HC Deb 07 July 1960 vol 626 cc850-60

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

10.57 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)

I wish to draw attention to the treatment of an increasing number of young foreigners attending private schools of English in this country.

These young people are not students in the strict sense of the word. If they were, they would come under the excellent welfare arrangements of the British Council. They come here mainly to learn the English language and, in some cases, to prepare themselves for entrance examinations for universities or to prepare themselves for a business career. I think it a compliment to the high reputation of British education that so many come here in increasing numbers. It is of great importance that they should come, but when they do they should get a good picture of Britain and be able to carry out their studies in a way satisfactory to themselves.

I shall not deal tonight with the facilities laid on for these people by local authorities and other non-profit-making bodies, but I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to the facilities given by the sixty or more private schools which cater for these young people. Some are residential schools, some are non-residential, but all are run on a commercial basis. Many of these schools are well run. There was a joint inspection scheme agreed between the Ministry of Education and the British Council in 1956. Under that scheme, twenty-eight of these sixty-odd schools have been visited. I understand twenty-four have been recognised and another five are pending.

These recognised schools are joined together in the Joint Association of Recognised English Schools. They form a body of recognised schools which are very anxious to maintain their standard. They would like to see the standard of some of these schools raised a great deal in the interest of them all. Tonight I am concerned with the thirty or more which are not recognised and have not applied for recognition by the Ministry. Some of them may be admirable, but I certainly know of some against which complaints have been made. One is bound to ask, if their standards are all right, why do they not apply for recognition?

I want to draw attention to one school in particular against which I have had many complaints and which I have visited. I propose to give its name in the belief that that will be a salutary warning to some of the other schools and perhaps also to some young foreigners who are trying to choose a school to go to when they come to Britain. The one I am referring to is the London Academy in Cadogan Place.

I draw the House's attention first to the fees charged at this school. The basic fee is 160 guineas a term. To this must be added a £5 registration fee, £5 for books and stationery, £5 caution money, and in appropriate cases a £10 laboratory fee. A young foreigner who comes to the school at the beginning of next term in September must expect to pay at least £188 for the term. The term is not a twelve-week term. It is a term of 75 days. The average term at the school is 11 weeks and 1 day. For a summer course the school is now running the charge is 15 guineas a week.

Accommodation at the school is poor and overcrowded and contrasts in a most marked way with the prospectuses that the school puts out, which circulate through educational agencies in many countries. The prospectus in its claims would make a detergent advertiser blush. It contains five photographs of the school, only one of which is identifiable with the places which they purport to represent. The dining room is recognisable. The lounge illustrated bears no relation to the lounge I saw when I visited the school. The lecture room illustrated is now crowded with beds of more fee-paying students. The "typical student's study" illustrated is more spacious and better furnished than any of the many students' studies I saw. References are made to a television room and small library, which I was unable find, and to a club room with canteen facilities, which I found has not yet been built.

I have received a number of letters from students of the London Academy from all over the world. I will quote from a few of them. A young man has written to me from a university in America. He describes what I think is quite a common experience among young foreigners. He says: My parents and I went to the British Embassy in Manila to inquire about university entrance requirements in England. At this time I was already a sophomore student in one of the leading colleges in Manila. The British Embassy advised us that it was highly unlikely that I would be accepted, since it was requisite that I have a G.C.E. certificate. After thinking the matter over carefuly, we all decided that even if I lost two or three years of schooling the benefits that I would receive from a British education would far outweigh the disadvantages I had to go through. Now I can well say that that decision was an error of judgment. Looking through the various prospectuses, the London Academy seemed to have exactly what I needed. Furthermore, we were assured that through my scholastic background I would not have any trouble in getting accepted into any one of your universities within a year's time. The London Academy's prospectus, through the misrepresentations of trick photography, seemed to be ideal. Its fees were higher, so I believed that this was indicative of the better scholastic service I would receive. The bait was well set, and I, like a dumb fish, snapped at it. I can very well remember by very first impressions of the Academy. I immediately asked myself—were these the classrooms and laboratories the prospectus had presented, were these the charming bedrooms, and lounges that had been photographed, indeed was I in the right school at all? Another student writes more pithily: In my opinion, it is one of the most lucrative examples of crookery you could find in the teaching sphere… Another young student, who went to two of these schools in England, says: …I have experienced great disappointments in both cases… He writes from the Canary Islands. He continues: In the London Academy, prices being of the order of 194 sterling pounds per term of 12 weeks, the student had in exchange a mostly unqualified staff, who did not care about the students' progress, and inferior quality food, if not insufficient, and most of the rooms not fit for students to live in. Later in his letter he says: The object of this letter is not of vengeance, but only a duty I am fulfilling towards other fellow students who in the future will go to England, for them to find a better system and for them to be able to make their studies fairly and properly. I shall not weary the House with further quotations from these students' letters, but I have one from an Icelandic student, who says: I thought that it would be warmer to sleep in a tent somewhere in the middle of Greenland than to sleep in London Academy. I could give other quotations of a similar kind. I have spoken to students and to an ex-teacher who, I am sure, are sincere and truthful, and they have widespread complaints on these lines.

I would not subscribe to a complaint against the teaching staff. In my opinion, they are properly qualified, but the prospectus, which I would call fraudulent, the accommodation, and the understandably bad spirit among quite a large number of students shows that there is a problem here, even if only at one school—but I am not at all convinced that this is an isolated instance.

A few days ago I telephoned half a dozen principals of schools who had not applied for recognition by the Ministry of Education, and I must say that the answers I got as to why they had not done so were not satisfactory. One said, "Recognition does not seem to apply to us." Another said, "We are afraid of losing our independence." A third said, "We are waiting for a science master to arrive, and then we may apply."

The one reply that I got that was entirely satisfactory, and to which I draw the Minister's attention, was that the man would like to apply but that as he had fewer than 20 students the Ministry would not recognise him, even if it were asked. I think that that point should be looked into. He writes: Following your telephone call of this afternoon, would you please advise me if my establishment can be made eligible for inspection, even though my maximum numbers are seldom more than twelve, in two classes. I do feel that it is high time some of the less reputable establishments were made subject to inspection. I would like my own small 'school' to be registered officially, and others of a similar standard to receive a certificate from the Ministry of Education or the Home Office. I enclose a brochure which is true in every respect. That may apply to a number or principals and explain a point of view that I hope the Minister will note.

What are we to do about this? I suggest that the Minister and the British Council should lay down high standards for the schools that will accept inspection. We cannot have anything but the highest standards for these young foreigners, and we should pay special attention to good amenities to enable them to get round and meet English people. That should be included in inspection—and I am talking now of the schools that are prepared to accept inspection.

The Minister should also be prepared to inspect schools with fewer than twenty pupils. And he should look into the question of revisiting the schools. At the moment, inspection takes place once only, but that is not enough. There should be regular inspection of such schools as are prepared to be inspected, and if that means more manpower being provided by the British Council and by the Ministry inspectorate, the extra manpower must be found for this important work.

As for the schools that are not prepared to accept inspection, the Ministry should at least circularise them and ask them to give their reasons for not applying and, if he has not done it already, should let them know of the services available. More publicity is required both at home and abroad as to the importance of these young foreigners going to registered schools, and not to unregistered schools, or to schools that should register but do not.

It may well be that the Minister could draw the attention of his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary to the advisability of circularising embassies—especially, it seems, the embassy in Manila—asking them what they have been thinking of in recommending these young men to go to the London Academy. The Foreign Secretary could circularise all consulates and embassies, although I think that the British representatives understand this already.

The British Broadcasting Corporation, which teaches English by radio very successfully to a large audience, might well be invited to consider the possibility of announcing in the broadcasts that these schools that are recognised would be very good places for these young foreigners to go to—but not the unrecognised ones. In this way, we could make it increasingly difficult and unprofitable for substandard schools to continue.

If this does not work, then I think the Minister must consider taking more drastic steps and arming himself, if need be, with new powers. He should keep the thing under review and see how matters go in the months to come, after this effort has been made. We cannot let the good reputation of British education abroad be undermined by international "Narkovers" and "Chiselburys."

I want the Minister to take the matter seriously. I want him to take a positive line to encourage the recognised schools and to give every possible encouragement to local authorities and other nonprofit-making bodies to expand their activities. It is this kind of personal contact which creates abroad the image of a country. If we welcome the trend and go along with it, we may do a great deal of good. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give me a satisfactory reply, more satisfactory than the reply I received from his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education at Question Time not long ago. I hope he will deal with the points I have raised and put matters on a much better basis.

11.10 p.m.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) for giving the House an opportunity to consider, however briefly, this very important matter. I share entirely the views he expressed about the great importance we ought to attach to the treatment accorded to foreign visitors and to those who come from Colonial and Commonwealth Territories to learn English and take some share in the benefits of education in England. I do not know that there is a more important job that we can do than this if we do it properly and well.

I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman did not paint too grey a picture of the scene as it is today. Very many foreign students come to this country every year to take advantage of our system of education. The number is about 40,000 a year, coming to our universities, to our technical colleges, to the teacher training colleges and to further education institutes of all kinds, in addition to those who come for specialist courses of teaching either for a trade or profession, or, as in the particular cases that we are considering this evening, to learn the English language as a preparation for a career in their own countries, or for the purpose of further studies in this county.

The range is vast and complex, and I think that we can quite safely take to ourselves the assurance that the vast majority of students who come here are caught up in the better side, the more satisfactory part, of our educational system. In the universities and the other statutory teaching establishments of one kind and another, we need have no doubt that their training, their welfare, and the social side of their visits are very well cared for, and, I believe, fruitful both for them as individuals and for the bonds they hope to knit between us in this country and their fellows in their own territories.

I come now to consider the narrow group of people who come here, usually of their own volition, to an establishment of their own choosing, and for a purpose which is, very often, special to the individual himself. These are the people who may find themselves looking through lists of schools, examining truthful, faithful, or fanciful prospectuses prior to coming. Of these, I think that we can safely say, without exposing ourselves to any charge of complacency, certainly not to a charge of indifference, that the vast majority find themselves in the care of people with a genuine concern to do a job—whether for profit or not is, in most cases, irrelevant—to the best of their ability and within the limits of the resources at their hand. In most cases, they return to their own homes after having had great benefit from their stay here.

Mr. Mayhew

The hon. Gentleman referred to the vast majority of these schools, but, of course, out of 60 he has visited only 28. It is a little rash of him to refer to the vast majority.

Mr. Thompson

I must be quoted correctly. I said that the vast majority of the people who come here find themselves in establishment of a worthwhile and worthy kind. I shall follow that up by relating it to my later argument about the size of the school to the numbers of students involved. The great majority, so far as we know, are well treated.

In the Ministry, and, I think I can safely say from the information at my disposal, in the British Council, also, there is a significantly small flow of complaints from those who feel that they have a grievance to air. The hon. Member appears to have an adequate supply of letters relating to a particular school and I do not question either their genuineness or the spontaneous idea that prompted the writers to send them to him, but it is true that within the Ministry we have only the most minute trickle of complaints and the same is true of British Council headquarters in this country. Therefore I think that in the absence of any flood of complaints, and leaving aside the limit within which the Ministry's inspectorate has been able to operate up to now, the system has worked well with the exception of the odd cases thrown up from time to time.

I want to follow up the hon. Member's suggestions on what action we should take to ensure that where there are offences a remedy is sought. I am sure that the remedy we seek will not be found in taking fresh legislative powers at this stage. First, the field is so diffuse. It does not appear to be possible to define the kind of school to which one should limit one's powers of compulsory inspection. Is the school which takes students from overseas for English to be the definition, if the sudents are over compulsory school age? If so, if it teaches English plus something else, like hairdressing, is it to be included in or excluded from the regulations?

Are we to cover the school which takes from overseas students of any one or more of these subjects and also students from this country? If so, the field over which the process of inspection would apply would range from tutorial classes on the engineering floor where a boy is pursuing his ordinary or higher National Certificate course partly at work and partly at technical college, right through to this narrow, specialist band. It seems to me that our efforts would fail from lack of definition and precision in drawing the line.

Nevertheless, there are some fruitful things that we might do. The hon. Member referred to the Association of Recognised English Language Schools. It was formed as a result of the putting foward of the idea that it would be a good thing if it were formed, with official encouragement, so that those who had been engaged in this work for some time and had gained experience and expertise and had had the benefit of recognition could band together and wear an accolade of recognition and membership of the the Association with hope and pride and to make identification easier in overseas territories.

We could make it known abroad that membership of this Association is a good thing and, when found, can be recognised as a badge of merit. Then we want to get on with the process, already in operation and working with reasonable success as far as we can discover, of discussion, through the British Council overseas, the consulates and the embassies, with those who want to come here so that some inquiry is made at the point of departure before the boat is caught—or the boat is burned. The best advice that we can offer should be siphoned back from our knowledge in this country of the various establishments here through the consulates and the embassies so that it is available for the intending student.

By developing this process we are more likely to succeed in establishing a file of worthwhile, acceptable institutions to which visitors from overseas can come freely and confidently, assured that they can get here what they are seeking, namely, a facility and qualification in the English language and, what is more, can become familiarised with our way of life. It seems to me that if we can have time to pursue the matter on those lines—and it takes time—we shall serve the cause that we have in mind much better than if we try to proceed by definition and compulsory examination.

I was going to say a word on two other points which the hon. Gentleman raised, first, about the size of the schools, why some of these small schools do not apply for recognition and why they fear they may not gain recognition. It is a wide and fairly common educational experience that classes and educational establishments which are too small fail to establish, develop and put over successful courses of instruction, partly because it often happens that the ability range is too wide in the small establishment and the establishment is not viable enough to maintain three, four or five classes, partly because the age range may be too wide, particularly where we are dealing with students of mature age, and partly because the origins and backgrounds of people who form the classes vary so much.

While I do not say that a small school cannot be efficient—indeed, the reverse is often the case—it is likely that there will be more cases of failure to be efficient in the educational sense among the smaller schools than among the larger schools. Nevertheless, I hope that what will go out from this House tonight is that we will welcome applications from small schools, in connection with the joint inspection processes of the Ministry and the British Council, for visits to be made to these schools to see how far we can recommend them.

The hon. Gentleman asked why schools tended to be a little diffident about applying for recognition. I do not know. I imagine that reasons will vary from school to school. Some spring readily to mind. First, I would point out that the schools are doing very well as they are. There is a tremendous demand for this kind of education. There is nothing wrong in that. That is a proper process, and I hope that the House will do what it can to encourage it. We must not be depressed if these people want to come here. The schools do not feel that there is any gain for them in asking for recognition or even bothering to maintain any connection with the Ministry.

Secondly, it is by no means sure that recognition will follow upon inspection. Some schools may feel that even though their standards are high, they dare not take the risk of inviting inspectors to see them, and they may, without justification, feel that they ought to go slow and drag their feet, and see how the process develops over the country as a whole.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

Will the Minister deal with the point about inspection more than once?

Mr. Thompson

Yes. I hope that the impression will not go out from the House that the inspection is a once-for-all and never again process. That is not so. There are physical difficulties in the Ministry finding inspectorial staff who can fit in their work with work under our maintained system. We cannot run the machinery beyond a certain point. It is not intended that once an inspection has been carried out there wild never again be another inspection.

Mr. Mayhew

It may not be intended, but no school has, in fact, been revisited.

Mr. Thompson

It is only five years since the process started. Even State schools do not have inspectors hanging around their doorsteps all the time. Once the system is established as a recognised pattern, we shall do what we can to see that the system is maintained in the highest possible state of efficiency.

I very much want the House to feel that the matter causes a great deal of careful thought in both the British Council and my Department, and we shall do all we can to see that the best possible results are achieved with the resources available.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock.