HC Deb 17 March 1958 vol 584 cc1049-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

9.48 p.m.

Mr. William Stones (Consett)

Though I did not mention a specific case when I applied for the Adjournment on this question of exemption from National Service for scientific teachers in technical colleges, I will refer to one case; but I assure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour that it is purely by way of illustration, and nothing more.

I propose to deal with the question of liability to call-up of science teachers in technical colleges as a national question and as a problem which, I believe, must be very seriously considered, because it affects the future well-being of the nation. I believe that it is now generally accepted that our future as a great nation depends largely on our skill to compete with the rest of the nations of the world, technically and technologically, and, indeed if possible to excel in these directions. No longer are we in the privileged position of being the workshop of the world. We occupied that proud position for many years when we had few real competitors. We were in the forefront of the industrial revolution and made our country great, wealthy, and strong, both economically and militarily.

Now we find ourselves in quite a different position, faced with keen and growing competition. This will become fiercer as the markets of the world reach saturation point. There is no longer a sellers' market. We are not in nearly such a favourable position as we were even two or three years ago. I will not pursue this point, because most people will agree about it and we do not have to be brilliant economists to see what is happening in the world today. If we accept what I have said as the truth, it follows, in my opinion at least, that we must also recognise the need for the training of sufficient personnel in our various industries, and particularly in such industries as those which require a high degree of technical skill and attainment not yet required by some of our competitors in the world markets. Again, I think, there can be no quarrel between us on that point.

If we are to achieve this object, we must agree to provide the opportunities and facilities for the training of such personnel. This means, amongst other things, technical colleges and a properly trained technical staff for the colleges. We are lacking in this respect. I think it is true to say that we have not sufficient technical colleges in our country, but what is more disturbing to me is the lack of trained and qualified science teachers. From statistics which reached me recently I found that in Russia, for instance, for every 800 head of population there is one fully qualified science teacher. In this country, if the figures given to me are correct, we have for every 2,500 head of the population one science teacher. If that be so, not only must we try to make up the leeway but we must also make the best use of the teachers at our disposal.

My constituency is predominantly a mining and steel-making area, and in both of these great industries a high degree of technical skill and technology is required. We in the Consett division have staked our claim for technical colleges, and recently one was opened in the division. It is not a new building. It was a grammar school which was vacated when recently we opened a new grammar school. The old building has been partially adapted and is to be fully adapted for use as a technical college. We are not complaining about that; indeed, we are grateful for the opportunity. Despite the fact that the building is already there and we are making the best use of it, I am told that when the adaptation is completed and the college is fully equipped the total cost will be in the region of £380,000. That is a lot of money, but everyone will agree that it will be money well spent if the college functions as it is intended. This college is intended to provide technical and scientific training for students for a vast surrounding area, and the enrolment figures are ultimately expected to be from 1,500 to 1,700.

Apart from the trained staff and personnel already required in coalmining and steel making in Consett, I am given to understand that there is to be a great extension of the already large iron works in Consett, which will require more men. This is all to the good of the people in the division, but it will require additional properly trained personnel, and these cannot be obtained unless we have an adequate staff of fully qualified scientific teachers. In Consett we are having great difficulty in getting the necessary qualified staff required. I suppose that we are not alone in this respect, and I have taken this opportunity to draw the attention of the Minister and the House to the fact in an effort, if possible, to bring about certain remedial action by the Minister.

I am informed that on six occasions recently the governing body of the college has advertised for an assistant teacher, Grade B, for the teaching of chemistry, metallurgy, physics and mathematics in this college. The net result of the advertisements is interesting. First of all, there were two applicants not qualified for the post. On the last occasion, one of two qualified applicants was appointed on 23rd January. As the successful applicant was liable to call-up because of his age, the Director of Education for the County of Durham was instructed to apply for indefinite deferment. The Minister could not grant this request, although he was very regretful in his reply.

I am not trying to persuade the Minister to reverse his decision about this man, because as a matter of fact this young man is not now to take up the appointment. This, again, emphasises our difficulty, which is no doubt similar to that in other parts of the country. No doubt there is more than one reason for the man turning down the post, but it may well be that he has taken up another post with the possibility of deferment from National Service. This may or may not be patriotic on his part, but it is perfectly natural.

According to my information, graduates of universities with certain qualifications taking up posts in schools other than universities and technical colleges are deferred indefinitely from National Service so long as they continue in such posts in this country. We can readily appreciate properly qualified persons being preferred to take up posts in these institutions rather than in a technical college while still liable to call-up.

It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooman-White.]

Mr. Stones

In this way, I submit, our technical colleges are at a disadvantage as compared with grammar schools when it is necessary to recruit professional staff. I have a great regard for grammar schools; I was a governor of one for many years, but I also have regard for our technical colleges. They are of equal importance. I cannot see why a grammar school should be placed in such an advantageous position when recruiting staff. It is unfair discrimination. It hinders recruitment of professional staff to our technical colleges and places an intolerable burden upon the responsible governing authorities.

On 19th February of this year, the Minister of Labour and National Service, in reply to Questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) and my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) in connection with the deferment of teachers in Scotland, agreed that the position was wholly illogical and also that unless science graduates were sufficient in numbers in our schools the source for all graduates would eventually dry up. What can be said of the teachers and schools in Scotland can be said of those in England, and it applies equally to our technical colleges.

On that occasion the Minister also said that the needs of the Services must be met. That may well be so, but the same could be said of starving men devouring their seed corn. If we have the large schools and technical colleges the source of our future technicians will dry up. I cannot say how many fully qualified science teachers are affected by the present regulations, but the Minister has said, in his reply to a letter from the Director of Education, of the county of Durham that it is not very common for a student to have attained a qualification of degree level and subsequently adequate industrial experience before the age of 26, when he automatically becomes exempt from National Service. If they are few in number no great hardship or difficulty should be caused by granting deferment from National Service.

I have a little experience of industry and its technical and technological side, and I must agree with the Minister that it would be very unusual for a person with a university degree to have had industrial experience before he has reached the age of 26, but I also consider it possible and quite reasonable for fully qualified teachers in the subjects to which I referred at the beginning of my speech to be quite efficient in their work although they have not had industrial experience.

As for the needs of the Services, all I can say is that in any case, if the present proposals of the Government materialise, the call-up will cease in 1960. How will they manage, if they depend on the call-up, to get people qualified in certain subjects for the Services? We must pay regard to the desires of those who teach science subjects in technical colleges, because two years is a long time for them and may affect their whole future.

If we can agree on the principle that all have equal responsibility in this country regarding National Service, the question is how best we can serve the nation. We recognise, for instance, that a miner serves his country equally well as a man in the Forces. We must consider our educational needs. In my opinion, a fully qualified science teacher in a technical college will serve the needs of our nation far better by teaching at the college than in some branch of the Services where his skill and knowledge may not be put to its best use.

Recently, the Minister has made great concessions to teachers regarding deferment from National Service, and for that we thank him. But I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman the need for more concessions, and I appeal to him to give further consideration to our request that technical colleges be included in the category of schools from which science teachers are granted deferment. I can assure the Minister that, if he does so, he will have our grateful thanks.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I wish to support the plea voiced so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Consett (Mr. Stones). It was not a plea to help one school or facilitate the administration of one school in his constituency This is something which affects the whole country. It does not refer only to a group of schools, but to many different kinds of schools. It concerns also the survival of Britain as a world Power. This matter of getting the right science teachers into the schools is relevant and fundamental to the economic dilemma of this country. I consider that the proper way to regard it.

We are a small island with a large population, but we are not large compared with some of the economic giants in the world; America, for example, on the one hand and Russia on the other. With new industrial nations arising in the years ahead we shall find difficulty in keeping our chins above water. We must mobilise our resources if we hope to survive as a great Power and one of the great manufacturing countries of the world. Our most valuable resources are the skill, genius and inventiveness of our people. We have a lot of coal as well, but that is about all—coal and brains. Brains are latent things and of use only if they are developed and trained.

We are entering a scientific age where the scientist will be the man who counts. We are entering an age when the whole balance of power may be changed by the scientists in the laboratories. In those circumstances, the sensible thing for any nation to do is to plan its resources both physical and human so that they may be used correctly. That is the only way in which we can maintain our very high standard of living.

Our limited number of trained scientists should be used as scientists and as nothing else. That is obviously the sensible thing to do, either as scientists in industry or in teaching other scientists in education. It is an appalling waste to send science graduates into the Forces for a short period and into a job where they are not being used as scientists. It might be that in the Armed Forces there is a need for science graduates, but the sensible thing is for the Services to attract small cadres of permanent scientists for their own use. That is the sensible and economic thing to do, not to try to attract a number of science graduates with rather poorer degrees for two years at a time. They should attract their own scientists on a permanent basis.

The principle of deferment of science graduates has been admitted. I think I was one who suggested it originally, but it was then turned down out of hand. The principle has now been admitted. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will discuss this matter with his right hon. Friend to see whether the principle cannot be extended. He has mentioned a technical school in a very important steel-producing centre, one of the most important in the country. The technical school concerned is a very important link in the educational set up of the city.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to look at the specific problem and to assist my hon. Friend by discussing the general question with his right hon. Friend to see whether the principle of deferment of graduates cannot be extended to science graduates in all schools.

10.12 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

I intervene briefly to support the plea that has been made by my hon. Friends. The issue is a narrow one. I echo the plea made to the Minister for deferment of science graduates and the exemption of science graduates going into technical colleges. There are many, and I have had correspondence with the Parliamentary Secretary on the subject of deferment on behalf of the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutes, the A.T.T.I. The Minister is asked to extend to the technical colleges and institutes the practice that he has already carried out in relation to secondary schools. He will thus be providing technical colleges with a much needed little group of technical teachers with science qualifications who will not go into the grammar schools otherwise, but may be lost to education if they have to go to National Service.

10.14 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Robert Carr)

I agree most strongly with what hon. Members have said about the importance to the country of maintaining a paramount position in technical development. There is no doubt that if we are to do that we need an adequate number of technical colleges. Such an expansion is, in fact, going on, as hon. Members know. Then there is need not only for technical colleges, but for adequate staff. There is no doubt that technical colleges need more teachers than they have at the moment.

I will take notice of what was said by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Stone) about the position in his constituency. I appreciate that this is a particular problem for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, and I will take care that the matter is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend. Instead of making this speech tonight, I might perhaps do more good by going to Consett and looking at the situation myself. I happen to be a Fellow of the Institution of Metallurgists. However, here I am, so I shall try, as best I can, to deal with the matters that have been raised.

I should like to thank the hon. Members for what they have said about the recent extension of deferment for teaching that has been possible, but, tonight, I shall not be able to promise them the further extension for which they ask. But even though I shall explain why I think that, at this moment, we should not extend it in the way asked, I assure the hon. Gentlemen that my right hon. Friend will consider the matter very carefully and that we will take into account what has been said tonight.

This shortage in the technical colleges is, of course, only one aspect of the national shortage of scientists and technologists and, for some years to come, at any rate, however we distribute those we have, there will not be enough of them. There will be a shortage somewhere or other. The real question is whether our present priorities are reasonably correct, or whether, by shifting the balance of the deferment arrangements, we could get a better distribution. I think that that is the sort of planning which the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) would approve.

What is the present position? First, of course, we must realise—and I know that the hon. Members who have raised this debate do realise, but I should like to make it clear, because what we say here is read more widely, and may be read by those to whom the facts are not so well known—that teaching in technical colleges already benefits from deferment. First-class graduates in science, mathematics or engineering, or graduates with second-class honours in the same subjects who have subsequently taken a higher degree, such as Ph.D., are deferred for teaching posts in technical colleges. Thus, in this respect, technical colleges are on a par with other forms of employment for which these qualifications are required—with one exception that I shall mention later. Technical colleges, therefore, already get substantial help in their staffing problems from our existing deferment arrangements.

It is true, however, that secondary schools get even more favoured treatment. A man can get deferment for teaching in a secondary school not only if he has a first-class degree or a second-class degree, plus a higher qualification in science or mathematics, but also if he has a second-class degree, on its own, in mathematics or science, or any class of degree in chemistry or the biological sciences, or a general degree in science. Therefore, the field of deferment for a man taking a teaching post in a secondary school is wider than if he took a post in a technical college.

What I want to make clear is that that is not accidental. This differentiation is a deliberate decision of policy. We want to give secondary schools more favoured treatment, and it is not an accident that they have got it. There are three reasons for this differentiation.

The first, and by far the most important reason, is the greater need of the schools. In 1957 in England and Wales there were about 12,250 graduate teachers of mathematics and science in the schools, and at least 300 unfilled vacancies. That is the present position, but between 1957 and 1964 it is expected that the number of children over 15 years old in the schools will increase from about a quarter of a million to nearly half a million. That is to say, they will almost double in that seven-year period. Although it is difficult to predict accurately how many extra mathematics and science teachers will be required by the schools, it will obviously be a very considerable number and, equally obviously, it will be very difficult to find a number sufficient to meet that need.

Thanks mainly to the deferment schemes the number of mathematics and science teachers in the schools has increased by just over 500 between 1956 and 1957, compared with an increase of 300 and 200 in the two previous years. But even if a net annual increase of 500 could be maintained it is clear that there is a distinct and disturbing possibility of overcrowded mathematics and science classes in sixth forms during the coming years, and it is, therefore, vital, in our opinion, that nothing should be done which is likely to reduce the flow of such teachers into our secondary schools.

Any failure in this recruitment to the schools must be felt in the end not least in the technical colleges themselves, because it is on the schools that the colleges must rely for the supply of students with an adequate grounding in mathematics and science. If that foundation is not laid in the schools then the Government's plan for a major expansion in scientific and technological education will be placed in very serious jeopardy. While I am in no way seeking to minimise the urgent need of technical colleges, I am stressing what we believe is the even greater need of the schools competing for the same personnel. That is the first reason why we maintain this differential.

The second reason which, although not as important as the first, is, nevertheless, significant, is that we think it desirable that the teacher taking up a teaching appointment in a technical college should have had some experience in industry. I know that that is not absolutely essential and I know that it may never be possible for all technical college teachers to have had that industrial experience, but there is undoubtedly a difference between science and engineering as taught at university and as applied in industry.

I well remember that when I first went into a metallurgical laboratory in industry the work seemed to be very different in the first few months from what I had learned in university, and there is no doubt that one gets a very different slant on these subjects when they are applied to industry from the way in which they are taught and practised in the university. It is valuable that as many as possible of the teachers in technical colleges should have had industrial experience for a few years.

If we gave further deferment concessions solely to technical colleges, it would undoubtedly reduce the proportion of their staff who would have had some industrial experience. We, therefore, believe that any extension to benefit technical colleges ought also to be given to jobs requiring similar qualifications in industry.

This, of course, was recognised by the Willis Jackson Committee which, as I am sure the House knows, was set up by the Government in September, 1956, to look into the question of the supply of teachers for technical colleges. It is important that we should be clear about what the Willis Jackson Committee recommended. It did not ask for more deferment for newly qualified graduates entering technical colleges directly from universities. What it suggested was a more general and much broader extension of deferment for graduates entering employment which required scientific or engineering qualifications of degree standard.

Such a widening of the scope of deferment would, the Committee suggested, bring into the field of recruitment for technical colleges a further group of science and technology graduates who, if enabled to begin their responsible industrial experience two years earlier, might be able to alleviate the shortage of staff in the colleges in the critical years ahead. The Government have moved a considerable way in the direction wanted by the Willis Jackson Committee, but we have not gone as far as that Report recommended because of the overriding need to maintain some preferential incentive in favour of recruitment for the secondary schools. We still believe that it is important to maintain that preference in favour of the schools because of the urgent need to meet the problem of the bulge which will be going through the secondary schools in the next few years.

The third reason why I must resist at the moment any further extension beyond what we have done is the needs of the Services themselves, to which both the hon. Member for Consett and the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central have referred. I agree that in the long run the proper solution for the needs of the Services is to recruit scientists on a long-term Regular basis. I understand that that is the basis of the Government's policy for manning the Services not only in relation to scientists, but in relation to all the men which the Services require.

Until that new policy of recruitment has been pushed forward and has been seen to be successful, however, we must rely upon National Service. We must rely upon National Service even to supply the more limited needs of the Services for skilled scientific manpower just as to supply personnel for any other branch. The needs of the Services, although I put them third, are a reason which we cannot overlook altogether.

Mr. Short

Has the hon. Gentleman any information about the use to which science graduates are put in the Services? We have a suspicion that, in a good many cases, they are not being used in science jobs at all.

Mr. Carr

I cannot answer that question. I should be rather rash if I tried to reply for my two right hon. Friends and my noble Friend in charge of the Service Departments. But I agree that it is important that, if a scientist is called up for service in the forces, he should be used in his capacity as a scientist, and in cases where we can bring influence to bear from my Department to see that that is done, we will do so.

That is the general case, and, against that background, I should like, in the few moments that remain, to look at the current position in the technical colleges. The Willis Jackson Committee assessed that in England and Wales the technical colleges needed at an increase of 7,000 full-time teachers between 1956 and 1960–61, an average annual increase, that is, of about 1,400. In 1956, there was a net increase of about 900. Although we have not yet the final figures for 1957, it appears that there has been a net increase of well over 1,000. In 1958, the current year, indications are that we may hope for an increase not far short of 1,400. This progress is encouraging.

I must tell the House, however, that the progress is uneven. Recruitment in certain important categories is not increasing as fast as the average, particularly for the sort of teachers needed for some of the advanced courses in science and technology. There are, none-the-less, four reasons for reasonable hope that our needs will be met.

First, the substantial increases in salary granted in October, 1956, have stimulated recruitment, and we hope, will continue to do so. Secondly, the rundown in our defence programme—here I refer to civilian defence production—will free an increasing number of scientists and engineers for other employment. Thirdly, the reduction in the size of the Armed Forces should release a number of ex-Regular Service men who will, in our opinion, have the experience and personal qualities to attract them to, and make them suitable for teaching. Fourthly—this is important—the number of science and engineering graduates completing their National Service this year will be about double the number we are likely to call up.

Finally, in considering whether we can further extend deferment of scientists, to help technical colleges or anybody else, we ought to remember how little scope there is since so many scientists are already deferred. The number deferred is much larger than the number called up. In 1957, National Service took only about one-fifth of the graduates coming into the field, and this small proportion included men with degrees in agricultural and biological subjects, in which civilian demand is not so pressing. Four-fifths are already being deferred. Therefore, although I do not belittle the importance of having even a few more deferred, I feel that we should remember that the scope still left for deferment is relatively small.

I thank the hon. Member for Consett for raising this matter. I hope that some of the reasons I have given will, at least, satisfy him that our policy is a thoughtful one. I undertake to him that we will keep in mind the points of view he has raised, and that we will continue to watch the matter as carefully as we can.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Ten o'clock.