HC Deb 18 February 1963 vol 672 cc204-10

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

12.10 a.m.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Willesden, East)

It falls to me at this early hour of 19th February to raise the rather important constituency matter of Carlton Vale infants and Kilburn Park primary schools. This matter arose when constituents came to me about a certain dilemma with which they are faced, for they are naturally concerned about their children. As a result of inquiries, I went to see the schools on 10th January, but before doing so I had some correspondence with the borough education officer. He wrote to me on 17th December suggesting that before visiting the schools I could perhaps read the reports which the Ministry would doubtless make available to me.

These are reports which have been furnished to the Ministry and I have had some difficulty in obtaining copies. I wrote to the Ministry and received a letter from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary saying that they were confidential and would not be available except with the authority of the governors of the schools. It seems that the reports are confidential and cannot be published except by express direction of the governors and, if published, must be published in their entirety.

It seems extraordinary that an hon. Member should not be able to look into this matter when constituents come to him but is, instead, faced with a bar, inasmuch as unless the education authority is prepared to give him permission to look at a report it will be withheld from him; yet he is the very person who should be able to look into these matters with care on behalf of his constituents.

If a board of governors of a school considers that it is against its interest to have a matter scrutinised by an M.P., then he will never be able to do so under these conditions. I suggest that the borough education officer's letter of 17th December was sufficient authority for the Parliamentary Secretary to have acted on.

The parents were naturally concerned whether their children were receiving fair education. These two schools are in an area of congested housing conditions where people are virtually living on top of one another. Many children get insufficient sleep. The parents are under a strain through no fault of their own. A heavy difficulty is imposed on the teachers. There is shortage of accommodation for them, and many are attracted to other areas. There is a difference in background and values not only with local children attending the schools but also foreign and Commonwealth children.

The result is that the teachers have to receive children who have had very little preparation for even an infants' school. Among those who left Carlton Vale for Kilburn Park in September last year, 24.5 per cent. had a reading age which was much lower than their chronological age. It stands to reason that the balance had a reading age much more in line. If the average age is taken as between seven and eight, the lowest recording is 5.1 and the highest recording is 10.0.

Another interesting feature is that if we consider the Kilburn Park school the number of teachers, including the head, in 1955–56 was 10. The teacher-pupil ratio was 26.8. In 1962–63 the number of teachers, including the head, was 7 4/10, and the teacher-pupil ratio 31.2, although I am glad to say that the number of grammar school places secured had risen from three to an estimated eight.

I stress this point. I consider that schools of this nature require very much more treatment than they are receiving, and I think it is only right that the Parliamentary Secretary should consider responsibility for it on his quota system. In such a case it should be possible for the local authority to go through the appropriate channels and secure additional teachers from the quota.

If I might come for a moment to the quota, some rather strange things have been occurring. Recently we have had correspondence in which a certain gentleman from the constituency wrote to me and said: I now find myself frustrated by administrative obduracy. Whilst, theoretically, other areas are in greater need of teachers I cannot at present leave this part of the country. The Observer of 9th December, 1962, had this to say: At one large departmental store the personnel officer said that there were already 20 teachers working in the building. If one considers the Carlton Vale school, here is an area in which I consider the pupils require special attention. The staff are remarkably good, very industrious indeed, and the same remarks apply to Kilburn Park school where I think the teaching staff are devoted to their pupils. But at Carlton Vale there were many rooms which were vacant because of insufficiency of teachers.

What are these schools to do? If these are to be compared with other schools in the area, such as Braincroft, the standards are completely different. My hon. Friend could say that he could supply perhaps an additional teacher. If he says that this is impracticable because of the operation throughout the country of the quota, then how can these two schools, slightly above the quota, receive the appropriate standard for what these parents and pupils require?

It might be said that there is such a thing as an off the quota ration and that married women can be brought back into the service and allowed to be employed through the borough education officer, or he could say that there is part-time recruitment, but I should like to be told tonight what can be done for these parents who have a genuine anxiety. They feel that their children are not receiving the start in life which they should do at this early age.

That is one side of the coin. On the other side, the teaching staff feel that they are faced with a real situation. They want to do their utmost for the pupils who come before them. They find that they are insufficient in numbers. They find that some schools are easier to teach in than schools of this nature. They find that hours are long and inclined to be extremely tedious. I think, therefore, that the quota system is acting unfairly. It may be that the authorities are concentrating their efforts more on attractive schools like Braincroft than on schools in Kilburn. Therefore I ask my hon. Friend what he considers to be the best way round this difficulty. I have been to these schools, and I find there is a case of special need. I hope that my hon. Friend can say something to meet the situation.

12.20 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

It is the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Skeet) with the staffing standards of the schools in his constituency that has led him to raise the problems of the Carlton Vale and Kilburn Park schools on this Adjournment Motion. I know that he has taken considerable trouble to discover the conditions in these schools, and I hope that what I have to say may be of some satisfaction both to him and to his constituents.

First, I want to deal with the point he raised about the furnishing of full inspection reports to Members of Parliament. I should explain that these reports are professional reports from Her Majesty's Inspectors to the Minister. They are written on certain understandings. There is an understanding between the Inspectorate, the Ministry, the local education authority and the school concerned. On the outside of each report is a clear note setting out one of the understandings: This Report is confidential and may not be published save by the express direction of the competent authority of the school. My hon. Friend appreciates that, and he will therefore further appreciate that if a school has been inspected and understands that the inspection report will be published only by the express direction of the competent authority of the school it would be something in the nature of a breach of trust for the Minister or for me to supply that report to somebody else without the permission of the school's authority. It was for that reason I had reluctantly to tell my hon. Friend that it was not in my power to give him the report, but that if he went to the authority it would be open to it to do so. I think this is the right decision, because if these reports were to be widely published it would inevitably affect their nature. We would find that the reports had to be less frank, because they would have to be designed for a wider public than the educationists for whom they are now written.

I now turn to the quota system. I should first explain how it works and what is the thinking behind it. In 1956, after a period in which local education authorities had complete freedom in the number of teachers they employed, it was decided by my right hon. Friend's predecessor to introduce a rationing system. In 1956, during this period of freedom, it was found that there was a real danger of breakdown in some areas, because some local education authorities had little or no difficulty in recruiting all the teachers they wanted, while others found it almost impossible to meet their minimum needs.

After consultation between teachers' associations and local authorities the previous Minister brought in the quota system. Nobody claims that the system is perfect. It is subject to continuous review. No system of rationing has yet been devised that is perfect, as far as I know, and I have no doubt that we would be able to improve upon it in some further respects. But the quota system has secured a better distribution of teachers throughout the country, and is widely accepted as necessary throughout the education service.

An annual quota of certain categories of full-time teachers is allotted to each local education authority, and it is then up to the authority to decide how those teachers may best be used in the area. So it is that in Middlesex the county shares out the available teachers among the divisional executives. The divisional education officer is then responsible for making the allocation to individual schools.

My hon. Friend touched on the charge sometimes made that the quota system results in the under-employment of teachers; that it could be that at a certain time an authority is unable to take a teacher who wished to be employed because the quota was full, and that the teacher was unwilling to move to another part of the country and therefore remained out of the profession. I question whether there are many individuals in that position for any length of time. We are always extremely anxious to avoid that the quota, which we consider necessary, should operate in this fashion.

To avoid it, certain categories of teachers are excluded. My hon. Friend referred to two. There are in fact four. Part-time teachers are excluded; temporary and occasional teachers and married women returning to the profession are excluded in the year in which they are recruited and married women graduates who graduated in or before 1958 and have never previously taught are excluded. My hon. Friend will see therefore that authorities are free to employ as many teachers in these categories as they wish. The number of such teachers that an authority does employ will depend on its efforts and the policy it pursues.

My hon. Friend asked me to take account of the special circumstances prevailing in the area of these schools, and I can tell him that they are taken into consideration. Obviously, we can take into account only the special circumstances of an entirely local authority, because we are concerned with the allocation of the quota for the authority, and not with individual schools. An example of the kind of consideration that is borne in mind in arriving at the quota figure for an area is that where the authority has a large number of small schools we should consider that a reason for a higher quota. I will certainly bear in mind the points which my hon. Friend has made when next the quotas are reviewed and I appreciate that there are a number of difficulties in areas where there is a large immigrant population. My right hon. Friend has been paying close attention to that problem.

My hon. Friend will appreciate that the task confronting many schools in this respect are much more complex than at Carlton Vale or Kilburn Park. I have looked through some of the newspaper cuttings about the controversy over these schools and I have seen it is alleged by some parents that the difficulties in the schools arise because of a large number of immigrants in the area. But in Carlton Vale, out of a school population of 202 there are only three who came to the school without knowing English.

Mr. Skeet

May I interrupt my hon. Friend to say that I am satisfied that the language factor is not one that can be considered?

Mr. Chataway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend because I think that that is the case. Schools which have a fair number of immigrants do face some difficulties, but although there are a number of immigrants in the schools in question they are making excellent progress and they do not constitute a very large proportion of the school population.

The grounds on which my hon. Friend asks me to consider this area as a special area for the quota are, therefore, of a somewhat general kind. He has referred to the housing conditions in the area—housing conditions, evidently, which affect both parents and teachers; but he knows that there are many areas in London in which parents and teachers are faced with equally difficult housing problems. In arguing the case of his authority against another, I think, he would find it difficult to prove to the satisfaction of the local education authority or of ourselves that there was necessarily a ground here for making special arrangements for the two schools in question.

I understand that at Carlton Vale the staffing ratio is at the moment one teacher to 30.5 children, and at Kilburn Park one teacher to 30.8 children. The staffing ratio over the whole of Middlesex is one teacher to 31.5 children. One therefore finds that the two schools are marginally better staffed than is the case over the county as a whole.

Perhaps I may sum up in this way: in part this is a matter for the local education authority, for it is up to the authority to allocate the teachers on quota among divisions and schools, and the supply of off-quota teachers is affected by the authority's efforts and policy. The overall responsibility for teacher supply rests with my right hon. Friend, and he has made it clear that he gives this first priority. It is in order to meet the needs of an increasing child population and to meet the demands of schools such as these to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention that we are at the moment in the midst of an unprecedented expansion in teacher-training colleges—an expansion which will lift the population of the colleges from 28,000 in 1958 to 80,000 in 1970.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-six minutes to One o'clock.