HC Deb 18 November 1959 vol 613 cc1304-12

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

9.59 p.m.

Mr. Frederic Harris (Croydon, Northwest)

After sitting for two days during the Second Reading debate on the Betting and Gaming Bill without being called, it is refreshing to be able to speak in this Adjournment debate. The subject I want to raise—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must be able to hear what the hon. Member is saying.

Mr. Harris

The subject I want to raise concerns the establishment of a teachers' training college in Croydon. In October, 1958, I approached the then Minister of Education, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd), with regard to the establishment of a teachers' training college in Croydon. I indicated then to the Minister that this proposition was wholeheartedly supported by Croydon Borough Council, by our chief education officer and his staff and everyone in Croydon who is deeply interested in education.

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. Chichester-Clark.]

Mr. Harris

My two Croydon colleagues supported me in my representations. The Minister at that time was settling the distribution of new training colleges and it certainly was an appropriate moment to make this particular request. I should mention that the detailed reasons why we in Croydon feel that Croydon was entitled to such a teachers' training college had already been submitted to the Ministry of Education by our town clerk only a few days earlier. The Minister replied that he was considering the proposal and that the application was well timed. I want to stress that the Minister in October last year said that our request was well timed. He added he was not then in a position to take a firm decision, although he would bear the proposal very much in mind. He then indicated that he appreciated the spirit in which the Croydon authority had put forward its proposal.

All of us in Croydon who are closely concerned were naturally heartened by what we thought was a hopeful reply by the Minister. In February this year I received a letter from the Minister's assistant private secretary regretting that the proposal had been turned down because the Minister had been able to agree to the establishment of only four such new colleges and that in each case the position was the governing factor. The Minister's official view, apparently, was that while he recognised that Croydon possessed many of the facilities needed for such a training college, he naturally had to bear in mind the importance of not over-loading the London area. He obviously realised that his decision—to put it mildly—would cause disappointment to Croydon, and it certainly did cause disappointment.

In March, this year, I was advised of the likelihood of an extension of the building programme for these teachers' training colleges, beginning, I think, round about 1962 or 1963. I therefore immediately again communicated with the Minister of Education to ask if Croydon's request could now be reconsidered in this new expansion programme. In April I received a reply from the then Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Baronet the Member for Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), indicating that if there was to be a further expansion programme the claims of Croydon would certainly be considered. I very much appreciated what the Minister then said.

In July an important editorial on this subject appeared in our local Croydon Advertiser, and at the same time I received another request from the town clerk asking me again to endeavour to establish Croydon's claim for a teachers' training college. So once again I communicated with the Minister stressing all the relevant factors. In August I received what I can only call a very disappointing reply from the Minister stating that he again noted our request but the prospect of his being able to endorse the proposal was not very bright. He said that other claims would come before those of Croydon, which, I submit to the Parliamentary Secretary, was contrary to the original reaction to my approach to the Minister of October, 1958. The reply that we then received was in our opinion very disappointing. We in Croydon feel that our request for a teachers' training college should be publicly put to the Minister. I am sure that he will understand why we wish to do this. I am very glad indeed, therefore, to have had the opportunity of securing the Adjournment debate tonight.

May I again put to the Parliamentary Secretary the salient points? I ask his forgiveness in so doing, but he will understand that there have been so many Ministers of Education during the last few years that I find it difficult to know whether he is conversant with them.

We want in Croydon a teachers' training college of between 400 and 500 students with a bias towards science and mathematics, partly a day college but also with a considerable amount of residential accommodation. We feel that Croydon can offer exceptional opportunities for teaching practice for students in training, particularly on the science side. This year we have 364 students coming to our schools for teaching practice. Even so, our resources, particularly for science, are by no means fully utilised.

In thirty secondary schools maintained by the Croydon Education Committee, when the present projects are completed, there will be 75 laboratories, of which 71 will have been newly built or completely reconstructed since the war. The opportunity, therefore, for teaching practice in science seems to be exceptional.

We also have a large new technical college, now nearing completion, and this will provide opportunities for outstanding students to take more advanced courses in science and mathematics—my own son is there at the present moment—either concurrently with or subsequent to their teacher training. The completion of the College of Art within the Fairfield Technical College would give similar opportunity on the artistic side.

In previous replies, the former Minister indicated that colleges should be established where there is a shortage of teachers. There may be some misunderstanding about this, but that is what we assumed the Minister had indicated. If this were the criterion, Croydon might not qualify as its shortage of teachers might be less than elsewhere in the country. But surely there are other considerations which might in practice be more important.

First, it is obviously desirable to locate the college where possibility of recruitment to the teaching profession is good. This is certainly so in Croydon, which is the centre of a well-to-do area on the southern fringe of the Metropolis, where interest in education is very high and the number of children prepared to stay on at least into the fifth form of a secondary school is one of the highest in the country. We are proud of that.

Secondly, the recruitment of teachers would be stimulated by situating a college in an area to which young people would wish to come because of the attraction of living and working in the outer suburban area of the Metropolis, with all the interest and the opportunity open to such young people. I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that this is very relevant in considering recruitment. Finally, Croydon has exceptional transport facilities which make it a very accessible centre for a large and popular area, and the number of potential day pupils must therefore be very high.

I have one further interesting point to make, although it may not be strictly relevant to this discussion. In Croydon, we send to all the training colleges a very interesting leaflet. I do not know whether the Minister has seen it, but I have a copy with me. It is used with a view to the recruitment of staff. This leaflet indicates the attractions which Croydon has for young people and why we think it would be a help to teaching recruitment in general to have such a teachers' training college in Croydon. In bringing all these facts to the attention of the Minister of Education and the Parliamentary Secretary, I ask them to be kind enough to accede at an early date to our request for the establishment of a teachers' training college in the great town of Croydon.

10.12 p.m.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Northwest (Mr. F. Harris) for the opportunity which the Adjournment debate gives me to deal both with the specific point which he has raised and with some of the general aspects of the teacher-training expansion programme with which we in the Ministry are at present concerned. This opportunity to make some general remarks is welcome and very much needed, and I hope that it will help him to understand the principles which have guided my right hon. Friend in the development of the programme.

The starting point is the five-year programme set out in the White Paper on Secondary Education for All. This set appreciably higher targets for the development of secondary education in our schools, and it was announced almost concurrently with the decision to introduce into our teacher-training system a three-year period of training in the place of the two-year period which has been applicable up to now. This reform was a very long-sought and much-desired reform by the teaching profession, and I am very pleased that it has been possible for us to bring it about.

These great changes—the development of secondary education in general and the lengthening of the teacher-training period—made it necessary for us in the Ministry to set about defining the principles upon which we should base the expansion of the teacher-training resources which would be at the heart of the programme. In this country at present there are between 150 and 200 teacher-training colleges. They have grown up over many years without any underlying pattern. To some extent it has been a haphazard, piecemeal growth. They have grown up in many parts of the country under many different auspices and they are of many different kinds and sizes.

I do not want the House to think that variety in this respect, as in others, is altogether bad. It is not. Indeed, many advantages have flowed into the teaching world as a result of the variety of the teaching training colleges. This was an opportunity, with the expansion of the system, to introduce into the teacher training college world a measure of rationalisation which would, we hoped result in advantages on both educational and economic grounds.

To bring about any rationalisation in the system, it was necessary for us to work to some kind of basic principles, which would have regard to the proper size, composition and siting of colleges and to the courses and specialisations which guide those colleges in the curricula they are to offer. My right hon. Friend has the benefit and guidance of the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers. He has asked me to say how grateful he is to the Chairman and members of the Council for the important and valuable advice they have given him and continue to give him on the supply and training of teachers. Their advice is that where possible, existing colleges should be expanded in the programme, and that where new colleges are to be established they should be established where they will have a chance to bring about a close association with an existing university.

In these two great changes—the expansion of real secondary education for all and the growth in the teacher training college system—there has been nothing more encouraging to the Ministry than the great enthusiasm with which the proposals have been taken up all over the country. There has been a new and encouraging surge of cooperation and enthusiasm. It will be needed if these extensive programmes are to succeed. We must have with us local education authorities, teachers and parents.

I am happy to have this opportunity to place on record our sense of appreciation of the spirit which has prompted the offer which has come from Croydon and which we are considering tonight. I should like also to endorse what my hon. Friend said about the efforts which he himself has made to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to what Croydon has to offer. As a result of what he has said and written my Ministry cannot possibly be in any doubt about where Croydon stands.

We recognise Croydon's very considerable post-war educational achievements in the whole field of primary and secondary education. Croydon has achieved much of which it can be proud. The technical college to which my hon. Friend drew attention, now I understand in its third and final stage, stands greatly to the credit of Croydon and I am sure will exercise a substantial influence over a very wide area as it grows and develops.

I turn now to the present position of the teacher-training programmes. We are concerned with two programmes—the first under which we decided to provide 12,000 new places in teacher training colleges by 1962, and the second under which we hope to provide 4,000 further places by 1963–64. The first programme is already committed and I am happy to say well under way. We hope very much that the colleges which are being expanded and those which are being built new and additional to existing colleges will fall into place in proper time as planned under the programme.

Under the first programme, we are building four new colleges. Of the existing ones, 66 will appreciably expand, and 13 of those that are to be expanded are colleges existing in the London University teacher-training area—a point to which I shall return in a moment.

The last stages of planning are now being reached in the second programme—the 4,000-place programme—and 3,000 places are already committed. There will be two more new colleges—both, I might say, in the South-East—and 16 existing colleges are to be expanded. I must say that there are many more possible new colleges, and colleges that could be expanded that have claims not worse than, and in some cases better than Croydon would have for some of the places remaining of that 4,000. I should also say that the disposition of the remaining 1,000 places is complicated, to some extent, by other considerations that we have to bear in mind in allocating the teacher-training places.

I am extremely sorry if my hon. Friend and his friends in the borough that he represents—and, with his colleagues, represents, if I may say so, most effectively—feel that they have been misled. At no time was it my right hon. Friend's intention, nor was it that of his predecessors, that Croydon should feel that it was being half-promised something when, in fact, the process of disposition of these places was still under consideration.

We did, in fact, have to keep open the door that Croydon's offer represented whilst the disposition of these programmes was being finally decided. Indeed, I hope that the door will remain open, even in the light of what I have just said. We must be ready to take advantage of every possibility if we are to carry through what is a difficult and complicated programme.

I want to assure my hon. Friend that Croydon's case, as deployed by the Town Clerk, by my hon. Friend and others, has been given the most careful consideration by those at the Ministry, both in official and representative positions, who have no objective in view other than to secure the most successful possible outcome of this whole operation. As my hon. Friend has said, Croydon has considerable advantages but, if I may say so, it suffers from the defects of its advantages. It draws on a wide, heavily-populated area, and it enjoys excellent communications, but it is probably those advantages that have drawn into this London and South-East area a very large concentration of the teacher-training resources of the whole country.

At the present moment, 40 per cent. London and the area south-east of it. That is a concentration that I, as a provincial—and I hate to see my ethnological slip showing—on practical grounds do not always find the most satisfactory possible use of our resources. There is bound to be a strain on the teacher-training facilities. The strain is already great, and when the colleges in this area that are to be expanded are added to the new colleges we intend to provide that strain is bound to be greater.

Croydon is removed from a university. It cannot share the cultural, social and sporting ties that close geographical association with a university would give. Additionally, since we are advised that the best way of carrying through the programme quickly and economically involves us, in the main, in expanding existing colleges, we have to take into account that a college at Croydon would have to start from scratch.

I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will not feel that the case for Croydon has been lightly dismissed. In parenthesis, I should add that there are some colleges that do not completely fit in with the descriptive qualifications I have just given, but they are exceptions for which other very good reasons exist. I know and I readily acknowledge that in the education world Croydon has much to offer. I repeat that we are grateful to the local education authority for the zeal with which it took up the first chance of an opportunity to provide a college and the way in which it has continued to press its belief that Croydon is the best place to have one. I cannot say what the future may hold, but the Ministry is glad to know that these resources continue to be available.

This teacher-training programme is an ambitious one. We are not just training people in the tricks of the trade of teaching. There is more to the making of a teacher than just putting tools in his hand. Of course, we want those who come forth from our colleges to be skilled in their craft, but we want in the teaching profession men and women who have learned to see their job as a whole—the sending out from the schools of citizens who in their turn will do well what they know and understand. The teachers of these new generations must have every chance that we can provide to equip themselves to take up this weigh so heavily with us at this vital stage—neither accidents of geography or convenience, nor even the welcome spontaneous desire to help.

Our education targets are high. We must not be satisfied with sights any less high in the training of the teachers on whom so much depends. All this, I know, disappoints Croydon and disappoints my hon. Friend. I know his zeal for this cause. I cannot forecast the future, but I can say this. If in some further developments at present unseen there should arise a teacher training college in Croydon, it will bear my hon. Friend's imprint large upon it.

Mr. F. Harris

From all that the Parliamentary Secretary has said tonight, I presume that in the years ahead the door is still left open for Croydon's ambition?

Mr. Thompson

My hope is that it will be Croydon which will assure us that this door remains open.

Question put and agreed to.

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