditure, and the bearing of the rates on the ratepayer. Let us face it, but do not let us say that the thing is impracticable because it would have to extend over the whole field of local government. I would ask the Minister, in his reply tonight, to devote some of his time to the general considerations of the pressure on the ratepayers which is being felt so much today. It is an important matter and justifies the anxiety of the ratepayer. I think he has every reason to be anxious when he consults the report which has been referred to so often today.

This report on illiteracy has given rise to some concern. I should like to put forward one point which strikes me. Hon. Members have chosen things from it which have appealed to them, but I was very much struck by the number of what are called "backward readers" among children of 15 years throughout the whole country. It seems to me that these figures are worse than those for complete illiteracy, which are admittedly small. It should be noted that 30 per cent. of the children who are aged 15 are designated as "backward readers" today as compared with 10 per cent. in the years before the war.

A "backward reader," incidentally, is a child with the reading ability of between 9 and 12 years, which is rather serious when we devote so much of our time to the further development of our children. I hope that the Minister, in his report on education—which, I hope, is coming out soon; perhaps he can tell us tonight when it will be coming out—will deal with this question of literacy and illiteracy. It is a difficult subject I know, but it is something about which the country should have full knowledge.

The next question concerns overcrowding, and I want to know what is the position today about the provision of new schools to deal with the bulge in the birthrate. I was not very satisfied with the answer of the Minister when we last had a debate on this subject. It seemed to us to be a little too optimistic. In regard to the London area he pointed out that three years of the building plan were still to go, and, of course, anything could happen during those three years. The right hon. Gentleman got away with that explanation, but I should like to remind him tonight that one year of that time has gone and there are only two years left.

Is he satisfied that in the London schools, places will be found for the children who will be coming to school for the first time in 1952 and 1953? Will they be able to find places for them under existing circumstances, or will conditions of overcrowding improve or get worse? Those are questions about which many are anxious and worried. From what I can hear from the local authorities with whom I am in contact, I gather that they are not as optimistic as the Government were last year.

The question of teachers follows from that of school buildings, and I hope the Minister will tell us tonight something about the situation. Can we hope to have the proper number of teachers to be able to conserve the existing standard or must we expect reduced standards? Can we possibly hope to get better standards, and how many temporary teachers shall we require, to deal adequately with the numbers. We should all very much like to know the answers to those questions.

Technological education has been mentioned in this debate. We had a short debate recently on this subject, and we are very anxious that the Minister should go further, if he can, than the Parliamentary Secretary did before the Recess. Time is passing and this problem does not get any less acute. The need gets greater as time goes by, and we think a decision on this matter should be made as soon as possible.

The subject of new schools in the new towns has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent). One would have thought that the provision of schools in the new towns would have been one of the first things the planners would have considered very carefully. Yet we know of several cases of anxiety about schools in the new towns, particularly in Crawley. Let me take Crawley as an example. The facts I have may not be correct, and if that is so, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will correct me. We complain, first, on the ground that in Crawley there is to be no council school until the end of the year, when there will be 1,500 families in that town. That does not seem to us to be very good planning.

The second complaint is one of over expensive planning. We understand that the schools there are being sited in the centre of blocks. It is very nice to have green spaces in the centre of blocks and easier for the children to get to school, but it entails building the schools so that they are not on the edge of blocks. I understand that as a result of this, the cost of building in those new towns is going up by £2,000 an acre. That seems to us to be tremendous expenditure. No economies are nice; all are unpleasant, but is not this an economy that we ought to make at this time. It means sacrificing an open space and it means that the children may have to walk further to school, but in these days of stringency we should examine with very great care such matters as this.

I promised the right hon. Gentleman I would give him as much time as possible because we want answers to these questions. We, on this side of the House, put forward these suggestions without malice, hatred or any uncharitableness. We hope the answers will be given in the same spirit, because these are things of great concern to the parents of children at school and to the local education authorities. I have devoted much of my time to putting these questions to the Minister and now I will give him the opportunity to answer them.

6.30 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Tomlinson)

Perhaps I might say first of all how pleased I am with the tone of the debate. There has been an honest desire to face difficult problems and to realise, at the same time, the difficulties of the situation. So long as we keep in mind those difficulties and the purpose of education, the problems are capable of solution. They may be solved by one person in one way and by another in a different way, but we should keep always in mind the children—all the children and not specifically the clever ones or the dull ones. They are somebody's children and they are all part of the nation and they all have to be catered for. On the subject of priorities, it is not a question of "Whose child?" The question of priorities can only arise in the organisation and administration to meet the problems so that all will benefit. So long as that is accepted as the basis of administration, I am quite happy, but not complacent, with what we have been able to do in difficult circumstances.

The only way in which it will be possible to give, satisfaction to Members who have spoken and to the questions which have been asked is to attempt briefly to deal with each of the speakers and the questions that have been raised, and then to sum up with a general picture. I will deal first with the speech made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Ashton). I would say first how much I agree with the way in which he presented this problem. He asked how many children were out of school at five years of age in Essex. Naturally he was interested in his county, as I am.

Mr. Ashton

I should like the figures for the whole county.

Mr. Tomlinson

I have not the figures for the whole county, but they are not exceptional, as far as I can ascertain at present. In such areas as the Forest Division and Clacton, the present position is said to be a temporary phenomenon. I would not say that there are no children out of school at five years of age, and I would not say that some have not been left out until nearly five and a half years of age before they were admitted, but I would also say that there are no more today than there have been at any time in the history of our educational development. This problem is no worse, and I realise the necessity of seeing that it gets no worse, if we can avoid it. It is necessary to see that these schools that are programmed, and that can take the children where they are coming in greater numbers, shall be pressed forward. One of my objects is to see that the programming is pressed forward, in spite of difficulties.

Naturally, the hon. Member passed on to the cost. We have heard a good deal this afternoon about the costs of education, particularly, from the ratepayers' point of view, the increasing costs. I am not prepared to say that the costs are not increasing. There never has been a time in the whole of the 40 years in which I have been interested in educational organisation when people did not question whether we were getting value for the money in the education we receive. Costs have always been rising. We started from nothing and therefore they had to rise. People who were living in those early days will know that the rate they paid for education was very small and, as hon. Members know, they got very little for it. I hope that as the expenditure has grown, the return for the expenditure has been greater.

We cannot meet the increased requirements of the children without increasing the programme. As the hon. Member went on to point out, and as the Amendment which is before the House points out, if we are to meet the requirements of the children who are coming along in increasing numbers, we must of necessity have increasing expenditure to meet the greater need. Everybody realises that when there is only one in the family it does not cost as much to keep the family as when it rises to six or seven. That is one problem that we have not been able to solve, with all our teaching and learning. The children who are coming into the schools are calling for more money.

Another question is whether, in the circumstances, we should give priority to primary education. I will give figures later which will demonstrate that, without waiting for this House to pass a resolution urging us to give priority, priority has been given to primary education. The needs of the primary children have had the first consideration because of the fact that they needed attention first. Therefore, it has been given to them. By way of illustration, I would say that last Friday I had the privilege of visiting the city of Bristol and that I opened nine schools at once, a record for any Minister of Education. I shall be very pleased when anybody breaks that record and opens more than nine schools. Of these eight were primary schools and one was a secondary school. That demonstrates the principle of priority.

The mover of the Amendment asked about economies. He referred to the new community centres and suggested that we might go easy in setting up youth centres and appointing youth leaders. It may be that we shall be compelled, as we have been compelled in other directions, to cut down on this kind of service, which some people regard as part of the frills but which I regard as very important. I have expressed the hope on more than one occasion that where new secondary schools are being built in areas which are new and where there are no community facilities, the large halls which are being provided in those secondary schools should become, to all intents and purposes, community centres for the area.

On the question of further education, it is desirable that we should retain all that we can. It may be that we shall have to limit our activities to some extent in what are regarded as the frills, but I hope that we shall not limit them where that can be avoided. The hon. Member gave us a facetious illustration of two lectures on the arrangement of flowers being given in one little village in one week. That may be overdoing it, but I hope that no one will detract from the necessity of some teaching in the arrangement of flowers. I am not an expert in that but I happen to be the individual in our house—there are only two of us—who does it. It may be one of the frills, but it is one which I believe to be worth retaining, and J hope that talk on those lines will not be spread abroad just for the sake of saving money. Furthermore, there had not been a lecture on that subject before, so they would not have got more than they were entitled to, in having two in one week.

The hon. Member for Ealing, South (Mr. A. Maude), asked how we could develop an educational system on the cheap, and answered it by saying, "We cannot." That is my answer, too. I hope I was wrong, but I seemed to detect in his speech a suggestion that he was desirous, given so much money, of choosing how he would spend the money as between individual children if called upon to economise, and whether it was worth spending it on one set of children because they were not capable of developing to the full extent when others were. I may have been wrong in reading that into his speech. The proposition I laid down earlier that all children belong to somebody and are all part of the State means that, to the best of our ability, we have to bring them all along.

He laid down what I consider to be an essential, and said that I have no business to be a member of a Government which prided itself on planning unless I believed in planning for the future. I certainly agree with him. In these circumstances and in these days I do not think that anybody is fit to be, or ought to be, retained in any position where provision of this kind is made unless he looks to the future and sees the problems which are coming forward. I believe I can demonstrate in a few moments that we have done just this.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley), spoke about smaller classes. That has been in all our minds. Nobody has to convince me, at any rate, of the necessity for smaller classes if and when they can be obtained. I have had that idea for a long time. I think it is a waste of money sometimes to train teachers and then pay them just to prevent children from breaking the furniture, although I understand that it is believed today that if they do not break the furniture when they are youngsters, they will break something else when they are older. However, I do not want to be drawn into a discussion on psychology.

I believe in the necessity for smaller classes, but two things have to be remembered, one being that the only way in which to get smaller classes is to improve and increase the accommodation and the other being to increase the number of teachers. Those two things are inevitable, and up to now it has not been possible to make the improvement that we desire, although some improvements have been made. In a few moments I will say something about the provision of both school buildings and teachers.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) would like to see some change in the Exchequer method of computing Education Estimates with a view to cutting out the provision of milk and meals and such things which are regarded by some people as being outside the educational curriculum. Although I realise that these are social services which could be associated with other Ministries, I am one of those who believe that the provision of both milk and meals has what might be described as an "educational content" and that there is something in the services which is of more value because of the fact that they are given in schools than there would be if they were dissociated from the education authorities. So long as the money is found, as it is at present, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I do not think it matters.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam also spoke of the complacency of the Minister and said that I did not stand up to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and had not got all that I wanted. I do not remember anybody getting everything he wanted from any Chancellor in any Government since the days of Gladstone. The figures speak for themselves, and when cries for economy have been coming from all directions, I am satisfied with the proportion that I have managed to obtain.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), spoke about housing and the relationship between it and education. Nobody can dissociate housing from education because of the problem which housing brings in regard to the provision of new school buildings and the condition of housing in relation to the conduct of the children and what I would call their "teachability," and the improvement that takes place as a consequence of good conditions in the home.

The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Nugent) and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam spoke of the position in Surrey. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said that he knew of children of six and a half and seven being out of school. The hon. Member for Guildford brought the age down to five and a half, and I thank him for that. I am sorry that another hon. Member for Surrey did not speak for he might have brought the age down to the real figure. My answer with regard to Surrey is the same as the answer I gave for Essex, that there may be pockets here and there. If the problem postulated by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam came into being, it would be a different proposition. If there were no private schools, it would be the business of the Surrey Education Committee to provide for those children. The fact that there are private schools, means that they have not had to provide for them, but it is no excuse for the authority which has children out of school to say that there are private schools to which they are hoping someone will send them.

Mr. Nugent

Does the right hon. Gentleman imply that the Surrey Education Committee has not fulfilled its duty? Would he take it from me that the Surrey Education Committee has built up to its full quota throughout and has provided every building which the right hon. Gentleman has allowed it to erect.

Mr. Tomlinson

All I was doing was answering the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who, when invited to mention a single place where there was a child of six out of school, pointed to the general fact that they were going to private schools because no county school was available for them.

I was told that there is still the problem of the all-age school. I realise that there are such problems and I am sorry for it. There ought not to be. As Minister of Education, I ought never to have had to deal with a problem of all-age schools, and the fact that I have that problem and that we cannot deal with it as quickly as we ought to do, is one of the things that worries me. It means that some of the new housing authorities, who, because of their situation, are receiving sanction to build a new school, are taking places which would have been provided for those in all-age schools if the programme had not had to be cut to meet the requirements of the present situation. I visualise that some day the all-age schools will be swept away, but that will not be just yet.

The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Brook) spoke of the bigger proportion of children of five years of age who were in school. It is a fact that today there is a large number—about 91 per cent. at the end of 1950—of children aged five in public primary schools. There has never before at any period in our history been more than 91 per cent.

Now may I deal briefly with this Amendment and what we are doing in regard to it. As I do so, I will pick up the questions that were asked. It is quite clear that there are still many pupils in maintained primary schools in classes with more than 40 on the register. Nobody has attempted to deny that. It is a fact, and it will remain a fact until we can produce the buildings and the teachers who will enable us to overcome it.

Mr. Nugent

More than 50.

Mr. Tomlinson

The total number of oversize classes was 341 greater this year than in January, 1949. On the other hand, the total number of classes of all kinds had also increased by January, 1950, so that the proportion of oversize classes was less than in the previous year. In other words, although there were more classes, the proportion was less because of the larger number of children who had come in.

We all know of the school accommodation problem and how it has arisen. During the war there was virtually a cessation of school building. For five years there was scarcely a school built in the country. More than 5,000 school buildings suffered war damage, and much classroom accommodation was thereby lost. In the post-war years two additional factors have intensified this problem, both of which have been referred to. One was the steep, if erratic rise in the birth rate, and the other was the large movement of population to new housing estates which has developed latterly. In addition, the raising of the compulsory school age from 14 to 15 brought with it accommodation difficulties which had to be resolved largely by a programme of hutted school buildings. That problem was met at the time it arose and those 8,000 Horsa huts, as we call them, housed the 14 to 15 age group.

Altogether we estimate that between January, 1947, and 1953 1,150,000 new school places will be needed, and most of these will be places in primary schools. In other words, we are dealing with a rise in the school population itself. This is illustrated by the fact that the total number of pupils in maintained and assisted primary and secondary schools has risen from little more than five million in January, 1946, to 5,651,000 in January, 1950. In 1949 the population in these schools increased by 123,000 and the number of children aged five was 636,000. We estimate that this last figure will rise this year to 714,000 and next year to 780,000. In January, 1950, rather more than 91 per cent. of the five-year-old group were in infant classes in maintained and assisted schools. That was a higher percentage than in any other post-war year. I think it can be claimed that no material number of children failed to secure admission to school on or about their fifth birthday.

Our main problem has thus been to provide sufficient accommodation for these increasing numbers, and this problem will continue to be with us for some time to come. We have had to deal with it during a period when various other difficulties faced us. We dealt with it by introducing what are in effect priorities, although not claimed as such. We concentrated the annual building programme of local education authorities on three main classes: those intended to provide accommodation for additional children coming into the school as a result of the rise in the birth rate; those intended to make school provision for new housing development; and those that were intended for the extension of facilities for technical education. All those things could not be neglected.

When I tell the House that at the moment it is estimated that at the end of March, 1951, over 1,000 schools were under construction, providing 420,000 places, I wonder if anyone realises just what the addition of a million children to the school population means in terms of building alone? When one thinks in terms of a school, it is a pretty large school if it houses 500 children. We need not be very good at mathematics to know that 500 into a million means at least 2,000 schools of average type. When those are added to all the requirements needed to meet some of the difficulties mentioned, one begins to realise something of this problem.

The same thing applies to the number of teachers. We must have a teacher if we are to have a class. With regard to the question of literacy, I would not take the figures or the test mentioned by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis)—I will not say too seriously, but I would not take it as tragic if some expert pointed out that the youngsters of today were not quite as good readers as children were 10 years ago. If they are not quite so literate in that scholastic sense, maybe in other directions they are far more capable of entering into the world.

Not for a moment would I seek to belittle the necessity for reading, writing and arithmetic. I am still old-fashioned enough, and still new-fashioned enough, to believe that those are essentials. Particularly would I say that with regard to reading. The value of reading is not only in its educational content, in that it enables one to understand. I prize the ability to read, and the desire to teach reading, because once an individual has learnt to read and to understand what he is reading, he has solved the problem of loneliness for all time, particularly in a place like London.

Commander Maitland

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down, can he assure the House that he will be able to cope with the bulge in the birth rate? He did not actually say that.

Mr. Tomlinson

Yes, I think I gave the number of children coming into the schools and the programme that is being planned for them. I believe that with the improvements which have taken place in the number of school places that we are getting now for the money we are spending, it will be possible to meet overall the requirements of the children coming into the schools.

Mr. Ashton

The Minister has answered a great many of the questions put to him this afternoon. I am sorry he made no reference to my point about loans to local authorities this year, 1951 to 1952 and how much out of that is to be allocated to the capital expenditure on schools. That is the sheet anchor on which all other consequences depend. However, time is pressing, and I join with other hon. Members who have taken part in this debate in regretting the short time allotted. Yet it has been a useful one, and I should like to study carefully the figures given at the end. Against that background, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."

6.59 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: This House is of opinion that steps should be taken to deal on a national basis with the problem of the provision of accommodation for the chronic and aged sick. We were reminded on a number of occasions last week, and, of course, notably during the debate on the Budget itself, of the fact that we are faced with a substantially increased population beyond retirement age during the next 20 or 30 years. An increased number of old people in the population brings in its train two needs, which exist side by side—

Mr. Speaker


It being Seven o'Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.