HC Deb 31 July 1964 vol 699 cc2033-46

3.49 p.m.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

This afternoon, I wish to raise two separate and closely related matters. First, the grammar and technical school situation in mid-Kent, and, secondly, the problems facing us in Kent over higher technical education. The population of Maidstone is growing rapidly, and so, also, is the population of certain country areas. Many of the people coming to this district are of a high level of intelligence and the population of mid-Kent expects a high level of educational facilities to be available for the children. The Kent Education Committee has a satisfactory record in the provision of a number of grammar and technical school places. The reply I received from my right hon. Friend on 20th July shows that in Kent 246 children in every 1,000 at the age of 13 enjoyed grammar and technical school education. This contrasts very favourably with the figure for the nation as a whole of 214 per 1,000 at the age of 13 and with 216 per 1,000 in the south-east of England generally.

I am glad to know that this fairly satisfactory position will be improved on still further in each of the next two years because 210 new places are to be provided in the girls' secondary schools in each year. This is very good as far as it goes, but my anxiety is about the future when the new development we are seeing will be completed and the children will be reaching secondary school age with an in-flow of population of the sort envisaged in the South-East Study. I should like as clear an assurance as possible from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that the necessary help will be given to Kent County Council when it seeks aid for a new school building programme in future, particularly the building programme for secondary schools.

Secondly, will my hon. Friend give some assurance that his Department will assist Kent Education Committee with its minor works programme because it is quite vital ha children of he high I.Q. which we expect to have in Kent both now and in future children should have a really good primary education if they are to be fitted to make good use of the secondary school education provided. I hope my hon. Friend will help us on our minor works programme which is essential for our primary schools because this does not concern big new building programmes but improving the old existing schools.

I make no complaint at all about the allocation of funds we have had for the new building programme. We were fortunate in Kent for we are to get 24 new primary schools in the current financial year and 29 in the next. In this final debate in this Parliament, I feel I must stress this point, as I have done each year since I came here, for more money for minor works in the county to enable our children to take full advantage of what comes after. With the proposed growth of the Borough of Maidstone and the immediately surrounding countryside and probable population growth in the Sevenoaks area, it will be necessary in the not too distant future for Kent County Council to seek to establish some completely new grammar and technical school unit, perhaps in the Wrotham area in the west of my constituency or perhaps in the east of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers). I press my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to give a firm assurance that this proposal will have a sympathetic ear in his Department.

The present proposal is to increase the existing grammar and technical schools, but we want an assurance that there will be help for a new unit when it is needed. Such a school might well be a mixed grammar and technical school. The additional entry form which will be provided in the existing schools in the next year or so will not be sufficient to cope with the growth in the population. I hope my hon. Friend will help us in this regard. When mentioning the possibility of a mixed grammar and technical type of unit, I congratulate Kent Education Committee on its considerable ability in taking the sting out of the 11 plus and making the selection as fair as possible and spread over a considerable period.

The Kent County Council have a very good record in transferring late-developing pupils to selected schools after the age of 11. There is a considerable transfer between the ages of 11 and 13. In addition, they may wish to experiment with blurring the hard edge between the grammar and technical school streams, and I hope that my hon. Friend and his Department will encourage them in any future experiments which they undertake.

The Kent County Council lay great emphasis on technical education. In Kent last year 8.9 per cent. of all 13-year old children had a technical education compared with only 2.8 per cent. for the rest of England and Wales. This is very much in the spirit of our age. I am glad that my right hon. Friend is here, and I hope that he will listen to me on this point and will help Kent County Council in these experiments.

The measure of the success of any educational course at present can only be the measure of G.C.E. results, and it is noteworthy that in recent years the modern schools in Kent have been doing very well. I believe that this is particularly gratifying to the staff of those schools, when we consider that last year the high figure of 25 per cent. of the brightest children had already been creamed off into the selected schools, whereas in the rest of England and Wales the figure was only 21.7 per cent. I believe that the good results of the secondary modern schools are particularly gratifying to the staff.

In 1962, 641 pupils at selected schools in Kent achieved 2,262 O-level passes between them. Last year, rather more pupils, 684, achieved rather fewer passes from the selected schools, 2,166. This contrasts with the modern schools; in 1962, 78 pupils achieved 156 passes, whereas last year 110 pupils achieved 217 passes. I have dealt with the figures in detail because I think that they are important, and they lead me to my second main subject, as they show the importance of the O-level G.C.E. passes and the upsurge of ability among our pupils in the modern schools.

I want to turn to the proposals for the re-organisation of our technical colleges. I was particularly pleased to see the assurance given by my right hon. Friend, as reported in col. 365 of HANSARD, to my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Sir J. Arbuthnot) and Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), that the local needs of each area would be kept in mind when there was any further development in the county as a whole. The Kent County Council have considerable plans for the alteration of the pattern of technical colleges throughout the county, but in the main I will deal only with my own area.

These Kent County Council's proposals are put forward only as a suggestion. They are by no means a fait accompli. They are put forward as a basis for discussion. But I have had representations from teachers and others—and it is this which brings me to my feet this afternoon—who are not entirely happy with these proposals. I have mentioned the successes in O-level passes. Many people are perturbed at the proposal to cut out the O- and A-level G.C.E. courses at technical colleges, because in the view of many of the technical college staffs, this would be a denial of opportunities for many young people, since more and more occupations today are specifying a certain number of O-level passes in certain subjects as a qualification for entry to the occupation.

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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

4.0 p.m.

Mr. J. Wells

These O-level courses are fulfilling a public demand. People want them, and it is important that these should be catered for. I therefore hope that particularly sympathetic consideration will be given to the needs of some of our late developers and the need to help young people who may after the age of 15 change their minds about what they intend to do with their lives and want to have a G.C.E. course rather later.

I hope that my hon. Friend will bear in mind a number of points when these proposals for the reorganisation of technical colleges in Kent are considered. First, I cannot stress too strongly that Maidstone is the hub of the transport system of Kent. Although I agree that many senior students have their own method of transport. I believe that it places a considerable burden on less affluent younger students to make them travel further to their place of study. It is not only expensive for them, but it is difficult if they have to make a cross-country journey.

I therefore urge my hon. Friend to pay close attention to the geographical and physical fact that Maidstone is the hub of the Kent transport system. For instance, even now many pupils in the Mailing area already find it is a difficult journey to the Medway Technical College. Is it wise to place a proposed great regional college where transport is difficult and where it will be necessary for virtually every pupil to have his own transport?

Secondly, is it absolutely certain that the vague general ideas set out in the South-East Study will dominate our lives for generations to come? It is proposed in the Study that much of Maidstone's development shall be commercial. If this is so, it is not unreasonable to lay stress on the commercial side of our technical college, just as it is sensible to lay stress on the catering side of the technical college at Thanet. I rather doubt whether this shadowy plan of the South-East Study is the last word on what will happen. It is important to realise that industrial employment in Maidstone and the near district increased by 90 per cent. between 1948 and 1960. If this pattern were to continue, it would be crazy to move the higher courses in engineering and building elsewhere. It may well be that this will not happen, but it is important that planning and education should work closely together and that the realities of the situation, and not some vague plan, should be the criteria on which educational proposals are made.

A small but quite essential matter to us in Kent—horticulture is the key to our rural prosperity. The horticultural unit in the Maidstone Technical College must have engineering workshops at hand so that mechanical maintenance courses, and so on, are available to the students. The whole pattern of horticulture is shifting. We even have in the present year the advent of the blackcurrant picking machine. In 20 years' time a horticultural course will be very different from what it was 20 years ago. I hope that this will be seriously watched. One of the great advantages of enlarging technical colleges is said to be—I am sure that it is—to make more efficient use of the expensive equipment which have to be bought and the communal facilities which are available to both students and staffs.

But as further technical education is at present planned in mid-Kent the new Maidstone Technical College will share many of its communal services with our College of Art, so that most of the advantages of a large technical college would already obtain under our existing plan. Is it altogether wise to claim for any new plan some new, hidden advantage of communal services when this already exists?

To give the House some concept of the existing rate of growth of Maidstone Technical College, it is interesting to note that eleven years ago—at about the time of the upsurge of industrial development in the town, to which I have referred—there were 2,273 students of all sorts, whereas two years ago the figure had risen to 3,932—almost a doubling in nine years. In this near doubling there are substantial increases in the "students and others" category, and there is a further category added.

It is significant that the Robbins Committee, which advocates the concentration of colleges, was commissioned to deal with work to university standards. I am not speaking of that this afternoon. I believe that if lower level work is concentrated in large colleges it is doubtful if much benefit will accrue. There is the loss of contact with employers, and the difficulty over transport, and we must bear in mind that transport is costly to the ratepayers because there must be more grants for travel, and so on.

The disruption of existing staff could be fatal at a time when, with the advent of the Industrial Training Act, even more staff is required. I am the first to recognise that teaching staff are not the object of the college. Students are the object, but the needs of the staff must be closely considered. I wonder whether these large plans are altogether in the best interests of the staff at a time when we must look to staff recruitment.

I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend will look today, and that the Minister will look in the future, closely at the claims of Maidstone to continue to expand its technical college, particularly in view of the Henniker-Heaton Report on Day Release. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear this in mind when the problems of our area are being considered.

I pay tribute to the governors, principal and staff of the Technical College, who have achieved these very good results. Before I close I want to make one other point about the building programme in general for education in Kent. I see that my neighbour, the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Boston), had down a Written Question yesterday which seemed to me to be in the nature of a smokescreen. He grumbled about the so-called cuts in education expenditure. There is a degree of humbug in talking about cuts when we have had more expenditure year by year in Kent, and I believe that the financial programme and what we are achieving in Kent are extremely satisfactory.

I hope that the Department will pay very close attention to the needs of our technical college and its staff and also the students of the future. I make no apology for discussing this subject at the close of our Parliament, because technical education is of the greatest importance to our country. The whole future of the nation depends on it, and although there may not be many of us here this afternoon, it is vital to our country's prosperity. It is for this reason that I have raised such matters as our horticultural course, because these are essential. I hope that my hon. Friend will look closely at the two small points that I have raised.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I do not want to speculate about the Parliamentary Secretary's future, but as I think it likely that he is about to make a farewell speech for this Parliament I take this opportunity to thank him for the courtesy and diligence that he has always shown in replying to our debates on education.

I also once again take the opportunity to support the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) in pressing some of the points he has mentioned. I do not want to intervene in Kent matters but would rather seek to make a few general observations in support of what he has said. I will not discuss the proposals made for technical education in Kent, but I join with the hon. Member in pressing the importance of paying attention not only to the needs of the staff but to the views of the teachers. In schemes of reorganisation it is essential to carry the good will, and to seek the good will, of those whose duty and responsibility it will be to carry out the reorganisation.

The hon. Member was right to stress the importance of primary schools. If we discuss secondary education we have to pay regard all the time to the disparities that stem from the primary schools. In some respects the hon. Gentleman was too optimistic. I join with him in stressing the importance of minor works, but we must put increasing emphasis on primary school building programmes. As a national effort we must try to remove some of the disparities in education between different regions. The very favourable figures mentioned by the hon. Gentleman emphasise the unfortunate position of children in some parts of the country. We have to pay attention to disparities regionally, and within the regions, between local education authorities—

Mr. J. Wells

Of course, we have had a Conservative county council in Kent for many years.

Mr. Willey

The differences do not represent political differences—we have Labour-controlled authorities with records as good as that of Kent. I emphasise that there are disparities between regions and between education authorities, and also in the areas themselves.

One very disturbing fact emerging from Dr. Douglas's recent study was that if we took ability tests at eight years of age and then had to provide equality of opportunity we would need 75 per cent. more grammar school places. The hon. Gentleman mentioned grammar schools in the interesting context of grammar technical education. I am with him in thinking that technical education should be part of all secondary education; we should recognise that an understanding of the technical side of education should be common to all secondary education.

I am not with him when he suggests that we should have a tripartite system. I think it better to provide this general technical element in all secondary education. We should concentrate on providing adequate secondary education for all. The greatest need is to ensure that young people going to the technical colleges should have a basic, decent secondary education. Therefore, while I support the hon. Member generally about the need for greater emphasis on the technical side in secondary education, I would not seek to meet that need by trying to create a tripartite system.

We have also to think of the very great problem of providing teachers for the primary schools. I do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman stressing the importance of minor works and buildings, but I am sure that the greater need for the immediate future will be for primary school teachers. This question must be treated differently from any other problem of teacher supply that we have faced in the past few years. There is a desperate shortage here. We must recognise the importance of primary education, and, in thinking of the differences in secondary education, we must realise that many of them stem from the inadequacies—very often local inadequacies—of the primary schools.

I hope that the immediate major effort will be to try to match the needs for teachers in the primary schools. To return to secondary education, I agree with the hon. Member about the late developers. I am encouraged by what happens in Kent, but this does not generally happen and it is a problem which must be faced in secondary education. We have learned with startling clarity over the past few years about the uneven development of the adolescent. This is one of the major faults of the present tripartite division of education. We must provide for much more flexibility, certainly at the earlier ages of secondary education. I am encouraged to hear that Kent is another authority which has this problem very much in mind.

I join with the hon. Member in congratulating the secondary modern schools on their success as attested by G.C.E. results. Those who are marked down at 11 years of age as less able are very often proving their ability when it comes to the test of the G.C.E., and it is a great tribute to the secondary modern schools that in spite of their great staffing difficulties they have been able to meet the G.C.E. needs so well. In general, many of the hon. Member's observations apply not only to Kent but throughout the country.

4.17 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. John Wells) on seizing this last hour of the present Parliament to discuss the educational affairs of his constituency. It is fitting that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has also taken the opportunity to intervene in the last education debate of this Parliament. He has been an occasionally fierce but fair opponent and I am grateful to him for the courteous things which he has had to say.

My hon. Friend has reviewed fairly and accurately the selective system followed by Kent County Council. It is true that the proportion of children in Kent selective schools is high. Not many local authorities choose to divide them as evenly between grammar schools and technical schools as they do in Kent. My hon. Friend has asked us to give encouragement to the authority in any further experiments with secondary organisation in the county. My Department will give all the help and advice that we can with any proposal made to us by Kent or any other local education authority that is considering new arrangements for secondary education.

We do not wish to impose any dogma upon Kent or any other educational authority. Just as my right hon. and learned Friend wishes no return to the rigid tripartite system, so he would resist any attempt to impose some new doctrine. The belief that children are born into two or, even worse, three educational categories is dead. We cannot yet say what will prove to be the best, most efficient and acceptable way to organise education and the Newsom Committee is not alone in warning us not to attempt a final judgment at this stage.

As my hon. Friend has stressed, where there is selection it must not at any stage be final. He rightly emphasised the need in any tripartite system to ensure an adequate interchange between different types of schools, and I was glad that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North joined him in congratulating Kent on the strides which it has made in this direction. On a recent visit to Sevenoaks school, which is both an independent school and the grammar school for the area, I was glad to learn of the increasing number of boys who were entering that school at 16 after secondary modern education.

There is another principle, too, which is of great importance and which successive Ministers of Education have urged, and that is that wherever one draws lines between different types of secondary schools it has got to be recognised that large numbers of children who fall on either side of that line will have similar interests and abilities. It is important that similar provision should be made for them, and on that account possibly my hon. Friend was claiming too much for Kent when he argued that the superiority of his own county was necessarily demonstrated by its large number of technical schools.

The good technical school has to recognise that many of its children will have the same aptitudes and interests as those in grammar or secondary modern schools. I agree to a certain extent with what the hon. Member for Sunderland, North said. A good technical school cannot afford to specialise narrowly or exclusively in technical subjects, just as no grammar, secondary modern or comprehensive school can afford to ignore technical education. We cannot identify at 10 or 11 the children who will ultimately show a technical bias. My hon. Friend will probably allow me to say, therefore, in all fairness to other education authorities unrepresented at the moment in this debate, that it does not necessarily follow that because an area does not have a technical school it is not offering good opportunities in technical education.

My right hon. Friend has raised a number of other matters. He rightly pointed to the fact that in his area there has been over recent years a great growth in population. There is a steady inflow of people from many areas into his constituency, and he asked me for a clear assurance that we would take account of this in framing future building programmes. I can certainly give him that assurance.

The first priority in any building programme must be the provision of new schools for a new population. This is what we have referred to as basic need. Basic need projects have the top priority in any major building programme, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we will carefully study all the evidence as it becomes available about movements of population in his constituency. There is, in fact, in our Department a good deal of expertise in this subject, and the estimates that we are able to make about the numbers of children resulting from different types of housing development tend to be fairly accurate.

My hon. Friend referred to the major school building programme. He knows that the two girls school projects in the 1965–66 and the 1966–67 programmes, to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred in an answer to him on 20th July, represent all that the Kent authority asked for in the way of additions to their selective schools in Maidstone.

These projects will bring the two schools up to standard for four forms of entry. The boys technical and grammar schools are already up to standard for four forms of entry with provision for 80 sixth-formers at the technical school and 180 at the grammar school. I understand that the local education authority has it in mind to provide accommodation for an additional form of entry at all four schools as the number of pupils rises but the education authority has yet to make a formal proposal to my Department.

My hon. Friend asked about minor works. I agree with him on the importance of its minor works allocation to a local education authority. There is a great deal that can be done to improve older schools by means of minor works jobs. For 1964–65 we have been able to give an allocation of about £370,000 to Kent for minor works, and that is the fifth largest programme in the country, only London, the West Riding of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Essex having larger minor works programmes.

My hon. Friend then turned to further education. He will appreciate that I cannot this afternoon comment in detail on the changes in its arrangements for technical education which Kent is considering. No firm plan has yet been agreed by the authority. Although there was a paper considered earlier in the year by the further education sub-committee which seems to have been taken by some people to represent an agreed proposal, it is, I understand, nothing of the kind. The position is that this particular plan was accepted, as my hon. Friend said, only as a basis for discussion.

My Department will be very willing to give any help which is required. Already, a meeting has taken place in the Department with officials of the authority. Our preliminary observations on their plan are, I understand, to be considered by the authority at a meeting in October. At the end of the day, any proposal from Kent to amend its approved scheme of further education will, of course, require the approval of my right hon. and learned Friend.

My hon. Friend raised a number of points which we shall certainly bear in mind. I agree with him that it is important to see that there are adequate opportunities for all young people who want to take O- and A-level courses. It is true that some courses in O- and A-level subjects are not available in the schools, so that while the great majority of children will take their G.C.E. courses in the schools, it will undoubtedly be the case for borne time that children will wish to pursue G.C.E. courses in further education colleges.

My hon. Friend discussed the merits of concentrating certain courses at certain colleges. It is sensible, of course, to have some concentration of staff and equipment, and one wishes to have as economical and efficient a deployment of resources as possible, but there is a limit to which the creation of colleges specialising in just one area of study is desirable. Where one has what is called, in the ghastly jargon, a mono-technic college, this clearly means that the students have to travel further and they may be denied the advantage of mixing with students who are pursuing other kinds of courses. There is also advantage in having a number of disciplines interacting on one another.

My hon. Friend referred to the achievements in recent years in technical education. Since the publication of the 1957 White Paper, there has been something of a revolution in the provision of technical education in this country. The number of full-time students in grant-aided colleges of one kind and another rose from 56,500 in 1955–56 to 140,700 in 1962–63, and the number of part-time day students increased from 390,500 to 601,500. These figures represent a great expansion of opportunity and a great enrichment of the nation's skills.

At the end of a Parliament in which there has been much interest in the advance of technology and technical education, this is by any standard a fine record, and these achievements provide a sturdy base upon which the Government will build when we return in the autumn.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Four o'clock, till Monday, 19th October, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 29th July.