HC Deb 27 November 1963 vol 685 cc433-44

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

11.20 p.m.

Mr. J. P. W. Mallalien (Huddersfield, East)

We have just been discussing the question of the control of the flow of immigrants into this country. I want for a short time to raise an allied matter, that of handling a section of them once they have arrived in this country. It is a somewhat wider subject in some ways because it deals with all non-English-speaking children, whether they happen to come from the Commonwealth or from anywhere else.

It is a little difficult to know just what the size of the problem is because we do not exactly know the numbers of non-English-speaking school children at present in this country. I doubt very much whether over the country as a whole it is a very serious problem. Out ofthe present school population in London of about 400,000 there are about 5,000 who are non-English-speaking—1¼ per cent.

As has been mentioned in the earlier debate, a problem arises where these children are concentrated in particular areas. In the area of the L.C.C. there is, I should judge, a fairly high concentration in places like Kensington and Islington. There is a high concentration in parts of Birmingham and, so I hear, in Bradford, and I believe that in Bedford there is the highest concentration of all per head of population.

Where there is this concentration a problem arises for schools. I know of. one village school in Buckinghamshire which, at the beginning of one term, had to face the problem of 12 non-English-speaking Italian children suddenly arriving on its doorstep. There is a real danger when a large number of non-English speaking children arrive at a school. There is the danger either that they will be left to their own devices so that their education will not develop very quickly, or else particular attention will be paid to them which could conceivably retard the progress of the English children in that school.

Various methods are being tried to deal with this problem. In the L.C.C. area, for non-English-speaking children of secondary school age there are various centres, such as the Laycock Centre in Islington, where they are taught English for half of each school day and then return to their ordinary school to cope with the ordinary curriculum as best they can. I do not think any special steps are taken to deal with primary school children. They are left to pick up their education as best they can, and that seems to work reasonably well, partly through the special devotion of the teachers who, I believe, give up their lunch hour to give extra tuition to some of these children.

In Birmingham, I think there is a scheme whereby itinerant teachers go from school to school and take special classes in English. In Bradford, a very small experiment is being tried in a centre to which a small number of non-English speaking children are invited to go, there to be taught in their own language.

There are snags about these various schemes. The problem is difficult, because not just one foreign language but many are involved. There is difficulty in getting teachers who are sufficiently qualified to teach in all the languages which are required. There is also the snag of teaching English through the child's native tongue. It is rather an encouragement to children to think in their own native language, and, indeed, to continue to use it among themselves. But I am not an expert teacher, so I shall not pontificate about methods.

I have, however, two certainties in my mind about the handling of this problem. First, whatever we do, we must not allow the education of the English children to be retarded. There was a feeling—I do not know how justified it was—that this was happening in Southall, and the Minister himself had some experience of it. Whether it happened there or not, it should not happen, and in no way should the education of English children be retarded. My second certainty is that any proposal to have special schools solely for non-English-speaking children should be as strongly opposed as the Minister did, with great courage, on that occasion.

I wish now to bring to the attention of the House an experiment which is being conducted in my own constituency of Huddersfield which avoids the retarding of the education of the English children who go to the school and any question of a separate school for non-English speaking children. This experiment is taking place in an ordinary primary school. Spring Grove County Primary School, in Huddersfield.

In addition to the English children of the area who go there, all non-English-speaking children, from whatever part of the borough they come, are invited to enrol there. From the very beginning, they take part in some of the activities of the main school. They join in assembly. They play games all together. All the children go for their swimming lessons together. They do their P.T. together, and a certain amount of music together.

But, at first, those children who cannot speak English at all go into special classes where they are taught the English language intensively, and some academic work. After a period, they pass from the special classes into what are called transfer classes where they have more academic work; and, eventually, after a period of time which depends on the speed with which they pick things up, they move into the main school and are completely integrated. There are various refinements, but that is the main way in which the school works.

There are, I think, one or two snags in this particular scheme in Huddersfield. It is probably wrong that secondary school children should be brought into a primary school; they are rather too old to be mixing with children very much younger than themselves, and a separate school for secondary children should, I think, be developed. There is also, I regret to say, the trouble that the balance between the English and the non-English-speaking children is being upset by slum clearance and other schemes which are tending to move a great many of the native-born families out of the area into other parts of the town.

It may well be that, in time, the local education authority will have to consider shifting its centre to another place so that it can preserve the balance of immigrant children, of whatever colour or race, with native-born children. But the essential point remains that in this school the education of the English children is not retarded. Indeed, it tends to be slightly wider than in other schools, because when they are learning about foreign lands in history or geography, added point is given to their lessons by the fact that they may be sitting side by side with somebody who comes from one of those countries.

Furthermore, the non-English children in the school, instead of being merely left to pick up things and, therefore, moving rather slowly, tend to move fast, thus making it possible all the sooner for them to take their place in the main school. After a comparatively short time, a child who arrives at the school wholly incapable of speaking English is fully part of the life of the school.

Therefore, recognising that there is a problem and that various methods are being tried to cope with it, I appeal to the Minister and the Ministry to do everything they possibly can to spread the knowledge of the different methods that are employed and the different experiences that teachers throughout the country have with this problem. I understand, from an Answer given to a Question of mine the other day, that the Ministry is about to do this with the publication of Pamphlet No. 43, which Is to be issued. I believe, tomorrow or the day after.

I should like the Ministry to back up that pamphlet by having at least regional conferences of areas where this problem arises. The Ministry should do all that it can to facilitate the interchange of visits between one school and another dealing with the problem so that they can all learn from their separate experiences. I should like the Minister also to consider the possibility of giving special responsibility allowances to teachers in schools like this one in Huddersfield where very special work is done without any extra pay and a great deal of extra time is devoted to it.

I should like the Minister to do what he can to stimulate the local authority to do its share in guiding the parents of immigrant children into our ways and showing them that it really is a help if they attend school functions and take the normal part of a parent in school life, which some of them do not seem willing to do. In addition, the local education authority should make it clear to English parents that in schools like this one in Huddersfield, their own children are not being retarded in any way but are getting a first-class education.

To sum up, whatever our views may be about the Act which we have been discussing today, no one in the House of Commons has suggested that we should send back to their own countries all the various immigrant families who are here. Therefore, it is to our interest to do everything possible to ensure that they are absorbed into our community and that integration really takes place.

I know that racial discrimination is fairly well an adult disease—it does not often appear in children—but we can help to prevent its onset by mingling the children together a great deal when they are very young. In so doing, we shall help the children to educate their parents.

The teachers who do this job, and who are doing it effectively, are doing work of supreme national importance. They are doing a job of work which will benefit not only ourselves immediately, but the lives of our children and the whole of our community in years to come. I end, therefore, by asking the Minister to do, as I know he will, everything he possibly can to help these teachers in their work.

11.34 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I should like to say a word of welcome to my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu for raising this subject. It is one in which I have taken an interest for more years than I care to think. More than thirty years ago, in New York, I came up against this kind of problem with the first and second generation immigrants.

I ask the Minister not only to think of the great importance of the children in the schools, but, also, whether something could be done to encourage teaching mothers at least spoken English. The tension in the home when the child is taught English in school and the mother cannot speak English can lead to all kinds of disciplinary problems. I have here a report of a recent conference held in London of the Cypriot community where this matter was raised of the gap which arises between the generations. It is the mother in particular who is apt to be at home; father picks up a certain amount of English at work; but the mother may be monoglot in her own language. This can raise the greatest difficulties, and it may affect the child in such a way that delinquency, and so forth, may follow owing to instability at home.

This question of helping adult education of mothers, so that they can at least have some knowledge of English, is something to which the Minister ought to give his attention.

11.35 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Sir Edward Boyle)

I can tell the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) straight away that the last chapter of a pamphlet, "English for Immigrants," which is appearing on 29th November, specifically has the theme of English for adults, and quite deliberately it does not only include the children's age group.

As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. J. P. W. Mallalieu) said in introducing this debate, we have been discussing for some time earlier today the question how many immigrants should be admitted. Now we are dealing with the certainly no less important question how we can achieve integration between the communities who live in this country, and I think that perhaps especially in the week of President Kennedy's death I must at the start state to the House my own belief that the problem of racial relations, and of integration versus segregation, will continue for generations to be one of the most important facing the free world. I am, therefore, very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having enabled us to have a debate on this subject.

I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman when he says that all experience suggests that children are, by nature, free of racial prejudice. I heard a very wise teacher in Birmingham say at a conference recently that we shall achieve integration in this country when the children of different races attend one another's birthday parties in their homes as a matter of course. I think that that is true. Children of different races tend to play and learn together very easily if adults do not put them off with their own fears and superstitions. The school is, therefore, of great importance as the obvious instrument for achieving integration.

I am not, of course, directly responsible for running the schools, but my approach to this is a very simple one. It seems to me that I am responsible quite clearly to this House for all children who are resident in this country, whatever their intelligence, whatever their race or colour, and receiving education according to their age and ability.

After all, one of the strongest arguments we all use when we advocate educational advance is this. We say very truly today that our children tend to be more equal as physical specimens than they ever were before, and that today the average child of or 2 is a much better physical specimen than the average child of that age in the past, but the opportunities children have in their homes for learning and gaining knowledge of England can be very unequal; and just as they can be unequal as between native children, as one says so often, so there are greater inequalities of opportunity between native children and immigrant children. It is, to my mind, for that reason that this is a subject which must certainly be taken very seriously indeed.

So far as I can influence these matters at all it is my own hope that schools will not become segregated. That is to say, I do not wish to see in this country—and I am sure no one in this House wishes to see—laissez faire acceptance of what one might call de facto segregation between immigrant schools and native schools. I am sure that that is wrong for two reasons.

In the first place, in the interests of the general policy for racial integration, it is my view that efforts must be made to prevent individual schools from becoming only immigrant schools. Secondly, there is the educational point of which we must not lose sight. If possible, it is desirable on educational grounds that no one school should have more than about 30 per cent, of immigrants. I have the greatest admiration for the hundreds, indeed thousands, of admirable teachers in the country who are coping with the problem. I will mention them particularly in one context. But I am sure that the educational problems that one gets above the level of 30 per cent, immigrant children become infinitely harder and perhaps impossible to tackle.

Let us be under no illusions as to how difficult the problem is from the point of view of local education authorities. It is easy enough for us in the House to pronounce general principles, but I have every sympathy with a local authority and its staff who actually have to tackle the problem. For example, one must realise the difficulty in places where nearly a whole neighbourhood is taken over by immigrant families. The school serving the neighbourhood will cease to have a sufficient supply of native children, and it is both politically and legally more or less impossible to compel native parents to send their children to a school in an immigrant area if there are places for them in other schools. Moreover, even when native parents continue to live alongside immigrants, they will often seek to transfer their children to more distant non-immigrant schools if their local school has more than about 30 per cent, of immigrant children. That is the sort of problem that a local authority has to tackle.

When I speak of the importance of all children receiving a proper education, I mean all children—that is to say, immigrant children and native children. One must recognise the perfectly legitimate anxiety of many of the parents of what I call the native children; one must recognise the reasonable fear of many parents that their children will get less than a fair share of the teachers' attention when a great deal of it must of necessity be given both to language teaching and to the social training of immigrant children.

So I say, on the general principle, by all means, let us stand firmly in this House against segregation between native school and immigrant schools. I hope that the House will never be attracted by the spuriously respectable doctrine which has gone by the name of " separate but equal". In practice, separate will always mean unequal. In practice, immigrant schools, if separate, will never be equal. But let us realise at the same time the legitimate fears of the parents of native-born children and let us very fully realise the particular problems, administrative problems not least, with which any local authority will be faced.

It is fair to say that lately public attention has centred on the particular instance of this problem as it has affected Southall, in Middlesex. I want to mention this subject because I addressed a meeting of parents there on 15th October. In a political life of about thirteen years in this House, it was one of the best public meetings that I have attended. We had about 400 people in a large hall, I talked for 25 minutes, we had a long question time, and I thought the spirit of the meeting was admirable and the questioning extremely thoughtful and constructive. Nothing more disreputable happened than, as The Times fairly reported, a British Union banner being rather unceremoniously unfurled and a rather damp paper parcel being undone at the end and a very few leaflets being given out. The spirit of the meeting was absolutely admirable.

My Department is due to meet the Middlesex and Southall education authorities in December to work out arrangements for distributing Indian and Pakistani children over the schools of the borough. I must regretfully tell the House that one school, Beaconsfield Road School, must be regarded now as irretrievably an immigrant school. The important thing to do is to prevent this happening elsewhere.

To look on the brighter side, I must say that the schools of Southall have coped extremely well with this problem. There has been a real burden on Beaconsfield Road School. The two headmistresses, both of whom I met, have done a really first-class job and I was struck at the meeting by how admirable were the contributions made by the teachers who were present.

I am certain that the spirit in Southall is extremely good on this subject. The aim is to lessen the concentration in Beaconsfield Road School, but, at the same time, that particular area has changed its character so much that the problem there might be insuperable when it comes to preventing it becoming an immigrant school.

I have also been to a conference in Birmingham on this subject. I attended at my own request. I am greatly impressed by the manner in which Birmingham is tackling this question. But anyone who knows the Director of Education, Sir Lionel Russell, will not be surprised. The education committee has done extremely well and is getting good co-operation from the leaders of the West Indian community. I know just how well those leaders are helping the authority.

I want to make one or two remarks about the practical steps that can be taken. I take account of the need for extra teachers to cope with immigrants by giving the authorities concerned additions to their teacher quotas. I announced to Southall that we have made deliberately a small addition there. It is always difficult with a quota, however. The more exceptions one makes the less fairly the system tends to work. But I am sure that it is right that we should bear in mind the need for extra teachers to cope with immigrants.

I certainly will support any authority which tries to spread immigrant children by introducing zoning schemes. This must be a matter of co-operation rather than compulsion, but I can promise any authority which attempts to spread immigrant children my strongest support in so far as it lies with me.

As far as I can fit this in with my other engagements, I shall always be ready to travel to various parts of the country where this is a real problem to see whether there is help I can give or to answer parents' questions, because this is a highly important subject both for the present and the future.

We shall certainly do all we can to disseminate advice and information about teaching of immigrant children. Her Majesty's inspectors aim to do this all the time in their normal contacts with teachers and authorities and the pamphlet which will be published on 29 th November is the fruit of a number of years of study.

Finally, I have asked the under-secretary in the schools branch of my Department to take special responsibility for advising me on these matters, and I am considering whether it might not be possible to strengthen this particular branch of the Ministry so as to ensure that adequate work is done in collecting and disseminating information on this subject. I agree entirely that there are a number of interesting experiments, not least at Huddersfield, and that it is very important that this knowledge should be as widely shared as possible.

This is a subject which I think would well merit a longer debate on a number of occasions. Let us remember that the present immigrant settlers will produce an increasing number of children. Immigrant children as they reach maturity may well reproduce in larger numbers than perhaps some other parts of the population. This is not just a short-term matter, but a long-term question as well. It affects secondary as well as primary education. In my constituency I know that there is a feeling among some teachers that we tend to think relatively not enough about it in the secondary education context.

I have every sympathy for those who feel difficulties in a new community, and I ask all concerned to think not just about the immediate problem of today, not just 1:0 compare the problem of today with the Britain of ten years ago, but above all, to see that in tackling it we help to build the sort of Britain and the sort of local communities we all wish to see for the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes to Twelve o'clock.