HC Deb 07 June 1962 vol 661 cc649-53
33. Mr. Fletcher

asked the Minister of Education whether he has studied the petition, signed by members of the staff and students of Goldsmiths' College, which has been sent to him protesting at the Government's policy with regard to training college students, and the proposed introduction of teaching auxiliaries in infants' schools; and what action he is taking in response to the petition.

32. Mr. Swingler

asked the Minister of Education if he has considered the petition presented to him by the Students' Union of Goldsmiths' College on 28th May dealing, in particular, with the discrimination in grants between university students and training college students; what action he will take to remove this discrimination; and what reply he has made to the general points made in the petition.

Mr. K. Thompson

My right hon. Friend has today written to the Students' Union of Goldsmiths' College. I will circulate the text of his reply in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Fletcher

Whatever the reply may be, is not the hon. Gentleman aware that this continual discrimination against training school teachers is causing widespread dissatisfaction and that it cannot possibly be in the best interests of education?

Mr. Thompson

That question falls into the same error which the students appear to have fallen into. My right hon. Friend's reply deals fully with that point, as the hon. Gentleman will see if he reads it.

Following is the letter:

Curzon Street, London, W.1.

7th June, 1962.

Dear Mr. Laycock,

You handed me on 28th May a petition signed by students of Goldsmith's College.

The petition stated that the students of Goldsmith's College wished to register their protest against the present state of education in the country as a result of the Government's policy over the past ten years, and you listed four points in particular. I shall comment on these first:

(1) Section 1 of the Education Act, 1962, does not discriminate against training college students. Grants are paid to all recognised training college students in accordance with arrangements approved by me, and there was therefore no need to impose a duty on local education authorities to pay them, as there was in the case of university students. I have already made known my intention that there should be full parity between teachers' training grants and awards for university students, and this principle forms the basis of the new grant arrangements which I shall announce as soon as I have completed my discussions with the local authority associations.

(2) On your second point, I explained when you presented your petition that Government policy on university grants was a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have sent a copy of your petition to him for information. I will therefore confine myself, on this point, to reminding you of a few of the facts about university development over the last ten years and the level of Exchequer support pledged for the future.

Between 1951–52 and 1961–62, total public expenditure on the universities rose from about £35 million to over £104 million a year. By 1966–67, it will be at least £150 million a year. In 1952, the last year of the Socialist Government, the value of university building started was only £2.4 million; this year 1962–63, and for each of the next three years, it will be at least £25 million.

In 1951–52, there were 83,500 students; today, there are 110,000 university students and 17,000 students taking courses of about university level in other higher education establishments. Over 9 out of 10 undergraduates in England and Wales receive financial assistance from public funds this represents assistance to students to a degree which is not approached in any country, so far as I am aware, in Western Europe or America.

The Government has approved an expansion to 150,000 student places in the universities by 1966–67. By undertaking to review university finances in two years' time, the Government has tried to ensure that the developments necessary to provide the additional places will not be held back through fear on the part of the universities that the real value of the recurrent grants will be eroded in the later years of the next quinquennium.

In the Government's view, these facts speak for themselves, and the record forms no sort of basis for justifying the statement that the advance of higher education in this country has been jeopardised.

(3) On the recommendation of the National Advisory Council for the Training and Supply of Teachers, training college places are now being doubled, from 24,000 to 48,000 at a cost of some £44 million. The programme now in hand is therefore equal to eight new universities with 3,000 students in each.

Since agreeing in 1960 to the National Advisory Council's recommendation that a further 8,000 training college places to complete the additional 24,000 should be provided, I have not received any specific request from the Council for the extension of training college provision. They have in their recent Report drawn my attention to the need to ensure, in the long term, a major expansion of the general base of higher education from which we could draw more teachers and with this I fully agree. But the Council recognised that these were matters for Lord Robbins' Committee enquiring into the future system of higher education in this country and I have sent their recommendations, as they wished to Lord Robbins.

When you refer to "a suggestion to institute a sub-standard training for some teachers" I take it you have in mind my recent references to some form of auxiliary service in the infants' schools, and to the possibility of short-service commissions for some teachers. I think you should know that both these suggestions were listed, amongst others, by the National Advisory Council itself as early as January of this year as possible short-term measures to relieve the shortage of teachers, and were remitted by them to a special working party which has now met four times, and which is urgently pursuing its consideration of these problems. As I have repeatedly said, no decisions have yet been taken.

(4) I am not clear what you mean by "the teachers' demands for an auxiliary service of school welfare assistants". One of the purposes of the present discussions is to examine how an auxiliary service, if one were established, could best be used in the schools. I have emphasised that auxiliaries would not be teachers and would always work under the direct control and supervision of qualified teachers. This clarifies rather than confuses the issue.

Finally, you refer to your conviction that "the whole state of education, from the Infants' school to the Institutes of Higher Education, is seriously endangered by your Government's policies".

I find it hard to understand how the students who signed your petition, and your Executive, could have come to so sweeping a conclusion after a dispassionate examination of the facts. I am far from being contented with the state of education—and I hope no Minister of Education ever will be. But what matters is not whether at any given moment there are still many improvements to be made—what matters is the speed of our advance.

You refer to the last ten years. Let me remind you of one or two facts.

(1) Schools

We have built 2,300,000 new school places. which accommodate about 1 in 3 of all school pupils. Put this another way: in the ten-year period 2 new schools have been opened, on average, every 3 days.

In 1951 there were 5,636 all-age schools. Now there are less than 1,000, and almost all of these will go when present building programmes are completed.

The number of 15-year olds increased by 46 per cent., while the number of G.C.E. "O" level passes increased by 92 per cent. At "A" level 94 per cent. more pupils got 117 per cent. more passes.

(2) Further Education

In 1952 Colleges of Advanced Technology as such did not exist. Now there are 10 with 9,500 full-time and sandwich students. The mid-1960s will see 15,000 students, and the colleges are now planning for 21,000.

The technical colleges building programme is going ahead at an unprecedented rate. Projects since the 1956 White Paper have exceeded £100 million, and a further £17 million is included in the 1963–64 programme. Severity-six new colleges or major extensions to existing colleges will come into operation this year.

In 1952 the number of day release students was 290,000. Now there are over 500,000

(3) Teachers

I have already referred to the expansion of the training colleges. In the ten-year period the number of teachers in full-time service increased from 237,000 to 312,000. In further education the number increased from 9,200 to 21,500—almost 3,000 more than the target of 18,600 by 1961 set by the Willis Jackson Committee.

(4) Finance

Ten years ago we were spending some £300 million a year on education. Now we are spending over £1,000 million a year.

These are some of the statistics. What of the background to them?

It is true that the infants' schools will be faced with difficulties in this decade mainly because of factors beyond the control of any democratic Government—the earlier marriage of young women teachers, and the rising birthrate. You may feel in these two facts a cause for dismay. I do not; I am glad that the problems we face—and I do not underestimate them—spring from an increasing confidence and well-being among young people.

The primary schools are today better schools, filled with better-fed, better-clothed, better-taught, and happier children, than at any time in the history of this country.

I have quoted some figures about G.C.E. results. They reflect not only the increasing numbers of pupils staying on in the sixth forms of grammar schools, but also the striking success of the secondary modern and other non-selective secondary schools, which have quickly established their own curricula and traditions as the "secondary education for all" of the Butler Act of 1944, has become a reality. As I said in the House of Commons on 17th May, the opportunities for further education for these boys and girls who are going to the secondary modern or comprehensive schools are broadening all the time. I would commend to your attention the booklet Forward from School recently published by the Ministry.

In short, I find both your particular strictures and your admittedly rather vague case to be in conflict with the facts.

"Give us the tools, and we will finish the job", Sir Winston Churchill once said on a graver occasion. Education is not a job that can ever be finished, and I gladly accept my share of the responsibility, as one of the partners in the education service, for providing the tools. To this end I welcome constructive criticism, for it shows where the next advances should be. But while I would not wish to appear unresponsive to the views of training college students, I cannot find your petition a very helpful contribution to the problems now facing the education service.

Yours sincerely,


M. R. Laycock, Esq.,


Students' Union,

Goldsmiths' College,

New Cross, S.E.14.