§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, North-East)
The small amount of time devoted to education in this House bears no relation to the interest shown in the subject by parents and others in the country especially at this time of year when children are coming home with their school reports and when the results of examinations are becoming known. I hope that today we shall have a debate about education, and that during the debate we shall hear something from the Government about what their plans are—that is, if they have any plans. All we know up to now is what is contained in two sentences of the Tory Party's last General Election manifesto, which said:In Education and in Health some of the most crying needs are not being met. For the money now being spent we will provide better services and so fulfil the high hopes we all had when we planned improvements during the war.It did not take the Tory Party and the Tory Government very long to show how they were going to fulfil those very high hopes, because the first action of the Tory Government was to effect economies in education. First of all, we had Circular 242, which made local education authorities make some very petty economies. After that, we had Circular 245, which gravely affected the school building programme. Indeed, the most that the right hon. Lady the Minister of Education appears to have done since that time is to stop others doing what they wanted to do.
Many of the speeches made by the right hon. Lady during her first two years of office were devoted to showing how clever she was to have put the roofs on schools the walls of which had been built by her predecessor. It is a great pity that nearly all our education debates, both in this House and outside, have to be concerned, not with education itself, but with bricks and mortar; but that is inevitable, because we must have buildings in which to put the children before they can be educated.
However, I hope that during this debate we are not going to spend all the time arguing who did what when, nor, I hope, are we going to have those unfair comparisons such as the one made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of 49 Housing and Local Government in the debate on the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates on school buildings on 1st July, 1953, when he compared the present Government's school building for 1952 with the average for the five years before 1951. I think it is self-evident that such a comparison is very unfair. How can we compare 1952–53—having been told that the building position has so improved that we can set the builders free and take off all controls—with the years 1947–48, just at the end of the war, when we had so many shortages?
We on this side of the House have a record in regard to education of which we can be proud. In spite of the increase in the birth-rate, and in spite of the raising of the school-leaving age, which brought hundreds of thousands of extra children into the schools during our years of office, the number of pupils per teacher fell in every year.
Let us compare the Report of 1951 with that of 1953. While the Report for 1951 was signed by the right hon. Lady, it in fact covered 10 months of the period when the late Mr. George Tomlinson was in office and only two months when she herself was in office. That Report covered the Labour Government's last year in office and showed that the number of pupils per teacher was still falling, and that the number of over-large classes had been decreased. I will not go into the details of the figures, because they are there to be seen by all.
How different is the position shown in the Report for 1953, the one issued a few weeks ago. From that we see that during 1953 the number of pupils per teacher was rising, and that the number of over-large classes had increased. In short, the true test is not the amount of building undertaken; it is that, whereas under the Labour Government the situation was steadily improving, under a Tory Government it has been getting gradually worse. The effort is not matching the problem. I hope that in this debate we shall look at the position as it is today, and at what is being done to effect an improvement in the next few years.
I wish, first, to talk about building. Circular 245, which was issued in February, 1952, laid down conditions under which local authorities could build schools. Those conditions were very stringent and represented the bare minimum. Many schools were deferred 50 altogether. At the time, local authorities and educational bodies protested that Circular 245 represented too little. However, that is the basis on which we have been proceeding since 1952.
What has happened during this past year? Recently, local authorities have been sending to the Minister the estimates of the amount of school building which they think is the bare minimum necessary to satisfy the needs of Circular 245 for the next year. It has been calculated that, altogether, the local authorities have estimated that £88 million of buildings are needed by 146 local authorities in order to meet this bare minimum.
Up to the present time, the Minister has replied to 75 of these local authorities, who between them wanted £42 million for building during the coming year. The right hon. Lady has cut the £42 to £24 million. Indeed, it looks as if the Government have decided that £45 million to £50 million is the maximum which can be spent on building for the next year, and that the estimates of the local authorities have to be cut down to that amount. It is quite clear that this sum is not sufficient to provide even the bare minimum as laid down in Circular 245.
I could give the House many examples of what this policy has meant in the various localities. Dr. Alexander, the secretary of the Association of Education Committees—no debate on education would be complete without a quotation from him—said, when these figures became known:We shall be seeing the Ministry about the cuts. It is disturbing that when Britain is supposed to be winning through, school-building restrictions are worse than at any time since the war.That is the statement of the Secretary of the Association of Education Committees.
If we look at the actual results of what has happened in the localities, this is what we see. Nottingham asked for £1 million worth of school buildings. It is to be allowed to build only £445,000 worth. Two new secondary schools, two new primary schools and the completion of one infants school, are to be allowed, but three secondary and two primary schools have to be postponed altogether. Northumberland asked for £1,360,000 worth. That has been cut to £432,000. 51 It asked for 12 new schools for 4,590 pupils. Only four schools for 1,670 pupils have been allowed.
This is the sort of thing that is happening all over the country. What I should like to impress upon the Minister is that the local authorities know the situation. They know the local problem. They have to deal with it in their own localities. They see the children needing schools but know that they have no schools in which to put those children.
I should like to ask the right hon. Lady this question. Did the various local authorities in their estimates go beyond the requirements of Circular 245? If they did not, is the Minister now prepared to admit that Circular 245 is not now the Government's policy, but that there are some more stringent regulations? That is what we want to know from the right hon. Lady this afternoon. I believe that the time has come—nine years after the war—when we ought to be getting beyond Circular 245. The fact that nearly all our new schools have to be built on new housing estates means that those children who have to live in old houses are condemned also to be educated in old schools, whereas those children who have the advantages of living on a new housing estate live in new houses and have new schools.
Recently when we were discussing the Housing Repairs and Rents Bill, the Minister of Housing and Local Government said that he was surveying the houses and dividing them into certain categories. There were, first, the slum houses which ought to be knocked down. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Why didn't you pull them down?"] Well, who built them? Then there were dilapidated houses that needed money spending on them, and the structurally good houses which really needed some modern amenities. I believe the time has come when we need a similar survey of our schools.
There are, first of all, the slum schools, the black-listed schools, which are absolutely beyond hope and which need to be replaced as soon as possible. It has been estimated by various educational bodies that from £1 million to £2 million a year spent on replacing obsolete buildings would work a veritable miracle, but the right hon. Lady told a deputation 52 that this sum could not be spent. Nevertheless, there are the slum schools that need pulling down as quickly as possible.
Secondly, there are the structurally good schools. In some cases those are three-storeyed buildings, built at the end of the 19th century, and, alas, built to last for too many years. We have thousands of them with us today. We have to remember that these schools are not coming down in the next two or three years. They are structurally good and will probably be in use for another 30 to 50 years. They are dark, they are dreary, they are airless. They are sometimes badly equipped and full of old furniture. I believe that we now need a bold plan to do something about them.
First, they need light and air. Those can be obtained by the simple process of knocking out a few bricks and putting in a few windows. All schools should have first-rate sanitary fittings and hot water. It is amazing, too, what a few coats of light-coloured paint can do. When I go round I am always struck by the number of old schools which have old furniture and old equipment. I was in a school in Leeds only a fortnight ago, when I was distributing the prizes. The school was built in 1883, and the local education authority decided to give that old school a really first-class library. At a cost of £750 there is in that old school as good a library as there is in any of the new schools that we have since built.
I know that the right hon. Lady may reply that it is up to the local authorities to apply for money for minor capital projects in order to do this work. Of course it is, but let us see what happens when they do apply. Last year, requests for supplementary allocations for minor capital projects were received by the Minister from 102 authorities. Only 14 of those were allowed in full, 81 in part, and seven were refused altogether. I have here a few figures to show in detail the kind of thing that has happened. They are figures given in reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Morley).
Southampton County Borough wanted to spend £42,690 on these minor capital works, but the right hon. Lady cut that sum to £13,600. Hampshire wanted to spend £94,470 on these minor works; she cut it to £40,000. Portsmouth wished to spend £28,844 she cut that to £9,165. 53 So we could go on. Indeed, much of the money which is being allowed and which should be used for these minor capital projects is today having to be spent by local authorities on extensions to existing school buildings.
When we think that this small amount of money which she is refusing to allow the local authorities to spend represents work that would make life a little more tolerable, we can see the extent of the economy of this Government on education. Children who live in the back streets of our industrial towns should be educated in more cheerful schools, and the Minister should do all that she can to encourage that.
I pass to rural schools. Here there is a different problem—that of reorganisation. Half the children in our rural areas are still in unreorganised schools. For them it is not a choice of which secondary school they shall attend. For them there is no secondary education at all. The Association of Education Committees has estimated that it would need the expenditure of £3 million to £4 million a year for five years to complete the reorganisation in the rural areas. However, when a deputation put that to the right hon. Lady, she refused the request. Yet, let us not forget that this same Government are spending £2 million on capital works for commercial television and £750,000 each year for ordinary expenditure— and this is not to benefit the children of our country. Indeed, this money is being spent on a project which all educational bodies agree will be to the detriment of our children.
I feel very strongly about this matter, because until I came to this House I spent my time in council schools. I first entered a council school when I was 2½ years old. I took myself to the school at the back of our house. I passed on from there to the grammar school, and, except for a period at college, I taught in council schools up to the day that I came here. I know what it is like to teach in an old school with only a partition between one class-room and another.
§ Miss Bacon
Yes, and sometimes with no partition. I know what it is like to try to concentrate on arithmetic when the 54 class next door, which is separated by a thin partition, is having a lesson in music. I know what it is like to go out of those old buildings into the really beautiful new schools, and I know the difference that this can make. I am not unique on this side of the House; many of my hon. Friends have had this experience, but this kind of thing is practically a closed book to hon. Members opposite. I doubt whether many of them have ever been in a council school except to speak at General Election meetings.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
May I appeal to the hon. Lady not to add insults to her very weak case? There are hon. Members on this side of the House who had the whole of their education in council schools and who have a very long and honourable service in council administration. The hon. Lady does herself and her party no good by imagining that they and they alone have experience in these schools.
§ Miss Bacon
I agree that there are one or two unique persons on the opposite side of the House. I said that most of them had not been educated in council schools.
In the next few years the effect of the increased birth-rate will be passing from the primary to the secondary schools. Overcrowding in any school is shocking, but in the primary school there is a certain amount of equality in that all children in one area are in the same school. But we have different types of secondary school—the grammar, the modern and the technical. Today the classes in grammar schools are much smaller than the classes in modern schools, and I am wondering what is going to happen when the increased number of children pass from the primary schools into the secondary schools.
Will the grammar school classes still remain as small as they are now, or will all the overcrowding take place in the secondary modern schools? If that is so, and if very few new grammar schools are built, there will be another result of this policy; there will be a reduction in the percentage of children of 11 years passing to grammar schools, and already in some cases the percentage of children passing to grammar schools is extremely low.
Surely this is a time to consider the whole question of secondary education in this country. We on this side of the. 55 House are quite honest about it. We believe that it is a wrong principle to select children at the age of 11 for different types of school. We say quite honestly that we believe in the comprehensive school, which is, after all, merely a secondary school to which all children in a district go, and where they find their special bent and follow it as long as they and their parents wish.
Last week I visited Kidbrooke, which I think is very unfortunate to be starting its life in the midst of political controversy. Kidbrooke is a marvellous place, a place where there are normal and specialised courses for the children. There is a pre-nursing course. There are all kinds of practical courses such as millinery, tailoring, pottery, art, and commercial courses, plus all the academic courses found in a grammar school, such as languages, classics and so on, and children can proceed from there to the university.
One hon. Member opposite who was in the party that visited Kidbrooke last week was honest enough to say that he was most impressed by Kidbrooke and that if he had only realised what a comprehensive school was, he would not have opposed it. It is as well to know what one is criticising before one criticises, but there has been a great deal of misrepresentation about this matter, and I am sorry that it has been brought into the realm of party politics, because I regard it as an educational issue. I am a politician but, as I say, I taught children from the ages of 11 to 15 for some years before I came here, and my belief in the comprehensive school is derived, not from my membership of the Labour Party, but from my experience with children aged 11 to 15.
What about the attitude of the Minister in this respect? She and her party have repeatedly said that we should allow experiments in the comprehensive schools, and she offered no objection to London or to Coventry. Her method was much more subtle than outright opposition. She thought how clever she would be and she went and made a misleading speech to the Conservative women, which incited them to send in a petition, and so she had the grounds for refusing to close Eltham Hill Grammar School, which was to be incorporated in Kidbrooke. I believe that the right hon. 56 Lady's conduct in this matter has been most reprehensible. She approved Kidbrooke, but what was the use of approving it if, when the school was built, she sabotaged the whole idea by making sure that the school was not going to be fully comprehensive? This was the back-door method.
Will the right hon. Lady tell the local authority at Coventry and the other authorities that are making experiments in comprehensive schools whether or not she is going to do the same sort of thing in their localities, because it would be much more honest to say so now than to wait until the school is ready for opening? Her action in respect of Kidbrooke has meant that the academic type of child can be found only in the classes catering for the 11-year-olds, and it means that it will be some six or seven years before a true assessment of the experiment can be made. Nevertheless, Kidbrooke will succeed in spite of what she has done.
The truth is that the right hon. Lady wants Kidbrooke to fail, and it is not difficult to see why. I was reading in the "Schoolmaster" on 18th June an article by someone who had visited Kidbrooke school, and the article ended by saying:On a doorstep of a nearby prefab I asked one of the 3,000 local parents her views on the new school. She summed it up neatly. 'Well, I mean,' she said, 'it's giving them all such a chance, isn't it?'That is the answer. This school is giving all a chance, and it seems to be against the philosophy of the Tory Party to give everybody a fair chance.
As I say, my belief in the comprehensive school is based on educational grounds, and I believe that the Minister's opposition is nothing but party political prejudice against giving all children a fair chance. The schools of Eton and Harrow are really comprehensive schools. [Interruption.] That is quite true. I doubt whether the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister would have passed the common entrance selection test if he had not gone to Harrow.
This clash with London is only one of the many clashes that there have been between the Minister and the local education authorities. Never in the history of the Department has the Ministry been so unpopular with local authorities. Only last week we had an example, which was reported in the newspapers on Friday 57 morning, of what happened in North-amptonshire. I have here a copy of the "Daily Mirror." These are quotations from the actual words used by responsible members of local authorities:Councillor Harold Taylor said: 'One cannot express oneself too strongly about her arrogant attitude. The sooner this person is dismissed from her post the better for the whole community.'He went on to state what had happened with regard to Northamptonshire.
I want to be very clear about this. The Minister has powers of direction under the Education Act, 1944. In the past there has been too much permissive legislation, which has resulted in unequal opportunity. For that reason, I agree that the Minister should have powers of control and direction if we are to have a national system of education, and backward education authorities are to be brought up to standard; but those powers must be used in the interests of the children. Under the right hon. Lady's administration they are being used against the best interests of the children, in order to prevent local education authorities from being progressive.
Many other questions arise from the Report that we have had from the Minister. I cannot deal with all of them. I am sure that my hon. Friends will be dealing in great detail with some. Her Report discloses the fact that, although there was an increase of 240,000 children in our schools last year, the number of school meals served dropped from three million to 2,750,000. I should like to hear something from the Minister about training college grants. These grants for intending teachers are inadequate, and there is great variation among the different authorities. On the whole, they compare very unfavourably with grants for students going to universities. I should also like to hear more from the right hon. Lady about technical and technological education, and what was meant by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his statement last week. A very important report on this subject has been published by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee.
I know that the right hon. Lady will say that the things I have been asking for today would cost a lot more money, but every Government—the Tory Government of today and the future Labour 58 Government—must face the fact that more money must be spent on education. Allowing for the fall in the value of the pound, for increasing costs and for the increased numbers of children in our schools, we are not spending as much per child as we were before the war. We must face that fact quite squarely.
It is essential that local government finance should be looked at in relation to educational expenditure. In the Tory Party's programme, "Britain Strong and Free," page 28, contains these words:A review of the impact of the cost of education on local government finance should be undertaken.The party opposite have been in office for three years, but up to now there has been no evidence that such a review is being undertaken or is likely to be undertaken in the near future.
I think I have said sufficient to show that we have no confidence in the ability of this Government to provide education. This Government put brewers, steel owners, road hauliers and advertising firms before children. They have no plans for education; indeed, I have never heard the right hon. Lady make a speech about education. Meanwhile the position gets worse, and there seems to be no grasp of the gravity of the situation.
The right hon. Lady and the Parliamentary Secretary remind me of people in a type of old-fashioned school which is now happily extinct. The right hon. Lady is like the old-fashioned type of headmistress who used to survey the world from her high desk. She gave orders and entered into no arguments. Her word was law. She thought that everything she did was right, and never even considered that it could possibly be wrong. Then we have the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not know whether he is going to speak today. Those of us who have been teachers recognise that he is like the teacher who cannot keep order, and whom the children love to rag. He walks about with his head in the air, in a world of his own, and has not a clue whether what he is doing is right or wrong.
Meanwhile, we have the Government, who are content to leave everything to the headmistress—rather like the old-fashioned school governors—provided that she does not spend too much. They do not care very much whether everything is right or wrong, because their 59 children are not going to the school anyway.
In short, the Minister is complacent; the Parliamentary Secretary is incompetent, and the Government are indifferent. The tragedy is that these are the people who are in charge of six million of the nation's children—our most precious national asset. It is clear that the country cannot afford to tolerate them any longer, and that they ought to leave the charge of these six million children to people who really care about education.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Brooke (Hampstead)
I listened to the hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) with great respect. She promised that she would speak about education, but she appeared to me to devote practically the whole of her speech to talking party politics. That is a regrettable fact about the approach of the Labour Party to education. They give so little thought to the essence of education, and devote themselves almost exclusively to seeking to steal votes at the next Election by misrepresenting the facts.
It was said that a parent of stern Victorian ideas went to his boy's headmaster the other day and said, "I do not know what you are teaching my boy, but I do not like it, because he seems to be enjoying it." That illustrates the vast change which has taken place in the schools in the last 50 years. For all that the hon. Lady has said she will surely agree with me, in her heart, that with all their known defects present-day schools are happy places. We should give credit to everybody, at whatever level, who is helping to make them so.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Lady insinuated that I did not know what the inside of a council school looked like.
§ Miss Baconindicated dissent.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Lady may shake her head, but that is what she said about the Tory Members sitting opposite her, and I must take her as meaning what she said. I happen to have been a school manager for many years. This is the season of the year when school prizes are given, and I should say that a good many Members on both sides of the House have recently been in and out of schools, 60 at prize-givings, to see the children or, as I was last week, at a presentation to a primary school headmaster who was retiring after more than 25 years in that position.
I think the hon. Lady will agree with me that one can tell the quality of a school almost as soon as one steps over the threshold. I had a specially interesting talk with this headmaster—not so very far away from this building—after the presentation ceremony, and he told me of the continuous improvement which he had noted during his 40 years' teaching service, both among the children and in the schools. The barefoot child has disappeared, at any rate in London. I was particularly struck by his remark that the 11-year-olds had nowadays acquired an ease and poise in talking to grown-ups which he would have hardly imagined at the beginning of his teaching service.
What we have to do in the schools is to create happiness and achieve high standards, and if both sides of the House can agree on that, then we shall have a common starting point. We must debate among ourselves the questions of principle that divide us, such as, for instance, the organisation of secondary education, but I submit to the House that it is no service to the cause of education to inject so much bitterness as the hon. Lady sought to engender today. Bitterness and true education do not mix, any more than oil and water, and it will be an excellent thing if in the rest of this debate we can address ourselves to the real educational problems which stare us in the face.
I grant this to the hon. Lady at once. We on this side are as fully aware as she is of the very many shortcomings in the schools which still have to be made good. But the real business of education is not done in the Ministry of Education, with great respect to my right hon. Friend, or in local education offices, or in Parliament. The real business of education goes on in the class-rooms, on the playing fields, if schools are lucky enough to have playing fields, on the playgrounds and in all the out-of-school activities.
All the jargon of educational administration, and a great deal of the party abuse we throw at one another, can do more harm than good. Perhaps the 61 House knows the story of the small boy who was found sobbing on the pavement outside school by an old gentleman who came by. The old gentleman sought to console and encourage him, and to show him the way in, and he said to the boy, "This is the boys' entrance." The small boy, still sobbing, replied, "Boohoo. I am not a boy. I am a mixed infant." That illustrates how remote most of the jargon in which educational reports have to be written is from the real life of boys and girls.
What each Government since the war has had to do is to set about the task, first, of catching up on the war years and, second, of providing for the enormous bulge—there is no means of escaping that horrid word—consequent on the increase in the birth-rate since the war. The success of my right hon. Friend in tackling both those tasks has been a magnificent achievement, and everybody who has studied the facts and figures knows that that is so. The number of teachers has been going up by nearly 6,000 a year. I think it was in 1951 that the National Advisory Council said that we would need an additional 40,000 teachers by 1960. That was a bit of an under-estimate, but it is perfectly clear, as things are going at present, that we are going to have far more than the additional 40,000 teachers by 1960. The entries to the training colleges at the present time are running at a satisfying level.
That means that, as we have very nearly reached the peak of numbers in the primary schools, the time is coming close when it will be possible to reduce the size of classes—either to reduce the size of classes, I should say, or to fill the gaps by letting in larger numbers of the under-fives. That is an important question that will have to be decided. My own sincere hope is that we shall choose the first alternative, because I attach overwhelming importance to the primary school as the very foundation of education, and I do not believe that adequate education can be given in classes of the size that are now all too common in primary schools. I hope, therefore, that the House, without distinction of party, will go on record as saying that we must not throw the doors wider and wider open to the under-fives as the bulge passes out of the primary schools, but rather that we 62 must use that opportunity to decrease the numbers in classes.
After all, however one may argue educationally or politically about the independent schools as distinct from the State system, what we all know in out hearts is that the independent schools at the present time possess one indisputable advantage, and that is that there, and there alone, parents can be sure of their children being educated in sufficiently small classes to make education a reality. I bitterly deplore the size of the gap between the two, but let us, for heaven's sake, aim primarily at bringing down the size of classes in the State schools, rather than abuse the independent schools for being able to do what in present circumstances the State schools cannot yet attain.
The hon. Lady spoke a great deal about school building. The answer to all that she has said is in the graph which she will surely have studied on page 40 of the new Report of the Ministry which came out the other day. If hon. Members will look at that graph they will see that it indicates the rate of progress of educational building since the war. The line which shows the contracts completed suddenly takes an upward turn at the end of 1951, just about the time when my right hon. Friend took office. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but that is the only way in which they can possibly answer what I am going to say, because it cannot be answered by any logic of their own. The facts are entirely on my side.
The rate of school building was too low in the years immediately after the war and school buildings were being finished too slowly in 1951, and what my right hon. Friend took over was a situation very nearly comparable to that which existed in house building in 1947, when there were far too many houses under construction and too few being finished. It was the same with the schools, and my right hon. Friend took precisely the correct action to ensure that the schools were finished and that the number of school places provided went up swiftly.
I have here the figures of value of work done on school building, and they certainly contrast strangely with the impression the hon. Lady sought to make. The total value of work done on school 63 building in 1951 was approximately £35½ million. In 1952 it was about £36½ million. In 1953 it was £40 million. That is the achievement of my right hon. Friend, who has been vehemently attacked from the other side today for not doing enough to provide additional school places.
The hon. Lady said that Circular 245 gravely affected the school building programme. It did gravely affect it. It gravely affected it for the better. There is only one real test of success in the school building programme. It is the number of extra school places provided. In 1951, the last year of the Labour Government, the number of places provided was 159,000. In 1952, under my right hon. Friend, it went up to 218,000, and in 1953 it was 260,000. Perhaps my right hon. Friend, at the end of the debate, will be able to give even more recent figures.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The hon. Member quoted Circular 245. If he has read that Circular, he will have seen that it confirms the deliberate decision on the part of the Government to reduce the steel allocation for school building, and this is emphasised throughout the Circular.
§ Miss Bacon
Before the hon. Gentleman answers that point, may I ask whether he denies the figures which I have quoted to show that classes are getting larger?
§ Mr. Brooke
I well know that classes are getting larger; so they have been for a number of years. It is the remarkable achievement of my right hon. Friend that, although over a short period of years the total number of children in the schools is in process of going up by no less than 35 per cent., nevertheless it has proved possible to provide a place for every additional child going into the schools. The hon. Lady made great play with the alleged cuts in the building programme.
§ Mr. Brooke
The hon. Member referred to the steel shortage, which we have now fortunately overcome. I am referring to the overall result, which has delivered the goods. The hon. Lady spoke of cuts. She must know, because 64 she has had the benefit of a splendid education, that it is possible for any local authority to show an apparent cut in its school building programme if it asks for a sufficiently large amount. Let me give an illustration. The London County Council, under the control of members of her party, in 1949, asked for an educational building programme of, if I remember rightly, approximately £7 million, which was twice as much as it had managed to do in any previous year, and the late Mr. Tomlinson cut that programme to something in the neighbourhood of £4 million. I do not remember that there was then the same violent outcry from hon. Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, there was."] The fact remains that that £4 million, which showed an apparent cut of £3 million on what was asked for, turned out to be a perfectly reasonable decision because it represented the maximum which the authority could do.
I have no doubt whatever that if the House could analyse each of these cuts put forward by the hon. Lady, it would be found that in each case what the Ministry is permitting is an amount commensurate with the actual powers of that particular local education authority to start.
§ Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)
Surely the hon. Member recollects that when the cut was made by Mr. Tomlinson, the county council made a number of representations to him. Indeed, I think that my hon. Friend was a member of the delegation. It is true that the council said that in a particular year it might not be able to spend the whole of that amount, and that is why the council proposed a three-year programme, which has now in fact been granted.
§ Mr. Brooke
I was not a member of the delegation, and I do not think that the hon. Member was a member of the county council in those days. I used that illustration to show how a cut takes place when a local authority in fact asks for more than it can manage, much as it might like to be able to carry out the whole programme for which it asked.
The hon. Lady asked for a survey of the older schools. I am all for surveys if the technical people are available to carry them out, but I doubt whether we have come to the stage when we have 65 sufficient technical men readily available in the local education authority offices and in the Ministry to undertake a fact-finding nation-wide survey of this kind. I would say that it was better to concentrate upon getting on with the job of improvements as quickly as possible.
The hon. Lady criticised my right hon. Friend for having cut down the minor works programmes of some of the local education authorities, but the hon. Lady forgot to tell the House that the total of the minor works programmes approved by my right hon. Friend for the current year is considerably higher than the programmes approved in any year during the Labour Government, so that the local education authorities are getting a better chance now than ever before to continue with the so-called minor works—the smaller items to bring the schools up to date.
§ Miss Bacon
Perhaps the hon. Member did not read the right hon. Lady's answer to me last week, which showed that most of the money that is being allocated for minor works was to be used for extra class-rooms and not for improvements.
§ Mr. Brooke
I will leave my right hon. Friend who, I believe, is winding-up the debate, to speak for herself on that point. I think I am justified in pointing out to the hon. Lady that the minor works programme approved by this Government is substantially higher than that approved in any year by the Government which she supported.
All these very remarkable figures—the increase in the number of teachers, the vast increase in the number of school places provided, the expenditure met out of public funds, larger than ever before—all this is being attained despite the financial crisis of 1951, which we fortunately survived, and despite the pressure of an unprecedented defence programme on men, materials and money.
I hope that we shall not have later in the debate any suggestion that the solution for all educational stringencies is a drastic reduction in the defence programme. The schools cannot be insulated from what is going on elsewhere. The most shattering blow which our educational system ever sustained was the war of 1939 and the evacuation of the schools which was then thought necessary. It certainly brought forth the magnificent 66 powers of adaptation and improvisation which both teachers and local education authorities, but particularly the teachers, possessed, and it provided some memorable incidents in the history of education; but any Government action which might in the least degree increase the risk of war by neglect of its defence programme would be a grave blow to the future of British education.
Education is a living part of the nation. I am troubled when I hear people at educational conferences and elsewhere arguing that we ought to go on doing all that we want and providing everything that is needed in the educational sphere, whatever cuts that might necessitate in other directions, and whatever the total demands on our national resources. I think that there is great truth in the saying:We shall not be able to make much progress with these tasks as long as our livelihood as a nation is insecure.I quote that from "Challenge to Britain." It seems to me exactly to express the situation which my right hon. Friend and her colleagues had to meet in 1951. At that time our livelihood was insecure. It is now far more secure, and we are seeing the fruits of progress.
I come to the second part of the hon. Lady's speech about the future organisation of secondary education. My own belief is that up to 1939 we tended to concentrate too large a proportion of our efforts on the secondary grammar schools, and that one of the great problems which needed to be tackled after the 1944 Act was how to give full educational opportunity to those boys and girls who were not of grammar school type.
For that purpose all kinds of experiments were clearly desirable. When the hon. Lady expressed her regret that comprehensive schools had been brought into the realm of party politics, I was reminded that it was her party that did it, by laying down that the meeting of the need for new secondary schools by comprehensive schools, and comprehensive schools alone, was their party policy. Inevitably that made it a party issue, because we on this side think that, before the comprehensive school has been tried out, it is educationally wrong to say that by no other possible way whatever can the problem of providing good secondary education for the non-bookish children be solved.
67 I have seen some new secondary modern schools built by various authorities which believe in them, and I am certain that they will give a first-rate education. I have seen places where the education authority have taken over old senior elementary schools, adapted them intelligently and created what are in effect new secondary schools, of which both teachers and children are proud. I want to see those experiments continuing along with the experiments on comprehensive schools which my right hon. Friend has sanctioned.
The hon. Lady astonished the House by saying that my right hon. Friend had sabotaged Kidbrooke, and that Kidbrooke would not now be a typical example of a comprehensive school. Kidbrooke as planned by the London County Council could not have started off as a typical example of a comprehensive school. The idea of the council was to give Kidbrooke a flying start by bringing into it the whole of the grammar school tradition, with the transfer of a whole existing grammar school of girls. That is not a normal comprehensive school. It will not be possible all over the country to create comprehensive schools by destroying a grammar school at the same time. These new schools must stand on their own feet. They must not stand on the legs of grammar schools.
§ Miss Bacon
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that we cannot start a comprehensive school without taking children from somewhere. The hon. Gentleman suggests that it is all right to take children from a modern school but not from a grammar school.
§ Mr. Brooke
We must build up a comprehensive school as we build up every school. It is not in the least reasonable to carry over into a new school the whole of an existing first-rate grammar school and then to say that it is a typical example of a comprehensive school.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon). This is precisely what was happening in connection with one of the central schools and two or three modern schools. The idea was to bring the 68 grammar school children in at the same age and to have all the children at the same level.
§ Mr. Brooke
The London County Council and other authorities may think that it is possible to sweeten the success of the comprehensive experiment by stealing for that purpose the grammar school tradition from an existing school, but that is not the way in which we are accustomed to seeing new schools built up.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Rugby)
Would the hon. Gentleman deny to the Anglesey County Council, which has taken all the children of 11-plus into its new comprehensive school, the right to do what it did? Would he have kept out the old grammar school established in Holyhead? Surely, to give a fair start, we must take all the youngsters in the area whatever their I.Q.
§ Mr. Brooke
I have not seen Holyhead. I think that the hon. Gentleman has visited it, as has my right hon. Friend. I was addressing myself to the hon. Lady's specific reference to Kidbrooke, about which I know.
I return to the confusion of thought which appears to exist among hon. Members opposite in their advocacy of comprehensive schools. We have even had the statement from the hon. Lady that Eton and Harrow are comprehensive schools. If they are, they are far more highly selective than any of the comprehensive schools which we are talking about.
§ Mr. W. G. Cove (Aberavon)
Educationally Eton and Harrow are comprehensive schools; socially they are not.
§ Mr. Brooke
I have heard the argument adduced, in favour of the very large London County Council schools, that Manchester Grammar School has 1,500 boys, and is highly successful. But they do not fill Manchester Grammar School just by bringing in all the boys in a certain area of Manchester. No boy gets into that school unless he has considerable ability at the time of entrance. Also, schools like Manchester Grammar School have a much higher staffing ratio of masters to boys than the proposed comprehensive schools of which we are speaking.
69 I shall be intensely interested in the comprehensive school experiment. There appear to be a number of questions quite unanswered as yet by its advocates. Kidbrooke and other schools may provide the answers. My sole objection is to the attitude of the party opposite, as a party, in saying at this stage, before we know the answers to those questions, that the answers are bound to come out right, and therefore we can put all our eggs into the one basket. It was the Advisory Council on Education in Scotland which some years ago condemned roundly the very large comprehensive schools which are being advocated now in London and elsewhere.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be fair to the Advisory Council and say that it came down in favour of the comprehensive school.
§ Mr. Brooke
Yes. I have not been ruling out the comprehensive school. I am inclined to think that the questions which have to be answered are going to be less difficult in the case of the smaller schools recommended in Scotland than in the very large schools of which we have no previous experience.
In the debate for and against, it always seems to me that the strongest argument for the comprehensive school is that by that means the 11-plus examination might be got rid of. No one likes that examination in itself. The question we have to ask is whether the comprehensive school will get rid of it. I can see that happening if in fact in an area there are nothing but comprehensive schools. But so long as there remain any schools, such as direct grant schools, county grammar schools and so on, to which some parents wish to send their children from the primary schools, I cannot see how some form of 11-plus examination is to be eliminated. Therefore, what would appear at first sight to be the strongest argument in favour breaks down when it is analysed.
The hon. Lady said that more money must be spent on education. More money is being spent on education, but I agree that more must be spent. One of the finest achievements of my right hon. Friend is that during a time of the greatest financial stringency, when it was not certain whether this country could be sure 70 of its livelihood, she protected the educational system against all those critics who wished to influence her in the direction of cutting a year either at the beginning or at the end of school life.
The period of school attendance has been preserved, the number of places has gone up, the number of teachers has gone up. There is still great progress waiting to be made, however, and the one thing in which I join the hon. Lady is her contention that before long we must have some change in the system of local government finance. I do not see how local education authorities can continue to provide out of the rates the amount of money which will be required, unless there is some alteration in the present Exchequer grant formula.
The hon. Lady will see that I am seeking as wide a measure of agreement with her as I can, and I do not want to end on any contentious note. I hope I have proved to the House that there are hon. Members on this side who are as deeply interested in education and in the children as are hon. Gentlemen opposite, and who are prepared to work as hard, and sacrifice as much, for the good of the children and the teachers and the schools.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I am grateful to you. Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for allowing me to follow the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke), because he and I have so many experiences in common that it has fallen to my lot to notice whither he was leading on this matter of the comprehensive school. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) put it correctly when she said that this party has not made that a matter of party politics.
On the other side of the river, the large council which tries to run London education for the benefit of its children came to the decision that a comprehensive school education system was the right one for the future. In laying down the lines of its development plan, it said that all schools would eventually be comprehensive schools. That plan, however, was timed to take place over a long period. We estimated then 18 years, but it is now much more likely to be 30 years or longer. The hon. Gentleman and his party, in their great desire to see an 71 experiment, were therefore being given an opportunity to see a long-term experiment.
If in the course of those years the comprehensive school idea falls down, it is obvious that no authority and no Minister will allow it to proceed. It may be that a number of schools are succeeding at the moment because the bulge in the birth rate, the building of new housing estates, etc., make it necessary to provide new schools. It is only right, therefore, if the London County Council is to provide new schools, that they should be on the same principle. So I get a little tired of hearing the party opposite talking constantly about experiments, when that is the most that the London County Council or any other authority is able to do at this time.
Only the other day I listened to the Minister, in answer to a Question about the Bec School, saying that while she had turned down the proposal to enlarge the Bec Grammar School, she had nevertheless approved a proposal to build a comprehensive school in the north of London. It is hardly right of the right hon. Lady to give the impression by such a statement that she is doing one thing with one hand and doing exactly the reverse with the other; that is to say, keeping the schools nicely and evenly weighted, because the school in the north of London has nothing to do with the enlargement or incorporation of any existing grammar school, and it is to be built simply to take in the children of the neighbourhood and will not interfere with any of the eight adjacent grammar schools.
Therefore I suggest, when the Minister gives answers, that she ought not to give such examples, and I hope she will refrain from doing so in the future. The fact of the matter is that in so far as the London plan is concerned, the Minister has approved two comprehensive schools which do not affect grammar schools and has turned down the two comprehensive schools which affect grammar schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East, was right when she wanted to know from the Minister, for other areas as well as the London County Council area, what is to be her attitude in all cases where existing grammar schools are concerned.
72 I imagine the right hon. Lady will be interested to learn that her action in regard to Kidbrook has resulted in enormous propaganda value for the London County Council. It has been an advertisement such as the London County Council could not have contrived for itself. The result has been that up to 20th July 10,000 people—members of the public, local authorities, educational bodies, children and parents—have inspected the building at Kidbrooke. As I think the Minister knows, the reports in the Press are full of eulogy and I doubt whether we should have had such Press reports had it not been for her action. I doubt whether she is happy about it, but I can assure her that we are.
I also want to tell the Minister that in the London area a demand is coming from parents for the comprehensive type of education; so much so, that where we have interim comprehensive schools set up and working in the old buildings, the heads of the schools are being obliged to turn away as many children as they are able to accommodate. I can tell the right hon. Lady also that in the case of one, the neighbouring grammar school has 100 spare places, whereas this particular comprehensive school is overflowing and cannot accommodate all those who wish to come.
I think the Minister knows, too, that throughout the country there is developing in the secondary modern school so-called a desire to have a grammar school side. This is a natural development which has been helped only in the case of London, Coventry and one or two other areas, whereas what is happening in other parts of the country is that the educational authorities who are continuing to build schools catering for the old segregated type of education are going against the stream and in years to come will find themselves in a detrimental position.
Apart from the question of the comprehensive school, the hon. Member for Hampstead spoke about the lack of educational matter in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East, but I think he forgot that the entire idea of the comprehensive school is one of educational value. I remember a few days ago reading a letter in one of the 73 evening papers in which I was extremely interested, because it ran thus:Of my many contemporary dullards at a fee-paying school I can recall an eminent economist, one director of the largest steel firm in India, three generals, one air commodore and one ex-Attorney-General. None were brainy enough to win scholarships, nor were 99 per cent, of the remainder who, I have no doubt, are doing equally sound jobs of work.That is the argument in which we who have been teachers believe, and we have been advising our party to go that way.
We have found that the average children, the great bulk of those whom we teach, are almost invariably responsive to teaching and to the educational opportunity given to them. That is what parents who are able to pay fees have found. That is why, as the hon. Member for Hampstead said, the independent schools have a value. Parents can pay to have their children taught in smaller units. We are anxious that the average child should have his or her opportunity. That is why we want to reduce the size of classes and to provide that these children shall have every possible range of course so that they may find their bent and interests.
Since the Education Act of 1944 came into operation, I have been increasingly worried because the opportunities for parents to pay for their children's education have diminished. I appreciate that those who can afford to pay are members of the community and that their children should be educated just as much as anybody else's children. That is why I am concerned that, more and more, the children who go to grammar schools, the key to which is the passing of an entrance examination, are 100 per cent. brainy people.
These schools are becoming schools where children are segregated strictly according to their brain-power. That did not happen in the old maintained and aided grammar schools. It was the normal thing for a large percentage of parents to gain entry for their children by the payment of fees. Those children were average and below-average children, and they helped to make the grammar schools into normal, comprehensive schools.
All these are educational arguments. These are the things that we want. We were told on the wireless today about the shortage of qualified engineers, and yet 74 there are in the ordinary schools average boys whose abilities could be brought out by proper education and who could very well become qualified engineers. There are in the grammar schools also boys who have passed the common entrance test but who do not take readily to the academic side and do not want to learn for learning's sake. They might well be given a vocational, technical course which might ultimately lead them to science and engineering. We must not leave these sources of great power and ability untapped. We on this side of the House say that the comprehensive schools provide the opportunity whereby we can employ to the fullest extent the capacity of all our children.
I ask the Minister to look also at the question of maintenance grants. Some of us who are keen on education and are teachers try to encourage children to stay in school for a fifth year. In the London area we inaugurated a scale of grants for such pupils. It was a modest scale in those days, a matter of £30 a year where the parental income did not exceed £150. The Minister will realise that £150 was a small sum for all except a widow or someone on retirement or infirmity pay and therefore there were not many cases.
The scale descended until at a parental income of £300 the grant was only £6 a year. At that time the average wage was £5 8s. 6d. a week, and we paid out in 3,421 cases. The number of children in that age group was 8,411, which meant that we were giving a grant in 40 per cent of cases of children who stayed in school over the age of 15 in that year.
The Minister knows that the purchasing power of money has declined and in consequence wages have gone up. The average wage in October was £8 1s. and today, instead of grants being payable in 3,421 cases, only 641 grants are paid and yet there are 11,521 children in the age group. Therefore, the percentage receiving grants today is five instead of 40, and only an infinitesimal sum of money is paid out to help these children.
London County Council has asked the Minister to be allowed to restore grants, and the parental incomes on which they are based, to figures roughly comparable with those which applied when the scheme was inaugurated. The Minister 75 is showing herself extremely unsympathetic to the idea. I hope that she will not wait very much longer, because all educationists know that there are boys and girls who are very desirous of staying for that extra year of school life but who cannot ask their parents to make the sacrifice when no grant is made towards the cost.
I ask the right hon. Lady to look again at these scales and also at the further scales for pupils of between 16 and 18 years who are suffering from the same difficulties. I ask her to act without waiting for the report of the Departmental Committee which is investigating the question of why so many grammar school children leave before the age of 16. We are concerned with average children and we want to encourage them to stay on and complete their course of study. I hope that the right hon. Lady will do her utmost to restore the old position.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I wish to make only one point in following the suggestion of the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon), and that is in agreeing with her that it is time that we reviewed the whole field of secondary education. I wish to review one particular aspect of that large field—that connected with independent schools. I have an interest to declare in this subject. Probably I suffer from two major defects in the eyes of hon. Members opposite. One is that I was educated at what I believe to be the greatest independent school in this country, Eton College. The other defect is that I am at present, and have been for some time, a director of a private school company concerned with the education of 200 children. Therefore, if I make some comments on independent schools, I hope that hon. Members will realise that I do so with some knowledge and experience—albeit limited—in this field. In putting these forward hon. Members on both sides might be prepared to accept them as a somewhat independent view on independent schools.
I have found it difficult to understand why, when hon. Members opposite are fighting an election, they attack independent schools with very great vehemence on the assumption that independent 76 schools represent today one of the last remaining strongholds of privilege. Indeed, they said in their party paper "Challenge to Britain" that they do not likeThe existence of … 'prep' schools, and 'public' schools with small classes and high social prestige.Yet, when it comes to speaking to a debate such as this, when we are all—myself included—endeavouring to be moderate and constructive in proposing our views, they make a point of referring to the situation in the independent schools with some alarm, saying that they are disturbed about the standard of education and equally disturbed, as was mentioned several times when the Minister was making her statement in the House the other day, about the standard of the teachers in independent schools.
I should like to say one or two things about the standard of teachers and the standard of independent schools. I do not believe that we can expect to increase the standard of any school or the standard of any educational system necessarily by legislation or by standardisation. It seems that I differ from the views of many hon. Members opposite in their assumption that if we either bring all children together into one comprehensive school, or legislate that certain subjects shall be taught otherwise the schools will be closed, we necessarily improve the standard of education.
We obviously must have men and women who have the greatest possible knowledge to teach in all schools. They themselves must be fully educated in that they have had a good background training in the subject they are trying to teach. But it is not only a question of having a diploma. Today nearly everyone seems to demand that before anyone should be allowed, or considered eligible, to teach children he should have a particular certificate or diploma as having achieved a certain standard. That is very desirable, but it is not the whole story.
What we now tend to ignore is the fact that not only do teachers need to have considerable knowledge, but they also need to have considerable character. They must be able to put across to their children the knowledge they have and be able to understand the workings of a child's mind. I believe very strongly that 77 there is too much accent today on standardisation and the belief that we can achieve some remarkable degree of equality merely by legislating for it. I do not believe any more that we can have standardised schools than that we can have standardised teachers. In view of what the Minister said on 1st July in this House, when referring to the introduction of Part III of the Education Act by May, 1957, or as near as possible, we are moving forward to a period in the history of education in this country when we shall gradually do away with independent schools. As far as I understand it, we are trying to move towards a system whereby no schools will be tolerated unless a certain agreed minimum standard is maintained in that school. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] Many hon. Members on all sides of the House obviously think that extremely desirable. I think it is desirable only insofar as we should expect a high standard; I do not think it is desirable that we should demand a high standard.
If we are hoping to preserve a wide freedom of choice for the individual parent in selecting the school to which he wishes to send his child, there should be the choice, such as now, of comprehensive schools, grammar schools, secondary modern schools and also independent schools. This free selection should continue. I do not see why we should aim at bringing all these different schools and ways of education into one comprehensive school and doing away with the independent schools, which have given so much towards the education of the children of the country.
No more than standardised schools or standardised teachers can we have standardised pupils. I would stress that every individual is born with different qualities and different gifts. Every effort must be made to draw out from the child the particular qualities or gifts with which the child is born. That is the whole purpose of education, and that is what the very word means—to draw out.
§ Mr. Eden
It is extremely important that we should appreciate that, since we have children of varying degrees of competence, varying degrees of skill, gifts and qualities, we cannot possibly hope either to level them all down or to level 78 them all up, because they are different entities. Therefore, the greatest degree of competition we can possibly have in the educational system is to the advantage of the children whom we are trying to educate. That is why I am firmly convinced that we must maintain the present free system of independent schools and of enabling parents to exercise their right of choice in sending their children to the schools they think fit for them.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
How does the hon. Member relate that to the parents with very little money, or none at all?
§ Mr. Eden
We wish the parents with limited means to be able to send their children to the local schools within their particular area so far as possible. In advocating this point of view for the independent school, I am not in any way trying to say that we should have only independent schools. I should like to see the standard of education in the State schools raised to the same level as now exists in independent schools. Then we could get full equality of opportunity such as hon. Members opposite want.
§ Mr. Mellish
How can a docker with three children, who is earning £7 a week, hope to send his child to one of these independent schools, however good that child may be?
§ Mr. Eden
The answer is that the State is concerning itself with trying to provide an equally good system of education for the children of those parents who cannot themselves afford to send their children to a fee-paying school. That is the whole purpose of State education. That is the reason why we—on both sides of the House—believe in this system. But that is not an excuse, because we believe in that, to destroy something which we already have, which is extremely worth while, namely, first-class independent schools which are saving the taxpayer money and also producing children who are well educated and have a wide outlook on the problems of the world.
We have heard a great deal in this debate about the large sums of money now being spent. It is spent on buildings, on transporting children from home to school and back again, etc. We all know extraordinary cases of this sort of thing where a child could easily cycle to school, but a bus is provided for him. We have all 79 heard of many cases such as that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] In a village in Hampshire. I shall send the hon. Member details not only of that case but of a considerable number of others, if he will kindly apply to me later.
As we are spending large sums of money on education, a sum which is constantly increasing under the auspices of the present Administration, which we welcome, it is all the more important we should make quite certain that we are getting value for the money we are spending. I do not believe that we can necessarily judge that value by the standard of glorious new buildings, by the amenities which children have or the beauty of their surroundings. The right way to judge the value we are getting for money is by the standard of education which is now being given; how well educated are the children who are now going through the system; and do we accept the fact that all this money now being spent is well spent when it is reported that there is an increasingly higher standard of illiteracy in this country today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not true."] I must draw attention to these facts, because certainly when we spend money on such a large scale as we are spending it today on a system of education, we must be absolutely certain that we are getting full value for it.
§ Mr. W. T. Williams (Hammersmith, South)
The hon. Member is saying that it is a fact that illiteracy has increased in this country. Has he any evidence of it on which he is basing that statement?
§ Mr. Eden
I ask the hon. Member if he will kindly refer later to the report of what I did say. So far as my memory goes, I asked, "Are we prepared to accept the spending of these sums of money when it is reported that there is now an increasing state of illiteracy?" I am merely asking that question and I am asking on the basis of various reports which are available. I would draw the hon. Member's attention to last Sunday's "Observer," in which there was a small article referring to the teaching of reading to children today. If the hon. Member will read the first paragraph of that article he will see that my rhetorical question—or direct question—was not completely unsupported by outside evidence.
80 I feel very strongly that the quality of education which our children are now getting in the State-aided and State schools is nothing like high enough. There is a tendency today to concentrate on the aptitude-test type of education, on the practical type of education of requiring children to go and dig in the sand or play with some bricks or something of that sort. There is very little accent today on the training of the minds of children, and it is in the training of the mind that the most important field of education exists.
I do not think at all—
§ Mr. Eden
—that there is a very good prospect for the children of this country if we continue to ignore the training of the mind which can be given through the teaching of poetry and the teaching of classics; also, we must not ignore the teaching of history, English history in particular. I do not for a moment say that the training of the mind is being ignored wholesale throughout the State schools and is only being appreciated in independent schools. I only say that there is a tendency in all education today to lean towards the practical side of teaching, towards what I call the operational side of teaching, and for there to be a little less emphasis on the old system of the Three Rs and the mental training which is the real basis of education.
Hon. Members opposite have frequently shown themselves extremely concerned about the desirability of certain teachers in the independent schools. When the Minister made her statement on 1st July about independent schools there were a number of questions put to her asking that certain undesirable teachers should not be allowed to carry on their work in independent schools. Those questions did not only refer to one specific aspect of undesirability; they referred by and large to teachers in independent schools who had not particular diplomas or particular qualifications or certain certificates such as are possessed by other teachers who have been through training colleges, etc.
I should like to ask hon. Members, before they attack a system such as that of the independent schools, which is 81 working well and producing good results, to look, first, to the standard of teaching which exists in the State schools. I would go further. If hon. Members think that there are many undesirable teachers in independent schools, I would remind them that some hon. Members also think occasionally that there are undesirable teachers in the State schools. It would be a much better principle to put that system right first.
For example, there are undesirable teachers and undesirable teachers; and one type of undesirable teacher which I do not like to see tolerated in State schools is the teacher who is definitely a Communist, who is politically biased to the extreme Left and who uses his particular office to promulgate policies and beliefs and to influence the minds of children in policies and beliefs which are wholly unacceptable to the people of this country.
§ Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
The hon. Member has made a very serious accusation against the teaching profession of this country. Will he now be perfectly honest and quote to this House one single case in which that has occurred?
§ Mr. Eden
First let me dispel any fears which the hon. Member might have had in assuming that I was making an accusation against the teaching profession. I have been extremely careful to say that while many hon. Members may like to think that there are undesirable teachers in independent schools, there are some, who include myself, who think that there are certain undesirable teachers in State schools. I was in no way making any attack whatever on the general standard or qualifications of teachers in the whole State system of education.
If the hon. Member wants one specific instance, I will give it. I do not wish in any way to overstep the bounds of Privilege, and being a new Member of this House I am not competent to judge how far I can go in this particular instance. I should like to assure hon. Members that I have the complete chapter and verse of this particular case and I should be prepared to give it to hon. Members who are interested. I know the complete history of this case, and after the debate is over I shall be glad to give it.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
Before the hon. Member continues, may I ask if he has considered the advisability of giving his information to the Minister earlier on? Is he further aware that it is not our job, as hon. Members of this House, to be a "Gestapo" over anyone?
§ Mr. Eden
I was confident that the remarks that I made would not be wholly acceptable to some hon. Members opposite, and I was careful to make quite certain that, if necessary, I could support what I said with facts. Having inquired of one or two of my hon. Friends, I am now only too anxious to give details to the House about which school I was referring to; and in doing so I am perfectly aware that my right hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, have had details of this particular case for some considerable time.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
On a point of order. Since the hon. Gentleman is about to name a school which is bound to suffer —and all the members of the staff of that school are bound to suffer—is it within your discretion, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to ask him to exercise a little care?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
It is not a point of order. We are completely privileged here, and the hon. Member may say anything he likes.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. John Eden) is privileged to say anything he likes in this Chamber.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. John Eden) was making this statement in reply to a direct challenge to name the school.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
There is no point of order. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West is entitled to continue.
§ Mr. Eden
I have no desire to press this matter in open debate. But if hon. Members opposite persist in bringing this challenge, and are not prepared to accept my word that I know of this specific instance, and that it is one which has been brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend; if they insist that I should name this particular school, I have no alternative but to do so. The school to which I am referring is the Acton County School for boys, where the headmaster is a known member of the Communist Party; has frequently spoken at Communist sponsored meetings, and is primarily responsible for promulgating—in conjunction with some members of his staff, but by no means all—Communist ideologies and Communist ideas. I am extremely sorry, but I hope—
§ Sir F. Messer
The point of order is this. Is it right for the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. John Eden) to mention a school in connection with the subject to which he is now referring without stating that this matter has been investigated by the county council which is the education authority concerned—
§ Sir F. Messer
With respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, how can you know that it is not a point of order until you have heard it?
§ Miss Bacon
On a point of order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to make accusations about what a teacher has done in school and then to offer no evidence—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. Hon. Members are privileged in this Chamber. That is not a point of order.
§ Mr. Eden
If the hon. Lady and other hon. Members will permit me, I will now bring my remarks to a conclusion. I absolutely agree that one should never generalise about any issue and that is what I have been careful not to do. I merely say that in trying to right whatever wrongs there may be in our educational system in this country I would ask hon. Members opposite to appreciate that not all the wrongs exist in the independent schools; and that they should first look at the State schools and try to make that system of education work well before attacking and destroying something else which is extremely valuable in this country.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. John Eden) said at the commencement of his speech that he had two major defects. Having listened to his speech, I am certain that he was modest in his claim. Apart from that, I think that we have just witnessed in a debate on education what I would call "smear tactics," a practice which seems to be growing not only in our own country, but in other parts of the world. I think that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West, who has made his first contribution to a debate on education in this House, ought to be ashamed of himself. When he reads the report of his speech tomorrow in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I hope that he will decide to keep his mouth closed during future debates on education so long as he represents a Bournemouth constituency.
I think that it was a dreadful smear to say something about a man's political activities. In our community a man has a perfect right to be a Communist. He has a perfect right to be an anti-Communist, outside—
§ Mr. Peart
He has a perfect right to to be a Conservative or a member of the Labour Party. Of course, he has no right to indoctrinate children with certain theories. One of the charges made by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West against the headmaster of this particular school is that he indulged in political activities outside—
§ Sir F. Messer
May I interrupt my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) to ask if he is aware that the authority concerned investigated this case and found that there was no evidence of any indoctrination of children?
§ Mr. Peart
It is obvious that the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West has not the courage to stand up and apologise and withdraw his remarks, especially when a responsible statement has been made by a member of the authority concerned. I think that we may leave it that the hon. Member, who is a product of the expensive school which he mentioned, is thoroughly ashamed of himself.
Let us now turn to the debate, and from the interlude by a product of an expensive independent school. I wish to concentrate on the Ministerial policy as it affects the point of view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon). She was charged with introducing politics into this debate. I think that was the view of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) who spoke immediately after her. It is a rather strange doctrine that if one approves of the Minister of Education, one is being non-political, but if one opposes vigorously her policy, then one is introducing politics into our debate.
I will not go into the details mentioned by my hon. Friend in her excellent speech. I repeat what I have said previously. I believe the Minister is a grey shadow over the educational system; the Parliamentary Secretary is just a shadow. The Minister has consistently created an atmosphere which has harmed the educational system. Circulars 242 and 245 and the Minister's attitude towards adult education, which was challenged in this House, are instances of the policy which has been pursued for the past few years. It is accepted in the educational world that the present Administration has created an atmosphere which has worked against the true interests of the schools and of the profession. It will be a good day for the educational world when there is a change in the Administration.
The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) talked about the Minister's 86 critics. Many of those critics are members of the Conservative Party. The hon. Member referred to those who would have cut the school age. Surely he has read the Conservative pamphlet "One Nation." to which the Chancellor has written a preface, in which there is a suggestion that the difficulties facing the educational world should be met by a cut in the school age. Surely the hon. Member has read the speeches of his hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) who, in this House, advocated a cut in the school age. Surely hon. Members opposite remember Lord Waverley, when a leading figure in the Conservative Opposition, chiding the Labour Government for raising the school age. The critics have all along been members of the Conservative Party, and time and time again they have suggested that the Labour Government should not raise the school leaving age and they now advocate a cut in the school age in order to meet the difficulty of overcrowding in school.
§ Mr. Christopher Hollis (Devizes)
As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, South (Mr. Maude) is not in the Chamber, might I say that I am certain that he never advocated a cut in the school age. He said that if it was found necessary to cut, he would prefer it to be done in the first year rather than the last year.
§ Mr. Peart
I am glad to hear that what was said by the hon. Member for Ealing, South was prefaced by an "if," but I was under the impression that the hon. Member advocated a cut as a solution to the problem if the Minister had to face the difficulties in relation to steel, finance and other resources which operated in 1952. Conservative Members of another place time and time again advocated a cut in the school age.
There are many children in many parts of the country who are unable to get places at the age of five because of overcrowding. I sent my small boy to a new L.C.C. school, and that is already overcrowded. That is a measure of the urgency of the problem. I am glad that my hon. Friend focussed attention on the 1953 Report; it shows that there has been an increase in overcrowding in schools. For that reason, there is no ground for complacency if we are to make a real attack on the problem.
87 I want to concentrate on the field of technical education. I believe that the Government have been complacent. The Chancellor recently announced proposals for giving assistance to certain technical colleges. Although the Minister of Education has no direct responsibility for the University Grants Committee, I wish we could have some specific information about the direct financial assistance to be given to higher technical education. We ought to have something more than the vague statement that we were given. I admit that it was difficult for the Chancellor to give details, but he promised that we should be given more detailed information.
I hope the Minister will give us some information about the policy of her Department and the Government for this important part of education. I know that in 1952 the Minister issued Circular 255 and that there were increased grants up to 75 per cent, for approved courses in technical education, but in view of the Chancellor's statement we ought to have something more specific. We ought also to know whether or not the policy of the Government has changed and whether or not the Government will really seek to give university status to some of the technical colleges which have been mentioned. It is important to have a decision on this matter. After all, many committees have reported. We have had the Select Committee, and we have had a series of reports from private committees. We have also had important reports from the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. It has just issued a report on higher technological education.
We ought to know what the Government's policy is. Will there be an improvement in status? I welcome the assistance which has been mentioned, but I want to know the amount of it. It is not sufficient just to give grants for approved courses. I want more money spent on building in relation to technical colleges. I want the recommendations of the Select Committee implemented.
What is the Minister going to do about technical education in relation to the Select Committee's 12th Report which we had in July, 1953? I am sorry that we have not had a full debate on it. I know that the Minister and her Department have replied to the recommenda- 88 tions, but I should like to know what they are really going to do about technical education. Is the Department really going to implement the findings of the Select Committee? The findings were carefully surveyed by a committee, and I have no doubt that they have been carefully studied by the Department. However, as yet, I see no development.
To take the first recommendation, has the Ministry decided to re-examine the problem of building in instalments with a view to eliminating to the maximum extent the financial loss involved? That was the Select Committee's first recommendation. What is the Department going to do about it? The appendix to the 15th Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, which indicates the Minister's policy is certainly not adequate.
What about the other recommendation that the Minister should consider the suggestion that money for technical colleges should be allocated to local authorities on a five-year basis? Can we have some information about the Ministry's policy in that respect? May I know how much will be allocated for technical education this year? Various committees tell us over and over again that we are lagging behind in this matter. The Report on higher technological education published by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee shows how we are lagging behind many European countries and America in this field.
After all, it is an important matter, and we should have an indication of the Government's policy about it. It is a matter which goes beyond the field of education; it is a matter which affects industry. If we are to win the trade battle, we must have more craftsmen and technicians. If we are to develop the Colonial Territories, we must have a greater supply of technicians and experts, geologists and agricultural scientists. These are the people we need if we are to develop those territories and if we are to win our economic battles. Therefore, this is not a matter to be dealt with purely from the educational point of view, but something which concerns our general economic future, and I think it is important that the Minister should give us today an indication of the Government's policy and should tell us what the Government are to do about implementing the Report of the Select Committee.
89 I compliment my hon. Friends who sat on that Committee, as well as hon. Members opposite. I only wish that they had taken a wider survey of technical education, because I am certain that we are not pursuing the proper policy in this respect. If we examine the tendencies in the wider field of technical education, we can see that there are still grave defects. After the war, the Percy Committee, which investigated the subject of higher technological education, thought that, through the Education Act, 1944, we should build up a great system of modern secondary technical education. We know that has not been done, and we know the reasons why.
I think we can see where the emphasis was placed from the figures given to me by the Minister herself in reply to a Question which I asked her on 22nd February this year, when I asked for the present distribution of children aged 11 and over in the secondary grammar, technical and modern schools, respectively. The figures she gave me were these: secondary grammar, 511,008; technical, only 79,194; and modern schools, 1,133,488. So we can see that the ideals that were envisaged by the Percy Committee in its Report, which placed such emphasis on the Education Act, 1944, have not been realised. There has been no extension of technical education in the secondary field. I believe that the Government should concentrate on this, although I am not suggesting that we should build immediately new tech- nical schools—
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I think it is an exaggeration to say that there has been none, because in many of the best of our secondary modern schools a good part of the education is technical. I do not say that it is completely satisfactory, but a great deal of technical education is being given in secondary modern schools.
§ Mr. Peart
I think my hon. Friend mistook what I said. I said that the new secondary modern technical school has not developed. The secondary technical school was expected to develop from the old junior technical school, and it has not done so. Therefore, I am suggesting that the Government should encourage more and more emphasis on technical education in our secondary modern 90 schools, in our comprehensive schools and even in our grammar schools.
I believe that there is too much emphasis in the grammar school on the more formal side of education. For example, there is too much emphasis on pure science, as distinct from applied science. This is a serious problem, because it is related to the supply of technologists. Time and again, committees have surveyed this problem and have argued that we must tackle it now in the school. We must have more children in the grammar schools reading applied science and going on to the universities to take the various technological courses which the universities provide.
I hope we shall try to encourage a technical bias more and more in our new schools, and certainly in our comprehensive schools. I wish we had more technical facilities—the provision of more facilities for technical education on the ground floor, so that these schools will feed the various colleges and universities which provide technological education. In that way, we shall be making a contribution to the improvement of our trade and helping towards a solution of our economic problems by improving or increasing the bias towards technical education in the various institutions that we have.
The Minister has announced a policy which I mentioned in relation to the technical colleages and various grants given to them, and consideration has been given by the Select Committee to the national colleges. I see that there is to be a new national college of technology this year. I hope that this process will continue and that the Minister will constantly review the matter. I hope that the position of the Imperial College of Science will be improved, and that we will certainly use it as a national college to provide these expert technologists we require in various fields of industry. There must be no slackening in this field. There must be a higher proportion of our financial resources now used for education diverted for the purpose of technical education. I am quite prepared to argue that if it comes to a point at which we have to make a decision as to priorities or the allocation of resources I would certainly advocate that we should now concentrate on technical education, in view of the need to expand our economy and develop our industrial efficiency.
91 My last point is something quite different. We have been told today that we are to have a large experiment in the use of television in our schools, and I understand that 77 local authorities have agreed to co-operate. A resolution was passed recently by the Conference of the Association of Education Committees in support of this proposal. I trust the Minister will watch the use of television in the schools. I know that education has lost the battle in the field of commercial television, and I am sorry that the Minister of Education has condoned the action of her Government in that direction. I think that commercial television is a potential menace to the community, but also I believe that even publicly controlled television can be a menace if it is not watched properly. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Lady will watch very carefully the use of television in our schools.
I confess that I am alarmed at the effect which television has in the wider field of education. I have been reading a most interesting book by Dr. Ernest Green, entitled "Adult Education: Why this Apathy?" The book contains an educational survey which has been carried out by various adult bodies, and, here and there, we see already how television has affected liberal studies provided by adult education. It may well be that, if we use it properly, it will encourage such studies, but I hope that the Minister will watch it, because I think it is important, and she will certainly need to watch the quality of the programmes.
Children's television is very good, and the programmes are much better than the adult programmes provided by the B.B.C., but, even so, I think it must be watched, because there is a great danger in the wider field that it may make people become placid spectators of a machine which provides them with entertainment, whether it be publicly controlled or commercial.
After all, what is the purpose of education? What are we really seeking to do in our desire to improve our schools? Even though we may have political differences, we are trying to provide a system which will enable the products of that system to think for themselves and become gracious men and women living in a democracy. Therefore, I believe that television can be a menace, because 92 it can create an uncritical mind, a passive mind, and it can create a mind which accepts irresponsibility and which runs away from responsibility. In that sense, it can be very harmful to our modern democracy.
I have tried over and over again to emphasise this aspect of education as something which both sides of this House must watch carefully. We must watch this growth of centralised propaganda, this seeking to capture the minds of people who passively accept. Make no mistake; if our democracy is lazy in that sense, it is doomed. For that reason, our educational system should be an intellectual barrier against this propaganda. Therefore, the Minister of Education should be most active in surveying carefully these new instruments which are intruding themselves very vigorously into our school life. She must watch carefully the experiments of each local authority, and, if necessary, she must take action if she feels that any experiment can harm the community by creating that unthinking mentality which is so disastrous to democratic thought and action.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
I think most hon. Gentlemen on this side will agree with the concluding remarks made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) in regard to television. The hon. Gentleman has deployed one of the principal arguments against having only one system of television and in favour of our Television Bill.
This is the first time in the nine years during which I have had the honour to be a Member of this House, that I have ventured to try to take part in a debate on education. I am not a pundit on education. My experience has been limited to being manager of a small village school, although I am proud of having some teaching in the blood. Having decided to attempt to speak in this debate, I have been agreeably surprised to find what a lively debate it has been. My recollection of the debates on education to which I have listened in the past, is that they were confined much more to the technicalities of education and very much less to polemics between the parties. I do not wish to carry on those polemics. I want to go straight on to the technicalities.
93 One of the most important things to bear in mind, in order to follow the present situation in education, is the subtle distinction between an all-age school and a comprehensive school. They both seem to me to cater for children between the ages of five and 15; but at the comprehensive school it is still later. There is an attempt in both those types of school, to divide the children into classes according to the number of teachers available for the subjects that have to be taught. I concede a point to the Opposition. I have no doctrinal prejudice against comprehensive schools. I suppose I was at what may be described as a "comprehensive" school. [An HON. MEMBER: "Which was that?"] I was at Oundle, which had not only the public-school range of ages from 14 to 19, but also a preparatory school, where the ages ranged from nine to 14. There we had a comprehensive school. There is no doubt about it.
It is, however, no use trying suddenly to create comprehensive schools by bulldozing away other schools, which are to some extent comprehensive in themselves, like some of the grammar schools which have been mentioned here this afternoon. It is no use removing good existing schools merely to make a big, new comprehensive school. Let us be fair to the Minister. Her position has been made clear. She too has no doctrinal prejudice against the comprehensive school, but she sees the dangers if she sanctions a comprehensive school every time a request is made to her.
The all-age school is essentially a rural problem. Mine is essentially a rural constituency, and I have a small criticism to offer. One cannot glean this from the Report; but I guess that my constituency is at a bigger disadvantage than any other rural area in regard to all-age schools. There is nothing in the Report to show this, and I can only go by my own observations; and such as I can glean from other people. So far as the nation-wide situation is concerned, the Report, speaking of village schools generally, says, in paragraph 14, page 8:At the same time these schools may suffer from a number of serious disadvantages. More than a quarter of them are still all-age schools, so that two or three teachers, and not infrequently one, must try to do justice to the needs of 10 age groups, with the problems of satisfactory classification that they present. This is a challenge to the skill and adaptability 94 of the teachers to which many rise with distinction.We all know of examples of teachers in village schools who rose with distinction. They have done so for generations. The Report goes on:It may well be asked whether it is a task that the average teacher can reasonably be expected to achieve successfully.Let us acknowledge that, in spite of honest endeavour by Socialist Governments and three years of still greater endeavour by my right hon. Friend, there are two main weaknesses in our present educational system. One is that in the rural areas we have too many all-age classes and the other is that in urban areas we have too much overcrowding. What is the result on the minds of the people living in rural areas? They know something about the overcrowding in the towns, but they have it firmly fixed in their heads that teaching is better in the towns because there are fewer all-age schools.
What shall we do about this problem? Are we to go on pouring all the money we can into improving the situation in the towns and making education there still more attractive by overcoming the overcrowding? That is one way of doing it, but what will happen? We shall entice people still further from the country to the town. Country people will near of more money being spent on the town schools, of classes being reduced in size and more comprehensive schools being built, while there is no change in the villages. The drift from the country to the town will be aggravated, if that process goes on.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that she should concentrate to a much greater extent than has been done so far, either by herself or by her predecessors, on reorganisation of schools in the villages. I believe I shall have the backing of all hon. Members representing rural constituencies in making that suggestion. The problem has been the subject of special study quite recently by the Association of Education Authorities, which has made a survey. It has come to the conclusion that the cost of completing rural reorganisation is between £15 million and £20 million of capital expenditure. They have suggested that, if that money was spread over five years, and we spent between £3 million and £4 million a year, the reorganisation would be complete and the task would be completed.
95 It may be that to do it just like that would be asking either for too much money to be diverted from the towns—although I would have no hesitation at all in doing so—or for too much money to be provided for education as a whole. I am one of those who believe in an overall economy in expenditure, so I would rather see the money diverted from the towns.
I am quite sure that we shall be working in a vicious circle, if we go on increasing the number of places in the towns and go on enticing people from the villages to the towns. By doing that, we merely fill up the increased places which we provide. What we should do is to stop the trouble at its beginning, which is that the village schools have not yet been sufficiently reorganised. In my constituency alone—I know that it is only a very small county—we need seven new secondary modern schools.
I really think that my right hon. Friend has got to do some fresh thinking about this, because, otherwise, the drift from the land will go on. I do not say that merely on the vague ground that the drift from the land is bad and should be halted, but because I believe most passionately that the future wellbeing of this country depends to a great extent, not upon the townspeople, but upon the country people. If the country people go down, the country as a whole goes down.
This is a social and moral problem of the very highest importance, and the foundation of its solution is better education in the villages. That can only be achieved by getting on with the reorganisation, which, if necessary, I suggest, must be attained at the expense of providing new places in the towns. I have no hesitation in saying this, and I do not apologise for saying it, whatever any urban Member may say.
§ Mr. Swingler
When the hon. Gentleman talks about diverting money from the towns to the country, is he aware that that is not really the proper way to put it, because many urban authorities are only too anxious that such money should be spent on rural reorganisation owing to the fact that they have to find the places for the village children, which aggravates their overcrowding? Therefore, by spending the money on rural reorganisation, it 96 would relieve some of the urban authorities of part of the overcrowding.
§ Mr. Renton
I am exceedingly grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he has emphasised and clarified a point which I was trying to make three or four minutes ago. I am glad that I have him on my side. I hope that I have made the matter sufficiently clear to enable me to pass from it to one or two points to which, though I attach less importance to them. I wish to refer.
First, there is the burning question of grammar school masters. There is no doubt that, unless grammar school masters are given the consideration to which their—let us face it—superior status entitles them, and which they require, we shall not get as many of them as the hon. Member for Workington would like to see, if he is to get the technical education for which he is asking and which, in the main, can only be got in the grammar schools.
The grammar school masters have undoubtedly a feeling—justified or otherwise —of grievance at the moment, in that when their salaries and conditions of service are being negotiated they are lumped in with other secondary school teachers so far as their representation on the Burnham Committee is concerned. I cannot see why they should not have separate representation. Unless somebody is playing a sort of empire building game against them, I do not see why they should not have separate representation.
I now wish to refer to another matter which the Report, so it seems to me, appears to miss out. There is Provision under the Education Act for scholarships to be provided by education authorities to the public schools, including the very best public school's. Indeed, I believe that the head boy at Harrow not very long ago was such a boy who had won a State scholarship to the school. I maintain that our public schools are without the slightest shadow of doubt the best in the world, and I should like to see more use made by local authorities in the provision of such scholarships. After all, this is a matter for them and not for the Minister.
However, unless we have a little bit of publicity in the form of something in the Annual Report of the Ministry of Education showing how this process is going on, it is not very easy to make 97 local authorities conscious of their obligation in the matter. If only to show how few boys are getting these scholarships, I hope that in the current year something along these lines will be said.
In conclusion, I wish to say that the Education Act, 1944, which was an all-party Measure, was given the great opportunity of being put into operation immediately after the war. So far, apart from what I think was a highly regrettable speech by an otherwise very worthy Member of this House, the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, North-East (Miss Bacon) today, we have mostly managed to keep party politics out of this subject. It is better that we should.
§ Mr. Renton
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke) was only making a justified retort to the hon. Lady. If we can keep politics out of this matter, it is much better. I speak with great humility, because I have not spoken before in any general debate on education. With that in mind, may I concede another point in agreeing with an hon. Member opposite? I think that the time has come for us to think once more about this final, fateful decision, which has to be made for every child at the age of 11, in the matter of State education. I must say, looking back over the years, that, if I had had to make that decision, or, worse still, had had to have it made for me, I should not relish what might have happened. Hundreds of thousands of children in this country now have to have that decision made for them.
It bears hardest of all upon the children of men serving in the Forces, the regular sailors, soldiers and airmen. As they move around doing their duty to their country, they have to take the schools as they find them. A child can be put back very badly before the age of 11, and it is most unfortunate that the children of serving men should have to suffer through no fault of their own.
Then there are the others of us who develop late in life. I was always told that I was one such person. Perhaps even now I have not developed enough; but there it is. I say most seriously, in a non-party and non-contentious spirit, that 98 after 10 years of the administration of the 1944 Act the time has come for fresh thinking on this fundamental matter.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. W. G. Cove (Aberavon)
I am sure that all hon. Members on this side of the House agree with the hon. and learned Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) in his appreciation of the value of rural schools. We also agree with his view concerning the reorganisation that should take place in the rural areas throughout the country. Having expressed that view I would invite him tonight to walk into the Lobby with us against this Minister.
As a matter of fact the Minister has laid down conditions which will prevent the reorganisation of schools in the rural areas. If the hon. and learned Member will look at Circular 245 he will see this phrase in a document which is an instruction to rural authorities:The Minister will, therefore, still be unable to include in an annual building programme any work designed:—…(c) to enable all-age schools to be reorganised.She is there putting on a bar against the reorganisation of our schools. We all agree that the 1944 Act cannot be put into effect at all unless we have reorganisation; it cannot be put into effect except on the basis of all-age schools. In Circular 245 the Minister has laid down conditions which completely prevent that reorganisation in the rural areas or anywhere else.
I have been here for many years. I have seen Ministers come and Ministers go. I say quite definitely that it is time for the right hon. Lady to go. I have looked at statements in the Press, I have looked at the Press of the education authorities and at the teacher's Press. I have reviewed copies of "Education" for many a week. I cannot find—particularly in the official organ of the education authorities—one single word of praise or commendation for the right hon. Lady in the job which she is doing. She has the confidence neither of the local authorities nor of the teachers. The superannuation scheme decimated any faith or belief which the teachers had in her integrity. I do not want to quote too much from the official journal "Education," but in the issue of 11th June it states:The Minister's report for 1953 tries hard to be a record of progress. That it fails in 99 that is no fault of the draughtsman. It is because the material available does not lead to that conclusion.Here I am being non-political, and Dr. Alexander is non-political, but he has nothing but criticism for the school building programme and the programme for technical education. His views are non-political. They are concerned only with education as such. I do not want to read the resolution which was passed at the conference of education authorities but it was completely condemnatory of the right hon. Lady's policy. I could find no single word of commendation for her policy. Indeed, Alderman Robinson said in his speech that though he was a Conservative and supported the political policies of this Government he did not support their educational policy. He said he had no trust in that at all.
It seems to me, therefore, that if it is true that there is to be reshuffling in the Government it may be for the benefit of the nation and for the benefit of education that the right hon. Lady should go. I am sorry to say this, but it is how I feel, and I agree with what has been said by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I have listened to the Minister's Conservative friends. I am not quite sure whether even her Conservative friends strongly support her. I do not think that she ever recovered from the blunder she made upstairs. I say honestly and frankly that she has decimated faith and hope inside the educational system, into which the dry rot of educational administration is eating.
Is it thought that by turning down Kidbrooke and Tooting Bec schemes the right hon. Lady gained the confidence of the local authority? What becomes of the responsibility of local authorities. There is a clause in Circular 144 which states that there should not be duplication within a local catchment area of the same type of education unless there are special considerations. What are the special considerations that have caused the right hon. Lady to turn down Kidbrooke and Tooting Bee? The considerations are not educational but political.
Finally, I warn her and her hon. Friends behind her in regard to the comprehensive school. I do not want to argue the merits of the comprehensive school except to say that it is the only medium 100 by which the lower and middle classes can get the normal child educated beyond the age of 15. I was impressed the other day by a case of a bank cashier whom I know. Under the 1944 Act his two boys had to pass an examination to get into the grammar school. They were not brilliant boys, but they were normal. They were worth further education, but they could not pass the examination. His sons having failed the examination at 11 plus the cashier's choice was to send them to either a secondary modern school or a private school.
It may seem strange for me, a Socialist, to talk like this but I think that the burden on middle class—and particularly lower middle class parents—in educating their children in private schools is too heavy, too costly to bear. The comprehensive school is the answer to the development of the normal child. We stand firm on the right of the normal child, with varying capacities and aptitudes, to be given his or her chance by admission. I say quite frankly to the right hon. Lady that, owing to political prejudice, she is standing in the way of the development and opportunities of the normal child.
I hate quoting in this House, because it takes too long, but I must quote one paragraph at the end of an article in the "Schoolmaster":The whole sorry business really seems to resolve itself into this: is the government of public education to be by co-operation, consultation and agreement between all the partners concerned, including parents, or is it to be at the beck and call of local agitation?The cases of Eltham and Kidbrooke have been the cause of local agitation. Therefore, taking the picture as a whole, I say that it is time that the right hon. Lady left her position and that somebody with more imagination, more dynamism and more idealism took her place.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
I do not hold any decided views about comprehensive schools. I should like them to prove their value, as, indeed, the value of the longer established schools has been proved.
The hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) said that many middle-class parents—and he quoted a cashier at a bank—had no choice if their children 101 failed the examination to go to a grammar school. Many parents have come to see me on this. Of course, finance is a difficult problem for the parent with two or three children who are about to reach the age of 11, but that reinforces the plea which we on these benches have made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a tax allowance to be made to parents who wish to send their children to approved independent schools. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I know perfectly well from the parents who come to see me that this would solve the problem for some.
I want to reinforce what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said about the position in the rural areas, particularly with regard to secondary school facilities. The whole of the rural community is united on this point. Until the other day I had never seen a joint deputation from the National Farmers' Union, the National Union of Agricultural Workers and the Transport and General Workers' Union. I had the pleasure of being in the chair when those three bodies, which are so often opposed to each other, came together to plead with Members of Parliament that the Minister of Education should give greater equality of opportunity to rural children.
The reckoning put to us the other day —and I would ask the Minister whether this is a true reckoning, because I cannot find the figures in any departmental publication—was that one child in 12 in the town areas did not have an opportunity of secondary education whereas in the rural areas one child in three still did not have that opportunity and had to continue at an all-age school.
I have made some inquiries in my county of Berkshire about the progress that we are making in the reorganisation of our schools and as to how long it will be before every child in the county, which is a fair mix between town and country, will have the opportunity of going to a secondary school. It will be several years before that opportunity comes to all the children in Berkshire. We are building now secondary schools, and I suppose that our progress is in line with that of other counties, but if we look to see where those schools are being sited, we find that they are being built in the town areas where there is the 102 greatest pressure for places. What effect does that have on the rural parent—on the farm worker and his wife or a man like my gardener and his wife, who have children approaching the age of 11? If they do not succeed in passing the examination into the grammar school they are expected today to continue at the same school from the age of five until 15.
I know that extra buildings are being provided, but if a child stays at the same school there is not that psychological life which the parents and the child have a right to expect at the age of 11. I believe that it is important for the child to move on and not to be travelling in the same bus with the same children, to school under the same headmaster from five right on to 15. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider this problem sympathetically. We in the rural areas are most anxious that parents in the villages should not feel that they must move into or near the towns in order to obtain proper educational facilities for their children. They have just the same rights as those in the towns; they pay just the same rates and taxes.
I know from talking to schoolmasters and mistresses that they feel there should be provision for more secondary modern and secondary technical schools, not only in the towns but deliberately placed in rural areas. More of the existing schools which are sound structurally might very well be turned into secondary schools to take the 11-plus children from the neighbouring villages.
I would ask my right hon. Friend to look again at the amount of money that she allows the counties to spend, particularly to ensure that the rural children are at least getting as fair a chance as the town children. We need fully educated children in modern agriculture, and the same is true of the many other industries sited in rural areas; at least, that is so in my constituency. For our technical advance in the rural areas, notably in farming, we are depending more and more on a sound education. If our children have to remain in all-age schools, we shall not be giving them as good an opportunity as they deserve.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Morley (Southampton, Itchen)
I agree with what the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd) said, with one exception. I think that if there 103 were any proposal by the Government to give some form of tax relief to enable people to send their children to private schools, it would receive criticism not only from these benches but also from educational circles generally. If a child has sufficient ability to pass the selective test, he can receive a grammar school education at the public expense, and if he has not sufficient ability then a place is offered to him to enable him to receive an education suitable to his aptitude and his abilities at the modern secondary school.
To enable a child to attend a private school, which is a sort of grammar school, by means of granting taxation relief to parents who refuse to send their child to a modern secondary school, would be a sort of State endowment of snobbery, and it would also mean that the State would be paying for a kind of grammar school education at a private school while refusing to pay to educate the child at a public grammar school. I hope that that illogical attitude will not be pursued by hon. Members opposite.
We have had a very interesting debate, marred only by the speech of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. John Eden). It is a very great pity that a new Member—the nephew of a very distinguished statesman—whose youth, aptitude and abilities augur a successful career in this House should have blotted his copybook as badly as he did by making extravagant statements. He accused teachers in a certain school of disseminating Communist propaganda within that school.
It is quite true that the headmaster of Acton County School is a member of the Communist Party and that, outside school, he has taken part in Communist propaganda in various directions. But there is no shadow of evidence that the headmaster or any member of his staff has indulged in Communist propaganda inside the school. I believe I am correct in saying that the whole matter was very carefully investigated by a special committee appointed by the county council, and that the headmaster and the whole staff were exonerated from the charge of attempting to disseminate Communist propaganda within the school.
Many headmasters are members of the Tory Party, but it does not follow that 104 because of that fact they have to indulge in Tory propaganda within their schools. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House would agree that it would be just as blameworthy for a teacher to indulge in Tory propaganda among his children as it would be to indulge in Communist propaganda. The teaching profession has a sense of professional integrity. All teachers would very strongly condemn any member of their profession who abused his office by endeavouring to instil political propaganda —whether it was Communist, Tory, Labour or Liberal—into his children. No professional organisation would defend him; in fact, it would act against him if it were proved that he had been guilty of such a thing.
§ Mr. Robson Brown (Esher)
I do not want to misunderstand the hon. Member. I gather that in his view there is not very much difference between Tory propaganda and Communist propaganda. I believe that Socialist views and Conservative views bear no comparison at all with the Communistic view of the destruction of the State or democracy. They are entirely different things.
§ Mr. Morley
I did not say that I thought there was no difference between Tory and Communist propaganda. I think there is a great deal of difference, but am Ito understand from the interruption of the hon. Member that be would look not unfavourably on Tory propaganda in the school, while condemning unreservedly any Communist propaganda?
§ Mr. Robson Brown
I want no propaganda at all in schools, but I would say that the views of either a Socialist or a Conservative teacher would differ so much from that of a Communist teacher that the two questions are entirely different ones in every sense of the word.
§ Mr. Morley
When the hon. Member says that he wants no propaganda in the schools he entirely agrees with what I have just said. If he says that the Communist mentality is such that a Communist teacher would be obliged to indulge in Communist propaganda in his school, I must question that very much. I think that the professional integrity of such a teacher would overcome his inclination to indulge in such propaganda in front of his children. If it did not, he would 105 be worthy of any condign punishment which the local authority or the Minister might feel inclined to inflict upon him.
I want to make a few comments on the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. H. Brooke). The hon. Member said that the main consideration was to see that children were happy in school. I agree that that is an extremely important thing. If, during the 40 or more years that I was a teacher in a class room, any child in my class had been unhappy I should have been very unhappy myself.
§ Mr. Morley
We will take the question of happiness first. The hon. Member emphasised that. It is quite true that our school children are happier than their predecessors of 30 or 40 years ago, but the increase in their happiness has nothing whatever to do with any efforts made by the present Minister of Education. It is due to the more easy-going and kindly discipline; to the more interesting and varied syllabuses placed before the children; to the more skilled and interesting teaching and also, in a very great measure, to the fact that children are much better fed and clothed. That is not due to any effort by the right hon. Lady; it is due to the Measures passed by the Labour Government from 1945 to 1951.
The hon. Member for Hampstead said that the curve of building shown on page 40 of the Report, "Education in 1953" went up in 1951, when the present Administration assumed office. I have looked at that curve, and it seems to me to have mounted fairly gradually and regularly all the time. It does not seem to have mounted more steeply since this Administration came into power than it did when the Labour Party were in office. It is true that more schools were finished in 1952 than in 1951, but nine-tenths of those schools were started under the Labour Administration in 1951. I would point out to the hon. Member for Hampstead that a school cannot be finished unless it is first started. This year, 100 fewer schools have been started than were started in 1953.
Local authorities asked for an allocation of £88 million in respect of school 106 buildings for the year 1955–56. According to the reply which was given me last Thursday by the Parliamentary Secretary, their actual allocation is to be £45 million —just over 50 per cent. of what they asked for. I do not believe, as the hon. Member for Hampstead alleged, that local authorities have been extravagant in their demands for building allocations, or that they asked for more building than was really necessary. Local authorities have to bear their share of the cost of new buildings; the whole cost is not met out of Treasury grants. At least 40 per cent. of it is met out of the rates.
§ 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.