HC Deb 29 October 1956 vol 558 cc1185-9

In the Seventh Schedule to the principal Act for the provisions relating to the commencement day as relating to compulsory further education and junior colleges shall be substituted the following provisions :— The first day of January, nineteen hundred and sixty ".—[Mr. G. M. Thomson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I beg to move. That the Clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of the proposed new Clause is to give a definite date for the implementation of the provision in the existing Education Act for the establishment of compulsory further education and junior colleges. I have moved the Clause to find out from the Government their intention with regard to this very important aspect of education.

I have lately been feeling increasingly that we must give a high priority to bringing junior colleges into existence. The trend of events since 1945 and the economic problems of the United Kingdom have made it very important that we should have compulsory part-time education between the ages of 15 and 18, after the minimum school-leaving age. There is no need for me to emphasise how important it is that the United Kingdom should have the greatest amount of skill in its young people. It is desperately important that we should compensate for our loss of physical wealth by giving ourselves the maximum amount of technical and administrative skill so that we can have the high standard of living that we seek.

In this field of education Scotland has started late. The latest figures show that only 9 per cent. of our young people between the ages of 15 and 18 are receiving some kind of part-time further education, while the English figures are about twice those of Scotland. We have much leeway to make up. The provision for universal part-time junior colleges is in the Education Act. I am frightened that we shall have a repetition of what took place after the First World War. It is more than thirty-five years since this provision was passed by this House and still we are not merely not near it being brought into effect but are without any indication of a definite date.

It would be a pity if the opportunity presented by this Education (Scotland) Bill were to pass without an effort to find out the Government's mind on the matter, to give the Government an opportunity to tell us whether they are thinking of a definite date for the implementation of the provision, and what their plans are for a wider extension of part-time day release education. Nothing could pay greater economic or social dividends to the community than this kind of education, which does more than anything else to create a standard of good citizenship and give our young people an opportunity to become aware of the fullness of the life that lies ahead of them and to appreciate all the finer things of life. We should make greater progress in this matter than we have done.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) for putting the proposed new Clause on the Paper to give me an opportunity of explaining Government policy. I would point out to him that the form of the Clause would not quite do. Section 144 (3) and the Seventh Schedule of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946, provided that Sections 39 to 41 should operate on Such day as the Secretary of State may appoint being a day not later than three years after the date on which the upper limit of the school age is raised to fifteen. The upper limit of the school age was raised to 15 on 1st April, 1947. Accordingly, the three Sections were due to come into operation on 1st April, 1950.

Under the Education (Scotland) Act, 1949, for which I think the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) was responsible, Section 1 provided that the three Sections should come into operation on such day as the Secretary of State may appoint, being as early a day as he considers practicable ; and the Seventh Schedule to the said Act … in so far as that Schedule relates to the said sections shall cease to have effect. The hon. Member's proposed new Clause should have been an Amendment to Section 1 of the Act of 1949, and not to the Seventh Schedule of the Act of 1946.

10.0 p.m.

On the merits of the matter, when the hon. Member speaks to me about this subject he is preaching to the converted. When the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire was in office, I repeatedly asked him when we could start the junior technical colleges. When I was a member of the Advisory Council, we discussed whether it would be wiser to raise the school leaving age to 15 or to introduce junior secondary colleges, and my view and the view of a large number of my colleagues and many of the expert advisers was that the latter would be the wiser course. Therefore, I am absolutely satisfied that it is something which should be done at the earliest possible moment.

When he was in office, the right hon. Gentleman often told me that the difficulty was a practical one. If the new Clause were accepted, we should have to provide in Scotland about 56,000 more places than are at present occupied by those between the ages of 15 and 18 who attend voluntarily. It is a big proposition. It would probably require the expenditure of between £25 and £30 million upon new buildings and the provision of 2,500–3,000 additional teachers. The right hon. Gentleman often said to me, "You see my difficulty?" I invite him to accept the same response from me.

The post-war "bulge" has now entered the schools. The number of children reaching the age of five will for several years yet exceed the number leaving school. The school population is expected to reach a peak about 1961. Thereafter there will be a falling off for a few years, and in 1964 and the following years there will be a levelling off in numbers, sometimes described as the "plateau" following the "peak".

Miss Herbison

"Plateau" is a dangerous word.

Mr. Stewart

That is why I added "peak". We are still going all out to provide the number of secondary schools which will be needed when the bulge moves from primary to secondary education. The number of new schools started is greater than it has ever been in our history. We are also giving priority to the needs of technical education and those who attend voluntarily, a matter very much in the mind of the hon. Member for Dundee, East. I suggest that the proper view to take is that it would be foolish to jeopardise our position in the fields of primary and secondary education by diverting building resources now to the erection of junior colleges. Similarly with staff; we shall be hard pressed to find all the teachers we need to staff the secondary schools in the early 1960s without introducing new demands.

The hon. Member may say "All right. What is your plan?" That is a fair question. This does not mean that the Government question the merit of the policy set out in the 1946 Act. On the contrary, it is their view, and most profoundly my view, that compulsory further education for all young people should be introduced at the earliest possible date. The Government and my right hon. Friend do not necessarily reject the possibility of making a start in the early 1960s. The hon. Member for Dundee, East asked me to give a date. Under the programme announced in the White Paper on Technical Education, we hope to provide by 1960 some 13,000 extra places in local technical colleges. That is a large number. These places will be available for students attending compulsorily, and I hope they will be used by them.

However, we cannot at present really see—I am being quite frank to the Committee—the exact date by which all the facilities and staff needed can be made available. Therefore, we consider it unwise—this is as far as I want to go—to alter the provisions under which compulsory further education will be introduced at a date to be appointed by the Secretary of State. I hope that my very frank answer to the hon. Gentleman will satisfy him.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

I am much obliged to the hon. Member for his very full statement, in the light of which I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.