HC Deb 11 May 1962 vol 659 cc888-98

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. M. Hamilton.]

4.1 p.m.

Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)

One of the few points on which every educational expert in the country is agreed is that teachers will be in short supply during the rest of the 1960s. There is some room for argument about how large the shortage will be and precisely which steps should be taken to deal with it, but there is no debate on the central point that we shall have a shortage of teachers.

During recent months those who are concerned with filling this gulf have had to take into account three factors. The first has been the introduction of the three-year course in teacher training colleges, which is a welcome advance in the quality of the training although it will slow down the rates at which new teachers enter our schools in the future. Secondly, we have to note the fact that recruits for teaching are coming forward in very large numbers and that they are of higher quality than some experts estimated some time ago.

Thirdly, there has been a very large programme of building and expansion in teacher training colleges recently. In 1960–61, I am informed, £3.8 million was spent on major projects at colleges, and in the last financial year, 1961–62, that figure was almost trebled to more than £10 million. This is a most welcome advance, and much of the work is of a very high quality. Recently, I went to the Westminster College, just outside Oxford, and I saw that this is a college of exceptional charm. The buildings are most attractive, the staff are capable and devoted and there is an enthusiastic student body.

But, like almost every other teacher training college in the country, almost twenty weeks of the year are spent on holiday, and I wondered whether that was sensible at this point. I am not alone in thinking that we in this country somewhat under-use our existing facilities for higher education. For many years, Sir Geoffrey Crowther has been leading most capably a campaign on this subject, and, while I think that there is much in his view over the whole field of higher education, this afternoon I must confine myself to the teacher training colleges

The first question I want to ask is whether these expensive facilities and buildings are being under-used at present. Certainly, a great many colleges do a great deal of holiday conference work and derive a considerable income from it. This is not confined merely to the teacher training colleges, other colleges enter into this field. My father's college, University College, Oxford, has in recent years been pleased to welcome the Colonial Office course, the National Coal Board course, and, from time to time in the summer, has offered hospitality at a substantial price to quite a number of very attractive girls from Scandinavia and young men from Italy, who come here to learn the language and, no doubt, various other things as well.

The question is whether we should be putting up new buildings to act as conference hotels, and whether this is what we really should be devoting our money for. I believe that however much many colleges are used during vacations a large number of them remain empty for long periods.

What is the attitude of the students themselves? Most people in the educational world to whom I have talked agree that a good many students would like to get through their training course and into the schools, where they can earn money, as quickly as possible, and this view is certainly confirmed by the conversations that I have had with students.

To get a slightly more precise picture, I recently sent a questionnaire to all training college students in my constituency, and just over fifty of them were kind enough to reply to it. I am grateful to them, and to the Kent education authority for making their names available to me. One of the questions I asked them was this, "If you could choose between a three-year college course or a two-and-a-half-years' course, with shorter holidays but with an equal amount of time spent in residence at college, which would you choose?" Slightly more than one-third of the fifty said unhesitatingly that they would go for the two-and-a-half years' course. Some went on to press the possible necessity for readjusting the maintenance grants. If this were done, more than half of the fifty would prefer an accelerated two-and-a-half-year programme to the three-year course.

I was interested in the number of those who made particular reference to this question of employment in the holidays, and what value it was to them to have outside jobs. I believe that this is an extremely valid point, and that it is desirable that students should have some outside employment before going back into the schools. The reforms which I am suggesting today would enable a number of students to get this form of experience in between school and teacher training college, which I think is a better time for them to gain this experience.

However important the question of the buildings and the views of the students may be, what is of paramount importance is the attitude of the staffs at the teacher training colleges.

I have no doubt that if I were to ask a large number of members of the staffs at the colleges whether they would like to work for, say, an extra two months each year, I would get a very dusty answer. Indeed, I am also sure, from the conversation's I have had, that some of the staffs could not work longer or harder at teaching than they do at present.

Individuals have different points of exhaustion. A daily routine that would flatten me might leave my hon. and industrious Friend the Parliamentary Secretary quite unmoved. People undoubtedly have different capacities for work. On the other hand, I am sure that all the staffs at the training colleges would like to earn more money, and if the Government were to offer larger salaries for somewhat longer terms I think that many members of the staffs would welcome it. There is a case for finding out what percentage of them would welcome a reform of this sort.

It would be desirable, possibly, to use the social survey organisation to gather more information about the views of staffs on this point and about the use to which they devote their present holiday period. For, as Members of Parliament, we should be well aware that a very great deal of useful work can be done, and is done, during periods that are ostensibly holiday periods.

What should be done? I want, first, to make it clear that my proposal that we should consider lengthening the terms at some colleges is not designed to take the place of an orderly expansion of college places. Indeed, I think that it would rather strengthen the case for greater long-term expansion. People would be more ready to devote money for making more places available if they were sure that expensive facilities were being fully used.

Secondly, I do not want my hon. Friend to say this afternoon, "We are convinced, and we will compel all colleges to extend their terms by two months a year" This, I am sure, would be quite disastrous. Many people in the training colleges think that they have been "mucked about" a great deal in recent years. They have been asked to lengthen their courses and to take in a great many more students, and a Ministerial pronunciamento might well provoke dismay, if not mutiny.

I am sure that there would be strong administrative reasons against a wholesale change of this sort. For instance, the adoption of this proposed reform would mean that after a certain period of time some colleges would enrol students in the middle of the school year, together with their graduation. Although this might be desirable in small measure, if the entire system were to switch over, the result would most certainly be harmful.

But in this country we are blessed with a flexible education system in which everyone does not have to march in step. I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to say this afternoon that he will refer this question to the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers while making a survey of the use to which training colleges are put during the holiday period, together with a survey of the number of staff who might welcome a longer year in return for somewhat higher salaries.

At the most, I should like to see, say, about one-quarter of our training colleges adopt this more intensive academic year. It would be two and half years before the scheme began to produce teachers more quickly, but at the end of five years—say, in 1968 or 1969—we could get several thousand teachers into the schools a year earlier than we can expect now. This would be a major improvement at a time which will be most difficult for our education system as a whole.

4.17 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

We are greatly obliged to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) for raising this problem. It is one that must be faced, although I am not very happy about the solution that the hon. Member has proposed to meet it. I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that, first, we should pay a tribute to the principals and staffs of the training colleges for the way they have wholeheartedly co-operated with the Ministry, both in going over to a three-year course and also in the demands made upon them from time to time to expand the capacity of the colleges. For that reason. I do not think that the principals and staffs would give a dusty answer. I am sure that they would try to meet this request if they were convinced that it was necessary.

I agree with the hon. Member that, on the face of it, there seems to be an insufficient use of expensive capital resources, and that one would like better use made of the buildings if this can be devised. I do not complain of the buildings being used in this way during the summer. Probably, we will have to make much greater use of such buildings for hospitality of this kind. We have to invite European students to come here and probably to persuade and attract British students to go abroad. There should be a considerable development in the interchange of students between countries in Europe, the Commonwealth and elsewhere.

I do not know whether the staffs are under-employed, but I am certain that they would not mind the Minister discussing this matter with them. We must face the position in further education that we are extremely short of invaluable manpower and we have to make every appeal we can to those teaching in further education to teach their utmost for the next few years.

I am not attracted by the hon. Member's major proposal that in some colleges at least we should introduce a two-and-a-half-year rather than a three-year course. We have just introduced a three-year course, and we had better see how it works. The hon. Member has, however, called attention to something which should be reviewed, and that is the academic year. I hope that the Minister will at least consider this matter. I finish on a note of agreement with the hon. Member for Beckenham. There is everything to be said for discussion about this matter between the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary, those in training colleges and those in the universities, too.

4.19 p.m.

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

I, too, would congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on having taken the opportunity of airing, however briefly, what is an interesting, important, and somewhat unusual matter among many important matters which concern us in the world of education today. It is true that the teacher-training college plant—as we refer to it—is expensive and does involve locking up a very large amount of capital; which is ideally designed and suited for the training of teachers. In many ways, I suppose, it is a pity that we have to contemplate these buildings standing idle for a large part of the year. I should like my hon. Friend and the House to be assured that this aspect of the use of these resources has been considered on a number of occasions by my Department and by others who have the same interests at heart.

I do not want to take up the stance which is so easy for a Minister to adopt of retailing to the House the difficulties which stand in the way of making any change. That is an easy and familiar ploy whenever a new idea is put forward. It is certainly not our approach to these problems. My hon. Friend will allow me to tell him how we view this matter and see how far we can go to meet the request he made in the latter stages of his remarks.

It is true—and I join here with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey)—that we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who are concerned with the running of the teacher-training colleges at the present time. The staffs and administrators of the teacher-training colleges are I suppose a section of the education community whose lives have been torn about, in this last four or five years. We have asked them to change over from a two-year to a three-year training course which has involved them in a complete rethinking and replanning of their processes of work. They have accomplished this with great enthusiasm, with great skill, and, so far as we are able to judge at the moment, with very great success. Indeed, in terms of the quality of the training which they are giving to students now in the colleges we are all deeply indebted to them for the work which they have done in that field.

Secondly, we have stated to them that we are deeply concerned over the need for more teachers and asked them, "Cannot you within the limits of your resources produce still more students?" They have submitted themselves to a degree of overcrowding and other devices which must have meant that their lives were quite uncomfortable and certainly less agreeable than they had any right to expect when they embarked on a training college career.

Thirdly, they have adapted their courses and their lives to taking in day students in many of our colleges, and they are not altogether the easiest people to fit into training college life; though when they are they prove to be a most invaluable source of supply of teachers. We are deeply indebted to them for taking their full part in taking the day training students and making them feel that they belong to the general body of those coming forward to supply this national need.

The colleges have also adapted themselves to providing shortened courses for mature students and suitable students who can benefit by doing in two years what others have been allowed to take three years to accomplish. All this has meant that they have found their lives in running training colleges a great deal upset, to put it no higher. My right hon. Friend joins with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, North in recognising the great contribution this has meant to the solution of our present problem.

Let me say one further word about the buildings themselves. They are not, of course, idle through the whole of the long vacation. I have before me a list of examples taken at random from a number of training colleges of the kind of things which go on in colleges during these different recesses. I shall not weary the House by presenting anything more than the briefest description from this list, but some colleges are engaged on weekend conferences, on ten-day conferences, on six-week courses, on four-week courses, on Ministry courses, on outside courses of all kinds. It is almost impossible to describe in a group of categories the great variety of activities which go on in these college buildings during recesses, but we do have a picture of the use of these buildings during this time.

The colleges use these periods of the recesses for bringing up to date their amenities, doing repairs and decorations, and at this time when so many of them are both expanding and preparing themselves to take men and women students where previously they were one-sex colleges, some of this work is required to be concentrated into the recess periods when the students are not there. Furthermore, the academic and nonacademic staffs of the colleges have to take their recesses and holidays as well. Therefore, it is not a simple question, as my hon. Friend was so perfectly right to explain to the House, of taking up just a lot of slack and making a different kind of use of it.

Here is a situation complicated in all the various ways that I have described. But that is the negative answer. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right is saying that there is room for us to find out if a better use can be made of these resources. There is, as the House knows, an examination being made at very high level indeed at present of the whole of our processes of higher education by the Committee under Lord Robbins. I have no doubt at all that Lord Robbins will have a good deal to say about the teacher training colleges, the courses and the kind of people that the colleges should produce. We ought to be ready to make use of his advice in the light of our own researches into what the training colleges could offer in the way of changed arrangements that would be made, the kind of thing which my hon. Friend has been describing.

I am quite ready to say that my right hon. Friend would be willing to have this matter looked at again in the light of the fact that the training colleges have launched themselves on the three-year course and that things may be a little different than when last examined in 1958 or 1959. I hope my hon. Friend will believe me when I say that we shall take careful account of what he said.

There is this to be added. While I am sure it is right that a good many students—I have no reason to quarrel with the figures that my hon. Friend gave—will opt, if they can, for the shorter course and the earlier entry into professional salary grades, it may not necessarily be true that these same students are the right ones to be permitted to take the course in a shorter time. This would be a matter to which the colleges would have to give very serious thought. The colleges would select the students which they think able to take in two years the course which the younger and less mature students would occupy three years in following, and the colleges would have to have the right to decide whether a student could benefit properly by the shorter course.

Mr. Goodhart

It has been pointed out that the number of those who would certainly opt for the shorter course would be the young women. They would do so with a view to getting a dowry for reasonably early marriage.

Mr. Thompson

If my hon. Friend thinks that I am going to get mixed up in a discussion on that matter today, I must ask him to excuse me. What he says is possibly right, but the selection of the students must be a matter for the colleges.

There is a factor here which is very difficult to evaluate, but which we cannot ignore. There is no doubt that the student coming straight from the sixth form in the grammar school requires both time and training to mature into a properly qualified teacher, and it would be wrong for us to deny that student that time. These rather obscure calculations can only be made on a judgment of each individual candidate.

I hope that my hon. Friend will accept from me that we are not complacent about the matter. We are anxious to see that all resources that can be provided shall be provided and I can give my hon. Friend and the House the assurance that we will look carefully at the points which have emerged in this brief discussion to see if there is any advantage we can take of the resources available to us to help us meet the needs of the schools.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Four o'clock.